One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, I thought counting the number of obstacles left. Dashing from around the corner, I dodge past the first Puppet. The second Puppet swings its ax down at me, I lunge to the right aiming for the Glutton Puppet, "Lightning Arrow!" The stream was blocked by a third Puppet, Defender.
"Ha ha ha! Did you think I would go easy on you? Poor little woe is me; no one is here to save you. Ha ha ha!"
I dodge the ax and roll into another hall. "You wanna know what the best part about this is going to be? Finally shutting you up!" I shout as I run down the hall placing Lightning Traps along the floor. I keep running till a glimmer flashes down a dark hall catches my eye. A Hunter Puppet comes to a screeching halt, its razor blade claws digging into the stone floor, baring its fangs. Only one dog, I thought to myself. BOOM! I couldn't help but smirk; the Hunter charges after me, "Thunder!" The sound ripples through the hallway obliterating the Hunter, echoing throughout the Labyrinth. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! The last of my Lightning Traps go off.
"Ha ha ha! Did you think these little fireworks would stop me? Beta, go, Alpha, you stay."
I take a minute to breathe. By now she should have released Beta Puppet and surely the "Mother of Puppets" would not be without her Alpha Puppet close by, I thought to myself. "Tell me, how does the great Puppet Master Marinet like taking orders and training newbies. I mean come on, months of nonstop bragging about being the best Guild, but there are only five of you and of all of the ones I hear about, you are the only one who gets by on just name and reputation. I'm pretty sure whatever game Domi is playing at you are just another one of his tests. An easy one if it's one of power or intelligence." I couldn't help smirking, she lets her emotions get the better of her and she's predictable. Training with Domi and Marinet in this Labyrinth didn't keep my mind from the village, the fields, my home, my shop. I will get out of this maze, find those zombies or their Necromancer, and at least give my village a proper burial, I vowed to myself.
"You arrogant fool; I volunteer to train all the 'new recruits.' Alpha, hunt."
My attention returns to the "final test" as I hear thumping down one of the halls. I race down one of my routes to the Glutton. The Beta will find me eventually and I don't intend on wasting anymore Magic. I enter the room with the Glutton, "Lightning Arrow!" The stream gets deflected by a bigger version of the Hunter, this one almost the size of a horse. Either she's finally getting serious or she's testing out more Ore or Elemental Magic, I thought. It lunges at me. I jump to the left feeling its bladed claws rake the side of my arm. None of the halls to this room were close enough for me to enter before this new Hunter could strike me down.
The Hunter started circling around me as if it was begging me to move, but I couldn't stay still forever. I needed to get to the Glutton to retrieve the weapon it holds in its belly. The Hunter charges for me, but I dodge it this time as I was prepared for its speed. I keep evading towards the Glutton, until the Hunter jumps at me, "Thunder!" The Hunter slams into the wall across the room. "Lightning Arrow!" The stream courses through the Glutton, obliterating it. When the cloud of dust and debris settled, only dust and debris remained. "Did I destroy the weapon!?" Thump! Thump! Thump!
"Ha ha ha! There's no weapon, there is no way out, there is only us and your death." Marinet sneered as she entered the room with Beta Puppet, its huge hulking body barely squeezing out of the hall as if the stone walls helped push it out themselves.
"So, the Alpha can change into your lesser Puppets?"
"The Alpha is all of my Puppets in one. You and every other 'recruit' are just more material. The more seasoned the better."
Marinet and her Beta were on one side of the room while the Alpha was stalking up from behind. I turn and charge towards the Alpha. It races back. I begin charging my fist with all the Elemental Magic I could muster. The Hunter pounces, but I slide under it aiming for Marinet across the room, "Lightning Cannon!" An orb of lightning erupts from my fist.
"What! Be-," BOOM!!! The orb of electricity explodes at point blank range.
"That one had your name on it." The walls around me begin to crack and crumble into sand. I could see sunlight, I could feel a breeze wash over my face, I felt freedom for the first time in a long time, and I didn't know what to do. In the blink of an eye, my world was ripped from me. Days turned into months and months into whenever I awake. No matter how many times I fell asleep, I still dreamt of the mornings on the farm, the evenings with and without my father at the forge, and the nights with Aya and Ms. Shyame when I was too proud to admit I missed my father.
