KH In The Times of Fairy Tales

Discussion in 'Written Works' started by Hexin, Nov 24, 2013.

  1. Hexin Hollow Bastion Committee

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2006
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    Location:
    Miami, FL
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    [Hello everyone. Yes, this is indeed another KH fan fiction, and my first time I actually give my all into writing one. I've been holding this idea inside my mind for so long that I just couldn't take it anymore and decided to write. Please feel free to critique, as I want to improve in my writing in order to better express/capture the idea in my mind.
    Did it flow rather well? Did it get you hooked, wanting for more? Where do I need to improve? Grammar? Do I need work with structuring my sentences better? Am I annoying with all these questions right now? Please let me know! Your feedback is important to me as a writer.]

    Pronunciations
    D'daear - (Dare)
    Malik - (Mah - lick)

    New Chapter: TBA (Ch 44 and the rest of part 1 is being worked on)



    The legend

    A long time ago, when the world was at peace within the light; and light filled the atmosphere like falling snow, there existed a blade of unfathomable power. It was said that whoever wielded this weapon would gain access and control over the source of this light that bathed the world. The light warmed everyone's heart. But all of this changed when a group of individuals discovered the potential behind the blade. With that desire, a tint of darkness was introduced into the world. Like a plague the group moved about, hiding their true intentions while they enticed darkness in people’s hearts. People wanted more, unable to quench their hunger for this light.

    A war had begun, inevitably. Both sides fought for control over the weapon. Some wanted to use its power to rule, while others wanted it locked away again. In the end, neither side came out of it victorious. Although the blade was destroyed, shattered into 7 pieces of light and thirteen pieces of darkness, the world was left broken just like the blade. The darkness began to consume the light, destroying the world bit by bit. It almost consumed the world. However, the light within hearts of children kept the darkness at bay, yet it was not strong enough to sew the broken world together. The world separated into smaller worlds, spreading far and wide across the realm of light.

    Like all legends, myths, and lore it can be lost or mis-translated through the fabric of time. True peace is impossible, and like so many, the people of this legend still struggled with their daily dilemmas; regardless of war or hunger for power. The darkness was already residing in the hearts of these peaceful individuals...it was dormant.


    Prologue

    Chapter 1
    A grand source illuminated the morning sky, and white clouds scattered like lilies in a pond filled with cascading petals of almost intangible light. The beautiful luminosity of these small see-through snowflake petals covered the atmosphere. It was like tiny balls of light snowing through the season changes. This display looked especially well with the gold patterns intertwining with wine red patterns, spread about the concrete surface of the town’s streets.

    Housing was everywhere consisting of painted light steel-blue houses, with plain red roofs, wooden frames on certain parts as to give off a medieval feel. As part of every folk tale, a giant castle was surrounded by thick concrete walls larger than a normal fence which eventual connected to barred gates which served as the main entrance to a long flight of stairs in which eventually led to the castles front doors. This gate too was positioned near the plaza; a well decorated central square of the town where cypress trees surrounded the large center of the square, leaving four gaps in between the pattern too allow access to citizens who felt like lounging about in the square. What a better way for a king to join his people than through a main area that harbored socializing individuals.

    Left and right the citizens of the town occupied the shops, restaurants, fountain court, all of which had paths that led straight to the plaza. They seemed to be at ease, with little to no worries, fears, or pain as they communed with one another; each within their own business.

    A young woman in her late twenty’s dressed in her gardening attire; a flower patterned apron covered her casual dress, tended to the flower display outside her shop which so happened to have been one of the main store surrounding the plaza. It was of the same design as the others, the building lacking any real exterior wall design or paint job aside from the visible bricks themselves. The display area; while being outside held all sorts of bouquets, single roses, and the sort. This was no ordinary shop though as her living quarters were atop the very same shop.

    She hummed in peace as her hands routinely moved out and about the flowers. The woman was a fine gentle beauty, with long auburn colored hair tied in a ponytail, and dark blue eyes that resembled the ocean deep. She was a strong educated individual, always doing her best to think and be ahead of the events. Filled with peace, and love for her family as well as those she befriended, she got along with nearly everyone. There were children playing within the center of the plaza, making all kinds of noises as they engaged in their usual childish activities [such as] tossing and kicking a bouncy light blue ball around.

    “Son, be careful when tossing the ball around!” a man shouted a small distance away. He seemed preoccupied with people at the moment outside a restaurant within the plaza. It was a small and simple place, where people had the choice of eating inside or outside; outdoor umbrellas were placed on every table outside in order to provide shade for customers who preferred the outside.

    “Yeah ok!” the [small short black haired] boy replied back, turning his attention back to his friends just in time to catch the ball heading in his direction. The group cheered on, the existence of worry to be unthinkable to them. The boy kicked the lightly colored blue ball, accidentally sending it over one of the kids head. The ball made contact with concrete, causing it to bounce towards the young woman tending to her flowers. Thankfully, the ball lost enough power and momentum over its travel to be reduced to a rolling ball which ended with a light tap to her foot. She stopped briefly to look down at the object that had called her attention.

    “Sorry Mrs. Maren!” said an approaching boy.

    “No worries Tom. I see you’re out and about this fine morning.” She said with the smile anyone would give a young child. The child nodded somewhat shy while holding the ball close to his chest.

    “Can D’daer come out and play?” he asked, looking at her with such innocent eyes.

    “Well let’s see if he’s awake.” She looked up at the window sill and shouted cupping a hand near her mouth. “D’daer! Toms here!”

    The window opened outward, an eight year olds purple short haired head poking out. The boy began to reply “Tell him I’ll be-“, but he paused, taking notice of his friend Tom. “Oh hey Tom. I’ll be out in a minute.” The boy reached and pulled window shut tight and for while the two stood there, waiting for the boy to come down.

    The mother held both hands, her attention on the main entrance. Tom stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to do other than wait out of politeness.

    A minute or two had passed before any sign of D’daers approach became visible. Out the door came the young individual in his outdoor attire. He was wearing a normal pair of beige baggy shorts, and a black T-Shirt with a image of a armored moogle; these small teddy bear like creatures with cream white skin, round red nose, small little bat wings, and an antenna with a big red ball at the end that usually hang around small shops helping with any synthesis a person may need. With that and basic black tie up sneaker like boots, this was all he needed for hanging out and about the town.

    “Hey Tom! What are we all going to play today?” he asked.

    “Finally! We were just playing catch, but we can do something else if anything. ” The two went off, before D’daer returned to his mother. “Morning mom.” He said as he hugged her tightly. The gesture was returned two fold. “Good morning Dear. Be back by noon for lunch. Ok?” D’daer nodded and quickly returned to his friend, soon after joining the group.

    She soon returned to tending her flowers for a while as she began moving around different bouquets into different bins. So far it was a casual morning, everyone going about their business.

    “Helen!”

    The woman snapped out of her routine, turning her head to notice a plump woman slightly older than her calling out. It was Mrs. Haggis, an occasional customer to her shop. She had always supported her business, on occasion dropping by to keep her company at the end of her days shopping.

    “So nice to see you again, Mrs. Haggis.” Helen teased as a warm smile on her face.

    “How many times have I told you, you don’t have to call me by my new last name!” she pouted, Helen unable to resist a chuckle. “How are you faring? Are you doing, alright?”

    There was a slight hesitation before Helen's reply, barely noticeable. “Yes. I’m doing just fine. How about you? I heard you’re almost due! You shouldn't be out and about like this! ” she said worriedly, her eyes peering at the bulge on the woman’s lower abdomen as. Mrs. Haggis laughed, waving off Helen's comment.

    “Oh please. If I have to lie in bed another day this week I’ll-I’ll go mad! Besides, I needed someone to talk too...” her voice slowly declining in spirit. Helen took immediate notice and with a concerned look advanced closer.

    “What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

    “I’m not entirely sure, but for some reason I can’t shake this uneasy feeling…” she said, unsure of herself.

    “Well please come inside. I’ll make some tea.” Helen insisted, leading her friend into the flower shop. The main area appeared to harbor a mass of flowers ranging from several species. Flowers filled the room, some hanging in bundle baskets, others in buckets wrapped together as a set. There were sections of plastic flowers, real flowers, bouquets, and a small special section for herbs. The main desk held the register, a bowl with free mints, and a frame with a picture of Helen and Judith in their younger years wearing a sailor fuku uniform; Helen's being white while Judith’s being black.

    Helen led her to a back room just a few feet away from the main desk which had the basic components a kitchen needed: a sink, stove, oven, lower cabinets to place various cooking equipment, cabinets up top to hold cans, small boxes, glasses, cups, mugs, waist level cabinets for utensils, a refrigerator, food closet, and a table with dining chairs. She sat the expectant woman down on a dining chair near the small table, removed her gardening garments, and went straight to work on the tea; after having washed up.

    “Which tea would you prefer Judith? Green, cinnamon…Paopu?” she asked as she opened a cabinet above to search for the tea bags. She needed to tippy toe a bit in order to reach the tea bags. Judith shifted in her chair slightly.

    “Oh just give me whichever.”

    Helen reached for the nearest one. She held the box in her hand, reading the contents. “Cinnamon it is.” She muttered. She quickly closed the cabinets and began to warm up some water on the stove. “So tell me, what’s on your mind?” she asked, sitting on the chair adjacent to Judith.

    “Nothing that would make me feel this uneasy, that’s for sure!” She held her womb, rubbing it as she contemplated. To move things along, Helen asked, “How’s the baby?”

    “The baby is doing well. It keeps kicking from time to time.” Judith said with a smile that slowly faded. Helen was now getting concerned, her attention attuned to her friends change in emotion. “Judith…please… You can tell me anything.” She reassured, placing a hand on Judith’s. Looking at Helen in the eye for a moment, she nodded.

    The tea pot slowly began its whistle, gaining power each second. Helen got up and removed the pot from the stove; turning it off in the process. She returned to the table with 2 mugs, 2 cinnamon bags, and the pot. Her hands expertly moved about placing the mugs near their respective user, then placing the bags in each one of them. Next, she maneuvered the spout of the tea pot towards each mug, pouring the warm water. Once done, she settled the pot on a mat and once again joined Judith.

    “Thank you…” she said as she grabbed her mug and took a small sip before continuing. “Helen…I don’t know how else to say this, but I feel something bad is going to happen…” Judith lowered her mug, looking at Helen with all seriousness. “I don’t understand how or what is leading me to feel this, but I just know.” Helen sat there, with her eyes staring back at Judith, holding her mug. “I think we’re all in danger, Helen. Change is going to happen soon, and it will be for the worst. We have to warn the king. We were his father’s former students, maybe he would take us seriously! ”

    “Judith don’t be silly. What horrors can possibly occur?” she asked, an edgy smile showing her disbelief. Judith protested. “I’m not lying! I have never been so sure in my life!”

    Helen shook her head. “How on earth would you want us to come before the king without legitimate proof? You’re going off on a hunch, sweetie. You’re probably just going through a mood swing...” She said dismissing Judith’s case. Her friend gave a sigh, placing the mug on the table. “I must be going now…” Judith slowly rose from her chair, carefully holding her womb as if it would not carry her child any longer. Helen arose from her chair quickly, placing her mug on the table.

    “Wait Judith! Come now, don’t be upset!” she said, not knowing whether to stop her or to help her off the chair. With a stern look, Judith looked at her. “How can I not be upset? My own friend whom I’ve known for years doesn’t even believe me!” she stated, slowly walking away. Helen hastily got in front of her not wanting to leave things like that. She hesitated in saying anything. Helen looked away, briefly, contemplating on the news. Minutes passed without a word having been said.

    Finally, Judith spoke. “Helen…please tell me, am I going insane? What do you think? What are you thinking?” she implored, concerned for not her own sanity, but in fear that her good friend is suddenly thinking differently of her. Helen was getting ready to say something when all of a sudden bells were heard coming from the castle. Helen was surprised. She slowly walked towards the window, stopping when the main door opened. D’daer stood against the opened door gasping for air; a small bruise on his right forearm. The two turned towards him in astonishment.

    “Mom mom! King Fydlon is in the plaza! He has an announcement to make!” he shouted in excitement, the joy in his expression clear as day.

    Helen turned to Judith, a little spooked at the timing. The king always held announcement for festivals, or important notices. Considering the time of the year, she new for certain it wasn’t for a festival. Important notices rarely occurred, and they were usually given by his servants rather himself. The only other time the King himself gave an announcement was for when other towns, kingdoms, and villages needed dire aid.

    “We’ll be right there, honey. Just go on ahead.” she said, watching D’daer nod and run off towards the crowd of people already visible from the window; having noted the small injury. She could see the barred gates from here were already opened, and a group of servants standing behind their King; two of them standing just behind him. The man was in his late thirty’s, yet looked a bit younger than that. He was quite tall, a stature fit for a king. Long blonde hair was neatly combed back, his jet black eyes adding a form of seriousness to his persona. Helen turned to Judith who was already looking at Helen. She grabbed Judith by the hand and led her toward the front door, but to be stopped by Judith’s pulling.

    “Helen. Do you believe me?” she asked, her eyes focused on Helens. “We both studied under the Kings father. We’ve both been outside The Garden, and we both know how easily this peace can be severed… So I ask you again, do you believe me?”

    Helen looked away momentarily to make a quick analysis before looking back at Judith with a nod. She knew Judith had valid points. And when it came to Judith’s mystical intuition, well she was never wrong. She once again led Judith out of the Flower shop and into the crowd, in her heart hoping that all this was just mere coincidence.

    The crowd was steadily occupying plaza space, extending from the front from where the king was to practically her shop which was quite a ways back to where the gates were. The Citizens flocked from every corner of the town to hear what the King had to say. People were still entering the area when the king had started his announcement. Luckily, Helen and Judith had made it just in time to hear the beginning of his announcement. They stood near the edge of the crowd, not wanting to squeeze through people just for a better view; Judith was with child after all and needed to be careful around crowds.

    “Citizens of The Garden I come before you in person, as I have some news to share with you…” He began, scanning the area as to make sure he has everyone’s’ attention; clearly taking notice of the late arrivals. He figured the other towns’ people would share the missing information to their fellow citizens. Helen stood there next to Judith, listening intently. The air stood still momentarily, the common specs of light continuing it’s decent.

    Please tell us nothing bad has happened…” she thought as the king spoke.

    The King cupped both hands behind his back, giving a smile full of joy. “My people, it is to my greatest pleasure to announce that my wife is with child!” he said, watching as everyone immediately began to cheer with joy. Friends, family, and strangers all shouting praises. The people rejoiced as they hugged one another in this positive frenzy. One of the metalsmiths in the midst of celebrating raised his hands, and with focus conjured fire which he launched into the air. The fire skyrocketed into the air, and once it reached its peak exploded into smaller flares that immediately burst into fireworks. Although magic was a common tool for most people to know, not many had the luxury of learning. Magic wasn’t an easy thing to learn, and those that had mainly learned one for professional purposes.

    The townsfolk clearly had deep respect and loyalty to their king. This was displayed through their shared joy, for the reason behind this was that everyone knew the King and Queen had trouble conceiving a child. So for such news to be heard was like demonstrating a miracle, for in a way this was a miracle. King Fydlon laughed in his own excitement, shaking his tight fists in the air. He slowly withdrew behind his servants and back into his castle.

    Helen hugged Judith as they both cheered along with everyone. Her tears were of joy and relief. For the time being, the two would forget their worrying and rejoice in the great news.

    Maybe Judith is wrong…First time for everything, right?”

    People started tossing confetti all around; the stuff swirling around the cascading lights, while others began to bang pots and pans as their form of cheering. D’daer cheered along with his group of friends. “Hey D’daer come with us! We’re going to keep practicing!” one of the kids said, everyone else in the group joining in on the hype. Helens son knew all too well what his friend meant by practice. With an enthusiastic nod, he followed the group somewhere away from the cheering crowd.

    After a while, the cheering died down as bit by bit the townsfolk began to head back to their daily routines. Not too long after everyone had calmed and left that the sun had sneaked away. By now every house that was awake had their lights on. It was advancement in their technology that occurred not too long ago. The King had his researchers develop a way of being able to illuminate their housings without the need for candles, lamps, and containers that could hold the little specs of light as a means of illuminating the interior of one’s house.

    The main entrance door opened, D’daer walking through. “I’m home mom!” he said, approaching the Main desk to grab a mint. “Welcome home!” she shouted, watching her son disappear past kitchens range of visibility and up the stairs.

    “Well, I’ll be off now.” said Judith.

    “Here give me your hand” She gently helped lift Judith up off the chair, walking her to the door. On the way, she asked, “Would you like some company on your way home?” A smile came across Judith’s face at the kind gesture. “No it’s alright. I can make it here without help, I can surely make it back on my own.” She stated as the two chuckled. Helen opened the door, and escorted her out. She held the door opened, calling her son. “D’daer! Come say bye to Judith!” The sound of stairs colliding with foot could be heard getting closer and closer.

    His foot landed on the final step. Innocently he waved at Judith as he walked over to give her a hug. “Bye.” He said softly. The family stood next to each other outside the door way as they saw Judith disappear around the corner of their shop. They headed back inside, and into the kitchen. D’daer sat on the dining chair, while Helen continued preparing dinner.

    “When’s dinner going to be ready?” he asked, laying his head on the table with a tired expression.

    “Almost done why don’t you go brush up? I should be done by then.” She said, moving towards the dish rack; the pan sizzling with a mixture of cooked meat and vegetables. D’daer nodded and headed up towards the bathroom. He sluggishly climbed the stairs, exhausted from the day’s event. He headed into the bathroom, closing the door. The light could be seen seeping through the small space under the door. The shower turned on, and the sound of multiple droplets could be heard colliding with the shower floor. Helen continued prepping the dinner, humming as she sautéed the food. After having finished his business with the bathroom, D’daer headed back towards the kitchen; wearing a blue long sleeved shirt, and shorts as part of his evening attire.

    Just as he entered the kitchen was his mother placing the food on the table. She turned to him; heading towards the cups. “See? I told you I’d be done by then.” She told him, grabbing the two cups and water pitcher on the kitchen counter. D’daer grinned. He walked over to his side of the table and began to eat; his mother pouring his drink next to him. After pouring the drinks, she left the pitcher on the table to quickly turn off the stove before heading to the table.

    “So what did you and your friends do today?” Helen asked, hiding her true intentions as she sat in her chair, grabbing her utensils. Before replying, D’daer swallowed the food he was currently chewing; his mom had taught him better than that. “Oh you know the usual. We played hide n seek, tossed the ball around…” he said, trying to mask the other extra activities they did. Clearly the mom was suspicious as she stared at D’daer; the poor boy taking notice of her motherly glare.

    “Really is that all you boys did?” she asked again, her stare being a clear indication that she potentially knew.

    “Yeah…! That’s all we did...” He once again said, this time his voice waning on the final words. He kept his attention on his food. Helen told him, “I saw the bruise on your arm earlier today… Let me see your arm. Roll up the sleeves.” Not wanting to comply with her, he feigned having not heard her. Once again she told him, “D’daer, show me your arms.” When she again didn’t receive a response, she sighed. “D’daer Grewgh Maren, roll up your sleeves…now!” she demanded, letting go of her utensils on the place mat. Hesitantly the boy rolled up both sleeves; two small bruises were on his left forearm, while one big bruise decorated the other. She held his arms, examining them. Then disappointed, she let a sigh escape her as she leaned her right temple against her fingertip.

    “D’daer…!” she uttered in frustration. D’daer defended himself. “Mom it doesn’t even hurt! We were just practicing!” he said in his defense.

    “I thought I told you no struggling!” she said, staring him in the eye. He rolled his eyes. “It’s not struggling it’s called, Struggle!” he corrected her, clearly not getting the message.

    “I don’t care! I specifically told you to stop playing that game!” she stated. Helen took his arms and pointed at the bruises. ”Look at this! You’re getting hurt! This is the kind of thing I don’t want you doing. All you kids do is swing around that wooden sword, hurting each other. One thing is swordplay, but another is to actually sword fight! ” D’daer rolled his eyes. “Mom, if we get hurt badly we can always get healed by Mr. Freig.” He defended.

    “Mr. Freig is a busy man, and he won’t always be there!” Helen stated, attempting to shove some sense into her son. As a matter of fact, about one fourth of the world’s population knew magic, and out of that twenty five percent, there were only three percent who actually knew the curative spells for medical purposes.

    The boy pulled his arms away, crossing them as he pouted. Helen gave another sigh when she said, “You’re grounded.” D’daer immediately protested, “Mom! No please!”

    “End of discussion! You disobeyed me. I told you I didn’t want you doing this, and you go off disregarding me! No, end of story. Finish your dinner and go to bed. One week of grounding” She commanded, delivering his fate. Out of rebellion, he pushed his plate away. Helen stared at her plate, her patience with this dilemma running thin. “D’daer... “ She looked at him. He got off his chair and dashed towards the stairs.

    Helen immediately went after him, reaching the kitchens exit just in time to catch a glimpse of D’daer running up the stairs. She reached the stairs shouting, “D’daer! Come back here this instant!” The child stopped just as he was about to reach the final step. He peered over the railing; eyebrows furrowed. “Why won’t you let me participate? How am I supposed to get any stronger if you won’t let me!?” he exclaimed. She stared back at him shouting, “This has nothing to do with that. I just don’t want to see you getting hurt! You come home with those bruises, and I just can’t stand seeing you hurt! I don’t even understand this obsession you have with trying to prove yourself.”

    D’daer frowned, brows still furrowed. “Because I have too…” he uttered, eyes swelling up. Helen frowned, noticing the tears forming in her sons eyes. “Why do you have to prove yourself? To whom?” she asked repeatedly. Finally, an answer she wasn’t expecting spewed from his mouth. “…I have to prove myself to you and myself, because dad isn’t around anymore to protect you or the house. Since he gave up on us because he wasn’t strong enough… I have to become strong enough so that I don’t have to leave you. So that I can protect what is most precious to me…” He replied before running toward his room.

    Helen kept staring at the now empty spot where D’daer once was. She looked away, walking back to her chair. Waiting a moment before finishing what was left of her plate, she sat quietly speechless. After she was done, she brought everything to the kitchen sink where she began washing. Once done placing dishes to dry on the rack, she placed her hands on the counter and leaned against it; letting her head hang low in exhaustion. Her eyes closed, biting her lower lip in emotional frustration. She lifted her head high, staring at the plain white ceiling in thought.

    “What am I supposed to tell him, John…” she muttered, letting go of the counter. She placed both palms on her cheeks, shutting her eyes in an attempt to regain focus. Before heading up she turned the lights off. Even with no light inside the house, the small snowflake like orbs of light lit the outside rather well, even during the evening. She walked up the stairs and toward her son’s room, her naked feet gently stroking wooden paneled floor. Softly, she opened the door to the Childs room, there in the covers layed her son. Fast asleep he was already dreaming, his peaceful body rhythmically moving up and down while inhaling and exhaling air. Before leaving for her room, she carefully approached his bedside, bending over to land a soft kiss on his head.

    “One day, I’ll tell you...” she whispered over him. Having said that, she walked out the room and headed for her shower. She closed the door behind her, the bathroom light seeping through beneath the door. The sound of water pounding against her body as well as the shower floor could be heard. It took her a little longer to finish, her mind wandering from time to time. After having accomplished her before bed rituals, she headed to her bed. To her small surprised, a note with words, “To Mom” was found lying on her bed. She picked it up and read the contents of the letter.

    “Sorry. If it makes you happy, I’ll stop participating in Struggles.”

    She held the letter, a small guilt falling over her. Folding the letter, she sighed placing it next to a picture frame on the night stand next to her bed, and got under her covers, laying her head on the spongy pillow. She layed there staring at the frame, it was an old picture of her and her 6 year old son along with the man that once protected them. They were all cuddling together; carefree smiles adorned their youthful faces. “Come back soon…John…” she uttered a frown taking shape. Closing her eyes a small tear trailed down the base of the bridge of her nose; her mind slowly drifted to dream.
    ------------------------------------------
    As the family slept peacefully in the safety of their home, a hooded man dressed in a gold trench coat stood in the vacant plaza just outside the Maren residence. Yellow villainous eyes penetrated the shadow cast over his hooded face. The front was unzipped, revealing a black undershirt, a leather strap crossing diagonally to his left shoulder. A rather large belt buckle with a cat’s eye design decorates the front of this man’s belt, which holds up long cargo pants. Knee guards extending to his shin, guards his lower legs whilst wearing well designed boots clad in metal. To the sides buckles keep the guards in place, allowing for mobility without worrying about wiggling the pieces off.

    He lifted an open hand, and stared at it; instantly tinted black static began circulating around it. He tightened his hand into an angry fist, the sheer emotion causing it to shake. The static started to concentrate more inside the fist, bits escaping through the grooves and crevices of his fist. Eyes closing, he concentrated. With a quick motion, he opened up into a stiff opened palm, revealing a dark like substance; resembling the small snowflake like orbs of light. The dark material extended itself, allowing the static to flow out throughout the shape that was being forged. Once the energy had fully materialized, the static dissipated into nothing along with the remaining matter.

    There in his hand, was a double edged curved saber coated in crimson red. From the guard to the pommel, black was its main color; the same cats eye decorating the center of the weapons guard. Strange sigils garnish the blade, its significance known only to the wielder. He growled, tightening his grip on the newly crafted weapon. Lowering it, he started to advance towards the residence housing the Maren family.

    “Malik.” a voice spoke; the voice being familiar enough to hinder the beings advances. He halted, turning his head slightly, to catch a glimpse of an elegant slender woman cloaked in black. Young was her appearance; early twenty’s, caramel skin with white long thick hair, and dark tinted eyes. Two small horns protruded from her head, long enough to be noticeable. “You should wait until the time is right.” She spoke, her soft yet demanding voice carrying authority. He said nothing as he stared at her.

    She advanced toward him, the sound of heeled boots echoing as she took her time in a rather graceful stride. “I understand the pain you must be feeling. I too am dealing with the same predicament that has befallen us.” She started, her words slyly manipulating the man’s urge to destroy the household. Finally at his side, she peered into his hood, making contact with his anger filled irises. “Her time will come, but everything must be ready beforehand.”

    The weapon dissipated in a cloud of electrified darkness, disappearing from his hand. He turned from her, and walked away; the hood masking his annoyed expression. A smug appeared on the woman’s face, her eyes turning upon the house.

    Tiny specs of light kept falling from the evening sky, the town basking in its serene warm presence.

    Chapter 2


    The sun showed bright on this new day, its glow reinforced by the snowing specs of light. A long yellow road extended straight through this vast field of red flowers. Standing at the edge of this field, stood the same mysterious woman who had visited The Garden town just a few days ago. Enormous in size compared to the previous town she had visited, a massive glass like city stood before her as she closed in. It was green and larger than anything she had ever seen, even bigger than the castle she saw in The Garden town. She noticed two armed guards in front of the city gates. Although she was stunningly beautiful, she understood that her horns; although fairly small, would be out of place and would definitely draw attention to herself. So to counter act this little dilemma, she pulled the hood of her cloak over her head. She approached the guards.

    “I’ve come to partake in business here.” She said, looking up at the rather tall guard with her dark eyes. He had a rather large fluffy hat, uniformed in a blue formal military suit.

    The guard looked down at the woman. “What business have you come to partake in?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “The kind that doesn’t concern you.” She replied, making her irritation well known. It was a risky façade, as she began her mind game with the individual.

    He tightened his grip on the halberd, showing signs of a weakened poker face. It was a success; she had broken through his act. All that was needed was that extra pressure, and he would break. Not knowing what to do, he looked at his partner close by who had nothing to say, but a shrug. He looked back at the woman, straightening up. “Ma’m, I cannot just allow any-“

    “You either let me walk inside, or you lose your job as you let me walk inside a few minutes later. I have connections with people inside these walls, so don’t think even for a second that I’m bluffing. Now choose! I don’t have all day.” The woman wasn’t playing games, per say. She stood there, looking at the gate in front of her; not bothering to waste her time looking the guard in the eye. Unable to decide what to do, the guard waned under the pressure and nodded.

    “Open the doors!” he shouted, turning his back to her as he looked up at one of the soldiers a top the wall. The sound of clanging could be heard as the metal pulley system within the walls worked about opening the large door. The soldier looked back at her, only to find no one. Baffled, he looked around catching sight of her as she advanced past the doors. Hoping to avoid any ill feelings towards him, he shouted, “Enjoy your stay in Emerald city!”

    The woman kept walking, ignoring his voice as she continued on her way. Her eyes wandered past the citizens, in disbelief at the beauty of it all. All around her were buildings made of pure emerald, shaped for its purposes such as buildings, pillars, fountains, and stairs. Even the very floor she walked on was made of the green precious stone. She was impressed. The cities architecture was phenomenal, and the gold statues gave the city a feel of riches. Continuing her walk, the road eventually led her to the town square; or rather town circle, where her impressions were just blown away. Standing a few yards away was a magnificent castle. Large in size, it towered over every other building she thought to have been enormous. She grinned as her eyes displayed awe and wonder.

    “My my… one day I would love to rule in a castle like this.” She muttered, taking her time to reach the building as she took in the scenery. She walked past a fountain, at its center a marvelous emerald gem. Clearly she was too distracted to have noticed, but it would play an important role in her plans. As she neared the front door, she noticed that yet again were there more guards. Rolling her eyes beneath the black hood, she sped her stride quite a bit; her recent experience with the previous guards having been enough to thinned her patience. The guards took notice and immediately blocked the front doors by crossing their spears together.

    On the spot, she changed her pace and began to run, carefully running up the steps; it could be a bit tricky wearing heeled boots. She approached, feinting distress.

    “Please you must help!” she shouted, her voice sounding troubled. The guards taken off guard, looked at her worriedly.

    “What’s the trouble, ma’m?” one of them asked, lowering his guard. The woman removed her arms from underneath her cloak, and fell into the guards arms. He caught her, the two men now shocked. She began to weep, digging her face into his chest.

    “There was this horrible man at the front gates. He was mean to me, and called me names! Even as he let me pass through the gates, he continued to mock me!” she claimed, looking up at the guard with innocent eyes further enhanced by her sheer beauty. The man blushed, taken in awe by the sight. He adjusted his hat with determination in his eyes.

    “Ma’m. Say no more! I’ll handle this!” he said, gently removing her from his chest. He walked off, descending past the stairs.

    “Oh thank you kind and handsome guard!” she shouted, cupping her hands next her mouth, and waving afterwards for further effect.
    He stopped momentarily, blushing through his determination. As the guard continued walking off towards the gate, she made her way to the other guard. “My he sure is quite the hero, wouldn’t you say?” she asked, standing at his side as they both looked at the now miniscule guard far off in the distance. Seeing as how the other guard was so easily manipulated, she knew this guard to be no different. As a matter of fact, her plan was slowly being set into motion.


    The guard coughed, attempting to regain composure. He had no idea what to say. She pressed onward, attempting to manipulate his confused heart. “Why if men were more like him, I’d think the world would be…better off. Don’t you think?” She shifted her eyes looking up at the guard, emphasizing her eyes in a manipulative way.

    Tempted, he peered from the corner of his eye down at her only to be caught by her charming expression. He was done for. Blood steadily rose to his cheeks, creating blush. His eyes averted in an attempt to keep his cool. A tint of something all too familiar was stirred in his heart. The woman looked away with a smug slowly arising. Her plan was going rather well. The two stood there silently for a while, allowing the moment to become awkward. Finally, she struck.

    “I’m feeling rather parched… Might I ask a glass of water?” she asked, fully aware how bizarre the request was. To add for effect, she began fanning herself.

    The guard was conflicted. He was to either accept the request or deny her. Accepting would mean going off to get her a glass of water; or something of equivalence. Denying her request would probably leave him in a bad position, losing any credibility he had as a “gentleman”. After a moment of thinking, he had an idea. Attempting to control his wavering voice, spoke. “C-Come with me! I can get you a glass of water inside!”

    Bingo. “Oh thank you so much!” she said excitedly, clapping her hands together.

    The guard opened the door, allowing her to step through first. He closed the door behind him, and led her to the royal kitchen; making sure to be aware of his surroundings. No one other than those permitted were allowed inside the castle. If one were to find out that he had led someone inside, he would be in serious trouble. Checking to see if the area was clear of people, he motioned for her to enter the kitchen. “Here we are! Let me get you a glass!” he said, lowering his weapon against the wall.

    “Oh thank you so much…” she uttered. Her eyes were wandering, examining the kitchen. At the center was a large kitchen counter no longer than a yard, where various cooking tools hung from a ceiling hanger just above it. The kitchen wasn’t small, rivaling most kitchens in a restaurant. Having finished her inspection, she went to work. She removed her hood, slowly advancing towards the guard who was just opening the kitchen faucet.

    “Did you know that…every action has a true motive?” she began, closing in on her prey. The man motioned that he was listening, as he filled her glass. She continued, “For example, for what reason did you decide to accept my request? Was it… from the kindness of your heart?” she asked, toying with her prey; already able to see the lie stirring in his heart, before she struck.

    The guard raised an eyebrow, no longer paying attention to the glass but rather her voice. “Uuh, well most certainly ma’m…!” His back still turned, he had no clue that she had already caught up with him; standing a mere three feet behind him.

    “I think otherwise…”

    He turned having realized her voice was a lot closer than it had been before. To his shock, his eyes locked to the horns protruding from her scalp. He was horrified. He had never seen such a detail on a human before. Without realizing it, he was backing away from her as if the counter would somehow move out of the way. “What in the- !”

    The woman’s pupils dilated, a sudden evil aura surging throughout her body. The man began to express fear. Suddenly, the unaware guard started to give off a similar aura. He started gasping for air, his heart rate accelerating. Pain showed on his face as he grabbed his chest, gritting his teeth. “Ggaaah…!” he uttered.

    “Your heart tells me everything… For you see that pain you’re feeling is the true motive expressing itself.” she stated, lying in a way of what was truly happening to him.

    “What…?! H- How?! What true motive…?” he struggled, attempting to feign ignorance. His body began to gradually levitate off the ground. He was in such pain that he hadn’t realized what was happening to him. The woman revealed a devilish grin.

    “You can lie all you want, but in the end your heart still speaks the truth. Now enough of this! Succumb to your hearts true desires! Don’t fight it!” With a quick motion of her hand, the man was engulfed in his own aura; not a word escaping. Within seconds the aura on both of them waned till it was completely gone. He was put down on his two feet, perfectly fine as if nothing had happened. She walked away towards the kitchen door, and just before exiting she said, “Just wait outside the gates like you normally do. If the other guard asks of my whereabouts, just tell him I went off to tell the city of his heroic deed. That should keep him quiet…” she was about to leave, but stopped herself. “Oh! By the way, is the king currently available for visiting hours?” she asked. The guard shook his head. Disappointed, she went on her way.

    The door was closed, leaving behind a drone of a guard nodding his head to the woman’s command. He grabbed his weapon, walked out the door and back to his post as if nothing had happened. The other guard was already back, scowling at his partner.

    “Where were you?” he asked.

    “The woman has gone about telling people of your heroic deed.” He replied, his voice monotone, lacking life. The other guard immediately forgot his suspicion, excitingly asking “W-What has she said? Was she interested in me? Is she calling me a hero?”

    “The woman has gone about telling people of your heroic deed.” He replied again. Still excited, the guard pressed on. “Yes yes, I know already! But what is she saying? Did she tell you anything, like what she will be telling everyone? L-like I’m a handsome hero that can take charge and put people in their place! O-or I’m a kind and gentle man that will stand for women in distress! Something like that? ”
    Unrelenting, he gave the same reply. “The woman has gone about te-“


    “Oh forget it!” the other guard frustratingly shouted as the drone finished his reply. The two stood in their post, one with a stale face while the other stood frustratingly disappointed.

    As this took place, the woman was making her way up the castle floors; stealthily avoiding contact with guard’s enroute. The castle was luxurious, filled with antiques, large portraits, and colorful designs, all signs of the luxury this family had at its disposal. She peered around a corner, noticing yet another two guards standing by a large door. This was becoming frustratingly annoying for her. She pulled her hood up over her head, and stood behind the corner; thinking of her possible plans of action with a sigh. After much careful thought, she found her answer.

    The two guards stood by the door, erect in posture with a face full of seriousness. Suddenly, without warning they were hit each by a green ball of concentrated fire. They connected with their intended targets, knocking them against the wall and onto the floor unconscious. The power behind these was subtle, as it left a scorch mark on their uniforms only. The woman stepped into the scene, looking down at the easily beaten guards. “So much for guards of the royal people…” she muttered to herself. Stepping over one of the guards, she gently pushed one of the doors open, peering through the crack. There was no one there. She stepped inside, examining her surroundings. She saw nothing; just a large empty throne room. Her frustration showed on her concealed face.

    “Where is this ol- !“

    “Can I help you?” a feminine voice spoke.

    She was found, turning quickly to lock eyes with her. She was fairly young, about her own age. Long brunette hair, she wore a white feather a top her head; a long white dress to compliment her design choice. She was attractive, and gave off a presence that held potential. They both stood there, looking at each other. Waiting a few seconds to gauge the new entries reaction, she replied “I’m looking for the king.. And you are?”

    “Oh, I’m sorry I’m Evanora, The royal advisor. I’m sorry to disappoint but he’s currently in his chambers on the other side of the castle. The Winkie guards should have told you…” she said, walking towards the doors in an attempt to scold them. Not wanting to be found out, she intercepted her; blocking her advance.

    “Oh yes they did! But, I persuaded them to let me in. I just needed to see the king so urgently…” she began, attempting to manipulate the situation by imitating a sad expression.

    Unphased by the cloaked woman’s attempt, she chuckled. “Oh please. You’re going to have to do better than that…” Evanora said, pulling her wand out. She aimed it at her. “Little tricks like that won’t work on me, witch. Now move aside, and towards the window to your left.” She commanded. She held the magic stick, motioning to her to get moving. The façade having been uncovered, the cloaked woman complied. Not giving her back to her as she slowly retreated to the window.

    “Remove your cloak. I don’t want your hands doing anything sneaky underneath them.”

    Once again, she complied with her demands. Undoing a knot around her collar, the cloak slid off; revealing a red tan top small enough to expose her abdomen. A thin black fluff extended throughout the collar of her neckline. Black shorts slightly covered by a red gown like kilt only covering the back of her lower body, leaving her front legs exposed along with her black knee high boots; a brown bag also strapped around her waist. Her left arm had a golden bangle with strange insignias strapped around it. The wand wielding woman stood, a bit shocked. Not just at her strange style of clothing, but because she could have sworn that as the witch removed her cloak that she saw her cast a devilish shadow as the light from the window shown on her. Then she understood why.

    “From what land do you come from?” she asked with curiosity, her wand wielding hand rigid as ever as she took notice of the witch’s small black horns.

    The witch gave a smirk. “A land far from here…”

    With keen eyes, she eyed her. “Don’t try me, witch.”

    “You’re one to talk.” She spit back, briefly looking at the woman’s wand. “Are there others like you in this land? I doubt you could have learned this by yourself. ” she asked, her black eyes staring back at the white dressed woman.

    “I’ll be asking the questions here!” Evanora shouted, trying to regain her dominance in the room. The truth was that she had never seen a witch outside her home land; especially one bearing such details as hers. She was intimidated clearly, even the horned witch could see that.

    The witch took a step, attempting to gauge her reaction.

    “Don’t move or I’ll blast you!” she threatened.

    She scoffed, clearly seeing right through her bluff. “Oh please. If you were really serious about that, you would have done that the moment you found out I was a witch, which by the way I’m curious to know how you knew…” she said, advancing closer with a curious watch.
    As if in rebellion to the witch’s rebellion, she shot a bolt of lightning at the floor just a foot in front of her. She haulted her advances momentarily, impressed by her display of control; even though she was using a medium to channel her magic.


    “Impressive, although… I thought you said you were going to blast me if I moved?” she questioned, backing the woman to the wall with manipulate use of words as well as her action. She wasn’t afraid of this wand wielding witch, and she knew the other knew it. She pressed, on her guard at the ready in case the other on a whims notice struck.

    She did. In defiance to her boldness, Evanora’s brows furrowed and with a simple flick of her wrist shot a string of lightning at the horned witch. With a casual motion, the woman moved her left hand in front of her as to catch the attack. The attack collided with her palm, breaking apart the stream as strings of lightning shot out into random directions parallel to her palm. The stream flowed as the two clashed. Bolts of lightning danced everywhere as it struck the floor, walls, and ceiling. The woman in white was baffled, and struggled to maintain the electrical current.

    A string of lightning shot itself towards the throne. The lightning hit an invisible barrier, and disappeared. Noticing the bit of detail that had taken place to her left, the horned witch with ease drained the electric current into her palm, curling it into a tight fist as the electricity balled itself into nothing. As if forgetting about the woman who had just attacked her, she walked towards the chair, stopping a few feet away. Her hand extended itself towards it, only to be greeted by a strange clear wall of magic.

    “Oh my…how things would have been…awkward had I found the king…” she uttered, loud enough to be heard by the other.

    Although Evanora had heard the horned witch, she was still in shock at her display of power to really make sense of what she had said. Feeling exhausted, she dropped to her knees. Her breath was heavy as she spoke. “How are you so powerful? I’ve never seen a witch with such level of skill…” Her voice spoke with more curiosity than it did frustration. She eyed the woman who turned towards her, now advancing towards her. Weak from her childish tantrum, she sat there head rising as the horned witch approached.

    “Because if I am to rule over my own kingdom one day…” she began, having caught a glimpse of change within the white dressed woman’s heart. She grinned.

    “…Then I must gain power by whatever means necessary.” She meant every word of it, attempting to use her words to stir something in the exhausted woman’s heart; a need, a crave, a desire. Extending her hand out to her, she recommended, “Allow me to teach you. I can unlock the potential within your heart. With that power, you too can rule over your own kingdom!” Her plan had taken a different turn, but it was better than she had hoped for. Why do it yourself when you could just use someone else.

    Evanora looked up at the horned witch. She hesitantly raised her hand, a look of caution about her as she stared into the eyes of the horned witch.

    The power to rule over my own kingdom she says…” she thought, looking at the extended hand. She had always wanted to be more than a royal advisor, but it had never dawned on her that she could be a ruler; and now here was this mysterious woman whom she didn’t even know, already besting her at magic. Her display of power… It was indeed a rare opportunity being presented to her. After some thought, who this mysterious individual was didn’t really matter anymore. Her eyes looked up, locking with the woman’s eyes in awe. “You can truly make me ruler over the land of Oz, can you?” she said, no longer doubting her. “What’s your name?” she asked still being on her knees.

    The horned witch looked down at Evanora; hand still extended. She grinned. “Call me…” she began, her eyes dilating as the same venomous aura she let loose a while ago arose from within her.


    “Maleficent.”

    Chapter 3


    “Welcome welcome yee who’ve journeyed far! We welcome you to The Gardens fiftieth anniversary of The Dream Festival! Enjoy the altered scenery, food, merchandises, and even the shows!” shouted a horse voice; literally.

    The whole town was engulfed in this monochrome dome. The people entering the town were baffled at the way their own voices sounded the moment they stepped into the magical field surrounding the town. Nothing was wrong with the town, though. This was a mere exhibit to bring about the culture of a neighboring village. It was a village a ways off to the west of The Garden, by a river. It was Disney Village; a village ruled by the anthropomorphic people in a monochrome colored land, with people having mono voices. Every year this village would partner with The Garden in order to host a festival which celebrated the Villages culture, and way of living. Everyone who heard of the festival’s opening would flock to this part of the world just to experience this bizarre phenomenon where people could see the world through the Villagers eyes.

    “Mom!” a voice shouted outside the flower shops main doors. You could hear a crowd of footsteps rounding the corner. The door opened revealing a leaning D’daer with cupped hands. Behind him a group of diverse children chattered in excitement while they watched him show off to their mother. Among the children, kids resembling mice, calf’s, ducklings, pup’s, and even kittens pushed one another as they tried to peer over D’daers shoulder.

    Helen was just putting some munny away underneath the main desk when D’daer had called to her. She looked up, smiling at the joy displayed on her sons face. Looking back and forth between the boys’ eyes and hands, she couldn’t help but wonder what the ruckus was all about. Succumbing to her curiosity, she walked around the desk and toward her son. She crouched near him.

    “Hmm, I wonder what it could be?” she happily asked, raising an eyebrow to add further effect in her question.

    The boy gave a satisfied grin. He opened his cupped hands to reveal tiny sparks of light crackling and exploding just above is hands. The two of them in unison awed at the miniature fireworks going about exploding, revealing shapes of things you would normally think about in stories and whatnot.

    “Ooooh!” everyone uttered.

    “Isn’t it neat mom?” the D’daer said, his eyes filled with amazement.

    The woman looked at him, having a need to ruffle her child’s purple hair. Ruffling his head, she planted a kiss after, on his head before getting back up.

    “Very neat.” As she replied, she began to walk towards her main desk. D’daer let his hands loose as the display was over. The kids outside were calling to him, having backed off him once they saw the show was over. They were feeling the need to exercise their youthful spirit. They wanted to hang around the performances outside.

    “I’ll be there in a minute!” the boy shouted to them before turning to his mother. “When’s lunch?”

    Helen continued placing munny into a jar on her desk, her eyes momentarily looking over to D’daer. “…iiinnn….about an hour past noon.” She replied, hands moving about collecting and placing. The boy nodded and walked out; the sound of bells ringing while the door slowly shut. He rallied his friends and acquaintances to the nearest performance. They spoke aloud as they walked together in a large group consisting of fifteen children, each talking to everyone in an attempt to sway the crowd into doing what they wanted.

    Nearby them, a show was just about to start. A normal stage with plank features covered a side of the plaza. It was mildly decorated with curtains. On stage, they could see a Hen and bull gathering puppets from behind the curtains for their next performance. The Hen was suited in fluffy, white plumage covering most of her body, except for her arm and tail feathers, which were black. She wore a large, white bonnet with an equally large, white feather stuck on it. The Bull on the other hand had black fur, wearing blue overalls, a white shirt, followed by white gloves commonly worn by the majority of the Disney Village residents.

    The group huddled together for a moment, having a childish debate in whether to join the audience in watching the almost ready show. They all peered toward the seats, gauging the audience’s attendance. The audience was beginning to get crowded. They all agreed in a decision, and began to run towards seats; attempting to find available seats. A black furred male kitten dressed in blue shorts ran ahead of them.

    “I got this!” he shouted back at his friends, reaching the chairs. He started redirecting traffic to other seats. It was his attempt was to save a whole section for his friends, to which he was succeeding. The group finally caught up. They all took their seats, everyone in the group giving the Kitten a pat on the back for his quick thinking. D’daer sat to the edge of the row watching the Hen walk to the edge of the stage.

    “Is everyone ready to enjoy the show?” she asked optimistically. The audience cheered, mainly consisting of young children. The Hen clucked in excitement. She stepped aside, running behind a small puppet stage where the bulls horns could be seen sticking out from behind. Without further or due, the puppets arose. The act had begun, and the children went silent. As everyone sat there, D’daer for a moment took notice of the falling specs of light coming from nowhere. The cascading light was an everyday phenomenon. No one had ever questioned where it came from, or what had caused it to even appear out of nowhere in the first place. For the first time, D’daer acknowledged its existence. This was only briefly as everyone in the crowd began to laugh. He quickly snapped out of it, and resumed watching the show; not wanting to miss anything else.
    The town was enjoying itself, some more than others, but enjoying itself nevertheless. People were still entering the monochrome covered town. Among those individuals was the golden coat covered Malik. He hadn’t visited this place in over a month; what with the traveling and plotting. It felt good to have returned, but unfortunately he could not lay even a finger on the family; he not too long ago almost had the pleasure of destroying them. A sigh of displeasure escaped his lips. Standing at the front gates of the town were two armored soldiers, happily greeting the people. They wore a uniform which was visible, but they were clad with armor in certain parts through the body; pauldrons, gauntlets, sabatons, greaves, and tasset to be exact.


    His yellow eyes pierced through his dark veil cast by his hood. The sound of metal clad boots reverberated amongst the sound of the other individuals who were entering the city. A soldier standing to his right caught sight of him, but only greeted him as he advanced.
    “Greetings! Hope you enjoy your stay a-“the soldier paused through his polite greet. The tall yellow eyed man gave him a devilish stare. The soldier’s eyes averted slightly, enough to understand that this bizarre man was intimidating. “h-have a great stay, sir…” he managed to spit out, as he quickly looked up to try to catch another glimpse at his eyes. He was too late though, as Malik had moved on past the gates. The soldier was left dumbfounded. His partner took notice.


    “You alright, man?” the other soldier asked, every once in a while smiling back at the approaching crowd. He was of average height, with dark blue hair, and the common blue eyes. His buddy didn’t respond, heck he even stopped greeting people. He waited until the amount of people was small enough to approach his blank friend. He shook him a bit, seeing him respond.

    “Uh yeah, I was just…thinking…” he replied, still dazed from his encounter. His friend tried to look under the man’s down cast.

    “What got you all rattled?” the guy asked.

    “Nothing, just saw this really scary guy giving me a look… it was a look I’ve never seen in my life…” he started, looking back at his friend. “He had these really yellow glowing eyes! I don’t know it was weird, but I could sense something from this guy. Like…a storm was coming or something.”

    His friend raised an eyebrow in concern. “O-kay. You sir, need to enjoy the festival to get your mind off of this…weird experience you’ve had!” he said, grabbing his buddy by the arm and pulling him in.

    “B-Brent! Stop! W-whaaaa!!!!” he shouted. The two were configured to black and white colors, and they were off to enjoy the festival.

    Malik walked through the alleyways of the town, attempting to avoid being noticed by any civilians. The new color to the town was helpful in keeping him in his covert state. Rounding a corner he was near the plaza, the sound of many people easily heard from his position. He paused at the last corner; slowly he peered around the turn. His eyes caught sight of the castle that lay just a field away. He spotted his opportunity when a crowd of people just began to leave a now finished show. Casually, as to not catch the attention of wandering eyes, he began to approach the crowd. Surprisingly with ease, he hadn’t caught anyone’s attention.

    You do know the place is in monochrome colors, right? There’s really no need to be all…covert.”a voice rang in his head. “It’s not like they’ll notice your unusual get up…”

    The man paused for a brief moment, recognizing the voice. “What do you want Maleficent?” he said.

    Laughter rang throughout his head. “I was just wondering how you were going to go about this little process…” she teased. “If you really want to be sneaky, you should’ve entered through the back.”

    “How would you have proposed I did that? This town is like a fortress. I can’t just jump over a wall…” he replied, attempting to hide his true intention. He kept sharp eyes on the lookout for wary people.

    Oh come now! You can summon a blade from thin air, control the darkness! And yet you can’t jump over a measly wall?” she began. “What are you REALLY up too…?”

    Malik scowled at her perceptiveness. He made his way past everyone and into the Town center where a crowd of people were watching a man juggle balls alongside a rather tall anthropomorphic dog wearing a jumpsuit. Continuing his trek, he found two guards standing at the gate. His hands curled into fists. The man’s lips formed a very cynical smile.

    “I’m just…leaving a message before I continue…”

    Immediately he flicked his fists opened, revealing two electrical orbs on the palm of his stiff hands. In one motion he jabbed both palms forward, and sent both spheres towards the guarded gate. The guards could only notice a blur before the impact occurred. The gates were ripped off their hinges dragging a piece of the wall with it as the powerful spheres penetrated, sending the remains of the gate inside the castle courtyard; spreading dust everywhere. Everyone in the vicinity turned their attention on the disturbance; even the performers. The festival had halted. Chatter began to stir among the people as they wondered. The guards flinched as they coughed from accidentally inhaling the debris. One of them managed to call to his partner.

    “Hey, you alright?!” He exclaimed as he continued to cough. The dust was too thick to see through. He approached, squinting through the fog. He managed to see a figure standing a few feet away. The dust was messing with his vision. His friends’ Silhouette was too tall to be his friend. He advanced slowly.

    “Astel?” he asked. The figure extended its hand towards him. Thinking it was Astel reaching for him in this dense dust, he too reached for him. As the hands were about to touch, the silhouette reached past his hand. The soldier, confused, suddenly felt matter squeezing his neck. He flailed, grasping and attempting to pull away at the thing that was gripping his neck so violently. He let out a loud cry which pierced through the debris and throughout the town.

    The people of the town as well as the visitors began to stir in unease commotion. “What’s going on in there?!” a random man exclaimed. A woman shouted, “Someone help! There’s someone injured in there!” Soldiers began to pour into the scene. Some drew their blades, while others had their pole arms ready.

    “Alright I need 10 men with me now!” a lieutenant shouted.

    Soldiers quickly volunteered. The squad of eleven lined up in a bee line formation, slowly advancing into the fog. Others stood on standby, the uneasiness coursing through them. The squad advanced into the courtyard. “Alright everyone keep your eyes peeled! We had two of our men on watch here. If you spot them, sound off and we’ll move in with you!” the leader shouted. Every eye was scanning through the dense dust. Normally, dust like this would have cleared over time, but unbeknownst to them was this any ordinary fog of debris. One of the soldiers turned their attention within the bee line, having seen a silhouette move in the corner of his eye.

    “Sir, I saw something move past the line!” the soldier shouted at the lieutenant.

    “AAAA-!!” a soldier shouted in brief pain, his voice having been cut off. It was the last soldier to the right side of the bee line. The soldier in front turned, having heard the last of his comrade’s voice. Whimpering in fear, he quickly turned to shout to his leader unfortunately meeting with the silhouette that would be picking them off one by one. The figure tackled the soldier, yanking him away from the group, covering his mouth.

    “Not yet.” Malik uttered with villainous vigor.

    A couple of feet away into the fog, he let go of the soldier’s mouth on purpose when delivering the fatal blow; wanting to whittle down the squads morale by letting the death cry echo through the area. The weak willed members of the group began to break formation. One by one those members were picked off by Malik, a death cry echoing every minute for each individual, totaling to 5. It was already made obvious that something or someone was the cause of this sudden chaos. In fear of losing more soldiers, the Lieutenant rounded everyone to get into a circle formation, backs facing each other’s backs.

    “Stand your ground! We will not fall today men!” the man shouted, attempting to boost their already weak morale. As they stood there, weapons at the ready, they were left anxious. Everyone was trying their hardest to see through this fog, but they just could not. They did not know where or when the being would attack.

    “Show yourself!” the lieutenant shouted with frustration. Seconds passed without any sign of trouble. He gritted his teeth. Suddenly, a silhouette emerged from within the circle; the party unaware. In one swift motion, Malik took out the entire group. They fell almost in unison. He stood there, taking in the scenery. It was art to him. They way he went about taking the men out of their existence, toying with them like a predator hunting in the night. Having no need for his sword, he willed his weapon to disappear in surge of dark matter. He turned towards the castle. All was going according to their master’s plan. Not having to worry for much resistance, he commenced his stroll through the courtyard and toward long flight of stairs extending to the castle gates; the fog fading.

    The crowd was listening the whole time this event was occurring. They heard the cries of pain, suffering, and the cries for help. They heard it all. When the fog cleared, they were met with a horrible realization. Corpses lay in front of the gate, and within the courtyard. The people with a clear view began to scream in horror, while others far off could only imagine what it was that caused their reaction. The soldiers left on standby gripped their weapons tight.

    “Something is after the King and Queen!” a random soldier assumed aloud. Every soldier from every corner of the town was seen entering the plaza after a while, save for the ones already stationed within the castle. A corporal began to gather rookies for crowd control.

    “Alright men listen up! Create a Perimeter in front of the gates to the castle courtyard. Let no civilian near the area. I will have one group moving civilians, and traffic away from the plaza, designating them out of town. Let them know that the festival is over, and for their own safety’s to return to their home. Residents of The Garden are to be asked to go back to their houses.” He began, already selecting candidates for the job. He then moved on, “I want two groups making a routine sweep of the selected areas every hour throughout the town until my say. If you find any stragglers, check for their residency, and redirect them accordingly, unless they look suspicious of treason. Are we clear?”

    The groups saluted in unison. “Yes sir!”

    Male and female of all age and race were a part of the commotion being stirred as they moved about, being redirected by soldiers. Families were making haste into their homes, while non-residence were quickly moving towards the town gates. The magical field having surrounded the town was removed; returning the towns sound and color to normal. Carriages were readied for those who came with them. Many of the Disney villagers only took with them their immediate belongings; leaving many other belongings such as: merchandise, stages, puppets, equipment for certain shows. Children were separated from their friends, searching for their relatives in the chaos.

    Helen stood amidst the panic, attempting to look over the crowd. She had heard the explosion from within the kitchen. The event had stirred a motherly instinct within her as she panicked wondering where her child was. She shouted D’daers name, trying to overcome the crowd’s voice. There was no sign of him, anywhere. She searched frantically throughout the area, every time meeting with a soldier asking her to go back in doors. Finally, she met again with a soldier who recognized her, Brent.

    “Ma’m, I thought I told you to go back inside!” he said, stopping her.

    “It’s my son, I can’t go back without my son!” she insisted, looking over his shoulders as the man tried to keep her in place. She didn’t want to go back without her child, but the soldier would not budge.

    “Listen! If we see your boy, we will escort him to you! But we need as many people off the streets as possible! Ok?” he cried, attempting to convince the woman. Helen’s eyes wobbled as they formed tears. “How does your boy look like? Give me a description and I’ll do my best to find him.” The woman’s voice wavered a bit.

    “U-uuh- h-he has short purple hair, and dark blue eyes. He’s wearing his cargo shorts with a white T-shirt w-with the Festival logo!” she described to him. Brent took a mental note of her description, reassuring her that he was most likely fine. He saw her hesitantly run off to her shop; the poor woman not having had much choice. He continued redirecting traffic according to the Corporals orders, keeping a look out for the boy.

    Meanwhile, Malik stood in front of the entrance hall within the castle. He had forced his way through the front entrance; two shredded gates towered over his back; as thick as the very walls surrounding the town. The giant doors were barely left in place. There were also two royal soldiers who had stood in his way; of course they were taken care of. Malik stood there for a moment, honing in on the massive power he was after.

    He was in no hurry. From the courtyard to the castle gates was quite a walk. That and the fact that this castle was so huge basically betrayed the other soldiers roaming around here when it came to arriving on time. The hall was massive in size, extending to a second floor reached by two stairs extending down from both sides; a fountain between the two. Multiple pillars were stationed on the first as well as the second level as to support the structure of the hall. He had no need to continue any further, though. He had found it. It was a bit amusing as to where it was hidden.

    “Clever and poetic I’d have to say.” He said a nod to the location of his target. Conjuring a spell in his right hand, he took stance and coiled his right side. A ball of black flames forged itself in his cupped palm, the ball enlarging itself to point where it overflowed from his hands. He jabbed his right arm forward; palm facing the fountain, launching a fireball the size of a moogle towards it. The collision created an explosion rivaling the one he caused back in the plaza. Debris flew everywhere, leaving an uncontrolled flow of water cascading into a huge hole leading to what looked like nowhere.

    He gave off an evil laugh as he advanced towards the hole. His excitement was stirring. Reaching the edge, he peered over. The hole led to rather vast arrays of pipes extending in various directions. The water flowed all the way to the bottom, where he assumed was a giant drain to the side leading to the edge of town and into the ocean surrounding the fortressed garden. Already knowing what to do, a pulse like wave emanated from his body, and throughout the vicinity. His body began to float, moving over the hole. Before he made his descent, he stared at the flowing water.

    The water began to flow in a different direction; well multiple directions to be exact. Droplets began to move about the air, the current no longer having control over the direction of the water. He smacked the large body of water in front of him, causing it disperse everywhere into droplets of various sizes. He smirked. Slowly, he turned his body to face the hole. As if swimming, he traveled down the hole. He kept following the source of this power, almost to the bottom. He stopped a few feet above the bottom.

    In front of him he could see a small passage way made of various pipes leading inside a tunnel. The passage was too small, so he improvised. He summoned three fully magnetized orbs in front of him, and shot them into the small passage with a simple touch of his hands. The orbs did not attract, but rather repelled one another once within the narrow passage. Repelling each other in the tight space caused static to manifest and spread throughout the bundled metal pipes. They began to bend to their will. Malik could hear the creaks, and whining of each pipe as they were forced to adjust accordingly; it was like a domino effect. After some time, the passage had expanded tremendously, but at the cost of some flooding from broken pipes.

    He entered the stable passage, his gravity manipulating spell ending as he was able to move on his own now through this now large corridor; the waters current returned to normal. The water floating everywhere above fell to the ground, while the flow of water continued cascading down the hole. Reaching the end, he looked to his right and then left. Naturally, he chose the direction in which he felt the source to be closest too, his form fading into the dark corridor.

    Chapter 4

    A month prior to the festival…

    “Everything is almost ready. I will need you to pay The Horned King a visit for me, Malik.” A deep voice spoke. The room was wide yet unlit, with no source of light except for the bizarre seal glowing with a faint blue color beneath a throne. You couldn’t see the man who had spoken, nor make out any relevant detail. He was covered by the dark in the room.

    Malik was on one knee, his head bowing to the man seated on the throne before him. “Master, what would you have me do once I meet with him?” Malik asked respectfully, eyes averted from his Master.

    “I need you to gather information about an oracle rumored to exist in the land of Pyrdain. We need this Oracle in order to find the whereabouts of the weapon we seek.” He explained.

    Malik nodded in obedience. “Yes Master. And Once I find the Oracle?” he asked.

    “Make the Oracle tell you where to find what we seek…by any means necessary.”

    “As you wish.” The pupil accepted without question. He rose from his position, and turned to walk away.

    “Before you leave…” the man began, watching Malik pause immediately. “I have a gift for you to aid you in your quest…”

    Malik turned, curious as to what this gift might be. “What is it?” he asked. His Master wasn’t one to give his subordinates ‘gifts’. In the blink of an eye he felt power pour into him. His pupils dilated as he received whatever power he was being given. For an instant he was out of breath, grasping his chest in pain.

    “This should make your search a bit less tedious.”

    “What…what did you do?” he asked confused.

    “You will find out soon enough.” He replied.

    Malik averted his eyes to the dark floor. He applied a fist to his right pectoral in a salute.

    “The Horned King is also looking for something which requires the use of the Oracle. Perhaps it would benefit you both to aid one another.” He hinted. They were aware of the arrogance The Horned King had as they had dealt with him before. He was not willing to help, unless there was something in return for him, and to that end he wouldn’t lift a finger as all ‘great Kings have their servants’.

    Malik nodded to his Master in understanding, and turned to leave. His body faded into the darkness as he walked leaving the strange chamber. With Malik gone, the Master looked to his side. Someone was waiting in the back of the room, only having emerged now that Malik was gone.

    It was a male above average height, 5’10 with a lean build. He had well kept hair, two long bangs planted over his face while the rest of his purple hair was tied back in a tail. The man was about in mid thirties. His dark blue eyes had a cold stare about them, as if he had been witness to many things that normal people would not want to see. He wears high collar sleeveless white-steel colored shirt,with grey pants, and beige combat boots; the boots overlapping the bottom of his pants, and a sky blue colored cloth covering his right leg. To add to his look, brown leather vambraces covered both arms, on his left shoulder a brown pauldron; a strap overlapping his shirt. But the most noticeable thing about him was his weapon strapped to a loose sheath dangling just below his lower back. One could easily estimate the weapons size to be above three feet in length.

    The Master smiled. “Nehi, what brings you to my domain?” he asked. Nehi walked to his side, looking away.

    “I’ve come to inform you that I’ve completed my task.”

    “Is that all? You could have just told me without having to make this trek.” He replied, pointing to his mind. Nehi crossed his arms, looking at him. “I’ve something else to say, something that needs to be told in person, if you understand.”
    “Ah! Well then. Out with it.”


    After a three days worth of journeying, Malik had finally arrived in the land of Pyrdain. To be more specific, he had arrived at the front of The Horned Kings castle. The sky was dark as if some dark Omni presence lingered in the area. The structure looked horrid, not having been well kept. It was a top an isolated mountain in the midst of the sea, with a feeble sized bridge made of stone as a link between it and land. He was not impressed. Standing out the large wooden gates, he grabbed one of the large metal handles and knocked. The castle echoed with the sound of metal knocking against the gates. Eerie enough, the doors opened.

    He entered the castle. Approaching the main entrance, he was met with a rather small troll wearing a cloth hood. It seemed anxious, for when he caught up it gave him an odd look.

    “W-welcome Malik, Master has been waiting. Hehehehe…P-please, right this way.” it said, its voice stuttering in awkwardness. It led Malik into the castle, leading him towards a filthy banquet hall where many other minions were seated in tables talking amongst themselves and enjoying each other’s companies; that is until they saw Malik enter the room. There was nothing spectacular about the room. It was ruined down banquet hall made of stone. The room went quiet, everyone staring at Malik; some sizing him up to gauge his threat level. Malik continued following the troll, passing a group of dragons perched atop pedestals. They gave him a cold stare. He in turn ignored them.

    The two continued. The hallways were no better than the filthy banquet halls. Every turn they made, he could spot at least one cobweb, a skull, and rats prowling about. It was a typical bad guy castle, rather cliché he thought. As they continued walking through the castle, he could feel a presence nearby; getting closer as they continued. What was this presence? How was he even able to feel it? The troll motioned for them to stop. Standing before them was a door. He could feel it, a strong presence just beyond the door.

    “J-just one moment, sir…”

    The troll opened the door, and squeezed through. As Malik stood there, he could here two voices exchanging words. The door opened, and the troll welcomed him inside. He stepped in, noticing the room was not well lit.

    “Leave us, Creeper.” A decrepit old voice spoke. The troll nodded, and closed the door behind him.

    The room was dark, even if there were a couple of candles attempting to light the room. Malik made no notion of them though, as he kept his eyes focused on 2 red glowing orbs. It was The Horned King sitting just a few feet from him. There he sat, with his red robe concealing his form. Two great horns protruded from the hood that concealed his vile disfigured face. His skin was old, practically rotten in color with long uncut nails.

    “What brings you here, Malik?” he asked his tone dull with lack of activity.

    Malik looked at him. The Horned Kings very appearance was testament to what the darkness could do to people if they did not have the will to control it. “My Master ordered me to come speak with you in regards to…The Oracle.” He continued to stare into the man’s red irises. The King did not budge.

    “The Oracle… Why would you desire the Oracle?”

    “We need the oracle in order to find the location of an item we seek. I was told you too were seeking something in which only the Oracle could help you with?”

    The King shifted in his seat. “Hmmm… How will you find the Oracle? I’ve been searching for a while now, and I have yet to find him…or her for that matter.”

    Malik let a sigh escape him, his eyes shutting for moment of disappointment. “So you don’t know where this Oracle is either…”

    The Horned King grinned. “I said I have yet to find the Oracle, but I said nothing about not knowing the Oracles whereabouts.” He felt victorious for a moment, having the upper hand in this small misinterpretation. Malik looked at The King, annoyed. The King laughed a while, taking in this little jest as he sat upright. He loved being in power, in control of the situation.

    “The Oracle resides in the south end of Pyrdain. That is all I know.” He got up from his seat, his attitude shifting to a more serious tone. “If you find the Oracle…make sure to bring him to me.” He looked at Malik in the eye. “This should help you on your journey.” He said. The King lifted his frail hand, and aimed at Malik. On instinct Malik took a step back into stance, bringing his guard up. The King scoffed. An aura emerged from within Malik; again he felt that familiar feeling of empowerment. Malik relaxed, embracing his chest with his hand. He could feel the same pain as before arising for this instance.

    The Horned King lowered his hand, and sat back down. “You should be able to traverse throughout this world faster now without the need for much traveling.” He flicked his hand, which caused a small dark vortex to manifest in the middle of the air. Malik was for the first time in a long while surprised. The King chuckled having bested Malik yet again.

    “H-how did you-“

    “It seems your Master has been keeping trade secrets.” He grinned one last time before sending him off. Malik hesitated. The King saw this and explained, “It’s a portal. Think of it as a door that opens to another side. Now go. You have a long search ahead of you.”

    Malik still hesitated, but proceeded into the portal with guarded caution; leaving the King and his castle behind as he suddenly entered a prairie. The sun was shining bright in this part of the land. He scanned his surroundings before proceeding south. There was no precursor of the portal that had brought him here. Seeing there being no point in standing around looking for nothing, he focused back to his assignment. The prairie was vast, extending far and wide that it would have made his search long and tedious. It would have taken him days if not forever if it were not for the faint power he could feel coming a bit north from his general direction.

    He decided to follow this new sense, seeing as it worked as some sort of compass. After sometime he had finally reached the edge of the prairie, only to be met by a forest. The forest seemed normal; light penetrated certain parts through openings in clustered branches, and leaves. His footsteps crunched with each fallen branch and leaf that happened to be laying in his wake. The sound of birds chirping echoed through the forest. It was peaceful. There were bushes on several parts near trees filled with berries. From time to time, he was able to see wild life a few yards near him as he continued his journey through. They appeared to be shy of this stranger that had entered their home.

    The presence was getting closer, Malik could feel it. Removing a large leaf filled branch from his way, he saw a farm. It seemed he had reached the end of the forest. The place was practically isolated from civilization, having been built in the middle of a large opening between the forest and a small road that led into the other side of the forest. He entered the farm, immediately noticing the various animals that found refuge in this place. Horses, chicken, chicks, pigs, goats, cows, and birds all roamed the farm. He heard of these encampments, but never knew just how…full of life it could be.

    A piglet had been playing with other piglets. It ran up to him along with its siblings. The stood wary, catching his scent a foot away. They were all interested in this knew stranger. The presence was VERY close. Malik had to force himself to focus on his task as this new scenery was quite the distraction to him. He took a step over the crowd of piglets, and continued searching; he was looking for a farm house.

    To his right he found the pig pens where, behind it being the actual building that housed the other farm animals. To his left he found the farm house or rather a cottage. Not wanting to waste much time he approached the front porch. He was grinning. The Horned King had spent so much time finding the oracle to no avail, and yet he had only taken a mere hour or two to have located the Oracle. He was grateful to his Master.

    Malik knocked once. Silence ruled the moment as he waited for a response. He knocked again, this time harder. No sign at all. His impatience growing, he banged the door. When there was no reply this time, he decided formalities were out the window. He took a small step back, and threw a kick strong enough to yank the door of its hinges. A loud bang was heard as it fell apart in front of him. Malik walked in, looking around the area for any signs of life. No one was here.

    Then it occurred to him that perhaps the person might be out of town.

    No, that can’t be I can still feel that power here somewhere…” he thought, gathering his thoughts in order to continue investigating. He walked out, heading towards the back of the cottage. Nothing was there, behind the cottage. Having already checked the cottage area, he decided to head towards the farm. Perhaps the person was in the building while he was knocking away, and the person hadn’t even realized it.

    Without hesitation, he walked towards the farm house. The oracle was definitely here. He could sense the power very close. Within the confines of this building where nothing more than pens for horses, cows, goats, chickens, and pigs. There was no oracle to be seen in this building.

    “How in the world am I still sensing the Oracle?” he muttered, looking around the building. His fist tightened in frustration. “This can’t be! Am I not sensing it correctly?!” Then an epiphany occurred. He started recollecting his conversations, and current experience. The Horned King had said that he could not find the Oracle, but knew it resided in this part of Pyrdain. If he was using his senses correctly, then perhaps he was having trouble finding the Oracle because what he was looking for wasn’t here. He was looking for a human Oracle. His senses weren’t wrong, but his assumption was. The Oracle wasn’t a human, but an animal.

    “That’s why I couldn’t find the Oracle… It’s… One of these animals…” he said, turning to the crowd of animals hanging about the farm. He closed his eyes, the feeling of stupidity overwhelming him for an instant. Now determined to find the animal, he went about searching for it. His search became a game of Warm or Cold. His sense would tell him whether he was closer or further away from the source. He began his search, walking among the animals to pick them off one by one. It was an annoying chore, but it had to be done.

    “Not you, not you, not you….” He muttered every time he found an animal not to be the one. Eventually it came down to the pigs. He could feel it now. In order to ensure he was searching properly, he had taken a bag lying around the farm with animal grub. Walking around, he had been laying out the food; this allowing him to search without the hassle of chasing after them. The pigs and piglets were no different. They all scurried towards the grub layed out for them on the rack. He checked for the older pigs first; as they were the only once capable of eating from the rack.

    None of them were it. All that were left to check were the piglets. He became rather anxious for the first time in a long while. What if any of these weren’t the ones? Would he have been utilizing his ability wrong, or was he just going insane? Taking a bag from the farm, he began to throw pieces of vegetables onto the floor. They little ones swarmed the food. Making haste, he looked at each one of them. It could not be, not one of them were it.

    But I checked this whole farm! H-ho-“ He noticed something out of place in the area. There was a little house no bigger than a dog house just a few feet away. He approached, forgetting about the animals. On top of the door way was a name inscribed on it. “Hen Wen.” He read, standing just outside the door. It was this one. He could feel it as if a light had gone off in his head. Crouching, he peered inside. All the way in the back curled in a ball was a piglet. It looked fairly younger than the others, as its size was somewhat smaller.

    Without hesitation he reached inside, snagging the pig. The pig squealed rather loudly as it tried to wriggle its way free from his grip. Then it dawned on him. How was he supposed to make this pig show him where the blade was? It couldn’t talk. He put the pig under his arm pit, holding him like this as he walked away. Apparently the Horned King would know.

    “Hey! What are you doing with my pig!?” a exclaimed a voice from afar. Malik turned to see an old man just a few yards away. He had dropped his belonging, except a staff, as he started to run towards him; his presence being of perfect timing.

    “Do you know how to make this pig tell me where I can find what I want to find?” he asked, pointing at the captive pig.

    The man was nearing him. “Drop my pig now or you’ll regret it!”

    Malik rolled his eyes. The man halted, immediately casting a small fireball at Maliks feet. With ease Malik stepped back, avoiding the spell. The old sorcerer was serious, as he held his staff in front of him. “Release my pig, now!” Who was this old man to tell Malik what to do? Malik examined him for a moment, taking in his attire. He was wearing a simple red vest with green sleeves and green pants with brown leather boots.

    “Listen, do not test me. I just need the pig to tell me where to find what I seek. I’ll release him back to you as soon as I finish.” He explained, looking at aged man. Tension was slowly rising between the two. It was clear that this pig’s owner understood what this pig was, and how it could show him where to go. He was staring right back at his yellow eyes.

    “What is it that you’re looking for?” the man asked, his guard still up.

    “It’s something for my Master. He needs to find this artifact in order to...complete this project.” He explained, attempting to avoid the great details.

    “Where do you come from?” the old man asked.

    “A land far from here…”

    The old man stared at him suspiciously. If this hooded person was willing to come all the way out here for a pig, then it must be of great importance to him. “This Master of yours, is he a collector or archaeologist of some sort?” He was curious, having decided to give this man the benefit of the doubt.

    Malik nodded in response. “You could say that…” The aged wizard lowered his staff, having been convinced. He let out a sigh, motion for Malik to join him. He gathered his belongings and headed inside, taking notice of the broken door.

    “I see you made yourself at home…” he said, glaring at Malik. He apologized, not really meaning it.

    “Come, lend me hand.” He said, attempting to lift the door back up. The two lifted, pushing the door in place. “This is going to need some repairs. Uh, who did you say you were again?” he asked wiping his hands.

    “My name is Malik?”

    “Aah. You may call me Dalben. Well, Malik, if you wanted to see the Oracle you could have just waited for me. Patience is a virtue after all.” He scolded rather weakly. The Sorcerer began to gather supplies: a bowl with water, a candle, and a match. He set the supplies on the floor next to the piglet, which had come to dislike the hooded man. Dalben rubbed the pigs head in a kind gesture.

    “Now watch closely, Malik.” He said, lighting the candle and chanting a small incantation as he began to swirl a stick in the water; the water beginning to swirl in its motion. The pig felt compelled to approach. Its snout reached out, and touched the water; its eyes beginning to glow blue. Malik peered over the water, his eyes widening. The water began to display images of events. It was a large castle with large well placed metal in certain parts of the castle. The image panned out, revealing a courtyard, the gates, and... Malik recognized the location, letting a villainous smile take shape.

    The image changed to black and white, revealing the festival that was too come. He could see the castle now, the image beginning to pass through walls, floors until it stopped. A dark hallway deep beneath the castle extended itself a while. At the end, revealed the artifact he seeked.

    Two large metallic colored skeleton looking keys crossed one another, with their teeth facing outward, were linked together by the shape of their apparent yellow cross-guard design. Together this formed the pommel, grip (Handle), cross-guard, and rain guard of the weapon. The length of the skeleton keys also helped form the center of the blade, with chrome green filigree protruding on both sides of the weapons edges just above the rain guard. The true blade however was chrome gold, the fuller of the blade beginning from the point where the keys intersected up to the central ridge of the blade where it continued to its end point.

    Oddly enough, though, the pommel of the weapon had two key chains interconnecting to one emblem, a design resembling a heart with red borders and a black center with two skeleton keys yet again crossing.

    Dalben stood there, looking back and forth between the water and Malik. “What do you see?’ he asked. He was curious to know what it was exactly that this man was seeking.
    “Magnificent…” he muttered under his breath, too distracted to have heard Dalben. Amazement covered his face as he stood there being first witness to the blade that would bring his Masters plan to full swing.

    Chapter 5

    The plaza was almost a ghost town as stages were left unoccupied, merchandise wagons were left abandoned, and random trash lay around the area where the Festival had just taken place. It was not too long ago when a mysterious force had invaded the plaza and forced its way into the castle; having left lifeless victims in its wake. The front gate to the castle courtyard was ripped apart, where fallen bricks and stones were scattered around the premises where the metal gate layed in pieces. Despite the events that had just taken place, the Garden continued to be filled with the beautiful light that rained down from the heavens.

    The atmosphere was packed with the sound of armor and voices as soldiers gathered to aid one another in picking up the ruined entrance; others made it their duty to remove the corpses from the scenery, gently laying them out somewhere away from pedestrian eyes. Ranking officers were tasked with conducting clean up with their assigned teams, while lower ranking soldiers were stationed at the plaza borders to keep an eye out for signs of trouble. It was out of their hands though, when they began to see nearby housings revealing their residents from windows; the peoples curiosity unable to be sustained any further.

    It was indeed a disturbing day, as the town folk had never been witness to such atrocity; and to think it had occurred within their own town. Helen and Judith stood by the shop window, watching the current events. During the beginning of the clean up, Judith had been escorted by a Soldier by the name of Brent. D’daer had apparently met up with Judith in the chaos, and it was only logical for him to have stayed with her until the commotion died down. They had both been escorted to the Marens residence.

    When the door had knocked, Helen came running to find the two. Her sudden relief had caused her to bawl alongside D’daer who also started crying. The Soldier had advised them to stay here for the time being until he had finished his next routine check of his route. Now the two stood their next to the windowpane watching the soldiers move about as they cleaned. It had not been so long that a group of well armed soldiers ran towards the castle to chase after whatever it was that had caused the event.

    Helen sighed deeply, Judith taking notice. “I really don’t want to say it…” Judith spoke, looking back out the window. Helen looked at Judith, her gaze cascading a bit.

    “Please don’t. I feel bad enough as it is…” she responded, turning to once again gaze out the window. It was about a month ago that two had sat in the kitchen discussing what Judith had been experiencing. She had warned Helen of a grave disturbance that could possibly occur. Obviously she was right seeing as the town had been struck with this dilemma. Neither of them wanted to talk about it; the guilt weighing heavily on Helen as she was the one to put the worry to rest. They stood there in silence, observing the activity ensuing from the event.

    D’daer was upstairs in his room, also observing the ensuing events from his window sill a top his bed; it was placed parallel to the wall. He was just as curious as anyone from this town. His eyes flowed everywhere, observing the men and woman carrying the lifeless bodies to an area away from watchful eyes on ground level. The plaza was crawling with soldiers. If anyone wanted to sneak in or out of the site, they’d have to be pretty sly about it.

    No one can take on THIS many soldiers…” D’daer thought as he placed his arms on the window frame and layed his head on them like a pillow. He continued to watch for a while. His eyelids slowly began to weigh heavily on his eyes. Not having much to do, he gave into the sleep. It was dark, yet soothing; even though the sun was shining on his face.

    “D’daer! Hurry up!” a voice shouted from behind him. People were screaming, dashing past him in a blur as the monochrome world erupted in chaos. Voices echoed around him.

    “D’daer! D’daer! Hurry!” the voice shouted again. He turned around to see his companions practically on the other side of the commotion past the town gates. His heart began to race, everything around him speeding up except him. His every movement was so slow. He couldn’t understand why. Willing himself to move in this resistance, he began to run towards his friends; every motion just being so lag. There was this unending gap between them. No matter how hard he tried, they were just always too far. He could hear something closing in on him. The ground beneath him began to quake in a rhythmic pattern.

    The boy looked back. Something was cloaked in this black mist, closing in on him. All that was visible were these red glowing eyes. D’daer gritted his teeth as he forced himself to try to move faster through this slow moving atmosphere. Fear was sinking in and there was nothing he could do about it. A loud roar erupted from behind. He turned to come face to face with the beast running at him on all four. It pounced, its gaping jaw ready to devour him.

    “Oh my goodness! Look at that!” Helen shouted from below. D’daer awoke to the sound of gasps of shock. Sitting straight up; his heart still racing, his eyes fluttered as he shook off the sleep. Beads of sweat were visible on his forehead. His breathing was heavy, still in shock of what had just occurred within his dream. Although it was a mere dream; it was a strange recollection of what had happened when everyone was running around in the chaos. He looked out the window to find the sign nearing dusk.

    Then something caught his attention. There was light emanating from the side of the courtyard where all the corpses were laid out; but not the usual specs of light that was common throughout the land. He noticed the soldiers who were assigned to clear the rubble beginning to gather around that specific area, watching their fallen allies bodies fade away as their bodies slowly disintegrated into shards of light. Their radiant remains rose to the air, becoming nothing in the wind.

    D’daer sat there, eyes widened in bewilderment. His mother started to speak with Judith. He could tell they were just as shocked as he was. This is the first time he saw a body just disappear like that. It brought up so many questions within him. Did this always happen when someone passed away? What if this was the reason why the sky rained specs of light? Does that mean those that were buried-?

    No….” he shook his head in deep contemplation. This wasn’t proper. He was letting his imagination get the better of him. One thing was certain though, what he just witnessed would forever change the way he saw the world. D’daer opened the window before him, the sound of soldiers immediately pouring into his room. He could hear the soldiers baffled at what had just been witness, while those stationed away from the site turning to them to get a hold of what the ruckus was all about.

    “What’s going on?!” a female soldier exclaimed. She along with the rest of them began to uproar in confusion and panic. The soldiers away from the commotion began to get curious, each of them looking over at one another. The commotion was too much for their curiosity. They began to walk towards the ruckus.

    “Hold your position!” a voice shouted from behind. D’daer looked to see a tall muscular soldier nearing the ones who were leaving their posts. He leaned a bit forward to get a better view, his eyes squinting to focus. This man was dressed rather differently. He sported bizarre purple looking armor. The armor itself was fitted perfectly to the soldier’s body. He had a cloth dangling from their waist down, like a tail coat. But the one detail that made him stand out from the other soldiers was his helmet. It resembled the creatures he saw in books, the mystical fire breathing reptiles that could soar to heights unfathomable. That’s when it occurred to him.

    His eyes lit up in recognition of the group of soldiers. He never thought he’d ever see them. “A Dragoon…!” he muttered.

    Helen stood with Judith looking through the window as they instantly noticed the Dragoon. They were already well acquainted with the man.

    “Geez, I haven’t seen him since that interconnected corps study back in the day.” Judith said. Helen remembered their time when they were younger and attending school. The two had just reached a level of study in their corps that required them to study under the king. Of course they were not the only ones with this luxury as they were a part of a class at the time. Helen was studying the white arts, and Judith was studying the black art of magic in an attempt to become members of their respective corps to better serve their town.

