Chapter Eleven: The Story of Archangel's Kingdom
Long before man or demi existed, there was only one plane: Archangel's Kingdom. It was a place filled with light, where Hyne and his angels watched over their expansion of life in order to keep the balance of life and death stable. When Hyne created humans and demi, he appointed a group of angels to watch over them. Over time this group expanded into a social hierarchy with those oldest and closest to Hyne in the highest order and the youngest with the duty of guarding the balance of life and death.
Humans and demi, too, expanded and divided soon after their creation until they evolved to the point where their powers matched those of their guardians.
Out of fear of rebellion by those they governed, one of Hyne's trusted and most gifted archangels decided to defy all the rules that he abided by. One simple death of the lesser beings caused a great rift among Archangel's Kingdom, the balance destroyed. And thus started the first great war…
Kentarou couldn't help but stifle a yawn as he, Sakana, Shion and Phoenix listened to the innkeeper's story. They had made their way to Shard, a small town a day away from the famous city known as Beranda, nicknamed the "City of the Night". After weeks of chasing down leads that led to dead ends, the bandit wasn't surprised that this new lead they were given was also quickly turning into another dead lead. The story they were listening to was one that was known worldwide: how Hyne and Orion brought upon the legendary war into the world and how Orion was defeated, his remains now the taint of evil lurking deep within the heart of the world and separating a section of Archangel's Kingdom into what was now called Morcadia - "hell" in the ancient tongue used back then.
It was a legend, one that would be often used as a bedtime story for children. There were various versions of the legend of Archangel's Kingdom and the first war that ensued, but this one was the most commonly used. It was also one that Kentarou despised; he was brought up on a different version of the legend, one that was commonly told throughout his own village and others like his. It was in no way the "clean and perfect" version that was commonly told to the greater society as a whole. The one he was told was a gruesome yet realistic battle, one that drew everyone in the world at the time together no matter what race you were. Many people died, and two respective clans sacrificed the power that they gained to seal Orion away - which also cost them their lives.
He continued to pretend to be interested in the story that the innkeeper, a grandmotherly old woman who looked to have had seen a various hardships in her life, was telling although his mind was elsewhere.
It had been nearly a month since Rydia left them. They found very little about why she left and the reasons for the mysterious creature on that night to attack her, nor did they understand why they were being watched. Kentarou wasn't sure if any of the others besides Sakana were aware - as it was a subtle, prickling feeling at the back of his neck - but he was beginning to get the feeling that they would have ended up in Beranda no matter what path they took. As if the people they spoke to were unconsciously being told to tell them to go to Beranda. He wanted to immediately go to the city as soon as they entered Kamikaze Junction and into the tavern, but he knew that Shion was very wary of oracles - especially of one of this popularity. Plus, he just had this gut feeling that Rydia went there and then meandered to somewhere nearby. So, the swordsman bided his time with his friend as they went to every town on the continent.
It was now inevitable that they go to Beranda and see this oracle.
"Lady, we've heard this story a million times already, since we were kids," Phoenix spoke up from her place against the wall in the corner of the room. "How's this supposed to help us?"
The old woman chuckled at her impatience as if she was used to hearing these words. "Ah, yes, I've been told this story many times before by my own grandmother, child."
She paused, looking around the room. "It's a story that is tradition to pass down by word of mouth and one that some people take very seriously." She paused again to let her words sink in a little.
"But," she continued, "have you ever wondered who were the people who helped seal Orion away? The stories that your grandmothers told you must have not mentioned what race these people they were. Surely, they weren't any ordinary person like you and I."
Sakana, sitting next to Kentarou, nodded in agreement. "I remember that they were mages, the best and well known in the world at the time with their craft."
The innkeeper chuckled in agreement. "Yes, great mages from all parts of the world participated in this battle, sided with Hyne. Without them, the angels could not have been able to seal Orion away on their own. The seal needed to be genuine, without the taint of their own blood." She paused again. "However, there was one particular group of people who were unique to all the mages that congregated to fight: a group that had the ability to summon creatures from a different realm completely separate from Morcadia or the Kingdom."
This perked up some interest among the group except Kentarou, who wasn't the least fazed. He had an idea where this was going, and he was beginning to show some appreciation at the innkeeper's knowledge. Maybe this lead was going to go somewhere further this time.
"You mean the summoners," he stated matter-of-factly.
"Yes, you are correct," the old woman smiled. "Because Orion was a highly respected archangel in the Kingdom before he turned, it was very difficult among the angels to choose the side they wanted to be on: the being who had created them and vowed to protect and abide by or the being who rebelled in order to prove to Hyne that humans and demi were dangerous creatures to keep around. Such confusion among the angels would make it impossible for them to seal Orion away - it would be too easy for Orion himself to reopen the seal again by possessing one of his own brethren. So Hyne requested the summoners' aid as they were the very people that Orion feared would be the end to his reign."