"Enjoying yourself?" Domi seemed to have materialized behind me from nothing. I face him, prepared for round two. "You seem awfully ungrateful to the person that provided you with the means to protect yourself." Hearing his voice now only made me more resolved to go home, and kill anyone else in my way.
"I'm done with your games, I'm going home." It was the first time truly seeing Domi not cloaked in his hooded cape. He was wearing a sleeveless silk shirt, fingerless elbow gloves, traveler's pants, and hunter boots. He was lean and battle-hardened, with sun-kissed skin, sandy red hair, and only slightly taller than me, but none of that mattered, all that did was if he would try and stop me.
"I'm not here to stop you. Congratulations on your victory. As your reward, I'll escort you to the one responsible for the attack on your village and offer you the chance to join my Guild." His arrogance pissed me off.
"I'll find them myself." Turning and walking into the forest, completely aware of how I have no idea where I am going and that Domi knows how to get to my village. Nature has never looked so beautiful and it was singing to me as if calling me. All of my senses were taking it in.
"He will find you to be exact. You learned Elemental Magic in seven months. No ordinary human can do such a feat and by that same token, no ordinary Caster can sense the power you have."
"Great, there are more of you." He continued to follow after me not far off.
"Yes, there are more Masters of Magic. The one who attacked your village was your King, Bristal the Sixth. Through his mastery of Chaos Magic, he created a power few could match, King's Authority, a curse of obedience."
"Let me guess, you are one of the few who can stop this power." I quicken my pace.
"He also wields Reaper & Mind Magic and I'm never without my countermeasures."
"So, to get to the guy with mind control powers I have to get past his army, and to do that I would need your assistance." I stop.
He stops and lets out a sigh, "I'm sorry I called you intelligent. The lesson on humility was wasted. The path to the King is on the way to the village, and you are merely a convenient shortcut."
I spin around swinging, he merely guides my fists away, fueled by rage I go in for a tackle, only to end up hurtling towards a tree. I'll show him convenient, I thought while drinking my elixir I crafted to escape. My wounds start healing as my Magic begins to overflow. "Lightning Arrow!" A shadow leaps from the ground swallowing the stream.
"I'm a Master of Scared, Reaper, and Mind Magic. Do you want to know why I chose Marinet as an apprentice?" BOOM! The ground begins to quake and fissure, a colossal Puppet rises from the sand blocking out the sun. "Meet AlphaBeta, her skill was on the level of an elite Elemental Caster. She merely didn't have the reserves of Magic to effectively take on an army, but I do, so her talent at the very least will not go unrecognized."
"Is that all people are to you, everyone just pawns & game pieces for you to play with?"
"No, I just figured out the rules." His shadows dart for me snaking around all the trees. The AlphaBeta raises its fist for an attack. I race as fast as I can to gain some distance. BADOOM!!! The impact of the AlphaBeta's attack reshaped the surrounding area, a once dense forest now a massive crater.
"You truly have a knack for Magic. You just might survive in this world. Marinet's skill with Ore was without question, you, however, have managed to tame Fire, Air, and Water. The rest of the Messiah would have mastered only one element as well."
I'm miles away from him and yet his shadows are meters away unfazed by AlphaBeta's attack, and the only thing I'm thinking to myself is how far can his shadows reach.
"My shadows are as far as the night." In the shadows emerald and violet eyes shined, Domi slithered half of his body out of the shadows. "You cannot outrun me and your trump card you've been charging is useless. Silence!" I didn't waste time looking back at him; the elixir was going to wear off soon. The world around me started to drain itself of all the color.
It was now or never, "Jupiter's Ascending!" The songs of Fire, Water, and Air weaved themselves onto my skin, forming the Jupiter Ballad.
"This doesn't have to be unpleasant, despite my ominous semblance, I mean you no harm. None the less, I must commend your spell; to become the sky itself is quite brilliant. With enough training, you just might be able to take on a Titan, but in Silence, no spells are allowed." His youthful toned appearance was gone. A shriveled almost skeletal man with pale skin, white strands of hair, black claw-like fingernails, and eyes of shadow took his place.
"I am the Sky, I don't need spells." I take to the sky before he could do anything. I fire bolts of lightning at him one after the other, each with increasing intensity, "AAAAAHHHHH!!!" I launch a massive thunderbolt from the sky. A smirk creeps across my face at the power of the Ballad, causing about as much as AlphaBeta, but more focused.