    The soldiers standing before the dragoon were all stunned by their appearance. “I’m sure you few were stationed here for a reason, am I correct?” he said, knowing full well that he was right. The post abandoning soldiers rallied up near him, and saluted him.

    “S-Sir Highwind!” one of them said as he saluted.

    “At ease, soldier.” The dragoon said. He held his lance upright, the bottom of the weapon placed on the floor. “Now fill me in on the situation here.”

    The soldiers complied and began to explain to him. The trio in the Marens residence kept quiet and observed. Helen and Judith were wise enough to know all too well why this man had arrived. Someone of his caliber only partook in events like this if the threat was surrealistically dangerous. After a few minutes had passed, the soldiers pointed the Dragoon in the direction of the bewildered crowd of soldiers. He sighed in their direction. Nodding to his fellow soldiers, he moved pass them and towards the group.

    The floor around him was covered in trash from the festival. It was to be expected he supposed. Once he arrived to the scene, he made his presence known. With a single tap of his lance to the concrete floor, a burst of wind was emitted from the tap, flowing through the crowd. The air was so strong that a few were knocked back a bit. Everyone in the crowd turned to see the dragoon. They all looked to him.

    “You’re all soldiers! Be the example!” he started, making sure his gaze reached everyone. “If you’re going to panic over some random occurrence then perhaps being a soldier isn’t for you.” The man stood there with authority, gazing at everyone. Some of the soldiers were down casted, suddenly feeling shame while others were simply staring at the dragoon in awe. He let his words sink in for a bit, walking over to one of the commanding officers. They exchanged words for a bit, the officer revealing to him that some unknown menace had infiltrated the castle and that soon thereafter the fallen soldiers had suddenly vanished.

    “What do you mean, they just disappeared into specs of light?” he asked, wanting to better understand what the soldier was telling him.

    “It’s exactly as I told you, sir. Their remains just became these specs of light, leaving nothing behind. They were placed over there-“the man pointed to the general direction of where the fallen were placed. The dragoon looked to where he was pointing. To him it was just not possible. He had seen people fall to death, and not one of them had ever just disappeared like that. The unknown lingered before him as he looked up to the sky. The Garden was always filled with light, these small specs of light always keeping their peace whenever trouble brew. He frowned with sadness. It seemed today, this peace they were all used to was ending.

    “I have a feeling…this is just the beginning…” he muttered to himself. He turned to say something to the officer when suddenly an explosion was heard coming from the castle. Everyone had to cover their eyes as a burst of light penetrated the sky, a grand pulse waving throughout the land. It was so powerful that it felt like the world itself was affected. The dragoon looked passed the officer and towards the castle, an expression of worry on his face. Smoke and debris was visible from the side of the building’s roof. A light loomed over their town, eclipsing the sun. Every eye that was able to see was now looking up.

    “What is that?” a soldier asked, eyes drawn to the beautiful display looming above them. Everyone who was watching would be flabbergasted at what was being witnessed. It wasn’t the moon, nor the sun…it was a radiant blue Heart suspended up in the sky in its vast glory; large enough to completely remove the sun from visible existence.

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

    It was just how Malik had seen in his vision with the Oracle in Pyrdain. The long dark hallway had led him to a chamber beneath the castle where water from the ocean poured in from the walls. It was a steel-blue chamber with a round perimeter where flower like statues protruded from the walls, spewing out the ocean water like fountains. There must have been an underwater drain for the amount of water than spilled in was a lot. Before him stood a pink marble bridge that extended towards a marbled island. The island was large enough for two individuals at best. He snickered, his eyes locked on to his prize. He saw the weapon that his Master had been looking for all these years.

    The weapon was bound in place by chains made of light extending from within the island. He could feel the power behind these bindings, as if it was holding back some immeasurable power barely contained by these chains. Approaching the island, he began to channel dark matter into his hands. He reached out to the chains with focused vigor. Upon contact, static began pulse around the area as his darkness infused hands began to pull at the chains made of light. His eyes furrowed as he gritted his teeth in determination.

    These chains are more held together than I had thought…”

    The room began to quake, slow at first but building in intensity. He payed no mind to it, this was the day they would set their true motives to motion after all. The chains began to stretch as he pulled at them. The static increased in intensity, now surging throughout the island. It took everything he had to not only block the pain, but to continue pulling. The sword began to emit a ringing tone along with a glow. The quake was already at its peak. Cracks were already forming around the structure of the chamber as the chains neared their breaking point.

    With a monstrous roar, he yanked the chains out of place; causing them to fade away instantaneously. Being released from its chains, the swords glow radiated like a sun; the ringing reaching its peak in tone. Light blew up from beneath and all around him. In an instant the light show was over. The walls around him began to let water slip passed the newly created cracks and fissures. There was a satisfied look on Maliks face while he covered his face from the light. What seemed like moments was only seconds when the glow finally died down. Cautiously he lowered his arms, looking at the blade. He was filled with awe at the beauty of the blade. He just couldn’t believe it, this moment almost felt like a dream.

    “The soul of the world… No…” he paused, reaching for the blades handle. His right hand wrapped itself around the handle of the weapon. His grip went tight as he pulled it out of its slumber.

    “…The key to the world!” he shouted in victory. He stretched his arm to the air, shining in the dawn of his Masters new world order. “With this blade, we will have all that we need to become the master of this world.”

    The X-blade… truly a marvelous weapon to have ever been forged, isn’t it?” his masters voice suddenly wrung in his head. Malik held the blade to the sky.

    “Master! What do I do now? I’ve never felt such power! I can only imagine what this thing can do.” He said, eyeing the blade with such lust for power. The Masters voice echoed throughout his mind in laughing amusement.

    Do not let the blades power overwhelm your heart, Malik. Unless you want the darkness to consume you…”

    “No Master! I despise such weakness! To become…to become such a hideous monster…I-“he managed to utter in disgust. He closed his eyes to focus on his task, fending off the surge of power now coursing through him because of the X-blade.

    Come to me! The next phase waits.”

    With that said, Malik opened his eyes with fiery determination. On impulse, he swung the blade thus creating a wave of air concrete enough to collide with the ceiling of the chamber. A giant hole now gaped above. With a mighty leap, Malik flew through the chamber and up out of the hole into a dungeon. His eyes scanned his surroundings. He had no clue as to where this could have been, but brushed it aside. He didn’t care where he was, as long as he eventually reached the surface world. Without hesitation, he continued to swing the blade. Soldiers within the castle could feel the tremors quaking throughout the castle. The King fell back at an explosion which occurred near him. He was in a hallway when this had happened. His lungs exhaled violently as he coughed away the debris. He peered through the debris to see yellow eyes glowing through it. It was Malik standing before him with the X-blade in hand.

    King Fydlon was stricken with fear, as he saw the one thing he did not want to see ever released now in the hands of a mad man. Nearby soldiers came charging in with their weapons in hands.

    “Your highness!” one of them shouted. The group of them came charging in, but were easily put down with one effortless swing of the magnificent blade. The compressed air created from the blade knocked them all against the wall; including the king. They were spared, having been knocked unconscious. Malik stood there grinning. Again, he effortlessly swung the blade aiming for the final ceiling. A blue glow immediately came through the massive hole. Stepping forward into the holes line of sight, he jumped up and through it, landing on the castle roof. An air current whizzed past him as he towered over the town in this height. Malik paused in his moment, to look up. His eyes looking to the sky, he became another witness to the Heart shape that towered over the world.

    “Wh-what is this? A new moon?” he asked his master.

    In time, I will tell you my pupil. For now just know that like all living things have a heart…the world is no different.”

    Malik was confused, his grip tightening on the blade. “Heart?”

    His Masters voice fell silent, he could feel a disconnection. Malik was distracted long enough to barely notice a lance approach him. He deflected the weapon using the X-blade as a shield momentarily. His emotions were spiraling all over the place. Excitement, confusion, it was at an all time high. He looked down to notice a purple armored man glaring at him. He must have noticed his silhouette when he came through the hole. The dragoon disappeared in a space distorting motion. Malik didn’t like the look of that.

    “RAAAH!!” a shout emanated from above. Malik looked up in time to see the man diving down at him with his lance taking the lead. Barely reacting in time, he jumped back away from the lethal blow; struggling for a second to regain his footing. The air around them blasted off in a burst as the dragoon landed, removing the lance from the stabbed roof. The dragoon looked up at Malik.

    “I demand that you surrender immediately. You are under serious violations of the lands law.” The man pointed the tip of his lance towards Malik. He was serious, and ready to fight. Malik wasn’t prepared, his emotions were out of balance and his mind was barely holding back the desire of the X-Blade. He understood he had no chance. Gritting his teeth in concern, he waved a hand in front of him to summon a portal just like the one The Horned King had done for him. The dragoon took notice of his sudden gesture, and charged at him with amazing speed. Malik once again barely had time to react with a parry. To his surprise, the man wasn’t going to attack by just lunging at him.

    The dragoon controlled his footing properly; pivoting his entire body as the final step was angled to ninety degrees from his body. His foot skid against the roof, as he turned his body along with his lance. Malik for a moment thought he had an advantage at this range. There was no way someone with a lance could execute a proper attack from this range. With great effort applied to his swing, Malik planned to obliterate the lanced warrior. Except, his blade connected to nothing. The X-blade made contact with a temporary distortion in the space left behind by the dragoon. It didn’t take him long to realize that this scenario matched the beginning of this very fight.

    Without further thought, he used the power of his swing to pivot his body; he was using a foot as the pivot point, to quickly lower himself in a one knee bowing stance. At the same time, he twirled the blade over head horizontally; the flat side of the X-blade becoming his shield once again. He felt a great force impact the weapon from above. He grinned in victory as he had seen the attack before it had been fully executed. This was short lived of course, when he felt the opposing force push off against the blade; forcing Malik out of balance momentarily. His eyes caught sight of the dragoon in a jumping backwards motion. It made sense to him now. When the dragoon had made contact with the weapon, he had immediately pushed off with his legs.

    Malik was now left exposed to an attack as he was still in motion of being knocked back. The dragoon, in his current motion, channeled his strength into his right arm. With a quick work of shifting balancing between legs and abdomen, he threw his lance towards the off-guard Malik. The X-blade wielder landed back first against the roof, just barely having enough time to react to the now incoming projectile. The lance pierced Maliks exposed side, cutting into the side of his ribs before stabbing the roof. He winced in pain, grasping his side with his free hand.

    The dragoon teleported from his free falling motion, in a quick display of spacial distortion. He appeared behind Malik, pulling his lance off the ground. This was the first time in a long while that Malik had ever been wounded in a battle. He quickly got up and created distance between himself and the skilled Dragoon. Malik positioned the legendary weapon in front of him, readying himself. It was obvious to him that this warrior was calm, and collected while he was not. The Dragoon pointed his lance yet again at Malik.

    “Drop your weapon at once! I will not tell you again!” he shouted, demanding the hooded mans surrender. Malik gritted his teeth in frustration. He could not surrender, not after coming this far. He let go of his wounded side, and gripped the X-blade with both hands. The lance wielding warrior held his lance with one hand; a firm grip holding it in place as he aimed the sharp tip at his enemy.

    “Then you leave me no choice…” he said. Behind the helmet his eyes were now full of determination to no longer hold back in this fight.

    “By the power invested in me, I Richard Highwind will bring you to justice!”

    Chapter 6




    The battle ensued a top the castle whilst the blue heart illuminated the canvas, known as the sky, in its grand presence. This display of gargantuan beauty was something that had never been witnessed in history by the people. Whispers began to circulate throughout the town. The people of the Garden had already started to leave the shelter of their homes in this sudden desire to examine the heart closer. The soldiers stood there in awe of its magnificence, having completely forgotten their duty of keeping the citizens indoors. A large crowd began to gather at the plaza once more, filled with those brave enough to venture closer to the scenery.

    The two warriors clashed once more, their eyes locking on to one another in a jaw tensing moment. Richard Highwind looked into Maliks yellow eyes. Malik looked into Richard Highwinds emerald irises. Malik was a fierce fighter; the dragoon understood this much now. The wounded Malik pushed off with the X-blade, breaking the clash; his feet skidded against the floor for a brief moment. The dragoon jumped backwards, creating distance between the two. He readied his lance, as he lowered himself in a jump ready position. The X-blade wielding villain readied himself for the predictable assault.

    Wind began to surge past Malik, and towards Highwinds location. It began to concentrate around him, creating tension on the floor beneath him. The small bits of rubble that were left scattered near him began to shake under this intense concentration. Malik knew he had no time to dash the distance between them. The moment he moved towards him, he knew Highwind would burst into the air and in milliseconds lunge himself at him from above. He played it safe and stood his guard, awaiting his approach.

    - - - - - - - - -

    D’daer stood by the windowsill in deep awe. He couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed and in fact currently witnessing. Prior to the ascension of the Heart shaped moon, or so he believed it was, the cascading lights that had always been surrounding the people for ages had suddenly been drawn to the top of the castle, forging a shape that resembled a large keyhole. It was like something had drawn the specs to flock from everywhere, like a magnet, towards that one location. Forging itself on cue, a blast of light surged from within the castle, and penetrated the keyhole. What surprised D’daer, though, was that the light was sucked inside the keyhole as if it had no other end. A loud sound of gears turning emanated from above and in seconds the keyhole disappeared revealing a void of light. It lingered there, gradually expanding itself.

    It was then that the event that is now capturing the attention of so many occurred. The clouds all reacted in unison, intertwining with one another, clustering together to form an eye in the center. The eye welcomed the heart that rose from the void of light that now towered them all from high above. It was as if that very center was a throne established specifically for it. Now everyone stood crowded together, their eyes drawn to the heart.

    “What is that?” someone questioned. People began to converse with one another in an attempt to gather more clues or information as to what it could be.

    “Yes we get it! It’s a heart! But what is it exactly?”

    “How should I know? But did you see that strange lock that formed above the castle?”

    The site had stirred a commotion, one with which the soldiers were now charged to control. Soldiers began to gently escort people away from the plaza by forming a perimeter at the front.

    “Come now people, indoors now! The murderer is still on the loose!” one of them shouted.

    “Come Helen, we can’t stay here. Better to watch from inside your house.” Judith suggested, grabbing her by the wrist. Helen slowly backed away from the crowd, her eyes gazing up above. She was in shock.

    “Someone’s released the key…” she muttered in horror as she was pulled away. Thunder could be heard reverberating from within the clouds. Judith couldn’t help but overhear her.

    “Helen?” she asked.

    Helen pulled away, looking back at Judith. “Someone’s released the key!” she shouted in dismay, grabbing a hold of Judith’s shoulders. Judith looked at Helen, grabbing her wrists again.

    “What are you-?” she asked, until suddenly the old memory dawned on her. Her eyes widened in remembrance. “No! This can’t be! You mean-?!”

    “Yes! Someone released it somehow! We have to warn the soldiers!” she shouted. Wind was picking up around the town, creating gusts everywhere. Helens loose hair swayed with the wind as she turned to tell the soldiers. She felt a hand stop her.

    “Helen wait!”

    Helen turned to Judith. “The soldiers, they wouldn’t know what you would be talking about! I don’t even think even the King knows about it!” she said. Helen looked at Judith, her words having made a point. She contemplated for a moment. The thunder began to sound stronger in power, as the gusts of wind began to pick up in pace in the darkening environment. She looked up to sky, staring at the heart of the problem.

    “Then I’m going to have to do this myself…” she said with determination in her voice. Helen turned to Judith once more, this time looking at her with a poignant expression. Judith eyed her friend quizzically, until she felt Helen’s hand touching her unborn child. That’s when she realized why. She was suddenly overwhelmed with tear filled grief. Judith held onto Helens hand, not wanting to let go. In that moment, the two held each other for emotional comfort.

    “Mom?” a boy’s voice sounded from afar. They both turned to see D’daer at the window, his eyes looking at them with confused interest. Helen let go of Judith, and put her attention to him as she walked closer to the windowsill above. Her eyes were set on her only child.

    “What’s going on? You two should come back inside. I think a storm is coming.” he said unaware of his mothers new endeavor. Helen couldn’t help but deliver a weak smile.

    “D’daer why don’t you come down, I need to talk to you…it’s ok it’s safe to come out.” she said, motioning with her hand for him to follow. D’daer was still confused, but obeyed. He left the windowsill, walking out and down the stairs towards the door. His small shape came out and headed towards her; having caught a glimpse of Judith turning her back to him. She was shivering, probably from the wind he thought. When he reached his mother, she had already knelt down elegantly to accept him. She placed her hands on his shoulders to help soothe the incoming atmosphere of emotions. Helen stared at her son for a while, taking in his face, hair, form, his very being. Her heart stirred in discomfort. For an instant, she could foresee just the man that he would become. A tear escaped her, noticeably sliding down her soft cheek.

    The elements continued to stir in the back, the town now having been covered in night by the clustered dark clouds that surrounded the heart in the sky.

    “Mom, why are you crying?” he asked, moving his hand to wipe away her tear. Helen allowed him to wipe it away, closing he eyes to intensify the feel of her offspring’s touch. She grabbed the hand that had touched her, and held onto it gently.

    “Uumm…listen D’daer…” she began, this final union being enough to stir the courage she needed to look him in the eyes. “Mommy…has to go away for a while…”

    D’daer looked at her, confused but understanding that he would be alone if she left. “Where are you going? How long will you be gone for?” he asked, his innocence all too great to realize what was really happening. Helen averted her eyes, not wanting to lie to her son.

    “I’m not sure honey…” She looked at her son, her grasp on her son’s hand tightening. Helen looked up to see an approaching Judith, her eyes puffy from the tears.

    “Promising me you’ll behave…while I’m gone. Ok?” she asked, her hands fiddling to tidy her sons shirt. She waited for a while, taking in her son’s image. “D’daer… You’re going to grow up to become a great man… I know it… Be an example for others to follow. Then one day you’ll be revered by your people, and you’ll be able to lead them to the dawn of a new era.”

    Helen moved in, and planted a soft kiss on his forehead.

    “Take care of him for me?” she asked looking up at Judith. Helen knew in her heart that her friend had already decided too from the very beginning. Judith nodded. Helen looked at D’daer and engulfed him in her hug, feeling tears rising from her. “Good-Bye…D’daer.” She said. D’daer held her tight, feeling something was off with the situation. Helen released her son, reluctantly as she got up with the new found courage. Her hair covered her eyes, her tears. Without anything else to say, she turned to the soldiers and began her mission.

    D’daer attempted to go after her, but Judith stopped him in time.

    “Mom! Mom! Wait, don’t leave!” he shouted, trying to break free from Judith’s hold. He watched as his mother walked off towards the soldiers. Deep down, he couldn’t help but feel that this was indeed a goodbye.

    - - - - - - - -

    Malik was having trouble keeping pace with the highly trained dragoon. His speed was just phenomenal as time passed. The battle had reached its peak, and the dragoon had begun to teleport more often, reappearing lance first. He had become a projectile that could phase in and out of the battle field, keeping Malik on the defensive.

    “Master…I can’t find an opportunity to escape…” he muttered under his breath, having just avoided an incoming lance darting passed his face. The strain was too much, and he fell to a knee. His will could no longer withstand the pain of his wound as well as the mental struggle of holding on to his sanity. He could feel himself being lost in the dark abyss of his mind. Suddenly, he felt a familiar presence overwhelm him.

    Let it free… Tap into my power…” the voice wrung out. Malik breathed in heavily, hesitant. He looked up to see the dragoon lunging himself right at him. “Then so be it…” he uttered as a dark aura arose from within him, and engulfed him. It somehow became concrete as the lance clashed with this aura, unable to pierce right through his head. Richard gritted his teeth, trying with all his might to break through. In a burst of raw energy, a beam of darkness shot out from Malik and into the sky. He rose, and screamed with all that was within him as the aura burst from him. It overwhelmed the offensive dragoon, and knocked him out of the castle roof. Richard was stunned, unable to move or teleport. A static of evil origin coursed through him, having afflicted him with an ailment.

    He began to cascade at faster as the laws of physics over took him. “So this…is how it ends for me…” he whispered to himself, unsatisfied with the way. Just as he was about to hit the floor, a large round balloon like ball appeared beneath him breaking his fall. He absorbed the impact in its soft squishy substance. Richard bounced off, seeing the object pop into nothing. His body emitted a white hue and in an instant the dark ailment dissipated. He could feel himself regain control of himself as he virtuously landed unscathed on his two feet. Richard immediately alert, turned around to find the source of his salvation. He saw soldiers crowding behind a woman loose auburn hair. She was of great beauty, her gentle blue eyes revealing the kindness of her heart. She was wearing a normal pair of pants, flats for shoes, and a shirt fitting her figure; a simple attire mainly to walk around the town casually. So why were they surrounding her?

    Upon closer inspection, he recognized the familiar face. His eyes widened a bit, unprepared for this surprise. “Helen?” he let loose. The woman gave a gentle smile.

    “Hello to you too, Richard.” She replied in turn. He approached her, bowing to her in gratitude.

    “Thank you for saving me back there. For a moment, I thought I was to meet my end.”

    Helen nodded. “You would have done the same for anyone, I’m sure.”

    He nodded, and got to the matter at hand. “I assume you’re here because you know what is going on?” he asked, turning from her to look up at the roof of the castle. Helen was looking up as well, but at the heart. The soldiers whispered a while, wondering who this woman was and what her relationship with the dragoon was.

    She nodded once again. “Yes. Someone has broken the seal to the key that holds the Heart of the world.” She explained. Richard Highwind turned to her in astonishment.

    “The key that holds the Heart of the world…?” he asked, in disbelief. He could only wonder at how such power could be forged, let alone allowed in this world. “So that weapon the hooded man was using…that was the key…” he muttered to himself as he averted from her. “Tell me, how did you know all this?” he asked out of curiosity. The woman turned to him, giving a faint smile.

    “Well, when you’re friends with royalty…the friendship gives you some perks…” she replied, referring to the old past Sage King that had taught her and the class. They were good friends, almost like a grandfather to her. Whenever she had questions, he was always there to answer. It was this desire to learn more about the mystic arts that he saw in her. That was that gateway that one day led to her discovering the secrets of the X-blade, and all the mysteries surrounding it.

    The dragoon grinned, recalling having seen her in the castle after school hours, always at the old man’s side with questions. The earth beneath them quaked a bit. Richard looked around for a moment.

    “What in the world is that?” a soldier shouted.

    The two looked up, seeing a silhouette standing at the edge of the roof. All they could see was the figure doing some motion, and then seeing a gold object being tossed into the sky. A flash of light occurred, enveloping the dark sky briefly. Then nothing, all they could see was a silhouette there. Richard Highwind was left uneasy, and decided to make haste.

    “Helen, I have to go.”

    “Then I’m coming with you!” she decided. Richard shook his head. “Helen, it’ll be too dangerous!” he argued. Helen scoffed at him. “Right, as dangerous as it was when you nearly came falling to meet your end?” The man held his tongue, admitting his defeat. Helen sighed, giving him a stern look. “I’m coming with you. You’ll need support. You cover me, I’ll cover you. Alright?” she insisted, having gone as far as giving a reasonable plan.

    Suddenly, the sound of powerful engines roared throughout the sky. The crowd wasn’t being controlled properly, and people were beginning to seep through the soldiers that were attempting to hold them at bay. Everyone wanted to take a look at what was emerging from the clouds. They all looked up. Bit by bit the giant figure emerged from the sky, becoming a looming omen.

    Chapter 7



    “Is that, a hull?” one of the civilians wondered.

    A hull practically the size of the town, perhaps larger, emerged from the cover of clouds. Bit by bit it revealed itself. First the golden hull with its small emerald wing like keels beneath it, then the closed white wings extending from both broadsides emerged, followed by two large engines implanted within the stern, roared with such power. The wings extended themselves like sails, and with power pushed the clouds away to reveal gargantuan warship that hovered over the small Garden in comparison. It was beautiful, yet easily revered by its size and power. Cannons could be seen in place, broadside of ship beneath the wings. Three blue masts could be seen in the center controlling large grey propellers. The front of the ship curved upward, splitting into two interconnected emerald designs, with two cannons on either side. It was technological warship, resembling a large sailboat. It looked like it could easily harbor a militia.

    Richard Highwind and Helen Maren looked up at the colossal construct. The two were left astonished and concerned at the creation.

    “Richard we need to strike, now!” she shouted. He nodded, and extended his hand out to her. Helen quickly wrapped around his torso, bracing for the bumpy escalate jump. With one motion, the duo flew into the air after the ship. Malik had already jumped onto the ship. He stood at the helm of the ship. The helm wasn’t a wheel, but instead hologram interface. His hands were moving about the screen, typing in coordinates to the location he wanted to go too.

    “Aah, here we go…” he said, his voice sounding a bit off. His fingers touched the screen, and instantly the ship began to construct what looked like a screen over the open air of the ship. Helen and Richard barely managed to make it inside the ships deck, breaching the ship just as the ship was finished constructing itself. They landed a few meters near him. The ship’s deck was huge, to be expected from a warship of such magnitude. Panels mimicked the wooden floor that most sail ships had. Malik chuckled as he dabbled with the screen. “So I see you made it after all, and with my next step in the plan, I see!”

    Richard readied his lance, standing ahead of Helen for her protection. “Where’s the X-blade?” he questioned, his guard up. The ship had already begun moving in an attempt to flee.

    “Just give me one…second…” he paused, inputting a command onto the ship. With a final push of the finger, he was down. He turned to the team, clasping both his hands. He had red eyes now as opposed to his previous yellow. “All done; now you were asking…-?”

    “Quit playing games!” Highwind shouted, an uneasiness bubbling inside him. He glared at Malik whilst gritting his teeth. “What’s with this guy? He doesn’t even sound the same…” he wondered, having already noticed the bizarre change in the man’s personality. Helen keenly observed the cloaked figure. She was sensing another presence inside the man.

    “Richard be careful. This man is not alone…” she advised. Richard kept his eyes glued to him. “What do you mean?”

    Helen started readying some magic. “His voice…and the way he’s acting… Don’t they seem a bit off? Or was he like this?” she asked, wanting to confirm her suspicions. Malik stood there, listening in on their conversation. He chuckled again, taking a step forward. “If you must know, my apprentice has allowed me to take hold of him momentarily. So in case you’re wondering, I am not Malik.” He explained, wanting to get things moving along. The two stood there, eyes widened,

    “Then…who are we talking too…?” Helen spoke, cautiously asking the question. She awaited a response, but received none after sometime. Unable to fend off the urge, Helen briefly scanned her surroundings for any sign of where the X-blade could be.

    The possessed Malik grinned, chains forging around his forearms with claws linked to the other end. “It’s none of your concern…” his tone dropping to a serious like matter. With that said, he swiftly tossed both claws at the woman with amazing precision. Helen was caught off guard, not being experienced in battle to have been ready. Without a second thought, the dragoon jumped between them and knocked the projectiles aside with his lance. The man used the momentum to twirl his own body in order to pull the claws. At the same time they were being pulled, they were also brought into a swinging motion. He swung the chains overhead, and redirected them back at them, but this time from their left. Helen was prepared this time, and moved to Highwinds side.

    “Reflectaga!” she shouted, putting her hands in front of her. A barrier formed around them momentarily. The claws bounced in failure, that is of course without saying that they managed to crack the barrier. Unable to reach their target, Highwind took the opportunity to lunge at hooded man, closing the gap quickly. The weapons were pulled back to their controller, an irritated expression bestowed on his face as he caught them in his hands. He wasn’t concerned with the dragoon. Not the slightest.

    Richard went to stab with the lance at Maliks torso. Helen had keen eyes, for she noticed Malik twitch before Richard could. She immediately casted a spell, motioning her hands to the sky as a ball of white magic teleport from above her and broke apart over Highwinds body. “Protectaga!” she shouted in time. Malik shifted his position to the left, barely avoiding the stab on purpose in order to have the dragoon within close proximity. With one quick motion, he yanked the lance away from him, sending a knee to Richards’s solar plexus. Having lost his breath, he was left stunned. Malik twirled the lance in order to gather force before delivering the pommel of the lance to his jaw. The villain took stance, and bashed the pommel to the dragoons jaw, sending him off balance. Within a second Malik had already shifted stance, attempting to gather more momentum for his next attack. With swift precision he was able to throw the lance towards Richard. The lance punched through the protect spell; shattering the aura surrounding Richard, and pinched through Highwinds armor as it sent him flying back to his starting point. His body flew past a flinching Helen, and slammed against the gold railing of the deck. Helen worriedly ran to Richards’s side.

    “Richard!” she shouted, kneeling down next to him to check his injuries. The lance collided with the deck, making a loud clank. “Richard! Get up!” she shouted in concern for his life. The dragoon slowly opened his eyes, his mind not making sense of his surroundings as he saw doubles of Helen.

    “Helen…?” he moaned. He attempted to get up, holding on to the railing for support while Helen helped him up. He winced a bit at the pain. His jaw felt like a sledgehammer had just whacked him across the face, and his abdomen felt in bad shape. He checked for a wound, but found none; only a broken piece of his armor. Rubbing the back of his neck, he looked up at Malik who stood there watching the two. Helen picked up the heavy weapon and handed it to Highwind.

    “Richard…I have an idea…but I’m going to need you to buy me some time… she whispered to him as they both looked at Malik. The hooded figure was serious now, dawning a now aggressiveness that was not expected of him. He took a step forward, waving his hand, mockingly asking them to attempt again.

    “Come.” Was all the man uttered. His counterattack was easily executed, and he knew this. With this in mind, he grew very confident.

    Richard looked at Malik, wanting payback. He nodded at Helens request, and jumped into the air. He soared as far as the space allowed him to before reaching the mirror like screen that covered the deck of the ship. Richard descended, lance facing forward to its intended target. Malik looked up, ready for his next counter attack. The tip of the lance whizzed past his face, again on purpose as Richards’s body came within Maliks close quarters. He was about to grab a hold of the lance to redirect the dragoon into an unstable fall, when suddenly the space surrounding him distorted, causing Richard to vanish. Malik was left with nothing to grab on to, but not surprised. His gaze shifted towards Helen, who was too focused on his conjuring to notice him.

    Wanting to draw him out, he dashed towards Helen. In the event that he did not reappear, he was fine with executing the next phase of his plan. Only a yard away from Helen, he faintly noticed a distortion in the space in front of Helen. It happened all too fast, but not fast enough. The dragoon came bursting out of thin air, diving lance first at Malik. He grinned as he was ready for the encounter.

    “Haste!” Helen shouted.

    Astonishingly to Malik, the dragoon suddenly rocketed towards him. Malik gritted his teeth in anger and pain at the inevitable. The lance pierced his torso, the force of the hit pushing him back quite a bit. His plimsolls skidded against the deck as Malik attempted to stop the dragoon in his tracks.

    “Berserkza!” Helen shouted yet again.

    A reddish aura surrounded the dragoon. Suddenly, he began to teleport every millisecond, using the same trajectory to force Malik back. It was a hit after hit, on the same spot. Malik let out a roar of agonizing pain. He could no longer oppose the force, thus his footing giving way to the berserk dragoon. The villain’s body flew back towards the metallic railing, colliding against it with a loud thud. Even while he layed against it, the dragoon continued his onslaught of violent jumps on him. Each hit was so violent that it broke the sound barrier, causing waves of sonic booms to occur throughout the deck. Helen winced each time, realizing how violent the attacks were, but they had no choice. The man was already proving himself to be a foe they could no longer hold back against. The final jump occurred seemingly capable of landing just like the rest of them. Malik was defenseless after all those hits, or so they thought. Richard reappeared, the final strike intended on ending it. That’s when he noticed something. Maliks eyes were dead set on him. Astonished by this, it opened a window of opportunity for the villian. With remarkable speed, his right hand shot out and caught the lance with enough force to stop the speeding dragoon. Richard went flying forward uncontrollably.

    While he had caught the lance, he was rising to ready himself for the next attack. Without much thought, he reached out and grabbed Richard by the neck before he could fly past him and out the deck. A devilish smile was provoked as he suddenly held the furious dragoon by the neck. He stood there, watching the man grasping at his wrist. Richard winced, barely noticing the malformed hands that were holding onto his lance and himself. Helen stood frightened, not knowing what to do to save her friend.

    “W-what…nnngghh…” he groaned, looking at Maliks hands. They were coated, with a dark aura that took the shape of monstrous hands. The hand tightened around his neck, causing him to wince.

    “Did you really think…I was that easy?” he chuckled.

    He squeezed at Richards neck again. “My, you sure have a strong will…I’ll give you that much.” Malik pulled him in, his face within close proximity of his. “But, let’s face it…even that won’t save you from another squeeze.” He whispered at him. Attempting to give it one final tight squeeze, Richard vanished into thin air. Malik raised an eyebrow in confusion, but then it dawned on him.

    The dragoon reappeared next to Helen on the other side; coughing and gasping for air on his knees. Helen leaned over, checking his bruised neck. “Richard-“she began, attempting to tell him something.

    “I’m fine Helen…” he paused, letting out a natural cough as his body attempted to open up the nearly crushed windpipe. He looked up, seeing a blur approach. Time suddenly slowed down in his perspective. He looked at the incoming projectile. Having been a highly trained soldier, he knew where his lance was heading.

    “Helen! Look out!” he shouted in desperation. He could only do so much in his current state. Helen’s eyes widened in despair, knowing full well there was no time to avoid the hit. “Prote-“The lance connected with her, and in turn pushed her off the deck and into a cascade. The dragoons eyes widened in astonishment, and fear.

    “NNOOO!!” he screamed. Pushing his current limit, he threw himself off the ship, and dove for her. The air surged past his body as he wedged threw the sky, accelerating in an attempt to catch the limp Helen. He faintly avoided his lance, watching it fly right past him in his dive.

    The people presently in the area noticed the two, shouting in terror.

    “Oh no, look!” someone shouted, causing everyone to turn their heads in the direction of the civilians point of interest. The crowd along with soldiers began to scream, forming a loud ruckus of horror and bewilderment.

    He was desperate to reach her, extending his arms out to her, hoping he could somehow reach her. They neared a height where there was no going back. He closed in, barely managing to wrap his arms around her. With expertise, he maneuvered himself in time to control his fall, decelerating. He landed with a loud THUD on both feet. He knelt down, lowering Helen as to get a better look at her. She was mortally wounded. No magic could save her, not even a Raise. Yet, in desperation he called out.

    “I need a healer here! NOW!” he shouted over the sound of the crowd.

    “Rich…ard…” Helen spoke softly, unable to speak any louder. Highwind looked down at her, his eyebrows furrowing. “Listen, the ship…” Richard motioned for her to stop.

    “It’s ok, save your strength. We’re going to get you-“

    Helen looked him, knowing full well that there was no way out of this predicament. “You and I both know…magic won’t be able to save me…” she said. “Now listen…” she paused, wincing in pain. “The ship…it’s the reason he wasn’t wielding the X-blade…” The world around her began to fade, blurring itself. She didn’t have enough time to say everything she wanted to say. “Richard…dangers lurks…” she uttered. Her body suddenly took up a glow of light. Her body began to disappear, fading along with the light that had surrounded everyone before the trouble brewed. Richard knelt there, hanging on to the fading Helen. He was bewildered, and saddened.

    So she too…is fading into the light…” he thought, watching in sorrow as her remnants faded away.

    Helen looked to the heart of the world that lingered over them. Sadness took hold of her momentarily, the thought of her son on her mind. Then in that instance, she saw something beautiful which gave rise to hope within her. “D’daer…you will never be alone…” she whispered closing her eyes. “…I’ll always be with you…” With her dying words, the last of herself disappeared; spirited away from the dragoons hands.

    Chapter 8

    A possessed Malik stood by the broken rail on the deck of the ship that hovered over the small town. The small part of the shattered screen shimmered before him, a testament to what had taken place moments ago. Crimson red eyes observed the fragments of light that escaped the dragoons arms as the woman that had stood in his way disappeared from this world. It was done. He had removed one of the last who knew about the X-blades secrets; him now being the sole person on this planet to know. The thunderclouds that hovered above roared, while raindrops commenced their descent to the peace broken town. The heart shaped enigma continued to hover in its throne above, almost concealed by the gargantuan ship that floated over the town.

    With nothing else to do, he walked over to the helm of the ship; a hologram reappearing before him. He pressed on the screen, and the engines came to life. The town reverberated with the engines power as the ship continued to pass over it. Down below, stood a defeated Richard as he witnessed what was left of Helen fade into the nothing that surrounded them all. He looked up to see the ship commencing its escape. His mind was filled with thoughts of defeat, indignant anger, and failure. The crowd of people stood there in watch. People were staring up at the ship. A dark void manifested from nothing in front of the ship; it was large enough for the vessel to fit through. Everyone was stirring, their bewilderment never ceasing to exist.

    The dragoon groaned, as he attempted to ready himself for another jump towards the ship. His knees buckled, causing him to fall on his knees; his wounds being too much for him to handle. The soldiers gasped, two of them taking the initiative in catching him before he fell.

    “Sir, you shouldn’t push yourself!” one of them insisted out of concern. The dragoon allowed the aid, getting up on his feet.

    “I’m alright…” he said, attempting to lower their concerns. The ship made it through the void, taking the reverberating sound of is giant mass and engines with it. The void collapsed, leaving nothing behind.

    Richard looked toward the sea of people that crowded nearby. They were watching him, wondering what was to happen next. He looked back at the soldiers, the men and women understanding right away that they had a job to do. Left and right, the authorities gave the citizens their instructions, redirecting them out of the plaza. High ranking officials gathered, designating soldiers to enter the castle to learn the whereabouts of the king and queens safety. Now that the spectacle was over, everyone headed straight to work in clearing the area. It was almost as if nothing had happened.

    The thunderclouds surrounding the heart let loose rain upon the land; fitting for a tragic day that would be forever inscribed in the lands history.

    - - - - - - -

    The flower shop stood before Richard. Rain continued to pour into the town. The plaza had been emptied within a matter of minutes. During the commotion, he had asked around the town for Helens residence. Everyone he asked had a face filled with sorrow when they realized that the owner had passed away in the incident.

    “Helen was such a sweet woman. She went through so much this year… and to think now that poor boy is left all alone…” an elderly woman spoke in response to his question. He was caught off guard.

    “She had a son?” he asked in wonder.

    The woman nodded in reply. “Oh yes, a six year old son, I believe.”

    “You said he’d be alone… What about his father? Isn’t he with him?” he asked again, this time a bit concerned for the child left behind.

    “No one really knows what happened to the man. Just one day went off and disappeared. Shame too, they were such a well kept family last I remembered them…” she explained, down casted by the recollection.

    Richard stood there, gathering his thoughts.

    “If you’d like to see the boy, he lives in the flower shop within the plaza.” She said, suggesting that it would be best if visited the child. Her frail finger pointed to the other side of town. He nodded, thanking her for her help.

    Droplets slide down his helmet as he stared at the door, his reflection somehow clear. How was he to approach this matter? Knock, say hello to the boy, and give him the bad news? No, that was too straightforward, and it would most certainly cause the child grief. “I suppose…anyway you put it would cause him grief…” he muttered to himself. Without much thought left, he knocked on the door and awaited a response. Lightning struck the earth a ways back as the thunder soon traveled; the earth quaking with its roar. It took a while; perhaps another knock, before the door finally opened. It was a pregnant woman of average height who had answered the door. He must’ve been about a foot taller.

    “Hello ma’m, my name is-“

    “Richard Highwind. Yes I know who you are… Please come in…” she spoke, her voice soft and frail, as if she had just gotten over grief. The man hesitantly entered in wonder.

    “Thank you uumm…?” he turned to her, wondering her name.

    “Judith, sir.” She answered.

    Her reply triggered one of Helens last words, his eyes widening a bit. “So you’re Judith. Helen…she spoke your name among…her la-“ he paused, not knowing whether she had yet to receive news of Helens demise. It was of little concern apparently, as Judith already knew.

    “It’ quite alright, I know she passed… News spreads rather fast here.” She began, then muttering under her breath, “that…and seeing as it’s you standing before me instead of her…”

    Richard stood uneasy. He could only wonder just how awkward this situation must feel to her as it did to him. “I’m sorry. It’s my fault… I should ha-“ his words were cut short as he was interrupted by Judith.

    “Don’t blame yourself. Helen knew the danger she was getting herself into…” she said, averting her eyes in sadness.

    Richard released a sigh, he too averting his eyes in sadness. They had a moment of silence, each not knowing what else to say in the matter; especially as the dragoon had another question in mind. After a moment, he found himself just wanting to get this out of the way, and so he asked, “Does…the child know?”

    Judith looked up at him, revealing the answer he most hoped would not be with a simple gesture. He frowned, looking towards the stairs. He pointed in the direction, Judith nodding. With another sigh escaping him, he walked towards and up the stairs; Judith following just behind him. Reaching the top of the stairs, Judith pointed at the door closest to them. Without hesitation, he opened the door; this sudden need to just wanting to get things done and over with. His eyes scanned the room.

    Nothing.

    Richard stepped into the room, Judith following behind in wonder until she realized the obvious. “Wh- D’daer?” she called, moving towards the closet. She reached out and pulled the handle, opening the door to an empty closet with nothing but clothes and stored toys. Judith was now concerned, moving out of the room and towards every door within the second floor, hoping to find signs of the boy. Richard stood there in D’daers room, wondering just what could have happened. He slowed his pace as he walked around the room, examining for any signs of what could have happened. His armored boots sounded off as he walked about.

    The boys bed was left unkempt, his pillow all mashed up as if he had layed there. He caught a glimpse of moisture on the pillow; it was a very subtle detail. He peered closer to take a closer look when he heard it. It was rain. It was obvious that it was raining, but the sound…it was clearer, closer than it sounded when indoors. A quick search revealed a slightly opened window right next to the bed. Richard opened it slightly, looking out the window. He had a clear view of the plaza. In that instant, he recollected the moment of Helens departure from this world. Then it occurred to him.

    “He saw it…” he uttered, closing his eyes in a frown as his heart wrenched. He stood there a moment, controlling his emotions. After collecting his thoughts, he closed the window and headed out the room to see Judith coming down the hall.

    “Did you find him?” he asked, knowing full well the boy most likely was not within the house. She shook her head with a worried filled expression.

    “No, I can’t find him. I-I don’t understand I was here, th-there’s no way he could have just left the house!”

    Richard sighed heavily, keeping his findings and assumptions to himself. “Don’t worry; I’ll have the best scouts in this town looking for him along with myself.” He said, quickly heading down the stairs. Judith moved towards the window in D’daers bedroom. She heard the front door close shut, thus seeing Richards figure walk away in the rain. Her eyes saw him off, inevitably looking up at the heart that could still captivate anyone’s gaze; however filled with grief they may be.

    - - - - - -

    The night lights showed bright in the rain. Richard had decided to wear a cloak in order to avoid getting any wetter than he had a few moments ago. He searched frantically throughout the town, going through alleyways, normal routes, and even as far as the outer gates of town. There was no success to be had; even having gone as far as asking around the town. It was still fairly early in the evening, however dark it may have presented itself due to the clouds. Richard decided to just walk, not knowing what else to do. He could still see a few of his scouts asking around for any sign of D’daers whereabouts.

    “Where could he have gone?” he asked himself, looking down in thought. There was literally no clue as to where he could have gone; he even went back to ask Judith if she had any idea of where he could have gone. As Richard walked, he made his way into an alleyway. The rain was still pouring, its presence clear as the gutter spewed out the overflow of water. He stepped on a puddle, creating a splash as he walked over it.

    There has to be some place we have yet to check…” he pondered. The sound of a nearby drain could be collecting the amassed amounts of rain that had dropped nearby. He stopped for a moment, looking at it for a while. The kingdom was surrounded by a sea, with only one bridge connecting it to the outside. So just where could this boy have gone; no doubt the soldiers at the front gates would have noticed. He stood again, allowing his train of thought to lead him somewhere.

    It’s clear that he isn’t here, but I also know the boy couldn’t have just walked out of the town…There must be a place we’re not looking in…”

    His thoughts went to work, thinking a while of the town. After a moment, he realized that the boy was probably somewhere he had not thought of. Not wanting to waste time, he sprinted towards the town’s fountains; an area filled with clear running water, with jets of water shooting out. It was on most sunny days when the fountains true beauty was shown, for when the light reflected off of its surface, the water seemed as if it was glowing. Alas, that was not the case tonight as he entered the area. The water was running, but no glow, no boy; but this was not why he was here. His eyes focused on a hallway on the second floor of the fountain courtyard, just a little ways ahead. Not wanting to waste time, he leaped from his current position; utilizing his dragoon ability, landing next to the entrance of the hallway. A bit of pain traveled through his legs, but he resisted as he continued onwards. This was the town’s aqueducts. It extended upwards, rather than downwards. Various large pipes in girth traveled throughout the facility.

    He followed the stairs up; the structure spiraling somewhat towards a small stream of water controlled by…well…aqueducts. He was indoors; a nice size pillar holding up the roof, but a look to his right showed that the roof of the building cut off, and an open space showed the steady stream travel beyond and into the fountain courtyard. He felt a little disappointed, not seeing sight of the boy.

    “Guess I was wrong…” he muttered in a whispered, his voice uncontrollably amplified by the walls of the building. He went to turn back towards the stairs when he heard a voice.

    “Hello?” a young voice spoke softly. It sounded as if it was strained. Richards’s eyes looked about the room, wondering who it was; hoping it was D’daer.

    “Yes, hello…uh don’t be afraid. D’daer is it?” he asked, now looking to the pillar. From behind the pillar emerged a small purple haired boy, wearing casual beige shorts and a black moogle shirt; he was wearing sandals. To his surprise, he wasn’t wet at all; most likely from having dried off. The boy had a frown on his face, a hand having rubbed his eyes as he walked towards him. Richards’s heart wrenched at the sight.

    I hope my own kin doesn’t have to go through this…” he thought as the boy approached.

    He knelt on one knee as to be of eye level with the boy. The boy shivered in sadness, still getting over the tears he had shed.

    “D’daer, I-“

    “You’re the captain of the dragoon corps…” the boy interrupted. Highwind closed his mouth, and nodded in reply. It was clear to him the boy might have had something to say, but he didn’t. D’daer stared at him with a frown. Uncomfortable, Richard averted his gaze for a moment before commencing.

    “Listen…I know you saw what happened…” he said, looking back at the child. D’daer stared, it being obvious that he was doing everything in his power to hold back tears. The man sighed through his nostrils, feeling sympathetic with him.

    “I just wanted to say…I’m sorry…” The dragoon had no clue what he was supposed to say, or how to word it. D’daers lower lip began to shake as the tears started to break through his masked expression. Tears fell from his eyes, and down his young cheeks. He was hurting over the one person that meant the world to him. His grief was ever clearer.

    “How can you call yourself a captain if you couldn’t even save my mom?!” he exclaimed through his struggling voice. “Why did you let her go with you!?” he shouted.

    Richards’s eyes showed sympathy for the boy, but also guilt. He continued to take the punishment from the boy.

    “You’re supposed to be strong, and yet you couldn’t save her! “He groaned, his eyebrows furrowing. He wailed at the man standing before him, his soft young hands pummeling against his armor, and his head. Although the punches didn’t hurt, he could feel the pain in the boy’s heart, which in turn hurt his own. Each hit was like a cry at the dragoons own guilt. It weighed heavily on him. After sometime, D’daer just collapsed into the man’s arms, bawling in grief. “I…wanted to become strong so I could protect her…” the boy huffed, “...but now I won’t be able to…” The dragoon held him, eyebrows furrowing and teeth gritting as a tear fell down his own cheeks.

    - - - - - - -

    The next day the early morning skies were clearer, although the heart in the sky still attracted clouds to linger near it. A knock came about the flower shops main door. Judith came walking up, seeing a soldier from the doors window. She opened the door with wonder.

    “May I help you?” she asked, peering from the small opening she made.

    “Why yes you can, Madam. For you see…I’m looking for a beautiful woman by the name of Judith Elizabeth Haggis.” He replied, his voice sounding of a playful tone. Judith blushed, but then her eyes widened with happiness when she realized who the man was.

    “Jorge?!” she shouted in joy, even swinging the door wide open for the man. The soldier laughed, removing his helmet. A Brown hair and blue eye’s thirty year old man with a small scar on his cheek stood before her. The two hugged, both being careful as to not squish the unborn child between them.

    “Oh thank goodness your back! Are you alright?” she asked, holding his face between her hands.

    “Yes dear, I’m fine. I came as soon as I could after hearing about the incident that had occurred. Are you alright?” he asked in concern. She nodded.

    “Yes yes, I’m quite fine, but…” she went silent. The soldier already knew.

    “I don’t know what to say… When I heard about Helen, I was shocked…” he said, sadness falling over him in remembrance of their friends passing. Judith looked up at him, wiping away her tears. Jorge looked towards the stairs then back at her.

    “How is he?” he asked. Judith looked towards the stairs.

    “I think he’ll be alright. He’s a strong boy, no doubt about it.” She said, looking back at him. “Let’s leave him be for now… I was on the verge of making breakfast.” She attempted to change the subject. Catching on, he gave a weak smile and nodded.

    An hour later, footsteps could be heard descending from above. The steps reached the floor, and continued until the kitchen. It was D’daer in his navy blue one suit pajamas.

    “Morning…” he said, looking up at Judith, but then noticing the armored individual.

    “Morning dear, We have a visitor today. Can you guess who?” she asked, smiling as she cleaned some dishes. His eyes adjusted, making sense of the man. His eyes lit up in acknowledgement. “Uncle Jorge!” he shouted, happiness stirring for the moment as he ran towards him. The man lowered his mug onto the table and extended his arms out.

    “Hey there champ!” he said as he embraced the child. He lifted D’daer onto his lap. “How are you? You feeling ok?” he asked, making sure not to directly ask about Helen. The child nodded, his face having dropped to a more mellow expression.

    “Yeah, I’ll be fine…” he said.

    “Glad to hear it champs. Well listen, why don’t you go up and get ready for the memorial service while your Aunt here gets breakfast ready for you?”

    D’daer nodded and headed up the stairs; sometime passed before D’daer was called down for breakfast. By the time he sat down to eat, the soldier had gotten up and said his goodbyes.

    “I’ll see you guys at the service, alright?” he said in melancholy. They both nodded, as he headed for the door. Jorge reached for the door, opening it in order to find a tall man clad in purple armor waiting outside. He had a long lance sheathed to his back. Jorge recognized the man immediately, and stood straight, saluting his superior.

    “S-sir!” he said.

    Richard saluted back in mellow surprise before asking, “What brings you here?” he asked. Jorge replied in turn. After explaining his relation to the residence of the house, Highwind understood.

    “At ease then, I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable around relatives.” He said. By this time, only a few seconds had passed by since the door had opened. D’daer and Judith both were already by the kitchen entrance. The dragoon looked over to D’daer, then back at Jorge. “May I have a word with the boy?” he asked.

    “U-of course. D’daer, this man would like to speak to you.” He announced. The uncle motioned for D’daer to come. As he approached, Jorge stepped aside. Richard knelt down to speak with the boy.

    “Hello again.” He said, looking at D’daer. The boy nodded in silence. “I have some good news for you…it’s about an opportunity.” He began, gathering his thoughts. “I managed to use my influence to bring in good word to your king as well as the king from the neighboring kingdom…” The dragoon readied himself. “…and well…you have an opportunity to work as one of my apprentices.” He said, examining the boy’s expression. “They’re willing to accept you as an assistant. You’ll be able to study over there where I reside, as well as train to becoming a dragoon like myself. This is all a brief summary, but the point is…this an opportunity for you to become strong.” He said, looking into the boys eyes. The boy stared back into his eyes, as if trying to discern some kind of code or something.

    Richard looked at Judith and Jorge briefly before looking back at D’daer. “I-I may not have been successful in saving her, but perhaps with this…you’ll someday grow strong enough to protect those you care about, without having to rely on others. Let me make things right with this.” He said. The boy was still silent, having now averted his eyes. Seeing no interest in the boy, the down casted man got up and turned to leave.

    “Give me some time to think…” the young boy spoke. The dragoon stopped in his tracks, turning to him. The boy was still looking away. “Let me think about it…” he said again. The dragoon made a slight grin. “Alright then, I’ll be at the inn nearby. I’ll be awaiting your answer.” With that said, he walked off towards a crowd of people who were all gathering at the castles courtyard.

    The whole town was within the courtyard, the mass amount of people overflowing out of the yard as the area wasn’t big enough to hold all of them. At the front row stood the people who were related to the victims who had lost their lives in the line of duty; among them being D’daer with Judith, and Jorge. Everyone held in their hands Lycorises; these beautiful flowers that illuminated with the suns radiance. In front of them was a stage brought in specifically for the king to stand on, with this he would be able to give his speech without the worry of who is and who isn’t able to see.

    King Fydlon stood there, momentarily meditating on what to say. Everyone stood quietly, looking to their King. Finally, the king spoke. “Yesterday started off as a day celebrating our anniversary of the day we united with the people of the Monochrome kingdom…” he began, his eyes observing the crowd as he continued “But it ended in tragedy as it we were terrorized by an unknown man whom sought to wreak havoc amongst our peaceful town. Many great soldiers lost their lives, as well as one brave individual whom out of selfless act aided the Captain of the Dragoons in attempt to stop this menace. She was a student of my father, the predecessor to the throne…” Fydlon looked down at D’daer briefly before looking back at the others. “Although this man may have taken lives, and he may have succeeded in destroying our celebration, he cannot succeed in destroying our spirit. We will stand strong, and united. Like the flower that upholds the light through the strongest of weathers, we too shall endure, never giving up. ” The man lifted his lycorise to the air, everyone following suit. He let go of the flower, and watched as the flower defied gravity. It lifted itself into the air gently, the other flowers released by the others following. Everyone had done so, except D’daer who clung to his.

    Everyone watched as the sea of flowers began to look like a sea of pure light amassed in the sky. D’daer stared a while, for a second the heart shaped entity that hovered above looked fitting in the light. The soldiers escorted the King out of the courtyard, while everyone else began to head back to their homes. Jorge walked on, Judith following. She turned to see D’daer still standing, gazing at the sky.

    “D’daer…” she called out weakly. The boy stood his ground, replying. “I’ll meet you guys at home… I need some time to think...” He said. Judith looked at D’daers back for a moment. It hadn’t occurred to her, but she saw him differently now. As if the boy suddenly harbored a conscious mind. In other words, she noticed a tint of maturity growing within him. Not wanting to disturb his moment, she let him be.

    The boy stood there watching the sky in its new temporary display. He held his flower close to his chest. “Mom…I’ll make you proud. From here on out, I’ll protect everyone dear to me. I’m going to become stronger…” D’daer looked at his flower, pondering the words she imparted into him. “I’ll hold on to your words, and inscribe them into my heart. “He whispered as a tear fell from his cheeks. He cried, but his gaze never wavering. His hands extended to the sky, releasing the flower that held his purity. It floated to the sky to join the others, becoming one with the light that decorated the sky.

    Part 1


    Chapter 9



    It had just become dark as night took control of the scene while the heart of the world took the color of blue as part of its identity, illuminating the night. Guards stood watch on the lane a top the only gate that gave access to the castle of Baron; an old castle in Baron, it being an old nation ruled by a benevolent king. The king whom ruled this land was kind and caring of his people; kind enough that he had taken in two children whom he has raised as his own all this time. The night was still, the only sound being the sound of the waves pressing against the land mass that protruded from the sea to uphold the castle. Guards patrolled the structure at every corner. Yet, with ease an intruder had made its way past the gates guards, and deeper into the confines of the castle.

    The cloaked intruder made its way inside the castle, making sure to watch out for guards at every corner. It made its way to the outside of a chamber. Surprisingly no one was keeping watch. With caution, it approached the doors; pressing its head against them for signs of life. Muffled voices could be heard going back and forth between what sounded like two individuals in conversation. Carefully, the intruder pried the door open ever so slightly. Light broke through the small crack created as it peered through; its emerald eyes having caught sight of the castles king, and someone else it did not recognize.

    “These times are harsh… I fear war is at our door step…” the king said. They were standing around a table, the kings back turned to both the other and the hidden spectator. The King had purple medium length hair, and was adorned in a royal cape that exaggerated its length and thickness as it wrapped around his collar. He was wearing a golden outfit with beautiful patterns all around him. The other individual dawned skin tight purple armor all over his body, the most noticeable out of all of his attire being the dragon helm he wore that resembled a dragon.

    “There’s talk that more of those people wielding those strange weapons have appeared further south in the land of pyrdain, and as well as the Land of Oz…” the man spoke, not budging at all. The King stood there, gripping his hands behind his back. The intruder focused its eyes at what the King was so busy staring at. Past the king, it noticed a large paper on the wall, it had been fitted perfectly on the wall. There was a large drawing of what appeared to be a continent. Pins of different colors were placed all over the drawing.

    The King sighed, lifting a hand to remove pins on the bottom of the map, and to the right of the map. “These confounded individuals just never cease do they? We’ll have to send more troops over there first thing tomorrow…” he said, a look of deep thought on his face.

    “Your Majesty, if this keeps up, I’m afraid we’ll-“

    “I will not stop. I made a promise to them all that we would aid them whenever they needed help… I can’t stop now…”

    The warrior took a step forward with a look of concern. “Your Majesty, you have to think about your nation! Think of what could happen! What if they decided to invade the castle next? If these group of individuals are capable of wiping out our troops, what makes us so sure that they couldn’t invade us? I implore you to reconsider your decision…” he begged, attempting to convince his King of the irrationality of his decisions. The King turned to the warrior; catching a glimpse of the door. He took no mind to it.

    “Do you question your King?” he asked, making an effort to show he was offended at the lack of faith the warrior had for his King. The man looked taken aback, not wanting to give the wrong impression to his king. The warrior fell to one knee, bowing in respect.

    “Your Majesty, please forgive me. I did not mean to question your good judgment.” He said apologetically. The map had blue and red pins all over the continent map. It seemed, according to the map, that the red pins were ahead in terms of number. The intruders’ eyes focused on the location of the castle surrounded by a circle. It was the castle of Baron, and beneath it was a just a bit off was the land of Pyrdain with a red pin now planted on it where a blue pin had been before. The cloak concealed the intruders identity slightly, unable to mask the lower portion of its face. Not wanting the King to catch sight of itself, the intruder backed off slowly from the door; a void made of dark matter spawning before it. It stepped through, looking back at the door before stepping all the way through.

    “Now, I will need a few of your dragoons to accompany my soldiers. A few black mages as well as White Mages will be accompanying them as well. Have your soldiers ready by tomorrow morning. Am I understood?” the King said.

    The dragoon nodded, “Understood, your Majesty. Is there anything else you would wish of me?”

    The King turned around looking at the map. He had a smug smile, hidden by the back of his head. “Nothing else is needed of you. That is all.” He waved off. The warrior rose, nodding once again before turning to the door. He noticed how it was slightly opened. Raising an eyebrow, he opened it and looked outside, turning his head left and right. A curious look came over him, as he examined the door knob for a moment.

    The King felt his presence and turned to him. “Is there a problem Kain?” he asked. The dragoon kept staring at the knob for a while a longer. “No, your Highness…it’s nothing…” he replied, leaving the room. The King stood by himself looking at the map. He couldn’t help but chuckle at the amount of blue pins opposing the red.

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

    “RAAAH!” shouted a young man as he swung his wooden sword at his opponent. It was a young man around the end of his adolescent years, standing at five feet, and eleven inches. He was wearing a green sleeveless shirt with a pauldron strapped to his right shoulder. A leather belt held his beige cargo pants in place, the end of the cuffs tucked within his leather boots that reached above the mid-section of his shins. His short layered purple hair swayed as he swung his sword around parrying, and delivering blows. There was a crowd of a few soldiers watching. A man about the young man’s height, stout with a face that showed he had experienced combat numerous times, had received a hit to his abdomen. His scruffy beard shook as he backed off a bit, chuckling at the well-received counterattack as he wiped off the hit from his brown cloth shirt. The man was old, but not enough to be hindered by his age. He blew away a loose hair that dangled between his eyes; it was tied back as to not get in the way.

    “Well done boy. You’ve been training hard, I see. “The man praised. A grin formed on his face as he gripped his wooden sword with both hands. “Come! Show me what you’ve learned.”

    The young man held the sword with one hand at the ready. He had a lean athletic build, capable of moving about and around without breaking a sweat. His muscles tensed as his grip tightened. His blue eyes locked with his opponents. Slowly, he skidded his right foot forward, closing the gap between the two. A smile came upon his face, and in that instance he leaped forward; dragging his sword with him. The rush of combat surged through his veins. He swung the weapon vertically, attempting to utilize his strength along with his momentum to land a critical blow to the man’s shoulder. No injury would come of it beside a bruise.

    “Hah! You’ll have to do better than that!” the man shouted. With ease he not only lifted the sword to intersect the hit, but also deflect it, causing the young man to stagger. The young man’s eyes widened, not having seen the result of the clash coming. The man followed up the deflection with diagonal strike to the novice’s shoulder, by stomping forward with his right foot and at the same time bring the sword down on his opponent. A loud thud was heard, and the young man was knocked back onto his rear end. The crowd in unison spoke out.

    “Ooooh…”

    The man chuckled, dropping his guard as the sparring match was clearly over. He walked over to the adolescent, and extended hand. “Well done, boy! You’ve clearly improved, albeit not enough to beat me. Still you’ve done well.” He said, trying to sooth the hit the boys pride had been afflicted with. Of course with this young man, pride wasn’t much. It was dignity that mattered, and the fact that he had managed to hold his own this long in the sparring match was more than enough for him to feel satisfied.

    “Thanks.” He said, smiling back at his superior. He took the hand, and was lifted onto his own two feet. A pat on the back was given to him, by not only his opponent, but the others that formed the crowd.

    “Hey good work kid!”

    “Yeah, you’ve been getting better!

    “Looks like I’m going to have to start training harder! You’ll be catching up to us soon!”

    The crowd gathered around them, enjoying each other’s company in the matter. The man was proud of his novice underling. He remembered when the boy had just arrived to the castle of Baron. The commander of the Dragoon corps had brought with him an orphaned child. There was fire in the child’s eyes, and they all saw it as he worked hard. He along with the others saw him grow to become the man that he is today. Everyone pitched in to strengthen the boy, not out of pity but out of a desire to see this young boy grow to someday become one of them: a soldier of the army corps. Of course this was only a mere step in to what the boy really wanted to become.

    “I believe you’re more than ready for the exams, D’daear.” Said the scruffy beard man. The boy felt excitement well up in his chest. He nodded, then turning to the others. Everyone looked at him with confidence. This support was all he needed to stir an even greater confidence within him. Everyone in the crowd nodded at him, and he nodded back.

    “Come this way.” The man said, leading D’daear and the others to another side of the armies training quarters. Tents were set all around in the courtyard that was buzzing with the sound of weaponry colliding with objects. Men and women alike were busy with their own tasks. Some were training, some kept busy in drills, and others merely busy in chores necessary in keeping productivity within the encampment. The place was busy indeed as a militia was getting ready to be sent to Pyrdain and the Land of Oz. D’daear had no idea as to why the King kept sending troops all over the continent, but he knew for certain that if the King was doing this, it was for a big reason.

    The group approached the army corps commander whom was seated at a desk outside her tent with two guards standing beside her on each side. The woman had black hair tied back in a ponytail, with a head band around her head. Her brown eyes had seen them coming for she rose from her seat. She was wearing a blue long sleeved shirt, with long blue cargo pants; her leather boots keeping the bottom of the pants tucked beneath. She was smiling at them, specifically at D’daear for she knew that he was the sole reason for them all meeting here at this spot.

    As they approached her, D’daear caught sight of a group consisting of some of Barons finest warriors: The Dark Knights. Only the most elite of soldiers of the Baronian army could join The Dark Knights corps; and even then only the best of this corps could become A Dark Knight. The corps itself had not existed until several years ago. No one understood why, but everyone as of to this day knows for certain one thing: the training required the mastering of the powers of darkness, which was no easy feat. They say that the darkness could turn people evil; at least that’s what D’daear understood, and yet it was his goal. Joining the Dark Knights corps would be a symbol of his accomplishment, of how far he had grown in strength.

    The Knights passed on by, not even for a split second acknowledging their presence. He looked at the tightly black armored individuals as they passed by them. Their armor looked organic, as if it was a part of them or something. The two groups further strayed from one another as they each went to their destination.

    “Commander Sarah! You ready to see what our boy, D’daear, has in store for you today?” the scruffy bearded man said as they halted near her. The Commander crossed her arms.

    “I hope I’m not disappointed. Now let’s begin. D’daear, if you will.” She said, motioning for him to move forward, away from the group for evaluation. He nodded, and stepped forward in front of the desk. The woman sat back down, and looked at him. “Alright then. Tell me, what our military consists of?”

    D’daear stood straight, stiff as a board. “Sir, the military consists of the eight corps of Baron.” He replied.

    The Commander nodded, continuing with further questions. “Can you tell me all eight?” she asked. He nodded.

    “Sir, the eight corps consists of: The Army corps, Navy corps, The Dragoons, red wings corps, Black mage corps, White mage corps, personal guard corps, and…The Dark Knight corps.”

    “Can you…explain their purpose?” she asked, looking at D’daear in the eye.

    “Yes Sir. The Army corps is Baron’s main army. Everyone at one point started off here. The Navy corps is Barons naval forces, as they protect our sea borders. The personal guard corps is The Kings entrusted guards whom are there to protect The King and Queen. The Red wings or the Airships Corps is currently a corps in development. It will consist of Barons air forces, and be one of Barons elite divisions. The Black mages and White mages are comprised of our forces magic, The Black mages utilizing black magic for offense, and weakening our foes while White mages utilize white magic for defensive purposes such as Strengthening our army or healing the injured.” He paused after, knowing there were two more corps to explain. His mind stirred with memories, and a small bit of grief.

    Commander Sarah looked at him, wondering what kept him from continuing. “Did you forget the other two?” she asked. D’daear shook his head.

    “No ma’am- I mean Sir!” he shouted, trying to cover up the mistake of referring the Commander as ma’am; even though she was a female. The group behind him winced a little, all of them hoping she wouldn’t take it the wrong way. The commander looked at the boy, raising an eyebrow while her eyebrows furrowed. D’daear looked down.

    “Forgive me, sir…” he said. Luckily the Commander was quite alright with it, considering he was a novice after all. She let it go, shaking her head a bit as she smiled once again.

    “It’s alright, D’daear. Now, let’s finish this examination as there are things to be done here.” She said, motioning him to continue.

    He nodded and continued. “Sir, The Dragoon corps…consists of Barons finest soldiers. It was originally founded by the current commanders ancestors, Kain Highwind; Richard Highwind being his Predecessor. They are, well for now…Barons aerial force…” he said, trying to keep himself calm. “And lastly, The Dark Knights Corps, a fairly new corps only having been created a few years ago. They too consist of Barons Finest, but with the exception that only some can receive the title of Dark Knight.”

    The Commander looked up at him, well pleased with the response he had given. “Well done, D’daear. You’ve definitely done your homework. Now, due to time constraints I am going to have to cut this exam short. So if you will, please step forward.” She said, yet again motioning for him to step forward, this time to the front of the desk. He did so, and watched her as she got up and walked around until she was at his side.

    “If you will…” she implied, asking him to kneel before him. He did so in wonder. The exams usually consisted of more questions, followed by a physical exam where his endurance would be tested. A guard came around the table and to her side, opening a box large enough to hold something long, and sturdy. She placed a firm grip on something, and using her other hand she picked up the item. It was a average iron sword, about three feet in length, and a foot wide from one edge to the other. She held it with care, presenting it to him. “Well D’daear, you are officially our newest recruit. Welcome to Baron’s Army Corps. We look forward to your services.” She said, smiling.

    D’daear took the blade with both hands, rising to his feet. He eyed the blade, feeling its grip as well as texture. The blade was spotless as he was able to see his own reflection. “This…is exactly to my specifications. Thank you, Commander.” He said, bowing to her while formally holding the blade with both hands. She too bowed. The group came to them, congratulating D’daear in his accomplishment.

    “Glad to have you on our corps. I can still remember how small you were when you first entered the encampment. Now look at you! You’ve grown to become a fine recruit. You’ll make use proud, right?” she said, raising an eyebrow. D’daear chuckled, still holding his sword in a formal manner; it was too new to be held properly, he didn't want to dirty the shiny blade with his fingerprints. He had indeed grown a lot since he was a child. It was approximately thirteen years since he had first set foot here, and since then he had been working hard to get to where he was now.

    “Now that the exams are over…” Sarah said, turning to the others who were waiting behind them. “Let’s all get ready. We only have an hour left before we move out.” Everyone saluted, understanding their orders. D’daear was a little confused, clearly not having been briefed. The Commander looked at the scruffy bearded man. “Gordon, fill the recruit in on the information before we go. He’s coming with us.” She said as she walked away.

    The bearded man nodded. “Yes Sir!” He turned to D’daear and motioned him to follow towards a large yet normal looking tent. The young man followed him, the group having already dispersed to gather their equipment. They entered the tent, a space filled with racks of equipment standing before them.

    “Alright. You’re going to need to be fully geared for this. So…” he said, walking about the isles, picking out armor pieces. Within a minute he came back with a piece. "D'daear if you will, hand me the sword. I can't have you holding on to it while I equip you." he said, extending a hand out to the boy. D'daear hesitated, looking at the shiny blade. Gordon chuckled. "No worries! I'll put it down somewhere safe to keep it clean." he said. Reluctantly, D'daear handed over the sword. "At boy. Now for your armor..." he said as he swiftly planted the sword into the dirt floor. D'daear's eyes widened in shock, not believing what he had down to his new sword.

    "My swo-" he barely blurted out, as Gordon went straight to work on planting the first piece of armor onto D'daear.

    Back and forth Gordon went, applying the armor pieces onto D’daear; causing the boy to stir each time he strapped on a piece onto his body. First he armored his boots, followed by his waist, then his torso, arms, and finally head. Before the boy knew it, he was fully equipped with a typical medieval armor. Gordon grabbed D’daear’s sword, and placed it inside a sheath, which he strapped to the boys back.

    “Aha! There we go, boy! Go on, move about! “He said. D’daear nodded; the sound of the helmet creaking as he did so. He put one foot forward, immediately feeling the weight of it all. Even with his strong build he could barely move in this armor as he walked about, trying to get comfortable with it.

    “Uuuh Gordon…I don’t know about you, but this is…”

    “Perfect!” Gordon finished. “Now, I’ll be going to get my things ready. “He patted the boy on the back as he walked out the tent.

    “W-wait! What about the mission briefing-whoa!” he shouted. The armor was too heavy, and Gordon’s pat had been enough to send him falling forward as he left. With a loud clank, he fell forward onto his face. He could’ve sworn he felt the ground shake the moment he landed.

    “Uuugh…I’m definitely NOT going anywhere with this on…” he said as he laid there on the dirt floor, contemplating how he would make this situation work.

    Chapter 10



    Bank of clouds hid the blue heart as Barons militia walked down the dirt road to Pyrdain; the sound of walking armor covered the area as the soldiers walked on. Wagons rolled on and hooves pressed on in this expanse prairie. The Commander was on her horse to the side of her troops. She was wearing an iron vest covering her entire torso, as well as iron cuisses that extended all the way to her boots; her entire arm was covered in chainmail. The Commander was not one to wear helmets, as she preferred vision over protection. So instead, she wore a headband laced around her forehead. They had all left the nation of Baron for quite some time now, having already stepped into Pyrdain territory. She noticed her men were beginning to complain of exhaustion. They had come a long way now from Baron, so it was understandable. Not wanting to hear her troops bickering on about how tiring it was to be walking in armor, she commanded everyone to stop.

    “Alright! We’ll stop here for now. We’ll have a five minute break, and then we’ll be back on track. Is that understood?” she commanded, steering her steed down the length of the troops.

    The troops happily obliged as everyone went about into relaxing their legs for the five minutes of heaven that had been given to them. Among them was D’daear and his group of comrades. They were all gathered, seated next to one another in a circle as they went on about chatting about random gossip. The Commander locked her sights on the boy, noticing he was not wearing the usual soldier armor. She controlled her horse towards the group. Gordon gave a loud laugh as everyone chuckled at a joke that was just told. The horse’s hooves stopped near them.

    “D’daear!” she called, her eye furrowed somewhat in curiosity as well as annoyance at the sight of code violation.

    The group quieted down, turning to her and then the boy as he turned; his chuckling face straightening quickly to meet with the Commander.

    “Y-yes Commander…?” he asked, shooting straight up into a salute position.

    “Why are you not wearing your armor?” she questioned as she scanned his current attire. He was cladded in a leather vest that neatly befitted his young lean figure, his sleeveless shirt barely visible underneath. He had his usual iron pauldron on his right shoulder, both arms wearing brown leather bracers tightly fitted to his forearms. Brown chainmail faulds extended down to his knees, his cargo pants hidden underneath them as bronze colored greaves covered the entire lower portion of his legs. He held his Barbute helm under his left arms, while he saluted.

    “Sir, I am!” he replied, looking straight past her. Her eyes narrowed at him. She raised an eyebrow now, sizing him up.

    “Are you aware that soldiers are meant to wear their full armor? Your armor is your only defense against potential wounds. It could mean the difference between life and death.” She explained. Releasing a sigh, she got off her horse and walked towards him. The purple haired youth was slightly taller than her, now that she was in moment of observation. D’daear stood straight, not moving an inch. Commander Sarah inspected his wear, circling him. “Yours looks…fragile. I doubt you’ll be able to withstand a nice clean hit. I mean just look at this!” she said, jabbing at his torso. “This is more suited for scouts of the sort, as they need to be nimble and quick. They don’t engage the enemy unless necessary.” She trailed about his faulds and greaves. She shook her head in disagreement as she stopped in front of him. “D’daear, your armor is lacking. I suggest you change to something better in one of our armory wagons. “She said, pointing to a large wagon in the back of the troops. It was too large for the norm, more square in design that the usual roundish top wagons. The Commander turned to walk back to her horse. D’daear gave a quick salute, not talking back. Gordon and the rest held back chuckles.

    The Commander got up on her horse, and moved away; motioning D’daear to changing right away get started. She signaled to everyone that the break was over, watching the men and woman moan and groan as their moment of happiness was put to an end. Before long, the troops were back enroute. Gordon along with the armory wagons keeper laughed as they helped fit D’daear with new gear in the back of the moving wagon. The space was unusually vast compared to its exterior size; the interior was filled with racks that held armor pieces of all types.

    “Well then! I don’t want to be the man to say I told you so….but I told you so!” the bearded man said as he removed the leather vest from the boy.

    D’daear was looking grumpy, pouting as he allowed them to strip him of his armor which he thought was well put together. “Whatever…” he muttered, helping Gordon to remove the buckles on his bronze greaves. “I just don’t like the fact that all that armor makes me feel restricted in movement… I feel so trapped in all that tight armor.” He said, removing his chainmail faulds. Gordon passed the faulds to the armory keeper.

    “Well boy, it’s either that or carry a shield. Oh wait, I forgot….you said shields restrict your ability to wield a sword, eh?” He said sarcastically, having mimicked the young man’s voice in an overly dramatic higher than norm pitched voice. The wagon filled with his laughter, while the armory keeper received the pieces of armor that D’daear was fitted with. Gordon removed the last of D’daears armor.

    “Alright then. Let’s see what we can do to equip you with the armor you want, eh?” he said, smiling at the young man.

    The troops continued inwards into Pyrdain. They had passed through a dense forest where a simple turn of the head would show them more trees. To their good fortune, the forest seemed to have been a usual path for many people of Pyrdain as they managed to get back on a road that seemed to have been more man made than by natural weathering. It only took them about the rest of the day for them to finally exit the forest. Now they were on the verge of passing through a small canyon. The Commander began to signal her troops. “Alright everyone! Be on your guard! This is a likely spot for an ambush!” she shouted, looking up at the plateau of both sides of the canyon. The Heart shaped moon gave its usual glow over the landscape. For once, the Commander was glad for the moons lighting over this potentially dangerous environment.

    Meanwhile, the armory Keeper looked well pleased with the choice of armor that was now worn by D’daear. Gordon clapped his hands. “Finally! You’re looking good, boy! An armor fitting for a man such as yourself.” He said as he inspected D’daear. Bronze cuirass adorned a top his new beige linen long sleeved shirt; bronze layered pauldrons mounted on his shoulders, followed by bronze bracers. Just beneath his cuirass, he wore 2 pieces of faulds that covered his hips over his beige sarouls; a form of pants. Over his sarouls, D’daear wore bronze cuisses that wrapped around his entire thighs, which was followed by bronze kneecaps. Finally, greaves fully protected his shins and calves, and sabatons firmly fitting his soles.

    “You think so?” D’daear questioned, he too inspecting himself. Gordon smiled, grabbing a bronze helmet known as a Celata, and handed it to him.

    “Oh, I know so. Now, trying moving about the wagon. Come now.” He said, motioning for him to start getting a feel for his new armor. Nodding, D’daear got to moving about what little room he had to move in. He could feel how easily he was able to move his joints. He jumped around, one foot to another. He twirled his ankles, rotated his wrist, shoulders, neck, hips, etc. A satisfied smile grew on his face at the freedom his joints finally had.

    “Wow, this is so much better than the armor you had me wear back there!” He said, drooling over his new armor. It was comfortable, not hindering his movement, and it packed quite a style. Gordon patted the boy on the back, satisfied with the results. D’daear wavered only a bit, able to withstand the pat on his back without falling over from the weight.

    “That a boy! Alright then! I’ll meet you outside on the road.” He said, slipping through the wagon drapes and onto the road, alongside his fellow soldiers.

    The armory keeper smiled in satisfaction and bowed to the young soldier before walking back to the front next to the driver. D’daear took hold of his sheathed blade, and firmly strapped it to his back. With the matter of getting equipped out of the way, he was ready to leave the wagon. He stood there, looking at the drapes that concealed him within the wagon. An idea had occurred to him.

    “Perhaps…I could just…rest here.” He uttered to himself, looking behind him past the racks. The drapes to the front of the wagon were also currently closed. He could definitely get away with resting. Having decided, he took a seat at the bench, leaning back against the wagon wall. A sigh escaped his mouth as he rested his eyes. It felt good to just sit there, his eyes shut, allowing his body to recharge. His muscles soon relaxed, the wagons rhythmic swaying becoming a soothing massage; however hard the surface of the wagon felt. His breathing was steady, but shallow almost a whisper. He allowed the wheels on the wagon to become a sort of lullaby to help him relax. D’daear’s arms soon slid of his legs and onto his sides, his jaw slowly relaxing to a slight drop.

    It was dark, his eyes seeing the back of his eyelids. He could feel himself slipping away into a reverie, soon to become a dream. His consciousness slowly faded, the dreamscape overwhelming his mind.

    Everything around him felt empty, as if there was nothing to lean against or holding him up. He was surrounded by nothing briefly. Floating in his seated position, he felt the construction of solidity around him as white walls manifested themselves atom per atom. His eyes opened revealing a white hallway; D’daears eyes stretched its vision down the small horizon before him. There were pillars on both sides of the hallway embedded against the walls. In between pillars, he could make out moving images. There were four sections to be exact, two on one wall, while two on the other.

    D’daear, without question, simply began to walk; as if the action had already been mapped out for him. His eyes looked back and forth between the walls, observing the details. The pillars looked normal, with the exception of the strange de fleur statues protruding from their form. There was a two yard gap between pillars, perfectly fitting the moving images. As he looked on, he couldn’t help but feel some form of familiarity with these moving pictures. These images seemed very familiar to him, yet he could not put his finger on it. He paused as he looked on ahead of the hallway. A dead end was waiting for him after the second image. Raising an eyebrow, he ventured forth towards the end of the hallway. Now he was curious as to how he would be leaving this white room. He looked back, seeing gothic doors. Why was this room present, with a dead end no less? The young man looked back at the wall that stood before him, placing his hands on them.

    He continued staring for a while, examining it; he could not help but feel that there was more to see, as if there was something beyond.

    “D’daear!” a voice shouted, echoing faintly through the hall. He quickly turned towards the door, feeling a bit disturbed by the sudden call. Suddenly, the doors gave way with the sound of their heaviness as they opened slightly; light visible through the small crack created between them. He gasped in surprise.

    “D’daear! Come on!” the voice shouted. It sounded a lot like someone he knew. He looked back at the wall, attempting to cover his eyes. It was bright, and it only continued to get brighter. The doors started to open by themselves now, the light beginning to pour in now. It was so strong, so surreal.

    “D’daear, wake up boy!!” whispered Gordon in harsh desperation, even going as far as shaking him awake. D’daear’s eyelids opened, fluttering in a momentary daze.

    “Wha-? Gordon?” he muttered. It seemed he had fallen asleep by accident.

    Gordon gave a sigh of relief, but quickly lifted D’daear up on his two feet. “Quickly, we have to get moving!” he whispered. D’daear noticed the concern in his face, fully waking up.

    “What’s wrong? Why are you-“D’daear replied, quickly being muffled by Gordon’s enormous hands. “Shhhh!!! Whisper! They’re out there right now, looking for survivors!” the man said in a very low voice. D’daear raised an eyebrow, nodding his head. The man let go, allowing for him to speak.

    “What are you talking about? Survivors? What happened?” whispered D’daear. Gordon was moving about in a hurry, gathering whatever little supplies he could scrounge that would fit in his bag.

    “We were ambushed, boy! They came from above the canyon!” he said, looking at D’daear with furrowed brows.

    D’daear looked away for a split second to gather his thoughts before replying. “Wait, who’s they?” he asked, taking hold of the bag Gordon was readying.

    “The Horned Kings soldiers!” He said, drawing his sword before peeking out the curtains. He signaled D’daear to follow him as he jumped off. The young man soon followed, wanting to ask more questions.

    “Wait hold up! What about the commander, and the others?” he asked, trying to catch up to them. They were just a few yards from the forests exit, which led to the canyon. D’daear was somewhat confused, turning his head as he followed; catching sight of the armory keeper scoping the area from a top the wagon.

    “I’m going to go ahead and assume you somehow made a grand escape with the wagon, right?” he asked, hoping he had done all he could before the escape was just an inevitable retreat. Gordon nodded, walking towards a tree among the lot. He hid behind it, peering over its side. The area seemed clean, and what little canyon was visible from afar seemed clean as well.

    “So you mind telling me what happened? I don’t understand how a bunch of mercenaries could be successful in taking out trained soldiers…”

    “I did the best I could to aid everyone, alright? But it was too much. They…they just swarmed at us… D’daear…” he said, turning to him. He seemed very grim. “…these things we were sent for…they’re not normal…” Gordon looked down in thought.

    D’daear hadn’t noticed it before, but Gordon was sweating a lot. “Gordon, you ok? Wh-what do you mean by not normal?” he asked, very concerned now at the enemy that they were facing. The scruffy bearded man looked him in the eye.

    “These things are not human…at least…not anymore… I’m at a loss of words with this encounter, to be honest…”

    Gordon peered once again past the tree they were behind. The coast was clear. He was preparing himself to go back, to look for survivors; if there were any. He gathered his wits and said, “Alright, let’s get closer...” He darted towards the forest exit. D’daear’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Wait! Why are we going back there?!” he asked, chasing after him. He had placed the bag around his waist, tightening the strap to ensure that it would not just slide off his waist. Gordon stopped at the edge of the forest, crouching behind a large shrub. D’daear stopped just behind crouching next to him; nearly tripping over a low lying branch. Gordon once again scanned the canyon opening. The area seemed clear.

    “I need to go back there…in case of survivors.” Gordon said, scanning the area again meticulously.

    D’daear took notice of this. “Perhaps they decided you weren’t worth the chase?” D’daear suggested. Gordon’s eyes narrowed.

    “Boy, you sure have a lot to learn when it comes to warfare. If I were the enemy, I would leave no prisoners. Any loose ends could always mean trouble…” he said, continuing to scan the area. Without looking back, he proceeded past the border that separated the forest from the canyon. D’daear started following suit, but was stopped by Gordon.

    “No, you stay here!” he said, motioning him to stay in his current spot. Gordon was out in the open now, the canyon pass just a few more yards away.