Her eyes rested on Kentarou's own amber, appreciative and warm. "I'm impressed that you know this, child. Not many people your age have heard of the details of the legend."
The recipient merely shrugged despite the curious eyes of Sakana and Phoenix. "My grandmother told me."
In actuality, a summoner had come through his village one time when he was a child and told him his version of the tale. Of course, being the child that he was back then, Kentarou had no idea that this would just be something of a half-truth and half-lie of the true legend itself. He was then told his own kind's version of the legend, one that he strictly believed as truth especially since his village burned to flames.
The old woman nodded in understanding and continued on with her tale, closing her eyes. "The first Great War lasted for nearly ten years, but Hyne finally managed to seal Orion away with the help of the summoners. However, the damage was done to the Kingdom. The taint of darkness still lingers deep within each and every one of us. You must be careful where you tread, or else you risk being lured in by Morcadia."
Her words rang somewhat of a warning through them, and they all tensed in suspicion. She opened her eyes again, questioning, "You are looking for someone, correct? Is that why you came to see me?"
Kentarou eyed the woman warily, trying to sense any sort of foul play in the innkeeper. They hadn't mentioned anything about Rydia yet, only requested an audience with her, and since suspecting watchful eyes over them, the group was extra careful to not mention Rydia until the time was just right.
"Why do you ask, ma'am?" he asked her.
She merely smiled at his wariness, a smile that made him and the others feel at ease. "Do not worry; I'm nothing for you to worry about. It's just an old habit of mine, I suppose. I can feel the anxiety of your thoughts, though they're very blurred."
"You can use Read?" Sakana suddenly voiced out. "How?"
"Well, I used to be a seer in my youth," the old woman replied with a wink. "Was quite popular with the men, you know."
Shion couldn't help but chuckle at her comment, relaxing a little bit. "I'm sure you were, ma'am. Anyone who ages as well as you do has got t'look pretty damn beautiful."
"An' how do y'know that?" Phoenix asked, her voice dripped with sarcasm.
"Oh, I have my sources."
"You mean you slept with a hag before?"
"No! People'll ---"
"Then do you know where the person is?" Kentarou cut off. The two were becoming just as bad as he and Rydia had been, though Phoenix was a bit more explicit when it came to her choice of words.
Oddly enough, he wondered if Sakana ever felt this annoyed by their petty arguments back then.
"Do you know where she is?" he repeated. His voice held a tinge of anxiety, but it was very slight.
The innkeeper shook her head. "My Sight isn't as keen as it used to be. I can only feel the same anxiety that is similar to yours in a general direction, but I can't pinpoint exactly where it is. You see, female seers are very different than our male counterparts. Once we marry, our Sight begins to fade as the years pass."
Kentarou stifled a sigh of frustration, but he understood what she meant. His grandmother was once a seer herself in their village before she married his grandfather. Her Sight completely faded when his sister was born.
The amber-eyed swordsman froze at his train of thought. Why was he thinking back to his former life now after all those years? It wasn't like him to remember those days.
Maybe it's because of the legend she told us earlier, he mused.
"The Great Oracle, Oni, might be able to find her," the woman suggested, breaking Kentarou out of his thoughts.
"You know, you're probably the millionth person that we've encountered who's told us to see this oracle," Shion said with a light, bitter laugh. "Is the guy that good?"
"I personally haven't met him myself," the old woman admitted. "Yet I have heard that he was the man responsible for mediating the war between the continents by predicting the deaths of the leaders on both sides."
Shion whistled in mild surprise. "That's a tall order."
Sakana, who didn't have as much knowledge of the outside world other than the stories from other fae and the lessons she often remembered from her younger years, glanced at Kentarou curiously for an explanation who gave her the details out of routine.
"The our continent and this continent were at war with each other around twenty years ago over some artifact one side lost or something of that sort," he explained. "The fighting lasted for nearly a decade after that. It would still be going on now if it wasn't for the unexpected deaths of the leaders of both countries - the men who initiated the war. First one side fell and then six months later, the other followed."
It was also the beginning of my personal hell, he grimly remembered.
"Didn't somebody poison the general from Belgaté?" Phoenix asked as she, too, began to remember the stories of the unusual ending for the war. "That man from the neutral faction?"
Shion nodded. "And after that, the assassination of Lord Dalton from Adelia by the same man from the same faction."