"Sacred Magic explores life, light, and spirituality, Reaper Magic explores emptiness and death, and Mind Magic explores the conscious and subconscious. When you know the rules you change the game." He was unfazed by my attack, hovering on two small halos over the sinkhole I just created, sporting a pair of radiant wings, and a third halo surrounding his waist. Now each of his eyes of abyss had a single star just above his sockets. In an instant he was in front of me, the elixir's effect wears off, the Ballad begins to burn my skin, incinerating me alive, and the pain engulfs my body causing me to lose focus and consciousness.
I came to without opening my eyes. I was on a grassy field, warmth on my skin, and a mild breeze with the aroma of wheat and fresh water. In the Labyrinth, I could only hear the rugged melodies of Ore, but every so often I could hear a whisper's whisper of Air, the tiniest of pushes from Water, and my heart in time with Fire. The Jupiter's Ballad now resonating in the world around me, I could feel the Sky coursing through me. I open my eyes and see my village.
The bodies were gone, but the carnage and destruction remained. My chest tightened, my eyes start to sting, but I did not feel as sad as I thought I would. I sit up to survey my body, to see it's completely healed. Hopefully, this is an apology and you pass, now I'll go away forever type of gift, I thought.
"You are now one of the Messiah, an agent of freedom, hope, and the spark of revolution." I turn to see Domi, with two other people, one a short skinny man in a business suit and the other a woman wearing flowing fabrics and a headdress covering most of her face. "Meet your allies Harold Thompson, a specialist of BioMagic & Aisha, of Chrono Magic. The rest have fallen to any one of the bounty seekers or King Bristal's new and improved Guild. So, try and remember that we are the only thing standing between you, death, and fates worse. I've placed the Seal of the Messiah on you, so now everyone who tracks Casters by Guild Insignias will be finally able to have "the Big Break." It also means our powers amplify each other and allow us to communicate through the Seal. Don't worry, the Guild will be disbanded and we all can go our separate ways once my mission is complete. The King has taken enough from all of us and now, we will take everything from him. Aisha, how long till they come?"
"At sunset, we must be ready." Thou, her face was shrouded I could tell she respected Domi and held no malice or contempt. She began chanting and dancing around the village. Her chant becoming visible, a display of golden words, phrases, and symbols I couldn't understand begin to surround the village.
"Bastard! I don't want anything to do with you or your mission. Why do you keep controlling my life? I didn't ask to be saved, trained, or be a part of your Guild."
"I gave you a fighting chance, but don't worry; you'll see what happens to those like you without a Guild or training at sunset."
I didn't need to know. At this point I was grateful, but I wouldn't let him have this. I begin walking to my old home, the Armory. It was run down with no front door and chunks missing from the ceiling. The closer I got the more my stomach seemed to sink, so I did not enter and turned away, "If the Messiah is so powerful why do you need me or to hide in my village." Aisha completed her chant and made her way towards me.
"I know you may not trust us, but we need you and you will need us. The path we are all on intersects at this village. A woman who lived in this village had wonderous skill in Alchemy and Wards. She taught me the Ward I used."
"Was her name Shyame?" She looked at me with kind brown eyes full of excitement gasping. The excitement was short-lived as it turned to sorrow.
"I knew her before she came to this village. Lady Shyame and I are both from the Royal District, but I was not held in as high regard. My family is a line of males, and that single fact outweighs my skill or the best of the Aisha name." The last part catching my attention, when a golden symbol flashes in her eyes, she continued, “Yes, Aisha is my family's last name and my only name. It was meant to shame me, but it only inspires me to craft a new legacy for the Aisha name. I am Aisha."
Without realizing, she led me back to my home. She takes my hand, puts her other hand on my shoulder. "I know the past can be painful, but I want you to know every one of us are ready to walk through it with you if you'll let us." She didn't try to guide me in. She held her gaze, then looked at the building. These people are good, I thought.
I walk into the building smiling, "Did Domi teach you how sucker people too?
Laughing she replied, "Adversity teaches us all the same lesson."
"So that is a yes." This feels like the old times, or how they used to be. I begin scavenging for weapons when Aisha begins scavenging as well.
We return to the rest of the group empty-handed. The sun was beginning to set. "OK, I spent most of the day not preparing, so what am I fighting?" Domi turns to me.
"To the north is the Royal District and the King's Guild and to the southeast a port town. The King's Guild has a new addition that can copy any spell or Magic an enemy uses. The others aren't as dangerous, only Elemental & BioCasters. The unknown factor is the port, and with a bounty on our heads, anyone could show up."