    “What?! I’m not going to let go alone! It’s dark out, and you’re going to need someone to watch you back in the darkness!” he shouted, implying the gorge that was filled with pitch black darkness.

    “Keep your voice down!” he whispered back harshly, scanning his surroundings yet again, in case anything heard him. He looked back at D’daear. “I know that, but I need you to wait for me here. There’s no need for both of us to get killed in there! Besides, the darkness will provide me with better stealth. Just wait for me here. You know what to do if you see me running back here, alright?” he responded, not bothering in letting D’daear speak as he turned back towards the gorge.

    With that said, Gordon was off. D’daear felt left out, showing it in his face. He knew it was better for him to scout ahead first, that way if Gordon ran into danger he could always return here for an ambush on the enemy. Yet, it bothered him. “Yeah fine…” he replied, looking a bit annoyed. D’daear laid back against the tree trunk, and slid to a seat; hidden in the shadow of the forest. He watched Gordon enter the gorge, and disappear around a corner. Letting out a sigh of disappointment, he sat there patiently. Admittingly, part of him was relieved at the thought of staying, yet he felt it to be a shameful attitude as he understood the value of teamwork in a situation such as this. Wanting to let time pass, he started rummaging through the bag Gordon had prepared.

    The contents of the bag didn’t surprise him much: 3 bottles of potions, a spare shortsword, a Mega potion, and an ether. He raised an eyebrow at the bizarre item. “Why would Gordon have packed an ether?” he asked himself. D’daear shrugged it off soon enough, assuming it to have been a mistake in the rush of packing.

    Not much time had passed before he noticed a swift sliver of a shadow zoom past the area and into the gorge from the corner of his eye. He jumped up, scanning his surroundings with vigor. What was that? An enemy? There was nothing. He looked up. Nothing.

    His mind raced for a while before calming down. “Maybe it was just a bird flying overhead…” he said to himself, his eyes still scanning his surroundings. He calmed down and sat back down, continuing to wait. Time seemed to move slowly for him as he sat there waiting on any sign of Gordon’s return. He began to play with his Celata helmet. Twirling it is his hand, he watched it reflect his face against the surface. Soon after, the boredom kicked in causing him to drop the fun. The helmet was reapplied to his head, letting out another sigh as he looked up. Through the layer of branches above, he could make out the heart that hovered over the world. It had taken the color of the moon now, losing its bluish hue.

    He never quite understood what caused the heart to appear in the first place all those years ago. “This world sure is full of mysteries…” he muttered. He looked back at the gorge with a dull look. The night had already come, and yet there was still no sign of him. Something didn’t feel right. “Ah screw it…” he uttered, is patience having run thin. He gathered his belongings and headed towards the gorge entrance. As he approached, he drew his blade and kept it at the front; a firm grip showing his guard was up. It was dark, and the gorges shadows made it difficult to see; save for the moons light. It took a while for his eyes to adjust. His breathing wavered as his heart pumped in suspense. He pressed onwards with courage.

    A ways in deep, his heart wrenched. Armor, weapons, broken down wagons laid waste the area. There was no sign of the soldiers, nor the commander and her horse. His heart raised, knowing full well that this was the area where ambush had occurred.

    “…did…they ALL get taken prisoner?” he questioned. Then he realized an important possible fact. Who was to say the perpetrators were still not here, lying in wait somewhere for their next victim? He swallowed in anxiety, forcing himself to press on, not having noticed the strange silhouette camouflaged on the walls in the darkness; perched on dead branches just by the side of the gorge. It was odd to him as he reached the gorges exit. He found no sign of Gordon or of anyone for that matter. The exit was near, he could see the moons light planted on the surface area just up ahead.

    Suddenly, the sound of a rock colliding with surfaces echoed through the gorge, attracting D’daear’s attention instantly. It was pitch black, he couldn’t see anything. He stepped back, sword in front as he started to back up towards the exit. A high pitched growl soon echoed through the gorge. Fear took place in his heart for that instant, calling to him to run towards the light just a few yards ahead. Ran he did, dropping all form of discipline momentarily as he made his way to the exit. He could hear something flapping its wings. Having gotten out, he immediately turned to face the incoming creature. The growling approached closer and closer before vanishing all of a sudden.

    D’daear was left baffled after a few seconds had passed. “Where did it go?” he asked himself; lowering his guard subconsciously. Just as he asked, the winged creature emerged from the darkness with incredible speed. It rocketed towards the unready D’daear. Having no time to counter, he braced himself with the flat side of his sword. Except, there was no collision, with exception of a strong force having pulled him up into the sky from behind. He could feel large talons gripping around his shoulders as they yanked him off his feet. His first reaction was to flail in an attempt to break free from its grip as they circled the area; the altitude increasing. No good. He swung his blade at its feet, but to no avail. It felt like he was swing at concrete as it just bounced off the hardened scales; of course it could probably also be because he just couldn’t build enough force in his current position.

    Either way he lost focus as reason took over. The creature had lifted them up to deadly heights by now. Another creature flew past them, taking the lead as they flew towards a bizarre structure up ahead. It was vast, resembling a castle very much like Barons, yet with a grim atmosphere that would make anyone steer clear of it. It stood atop a mountain protruding from the sea with a fragile bridge connecting the land to the castle. Then it dawned on him.

    Maybe Gordon was also caught, and is in there…” D’daear thought as he dangled there helplessly. He was disheartened, and grew wary of the possible dangers that lurked within those walls. The heart loomed over the tall structure as the three flew towards the ominous castle, unbeknownst to D’daear what may be waiting for him when they reached it.

    Chapter 11

    D’daear’s consciousness fell into a dark abyss, cascading through it like it was water. It felt never-ending, as if he was meant to sleep in this pitch black void for eternity. His eyelids were closed shut, almost like the sleep beckoned him to submit. He felt alone, destined to spend his eternity in this darkness.

    “Where…where am I? What’s going on?”

    Suddenly, a light appeared ahead of him without his knowledge. It expanded more and more as he got closer before it suddenly enveloped him. His feet landed gently on the tangible darkness, while some unseen force put him down with care. Opening his eyes, a sliver of light escaped the darkness from beneath him, which soon expanded as the darkness scattered like doves, clearing the floor. D’daear winced as the light grew stronger until it adjusted, revealing the platform he was standing on. It was an enormous stained-glass pillar that arose from the unseen depths. The pure white light that illuminated the pillar was intense, coming from the very floor he stood on. It would have been beautiful were it not for a huge chunk of the platform missing. It looked horrid, as if something had ripped the piece off.

    Someone help me…please

    D’daear became alert, turning around continuously to see where the voice had come from. “Wh-who’s there?”

    I’m fading away…

    “What do you mean? Where are you?” he asked aloud, hoping to catch a glimpse of wherever this person was.

    The darkness…I can’t fight it off anymore…

    D’daear looked around once more, concerned for the voices well-being. “How can I be of help? What do you want me to do?” he asked, desperately scanning through the darkness.

    My heart…it needs to become whole again…it’s been fractured…

    “Your…heart?” he questioned. D’daear looked down at the empty spot where a chunk of the pillar was missing. “Your heart… How? How do we fix it?”

    I…I don’t know…

    D’daear empathized with the poor heart. Too many people had been stripped from him. He could understand how it felt to have something missing from your life. He stood a while in thought. Placing a hand on his chest, he formed a fist. “What if…I shared mines with yours? If it’s even possible that is…” he asked, looking down at his fist in wishful thought. This all felt like a vivid dream. Although when did he fall asleep?

    Share?

    D’daear nodded. “Yeah, share. I don’t mind, really. What do you say?” The voice went silent, not speaking a word. The boy looked around a bit more, waiting for the response. He knew how ridiculous it sounded, but it was the only shot they had.

    Ok…

    D’daear closed his eyes, his lips forming a gentle smile in humor as if having expected the answer. His whole body began to emit a glow of white light. He wished that somehow, he could share his heart with this person as he put all of his desire into that one wish. As he radiated with light, the fracture soon disappeared under the reconstruction of the pillars missing piece. It had become whole again. “It…it worked…!” he said, opening his eyes in joy to see that his wish had indeed come true. A part of him had no idea how he had managed to repair the heart, but he was glad it had been possible through the sheer power of hope. The voice had been silent awhile afterwards, taking its time to reply.

    Thank you…

    D’daear nodded in earnest happiness, thinking nothing of it. The area was suddenly filled with a bright light that blinded him; bringing him back to reality.

    The dungeon was dark with little to no light seeping through the pits exit. The air reeked, although it wasn’t so bad that one could not live in it. The sound of rogue droplets echoed within the confines of this place. D’daear began to awake from his sleep, his eyes fluttering as it adjusted to the barren light source that emerged from above. He groaned at his stiff body, slowly getting up from his seated position, but only to have his knee buckle on him. His weak body tumbled forward. Thankfully, an unknown arm had extended itself to catch him before he hit the ground.

    “Careful. You’re not yourself yet…” said a young voice, sounding to be close to his own age. D’daear grunted in his weakness, turning his head to see a ginger haired boy lifting him off his feet. He dawned a farmers outfit which consisted of a leather vest over a long sleeved linen cloth shirt, with a belt buckled over the waist of his vest which together his trousers. He seemed to be a bit younger than he was. “You were still asleep when they threw me in here. How long have you been down here…?” he asked, helping D’daear to rise to his feet.

    D’daear took his time to reply, trying to remember how he even ended up in this dark, foul smelling place to begin within. He groaned in thought. “The last thing I remember was being dragged here by these flying creatures…then I saw the castle…and then…”

    The memory began to replay itself in his head. He remembered how the creatures had flown low enough to drop him onto a large balcony where these huntsmen had been waiting. They had immediately taken him into custody, rendering him unconscious with the bottom of an axe. Then he remembered being chained to the dungeon, where he was stripped of his gear, along with the bag that had been prepared with helpful items. He had felt naked, defenseless with just his long sleeved linen cloth, and hempen trousers. Yes, they had taken even his boots in concern for having a concealed item. Then nothing. His memory went blank with the image of a dark tinted glass under a black cowl. He touched his chest, still able to feel a deep unknown pain.

    “Are you well?” the red haired boy said as he peered at D’daear’s thoughtful face. The purple haired youth looked at the boy, nodding.

    “Yeah, I’m alright. I can’t remember how long I’ve been here, but if you said you were just dropped down here, then perhaps I was here for a few hours at best…” he estimated. He looked around the area. The floor was cold and wet which made him feel uneasy as to whether to assume if it was just water or perhaps something else left behind by the previous resident. “I guess the only way out is through up there, huh?” he said motioning for the small gate above them.

    “I’m afraid so…” the boy replied in a down casted state. There was little hope for them of escaping as the pit extended up for a couple of feet.

    D’daear, in an attempt to lighten the mood, revealed his name. “I’m D’daear, a soldier of the nation of Baron.” He introduced. The boy looked up at him, replying with “I’m Taran, and I’m…”,

    He paused moment, wanting to think about whether to tell him the truth. “…I’m also a warrior of Pyrdian…at least I will be one day.”

    D’daear nodded, shaking hands with Taran. “Nice to meet you, Taran. I’m sure you’ll make a fine warrior one day.” He reinforced; a sense of similarity between the two being noticed. “To you as well, D’daear”. After shaking hands, they both got to work on trying to find a way to reach the top of the disgusting pit the two were in. In the midst of their attempts, they engaged in small talk. “So what caused you to get captured by the huntsmen?” D’daear asked as he helped Taran boost off his hands and up towards the pits barred gate.

    “Well you see…I was looking for Hen Wen in this castle. She had gotten captured by these dragons when we were separated from one another…” he said. Taran began to tippy toe off of D’daear’s shoulders, his hands so close to the barred gate that separated them from freedom. D’daear attempted to help him by also tippy toeing in order to gain the extra height needed to reach the gate, when he heard something move from behind them in the shadows. On instinct, he quickly turned to see; accidentally knocking Taran off balance. The two soon found each other tumbling, with Taran accidentally elbowing D’daear in the head.

    He winced in pain as the two settled on their downed positioned after having goofed. Taran rubbed his rear, him too wincing at the fall. “Why’d you move?” the boy questioned D’daear.

    D’daear rubbed his head, looking up ahead to the source of the sound. “Because of that…” he replied, pointing to the tile that was beginning to move out of place. The large brick was moved up and to the side of the now exposed gap. Taran made haste to put his back against the wall, gasping in surprise, as if somehow doing this would give him even more space between the gap in the floor and him. D’daear looked on, narrowing his eyes. To everyone’s surprise, an orb of light emerged with a young blonde haired female about the same age as Taran. The orb floated near her, illuminating the darkness around it vividly as she looked about, her back to them. The two young men were both shocked, neither saying a word.

    “Hmmm…I thought I heard a noise in here…” she said, raising an eyebrow in momentary disappointment. She turned, realizing she hadn’t even bothered to check behind her. Her eyes immediately met with D’daear’s and then Taran’s. The floating orb of light made haste, and flew towards D’daear, circling his head before going to Taran’s and doing the same. The girl smiled, happy to have found someone else. “Ah! Was that you?” she asked.

    Taran was the first to reply, although his attention was on the flying orb that was circling him as if trying to make sense of who he was. “Y-yes uh-“

    “You’re being held prisoner, aren’t you?” she asked.

    Y-yes!” he spoke for the both of them, somewhat frightened of the orb as he remained pressed against the wall. Climbing into the dungeon, she continued, “I’m being held against my will too.”

    A distracted Taran took an opportunity to extend his hand out to the orb of light when it was close. The orb sparked with an intense light, which caused him to recoil his hand in caution. D’daear stood upright, examining the orb of light that had taken interest in the boy. “Whoa…” he uttered under his breath. He had never seen something like that before, and it was pretty obvious Taran was on the same boat.

    Taran put his arms in front of him as if to ward off the curious orb. “It lights up!” he said in shock. The girl giggled as if finding his ignorance to be charming in a way.

    “Why of course! It’s magic!” The magical orb of light flew right back to her side, as she began to pat at her long peach colored dress. “Oooh I hate this place! I do hope there aren’t any rats in here…” she uttered aloud in an annoyed look as she began to look around, finally locking eyes with Taran’s. She found it a need to make her opinion of the rats clear by saying, “Not that I mind them really, but they do jump out every once or so…” She looked at the two of them, examining their wear. “I’m Princess Eilonwy. Are you a lord, or…” she started, her excitement rising at the thought of it. “…a warrior?” she asked, her tone show casing her interest.

    Taran looked back at D’daear before replying to in embarrassment. “N-no…I’m an assistant pig keeper…” he said, not wanting to look at D’daear whom was a little surprised; but not in a judging way. Princess Eilonwy looked rather disappointed, most likely due to needing someone to help them with their escape. “Ooh…what a pity…” she said looking away. She soon turned to D’daear asking him the same question.

    “Oh uh…I’m…” D’daear looked back at Taran. The red haired boy was looking as if he was small compared to him; although physically this is true. He took pity on Taran, not wanting to one up the poor boy. He had made his decision. “…I work with him on the same farm…I’m just another average farmer…heh…” he said. He knew his lie would work; unless they were forced into fighting which then would probably be a different story. Taran looked up at D’daear in surprise.

    “I was so hoping to find someone to help me escape… The more the merrier I suppose… Oh well…” The princess knelt down to the hole, looking back at them. “Oh well, if you want to come with us you may.” She as she began to climb down the hole.

    Taran looked ecstatic. “C-can I?” he asked, as if needing permission…even though she had clearly said they could. D’daear was too concerned over her previous words to have noticed Taran’s silly question.

    Us? Who’s us?” he thought, repeating the same words aloud to her. As she was already down below, she replied. “Ooh, someone else was with me in a cell next to mine.” Her voice was muffled, seeing as she had now reached the floor below them. He could hear her speaking to someone. They seemed to have been in some sort of small debate. The two boys looked at each other in concern before descending down the hole with the orb. Down the cavernous tunnel, they could both make out two females in deep conversation. They immediately recognized the Princess, but had no idea who the other was. The other had tan skin and was fairly taller than Princess Eilonwy, yet not as tall as the approaching D’daear. She gowned a long opened silk trench coat that extended down to the back of her knees. It was black with gold patterns swirling around it, with a black shirt tightly fitted to her slender figure, along with black short trousers ending at her upper thigh, with black glossless leather boots reaching up to her mid-calf. The female was indeed stunning, he had to admit. Her brown ochre straight hair extended to her shoulders, barely touching. She had to have been no older than him.

    Taran and D’daear stopped near them. The unrecognized female turned to them, ending the conversation with the Princess abruptly.

    “Hi, I’m Gwynt. So nice to meet you two.” She introduced, putting up a forced smile. Her voice sounded genuine, yet her expression didn’t seem so. The boys hadn’t caught on, though, and were on the verge of introducing themselves when she took the initiative. “The Princess here has informed me that you two are…D’daear and Taran, both involved in a farm, correct?” she asked.

    The two nodded, causing Gwynt to give a sigh of distress. “Great…two more I’m going to have to babysit…” she said, unintentionally loud enough to be heard as she pressed her thumb and index on the bridge of her nose in a pensive motion.

    D’daear narrowed his eyes at her. “Listen, you don’t have to watch out for us. We can handle our own.”

    Gwynt looked at D’daear, inspecting him from head to toe; literally. She chuckled, her emerald eyes now looking into his blue irises. “Yeah…I bet…” she said, turning to the continuing dark tunnel ahead. She signaled the Princess to follow behind her, the Princess motioning the two to follow them. D’daear’s eyebrows furrowed in displeasure.

    “Pfff…what does she know…? She doesn’t even have a weapon…” he murmured under his breath as he followed.

    “That wicked, wicked King… you know he stole me?” she began, attempting to make small talk with the boys while Gwynt led the group. She seemed a bit annoyed, as if venting while she spoke. “He thought my Bauble could tell him where some old cauldron was.” She explained, pointing to the flying orb of light.

    Taran eyes widened in the similarity the two had in being captured. “That’s what he wanted my pig for!” he spit out.

    “Oh yes? Your pig?” the princess giggled. Even D’daear had a hard time believing with what the horned King would want a pig; his eye brow raised in question to his Taran’s statement.

    “But my pig can tell the future!” he continued, trying to convince them. Gwynt continued leading, her eyes staring down into the tunnel in thought as she overheard the conversation. D’daear was listening intently, not sure whether to take Taran seriously or not.

    “Ooh how interesting.” She said sarcastically in a giggle as she turned her head to him, smiling. Taran began to slow down, feeling as if he was being made fun of. D’daear patted Taran on the back, literally showing he had his back. This seemed to have encouraged Taran as they continued, overhearing the Princess saying, “You’d better stay close, else you’ll get lost.”

    The tunnel continued on for a while, the Bauble apparently acting as their light source in their small trek under the castle. Rocks and broken tunnel frames littered the tunnel, with small cracked spaces in between gaps in the tunnel walls for rats to lurk in. The Bauble flew about, chasing down rats down the corridor it lit up and into a hole. Taran curiously chased after the lit orb.

    “Your Bauble!” he said, nearing the hole. The Princess giggled as she neared Taran. “It’s always chasing those rats.” She explained, the two now peeking through the lit hole. Princess Eilonwy gasped in surprised. “A Burial chamber!” she said as her eyes scanned the area. It was filled with cobwebs surrounding every inch of the place. “It must belong to the King who built this castle, before the horned king took it over.. ”

    D’daear and Gwynt caught up, not having bothered to acknowledge each other in the process. The wall the two had been leaning on to peer through the whole suddenly collapsed, sending Taran forward. Dust rose into the air, causing everyone to cough as they accidentally inhaled. The ginger haired boy looked up at the Princess, a bit annoyed after the dust had cleared.

    “You alright, Taran?” D’daear asked, coughing along with Gwynt. The boy did not reply, too busy getting up and wiping his face clean from the dust.

    “Well come on then. Help me look around.” She said, walking on ahead. The group proceeded into exploring the chamber. Everyone once in a while, they had to clear thick cobwebs out of the way in order to advance forward. They were all spread about, yet close enough to the Bauble as to have the area be visible. D’daear had wonder into a table where he picked up a random golden chalice. It was adorned in jewels, with an engraving it. It was a name, most likely being the Kings; seeing as it was his burial chamber. Gwynt had followed the Princess, staying close to her as they went about exploring.

    Taran had encountered a coffin littered with cobwebs. “He must have been a great warrior…” he muttered to himself, removing a cobweb from his path as he proceeded towards a sword that was placed atop the coffin. “A sword…” He gently rubbed the handle, removing the collected dust that hid its gold form. He awed at its beauty before looking back at the Princess and Gwynt who were slowly approaching a doorway. They both hid to the side, peering through to see a strange little troll. Both D’daear and Taran soon caught up, they too peering through.

    “This will ease him…heheh…it’s a good lot this time! Hurry!” he shouted, the little creature filled with excitement as it opened a huge door for a tall huntsmen pulling with it a wagon which seemed to have a pile of items hidden under a veil. “In with it! Finally…he’ll reward me for this!” he uttered as he opened the other door. The group continued watching as the troll shouted at the man for not being able to pull the wagon through the door. The Huntsman pulled with all his might, before finally the wagon gave way and fitting through the door. The wagon wavered, a gauntleted hand slipping out from under the veil. The little troll soon closed both doors as they made their way inside.

    Princess Eilonwy took a step forward, advising for them to continue to move before they came back. The group hustled through the corridor and into the other side. The stopped after a while, the two young ones needing to catch their breath.

    D’daear took the opportunity to question Gwynt. “So what makes you so sure you can prote-“

    The Princess left D’daear to his uncompleted sentences as she asked Taran out loud, “Where did you get that sword?” Everyone looked over at Taran who was holding a sheathed blade. “Uuuh…back there…” he managed to reply, hoping they wouldn’t catch on. Princess Eilonwy seemed taking aback by his response. “You mean…” she began, already hinting that the sword had most likely belonged to the King in the chamber.

    They all looked at Taran, the Princess being the only one to seem somewhat astounded at his deed.

    “What? He’s not going to use it…” he defended, holding on to the sword even tighter. D’daear admitted that the boy did have a point, this was further reinforced by Gwynt who walked up to the Princess, placing a hand on her shoulder. “If we want to get out of this castle alive with a fighting chance, then we’re going to need whatever we can muster…” she explained, her tone genuinely calm and friendly. It seemed to have calmed her, when the sound of dogs barking began to echo through the corridor, the source coming from up these stairs into a room. With caution, they walked up the stairs, Eilonwy being the first to reach the door. She peered through the top where a barred window gave way to seeing what was going on the other side.

    The sound of a gentle middle aged man was emanating from the room. “I am a bard! I sing….I… Careful sir!” he pleaded, watching the huntsman tie his hands to a horizontal post which seemed to be carrying the poor man. He had white hair with a harp strapped around his vested shirt. “These are the hands of an artist! Oh please, you seem to be…” he began, looking at the huntsman’s dull face. “…to be intelligent… I- I was just passing through, I honestly had no idea who this castle belonged too!”

    D’daear had already been peeking through beside Eilonwy, taking in everything on the other side. A campfire was lit near the imprisoned bard, which lit the whole room, helping him to further take in the other details. The group waited a while before entering. The huntsman had already left by the time they made their way to the captured bard. By then, the bard had seemed distraught as if having witnessed something horrible. It appeared he had not noticed them, because he began to shout for help as they entered the room.

    “Well hello, we’ll untie you in a moment.” She started, introducing herself first before the others. D’daear couldn’t help but notice how affable the Princess was. Gwynt had begun to untie the knots around the bard’s wrists.

    “Just hold still…” she said, removing a not before the other. As if on cue, the huntsmen could be heard approaching nearby as she undid the final knot. Quickly, everyone began to head out through another corridor; Taran and the Princess having made haste in taking the lead. The huntsmen barged in to soon outnumbering them all; save for the two young adolescents who had gone out ahead.

    “After ‘em!!” one of them said. D’daear quickly made his way to block the corridor. The huntsmen did not stop, three of them rushing too him with their halberds aiming for his torso. He uttered a curse under his breath, having no choice but to run out into the hall. He looked back for a brief moment, hating himself for leaving Gwynt and the bard on their own; but if he had not ran back he would have been killed. They chased him, soon approaching a bridge that connected the corridors. He dashed past an unnoticed Taran well hidden underneath the bridge, and up a flight of stairs. He was soon met halfway up by a huntsmen who had coincidentally cut him off on his way down. He swung his broadsword vertically down to D’daear’s head, barely missing. With a quick foot in the way, the huntsmen tripped after losing his balance from the swing and went tumbling down, colliding with the approaching group of huntsmen.

    Relieved, he noticed Taran approach with the Princess down below. He waved at them to follow him. The two trampled over the downed men and ran up the stairs past D’daear. It took him only a second to notice Taran’s unsheathe blade. “I guess he had to use it…” he thought. He followed behind the two, at the same time being witness to the Bard running away from a ferocious dog with the intent on tearing through his trousers. The brave bard jumped to a hanging rope tied to a chandelier, the dog not having cared about the possibility of a death by fall, as long as it was able to have a taste of the man’s rear end.

    “Heeelp!” the man shouted as he swung. D’daear didn’t know what to do as he halted. He looked back at the two who were making their escape, and back at the bard who needed help. “Tch…” he uttered in annoyance; his eyebrows furrowed at the decision.

    Chapter 12

    Taran and the Princess made their escape by passing through a storage room; the boy having slowed their pursuers with the use of spilled wine from large barrels holding gallons upon gallons. The floor had become slippery with the rum, causing the huntsmen to slip and fall during the chase. The two had made it out of the dungeon and into the open area of the castle where the morning sun glowed next to the heart like entity above. Compared to the exterior view of the castle, the courtyard was surprisingly well kept. It was spacious, somewhat like a miniature town with stairs leading to different rooms, and halls. Every corner they turned they were forced to turn back to look for another route as the huntsmen swarmed them from everywhere; the little troll leading the chase. The two eventually found their way to the castle exit, but were stopped by the lifted bridge which was now acting as a large door blockading their escape.

    “Oh no!!” the princess shouted in distress. The troll neared them, pointing at them with a victorious smile. “Haha! Get them!” he shouted, the huntsmen closing in on their escapees. The mob began to toss spears and axes of the like at them, each twirling weapon barely missing its intended target. Taran was frozen, only capable of holding up a trembling sword in front him. His fear began to overtake his hands at the sight of the incoming party.

    “Taran, do something!” she shouted desperately, avoiding an incoming axe that would have cleaved her right arm right off had she not moved in time. Taran began taking steps back towards the closed bridge, avoiding incoming spears. In the midst of it all, he tripped to his right, colliding with a large mechanism. His eyes frantically scanned, soon noticing the chains traveled into the wall of the castle and around a strange pulley like mechanism that interconnected with the bridge. It was the pulley that controlled the bridge. The Princess must have noticed too, for she suggested that he use his sword to cut through the chains.

    One of the huntsmen threw a well-aimed axe at the distracted Taran. Taran watched as he saw the inevitable coming for him. Thankfully, the axe was knocked aside by a magical projectile, redirecting the axe to the floor with a loud metallic clang. A black and gold silhouette soon dropped in front of them, with two bizarre looking contraptions held in both slender hands. It was Gwynt to the rescue, having made an elegant entrance from nowhere. Her hair swayed at her landing, adjusting itself as she got up, aiming both mechanisms at the incoming group.

    “Taran, hurry and break through the chains! I’ll hold them off for as long as I can!” she yelled, her fingers pulling the trigger to shoot projectiles from the mouth of both hand-held mechanisms being held in hers hands; both arms and legs moving into different stances and positions as if she was performing a well-coordinated form of gunmanship. She was flawless in her movements, quick and precise as the projectiles faultlessly hitting their intended targets, knocking away the axes, spears, and daggers that filled the air. The incoming group of huntsmen halted, alarm clearly visible in their eyes at the strange magic that was being displayed before them. Taran hacked away at the chains, his sword giving off a magical glow as it tore away at the chain piece by piece.

    “Waaaiit! Wait for me…err us!!” a familiar voice shouted from behind the mass of huntsmen. Gwynt finished the last of the incoming projectiles before stopping to notice what was going on. The crowd turned, making way for a distraught bard, and a frantic D’daear as they ran from a vicious dog that was no longer playing nice. It barked and barked at them, foaming at the mouth as it chased them. Gwynt was taken aback, having completely forgotten about the two. The bridge broke free, creating a walkway for them over the gap of the castle entrance.

    “Run Princess run!” the boy shouted as the two made their way over the bridge. Gwynt looked back to the two young adolescent children, realizing a barred gate was descending in order to blockade any possible escape for the remainder of them. Without a second thought, Gwynt dashed towards the bridge, briefly looking back at the other two whom were being chased by a dog.

    D’daear noticed the gate descending upon. Not wanting to be stuck here, he picked up the pace, his nostrils flaring as he breathed in and out with determination in his eyes. The bard was just behind him, but suddenly gave a cry for D’daear to wait. They were just a few meters away from crossing the point between the barred gate and the other side. D’daear looked back to see the bard dragging the dog who was intent on ripping the back of his trousers right off. Without thought, he grabbed the man by the arm and yanked him to the other side; watching the gate tear the piece of fabric in half and leaving the dog to rethink its priorities in a comedic collision. D’daear grinned in success as the two ran away to their freedom.



    A while had passed between the time the captives had escaped and the present moment where the little troll had begun his ascent up a flight of stairs leading to the Horned Kings living quarters. He was nervous about having to explain this to his master. Fear was evident in his face as he climbed.

    “I-it wasn’t my fault…yes that’s it…” he muttered to himself, being hesitant about continuing up the stairs. It dawned on him that the Horned King wouldn’t care, as it was still his duty to oversee to these events, and his failure to make sure they had not escaped was to be pinned on his incompetence. “I always get blamed for these things..!” He was shaking, and his voice was quivering in his anxiety. “I-I’ll just tell him…a-and if he gets mad…! Oooh oohh…” he stopped, thinking of the possible beating he was about to receive. Yet, he found a bit of courage to stand up for himself. “I’ll just straighten him out…I am not going to be blamed for this!”

    The little creature climbed until he reached the foot of a door which led to the Kings chambers. He hesitated to knock, but inevitably he did so. It was more of a courtesy of letting his master know that he was present. Slowly, he opened the door; peering through the opened gap in fear. All the way in the back, he saw him. The Horned king dressed in a purple lengthy robe that extended to the floor. He had a red fluffed mantle over his shoulders, with a cowl concealing his ugly features.

    “S-sir…?”

    The Horned King seemed to have been walking about, as he was on the verge of sitting back on his throne. “You bring good news for me of the pig…” he feigned assumption, knowing that from time to time it was to be expected to hear bad news whenever the Creeper came crawling in. Ever since the man named Malik had failed to find the pig; or so he thought, he was left on his own to tend to his search. He had suspicion that Malik had not been honest with him; his suspicion having been confirmed when he heard of what had occurred in the Garden. Furthermore, the pig had been within his grasp as well not too long ago, and yet to no avail when the boy named Taran allowed for the creatures escape. It seemed luck wasn’t on his side these days.

    “N-not exactly….uuhh…uumm…mmm…i-it’s the pig keeper…he-he..”

    He could see the King tensing up in anger, seeing his nails scratching against the thrones armrest.

    “…escaped..”

    The King let out an annoyed grunt, followed by motioning the Creeper with his bony finger to come forward. The troll was frightened, going as far as to inflicting self-injury upon himself as to satisfy his master. The King took a moment to watch his servant before grinning.

    “Goood…let the boy find his pig. Send the Gwynthains to find that boy.” He commanded, sending his troll to get to work. The troll was filled with joyous relief as he ran in agreement to go do his masters biding. Before long, the dragons flew from the castle with their new task.


    After having escaped the castle, the group had made their way through the forest, now having stopped somewhere inside it to rest. The bard had taken it upon himself to entertain his new comrades while they ate and rested. After their forest meal, Gwynt had wondered off to scout ahead in attempts to avoid having to answer any further questions in regards to her “contraptions”, as they had called it, when she had to fend off the huntsmen. Taran had sat down on a log, and took it upon himself to clean his new weapon. The princess was sewing the torn trousers that belonged to the Bard, her giggle filling the air as much as the Bards harp and voice. It was rather nice, D’daear had thought. It felt like it had been forever since he had been able to have time to relax and actually gather his thoughts. He sat next to Taran, paying no mind to his chore.

    So much has happened in so little time…” he thought to himself, leaning his chin onto his clasped hands. He had so many questions in regards to what had just taken place back at the castle. He had never seen a weapon such as the one Gwynt was currently wielding. The way she was able to project magic out of the mouth of that invention. It was so new to him. Then there was the thought of him being…underdressed. He wiggled his naked toes. It felt so strange having to run around with just his shirt and hempen trousers. He was in desperate need of shoes as he had soon found out how rough the terrain was, regardless of whether it was grass or dirt.

    On top of that, I still don’t know what happened to Gordon…or the others…” His jaw tensed at the recollection of the gauntleted hand that had emerged from underneath the covers of the wagon they had seen when they were in the burial chamber. “Could that have been him? Or one of the soldiers?” He let out a deep sigh, feeling overwhelmed by everything; although he was somewhat relieved to see that the huntsmen were normal people, and not what Gordon had been describing. But then what had Gordon seen? Everything did not add up at all. On top of that, he had no weapon to defend himself. He looked at Taran happily cleaning his new blade. He gave a weak smile, feeling pity for the boy. It had occurred to him a while back that perhaps he could borrow the blade, considering he had more experience with swords than he did, but soon found himself shunning the thought. He had remembered how Taran had told him how he wanted to become a Warrior one day. His chance had finally come, and he found himself not wanting to get in the way off the boys dream, even if it meant leaving himself defenseless.

    “I’m almost done sewing your pants, Fflewddur.” She said, giggling at his song. The man had been hiding his lower half inside a bush while he played a ballad for them using his worn out Harp.

    “Oh why thank you my dear. I’ll sing songs of your good deed!” he said.

    “You should sing songs of our heroic escape! My, I was frightened.” She admitted, sewing in the last of the patch into the cloth. Taran had been overhearing them, practicing the swing of his sword.

    “I wasn’t afraid.” He said, turning his head over to them. The princess was caught off guard, nipping her finger on the needle. “Oww…. Not afraid? We were running for our lives!” she said back, finding it hard to believing that Taran had kept his calm.

    “Well I got us out of the castle, didn’t I?” he asked rhetorically.

    The Princess had risen from the log, heading towards Fflewddur with his stitched pants. “Why I’d say it was your swords magic, along with Gwynt’s that got us out of there.” She stated, keeping the technicality into the fray.

    Taran felt insulted, replying “It takes a great warrior to wield a sword like this!” He sheathed his blade and headed towards the Princess with eyebrows furrowed. She turned to him, not acknowledging his current attitude.

    “But still…it IS a magic sword.”

    “Well what does a girl know about swords anyway!” he shouted, placing his knuckles on his hips.

    Now she was insulted. “Girl? Girl!?” she began, feeling scorned. She began advancing to him, her feminine rage building up. “You think if it weren’t for this GIRL that’d you escaped the Horned Kings dungeon?”

    Taran felt taken aback, literally. He began to back away from the Princess who had suddenly taken up to being dominant in this debate turned argument. The Bard decided to break it up, clapping his hands to gather their attention.

    “Now now! Princess Eilonwy, Taran.” He called out. D’daear stepped in as well. “Yeah guys come on. Stop it.” He said, rising from the log and walking over to them.

    The two children looked to them. “Well, at least I don’t keep talking about it forever! Oh you’re so…so…boring!” she spat back at Taran. Fflewddur felt his words get jumbled for a moment before trying to stop Princess Eilonwy from speaking any further.

    “How dare you take his side!” she shouted, throwing the repaired trousers at the bard. D’daear winced as Fflewddur caught the pants with his face. The Princess began to stomp past him, when he heard Taran say “Silly girl, even if she is a Princess…” and then walking away. The Princess’s eyes weld up with tears, D’daear saw. The two children went their separate ways to cool off. The Bard looked confused, not knowing what to do. D’daear sighed, heading off into the woods to look for Gwynt. Perhaps she could help handle the situation. He went off into the forest, following tracks that resembled boot prints. It wasn’t long before he found her with a cloth full of berries. She took notice briefly before continuing to pluck the fruits from the bushes.

    D’daear proceeded. “Hey Gwynt. Listen, Eilonwy and Taran got into a fight…I’ve never dealt with kids before, so…I need help with this…” he said, hoping Gwynt would be more than willing to help. Instead, she just continued to mind her own business. It was as if he had not said anything in the first place. “Maybe she didn’t hear me…” he justified, attempting again to reach out to her “Gwynt! I need help with take care of-“

    “I heard you the first time.” She said, plucking the last of the berries in the bush. Gwynt turned to him, and walked past him; heading to the resting spot.

    “Oook…” he muttered to himself, follow her from behind. D’daear felt her cold shoulder as they proceeding down a path way through the forest. “Want me to hold that for you?” he asked in an attempt to get on her good side. Gwynt looked at him from the corner of her eye, before denying his aid.

    “I’m fine…” she said. He felt something was off about her, wondering what it could be.

    “Hey is everything alr-“

    “HEEELP!!” shouted Fflewddur’s voice close by. The two quickly snapped into action, leaving behind the berries scattered on the floor. They could see the Bard struggling with a white furry creature.

    “Yes keep it!” he said, attempting to crawl away. The creature sat on the man’s back, happily. “Yes! Gurgi wants this!” it said, yanking at the harp around Fflewddur’s neck. D’daear stopped close by, immediately realizing it posed no threat; however Gwynt continued as she saw the creature choking the man.

    “Hey! Get off him!” she shouted. The creature dropped the harp and backed off. Taran soon arrived, realizing the creature’s identity. “Gurgi...” he said, sheathing his blade. He had been making amends with Eilonwy before hearing Fflewddur’s plead for help.

    “Ooh, uh…old man fell down!” it said, its voice somewhat high-pitched in a gurgled voice. It began to lift the man up, whispering for him to get up. The Bard got up, denying the creatures hug.

    “Who is your repugnant little friend?” he asked, clearly annoyed after the whole incident.

    Taran crossed his arms. “Hmph, he’s no friend of mine. He’s a coward, and a thief!” he declared, standing up to the fur balled creature. Eilonwy made it to the scene to see the creature.

    “Oh how charming!” she said, back to her cheerful self. Gwynt looked back at D’daear crossing her arms. “Fighting, huh?” she questioned.

    D’daear looked back between her and the group. “Wh-what? Well I mean they were mad at each for a while…I guess…” he said, his voice waning in strength.

    The creature walked away in a pout as it was rejected by Taran and the Bard. “Fine, Gurgi leave!” it said with a small annoyed expression, walking away before coming to a full stop mid step. “Ohh! Gurgi remember! Gurgi saw Taran’s pig!” he said, his attitude abruptly changing. It happily pointed somewhere in the forest.

    Taran’s eyes lit up with eagerness. “You did? When?”

    “Today!” it happily replied.

    The boy was relieved momentarily before looking at Gurgi with suspicion. “Wait a minute…”

    The bard peered from behind Taran. “He just might try anything, won’t he?” he inferred with unintentional instigation, referring to the creature’s possible attempt at doing anything to stay with the group. Eilonwy looked at them with disappointment.

    “Oh you two are just terrible! He might just know where his pig is.” She defended, watching the creature jump around her with joy. He tugged at her dress, leading them to the location.

    D’daear shrugged at the skeptical bunch; this included Gwynt, before following the Princess who was being led by Gurgi. Taran narrowed his eyes at Gurgi.

    “Alright. But you better not be lying to me…” he said, wagging a finger at it. The creature turned, shaking its head. “Gurgi not lie…! Not this time…”

    The group followed Gurgi through the forest, the day beginning to wane away as they traveled through. They conversed with one another about many things, especially the giant heart that was now permanently hovering over them. It was massive, as they shared their stories about it. D’daear decided to impress the bunch with his experience that had taken place at the Garden. The children’s eyes were filled with amazement as he told them the story of how all the light that had once been falling from the sky was suddenly absorbed by a void of light that caused an explosion that filled the air with this blinding radiance that, when it had finished, had revealed the heart with a small shower of flying stars in the sky.

    D’daear thought it to have been a nice story to tell, even seeing Gwynt having lightened up in her mood. They passed carefully over the downed tree that formed a bridge over a gap in the forest terrain.

    It was soon dark when they had reached a small pond. Stones seemed to be placed in a straight line going across the pond. Gurgi advanced forward, jumping up and down in excitement onto the first 3 rocks. Somehow, the little creature thought it fun to skip over them like some kind of game. D’daear gasped in surprise as each rock Gurgi had jumped on submerged itself underwater. Now Gurgi was stuck on a rock that also began to twirl, the water following its spin.

    “Master!” Gurgi shouted in despair, clinging tightly to the rock. Taran ran forward, reaching out for it. Not being able to reach, he placed a foot into the water. D’daear saw how strong the current was, and stepped forward. “Taran no!” he shouted, reaching out for him. It was Eilonwy who was there to grab him before him. The current was so strong, that it pulled her in too, along with the bard she had held onto. D’daear and Gwynt had no choice but to hold on to one another as they reached for them. The bard grasped D’daear, whom with all his might pulled. With four individuals to pull against the whirlpools power, it was too much. D’daear and Gwynt were both yanked in it along with the rest. They spiraled inside the ponds whirlpool, soon to lose consciousness through the sheer force as the pool gently lowered their now sleeping forms onto a cavern floor.

    Chapter 13

    “How did they get in here?” D’daear heard a child say. His eyes slowly opened, having a trouble readjusting his vision. Everything seemed blurry, he could have sworn he’d seen four small brightly colored children hovering over him. He was having a hard time focusing on their words, as well as his eyes in the dark cavernous environment.

    “No silly, you know we’re not supposed to be up here!” He heard one of them say. He rose, holding his head. The landing must’ve hurt his head. “Wait!” he thought, his eyes shooting opening. They had been inside a pond, drowning! How did they end up inside a cave? He looked around, scanning his surroundings. Was he hearing things? He peered over the edge of the rocky platform they had landed on. He noticed two small people about the size of his palm down below, working on what looked like some type of…. He couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but one thing he acknowledged were that they were, “Fairies…!” he murmured to himself in wide eyed fascination.

    The two fairies flew around, one of them inspecting while the other constructed the wooden contraption. “Oh yes, I see you fixed that.” Said an old fairy, who dawned a red and white outfit, while the other wore a pure yellow suit. “Yup, once I’m done with this, I’ll be finished!” the yellow fairy said, smacking the side of the structure with his stick; the structure was no bigger than D’daears leg.

    D’daear knelt down for low cover. He started poking at Gwynt, without taking his eyes off the fairies. Gwynt stirred, feeling a finger jabbing at her head. She awoke, smacking his finger aside in annoyance.

    “Stop that-!” she said out loud, having a jittery D’daear turn to her to cover her mouth rather aggressively. The act alone had stunned her, not having experienced someone pull a stunt like that on her. What kept her quiet was the fact that he placed a finger over his lips, motioning for them to be silent. Snapping out it, she shoved his hand aside; still annoyed. “What?” she inquired in an aggressive whisper. D’daear pointed to the edge of the platform. As she looked over, D’daear got to work on waking the others. Gwynt stared at the two fairies. She had never seen fairies so small, and it left her surprised to see them to be so…old. Perhaps the other fairies alike were not old. The two were still working at constructing the structure; it appeared to be some kind of water collecting mechanism as there was a large leaf placed at the top of it with water already collected in it.

    “Oh, no no!!” the yellow fairy shouted, as the structure unsteadied itself briefly. Quickly, He held the structure together by tightening a few ropes. They were unaware of the spectators above them.

    “Oh ho aren’t you all darling!” an awake Eilonwy said out loud. D’daear placed a palm on his face. So much for being covert. The fairies however did not seem to be afraid; although the yellow fairy was distraught. It was as if the sight of humans was nothing to be afraid off.

    “Oh. Well hello there.” The red robed fairy said politely, feeling a bit embarrassed of his current predicament. “I’m King Eidilleg of the Bauble” he said, releasing his grip on two ends of ropes that held two supporting sticks with which held the structure together. The yellow fairy was shocked, forgetting about his task at the sight of seeing humans in their cavern. “How the blazes did they-“The fairy managed to say as he was cut off as the structure came tumbling down on them, with water pouring all over the two. It was a mess, as their hard work was now a pile of wet sticks and a giant wet leaf. The two fairies soon got up, still underneath the giant leaf. They seemed to be arguing, but it was hard to tell as they were muffled.

    “I thought I told you to fix the whirlpool!” the king said.

    “I fixed it! I fixed it, and it was perfect!” defended the other.

    The King removed a leaf off of himself. “You fixed it, but apparently not perfectly! It’s supposed to keep them out!” he explained, pointing at the bunch as if they were not aware that the two of them were talking about them. He looked up at the humans, giving them a kind smile. “Umm may I be of any service?” he asked, pretending to not have said anything with a smiling. The yellow fairy complained, “Everything that happens around here is MY fault!” The King ignored him, continuing to look at the humans. “Are you here on a friendly visit?” he asked. The yellow fairy jumped in, still ignoring the fact that the King was speaking to the humans, adding “HAH! And I suppose it’s my fault the pigs here too!”

    The laxed group suddenly stirred. “Hen Wen?” Taran spoke the name. D’daear turned to Taran. “You mean THAT’S your pig?” he inquired, having assumed back at the dungeon that Hen Wen was a person.

    “Aaah, so she’s your pig!” the King said happily. The yellow Bauble(fairy) flew off further into the cave, saying “Oh good! One less thing for ol’ Doli to worry about.”

    “Oh come now, Doli! Doli!” the King shouted.

    “Ooh what noooow!?” it exclaimed in a soft bothered tone.

    “Will you hurry up and fetch the pig?” the King said.

    The yellow Bauble threw a small fit, having pulled his hat off and kicked it amid air. D’daear looked around. The cave was filled with Baubles of shapes and sizes, all hiding behind rocks, or behind abnormal cavern walls. The children bauble had hidden behind a rock. They began to giggle at the old baubles fit, attracting his attention. “ ‘ey! What’re you kids doing here!” he shouted, watching the children Bauble fly off from hiding. Soon after, all the Baubles in the cave began to emerge from hiding, making a spectacle of themselves. The group was left amazed, Taran and Eilonwy more than others. The baubles began to float near them, taking a good look at each of them.

    “I can’t believe my eyes…!” Eilonwy commented, allowing a child bauble to touch a strand of her blonde hair. Gurgi eyed the bauble surrounding, pouncing on one in an attempt to capture. It failed, as it disappeared in puff of fairy dust and reappeared nearby. D’daear extended his hand out as if to collect a bauble in his hands. A red child Bauble hovered over his palms.

    Never in his years did he ever expect to see something as pretty in color as this. The baubles soon disappeared almost in unison, as Doli shouted “Hey, watch it!” They could hear small foot prints. It was seconds before they saw an approaching pig further in the cavern.

    “Oh, Hen Wen!” Taran said in delight as he embraced his tackling pig. “Thank goodness your back!”

    It was a nice reunion for the two. King Eidilleg soon approached Fflewddur, seeing as he was the oldest of the group.

    “T-Tell me. Is the burning and killing still going on up there?” he asked, pointing his small finger to the ceiling of the cave. The bard turned to the bauble, eye brows furrowed. “Oh you mean that poor joke on humanity, the Horned King?”

    The King was furious. “Will anyone ever stand up to that man?” he asked, chatting away with the group. “We’ve seen him, and if he gets his hands on that Cauldron, he’ll kill us all.” Said Taran who was still holding his pig. The King seemed to muse over hearing about the cauldron. “Oh no, no. He’ll never find it. It’s safely hidden, in Morva!” he revealed.

    “Morva?” Taran said. The King wasn’t sure.

    “Well…last time I remembered. At least, I think it is… Doli! Is it?”

    “Oh is that my new job, too? Remembering where the cauldron was last seen? Aaahhaaahaa…. jeeeez…” Doli ranted in grumble back from afar. The King seemed a tad bit embarrassed. “He’ll know where the cauldron is. I know it!” he assured.

    Taran thought out loud. “If we can get to the cauldron before the Horned King, and destroy it…”

    Frightened Eilonwy shook her head. “This isn’t right, Taran.”

    A passive D’daear intervened, attempting to convince the Princess. “But don’t you see? If we can destroy the cauldron, it will-“

    “-Put an end to the Horned Kings plans.” Gwynt ended, approaching the group. She neared Eilonwy. “Princess…this could be our only chance.”

    Both boys nodded with agreement. Taran approached Eilonwy, making a move on her to persuade her into join them. “Please, will you come with me?” he asked with most sincerity. D’daear crossed his arms, and stood there watching the two. It had not occurred to him until now, but the two seemed to have an unacknowledged thing for one another; almost like it was scripted by fate or something.

    The King Bauble had suddenly realized something in the midst of convincing the princess. “W-w-wait! Morva! I never thought, but that’s a hard place to get too!” he remembered. Doli had just arrived in time to reaffirm the Kings statement. Then the King turned to Doli, realizing that Doli could do something about it. “Doli, you can take them!” he said, remembering Doli’s expertise in travel. Doli was taken aback, “What!?”

    The bard covered his mouth in wide eyed fear. “Trusting our lives t-to a…to him!?” he exclaimed. The Doli felt insulted, going as far as to fly up to Fflewddur’s face. “And WHAT is wrong with me?” he challenged, the bard timidly shielding himself with his harp. “Oh uh n-nothing! Uh heh…splendid choice…” he managed to say.

    King Eidilleg was happy, suddenly rounding up the other bauble. “Well, shall we then?” On cue, all the absent Baubles soon reappeared from thin air, and gathered around the group. Their form changed to that of fairy dust, mingling with one another. The group began to float, not from their own accord, but from the fairies themselves carrying them off and out of the cave. Taran quickly realized Hen Wen was being left behind. “Oh wait! What about Hen Wen?” he asked in concern.

    “Oh don’t worry! We’ll get her home safely!” the King said. Taran nodded, thanking him. “Be good, Hen!”

    With that, the group was off to the swamps.

    ---------------------------​

    A week before D’daear’s escape along with the rest….

    The Horned Kings chambers had remained unclean, even after the years that came when Malik had at one point visited. The Skeletal man laid on his throne, staring down at a small cloaked individual whom in turn was apparently staring back; he imagined anyway. He could not tell, for a cowl was raised over the figures head. In the barely lit chambers that was the Horned Kings, the environment helped cast a strong shadow over the figures face. He could not make out what the individual was wearing underneath the cloak; except for black tightly fitted boots that could easily be confused for being a part of the individual’s body.

    “Hhmmm…so this is a byproduct of…the separation?” the Horned King asked, turning to a white haired woman. She was slender, yet lean and athletically built. Her small horns were visible. Her attire was somewhat provocative, at least for most of the huntsmen she had encountered. Her tightly fitted red sleeveless turtle necked vest led all the way down to her mid abdomen, where her belly button was exposed. A bangle was tightly fitted around her left arm, where on the same arm was a nice ring on the ring finger. She dawned black shorts which barely reached her mid-thigh, while a long feathery cloth coiled itself around her waist, and parted from the front all the way to the back of her legs. If you were to follow her feather cloth, you would soon notice her black combat boots covering up to nearly her entire shin.

    Even after eleven years, Maleficent still had her youthful complexion. Her eyes stared at the Horned Kings Red orbs. She grinned, looking to the cloaked figure that stood before them. “Yes, and this is just the beginning.” She answered, addressing the cloaked form that stood before them. “We’ve already begun to harvest a few of them, but with what my Master has in mind… Well…we’ll have a grand army ready.”

    The Horned King looked very intrigued. “I see. And once my Cauldron is with me, your Master plans on using MY army for his personal gain as well?” he questioned, attempting to predict her Master’s plans. Maleficent turned to the Horned King, crossing her arms while feigning hurt.

    “Why that is NOT what my Master has planned!” she said, closing in on him. “My Master has but the utmost respect for you. He considers you an ally, a friend! Not some…tool to be exploited as a means to an end.” She lied, and rather well at that as it seemed the Horned King succumbed to her Manipulation. Her pupils had dilated from the moment the King had questioned her Masters motives.

    The Horned King smiled faintly. “Well forgive my suspicions, my dear. For you see, the last time I had come into agreement with your peer, he did not commit to his end of the bargain….” He remembered, his red orbs began to glow brighter and brighter. It had been eleven years ago, and yet the thought of it still irritated him. Maleficent quickly caught on to this, replying “Please forgive him. We were not aware at the time. You have our deepest apology, your Highness….” She said, bowing her head in respect; she was reluctant to do so despite her apology being a lie. The reality was that they were in fact using the Horned King. He was powerful, yes, but he was aged and disfigured. Which is why Maleficent loathed bowing or submitting to authority that was not worthy. Why if she had wanted to she could easily be rid of this disfigured sorcerer, and perhaps rule Pyrdain herself! Perhaps, one day she would rule over her own land.

    The Horned King accepted the false apology. “This prisoner I have held in my dungeon…What would your Master want to be done?” he asked, titling his head to one side as he awaited her response. Her head titled forward in thought, the bangs in her hair casting a shadow over her eyes. She grinned, looking more menacing than before as he yellow eyes stood out more than usual under the shadow of her bangs. The Horned King leaned back against his chair, both hands fingertips firmly pressing against one another as he gazed back at the Dark Fairy. What was this he felt? Fear? Was he intimidated by her?

    “That task has been left for me to decide…” she answered, returning to a normal more civilized expression.

    “Oh?” the King uttered. If the Master was willing to give an underling authority over a matter, he assumed it to be for a good reason. He awaited Maleficent’s reply. “And?”

    Maleficent had walked down the steps that led to the Horned Kings chair, now slowly circling the cloaked byproduct, as the Horned King called. She already had something in mind for the captive that was being held in the dungeon of this ominous castle. “What do you think?” she arrogantly implied.

    Just as she finished, the door knocked. The King had been contemplating Maleficent on her current task when he acknowledged for whomever it was to enter; most likely than not it was the creeper with some form of news. The creeper came in, fidgeting.

    “What news do you bring me?” he asked in a dull tone, his mind still dealing with what was discussed with Maleficent.

    The little troll took notice of Maleficent and the cloaked individual, keeping his distance from them as he circled round them and towards his King. “S-Sir. Heh heh, the Gwynthains are back with another prisoner!” he informed. The King rested his hands on his arm rest, nodding to his servant. “Good.” Was all he said, turning his head to the Dark Fairy.

    She gave a wicked grin.

    ------------------------​

    The sky was a sickly grey as a wave of wind stormed past the group into a magical void that devoured everything that could not stay in place; including a whole cottage. “Everyone! Get down!” D’daear shouted. Everyone dived down to the dirt, guarding their head with their hands as pots, pans, powerless cauldrons, and pieces of wooden debris flew past them and into the mouth of the ghastly portal. The group had encountered a rundown cottage at the edge of a swamp lake prior to all this. If it were not for Fflewddur’s clumsiness, they would have never had found the cottage that hid the Cauldron. The cottage had been with useless antique; little to their surprise that they belonged to Witches. The witches were named Orddu, the leader as it seemed, Orgoch, and Orwen. Not to D’daear’s surprise, the three held the stereotypical look of a witch.

    According to the witches, they were in possession of the Black Cauldron. In order to obtain it from them, they had to make a trade. D’daear had already overheard the witches before the trade was made. Orddu wanted Taran’s magical sword. In the end, Taran made the trade; his sword for the Black Cauldron. The deal had been done, and there was no going back according to them.

    The storm settled, leaving the area momentarily undisturbed. Everyone peeked for a moment before feeling the earth’s tremors. The area where the cottage had at one point occupied suddenly erupted, spewing out gravel until it unearthed a large cauldron from its grave. Everyone rose to their feet in amazement.

    “The Black Cauldron…” Taran uttered.

    D’daear closed in on it. “It’s ours…well yours Taran.” he managed to say before the sound of Orddu’s laugh echoed through the air. They all turned to the sky to see the images of Orddu, Orgoch, and Orwen appear in the midst of forming dark clouds. They were quick to inform that the cauldron could not be destroyed, how it was indestructible.

    “Only its evil powers can be stopped.” said Orddu.

    “How?” D’daear asked.

    Orddu looked down at them. “A living being must climb into the Cauldron out of its own free will.” She explained. Gurgi, wanting to be the hero of the day, decided to climb the giant cauldron. “Gurgi will jump in the cauldron!” he said, as if trying to get first dibs on the cauldron. Orddu grinned, looking away with a smug. “However the living being will never climb back out ever again.” Without a second thought, Gurgi jumped off and back to the ground, fearing for his life. Everyone felt cheated, Fflewddur beginning to stir the commotion.

    “N-now listen here! You said we could have the cauldron!” he reclaimed, Eilonwy following suit.

    Orddu gave a witchely giggle, replying “And so I did! It’s not our fault you can’t do anything with it!” The storm clouds began to withdraw, with all three sisters echoing laughter. Before they knew it, they were left alone in a darkening world. Gwynt gave a sigh, walking over to a nearby log. She sat down on it, and began to contemplate. “What am I doing?” she thought to herself, recollecting the events of their journey. The whole point of escaping the dungeon was to escort the Princess out and safely back to her castle…at least that’s what she had promised Eilonwy. So what was she doing here? She pressed her fingertips against her eyes, sighing. They had wasted time and effort in locating the Black Cauldron. Now it was all for nothing.

    The sun had already set, giving way to the heart’s blue moonlight glow in the sky. The sky was cloudy, which denied D’daear the opportunity to stargaze as he had his eyes glued to the clouds for a while. Gwynt took notice, but thought nothing of it. They had all gathered firewood, a campfire lit at the center of their circle. Fflewddur, Gurgi, and Eilonwy sat on one log, while Taran, D’daear, and Gwynt sat on the other. In the midst of it all, Doli had fled back to where he had come from. No one had blamed him. He had gotten them this far, and that was all what Doli was really there for. The group was quiet until a defeated Taran spoke out, “It’s my fault…I let you guys down. Without my sword, I’m nothing! I’m…I’m just an assistance pig keeper…” he admitted. Everyone looked at Taran. Eilonwy was the first to respond. She rose to her feet, clasping Taran’s face with her gentle hands. “You’re wrong, you ARE a somebody. You must believe in yourself…I believe in you.”

    Everyone looked content at the way Eilonwy had, in a way, confessed to Taran. In their depressing moment, it was nice to see something positive arise. The boy was overjoyed, to the point where he held the girls hands without thought.

    “You do? I-I believe in yo-“ he paused, all of sudden letting go of her hands as the embarrassment suddenly kicked in. “Uuh…aah…I mean…I mean..”

    Eilonwy looked overjoyed, as if she was awaiting a wonderful surprise. “Yes Taran?” she asked. In the midst of the romance that was taking place, a silly Gurgi seemed to have projected everyone’s thoughts onto Fflewddur’s cheek as the little furry creature planted an innocent kiss. Everyone laughed, including the two adolescent lovebirds.

    “Listen…what I’m trying to say is…thank you…all of you for helping and for supporting…you’re all true friends.” he said. He turned to D’daear. “D’daear, I want to thank you. You could have easily told them the truth, and you could have easily asked for the sword. I mean-“

    A loud roar erupted from the sky, catching everyone’s shocked attention. Eilonwy pointed to the obvious. Flying in the night sky, the two Gwynthains the Horned King had sent had finally found them, and they were circling them in the air like vultures. Gurgi was the first to make his escape, “Oh oh! Danger! Gurgi run away!” he said out loud, forgetting about his companions. Both Taran and D’daear turned to the fleeing creature.

    “No, Gurgi wait..!” Taran shouted.

    “Gurgi stop!”

    Gurgi had made it into the swamp woods, in time before the huntsmen had arrived to corner them. They swarmed them like a crowd of ants from nowhere, bearing their weapons in front of them in threat. Gwynt had already pulled out her dual mini-cannons; as D’daear had named them. He realized that he had not once seen her carrying them in some sort of bag, or sheath; if weapons like that even had a sheath, he thought. The group began to huddle closer and closer as the huntsmen got closer and closer. Gwynt took the front, aiming her cannons at the henchmen.

    She had a tense pensive look on her face, as if she could not decide whether to shoot or just allow capture. Her grip tightened around her weapons as she gritted her teeth, and brows furrowed. “There’s too many of them…if I start now…they may not spare us…” she thought as she had come to realize that the huntsmen; if they had already wanted too, would have taken their lives with just their sheer numbers. But something was stopping them.

    D’daear had stood next to her, his guard up. “What are you waiting for?” he asked, but his eyes lit up in his sudden realization at what she had already been thinking. “What do you guys want?” he asked, wanting to confirm what pretty much at this point the whole group was thinking.

    One of them shouted, “The Horned King wants his prisoners back!”

    “But don’t think we won’t hesitate to tear ya ta pisses if you resist, heh heh…” another said, chuckling in the process which soon stirred everyone’s laughter.

    Letting out a frustrated sigh, Gwynt dropped her weapons at the huntsmen’s feet. The group surrendered themselves, and the Black Cauldron. A well hidden Gurgi oversaw them, soon down casted at watching its friends being pulled away in ropes.

    Chapter 14


    A victorious grin was spread wide on the Creepers face as he eyed the black cauldron from atop a platform; which was being carried on a wagon by a large bulky huntsmen. The man was trying with all his might to pull at the wagon which resisted every step up the flight of stairs. The little troll laughed, turning to the 5 prisoners who were hanging from one of the dirty old walls, with ropes tied to their wrists, adjacent to the platform that would be holding the cauldron. The group had been tied to metal rings that were held high up over a platform once they had been escorted to the Horned Kings castle as captives. It was not a deadly height, so there was no fear of them being hurt. The room held an ominous presentation, as well as a foreboding feel.

    “Ooooh, I’m sorry. I’ve ignored you.” He said, going around the Cauldron that had just been put down. “You did call for the cauldron, didn’t you? Well…climb in! It will only cost you your life! Hahah!” he mocked, even going as far as to mimic their deaths. He had his fit of laughter, until he noticed the Horned Kings shadow projecting on a corridor which led to this room. The room itself was large enough to house a decent sized armada comfortably, with a small flight of stairs at the center leading to a platform where the cauldron had been placed. The room was filled with skeletons of dead soldiers, and warriors who had lost their lives to unknown means. Creeper, who had been mocking the prisoners near the cauldron, all of a sudden became nervous at the presence of his Master.

    “E-e-eh-everything is r-r-ready, s-sir!” the troll said, trying to keep his composure. Creeper’s confidence had changed somewhat when he had finally delivered the good news to the Horned King. The Horned King himself seemed to be in a good mood as well as he was standing tall, and composed when he had entered.

    The King ignored the Creeper, looking up at his prisoners. He realized there were five total; five being what he had not originally thought. He looked at the two extra that were out of place, and smirked; his eyes gleaming in recognition yet speaking nothing of it.

    “My, such a brave and handsome group. A pig boy, a scullery maid, a broken down mistral, a stripped soldier, and…a refugee.” He said, pointing to them and a table where a cloth laid over something, “Perhaps you would like to see what fate has in store for you…heheheh…”

    Before the Horned King pulled at the cloth, Gwynt took a quick peek at D’daear. She had been a bit surprised, along with the bard, and Eilonwy to find out that D’daear was a soldier. Her mind brushed it off for the moment as her eyes became attracted to the reveal of the table. The group fell in eye widening shock as the Horned King took a skeletal body into his arms.

    “Now I call forth my army of the dead…the Cauldron Born.” He announced, lifting the body into the air. With earnest care, he gently lowered the body into the cauldron. “Arise my messengers of death! Relieve me of the illusion, and make my army a reality! Our time has arrived!” he said aloud with spit drooling out in his excitement. The Black Cauldron suddenly began to shake as a red ooze began to spew out of it. Light shot out of the cauldron with intensity as it erupted with a magma like substance. It created a deep fog which soon was withdrawn back into its fiery mouth.

    Following the substances return, the cauldron created a green mist which spread throughout the floor of the room. It began a symbiotic relationship with the lifeless skeletons, oozing itself around the corpses of fallen warriors. The nearby Huntsmen began to feel fear, it being clearly visible in their eyes. The skeletons began to arise with armor, awoken by the call of the cauldron. Without hesitation, the Huntsmen fled for their lives, leaving the castle.

    The Horned King beamed with delight at his new army. “Go forth my Deathless warriors! Wreak havoc to all that is in your path.” He commanded, watching his army march slowly walk out of the room; out towards the bridge that connected the castle to the outside world.

    “So that’s what he wanted to do with the black cauldron…” D’daear murmured, noticing a familiar insignia on one of the armored skeletons. “He was building an army…and he’s using… these skeletons…. Baron Soldiers!” The Horned King looked back at him, smirking at his question.

    “What is your name?” he asked with curious red orbs staring back at D’daear. The soldier looked at the King, heart wrenched by the new discovery. Hesitating to answer, he replied “…D’daear...D’daear Maren.”

    The horned King stroked his bony chin. “Aah…D’daear…tell me…were you with anyone before your capture?” he asked, one eye narrowing.

    D’daear stared into the Horned Kings eyes, already knowing where this was heading. “Yes, I was. A bearded man…. What of it…?” he vaguely described.

    “Heh…” he fell silent. “Illusions, boy… My huntsmen minions, disguised by the illusion whenever there was need of striking terror. Fear can be a great tool of war.” He confessed. Creeper jumped up and down like an excited puppy, tugging at his master’s robe.

    “Heh hehe! Come Master! Let’s go up top for a better view!” he shouted, awaiting him by a corridor which led to stairs. The Horned King turned and took the lead up the stairs.

    For D’daear it had all made sense now. That was the reason why the Horned King wanted them captured. There was no real reason for him to have kept them, other than for Taran and Eilonwy whom he thought had known or had the means to figure out the whereabouts of the cauldron. D’daear lowered his head in disappointment.

    “We played right into his hands unknowingly…” he muttered. He doubted the Horned King had planned this far ahead like some Chess match, but it was without a doubt an unlucky coincidence for them. Gwynt looked over to D’daear.

    “Oh quit your sulking. Who cares if we got caught, and just so happened to have helped the Horned King… What’s important now is that we find a way out of this predicament. “ She looked over to the other three who each nodded in agreement. D’daear looked to Gwynt, and nodded weakly.

    The Horned Kings laughter echoed through the hallway. He was enjoying the spectacle that was taking place on the bridge.

    “Yikes!” said a small voice from above them. Footsteps could be heard running towards them from a balcony just above where they were. When Taran looked, he found it to be a frightened Gurgi.

    “Gurgi!” he said, attracting everyone’s attention. Gurgi jumped onto a small ledge that led straight to the wall that the group was dangling by the ropes.

    “Gurgi sorry for leaving everyo-“

    “Apologize later, Gurgi. Untie us!” Gwynt interrupted, her tone sounding a bit rushed. It was indeed true. They were fighting against the clock in the attempt of finding a way to stop the cauldrons power. The little creature nodded, and began to work on their ropes. “Gurgi untie everyone’s ropes so we can get out of this evil place!” the furry said.

    Taran was the first to be untied, landing on a small platform just beside the cauldron. He immediately instructed everyone to follow Gurgi while he went to stop the cauldron. D’daear, already catching on, shouted, “Whoa wait up! You’re not going to jump in, are you?” he queried, being untied by Gurgi.

    Taran looked at D’daear. “My mind is made up.” He confessed, getting ready to jump. D’daear quickly ran up to the boy, placing a firm grip on Taran’s arm just in time to stop him from jumping in. “Hold up, Taran. I can’t let you do that. I couldn’t live with myself if I let you sacrifice yourself. There has to be another way. “

    Gurgi made his way to the two, tugging at the boy’s trousers. “Please Master, don’t jump!” he pleaded. Taran looked at Gurgi, then Eilonwy and the others. He lowered his head.

    “But…then how are we going to stop it?” Taran asked looking up to D’daear. The soldier took his time as he looked around, as if the answer would be lying somewhere in the room. “I…I’m not sure…” he managed to say, still brainstorming for ideas.

    Gwynt had her thumb and index finger to her chin in thought. “Why not just find a random rat laying around the castle and just dump it in? It just needs life, right?” she proposed. D’daear raised an eyebrow in scorn over the idea. “And where do you supposed we find one? Besides, I’m pretty sure the cauldron is going to require something a bit MORE, Gwynt. We don’t have time to be chasing after little critters.” He said, waving off her silly idea. Gwynt glared at him.

    Gurgi was the one whom came up with an idea, an idea that left everyone in grief. The suddenly depressed Gurgi looked over at Taran. “Gurgi no have true friends…” he said, recollecting the way he treated Taran, and Fflewddur. “Gurgi sorry…”

    “Gurgi no!!” Taran shouted, watching Gurgi jump into the cauldron. Everyone turned to see the rim explode with a volcanic aura. D’daear wasted no time in escorting everyone down the platform, even dragging a reluctant Taran. They all hid behind a nearby pillar as they watched the cauldron retract its green life benevolent mist. The Horned Kings roar echoed the hallways, along with random shouts of victory emanating from outside. No one made much thought of it due to their current predicament.

    Outside, the skeletons began to fall back to their lifeless state, the ones closest to the edge of bridge fell over to the murky depths of the sea. The Horned King was furious, having grabbed Creeper by the neck and tensing his grip. “What happened!?” the King exclaimed with his gleaming orb eyes.

    “I don’t know master…!! AACCK!! Perhaps it needs another body!” the troll proposed in desperation. The King stomped out of his war seat and down the steps leading to the cauldron, still holding on to the Creeper. “Yes…perhaps your life will do the trick!”

    “NNOO SIR!! P-PLEASE!!” Creeper screamed, flailing his body like some caught animal. The Horned King paused a moment, listening in on a conversation just a few meters away.

    “Go! With Fflewddur, Eilonwy!” Taran shouted.

    A despair filled Eilonwy rebelled, not wanting to leave his side. D’daear had to intervene. “Eilonwy, Listen to Taran! We still have to take care of the Horned King.” He said. Eilonwy looked at D’daear and then to Taran. Gwynt nodded to her, immediately letting Eilonwy that Taran was in good hands. Reluctantly, the princess fled with Fflewddur.

    The Horned King emerged from the corridor, red eyes glowing bright under his cowl. “YOOUU!!…” he growled, releasing Creeper from his deadly grip. The troll fell to the floor, gasping for breath midst holding his bruised neck.

    The remaining party turned to the Horned King, who began to approach them. He was furious, and his intentions were clear.

    Gwynt got in front of them, drawing her two “Mini cannons” from nowhere. D’daear and Taran took a step back, D’daear having noted that her weapons had been confiscated. “Does she know…magic?” he murmured, confused as to how she even managed to get a hold of her detained weapons.

    The horned King stopped, still in fist clenching anger. “So…I see you still live and breathe…” he gritted, looking at Gwynt. His eyes began to magnify in color, the tumbling of his plans having pushed his patience over the edge. “You’ve pestered us for the last time! It’s high time you be erased from existence!” he shouted, a dark aura arising from his being as the tension in the air rose to new heights.

    Gwynt gripped her oddly shaped cannons tighter, swallowing a bit of thick saliva as she narrowed her eyes at the dark being. “D’daear, Taran…unless you can muster a weapon from somewhere…I think it’s best you make your leave. This isn’t going to be some ordinary fight that I think you guys can handle…” she explained, not looking back at them.

    D’daear was on the verge of saying something, but realized what she had meant when the Horned King conjured a ball of flame from his hand and tossed it at Gwynt. Virtuously Gwynt aimed with one cannon and fired at the incoming projectile; removing the fire from her path, and in a split second spun around to feign her next action, yet only to stop in a crouched position as she shot at the Horned King. The magical cannon fire was knocked aside into nothing with ease by the powerful Sorcerer, who now seemed even angrier. Gwynt looked with the corner of her eye to the two.

    “Go!” she shouted in great demand. Cursing under his breath, D’daear led Taran away and out the castle; unbeknownst to them that the cauldron was beginning to vacuum the mist with such intensity that it began to tug at their clothes.

    When they had reached the bridge, they were greeted by a sight of motionless bones that littered the area. They looked on at the lifeless skeletons before being called upon by a voice just on the other side.

    “D’daear? Is that you?” said a woman.

    The two looked to the other side to see a crowd of soldiers all bearing the Baron armor. A woman clad in armor was seated atop a horse with her blade in hand. D’daear immediately recognized them.

    “Sarah? Wh- How are you alive?” he questioned at the Commander; he was in disbelief. His eyes searched the militia of soldiers, hoping to find Gordon and his friends among them. Sadly, it seemed the Commander was the only one familiar to him for the moment. Sarah quickly got off her horse, and got as close as she could, stopping by a blockade of bones a yard long.

    “I thought you were gone too, kid! What happened to you?” she queried back in a shout, addressing his armor less and shoeless fashion. “What are you even doing in the castle?”

    Realizing that there was no time for chat, “Long story! Listen, I need you to toss me a sword! I have to go back inside to help someone! Again, long story!” he shouted. The Commander stood there, still bewildered at seeing the young soldier alive after all this time. She understood without much skepticism, motioning for someone to bring her a sword. She had many questions to ask him, but knew this was not the time. A soldier came running back in no time with a weapon in hands. Sarah took it, and tossed it over to him; carefully. D’daear took the sword by the handle with readiness.

    “Alright. Taran, I’m going to need you to stay here…” he said. Taran shook his head. “No! I’m coming with you! Gurgi was my friend! All of this started because of my pig… It’s my responsibility.” He explained.

    D’daear tried to come up with something to say, something that would convince him to stay, but he could find none. Giving up, he looked around the pile of bones. He found a nicely weighted sword and gave it to Taran. Without much to say, he motioned the boy to follow.

    When they had arrived to the scene, the cauldron had already begun to pull at the room furiously, attempting to devour its final victim with its powerful pull. It was hard for D’daear and Taran to remain in one spot without being yanked up. Gwynt and the Sorcerer were both struggling to maintain weighted to the floor during their ranged combat. Gwynt jumped back just in time to see a fireball scorch the floor where she had stood. She landed back with a skid, looking over to the two.

    “D’daear! Taran!” she shouted.

    The horned King turned to the two, his horns having grown a bit menacingly. He snarled, teleporting in black fire. Both D’daear and Taran looked around, but could not find him. Gwynt soon in wide eyed concern shouted, “Behind you!” She pointed with a pistol. The two turned in time to see the Horned King knocking D’daear aside, and grabbing Taran by the face with one hand, both having done so with great physical strength; something that was unexpected from someone so thin.

    “You Boy!! This is all YOUR fault!!” the Horned King growled, lifting the ginger haired boy off his feet.

    D’daear hit the wall, his grip still firm on the handle of his blade. He winced in pain, but managing to stay focused. His eyes caught sight of Taran.

    “Taran!” he shouted, getting up. The room roared with the cauldrons call, tugging at the mist, and at everything else that it could take. Gwynt struggled to get up, and aim as the cauldrons pull was becoming too strong. She gritted her teeth, aiming at the Horned King with a struggling hand. When she thought the shot was ready, she took it. The magic cannon’s fire soared through the air with blinding speed, scorching the Horned Kings side. Smoke arose from the ruined robe where the shot had landed.

    The Horned King howled in pain, releasing the boy from his grip. Taran fell to the floor, with little to no grip to the floor. The cauldron yanked him off his back, pulling him closer to the stairs that led to the evil pot. Luckily, Taran landed to the side of the stairs, desperately figuring it to be safe to just lay flat against his belly. The angry sorcerer looked to Gwynt in anger. She had no idea how badly he wanted to destroy her.

    Gwynt was now struggling to maintain rooted to her spot, her hair and robe swaying violently towards the direction of cauldron. She could no longer keep her arms up without being sucked into the cauldron. The King approached, his feet firmly rooted to the floor. He was vexed, not thinking much of how best to approach the girl. The King readied his bony hand to the sky, feeling it necessary to dig his long and deadly nails into the girl. But before he could manage a swipe, D’daear came charging towards the Horned King with all he had.

    The King turned around just in time to witness the flat side of D’daear’s sword colliding with his face. “AAAAH!!!” the sorcerer shouted in pain, taking a step back before tumbling towards the Cauldron. The pull was so powerful, that took him off his feet and to just inches away from its rim. Assuming that there was no escape for the doomed Sorcerer, D’daear quickly covered Gwynt with his arms, at the same time clinging to her as means of doubling their weight. Gwynt hid herself under in him the best she could.

    “NNNOOO!!!” he villain shouted, placing his hands on the edge of the cauldron in an attempt of staying in place. Yet, the cauldron proved too powerful as it began to strip him of his robe, cowl, and then mantle. He resisted with all his might still, even when his very body was being torn apart by the pots desire to consume him. Decomposed flesh, tendons, muscles, and everything that made the Horned King who he was physically became the Cauldrons property. “AAAAAAHHHH!!!” he shouted, before being stripped to the bone; literally. With the cauldrons appetite appeased, the room fell silent and motionless. The pile of bones that was the King suddenly fell apart, being deemed useless by the cauldron.

    D’daear slowly open his eyes after a few seconds had passed, coming to realization that it was over. He released Gwynt, not putting much thought into getting up to scan his surroundings. Gwynt also rose, somewhat embarrassed at the way they had been huddled.

    “Oh no…Master is dead! Ooooh….” cried the creeper in a whispering tone. He looked saddened for a small while, before coming to the realization that he was free now. His saddened little face suddenly glowed with joy. “He’s gone… HE’S GONE!!! HAHAAHAAHAAA!!!” he shouted in excitement, momentarily drawing the group’s attention. He skipped away, happy as ever.

    The quietness was short lived as The Black Cauldron suddenly began to rumble, shaking the ground beneath it. It began to turn a bright furnace reddish yellow as it broke the platform beneath it, destroying everything that lay under it. The stair case fell apart, the cauldron breaking through its structure. It seemed the Black Cauldron was beginning to self-destruct. The ground beneath Taran and the others began to quake violently.

    Without a second glance, Taran began to make his escape; at the same time calling out to D’daear and Gwynt to follow suit. The castle was falling apart, the corridors, pillars, and even the very floor that allowed the group to advance to safety was rupturing into pieces. Hot magma began to pour from where the Cauldron had been, commencing the castles destruction from the inside out.

    The party ran for their lives, avoiding falling bricks, and debris in their grand escape. They jumped through chasms created by the eminent destruction, took alternate routes as corridors caved in on itself, and dodged falling bricks that would end anyone who would be hit by them. They made their way down a stairway, which coincidentally led them into finding a small boat waiting for them in a small docking bay just beneath the castle. Immediately they jumped in, and D’daear commenced rowing to their safety through the small canal.

    Gwynt looked on ahead, observing a closed gate that blocked their escape. A chain was wrapped around it with a lock. Without alerting the group, she pulled out a pistol, and fired it. The lock obediently opened, but the chains did not come undone. The two witnessed the shot, but Gwynt had no time to explain. The boat neared the gate when Gwynt jumped out into the water, and made her way to the chains.

    “Gwynt!” D’daear shouted in concern, only to realize what she was doing. Debris continued to fall around them, some into the canal creating unnerving splashes. She pulled at the chains, but could not yank it free from the gate. Without another word, D’daear jumped out of the boat and swam to the gates to her side. The ceiling above them was beginning to fall apart, bits and pieces of debris falling to close to them for comfort. Pillars that held the ceiling of the waterway near them were beginning to wobble under the stress of the tremors.

    “Hurry!” Taran shouted in anxiety, taking note of the weakening columns. D’daear motioned for Gwynt to get back on the boat, as he pulled the chains free after a second attempt at it. Taran extended his arms out to Gwynt, and in return she pulled herself in with his help. D’daear fought against the current created by the falling debris, attempting to pry open the gates. With one powerful motion, he pulled open the retractable gates.

    “Alright! Go!” he shouted, swimming back to them in the process. Taran took the lead and began rowing the boat when a pillar became undone and crashed into the water a few feet behind them, severely unsettling the waters. A massive wave overtook them, pushing them out into the waterway.

    ‘D’daear!!” Gwynt shouted, extending a desperate hand out to him. Quickly, he clasped onto her hand with hand, and held on as the wave suddenly burst into a tidal wave; causing Taran to fall back onto his rear end. Gwynt held on to the side of the boat in means of anchoring her weight; if not she may have fallen back and lost her grip on D’daear. The massive wave led the boat along the course of the waterway. The boat accelerated with the massive tidal wave, traveling so fast that their hair was swaying violently against the wind that resisted. D’daear held on to her hand tight, as Gwynt struggled to pull him in through the vigorous ride through the long tunnel.

    Gritting her teeth in the struggle, she pulled D’daear in with all her might just in time as the boat was tossed out of the waterway and into the open along with the massive wave. The boat flung in the air like a useless toy just in time, as the castle gave up in holding itself together, exploding. The home of the Horned King collapsed to the depth of the ocean, leaving behind a ruin of rubble. It was now a memory of the horror this land had now been freed of.

    The air was now silent, with only the sound of waves and nearby seagulls. The boat had made it out safely, but had capsized on itself. Gwynt, D’daear, and Taran stood on the belly of the boat as they floated to shore.

    “Thanks…for saving me back there…” D’daear thanked as he held sat on the boat all laxed and soaked, staring off into the distance. He was relieved that they had made it out of the mess alive. Gwynt looked away, towards the shore. It was a small beach with a thin commerce road just behind with the tree line commencing just a few feet away from it. “Let’s just call us even now…” she replied, referring to his last second save when they fought the Horned Sorcerer. The boat stopped moving, ending at the shore line. Everyone got off the boat, looking up to see a Gwynthain with the creeper on its back flying by. They had survived the ordeal, and had put a stop to the Horned Kings tyranny, but it was a pyrrhic victory.

    The group lay on the shore a while, everyone exhausted and wanting to catch their breath, when bubble began to rise from a spot in the ocean just a few yards away. Gwynt’s keen eyes noticed it first, pointing it out to the others. “Look!”

    Out of the ocean, arose the Black Cauldron. It just popped out of the ocean depths, and began to float its way towards them, as if to haunt them of what they had just endured. Taran looked at the Cauldron, reminded of Gurgi’s sacrifice.

    “Gurgi…” he murmured in sadness.

    As if on cue, the clouds above them darkened with subtle thunders. Letting out a laugher, the three witches revealed themselves in an apparition like form within the clouds. They looked like giants. “Look! The boy has gotten what he’s wanted, and yet he is still not satisfied.” Orddu mocked.

    “What do you want?” D’daear queried, annoyed at the witches lack of sympathy for Taran’s pain.

    Orddu kept acting innocent, there to just bargain with the boy. “We have business with your little ‘Hero’, is all.” She said, pointing to Taran.

    Still in depression, Taran looked away admitting, “I’m no hero…Gurgi was the real hero…” He honestly cared nothing for the cauldron that had emerged, nor did he really care for the witch’s motives. All he wanted was Gurgi back.

    “We thought all that mattered to you was the Cauldron? Seeing as it’s of no use to you…we’ll just take it and be on our way…” Orddu ignored, picking up the cauldron along with Orgoch, and Orwen.

    D’daear felt a bit indignant for the boy, taking a stand. “Whoooaa hold up! You can’t just take HIS Cauldron… If you want it…you’re going to have to trade for it…” he said with a smirk. The Cauldron belonged to them, or at least Taran. If they wanted it, they would have to take it by the same means they took Taran’s sword.

    The witches laughed, with Orddu replying, “Did my ears hear, bargain?”

    “Quit the witty talk, you old hag.” Gwynt spat. From the moment the three witches had traded Taran’s sword for the useless cauldron, she had been left with no affinity for them. Now was their chance to be on the offensive of their bargain.

    With a serious demeanor, D’daear crossed his arms. “So what’s it going to be? What are you willing to offer?” he asked, negotiation now being in session. Orddu immediately looked at her sisters, who had an item in mind. She shook her head, her playful façade dropping instantaneously.