"Yes," the old woman agreed. "The oracle Oni had predicted two years before their deaths that a man named Ryuuho would kill them and the meaningless war would end."
A sickening crunch echoed in the dungeon as the creature fell to the floor, a pool of black blood beginning to form beneath it. However, as it glanced at the two beautiful women in the room with its crimson eyes and as it felt the wounds and broken bones from the numerous devices the women implemented on it, the creature knew that its torture wasn't complete.
The woman with the shorter violet hair approached it, pulling its hair of the same color up so that it stared at her amber eyes. "Ooooh, he's still alive after all that," she said with almost feral fascination. She turned to her sister who was still leaning against the wall of the room. "What else should we use for Father, sister?"
Father? Ah, yes, he remembered being called that once. The pieces of the creature's mind began to mesh together. It was beginning to make sense why they looked so familiar to him - part fae, part human. Beautiful and seductive like the woman who gave birth to them, cruel and heartless like him.
Now the dark fae understood why these women were doing this to him. It must have been their hatred against him to react this way. Not that the dark fae ever cared for the experiments he wrought upon this world, but these two sisters weren't merely his experiments: they were experiments who weren't held back by his control.
The thought intrigued the dark fae as the woman against the wall merely smiled, her violet hair reflecting back what little light had filtered in the room. Her amber eyes clearly showed to him how much more she could do to continue his pain.
"How about some daylight?" she suggested, her voice smooth like silk. Her smile merely widened as the fear began to seep into the dark fae's heart. "A day outside would give him some fresh air, hm?"
The sisters clearly knew what his limits were, and the dark fae tried to dissuade them. He could tolerate any pain - his body could easily repair itself no matter how many times they used their arrows and magic on him - but one thing that any dark fae like himself could not tolerate was broad daylight for extended periods of time. Dark fae, unlike their other relatives, feasted on the living rather than aid or trick them. They were a group that had been tainted by Orion's magic after the archangel's fall, cursed to live in darkness without ever having the ability to sustain their stamina. Dark fae had to get their magic by sucking the life out of the living and would work by night to do so. This was why, in common speech, they were dubbed "vampires".
"Jade, Jax," the dark fae uttered out, his voice hoarse from the screams and lack of fluid to his throat. "My daughters…"
Jade arched a peculiar eyebrow as she pushed herself off the wall. Jax continued to hold him by the hair, watching her elder twin walk towards them.
"Oh? After all these years, you begin to acknowledge us as your offspring?"
Jax quickly moved aside as Jade grabbed the dark fae's throat and threw him against the wall. The fae stifled a groan as another crack echoed in the dungeon. Jade leaned her face closer to the fae's, the ends of her hair tickling the dark fae's nose.
"How very kind of you, Father," she emphasized the last word with a sneer, "that you are now beginning to think of us this way. What made you change your mind?"
The dark fae half gurgled, half coughed, as it fought to breathe in enough air. "What…do you want from…me?"
Another sharp pain entered his newly repaired right shoulder as Jax behind them began her Mind magic once again.
"You know exactly what we want, Father," Jax replied in a sing-song voice. "Now all you have to do is just remember!"
The younger twin began to apply more pressure on the injured joint, agonizingly pressing on for the answers that he held, but her playtime was cut short as the sound of the steel door jarred open. The twins turned around to face Ryuuho standing in the middle of the doorway. The dark fae's eyes widened in recognition at the sight of the man and expressed his surprise even further as his "daughters" gave a slight bow of respect towards the man.
Ryuuho barely gave a glance at the twins' captive when he spoke: "I apologize for calling your…'fun' short so abruptly, but I need the both of you to continue on your 'other' assignment."
"Oh?" Jade let go of the fae, sending him collapsing to the cold floor once again. The dark fae didn't care - his eyes were fixated on the man that just entered.
"You mean that worthless skull of a being hasn't found her yet?" Jax asked in a disgusted tone.
"He hasn't specified, but he will soon," Ryuuho replied without so much of a wink in his cold eyes. "Our Master has some trust on the man's foresight. However…"
Jade quickly understood his underlying meaning. "We will handle the problem when it arises," she glanced back at her sister. "Jax, let's go."
Her younger image looked at her curiously but didn't question Jade's intentions as she followed her out of the prison, leaving the dark fae alone with the man who had set the wheels of history turning to set Orion's resurrection.
Kentarou, Shion, Phoenix and Sakana made their way to the gates of Beranda after much debate whether to see the great oracle Oni or not. Beranda was a city known for its unending night sky, situated just north of where the sun would usually rise and set on the rest of the continent. It was also known for its prestigious magic academy and stone masonry, but the looks of the city itself far underestimated its accomplishments. The colors of the buildings matched the color of its dominant sky, giving the city a dark and intimidating feel to it. The dark colors of the city also made it look smaller, often confusing newcomers who would wander helplessly through its mazes of streets, alleyways and walls.