"So why can't we just go to the port and leave?" I hated being the one to voice this opinion first. This time Harold resting a hand on my shoulder.
"We have wanted posters all over the kingdom, my boy. This is where we make our stand. Now listen closely, BioMagic is a relatively new concept, discovered in the Research District. With complete access to any ecosystem or biosphere, some Casters have been able to turn into hybrid beasts, grow massive orchards that spew poisonous pollen, or even control an army of spiders. I am the Chimera, King of Beasts, so they will not threaten us," he said patting my back. I turn to Aisha.
"Through Chrono Magic, I can teleport and see probable actions of my enemy. Through my Chi training and Wards, I am a worthy ally." Domi heads toward the northern entrance.
"All of you protect the southeast; the King's Guild requires my full attention." A screech pierces the sky. Balls of fire hail from the sky. Through the clouds, the King's Guild skydives for us on the backs of armored dragons. Domi's shadows shoot through the fireballs, dissipating them, aiming for the riders.
"King of Beasts!" Harold begins to transform into a large three-headed lion, with muscular arms but talons instead of paws, a pair of wings, and a giant pincer for a tail. Aisha runs in front of Harold.
"Stop, we have our jobs." In the distance, a stampede races for the village, a ball of blue flame flies out of the port town, with another dragon following behind the blue flame. This dragon had pieces missing and chunks falling off.
Aisha was gone, in the distance, the dragon crumbled in the sky, a flash glimmered near the blue flame, and then the flame spiraled towards the ground flickering.
"The BioCaster is hidden amongst the stampede; I couldn't tell which one to strike." Aisha immediately begins chanting. Chimera walks toward the charge and lets out a roar. The stampede comes to a halt, leaving a single Minotaur charging, Chimera pounces on the Minotaur, all three heads biting, tearing, and shredding. With the frenzied feast still in progress, a single head lets out another roar, and all of the gathered beasts form a barrier around the southern, eastern, and western perimeters of the village.
Well, why do they need me, I thought to myself. I turn to Domi's battle, he is watching as one of the King's Guild face off against the other four. A swirling blitz of wings, lightning, and fire, till Domi's sole zombie falls from the sky, the rest of the Guild showering down Elemental Magic. The rest of the King's Guild lands. I race towards them building Elemental Magic, but now it feels different. I can feel the Ballad clearly; lyrics appear on my hands, "Lightning Arrow!" A thunderbolt strikes one of the Guild members decapitating their dragon and leaving a scorched hole where a chest used to be.
The rider did not flinch. All four riders turn to me. "While appreciated, your attention is needed elsewhere." The rest of the Messiah surrounds the crater left by Domi. A woman in broken damaged amour emerges without a single wound.
"Aya!!!" This couldn't be happening. "I thought you said I was alone!? Aya, listen to me, whatever happened to you we can fix it"
"Focus!" Domi commands.
Aya dashes at me sword drawn, I can't move, BLIP! Aisha deflects the sword with a dagger. Aya strikes again at me forcing Aisha to defend; Aya throws a punch aiming for Aisha, BLIP! Aisha gets us closer to Domi. "Her powers are many and one of them is Detonate, turns whatever touched into a bomb."
"How did this happen?"
"I can only assume a mother's love backfired. Whatever you do, you have one shot, or else she'll counter it."
Aya turns to us readying her sword, Chimera lunges in from behind, Aya rolls underneath slashing at Chimera, but the attack did not draw blood. Chimera uses his pincer snapping at Aya unsuccessfully. Aya's sword ignites with multicolored flame, slicing off the pincer. Chimera shrieks in pain, whipping his tail at Aya trying to land a hit with his acidic blood, but Aya weaves in cutting off a leg. Aya raises her blade to cut down Chimera.
Blip! Aisha strikes from behind.
Aisha stood shocked; Aya copied her power so quickly. Blip! Aya's sword takes Aisha's hand and dagger. Aisha doubles over in pain. "Lightning Arrow!" Aiming right in between them, Blip! Aya appears lunging sword first at me. A shadow intercepts swallowing her assault, but before she's completely inside the shadow, another shadow opens in front of Chimera and Aisha, the multicolored sword emerging. PING! A flash of golden light envelopes the village.
To be continued in the next chapter, The River Maiden!