    “No! Not the sword!!” she shouted as she attempted to stop Orwen from summoning the magical sword Taran had traded. Orddu had never seen something as magnificent as it, and she wanted to trade nothing for it. Unfortunately for her, her sisters did not care much for rare collections; except for the Black Cauldron. Orgoch blocked Orddu from stopping Orwen, the sister pulling the blade out from nowhere. The blade slowly descended towards Taran, who was a bit surprised.

    “How about we trade this magnificent sword, deserving a warrior such as yourself.” Orwen said. Orddu was not pleased, and crossed her arms in a pout. The ginger haired boy seemed to have been sold, but soon his arm dropped, a realization coming to him, now clearly not wanting to make trade.

    “I’m not a warrior…I’m a pig boy…what will I do with a sword?” he asked, saddened. Gurgi’s sacrifice still haunted him as he looked back at the Cauldron which had now made it to shore. He never got to tell Gurgi how he truly felt about him as a friend. Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. Was it possible?

    Orddu was overjoyed, immediately calling back the sword into her possession.

    “But I would trade…!” Taran began, catching everyone’s attention. “The cauldron…for…Gurgi…”

    The sisters placed their hands on their cheeks, astonished at the request. They gasped at the request. It was truly a bizarre, and irrational request.

    “Oh dear!” Orwen said aloud, followed by Orddu’s angry denial, “Impossible!”

    D’daear smirked, crossing his arms as he shook his head. “I knew it! You three have no real power…” he instigated, hoping to bait them into the bargain. “You’re a bunch of phonies.”

    The clouds began to rage with thunder in Orddu’s anger. She was insulted, and she would not have that. Annoyed that they would have to answer their request, the three sisters flew from the clouds and down to the black cauldron, surrounding it with their phantom mist like presence. Their body’s converged to form a bright light, lifting the cauldron into the air. The sky thundered with a brilliant light, the clouds converging into a small thin tornado that traveled to the shore they were in. They warded their eyes momentarily, the group lowering their warding hands from their eyes, feeling the brisk short lived phenomena rush passed them. The tornado soon vanished, leaving behind a small white furred creature on the sandy shore.

    “We have made our bargain!” Orddu’s voice could be heard saying. The witches echoing laughter was heard, dissipating after a while as they made their presence disappear.

    Taran neared, crouching low to pick up the furry corpse. His eyes weld up with tears, trying with all his might to hold back tears.

    “Taran…” Gwynt uttered empathetically, wanting to reach out to him out of pity. The boy held Gurgi close, cuddling with it for a while to hide the tears. Regardless of whether Gurgi believed it or not, Taran had thought of Gurgi as a friend. It was a heart-wrenching moment while it lasted, for a surprise was to arise any moment.

    “I know…there has to be some munchies in here somewhere…” said a familiar voice, a furry hand extending itself into Taran’s vest. The boy took a bit to realize that it was Gurgi who had spoken. Surprised by the invasion of his space, Taran let go of Gurgi, watching him tumble backwards.

    “Gurgi!!” Taran said aloud with joy, with D’daear and Gwynt quickly approaching the two. “He’s alive!”

    The two approached Gurgi quickly, amazed at the creatures resurrection. “Gurgi, you’re back!” D’daear said in joy. Gwynt managed an enthusiastic chuckle, covering her mouth in happy disbelief.

    It seemed Gurgi couldn’t believe it either, as he began to move his hands and feet. “Gurgi’s alive!!” the creature said getting picked up by an overjoyed Taran. They all rejoiced together, soon to notice the band of Baron’s Soldiers walking down the road next to the Shore. The group waved at them, ecstatic.

    It was Commander Sarah with her troops who walked down the road; with Eilonwy and Fflewddur running past them to reunite with the group. The princess and Fflewddur joined them in their happy reunion with Gurgi, having ran down the sandy beach to reach them. With the Horned King gone for good, and the black cauldron hidden, the Kingdom of Pyrdain was finally at peace. D’daear looked on towards Commander Sarah in the midst of the celebration to lock gazes. The Commander was smiling, nodding at his tremendous efforts in helping stop the Horned Kings tyranny.

    Breaking away from the group, he made his way through the sandy beach to the Commander.

    “Nicely done, rookie. You have indeed surprised us all.” Sarah said looking down at him from atop her horse. Rubbing the back of his head, he blushed a bit in embarrassment. “Actually, I surprised myself to be honest…heh…” he replied in earnest.

    “So I assume…the Horned King is officially…?”

    “Yes. He’s gone for good.”

    Sarah nodded in relief. “Good. That’s one less tyrant we have to worry about…” she finished in a murmured. The two stood there a while, the militia behind trying to peer over one another to catch a glimpse of who the rejoicing group up ahead. D’daear turned to watch Taran, Princess Eilonwy, Fflewddur, Gwynt, and Gurgi rejoice. He tried his best to keep happy. “I guess…Gordon and the others didn’t make it…?” he queried whilst watching the group in their joy. Gwynt momentarily turned to D’daear, modest grin hiding her overjoyed self as they continued to talk amongst themselves.

    “It’s best if we just let it go, D’daear. My troops gave their lives for this…and you just reassured that it wasn’t in vain. Thank you…” she said, a hint of her voice wavering catching D’daear’s attention. He turned to her, seeing a well place strong demeanor masking her pain. As a leader partaking in war, it can sometimes be seen as heartless to not show emotion towards the lost lives, but they both understood that there was a time and place for everything. To keep the conversation going, and D’daear’s attention away from her, she gestured towards the girl.

    “So who is she? A friend you made along the way to defeat the Horned King?” she probed, leaning a bit towards him in interest. She was getting ready to tease.

    D’daear cocked his head to the side, as if fighting a thought. “Mm...Well I wouldn’t call her a friend…at least I think…I’m not sure. I met her during our escape out of the dungeon. “

    Sarah raised an eyebrow in curiosity. “Dungeon? So you were caught.” She put together, shaking her head in disappointment briefly. “Well, at least you redeemed yourself.” D’daear fell silent, looking up at her.

    “Are you two a thing now?” she continued, “I mean it’s fine. A young man of your age should indeed find himself someone to be at his side. As a matter of fact, by the time I was your age I had already found interest in a special someone myself.” she continued, for moment letting her thoughts go off a bit. She looked at him. “Just don’t do anything stupid, you know…” she suggested, implying.

    D’daear’s jaw dropped slightly, surprised at this side of the Commander. “Like what?” he asked, narrowing his eyes at her. She blushed a bit, clearing he throat. “So was she helpful to your cause? Perhaps we could recruit her, you know?” she inquired, motioning to the trench coat wearing female. D’daear looked back at Gwynt who was now walking over to them. Now that the Commander had mentioned it, she was a grand help to their cause. She had proved to have great mastery over her strange weapons, as well as to hold her own against the Horned King.

    “You know what? She could make an outstanding soldier. And there’s something about her that will definitely prove to benefit us all.” D’daear said, watching her approach as the sun began to emerge from the darkened clouds. He couldn’t help but notice that from the angle he was looking at her, it seemed as if the sun was shining down on her like a beacon.

    Chapter 15


    Baron’s castle had hosted a ceremony for the fallen, and another ceremony as well as a celebration afterwards, commending D’daear’s heroism in stopping the Horned King and his plans. Prior to the events that had taken place in Pyrdain, the Horned King had been terrorizing the Land of Pyrdain with his minions, and had tricked everyone into thinking that he had already acquired his undead army by using the power of illusion to disguise his minions as the unstoppable army he so coveted.

    The King of Baron had issued orders for his troops to be sent to aid the weakened land. When they had gone, they had been ambushed and everything spiraled out of control from there. D’daear had explained to the Commander how he never saw Gordon after he went back solo, which in turn led to himself having been captured alive, and thus awakening in a dungeon along with a boy named Taran. They escaped with the help of a Princess named Eilonwy and a warrior named Gwynt who dual wielded these strange miniature cannons that fit the palm her hands; the strange part was that they only needed a pull of a trigger to fire a shot.

    They had met along the way a bard by the name of Fflewddur, and a creature named Gurgi. Through their dangerous trek, they had been able to find the Black Cauldron; a magical cauldron with evil powers that was sought out by the Horned King. When the Horned King had finally captured them, he used the Cauldron to summon his Cauldron-Born army, a real army of undead soldiers; which to D’daear’s surprise had a mix of fallen Baron Soldiers. They soon escaped at a great cost, and barely made it out with their lives.

    After having reunited with Commander Sarah; who was presumed dead after having been ambushed before all of the events had transpired, they had returned to the nation of Baron along with their newest addition to the team, Gwynt. They had said their good byes to Taran, the Princess, Fflewddur, and Gurgi with the best of wishes to their future endeavors; all hoping one day to see each other. The land of Pyrdain was safe, and they were now back home celebrating the victory. It was on the way back to the land of Baron that D’daear had learned how long he had been MIA from the baron army. It still stunned him when he recounted what the Commander had told him, and yet after having gone through what he went through, it wasn’t something that’d he be willing to let bother him for too long at a time. Ultimately, he was glad to have made it back safe and sound.

    The ceremony for the fallen had occurred immediately within the week of D’daear’s return. There was mourning for those who lost comrades, and friends. Weeks later, the medal distribution ceremony and then celebration commenced; the celebration was just an extra the King thought to use as a way of making the day livelier. The audience chamber was large and white; large being an understatement. It extended for yards, being long enough to hold a towns worth of people, with three large and thick pillars embedded into each wall as part of its design. They were holding a banquet in celebration for the ceremony that had just taken place. During the ceremony, everyone had stood next to a large stretch of red carpet that laid over the white marble floor. The carpet led to the seat of the Kings throne.

    When the doors to the chamber had opened, a well-dressed D’daear in what appeared to be a white tailcoat suit appeared. His hair had been combed back, revealing his widows peak. He looked presentable; a great change compared to how he looked like back in Pyrdain. Everyone who had been waiting there had begun to applaud, commending him for his bravery. Commander Sarah was standing among the crowd, proud of her solider. When he had reached the foot of the Kings presence, he noticed two tall individuals both standing nearby the King. They were both wearing dark purple armor that fitted them perfectly. Straight away he knew whom both of them were. It was Cecil and Kain, both leaders of their respective corps.

    It suddenly dawned on him how serious of an occasion this was. He started feeling nervous. D’daear had knelt down in respect to the King. “For your tempered bravery, and having the courage to aid a troubled nation, while all odds were against you….” He began, getting up from his throne. “…I bestow upon you this Medal of courage.” He said, taking a case from one of the castle servants, and opening it to reveal the medal. The King then proceeded to handing over the case to the knelt solider.

    D’daear took it with humble care, eyeing the medal. Looking back on the situation, he had honestly not considered the fact that they might’ve held a ceremony like this. It was truly an honor for him, as he merely thought people would have merely congratulated him on a job well done, and perhaps give him a minor promotion in his rank with the army.

    “…and… the title of Dark Knight Cadet!”

    Everyone had begun to applaud at the honor that had been bestowed upon him. D’daear’s eyes had widened in disbelief. Was this a dream? He could not believe. This was a fantasy come true for the young man. Never had he thought he would be able to join the Elite Dark Knights Corps at all, let alone this early in his career. The King motioned for him to stand. When he had risen to his feet, he had seen Kain and the Dark Knight in their armor applauding, happiness visible through the steady speed in their applause.

    The King took a step forward, putting a hand on the young man’s shoulders. “Job well done, young man. Job well done...” he praised, a hint of interest in his eyes. “You show a lot of promise, young warrior. I hope to hear more of your grand deeds.” He commented, extending a hand out to him. A shocked D’daear stood there, going with the flow and slowly taking the King’s handshake, dumbfounded.

    “Th-thank you sir…!” he managed to reply. The King chuckled, using the same hand on the boy’s shoulder to pat it. He let go of the young hand, and advanced beyond D’daear to address the crowd. “Now, let the festivities begin!!”

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

    The festivities had begun, the banquet was fully opened to serve everyone’s appetite. The place was crowded with socialization, with well-dressed people bustling all over the place. D’daear stood by a table eating some appetizers laid out for everyone. Every once in a while someone would approach D’daear to congratulate him on his promotion; among them being Rosa Joanna Farrell. She is a skilled White Mage whom is friends with Cecil; a Dark Knight, and Kain; a Dragoon. He had met her a few times when he was younger; he was usually with Kain during those days. About D’daear’s age, she has long light blonde hair styled in an updo fashion with bangs hanging around the frame of her face. Normally, she would wear a large assortment of garments and accessories: on her shoulders small horned pauldrons worn over a floor-length white and gold cape, a sleeveless white top with long, decorated gloves and a large belt that holds a dagger on her side, gold and pink knee braces and light purple ankle boots. But today she was wearing a nice white cocktail dress that befitted her figure rather nicely with matching high heels. She had congratulated him just like everyone else, and given him a kiss on the cheek as a gesture of goodwill; a friendly gesture, nothing more and nothing else. Now that he was a high ranking soldier, he was sure to be drawing more attention to himself.

    “Keep it up, D’daear. Make us proud.” She said with a kind smile, referring to herself as well as Cecil and Kain. He nodded back, blushing a bit as Rosa walked off.

    “So how’s The Dark Knight Junior holding himself?” Gwynt mockingly jested as she approached from behind. He recognized her voice, so there was no need for him to turn wholly towards her while he went about into eating his beloved appetizer.

    “Hah…funny.” Was all he replied, turning his head to see Gwynt stationing herself next to him as to grab a glass filled with one of the many drinks the banquet had to offer. His eyes expanded in surprise at the sight of Gwynt in her dress. She was beautiful with her well-kept hair, her green one piece dress fitting her figure all the way to her knees and dark brown cone heels for shoes. It was definitely a new fashion of seeing Gwynt; he was already used to seeing her in the usual trench coat. Captivated by her new wear, he was oblivious to what was going on in front of him.

    “D’daear?” she called out, looking at him as if to pry into his thoughts. He snapped out of it, realizing how close she had gotten. He took a step back, feeling caught in his train of thought. With embarrassment, he did his best to presume being casual about it. “Uuh-Yeah what’s up?” He placed a hand on the table, and leaned against it to further emphasis how casual he was about all of this.

    Gwynt raised an eyebrow in suspicion for a moment, but let it go almost immediately. “You were looking a little…zoned out?”

    “Oh don’t mind it at all…I…I’m still in shock from having been promoted.” He attempted to persuade. Gwynt looked like she wasn’t buying it, but soon enough let the subject rest. She treated him to a coy grin. “Oh, of course…” was all she said. “So, who was she?” Gwynt asked, more curious than anything else.

    “Oh just an old friend.” D’daear placed a mild fist over his mouth, clearing his throat.

    “How is your training going for you?” he asked. Gwynt looked thoughtful at the question. Ever since they had gotten back, he had introduced Gwynt to Cecil and Kain; having already introduced her to Sarah on the way back home. He had put in a good word for her, describing how she selflessly took on the Horned King before they arrived to help her. They had decided that it was in their best interest to accept Gwynt into their army; mainly because of her expertise with the newly discovered weapons she used. The King had a great fascination for them, going as far as asking her if she would let the Red Wings corps to take a look at them.

    “Training? More like boring drills…” she scoffed, popping a small bite of an appetizer into her mouth before looking back at D’daear.

    He narrowed his eyes, taking her reply as a challenge. “Oh really? So you’re running around the castle in under 15 minutes without a breaking a sweat?” he asked, attempting to catch a glimpse of whether she was lying or not.

    She took a sip of her drink, avoiding eye contact until finished. “15 minutes? I finished it in under 10.” She responded, lowering her glass to the table. Gwynt was now smiling back at D’daear. The castle was large enough to house a town, as well as troops, storage rooms, etc.

    He was still skeptical, although she showed no trace of hiding something. “What about the endurance courses?”

    “First in, first out.”

    “Sparring?”

    “Cake.”

    D’daear crossed his arms, watching a satisfied Gwynt coyly smile at him. “Well then…” he said, impressed with the female as he cross his arms.

    “D’daear!” shouted a voice over the loud voices of everyone within the room. They both turned away from the table to see Commander Sarah wearing a one piece gown. It covered almost her whole body, except for her arms and shoulders. Her hair was tied back with beautiful hair pins; she was holding a small purse in her hand. She looked quite elegant, and beautiful to say the least. D’daear waved at Sarah as she approached.

    “Hey there Commander-“

    “Oh quit the pleasantries. It’s a banquet, no need to use our ranks here….else I’d have to start referring to you as my superior.” She said, looking at Gwynt with a wink. The two laughed, D’daear having no choice but to rub the back of his head in embarrassment. Sarah finished her chuckling, looking at D’daear. She pulled a letter out of her purse. “Here, Captain Cecil wanted me to give you this.” She said.

    He took the letter, and opened it. It was a quick read, as it only contained one sentence, “Meet in the Library.” D’daear raised an eyebrow, looking up at Sarah without exposing the letter. “It seems I have to go.” He said, bowing to them. Sarah and Gwynt were both left in wonder as to what were in the contents of the letter.

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

    D’daear had made his way to the second floor of the castle, having entered a long hallway. A speculation had arisen among D’daear’s thoughts when he read the note. Why on earth would Cecil want to see him? Perhaps as a fellow Dark knight, he wanted to congratulate him or to welcome him personally. The two had met several times, but always when Kain was with him. Without Richard Highwind around anymore, Kain had taken it upon himself to look after D’daear. Yes, Kain and D’daear had grown a bond like brothers over their youth, much the same way with Cecil and Kain. It was through Kain that Cecil and D’daear got to become good friends. As time passed, they all eventually separated as life called them all to arms. It was Kain and Rosa who followed in their respective family’s footsteps, while Cecil was trained to become a Dark Knight. Without much guidance, D’daear had to find his own way; starting from the bottom.

    All trivial back stories aside, there were no lit lanterns within the long passage, except for one window that helped illuminate the beginning of the hall with the days light. As he proceeded, it became somewhat dark. Thankfully, the door to the library was only half way in where the light still had its power to give the young man sight. He turned the nob to his right, exposing the vast space in which was used to house shelves upon shelves of books. It was so large, that a second floor was needed for the libraries large collection of books. What made this even more interesting was that the libraries walls shaped into a full circle as opposed to the usual four square walls that made up the castle. It was not too far in when he noticed the white haired Cecil leaning against the railing of the libraries second floor. He gave a small wave, motioning for him to follow. “How long had it been since I last saw him WITHOUT his helm?” he thought, while taking his steps up a nearby spiraling staircase.

    D’daear arrived at the entrance to a small room after having taken a spiraling stair case up. He sat at a table close to Cecil Harvey, the soon to be Captain of the Red Wings. Kain was standing on the other side adjacent to D’daear, arms crossed while leaning against the wall close to the only window the room had to offer. They had been waiting for him inside this room all along. It was small, made specifically for private study. Nothing in particular stood out in the room. It was just a table, and chairs; a rather plain room with a small window that allowed for some fresh air, and sunlight. A room fit to study, or to hold private meetings with no distractions.

    “Alright let’s get straight to the point.” He said, placing his hands on the table. Cecil had removed his dark knight helmet prior to the meeting; it resembled a Samurai’s Mempo. It was a bit odd seeing him with his long flowing white hair. His purple eyes gazed at D’daear’s blue irises. “We want to make you our eyes and ears during your travel.” He explained.

    “What, no: ‘How’s it been?’ ‘Congrats?’ Not even a ‘Heh…it’s been a while…’” he aimlessly quoted, in an attempt to mimic their personalities. He was a little mad at them, although deep down he held no ill will towards them. Working in the forces wasn’t easy, and constrained everyone’s time. Cecil let his head drop to the point where his chin was tucked in, and his hair covered his face. D’daear let his eyes wander over to Kain, where he too had tucked in his chin. He could’ve sworn he noticed a small grin. Suddenly, laughter began to emanate from Cecil, with his shoulders shaking. Kain too had chuckled a bit. Cecil looked up at D’daear. “You were always one to remind.” He commented, giving a warm smile that would only be given to close comrades.

    D’daear gave a small pout, but soon enough relaxed. It felt good to have this kind of atmosphere again, where he had his friends close to him and even getting down to business could feel alive. “And I’ll always be there to keep reminding you guys.” He stated back. Now that THAT was dealt with, he continued the original conversation. “So eyes and ears? And travel?” the young man replied skeptically, crossing his arms. Kain nodded at D’daear, having moved away from the wall and now closer to the two.

    “Yes. We send you to places that are troubled by…” Kain paused, thinking about his next words carefully. Seeing as D’daear was officially among the Elite Dark Knight corps, he thought it to not be a problem to reveal such confidential information. Dropping the act, he got straight to the point. “We have reports of the neighboring lands being plagued with similar problems as to the ones Pyrdain recently had.”

    D’daear averted his eyes in thought. “Similar Problems?” he caught on, asking in curiosity. Kain gave a lighthearted grin. “Yes, similar problems. A group of people up to no good. It is not clear what their intentions are, but it’s obvious the amount of commotion they are stirring. We cannot say who they are as we also don’t know their identities…”

    Cecil spoke, “This is where you come in… We need you to identify them for us, and if possible stop them.”

    D’daear rested his arms on the table, leaning forward a bit. “Why can’t you do it? Or any of the other soldiers? I mean, I’m a cadet. There are more qualified personnel…”

    Cecil shook his head. “You’re wrong. None of them have the experience that you have. I mean the way you were able to put a stop to the Horned Kings plans…” He stood up straight. “We’ve already decided that it should be you.”

    D’daear was honored, but he couldn’t help but feel a bit at odds. “Listen… I understand…really…but…I didn’t defeat the Horned King on my own. I had help…”

    Kain snickered. “And help you’ll have. The Land of Baron is friends with the majority, if not, all of the neighboring kingdoms. You’ll have their support during your investigations.” He said, adding, “That reminds me. We’ve given Gwynt a brief summary of what we’re telling you a week ago. She’s proven to be a remarkable soldier during her training, and we think it’d be best if she tagged along. She proves to bring a tremendous advantage that we believe would help you.”

    Cecil gauged D’daear’s reaction. He could tell he was relieved. “So how about it, D’daear?” he asked, smiling. The three have known each other for practically D’daear’s whole life. They were practically brothers. The two seasoned soldiers knew the young man would not let them down. D’daear sat there, twiddling his thumbs as he processed his thoughts.

    This could be a great opportunity for me… I mean… to gain new experiences… I can broaden my horizons, get stronger…” he thought as he sat there dwelling on his decision. “To become stronger…to protect the ones that matter most to you…” he pondered, remembering what Richard Highwind had told him all those years back. Also, there really was no incentive to not accept this mission. Knowing that Gwynt would be with him, he was confident they could overcome their obstacles. After finishing his thought, he got up and took a deep breath before letting out a sigh. An opportunity like this could not be missed. He had a skeptical look, yet a willing determination on his face.

    “When do I start?” he asked, looking up at the two.

    Cecil nodded, taking his helmet off the table. “You start in a week. Get yourself together, and inform Gwynt of your participation. Don’t give her all the details. She’s still a subordinate ranked soldier.” He explained, putting his helm on. Placing a firm hand on his shoulder, he paused to look at him. “It’s good to see you again. Lately everything has been so chaotic with what’s been going on outside these castle walls… I’m glad you made it out unscathed, friend.”

    The adolescent nodded with a reassuring smile. Now that D’daear was up close to Cecil in his full gear, he realized how menacing he looked. It was cool from a far, but now…it just gave him the chills. “I guess it’s supposed to look intimidating…” he thought to himself as he followed both Kain and Cecil out of the room. Cecil had continued to walk down the spiraling stair case, while Kain had stopped to wait for D’daear.

    “Here. You can read up on your assignment during your vacation. If you have any questions, feel free to call on us. Also, I’m sure you’ve been hearing this, but congratulations on your achievement.” He said with a friendly smile, handing over a thick envelope to D’daear. “I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of each other now, so we should definitely catch up.” He said with a waning voice that sounded further and further away. D’daear had taken the envelope, not questioning his vacation, and immediately opened it with a slip of the finger. His fingers reached in and pulled the contents from it which revealed it to be about five pages worth of information. As he quickly skimmed through it; flipping through the pages as well, he understood what it was. It was information on the land he was to visit after his week was over.

    “Land of Oz?” he questioned, looking up to inquire about it but to find that Kain had already left.

    Chapter 16



    It had been a whole night since Gwynt and D’daear left behind the castle of Baron for their vacation. They were enroute to The Garden, D’daear’s home. After the two of them had been filled in on what they were to do, they had been given a whole week worth of vacation as time for them to collect their thoughts, and to prep themselves for their future endeavor. The path that led to the Garden was an ordinary dirt road, with little to no trees nearby, just grass. The grass was lush with green color in the warm sunlight, and waved in the cool wind whenever a breeze flew by.

    They had gotten the good fortune of finding a wagon heading for the garden on a supply run, to which the driver was kind enough to lend them a ride; the driver being an old farmer whom surprisingly was able to drive through the night. D’daear was happy inside the covered wagon, sitting adjacent to Gwynt who was asking him so many questions.

    “We shouldn’t be too long now.” Said an old farmer, not looking back. D’daear acknowledged him before getting back to answering Gwynt. She had asked about the festival, which aroused his memories of excitement.

    “Yeah! We used to have this festival every year! People from Disney village would always come to the Garden in order to host this awesome festival! They would cast monochrome magic that caused everyone to look and see in black and white.” The boy explained, so excited that was he made hand gestures every time he spoke. “I wonder if they still host the festivals.” He murmured to the side.

    Gwynt tilted her head to the side in question. “Why wouldn’t they be?” she asked curiously.

    He shrugged, “I don’t know. Probably because of what happened all those years back. You know, when the big blue heart first appeared?”

    “What does that have to do with the heart?”

    “The festival was interrupted when my home town was attacked. That man with giant ship? He’s the one responsible for the heart appearing in the sky.” He explained, wondering if he had already mentioned this to her or if she knew about it.

    Gwynt soon confirmed. “Oooh, Right! I forgot! That did take place in the Garden… What do you think happened to him? I mean, how do you hide a ship that massive for years, especially one who can FLY?”

    The wagon shook a bit, having passed over a rock. He shrugged, hiding his disdain for everything that represented that enigma. “Quite frankly, I don’t care. I just hope it never comes back…” D’daear looked away towards the wagons exit. The road seemed long and never ending. The sound of the horse’s hooves filled the background. Gwynt kept staring at a soundless D’daear whom stared at the outskirts of the road. The wheels of the wagon creaked every so often. D’daear was thinking about the remains of his family. He had come to the realization that he was the only one left, presuming that his father had left because he wanted nothing to do with them.

    Did my mother have any relatives…?” he thought, trying to remember anything in regards to that. Perhaps he had met them at one point. It began to trouble him, the fading memories of his young years. He could barely remember those old memories. As a matter of fact, how tall was his mother? Was he now her height? Had he perhaps surpassed her? His eyebrows furrowed in sudden frustration.

    “Do you have family waiting for you?” she asked, somehow having read his thoughts. He looked back at her, shaking his head. “No, I’m all that was left when my mother passed… but I do have friends. It’s been a while, so they probably won’t recognize me much.” It had in fact been a long time since he was but a young child. After he had gone to Baron, Judith had only kept in contact through letters. But as of recently, he had not received any since he had gotten back from Pyrdain. D’daear leaned his chin against his clasped hands. Pyrdain, now there was an interesting adventure.

    “You know…I don’t recall what happened to me within that week of me being in the dungeon?” he inferred, looking at Gwynt. He knew Gwynt had to know something as she was also there. She looked at D’daear with a pensive stare.

    “…Honestly, I would like to know too…” Gwynt was now pretending to be cocky as she continued by changing the subject, “You’re lucky Princess Eilonwy just happened to have been with me else I would have just escaped on my own...” she said, examining her nails before locking eyes with D’daear. She was teasing him, wanting to lighten his mood. D’daear seemed to have taken the hint, sighing with a smile. Wanting to change the subject now, he inquired about her family. It was only fair, right?

    Leaning back against the wagon, she crossed her legs. “My family… Well…I’m not entirely sure.” She replied, continuing, “I was an orphan all my life, so I never really knew my parents. I guess you can say that the orphans were my siblings, and our caretaker was our parent?” Gwynt shrugged, not showing much emotion. She didn’t really seem interested in talking about it, her eyes having a distant stare to the road behind them. He let the conversation drop. Not knowing what to do, he looked at his green sleeveless shirt. He felt so comfortable in his attire. It was a simple sleeveless shirt with Beige pants, somewhat over extending itself over his ankle high boots. Although his belt was not visible, he wore a simple leather belt.

    Gwynt on the other hand wore the same attire she had worn when they had first met, save for the trench coat that lay beside her. She had a slender build, but she was indeed with lean muscle. Her life was a complete mystery to him, and whenever he tried to pry in, she would let out small bits of information, but never had she actually taken the initiative to tell him. She usually kept to herself. D’daear let out another sigh, this time feeling bored.

    “We’re here!” said the old farmer. D’daear was the first to look his way, past the small curtains and past the old man’s head. His blue eyes widening in delight. “Finally! Oh man this is going to be awesome!” he said. Gwynt fit herself through the wagons opening, her face close to D’daear’s. There, only a few yards ahead was the giant castle that loomed over the horizon. The towns walls were so large, although not as large as those from Emerald City, but still large enough. The castle came closer and closer into view. Before long, they had arrived at the gates.

    The wagon was greeted by the guards at the gates entrance.

    “Halt! State your business here?” a guard inquired. By the sound of the voice it was a man, about early thirties. He was clad in full armor, which made him look bigger than what he probably appeared to be. The farmer pointed to the two seated behind him. “I was just giving these two here a ride on my way here.” He old man said, turning to the two. The guard lifted his visor up, strands of blue hair dangling near his blue eyes as he looked over at the two. D’daear looked back at the guard with a sense of familiarity. After a bit of inspection, the guard motioned for them to move on through. The two hid back inside the wagon while it strolled on through the gates and into the town. “You know, I think I might’ve seen that guy before…” he commented with a pensive look. Gwynt was prepping her bag at the time of comment. “Well it IS your hometown. You’ll probably be bumping into a lot of people you know.”

    The wagon stopped just a few meters after the gate, parking itself by the side of the street. Gwynt grabbed her coat, and jumped out with D’daear. They said their good byes to the old farmer, thanking him for his generous kindness before leaving.

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

    The street was bustling with life as the denizens of this place went about their usual business. The market places, the streets, plaza, and even the fountain court was lively. Merchants were shouting their discounts, and special offers, street performers were out and about trying to make quick munny. They had passed a harpist, whom seemed to be enjoying himself, which drew in others. D’daear couldn’t help but remember Fflewddur and his broken down harp. It was quite a distracting part of town, the two nearly bumped into a group of little kids who were playing tag in the midst of everything that was going on.

    They turned a corner around a street, entering the Plaza. To his right he was able to see the shop where he had grown up in. D’daear was excited, walking a little faster than Gwynt. He began to jog, leaving Gwynt behind to catch up. Getting closer and closer, his excitement welled up briefly before his eyes dulled with lack of happiness. He slowed down, before coming to a complete stop. Gwynt finally caught up, coming to a stop next to him.

    “Hey what’s up? Why the long face?” she asked. D’daear gave a disappointed sigh. “Nothing. Wait right here.” He asked, walking towards the door of the shop. Gwynt waited outside for a while, allowing herself to scan the area. The Plaza was lively. Everyone was minding their own business, whilst tending to people. A restaurant not too far off could be seen from where she stood. Near the restaurant was the center of the plaza where small stairs led to it. Trees decorated the outer perimeter of the center. Kids ran around, laughing in the midst of their playtime while their parents conversed with one another close by.

    Gwynt couldn’t help but smile as one of the kids ran towards her, stopping next to her to examine the black trench coat she held in her arms. The little boy couldn’t have been more than 6 years old.

    “Wow! Neat coat!” said the black haired boy. His brown eyes kept gazing at her coat and its exotic patterns. “Can I touch it?” he asked curiously. Gwynt looked at him, and then her coat. She nodded, buckling her knees to crouch; dropping her small duffle bag. She extended a piece of the fabric to him, allowing his small hands to touch it. Watching his eyes, she could tell he was enjoying the feel of the jackets material.

    “So, how does it feel?” she asked, genuinely smiling.

    The boy couldn’t stop feeling it. “It feels so smooth!” he shouted. His shouting must have alerted his friends, because they all soon swarmed her. Three girls and two boys she counted in total. They were all touching her coat.

    “Wow! Pretty patterns!” a little red haired girl said as she felt the fabric. The other girl had black hair, and although she didn’t touch, she was next to the red headed girl observing it. Among them all, there was a green haired girl whom stood out the most. She kept her distance. “She must be shy” Gwynt thought, gazing over at a brown haired boy who was next to her. He wanted to get closer, but the three had already been blocking his way. Not wanting them to miss their opportunity, “Alright guys, let’s give your friends a chance, huh?” she suggested, pointing over to the two.

    The children complained, but obeyed her as they moved aside to make way for the boy and shy girl. Without hesitation the boy walked up to her, and touched the fabric. He turned his head to the shy girl, motioning for her to come. “Come on! You gotta feel this!” he said. The girl held her hands behind her back, and timidly approached. The boy continued to examine the coat, feeling its smooth silk like texture. The girl just stood there, eyeing the fabric. It truly was a one of a kind coat, with its gold patterns and whatnot. It was one that people rarely saw in this town. She seemed intrigued enough now to want to touch. Slowly, she extended her hand out to it.

    “Alright Gwynt, let’s go.” Said D’daear after coming out of the shops door. Gwynt turned, seeing D’daear now near the corner of the shop. Gwynt nodded, turning back to the children. “Sorry everyone. I have to go.” She said, noticing the timid girl finally feeling the fabric in her hand. She patted the little girls head, letting her know that she had to leave. In one swift motion she got up with her bag and started walking towards D’daear.

    When she approached D’daear, he began to move away from the plaza. “So who were those kids?” he asked, looking around the street with a paper in hand. She shrugged, her arms underneath the held coat. “Just a curious bunch. They liked my coat, and wanted to see how it felt like.” She said, following D’daear. He murmured something which she couldn’t catch, but thought nothing of it. Turning a corner, they entered a less busy street. Houses lined up left and right, with mail boxes positioned at the front. It was an urban community, the houses feeling a bit cramped, yet large enough to have a lot of space within them. People walked passed them, while they passed by the people. Everyone was minding their own business.

    After a while of wandering around, Gwynt finally decided to ask. “So D’daear, why did you stop by that shop?” she asked, her eyes busy scanning the area around them. D’daear’s head kept turning left and right, scanning the inscribed numbers on the houses. “Oh, that shop there used to be where I lived. I thought my aunt would’ve been living there or at least watching the place for me…“ He answered, continuing his search for the house. Gwynt immediately caught on to what he had said, now curiously approaching him.

    “Wait, aunt? I thought you said the only family you had w-“

    “Yeah yeah, I know. She’s not really my aunt, but I call her that because she was really close with my mother. They were good friends.” He finished, leaving it at that. The street ended on a turn, which they followed. The two seemed to be attracting mild attention now, mainly because of their attire. It wasn’t out of the ordinary as they too had passed by some people who wore a similar fashion; although perhaps it was because they looked like lost tourists in the midst of people who barely wore similar attire.

    Gwynt continued to look at the houses. They all looked alike, yet differed in presentation. Some had welcoming mats, others had decorations hanging about, and some were as plain as they came with perhaps some floral decoration. One thing was for certain, which was that they all had the same steel-blue colored paint job, with some differing in roof tiles; some tiles were navy blue, and others had red tiles. She was so focused on the houses that she nearly bumped into D’daear, had she not decided to look ahead of herself.

    She stopped abruptly, following D’daear’s gaze. To their right was a normal house, with a normal welcoming mat at the entrance, with no decorations; unless the small black aluminum Cheshire fence that covered their small lawn counted as one. Other than that, it really didn’t stand out from the rest of the non-fenced houses.

    “House number 137…” he muttered. He closed his eyes with a sigh momentarily, before he headed for the door; Gwynt following behind. He knocked on the door once. The sound of a child was heard behind the walls. Shuffling could be heard as the mass approached the door. The door opened slightly, enough to reveal a little boy peeking through the gap. He had short black wavy hair, small bangs reaching no further than up to his forehead, and blue innocent eyes befitting a child. The boy looked no older than eleven years, and standing at about 4’11. He appeared to be wearing a white t-shirt with a cartoon face of the anthropomorphic animals that populated the monochrome side of the world where Disney Village resided; D’daear could not tell what else he was wearing for the other half of the boy was covered by the door.

    Must be a festival shirt…” he thought, as he waved at the boy. “Hi…Uuh, I’m D’daear. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?” he introduced, pointing to the female behind him. “This is Gwynt. She’s a friend of mine.” Gwynt waved at the boy confidently. D’daear looked at the boy for a moment, remembering the name Judith had mentioned in the letters. Pointing at the boy, “You’re…Deward, right?” he asked, hoping he was not making a fool of himself by getting the kids name wrong. The situation was awkward. He had not seen Judith personally in so long that to catch a first glance at her child was odd.

    The boy appeared to be timid while opening the door a little more, revealing his blue jean shorts. He had no shoes on, except socks. “How do you know my name?” he asked quizzically. D’daear; feeling a bit more comfortable now that the formalities were out of the way, replied, “I’m a friend of your mothers…or at the very least she’s a friend of my mother…which I suppose a friend of my mother’s is a friend of mine.” He blabbed on, finishing with a weak cheeky grin.

    Deward looked at them both skeptically. It was as if he was scanning them, from head to toe, sizing them up; mainly D’daear. He couldn’t help but feel something was off with the way D’daear was grinning at him. It felt creepy to him. Finally, he turned his head away from them and into the house.

    “Mom! Some weirdo at the door is claiming to know you. He says his name is D’daear!” he shouted into the house; in the background Gwynt’s laughter could be heard with a puzzled D’daear.

    Chapter 17


    Judith had become hysterical when she saw how much D’daear had grown; even going as far as to confuse Gwynt for his spouse. The kitchen resonated with life as the reunited settled in within Judith’s kitchen, now seated around a round table. It was a bit larger than the flower’s shops kitchen, and was already there in the house’s entrance. From where D’daear was seated, the door was literally a few feet behind him. The kitchen sink was behind Judith; she was sitting parallel to him with Gwynt adjacent to the both of them with her coat settled over the chair. To the left of the house’s entrance was a staircase that led to the second floor, with the entrance to the living room adjacent to it; the inner walls of the house were painted pasty-green.

    D’daear had just finished the well prepped lunch that Judith just so happened to have been making when they had arrived. During their meal, questions were thrown back and forth in regards to how their lives had gone about; forgetting any negativity they have had with them prior. Judith’s husband, Jorge, had apparently been assigned as a castle guard. No longer did he have to wear those heavy armored suits, but instead dawn the castles new uniform. Indeed Judith was proud to be his wife.

    “Man that was good!” D’daear said aloud with a grin as he leaned back a bit to rub his abdomen. Judith was overjoyed to see D’daear having returned. She was still plump, but had lost some weight over the years; her feminine curve being clearly visible. Her jet black hair was long and healthy, with a white hair brace held over her widow’s peak. She was wearing a white apron over her black shirt, with blue jeans and sandals.

    She had finished her plate as well, coming in second, with Gwynt at third; Deward having already eaten prior to him answering the door. He was now in the living room a few feet away from them, busy reading a book. The living room was decorated with a couch, a large chair befitting the man of the house, a large book shelf with dozens of books, a lamp well placed next to both the couch and chair, and a table in the middle of it all. The window gave late afternoon light to that room, so there was no need for the lamp to be used at the moment.

    Gwynt thanked Judith, wiping away any possible leftovers on her lips with a napkin as Judith went ahead and settled the used plates within the kitchen sink. During their meal and after, they had been deep in conversation, recollecting the days when he was young. Judith had told Gwynt embarrassing stories of D’daear when he was younger, to which he blushed immensely. She then started telling them stories of Deward when he was still a toddler. The two were amazed at the stories she told them, of how Deward was able to master the basics by the age of eight. Apparently, the boy was gifted; Judith bragging on of how he had probably inherited that from her, which did make ‘reasonable’ sense considering she was a “former Black Mage in training”. But all in all, she had mainly been jesting at her genetics being the cause of the boy’s genius.

    “So tell me, D’daear… how has it been over there? I mean surely you have more to tell than in those letters!” Judith questioned, very curious as to know how he was faring in Baron. D’daear shrugged, leaning back his chair a bit.

    “Not much to say really. It took a lot of hard work really, but in the end I finally made it to be part of the army. The funny thing is that no sooner did I join, that I was immediately shipped with the others to Pyrdain where…a lot went down…” he said, still remembering Gordon and the others who lost their lives. Judith looked at D’daear’s thoughtful expression, but gave no heed pity.

    “Well? What happened?” she asked, wanting to know more. Gwynt was surprised, but refrained from saying anything. D’daear explained what had occurred after the ambush; leaving out the part about both dreams he had. Judith’s expression changed throughout the explanation, showing joy, sadness, shock, and relief. Gwynt, being the one to notice these things, held back her laughs. She never would have thought how expressive mothers could be; or at least Judith.

    “And now I’ve been promoted above and beyond the army corps, and to the Dark Knight corps.” He said, tapping his index on the table. Judith clasped her hands, congratulating him on his well-earned promotion. “Oh dear, I am so proud of you! Your mother would have been so proud!” she said, her delight for his early success being sincere. Now that D’daear had finished, she turned to Gwynt, and began to probe on about her life, first starting with an apology for an earlier misconception. “I am so sorry for confusing you for D’daear’s girlfriend, dear. It’s just when I saw you standing next to him I thought, ‘Who is this gorgeous young lady? Surely someone as good looking as her would never be seen around someone like D’daear unless they were together!’”

    D’daear looked at Judith abruptly, catching her jested insult. “Hey!” he said aloud before the three chuckled in unison. It had indeed been an awkward moment for them when she had first assumed that about them, but it was now well behind them. Judith persisted, wanting to pry into Gwynt’s untold life, to which D’daear too was curious about; although he made no suggestions with words. The girl tried to keep a straight face, but her smile was becoming hard to maintain at the new awkward situation that was being formed. She felt the room become a bit warm, swallowing her saliva in anxiety. How she hated being the center of attention.

    “Well…I…I never really had a family to begin with.” She started, now definitively catching Judith’s attention. She went on, “I was an orphan all my life, living in the care of an orphanage since I was a baby. Uuum…” Gwynt found it hard to continue, not knowing where to go with this. “…I ran away from the Orphanage eventually when I became a thirteen. That’s when I started living on my own, surviving with whatever I could find…” she managed to say, surprisingly feeling a bit relieved from sharing. Judith looked so focused, that surely she could not get away with leaving out anything. She went on, finding it to be more of a therapeutic chat, no longer wanting to keep all this weld up inside. “I was soon found by a woman who took me in. She introduced me…to her family…and in turn they became my family. She mentored me, and was almost like the mother that I never had…”

    D’daear’s eye’s showed sympathy, as he had leaned closer with his chin pressed against his rested arm. Judith was listening intently, showing empathy. Judith’s little boy had been indirectly listening to everything while he read his book on the large chair in the living room.

    “…I honestly liked living with them…until I realized how awful they truly were… When I became old enough, I managed to run away from them, but I got caught by a group of huntsmen months later, which is how I ended up in the dungeon cell next to Princess Eilonwy. I just happened to have been at the wrong place, at the wrong time when the horned king’s men found me and threw me in that awful cell.” She ended, averting her eyes away from them. A bit of shame washed over her, feeling a bit like a lowlife compared to D’daear and the others who had always had a place where they truly belonged; for the truth was she had given them a vague explanation of what really transpired. Suddenly she felt a hand on her right shoulder. She looked up to find Judith having reached out to her. Judith was giving her an empathetic look.

    “You’re alright now, dear. We all go through some hardships, some more than others. The important thing is that you persevered through them, and out of them became a stronger person. Am I right?” She explained, turning to D’daear. She motioned him to say something, to which he had not been planning on.

    He snapped into motion at her gesture, clearing his throat.

    “Uuuh yeah, what she said… If it weren’t for you…I don’t think we would have made it out of the castle…your strength gave me strength…eer-” he managed to say out of the blue, having a serious demeanor the whole time. He averted his eyes, trying to find something else to say. The truth was, he had no words. To him, her life had been tougher compared to his, and this whole situation was awkward. Gwynt chuckled, stopping D’daear from continuing further.

    “It’s alright, you don’t need to say anything. That’s all in the past now, and today is the present. Besides, Judith you are right. Now that I think about it, I did become a stronger person because of this. “ she said, looking at them. Gwynt was never the type to really accept pity or sympathy, regardless of whether they meant well or not. The conversation soon moved on towards another subject. They chattered on till dusk, when Deward had come into the kitchen asking if dinner was ready. Judith gave a surprised reaction. She had completely forgotten about cooking dinner. Looking over to the window in the living room, surely enough the light had already begun to fade away, the day now being on the cusp of dusk.

    “Oh dear, we were so into our conversation that I forgot to make preparations for dinner!” she explained, turning to the three who were now sitting on the table. She approached them with a thought, “Well, seeing as it’s a bit late for making dinner…how about we all go out to eat? My treat?” she said, the reality being she had no energy to cook this late. Deward looked almost excited, trying to hide his demeanor. Neither D’daear nor Gwynt made any objection to her hospitality. Who would turn down a free meal, right?

    “Then it’s settled! Let me go get my things and we’ll be off!” she said clasping her hands with much enthusiasm. Judith went up the stairs to ready herself. While they waited, D’daear decided to get to know Deward a little better. The boy had taken his mother’s seat. He seemed not to acknowledge his existence as he kept looking around the room as if looking for something. In truth, Deward had difficulties carrying a conversation; especially with strangers. All his life he had barely made friends, mainly acquaintances due to his timid nature. Of course, now was when he was feeling a bit nervous, thus pretending to keep himself busy. D’daear looked around briefly, trying to spot what Deward was giving his attention too. In the midst of it all, he began to notice the room getting darker from the lack of sunlight. He quickly got up to turn the light switch on. With a bit of a struggle, the lights flickered briefly before illuminating the room.

    Weird…” he thought, before heading back to his seat.

    “Soo…Deward. How’s school going for you?” he asked, crossing his arms on the table. “Your mom told me you skipped a couple of classes because you didn’t need it. I gotta say, I’m impressed.” He said in an attempt to get a conversation going. Deward shrugged, not looking much at him. He didn’t reply. D’daear attempted to move the conversation along. “Do you have any friends?” he asked, again trying to jump start a conversation with him. Deward remained silent, shrugging as he kept his eyes low. Gwynt looked at D’daear for a moment, gesturing with her chin to the boy’s shirt.

    He nodded, continuing, “I noticed your festival shirt earlier today when you opened the door. That’s a pretty neat one. As a matter of fact, I had one just like it when I was around your ag-“ he paused suddenly, his eyes having caught something very familiar about the shirt. Taking a closer look at the shirt, his eyes lit up with awe. The boy finally acknowledged him, although he was taken aback by how close D’daear had gotten to him. The purple haired man seemed to be really into his shirt.

    “Wh-what are you doing?” Deward finally spoke timidly, forced into moving toward the edge of his seat the more D’daear got closer. Out of desperation, he turned to Gwynt. “Hey, uh G-gwynt! Can you tell your boyfriend to stop it?!” he exclaimed, getting a bit nervous at how close he had gotten. Gwynt sighed heavily, rubbing her temple in a bit of frustration.

    “We’re not a couple, Deward. We’re just friends.” She corrected kindly, looking at D’daear who was apparently beginning to notice something. “D’daear will you stop sc-“

    “That’s my shirt!” he finally said, becoming upright. He pointed to the kids t-shirt. Gwynt raised an eyebrow. “What?” she spoke confused. “Your shirt? How in the world would you even know it’s your shirt? It’s not even your size!”

    D’daear pointed at Deward pointing out a few flaws in the shirt which according to him, his shirt had. “The little torn whole to the side that’s barely noticeable, the cartoons face slightly disfigured from years of use and wash, and it even has the same stain at the bottom!”

    “So what? It’s not like I stole it! My mom just gave it to me! It’s not like you’re going to need it!” Deward protested out of character, feeling indignant while still at the edge of his seat.

    The words that came out of the boy’s mouth made sense, to the point where D’daear felt a bit ashamed, mostly from catching himself in his immaturity. He stood there, looking down in thought. “Uuh, well…when you put it like that…” he muttered, averting his eyes in disappointment. It was indeed embarrassing, even more so in front of Deward, who was confused. He was both the victim and the culprit over some stupid argument. Gwynt lowered her head in her palm, shaking her head in disappointment at D’daear.

    The young soldier was still averting his eyes, still feeling a bit indignant about it all despite the embarrassment to himself. Sadness, loss, and confusion stirred within D’daear. The negativity he had been experiencing earlier today had come back. Ever since he came back today, he had begun to lose his life… or was it already lost without him knowing about it? To him, the shirt meant more to him than either of them could have imagined. It held great sentimental value, regardless of whether he had been left it behind during all those years.

    He couldn’t take it anymore. The thought of losing his home, and their belongings became too much of a realization for him to handle. His brows furrowed in frustration. “Tch…” he uttered through his teeth, turning and heading towards the door.

    “Hey, where are you going?” Gwynt called out sincerely, slightly raising herself from her seat. D’daear didn’t say a word, opening and heading out the door in one fluid motion. Through the opening of the door, the outside was visible. The sky had turned dark now, the heart above now illuminating with its rich aqua blue presence. The door slammed shut, Judith’s voice muffled as she shouted from above.

    “What’s going on down there? Did you guys leave?” her muffled voice asked. Deward didn’t know what to say. Taking charge, Gwynt rose from her seat. She grabbed her coat, and headed towards the door. “Nothing, Ma’am. D’daear just went outside to wait…” she said, stopping by the door to look at Deward. “Don’t take it personally. I’m sure D’daear isn’t mad at you or anything…I guess he’s just having a hard time adjusting to everything, I guess. I’ll straighten everything out, alright?” she said, her tone seeming to hint towards a promise. The little boy still had no idea what was going on anymore. “But he looked just fine a minute ago…” he mentioned. The situation was all just random in his point of view, and he felt more confused than responsible.

    Gwynt smiled curtly. “Sometimes what’s on the outside isn’t exactly what’s going on in the inside. The world isn’t black and white.” She commented before placing her hand on the doorknob. “Judith, I’m going to go wait outside with D’daear. “she said, waiting for Judith’s reply. A moment later, Judith replied, “Ok! I’ll be out in just a few more minutes.”

    With a twist of her hand, she opened the door, replying “Ok!” She went out and closed the door behind. The street lights were on, and the flowers on people’s balconies radiated with a beautiful light that she thought she would never had guessed was possible. For a moment, it truly caught her off guard. A small surge of wind soon passed by, the air feeling a bit chilly. In quick response, she put on her trench coat, immediately feeling the warmth of it. Sadly, her coat could only cover the back side of her legs. She descended upon the steps which had led to Judith’s door, and headed towards the fence.

    There standing on the other side of the fence was D’daear, leaning against it as he gazed past the buildings at the night sky. The evening sky was filled with small specs of stars that seemed to shimmer, with the heart shaped entity that lingered above the world showing bright with its blue hue.

    “D’daear!” Gwynt called out as she approached. D’daear didn’t budge, he knew why she was here. D’daear took the initiative and began to speak before she could say anything; getting off the fence in the process.

    “My mom’s shop was sold…“he suddenly confessed, still gazing up at the stars. “I’ve officially lost everything that held any sense of a decent memory.” He continued, trying to keep a sarcastic smile while still looking up, but his eyes now showing sadness. Through the commotion of leaving his hometown for Baron, he had forgotten to bring a keepsake or even a picture of his mother. He had begun to forget more and more about his life as a young boy as the years had gone by, and he didn’t even realize it! All the memories he had when he was with his mother was when he was a young boy, and now that he tried to remember them, he couldn’t. “I…I’m afraid…” he began to say softly, his eyes now staring directly at the heart above. “…I’m afraid I’ll forget her…her face…her touch……” he said with a wavering voice. The memories of her were all that barely remained, and if he lost that too, then what would be left of his mother?

    Arms suddenly wrapped themselves around him from behind in a caring embrace, with Gwynt’s forehead gently planted onto his back. D’daear tensed for a moment, as he was taken by surprise. What was she doing? He must have thought, at first not realizing that his vision had begun to blur.

    “It’s ok…let go…” she said, holding him with genuine care.

    D’daear let his arms go limp at the friendly gesture. His frustration began to arise through his eyes. He felt the tears well up inside. His heart began to race as he let go of everything that held memories of his mother. Tears streamed down his cheeks, but he did not heave like most people did when crying. “Even though we forget, we will always remember the once we truly care for. Those memories will never fade.” She spoke softly. He gritted his teeth in the frustration of his predicament, easing up a bit as he accepted her friendly gesture. The thought of that put his heart at somewhat at ease, while the tears continued to flow. There was nothing he could do about it. Gwynt kept holding on, letting him run his course. Perhaps it was better to just move on, however hard it may be. If what Gwynt said was true, then maybe it would all be ok.

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

    Judith had invited them to the restaurant that was stationed at the plaza, with the outdoor tables. Since it was night time, the table umbrella’s had been closed, and thankfully as well. The Plaza was just amazingly beautiful at this time of the day. The flowers that decorated the trees, the night lights, and mini gardens throughout the town lit up the place like it was a festival or something. The group sat at the table closest to the outer part of the restaurant. There was no way that they wanted to miss the beautiful scenery as they ate.

    “Woow! It’s just so beautiful! Almost like a show is just waiting to happen!” Gwynt said aloud, her eyes fixated on the glowing flowers. She had been repeating herself for a while, ever since they had arrive at the plaza that evening. This being her first stay at the Garden, it was a spectacle to her to see all the beautiful lights. Judith and Deward both giggled as they ate their entrée. D’daear chuckled. “If you think that’s amazing, you should see the outer gardens. That place is even more a light show than this.” Gwynt turned to him, immediately interested. “Really? Can we go?” she asked, turning to them. Judith chuckled, nodding her head. “I don’t see why not.” She replied, hearing her son cheering with excitement while chewing. D’daear was smiling as he ate, to which Gwynt was happy to see. Deward and D’daear had both made up before leaving, without Judith even being aware of the situation. The main course had arrived not too long after, it being comprised of sirloin steak and vegetables for D’daear, pasta mixed with vegetables, slathered in this white cream; for added taste, for both Gwynt and Judith, and tomato sauced spaghetti and meatballs for the young one.

    “Enjoy.” Said the waiter happily.

    They ate to their hearts content. “Mmm…this is good.” D’daear managed to say in the midst of chowing down. It was the first time in a while that he had managed to eat something so delicious; aside from the food the banquet had served. The sweat taste of the savory steak overwhelmed his mouth as the juices flowed out with each chew. Judith chortled, covering her mouth.

    “Glad you like it, dear! Oh, before I forget…!” she said, placing her utensils down during her pause from her food to reach into her purse which was hanging from the side of the chair. She reached out to D’daear with an envelope. There was nothing written on it, but it was clear something was inside it. Curious, D’daear took the envelope and opened it. Slowly, he pulled out a bent check. As he opened the check, a wallet sized photograph fell to his lap. He picked up the photo with a free hand, taking a look. He felt his heart wrench in relief. It was a photo containing his mother with a 3 year old version of himself in her arms, staring straight ahead. He rubbed his eyes with his forearm, removing excess tears. “Thank you…!” he managed, before looking onto the other item in his hand.

    “Wh-? Why are you giving me a check?” he asked, looking at the check. Judith didn’t say a word, but continued eating. He continued, reading the contents of the check. The check was made out to him, with a large amount of munny that he would have never guessed. He looked up to Judith, confused. “Why are you giving me this?” he asked. Judith swallowed the bite she had taken.

    “It’s the money earned from the shop. Both from sales, as well as when it was sold. Gwynt told me about what happened in the house on the way over here.” She said. Deward’s eyes widened, coughing from suddenly choking on a stray spaghetti that had gotten caught in his wind pipe.

    “Now now, it’s alright. I was planning on giving it to you when you guys were prepped to leave at the end of your vacation…but…well honestly, you men are all the same. Doing the whole, ‘It’s between us’ thing.” She pointed out, looking at Deward who kept his head low in his dish as he continued eating, not wanting to talk. D’daear was speechless, having looked at Gwynt for a moment. Gwynt kept eating away at her pasta, minding her own business.

    Judith leaned forward a bit, placing a hand on his. “Your mother would want you to move on. I know it wasn’t my place to sell the shop, but I hope you will understand… I was thinking of you the whole time. At least this way, you now have money that you can do whatever you want with.” She explained, her eyes still looking into his. D’daear was still shocked, looking at her, and then to the check. He knew she meant well, and was already over it. What kept him surprised was the amount.

    “Thank you, Judith… No harm done, honest…but wow…this is a lot...” he said. Judith smiled, glad to see he was taking it well. She let go and continued to her meal. Having stuffed the check in his pocket, they all continued their meal without another word; although D’daear continued to ponder on the amount. When they had all finished, Judith called the waiter over to make payment. Afterwards, they all left and headed towards the Outer gardens.

    The area was wide, capable of hosting a large festival within its star shaped perimeter. At the center was a lovely fountain with four small pillars on the four corners of the square pool that surrounded the fountain. Gardens were scattered throughout the area in a stylistic fashion, some near the fountain, while others at the edge of area. The place already had a few visitors. Families, friends, and even couples were in the area examining the flowers in the midst of their conversations. Both Gwynt and Deward ran up ahead to look at the flowers, leaving both D’daear and Judith to converse.

    “Your mother would have been so proud at the man you’ve become, D’daear.” She sighed, looking up at him from the side. D’daear gave a small chuckle, feeling embarrassed every time he heard her say that. “You know, I remember the first time your mother met your father?”

    D’daear stopped momentarily, a feeling of indignant arising at the thought of him as he looked directly at Judith. “Yeah?” he questioned. Judith nodded obliviously, the two continuing their stroll through the vast garden. “Mhm. Why we were eighteen when they first bumped into each other. And it was so awkward too! We were walking down the hallway, and turning a corner when the two collided. Papers went flying everywhere while the two sat there. Your father was very thin and clumsy back then, very different compared to how he looked like later on.” She described, going on about how they had gone on their first date, and then double date with the already coupled Jorge and herself.

    “Did you know your father was a regular student?” she asked, as they stood near the crouching Gwynt and Deward who were both examining the lycorise garden near a closed off gate to the side. D’daear shook his head at her question, curious to know more of him. Hearing the stories somehow began to calm his anger. “He was a decent young man, full aspiration just like you.” She said, nudging him. “He wasn’t as bright as your mother, but he had a good heart, always taking care of those closest to him.”

    D’daear felt ill towards the last bit of her words. “If he had such a good heart, then why did he leave…?” he murmured in irritation to the side, although Judith caught his words.

    “I’m sure your father had his reasons for leaving, D’daear…however bad it may have seemed.” She said, continuing to look at the two who were examining the flowers.

    Gwynt turned to them, looking at D’daear specifically. “No wonder they call this place The Garden!” she said, still filled with childlike amazement at the beauty this town had hidden within its walls. She plucked one from the bunch, and walked towards D’daear to show. “I mean just look how much it’s glowing. So beautiful… So Radiant…They should call this town RADIANT garden or something, instead of just plain old boring ‘The Garden.’” She pointed out, softly smelling the lycorise in her hand. The light from the glowing flower was warm, and somehow soothed her in the drafty night despite the flowers small size.

    “I agree.” Spoke a deep sage like voice from behind. Gwynt looked up past the two, while both Judith and D’daear turned curiously to acknowledge the source of the voice. Standing behind them, wearing a grey vest over a long sleeved white dress shirt, with black business pants, and black dress shoes was King Fydlon with a boy at his side. Two soldiers wearing guard uniforms were standing near them, keeping enough distance as to not invade their personal space. The boy standing by the king’s side had blonde hair just like his father, although his father had his combed back as opposed to the son whose hair was loose, extending past his ears. The boy walked on towards the flowers Deward was looking at, paying no mind to the boy next to him.

    Judith gasped, bowing along with D’daear in proper courtesy; saying, “You’re Majesty”. Gwynt stood next to them, staring at the King for a while. Their eyes locked, as if having a form of staring contest. Her demeanor shifted to serious. Their gazes fought, with Gwynt defying the customs. She was not a denizen of the town, only a visitor. So why did she have to bow? One of the soldiers took notice, and immediately advanced towards Gwynt, taking a stand to her side.

    Uugh…customs…” she thought, attempting to not acknowledge the soldiers presence.

    “Ma’m, bow to your King.” Said the black haired soldier. He was about D’daear’s height, and slightly more muscular in build. The soldier was wearing a dark slate grey uniform which was adorned by a heart symbol at the peak of the chest area. The front of his jacket sported two rows of gold buttons, silver highlights, and a red and white heart on his white gloves. He was also wearing a belt and knee-high boots, both of which are black.

    Gwynt turned to the soldier now in front of her, displaying a defiant attitude. “Why?” She questioned. The soldier furrowed his brows, quickly looking over to the King before focusing on her. “Because, he is your King, and deserves respect.“ he defended as if it was the obvious answer. Gwynt chuckled defiantly, feeling the need to correct this man. “No no… He’s YOUR King, but not mine. ” She began. The king raised an eyebrow at the drama unfolding. D’daear looked a bit embarrassed, taking a quick glimpse at the King.

    “Gwynt, just bow. You’re making a big deal over literally nothing. It’s just custom.” He whispered. She crossed her arms and looked at D’daear with determined eyes. “Well maybe I don’t like customs. I mean what makes him so special that HE gets to be King?” she questioned, attempting to help them see what she was seeing. The other soldier interjected, having gotten close to the group. He was taller than the other soldier with brown hair, but less buffed. Judith crossed her arms, waiting to be noticed.

    “Well Ma’m, if I may… He gets to be King because his great great great and so on grandfather founded this town. Being the founder comes with its perks…or at the very least should… Were it not for him, there would be no Garden…” he said, instantly shooting down what Gwynt was trying to say. The scrawny soldier’s voice waned all the while while taking notice of the madam next to D’daear. His eyes lit up in recognition. “Judith?” he queried, a grin forging from one side of his cheek to the other. Judith finally smiled, the two running up to each other to embrace in a sweet hug.

    “Oh Jorge, Honey! What are you doing here? When are you off duty?” she asked. Jorge rubbed the back of his head, considering her question to be a silly one. “Well, I’m the Kings guard…so…” he replied while turning to the King.

    The King gave a sigh. This whole situation was pointless.

    “Please, at ease. I’m merely here visiting the garden with my son.” He explained specifically to Jorge; everyone looking over to the boy behind them, who was now in conversation with Deward. The two seemed to be getting along like friends. Watching his son interact with another child his own age gave warmth to his heart. He turned to the others as to make his point clear; specifically Gwynt and the other Soldier. “Please, quit your bickering. This is a garden where families and friends can all come and enjoy the relaxing scenery. Let’s not ruin the atmosphere, hmm?” he inquired, gesturing to those in particular to calm down and be more aware of their surroundings. The whole group looked around, noticing how some eyes had wandered in their direction. Their situation had become a small spectacle to which only the curious took notice.

    Gwynt blushed, embarrassed. She gave a sigh, crossing her arms while averting her eyes. “…Sorry” she said, her voice waning.

    King Fydlon nodded in acknowledgement. “It’s Understandable… and commendable if I may say so myself. Not many have the audacity to stand up for what they believe in…” he said in a low tone. The soldier standing by Gwynt’s side, walked back over to the Kings side, purposely forgetting anything happened. Gwynt shrugged, as she pensively stared back at the two boys interact with one another. The King had a warm smile on him, as he saw both boy’s make first friends of each other.

    D’daear rubbed the back of his head while looking at the distracted Gwynt with a pensive stare. He had no idea she felt that way towards Rulers. “I REALLY hope she doesn’t act this way in front of OZ…” he thought, referring to the title given to those ruling over the Land of Oz. He bit his lower lip in momentary anxiety.

    Chapter 18
    On the final evenings of that week, while D’daear and the rest were at Radiant garden…

    “It’s been a while…” spoke Maleficent as she walked by Malik’s side on the dirt road. The two had just rendezvoused near Emerald city not too long; after months of being sent off and away to do their Master’s bidding. Malik insisted on using a corridor of darkness; these interconnected passageways. According to their Master, they are able to be accessed through the realm of darkness. This realm had existed, but it was it was faint. With it now growing, the dark warrior was very interested with this realm. He would have never known its existence were it not for his Master. Indeed his Master was wise, and full of knowledge. To Malik, it’s a privilege to be under his Master’s teachings.

    The Dark realm is growing, finally taking a foothold...” He thought.

    The night sky gave way to the usual scenery that had lingered up above since eleven years ago. The night sky always gave Malik a constant reminder of what had taken place eleven years ago. He could still remember the overwhelming sensation he had felt atop the castle. He remembered losing control of his body, but still conscious to witness everything. The power his Master held was something to look up too, and yet he could not help but fear it. His body had taken so much punishment from that dragoon, and yet he was able to fend off the two as if his injuries meant nothing.

    “Malik?” she called, looking up at him as they walked.

    He snapped out of it. “What.” he replied in an irritated tone.

    Maleficent turned her eyes away from him, and continued to walk. “Oh nothing…” she trifled, hiding a grin. The two had now begun walking down a yellow brick road, the Emerald City gates already in their sights. Maleficent as always had been wearing her black cloak which nearly covered her attire, only this time her cowl no longer covering her long white hair and small horns.

    “Has there been any word on whom was responsible for the Horned King’s demise?” Malik asked, his eyes focused on the city just a ways ahead. The Witch shook her head, displeased. “Not yet, although I have a feeling Master already knows…” she commented in suspicion. For a while now, she had been holding reason to believe that their Master was not being completely straightforward with them. She had high respect for the man, but she was beginning to have her doubts.

    “All in time then… You know how he can be.” Malik loyally said, implying defense towards his Master.

    The two approached the Winkie guards at the front of the massive walls that surrounded the city. Without saying a word, the guards signaled the gate keepers to open the gates.

    The two passed by the guards without as much as looking at them. The guards were only slightly taller than Malik, but they revered him out of fear. His hood concealed his face with the shadow that cast from it, and yet his yellow eyes glowed right through. Aside from his usual attire, he was now dawning a dark purple shoulder plate; with a smaller layer of armor over it, on his left shoulder over his trench-coat along with a dark purple gauntlet over his left arm. The gauntlet itself looked menacing as the fingertips resembled claws; the finger tips had a lighter shade of purple than the rest. There was definitely something different about him, Maleficent knew that.

    Malik filter testing copy.png

    The gates closed behind them as they continued through the city. The citizens of the city were all over the place this fine evening. Everyone the two passed had a quick glimpse of them before minding their own business. The pair paid them no mind, even when it was clear what some of them were whispering about. The two strolled through the city, soon arriving before the castle doors. The Winkie guards standing there took notice and immediately opened the door for them with a courteous nod, them paying no mind to Malik. Maleficent nodded to them as they passed the doors.

    “Seems you’ve made yourself a home here…” Malik commented as they entered.

    The castle was large, its flight of stairs being a testament to the length one had to traverse in order to reach the top, where the throne room was held. The stairs spiraled all the way up to the last floor. Out of the eleven years they went abroad to do their masters bidding, not once had Malik set foot into the Land of Oz. Ascending the flight of stairs, it became apparent to him that Maleficent must have been teasing him again. A quick look at the length of the stairs made him feel irritated. As they continued up the stairs, Malik found it necessary to discuss the matter of using the dark corridors. The whole journey would have been easier from the start.

    “Why did you insist on walking?” he began in an irritated tone.

    “Afraid of stairs, Malik?” she teased as they continued up. Malik let out a sigh, trying to control his irritation. It was then that Maleficent decided to take him seriously, turning her head to him. “Malik, you know what Master told us. If we use them recklessly we’ll risk our hearts...” She explained, reminding Malik of their Master’s words. She could hear his faint growl as they ascended the final steps.

    The guards stationed at the front of the throne room immediately opened the doors for them as they proceeded. Evanora was seen getting up from the throne the moment she noticed who it was entering; her movements showing her to be a bit anxious. She was somewhat nervous at the sight of her superiors now standing before her. The throne hadn’t changed a bit since the dark fairy’s last visit here. “Maleficent!” she said; the black feather on her head swaying as she rose from the seat. She was slender with fair skin, medium length brown hair, and brown eyes.

    “Evanora. I see Oz’s Royal Advisor is enjoying the Kings throne quite well.” Said Maleficent sarcastically. “How is my Apprentice fairing now that…” she paused for a second, scanning her environment. The room was empty for the time being, this further confirmed by Evanora herself.

    “It’s quite alright, Maleficent. The Royal Herald is in the city at the moment.”

    Maleficent gave a slight nod, continuing, “Well...let’s get down to business. How are things here now? Has Glinda been dealt with yet?” she inquired. The green/black dressed Evanora averted her eyes, placing a hand on a pendant just below her collar bone as she walked away towards the window pensively. The Royal advisor seemed distraught at the thought of Glinda. Before they had overthrown the Kings rule, they had attempted to recruit her half-sister; Glinda. Unbeknownst to them, was the fact that Glinda was not swayed to the darkness. They barely managed to seize control of the throne, and force Glinda into hiding. This of course had taken place a year ago, where now Glinda was blamed and persecuted for the death of the King of Oz.

    “No…I’m afraid she has been eluding my every attempt. She seems to be hiding somewhere far off. My Winkie guards nor I can seem to find her…” Evanora replied, shame overtaking her for the moment. “Perhaps we can ask Nizam for help?”

    Maleficent shook her head in disappointment at Evanora, and looked up to Malik, automatically receiving his gaze. “It’s best we do little to involve the others. Everyone else has been charged with their duties…” she explained, looking up at Malik. He knew what she was saying to him without her even needing to say anything through any means at all. A dark oval shaped portal formed itself near him. He started heading for the portal, stopping just a few inches away from it; the sound of his armor reverberating with his movement. He took a glance at his shoulder plate. Even though using the dark corridors was dangerous, if he wanted too, he could the smaller layer of armor on his shoulder for protection; if he wanted too. “Where is the Xtracted that was left in your care? “he queried. The Witch’s eyes lit up in recognition. These Xtracted, to her current knowledge they are beings consisting of pure darkness. However, how they came into being was beyond her.

    The Xtracted Malik spoke of had been left behind by Maleficent in order to assist Evanora in her plans. The Witch of the East turned to them. “I sent her to search for Glinda recently, actually. “ She replied.

    “How long ago?” spoke Malik.

    “Yesterday.”

    Malik nodded, turning towards the portal that waited for him. “She shouldn’t be too far then.” He said. The wicked Witch didn’t know what to make of this man or his words. She didn’t know whether he was just cocky or very confident in himself. “Would you like me to send a few of my winged baboons to assist you?” she queried. These creatures were her personal army created from her constant tampering of darkness, and she used them whenever she needed ‘dirty’ work to be done. They were her brawn, while she was their brain. The bat winged apes were feral, vicious, and held no mercy or remorse in their actions; they truly are a force to be feared. Malik began to enter the portal, replying, “That won’t be necessary.” The portal soon collapsed, devouring the dark warrior with it. The room fell silent briefly with Evanora and Maleficent left to discuss other important matters.

    “So this prophecy of yours…how sure are you of it?” Maleficent inquired with pending curiosity. Evanora walked toward the throne, and sat herself down on it in thought. The truth was that it was indeed a sensitive case. On one hand, she believed it hence why she was going out of her way of getting rid of Glinda. On the other hand, she knew better than to believe in silly stories such as this, especially as the man whom claims to be their savior is some washed up man. All in all, she was merely doing this as a precaution. It was better to be safe than sorry in the long run.

    “Honestly, my liege…I’m not too sure. There’s a top hat wearing man in the living quarters whom claims to be THE Wizard, but all it takes is just a look at him to know he is not…I hope. But at any rate, whether this wizard exists or not is not so much my main concern as is Glinda. She is a definitive threat to my rule over this land… She must be stopped.” She explained, looking to her teacher with a serious demeanor. The dark fairy nodded, slowly walking over to the window and taking her side; with her black cloak swaying softly.

    “And she will, my apprentice. All in its time, my dear…” She assured, pausing as she realized something. She turned to Evanora with a question ready. “I’m curious. Where is your sister?”

    Evanora let out a sigh in show of disapproval, placing her hands on her hips. “Asleep as well in her room. I think she might’ve fallen in love with that false oaf…” she replied, watching a grinning Maleficent staring out into the window.

    ----------

    The corridor of darkness opened up on the yellow brick road that lay through and connected the Quadling country with Emerald city. A long wooden fence extended itself on the side of the road back and forth, with a large prairie just on the other side. Malik emerged from within the dark void to lay eyes on a large flock of screeching winged creatures passing over head in the night sky. They were black as charcoal, practically invisible in the sky were it not for their ruckus as they flapped their bat like wings in what seemed like a migration to the Emerald city. He trailed the flock’s origins, eyes tracing it back to a town faintly visible a few miles off behind a giant hill. It looked like chaos was going on, with black smoke rising from it. Quickly he opened a void of darkness to hasten his travel. The void reopened at the town’s entrance where destruction immediately was an inevitable sight.

    The town was engulfed in hot flames in an aftermath of what had occurred, with white broken ceramics scattered all over the area. The fire burned on the wood of frames used for the houses inner frames. Winged Baboons were still on sight, while some were on verge of ascending up into the sky, with their animalistic cries and roars. Ceramic pieces varied as they laid about the town. Malik entered and continued over a small bridge into the town, keeping an eye out for anything unusual; although the town was already unusual to begin with. House sized teapots, kettles, cups, fountains, and even windmills were left in ruin, some shattered beyond repair. Malik narrowed his eyes, hiding his baffled expression. Just what kind of town was this? And who would live in such a peculiar area? He proceeded, being unable avoid stepping on broken shards of what used to be a part of houses, windows, and so forth as he walked. The sound of the creaking windmills went on every so often as he continued.

    Of all places, why would Evanora have her minions sent here?” he thought, going around what seemed like a ceramic wall on the floor that made up half of its nearby teapot house counterpart. In truth, Evanora had not sent her minions to search for Glinda, but rather had sent them here because the people who lived here were celebrating the arrival of the Wizard; word of his arrival had spread quickly. She did not want to give the Land of Oz hope. To her, this was her time to rule, and no one was going to get in the way of it.

    A sign post that was used to designate people to separate districts fell to the floor ablaze nearby. To him, it seemed a bit silly for Evanora to think Glinda to be hiding in a town so fragile. Suddenly he heard a loud creak nearby. He looked up to see a ruined windmill ablaze as well. Under the decomposition from the reddish orange flames, the structure finally gave way to its own destruction. The mill broke off, crashing hard against the ground first before tumbling over on top of the remains of a teakettle house. Shards flew up into the air as the frail structure collapsed under the mills weight, creating an unnerving sound into the evening.

    The evening went on, most of the winged creatures having flown away by now, with a small few still hover over the town. They were still in search of something that much was clear to Malik now. But what? Glinda perhaps? He pondered the idea in his head as he continued to scan his surroundings. The Good Witch of the South was a crafty and elusive individual. The chilling screech of a winged baboon was heard close by; it sounded like it was getting worked up over something. He picked up the pace and headed towards the source. His metal clad boots crunched the shards that littered the floor.

    “AAAAAHH!!” screamed a distressed male of in the distance. Malik hurried around a corner down a street just in time to see a small white clown like mannequin dressed in a red, green, and yellow suit trip over a piece of rubble just a yard away. A loud glass like sound reverberated from the mannequin as it hit the floor. It was clearly desperate, the fear in his voice. A baboon soon appeared just a few feet behind it, slowly making its way to it like a predator that new the chase was over. The mannequin slowly dragged itself with its hands, slowly attempting to create distance in vain desperation. He was tired, weak, and scared. It looked like it was crying.

    With a stomp to the mannequin’s right leg, the baboon shattered right through the small male’s leg. The poor doll howled in pain, next to being picked up by the baboon’s large hand. The mannequin struggled to break free, but to no avail. “NO NO NO!!! STOP!! NNGGHH…AAAAAAAAH-!!!” the small doll screamed in agony as it was slowly crushed, with cracks forming around its fragile form. The Baboon was cruel in the way it ended the mannequin. After it finished, it tossed the remains and flew off in search for more; not acknowledging Malik one bit. Having been coldly watching the entire time, he approached the mess left behind by the baboon. He was more fascinated than ever as he stood over the broken mannequin. “A ceramic…live doll?” he murmured while he crouched to pick up a piece of the dolls face. He held up the broken face and examined it. It appeared to have clown like paint. He let out a scoffing sigh, letting the piece drop from his hand. The spot was littered with fragments that had once made the doll alive and whole.

    “Quite odd isn’t it?” spoke a feminine voice from behind; referring to the broken ceramic doll. Unmoved by the sudden presence, he turned his head just enough to make out a figure through his peripherals. It was a black cloaked female with the cowl off. She was wearing a helmet; black glass covered her entire head, where it connected with the helmets silver jaw line which ran up to the back of her head. It seemed to fit perfectly as it blended well with the skin tight organic like armor that hid her neck. He couldn’t make out much besides her blue ribbed looking boots, as the rest of her armor was hidden underneath her cloak. But Malik knew all too well of the armor these Xtracted wore.

    The town continued to burn to the ground, the red hot flames expressing its heat into its surroundings while black smoke ascended into the evening. Tightening his hood with a small tug, he rose and turned to her. He towered over her somewhat, her head barely reaching his shoulder. “Is this all your doing?” he questioned, referring to the baboons attacking the town. The girl pointed at her surroundings, snickering behind her mask at his question.

    “It could’ve been, if it weren’t for these winged baboon’s Evanora has a thing for.” She said, folding her arms underneath her cloak whilst letting her shoulders slump. “I was a bit disappointed, but these baboons can be violently relentless once they get started.”

    Malik couldn’t tell due to her helmet, but it sounded like she was genuinely disappointed at a missed opportunity.

    “I’m Malik. I came here with Maleficent to see how things were doing with Evanora.” He said. The girl seemed sassy when he mentioned Maleficent.

    “Oh! Maleficent? How is she doing?” she asked with familiarity, sincerely wanting to know about her wellbeing; despite her facial expressions being hard to catch due to her mask. For a while silence reigned between them, with Malik staring down at her. He wanted to skip these formalities, and to get straight to the job at hand.

    “She’s doing fine. Let’s not worry about her, and focus on the matter at hand. Glinda.” He redirected their conversation. She got the message, yet refrained from not finishing the introductions.

    “…Very well…I’m Delothia…” she finally introduced. He sighed, once again letting his eyes to wonder around his surroundings. The town was a broken mess, with an undying fire. It left him baffled at the destruction that was left behind by these dark creatures. As if forgetting about what he just talked about, she took to answering his wondering eyes, “Can you imagine if we let these things loose?” She suddenly straightened her shoulders, her interest peaked. “Think of the chaos, the destruction, the fear! With their cold, heartless demeanor…think about it.” she pitched, adding emphasis with her hands. Malik raised an eyebrow in skepticism. He understood what she was getting at, but felt it to be more of a delusion of grandeur than anything else. Exhaling a sigh through his nostrils, he shook his head and started moving, purposely letting his arm brush her side as he moved past her in a small shove.

    “Uuh, watch it?” she sassed in momentary annoyance.

    “Come, we have a lot of ground to cover if we’re to find Glinda.” He stated, ignoring her remark. The dark warrior continued onward, feeling the crunch of crushing shards under his boot; for all he knew he might’ve been stepping on China doll remains. The female Xtracted followed suit, taking only a few minutes for the two to soon reach the edge of the ruined town. The girl turned to take one last look, which evidently led to her stopping, and calling out to Malik.

    “Hey look, Malik. A light show…” she noted, pointing to the night sky. Malik continued onward, assuming it was something not worth the looksee. Delothia looked back to him to see whether he had looked or not; only to find his back to her in his continued walk. She let her hand slump down in disappointment. Before setting off to follow him, she took one last look up at the evening sky. Fragments of pure light had started to litter the sky as they ascended up from the town and into the atmosphere to disappear like phantom memories.

    Chapter 19


    The still evening sky gave way to the sound of the nocturnal. The yellow brick road was a long stretch going back and forth. Delothia had spent much time in the Land of Oz; ever since Maleficent left her to assist Evanora, and so she had gained a vast amount of knowledge in regards to it. Evanora had taught her a lot in the small time she had spent with her. Apparently the yellow brick road stretched from the end of Quadling country to emerald city. Emerald city being the center of the Land, it connected the North, East, South, and West side of the land. Surrounding the Land of Oz was a large desert that was unpassable without means of help; the desert lacked any form of resource to maintain any form of life.

    China Country, as Delothia had informed him recently, was the town they had just visited. Its fiery ruin could still be seen from their current location; which was about a few miles out into the road. Malik had not bothered to look back ever since he set foot outside of the ruined town. He was focused, and the sooner they found Glinda, the sooner he and Maleficent would be off to their other arrangements. The road stretched on for a while, leading them to an end where it split. A waiting bench was laid out in front of a fence, where a vast cornfield lay ahead. A sign post directed to two locations. The left directed them to Emerald city, whereas the right directed them to the Dark Forest.

    Malik didn’t need to stop, immediately taking a right towards the dark forest. What lay ahead was more road to tread. A vast landscape decorated the scenery, with weathered mountains placed in random spots throughout the short grassed prairie. Delothia seemed to be talkative throughout the whole journey, not ever wavering. He didn’t know whether to think she was just naturally annoying or whether she was purposefully tugging at his patience. Either way, he could feel his patience thinning. All it would take is just a swift shot to her chest with his weapon and she’d be no more, a wasted potential.

    “So how long have you been with your Master, Malik?” Delothia inquired as they carried on into what seemed like a never ending road. Malik had considered leaving her behind, but he did not know the land too well. Thus, making the Xtracted a necessary travel companion. A few seconds passed before she pressed on. “Does he train you well?” she persisted. Again, Malik denied her an answer. They continued on for a while, a small silence taking control before she attempted another question. She decided to try another angle, perhaps pluck at his pride. “Let me guess, you’re really just a chump who doesn’t know anything and that’s why you’re no-“

    “How far are we ‘till we reach the dark forest?” Malik purposefully interrupted; gritting his teeth. He was not one to be so easily manipulated with petty taunts. “How irritating, this girl…!” he thought, turning his head slightly to glare past his hood towards her. His yellow eyes seemed an amberish color in the night light, or at least that’s what Delothia thought. Her shoulders slouched, assuming the fact that she had no effect on his patience whatsoever; little realizing that she was just moments away from getting a nice reaction from him. Although she was purposefully bugging him, her questions did hold meaning to them. She had barely been trained by Maleficent before she was dispatched here to stay with Evanora. And seeing as Evanora was Maleficent’s student, Delothia felt that her personal training was lacking somewhat. She felt there could be more to be taught if just given the moment of day.

    “Just a little bit more. As you can see off in the distance there…” she pointed, a barely visible blackness off in the distance. He turned, nodding his head. Taking the initiative, the helmeted warrior sped up to catch up to him as she was falling behind in his long strides. “Why do you always keep your hood up?” she queried in earnest curiosity as she looked up at him.

    “Do you always ask people so many questions?” he began, getting straight to the main point, “What’s it to you?”

    “Was just curious…jeez…” she sassed back, falling behind again.

    Malik pressed on, contemplating a fact. It had occurred to him that along with her, every Xtracted he had seen always dawned the same black glassed helmet as well as the same skin tight organic suit with that weird torn cloth that was belted to their waist. Why they all dawned the same attire, perhaps he’d never know. One thing was for certain, the uniform was being adopted. Their Master thought of it, once again a testament to his ingenuity. He would hope to become like him one day, perhaps more.

    The dark forest was becoming larger as they neared. Malik picked up the pace with Delothia speeding up to stay close. His armored boots rhythmically reverberated with the sound of metal as he steadily increased his pace. Whether Glinda was in the Dark forest or not, he did not know. The sooner they were able to search area, the sooner they’d be able to move on.