The only "bright" colors of the city were those of its light granite and marble statues that decorated the walls and the center fountain, yet they seemed out of place.
The crime rate in Beranda wasn't any better, maybe as horrible as Kamikaze's chaotic society, but many of its crimes were left hidden behind its walls. Gambling was also very popular amongst the locals and tourists alike, so it was no surprise to Shion and Kentarou that the people strewed through the streets paid no attention to their arrival - too immersed in their games.
"This place hasn't changed much, either," Shion commented as they walked along.
"Cities where there's no change in authority don't change much," Phoenix pointed out. She made a quick glance at Sakana whose eyes were so wide that they looked like they were going to fall out of its sockets. "Oi, Sakana, you okay?"
"Why…why is it so dark here?" the sky faerie asked in an awed voice.
"Supposedly it's because we're north of the line where the sun should rise and set," Kentarou replied and let a sarcastic snicker reach his throat. "Honestly, I think it's because there's a lot o' queer things lurking about. The city reeks of some weird magic."
"You've never been 'ere, Sakana?" Phoenix asked her with a surprised look on her face.
She shook her head. "No, I haven't. This is my first time."
The street fighter was about to ask something else, but Shion intervened easily enough by leaning an arm over her much smaller frame.
"Ah, you know, with that disease Sakana has and all, she never really went out that much…" he whispered teasingly into her ear.
Sakana bit her lip, her ears much more sensitive on what was said than any normal human and refrained from saying anything. Although it was true that she hadn't experienced much of the world beyond her realm and the words of the fae who were allowed to go outside their territory, she felt that this lie of theirs wasn't fair to Phoenix. She knew what the consequences were going to be if Phoenix ever did find out what she really was, but she still couldn't help but feel guilty for hiding the truth from her. It was just in her nature.
Phoenix shrugged off the invading arm, giving the flirtations of the rogue a glare that would stray anyone else away from her except him it seemed. "I forgot about that."
She then turned back to Sakana, her hardened face softening a slight degree. "Sorry 'bout that, Sakana. It just slipped my mind."
Sakana shook her head. "It's all right."
"So, where is this supposedly 'great' oracle?" Shion changed the subject quickly, his fun teasing Phoenix momentarily distracted.
"The old woman in Shard said that his place is in the Golden District," Kentarou answered while taking a look down at his map. He tried to ignore the annoying buzz that was ringing in his head since they reached the city, but the bandit guessed that whoever was responsible for attempting to seal his magic was also the person who had been watching over them.
He glanced up and met Sakana's slightly glowing eyes underneath the cloak she wore and wondered to himself if the sky faerie could sense the buzzing as well. "That's on the other side of town."
"Damn," Shion grumbled. "Hope it's worth the trip."
Phoenix couldn't help but snort a chuckle, ready to extract revenge for invading her personal space earlier. "What, after getting' all th' way here, you bein' a lazy ass now?"
"It ain't that; it's just that I can literally feel that fake stench of importance coming already."
"'s that supposed to mean?"
Kentarou broke into a small grin as they walked, literally feeling the odd tension that was in the air between the two.
[Feuille Pinnacle, Land of the Summoners]
Darkness. It was all that she could see at the moment, but she wasn't going to let the fear get to her. She knew what it meant now, and it was only a matter of time before what she wanted to see would appear. Instead of being afraid, Rydia welcomed the darkness as she continued to venture further into the realm. Soon the darkness faded into a lush, vegetative landscape. The colors of the plants nearly matched that of her hair if it wasn't for the odd shine that it held. She looked around the odd world until she spotted a green creature staring back at her not far from where she stood.
The creature stood around three feet, four if you counted its tail. Its greenish fur kept it camouflaged among the plants with the exception of its round, beady black eyes. It resembled something much similar to a squirrel except it was nearly triple the size and the claws on its forepaws looked long enough to easily tear her arm off. But she wasn't afraid of it, though.
The sorceress stared back at the creature and squatted down to its height without moving from her place. The creature cocked its head slightly to the side as if wondering to itself if she really saw it.
"Hello…" Rydia greeted it with a smile. "Is this your realm?"
The creature blinked at her in surprise. Taking a moment to decipher the words she said, slowly, it nodded.
I'm surprised that you can find me so easily, Rydia.
It was her turn to be surprised, but she assumed that the creature had done some mind probing of its own.
"I guess I'm getting the hang of this," she meekly replied, brushing back a stay lock of hair that came across her face. "Although it's still a bit strange to hear you in my head."
The squirrel-like creature nodded in understanding, hopping out of its hiding place beneath the brush.
So you are prepared, it seems.
Rydia drew some of her daggers from one sleeve, prepared to throw them at any minute. "Yes, I am."
The creature hopped a little closer towards her before stopping just feet away from her. The elongated tail of the creature revealed itself to look like a fairly harmless mass of fur, but Rydia could see that beneath the shine a few spikes poked out from the mass.
Then let us begin, it said to her before it vanished.
The sorceress' eyes quickly followed its nimble movements, throwing three of her daggers at it before jumping away from the creature's large tail smashing for the ground. It disappeared once again, using the surrounding foliage to camouflage itself before it reappeared behind Rydia who quickly stepped back from its claws, the trailing ends of her long hair sliced away by its strike.
She had to react quickly, the creature was much faster than she estimated, and it seemed to know that. It was testing her reactive skills since it relied on speed and it would only accept a summoner if they could keep up with its momentum.
Rydia once again dodged a strike, arching her back backwards as she moved, keeping herself light on her feet. The last thing she wanted was to get swept off her feet or trip, and the creature was eager to make that happen. However, as she danced around the creature to avoid another hit, Rydia carefully brushed the creature's back with the tips of her fingers, making sure that none hit the poisonous spikes underneath. It literally froze in mid air, the spell she had quickly enchanted set in stone.
The green squirrel-like creature tried to move in its suspended prison, but it could only manage to look back at the smiling sorceress.
A smart move, Rydia, it said to her.
She broke into a grin. "So did I pass?"
The creature wiggled around a little, but it still could not budge from its prison. If you set me free from this Freeze spell, then we will see.
"You'll only try to catch me off-guard again if I do," she pointed out. "I don't think I can continue dodging your strikes; I'm very clumsy."
The creature chuckled, its eyes laughing in delight. Ah, a summoner with a sense of reason and humor. I like that.
The lush forest faded into the darkness along with its owner, but Rydia could see the magic surrounding her and knew that she had passed.
My name is Rahxe, Rydia, its voice echoed in her mind. Call me whenever you are in need of aid…
The sorceress opened her eyes with the day's goal accomplished and greeted a pair of blue and black eyes that had been watching her from behind the open window.
"Did you get 'im?" the owner of the blue eyes asked. A few more pairs of black eyes appeared behind her, each uttering some sound of curiosity.
Rydia smiled at them and nodded. "Yup. No more scary green monster."
The owner of the blue eyes widened in delight, running to the sorceress in as big as a hug she could manage. The other creatures behind her quickly filtered in the room and followed suit, almost smothering Rydia and her young companion in a cloud of white and purple. Rydia laughed, the mogs' white fur tickling her nose as she tried to keep her companion and herself just above the mass of mogs surrounding the bed she sat on.
"Hey, you guys, calm down!" she managed to say amidst the high-pitched chatter of the white creatures. "You don't want to kill your owner by suffocation, do you?"
Some that had been listening to her immediately spread out to give some more room for he and the violet-haired child in her lap.
"Thank you sooo much, Auntie Rydia!" the girl exclaimed as her hair bounced along as she spoke. "I could never catch him and he always kept coming back here!!"
Rydia placed a hand on the girl's head, ruffling her hair. "I'll teach you that spell a little later, Aiko. Let me make some lunch, okay?"
Aiko immediately nodded. "Okay!"
As she began to leave, Aiko turned around. "C'mon, you guys! We have to keep an eye out for other people coming here!"
Rydia couldn't help but give a small smile as the mogs, ten in all, reluctantly filed out of the room. Aiko did not give them any sympathy, simply telling them that they had to protect the village honor and some more words of advice that Rydia could not hear as they disappeared into the next room. It was then, out of eyesight, that her smile fell. She didn't want the girl to go through what she had gone through, but she also wished that the girls' relatives were still alive for her to stay happy. It was nearly a month since she arrived here, but Rydia knew that she wouldn't be able to stay long. She could feel her amulet's power growing as she herself progressed in her magic, so it was only a matter of time before they, the creatures of Orion, would find her. Yet she didn't want to leave Aiko, whom for nearly two years lived alone with only the mogs for company and had been ecstatic to find a distant relative still alive.
She has the potential to become an excellent summoner, the voice of her master rumbled in her head.
During the time she arrived, Rydia quickly learned how to speak to the creatures who gave their powers to aid her through the help of the ancient texts of her ancestors. She was completely taken by surprise when she finally managed to communicate with her dead caretaker and broke into tears that she bravely fought back since meeting Sakana those few months ago.