    “You don’t seriously think Glinda would be here of all places, do you?” Delothia second guessed. Malik let out a quick sigh. “We won’t know until we search…” he replied. The Xtracted had to jog for a moment to catch up. “Well I can assure you she won’t. No one ever goes in, not with all those fowl creatures living in there…” she commented. This little bit of information caught his attention as they continued.

    “What should I be made aware of?” he inquired, keeping his eyes focused on the steadily growing forest as they walked. Delothia took her time to answer, wanting to see how eager he was to know. He said nothing for the while. With a surrendering sigh, she replied, “Supposedly the forest has these nasty creatures that love to take a bite out of anything that enters. They can blend in with their surroundings as well…”

    The edge of the forest was now upon them. Upon entering, they were greeted by two pessimistic crows perched on low lying branches. The two stopped before entering.

    “You’ll all die once you enter the forest!” a crow said, flapping its wings. The second crow laughed, instigating its partner to laugh along with it. Malik looked up at the two avian critters, shooting a stale stare at them. The crows seemed unaffected, continuing their laughter. Taking notice of the unfazed crows, Delothia scoffed at Malik’s failed attempt at intimidation. The two proceeded past the crows and into the dark forest. It was quite unusual walking down the road whilst surrounded by a forest of peculiar looking trees and long thorn branches that stretched throughout. Every now and then Malik would sense something, but when he would go to look he’d find nothing. It felt like they were being watched.

    Delothia seemed to be calm, and enjoying the stroll through the forest. For a while the two traveled down the road with no sight of Glinda, although the Yellow eyes glowed through the darkness, watching their every move. Malik had soon enough taken notice of the probing eyes, from time to time locking gazes with them. He had inquired about them to Delothia. “Remember the denizens I told you about that like to bite? Well, those eyes belong to those said Denizens.” She explained, stepping over a low lying branch. Up ahead she noticed a cemetery, alerting him to it.

    “Perhaps she is there.” Malik indicated, knowing little of the yellow eyes closing in on them. Delothia scoffed through a sarcastic remark.

    “Pfff…right…”

    Steadily, the amount of eyes watching them amounted as they drew nearer and near to the cemetery. The Xtracted took notice. “Hey Malik?” Delothia spoke.

    “What?”

    “Turn around slowly…” she commanded softly as if to not alert. At first the man considered ignoring her, but quickly turned after careful consideration; defiantly ignoring her words. Immediately upon turning around he saw the gaping jaws of some weird thin necked creature attempt a bite at him. With instant reaction, he clamped his armored hand around the creatures neck; calling upon the muscles in his arm to pull away at the chomp happy creature that dared gnaw at his face. Luckily, he had a tight grip at the base of the neck where it connected to its head. It flailed furiously with its vine like body, eventually managing to tire Malik’s grip and break free. All at once the eyes emerged from the darkness, revealing to be vine like creatures with bulbous yellow eyes and sharp thick beaks with thorns protruding from their bodies. There were at least a twenty in all that bared their vicious beaks at them.

    Could there be more lurking in the shadows…?” Malik thought, getting close to Delothia.

    “I told you they bite...” Delothia told Malik so, the two now back to back in their battle ready stances. Their weapons immediately manifested in a dark negatively charged smog, both being similar in template and structure, but not in appearance. The two weapons had key chains dangling from the pommel. The only real similarity the two had would be the eye of darkness; a creepy blue cat like eye that were embedded on their blades. Malik extended his weapon at shoulders height with his armor-less arm, as if pointing to the yellow eyed creatures that now surrounded them. He kept his eyes on them. “Since you have so much knowledge of Oz, what else can you tell me of these creatures? Any weakness?”

    The Xtracted held her blade facing out towards her opponents, reversed grip using her right hand against the opposite hip, left hand positioned just behind the pommel where the keychain dangled; her left foot was positioned back just a bit whilst her right to the front, shoulder width apart.

    “Fire?” she guessed.

    Malik gave the creatures a stale look, gauging their patience. Were they afraid, or just waiting patiently, bidding their time? Slowly, he slid his right foot a bit forward; hoping to instigate a jittery reaction out of them. He had hoped right. The creatures attempted a pre-emptive strike, lunging their gaping jaws at Malik and Delothia. Without a second to waste, the two defended into action. Movement was now everywhere, from Delothia and Malik dancing through the flurry of attacking vines to blades deflect and hacking away at the creatures. They went at it for minutes, both sides never giving way. They cast fire at the creatures, burning a few of them to ashes. The number of vines began to reduce. The creatures began to back away, giving the two warriors angry stares.

    The remaining thirteen hissed as they backed off while the defeated gave a last roar before succumbing to their end. The dark warriors regrouped, again back to back in their stances. Malik kept his breathing steady, calm and under control. Whatever these creatures were, it seemed they were easily disposed of if given the time and patience. Having a moment to spare, Malik noted his sidekick. Unlike Malik, Delothia on the other hand was somewhat lacking in discipline. She wasn’t exhausted, but her breathing was inconsistent and harsh as she breathed through her mouth instead of nostrils. On top of that, her stance was very peculiar. Such a stance never existed, nor did he ever think it was practical. He would have to confront her about it later as he looked at the creatures. Yellow eyes now focused on the opposing yellow eyes. The creatures began to rise, chomping away at the air. They were beginning to make unsettling noise. What could be going on?

    “I would ask you if you knew anything of this, but after that last answer…”

    “Oh cut me some slack!” she spat back out with a bit irritation, her attention unwavering. The forest began to rumble from the commotion. Branches began to sway about, turning and creaking as if awaking from a long nap. Suddenly, the trees came to life with terrifying faces emerging from the side of the trees. More eyes started to emerge from the darkness along with deep ghastly moans and groans. The earth beneath them shook as the trees nearby took up life from the call and were now locked on to them. They advanced in their slow, yet earth rumbling pace.

    The yellow eyed vines took position around them, playing the same waiting game as before. Malik held his stance, but this time loosened his grip on the blade slightly. With a slid of the foot, he attempted to instigate their reaction once more. They just looked at them, unflinchingly. A disappointed look arose on his face. There had to be a way to draw them in. He began to diverge from Delothia, taking small steps forward. The trees were closing in, the perimeter around the two becoming smaller and smaller.

    A firaga spell won’t work from a large distance…they’ll just easily avoid…and those trees are too large for the spell to really affect them…” he thought, scrolling through his options.

    “Screw it! I’m going in!” shouted an impatient Delothia. With amazing speed, she jumped far towards the vines in her way. The creatures in her sights had no time to react, quickly being eliminated with a strong swing of her blade. The heads of two fell to the ground floor. “Hah! So much for waiting!” she roared victoriously in mid jump, unfocused and unmindful of her surroundings.

    “Delothia, look out!” Malik exclaimed, his eyes set on a large tree just ahead of the Xtracted.

    The tree was large indeed as it towered over most of the other incoming bulks. Raising a large bark, the tree swung with a vicious intensity. Delothia only had enough time to look at the impacting bark that hit her straight against her entire torso. There was nothing she could do but to take the full force. Her cloak fluttered violently as she sky rocketed back to her starting spot, limp body almost smashing onto the brick road were it not for a prepared Malik; he had slain four creatures on his way to catch her. Delothia was caught, and unconscious while Malik fended off the remaining eight vines. Delothia’s weapon danced in the air until it plunged its tipped blade into the ground, soon dissipating in darkness. The trees were now upon him with thick barks ready to smash into their intended opposition.

    Coming to the conclusion that he wouldn’t be able to fend them off with Delothia in his arm, he settled her closest to the center of the waning perimeter. He gazed at her for moment, taking in the sight of a downed Xtracted with disappointment.

    “Idiot…” he muttered before looking back up at the remaining creatures. Vicious indeed, this world was. Underneath all the goodness and beauty was a well hidden darkness. This was something he had begun to acknowledge through the years. “The world will always be a vicious place…no matter how well you can mask the monsters in it…”

    The yellow eyed creatures swayed, while holding their positions with baring sharp beaks. It was just him and the unmasked denizens of the forest now. A smirk arose on his face.

    “For unmasking yourselves from the shadows of this forest… ” he began, switching the weapon to his armored hand, then gently placing a fingertip to his left shoulder pauldron where a badge padded in thick metal was. Applying pressure to the badge, in an instant the switch reacted by enveloping the remaining parts of his unarmored body in a dark smog, soon to dissipate as fast as it came. He was left with near black dark purple armor now covering his entire body. His head was helmeted by a similar helm matching Delothia’s; minus the dark glass. Regardless of poor source of light within the dark forest, his armor was stainless metal, and shimmered spotless.

    The vined creatures lunged themselves all at Malik, instinct now driving them to attack. A smug formed his lips. With swift controlled precision he reversed his grip on the blade and drew it with his right, performing a Zantetsuken; where one draws their blade from a sheathed position and with swift deadly precision slices clean through their intended target. The remaining seven yellow eyed vines fell to motionless pieces behind him, while the armored man still holding his arm out in an after sword draw position. It was a one hit instant kill for the creatures. Yes, there was a sense of clarity now. He could see it now, the slow moving trees. The sound of swaying branches and creaking roots made their way closer now.

    Calmly, he repositioned himself to his battle ready stance with blade pointed straight ahead. He wasn’t afraid, nor did he have any reason to be. They soon were upon him, and all at once the monstrous trees swung their enormous barks with the intention of removing this man from the face of the earth.

    Chapter 20

    The giant tree barks came down on Malik’s position hard, causing the earth beneath them to quake for a moment as well as dirt to shoot up into the air. It was now silent, and hard to see while the specs of dirt clouded the area. The trees began to remove their barks from the spot, bit by bit the waning dirt fog revealing the shattered pieces of brick that lay before them. There was no sign of them having made direct contact. The trees grotesque faces looked flustered at the sight of there being no body. They looked at one another as if hoping the other would have the answer.

    Suddenly, a flaming disk came spinning out of nowhere slicing through the trunk of the same tree that had knocked Delothia unconscious. The tree came toppling down, its face smashing against the brick road, while its trunk and roots now rested there, useless with charred scars. The bottom of the fallen tree had been burnt with smoke arising. The trees were horrified as they saw their fallen comrade struggle to regain its standing position. With no roots to hold it up, it was done for. The disk flamed as it twirled back to where it came from. It returned to its owner, Malik, whom caught it with a virtuoso hand by the handle behind shrubbery a few yards within the dark forest. The flames dispersed to reveal it being his weapon from the start. An unconscious Delothia rested over his shoulders.

    The trees began to take slow heavy strides back, slow being their top speed. There they went, retreating in fear for their lives! This whole battle was a joke. To even think they believed they had a chance. The armored Malik began to walk, brushing past shrubbery as he made his way back to the brick road, to the fallen tree which began to wither away. It could no longer do anything in its current state. The man stood over the dying tree, cocking his blade onto his free shoulder, while keychain swayed as it followed the motions. He looked over to the retreating trees, contemplating whether to pursue and show no mercy. Then he remembered Delothia laying atop his shoulders. Crows cawed at the scenery displayed before them. Looking up at them for a moment, he wondered if those were the same crows that had greeted them into the forest. Their words suddenly came back to him, a self-satisfied smirk arising on his face. The tree shrunk in size now that it had withered away.

    “Looks like death isn’t beyond me.” He muttered.

    The crows flew off from their perch as Malik delivered the fiery finisher to the trees remains.

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

    Day broke as the sun dawned in the horizon. The window gave light to the emerald colored throne room of the royal castle in Emerald City. Its denizens began to stir from the rising sun. Evanora stood by the seat of the throne, satisfied with something. The room was quiet, with no one but her there. The waking sun beamed from the window, while at the same time casting new forms of shadows throughout the room. An oval shaped void soon sprout from the balcony behind the throne seat, revealing an armor-less Malik carrying Delothia with both arms. Evanora looked up to them with shock, immediately approaching the stairs in order to meet Malik half way up the stairs just a few feet away from the throne seat.

    “What happened? Did you find Glinda?” she queried as Malik walked passed her; to gently lay the Xtracted upright with her back to the throne seat.

    “No.” was all he said, turning to Evanora.

    She did not seem disappointed. Shrugging, she walked passed him while taking a deep breath. “Oh well.” She sighed as she stopped just behind him, soon turning back to him. “I guess we’ll just have to hope that oaf of a man can finish THAT job…” she said, referring to the guest who had slept over. Malik raised an eyebrow underneath the shadow of his hood. He was interested in hearing more.

    “You mean the same oaf who claims to be the Wizard foretold in your prophecy?” he queried, taking notice of Maleficent’s absence. “Probably going on ahead to visit the others…” he thought, letting a small breath escape him.

    She nodded.

    “Why would he agree into disposing of her?” he asked, now very intrigued by the outcome of it all. Evanora pursed her lips in a smug. She could be very manipulative when she wanted too; something probably learned from Maleficent.

    “Weeell… It turns out an ignorant oaf such as him can be easily swayed if given the right motivation…” she explained, looking at him straight in the eyes while approaching him. “It’s perfect. He has no idea who I really am, and by sending him to face Glinda, we can ensure that either way one of them will be done with.”

    Malik gave her a stale stare, although he was having a tough time not looking shocked. She was indeed Maleficent’s pupil. Something so cunning, and manipulative of that could only rival that of Maleficent herself. He was impressed, so much so that he almost forgot about Delothia’s dilemma.

    “Well played…although…I thought you said you didn’t believe he was the wizard?” he questioned.

    “I still don’t.” she replied while making her way past Malik and towards the back of the room; not giving Delothia a second glance. Behind the doors to the back was a small room with a small chamber just to the right, where a large white crystal ball a top a pedestal about 4 feet tall resided. The chamber itself was small, with curtains tied to the corners of the chamber’s entrance. Evanora made her way to the Crystal ball, where upon entering the chamber she immediately placed her hands on it. Curious enough, Malik followed her through the doors; forgetting about Delothia too. The room was well decorated, with dark azure walls and gold frames lining throughout walls. Small Chandeliers were laid out throughout the ceiling, lighting up the room; since there were no windows in this room. It was nothing special, but the room had that rich feel of royalty. He walked in, watching Evanora focus on the magic ball.

    “What are you doing?” he inquired, placing both his hands underneath his pits. This was an unusual event, one that he wanted to know more of. Evanora continued to focus, staring deeply into it. The whiteness began to part like clouds, while an image slowly arose from the center. It got bigger and bigger before it was now fully focused in on Oz and his traveling Companion.

    “Is that Oz?” he asked.

    Evanora quickly looked up at him, nodding with a smile before refocusing on the image.

    “Who’s the monkey?”

    “That would be Finley. He was with him when they had arrived yesterday.” She explained, her eyes so concentrated on the ball. It was contagious, for now Malik was gazing into its images too. Oz and Finley were walking down the yellow brick road. The monkey was carrying a large bag with a hotel waiter’s outfit. It seemed the two were having a long discussion as they strolled through the road, constantly passing some form of vegetation. The wizard wore a black tailcoat suit, with a top hat and black dress shoes. The man’s attire was not strange to Malik, but it seemed impractical for a journey such as his. Each to his own he supposed.

    “How are you able to watch them from here?” Malik asked in subtle amazement. Considering the mysteries surrounding this world they lived in, anything was possible he supposed. Evanora focused on her ball, vaguely replying, “Maleficent taught me. Just a matter of using a medium to help.”

    He stood there a while, letting the view sink in. Soon boredom sank its teeth into him. Examining the image, he took in the scenerey before deciding to leave Evanora to her business. “I wonder if Maleficent would be willing to teach me that trick…” he thought. With one final look at a distracted Evanora, he made his leave. Before reaching the outer doors that led to the throne room, he commented Evanora on her poor care of the Xtracted; by care he meant the way she was handling the Xtracted’s training. “If you want a better helping hand when we’re not around, you should consider better training the Xtracted left in your care…She can prove to be a lot more useful that way…”

    She looked up from her ball, surprised he had left. “Where are you going?” she asked, taking no notice of his comment.

    Malik shook his head in frustrated incredulity. Was she deliberately ignoring his advice or does she really think she can handle things on her own? Giving up on the situation, he blew her off.

    “There’s someplace I have to be…bye.” He simply said, deciding to leave things at that.

    A dark portal arose in front of him as he left the room, letting the dark void devour him into the dark corridors.

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

    The morning sun had now risen from the depths of the horizon, casting its warm glow over the Garden. The town was already bustling with life as the early risers got straight to work in setting up their shops throughout the steel-blue brick streets. There were a few early shoppers taking advantage of the slow morning, while the rest continued to awake to the sound of birds chirping. Soldiers moved out and about, as the well-rested soldiers took the morning shift to give the other tired soldiers a chance to retreat to their sleeping quarters just beyond the plaza. The plaza was empty, with the exception of three or four early risers whom were preparing their shops like any other would.

    Judith’s residence was quiet, filled with the silence of still sleeping individuals. D’daear had made Judith’s couch into his bed while he had stayed over the house during the week. He lay there in his grey sweat pants and white tang top, right forearm rested over his forehead with eyes closed in a relaxing sleep. Boots, used clothing, and bags were scattered about the area near the couch along with an unset alarm clock settled on a couch side mini desk. His right foot twitched randomly. The boy was sound asleep, in a familiar dreamscape.

    He was dreaming of that white room which had images on the walls like memories replaying themselves again. The room had expanded a bit more now, with new images playing on the new walls. Only a few of those images were familiar to him. Throughout the whole night he had been examining each image, moving from one to another in deep examination. Bewildered by them, he kept closest to the ones showing images of a woman. The resolution on these images were very fuzzy, but he could tell who she was. Every time the woman appeared, she was sometimes wearing that gardening outfit that he remembered. D’daear stood by the wall, his hand placed against it as if somehow by being close he would feel her.

    A sigh escaped his mouth in his troubled state. “Mom…”

    Turning around after gazing at the images, he leaned back against the wall, letting his back slide down towards the floor. A picture could only do so much. Distressed, a tired D’daear let his body go limp as he lay there staring at the white tile less floor. The silent room remained unsettled as he let himself drift to wake. The room began to come undone. The walls, floor, and columns began to drift away into the blackness while he let his body float in the dark of his mind. Slowly, he cascaded through the blackness where eventually he awoke. His eyes slowly opened, fluttering to the morning tweets of birds. The ceiling was white, a contrast to the green walls. The room was just as silent as his dream with the remnants of memories. A sigh escaped him. If only he could see her face to face just one more time.

    “Hey, get up!!” shouted an abrupt Gwynt as she swiftly peered over his tired face. The sudden intrusion of his personal space caused him to sit straight up. He was surprised, not having had expected her at all.

    “What gives!?” he exclaimed in irritation. There went his calm morning. Gwynt was looking rather annoyed herself; and dressed in her usual outfit; her trench-coat held in one hand. Throughout the week she had been sleeping in the guest bedroom up on the second floor. When Judith had told them about it being the only spare bed, they began to quarrel over who got to sleep on it. Seeing as the two weren’t willing to reach a compromise on who slept on the bed, they had decided it with a flip of the coin. If it wasn’t for Judith’s ear pulling intervention, the nice cozy bed would have been all his; unfortunately he had to be a gentleman after all.

    “You knucklehead! We were supposed to have been out of here before dawn! Now we have to waste the whole day getting back to Baron!! It was YOUR job to make sure we got up on time!!” she explained, tossing the boys bag into his face. This was not a good start for his morning; what with the abrupt wake up, shouting, and Gwynt’s annoying voice echoing in his ear. He let out a sigh, feeling silly for having forgotten about the end of their vacation. Without wasting time, he quickly got up to gather his things; making sure to be wary of the documents Kain had handed him.

    “…Sorry…! I guess my clock didn’t set…” he excused, picking up his belongings with haste movement. The room was filled with noise D’daear got ready to leave. Gwynt was already by the door, tapping her foot heavily on the wooden floor. The stairs stirred with movement as Judith came down to send them off, her eyes still awkward from waking up. Deward was still sound asleep in his bed, so she was saying good bye on his behalf. D’daear had dawned his green tang top, brown pants, and boots; basically what he was wearing when had arrived to the garden in the first place. He slumped his bag over his shoulders and headed towards the door. Judith gave both of them a hug, and wished them good tidings on their trip back.

    “Please take care of yourselves. Come back anytime, kids. There’s always a room and sofa waiting for you guys. ” she genuinely said. She gave D’daear one last hug, this time tighter. “Even when your world gets turned upside down, never lose hope.” She whispered in his ear. It caught D’daear off guard with an eyebrow raised. His instinct wanted to inquire about that last bit of randomness, but he was pulled away by a hasty Gwynt.

    Down the steps the two went, and out the fence of the houses entrance they continued before hearing a young voice call out to them from above. The two turned to look up at the house’s window. Deward waved at them.

    “Hey! Leaving without saying good bye?” he teased with half asleep eyes.

    The duo grinned, giving their young friend a wave goodbye.

    “Put in a good word for me, D’daear!” Deward shouted, referring to a talk they had been through during the course of the week. He seemed more open now, with youthful confidence.

    D’daear lifted his left thumb into the air to let him know he would come through for him. Rushing through the streets, the two speedily made their way through the town, avoiding bumping into people. They had no real modes of transportation, but they were hoping to catch the remainder of the early morning wagons who would hopefully be transporting some goods to Baron or a town nearby. The entrance to the Garden was surprisingly still bustling with life. Wagons of all shapes and sizes came in and out trafficking their legal goods. It seemed lady luck was on their side today. The two approached and began to converse with the drivers that were held up in the traffic. One by one they approached, both having split up in order to better cover ground.

    Not surprisingly, D’daear managed to find them a wagon that just so happened to have been heading for Baron. The two settled in the back of the opened wagon, thanking the driver and introducing themselves; it was an aged man with spots of white hair all over the black. His wife sat at his side, her long brown hair tied in a bun. They had the appearance of farmers. The wagon may have lacked a cover, but it was better than nothing. After checking out with the soldier’s stationed at the entrance they were off. D’daear gave Gwynt a smirk.

    “Looks like I made up for this morning, huh?”

    “We’d be further out by now, closer to Baron if it wasn’t for you.” She pouted, raising an eyebrow at him. D’daear rolled his eyes at her; not really meaning much by it, and turned his attention to the driver and his wife.

    “Thank you once again! We greatly appreciate you guys helping us out.” He thanked, attempting to start small talk as to not keep things in silent awkwardness. The man looked back briefly, nodding.

    “Don’t mention it, kid. It’s the least we can do for soldiers like you two. We know it’s been tough out there, what with those rebellious troublemakers off trying to start war.” He said with his deep gruff voice, leaving a small murmured comment, “And to think the army recruit them as young as you...”

    D’daear and Gwynt looked at each other, not knowing whether they were supposed to have heard that.

    “You know our son was in the army?” he asked rhetorically.

    “No…” D’daear replied back, not knowing what else to say. He had a feeling he knew why the man was using past tense. The driver nodded with a “Mhm.” The wagon shook a little as it strolled over a few small rocks.

    “Yes sir. He was a fine soldier. Always put others before himself. He’s no longer with us anymore, though, but we hope his contribution to Baron will help shape the future somehow…no matter how small.”

    “I’m sorry for your loss…” Gwynt managed, watching the mother from behind. She was somewhat motionless, but Gwynt understood why. The caravan continued to go through the motions again. D’daear couldn’t help but feel indignant about all the trouble these rebels had caused…all the lives they’ve taken. The report Kain had given him had briefed him in on the current situation affecting the Kingdoms nearby. He hadn’t really given it much thought up until now, but he realized that there were families who had been affected by the rebels.

    “It’s alright. We all knew what to expect when in the line of duty…” the woman finally spoke, then leaving it at that. Her husband nodded. “So how are you two holding up? Why are soldiers of Baron in The Garden?” he asked.

    “We just finished our vacation actually. The moment we step back on Baron Soil, we’ll be back on duty. “D’daear replied.

    “They give soldiers vacation these days?” he inquired, turning to his wife with baffled amazement. His wife chuckled a little, while placing a soft hand over her mouth.

    D’daear rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment, turning to Gwynt. She too was giggling. It’s true that soldiers seldom get time off, but in THEIR case it was because of their great involvement in Pyrdain. Gwynt didn’t know the true reason as to why they were on vacation, all she knew was just that: They ‘deserved’ time off for their amazing efforts in Pyrdain, and that to rest up for the following assignment given to them; to which she knew little information of.

    D’daear gave a nervous laughter. “Well yeah…we uh…sort of had it coming. Besides it gave me time to look into matters in the Garden. I have friends of my family back there. It gave us time to catch up.” He said, throwing out details that somewhat didn’t pertain to the other. The man rubbed his chin in thought.

    “Hhmm…well if you say so. You two must be extraordinary soldiers to be given vacation, huh?”

    D’daear looked a little thoughtful. Extraordinary soldiers? Maybe Gwynt with her pistols, but him? “Nnn…well I guess you can say that… We just…work very hard. I’ve been with the army since I was very young, and Gwynt over here has amazing talent…” He explained. The man gave a suddenly disinterested nod.

    ”Well, keep up the good work you two. At any rate, it’ll be a while till we reach Baron, probably sundown. So get your Barings in, and get cozy.” He shouted back to them. The wheels of caravans began to take control of the sound that surrounded them. Gwynt laid back against the small wall of the wagon, and placed her trench-coat over her head in means of hiding from the now fully risen sun. Bored, D’daear turned his head to the fields surrounding them. It was the same luscious green prairies they had passed when they were enroute to visit the Garden, with Pine crested trees scattered about. The new mission was now on D’daear’s mind.

    He knew what they had to do once they reached Oz. Looking at this simple horizon, he couldn’t help but suddenly get a stir of excitement as he dawned an enthusiastic smile. A new adventure was awaiting them.

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

    The small caravan finally made it to a town by dusk. It was a normal civilized town, belonging to the land of Baron. It was a small town without giant walls to border it. It had more stores than living quarters. Wagons came in and out of the town still, despite the night now upon them. The buildings looked just like the ones in the garden. Similar in structure, and presence. The wagon came to a halt next to an inn at the edge of town. D’daear could now distinctively make out the castle only a few miles away from their location. He was wondering whether the two of them could make the rest of the trip. The wagon unsettled as the driver got off in order to tie the reigns to a pole designated for horses.

    “Well, this is as far as we’ll be going. If you think you can make it to the castle in one piece, then fare well. Otherwise, I encourage you to sleep INN, if you know what I mean. HAHAHA!” he laughed, minding his business in tying the knot on the wagons reigns; while Gwynt and the woman were chatting. D’daear gave a light hearted chuckle. The town was still lively with folk walking around, regardless of whether the sun had faded or not. Perhaps he could find a ride with someone else to take him the rest of the way. With a small sigh, he declined the man’s offer. There was just no time for them to waste; they had wasted enough time as it stood.

    “Well, I guess this is where we part ways then.” He said, walking on over to D’daear as the boy lowered himself from the wagon. Being a gentlemen and all, D’daear helped Gwynt lower herself before interacting with the driver. “You take care of yourself now, alright young man?” he said, extending his hand at him. The young soldier smiled, shaking the man’s hand with a firm grip. “You too, sir. Once again, we appreciate your kindness. “

    The man waved off the appreciation with sincere modesty, his wife taking his side now. “Don’t mention it. We’d gladly aid a Baron soldier in any way we can.”

    Before the two got started on heading out, D’daear looked at the man and his wife. There was something that had been bothering him ever since the man mentioned his son. He felt he had to say it. “I just want to let you know that…despite what may be happening out there…we all make a difference. Big or small, what we do does help shape the outcome of this world. Your son…he didn’t die in vain.” He reassured, looking straight into their eyes. There was a rising fire within him that burned bright. The couple could see it in his eyes.

    With that, the two were off to find themselves a ride home. “THEY did not die in vain…” thought D’daear calmly, remembering everyone involved with the Pyrdain incident. It felt like it was so long ago now. Gordon, his comrades, and everyone involved in that militia. No, everyone who was affected by these troublemaking rebels, he would make sure to vindicate them. Within a few minutes they had managed to find a new ride which coincidentally happened to have been a supplier for the baron army. The two sat within the back of the wagon, unfortunately feeling cramped within the mess of crates. The wagon was large, to the point that it took four horses as opposed to just one to hull the vehicle. There was barely any space, to the point where Gwynt had to sit atop a crate. D’daear stood throughout the whole ride, finding his balance with his hand firmly planted on a wobbling pile of crates. He had be a gentleman after all, and give the lady her sweet comfort.

    The wagon soon made it to the castle by the hour, and were greeted by the gatekeeper. They went through the usual customs of entry before being escorted to the inner castle by a guard. The entrance was simple yet refined, with a chandelier decorating the dome ceilings center; almost like a lobby, The walls were made of marble, with black and grey tainted patterns all about. It was a simple room, with nothing to really keep the eye going except to give the appearance of wealth. By the time they arrived, Cecil had just arrived as well, thanking one of the soldiers for alerting him of their arrival. There he stood, in his fearsome dark colored armor with helm in place. D’daear was happy to see Cecil.

    “Glad you two made it within the day. I was beginning to wonder whether you’d be arriving tomorrow… Please, follow me.” He said, showing them the way to their individual chambers. “In the rooms you’ll find your uniforms. Please dawn the attire quickly, and meet me back at the entrance.” He said, pointing them to their rooms, and leaving them to their business. They moved into their designated chambers. D’daear closed the door behind him, taking a look at the mannequin that dawned the uniform. It was rather nice, and simple. It was a simple blue military jacket that had padded shoulders, with a dark blue lining in the middle where the zipper visibly stood out, with blue cargo pants, and black knee high boots with a white border at the tip where it met his knees. Aside from that, a blue cloth was worn to the right hip, where it extended up to his right knee. It had the baron insignia on it.

    “Geez…a lot of blue…but I suppose we have to represent…” he commented. Simple, yet somewhat stylish, and it did not even hinder his mobility; or at least he thought. Piece by piece he began to strip the mannequin of its attire, and dawned it himself. To his surprise, the outfit was a lot sturdier and heavier than it looked. Thankfully, he could manage with it. He gave a deep sigh, zipping his jacket in front of the mirror. He didn’t look half bad, but he was still disappointed that it wasn’t Dark Knight Armor. The door to his room reverberated with a knock. “Come in!” D’daear said, taking one last glimpse at himself. “My shoulders look big with this on…NIIICE.” His thought trailed for the moment, a smirk unraveling with a nod of approval. The door opened to reveal Gwynt in her uniform. It was the exact suit, except instead of a jacket and cloth, she had a tailcoat. She eyed his cloth.

    Uniform D\'daear(Flatten) copy.png

    “How come you get to represent Baron, and I don’t?” She noted, pointing at D’daear’s sigil. D’daear raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you have the emblem too?” he asked, walking to look at her back. Nothing.

    “Nope. I’m not entirely sure either. ” She said, letting out a small sigh. “Oh well. Ready?”

    D’daear nodded, motioning for them to get a move on. “Let’s get moving.”

    The two made haste, rushing down a small hall that led to the lobby through a corner. They soon arrived back to the simple castle lobby that was their entrance. Cecil stood with Kain, in the middle of an escalating conversation. Kain was holding a large sheathed blade in his hand. He was the first to notice their footsteps, motioning to them Cecil. Their conversation immediately fell silent. D’daear was happy to see Kain.

    “We’ll talk about it after…” Cecil uttered to Kain, turning his full attention to D’daear.

    “Kain.” D’daear acknowledged. The purple dragoon looked at him, and nodded in acknowledgement. “Nice to see you, D’daear. All ready?” he asked, knowing full well their answers. The two nodded. Cecil motioned for them to follow, with Kain following just behind. The castle walls were as plain as ever, every once in a while passing by a self-portrait of the King and lit lamps on the walls.

    “So D’daear, how did you enjoy your vacation?” Kain inquired as they turned a corner. Cecil and Gwynt had taken the lead, a few steps ahead of them. D’daear looked back at Kain, giving him a cheeky grin. “It was…rather relaxing.” He said, hinting a bit to sarcasm. “How about you? How’s everything been? It’s been years since we actually talked like this. ”

    Kain tussled with his thought, wondering whether to tell D’daear. “Heh, well… it’s been the same as ever…” he managed to say, his head titling slightly away from D’daear to hide his saddened face. Ever since their jobs took them to stronger heights, the rivalry between Cecil and Kain had escalated, especially when Rosa was involved. Although Cecil nor Rosa knew of it, Kain harbored romantic feelings towards the blonde white mage the two men cared for. It was why Kain was always so keen on besting Cecil, in hopes that one day Rosa would see him differently. It was this that spurred such rivalry towards Cecil, regardless of their friendship.

    “Oh…I SEE… still butting heads with Cecil, huh?”

    D’daear chuckled, turning back to what was ahead of the hallway. “You know I’m not one to take sides here…sooo…good luck to the both of you. Just don’t let this get in the way of your friendship.” He indicated, taking another turn. Were it not for the lamps placed about these hallways, they would be having a hard time finding their way through them.

    “Oh, I almost forgot. I have something for you, D’daear…here.” Kain said, stopping with D’daear for a moment in order to hand him the wide sheathed sword. The sheath looked plain leather. “It’s exactly to the specifications you made back then.”

    D’daear took the sword, gripping with both hands, one on the side sheath while the other on the handle. He unsheathed the beginning of the blade for quick inspection. The sword felt rather light for its length and width. The whole sword was 12 inches in width, and 40 inches in length, the blade was double edged with the bottom part of the blade; the strong up to the rain-guard, being blunt edged. The handle itself was 9 and half inches long, with a circumference of 4inches for a handle. Yes the blade was indeed absurd, but that’s the way D’daear was used to. A thick blade with thin sharp edges, that when cutting would leave a mortal wound once the slash reached the thick fuller and ridge of the sword. Although the sword had the appearance of a generic weapon, and lacked style and flashy design, it was definitely a powerful weapon in HIS hands. The weight and everything that made this weapon what it was, was solely for D’daear’s unique style. He was left in joyful disbelief, to the point where words could not escape him. “I…I can’t- I don’t… Thank-“

    Kain pat his shoulders as he passed by him with a witty remark. “Don’t go losing THIS one. A guy can only pull so many strings before even his rank means nothing. Your sword isn’t easy to make, you know.” D’daear was left baffled, and embarrassed. He had no idea the trouble making his sword caused. “R-right. Thanks!” he thanked, catching up to the group while strapping the sheath to his lower back. There was now a book shelf for a dead end, and two doors on both sides of the walls next to it. Where were they going?

    D’daear wanted to inquire about it, but the fact that Cecil continued to head towards the bookshelf gave him no point in asking. The dark knight stopped in front of the bookshelf, skimming through the rows of books before stopping mid-section. Placing his armored index on the rim of the book, he gently pulled at the reading material. The sound of gear turning reverberated through the walls before the shelf itself was pushed back a bit, and then retracted into the wall, revealing a long brick wall hallway with flight of stairs that lead down to in a spiral to who knows where. Cecil walked on in, with the rest following in. Now was the time to inquire about it.

    “Where are we going?” D’daear asked, his voice echoing throughout the cave like hallway.

    “To your mode of transportation…” spoke a focused Cecil, as he looked down ahead the stairs. This was a most surprising turn of events. There was never any mention of them having transportation in the reports handed to D’daear. Gwynt raised an eyebrow in curiosity. “Transportation? You mean like a wagon, right?” she asked, taking the words right out of D’daear’s mouth. What other mode of transportation was their? The four soon reached the bottom of the stairs that had led them to a hallway. Up ahead, the sound of workers could be heard. The Gwynt and D’daear were now left wondering, their imaginations running wild.

    They no sooner arrived at the hallways exit, when the two were left speechless. Beyond the long railing, they were now witness to workers moving about. It was a large area that could house two whole towns! It was spacious, with the castle ceiling being so far up, that not even the torches that lit the room could light the dark above. To the far side of the vast room was a large opening leading to the outside, big enough to let through one thousand soldiers at once. The sound of engineering filled the atmosphere as the workers went about constructing what seemed like large naval ships or at least they resembled it. There were dozens of them lined up, all being worked on. The bow, gangway, main deck, and so on were all there to form the ship. Of course, these looked like no ordinary ships. They looked bizarre, for they all had what looked like some bizarre mechanism attached to the stern of the ships. To add to the weirdness, the sides; or better known as ports, had wing like contraptions attached to them with rotatable cannons placed at an angle as to aim down. The metallic beams held many sails with complex steel wires holding them together. The ships almost resembled boats with wings.

    D’daear’s eyes widened in incomprehension with his mouth opened to further emphasize his shock. His heart began to race in the aghast behavior he was displaying. “These ships…where did you…get the blueprints for them…?” he asked, a vivid memory of that fateful day replaying itself. The way the mass hid itself within the clouds that day, with its loud roar emanating from the heavens.

    Kain grinned, patting his friend on the back. “Relax, D’daear. No need to look so terrified. This is what will make the red wings. With this, we can bring about a new era of change.” He explained, looking back at D’daear. The purple haired boy did not look convinced. Gwynt looked at D’daear with worry. He was gritting his teeth now, with his eyes staring at Kain. That still didn’t answer his question.

    “You ok, D’daear?” she asked, peering up at him. Cecil walked towards D’daear, sensing his uneasiness. Placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. He gave the boy a reassuring look. “It’s ok D’daear. You don’t have to be afraid. As Captain of the Red Wings, I’ll be held responsible for commanding these ships. They won’t be used for any other purpose other than to serve the Land of Baron. And as a soldier from this land, you know we serve to protect.”

    Cecil’s words seemed to have eased D’daear a bit, but still did not answer him. Kain placed his hands on his hips while watching D’daear exhale his air in a calming sigh. “It’s been designed by our best engineers. Yes, the ships DO resemble that ship that attacked your home, but these are more built on inspiration rather than what you’re blatantly implying…” he clarified. “Alright, alright...” D’daear said, closing his eyes. “Guess it was just my imagination…”

    “Come, your mission awaits.” Cecil commanded, once again leading the group. They walked further down the room, heading closer and closer to the opening to which D’daear now assumed to be the entrance and exit for this ships. He was a lot calmer now by the time they had reached the opening. Awaiting the group was a ship, a lot smaller compared to the ships being constructed. It was the length of a row boat, yet as wide as two. A large balloon floated above the ship, held in place by thick heavy duty ropes wrapped firmly to the railings. The railing was long, and reached up to D’daear’s mid torso. Connected to the stern was a small version of the same mechanism that was on all the other ships. On the side of ship were smaller wing like sails that were attached to small beams protruding out of the port sides by ropes, while which thin steel wires were attached back and forth between the balloon and the beams. Essentially there were a lot of ropes tying things together, but evidently there was enough space for the two to maneuver within.

    “So we’re supposed to fly this thing?” Gwynt inquired with a skepticism.

    “It’s not a thing, it’s a small air ship, madam.” Echoed a voice within hearing distance. She turned around to see a tall dashing young man. He was perhaps in his early twenties, with short brown hair with blonde highlights, sharply styled sideburns, and green eyes. An embroidered golden and olive green vest over a high-collar shirt and tight black leather trousers with leather shin pads make up his attire with steel, open-backed sandals.

    D’daear’s eyes widened. He was taller than him, but then again so was Kain. The man approached them, while cleaning his hands with a white rag. He stopped just a few inches away from Gwynt. His eyes went back and forth between D’daear and Gwynt, before stopping at the female soldier. Green eyes now traveled up and down Gwynt’s figure. Kain decided to introduce the two to the man.

    “D’daear, Gwynt…this is the man who came up with the designs for the airships. Sir Bu-“

    The man raised a finger in a gesture to stop Kain from speaking any further, not keeping his eyes off of Gwynt. The female soldier was beginning to feel uncomfortable, blushing a bit. “Allow ME to introduce myself. My name is Sir Bunansa, but please…call me by my first name, Ffamran. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.” He said all suave like, gently taking her hand and planting a kiss on it before formally bowing to her.

    D’daear let his jaw drop. Was this a joke or was this guy for real? Gwynt couldn’t help but let it happen. It was so sudden, and she wasn’t used to this kind of thing. “Uum…nice to meet you…” she began to introduce, pulling her hand away from his with a skeptical look. Her cheeks were red with embarrassment, although she couldn’t tell. She felt awkward, and extremely uncomfortable. “I’m Gwynt. This is…D’daear.” She pointed to the purple haired individual. Balthier smirked. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

    He looked to the small ship beside them. “THIS…is what you will be using to get to the Land of Oz. “ he stated, assuming the obvious was so obvious to the inexperienced, like the two that stood before them. D’daear crossed his arms, eyeing the piece of wonder.

    “How does it work?”

    He kept his smirk, getting up a top the air ship. His hand reached and gripped the pulley that was interconnected with the large balloon. “Ever been on a hot air balloon before?”

    Chapter 21


    Around and around their small airship went, as the tornado yanked away at them violently into its destructive vortex. It was a tornado that roared at them with its monstrous voice while its collection of debris flung around and about in random directions within its windy depths, trying to cause collision with the currently intact air ship. Wagons, rocks, trees, sand, crates, and what was supposed to be their rations for the journey, was being tossed about ever so close to the two would-be heroes as they struggled to stay aboard their two person ship in this dangerous merry-go-round. D’daear was struggling to hang on to the helm; the wheel that controls the ships direction, while Gwynt tried her best to hang on to the side of the ship. Hair, and outfit fluttered violently in the struggle. It was a struggle against the tornado’s pull they could not lose. It was taking all of D’daear’s strength to stay in place, let alone steer the ship. The ships engines were at full power, yet the powerful roar it emitted was overpowered by the sound of this deadly twister that threatened their lives.

    He groaned and moaned to keep the ship stable in the midst of the commotion, using the strength in his arms to keep the helm from spinning violently. Gwynt put a hand around one of the steel wires that held the ships wings. She was beginning to feel light on her feet, a bad sign. D’daear gritted his teeth as he felt something smack against his back. Whatever it was, it was lost once again in the tornado’s chaos. The ship began to lose control, despite the soldier’s firm grip on the helm. His eyebrows furrowed themselves in his attempt to steady the unbalanced ship. What would they need to do to get out of this situation? The young mind raced through Balthier’s instructions. One, the massive hot air balloon attached to the ship was the key to keeping it afloat. He turned his head to quickly check whether the balloon was even functional. The balloon was still attached, thankfully, but not bloated like it should be. He checked his surroundings. The ship swayed violently all of a sudden as a flock of shattered wood rammed itself against the stem of the ship. Gwynt began to yell at him, with her voice barely sound in the wild commotion that was going on around them. “KEEP THE SHIP STEADY!!”

    “I’M TRYING!!!” he shouted in back in frustration, doubtful she had fully heard him. The situation was so random, now that he took a second to think about it. When they had left the castle, the two had decided on shifts for the course of the evening. Gwynt took up the first shift, while D’daear rested for his upcoming shift. It was a good rest at that, he had to admit. His body required all the rest he could, for he had a feeling their adventure was going to be tiring. It seemed he was right to think so. As they flew over head the desert that bordered the Land of Oz, out of thin air spawned a twister which sent them in their current predicament.

    The ship shook once more, but a bit less now that D’daear understood how to fight the random debris. Whenever an object collided with ship, he made sure keep his arms as steady as possible, every once in a while turning the wheel in the opposite direction the ship was swaying towards. It was no easy task, albeit it felt like his arms were going to fall from the strain of merely keeping the heavy ship from capsizing into the chaos. Gwynt called out to him, her voice barely audible to him. It was just another background noise. Besides, D’daear couldn’t bother to listen, he was so focused on holding on to the wheel that he had blocked out all other things. He didn’t pay attention to the calmly approaching Gwynt. Her hand touched his shoulder, NOW calling to his attention. Her touch snapped him out of it. He turned, to see a disturbed Gwynt; or at least she seemed disturbed. ”What is she looking at…?” he thought briefly before coming to the same conclusion as she probably had. It was somewhat disturbing indeed. Everything around them had suddenly gone still. The roar, the constant swaying, and the violent debris had all stopped, or more like slowed to practically a halt. It was still, and peaceful…it was still as death.

    “What’s going on?” Gwynt asked in anxious wonder, pointing to the background. It was still blurry, with its dark cloud like walls that shunned the light, still swirling violently with the occasional lightning zipping through its rhythm. Yet, somehow they were no longer affected. Never had they been witness to a tornado, let alone experienced one till now. Were they always supposed to be this calm? Suddenly, the steel wires began to shake. They surprisingly snapped loose one by one, flailing in the air before flying off to be one with chaos; taking the Hot air balloon with it. It was like somebody decided to speed things up all of a sudden, removing the slow from the atmosphere, and letting loose once again the crazy three hundred miles per hour ride. Their ship was immediately yanked back into the chaos, sending the two to the deck of the ship. Only for few seconds did the chaos last before everything became still again.

    A dazed D’daear slowly rose, pulling himself up using the side of the ship to help himself up. He could hear the sound of speedy air in his ears. His mind collected itself again, able to focus better. The tornado seemed to have slowed down, or so he thought. Peering over the edge, he could instantly make out the light of the blue heart in the night, and vast green forest just below them. The cloudy chaos had somehow vanished, no longer twirling them in its frightening ride. It only took him to realize what was happening. They were dropping, fast. The ship had begun its rapid descent towards the terrain beneath the. The knowledge provoked D’daear’s initiative. He sped to the helm of the ship, calling out to Gwynt.

    “Gwynt! Get up! We have to stabilize the ship!!” he ordered, clamping his hands on to the wheels. Then it hit him. “We lost our hot air balloon…”

    His blue eyes filled with horror as he looked up to see the absence of the balloon. Quickly, his mind raced for alternatives. There was no way they were going to keep afloat. There had to be some way to get out of this mess. Then the thought came to him. Without wasting time, he ran to the sides of the ships for quick inspection. The ship still had its wings intact, give or take a few minor cloth tares. The beams that sustained them were also intact, of course that was to be expected from sturdy materials. He quickly rushed past Gwynt, who was holding on to the side of the ship. She seemed off. Of course, there was no time for minor details. The back of the ship was rather wide for a ship of this caliber. He supposed it made sense, however. Engines were still a new technology, and for them to have even engineered something of such size into a size befitting a smaller air ship was a breakthrough in this day and age.

    There was no helping it then. He would have to climb OVER the poop-deck, to get a good look at the stern of the ship where the thrusters attached to engine was. Carefully, he made his way over the deck, all the while making sure to keep a firm hold just in case he was be sent flying off the ship. The whole situation felt risky, but someone had to do it; seeing as Gwynt was busy with something and they were the only two. He took courage and descended to the stern, keeping a tight grip on the edges of the decks frame. A black smog was fuming down below, which wasn’t a good sign, but perhaps there was still hope. Getting closer, the engine was sounding rather bad, as if it was struggling with power. Soon enough he made eye contact with the thrusters through the black smoke. His heart sank at the morale devastating sight. The thruster were a mess, ripped to shred, and barely intact with stern at all, although flames were still coming through. He gave a rough cough as he forgot to NOT breathe in the smoke; he was busy wondering if it was safe for the thrusters to be spewing out flames despite its wreckage. Perhaps there was still hope. If the engines were still working, maybe their thrusters didn’t matter. Perhaps all they would need was that one big enough boost to help level the ship to a safe crash landing.

    Suddenly, the thrusters went off. He raised an eyebrow. With one great fate defining BOOM, the engines gave out and exploded, rocking the ship. D’daear was sent off balance, the only thing keeping him attached to the boat being his swordsman’s grip on the frame of the deck…and it seemed to be slipping. Desperation was visible in his blue irises as he struggled to fling his other hand to the ship. He reached, doing all he could to summon the strength in his right arm, and pectoral muscles to pull him close enough. “WHERE’S GWYNT!?” he shouted in his mind. This whole situation was beginning to frustrate him. Here he was, doing all the work, and now HIS life was at stake. His grip began to slip, with his other hand still reaching for the deck. His eyes widened in his hysterical moment. He groaned, furrowing his brows. Was this it for him? They just started, and already he was going to meet his end? The ship was already nearing ten thousand feet. The velocity at which they dropped was too great. He was yanked off the ship, and nearly pulled into the sky were it not for the hand that pulled his last second save.

    “I got you!!!” shouted Gwynt a top the poop-deck, with one arm firmly wrapped under the railing of the deck. She had a vice grip like no other. D’daear was shocked to see this sudden turn in fortune. “G-Gwynt!”

    His wrist was hurt, but he didn’t care. She pulled through for him, in both sense of the term. Somehow, she summoned the strength within her body to pull D’daear back in. To ease her struggle, the moment he reached the deck he pulled himself in using the same railing Gwynt was using. No sooner did his feet touch the floor, did he sprint to the beams on the side of the ship that held the wing like sails. “Gwynt!!” he shouted, squinting through the rough breeze that was whizzing past them rapidly. She turned to him, listening. He noticed how she was holding her left rib. “I have an idea!! Hurry!!” his voice shouted through the ear-filling wind current. Gwynt made her way to him, slowly. Not having the time to wait, he met her half way, and somewhat carried her by placing her right arm over his shoulders, and wrapping his arm free arm over her waist. Together, they worked to get to one of the beams. He explained the plan to her, to which she looked at him skeptically.

    “I know how it sounds, but we literally have no other choice. Neither of us know a spell on how to fix this predicament of ours. It’s our only shot…” he bargained. Reluctantly, Gwynt nodded her head. Drawing his sword from his lower back with his right hand, he began to cut away at the ropes that bound the sails, with Gwynt readily catching each loose end with a struggle. It looked like she was holding back tears. On the final one, D’daear made sure to be tied to one of the ropes, while Gwynt held on to the other two. In total it was to be four ropes, in hopes that they could somehow make a parachute out of the sail in mid drag. Gwynt neared D’daear, holding on to his belt with her right while he balanced himself on the beam in order to cut the rope loose. With one final swing of the blade, the rope came loose, and D’daear immediately jumped for it. He barely managed catch it before it was too late. The air current caused a drag on their sail which resulted in a temporary parachute. It yanked the two off the ship, and into the sky. D’daear gave it all he had to not let go of the rope as a result of the intense drag being created. Gwynt clung to his side tightly, despite the pain in her ribs.

    They sailed through the sky, watching their air ship descend to its fiery destruction towards what looked like a large lake being filled by a waterfall. A quick follow up immediately had his eyes glued to the source of the waterfall. The mountain-range itself extended beyond the height the two had now been sailing at. What really caught his attention, however, was the animal shaped formations throughout the mountain. A lion, Hippopotamus, and even an elephant with its trunk spewing out water was clearly visible as part of the mountains architecture. It was an eye sore, one that D’daear would’ve loved to have kept looking at.

    “D’daear…Look up ahead…” she managed to say. The boy looked to where she had suggested, now fixated on a new wonder. Beyond the forest they were about to enter, was a large dome that easily competed with the mountain-range in size.

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

    The two had gone through a rough landing. No sooner had they reached the tip of the forests first set of branches, that they were met with other snagging tree branches, and of the like. Their sail had gotten caught in the tree, to which resulted in them having to climb the rest of the way down. With a few swings of his sword, he managed to cut the two of them loose from their ropes. Of course, he wasn’t an idiot. Had the tree branches not been so thick and wide, they surely would have fallen to their bone breaking demise. D’daear finally made it down first, roughly at that, but at least he made it down. Being weary of Gwynt’s unknown condition, he looked up and motioned her to carefully make her way down. “Take your time! If you fall, I’ll catch you!” he said with a gesture, focusing his attention on her. He had noted on his way down, that the trees here were abnormally large, the size of the branches being a testament to their gargantuan stature. Soon enough, Gwynt made it all the way to him. As the same he did during the air ships fall, he helped support her by distributing some of her weight onto him, leaving him with one free hand which was currently occupied by his sword. There was no way he was going to sheath his blade in an environment he knew nothing about. His grip on the handle tightened. “I guess there are some places yet to be discovered…” he thought to himself while helping his partner move along.

    He scoped his surroundings as best he could while helping Gwynt move. There were vines, palm branches, and even large tree roots protruding from the ground to form strange arcs all throughout the forest. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say they were in a rain forest or jungle, what with the humidity and slight fog surrounding the forests air. Even the treetops were tightly pressed together to form great shadows throughout the forest floor. He could barely make out smallest light of the heart through the slivers in the leaves. What a jungle.

    “Just one more to add to the books…” he murmured to himself.

    “What…?” Gwynt barely spoke out. D’daear shook his head. “Nothing… Let’s check on your wound…” he suggested, slowly leading her to a small arched root. It was a perfect spot to sit on. He gently lowered her to her spot, before plunging the tip of his sword into the soft yet sturdy terrain. Slowly, he motioned for her raise her left arm to the side. She barely made it halfway before cringing in pain, gritting her teeth.

    “Whoa, whoa! Alright...” he uttered as he watched her in pain. Seeing her like this, he felt really bad for the way he thought about her back up when the ship was cascading to destruction. He understood now. If only he had kept a potion to himself before the tornado hit, perhaps he could’ve eased her pain. All the cargo the supplies given to them, gone because of a random tornado. Rubbing the back of his neck in hesitation, he finally took up courage and motioned for her to slowly raise her arm again, but just enough for him to check the area where her rib could possibly be fractured; hopefully that’s all it was. He pressed against the side of her jacket using his right hand, trying to find the source. The fibers that formed the sturdy yet flexible jacket made it hard for him to feel anything. He let out a sigh, knowing full well what he’d have to do.

    “Gwynt…I’m going to need you to unzip your jacket…” he said, trying his best to give her a straight serious demeanor without blushing. She gave him a reluctant look, clearly wanting to tell him off, but in end had no other alternative. With a painful sigh, she nodded, looking away as she unzipped her jacket. Underneath she was wearing a white shirt. He hesitated, rethinking what had just asked. After an awkward moment of him doing nothing, Gwynt took the initiative and dug her right hand into her jacket. She began to feel her side. “What am I supposed to be checking for…?” she asked, pain visible in her eyes.

    To make the moment as quick as possible, he described to her if she felt swelling or a tender spot anywhere on her side. She looked like she was going to cry, but managed to confirm his suspicions. With a sigh of relief, he slumped down to the floor. “It’s probably just fractured ribs then…nothing mortally threatening.” He said with a huge smile on his face. Gwynt’s eye twitched in disbelief at how well he was taking it.

    “Well that’s easy for YOU to say-“ she started, but paused from the pain. She was getting worked up over nothing, and now it was causing her pain. Frustration coursed through her, which wasn’t good for her breathing. Slowly, she collected her thoughts, not bothering to look at D’daear; although it seemed he had the rain-guard of his blade slumped over his shoulder all ready to go. “You ok, Gwynt? “ he asked in sincere leisure concern. The female soldier didn’t bother zipping up her jacket, but unzipped it completely, and let it loose the way she always had her black trench coat. She felt confined all zipped up anyway, and at least now her current predicament gave her an excuse to feel like she can actually breathe. D’daear extended a helping hand, but was denied by a stubborn Gwynt. “I’m fine…” she spoke, acting strong. If D’daear said it was just a fracture, then so be it. She disliked being babied anyway…

    The two proceeded onward toward the direction they thought the dome was. Through the sliver of leaves, the suns radiant light had already begun to shine. It was morning, and it seemed the fog was clearing too. Now that the way ahead was more visible, D’daear took the lead to scout up ahead, seeing as Gwynt was in no position to go scouting. The rain forest was vast, and lush with vegetation. There was no road to lead them on. Tree leaves, Palm branches, arching roots that would sometimes act as a bridge over rivers, and loose hanging vines all decorated the forest. The forest floor was covered in its vegetation. Every so often, the forest would give off the echoing sound of its denizens. It was serene, with the unknown hidden beneath its calm, beautiful front. D’daear had gotten a little ways ahead, turning back every once in a while to see if Gwynt was doing alright.

    Obviously unable to shout, she would extend her hand to the sky and give him a thumbs up. The forest so far seemed welcoming, and D’daear made it even more of a leisure walk by always coming back to help her when she needed help. Whether it was to take a breather, climbing over a strenuous obstacle, or to keep her company. He was always there for her, and that was something she appreciated. As they advanced on through the forest, the sounds became less and less, almost foreboding. It took a while for D’daear to hone in on that small background detail. He motioned for a stop, to which Gwynt was more than happy to oblige. She had been holding her side the entire time.

    “What’s wrong…?” she said, groaning a bit through her breathe.

    D’daear kept to himself for over a minute, keeping his eyes on high alert. The forest had was still alive, but in this part where they were seemed a bit too quiet compared to how wild it sounded a ways back. His grip tightened around his handle, wanting to be more than ready for any sudden surprises. Carefully, they advanced further into the territory. It was getting ridiculously quiet, to the point where they could hear their boots against the forest floor. He began to focus on the positive whilst keeping an eye out for danger. They had made much progress over the course of the early morning. Surely they should be nearing the dome any moment. A bit further in, and Gwynt suggested it’d be best to take a break.

    “I need another break…” she said, leaning back against the trunk of a tree. The fact that she had managed to persevere throughout this whole journey with fractured ribs said a lot about Gwynt’s willpower and ability to endure. So of course he’d let her take the break. “Yeah alright. I’ll go on scout on ahead, I won’t be far. I’ll be right back.” He said, watching Gwynt give him a thumbs up. Seeing that provoked a silent laugh out of him as he went off to scout further ahead, leaving Gwynt to rest. Even though it was quiet, the fact nothing had occurred gave D’daear the reassurance he needed to not worry about Gwynt’s safety while he left her alone; or so he tried to justify it that way.

    His footsteps crunched at the floor, moving along through the forest while trying not to focus too much on Gwynt’s predicament. If he wanted to treat her wound as soon as possible, then finding that dome was a high priority. He didn’t know what he’d find once in it, but he hoped with all his heart that perhaps he could find a means of healing Gwynt. A ways away from the resting point, D’daear finally saw hope.

    His eyes lit up at the sight of the domes edge. With all he had, he sprinted towards the dome. Reaching the edge, he dropped his blade onto the ground and fell to his knees in joy. They finally found it. So many thoughts were racing through his mind. There was clearly a town inside. Instinctively he reached for the dome, placing a hand on its solid texture. However, to his surprise it wasn’t solid, but soft and rubbery. It felt so weird, almost like a durable bubble. He had thought it was a solid dome; guess he was wrong. “Why would you try to surround a town in…a bubble?” he thought. Since he was already here, he applied decent force to see if he could penetrate right through. To his surprise, it took little to no effort to phase right through.

    “Whoa…” he uttered again in bewilderment, retracting his hand. It didn’t take much effort to get through, and didn’t even hurt. He had to get Gwynt, NOW. He got up, grabbed his sword, and quickly went to find Gwynt. “If only we hadn’t lost all our supplies…I probably could’ve bargained for a potion at least…” he thought, feeling bad once more about not even being able to BUY a lousy potion.

    D’daear sprinted through the rain forest with all he had. She could get the help she needed, he knew it. Passing a tree, he could make out Gwynt sitting against the tree with a long brownish-green vine hanging next to her. She seemed fine, still in a peaceful sleep. It was nothing out of the ordinary, at least he believed it to be. “Gwynt!” he shouted, with a joyous smile. He increased his pace, loosening his grip on the handle of his weapon. Upon getting close enough, the vine that was next to Gwynt turned around and quickly recoiled back into the cover of the tree. D’daear nearly tripped over his footing when he saw the vine come to life. He ran to Gwynt’s side, dramatically sliding to his knees, accidentally disturbing her to wake.

    “Gwynt! You ok?” he asked with great concern. She seemed to be a bit annoyed.

    “Yes, I’m fine. What’s all the commotion about?”

    D’daear looked up, and began to scan his surroundings. “You weren’t aware of that vine thing that was next to you?” he inquired, focusing on the top of the trees. Gwynt took slow steady breaths, struggling to get up. “No. In case you weren’t aware, I was resting.” She sassed, finally getting upright on her feet. “What vine? I don’t see a vine?”

    “Up there! I was on my way here, when I saw it. ” he said, pointing to the tree branch above them. The fact was that there was nothing visible at the moment. Even Gwynt with her sharp eyes couldn’t make out anything. The two stood there, trying to find what D’daear had claimed to have seen. Unbeknownst to them, however, was the fact that the vine he had seen was in fact traversing through the branches of the other trees, slowly making its way behind them. It was sly and clever indeed. While the two were distracted and exchanging words all this time, the slithering creature slowly lowered its head to their backs. It let its tongue flutter as it stalked them up close, gathering their scent. With a devilish grin, it recoiled back into the safety of the trees.

    “I’m not lying! I saw a vine RIGHT next to you! It turned to me, and then just hid in the tree!” he tried to convince, turning to Gwynt. She just rolled her eyes at him, shaking her head in disbelief. “Listen…we can argue about this all day…but not now…” she groaned, referring to her situation. How unthoughtful. D’daear let out a small sigh, feeling childish again for having argued over something so trivial rather than having had immediately gotten straight to traveling towards the dome. “Right, my bad... Let’s get going.” He said, motioning for her to follow; keeping the dome a secret. He wanted to surprise her, although was it really the time for games?

    Chapter 22


    “That’s odd…did I take a wrong turn?” he uttered to himself, confused by his own misdirection. They had walked the same path he had taken to get back to Gwynt, or so he believed.

    The rain forest was tricky with its misguiding landmarks, and scenery. It was ordinary, and yet could easily mislead travelers off course with its low hanging branches, and areas with waist high vegetation. At times, areas all looked the same. If wanderers weren’t careful, they could easily get lost just like our young heroes have. The two had been walking through the forest for what seemed like a short while before they had reached the supposed spot where D’daear believed to have been where the dome was. Eyebrows now furrowed, he took a few steps forward and began to look around him; doing his best to mask his desperation. Gwynt could not help but stare at him inquisitively. “Is something wrong?”

    D’daear stopped in his tracks, slowly turning to her with a frozen face as if he had been caught red handed. He did not want her to worry. “Yeeeaaahh. Everything is just…fiiine. Don’t worry about it…!” he replied with a suave tone. He hoped he played it off rather well, enough to convince her at least. She gave him a skeptical stare as he averted his eyes. This whole walking blind scenario was getting them nowhere, and she was getting annoyed; her fractured ribs wasn’t helping either. A sigh escaped D’daear while he avoided her eyes in an unsettling silent moment. Was he fooling her?

    “D’daear…quit it…”

    He guessed wrong. It seemed it was time for him to confess as he gave her a dissatisfied reluctant expression. “Alright… Listen...when I left you by yourself to go scout ahead…I found the dome…” he confessed. Gwynt’s eyes actually widened in shock. “How are lost then-!? Ow….” She uttered before wincing in pain. With a fractured rib, she had to carefully measure how she was breathing, and to what extent too. A cough escaped her. Getting worked up wasn’t one of the things she could do. She gathered her wits before confronting D’daear about it. The pain took a bit to subside, while D’daear took the initiative to get to her side in order to lead her to the base of a nearby tree where she’d sit down and rest. It was so strange to see her all weak and in need of help to move about. As she sat down, D’daear was thanked and questioned while he was still crouched next to her.

    “So what happened…? Where’s the dome…?” she asked in time biding succession while controlling her breathing.

    The young warrior looked to the sky; or rather trees, not understanding what was going on here. “Quite frankly, I think I might’ve gotten us lost…”

    Gwynt rolled her eyes. She couldn’t help but feel even more frustrated. A part of her wanted to just smack him upside the head. She let out a deep painful sigh, unable to control that urge that ticks away at you to just let it out. This was getting ridiculous. All they had to do was just take their airship from point A to point B. It was all just a matter of dealing with the internal affairs and helping them restore order. Indeed the task assigned to the two was a simple one, according to her knowledge. The truth, however, was hidden from her. Only D’daear knew the real reason behind their façade of a mission. She clenched her fist against the terrain, ripping a few leaves off their roots in the process while looking down at the floor with a frown.

    D’daear closed his eyes, after having heard her sigh. Being the one in charge, he felt like a disappointing leader in her eyes. Having his eyes closed, he tried to think. Instead, all it helped do was help tune in to his sense of hearing. To his surprise, the forest wasn’t as quiet as he had thought it to be. He could hear the faint sounds of insects squirming about their business, the wings of birds fluttering from their perches, and the hiss of a nearby snake slithering about its business. The forest was alive, masking its life as background noise that no one would have guessed was there. He rose while keeping his eyes closed, walking away from Gwynt only a few feet.

    “Wow…would you look at that…” he uttered, referring to the amplified hearing.

    “Uuuhh….D’daear…? I think…you might have a guest.” She spoke, her eyes gazing up at a new guest. He boy turned, raising an eyebrow.

    “It sssseems to me the two of you can ussse sssome help.” Spoke a suave voice, with a lisp to surely be noted in its speech. D’daear’s eyes shot wide open, knowing full well the voice was not related to Gwynt. When he came to, he saw the yellow eyes of a python staring him down; literally. It was so sudden! The way it managed to sneak up on them without drawing attention to itself. It caused a chill to travel down his spine. Its tongue fluttered close to his face. He couldn’t help what came next.

    “WHOA!” he screamed in disgust.

    D’daear instinctively jumped back while brushing some lower lying branches, creating small distance between them. His sword was raised. Gwynt was greatly disturbed, having already risen to her feet. She was behind the snake’s line of sight, but as she followed its long body, her eyes eventually met to the tail that was just above her. The thought of realizing how sneaky the serpent had been in perching itself above them on a branch without being undetected was creeping her out. She stood still, not wanting to do anything that would alarm the snake.

    The serpent lowered itself a bit more, stretching itself to D’daear. “Oh come now. Sssssuurely you can’t be afraid of ssomeone like me?” it questioned, again its voice being all suave like. The fact that its voice was soft lessened the creepy factor, but at the same time made its presence all the more to be wary of. The serpent kept staring at him, but made no motion in advancing towards him. It could sense how tense D’daear was becoming. Who could blame him, for it was a long snake. In fact, it was so long that if it wanted too, it could wrap its long body around one of them four times and squeeze the life… It shook its head, feeling the hunger arise from its empty stomach. “Patience…if I can just make this work…heh…” it thought, keeping itself from grinning while keeping its beady eyes focused on the anxious swordsman.

    D’daear stood his ground, mind racing for something to say. It’s not that he was scared of it per say, but the way it snuck up on him combined with the personal space invading stunt just flipped his lid. “I’m not scared…but I definitely don’t just go around trusting the first help I can find.” he asked, finally finding his focus. He kept his guard up, slowly calming his nerves whilst staring into the beady eyes. The serpent was getting all excited inside, so much so that it decided to drop its original plan. This was a perfect opportunity! Like the creepy sneak it was, its eyes started to spiral into different colors as it slowly swayed its head left and right like a pendulum. All of a sudden, as if some mystical force was working its way into him, D’daear’s head began to follow its movement. His pupils slowly began to dilate, while his eyelids all of a sudden became heavy. The sword he held came loose from his hands, dropping to the floor.

    Wh-what’s…happening…?” he thought as he was succumbing to the strange trance inducing eyes.

    “Come now, boy. You can…trussssst in me.” It wittingly said, letting its grin show.

    Gwynt winced while taking an abrupt step forward. Something didn’t seem right about the situation. Groaning, she called to him in concern. “D’daear?”

    The snake quickly turned to Gwynt, somewhat surprised. How could it have forgotten about her? She was the main reason WHY it had decided to stalk them. This was a bit troublesome now, but oh well. He had fully hypnotized the swordsman anyway, and now that the threat was out of his way, he could have a two course meal! Now to work his mojo on her. Without hesitation, it worked up the same eyes again. “How could I forget about you, girl? Heh heh…”

    The hypnotic eyes began to whirl again with its trippy colors. With ease it started to hypnotize the gunslinger. It was beginning to grin devilishly, happily thinking about the 2 course meal it was about to have. Why, with these two it wouldn’t be able to move right for days! Ah, but how it was going to be worth it. The hunger it had been dealing with was too much. The girl was already becoming loose, with her knees wavering. Any moment now she would be its meal the same as the boy would be too. Just the thought of it made its mouth water.

    Gwynt could feel her body succumbing to the serpent’s manipulation. As a matter of fact, the trance was helping ease the pain by A LOT. Her mind was going elsewhere, and the pain was subsiding while her pupils were almost full dilated. Everything was becoming blurred, like background images that meant nothing. The snake let out a hiss. No, she HAD to snap out of it…even if it meant having to deal with her pain. This wasn’t going to be how it ended for them. With the weight of reluctance on her shoulders, she forcibly moved her hand towards her ribs, and pressed hard on her fractured rib. A sharp pain shot through her side, instigating a tough cough out of her. “AAHH!!” she moaned in agonizing pain, feeling tears well up in her eyes as she cringed over whilst gritting her teeth.

    The serpent’s eyes quickly readjusted to its normal color, blindsided by the whole fiasco. “What!?” it muttered in bewilderment. Fighting through the pain, Gwynt summoned a handheld-cannon in a quick flash of smog like light, and looked up to the large branch above them. With her keen eyes locked on target, she aimed the gun up and fired a magic shot which in turn ripped right through the intended target. The branch immediately came loose; shaking the snake off balance, and tumbled down upon them. With a haste decision, Gwynt jumped to her right, avoiding the fallen vegetation as it landed in the area where she just was, all the while smacking hard against the serpents entire body.

    She let out a loud rough cough after the landing, squinting in pain as she gazed over at the fallen snake. It looked star struck, moaning in its momentary stunned state with a chunk of leaves were covering its eyes. “I knew I should’ve waited…” it thought while lying there in its defeat. With the serpents plan foiled, Gwynt took advantage of the situation, and fought her body’s pain receptors as she quickly made her way to D’daear; whom was still in the trance. “D’daear, snap out of it!” she shouted in slight desperation, even shaking him in order to get him out of the hypnosis. She was concerned, but more concerned over the fact that they may not have much time before the snake came too. After not seeing any sign of D’daear waking, she became frustrated. She was in pain for goodness sake, fighting through it to get his lazy butt to snap out of it.

    Finally, she let out cough covered sigh. “You had this coming….” She muttered as she curled her hands into a tight fist. Getting behind him, she swung with all her might, aiming for the back of his head. Surprisingly enough, she sent him straight to the floor, finally getting a reaction out of him.

    “OW!” he snapped, his word sounding muffled as his face was buried in the terrain. D’daear jumped up, holding the back of his head while holding back tears. “What was THAT for?!” he exclaimed in momentary irritation. Gwynt shoved the pommel of his blade into his solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him. “We have to get going, now!” she commanded, ignoring his enquiry. The young man held his stomach with one hand, while holding the handle of his sword on the other. “What? Where? Actually hold up, what happened?”

    Gwynt pointed her finger to the unconscious snake. “THAT happened. And unless you want us to be snake food, I suggest we get going! Anywhere!” she suggested desperately, not controlling her breathing yet again.

    D’daear scoffed. “Pfff…please. Watch. I got this…” he replied, letting off some of his playful pride. He walked over to the snake, raising his sword to the air with the intent of cutting the head off. All it would take was one thoughtless swing. Gwynt’s eyes widened in shock by this moment. D’daear was showing a new side to him, one that she thought he never had. The young man stood there, gripping his sword tight. There was confliction in his expression. He wanted to…but…at the same time he didn’t. After a moment of internal struggle, he loosened the grip. The idea was short lived as his intention soon died. The soldier just didn’t have the heart for it. He let out a disappointing sigh. That kind of thing just wasn’t his style. He dropped his arm, sheathing his blade away. Trying to play it off, he turned to Gwynt with a facade. “Heh…you actually thought I was going to do it, huh?” he teased away, rubbing underneath his nose with his index finger in a cheeky grin.

    Gwynt scrunched her lips. Although she was disappointed at the fact that D’daear didn’t commit, she was also glad he kept to his way. “OH yeaaah. I was completely convinced…” she replied sarcastically. She turned back towards the forest beyond them. “Come on, we should get going…before it wakes up…”

    D’daear gave a light nod, and took the lead. Although, before he had the chance to signal Gwynt to follow, they heard a shout from above. It sounded like it was a ways up there.

    “I’M GOING TO DIE!!”

    The two looked at each other, they’re demeanor now seriously curious. The voice sounded again, but this time as if it had moved on a bit in the direction where D’daear was going to lead them.

    “WANDA!!!”

    That did it for D’daear. He sped up, forgetting about Gwynt’s condition. “Hurry!” he shouted back to Gwynt, jumping over a log in the process. The girl started to run after him, but found it hard to maintain a decent speed without increasing her pain. She slowed to a hurried jog, still trying to keep up with D’daear’s speed. “D’daear…! Wait up...” she uttered before unleashing held back coughs. That was it for her. The jog soon reduced itself to a walk. She couldn’t get upset at D’daear for leaving her like this. It was natural, and expected of D’daear to run off to aid someone in danger. Besides, he technically had stuck with her all this time, and he DID help her out a few times…or so she was trying to justify. She shook her head with a sigh in an attempt to rid her of these thoughts. “What’s my deal? Conforming to this…” she understood, regaining her focus on the new task. Gwynt looked to D’daear who was already ahead of her by a few paces. He dashed into a thicket, disappearing from her sight.

    “Tch…don’t you dare leave me behind-”

    “Hurry!” D’daear’s voice sounded from the other side.

    She hastened her pace a bit; despite the suffering she had to endure. Soon brushing past the thicket, her eyes immediately met with the dome that they had been looking for. Awe-struck for the moment, she did not notice the impatient D’daear waiting for her just on the other side of the dome. No words left her gaped mouth. The dome looked glass like in appearance. Her legs motored themselves forward, leading her body to be next to the glass wall. “H-how do I get inside?” she asked herself, soon feeling a hand on her right wrist. She was yanked with great force, pulled through the dome. Surprisingly it didn’t hurt her, nor was it hard to move through it. It felt soft, yet elastic. “Is this a magical barrier?” she uttered while being pulled by a hurried hero whom felt the need to save the person in distress. The two raced through the town, with both hoping to find the person in distress alive and well.

    Chapter 23
    The commotion he had heard while in the rain forest had ended at the edge of the dome, to which he pressed onward; assuming the person in distress had advanced into it. It had taken him a while to figure out that he had entered a city surrounded by a dome; considering the way the buildings were structured and placed about. The city now seemed a lot bigger now that it WAS a city and not a town. Everywhere he turned, he was met with the same colored buildings and streets; the streets were made of grey bricks, and the buildings were greyish white with dark brown roofs. It was an ordinary city, which greatly reminded him of his hometown, The Garden. The only difference between his town and this city was the population. It seemed the citizens of the city were elsewhere, for the city didn’t look abandoned, but it sure felt desolate. Where was everyone? He wondered in silence as he had by now slowed to a stroll in his distractions. The two had slowed down after a while. D’daear had no clue where they were going, and Gwynt needed the rest.

    “Any luck on which direction to go?” Gwynt inquired, whilst leaning against a nearby wall. Running around like that was finally getting to her; she was coughing uncontrollably now. D’daear let out a deciding sigh, turning to her. With sincere concern for her well-being, he reluctantly spoke up. “I think you should stay here while I go look for help...” He said, keeping his blue irises locked with Gwynt’s Emerald colored eyes. The idea wasn’t well received with her. As a matter of fact, she seemed almost indignant of the whole thing. Her eye brows were furrowed in anger.

    “What!? D’daear you heard that person… He MIGHT be in some serious trouble. You might not be able to handle it yourself. We can worry about me later.” She explained with selfless intention. This whole situation was getting out of hand, it was beginning to bug the heck out of her. If only she hadn’t gotten injured like this. Her partner stared back at her for a while, letting her words sink in. He understood her intention, and was glad to see her fortitude at work here; which was something he had slowly begun to admire about her. Yet, it wasn’t enough to convince him. This whole entire journey had given him time to become more aware of his surroundings, and to become more analytical. His surroundings included Gwynt and her constant coughing to which was worrying him.

    “You’re right…” he said, beginning to back away quite noticeably too. An idea had struck him, and if it worked she’d have no choice but to eventually yield. “He could be in some serious trouble…! Which is all the more why I have to go alone. In your condition you’ll just get in the way. I’ll be back with some help once this is all resolved! …Just stay here!” he finished in a shout as he suddenly burst into a sprint away from her. Gwynt couldn’t believe it. She shouted towards him, moving away from the wall abruptly in an attempt to run after him. “HEY!! D’DAEAR, WAI- “she paused, having the need to cough once again, and rather violently too. Her momentum came to a halt as the coughing had ruined her rhythm. She couldn’t even keep up with the distance between them before giving up. Defeated, she fell to her knees feeling frustrated at the whole scenario she had been put in. She hated to admit it, but D’daear was right on this one.

    “Boy it sucks to be dead weight…” she muttered in a pout, feeling her pride take a hit.

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

    Searching through the city had become a faster chore now that he left Gwynt behind to rest; or so he HOPED Gwynt had stayed. A grin grew on him. “She’s so stubborn.” He thought out loud, while he gazed around the city. It was so quiet, the city. So quiet, that he could make out faint yet distinct sounds emanating just a collection of yards away. He followed the sound through the city, hearing it become louder and louder. From what he could make out, it didn’t sound hostile or anything. The noise wasn’t as definitive yet. Closer and closer he went, the noise becoming distinct sounds belonging to various individuals. Soon he was able to make out the noise. It was cheering! D’daear looked confused, yet surprised at the new found information.

    “Cheering? I thought someone was in trouble….” He spoke. Shrugging it off his mind, he ran towards the commotion. It only took a minute to arrive at the edge of the large crowd that stood together. These people, were Quadlings; which made sense considering D’daear had crashed in Quadling Country. They were all dressed in over the top formal farmers clothing which to him seemed odd to wear. At any rate, it was like a sea of people that had joined together to celebrate. “What are they celebrating…?” D’daear uttered, accidentally speaking a tad bit too loud as a Quadling turned to him. The Quadling was a rather tall man.

    “Why it’s because Glinda found the Wizard!!! He’s finally come to save the Land of Oz from the evil Wicked Witch of the East!” he said in a happy tone, completely oblivious to D’daear’s attire and weapon which was obvious. Now THERE was a name D’daear remembered reading about in the reports; or at least a title. Although, the last time he remembered reading about it in the reports, there was a Good witch of the East, NOT Wicked. The man turned back to put his full attention to a man looking to be a few years older than D’daear dressed in a black dress suit with a long top hat covering the top of his well-cut brown hair. Next to him there was a young woman about the wizard’s age, wearing a white dress with long blonde hair. She had a wand in her hand. Whoever these two are, the whole city was willing to be here to celebrate. To him, that meant one thing. “A wizard…and a lady with a wand… THEY can heal Gwynt.” He thought as his eyes gazed over to the two who were now walking up a flight of stairs near what looked like the palace entrance. With keen observation, D’daear took notice of the hidden conversation the two were having. The wizard seemed in deep thought, as if the blonde haired lady had given him an ultimatum or something. That’s when D’daear noticed how quiet everyone had become, all their eyes looking up at the Wizard. “Could this man really be so important that a whole city would put their faith in him? I don’t recall a wizard being in the reports Kain gave me…but…hmm…if he can truly get rid of…the ‘Wicked’ witch…then I guess I should have a word with him…Maybe this Witch is one of THEM…the group of troublemakers.” he thought, remembering the mention of villainous rebels in the reports. Now he too was gazing up at the two magic users. He needed answers. Had the Good witch of the East turned evil or something? Or were there now two Witches of the east? He hoped for the second.

    “Good people of Oz… Your Wizard…is here!!” shouted the well-dressed individual with the top hat, raising his arms high up. It instigated the whole crowd to cheer, with the young children running up to him. The two had now begun to make everyone’s acquaintance as they walked down the steps, holding each other’s hands. D’daear took it upon himself to take advantage of the situation. He steadily approached the two by squeezing his way through the crowd, not really bothering to conceal his sheathed blade as it bumped into people. It took him a while to get to the wizard because of everyone getting in the way. Waving a hand at him, he was unsuccessful at grabbing his attention. The crowd threw confetti in the air, and people practically gave them no room. It was indeed becoming hard to get noticed. With a sigh, D’daear pressed on. He reached out his hand and grabbed the Wizard’s shoulder. The Wizard turned around, keeping what looked like a forced smile. Upon being up close, he noticed the Wizard’s van **** styled beard.

    “Yeah?” he said.

    “I need your help!” said D’daear.

    “Yes, I know. That is why your Wizard is here! Haha!” the Wizard replied, the man looking to the crowd which instigated another round of cheers. The boy let out a sigh. “Yeah I know already, but that’s not wh-“

    “Your troubles are gone for good!” he shouted to the people, interrupting D’daear before he could finish what he had to say. He let out another sigh, revealing a dulled face. Forget it, there was no info on this guy in the reports anyway. It was better that he attracted the Witch’s help. She was the good witch of the south after all. He made his way to Glinda, immediately catching her attention. He didn’t even need to do anything. “Oh, that was rather easy.” He thought, giving her a formal bow for formalities. She smiled, bowing to him too. Now that the formalities were over with, he could get straight to talking.

    “Ma’m, I need your help. You’re the only one I know for a fact can help her!” he said through the loud commotion everyone was making. He had a look of worry, which in turn caught her full attention. The Wizards on the other hand, not so much.

    “Why, yes, of course. Bring her here.” She said, she too now with a look of concern.

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

    During the rest of the day, D’daear had gone back to retrieve Gwynt with the help of some Quadlings. They had carried her into the Witch’s Palace on a medical carrier. She was now resting fully healed in a bed nearby the Witch’s study; thanks to her healing spell, while being watched over by Finley; a monkey with wings wearing a hotel outfit, and China girl, a ceramic doll wearing a ceramic dress who was found by the both the Wizard and Finley on their way here. Now the day had gone by so fast, with the sky now radiating greatly with the light of the Blue Heart that was stationed above them.

    The palace walls were like any another castle he’d seen, of course with the owners taste in mind. The inside of the castle felt like an ordinary house, with normal door frames, lamps lit, and whatnot. The only thing that were out of the ordinary were the Pillars that were in the middle of the study room; the witch’s study room whom revealed herself to be Glinda. A nice chair was stationed nearby the study’s desk, where Oz was seated on; the Wizard. He was in conversation with Glinda about something concerning defeating Evanora; whom last time D’daear had remembered reading about was in the reports. She was the royal advisor of the Emerald City Castle. They had explained to him everything, from Oscar Diggs; Oz, being a fake Wizard, and him pretending to be the Wizard was only for the sake of boosting the people’s morale. It had also been revealed that the person in distress D’daear had heard was in fact Oscar Diggs, whom was about to crash with the dome when he was riding inside a bubble. The dome was a magical barrier that repelled evil, and accepted those with a good heart. To their surprise, Oscar Diggs managed to get through; with a bit of a struggle. Glinda had hinted that Mr. Diggs had bad qualities to him, but that underneath all that was a good person.

    Glinda was a kind, and powerful Witch whom cared for her people; hence the good witch of the south. She was beautiful indeed, with a stature smaller than the Wizard and D’daear’s, and recognized by many if not all. Having been framed by the death of Emerald City’s King, she could not set foot anywhere near the Emerald City without drawing attention to herself. To top it, it turned out that it was Evanora who had turned Wicked, which made sense considering she WAS the good witch of the east.

    D’daear stood leaning back against a wall close to the frame of the study’s entrance, with his arms crossed as he listened to them closely. All this information was still being digested. Everything was beginning to connect into a puzzle that was now making sense. “No wonder the soldiers we sent here never returned… Evanora must’ve turned Wicked by the time they made it here. And without knowing the King of Oz was still there, the soldiers would march into the city with a false sense of hospitality, only to be ambushed…” the train of thought flashed through his mind. A hidden hand curled into a ball of held indignant.He stayed there quietly, now focusing on Oz and Glinda. They had asked him to join them as they discussed a plan to defeat Evanora with; seeing as D’daear had identified himself as a soldier of Baron. They assumed he could give some form of insight as some tactician or Strategist.

    “So I assume you have a plan?” asked Oscar, giving her a sarcastic smile after hearing Glinda propose how imperative it was for Oscar Diggs to act as the Great Wizard of Oz for the sake of morale. D’daear kept gazing over at the two. It was true, what Oscar was trying to get at with his query. An idea was useless if you had no plan to execute with. Glinda was positioned in front of Oscar with her back to him. She turned around to Oscar, meeting gazes. “No… YOU have a plan.” She said with a grin. D’daear raised an eyebrow in question.