"So you think so, too," Rydia murmured, taking her amulet out to observe its color.
To even see us in dreams at such a young age is very rare. YOU didn't dream of our realm until you were eight, and you still had no idea what to do.
"Well, that was because you never told me," she replied with a frown. Rydia found it more comforting to speak out loud whenever she was talking to the guardians; hearing them in her head was still too new for her. "I didn't know you had to prove your worth."
Odin remained silent for a few minutes as if picking and choosing the right words to explain. The amulet's growth mirrors your growth, does it not?
She blinked, confused. "What do you mean?"
"Auntie Rydia!!" Aiko's voice called out, disrupting their conversation. "All areas are clear!!"
Making note to herself that she would continue this conversation with her master later on, Rydia hopped out of bed and began to leave. "All right! Let's get that lunch ready!"
[Beranda, City of the Night]
They stared up at the ornate white building before them, amazed at how much contrast it exhibited among the black and brown colors of its neighbors. Gargoyle statues that had their eyes painted in gold stared menacingly back at them from their perch above the door. The building's windows were closed by dark violet curtains as if closing the light of the world away from its information buried deep inside. A simple wooden sign hung on the door, written in red letters that read: "The Great Oracle Oni".
"Talk about a tacky sense of style," Kentarou couldn't help but comment.
"Are you sure that this is going to work?" Shion asked again. "From the looks of the place, we just might as well leave."
"But we've come all the way here, Shion," Sakana softly pointed out. "It will be a waste of time if we just came without trying."
Phoenix snorted a chuckle, "What, are you scared that the guy might actually be for real or somethin'?"
"That's not it," Shion tried to explain once again. "It's just…something that my gut tells me. Something's weird here."
"Too late to turn back now," Kentarou said as he swung open the door and entered.
The girl was harder to find than what he thought she would be. He was worried that if he couldn't find her quickly enough, his life would be in danger as well as the plans he created during the past decade. His lord didn't seem to be impatient, though, nor did he look satisfied with the results but the oracle couldn't help but wonder if the man already knew what his plans were. He owned everything for his lord to get him to where he was now, but there as something inside his lord that the oracle feared. He mused that perhaps it was the power his lord possessed or whatever scheme that lay nicely hidden away from his foresight.
A flash of green and gold flickered across his mind, and the oracle inwardly smiled as he looked up, his cloak and mask covering what remained of his human form. The group entered just as he predicted. Now it was only a matter of time before he could witness the result of his risks.
If the looks of the building had given any kind of suspicion and doubt to the group, the physical appearance of the person of the person sitting before them further intensified it. The famous oracle they had heard so much about was covered from head to toe in a black cloak. His face was hidden away bay a white mask with only grey eyes staring out back at them. The only indication of how old the oracle were the thin, wiry features of his hands that barely peeked out underneath the sleeves of his cloak.
The room was sparse of color save for the small window behind him that also gave the group a glimpse of the time outside. A table covered with red velvet stood in the way.
"Welcome," a deep, hoarse voice echoed from the cloaked figure of a man. "I have been expecting you: Shion. Phoenix. Sakana. Kentarou."
His eyes seemed to stop on each person for a second as he said each of their names. A shiver unexpectantly ran down Sakana's spine - she hadn't expected to feel the prickling magic radiating from the man. She had to admit that while she hadn't actually encountered a seer before, nor knew what the term was until Kentarou kindly explained it to her, the prickling feeling felt exactly like how Viola probed her mind what seemed like eons ago. Yet Viola couldn't see the future - no faerie of any kind did. The thought was a bit nerve-wracking that this man before her could actually see what and who she might become…
"So you know who we are?" Kentarou said with uncharacteristic calm, snapping the sky faerie back to reality. Unlike the others, he knew what real oracles were like. More and more remnants of his past were coming back to him, and the swordsman wondered to himself if this was just a coincidence. "Then you know why we're here."
A low chuckle came from beneath the mask and the oracle merely waved a hand as if trying to bat a fly away.
"Yes, but she is very difficult to find, you see," he said to them. "Whatever is keeping her aura hidden away is doing a fine job."
"Aura?" Phoenix asked.
"You mean her magical aura?" Sakana piped in since she knew that Phoenix wasn't as aware of the magic around them like herself and the other two men.
"The very essence of her existence aligns closely to that of an angel's," Oni carefully picked his words to explain. It was essential that he convince them to open up their minds to the future he deemed best for them.
"Of an angel's?" Shion repeated, voicing out the same question that was coming from the others.
Kentarou's eyes narrowed. This was information that they hadn't heard about before, and he wondered to himself what the oracle wanted.
She's never mentioned anything about how she got her magic, now that I think about it.
"It is because Rydia herself is unaware of what she is capable of doing."
Kentarou looked up, staring back at the oracle who simply stared back. He hadn't expected to let his guard down that easily. Yet the others didn't seem to notice his surprise and only continued to ask more questions, completely unaware of Oni's manipulations coming to play.
"…capable of doing?" Sakana murmured. "Do you mean that Rydia's magic is far stronger than what we've seen?" She paused, thinking more deeply into the matter. "…Is that the reason why she left?"
"Have you heard of the legend of Archangel's Kingdom?" Oni countered.
"Not that again," Phoenix groaned.
The oracle chuckled at her complaint and folded his hands in his lap. "Ah, it is not the one that has been passed down for generations and known worldwide, I assure you. This one was passed only to…a select few."
"And let me guess, you're one of those 'select' few?" Shion retorted a bit sarcastically.
They could not see his lips curl into a small smile behind his mask. These children still do not know the truth…
"Perhaps." A pause. "Do you know how Orion was sealed away after the battle?"
"What do you mean?" Phoenix asked. "Ain't he sealed away in his kingdom?"
A chuckle came from him has he waved a hand again. "Ah, that is what the common story says."
When no other interruptions came, the oracle continued on. "The angels who sided with Hyne were not the only ones who fought against Orion's rebellion. Hyne himself requested the aid of others down in the mortal realm."
"The summoners, right?" Shion stated. "We heard that from someone in Shard."
"The summoners were not the only ones involved in the war, although they played an extremely important role in it," Oni continued as if Shion has never said anything. "Hyne asked every group that had the capability to become a threat to Orion or were targets to be threatened by him. The clans from the fae," Sakana stiffened at the words, "the great mages from the continent of Adelia, the summoners of Feuille Pinnacle, demi clans…everyone in this realm was involved just as much as the angels who kept their loyalty to Hyne were. However, there was one particular group of people that possessed power that rivaled those of the summoners, the ones that Orion wanted most out."
Kentarou's eyes narrowed as he felt a prickling sensation in his mind. Oracle or not, the man was being far too invasive. The bandit easily kept his mind as empty as possible, but he still didn't feel at ease. Something inside him told him that what the oracle was going to say next would be the story he was told as a child - after meeting the summoner who visited their village.
"There was no name for these group of people at the time," Oni rasped on, "but they were well known in their magical affinity to the dark elements: those spells which were impossible to touch, the techniques that brinked towards a being's death."
"So who are these people called now, then?" came a question from someone next to Kentarou, but he didn't care to look to see who asked.
Another chuckle came from the oracle. "Did you know that Orion's powers were not broken into two pieces, but in three?"
"What?" Sakana asked, surprised at the sudden change of subject.
"One was given to each of the groups who played a vital role in the final battle against Orion when he was sealed," Kentarou suddenly spoke up, staring straight at the oracle.
"Ah, so you have heard of this tale?"
If he wasn't wearing the mask, Kentarou could have guessed that the man inside was smiling. He, too, managed a smirk. Two could play at this game. "You're an oracle, shouldn't you already know?"
The oracle chuckled again. "You are much sharper in your tongue than what I had seen, Kentarou. But never mind that. You are searching for Rydia. I must warn you, though, that others have been looking for her as well."
"We already figured that," Shion pointed out. "But you just said that you can't even find her, so what's the use of trying to trick us that you know where she is?"
"The future is dark and clouded for every one of you," Oni warned them. "Although we as oracles can see many futures, I can only see a dark path ahead no matter what choice you take."
"Would you get to the point already?" Phoenix demanded with impatience. "If you don't know where she is, why try to scare the shit outta us?"
"As you had entered, I was able to see a small glimpse of her environment."
The affinity of your magic has helped me find her, Melbane.
Kentarou frowned at the unfamiliar voice that addressed him. "So where is she?"
"Beyond a forest northwest of the Eskanther Plains lays a ruined city amidst a body of water," he said to them. "It is not far from here, but it is not close, either. Look below, and you will find her."
Oni continued to silently sit in his room, well aware of the visions of the four people who had come looking for him and of the two pairs of amber eyes watching closely behind him in their blanket of invisibility.
"If you two continue to stand there," he finally said to the empty space, "you will lose sight of the group that your superior has asked to follow."
A sinister, gleeful chuckle rumbled out of Jax's throat as she stepped out from her hiding place with her older twin sister following suit.
"Oh? The skull is actually worried about us?" Jax replied with bitter sarcasm. "I'm touched."
"Those words you said to them are true?" Jade asked, brushing back a stray lock of hair.
"If they weren't, then I would not be standing here by now," Oni calmly replied.