    “You’re going to lead us into battle, and take back the throne.” She explained as simple as that. The soldier’s eyelids narrowed, now seriously wanting to question her. Even Oscar Diggs looked a bit unsettled by the simplicity of her so called, ‘Plan’.

    “Dooo…we have an army to help…do this?” he said, giving Glinda a skeptical look with a sarcastic smile. Oscar was well aware of D’daear and his rank as a soldier, but he also understood that one man couldn’t lay siege to a castle, let alone a city.

    So he’s not just for show…alright…I’ll give him that…” he thought to himself, feeling a bit relieved to see this Oscar person have a mind of his own. For a while, he thought him to have been a mere poster boy. He gained a small piece of respect for the man. Glinda looked a bit hesitant to speak. She had an idea of where to acquire the army, D’daear was well aware of that as he kept focused on her eyes, but something told him that it wasn’t the army they were expecting. She kept her gaze to him. “Of sorts…” she vaguely said, leaving it at that.

    “I’ll show you tomorrow in the morning, but for now we should get some rest.” She said, beginning to walk towards the study’s exit.

    She nodded to D’daear as she passed him by, he too returning the gesture. Baron and Oz were still working together, which was the sole reason why he was sent here to help. Too many men and women were lost back when the King had sent them to aid this land. To this day there was still no answer as to how those soldiers fell, but having been given the information he knows now, he was beginning to get an idea of what could have caused it. He’d have to do more digging before all this was over, just to be sure his theory was correct. “Good Night.” He said as she walked on. Now it was time for them to get to business; or at least if they could. He turned to Oscar Diggs, who in turn was already staring in his general direction. It was easy to identify who he was staring at, hint: Not him. Pushing off the wall, D’daear began to make his way to Oscar, letting his arms slump down.

    “Alright, quit staring at Glinda with those love filled eyes and let’s get to business.” He started. Oscar snapped out of it, looking up to meet the soldier’s eyes.

    “Ah, yes. Of course. So what did YOU have in mind, uuuh…D’daear?” he asked, putting one of his legs over his other leg to look more sophisticated. D’daear walked over to the desk in front, and leaned his rear end against it, placing both hands on the edge. He kept his eyes on him. “I’m no tactician, Mr. Diggs. All I can say is that without an army…we’re not going to be accomplishing much… I still no nothing on what to expect other than resistance by Winkie guards and Evanora…” He explained, frowning in a bit of disappointing. It was true, they barely knew nothing of their enemy. The city had walls that were impossible to climb over, and gates that were well guarded.

    “I agree…” Oscar managed to say. He had now averted his eyes as he too felt a wave of disappointment while he bit his lower lip with his eyebrows now furrowed. There wasn’t much to what either of them could work with at the moment. They sat here in silence for a while, hoping one or the other could come up with something. Although, soon D’daear just found it more useful to sleep on it.

    “Well, I’m going to hit the hay then… Hopefully Glinda can come through for us with that army…” he said, also averting his eyes to the floor. A part of him couldn’t believe that Glinda could, but where there’s hope, right? The Witch just seemed too nice, too pure. As he walked away, he could still feel Oscar seated on the chair. Reaching the exit of the study, he quickly turned to see if Oscar had at least gotten off to do SOMETHING. Nothing. He was still seated there, both elbows rested on the arm chair whilst leaning his chin against his clasped hands with a look of deep contemplation. “What could he be thinking?” D’daear thought, as he gave way to the long brown wooden framed hallway that beckoned him to walk to his designated room. There was no use in thinking anymore, literally. The day had sucked the energy out of him. Heck, perhaps he couldn’t think of a plan BECAUSE he was exhausted. At least, it was a thought to play around with. He continued down the hallway towards his room, which was adjacent to where Gwynt was presently resting at.

    He stopped in the center of the wooden floor, where both doors were adjacent to each other. His head turned to the door that led to where Gwynt was resting. The wonderful thing about magic was that it could do things people couldn’t normally do without some kind of invention or whatnot. To heal someone in a matter of seconds, however….that was something not even an invention could perform. Wanting to check in on her, he stepped forward to her door, and reached for the handle.

    “D’daear?” spoke a female. It was Glinda, who had caught him with his hand only centimeters away from the handle. He turned to her, in dull surprise. “Oh, Glinda. I thought you went to sleep…” he said.

    “Yes well…there was something I needed to talk to you about.” She revealed, taking a few steps towards him. He began to notice just how clingy she was with her wand as she approached him with her wand held in hand. She stopped a few steps away from him, looking at him with a serious demeanor, but with a hint of concern. Seeing her with that expression made him feel awkward, like perhaps he had done something bad or something. “Talk about what?” was all D’daear managed to reply with, letting his hand slump to his side as he gave her his full attention.

    “Well…” she hesitated, not sure as to whether let him in on an important find. She had found out about it the moment she laid eyes on D’daear, and had been confirmed the moment Gwynt was taken into her care. Ultimately, however, she decided against it. Perhaps now wasn’t the time. “…the reason as to why the both of you came….” She shifted subjects.

    “Ooh! You mean our investigation? Yeah we received special orders from our superiors to come here to investigate. I-I can’t say too much… I hope you understand…” he said, averting his eyes while scratching the back of his head. Glinda gave him an understanding nod. “Ah, well then…perhaps I shouldn’t pry then…” she said, her to averting her eyes in disappointment. It would be rude of her to stick her nose in information that wasn’t meant to be known. When she looked up, she had noticed D’daear was already heading for his room. “Forgive me…but I have to ask… Why is it that they only sent the two of YOU?” she asked, at the very least knowing she could ask this kind of question. The soldier had by then opened his door before having turned to look at her. He gave a smile, feeling a sense of childish pride as he knew the answer all too well.

    “I don’t know why either…but from what I’ve been told…it’s because we were able to put a stop to the Horned King in Pyrdain.” He said. Glinda watched him as he entered his room, his last words for the evening being wishing her a good night followed by the sound of his door closing. A small sigh escaped her while she pondered in concern for the boy before she turned to head back to her quarters. All the while, D’daear had taken off his boots, jacket, and laid his sheath sword by an evening desk next to the guest bed. His body was just exhausted, and he hadn’t even showered. In a relaxing motion he placed his right forearm over his forehead, letting his eyes stare at the ceiling. One thought remained at the forefront of his mind while his eyelids became heavy with sleep. It had been plaguing him since he found out.

    Evanora… she was good…and now wicked? How does that happen?”

    Chapter 24


    The new day had come upon the Sorceress’s palace, and the city in which her people lived in. Walls covered certain parts of the palace, with walkways embedded on the top of them. There were also balcony’s in which some people were using to get a better view. The area was large in its circular shape, enough to hold the crowd, and more if there ever was. It extended all the way towards the edge of the bubble dome that protected everyone. Just as the area extended itself to the domes edge, there was a bay area just a few yards away from the stairway that held telescopes for people to use if they ever felt like star gazing. D’daear stood next to Oscar Diggs in the center of a large crowd in front of the Palace’s stairs that led to its entrance; it was the same area where D’daear had met both Glinda and Oscar. They were waiting for her to reveal her ‘army’; Gwynt was excluded as she was still resting inside the palace. Glinda stood among her people with a reassuring smile.

    “I present to you…the Quadlings.” She formerly introduced to Oz with great pride. D’daear’s mandible laxed exaggeratedly as he stared in dull shock. He couldn’t fathom that THIS was what she had led on as army. Oz placed his hands on his hips, still staring at the bunch with much disbelief and skepticism. “These are your soldiers?” he asked, even his voice showing a hint of doubt. A tall Quadling stepped up.

    “Not soldiers, but farmers, Sir…mostly.” Said the Quadling. Oz couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “But, you can fight, right?” spoke the wizard.

    “N-nno sir, but many of us can hope!” spoke another tall Quadling.

    “Oh! You can hope.” He spoke back with a smile, although his voice held a sarcastic tone. “I can work with iron!” spoke another from the iron. Oz’s eyes lit up with small hope. “Ah, well that’s good.” He said, watching as some Quadlings began to step up in letting their talents be known, with Glinda standing by Oz’s side with a proud smile. Her people were stepping up, and she was glad to see this.

    “I can bake bread!” a woman said, followed by a sassy remark from oz.

    “I can sow!” spoke another, followed by a barely audible mutter from the wizard. It must’ve be rather rude, considering how Glinda’s smile dulled when she heard what Oscar had uttered.

    “And I can make scarecrows!” said the last of them. At the end of everyone’s turn, Oz was left with barely any hope left. D’daear, whom stood close by, didn’t blame him, although he didn’t enjoy the sarcastic remarks that emanated from Oz either. The Wizard had awoken to the morning expecting an army. It didn’t even have to be well trained soldiers, but at least people who could bare-arms when they needed too. Instead, he was introduced to workers who didn’t seem to have the slightest bit of aggressive attitude in them. Noticing Oz’s waning hope through his behavior, Glinda disappointedly took Oz by the arm with gentle care and led them to another group of workers to their right. Perhaps if the Quadlings didn’t impress him, then maybe these next few would. These Workers had blacksmithing attire, with apron and everything.

    “These are the Tinkers.” She introduced, gesturing to a large group of men.

    One thing D’daear noticed about these men were that, well they were all men. Not only men, but bald to be precise. Some were young and others were old, but one thing they all had in common was the lack of hair on the scalp, and the fullness of a log beard. A tall aged man whom appeared to be the group’s leader took a step forward; he was technically the only one brave enough to speak to Oz directly. Oz turned his attention to Glinda and D’daear as the three approached the group. “Are you KIDDING, me?” he muttered in a harsh whisper, watching D’daear being too busy placing a hand on his scalp in childish fear for hair loss. He was in his little world, briefly enough to not have heard the Wizards remark.

    “We’re tougher than we look.” Spoke the leader as Glinda walked over to the old man’s side. “What they lack in stamina, they make up in ingenuity. They can build anything.” She added with returning pride. Every tinker suddenly gave a loud shout in agreement to Glinda’s testament. Now they had Oscar Digg’s attention; somewhat. With the thinking power at his disposal, perhaps they could find a way to still fight. “AND, we’re prepared to storm the Emerald city.” Spoke the old leader. D’daear couldn’t help but feel a bit at war with himself. He understood that these men had courage, but STORM the emerald city? With these people? They needed strength, people with REAL power, not weak aged men who made inventions. It only took a rude witty remark from Oscar to confirm that he wasn’t the only one thinking it.

    “If you don’t KEEL over on your way over there.” Oscar let out with a smug, suddenly feeling Glinda’s wrath. Glinda quickly rushed to the Wizards side, and pulled him away from the group in a formal matter that disguised her true intention. It was indeed rude of Oz to have said that. As they locked arms, she pinched his arm as a form of disciplinary action for his rudeness. Once she saw Oscar’s painful reaction, she gave him a satisfied smile. She no sooner pinched him, than she now introduced him to the final group of people. “And finally, the munchkins.” She introduced, not noticing a comical down-casted D’daear at their side.

    For goodness sake, she’s not even trying to notice how ridiculous all this is.” He thought, letting out a depressed sigh. Soon, his attention got caught by the sound of constant thuds emanating from the stairway that had led them into the Palace. He looked up to see Oscar clapping his hands to the beat of the thuds with vigor and passion in his eyes. Something had brought hope into him. As D’daear looked up to where everyone was now turned too, his eyes also lit up.

    MUNCHKINS!? THESE GUYS ARE TALL!!!” the thought projected itself in D’daear’s surprised face.

    In an orderly fashion, a group of lined up soldiers made their way down the steps holding halberds; a pole arm. They were slender, but tall beyond comparison wearing long military coats with simple belt buckle holding the belt and pants in place. They made the other tall Quadlings look like small people in comparison. Now THIS is what they needed. REAL soldiers with which they could lead to battle. The sight restored hope to both Oz and D’daear. “With this, we definitely have a fighting chance.” Spoke the young purple haired soldier to Oz. Oz agreed with a nod and smile. The wizard took a step forward from the two companions, and toward the group.

    “Please tell me YOU gentlemen can fight.” He said, with an almost certain smile as he looked upon his fellow saviors. These were the guys that could still save his plans.

    “No, but we make pretty clothes!” spoke one of them, the voice freezing Oscar Digg’s and D’daear in place. He had a high pitched voice, which suddenly brought doubt to both Oz and D’daear, going as far as having it affect their just renewed positive attitude. “And we can sing!” spoke another. They sounded almost like children. A sharp Oz suddenly understood where this was heading, and began to gesture for them to not sing out of desperation. “N-no! That’s quite alright! That won’t be necessary!”

    “I think it’s quite alright. I love it! OH, I hope you like it!” spoke a joyous Glinda. D’daear winced as he readied his ears for the singing that was to come, but then widened his eyes in shock at what came next. With one synchronized motion, the soldiers removed their coats. It all made sense to D’daear, and shattered all hope he had. The soldiers revealed themselves to be a set of three small people having been making up the size of each individual soldier. It was like watching a short musical, as the top person swung using the stationary halberd in order to slide to the floor, followed by the second person doing a back flip off of the bottom person. In one great choreography, the munchkins began to dance and sing as they let loose to their rhythmic music.

    “Alright, that’s enough.” Spoke a barely audible Oz, a bit irritated at the ruse.

    The munchkins continued to dance, having not heard him over the loud singing of clustered voices in deep synchronization. Up and down the stairs some of them went, while others used the stairs railings to slide down with such acrobatic ability.

    “Alright! That’s enough!” shouted a, yet again, barely audible Oz.

    D’daear was very disappointed at the way this all turned out, but at the very least couldn’t help but admire the munchkin’s acrobatic ability. “They got style at least…” muttered D’daear as he disappointedly crossed his arms with a long sigh.

    “STOP!”

    The choreography stopped mid-way, turning their attention to the frustrated Wizard. Oz turned to Glinda, showing her a frustrated serious demeanor on his face. All he saw was Glinda staring back at him innocently. “They do make beautiful clothes.” She defended, not showing him that she understood what kind of army he needed. The wizard’s demeanor waned fast as he stared into her eyes. She was the spitting image of someone he cared deeply for. Looking at her, he knew he couldn’t be mad at her. Perhaps he could try to make her understand. “Listen…Wanda” he began, stopping mid-sentence as Glinda corrected him. He let out a weak sigh, turning to the munchkins. They were still in the same positions they had stopped in mid-choreography.

    “Guys, take five.” He gestured with his hands. The group broke formation and settled in as now everyone’s eyes were on Oz and Glinda, including D’daear’s. The look Oz was giving Glinda, D’daear knew the Wizard was doing his best to NOT be angry or frustrated with this woman. “They’re ALL very lovely people…but…do you honestly believe they can kill a wicked witch and an army of flying baboons? “ he questioned in a whisper to Glinda. The sorceress returned the reply with concerned skepticism towards what Oz had originally in mind. “I don’t…expect them to kill anyone.” She replied, looking at D’daear too. He needed to know this too, considering he was a soldier and all.

    Oz leaned forward a bit closer to Glinda, his face frozen in confusion. “What you do you mean?”

    “I mean, the good people of Oz are forbidden to kill.”

    “Forbidden…” was all a stunned Oz managed to utter for the moment. He turned around briefly to notice the innocent Quadlings staring back at him, then to D’daear who stood there with a thoughtful expression. “You want me to lead an army that can’t KILL?!” he exclaimed in a silent whisper to Glinda.

    “If it was easy, we wouldn’t need a wizard, now would we?” she sassed back.

    “Geez…now this is definitely a problem.” D’daear thought out loud while keeping eyes averted to the floor. Glinda’s words were a conflicting idea to the young warrior. How could you NOT kill someone that is trying to kill you? Or at the very least NOT hurt the person who is trying to hurt you; enough in order for them to back off anyway. Not that he himself had killed anyone; yet, but the very idea that Glinda had presented to him was hard for his mind to digest. Perhaps they didn’t need to kill the Witch, considering she would need to be put under some kind of trial first. She did kill the King of Oz; according to Glinda, but she WAS a former Good witch. Good people don’t just turn bad out of nothing. Heck, perhaps at one point the Horned King was once a good sorcerer before succumbing to an evil influence and becoming the monster that he was. So in conclusion, Evanora would need to stand some form of trial first, in order to get the answers D’daear needed at the very least. There was something very interesting about the idea of a Good person becoming wicked that he so much wanted to figure out.

    Suddenly, An intense situation arose, bringing D’daear back from his trail of thoughts. “SOMETHING’S WRONG!!!” screamed a female Quadling. D’daear turned to the crowd to find their eyes gazing up at the protective barrier. When he came to look up, he found a dark cluster of black smoke, and clouds all working together to break through the barrier, with a large ball of fire leading the assault in its center. It was burning bright like a large hot ember that passionately attempted to penetrate the evil warding barrier. The darkness soon began to envelope the entire dome that surrounded the city, as if attempting to devour it whole. Wind began to pick up within the city as the sheer force of the persevering darkness slammed against the dome using the hot fiery tip. The crowd began to panic, bustling with the sound of their distressed voice.

    “It’s ok. The wicked witch’s power is no match for the barrier.” Glinda said, standing by Oz’s side. D’daear didn’t know what to do, and was surprised at everything that was unfolding before him. This was nothing like he had ever seen before, even in comparison to the Horned King. The Wizard and the young soldier both did not look convinced with Glinda’s words. They watched the flaming center wither away at the spot that it focused on, with gathering winds swirling everywhere.

    “Looks to me like she’s managing…!” Oz commented, with a look of growing concern on his face. Glinda took notice, realizing that the cloud of darkness that was beginning to envelope the side of the dome was indeed a strange phenomenon she had never seen. “Not by herself she isn’t…” Glinda remarked Oz’s words. Oz kept staring up, now feeling nervous. “What does that mean?! Is someone helping her?!” he exclaimed now, with Glinda putting her attention to the people. “Everyone run! Take cover! Take the children to safety!” she shouted, her eyes turning to D’daear as she saw him draw his blade from the sheath on his lower back. The soldier’s eyes were now fully focused on the burning center up above. When Glinda came to, the area in which was being targeted suddenly came a rift as the mass of fire burst through the dome and sky-rocketed towards the couple with great intensity.

    “Glinda!” shouted Oz, wrapping his arms around her form as he maneuvered themselves just inches away from the incoming projectile. The ball of fire came crashing down just a yard away from them, sending a wave of heat, and debris all over the place, and knocking people down with the massive impact as it shook the ground beneath them while taking its place between the remnants of the crowd; near both the coupled Magic users and a knocked down D’daear. The fireball roared violently in its small crater whilst the flames slowly waned to small wide embers that began to glow with hotness. A piercing sound soon began to emanate from heated rocks while it screeched loud enough to be heard. The glow began to whirl and twirl the embers into a miniature vortex of flames, slowly revealing a black silhouette that began to manifest from its center. It began to take shape, a humanoid form, but was still unclear as long as the spinning embers kept it vague. Soon enough, however, the embers began to subside in order to first reveal a black steeple-crowned hat with a long pointy top. It was the Witch, and she appeared to be in shape with a slender figure. She wore black tight fitting pants, boots, and a tight black dress with stripped black pointy clothes that pointed stiff outwards on the shoulder of her dress, with long tight black sleeves that traveled up to her hands, gloving them like open gloves.

    D’daear was seeing doubles of everyone and everything. Nothing was in clear focus as he failed to pick himself up; the power behind the fireball had knocked him onto his back. Head throbbing, his eyes vaguely fluttered, blue irises transfixed on the dome that covered the city. It was covered in that black smog he saw earlier while the Witch had been attempting her break-in. Recovering, he stood up using his sword for the extra help he needed. A blurry vision was attempting to refocus on his surroundings. From what he could tell, the Witch had her head tilted forward, enough for the rim of her hat to hide her entire face. She had her arms limp at her side, even her hands resting limp as she stood there motionless. The air fell silent with anticipation, with only but small murmurs from the remaining curious crowd. Oz and Glinda neared the dazed D’daear. “You ok?” spoke Oz. Glinda cast a quick spell on him, which cured him of his daze.

    The soldier stood, feeling his life come back. “Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks Glinda.” He replied, taking a few steps in front of them as he became the man that now stood between the Witch and the two. He gripped his sword, and pointed it at the dark sorceress. He took a second to examine the figure. She had green fingers, and black nails. Wait green skin? D’daear looked perplexed, before gasping in shock as he Faced it. The Witch had suddenly looked up at them, revealing her yellow irises staring past D’daear and glaring at both Oz and Glinda. Her nose tip was pointy, along with a sharp bridge, and a pointy chin. Her sharp features further enhanced her evil appearance with the green complexion she had on her youthful looking face.

    D’daear followed her gaze, doing his best to keep his guard up. It wasn’t the first time he had faced someone with a malicious appearance, yet he could feel that small familiar sense of fear. “Why is she staring at you like that?” he whispered back at a horrified Oz. The man remained silent. The remaining crowd quivered in fear at the Wicked Witch’s appearance. The good people of this city had not known any kind of evil until now. D’daear scanned his surroundings, watching a few of them take steps away from the scene that he had a feeling was about to unfold.

    “This place…wreaks of good…”spoke the Witch in a strong anger filled tone. Her yellow irises began to look about what surrounded her. People were afraid, and cowering, some even averting their eyes away from her. She snickered, pointing to the sky above. “Still think your wizard can save you?!” she shouted, referring to the absence of the dome, which was now replaced with her Darkness.

    “Who’s that?” Oz finally managed to whisper to Glinda, more curious on the identity of the Witch than the situation. Surprisingly enough, the Witch heard him. She yet again gave him a glare. “Don’t recognize me, Wizard?” spoke the Witch, suddenly hovering over the ground. Her body began to make its way towards Oz.

    “What do you mean, who’s that? Isn’t that Evanora?” D’daear whispered back quizzically at Oz while taking a few steps back as the Witch closed the gap between them. The reports sadly failed to give him a brief description of how Evanora looked like. His sword was still raised; aimed at her using his right arm, yet she continued to glide her way towards them as if he wasn’t even there. “That’s not Evanora. Far from it…” he replied, slowly parting from Glinda. The Witch’s voice, and the way her eyes glared at him all began to bring back a sense of familiarity to the young Wizard. As his eyes lit up with recognition to the witch’s identity, a look of distressed shock came upon his face. “No…Theodora?” he finally inquired. The Witch grinned, setting herself down only a few feet from them, only a foot away from D’daear’s sword. With a suave wave of her right hand, she sent D’daear flying away towards the crowd as she made her advance to Oscar Diggs.

    “May I have this dance?” she asked randomly, bowing to him. Suddenly, while still bowing, she lifted cupped hands, somehow taking control of a bewildered Oscar. Slowly her head rose with a devilish grin. The Wizard was now her puppet to play with for the moment. She lifted him high into the air, moving her arms about as they danced together. “WHOA!! HEY!!!” shouted the great Wizard as he was easily manipulated by Theodora’s magic, all the while D’daear was being helped up by the Quadlings. One of them ran up to him, bringing him his sword, saying “Get up! The Wizard needs your help!”

    The young soldier looked up to see Oscar being played like a doll. Feeling indignant about it, he grabbed the sword and ran up to the Witch, stopping a few feet from her. “Hey! Put him down!” he shouted in great demand, getting into fighting stance. The Witch groaned in irritation, turning to the sword wielder. She kept Oz up while examining D’daear’s attire. Were it not for the sigil on his cloth, she would’ve mistaken him for a small rebellious Winkie Guard. “What do you think you’ll be able to accomplish by waving that pathetic instrument of a weapon around?” she asked him, raising an eyebrow whilst gritting her teeth a bit irately. “Stop me? Please… Do yourself a favor and walk away from here…from this land, soldier of Baron. Unless you wish to be toyed with…and then destroyed like their precious wizard will be….”

    D’daear’s eyebrows furrowed as he looked up to see Oscar fighting to maintain proper balance in mid-air. He stood his ground, maintaining his fighting stance. “She’s right…nothing is stopping her from doing the same to me…all of us for that matter. How CAN I stop her?” He thought, remembering what she had done to him seconds ago. A war with common sense, his logic, and what his heart was telling him was taking place; he was showing it through his tensed jaw. What COULD he do? He tightened the grip on his blades handle, closing his eyes. Who was he kidding. Deep down, despite the odds, he knew what he had to do, regardless of his well-being. He was willing to fight the odds, and somehow fate decided to intervene, or rather Glinda.

    “Put him down, Theodora.” Spoke Glinda, intervening in on the situation. This apparently grabbed the Witch’s attention immediately, as she looked flustered. D’daear felt a wave of relief overcome him. The two magic wielders gazed at one another, eyes locked in a fierce battle for dominance. After a while of locked gazes, with hesitation, The Witch tossed the floating Oz on towards a wall. His body slammed against it, falling atop of barrels as gravity took control. The Witch gave Glinda a powerful glare, yellow eyes shifting focus between her and the wand clutched in the Sorceress’s hands. The Good Witch of the South, playing the hero. How that stirred her indignant, her fire for the destruction that she would bring upon these people. Her hands curled into fists, shaking while her brows furrowed deeply and the need to hurt welled up inside her.

    “Theodora…what happened to you?” spoke a frail Oz only a few feet away, his form struggling to get up from the daze of the dance, as well as the impact against the wall. Theodora turned to Oscar Diggs immediately, feeling everything she had been feeling tighten up even more inside her as it reached its peak in a blended form of darkness. She burst out in a monstrous scream, “YOU HAPPENED TO ME, OSCAR DIGGS!!”

    Chapter 25

    YOU HAPPENED TO ME, OSCAR DIGGS!!!” she screamed.

    Yellow eyes burned with emotional intensity down upon the defenseless wizard. The Wicked Witch raised a hand, and it immediately ignited a sphere of fire on her gloved palm. Every muscle, tendon, fiber, and sinew in her arm was leaning towards the desire to destroy this fake Wizard. She commanded by sheer desire to toss the ball of fire at the wizard with the intention of destroying him; but in a last second save, Glinda intervened yet again by casting an icy burst of concentrated cold air at Theodora’s hand. The flame was extinguished instantaneously like a blown out candle, leaving the Witch bewildered by the audacity displayed by the Good sorceress when she wide eye’d her fireless hand. Glinda, whom stood there with wand aimed at Theodora, had a look of apprehension. She did not want to fight, especially against someone whom she remembered as being kind, sweet, and innocent…a friend.

    “This isn’t you…” she began her reel of persuasion, while taking slow steps around the Witch towards Oz. All of this had occurred so suddenly, that her instincts drove her to position herself between the Theodora and Mr. Diggs. Glinda could sense a small bit of goodness left in the Witch, and was hoping perhaps, the Theodora she once knew was still there behind the mask of evil that now blanketed her. “It’s your sister…Evanora. She’s worked her magic on you. I’d hoped you’d be able to see through her…”

    The Good Witch had now made her way between Theodora and Oz, while D’daear kept his distance, now having made his way just opposite of the three. The evil Witch kept her irises locked onto Glinda, having begun to take slow confident strides towards the two while the good witch had attempted to convince. Essence of Betrayal, and shattered dreams still filled Theodora’s tainted heart. There was a reason for the way she felt, her hate towards the Wizard. “Oh Glinda…who do you think you’re fooling? So Naïve…just like your Father. That’s why it was so easy for my sister to rid him.” The Witch spoke in a soft yet scornful manner, hoping to inflict injury to the good hearted witch. The Good Witch felt saddened, watching a former friend now looking to be completely transformed into the thing everyone present here was fighting against. She shook her head in disagreement as well as in disappointment.

    “You purged a man, not what he stood for.” was all Glinda could muster to say in defense.

    The remaining members of the crowd began to stir, attempting to get rid of the Witch with their words. “Be gone evil Witch! Before the Wizard makes mush of you!” spoke a Quadling holding a broom. Everyone suddenly started to speak out, their words clustered into bustling noise. The evil Witch of the West turned to the crowd, pitying as she disparaged them immediately. “Oh…how sweet… You ALL believe in him…” she mocked at the naivetés, turning her disdainful gaze back to Oz, who looked rather worried. “…just like I once did…” she commented. Broken dreams raced through her mind, remembering the naïve faith she once had in him. Oh, but how the darkness opened her eyes to the truth. It helped her see things clearly. She kept staring past Glinda, and onto Oscar Digg’s.

    Her last words seemed to have pierced Oscar, as he now looked more wounded than worried. D’daear watched keenly, taking note of everything while he waited on guard in case the Witch tried anything. The Wicked Witch turned her attention and elegantly approached Glinda, pointing her black tipped finger at her. Oscar wasn’t the only one that she had ill intentions towards. Nearing the white dressed Sorceress, she used the black tip of her index finger to caress the Good Witch’s under chin in a demeaning display. “And as for you…heh…my pretty…when I return here with my sister and her army, the skies will fill with the fragments of every Tinker, farmer, Quadling, and the smoke of your fallen Kingdom.” She promised, her mandible soon tensing with the fiery hate that had guided her words. Glinda kept her gaze locked with the Witches, feeling a sense to defend her peoples honor. “Don’t underestimate us, Theodora… We are a strong and united people…now that the Wizard is here to lead us.”

    Once again, the mention of the Wizard sparked uncontrollable vexation within the Witch. She turned to the crowd, attempting to strain their morale as she pointed her finger at Oz. “And as for your Wizard! He WILL be the first to fall! And then you will ALL see, that he is nothing more…” she continued, turning her cold glare at Oscar Diggs, whom in turn was staring back offended; masking his growing fear. The Witch slowly approached him, wanting the Wizard to understand how personal this had become, “...That he is nothing more than a DECEITFUL, SELFISH, and EXTREMELY…Mortal man…”

    With her peripherals, she noticed the broom held by one of the Quadlings. A memory came back to her. She outstretched an empty left hand, and commanded the broom to fly towards the open palm with wordless sheer will. The broom slammed into the palm of her hand, immediately fingers curling tight around the stick, as darkness began to infuse with the broom in a charring way. “It WAS a broom you said, was it? WASN’T IT, WIZARD?!” she exclaimed in an attempt to jog the man’s memory. A devilish grin arose on her face now as she readied herself to take up the final step in becoming the Wicked Witch Oscar Diggs had once described to her. She suddenly hopped onto the broom as it levitated off the ground, and immediately began to project a dark smoke that lingered as she circled them first in the air, inevitably meeting eyes with the would be Hero who stood there silently, digesting the personal vendetta the Witch had against Oz. A snicker took place as an idea formed itself. It was perfect, just one more way to hurt the Wizard.

    “And as a showing of what’s to come, I’ll make an example out of your little friend here, Wizard! Now, FACE IT!” she screamed at Oscar, suddenly giving off a maniacal laughter while riding off into the dark clouds that hovered above the city. Oscar looked over at D’daear’s motionless form who stood there perplexed at what she meant, keeping his attention focused on the now far off Witch. Panic struck the Quadlings and Tinkers as they began to break apart from the crowd in a loud distressed commotion, running off into the safety of their city. Glinda moved about, trying to calm her people to no avail. “Please everyone, calm down! It’s alright, she’s gone!”

    Oz took a step forward, taking notice of the black smog left behind by the witch. Normally, Smoke would take a while to fully disappear, but this smog wasn’t even showing signs of waning. It began to cluster together as it cascaded to the floor near them, near D’daear. Gathering in one spot a yard away from an unsuspecting D’daear, it began to condense into a thick cloud concentrated in that one location. It had soon fully condensed itself, becoming a thicker form of black smoke, to the point where you couldn’t see through it anymore. It was large, and wide enough to separate the quadrant D’daear was in. Worried, Oz notified the Baron Soldier. “D’daear! Look!” he shouted to him, unable to see him through the cloud of darkness. The young soldier turned to the source of Oz’s voice, inevitably noticing the airy blackness that spread wide.

    “Wh-what?!” he exclaimed wide eyed, with furrowed brows. Taking the Witch’s promise into mind, he quickly put his guard up, expecting the worse from this bizarre phenomenon. His intuition was right. Out of the undisturbed black cloud lunged a soldier dawning skin tight black armor wearing a stripped silver skirt that parted at the front of the waist down to the knees. The soldier had its weapon drawn, and aimed for D’daear’s chest as it lunged at him with the tip of its blade producing some form of distortion in the small space surrounding it. Luckily, the Baron Soldier was ready for the surprise. The good soldier immediately parried the forward stab, creating a bit of spark with the friction of both blades. Placing his leg in the way of the mid-lunging dark warrior, D’daear made an attempt in order to trip it off balance. It was a success, as the darkness spawned creature fell forward. Amazingly, though, it recovered mid-fall with a well-placed free hand to the floor, flipping forward to a battle stance, ready for action. Quite the reflexes this one. The distance between the two was now fair, which gave D’daear a moment of reprieve. Upon closer inspection, D’daear noticed the finer details of the attire. A belt wrapped itself around the waist to hold the stripped cloth in place, with crossing belts interconnecting with each other in the gap of the parting cloth. It somewhat resembled the war cloth worn on D’daear’s side, except with difference in placement and quality. Everything, from the organic looking body suit to the ribbed boots was pitch black, with the exception of silver color placed on the wearers hands, boots, and the emblem that was embedded on the dark warrior’s muscular chest and abdomen. He had never seen an emblem like it, nor did he recognize the sigil.

    Xtracted Sigil.png

    What kind of soldier is this? I’ve never even seen anything like it. Is it a Winkie guard or something? Huh!?” he let his ethereal words trail off, eyes suddenly widening in recollection. A fine detail on the dark warrior caused the reemergence of a vague memory. The helmet worn by the warrior were in the center of D’daear’s blue irises. The Black stained glass that covered from Scalp to upper chin, with the thick silver jaw line that concealed the wearers chin, jaw, and cheeks to which traveled all the way to the back of the wearers head. This was what he remembered.

    “Wait…I remember you…! Back in Pyrda-“he couldn’t finish as the Dark Warrior lunged once again at D’daear. It was faster than before this time. The Baron soldier barely managed to evade out of the way through a side step. He regained his composure and got back to stance, feeling sluggish all of a sudden. The dark soldier skidded the bottom of his soles to a halt. It turned to D’daear, letting its body relax a bit as it pointed the blade at him, bringing great emphasis on it that could not be ignored. The blade was so bizarre in shape, and structure. It was something to the likes of which the soldier of Baron had never seen. Something long and thin was swaying on the pommel. The young soldier wasn’t sure what he saw, but it looked like a keepsake or something.

    “…what kind of sword is that?” he questioned in a mutter, narrowing his eyes at the warrior. The masked figure began to approach with caution, keeping its blade pointed at him. Each step was slow, yet bridged the gap between them. It was bidding its time, like a wolf knowing full well patience was the key to a successful takedown. D’daear’s throat started to choke in saliva. Forearms flexed in display of his tightening grip as he swallowed his nerves. The dark warrior began to circle him after arriving at ten feet of distance of D’daear. Each recurring step became faster. Suddenly, the warrior began to run with steady strides, circling the young soldier whilst keeping the blade aimed at him. D’daear kept his guard up with tensing muscles at all times, doing his best to keep up with the rather speedy foe. It was bizarre to him, how fast this warrior was moving without even trying, almost as supernatural as the way it had emerged from the black cloud. Round and around the dark warrior went, its form becoming a blur to his quarries blue irises. The situation became hard to keep track of as it started to look like the enemy had divided itself into multiples. The illusion was so intense that D’daear had to flutter his eyelids in order to not feel dazed. Then all at once they struck in shocking revelation. “What!?” he exclaimed in unavoidable bewilderment. Caught off guard by the impossible, there was nothing impressive he could do. Three in total lunged at him, with blade ready to deliver a mortal wound to his form. Barely, the young soldier managed to parry one hit, allowing for an opening in order for him to slip through. Slipping past the first, he was met with the other two. He felt a sharp jab to his side, followed by a blunt blow to his back, sending him off balance towards the thick cloud that was stationary. He fell on his front violently, slamming the side of his blade against the concrete floor with a wince, just in front of the cloud of Darkness.

    “D’daear!!” shouted Oscar from behind the cloud, having heard the loud clang of metal smacking against the concrete floor. He wanted to leave, run like the others, but something tugged at him. Was it his conscience or was it that the boy was important enough to care for? D’daear was nothing more than an old adolescent, but a soldier still. He would most likely need him. Besides, abandoning someone in trouble, especially trouble brought on by his selfishness…he couldn’t…or could he? His body became anxious at his indecisiveness. After letting out a deciding groan, he attempted to run through the darkness to get to him, unbeknownst to him Glinda had caught a glimpse of him. It was so hard to see through these dark clouds, and it gave him a weird sensation, as if the heart within him was aching when it really wasn’t. The sound of echoing whispers began to emanate around him in the blackness while he traversed deeper still. He covered his face with his right arm, squinting his eyes. “What…Is this?” he questioned, while moving forward. This sensation was like no other he had ever felt. The atmosphere was like from another world. He heard a deafening animalistic screech from his right. He turned, hearing the sound of flapping wings getting louder and louder. Brown eyes attempted to adjust past his arm, and into the thick darkness as curiosity over took him. It was brief, though. Out of the unknown came an enraged Winged Baboon, lunging itself at Oz. Brows lifted and mouth gaped as he screamed in fear. “AAAAAAH!!!!” he shouted, falling on his behind from the abrupt surprise, while placing his arms in front of him in a weak attempt to ward off the creature. He knew what these creatures could do, and there was nothing he could do. There he laid, awaiting his demise… Nothing happened. When Oz came to, he found the baboon struggling with all his might to break free from a bubble that had somehow captured it. It floated there in that space, wriggling, and struggling to break through.

    “What the…Glinda?” he questioned, looking around to find her in this black environment. He remembered her using the same bubble to transport them to this very palace back when they had met in the cemetery within the Dark Forest. “Glinda!!!” he shouted, getting up onto his feet.

    “I’m fine! Here, travel inside this. It’s not safe where you are. I’ll be with you soon! Go help D’daear!” shouted the Good Witch from outside the blackness. A large bubble came bursting through the darkness, momentarily revealing the outside as it flew to him. Just before the blackness closed the brief gap, Oscar could see Glinda alongside someone else. Dawning the same outfit as D’daear, with pistols in hand, it was Gwynt, standing next to Glinda, staring back at Oz with those piercing Emerald eyes. She seemed in deep concern. Oscar looked back at Glinda, her blue eyes staring back with a soft, yet weak smile on her face, until the darkness separated them again. The bubble sent by Glinda came flying towards Oscar, immediately enveloping him with its protective properties, and continued onward towards the other side of the darkness.

    All the while D’daear continued to fight on, this time facing off against three of the same opponent instead of just one. His movements felt slow, almost as if his reflexes were shot. The life within felt weakened. Something wasn’t right with all of this. Once again he barely managed to parry a stab aimed for him. His footing was off as well, like his motor skills had been lost. “What’s going on!? Why am I acting all weird?” He thought mid clash with one of the warriors. Conclusions from exhaustion to being out of shape came in mind, but all proved negative. He wasn’t tired, and he sure as heck was keeping up with his daily training most of the time. Their blades struggled with one another, attempting to overpower the other. Being up close to the warrior now, D’daear’s brows furrowed as he concentrated to peer into the blackness that was the mask. All he could see was a slightly distorted reflection along with the palace background. Being distracted could prove costly, D’daear realized, as the other two quickly made their way to them, their offense ready to cause some serious pain on the weary soldier. Gritting teeth expressed the struggle the soldier was having, letting out an annoyed groan before letting his foe win the clash. The dark warrior was indeed a formidable foe, perhaps even better than him! D’daear allowed the masked villain to push him away, thus using the abrupt momentum to further his distance from them with a jump back. Unfortunately, his footing still being off caused him to trip up and fall on his behind.

    Without hesitation the three lunged at him with well-aimed tips. There was nothing he could do this time. They were too fast, and with whatever was going wrong with him, there was just nothing he could do. He braced himself with the flat side of his blade in an attempt to ward off, expecting a heavy clash of blades. Eyelids folded over his eyes, knowing full well that this was the end of the fight. First came the blast of air pressure, signaling to him that they were probably upon him. He kept himself braced for a moment, before raising an eyelid to check what could have been causing the delay. Perhaps they were teasing him, wanting him to feel that sense of security before rushing him from nowhere, and shattering him. Lowering his blade, he checked, his blue irises catching sight of the three dark warriors all clustered together in a pile yards away to his right, with a bubble housing a light-headed Oscar Diggs steadily rolling its way towards D’daear. Upon reaching D’daear’s side, it popped like a gachapon to release the great Wizard of Oz on his rear end. The young warrior sat there in disbelief. He had been saved by Oz.

    “O-Oscar! You saved me!” he shouted in disbelief. The Wizard got up with awkward feet as he recaptured his senses. “Well yeah kid… I wasn’t just going to stand by and do nothing… Besides, it looks like you could use the help.” He managed to reply, dusting off his daze. This brought a smile to D’daear. Everything the Witch had said about him, being Selfish and all, was a lie after all. The wizard helped the boy up to his feet, and rather on time as well. The dark warrior had gotten up, shaking the damage off while its doppelgangers vanished into fragments of darkness which soon waned into nothing. Now the tides had turned, two versus one. “Alright, Oz. You back me up with your magic while I go head on with this clown.” He said, getting in front of the Wizard and into battle stance.

    “Magic?” Oscar inquired. D’daear looked back at Oz briefly.

    “Eer…well whatever you can do to help. You did say you were a magician, right?”

    The villain soon leaped forward, covering great distance with one single bound while swing its blade down on D’daear vertically. Oscar became jittery at the impending danger, not knowing what to do. “Yes! A carnival magician!” he shouted with anxiety. D’daear managed to block the attack head on with a horizontal block positioned above him. The clash was strong, causing D’daear’s knees to buckle. His arms began to give way to the sheer brutality behind the dark warrior. How powerful he was! “Oz! Now!” he shouted whilst mid-groan. His arms were giving in. Oz looked anxious, not knowing what to do exactly. “Uuhh-uuuh…Magician…RIGHT!” he shouted back with idea in mind. He reached into his inner coat pocket. Something was clumped in his hand. “PRESTO!!” he shouted, while shooting a powder out at the masked warrior’s helmet, instantly creating a small misdirecting explosion of red powdery smoke. The foe wavered, not because of pain, but because of how abrupt the bang was. It had never experienced such a surprise like it before. An opportunity had arisen in the small second given to D’daear, and that was all he needed, despite his sluggish movements. While stomping with his left foot, he at the same time pushed outward with his held blade, shaking the foe off balance. Now was his chance for a counterattack! Immediately after shaking the villain off, he stomped his right foot forward, and brought his blade down with all he had. “RAAAH!!” D’daear screamed, the blade slicing right into the beings chest diagonally, which caused the dark warrior to immediately take a few steps back in staggering pain. Unable to sustain itself, the dark villain fell to one knee, while slamming the tip of his bizarre weapon into the concrete for support. It sat there, head bowed down in defeat while holding his wound with the free hand.

    D’daear aimed his sword at the foe, about to say something when interrupted by Oz. “Aha!” he shouted, to gather the attention of the Quadlings who were still on sight, having watched ever so quietly while others had run amuck in the bustle. “You are no match for the GREAT Wizard!” Oscar cheered, trying to keep up appearances. The young soldier let out a sigh with dull eyes staring blankly at space. “Well, the important thing is that he came to my rescue… He’s not so bad...”

    Suddenly, the Dark being rose to its feet with struggle; apply most of its weight on the weapon for support. It cringed over, hunching its back as it placed its equipped hand over its chest, with its head raised to the two before him. D’daear kept his eyes locked on the strange weapon wielder. He knew the eyes behind that mask were staring back at him. Seeing as his foe was weakened, D’daear thought there was no way it’d be trying anything. So he let his eyes scan the strange weapon. It looked like a weapon from another world, what with its strange design, and structure. The creepiest part about it was how it had a strange blue cat’s eye on the rain-guard of the weapon. And what was up with the keepsake on that weapon anyway? So many questions were boggling the back of his mind. He decided to question.

    “Who are you, and why are you working with the Wicked Witch’s?!” he interrogated. The defeated warrior just kept its heading aimed at his direction, without a word to be said. Seconds went by, without a response. It seemed to be purposefully unresponsive. Impatience grew on a tired D’daear. “Well?! Out with it! Or do we have to take you prisoner!?”

    Finally, it responded. It lifted its free hand and aimed the palm towards the cloud of darkness that had almost prevented Oz from reaching D’daear. The sound of wild screeches began to emanate from the cloud, stirring panic within the remaining crowd that had stood watch. Within seconds a well-coordinated crowd of winged baboons burst through the cloud of darkness with wind breaking force, and flew over head the three. Out they poured, and up they went, circling their surroundings. Oz took a step back in fear, while D’daear held his ground courageously. The baboons suddenly redirected their flight towards them, diving down with enraged screeches.

    “What do we do!?” exclaimed an anxious Wizard. D’daear looked back at the foe, who was looking at the cloud with his hand aimed at the source of the baboons. He gripped his sword with both hands, tightening it with gritting teeth. There he was again, fighting himself. Logic told him to attack the one controlling this event, which would then put a stop to this madness, but his heart told him not too. Truth was, he didn’t want to put an end to this dark warrior, not because he didn’t want to, but because he couldn’t bring himself to. Behind that mask there was a person. His mind waned at the conclusion, closing his eyes in brow furrowing frustration. He had no plan. “RRRnnnggh... I-I…I don’t know!”

    “Well I do!” shouted a familiar voice. D’daear’s eyes burst open in surprise to see a familiar gunslinger jump in front of him, poised for action. Gwynt aimed her cannons at the incoming baboons, and began to unload her projectiles. Surprisingly enough, she wasn’t firing her usual ammo. Instead, blasts of bubbles jetted out of the tip filling up the sky. The unintelligible baboons rammed themselves into the constellation of bubbles that littered their path, each finding themselves being sucked into a bubble as they collided with them. “Gwynt! Wha-? I thought you were resting?” he asked, still baffled at the surprise save.

    “Please, like I can rest with the commotion that was going on out here? Besides, I’m all patched up.” She answered, looking back while still firing away at the sky.

    “Mr. Wizard!” said a lovely young female voice along with a male one. Both D’daear and Oz turned to see China girl; a foot tall ceramic doll along with Finley, a winged monkey. Oz bent down to meet them. “What are you guys doing here!? You should get back inside! In fact…” he exclaimed, slowing to a pause as he looked up at D’daear and Gwynt. Standing before him were two great soldiers who could do more than HE could. He slowly rose, looking at what was unfolding. It was controlled chaos, but chaos nonetheless, and it was all because of him and his selfishness. He felt a wave of justifying self-pity toward his fear when he began to think about what Theodora had said. All of this was the beginning. He turned to them, putting up a façade of smile. “D’daear, I’ll be RIGHT back. I’m just going to…take these two back inside. Heh…” he said, giving him two thumbs up. Off he went, escorting his friends up the stairs, with a china girl obediently following suit.

    D’daear stood there slightly laxed, watching with a brow raised as Oscar Diggs went up the stairs with his two little friends. It was so sudden. “Uuh…suuure.” He replied with a skeptical tone. After having been saved by him, he had trouble believing at the possibility of Oscar abandoning them right in this very moment. “He’ll come back…where ELSE is he going to?”

    “D’daear! Look! The guy in the mask is getting away!” she shouted back to him, guns still bubbling up the scenery. When D’daear came to, he saw the enemy already half way to the waning cloud of darkness that continued to spew out more baboons. “Go! I’ll cover you!” she shouted, blasting a baboon, who had gotten to close, in the face. Without a second thought, the purple haired warrior darted off into the bubbly chaos.

    Chapter 26

    The day glimmered through the palace window of Gwynt’s room where she rested. To her right, by a corner, was a coat hanger where her uniforms jacket was hung. By her bedside rested her boots along with a fast asleep Finley whom sat on a chair adjacent to Gwynt’s bed. He along with China girl; whom was resting beside Gwynt on the bed, were designated her caretakers while she recovered. Although the Good Witch; Glinda, had healed her, it was still needed for one to rest after such a strenuous journey under her condition. She had rested well through the new day, and now it was the afternoon. The young soldier lay there, eyes closed shut as her mind was drifting into the waves of her dreamscape. The sound of waves emanated while the bright sun lit down onto the peaceful land. Palm trees, the laughter of her friends, and the sand. Oh how she remembered the feeling of sand between her sandaled feet.

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

    The sand lay about the roadways, and made up the streets. Bulbous lanterns hung about through wires that extended through every street and intersection. This town where she came from, it was a large island, and in her youth, the orphanage was her only home. It was a two floor house made of the finest wood, with its own porch, and backyard. The town always watched out for the Orphans best interests, especially Gwynt whom was always a gentle delight to have around. Always wearing a green comfortable dress, she was. The children there, and their caretaker were all she had to call family. Every now and again, when the sun was high, they would all go out to the beach where they played among themselves. There were races, competitions, and times to lounge about to bask in the beauty of the sun. For her young mind at the time, this was all she ever needed. She had friends, a family, and the peace of her tropical life was unrelenting. But as time progressed, she grew older, and with age came curiosity, and self-awareness. Her heart expanded into thirsting to know what was beyond the oceans. This inevitably drove the people she cared for to distance themselves from her. They didn’t hate her, or dislike her, but they were wary of that passionate curiosity that burned in her heart. To the islanders, such strong curiosity could only bring about trouble, just the same way it was rumored about what went on in The Garden. At one time she even boldly sailed the seas with her small row boat to a nearby island where she began to spend a lot of time by her lonesome. This new island, this paradise, where tons of palm trees, and grass grew about away from the shore. My, the things that could be done to better this small island feel like home or a personal get away. It became her secret place where she could spend time alone to wonder of what could lay beyond the horizon. All was well, and tranquil, except for her curious heart. She wanted more, to learn more. These islands, they began to feel more like prisons than a paradise. And so one day, when she visited her little island, she encountered someone awaiting on the shore of her paradise.

    “Who are you?” asked the youth. Without turning, the mysterious person spoke. “I heard the call of your curious heart... My, how it called out every day!” The woman spoke. “Do you truly wish to know what lies beyond the safety of these waters?” said she. The young girl was delighted, ever so enthusiastic in her innocent reply. The woman turned to her, looking straight into Gwynt’s emerald eyes. “I have seen many things in my travels, and learned so much… One can say it is enough to quench ones curiosity a thousand times over. There is a world so much larger compared to this tiny island…and the dangers that lie out there…surely it is no place for a child…”

    “Please! Take me with you! I’ll do anything!” The naïve child spoke out in desperation. This was her only chance to break free from this dull prison. There was so much out there that she wanted to see, to learn, and explore. A wide grin revealed itself on the woman’s face. Her pale hands were extended out to the young girl now. “Very well, then. Come child.” Said she. This was the beginning, where it all started for her. The denizens of the tropical life searched and searched for her, but they could find no trace of the young Gwynt, except for a locket lying about in the sand of her small paradise. At the time, the young girl did not know the woman’s true intentions until much later in her years. The laughter that she would soon come to recognize began to echo throughout Gwynt’s sleep. It was so malevolent, and terrifying that she could’ve sworn it was getting louder. The laugh got louder and louder, soon ringing in her ears. This laughter she was hearing, it wasn’t the same, but it WAS real.

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

    Suddenly, her eyes shot open in a cold nervous sweat, while at the same time her upper body shot up abruptly. Her breathing was off, and her heart was accelerated. She looked about her surroundings, faintly remembering how she had arrived to this place. Memories began to collect themselves, forging themselves into a chain of recollections. “Oh, right… D’daear…” she muttered, remembering how he had come back for her with all those caring Quadlings. The Quadlings had laid her down on a stretcher, and carried her all the way to Glinda’s palace where she was laid on this very bed. Much was revealed to her as she lay there, stubbornly not wanting to rest. Thinking back, D’daear was with them alongside a man by the names of Oscar Diggs, as well as a monkey and a Ceramic doll. Oscar was about D’daear’s height; maybe taller, and trite yet well refined in his suit to mask it. Glinda had touched Gwynt’s forehead with the tip of her wand, and…that was all she could remember.

    There was snoring emanating from her left. Her head turned to find Finley rested on the chair beside her bed.

    “What’s wrong?” spoke a little girl’s voice. Gwynt looked down to see China girl by her side, rubbing her little eyes. Emerald eyes widened a bit; it still shocked her to see a live doll. “Nothing…” she replied, still trying to gather herself here. She let her eyes wander throughout the room, to give her time adjust to the weirdness. “Talking dolls…monkeys with wings…what’s next?” her ethereal voice trailed.She vaguely remembered this room. It was a very well put together guest room. A mirror to her right, placed atop a dressing table gave off her reflection. She realized her jacket was off. China girl quickly climbed atop Gwynt’s covered leg to better grab her attention. “Gwynt, you should get some rest! Glinda said so.” The little girl spoke out. Gwynt looked down at her, smiling sweetly. “I think I’ll be fine. I’ve been through worst.” She replied, gently picking up the doll off her lap, and settling her next to a pillow on the bed. With one swift motion, she unwrapped the covers and got off of bed. Her hands grasped her boots, and immediately put them on, with feet mildly stomping on the floor to feel the fit. China girl scuttled to Gwynt’s side, while the sound of the soldiers boots awoke Finley.

    He let out a nice yawn, baring his primal fangs. Gwynt hid her snicker, walking towards the coat hanger; leaving the ceramic doll unattended. It was a little funny to see a cute little monkey wearing a uniform. With a little hat no less. She grabbed her coat, and began to place her arms in the holes when she heard the cry of a crowd. It was vague from the floor they were on, but she could definitely make out the noise as fearful cries. Her feet took her to the window in concerned curiosity. The dome was covered in dark essence, removing the light of day! Her emerald eyes immediately caught sight of the black smoke that was now falling to the floor. It formed itself, creating a large thick dense cloud of darkness. The image poked at her memory.

    “Dark-ness…?” she uttered in question, eyes catching sight of D’daear whom was unaware of what was going on behind him. Her heart nearly skipped a beat as she held her breathe. “D’daear!” she shouted from behind the closed window. She had to get down there, fast. Her feet scuttled quickly past the bed, to the rooms exit, with a concerned party chasing just behind her. “Gwynt!” shouted Finley, letting the ceramic doll jump on his back. My, was the palace large, it felt like a while had passed by the time they had reached the doorsteps of the palace entrance. Gwynt had made it out just in time to see Oscar jump into the dark smog. She dashed towards the wary Glinda who stood there and watched.

    “Gwynt, wait!!” said the China girl, with Finley leading them on.

    “Glinda! You have to stop him! He can’t go in there! It’s too dangerous!” shouted the female soldier, summoning her hand cannons as she made her way to her. The Good witch turned to Gwynt, with a look of concern, turning to Finley and China girl who just caught up. “Gwynt! You should be- Finley, China girl…I thought I told you to watch her. “

    “I’m fine! We need to focus on what’s going on now! That darkness that Oscar just went into, it isn’t safe!” she said in a serious demeanor, pointing at the cloud of black smoke with a cannon. Glinda looked at Gwynt’s eyes, eye levels equally matched. “Darkness? You mean…” she paused her inquiry a moment, turning to the cloud with still concern. “That’s a physical manifestation of darkness?”

    “Yes…and if we don’t get Oscar out of there…who knows what could happen to him…” Gwynt replied, turning to the cloud that littered the floor. It was thick with blackness, and covered a wide area of the floor. It was so wide, that it literally felt as if the cloud had purposefully created a perimeter with which the only way to get to the other side would be to go through it. Filled with determination, Glinda gripped her wand tight. “Then I suppose we can’t have our Wizard falling prey to it, now can we?” she spoke with eyebrows furrowed, suddenly waving her wand around. On the final stroke, a large bubble popped into existence before them, and with a push of Glinda’s hand, it flew straight into the cloud, penetrating a hole into it, only briefly however.

    “Glinda!” shouted a nearby voice, only seconds after the bubble had penetrated through the darkness. Glinda’s concerned turned to relief, figuring the bubble had saved him. “I’m fine! Are you inside the bubble?” she inquired. When Oscar gave her the negative, she took action. “Here, travel inside this. It’s not safe where you are. I’ll be with you soon! Go help D’daear!” shouted the Good Witch. She crafted her bubble using the same method as its predecessor, and launched it into the blackness. Once again it pierced right through, but this time they could see Oscar Diggs. It was strange, they had just seen the bubble penetrate in the same spot before, and they could only see blackness. Now, they could see Oscar Diggs surrounded by the blackness. The two females watched as the bubble enveloped the Wizard in its protective properties. He was looking right at Gwynt in surprise just before the darkness reclosed.

    Gwynt tightened her hands around her cannons. “Glinda…we have to get onto the other side somehow. Can you perhaps send me through there using the same trick?” she inquired about the idea, looking back at Glinda. The Witch had a pleasant smile on her face. “Good idea!” she praised in her usual sweet suave voice. Her hands motioned for the young warrior to take steps back in order for her to perform the magic on Gwynt. The soldier’s feet scuttled a few feet, readying for the trek. After the distance was good, the Sorceress examined her. Her eyes caught onto the cannons within Gwynt’s tight grip. “Those are what you use to fight with?” the Good Witch inquired, pointing with her wand. She had never seen anything like it before. The soldier raised her pistols to better examine them. “Yep. I thought of the idea myself. It’s what I use to channel my…magic.” She uttered, with emerald eyes filled with pride. Glinda looked at them intensely, deep in thought.

    “Magic? Oh my… You don’t hurt people with it, do you?” she questioned.

    “Well…I mean…kind of? I mean, I hurt the bad guys, but just enough that they’ll back away.” she replied, looking a bit at conflict with the suggested ideal. It was an indecisive moment. Glinda walked up to Gwynt, letting her peaceful presence over take the young soldier. She placed a hand on her soldier, and stared deeply into her eyes with a smile. “Well…let me help you ease your struggles. Perhaps with this new spell, you can be more flexible with your decisions.” She explained. Using the same hand on Gwynt’s shoulder, she placed it on her forehead. In a second, a very brief surge of light went through Gwynt. Her pupils dilated as she received new knowledge. It was so amazing to the young girl, this experience. It was different, and soothing compared to another…known method.

    “There…now you can defend yourself properly without needing to hurt others.” Said Glinda as she backed off, to give the girl some space.

    Gwynt looked at her cannons, examining them. She suddenly aimed one at the cloud of darkness, and shot a bubble out of her cannon. It jetted straight through the cloud of darkness with such power that even Glinda was amazed at the potential lying behind her cannons. Eyes wide opened in surprise, Gwynt kept staring straight into the gap that was now closing. She could make out a figure that was all too familiar to her. The aimed cannon began to shake in her hand as her mandible tensed. Eye brows furrowed in the opposite direction this time, with pupils dilating to reveal her expression: Fear. She stared through the temporary hole in momentary stun. These emotions that were mixing in her heart, she remembered them. Glinda looked most concerned now, staring at Gwynt’s terrified expression.

    “Are you alright?” she asked with concern.

    The female soldier tightened her grip on the other cannon, her wit slowly returning. Glinda’s words had brought her back to the present, easing the gunslinger. “Yeah. I’m…I’m fine…” she finally let out, letting her eyes flutter as she regained focus on the situation. A silent sigh escaped her with unsteady breathe. She couldn’t feel this way, not now. Without removing her eyes on the cloud, she aimed her other cannon in the same direction. “Glinda, stay here…” she said, not meaning to undermine the Sorceress. The cloud began to stir, capturing both of their attentions. Darkness began to spew out of the cloud, but from the other side. Wild screeches was emanating from the cloud, soon releasing winged baboons like a vast stream of water from a faucet. The creatures flew out in clustered formation, slowly making their way to their target.

    “Oh no!” said Glinda in horror. Gwynt turned to her, letting Glinda finish. “If we don’t stop these creatures now, they’ll wreak havoc over this city. People will get hurt!”

    “Oh no!” shouted Finley, he too realizing the danger.

    Gwynt turned back to the cloud, now determined to help save this city. With two well-aimed cannons, she fired two large bubbles that soon converged into one giant one in mid shot. It jetted which ripped through the cloud of darkness, forming a path for the young gunslinger. “Stay safe! We’ll get rid of these guys for good!” she shouted back at Glinda, Finley, and China girl as she sprinted through the path. China girl looked determined to follow, despite what Gwynt had said. So she did, running after the solider. “China Girl! Gwynt said to stay here!” Finley shouted, flying after her.

    Just as Gwynt reached the end of the path, her eyes caught a better view of the flying baboons; ignoring the dark warrior for the time being. It was like a hive of them, just now swarming their way towards her friends. She overheard Oz and D’daear exchange words. “What do we do!?” exclaimed Oz in a panic. D’daear seemed in great emotional distress, as he had is eyes closed and brows furrowed in a constipated look. “NNNNGhhrr….I-I don’t know!” he distressed. Gwynt smirked, jumping to close the distance between them. “Well I do!” she shouted, landing in front of her partner with cannons locked and loaded. Immediately she unloaded her cannons into the sky, filling the atmosphere with large bubbles, large enough to envelope one or two baboons at a time.

    . “Gwynt! Wha-? I thought you were resting!?” D’daear exclaimed over the commotion, still baffled at the surprise save.

    “Please, like I can rest with the commotion that was going on out here? Besides, I’m all patched up.” She answered, looking back while still firing away at the sky. Her bubbles were doing exactly what she had hoped they would do. The swarm collided with her swarm of bubbles, becoming enveloped into its magic. Gwynt hid a smile. It was rather funny, the sound the bubbles made when they enveloped a baboon, and no less the orchestra sounds that was filling the air. The creatures looked dumbfounded, not knowing what to do or how to get free. She snickered, letting her eyes momentarily glance at the dark warrior that stood there…wounded…and looking at…her. Her heart began to remember, the fear she felt earlier beginning to replay itself. Her heart accelerated, adrenaline rushing through her veins. Could it be that…

    “No…!” she uttered in a gasp. As to confirm her suspicion, the dark entity suddenly darted for the cloud of darkness in the midst of the bubble on baboon chaos. Now she really had reason to worry. She couldn’t let this thing get away…especially now. “D’daear! The guy in the mask is getting away!” she shouted back at him in desperation, nearly missing a baboon that managed to by-pass her swarm of bubbles. “Go! I’ll cover you!!” she shouted again, trying to get D’daear to go after it. Without hesitation her partner ran off towards the escaping invader.

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

    Breathing in and out with controlled breathing, and eyes filled with determination. The young sword wielding man darted across the floor with speed he never thought he could reach, but he understood why. That dark warrior, it could not be left to escape. HE could not let it escape. The cloud of darkness had stopped spewing out winged baboons, with its size now diminished to no larger than a door way. So concentrated on closing the gap was he, that he was not paying attention to his surroundings. Of course, he had good reason not to be. Bubbles were flying everywhere thanks to Gwynt’s cannons, and he knew she had his back. Bubbles floated all around, some near the floor, except for a small quantity. His blue irises locked on to the dark entities back, now almost within reach. Taking a chance, he lunged at the masked villain with a well-aimed tip of his sword. The target: the legs. “RAAAH!!” he let out, thrusting the blade forward. Whether it cut or just manages to trip it off balance, he didn’t care. As long as it did not make it to the dark doorway. There was no way someone weakened could avoid his attack.

    However, he was severely underestimating the dark warrior. As the blade nearly met the legs, the warrior swiftly turned around in a jump, and executed a well swung horizontal slash to D’daear’s unguarded face. Fortunately, D’daear was no longer feeling sluggish, and his reflexes were ready for the evasive steps needed to avoid being sliced. He dove forward, feeling the surge of air pass over his head as the blade barely missed him. That was that. D’daear fell on his front, skidding only a few centimeters forward. He quickly looked up to the see the dark warrior jump into the dark doorway before it collapsed in on itself. After the cloud had ceased to exist, the darkness that had enveloped the dome had now dissipated as well, like fumes after a while, allowing the sun’s rays to shine down on the city once more. One by one the bubbles began to pop, soon removing any sign of there ever being baboons in the city. His eyes continued looking forward, catching sight of Glinda whom was now walking over to him. Letting out a tired sigh, the young man got up and sheathed his blade behind him.

    “I’m glad you’re well, D’daear.” She said, with a sincere smile. D’daear averted his eyes, shrugging with displeasure at his own incompetence, not being phased with Glinda’s kind gesture. “Yeah well…” he managed to utter, turning towards Gwynt. In an attempt to make light of his own mood, “You know, I never saw her once use that kind of magic before.” He commented.

    “I thought it was necessary to teach her a new form of magic. One that would give her more options in her fights ahead.” She explained, reminding him of what she had told Oscar in regards. The people of Oz were forbidden to take a life, after all. D’daear’s eyes soon dilated. “Oh yeah! Where’s Oz? I thought he’d have been back by now.” he mentioned, soon running off into the castle, with Glinda scuttling just behind him. They passed Gwynt, who soon followed on after them; seeing as the city was clear of Baboons now. Up the stairs they went, everyone now wondering why Oscar had gone inside in the first place. As they ran up the stairs, Gwynt inquired D’daear about the dark warrior’s fate.

    “He got away…sorry!” he shouted in response, not really displaying proper emotion. He was so focused on reaching Oscar Diggs that he failed to notice Gwynt’s form falling behind them as they raced up the stairs, with D’daear ahead. The female soldier slowed to a walk, land soon stopped all together as she looked down at the steps with dilated pupils, grasping the rail to her side. Distressed with bad news.

    D’daear was the first to arrive to Glinda’s study on the top floor with Glinda a split second behind. Oscar Digg’s was packing his bag in a rush.

    “What’re you doing?” inquired D’daear in skepticism, hoping he was getting the wrong idea.

    “Leaving…” replied the Wizard as he continued packing.

    “Leaving?!” the good witch softly exclaimed. “But you promised you would help us!”

    The soldier stood there, unable to hide back his astonishment. Oz looked up at Glinda, looking at them as if they lacked common sense. He was feeling bewildered at how they could not see what he was seeing. “Yeah, but that was before I knew what we were up against. An army, and yet ANOTHER Wicked Witch…?! One bent on destroying everyone….ESPECIALLY me?!”

    Glinda put her hands on the desk between them, leaning forward, trying to come up with something to convince Oscar Diggs to stay. “There must be something. Something we haven’t thought of, something we’re not seeing! Something we’re on the verge of!” explained Glinda as she began to walk about nervously, not wanting to lose their only chance. She had every right to feel this way too, for with the Wizard gone, where would the peoples morale be? How would they survive against Theodora and Evanora?

    “You need a REAL Wizard. Better yet, a GENERAL, which is something I’m not!” Oscar explained, trying to convince Glinda out of her supposed misguidance. Oscar Diggs was nothing more than an ordinary person. There was nothing AMAZING about him. How could he ever be of help to them… He looked over to D’daear, soon catching sight of Gwynt whom slowly entered the room, too busy with the current dilemma to capture the female soldier’s distraught look. Both looked distressed to see what was unfolding. “Come on, you guys understand, right?” he asked, with a crippling smile. He was trying to justify his action, and D’daear could see it on his face, where the mask of a hero was breaking away. D’daear stood there, in disbelief. His trust and small respect he had gained for the man was breaking away. Gwynt stood there, trying to take this all in.

    “But you’re all I have!” Glinda retorted in concern, doing the best she could to hold back tears. If he left, then they would already be at a loss. Oz looked at Glinda, a sense of guilt overcoming him. Glinda turned her head slightly, asking the two if they could have a minute alone. Gwynt slowly nodded her head, her mind elsewhere. She looked up at Oscar Digg’s once before walking out. D’daear gave Oscar one last look before averting his eyes in disappointment, and following Gwynt, closing the doors behind them. When they had left, Glinda continued, slowly making her way to Oscar Digg’s side of the desk. “So you’re not the Wizard I was expecting. So you don’t have the power I thought you’d have. But you’re here, and there must be a reason…” she finished with a weak voice, her emotional state all but ready to crumble and bring about tears. “…maybe…you’re capable of more than you know…!”

    Oscar looked down at Glinda’s hopeful eyes. “Glinda…I wish I had the answers…but I’m just a common man…” he said in a withered tone, feeling guilty and useless. His voice felt choked, as if he lacked power to speak. What’s more, the situation hurt because he himself did not believe in himself, and yet this sweet innocent Sorceress did. “I’m a carnival magician…! I’m just not the man you want me to be….”

    Glinda looked disappointed, and saddened, even more so when they heard China girl’s sudden appearance on the entrance of the study room, with the door just faintly opened.

    “I need someone to tuck me in…” the little doll said, placing a hand on her arm.

    Glinda turned to the doll, masking her emotions for the sake of the doll, but her voice was having a hard time finding its strength. “Why yes, of course. Allow me to do it…” she spoke suave. When she arrived next to her, the ceramic doll averted her eyes. “…my poppy used to do it…”she replied, referring to her once live father. Behind the doors, both D’daear and Gwynt stood on both sides of the door frame; with the young man leaning back against the wall with arms crossed, listening in on the conversation that was unfolding. There was a shadow cast over their down-casted faces.

    Glinda gave a weak smile, crouching low to better respond to the doll child. “I see… perhaps you would like the wizard then…” she said, watching the dolls eyes light up with happiness. Glinda turned to Oz, whom was currently packing away something in his bag. “Yes please…” spoke the child in glee. Glinda gave the doll a smile, and raised herself, turning to the Wizard who was getting ready to walk away. She cleared her throat to get his attention, which worked. Oscar Digg’s turned to her, then down at the China Doll. Feeling a kinship with the doll, he nodded his head with a soft stretch of lips. This would be his good-bye to the doll. He walked over to the Doll, and carried her on his arms, leaving his bag behind as he walked through the door, averting confrontation with both soldiers that stood there.

    D’daear looked on, taking notice of this deed as he watched Oscar Digg’s cradle the Doll child to her room.

    Chapter 27

    The young wizard placed the ceramic doll onto the bed with careful hands, and tucked her in. He had been feeling rather awful the whole time during the intervention with Glinda. The face the young soldiers had given him were no different. Disappointment. Oscar stared in reverie as he slowly removed himself away from the bed. His life on the carnival was probably no different than what he was doing now, running away from the consequences of his selfishness. The only real reason he had ever joined Glinda was for the sake of becoming the ruler of Oz, and the gold that awaited him. But after everything he had experienced, he was feeling a bit at conflict with himself. It was unbeknownst to him that in the events of everything, his heart had begun to change, perhaps not dramatically, but enough to suddenly create a sense of guilt within him. He had only ever had a soft spot for one person, but now it seemed he had uncovered more than one.

    As he was about to leave; bidding her a good night, the doll interjected with curiosity. “Do you grant wishes?” she asked, sitting upright. “The old Wizard would grant wishes…”

    Oscar halted, turning to her, not sure on what to say. He let her continue, more and more feeling bad about the situation as she let on. “People would travel…to the emerald city, and ask him for things... And if they were good and noble wishes, then he would grant them.”

    “Is that right?” he inquired in humor, masking his true emotions. The doll looked up at him, with hopeful eyes that hid sadness. “Do you know what I’d ask for?” she asked, unaware of how lighthearted Oscar was about this.

    “Hhmm…A pretty dress?” he questioned jokingly.

    The doll looked down, revealing her sadness. She knew he didn’t mean bad. “To have my family back…” she replied, her heart beginning to resurface the memory of her family. Oscar averted his eye contact, feeling the heart-wrenching moment. Now he had to take the situation more seriously than ever. He knew about what happened to her village as he was there when he found her. The village had been broken to rubble, and when he had found her, she had her ceramic legs broken off. Luckily, he had a way of getting her legs back together, but her family on the other hand... “I know…” he said, letting a pause take place to gather himself. Watching a sweet innocent doll fall prey to sadness called to him. Everything within him began to soften up, filling with sympathy. He was holding back tears, and having difficulty controlling the strength in his voice. The guilt was taking its place, as the onus of being the wizard was his to bear. “I’m sorry…I can’t grant wishes…I’m not that kind of wizard…” he spoke weakly, trying his best to mask his gloom.

    The little doll looked down with disappointment. “That’s what I thought…” she uttered, her suspicions coming to a realization. Wanting to comfort the doll child, he sat on the bedside, adjacent to her. “Well you see…where I come from…there are no real wizards…” he spoke, stopping mid-sentence as he remembered someone. “Well…there was ONE man.” He said, looking at the child whose eyes suddenly lit up, forgetting about her blues. “Could HE grant wishes!?” she spat out in astonishment, forgetting her ills like the child she was. This pleased Oscar, to find that she was cheering up. He averted his eyes, snickering at the idea of wishes not coming true, because the man he looked up could in fact do something as incredible. “No…but he could look into the future and make it real.” He spoke back, looking back at the wonder filled child. “He was a great innovator.”

    “Really?!” she spat out, not ceasing to be bewildered.

    “Yeah! With a just a little bit of wire, and some glass, with almost nothing he could make the impossible real.” He explained, showing his fascination with the ingenuity of the man he looked up too. The doll kept her eyes on Oscar, feeling joy again, and acknowledging the fascination he had for this idol. “Is that the kind of wizard you are?” she asked, wanting to know. Oscar Diggs looked to the side, letting out a quick sigh before looking back at the doll with a soft smile, “It’s the kind of wizard I’d like to be.”

    “You ARE that kind of wizard…I can tell.” The little girl reassured, making conversation. She let out a nice yawn, revealing her exhaustion while her eyes became heavy. All the talk had drained what remained of her energy, and helped subside her need for her family. This seemed to please Oscar, watching the happiness return to her. “I’d rather you grant wishes, but that’s a good wizard too.” She said, laying back down, while bidding him a good night. He sat there, letting her words swim in his mind. “Perhaps…that IS just as good as a wizard…” Perhaps, he didn’t need magic after all. Suddenly, his eyes lit up with revelation. The answer to their problems had been there ALL along. With the seed of inspiration budding within him, he carefully made his way out the door and towards the study room where he moved past D’daear and Gwynt whom were still in their post looking low in spirits. Oscar’s abruptness caught their attention immediately.

    “Glinda! I’ve got it!” he said to her seated form, just on the other side of her desk. His abruptness also caught her attention, taking notice of the two peeking heads on the doorway that were D’daear and Gwynt. This was indeed a moment to be curious about. “What have you got?” she asked, rising to her feet with wide eyes. The young wizard reached for his book. “A way out of this mess.” He said, placing the same book in front of her. The day was indeed filled with curiosity. So much so, that she was now curious about the book too; a natural reaction to the way he presented it to her. “What is this?” she inquired, lifting the book with skepticism. Oscar’s spirit was on fire. “A battle plan.” He said, beginning to explain as the Sorceress began to flip through the pages. “It’s all there, Illusions, misdirects, slight of hands!” he said, looking into Glinda’s skepticism. What he was talking about was to be cunning, deceptive, a trade he knew all too well about. “Look… I know I’m not the wizard you expected…but I might just be the wizard that you need.” He explained, staring at her rekindled hope. She sat down on her desk, leaning close to him. “You said you were nothing but a con-man, a trickster, a terrible cheat?” she said, listing all the criteria necessary to being able to successfully pulling off this most cunning plan, to which Oscar agreed to all of them with regained pride.

    Finally, there was a light at the end of the dark tunnel Oscar had found himself in. All the qualities that had branded him as being a bad man, could now be used to bring light in this dark time. He came to this land with bad intentions, but now, after all he had been through, and the experiences he had endured with these people, perhaps now he no longer wanted the gold or to be King of Oz. Now, he just wanted to help his friends, comrades, his new family. And what better way to do so than to use the set of skills you are most adept in.

    Glinda looked up at Oscar with hope. “Carnival magicians put up a show.” She said, watching Oscar move about filled with inspiration.

    “I’m going to put on the show of a life time! The likes of which the land of Oz have never seen!” he began to shout as he got into character, unbeknownst to him that D’daear and Gwynt were both smiling at him, chortling in secrecy, their worries subsiding. Oscar continued, “Magic, mystery, prestidigitation!”

    He looked at Glinda, whom was giving off a sincere smile. Calming down, Oscar collected himself. “It’ll be my greatest trick yet.” He finished, suddenly hearing footsteps to his side. Both their eyes caught the sight of D’daear and Gwynt whom stood there. Gwynt was looking hardy, while D’daear was looking relaxed and composed. The purple haired soldier took the initiative. “So I take it, you have an idea as to how to execute this plan?” he questioned, with a challenger’s smile. He was still getting over the idea that Oscar was recently going to ditch them. The young wizard looked at his friend, placing his hands in his pockets with a lax smile. “Of sorts.” He replied.

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

    The next day was the beginning of a long while’s worth of preparation. Everywhere worth going in the domed city they went, with Oscar as the lead man. He remembered how everyone knew some special trade, which now proved useful to his ideas. The Tinkers were the first he went to, revealing to them in their workshop a large blueprint of a mechanism he had constructed. It was some sort of machine that could project light from it, and reveal moving images. To D’daear, this idea sounded all too familiar to him, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. At first, the Tinker’s were unwilling to work at it when presented the idea, because of how ludicrous and impossible the idea was. Yet, they became inspired by Oscar’s willingness, spirit, and his motivational speech of being able to achieve the impossible if you just put your mind to it. Every now and again during the evening of the days he’d sit in the study’s desk with Glinda; and a curious China girl, and revise the maps of Oz. There were three roads that all led to Emerald city. One of the roads caught his attention, especially when the good witch pointed out how the road went through a field of flowers that could put people to sleep if inhaled. To his cunning mind, that was a perfect set up.

    It was days without rest. At one point, Oscar himself demonstrated one of his magic tricks to which he thought would be an amazing advantage to them all if applied properly. He along with D’daear, Finley and the other Tinkers not involved with the construction of the mechanism gathered in the workshop to view his demonstration. They were near a large fiery open stove where the flames were hot in the center of their demonstration.

    “To procure business, class is always good. It gives the audience a little ‘wow’.” He explained, using his carnival tactics to help create a parallel idea to what they would be doing on the battlefield. While holding a bottle on one hand, and a glass on the other, he pointed to the Tinkers. “You gentlemen will be combining Sulfur rock, Nitrate, and charcoal…” he explained, spilling the contents of the bottle onto the glass filed with black material, “To create what is commonly known…as Black powder.”

    With one quick jerk of his glass cup filled hand, he dumped the mixed contents into the fire, creating a small burst explosion that evoked a gasp from everyone, especially a startled Finley who was up-close in curiosity. D’daear stood watch in bewilderment. It was indeed like magic, except it wasn’t created from nothing. His mind was racing with thoughts, making to remember the ingredients of this magnificent display. Who knows, perhaps it could prove to be useful. The days carried on, and they went to check up on the Quadling’s whom he had designated to gather materials, and create his “army”. Glinda was the one in charge of this, and she had been making sure everything kept running smoothly, and that everyone was updated on how much materials they needed for the days collection. Two hundred BAILS of hay, D’daear had heard from Glinda as she walked with Quadling’s who were master merchants. They needed to be delivered to the main road by noon, to which he assumed was the road with which they traded goods or something. All around the part of the city they were in, Quadling’s everywhere worked side by side. Some were dumping hay into baskets, others were in small warehouses with sewing machines where they all worked to tailor clothing’s, and masks for the plan Oscar had in mind. Curious, D’daear picked up a mask left unattended; assuming to be complete. It was a cloth with buttons for eyes, sewed nose, and mouth. A chuckle escaped him, wondering how this would play out. As easily as he picked it up, he shrugged of his wonder. He trusted Oscar, and he believed in his new found friends plan. Without thought, he dumped the mask in a basket where other masks were being collected.

    They all then moved on to another warehouse where Munchkins were working together to construct fireworks, using the same ingredients explained to the Tinkers. Gwynt watched over them, taking her time to examine the products. She was amazed at the plan that was devised by the Wizard. Never would her mind have thought of something so sly and cunning. Of course, she had her small doubts about whether it would work, but she kept them hidden. If D’daear could trust this, then so could she. Placing a firework down in on the pile of others, a smile forged itself on her lips. “The Wicked Witches have no idea what’s going to befall them.” She uttered, with a weak snicker, her dilemma still haunting the back of her mind.

    As time when on, the construction of Oscar Digg’s machine was soon coming closer and closer to full realization. Finley and the Master Tinker had both finished construction of the generator for the machine as well as the wagon they would be using to harbor the machine in secrecy. The wagon was closed, with its exterior well decorated with navy blue color, and golden trims and designs. Although it was just a pretty wagon, the real deal lied behind the confines of the wagon where electrical wiring was being worked on in order for the machine to be able to work properly once everything was finished. The final days were upon them, and the same went for their machine. Everything was going according to Oscar’s plans.

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

    Meanwhile, deep within the hidden confines of the Emerald City, the Wicked Witches were preparing their army for the upcoming slaughter they had in store for Glinda’s people. Down to the last Winkie Guard were their halberds being sharpened, their blades becoming sharper and sharper with each spin of their grinding wheel. They were amassing every Winkie guard at their disposal, and every Winged Baboon. All of this occurred while unknowingly Glinda’s people were preparing themselves as well. The baboons perched themselves a top the dark lit dungeon like ceilings like ants all clustered together. The Winkie guards all rounded up, and lined up as an army, awaiting a speech to be given by the sisters. Evanora stood atop a balcony yards high, looming over her troops. The two were feeling well pleased by their armies hard work. “MY Winkie Guards. Soon you will be facing Glinda and he army of weaklings.” She said, the excitement arising from her heart. “And when they see our towering might, they will run, and flee for the-“

    “NO! WE SHALL NOT LET THEM FLEE!!” interjected the once Theodora as she stepped ahead of her sister to take the stage. She began to aggressively jab her dark broom stick as she spoke, trying to convey her anger. What her sister was saying made no sense, and was rather ridiculous. “Let them flee? That’s weak…” she thought to herself as she spoke from her dark angry heart. “WE SHALL SHOW THEM, NO MERCY!!” she screamed in a war cry which inspired the ruthlessness in the Winkie guards as well as Winged baboons to emerge. They all began to shout, lifting their halberds to the sky while the baboons began to stir with their wild screeches as some flew about the room. A sinister smile arose on the black hatted Wicked Witch, pleased to see the darkness that was displayed in all of them. Behind her, Evanora stood there shocked and disturbed at the merciless sister that stood before her. She had no idea how EVIL her once sweet and innocent sister had become. Evanora didn’t want THIS, this ruthlessness. She only wanted to cause enough fear to send them fleeing, but to create a massacre? Possibly Genocide? Her sister’s dark aura began to show like a flame, spreading like wildfire to the other Winkie guards. The baboons began to screech louder and louder, becoming vicious in their screams.

    Such darkness…” Evanora thought to herself as she watched the Wicked Witch of the West walk past her with a pleased devilish smile. Her sister had surpassed her already, perhaps having become more powerful than her. She gazed on, even after her sister had left. The room had gone wild with war cries. “…is this fear my heart is feeling?”

    Chapter 28

    The sun rested in late midday on the horizon of the city walls, the Heart entity looming high in the sky with strange coloration and texture. A month had gone by, and the day of reckoning had finally arrived for the good people of the city. Everyone involved had worked relentlessly in making sure that Oz’s plans could be pulled off. A few Quadling’s had laid their hands on instruments, with firm grip, and played their instruments on the side lines, commemorating the advent of their fellow man’s eminent crusade to the Emerald City. The city’s gates stood tall, and closed as the area nearby flooded with Quadling’s and Tinkers speeding about the stone floor with various equipment, loading them onto wagons, and carts destined to ride onto the road ahead towards Emerald city. Scarecrows, fireworks, ropes, poles, flags with the Lands emblem, and much more were loaded onto their caravans in preparation for what the Great Oz had in store for the Wicked Witches. A laxed D’daear gave his back to a caravan in the midst of the commotion, one of many caravan with which would be following Oz in. Forearms crossed while he waited. The end of mounting supplies on the caravans was nigh, so there really was no desire in D’daear to work up a sweat any more than he already had. The plan itself had already hinted towards the possibility of conflict, if events didn’t go accordingly. As a soldier who was there to aid them, he had to be ready, and his mind needed to be ready. The line of his lips widened in a display of momentary glee. He was just kidding himself; he didn’t want to work, that was all.