A ghost of a smile appeared on Jade's lips before she walked passed the oracle, leaving.
"If you somehow have managed to deceive us," she warned as she and her mirror image opened the door, "be aware of the consequences. Unlike Ryuuho, we are not as forgiving."
Beneath his mask, Oni smiled. They had no idea what he forsaw in them. "I will keep that in mind."
[In a forest, a few hours later]
"Oi, you two!" Phoenix called out as she brushed off the remnants of a twig that brushed by the side of her sleeve. "Do y'even know where're we goin'?"
"Oh, so th'lady complains, huh?" Shion joked ahead of her with a grin.
"Who th' hell're you callin' a lady?"
Kentarou paused to look at the sky which was beginning to fall to dusk. The magic in the air was unsettling him. It was getting dark fast; way too fast. If this forest keeps on continuing on, we'll probably have to camp here.
After leaving Beranda, Kentarou and Shion set out to be the guides to the area where Oni guided them to go in his riddles. Locating the forest on their klynxes was not that hard of a task. However, discovering a way out of it once they set in was a different story.
"Do you see anything that resembles a clearing, Sakana?" the bandit asked the fae sitting in front of him who looked even smaller against his tall frame.
She observed the area miles in front of them, turning her head every so often so she could get a better look.
"No, not so far," she said with a tinge of sadness.She was beginning to think that this search was going to become another one of their dead leads.
Wouldn't that be the best thing for you? a familiar voice whispered in her mind.
Before the sky faerie could react to the words, she heard the whir of an arrow coming close to them.
"Everyone, get down!"
An arrow immediately struck the side of the klynx that she and Kentarou rode on, sending the unfortunate animal in a panic and knocking its passengers off its back. Kentarou fell to the ground with a thud, though he immediately got up on his feet. Sakana quickly flipped herself around to land on her feet, her senses on high alert as her eyes darted to and fro around their environment, searching for their attackers.
Nothing. Dusk quickly turned into night, as if it was planned.
"Great, perfect timing for an ambush," she heard Shion mutter next to her; he and Phoenix had already gotten off their klynxes and ducked low.
Somewhere nearby she heard Kentarou hiss a curse as he took off his jacket, knowing that its bright colors could easily make him a tempting target, and crawled behind the fallen klynx. A few more arrows whizzed by them followed by the sound of childish laughter.
"Dammit, I can't see a thing!" Phoenix cursed from behind her klynx. "How th'hell did it get so dark all of a sudden?"
"Sakana, can you see where they are?" Shion whispered in her ear, being the closest one to her.
Despite the lack of light, the sky faerie shook her head. "No, I can't even sense them, either. Only when they fire their arrows."
"Taken off-guard so soon, my pretty prey?" a voice echoed amongst the trees. Sakana's blood froze. She knew that voice…
"The fun is just beginning," a similar voice added in a different direction.
It couldn't be…
Sakana frantically looked around, searching for the owner of the voices - the ones that constantly invaded her mind with twisting truths and doubts, but they seemed to know her magical depth and knowledge and cleverly hid their auras from her insight. She heard the string of their bows bend, and she knew that they were about to fire. Yet just on the edge of her hearing, she heard and felt a soft sound filter through the density of the forest and it gained power as it came closer, louder. She could hear a rustle in the trees and her eyes darted to the right, catching a glimpse of two shadows running by as the music became loud enough for everyone to hear. Sakana could hear one of the shadows hiss before both figures faded in a black flame to hide their identities. The sky turned back to mid-dusk, its true color around the trees.
"What in the…" she could hear Kentarou murmur.
"AHHH!!" Phoenix screamed somewhere nearby. The dark-haired tomboy burst straight out of her cover, followed by a white fluffy creature with wings.
In the midst of her flight, Phoenix stumbled over a root and tumbled ungracefully to the ground. The creature hovered just inches away from her, uttering gibberish that nobody could understand.
"What…what the hell is this thing?!?" Phoenix demanded as she managed to scoot herself up against a tree, her emerald eyes wide with fear.
"A mog? What's it doing here?" Shion made his way to the fearful woman and white creature who quickly turned around to face him.
"Kupo!" it said to them.
A rustle in the brush caught their attention, causing them to fall on guard, only to be surprised as their new intruder turned out to be a young girl who took a startling resemblance to Rydia though she possessed violet hair and blue eyes.
"Moogle, I told you not to scare other people!" she said with a frown, hands on her hips.
They all could see that in the girl's small hands was a flute.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: My apologies for such a long delay of the next chapter. Things have been hectic lately, and I've been hitting massive...um, writer's imagination for stories other than this one...