    The sound of Oz’s far off voice came to his left, calling for D’daear’s attention to shift towards him. There, standing at the bottom steps of the palace entrance, was Oz and Glinda exchanging words to one another. The midday sun’s rays were shining down on the two while they spoke in private. A show of Oz’s thumb aimed at the nicely decorated caravan hinted D’daear that they were discussing matters regarding that and the device hidden within it. As soon as he had pointed, a small dark skinned munchkin arrived holding a scepter in his hands. The man was wearing just as formal of an outfit as Oscar Digg’s, with a nice round top hat. With the way Oscar turned with the placement of his hands on his hips, and the smile as well as recognition in his eyes; the scene appeared to D’daear that the two had made acquaintance before. It was a quick conversation between the two, as the munchkin soon left, leaving Glinda and Oz to continue their conversation. The two were in their own private moment now. Oz was only a foot away from Glinda with unwavering eye contact. The soldier kept his blue irises glued to the scene. Oz’s hat had come off by Glinda’s outstretched hand, and soon his right cheek harbored her other. A familiar emotion rekindled in D’daear’s heart as the rest of Glinda’s actions unfolded, a feeling he had long since forgotten. She placed her soft puckered lips on Oz’s lowered forehead with gentle care. Only those two would know why she did what she did, but the scene had brought something back to D’daear’s heart. Water began to emerge from the cusp of his eye lids as he witnessed the beauty, the scene paralleling an awakened memory of tenderness, when his mother too planted her soft lips on his young forehead.

    Of course real soldiers don’t cry over such things, so he held his breathe, flexing his eyelids in order to keep the flow of tears at bay like a dam. A groan escaped him, feeling the pierce of emotion in his chest. The heart-wrenching moment was thankfully stopped by Gwynt whom called for him moments before he was about to fold to the tears. D’daear turned the attention to Gwynt who stood only a few meters behind him, waving a hand at him for attention. “D’daear!! We need more help loading these supplies! We’re about to leave!” the girl shouted to him.

    With a quick thumb to his eyes, he wiped away the tears that managed to escape, and headed to help Gwynt and the others. The journey was almost underway. Everyone began to hustle with the supplies, putting things inside as well as on top of the caravans. D’daear started to lift scarecrows of the floor, and passed it on to a train of Quadlings who were ready to pass it on to their partners, and so on. It was efficient, and quick teamwork. In no time flat they had all finished, although just in time. Oz was already on the special caravan with the munchkin, and Lead tinker with Finley perched atop the vehicle. Everyone started to get their wagons, and caravan’s wheels rolling with the gates now fully opened for them to leave. Oz gave D’daear a confident look, nodding to him as he passed on by. The multitude of participants when on through, filling the atmosphere with the sounds of moving wooden wheels, and feet marching. D’daear and Gwynt got on their caravan and followed the armada out, and into the open narrow road which stretched on. Even Glinda was partaking in the Battle for Emerald City as they passed her; she was seated on one of the caravans.

    Before long, Oz’s caravan had halted, with him signaling everyone to stop near a rocky hill just a few miles off the city. Behind the lot of everyone, was a massive landscape with mountain peaks surrounding the horizon where the sun rested in-between two peaks. He had gotten off the caravan and placed himself along with Glinda atop the hill in order to catch everyone’s attention. While they all clustered near the hill, Oz could make out the beauty of the plains that made up the side of the roads. Every Quadling and Tinker stood there looking up at them. Many of them were holding long gold poles with flags on them. Unlike most people whom left their caravans to huddle nearby the hill, D’daear remained seated on the driver’s seat of the convoy with a lifted eyebrow, staring on at Glinda and Oscar along with Gwynt. Everyone settled down, lowering their noise to mere silence as they awaited Oz to speak. Glinda nodded to Oz. The Wizard looked on over at everyone.

    “Great people of Oz. Today we fight to free the land from the villainy of the Wicked Witches.” He began, letting a pause to ensue in order to not speak over the loud war cries emanating from every Quadling, Tinker, and Munchkin that had responded to his first words. “We are few, but we are mighty!” he shouted, this time gesturing with clenched fists and shaking arms, emphasizing the power he spoke of. Everyone again cried out. This was a good sign. Everyone that was present here today needed that hype, that confidence that was needed for what was to come. One by one, he called out the races, bringing a sense of unity within the people. “Quadlings! Tinkers! Munchkins! We face great odds, but are armed with our courage, our hard work, and most of all…our faith in one another.” The crowd gazed on at the Great Wizard who would lead them to battle. “We have nothing to fear, as long as we believe!” he shouted, nodding at China girl and Finley whom stood next to Knuck on the Caravan. D’daear admired the inspiration and confidence Oz was stirring within his people. Those were traits that a true leader needed to have.

    “For when we do believe…anything is possible!” he shouted, fisting the air which stirred a cry of newly found confidence in the armada of workers.

    “Onwards!”

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

    The armada were now a few miles off to Emerald City. D’daear sat inside the special caravan where Oz’s secret invention lay dormant along with the Leader of the Tinkers; he was busy making sure everything was alright with the device along with Finley. Before they had left the hill, Oscar Digg’s had called to the young warrior, and asked for his companionship on the way to the city. So now Glinda was where D’daear would have been, and D’daear sat in the spot where he needed to be. To his surprise, the caravan was spacious, with enough room for him to move around without feeling cramped; and that was crazy considering the size of the contraption that took up a lot of room just next to him. It was huge! The munchkin whom wielded the small scepter was driving the caravan while Oz sat in the passenger seat, with his torso slightly turned inward in order for his attention to be directed at D’daear through a peeping hole in the center. He had been wanting to speak to D’daear for a while now, in regards to Theodora, but never found the chance due to the events that transpired after Oscar had pitched his plan to them. Indeed, he wanted to clarify a few things to D’daear, wanting to make sure the boy knew everything before they arrived to Emerald City. With a while to spare, he found it now to be the perfect time to speak to him.

    “Thank you for agreeing to tag along, D’daear. I appreciate your cooperation.”

    D’daear stared through the small square gap. “Yeah, of course. You guys could use the help while infiltrating the city.” He replied, hiding his snicker. A weak laugh escaped Oscar before letting a small moment of silence fall. He seemed pensive, as if he was holding back a huge burden; aside from the one involving the current situation. “You know… Theodora wasn’t always like that…” Oscar began, eyes averted to random space as he let memories resurface. “She used to be a lot nicer, kind, and sweet. “

    Blue eyes peered through the small gap between them, attention fully directed at Oscar. The caravan jerked a little. “So what happened, then? She seemed to have a lot of hate for you…”

    “When I first…arrived…to the Land of Oz; she was the first person I met. I remember falling from the sky and into water. I gathering myself in this lake, lost and confused. When I looked to the shore, there she was…stumbling upon me. I was immediately captivated by her beauty… Her long dark brown hair was tide in a bun neatly, underneath a large red hat. For a moment I felt enchanted by her hazel eyes… Heh… for a moment…” he said with a smile, resting his back against the very wall that separated them. Then his demeanor shifted, remembering the way his intentions back then weren’t on par with the way he felt now. He was a refined man now, far superior to that of his past self. Now that he laid there thinking back, he realized how much he had changed over the course of the month he had been here. His attention snapped back to their conversation when D’daear had inquired more about his recollection.

    “You make it sound as if the two of you had a thing or something. What gives?”

    Oscar chuckled at his friend’s response. “Yes, well…” he let on, but soon found himself not being able to gather the proper words to explain what went on. It was not that Oscar had feelings towards Theodora, but it was his nature, and the way of being that had led him to act the way he had acted. Tilting the back of his head against the wall, he did his best to convey his memory. “…you see…I wasn’t always…a good guy… I used to perform in a carnival, where I had to do a lot of dishonest things in order to make a living. My life, and way of thinking…my priorities...I was a bad man. I hurt a lot of people… …even the one I cared for… I was greedy…wanting riches, and to be well known for the sake of fame. My heart was filled with vanity. ” he said, eyes looking onwards to the sky as if in a reverie. ” … When I arrived here, I was no different. “

    The young soldier sat there, listening to the words that emanated from the Wizard. Knuck, the Munchkin steering the reins, kept to himself, but listened intently while the Old Tinker in the caravan continued to watch over the device. The caravan swayed a little. D’daear did not refrain from speaking, as an opportunity to extend the conversation emerged. “So what made you change?” he asked with narrowing curious eyes. With a passive look to the darkening sky, Oscar let on a small smile. “The people around me.” He let out, with continued sky gazing. The old Tinker formed a smile, as well as Finley; with the munchkin being a bit hardy. D’daear stretched his lips in a sincere smile, pleased with the answer Oscar Diggs had given. A stretch of trees could be seen off in the distance, and beyond them…Emerald City. Aware of the horizon ahead, Oscar straightened himself, looking deep into the forest that lay just a few small miles away now. He turned to the munchkin. “Alright Knuck, start slowing down near the curve of the road. We can stop just behind the edge of the tree line in order to start unpacking the supplies, and set up for the first stage of the plan.” He explained, watching Knuck give him a nod of acknowledgement. Oscar slowly rose from his seat in mid caravan motion; placing a hand over his top hat, and looked over the roof of the caravan. He began to wave his arm around, signaling the Calvary behind him to begin with the plan. They would all soon stop near the edge of the forest, and begin setting the scene for the first phase in this battle. The wizard let his brown eyes trail beyond the forest, locking gaze with the city of emerald colors as it bloomed in the twilight gleam. For once in his life, he felt courage, and the support of his comrades. This was the advent of their reclaim. The restoration of peace to this land.

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

    Earlier in that same day….

    Within the royal castle of a city far off in a desert land, stood a man before a Kings golden throne along with two others at his side. The room was vast, capable of hosting a grand festival if needed. Golden pillars stood tall around the room, supporting the roof of this grand room. The walls were colored a light red ochre, with the floor a marble white. One of the three was the eldest son of the King, and heir to the throne. He was a well-respected man with long tied back brown hair, and a beard that some would say befitted a king. Next to him stood two other men around his height. These were his younger brothers. All of the Kings sons were of young age, and of great stature and build. An aged bald man standing next to the King interrupted the Eldest son mid-sentence.

    “This is a war we are fighting. Casualties WILL be had, unfortunately. It is an inevitable consequence.” The aged man spoke. This was the Kings royal advisor, and beloved brother. The Royal Advisor stood there confident, staring down at the Eldest of the King’s sons.

    “But uncle! There has to be another way! Can we not make peaceful negotiations with this enemy?” he inquired, his deep kind voice showing compassion and care for his peoples well-being. He was wearing a tightly fitted robe over his wear, all made of fine silk. The middle son stood next to his older brother, arms folded with a look of discontent forming on his bearded mouth, finding displeasure in this situation. Brown hair was long, and neatly held back in a tail, further helping show this man’s expression. He dawned a similar wear to his oldest brother, but was clad in pieces of his lands armor. The middle son was a good-hearted individual, just the same as his brothers, and he too cared for his soldiers, but he understood the meaning of sacrifice, and putting oneself in harm’s way to protect. He was a born prince, and with the heart of a soldier, always having been leading his men into battle at his oldest brother’s command.

    “Brother I’m with you in this debate, but don’t you see that there IS no other alternative? We’re wasting time here babbling on about this when we should be preparing our men for the next attack. If they wanted to negotiate, they would have by now…” the middle son spoke, having turned his head to his brother to stare deeply into his caramel eyes. The Eldest was reluctant to accept such a truth. He wanted to believe that there was still a way for a peaceful solution to all this. Desperate for an answer, he turned to his youngest brother.

    The youngest looked down in thought, trying to come up with an idea. Now HE was different from the two, and he displayed it through the way he kept himself. His long brown hair was always kept loose, with his hair line set in the center of his scalp to divide his hair evenly which almost lengthened his hair up to his shoulders; the tip of the hairs reaching his mandible. Unlike his brother, there was no thicket of a beard to be found on his youthful face. He stood there, still contemplating.

    “What do you think?” asked the Eldest, seeking the council of his young brother. Rolling his lips to the side, the young prince let out a defeated sigh. “I’m afraid there is no solution to this, brother. All we can do is keep fighting until they submit…” he replied with his soft alto voice, ranging in the lower spectrum. The King looked down at his three sons, mainly the Eldest whom looked defeated. “Do not feel distraught, my son. Sometimes, it is necessary for a King to do what is harsh in order to secure the safety of his city.” He spoke, watching the man look up to him. “A good King always listens to the advice of his council, and puts it to thought.” The King said, now turning to his brother. “I leave it to you to find out more about our enemy, Nizam.”

    Nizam; the Royal Advisor, nodded curtly. “As you wish my King.” He replied before removing himself from the scene, walking away with refined composure without looking back.

    The King turned to his three sons. He got up from his throne and began to step down towards them, opening his arms in a welcoming gesture. These boys were his life’s legacy, and he cherished them. Any moment he could catch to be with them he did. “Come now my boys. Let us not fret over this matter when we cannot do much at the present. A nice walk in the city would do our minds well.” The Father advised, escorting his sons out of the throne room; followed by the royal guards.

    This Exotic City that belonged to this King stood amidst a land filled with seemingly unending sand where the sun beamed hottest, protected by large concrete walls. It was large, with a castle at its center which towered over all. This was a land that harbored hostility towards life, yet gave peace to the simple and hard-working individuals, where everyone could live about their days without worry. As long as their ruler over saw the matters outside these walls, the people had nothing to fear.

    The streets were filled with sand, almost concrete, with few roads made of stone. The architecture of the buildings were exotic, and strange to the eyes of any unfamiliar with the land. Every corner, and street was bustling with native life as men and woman alike went about to the markets, exchanging their hard earned wages for various things. Fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry. Silk clothing, carpets, jewelry, and so much more did the markets have to offer to the cities people. Vendors a like shouted about in their shade providing stands, letting their voices be heard in the crowded streets with the lands accent. This was: the City of Nasaf.

    Chapter 29

    Healthy green leaves covered overhead, leaving barely enough room for the remaining sun’s rays to penetrate into the forest. It was a vast thicket of trees, all clustered together with just enough room for everyone to maneuver their caravans. Grass, fallen leaves and branches, brush, and rocks littered the floor all throughout. The forest floor crawled with Quadlings, Tinkers, and Munchkins with various things in hand. The sun was on its last hour of light, meaning everyone had to proceed with setting up for the plan immediately. Everywhere they went about, preparing the ropes, dressing up the scarecrows, and distributing the fireworks to Oz’s caravan as he would be approaching the Emerald City like a Trojan horse. The main party stood next to one another a little ways inside the forest, reviewing the plan that was about to be played out just moments after Oz made his way into the city.

    “Alright, so, just like we went over. Gwynt and Glinda will stay behind with China girl to oversee everyone in the preparations. Remember, we have to make them THINK we have an army. So just like back at the graveyard, Glinda will create her thick fog to mask the scarecrows, create that silhouette. How are the ropes coming along?” he spoke, looking to Glinda with a map laid open on the green floor; he was using rocks as paper weight. She gave a reassuring nod, filling Oz with confidence.

    “Perfect. Now, in the midst of it all, hopefully the guards will be alerted, and they’ll send the Winkie guards or the Winged Baboons after them. The Poppy field will take care of the rest. Gwynt, I need you to be ready in case anything goes wrong. You’re the last line of defense if something goes wrong.” He reminded, soon looking over to Knuck, D’daear, Finley, and the Master Tinker. “You guys are coming with me. Knuck is obviously the driver, but the rest of you are going to need to be inside the caravan as to not draw any attention. “he started, now rising up to his feet. With cupping hands to his mouth, he began to announce to the workforce, specifically the Munchkins. “I need a few Munchkins to come with me! Any volunteers?” he asked with wandering eyes. Barely a few raised their hands, and came forth. He sighed, not blaming those who stayed back, knowing full well just how risky it was for them to be sneaking into the City. Lips stretched weakly as the few volunteers passed by, giving them a nod. Oscar turned to his crew, once again looking at Glinda and Gwynt. “Remember, you’re distracting them, NOT engaging in a fight. If you have to run, then do it. Understood?”

    “Yes already! Just go on. Go Go Go!” Glinda spoke out, flapping her hands at them in a gesture to leave. Nodding to her, Oscar turned towards the caravan, signaling everyone to follow. D’daear’s form could be made out by Gwynt’s green eyes. Calling out to him, the male soldier stopped to the call, turning to her direction to query the action. Gwynt did not move, making eye contact with the young soldier. She crossed her arms, and snickered. “Don’t make me have to go inside just to rescue your sorry butt, again!” she spoke, teasing him with a constipated expression D’daear had made back at Glinda’s palace. The jest seemed to have been well received, having evoked the man’s reaction. Cheeks flared bright red as the blood pumped to D’daear’s face in embarrassment of this tease. He tried to retort with wit, but could find no words to say. Speechless by her witty remark, he averted his eyes with a red face, and displayed his back to Gwynt. With a simple wave of a hand, he bid them farewell, moving himself towards the caravan that was awaiting him; wanting to escape the situation as fast as possible.

    Gwynt stood there, lips stretched in a victorious smile while watching D’daear’s broad back diminish in contour until he was only the size of a raisin opening the hidden door of the caravan. Glinda gently placed a hand on Gwynt’s shoulders to catch her attention, gesturing for her to follow her up to the tree line that made the edge of the forest. Complying, she followed on after her, stopping briefly to look back as the caravan rolled on out there with stirred steeds, making its way back to the yellow brick road that led them to the other side of the city. “Good luck…D’daear.” She uttered before turning back to follow Glinda. The workforce of Quadlings, Tinkers, and munchkins were almost done, with the men tugging at the ropes to make sure they were tied properly from one end of the field to the other. The two women made their way to the hard working troops. With a raise of brow, Gwynt inquired as to how they managed to tie the other end of the rope through the poppy fields, seeing as the field started a few meters off the tree line, and extended all the way to the city walls. With a quick redirect of her attention, the Quadling’s pointed fingers at the seven peacefully sleeping Munchkins, with their backs laid against the trunk of the tree. Dark toned lips gaped at the sight.

    “How are they going to wake up? I thought the Poppy fields put people to an eternal sleep?” she inquired to them all, noticing Glinda trail her way to the sleepers. She knelt before them, and softly planted her wand onto their small foreheads, each time creating a small sparkle of light. The act itself had already answered Gwynt’s question, leaving her question less. On the final wave of the wand, Glinda turned to Gwynt with a smile.

    “Are you all ready?” Glinda inquired to them all, making her way to the forests edge. One by one the workers nodded, with some even giving the Witch an oral answer. The scarecrows were all lined up with contraptions set at the feet in order to give the illusion of movement; ready to be pulled through the fields at a moment’s notice. Everyone got into position, with China girl making her way to Gwynt’s side as they hid behind a broad tree just next to Glinda’s figure. Everyone nodded at the good Witch, and waited for her to commence. With a deep sigh, she closed her eyes and began to concentrate, the white gem on the wand immediately emanating a radiant glow. The air around them all began to feel humid, with the air around them feeling odd. The air was warm, yet cool somehow. It all felt so sudden, bizarre, an experience all too new to Gwynt. She could feel the air getting cooler now, almost as if the warm and cold had somehow met in an agreement, creating visible dew. China girl examined her ceramic body, noticing the dew taking form on her. “Gwynt! Look!” she gasped in astonishment, watching Gwynt examine her.

    “You’re wet with…morning dew?” she questioned the phenomenon, perplexed. The sun was almost gone, yet somehow there was morning dew. Then she remembered the plan. “Oh!” was all she managed, soon enough her conclusion becoming reality as the forest began to spew out a random wave of condensed dew, creating an ocean of fog that began to make its way towards the edge of the forest. It spread at Glinda’s command as she elegantly raised her arms forty-five degrees up. The fog made itself known, leaving the forest and overcoming the fields, blanketing the forests edge and fields with its thick whiteness. Glinda opened her eyes, and turned to the workers, cueing them to commence. The Quadlings, Tinkers, and munchkins all began to work together, pulling at the ropes in order to bring the scarecrows into false motion. In waves they came out of the forest, their silhouettes being all that was visible in the dense fog. By then the fog itself had already drawn the guards attention, which inevitably drew the Wicked Witch’s onto the scene as they perched themselves a top the castle gates like a seat of war. An ominous wind blew past them in their moment of silence, swaying their clothes. The marching echoed through the fields, giving a sense of reality, a sense of life to these mannequins that marched on like real soldiers.

    The Witch’s looked down, mouths gaping in tense awe of their Audacity, believing the silhouettes to be the Quadlings, Tinkers, and Munchkins. Evanora looked down at them, confused at the scenery unfolding. “They were supposed to be frightened! Not take up courage!” she thought, heaving her breathe. “They dare March on us…?” she queried with wavering tone, words struggling to escape her throat. The Wicked Witch of the West gripped her broom tighter, mandibles tensing in a scowl. She quickly turned to the towers just behind, clawing at the air behind her. Theodora was VERY displeased.

    “TEAR THEM APART!!!” she screamed, her older sister following suit in command of HER Winged Baboons. “FLY!” Evanora commanded, watching the tower doors open up to unleash a swarm of screeching baboons that zoomed past the Witches, and towards the fields. They flew about like well-coordinated individuals, baring fangs and claws with intense violent tendency. They were soldiers, and like soldiers, some carried arms for the battle. As both waves were on the verge of colliding, the armed baboons flung their spears at the silhouettes, intent on ridding them of their existence. Spears penetrated its intended targets, and in mere seconds both waves clashed. Left and right baboons went about destroying the soldier’s limb from limb. Some stabbed, others tore them apart, blindly grasping at straws mistaken for other things. Destructive these creatures were, and with no remorse. This was what they strived for, to wreak havoc. The Wicked Witch of the West cackled as she witnessed the violence, unaware of the confusion now stirring among the baboons. Glinda smirked, watching the baboons fall for their trap. There was no way the baboons were going to escape the power of the poppy fields. The fog soon began to wane away. A baboon stood there, grasping straws in its hands in confusion. A scarecrow made its way past it, perplexing it even more as it turned to the Witch’s. Evanora’s eye’s widened, now seeing the army for what it really was. “It’s a trick!” she gasped, her eyes trailing the source of the scarecrows back to the forest, where among the workers stood Glinda, snickering.

    One by one the Baboons began to fall to the power of the poppy fields, forever to be asleep without proper care. Panic began to stir among the winged creatures, hearing their Master’s shout for a retreat. They began to fall back, attempting to move away from the fields. Only a handful managed to take flight, however soon enough falling prey to the drowsiness that soon overtook their mobility. The fields called to them, luring their limp forms back to the soft bed of flowers, and leaving the Wicked Witch’s momentarily defeated. The Wicked Witch of the West furrowed her brows, intensifying the glare as her yellow eyes caught sight of Glinda’s form. Sighting the good witch stirred a fire deep in her darkened heart, causing the witch’s mandible to tense. Unable to keep composure, she let out a roar into the waning light, the sky now darkening on the Sun’s final moments.

    The citizens of Glinda’s city all rejoiced, soon beginning to pick up after themselves as Glinda turned to them all, advising all of them to flee into the forest. “The Fog is lifting! Everyone fall back now! Into the woods!” she shouted, fearing the Witch’s would soon be upon them with Winkie Guards; unaware, however, of what was unfolding behind her. Gwynt was helping a Quadling with some gathering when she heard another shout a warning at Glinda. “Look out!” one of the Quadling’s shouted, evoking the good witch’s attention. Glinda’s slender neck turned hastily, irises widening while lungs paused. Fangs bared, and with claws outstretched, two winged baboons were already within proximity of her frozen form. They dove towards her, snarling viciously.

    They restrained Glinda by the wrists with their powerful primal hands tightening themselves around Glinda’s delicate wrists, forcing the grip to lax as she dropped her wand onto to the floor; too distressed to realize she had done so. China girl ran to the Good witch, and leapt into action before Gwynt, trying to grab the bottom of Glinda’s dress in an attempt to weigh her down; however ridiculous that may sound for someone so small and fragile. Glinda did her best to resist her captors, scowling while calling upon every muscle in that frail body of hers to fight back. She thrashed about in rebellion towards her captives, groaning.

    Gwynt ran past a few fleeing Quadling, hoping to reach Glinda in time. She was the last to react to the situation. The female soldier summoned her cannons, exposing herself away from the safety of the trees. “Let her go!” she shouted indignantly, cocking her weapons at the two beasts. Green eyes narrowed in on the ape like targets, with fingers ready at the triggers. Everything else was disregarded while she aimed in that one second.

    What a mistake.

    Suddenly, a bolt of lightning struck an unaware Gwynt’s form. It sent her a few feet back, with back slamming against the dirt floor as she proceeded to skid. All of the contents of the forest floor had its way with Gwynt’s back. It was so sudden, and so powerful that she even released the grip on her weapons, dropping them a few feet away. The skidding motion eventually stopped, leaving Gwynt’s body with fumes rising. She winced at the unexpected pain that traversed through her, which paralyzed the soldier’s desire to get up. Heart raced at the aftermath of the voltage that had just coursed through her. Grasping at the chest, she cringed, gritting her teeth at the excruciating pain that now plagued Gwynt’s body. It was sharp pain that left the impression as if body was on fire, as if a thousand needles were stabbing into each individual cell that made up the young soldier’s body. It burned so much, a searing pain that called to Gwynt, tempting her to scream in agony. She could barely imagine how it would’ve felt if her uniform was not padded from the inside. Did the uniform even make a difference? Through the slits of her wincing eyes, she could make out the Wicked Witch Evanora levitating near Glinda’s restrained form. She snickered at Gwynt’s weakened form, before looking onto Glinda.

    Evil lips curled in satisfaction while she stared at Glinda’s irises. No words were needed for this moment. The mere sight of this good witch’s failure was more than satisfying. “Glinda, Glinda, Glinda… You should be more wary of your surroundings.” Evanora teased. The wicked Witch gestured her remaining two winged baboons back to the safety of the city walls, with Glinda as their new prisoner. As they flew off, she caught a missing detail in Glinda’s hand. It was her wand, it was missing. Raising an eyebrow, she turned back to the forest. For a while Evanora hovered there, with brown eyes scanning the forest floor below. The sun finally submerged into the horizon, giving way to the night sky and Heart that bloomed with its bluish hue. It was already dark, making visibility of such detail harder to find. Giving up, she twisted her torso, turning to fly back to the city, unaware of the ceramic doll child hiding behind the trunk of a tree, with a large white wand held close to chest. The little doll eyes looked on towards Gwynt’s distressed form, shivering with panic.

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

    A long narrow road about 7 feet wide lay itself throughout the plains of the dark realm where no light shined. It took the appearance of a dirt road, with the ground taking on the color of blue ochre. The road held itself up by a mysterious force, for with one look over the edge, and you’d see no support, and yet it somehow lay about straight, fixated as if part of a larger land mass. Were it not for the strange bloom emanating from within the darkness, the place would be completely black. Empty. That was how this world felt, this realm. Everywhere you looked, it was just nothing but darkness, swaying with movement above and around like sea weed in an ocean. It was an idea in the making, hidden away, not belonging to the light.

    A small bald man walked the road laid before him, wearing a fine silk robe with golden patterns to contrast the black, along with a suit underneath that extended to his neck, like a turtle neck. The black suit itself was made of fine silk, with a nice gold borderline surrounding the collar, and traveling down the center of the chest. A sash adorned the man’s waist, red with a gold/black leather belt that kept the black silk pants in place. A thin beard lined the edges of his mouth. It was Nizam, the Royal advisor of Nasaf, the city of which stood amidst the sands. He seemed unaffected by the realm, having had his fair share of visits in the past. Dark leather boots shuffled the sand beneath them as Nizam made way down the road, already able to make out the destination before him. At the end of the road stood a throne, black as the realm itself with well-defined natural constructs, and with a sigil faintly blooming just underneath the seat which barely lit the area around it. The royal advisor approached, able to make out the entity with which he had been communing with ever since the dark fairy had made herself known to him years ago. A friend of hers was a friend of his. That idea was what was presented to him when they first met. Looking back, his first encounter with the Dark fairy was by chance, or perhaps fate.

    The entity was a mysterious individual, with an identity masked by the low lit room. Not even the eyes that possibly rested in the sockets of this entity were visible. There the entity rested with great solemnity, its head laid gently on the curled fist of its right hand, with elbow firmly planted on the arm rest of the throne. The other hand extended out, with palm well rested on the pommel of a magnificent giant blade. It was so beautiful, with its large emerald filigree making up a part of the rain-guard. The pommel and handle the color of rich gold, interconnected with two almost square like guards that jutted out silver skeleton keys, intersecting at the tip of the blades fuller. The blade itself was a platinum gold color, bordering a small hollow, triangular center. Two chains interconnected on the pommel of the blade, with a sigil dangling to the side. It was the X-Blade (Chi-Blade), complete, and displaying its power by mere sight.

    The tip of the blade rested against the steel navy floor, yielded by its master. Nizam came within a few feet of the throne before kneeling before it, gaze lowered in respect to the entity. “My liege…” he uttered, loud enough to be heard.

    “Welcome, Nizam.” Spoke calmly the entity, voice clustered with various tones ranging from high to low pitches, as if not just one, but many were speaking. “What brings you to my domain?” it asked, calm. Nizam kept the gaze lowered, not wanting to look up at it. He wasn’t intimidated, but rather out of respect he did not look up. Besides, he knew he wouldn’t be able to penetrate the veil of darkness that covered the entity. Heart thumped as he kneeled there, trying to gather himself.

    “I come wondering what should be my next step in regards to where I should be leading the King of Nasaf…” he wondered, controlling his voice.

    “Ah…yes…your brother…how is he faring?” it asked casually. Nizam let an eyebrow raise, left wondering as to why it was bothering with such trivial matter. “He’s...faring fine, my liege…” he replied, wanting to get the conversation heading in the proper direction. The entity sat there, as if lifeless, unmoving. Seconds passed without a word to be said, leaving Nizam to wonder. Impatient, brown eyes slowly trailed the steel navy floor, rising to meet the tip of the blade planted on the floor. Through his peripheral he could make out the entities feet. It seemed to be wearing black boots of some sort, skin tight. So tight that it looked as if it was a part of it, like skin. Eye lids narrowed down on that detail, stirring a desire in Nizam to continue. Neck, fueled with the Royal advisors desire, began to pull the man’s bald head up as brown eyes trailed the form that sat there. Black was all he saw. Black skin, like charcoal, decorated the entity. It was eerie, every fiber of muscle clearly visible in the form of this blackness that made up its lower legs. Most of its body was unclear, however, as the dimly lit throne masked its appearance. All he could make out were the details in the legs, and faintly the arms, which were about the same. The silence was becoming unnerving. Ignoring the torso, he examined the face. Neck, jaw, lips, and nose were masked, no surprise by the blackness of this realm. Yellow irises gazed back at him, deeply into his brown eyes.

    Nizam froze, caught off guard by the eerie presence that emanated from those cold amber eyes that penetrated the dimly lit room. It remained watching him, as if awaiting a response from Nizam’s stunned face. The advisor kneeled there for a moment, not understanding what had just happened. He quickly looked down, averting eye contact. “Sir…?” he uttered with wavering voice, attempting to continue their conversation. That image, those cold yellow eyes would be forever ingrained in his mind.

    “Tell your kin to lead his men to the sacred city of Alamut.” It said. The Royal advisor immediately widened his eyes, almost tempted to look up were it not for his split second intervention. “M-my liege… The King will not sit well with that idea…”

    The entity kept casual, calm as he continued to stare at the bald man’s scalp. “You are a resourceful individual, Nizam. I am certain you can come up with something to convince him otherwise.” It replied. Nizam hesitated to reply, letting collective thoughts become a question. “…Sir…why Alamut…?” he inquired, making this the last words before he left. The entity let his scoff be known, closing its eyes. Solemnity was clear in voice.

    “This world is masked by serenity, but the light is nothing more than a veil that hides a dark truth, radiating intensely in order to leave no space for the truth that has been concealed.” it uttered randomly.

    The royal advisor tried to bring about understanding of those words, but could not, with brows having furrowed from the thought process. “I…I’m not quite sure what you mean….” He replied, keeping brown eyes averted.

    The entity kept quiet a moment. Suddenly, the hand resting on the blade stirred. “Even with the power at my disposal…” it paused a moment, moving the same hand that rested on the pommel, and placing it on the golden handle. It lifted the giant blade effortlessly, and presented it horizontally. “I still cannot turn back time…”

    Nizam kneeled there, curious eyes having looked up to lock onto the X-blade in awe as it began to glow, blooming with radiant light within the dark realm. The yellow irises remerged, staring deeply into the weapon with lax composure before watching the light wane away. Lowering the blade back to the position it had been, the entity looked down at a still Nizam. Lips had parted, creating a gap between them as he once more averted the gaze away from the entity. Gently, the entity tapped the floor with the tip of the X-blade to capture Nizam’s attention. The man jumped, snapping out of the trance.

    “There is a blade residing behind the safety of Alamut’s walls…one that can reverse the stream of time. Lead your people to the city, and in secrecy retrieve the blade for yourself. With it, you will become King of your Kingdom.” The many voices casually commanded. Nizam’s eyes lit up at the information. Ideas began to swirl with Nizam, wondering the possibilities behind the use of such an item. The power that would be his to command could possibly rival the entities!

    “Nizam.” It spoke, removing the rested head away from the fist that rested on the arm rest. The Royal advisor kept quiet, adhering to the entities authority. “Whom do you serve?” it questioned, narrowing its eyes at Nizam. The royal advisor averted from looking at the entity, trying not to look at its unrested composure which now posed worry to him, “You my liege…” he muttered, gazing up while head kept lowered.

    “Then be sure to remember that… Now go.” It remarked calmly, commanding its servant to go forth. Nizam gave a quick nod before removing his presence from the area, the man’s contour steadily becoming a silhouette in the dark road’s horizon. The entity sat there, putting himself to his casual laxed posture once more. The head rested onto a curled fist, elbow planted on the thrones arm rest. Eyes closed once more, the quietness of this isolation reigning once more in this dark realm.

    “This world is masked by serenity, but the light is nothing more than a veil that hides a dark truth, radiating intensely in order to leave no space for the truth that has been concealed.”

    The entity scoffed, those words emanating in the ethereal of its mind. “…Hmph… but the closer you get to the light…the stronger your shadow will become…” he uttered.

    The beneath the veil of darkness that masked its face, a smirk took shape.

    Chapter 30


    A mountainous background forested by green vegetation lay in the background, while the sound of hooves resonated throughout the yellow brick road. The steeds galloped onwards, hauling the caravan along with them while making its way around the walls that guarded the city from unwelcomed intruders. Knuck was concentrated on stirring the horses’ right as Oscar Diggs began to dawn a Winkie guard uniform mid ride. The caravan stirred, swaying passively left and right, making the job of dawning the suit tedious. The wizard was now beginning to wonder whether he should’ve taken his time to set up the disguise BEFORE they left the forest. “Can you slow down just a little a bit, Knuck?” he asked, trying to position himself properly above a munchkin’s broad shoulders; it was the only means of making themselves look like the tall guards that stationed themselves throughout the castle.

    Knuck turned to him with a scowl. “Do you want to get inside the castle before nightfall, or not?” he sassed back. Oscar furrowed his brows in displeasure, knowing full well Knuck had reason. “Yeah, yeah...” He uttered, getting back into buttoning the long navy blue trench-coat. D’daear peered through the hole behind Oscar, vision obscured by the size of the hole. “Everything ok in there?” the young soldier asked, looking back at the other munchkins sitting next to him within the caravan. It was dark within the caravan, the hole being the only source of light; which was little. He could barely make out anything with eyes, with only ears being able to capture the complaints of everyone near him. Some of the munchkins insisted that the Master Tinker turn on the electricity within the caravan. However, the man persisted in not doing so as they needed to save the energy stored within the generator for their next plan, to which only Finley, Master Tinker, and Oscar knew about.

    Oscar Digg’s replied to D’daear, “Yeah yeah. Sssshh, guys be quiet, we’re approaching the Guards!”

    The caravan began to slow to a halt, with Knuck virtuously pulling the reins on the horses. Up close, the walls were enormous, taking about fifty tall individuals to possibly rival the height. A Winkie guard among two others stationed by the gates approached them as they slowed to a halt, looking up at Oscar Diggs; he was wearing a large top hat, with a fake mustache, and his appearance looked really long for a Winkie guard.

    “Good day, fellow Winkie guardsmen.” Spoke Oscar, deepening his voice for the sake of the act.

    “What is your business here?” spoke the guardsmen, and with authority too.

    The munchkin hidden within the disguise was struggling to keep Oscar on his shoulders. He wanted him off him so badly, that he speedily whispered Oscar’s next line.

    “We bring supplies for battle!” he whispered.

    “We bring supplies for battle.” Spoke Oscar, briefly eyeing Knuck before reverting calm eyes back to the guardsmen. The Royal herald held a straight face, constantly eyeing the guardsmen. The Winkie guard gave them skepticism, raising a finger as he spoke. “I was not told of such deliver. Do you have papers of transit?” he asked, although no sooner did he ask that Knuck whacked the guardsmen upside the head with his scepter, trying to draw the attention from the recent query. It caught the guardsmen off guard, and made D’daear wince from the caravan as he remained silent with the others.

    “Do you not recognize me?! I’m Knuck, the city’s herald!” he shouted at him, feigning a sense of offence with his serious eyes.

    “Sir, I’m sorry! I’m just trying to do my-!”

    WHACK! Knuck swung the scepter at the guardsmen’s head once more. He was serious, and he was not playing any games. The guardsmen’s authority was waning, feeling the pressure of Knuck’s corrective discipline. The Winkie guard once again raised a hand, trying to gesture the attempt at correcting the way he was speaking, but soon found Knuck aiming the scepter once more at him, giving him a cold stare. It was over. The guardsmen caved, keeping his fearful eyes locked with Knuck’s as he speedily motioned for the gates to be opened for them. “Let them pass!” he spoke, another Winkie guard relaying the same words to the top. The gates suddenly stirred to life, raising itself as it gave passage for the caravan to move in. The horses stirred once more, this time Oscar Digg’s taking the reins. The horses pulled at the caravan, rolling it into motion.

    Knuck looked on ahead, lowering the guardsmen’s guard once more. A second later, he swung the scepter at the guardsmen, catching him by surprise; again. The guardsmen stood there baffled, watching them stroll into the city with the permission given to them. The people inside the caravan began to chuckle, unable to control their desire to break out in laughter as they continued deeper into the city. The city was as emerald as it would ever be, with roads made of brown ochre cobblestone. The sun had finally waned, welcoming the night sky, and the bluish bloom of the heart. The road began to light up with street lamps, helping with the dark that fell before them. Oscar gave the reins back to Knuck, having complimented him on having gotten them inside. The caravan made a turn into an alleyway, now moving between two emerald buildings, with Oscar taking notice of the bridge just above them only a few feet away. The caravan passed under, and in good timing too. A squad of Winkie guards had just passed over at the same time in a loud march. Of course, it’s not like they would look suspicious, but every precaution was necessary if they were to make this phase work.

    Knuck pulled on the reins in order to signal the horses to slowly halt next to a small alley. From above the gutters, and pipes of the buildings came sliding down a group of other munchkins, ready to welcome Oz and his crew. Oscar got straight to work, momentarily not noticing anything as he focused on removing the disguise, as well as getting off of the munchkin’s shoulders in the process. When he came to it, a scowl arose on him as he noticed the group of munchkins that awaited them, wondering who they were. “Who are they?” he asked, awaiting a response. Knuck peered over to see eight munchkins standing there, greeting them. Thoughts raced, attempting to access the situation. One thought came up, the most logical conclusion in Knuck’s mind. “They must be the underground.” He replied, knowing full well time was of the essence. Without bothering to wonder, he commanded his fellow munchkins to unload the caravan.

    “Yes sir!” they spoke in soft unison, already making their way to the back. Oz nodded, patting his top hat from possible dust before putting it on; he had it hidden when disguised. The munchkins began to work, with D’daear getting off the caravan with Finley. They didn’t bother asking questions as they had heard everything from the peeping hole. The two made their way to the front of caravan, where Knuck and Oz were, while a munchkin seated on the driver’s seat with reins in hand.

    “Everything is ready, all we need is you.” Spoke Knuck to Oz, the other two nodding to them. D’daear stood there, trying to keep his composure. It was his first time involved in an espionage type of mission, where they were going in behind enemy lines to deliver plan of attack. “Come on, we have to get moving!” he spoke, fidgeting his feet a bit; Finley also agreeing with D’daear. The wizard raised an index finger, implying the number one. “I just have to do ONE thing first.” He said with narrowed eyes, looking at Knuck whom stared back at Oscar. The royal herald was giving him a skeptical look.

    “Everything is ready! Get this carriage moving!” said one of the underground munchkins to the driver while the rest of the other munchkins left, leaving the Master Tinker inside the caravan. With a quick nod, the driver got the caravan moving once more.

    “I told Glinda you would do this! She said I was wrong about you, but I guess I wasn’t.” said Knuck, pointing a finger at Oscar. The three furrowed their eyebrows, feeling a little confused at what Knuck was speculating. “What are you talking about?” spoke Oz, bending down with hands rested on knees. Knuck turned to D’daear and Finley. “I’m talking about that thing the Master Tinker built…the BALLOON?”

    “Balloon?” said a confused D’daear, followed by Finley, “What balloon?”

    They both turned to Oscar, doubt written all over their face. Oscar rolled his eyes with a sigh, coincidentally catching sight of the hot air balloon floating sneakily in the sky. Eyes widened with cued realization. Snapping back into focus, he looked back down at everyone. “Alright guys, my cue’s here. Remember….” He started, pausing while pointing his index fingers at them while he slowly backed away with hand bag in hand. “Stick to the plan.”

    Finley looked distraught, everything no longer making any sense. “Stick to the plan? But the plan was YOU! We’re supposed to stick with YOU!” Finley pointed out twice, with Knuck and D’daear standing there dumbfounded by this new discovery. Oscar continued to walk only turning back to them to address them one final time. “You guys’ll do great. So long!” he replied, tipping his hat to them before darting off into the streets.

    “Come back! We can’t do this alone!” Knuck shouted, not caring if they were heard. Distress had taken form in their spirits, leaving their morale severely weakened. “Wizard come back!” Finely spoke out as well, cheeks drooping with brows furrowed in reverse. They began to call for him, but it was all in vain. He wasn’t coming back, this much was now certain to them. Despite all this, they all spoke out except for D’daear, whom stood behind them, dazed at the sucker punch Oscar Digg’s had delivered them. “I don’t believe this… Was… Oscar taking us all for a ride this whole time? Was he lying to us!?” ethereal words spoke, the young mind unable to grasp the situation properly. Everything began to feel strange to him, as if none of this was real anymore. Mind raced back to the trip to the forest, where Oz had spoken to him. Their conversation seemed so normal, among friends. The concept that Oscar had deceived them for so long was so hard grasp. Breathing began to hasten, each intake of air becoming shallower than the last. He looked at the cobblestone floor beneath them, feeling the distance in his vision growing longer, and wider. The floor looked so enticing, so welcoming. D’daear’s chest began to burn, as if in pain, with the whole body beginning to tingle with a sensation like no other. It hurt, and it felt like a thousand needles were stabbing each individual cell that made up the body. Suddenly weakened, and unable to sustain himself, he fell to his knees with a loud thud, inevitably catching Finley and Knuck’s attention in the form of a distraction. They turned to see D’daear’s limp form which was barely kneeling upright. He was getting ready to topple over.

    “D’daear!” Finley spoke out, being the first to try his best to hold the soldier up. However, he underestimated how much the youth weighed, and soon ended up underneath the man’s downed form as gravity took its place. D’daear fell over, thankfully with Finley being there to cushion the fall. There he rested, eyes barely opened, vision obscured by the tears that formed itself at the rim of the eyelids. No wincing, or expression was on the soldier’s dull face as he lay there in numbing pain. He could make out Knuck’s little boots as he approached, unable to make out the words emanating from the royal herald. It occurred to him that everything was barely audible, muffled by some strange unseen force. Knuck tried his best to lift D’daear, or to at least roll him over, but could not find the strength. Knuck tried and tried, but could not roll D’daear off of Finley.

    “D’daear! Get up! You’re on top of Finley!” he shouted, boots skidding against the rough floor while trying to push D’daear.

    D’daear laid there, letting thoughts have its way in the ethereal plains that was the mind. “Why am I hurting…all of a sudden…?” D’daear whispered in thought, feeling numbness sear all over him. The pain was tingling now. Was he on the verge of falling unconscious? And why did it feel like something was struggling beneath him? Barely conscious eyes began to scan the floor in front of him. Only Knuck was present, and he seemed concerned for him, trying to turn him over with great haste. Then it occurred to him. Knuck was not trying to help D’daear, per say, but more of trying to move him. Eyelids began to weigh down on the man’s blue eyes, slowly forcing themselves over blue irises. It was just so exhausting, the numbness that coursed through him. It was even numbing the thoughts, subsiding them. The cold floor welcomed D’daear’s frail form, comforting him as he laid there. Knuck persisted, going as far as sticking the golden scepter underneath D’daear’s abdomen. The soldier slowly let the eyes fall to the spell that had captured him, letting the darkness obscure what little vision remained.

    “D’daear!! GET UP!!!” the little man shouted once more, dropping the scepter with a clang. He lowered himself into a crouch, placing the small hands on D’daear’s cheeks. Using all of his strength, he lifted the soldiers face to level his own, and screamed. “YOU’RE ON FINLEY!!!”

    The words awoke D’daear, where he was only seconds away from falling prey to the pain. Becoming aware of this, D’daear winced as he willed gloveless hands to move beside his chest, skidding them against the cobble stone floor. The Entirety of D’daear’s body ached so much, and it felt like the needles only became sharper as each muscle became involved. It hurt so much, the numbness that blanked everything now being removed. The pain messed with D’daear’s mind, trying to whittle down what was left of the soldier’s consciousness. Mind was everywhere, yearning him to roll back those blue eyes and to shut tight the eyelids. But D’daear’s willpower was prepared for this, as it was the driving force behind him rising to his feet. Accessing his pectoral, and shoulder muscles, he pushed off the ground, doing his best to give Finley enough room to maneuver on out.

    A loud gasp for air emanated from underneath D’daear, and soon a brown furry hand. Finley pulled himself from underneath, gasping for the air that the little lungs lusted for.

    “You ok!?” Knuck shouted in concern, getting close to the winged monkey. Finley raised a thumb up, head lowered while he took his time to gather air in a cringed position. Knuck patted the monkey on the back, soon turning his attention to D’daear whom was struggling to remain on his feet. “D’daear! What happened!?” he exclaimed, brows furrowed in reverse. The soldier managed to catch the wall, letting his back grind against it as he fell to a seat.

    “I…I’m…not sure…” he managed to reply back to Knuck, even his face becoming numb. The soldier did the best to maintain focus, fighting the desire behind the eyelids. Knuck came to his side, placing a hand on D’daear’s arm. He hated to do this to the soldier, but time wasn’t luxury they had at the moment. “D’daear! Come on! We have to get going! We don’t have time for this!” he shouted, shaking the arm in hand. Everyone was counting on them, and with the Wizard gone, even more so.

    “yeah…” he uttered in a weak raspy voice, placing a hand on the wall behind. Tired. Sleep. To close those eyes. These thoughts tempted him so, but were not enough to outweigh the priorities. Little by little he rose, lungs beginning to regain its natural rhythm. Blue irises came into small focus, with minimal strength having returned. Despite being weakened still, he managed to get on his feet, brows casting a shadow over his barely opened eyes. He was looking a bit sickly, with pain still visible on the wincing face D’daear now took up.

    “Alright! You can manage?” Knuck inquired, little feet feeling hurried to move on. A weak nod from the soldier decided it all. Finley was back in action as well, ready to move onwards towards the courtyard in front of the castle. D’daear slowly followed suit, with hand on the wall for support as he walked behind Knuck and Finley, whom constantly were supervising the weakened soldier.

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

    Night had fallen over the land, with radiant jewels taking their place in the black sky above. The magnificence of the gargantuan heart loomed over them, with its bluish hue resonating profoundly with the blackness called night. The lush forest with which the Quadlings, Tinkers, and Munchkins had used for cover was now deserted. All that remained were the small life forms that the trees harbored; crickets. They played their nocturnal tunes in an attempt to add to the scenery before them, for down on the ground laid a wounded Soldier. The dark skinned soldier lay curled on her left side, which accentuated the woman’s curve. Arms mildly stirred to life as eyelids pried open to reveal those hidden emerald eyes. The dirt floor was the first thing she laid eyes upon while she tried to gain control of her groggy mind. “What am I doing on the floor…?” she let the words trail in her mind, while releasing a moan as she attempted to rise. Arms slowly made their way next to her, with hands positioning themselves to push off the ground. Gently, she raised the torso off the ground as she sat upright. Pain immediately shot through her now frail body, evoking her eyes to shut tight while the feminine mandible tensed in a wince.

    “AH!” she uttered, catching the floor with well positioned hands. Excruciating is the word that came to mind while the feeling of glass stabbing into her made itself known. Gwynt sat there for a moment with her eyes shut, using her arms as the pillars that barely sustained her weakened form. Lungs inflated and deflated as the soldier attempted to control the breathing through flared nostrils. It was inconsistent throughout, with heart pounding heavily against the woman’s chest. Long hands dug into the dirt, constricting the chunk that now molded into shape. She sat there a while, trying to gather herself before trying anything. Everything was so off, so askew.

    “Gwynt!” spoke up a childish voice, quickly evoking Gwynt’s head to turn to the right. Nothing. At eye level, she saw nothing except the trees that stood as the border of the forest, and the vastness of the poppy fields followed by the Emerald city which was alive with lights. “Down here!” spoke the voice again. Following the words, she looked down. Green irises mirrored a familiar ceramic doll child.

    “China girl!” spoke up Gwynt as she mildly widened the eyes. A gap formed between the upper and lower lip as she looked upon the figurine with surprise. China girl was holding onto Glinda’s wand.

    “Wha-“Gwynt uttered briefly, eyes looking away momentarily as thoughts began to gather. Everything began to come back to her. When the plan had worked, everyone began to flee because the fog had begun to lift off. The next thing she remembered was trying to save Glinda before a wicked Witch had struck her with a bolt of lightning: Evanora. Of course, all of that had occurred during the hour of twilight, where the sun met the horizon. She looked up towards emerald city, watching the stars and the black blanket that covered the sky.

    “China girl…how long was I out?” she queried with curiosity. The girl stood while pondering for an answer. She hadn’t really been keeping tabs on the amount of time. “…a while?” she replied with uncertainty. She watched as Gwynt expressed concern, soon rising to her feet in order to get a move on. However, the soldier failed to do so and fell to her knees. She seemed to be in agony, and yet she persisted, stubbornly attempting to rise time and time again. On her fifth attempt, China girl stepped in to intervene, the two of them having past the tree line.

    “Gwynt! You have to pace yourself! Who knows what Evanora did to you!” she spoke out, concerned for her friend while standing in Gwynt’s way. The doll stood there, awaiting Gwynt’s response. The young soldier attempted to rise once more, placing a hand on one knee in order to push off while calling to the hamstrings and gluts to lift off the ground. A deep shock surged through her body as nerves cried out throughout her entire body, causing her knee’s to buckle. China girl took a few steps back as Gwynt fell forward, breaking the fall with well-placed hands in front of her. It was over. Whatever ailed her body would not be leaving any time soon. There she stayed, on all fours with head down, allowing her bangs to cast a shadow to conceal her face. “Gwynt?” the doll spoke softly, eyebrows furrowed in reverse. She lowered her eyes to notice Gwynt’s hands constrict, curling into tight fists.

    “Looks like you’re going to have to go on ahead without me…” the soldier managed to say, with a masked steady voice. The doll’s eye’s widened at the thought of her leaving Gwynt behind. “What? I’m not just going to leave you here!” she rebuked, completely against her suggestion.

    “China girl…it’s ok…” Gwynt said, looking up to lock eyes with the doll. Her serious demeanor was all a sad China girl needed to see in order to realize submit. “Go.”

    Reluctantly, China girl gave a slow nod, soon averting her eyes before removing herself from the scene. Gwynt’s emerald eyes kept themselves locked on the small form as China girl scurried along, running through the poppy fields. When she could no longer make out the dolls scurrying form, she let out a passive sigh while losing herself to the fields. “Looks like I’m dead weight once again….” she uttered to herself, trying to curl her lips to make light of the situation. Soon the serious demeanor was replaced wtih melancholy, finding it pointless to hide her emotion when there was no one to hide it from. With another sigh, she slowly titled her body back, and sat on her rear end, letting her knees open up a bit while legs laid themselves on their sides; soles aimed out.

    Frustration, disappointment, anger, emotions that could easily convey her current state of mind. Instead, she sat there with a gloomy face, helpless to the ailment that had taken her body hostage. The night was alive with melodious crickets. Gwynt tilted her head back, allowing her emerald eyes to reflect the giant heart in the sky as the image took its place on her pupils, attempting to draw her away from her current mood. She sat there, letting her mind fall prey to the beauty. It was so magnificent, looming over the world with radiance, and power. However, what was meant to distract soon proved to be the harbinger of worry.

    That masked man… It’s been a month since we last saw him…” she thought, remembering the encounter back at Glinda’s palace. For all they knew, he was merely gauging them for reconnaissance sake. “But if that was the case, then for what reason could he have been trying to test us…?” The thought of that warrior brought back worries.

    A twig snapped just behind her, immediately calling her neck to twist in order for the head to turn in the sounds direction. In the darkness of the forest, her emerald eyes widened as they made out an armored silhouette as black as the night.

    Chapter 31

    The sun gleamed in its moment of twilight over the City walls, reaching the Emerald city castle, as well as the unlit throne room. On the outdoor balcony, of the emerald pigmented walls of the throne room, stood a slouched Xtracted with forearms planted on the railing as it leaned forward whilst looking to the castle courtyard where a large emerald jewel reigned over the fountain that was the center of the court. The black glass that masked the Xtracted’s face glimmered a whitish tint as the light reflected off of it while mirroring the courtyard. Still this individual was, caught in ethereal words that lingered in its mind. It was a cloaked Delothia with her hood down, and although the Xtracted’s eyes were staring away at the courtyard (which was beginning to fill with the city’s individuals), she was drifting away to a few moments ago. Word had been sent that at the time a fog wave had struck the poppy fields, and with it an army. Evanora and Theodora had gone to investigate. The moments prior to that were replaying itself over and over again. Something was wrong with her.

    Evanora had been sitting on the throne, mindlessly talking away with Theodora of some occurrences involving Malik in a foreign part of the continent. The extracted had been on the balcony, much the same that she was now. The Witches words poured out obnoxiously with plans regarding things to come, as if they somehow owned the kingdom. “Oh Sister! Imagine what we will accomplish together! Imagine how far our control over this land can reach! First Quadling Country, and soon the other three neighboring countries!” Evanora spoke out with such composed glee.

    “But why stop there, sister?” the Wicked witch of the West began, catching Evanora’s attention. “Why stop at the Land of Oz? If we can manage to gain control of Oz, don’t you think we can further expand our reign? We can set the law to this continent, not just Oz!” The wicked witch of the West questioned, soon finding her ambitions to be a possible reality. Evanora sat there, looking up at her nearby sister with speculation, unsure of whether her green pigmented sister was fully aware of how incompatible her vision was with the one already set in motion. “Theodora…although I quite enjoy the direction your mind is heading to, I feel as if I must remind you that the plan to take complete control over Oz is the one and only plan we need to go through with. And you KNOW why.” The elder sister corrected, making it known with her eyes that she was keen set on this plan. Theodora growled a bit before curling her fist, tilting her face forward so that the rim of the large black hat could mask the frustration that had set itself on that green face that still held beauty.

    Evanora watched her young sister, brown eye’s reflecting Theodora’s image. She could remember that day, when she offered the young girl an escape from the pain brought on by a broken love. It was such a wondrous opportunity, one manipulated by herself yes, but all she merely did was pull the curtain on the oaf’s deceitful act. Looking back on it now, she can’t help but feel her sister had gotten off a little easy. Although yes her pigmentation had changed, as well as a few features on the young girl’s body, she still somehow managed to hold on to an uncanny beauty that blended well with her new features. That’s more she can say compared to herself. The darkness had convoluted her appearance, turning her into a disgusting old hag. Were it not for the green amulet she wears, she’d revert back to that vile looking woman.

    “Why are you taking orders from this so called Master? And you never explained to me who this Maleficent, whom you speak highly, of is.” Spoke Theodora inquisitively, snapping the elder sibling from her mind. The Wicked witch of the East proceeded to explain herself, all this time Delothia still unable to ignore them despite the distance she had created between them.

    Just hearing the two speak stirred unreasonable anger within her with an uncontrollable urge to hurt them, which was why she had removed her presence out of the room. In Delothia’s mind, they owned nothing…especially since the throne wasn’t even Evanora’s or Theodora’s to begin with. That’s right. In the mind that hid itself behind that black glassed mask, the throne belonged to the one who brought her to existence. Through all of their chatter, the only word that really stuck out to Delothia was: Master. Every other word spoken by those pompous grunts irritated her. Black organic armored infused hands gripped at the railing, tightening as her compulsion to take action on those two escalated. They just wouldn’t shut up! On and on they went, exchange words through verbal cues. She honestly did not comprehend why she felt this way, but it was certain that a part of her wanted to snap.

    The throne room’s doors suddenly burst open as a Winkie guard intruded in haste, quieting the two pair of pretentious parrots. The intrusion brought relief to the Xtracted’s tensing body. Any more chatter from the witches, and she would have summoned her weapon on the two of them…the very weapon she was also born with. Its origin is a complete mystery to her as of her birth. Her Master as well as Maleficent never bothered to explain its power, nor did they inform her of its purpose. All she could gather was that it was just another tool of violence. She could swing and it would injure, she would channel magic through it and it would be channeled virtuously. That was all she gathered, aside from the obvious that it was no ordinary blade; taking into account that the blade could be summoned from nothing. She as well as a few others could summon them, and the odd thing was that they all came in different designs. Could there be more to them? That was a question that would eventually answer itself or so she assumed. The sound of the guard’s heavy breathing could be heard from across the room.

    The Winkie guard was out of breath with beads of sweat pouring out of facial pores. With all that, he still managed to give off a quick salute. Afterwards, the guard gave his reason for him being here. Evanora and Theodora had stirred with overwhelming curiosity that called them to action. Theodora growled, immediately flying off through the balcony to inspect along with Evanora, leaving behind a lone Xtracted with tightly curled fists as she rested her arms on the balcony’s rail; a bit of calm resting over Delothia’s shoulders. But only a bit, for another thing ate away at her: the lack of respect. They didn’t even bother acknowledging her this whole time, not once. It was almost as if she was nothing more than a common house pet or guard to them...perhaps lesser! She leaned there, body tensed once more as hidden eyes watched the two whilst they became nothing more than black specs in her view.

    The last of beautiful rays shone down hard on the tips of the city’s skyline, slowly dwindling away as the sun hid itself behind the horizon line, giving way to the night sky and its companion of stars. From up here, she could see the entire courtyard as well as the large expanse of the lit Emerald city. It hadn’t occurred to her just how large the city actually was until now. Noise had already been emanating from the forming crowd for a while now before she finally caught on to it. Something was up. The black silver helm titled down towards the crowd, masked eyes attempting to catch a glimpse of just what it was that was stirring the crowd.

    “We know what’s going on!! You guards should be ashamed of yourselves!” shouted one of the denizens among many riled up people.

    “How could you Winkie all betray us like this?!” exclaimed a lady.

    “Have you no shame!?” exclaimed another.

    “Where’s Evanora!? We know her secret!” spoke out a man.

    “Yeah! We know the truth now!!” spoke an elderly man.

    Delothia leaned a bit forward to scope out the area. The Winkie guards had all formed a perimeter in front of a large platform. Although she couldn’t make out the rest, two other Winkie guards stood guard near two small poles with chains on the platform, just in front of dense doors. On the platform stood The Wicked Witch of the West with her broom in hand. Xtracted wasn’t even aware that the Witch had stayed behind, or had she? The cry of two winged baboons echoed in the night sky, quickly calling to Delothia. The Xtracted looked back up to see off in the distance a white silhouette bound by small flying creatures, with a floating black silhouette just behind. Closer and closer they got, making haste. It was Evanora with her baboon minions and…Glinda! Although the black glass hid her face, the Xtracted’s express was of genuine surprise. For ever they had been looking for this woman, even before she had been assigned to stay here. Now all of sudden she turns up as a captive.

    Lifting a hand, she placed it behind the back of the helm and rubbed in display of processing the moment. “So these grunts finally found her…or could it be…that she found us?” she pondered out loud, letting those eyes squint. Something felt off, and it didn’t add up now that she let that mind of hers do some work. Glinda was definitely no fool, or could it have just been mere coincidence? Nevertheless, as she stood there, Evanora had already flown to the platform while the baboons just dropped her off like some package. The Good Witch landed in a loud thud, rolling to stop. Soon enough she was restrained by the two guards on standby, with a look of innocent fear. The crowd stirred even louder, trying to push their way past the bulky Winkie guards.

    “Citizens of Emerald City!” shouted Evanora. “Witness what happens when you defy me!”

    The crowd burst in anger. Delothia looked on, noticing the crowd armed with pickaxes, and all the like.

    “Leave her alone!!!” shouted more and more of them.

    Evanora looked on, “Glinda did very well for herself today, and that much I admit!” she shouted, basking in her victory while ignoring the people’s comments, and unruly behavior. The Xtracted watched on, leaning against the balcony rail in lax while basking in this moment as well. Although she may not like the two witches, the fact that Glinda was now in their grasp was a sight to behold. The Master’s plan could now move on once they dealt with the Good witch; which was something Delothia was looking forward too.

    “Unchain her you witch!” shouted a man. “We know the truth! You poisoned the King!”

    The crowd now began to push the guards, while a small group of them managed to penetrate the barrier of guards. They made their way to the rim of the stage, and pointed fingers at them. “We will not tolerate this!” one of them spoke up before a guard pulled him back into the crowd. Evanora stood there, watching on, and lavishing the moment while Theodora stood by Glinda, fighting the desire to get rid of Glinda once and for all. The elder sister turned to Glinda, and took a few steps towards her before halting. She displayed her ponder by averting her eyes whilst playing with the feathery collar that was her dress. “Hmmm…what should I do now…?” she uttered loud on purpose. Once more, she was lavishing herself in this moment.

    However, Glinda wasn’t going to let that happen apparently. “I’d get your sister and fly out of here.” She advised, with irises well aimed at Evanora’s. No fear, no doubt.

    “Really?” she replied in light scoff.

    “While you still can.”

    A wicked smile enlarged itself on Evanora’s lips as she proceeded towards Glinda a bit more. “Hmph, such confidence. Well, I think I’m going to do something quite different and I’m going to do it, ooh, very, very slowly, because…” she paused, confidently bending over to reach eye level with Glinda’s. Slowly, she positioned her right hand, and began to stroke the Good Witches face, smoothly caressing it with one hand. The Wicked Witches mandible tensed as she examined the beauty that was Glinda’s, soon causing her eyes to well up a bit. “…I just can’t take the sight of that pretty, pretty face... “She uttered suave, before violently using the same hand to clamp down on the Good Witches chin, forcing her head to turn towards Evanora’s eyes.

    “I’m going to wipe out your light until there is nothing left but my darkness.” She stated with shifted angry tone.

    Atop the balcony, Delothia couldn’t help but chuckle at what came next. A bolt of emerald lightning shot out from Evanora’s hands and began to course through Glinda’s body. The magic was so bright, that it lit up the area well enough to conceal Glinda’s form in the blinding light show. However, Delothia could see just fine as the black glass acted as a sort of shade for such brightness. The show mirrored well on her black mask in this fine evening, green fluxes of light rendering the reflection in good detail. Now THIS was something she could agree on, despite not liking the two Witches. Somehow, watching Glinda in pain waned that violent tendency with Delothia. It was satisfying to her. The Xtracted continued to lean on the railing, shifting her arms position for better relaxation. She watched as the crowd gasped in horror, watching their beloved Good Witch of the South cry out while taking an undeserved punishment underneath the night sky; unbeknownst to them all that a well decorated caravan had taken position in the courtyard.

    Chapter 32

    Glinda’s groans could be heard across the sea of people that made up the audience. Many had to look away as they watched their Good Witch suffer for rebelling against Evanora and her sister, for No one wanted to sit by and just spectate the violence like sadists. There were some who could not standby nor look away, compelled to act. With a war cry, an audience member raised a pickaxe to the air. The cry went on long enough to stir the morale within a few others. It was like a quick wildfire that spread among them. The front of the crowd attempted once more to push past the guards that stood on the stages perimeter. Unfortunately the Guards proved to be a greater match. It was like trying to push walls that had arms at the ready, and aimed at those that would dare pass them. The two opposing sides clashed briefly, with no casualties among either one side. The guards were just too strong in terms of brute force as they themselves easily pushed them back those who were brave enough to proceed, shouting off warnings at the reckless pedestrians. No one could phase through the bulky soldiers. It was over as quick as it had begun for the few defiant citizens. Many of the Quadlings fell to their rear ends, but quickly aided by their comrades, not once taking their eyes off of the Winkie guards. Without much to do, the defiant few retreated back to their fellow crowd, cheeks drooped in defeat as they stood by and watched with sadness.

    Poor Glinda sat on her knees while maintained in place by the links that were restraining her at the wrists, taking the punishment; while every nerve in Glinda’s body cried out with confusion during the whole light show created by the Wicked Witch. Evanora wasn’t going to stop, especially since surprisingly enough the Good Witch showed signs of resistance to the magic. With gritting teeth, Evanora amplified her stream of lightning, heightening the intensity in pain that was already apparent in Glinda. The crowd went wild with their plea, all in vain as they fell on deaf ears.

    “Please stop! Let the Good Witch go!!” the many cried out.

    “This cruelty can’t go on!!”

    Among them, way in the back, D’daear stood leaning with one hand against the caravan while owned blue irises spectated the cruel display of power on stage. The soldier’s free hand made its way to his lower back, and curled itself around the handle of the sheathed blade, with muscles contracting in a tight grip. It was Painful to grip this tight, but he fought through it with gritting teeth while brows furrowed indignantly towards the scene. There was no justice to what he was watching, and that was enough to fuel the drive that was arising within him. Ignoring the cry of his body, he began to move, slowly trailing along the caravan’s side while commencing to unsheathe the blade. However, he was stopped by a well-placed hand on his shoulders. Pain shot out momentarily, causing him to wince briefly. He quickly turned around to meet Master Tinker’s gaze soft gaze. It didn’t take a minute to see how it spoke of sadness, and no words needed to be exchanged, for he knew what those wise old eyes were telling him. Distress followed, writing itself on the boy’s face. All that was occurring was wrong. The plan, the enigmatic pain, the betrayal…it was all so very wrong. D’daear’s mind was stirring with confusion, and pain. All their hard work, and careful planning had been for nothing. It was as if fate had deemed treachery favorable over noble. Not only that, but for you see, if Glinda was up there alone, then that could only mean that something happened to the others. Perhaps…

    Gwynt…China girl…everyone…” the words read out.

    Unable to bear the thought of it all, D’daear’s eyelids shut tight for a moment while still maintaining that constipated expression. He looked away from the old man, and let out a faint cry through gritted teeth, keeping a tight grip on the handle of his put away blade. It was too much to take in. A whole month he had spent with the people in that city, laughing, enjoying each other’s company, planning, and boosting one another’s morale. He had gotten to know most of them, and he had gotten to know a few better. So for them to now have just… Another faint cry escaped the clamped jaw, with him curling the hand that had lent him support on the caravan, inevitably fisting the caravan with great frustration. He couldn’t even try to save Glinda…for he was not strong enough, and it would bring great risk to Finley, Knuck, and Master Tinker’s safety. It would’ve been suicidal, for him to have faced two Wicked Witches at once; considering how easily Theodora handled him a month ago. Distress had taken a firm grip on him.

    “Oz…I hope…I hope you…” he started, feeling that familiar anger that cast judgment on his father. But he soon found himself stopping all together, remembering the man’s good nature back in Glinda’s palace. D’daear’s anger soon softened. He had no ill-will towards Oscar Diggs, despite it all; just great disappointment in a man. Tears slowly welled up behind those eyelids, unable to bear this situation. With a frown, he finally uttered “…You jerk…”

    “Oh no…” uttered Finley. The winged monkey sat at the caravan’s seat, looking through a telescope aimed high above past a few tall structures. D’daear raised tensed eyelids in order to look up past Finley, and Knuck. The monkey had lowered the scope, eyes still glued to the direction where he had just seen the confirmation to their betrayal. “He said it was going to be his greatest trick yet…” Finley uttered in a defeated tone.

    “Did he tell you the trick was on us?” Knuck commented in disappointment. Master Tinker stood idly, staring high up with frustration. He had every right to be angry at Oz, and yet all he could do was just watch in disappointment.

    High among the other buildings where the group had been looking up to, on a small bridge interconnecting two large emerald structures was a Hot air balloon perched. Oz had been running back and forth with great haste between the balloon and the building with bags of gold. He was filling the balloons basket to the brim with gold coins, cups, jewels, and of the like. All going according to the deceptive man’s plan. What he wasn’t aware of, however, was that Perched atop of another building was a well hidden Theodora, having a clear view of the treachery Oz was committing. In silence, she gently shook her head. “How predictable…” she uttered in a whisper, voice wavering with anger. Having listened to Glinda’s brave words back there, she was nearly convinced that Oz would indeed reward the woman’s good faith. Clearly, this proved the Good Witch wrong. The Wicked witch snarled as amber irises glared down at the treachery. A great need stirred within Theodora to strike the man down here and now. However, she knew this was the only opportunity she and her elder sister had to really destroy Glinda and her people’s morale. With a heavy sigh, she slowly crept back into the shadows of which brought her here, hiding a smirk whilst yellow eyes were the last unhidden by the dark.

    Meanwhile, Glinda had been able to take a breather from the constant punishment dealt by Evanora. Of course, this small moment was merely so Evanora could have her moment to speak. Brown eyes kept their gaze on a down casted Glinda.

    “I knew that buffoon couldn’t be the wizard…” she muttered, catching Glinda’s attention. The blonde haired female was looking weak, drained of will to keep on resisting. Evanora smirked in satisfaction. That expression…that face from Glinda that said she was nearly at the edge of destroyed hope. She unleashed another stream of lightning on the Good Witch, followed by the groans of pain. The crowd was in yet another uproar, although this time they did nothing to try to stop it, for they understood there was nothing else they could do. The group by the caravan stood there, helpless to the horror. They had no idea on how to proceed with the plan, and Oscar Digg’s betrayal had wounded their morale. Weak, and defeated they just stood there. D’daear’s black corneas refracted the light that doused the crowd, continuously revealing to him the horrendous sight as it unfolded once more. Such peaceful beauty, being punished for standing up against the Wickedness that is the Witches; she was relying on the Wizard no less! This brought the soldier an indignant heart, causing brows to furrow with the frustration that refused to leave him. Head hung low, with bangs casting a shadow over averted eyes as he looked away. The situation was becoming hard to deal with.

    “How could Oscar do this…?” he queried in a tense whisper, with the Master Tinker barely catching the boy’s words. The aged man peered to the young soldier, watching the grip on the blades handle tether. The young man’s frustration was understood among them as Finley and Knuck too looked in the soldier’s direction. No words could be exchanged, or used to reply such a question. The truth of the matter: The Wizard had them all fooled.

    The Good Witches groans continued through the static sound of Evanora’s lightning that streamed out of her hands. D’daear’s mandible tensed as he recollected that tender moment in Glinda’s city. He remembered the way Glinda and Oscar Diggs had stood by one another so close, and the way Glinda had planted a soft caring kiss on the wizard’s forehead. That kiss reminded him so much of that one evening, the night when he lost the one woman that had stood by him all his life, even after being abandoned by that man he called, Father. Helen not once lost hope, nor did she give up on life. D’daear’s fist remained still against the caravan, so tense that it shook. He lifted his head to watch Glinda persevere through the pain. Tears remained, yet controlled.

    D’daear struck the caravan once more with the curled fist, eyelids shutting themselves while he let out a frustrated shout among the many that were already filling the air. “Why Oscar!? Why would you do this…!? She was counting on you!” he exclaimed in heart-ache, while the free hand became lax in order to feel the caravan that was meant to be their ultimate weapon. “WE…were counting on you…”

    Suddenly, a spine shivering laughter echoed in the skies above them. The young soldier looked up to witness black smoke trailing its way towards the stage. It was the Wicked Witch of the West, Theodora. She hastily made her way to the stage, landing next to Glinda. It appeared Evanora had stopped once again. The green pigmented female bent over next to the Good witch to have her turn to speak.

    “Give up, Glinda. Why keep resisting?” she mused in curiosity. Taking her time, the good witch lifted her head in order to lock eyes. It only took that one gaze to see how weakened Glinda had become. “It’s because…I believe in the Wizard…” she uttered softly. Hearing this caused the green witch to remember the bitterness she felt towards the Wizard. Brows furrowed while yellow eyes remained fixated on Glinda. She commented back, “So did I once…”

    The Witch rose, soon turning to look up to a new scene that was unfolding high in the sky. “Behold!” she said, drawing Glinda’s attention towards the night sky. It was an awe drawing sight as Glinda’s eyes, filled with sadness, began to widen. A hot air balloon had emerged from the behind buildings, making its attempt to fly off. The Wicked Witch of the West pointed to the sky, “Look, Your Wizard!” she shouted to the mob, keeping her gaze locked on the object in the sky. The crowd immediately began to turn, all soon falling in disbelief at the sight their hopeful eyes were beholding. The perceptive few began to feel their hearts lose hope, falling prey to the Wizards deceit.

    “Wh-where’s he going?!” exclaimed a citizen, “Is he-! Is he abandoning us?!” exclaimed another. The crowd began to stir in panic. “How…how could he…?” questioned a few others. The hot air balloon was slowly making its way over the crowded area. Master Tinker took a few steps away from the caravan, with shoulders slouched while mouth gaped slightly with disappointment; Finley and Knuck were just beside him. Their hopeless eyes gazed on, without D’daear. The young man kept himself busy gazing at the floor, not wanting to look up at the sky. Laxed hands drooped at the sides, feeling hopeless whilst eyes remained watery. He could not bear to watch someone who’d gained his trust leave him again.

    “NO!” cried out a distressed Glinda. D’daear’s attention shifted to the stage to see The Wicked Witch of the west blast a ball of fire out of her hands. From there, everything felt ethereal. The soldier stood there, among the sea of faces, baring witness to the cruelty and hatred of the Witch. The ball of fire zoomed towards the Hot air balloon, and with fiery collision, blasted the balloon of the sky, robbing it of levitation, and plunging it to the ground beneath it. Gold scattered itself everywhere, just as the people had scattered in order to avoid becoming a casualty. Flaming debris scattered itself amongst the gold, lighting up the area like a bonfire. Many people were momentarily panicking, gasping at the display. Among them D’daear and the rest looked on with lost hope, feeling a sense of grief over their fallen comrade.

    Evanora stood with hands on hips, staring at the flames caused by her sister. “Not so great and powerful after all…” she commented casually, making sure her voice was within reach of a grief stricken Glinda. The Good witch sat there with tears streaming from her sorrowful eyes, unable to hide her sadness due to bound hands.

    Winkie Guards ran towards the fiery scenery, making sure to form a perimeter near it as many people wanted to see for themselves, desperately hoping that somehow…their prophesied savior would have lived through it. Alas, it was a moment that robbed the crowd of their voices. In the silence that followed, Finley made way to the scene in flight. He hovered over the area for a while, desperately needing to see this for himself. Like the others, he was hoping somehow Oscar might’ve survived. A large pile of hot gold littered the grounds, with only one shred of evidence that gave hint to the Wizards fate. The Monkey landed a few inches away from a hat, with eyes widening as he slowly approached. Small hands carefully picked up the top hat, letting out small moans as he caressed the only thing that was left of Finley’s friend.

    “Let me through!” shouted D’daear from behind. Finley turned, with teary eyes glancing at D’daear’s struggling form as he was attempting to push passed two guards. The soldier persisted, keeping his weight on them as he continued to push past them. However, when the man made eye contact with Finley, that was all that was needed for D’daear to lose the desire to fight. The guards knocked the soldier back, causing him to land on his rear end. He let himself sit there, taking in the truth that was unveiling itself now. He kept eye contact with the hat that was in Finley’s hands. “So then…he really is…” he whispered to himself. Blue irises became one with the tears that followed as the reality of the situation was sinking in.

    Oscar Digg’s had perished at the hands of the Wicked Witch.

    Palms that rested themselves on the cobblestone floor soon curled themselves into tight fists. D’daear averted those blue eyes away from Finley as tears began to form beneath furrowed brows; not baring witness to a guard that was slowly approaching Finley’s weeping form. Cheeks strained themselves as they drooped into a mandible tensed frown. As he had been thinking before, everything had gone absolutely wrong. None of this was part of the plan they had originally thought of. He sat there, wallowing in his lack of strength to do anything in this situation. China girl, Gwynt, the pedestrians, and now Oz. He believed they were all gone.

    “Let this be the final word!” Evanora projected from the stage. “Your prophecy is dead! Like the King who spoke it, and like the Wizard whom tried to fulfill it. ALL DEAD!”

    “And they will be joined by GLINDA, the Good.” Theodora added, gripping tighter the charred broom that lay clamped between her left fingers. The two made their way closer to Glinda, looking down at the frail form that was the Witch of Light. Theodora snickered, staring Glinda down with satisfied eyes. “Farewell.”

    Glinda slowly raised her head, looking past the two Witches and towards the crowd.

    “Say Hello to Daddy for me.” Evanora spitefully spoke.

    The two Witches thus proceeded to end her, first beginning to charge a powerful bolt from their two hands, one that would make sure to rid Glinda’s existence. As their spells commenced to charge, Glinda looked on towards the people, doing her best to keep a face of authority, and hope. “The dreams of the people…live on…” she uttered, readying herself for what was to come.

    D’daear remained seated, letting the eyelids close over his blue irises while tears continued to trail down. He could do nothing to save her…he was not strong enough. The Witches were ready to end Glinda as they lifted their charged hands to the sky. However the unthinkable occurred. A loud blazing explosion occurred at the center of the crowd, right where the large emerald jewel centered itself in the fountain. Flames shot up to the sky, creating wave of air as it unnerved everyone including the Witches. The explosion rose to the air, soon followed by smoke that covered itself in small weak embers that soon dissipated. D’daear sat there with opened eyes as the blast of air slithered past his direction, swaying his purple hair and uniform. Everyone around him had begun screaming, panicking once more as a loud roar emanated from the smoke. The young soldiers eyes widened in disbelief at what was now unfolding before him.

    In the dense smoke that was now consistently spewing out, a large head emerged; blending well with the smoke. However, that was not what caught D’daear by surprise. What evoked D’daear’s reaction was the fact that the face that was looking down at everyone was none other than The Great Wizard of Oz, Oscar Diggs.

    Chapter 33

    Everything could not have gone any better. Heck, watching Theodora unleash her fiery fury onto the escaping Wizard was just a sight to behold. It was enough to change the Xtracted’s perspective on the witch. Perhaps she only had to hate ONE of them. However, the joy of watching Glinda become decimated had been robbed from her soon enough. Delothia immediately stood tall, no longer laxed while now feeling indignant of the whole situation that began to unfold. The explosion that had interrupted Glinda’s fate had been a large one, and a loud one. It was so abrupt that even Delothia had been caught off guard by it. So many questions were circulating through her mind now, confused and bitter about the situation. In ambivalence, she stood there, silently watching as the giant ethereal figure took its place as the main attraction now; Delothia’s fists tightened.

    The crowd at first had cowered in fear, but immediately the ethereal embodiment of Oz had calmed them down as the loud god like voice brought authority to the scene. The people had scattered away, but soon found themselves coming to halt as the face became clear to them.

    Fear me not, great people of Oz! Fear me not! For it is I, the Great and Powerful….WIZARD OF OZ!!!” explained the floating head attached to the ongoing chain of smoke. Soon enough flames sprouted from the earth beneath the god like head, as if displaying the power behind Oz’s new form. The crowd flinched and gasped at the grandness of it all. Even Evanora seemed to be shaking in her boots, as she looked up in awe.

    “More tricks..! How dare you d-…How dare you defy us!” the wicked witch spouted in disbelief, with a wavering voice. The Good witch of the south looked on towards Oz’s new form, a beautiful smile taking form while she gazed at her savior with amazement. A loud horn continued to play in the background, almost like a war horn.

    Dare? How dare YOU Wicked Sisters! No one defies OZ!” the great Oz spat back, soon drawing the cheers of the crowd. The flames continued to spew out beneath the figure head, albeit a bit smaller.

    “Guards! Destroy him!” Evanora shouted at the Winkie guards standing by near the stage. There was no way she was going to allow such treason.

    “Forward!!” shouted the captain of the lot, soon all the Winkie guards at hand marched in perfect file towards the Wizard. The crowds were forced to open a path for the guards as the pikes and spears were something they did not want to be in the way of. One by one the guards lanced their weapons at Oz’s gargantuan ethereal form, each hit seeming to phase right through the smoke as they landed on the other side like rain, causing the crowd on that side to fall back in fear of being hit. The guards found themselves dumbfounded, in disbelief at how their weapons did nothing, evoking Theodora’s shock. As if THAT wasn’t enough, Oz took it upon himself to let out a large bellow! With a well-timed roar, the Winkie guards were forced to fall back, running away in fear. No weapon could harm him.

    Watching the guards run away like cowards, Evanora was losing control of the situation, and fast. “Come back here! Come here this instant you cowards!” she shouted out, worried. Oz gave off a large laughter, echoing in the area. “You thought you could kill me? ME?” he spoke out, making sure to lock eyes with Evanora. “Thanks to YOU I’ve shed my mortal shell, and taken my TRUE ethereal form!”

    While Oz spoke, a small ceramic figure was slyly making her way towards the stage with a wand tightly held in arms. It was China girl. So small was she, that she was finding it rather easy to move about covertly. Why, everyone was so distracted with Oz that no one was bothering to look down.

    Why, I’m more powerful than ever! I AM INVISINCIBLE! Do you STILL doubt me?”

    Theodora clenched her fists tight, snarling at the head floating before them. Ambivalent, she masked her worries with a furrow of the brows. “Doubt you?! I DEFY you!” she screamed. In a mindless action, flames gathered around the witch’s free hand, and in one toss, a ball of fire shot straight towards Oz’s form. The fireball clashed with Oz’s forehead, creating a decent sized explosion which caused the Great Wizard to flinch. To everyone’s surprise; including Theodora’s, the Wizard had been hurt! With a large roar, the Wizard began to fade away, showing the pain on his face all the while. The crowd gasped as they saw their grand hero slowly fade. Soon the flames beneath Oz disappeared as well as the stream of rising smoke. He was gone once more.

    Evanora stood there, relieved at the wizard’s demise. For a moment, she had truly thought that they had lost. In an act of calming therapy, she began to gently caress the feathers around the neckline of her dark dress. “Beautifully done, Sister.” She praised in relief, only taking a moment to look at the young witch.

    “Thank you…” Theodora replied, trying to keep herself composed. Deep down, however, she was feeling rather proud of herself.

    Up above them on the balcony that gave a great view of scenery, Delothia couldn’t help but question what had been unfolding. Arising from the dead, Oz had taken his so called, “True ethereal form.” Flames were visible beneath the figure, specifically two as well as a steady stream of rising smoke. Where had all that been coming from? Not to mention, he showed signs of invulnerability considering physical attacks didn’t work. Yet, when Theodora attacked with Magic, somehow the witch was able to harm him. And now that he had been defeated, everything that made his presence had disappeared. Behind that black glass, Delothia had started to become skeptic. For some reason, she could not shake the feeling that something was not right. What’s more, why hadn’t the Witches continued their original plan? Tilting the neck slightly, the helmeted head was redirected towards the two witches whom stood there like a bunch of buffoons.

    “Unbelievable… There’s just no admiration to be held for these sisters…” she uttered beneath her breath as she leaped into action. Placing a hand on the balcony, she pole-vaulted herself over the edge, cascading down towards the stage. The beige cloak flapped as the air spirited past her form, giving off its final flap as she landed gracefully in front of the three witches, nearly crouching with her back given to them. Delothia remained with her back to them, slowly rising with her entire body concealed within the cloak. Glinda took notice immediately as the strange individual had landed a few feet in front of her position.

    “What are you two doing…standing around feeling proud of yourselves? Don’t you have work to finish?” she questioned them.

    The sisters at first were a little shocked, considering the Xtracted’s presence was an interrupt to their gloat. Evanora was the first to speak up. “Proud? Did you not see what we have just accomplished? The Wizard is no more! For good!”

    “What are you doing here?” Theodora queried, taking a step forward. “Shouldn’t you be tending to other matters?”

    Delothia remained fixated on the spot where the Wizard had supposedly perished. “As a matter of fact…I currently am…” she replied coyly. She had spotted something out of place within the crowd, the image of the caravan faintly reflecting on her helm. “That caravan…what’s it doing here?” She thought to herself, remembering it from earlier. Not looking away, she spoke before leaping off the stage, “Tend to Glinda already. There’s no point in withholding her end.”

    Theodora snarled, while Evanora smirked.

    Walking through the crowd, the Xtracted remained focused, unaware at the attention she was drawing as she passed those that saw her. The caravan remained as the only image that reflected off of her mask.

    Meanwhile, D’daear peeked out from the small hole in the caravan, having been posted as look out. When everything began to unfold with Oz’s new appearance, it was Master Tinker who had called to him while the soldier had sat there in disbelief. It was soon revealed that Oscar Digg’s had not perished in the fire, but rather he had made everyone THINK he had. To D’daear’s relief, Oscar had NOT betrayed them, but rather had to make it look like he had in order to lower the Witches guard. A quick relief overtook D’daear, but it was minor as he still could not forget Gwynt and the others. However, being a soldier, he had to put those feelings aside for the time being… Now, the group remained within the caravan while Oz had been using the built invention they had brought with them to project himself as the new powerful Ethereal Oz. The contraption was ahead of its time as it was able to project not only the Wizards face, but also project the man’s voice through a coned microphone. With a little bit of smoke, contained explosions, and lighting, Oz was able to easily fool everyone outside that he had risen. Now, with the right timing, Oscar Digg’s hoped to make another grand entrance once more.

    However, there was a bit of technical difficulties occurring.

    “Hurry! They think they’re winning!!” shouted Finley in disarray.

    “Hooooooold…” commanded Oscar Digg’s as he continued to look through a scope designed to look outside. While they waited, D’daear had been peering through a hole in the caravan, and had noticed the appearance of a new figure, whom was heading straight towards them.

    “Uuuh, Oscar…! I don’t think we have much time! Someone’s heading towards us!” the soldier shouted as he continued to peer through the hole. “Waaait for iiit!” Oscar persisted, lifting a palm as a gesture to wait.

    Delothia was approaching with serene elegance, now only a few yards away.

    Oscar Digg’s jaw dropped slightly as he watched the Witches recommence to finish off Glinda. He looked away from the scope, and signaled with the index finger for Master Tinker to pull the switch which gave the charge needed for the explosions and smoke to lift once more. “Switch it back on!” he ordered. Quickly the Master Tinker lifted the switch, everyone expecting the next act. Unfortunately, nothing happened. The Tinker tried the switch again, but to no avail.

    “What!? Turn it back on!” Oz shouted in angst. The old Tinker looked skeptical, peering closely at the switch to see if there was anything wrong. Upon the closer inspection, he pinpointed the problem. “ooohh… There’s a loose wire!”

    Both Finley and D’daear slapped their forehead in disbelief.

    “uuuh-a screw is stuck!” the Tinker explained, with a squint. With haste Oz went to work on finding something nearby that could help. Time was now of the essence as both problems were fast approaching! D’daear remained vigilante, already seeing Delothia close, and the witches prepping their magic.

    “Tch!” the soldier uttered as he took action. He grabbed a small pouch of black powder. Finley looked at him. “What are you doing?” he asked. D’daear’s sudden stir of commotion was bringing Finley’s state of panic back. “Making a distraction to buy you guys some time!” he replied whilst focused on gathering the materials for his plan. Hands moved about with great haste, gathering a pouch with substance, flammable wire, and-

    “Fire…I need fire…” the soldier whispered to himself as blue irises went wild. The team were beginning to cut it real close. Acting fast, D’daear slipped through a hidden door beneath his feet, and soon appeared below the caravan with the pouch and wire in hand. Not caring for whether he was spotted or not, he made a dash towards the epicenter of where Oz’s ethereal form had risen from. Halfway there he could already make out the small bits of ember that remained where the decorative flames had once been. He quickly slid to a stop, acting quickly. Within a second he was able to slip the wire into the pouch, and soon tighten it with the string used to close it. Carefully, he placed the wire over the embers, trying to evoke a spark. Tension was rising for him, as he could feel eyes locked on him. He needed to get this done fast!

    “Well well! What do we have here?” queried a voice. It sounded like it was only a few feet from him. D’daear turned his head to face the source of the voice, but soon wished he hadn’t. Blue irises revealed to him a familiar looking mask, immediately triggering the memory of the attack on Glinda’s Palace. A gasp stuck in his throat, eyelids lifted even further to widen those eyes of D’daear’s. Cursing under his breath, he began to carelessly aim the exposed tip of the wire on the ember in disarray. Beads of sweat were already beginning to drip down his forehead whilst gritting teeth bared themselves. With this familiar presence closing in on him, he had to speed this up. The wire was beginning to heat itself, but no spark was emanating. Footsteps began to draw closer and closer to the soldier’s hunched over form.

    “Come on come on…!” he uttered harshly through gritted teeth. Eyebrows now furrowed themselves as he tried to focus through the pressure, the heart racing moment. “Of all the time...! Why did HE have to show up? How did I not recognize him a while ago?!” ethereal thoughts trailed as he scurried to get the wire lit. He had not been thinking clearly, as there were still the flames of the hot air balloon wreckage nearby. However, due to moving to quick into action, he did not think of it. The footsteps stopped, with a presence now looming over D’daear…he could feel those eyes locked on him.

    “Sooo…what’re you up too?” spoke the feminine voice. D’daear found himself swallowing a huge chunk of held back saliva as he stopped what he was doing. Trying to buy himself some time, he tried to avoid the question as well as buy himself more time with a quick witty remark. “You know, for a guy with such a bulky body, you sure have a feminine touch…heh…”

    This remark confused the cloaked Xtracted, not having expected such a response from someone she was hoping to be afraid. “Guy? Bulky body? Hah!” she scoffed. With a neat placement of her boot, she placed the sole of her left boot on D’daear’s back. Immediately the soldier felt the heel jab at the spine. He winced.

    “I think you have me confused with someone else...” she commented, soon leaning against the bent leg, using D’daear’s back as some kind of pedestal. Indeed D’daear had mistaken Delothia for someone else. Of course, how was he to know? Delothia looked up towards the stage, a small snicker arising from behind the mask as the witches had now reached full charge. “You know…Dark days are coming…and soon the land will have a new rule…” she continued on, now resting her left forearm on the bent knee while she continued to lean in thought. Being this close to him, she couldn’t help but feel strange, as if there was a sense of familiarity with him.

    “Found it!” shouted a muffled voice. Delothia quickly pushed feelings aside as she turned her head, immediately pinpointing the source. Once more the caravan reflected off of her mask. “I knew it. The caravan…”

    “RAAH!!” shouted D’daear as he got up, pushing off Delothia with his back. The distracted Xtracted nearly lost balance, taken back by the randomness. All she was able to do was watch as the soldier pulled back an arm. In that instant, she could see a pouch in the man’s hand, with a wire emitting a spark. Giving it all he had, D’daear launched the pouch into the air. It only took a second after launch for the intention D’daear had to unfold. The pouch flew into the air, with the wire shortening as the spark devoured its length. It reached its peak, with the spark soon reaching the end of the wire within the pouch. The spark reacted with the black powder instantaneously. BOOM went the pouch, emanating loud and clear in the air as the pouch detonated. The night sky lit up briefly as the explosion had taken everyone by surprise, except D’daear of course whom had covered his ears while looking away. Once again the Witches had halted their attack, dumbfounded by the unpleasant interruption.

    Delothia sat there, having landed on her rear end, with the mask reflecting the explosions light. Having been knocked on her behind, she quickly turned to the soldier. With the rude toss, abruptness of the explosion, and having looked like a fool by landing on her behind, Delothia’s playful demeanor had been replaced with a more serious demeanor. Hands skidded against the cobblestone floor as she balled them into fists. This was something she would not have, especially after having been mistaken for a man. Who did this purple haired pawn think he was? Rising to her feet, she glared at the unwary crouched soldier. Even now the soldier was giving her his back, as if she was not worth the time. Annoyed, she placed a firm hand on the soldiers shoulder, and quickly forced him to turn. The abruptness caught D’daear off guard, and soon the two were now face to face near the fountain with the large emerald. With her one hand firmly griping the man’s shoulders, she gripped hard on the other shoulder using the free hand. The soldier only had a second to take notice of the black blue gloves that vice gripped him before evoking the Xtracted’s desired reaction. He winced, soon unable to will through the pain. He let out a cry as the Xtracted kept the iron grip clamped on his shoulders. This was what he was afraid off. The power that was now manifesting before his very eyes. This is what he remembered back at Glinda’s palace, when the man in silver attacked. The sheer power behind those arms, the unrelenting force behind every attack. D’daear began to panic. With his body now in her grasp, she could squeeze him to death if she wanted too! As if that wasn’t enough, she lifted him off the ground, soon to find it amusing at the ease she was able to pull this off. The Xtracted began to chuckle menacingly.

    “My my…to think you humans could be so fragile…and you’re rather bulky yourself, aren’t you?” she queried, spitting back similar words he had used on her.

    D’daear’s eyes squinted, teeth gritting while he attempted to fight through the pain. “What…what are you?!” he thought, painfully confused by the identity of this person. The Xtracted continued to gaze at him, letting the impulses within her to take control of her. As quickly as she released him, her left hand clamped itself over D’daear’s neck, not letting his feet touch the ground. The soldier reflexively grabbed ahold of Delothia’s wrist, attempting to weaken the hand or to pry himself free, yet he found it to be an impossible task. He soon found himself without air, feeling the blood rushing to his face as Delothia choked the life out of him. Whomever this woman was, she had strength that was unnatural. Desperate to break free, the soldier thought of one last attempt, one that this woman was giving him no choice. While still holding on with one hand, he attempted to reach for his blade with the other. A tired hand reached for the handle, frantically trying to grab ahold of it, however, Delothia’s grip tightened, squeezing the will out of D’daear. The soldier started to become limp, no longer feeling the desire to fight back. He was beginning to black out, when suddenly a voice snapped Delothia out of her trance.

    “Got it!” shouted Master Tinker from within the caravan.

    The Xtracted turned her head towards the caravan, unaware of what was about to unfold. Her grip weakened, and she was readying herself to toss the soldier aside when suddenly a well-timed explosion occurred. The fountain erupted into flames as a powerful wave of concussion spread within its radius. Both D’daear and Delothia just happened to have been in the right spot, which knocked the two of them away. D’daear’s body slammed against the cobblestone floor as well as Delothia. The smoke arose with a loud familiar laughter. Soon, everyone saw who it was.

    “YOU cannot defeat me!” shouted the great and powerful Oz. He was glaring back at the two wicked sisters whom had still been disturbed by the distraction presented by D’daear. “I am immortal! I am the great and powerful, Wizard of OZ!!!!” he declared, soon his image intensifying as Oz’s face grew taller and taller!

    The crowd cheered on for their resurrected savior, which stirred Delothia to rise, dazed from the explosion. When she came to her feet, she had been holding her helmet on instinct. “What the-?” she murmured, turning to gaze over at the soldier. He was coughing vigorously, with the man’s windpipe trying its hardest to open up from nearly being broke. The voice was hard to ignore, soon demanding Delothia’s attention.

    “Now wicked sisters, witness as I unleash….the stars!” Oz spoke, slowly raising his chin as he looked up to the sky. Delothia struggled to remain standing, finding her current predicament to be quite vexing. “This…this is ridiculous!” she shouted as she looked up to the sky, bewildered at the event. Up above in the night sky, a yellow light could be seen as it left a small trail in the midst of its travel. Evanora stood there, bewildered at the light. Not only that, but more and more of the same lights were beginning to rise from the skyline! Suspense emerged from the moment, as the lights continued to flare high in the sky, all of them traversing towards a destination in the sea of blackness.

    One by one, the rockets glared mightily as they exploded up above with power. The Witches stood there in awe, and fear at the abrupt explosions. Delothia however, remained unscathed by the lights. She stood there, her shoulders suddenly slumping randomly as she gazed up at the exploding “Stars”.

    “These…are stars?” she questioned, her expression hidden behind the mask. There was something oddly familiar about the lights…

    D’daear slowly rose to his feet at the sight, with hands caressing his own throat. A weak snicker formed itself as lips stretched to the side. “Heh…so that’s…what you needed the fireworks for…” he uttered in a hoarse weak voice, the show briefly distracting him from Delothia.

    Delothia turned to D’daear, barely making out the last of his sentence. “Fire…works?” she uttered, feeling the noise around her suddenly muffle. The word, it somehow stirred her mind. Like a siren, a loud ear piercing sound began to ring within her eardrums. Her head began to wobble as she slowly lost control of her visual surroundings. Slowly, her hand grasped at her helmet, as if somehow it was the same as applying pressure to her own head. Delothia spoke no words while she suffered in silence. It was so out of the blue, and yet she recognized this feeling…this phenomenon. Images began to flash before her in the midst of the exploding fireworks. An island, children, the smell of the ocean, the feel of the tropic winds brushing against skin, the festivals, lanterns, the sound of children playing, and giggling as they enjoyed one another’s company. … It was all an echo of memories… Although you couldn’t make out her face, she was indeed suffering. Something seemed out of place. Then D’daear’s face emerged…and everything zoned back into place.

    She took notice as D’daear stood before her, where the flames beneath Oz’s ethereal form flickered behind. Somehow, he had grown taller? Confused, she looked to her surroundings to realize, that it had been her who had shrunk, or more like she had fallen on her knees.

    “If I were you…I’d run…” D’daear spoke softly, still rubbing his neck with furrowing eyebrows. Every fiber of his being told him to run, to get as far away from this individual. Yet, here he was. Trying to convince this…being to flee, to leave them alone. “You’re friends have all abandoned this city…”

    The soldier aimed an index finger up to the sky, to which Delothia followed. Her eyes trailed the skies to find Theodora’s black trail of smoke leading out and over the city walls, and stopping just above them. The Black dressed witch was mounted on her broom, listening to the Wizard speak.

    “…if you should ever again find the goodness within you, you are welcome to return…” spoke Oz, with his face full of hope and a serious demeanor. A pause between them settled in before Theodora replied. To her, it was the audacity the wizard displayed that stirred this fire within her to be even more defiant. It wasn’t fair, how he was a deceitful cheat, lying to her innocence, and then to suddenly turn good and love someone else. How did their roles suddenly shift? It was HIS fault that she became like this…wasn’t it? The muscles in her forearm contracted in order to tighten the grip her hands had on the broom. Curling her lips, she snarled at the Wizard, “NEVER!!!”

    The broom stirred to life once more, spiriting away the witch into the night sky, with only her spine chilling laughter to be echoed while Delothia was left behind. The hand that had placed itself on the helmet suddenly curled into a shaking ball of fury. “These…insolate…witches…!!! They would dare run away…!? How dare they disrespect my Master like this! COWARDS!! GGRR……AAAAAHHH!!!! COWARDS COWARDS COWARDS!!!!!” she thought wildly as the situation became clear. They had lost the city in a matter of a short evening. “All they had to do was destroy Glinda when they had the chance…!! But no…” Placing a hand on the floor, she slowly picked herself up while keeping her head tilted to the floor. “…they just had to bide their time…to soak in the moment in order to gloat like a bunch of amateurs…” she uttered, causing for concern towards the Soldier. He had no clue of what she might do next.

    “What’re you talking about…?” he asked.

    Slowly she raised a fist towards D’daear, before raising the index to aim at him. Tilting her hand, she soon raised the thumb, aiming at him with a pretend gun in the form of her hand. This made D’daear’s eyes widen while raising an eyebrow as he had no idea what the girl was doing. Suddenly, Delothia raised her head in order to be facing the soldier while her posture straightened. It was one word. That was all she had to say before she went on.

    “Bang…”

    Out of nowhere, D’daear felt a heavy concussion like hit towards his chest, which sent him flying, instigating shock from him. The purple haired man went flying through the fiery fountain, and crashing onto the other side with his uniform all full of charcoal taints and fumes arising from his body. Only a handful of people took notice, and screamed while everyone else cheered for Oz’s victory over the city. The soldier lay there, distraught, and in pain as he grasped at the mid-section of his chest. Wanting to quickly get up, he pushed off with his free hand, tumbling a bit as he attempted to find footing while still in disarray from Delothia’s attack. The flames beneath Oz soon departed as the Xtracted crossed over to D’daear’s side. To D’daear’s surprise, she had removed her beige cloak. The female stopped as she stepped down from the fountain and stopped to take a good look at the soldier. With one hand holding her cloak, she placed the other on her hips. Before him, stood a woman bearing the same outfit, and the same emblem as the Silver masked man he had met back at Glinda's palace.

    Delothia copy.png

    Chapter 34


    Heels echoed through the hallways of the unlit interior of Emerald’s city castle, unbeknownst to everyone else that Evanora had begun to retreat. While she was scurrying, the people outside in the castle courtyard were shouting with great enthusiasm over their liberation. Loud colorful explosions continued to emanate from the night sky above in celebration, with the large ethereal head of Oz gazing high in solemn thought. Only moments ago had he seen the wicked witch of the West; Theodora, fly away into the night sky. It was only moments ago that he had reached out to her, hoping for a sign of any remains that was the REAL Theodora. He was met with bitterness, and a cold shoulder, a sign of unforgiveness, and perhaps the darkness that now took residence in the woman’s heart. Unfortunate it was, the way things turned out for the young Witch. Such innocence, to be twisted and corrupted by manipulation. Had it not been for Evanora’s darkness, how would things have turned out for Theodora?

    The Wizard sat there within the confines of the caravan, staring away into space. Mr. Tinker and Finley had both stepped out of the vehicle in order to have a view of the fireworks, completely oblivious to D’daear’s current predicament. With the mix of cheers, and loud celebrative explosions, they could not be made aware of the screams emanating from the soldier’s general direction. Groups of pedestrians made away from the scene that was inevitably going to unfold.

    “Everyone get back!” shouted the young man, not ever keeping those blue irises off of the villain. D’daear had fully recovered from the sudden attack that had knocked him through the fiery fountain just moments ago; and that wasn’t all either. Without realizing it, the pain that had subdued him in the streets of Emerald city had somehow mysteriously disappeared without a trace. It was good too, for he was going to need to be in peak performance. The man’s heart began to pump in accelerated rhythm as Epinephrine hormones began to flow throughout the man’s body. Breathing began to change as a form of anxiety overtook him, with teeth gritting while watching the Helmed warrior with furrowed eyebrows. The female whom looked a lot like the silver warrior had done something he had no idea was possible…or at the very least able to be reciprocated. She had extended a hand out with palms aimed in D’daear’s direction, and called forth a weapon! Dark energy emerged from nothing, taking on the form of smog within milliseconds, creating static and electric sparks which soon molded into a weapon, similar to the silver warrior’s no less! The she warrior grasped the handle of the blade tightly, keeping her posture as is in order to let the weapon display itself.

    D’daear quickly drew the blade sheathed behind him, and took stance with unease. Looking back and forth between the warrior and the magical blade, astonishment caused him to fumble for answers. “Who are you…?! WHAT are you?!” he exclaimed, the advent of the climax keeping him on edge.

    The female’s shoulders began to shake slightly as she let out a small lifeless chuckle. “The dread of YOUR evening. Your inevitable… demise, Soldier of Baron. “she snarkily declared. With a turn of the wrist, the helmed female aimed the tip of the blade at D’daear, evoking an eye widening reaction from him. The woman suddenly melted her form into nothing, making it seem as if she no longer existed. She had become one with the shadows, unseen by D’daear’s untrained eyes. This kept the male on edge now, as he shifted constantly while scanning the area. A bead of sweat trailed down the man’s forehead while teeth remained gritted, now more than ever during the anxious search for where this woman may have disappeared too. He had seen many bizarre things in the small span of his life, but this one beat them all. Unable to make out her presence, he stood still with guard up. D’daear’s heart continued to race, letting the body to feel the effects of adrenaline.

    The skies were still booming with fireworks, and many oblivious citizens continued their celebration.

    The Soldier of Baron allowed himself to swallow backed up saliva he had collected from nerves. It was an unprecedented moment…this thing the female had done. Was it even possible for anyone to just cause their form to melt away like that, without a trace? The soldier kept his guard up, keeping senses aware of the surrounding area. However, the surrounding area was not what he needed to be kept aware of. A large scream emanated from the crowd, which drew the soldier’s attention. Eye’s scanned the sea of people, but to no avail. Suddenly, D’daear’s peripherals caught sight of a blazing light source. He quickly turned to the direction, when out of nowhere the light source had turned into a massive ball of fire that was only a few feet away from D’daear’s body! Reflexively he put up the flat end of the sword like a shield, instantly feeling the collision. The condensed ball of fire exploded upon contact, consuming D’daear’s form in the aftermath; not even the fireworks and the celebration could mask this event. A wave of cloud and debris spread itself throughout the area, with everyone already on high alert. People were screaming, and panicking once more as the image of Oz began to fade away from existence.

    Master Tinker, Knuck and Finley fought against the wave of people that pushed past them in the commotion, with Master Tinker doing the best that his old body could do to swim past while Finley perched himself atop the man’s shoulders. The door to the caravan near them opened up, and Oscar peered his head out. “What’s going on!? Everything in the caravan stopped working all of a sudden!” he shouted to them in confusion. Master Tinker quickly made his way to the caravan followed by Knuck, having to shove a few people out of the way in order to reach it. Upon reaching the door, Oz helped the old Tinker inside. Finley jumped off the old man’s shoulders while the Master went off to investigate with Oz the caravans working condition. The contraptions seemed fine, and in working condition. Curious, the Tinker made way to where the switch is located. “Let’s try this again…” murmured the old Tinker. Lowering the power switch, the current traversed back into the machines, awaking the invention from its brief slumber. Oscar quickly made his way back to the seat where the light source would capture his face.

    The smoke machine spewed out the smog needed for the great Wizard to remerge once more. Clearing his throat, Oscar let out a deep voice of authority through one of the audio receivers.

    “What is the meaning of this?” he questioned, while peering through a scope. He was trying to get back into character, as well as bring back some form of stability in this chaos. Outside, the scope could not capture what was going on, even though the debris had cleared. All that could be heard were the screams of civilians panicking. “What is going on…?” Oscar murmured, making sure to cover the mic first. He could not see anything outside except for an empty stage... “Where’s Glinda!?” Oscar exclaimed in worry. So caught up in all of this that he had forgotten about Glinda. With a quick smack to his forehead, he looked over to Finley. “Do you see Glinda anywhere?” he queried frantically. The monkey desperately scurried to the roof using the caravan’s sun roof while Knuck ran outside to search with his telescope. They searched with their handheld scope, but could find no sign of her.

    “I don’t see her anywhere... Wait!” Finley uttered wildly, his sight having caught a glimpse of a downed form. Adjusting the range of the telescope, Finley began to realize who he was seeing. “Oh no! D’daear! He needs help-!” he shouted abruptly, but soon stopped to make sense of the person approaching him. Tall with an athletic slender figure, was the woman in the mask making her way to the defeated soldier. What was worse, she had her blade in hand. “Quick Oz! Do something! D’daear’s in trouble!”

    Feeling the tug of searching for Glinda, and wanting to help D’daear, he complained under his breathe. Oscar quickly peered through the scope near him, and began to search frantically. “I don’t see anything!” he shouted back in disarray. “Are they behind us or something!?”

    “Look to your left!!!” Finley shouted back.

    “I can’t! We have to move the caravan!!!”

    Meanwhile, the helmed female made her advance towards him after having emerged from a dark void nearby. She held her weapons handle tightly, the mask hiding the enjoyment being received from watching the Soldier on the ground. D’daear had already begun to rise, with a wasted blade in one hand. The explosion had been so strong that it had severely damaged the sword, although not rendering it useless. Were it not for the thickness, and width of the sword, D’daear would not have come out of the event at all. Rising to his feet, blue irises struggled to capture a straight image of D’daear’s surroundings. Legs struggled to maintain the soldier’s balance. Placing a hand on his forehead, he questioned. “What…WAS that…?”

    “It’s called magic, you worm.” Replied the female from behind.

    Quickly D’daear turned around with teetering feet and tried to maintain battle stance. Eyelids fluttered as he struggled to maintain a singular image of the advancing form. The Helmed warrior stopped only a few feet away, placing a hand on her hips. “Tch… I underestimated the durability of that sword… I thought I could penetrate it for a direct hit…” she mumbled on to herself.

    The soldier had begun to regain focus. “Yeah well, there’s a lot you’re underestimate aside from JUST my sword.” He said, furrowing eyebrows creating a serious demeanor.

    Another demeaning chuckle escaped the Female Soldier. “I seriously doubt that… I mean look at you, you can barely stand.” She retorted, pointing to D’daear.

    “Well as long as I’m still standing…I’ll-!“

    “You’ll what? Keep fighting? Keep trying? Don’t kid yourself. Besides, how can you still be standing without legs?” she queried aggressively, soon leaping into action. With minimal effort she dashed a bit, and using the length of her mysterious key like weapon, attempted to harm D’daear’s lower legs. Of course, the blade only met with D’daear’s. In a taught reflex, the soldier had knelt down on one knee in order to make his center of gravity more prominent, and moved the flat side of the sword to his side in order to block the attack. However, he was not prepared for the sheer power behind that one simple swing. The blades clashed, but the impact was so strong that D’daear could feel the sole on his own boots skid a few inches. On top of that, arms struggled to maintain opposition towards the females opposing blade. Gritting teeth, he took the moment to look over at the female. Eyelids raised themselves a bit in shock. The helmed warrior, was remaining still with the only one arm extended while holding her blades handle. A bead of sweat trailed down D’daear’s forehead as sudden doubt began to enter his mind. Here he was, in defensive position, giving it all he had in this clash of blades with shoulder and arms bulging from the struggle, and yet this female was remaining still, showing no signs of actual work, struggle, or strain except for her one arm. What’s more, her swing had enough power to push him a few inches as if his weight meant nothing!

    He couldn’t tell what expression she was making, but he could imagine she was probably grinning in satisfaction. Not wanting to give her the satisfaction of being able to overpower him, D’daear quickly shifted his weight and jumped back, breaking the clash. The helmeted female finished her swing, and soon got up casually while watching D’daear’s tense body pick up a defensive stance. “Aaw…and here I was enjoying are little time together…so up close…within reach of one another.” She said sarcastically. A glistening object caught her attention briefly. Peering down, she noticed a small piece of metal. It wasn’t too hard of a guess of where it came from. Bending down, she picked up the small fragment and soon show cased it to D’daear. “Hmmm…I wonder where this piece comes from…?” she questioned frivolously. After watching D’daear’s confused face, she let out a sigh and pointed to the man’s sword with her own.

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



    Heart raced as Evanora made her way up the stairs of the castle in a desperate attempt to flee. She at this point didn’t care for anyone but herself; unbeknownst to her that Theodora had already fled. It was a pain, all of this. Everything had gone according to the plan. EVERYTHING. The city was theirs, and Glinda was finally within their clutches. So how did all of this go wrong? How did something that was already theirs become lost? Scurrying through possible supplies, she went about gathering important items. The crystal ball, rations, jewelry. Whatever she needed to make ends meet. “This is ridiculous! That Oaf! How could HE be the Wizard?! This is…this was not supposed to be how it should have ended!” she shouted out loud as she burst through the throne room’s door. At this point, she was just foraging for anything of use to her now that she was kingdom less. The room was unlit, with only the light of the heart shaped moon being the only source of illumination in this dark room. Twirling her head around frantically for anything she may need, she came to a decision to just leave.

    “Where do you think you’re going? You and I aren’t finished yet. ” Spoke a feminine voice. Evanora halted as she was caught, turning towards the throne where a big shadow was cast over the area. A figure raised itself off of the throne, slowly advancing towards the moonlit area of the room. The wicked Witch tensed at first, but only briefly before realizing whom it was. Her body laxed at the sight of none other than Glinda, the good Witch of the South. The black dressed Witch slumped her shoulders.

    “You have the throne, Glinda. What more could you possibly want.” She asked uncaringly, slyly moving her right hand behind her in order to begin charging a spell.

    “Don’t give me that, Evanora. You took my father away from me. Never again will I feel the comfort of his kindness. But I’ll settle for the freedom of his people.” Spoke the Good witch, her hands grasping the magic wand close to her.

    “Of course Glinda. They at the very least deserve that…” she replied in feign agreement, soon unveiling her wickedness in the form of a lightning bolt aimed at Glinda. The attack struck the Good Witch in the chest, knocking her back against the throne chair. Watching as Glinda remained still for a few seconds, Evanora cackled a bit. “What’s the matter Glinda? Too weak without your precious Wizard to save you?” she teased with a powerful stare. “You shouldn’t have come here, Glinda. Now I can finish what I started.”

    “Finish? I’ll put a stop to you, Evanora.” Replied the waking Glinda. Gathering her balance, she rose from the seat, not taking her eyes off of the Wicked Witch. “The Wizard may be outside, but he’s still here with me. Our hearts are connected, and with that comes an even stronger light than my own.”

    Again, Evanora cackled. Dropping her bag, Evanora began to levitate off the ground, soon soaring a few feet up. As she looked down on her, the Wicked Witch snarled. “My darkness alone can devoid you of your so called strong light!” she roared. Both hands soon charged green electricity as she readied herself. “Feel the destruction of your light, Glinda!” shouted the Wicked Witch as she extended both hands forward and shot out bolts of lightning that lit up the dark room. Glinda immediately responded by flying up into the sky as well, avoiding the bolts of electricity. Now both of them were on equal terms. The good witch readied her wand, watching Evanora carefully. The Wicked Witch grinned devilishly, “What, no bubbles?”

    To Evanora’s response, Glinda floated away in order to create a small amount of distance between the two; not ever giving Evanora her back. “Bubbles are just for show…” she replied, aiming her wand at Evanora like a battle ready mage. Conjuring the essence of ice, Glinda shot out a blast of concentrated cold air towards Evanora. The spell was met with electricity. To Evanora’s surprise, she was unable to push back, let alone negate it. No matter. She had another free hand, to which she used to attack the defenseless Glinda. Reflexively the Good Witch reacted by flying away from the incoming attack, which evidently also caused her to break away from the other attack. The two bolts of electricity struck the ceiling wall she had been near, creating debris. With Glinda’s vision momentarily obscured by the debris, Evanora took advantage of the situation and aimed her next attack at the ceiling just above the area where Glinda was now floating. Well controlled bolts of lightning struck the ceiling, carving a hole while the pieces fell towards Glinda. Unable to dodge in time, Glinda cast a barrier around her entire form, which managed to knock aside the falling ceiling. However, the amount of pieces felt like a landslide. The debris eventually pushed Glinda’s bubble barrier towards the ground, where it shattered atop the stairs, and leaving a dazed Glinda exposed. Luckily, the falling debris was over.

    Evanora floated down towards the good witch, but not without first unleashing a stream of lightning bolts to which punish the defenseless Glinda with. The Blonde haired Witch groaned in pain, proving to be stoic. The Wicked Witch rolled her lips in disappointment as she was hoping to hear her scream. “Well… Looks like your light is weak after all…Glinda.” Uttered the Wicked Witch. With a free hand she went about trying to pry the wand off of Glinda’s tight grip. To Evanora’s Dismay, it was not to be had. Frustrated at Glinda’s perseverance, the Wicked Witch increased the electrocution by using her free hand to cast another stream of lightning on Glinda. The White Witch writhed in pain, yet unable to scream as she let out groans. “This is temptation, Glinda. One that I will fully fall for!” she screamed as she glared at the Good witch.

    “Then here’s MY Temptation!” shouted an unseen voice. Out of nowhere, a void of darkness opened up just behind Glinda’s fallen form. Within a second of the voids appearance, a blinding beam of light shot out and struck Evanora clean on the collar where her emerald pendant was. So powerful was the shot, that it blasted the Witch away from her spot and towards the balcony. The balcony doors shattered as the evil witch flew right through, causing glass and wood to fly everywhere! Evanora broke past the concrete balcony railings and plunged toward the seemingly emptied courtyard with an eerie scream.

    Footsteps emerged afterwards, with the void collapsing. A woman with Blonde hair stood next to Glinda’s form with a bow in hand. Her long white cape with gold trimmings flowed majestically as she knelt down next to the Good Witch, extending a gentle hand over the Witch’s soft face. From the looks of it, Glinda was in good condition, albeit she could’ve been in better. Chanting a single word through soft light red lips, Glinda’s Savior rejuvenated the Good Witch as light emanated from the hand which soon enveloped Glinda for a moment. Eyelids slowly opened, fluttering awake as Glinda slowly sat upright.

    “How are you feeling, Glinda?” asked the woman next to her.

    “I’m doing fine. Thank you… How did you know my name?” asked Glinda as she looked into her saviors eyes.

    “That other Witch spoke your name just before I intervened.” She said, gesturing with her head towards the broken balcony. Glinda’s eye’s widened at the sight. “Oh dear…” she uttered. The Good witch was soon helped up by the caped hero, taking notice of the weapon in her hand. “You’re an archer?” she asked curiously.

    “Yes, I am. I’m not much for close combat, so I settled for something that… suited my role best. I’m Rosa Farrell, a White Mage of Baron’s White Mage Corps. A pleasure to make your acquaintance. “spoke the well composed White Mage.

    The good witch gasped at the surprise reveal, going a bit as far as to slightly cover her mouth. “So you must know D’daear and Gwynt, Your representatives.”

    A smile overcame the beautiful archer. “Yes. That is the main reason as to why we are he-“

    Before Rosa could finish her sentence, a huge wave of energy emerged from the castle courtyard. So much so that it caused a blast of air to surge into the throne room, swaying both of their dresses. Without thought the White Mage shifted her focus to the outside, running towards the door less balcony with great concern. Their foot wear crunched as they stepped over the mess caused by Evanora. As the two approached the edge of the balcony, they could see a stream of darkness circulating up into the air. It was emanating from a source down below. Glinda was the one to perceive past the thick darkness. With shock, The Good Witch gasped at the revelation which called for Rosa’s attention.

    “What is it? Do you know who that is?” she questioned with great demand.

    “That’s-! That’s Evanora!”

    Chapter 35

    “NNngggh-!!!” uttered D’daear as his back skidded against the hard cobblestone floor. After having received a well-aimed kick to the solar plexus, he had been sent flying back a few feet; helpless to the painful sensation pulsing mid-torso. He skid to a stop where he now laid there a bit, trying to will through the pain. It was the woman’s heel that had done the trick, having given the feeling that a blunt dagger had tried to pierce through him. And it was not just the heel, but the unprecedented strength behind that kick! Even with the leather armor that was the Baron uniform, it was not enough to dull the woman’s power. Heeled footsteps echoed in the courtyard as the masked villain approached D’daear’s downed form. Wincing at the pain, the purple haired individual forced himself to sit up, trying best to not use his abdomen. Blue irises quickly peered through squinted eyelids, catching sight of the masked female only a few yards away. “Just how far did I get knocked back…?” he questioned with ethereal words. Gritting teeth, he forced himself up to his feet using the sword for support; soon feeling nauseated by the sudden shift in position. Throat expanded a bit as he felt the need to upchuck. A violent cough escaped him with eyes bulging red from the gag reflex that had ensued; a stream of saliva drooling its way out of D’daear’s gapped mouth. Right hand gripped the handle of the sword in reverse as he stood there cringing.

    “What’s the matter worm? Feeling a bit sick?” she questioned, calmly approaching the man.

    D’daear slowly stood upright, giving the woman a glare despite the pain he was feeling. “What kind of weapon…is that…?” he managed to say, trying not to evoke another nausea attack.

    The pain was so unbearable that instinctually he placed the left hand on the stomach, yet with the right he lifted the heavy blade off the ground; he did not want to feel defenseless. It felt so strange to pick up a new stance on a whim, but he had no choice. Sure, he used one hand from time to time to swing, but that was different when compared to this. D’daear’s right arm had become tense as it required all of its strength to keep the blade steady. From shoulders to the muscles on the forearms, muscles bulging at the call to arms. With the badly wounded blade positioned in front of him, D’daear readied himself for the dark warrior; whom was biding her time.

    She gracefully came into a yard of him before she stopped to point the weapon at him. “All you need to know about it is that it’s MY weapon.”


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

    In the midst of it all, Oz’s large head was no longer floating. It caused for Oscar Diggs to utter great frustration. He looked beyond the contraptions in the caravan to look at Master Tinker. “I can’t do anything unless I can see where she is!” he shouted in a hoarse voice, once again making sure to cover the mic. The old man looked away briefly pondering. “There’s just no other way to turn this caravan around without help…” he replied, looking to Oscar with concern. Oscar Diggs cheeks drooped with a frown as worry began to settle in causing for an aversion of his eyes. It was good that they were able to fool the Witches AWAY from the city, but perhaps this new predicament was more than they could chew. “I…I got nothing…I-“ he spoke, pausing as he realized a presence had been missing. Brown eyes scanned the small spacious caravan, looking for the winged Monkey and the Royal Herald. “Where’s Finley? And Knuck?” he queried. Having pointed that small detail out, it drew Master Tinker’s attention. “That’s strange… They were here moments ago… ”

    Suddenly, the caravan rocked as it stirred to life. The vehicle swayed, nearly causing the old Tinker to lose footing were it not for a well-timed place of the hands. The great Illusionist’s eyes widened at the abruptness, with him too needing to find his balance. The sun roof opened up at the same time, Finley revealing himself to the two. “I’m back with reinforcements!” he shouted with a smile, Knuck soon nudging the monkey aside. “Yeah, with MY help!”

    “Finley! Knuck!” the two shouted back. The royal herald, Knuck, waved at the two, telling Oscar to peer through the scope one more time. “I gathered a bunch of the under grounders from the city! They’re already helping move the Caravan into position!”

    “Look through your scope!” Finley shouted. Astonished, Oscar Diggs did what he was told and peered into the scope. Surely enough, they had the masked villain on sight, and still in front of the emerald fountain where the smoke effects and fire were arising from. The glass eye swayed as tried to remain in focus, keeping the villain on sight. The female had begun advancing towards D’daear’s downed form, to which brought great concern over Oscar. In sudden anguish, he noticed the broken sword lying next to the wounded soldier. “Someone get a munchkin in here! We need to set up fireworks now! D’daear needs our help!” he shouted. Without hesitation he moved towards the audio receiver.

    “D’daear!” he shouted into the mic.

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


    “This is the end for you, worm. Are you prepared to lose your existence?” she asked rhetorically. The masked villain wasted no time in closing the distance between them. The soldier of Baron braced himself with hope, attempting to intersect her attack with his blade. However, with a simple swing of the right arm, the woman smashed through D’daear’s weapon with the very blade of the hand in the form of a chop! Metal shards flew everywhere as he was rendered defenseless and left in awe of what had just occurred. The young man watched as the woman thrust her unique blade at him. The tip poked, but soon became a violent jab as it pushed into the unarmed soldier. D’daear’s Eyelids widened in shock while his mind tried to grasp what had happened. Just like the kick not too long ago, this attack sent D’daear flying back a few feet. Back smacked hard against the cobblestone floor, which evoked an utter from the man’s voice. At the same time, the sword’s remains fell near its master; uttering a sound just like its master as it settled to a stop. Wounded, the young swordsman laid there in silence just for a few seconds. Teeth gritted as he placed a hand over the area where she penetrated, applying pressure. He winced in great pain, but was too stoic to really say much. He slowly raised his other hand, which trembled as it reared over blue irises in a desire to be examined. The blade had injured his left hand, to the point where perhaps it was best to not even TRY to move the fingers. If it wasn’t for that hand, perhaps he might’ve been mortally wounded. Jaw tensed from the pain he felt in both hand and abdomen. A quick subtle swallow of saliva ensued while eyelids fluttered to help adjust eyes to the night sky.

    A part of him felt a wave of disappointment overcome him. With everything he had been through, was he really going to go down like this? Defenseless, and injured? His mind raced with many questions, ideas, with a possibility of a way out of this… yet none could be found. Logic began to dictate his every thought, with reflection on the details regarding this female. Her speed, strength, and level of swordsmanship…they outplayed his by a longshot. A part of him doubted he’d be able to escape, even if he wanted too; although he knew better than to do such a thing. He began to lose morale, the remaining hope.

    Muscles tensed at the pain that jolted in the area affected, causing for jaw to tightening further. “Is this…how mom felt…?” he thought. No, perhaps not. The way she went away, it seemed almost peaceful. Then again, everyone’s existence is erased differently. Would he be joining her, this soon? How did it feel to have your very essence scatter into the stars above? Would he become one with the light? D’daear’s heart continued to thump against the chest; He could hear it pulsing through ear drums. His breathing was accelerated, but not to the point where he should be worried. Lying there, he considered closing his eyes…perhaps just letting it happen. There was no way out of this. Finding no will, eyelids shut themselves to casting darkness over his sight. The numbing sensation he was feeling on the left hand, and the way the muscles on his body began to relax as he lay there just felt so good. Sleep. It was a great alternative means in order to pass away…with at the very least the ease of peace being better than pain and suffering. He could imagine himself being embraced by his mother as she welcomed him to a new life, a new way of being. A sense of everlasting Serenity. Yet, it would seem something like this was not meant to happen.

    D’daear!” shouted a voice in his head. Heart nearly stopped at the sound of it. It was so familiar…a voice he had not heard of in a long time.

    “D’daear, get up!” shouted the voice, the sound of it transforming into one so deep and thunderous. It was Oz.

    D’daear’s eyes shot open with the corneas adjusting again to the flow of light. The heart that had awoken so many years ago now loomed over him like the moon, with its blue hue slowly being concealed by passing clouds. The right hand curled into a tight fist, harnessing a sudden spur of determination, of hope. Water began to form on the cusp of D’daear’s eyelids as tears soon began to force themselves out. Brows furrowed while the young man’s jaw tensed, clenching as he began to sit upright, fighting through the abdominal pain.

    “Idiot…! How could I give up so easily…? So many people are depending on this victory right now…” he uttered through teeth. He remembered Gwynt and China girl, still believing them to have passed away.

    The woman stood tall as she watched him. “Resilient…aren’t you?” she said with an annoyed sigh. She began to advance towards him while she readied her weapon for the finishing blow. D’daear was lifting himself onto his feet with a struggle, although one thing that did not struggle were those blue eyes that pulsed with determination as they kept their glare fixated on her.

    “I commend your determination, but you’re wasting your energy on meaningless effort, worm.”

    “WHY are you doing this?! At least answer me that much!” the soldier exclaimed; referring to when he had asked her who and what she was. A wince escaped him, causing for an eyelid to squint.

    The woman stopped.

    “…for control.” She replied back.

    D’daear’s eyebrows raised in surprise. He couldn’t believe that she had actually given him an answer; considering her previous answers. Wanting to dig for more, he pressed on with the queries. “Control…over what?”

    She stood there in silence. The area felt a waft of air circulate through, as if setting the scene. Clouds slowly moved away from the essence that was being concealed in the night sky. Slowly, she lifted her blade high with the tip pointing to the sky. D’daear stood there, bewildered at what she was trying to do. Just like the slow moving clouds, a bluish light began to bloom in the sky. As it intensified from the lack of clouds, D’daear slowly looked up to see the heart shaped moon that had stationed itself over the world so many years ago.

    The blade began to spark with electricity, becoming enveloped in the element. “Behold, your end-!” she shouted, but became interrupted by the sound of increasing crackling. At first, she thought it to be her blade with the electricity surging through it, but as the sound intensified she was left in confusion. When she had realized what it had been, all that remained were a split second for her reflexes to take control. The woman ducked, barely avoiding a firework as it zoomed past her. The projectile exploded on the ground nearby, sending smoke and sparks everywhere! The villainess straightened herself, turning her head towards the direction of where the random projectile had emerged from. D’daear was shocked, he too turning his head with the same idea in mind. Before them floated Oz’s gargantuan ethereal form, glaring down at the woman.

    “Lower your weapon, and surrender!” shouted Oz.

    In defiance, the woman shot forth a ball of electricity from her blade towards Oz. The attack burst through the smoke, ripping through the image of Oz momentarily. Of course, it didn’t really harm Oz. As the rising smoke patched itself, Oz’s image remained unchanged.

    “You cannot defeat me woman for I am immortal!”

    “Spare me the façade! I know you’re just as much of a human as your friend here!” the cunning female spat back, aiming the tip of her blade at the injured soldier. She aimed an Index finger at the caravan that was surrounded by many munchkins. “After I’ve finished your soldier over here, I’ll be coming after you all…especially you, Great Wizard of Oz. Your caravan won’t save you from me.”

    Her silver framed helmet turned back to the wounded D’daear whom stood there with the broken sword in hand. All that really remained of the soldier’s sword was a small piece of blade protruding from the guard and handle. With a scoff the woman lowered her index finger away from Oz, and advanced towards D’daear. Being one to savor the moment just before finishing off her prey, she slammed the butt of her blade into the soldier’s abdomen, hitting the perfect spot: his wound. Evoked, D’daear keeled with a wince, but it was not to his favor because a knee soon met the man’s face. It sent the purple haired man’s head bobbing back with an inevitable cry emitting from his mouth. It was all a choreographed motion for the woman who was inflicting this upon D’daear. With the soldier’s head bobbing back, his neck exposed itself. In a display of control and power, the villainess clamped her free hand onto the man’s neck. Black gloves fingers curled around D’daear’s rough neck, tightening themselves like newly tempered iron. On instinct D’daear immediately dropped his weapons remains in order to grasp over her wrist, however it was pointless.

    “Let him Go!” shouted Oz’s ethereal head. To no avail, however.

    Her strength was supernatural, and even if he had both use of hands he could not be able to pry himself free. He was powerless again, unable to break free from her powerful grasp. He felt his body lift off the ground. Blue irises struggled to peer down at the masked villainess, vision beginning to blur as oxygen was being deprived from him. All he saw was a face veiled by a black mask. No hint of an expression. She was like some sort of zombie. With no remorse, just doing what she thought was necessary. How could there be people who exist like this without expressing regret. To purposefully want to see a person’s world burn because they merely have the power to do so. To have that desire for control, that power…what would someone like THAT gain? A petty satisfied ego?

    Whatever it was that drove this woman, he doubted he’d be able to understand. And yet, despite his desire to retain whatever oxygen he had left, he felt compelled to ask. Trying to spew out words, he grasped at the woman’s wrist once more. “You said- nngg…you wanted control…” he uttered, pausing to gather what little breath was passable. “..but I don’t-…understand… ”

    Staring blankly at the man, her grip only tightened. She watched as he furrowed his brows while squinting with gritted teeth as if concentrating to remain conscious. Watching this small detail, this small struggle gave her a sadist’s satisfaction. So much so that it made her feel… She tightened her grip on the mystical blade, letting the emotion settle. Lifting the weapon to the sky, she pointed to the blue heart that was beyond world’s grasp.

    “Kingdom Hearts.”

    Grunts escaped D’daear’s tight lips as he was on the verge of unconsciousness. “Kingdom…Hearts…?” he managed to utter. It was barely audible.

    “heh…yes…”she answered softly, tender in tone. The girl watched as D’daear’s eyelids began to flutter in a struggle to remain open. Soon enough, he succumbed to the lack of oxygen. He lost consciousness, and became a limp body in the woman’s clutches. With a simple toss, D’daear’s unconscious form flew a few feet away from her.

    “Burn to cinder…worm…” she said. Aiming the tip of the blade, she began to ready a spell that would incinerate the soldier mid fall. Rapid oxidation began to occur at the tip of her weapon, combustion occurring instantly. A large ball of hungry flame shot out of the weapon and flew to D’daear’s form. From her point of view it made instant contact, causing the area to explode. Smoke scattered everywhere. It was hard to see through it, but the villainess didn’t have to in order to know that her job was done.

    “NO!!” shouted Oz with a booming voice.

    With a scoff, she turned her attention to the caravan with confidence. A look of disbelief took shape on Oz’s face. “Ready to meet a similar fate?” she mocked, looking up at him. Laughter began to emanate from her as her shoulders shook in reaction to what she thought was amusing.

    “D’daear…”uttered the Powerful wizard. Within the caravan, Oscar Diggs had slouched back against the inner walls of the vehicle. Grief had started among them. Finley from atop the vehicle looked defeated, Knuck looked on with wide eyes, and Master Tinker had a hand held over his mouth in shock.

    The masked villainess aimed her weapon at the lot, her laughter ongoing. A large amount of fire immediately ignited on the tip of the weapon, ready to be flung at them when a black javelin emerged from the unsettled smoke to disturb the fire that was being harnessed. With a loud clang, the fire became unstable and exploded upon the mystical weapon not being kept steady. The flames engulfed the area, its companion being black smoke. Footsteps began to echo in the darkness of the smoke. A silhouette with glowing yellow eyes was approaching the downed form of the woman. She struggled to rise to a kneeling position, head hung low with a fist slammed against the stone floor while her other forearm rested on the bent knee. Steam rose from her seemingly unscathed body.

    “You…what is the meaning of this…?! You betray your own kind?!” she exclaimed in irritation as she looked up. If she was not wearing a mask, her face would be written with astonishment. Having expected someone else, the woman’s gasp was all that was needed to tell what her reaction was. Standing before her was a man clad in darkness with a dark javelin like sword held in hand. Fully clad in dark armor accented in indigo and gold linings with a spiked helmet was Captain of the Red Wings, Cecil Harvey. He aimed the tip of his bizarre sword at her.

    “Submit. Otherwise I must warn you that you will NOT come out of this alive.” He spoke sternly. Yellow eyes glowed as the helm was tilted down in order to stare at the woman.

    D’daear’s limp body went flying into the air, letting gravity take control of where he’d land. He was vulnerable, exposed, and unable to defend himself. This was indeed supposed to be an inevitable end for the swordsman. All those years of countless study sessions, training for recognition, and basically hard work. It would have all been for not were it not for the miracle that was Cecil. Just before the incoming fire spell was destined to rid D’daear of his very existence, a small void had been created just centimeters ahead of the spells trajectory. In order to have ensured the explosion was set off, Cecil had negated the fire with his own spell through the portal. The concussion wave that follows suit during an explosion was absorbed by the dark void. It was cutting it close, but with the cover of smoke that had ensued right after, it was worth it. Through the cover of smoke, another dark void constructed itself from the ground. Immediately Gwynt came running out to D’daear’s side, in hand a glass bottle containing a strange concoction. She fell to her knees at the sight of her fallen ally. Quickly, she uncapped the bottle and poured its contents accurately on the areas she saw needed tending too. The wounded abdomen, the hand, and his bruised face.

    After the last drop was poured out onto D’daear, Gwynt cradled the man’s upper torso while using her hand to gently smack the soldier awake in hopes that he would actually stir. “Come on, wake up D’daear!” she shouted in deep concern. Nothing. Gwynt’s face contorted in worry as Cecil emerged behind Gwynt, looming over her to get a glimpse of his downed friend. Yellow eyes scanned the unconscious form that was D’daear, breath unknowingly being held at the sight. The green liquid that had been poured out on him had already begun to do their job, instantly mending the injuries. A sigh escaped Cecil, knowing full well that it meant he was still alive. The purple haired individual’s eyes soon began to stir. Eyelids opened up slowly, with vision blurred from being awoken from slumber. Images adjusted themselves accordingly. Eyelids fluttered as everything became clear. Blue irises immediately made contact with Gwynt’s looming Green eyes. Tan skin tone, and that red ochre hair.

    “Gwynt…?!” he exclaimed, sitting up abruptly. Foreheads collided as D’daear’s surprise stirred this upcoming comic relief.

    “OWW!” the two both shouted. Gwynt remained on her knees while holding her head, feeling a bit irritated.

    “YOU KNUCKLEHEAD!!! DON’T JUST GET UP LIKE THAT!!!” she roared out at him. With an expanded hand, she slapped D’daear across the cheek. Every inch of her hand found tissue that belonged to D’daear’s face as they clashed in this moment. It was so strong that it sent D’daear curling back in pain. The male soldier gave off a grunt as he remained on the floor, defeated. Gwynt gasped, snapping out of her rage as she had forgotten in the spur of the moment about his recent recovery. “D’daear!”

    Cecil rubbed the back of his helm, not able to hold back a sigh at the situation those two had found themselves in. However, for him it was cut short as he could hear the laughter that came from the Masked Witch. Helm turned towards the source, with yellow eyes granting him the sight to pierce through the smog. Upon discovering her location, he realized that she was on the verge of unleashing another attack, but this time towards the caravan. Reflexes kicked in as he gripped the dark sword javelin in his hand, causing forearm muscles to contract. Signals jolted through his arm as he jerked the right arm back. With everything he stepped forward, and shot forward his arm, letting go of the javelin as he launched the weapon straight towards the villainess’s weapon. As expected, the weapons clashed which caused the magic to become unstable. The result was an explosion that led to another smokescreen.

    Both Gwynt and D’daear had settled their childish endeavor and were now staring over to where Cecil was now walking to. “Cecil…” D’daear uttered as he sat on one knee while keeping the other bent.

    “Yeah. It was because of them that I was able to make it here.” She explained, suddenly shifting her gaze to D’daear. She stood, soon extending a hand out to D’daear to which he accepted. “What happened?” asked the purple haired man while being helped up. He had completely missed the word “Them” from her sentence.

    “Well, the plan went smoothly. The fog worked to our advantage, and all of the baboons had been put to sleep…or at least we thought. Next thing you know, I was struck by lightning and Glinda was kidnapped and taken into the city. When I came too, it was already night time and China girl was next to me with Glinda’s wand.”

    Hearing about China girl brought him relief as she was among the others whom he thought had perished. “What about the other munchkins, Tinkers, and Quadlings?”

    “They managed to escape into the forest.” She answered. “So anyway, I convinced China Girl to move on without me as I was incapacitated by some strange ailment. Just moving brought me great pain…it felt like a thousand needles were pressing against my skin. It was the worst feeling. It wasn’t till a while after China Girl had scurried off that-.”

    “ Wait wait wait... You couldn’t move without feeling pain too?” he queried with great curiosity. By now, the smokescreen on both sides had already nearly faded away. Gwynt raised a brow in question. “What do you mean you too? Who else did Evanora strike with her lightning?”

    “Lightning…? No, it just randomly oc-“

    “D’daear!! You’re ok!” shouted the voice of Oz. Obviously, this stirred everyone present to turn to the giant ethereal head that hovered above the emerald fountain. D’daear gave of a cheeky grin, feeling a little embarrassed.

    “Yeah…heh…Thanks to Gwynt, anyway.” He said, gesturing to her presence.

    Oz looked over to Gwynt with a smile. “Gwynt! Glad to see you’re fine.”

    “D’DAEAR, GWYNT, LOOK OUT!!” screamed Cecil from afar. Having been taken aback by Oz’s form for just a second, he was distracted long enough to have given the masked woman enough time. The two soldier’s turned to Cecil’s direction, but instead of seeing Cecil, they were met with the woman D’daear had failed to bring down. The masked villainess swung her mystical blade at the two, barely missing Gwynt’s side by a centimeter. The two jumped away, gathering distance from the woman. Gwynt’s eyes widened at the sight of her. She began to remember the dark silver warrior back at Glinda’s palace. The resemblance was near perfection, except for the obvious details that set them completely apart. The soldier’s heart began to beat faster as green eyes mirrored the black stainless mask that was staring back at her. Pistols immediately manifested after a surge of light in Gwynt’s hands, and were immediately aimed at the female warrior. D’daear had no idea how to go about this, considering his blade has been wrecked.

    “You just don’t know when to give up... And I see you’ve brought reinforcements, huh worm?” the woman spoke up, looking over to D’daear.

    “He has a name!” Gwynt defended indignantly.

    “Yes, I know. D’daear….” The masked woman uttered. This took both soldiers by brief surprise, especially D’daear considering he didn’t think she’d ever use his actual name. “A fitting name…for a worm!!”

    She lunged at D’daear once more, with the intent of piercing the male soldier once more. “Just be….GONE ALREADY!!!” she screamed wildly. With incredible speed she broke the distance between them in a matter of milliseconds, but was caught off guard by Gwynt’s amazing perception. Small fiery projectiles came zooming towards the woman, yet a few missed as the dark warrior managed to avoid and block most of them. Only one managed to scathe the woman, the first shot. Understanding the situation, the dark warrior created distance between them in order to access the damage. She uttered a small growl as she could feel her right leg in pain. “Tch…lucky shot…” she murmured.

    The purple haired soldier felt a wave of relief. “Thanks Gwynt.” He said, looking over at his partner. With a pistol, she gave him a small friendly salute. “Any time. Just know….that you owe me now.” She teased as she looked over to the masked villain.

    From the looks of it, she was now busy avoiding Cecil. A stream of black and purple flames spewed from the floor in quick succession as they headed towards the dark female warrior. She jumped to the side, avoiding the linear stream easily, but what was waiting for her were balls of dark energy that flew towards her. Having just landed, she was ready to jump away, but felt the sting of her injury. In a battle like this, milliseconds were crucial. All she could do was block in an attempt to endure the inevitable. To her surprise, the horde of dark energy flew past her only to gather just a foot behind her. Each ball gathered within milliseconds, creating a larger ball of dark energy that soon imploded with enough energy to send the girl forward. With an injured leg, she was unable to properly catch her balance as she stumbled forward. As she fell, Cecil took advantage of the opening and sent a large ball of darkness that smacked against the woman. In reaction, her body slammed against the cobblestone hard, evoking a groan from her. She tried to get up, but found that she couldn’t. It was over.

    “What!?” exclaimed the woman. She struggled, stirring every muscle in her body to attempt resistance. Even with her supernatural strength, she could not even manage to get on all four. It was as if some invisible force was pinning her to the ground, restraining her. “Why can’t I move?! What did you!?”

    “It’s a gravity spell. Just stop resisting. You won’t be breaking free from it.” Cecil explained blatantly as he approached. Despite what he had been told, the woman continued to fight against it; groaning and moaning in frustration to no avail. The Dark Knight loomed over her. “Considering you have nowhere to go, I would like to know who you are. I want a name.” he demanded, clasping the dark sword in hand tightly. The woman saw this, and despite the situation, couldn’t help herself to her next flow of responses.

    “So I guess I either tell you or you’re going to force it out of me, huh?” she said.

    “I’d rather not.”

    The masked villain laid there in silence, pondering whether revealing her identity would pose a problem. “My name is Delothia…” she answered, grip tightening on her weapon. Cecil folded both arms. “What did you mean when you said betray your own Kind, Delothia?” he queried once more. In that instant, the masked woman cursed under her breathe. Silence fell once more over the woman’s mouth. D’daear and Gwynt made their way to Cecil’s side.

    “Hey Cecil, hol-“

    The Captain of the red Wings immediately gestured with a wave for D’daear to be quiet. “I asked you a question, Delothia.”

    Delothia kept her silence. It was a mistake on her part to have said anything. The truth was that this man’s presence, or rather his scent of darkness…greatly resembled her own. Behind the mask, her brows were furrowed with frustration towards her stupidity. Cecil let out a sigh. He raised his blade to sky, and without trouble an orb of darkness manifested from nothing. Its size wavered as it descended upon the helpless Delothia. The gravity around the girl intensified without warning, causing her great discomfort. Muscles tensed as she resisted the pain, the free hand digging into the cobblestone floor as if perhaps it would help ease her suffering. Through it all, Delothia emitted nothing. Not even a small utter of emotion. Assuming she had enough, the Dark Knight ceased the punishment in order to ask once more.

    “Delothia…” he spoke, awaiting her reply. When she said nothing in response, he attempted to pry the answer out with his own words. “Your silence is only confirming what I’m suspecting. Your kind…I assume there’s more?”

    More silence ensued, which beckoned potential punishment. And so it was inflicted upon the Masked Delothia. The gravity surrounding the woman intensified briefly, causing Delothia discomfort yet again. This time she let out a groan, feeling pain. Cecil stopped once more to query. “Speak u-“

    “You’re going to have to do a lot more than that to break me. Hmph…you should consider yourself privileged to even know my name…!” she spat out in defiance, trying to instigate the Captain’s temper.

    Cecil felt a strange anger course through him. It was not like him. He extended his hand out towards Delothia’s form. The gravity around Delothia began to intensify for a third time. However, this time it was no meager gravity spell. The helmet’s yellow eyes began to glow as the spell strengthened. The Masked Witch groaned as she began to feel the power behind Cecil’s dark magic. Gravity got so heavy to the point where the floor beneath her began to break apart, forming the beginnings of a small crater. Bearing witness to this, Oz couldn’t stand by idle.

    “Stop! This is no different than what the Witches were doing to Glinda!” He shouted to Cecil, but to deaf ears; especially when she spoke up.

    “NNgghh…! Don’t…compare me…to that weak White Witch-!“ she spat out, revealing a cry of discomfort as the black mask cracked at the center. Delothia’s mystical blade disappeared in an electrically charged smog as she could no longer keep the minimal of focus. Both hands curled into fists at the frustration that coursed through her mind. She felt helpless, and in bondage. However, she was stubborn and would not dare admit to these emotions. Aside from her, D’daear couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Standing before him, was Captain of the Red Wings, his friend and ally. And yet, he didn’t even recognize this behavior. The Cecil he knew would never do something like this or at least the one HE knew. Was Cecil Harvey truly capable of this? He placed a firm hand on the Dark Knight’s shoulders, which caught the knight’s attention. “Cecil!” shouted D’daear, watching his friend suddenly stir. Cecil’s hand soon twitched, and the glow in the yellow eyes withered.

    “Huh…?” he uttered. D’daear looked back at Gwynt with concern towards Cecil.

    Delothia began to giggle at first, but it soon escalated which caught everyone’s attention. D’daear and Gwynt looked at the pinned Witch as she laughed maniacally. Why would anyone laugh at a time like this, especially when that same very person was in no position to be enjoying herself? Was she enjoying her suffering like some masochist? The three looked at her as if she was some strange unknown creature.

    “What’s so funny?” asked D’daear. The Witch slowly let her laughter wane to the point of a small giggle. Everything was now perfect. The tides of control were turning in her favor. Ignoring D’daear, she spoke to Cecil, “Trance inducing… isn’t it, Cecil?”

    The Captain looked down at the masked Witch, still confused of what had just happened. “What do you mean?”

    “For a moment, you felt what it was like to let the darkness take control over you. Don’t say otherwise, I could sense it.” She enlightened, forcing her head to face the lot of them while still pinned to the floor. “Tsk, tsk tsk….be careful, Noble Knight. First signs of losing control over the dark power is the scent of darkness…and my my…do you reek of it.”

    “Shut up! Cecil’s the one controlling the darkness, not the other way around!” defended D’daear.

    “So you would think. Tell me, Cecil. How many of your subordinates have become full-fledged Knights of the darkness? Are you sure THEY have control over their powers?”

    “My Knights have all undergone training. NONE of them were allowed to become Dark Knights until they had full control of the power.” He quickly spat out. She was no longer just targeting his own honor, but that of his corps and the King’s judgment. “The King of Baron is wise, and he would never allow a soldier to become a Dark Knight unless he knew for certain they were ready.”

    Delothia spat out a laughing fit. It took everyone by surprise, and it stirred confusion among them. It seemed to them that she knew more than what she was letting on…or perhaps she was merely mocking them. They couldn’t really tell.

    “What’s so funny, now?” Gwynt queried, raising a brow in the process.

    “You lot think you’re so sure of yourselves.” She said in laughter. Dragging her hands to her sides, she slowly pushed herself up while fighting against the gravity spell. Cecil stood by and just watched. He believed the spell to be strong enough that even if she managed to stand, her mobility would be hindered.

    “Everyone wears a mask… Everyone has their secrets… Darkness lies everywhere…even in beauty.” Delothia began, as she tried to find her center of gravity.

    “What are you talking about?” D’daear spoke quizzically.

    Delothia’s body struggled as it fought off the spell she was under. However, that was all about to pass as she spoke. “You’ll find out…” she replied, leaving the subject as a mystery. A black void opened up beneath her feet, and without warning swallowed her into the darkness as she sunk into it. It all happened so fast that not even Cecil could react to the situation in time. The Dark Knight ran to the spot just before the last of the void closed up before him, leaving the warrior to ponder for a few seconds the conversation they had just had. The reason for this was because after those seconds, the sound of shattering glass and the screams of a woman resonated within the atmosphere. It was so disturbing that it broke any small train of thought anyone had at the moment. Every eye within the vicinity turned to look for the source of such terrifying sound, but to no avail…until it reached ground level.

    A loud thud reverberated in the air, which guided D’daear’s senses towards the castle. With an index finger, he pointed out a form lying on the ground alongside shards of glass, concrete, and wood. “Over there!”

    “Oz! Can you make out who it is?” Gwynt asked the giant head.

    With a little help from the Munchkins, the caravan maneuvered just enough for Oscar Diggs to view through his telescope. Peering through, he could make out a black silhouette. With a bit of adjusting, the scope zoomed in on the form that was beginning to stir. A shattered pendant was next to the form that was rising, dazed from the fall. “I believe…that’s Evanora!” shouted Oscar through the mic.

    “I believe…that’s Evanora!” shouted Oz.

    The party looked on towards the silhouette. Surely enough, it was indeed Evanora. Her appearance, although unclear to them from the distance, looked aged. With D’daear taking the lead, they both ran towards the form as fast as they could. Evanora struggled to find her balance while she fought her dizziness. Footsteps closed in on her, attracting her blurred attention. Brown eyes locked on to the three, quickly locking with Gwynt. Her wrinkly eyelids retracted into widening her eyes. “You…! I thought I took care of you!!” her croaky voice shouted as they approached her. But as soon as she said it, an oval shaped void of darkness bloomed from the floor behind her. She was so preoccupied by the sight of Gwynt, however, that she was unaware of the presence emerging from the void.

    D’daear and the two were only a yard away when they had noticed how old Evanora’s new appearance was. She had the appearance of an old woman past a century. She was seemingly somewhat hunched over. They stopped to witness Delothia emerge from the portal just behind Evanora, with a weapon in hand. The Masked woman walked past the Wicked Witch of the East, and pointed her blade at the party. Using her free hand, she presented Evanora like a magician’s assistant. She stood there between them, letting silence fall for a few seconds for a dramatic effect.

    “Delothia, what is the meaning of thi-?” she began, pausing as her eyes widened even further from sudden disbelief. Her gaze looked on towards the party that lay ahead. They had a look of bewilderment, horror. Slowly, her gaze descended upon her chest where she felt the pain. Darkness was seeping out of her where Delothia’s blade was impaled. She looked on to the masked woman, trying to utter words where none could be found. Delothia stared right back at the witch, the black mask emotionless as ever.

    “What are you doing?!” shouted D’daear in disbelief.

    Ignoring him, Delothia pulled the blade out of the Wicked Witch’s chest; letting the darkness in the Old hag’s heart seep out like water. It began to envelope the witch’s body completely like an aura of darkness. The masked Witch stepped away, quickly summoning a void with her friend. As she stepped through, she let out her final words for the battle.

    “Put on a good show.”

    <iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/LGiS5pS-wtQ?list=PLcbo27mIyP02DYP3khoosUPog_3xbhZ0j" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
    (Amazing Reimagined KH song by Nanashima)

    In that instant as the void disappeared with Delothia, the Wicked Witch of the West let out a lurid roar which somehow managed to disrupt the air around them. A blast of dark energy exploded from her body in the form of a shockwave as the old woman’s aura intensified dramatically, enough to affect the area around them. D’daear braced himself as the blast spirited past him and everyone including the caravan; strong enough to push them back a bit as their feet skidded against the cobblestone floor. He winced at the intense pressure being presented by the Witch. Static filled the air, scattering throughout. There was a power surge briefly in the caravan.

    After a while, the burst of energy settled like a disturbed lake, biding its time for the waters to calm.

    “This power…” she uttered with head hung low. Emerald electricity surged around Evanora, like a super charged battery that was overflowing. A strange emblem manifested on her forehead, gradient silver in color; the Xtracted symbol. Her head lifted itself to reveal yellow colored irises. She looked absolutely horrendous, menacing with the new look. Turning to Oz, she extended a hand out to the ethereal head, and shot a bolt of lightning. The stream made contact with Oz’s face, and managed to traverse into the caravan where it caused all the equipment to malfunction. The light that helped project Oscar’s face onto the smoke stopped, as well as the smoke machine, and soon all power was lost within the caravan; Evanora had no idea that this was happening however. Her intention was to merely harm or destroy Oz. D’daear watched as Evanora literally drained the power out of the caravan on mere instinct, laughing in victory. There was nothing he could do. “NOT SO POWERFUL NOW, GREAT WIZARD!” she mocked, soon turning to the party that stood before them. Brows furrowed at them indignantly. “This is MYYY KINGDOM!!! BOW TO YOUR QUEEN!!!”

    Cecil was the first to respond. He took a step forward, and aimed the dark sword at the Witch. “By the power of the King of Baron, I hereby lay siege to liberate the Land of Oz!” he yelled. Upon hearing those words, Gwynt readied her pistols at the Wicked Witch while getting in front of D’daear. “Stand back…” she ordered while keeping her gaze fixated on the Witch. With no weapon, he was as good as useless. Reluctantly, the soldier did as he was told. But just he would have it, a sweet voice echoed from above, calling out to D’daear. He looked up to see Rosa and Glinda standing at the edge of a destroyed balcony. Rosa waved at D’daear, a sword in hand. “You’ll need this I assume!” she shouted, tossing him the blade just as an invisible barrier formed between them. Unaware of the barrier, the man’s eyes lit up with a joyous smile as he caught the sword by the handle. His hands immediately assessed the swords weight, and found it to be good enough.

    A cackle emanated from Evanora as she began to levitate a few inches off the ground. She shot out a ball of electricity onto them, which caused an area of effect kind of surge of electricity. But the three were skilled enough to avoid such a projectile. They jumped out of the way, avoiding the blast radius of the first attack. Next, the witch extended both arms to about 60 degrees off her sides, and began to shoot out a stream of lightning, rotating her body like a steady Carousel. The bot streams of lightning circled around the area, their range increasing every time Evanora made a full turn. Cecil disappeared into a dark void, escaping one of the lightning’s cycle while D’daear and Gwynt danced around with dodges and close calls. After the fifth cycle of Evanora’s lightning carousel, she stopped everything, and began take a fetus position high in the air; coincidentally the invisible barrier dropped. The electricity that surged in her body began to fluctuate violently, like an atom with Evanora as its nucleus. Gwynt took the initiative and began to fire her projectiles at her, holding nothing back as fingers rapidly pulled the trigger. A storm of bullets hit their mark, yet they seemed to do nothing to Evanora…like she was immune to the magical projectiles.

    Upon realization, Gwynt stopped to evaluate the situation. “Am I even….hurting her?” she questioned in disbelief. As if to reply, Evanora suddenly stretched her entire body out of fetus position as a large wave of electricity blasted out of her very being in the form of a spherical dome. A dark void quickly emerged behind the two soldiers, and out came Cecil’s black gauntleted hands to pull them inside just in the nick of time. The electricity surged far and wide, reaching as far as the Emerald fountain; exposing Evanora.

    The darkened caravan flickered to life momentarily, causing a stir among them all. “What is going on?!” exclaimed Master Tinker. Everyone was clueless until… Finley’s head peered in from the sun roof. “It’s Evanora! Her magic, it’s doing something to the caravan!”

    Oscar Digg’s took notice, and immediately realized the solution to the malfunction. “Electricity! We just need to recharge the caravan somehow!” he shouted. Hasty hands grabbed for the telescope. He peered through it to find Evanora’s spherical dome suddenly dissipate, and a dark void suddenly remerging from nowhere.

    Gwynt incased D’daear in a bubble, and with Cecil’s help, launched D’daear out of the void and towards a now exposed Evanora. As planned, the bubble smacked straight into Evanora; popping it in the process, and sent her cascading back to the ground. D’daear landed on one of Gwynt’s bubble with a Pop!

    “It worked!” he shouted to the party as they ran out of the portal to join him in a beat down. Together, Cecil launched orbs of darkness out towards Evanora, doing the same trick he had done with Delothia. They smacked past Evanora, and gathered behind her to soon implode together. The blast sent Evanora flying forward where Gwynt intersected with a power shot from her pistols. “Fira!” she incanted. Both pistols shot forth at once with ONE nice sized ball of fire which smacked the Wicked Witch of the West in the chest. A nice controlled explosion emerged as a result which sent her flying skyward. Both Cecil and D’daear shouted to Glinda and Rosa.

    “Glinda!” D’daear shouted.

    “Rosa!” Cecil shouted.

    Both Rosa and Glinda gave each other a look, acknowledging that they were up. The two brought out their wands up, and together harnessed light into the tips of their wands. In unison they launched pearls of light towards the helplessly airborne Witch. One after the other the projectiles hit their mark perfectly, saturating the sky and the woman with the power of light. “AAHH!!” she screamed. The hits flashed strongly, but soon gave way. Once done, the wicked witch was left to fall back to the floor. However, they weren’t done. Taking it upon himself, D’daear rushed forward like a struggle player, and with both hands gripping the handle tightly, he swung the blade strong and true like a bat just before Evanora reached the ground. The blunt side of the blade smacked against her side, and sent her reeling back a few feet.

    Her form skidded against the floor before coming to a complete stop. Weakened, but angered, The Wicked Witch stood up with a terrifying glare. The party was taken by surprise at the Witch’s resilience. It was like she merely shrugged it off. Electricity emerged to course throughout her body once more. “RRAAH!!’ she expressed her irritation.

    “Don’t lose morale. You saw what we did to her with teamwork! We can end this!” shouted Cecil with confidence. Taking the lead, he dashed past D’daear and lunged his javelin like sword at the Wicked Witch. She snickered as the Captain thrusted the blade at her torso. The sword was met with an invisible form of resistance that stopped the blades momentum all at once, just a few centimeters away from her. Although Cecil’s mask bore no emotion, behind it he was left surprised. His arm struggled to find the strength to keep pushing, and immediately required both just to maintain it in place against whatever it was that would not let him through. Gwynt ran to Cecil’s aid, firing at the witch. In a blind flurry, she did not take notice of how ineffective her action was; except Cecil. “Hold your fire!!” he shouted back at her; having knelt down in order to avoid friendly fire. The projectiles dissipated instantly upon contact of whatever it was that was shielding this woman. Gwynt stopped as commanded, feeling bewildered at how ineffective she was again. “But…I just hit her not to long ago! Why can’t I hurt her now?!”

    As this was going on, Finley gave a shout out to the purple haired soldier. “D’daear!! D’daear!” he called out, catching the man’s attention. “The caravan’s out of power! Oz can’t do his thing!” he explained, pointing to the fountain. There was an absence of an ethereal head, smoke, and fire. D’daear, looking a bit confused, shrugged. “Ok…what am I supposed to do? I don’t know how to bring power back…”

    “But Evanora can!” Finley replied back, reenacting the Witches magic. “Electricity, or so Oz says!”

    With a swipe of Evanora’s hand, she knocked a distracted Cecil back a few paces, and followed up with a burst of lightning waves that descended from the air towards Gwynt. Good for her she was nimble. As she avoided being electrocuted, D’daear sprinted past Cecil to give a swing at her. The Dark Knight got up; feeling the healing effects of a cure spell, and tried commanding his friend to stop. “D’daear, wait that won’t work!” he warned.

    Despite his warning, however, the soldier continued on, as hitting her wasn’t his intention at the moment. He circled a yard away from the woman, stopping in the direction of the caravan, and after muttering wishful thinking under his breath, pointed the sword at the witch. “HEY! Is that all you got? We’ve given you a nice beating, and you barely scratched us. Kind of pathetic, don’t you think?” he taunted, readying his legs. This angered the Wicked Evanora, and evoked her. With hands feeling a strong surge, she began to levitate off the ground and towards D’daear. Without hesitation the man began to run with all he had towards the fountain.

    Rosa and Glinda appeared next to Cecil, with Gwynt regrouping with them.

    “What is D’daear doing? He knows he can’t hurt Evanora, right?” asked the gunslinger, turning to watch the chase.

    “I’m sure D’daear has a plan.” Rosa answered, with Cecil and Glinda nodding in agreement. “Well, plan or no plan…we should probably be there for him just in case.” Gwynt said. She darted off towards D’daear’s direction with all she had after seeing the first attack attempted on D’daear; with the others following behind.

    Watching through the telescope, Oscar could see D’daear making his way with Evanora towards the fountain. “Everyone get ready!” he shouted. Master Tinker nodded as he placed his hands near the switch. D’daear was doing whatever he could to avoid getting hit by Evanora’s attempts at harming him. Ducking, diving, and rolling out the way. It was working so far, even allowing for a stray bolt of lightning to hit the fountain. The old woman eventually landed a hit on D’daear’s back. With a nice zap to the man’s back, he fell forward feeling a bit jittery. In desperation he crawled towards the fountains edge. The witch closed in, feeling victorious. “Looks like I’m going to be leaving more than a scratch on YOU, Soldier of Baron.” She spat back with a devilish grin. D’daear quickly turned around, swinging his blade at her. To his surprise, he hit nothing. The witch swiped the blade out of the soldier’s hands and readied what would end the soldier. But of course, he’s been saved by the bell so many times, so why stop now?

    Just as the Witch was about to end D’daear, and explosion emanated from the fountain. Flames shot out from the fountain and fireworks burst into the sky. D’daear curled into a ball as the blast flew over him and towards the witch. Debris slammed into Evanora’s head, causing her to fall to floor; to which perceptive eyes were able to catch.

    “RAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!!” bellowed the Great Wizard of Oz as he manifested his form in the rising smoke. From up close, he looked more menacing than he did from the stage. Eyes widened as the Wicked Witch screamed in terror while the affliction of Fear began to ail her. The great Wizard looked down at her; D’daear now taking a peek through a squint. “I TOLD YOU, I AM IMMORTAL!!!”

    The Witch screamed, rising to her feet in an attempt to flee in the opposite direction; not seeing how the flames and smoke were slowly fading along with Oz’s face.

    “THIS CAN’T BE!!! AAH!! I NEED TO LEAVE!” she cried in desperation.

    “No, this ends now!!”Screamed Gwynt as she dashed towards Evanora. Bringing the pistols to one side, the weapons glowed a blinding white. They combined into one large radiant light, and with one hand she thrust it forward like an estoc to Evanora’s chest. In a flash of a split second, Gwynt’s soles were now skidding against the floor as she appeared behind the witch, green eyes glaring ahead into space while keeping the fencers attack stance. Her hand was empty with whatever having been now gone. The group that was following Gwynt halted, eyes focused on Evanora’s stunned face. D’daear opened eyelids to see Gwynt standing only a few feet away from him, and with Evanora now standing still. They widened even further when he noticed the white sparks emanating from the Witch’s chest. The Witch slowly peered down to the source of the light. “Wh-wha-?” she uttered, instinctively trying to place a hand over her chest. It was pointless effort. Yellow eyes bid their time to look towards Cecil and the others, where among them she saw Glinda covering her mouth. Astonishment was written all over the White witch, eyes tearing.

    “You…would pity…me?” she questioned. Whatever pride she had left, she felt it being destroyed. Energy began to leave her, as she began to feel rather drained. Tired, and dazed, she tilted her wrinkly head to the sky where she saw the large blue heart watching over them. Cheek muscles drooped as lips frowned while expressing widened eyes. Everything she worked for, gone. All those years of ruling over the land, and now within the matter of a day…she lost it all. “This was…not… supposed to happen…!!” she muttered. Evanora’s body began to disintegrate in shards of darkness as black flames enveloped her lower legs. Lower lip began to flutter as panic settled. “nnno….! No no no…! Not yet…! Not yet!” she pleaded her body. The flames soon enveloped past her abdomen.

    Gwynt walked up to D’daear, and as a means to distract him from what was unfolding behind her, she extended her hand out to him with a mild smile. “Let’s get you up.” She said, gesturing with her extended hand. Hands outstretched themselves as their hands embraced tightly. With a bit of leaning in the opposition direction, Gwynt was able to lift D’daear up onto his feet. He gave her a smile, but it soon faded as he gazed over her and onto Evanora’s nearly enflamed body. “It’s so…different…”he managed to say, his voice struggling to maintain proper tone. They had never seen the Horned King when he perished. And when D’daear’s mother had passed, it was a beautiful display of luminescent fragments. Gwynt turned to see Evanora fully consumed inside the black flames, which soon faded away into nothing.

    Chapter 37


    After the battle for Emerald City had ended with Gwynt’s coupe de grace; yes I know what is being said here, the city had truly been liberated. The sun rose to the new era as the streets were filled with the loud roars of celebration, people tossing confetti, dancing, singing, and who knows what else. Fireworks flared in the sky, exploding to the timbre of freedom. By now the gates to Emerald city had been opened to welcome all Quadlings, Munchkins, and Tinkers from Glinda’s Palace whom wished to live here. People stormed the castle courtyard where the battle had taken place, cheering for their saviors: D’daear, Gwynt, Glinda, Cecil, Rosa, Finley, Knuck, the under grounders (Munchkins), Master Tinker, and the floating apparition of the Wizard of Oz. The group stood atop the stage, waving at the crowd; D’daear specifically being the one to blush at the attention. After a while, the group soon headed inside the castle to where they were all led by Glinda to the throne room. The mess was already expected by Glinda and Rosa, however the other party’s weren’t ready for the site.

    “What happened here?” Gwynt inquired with a raised brow. Debris was scattered everywhere, and the seat of the throne had been turned over. Glinda cleared her throat in slight embarrassment.

    “Things got a bit out of hand before you encountered Evanora.” She explained, walking over to the throne in order to lift it back in place. Oscar Diggs saw this, and approached her, volunteering to lift it up for her. Upon watching this, she could not help but smile. “Thank you. You know…this is now YOUR throne…however people still believe Oscar Diggs to have perished, and the great wizard of Oz to have been born. How will you go about presenting yourself now when people wish to see you?”

    Oscar Diggs snickered, turning to the White Witch. He settled the large chair in place and in the proper spot. “Oh don’t you worry about that, my fair maiden. I have a plan just for that.”

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

    “Okay! Close the curtains, please!” Master Tinker commanded with a cane pointed at the newly fixed window. China girl and Finley quickly worked to close the dark emerald colored curtains. The room became dark, with only candles to help light the darkness. When the curtains were closed, the old Tinker pulled a hidden lever. The sparks of machine stirred to life a wave of smoke that rose into the air with flickering lights that illuminated The Wizards face. Oz’s face looked confused.

    “Hello? Is this thing- ooww… Is this thing working?” he queried with a bit of a flinch from the mic feedback. Knuck took a step back to examine the quality picture being presented on the smoke.

    “This is wonderful!” Glinda stated as she entered the throne room, momentarily giving Cecil a quick glance. Her stare was so quick, so sudden that it was hard to capture the expression she had given.

    “Well, if it isn’t the most beautiful witch in all of Oz.” stated Oz, recapturing her attention. A gentle smile arose on the Wizard; as well as D’daear and Gwynt whom stood near the thrones doors. Cecil and Rosa were nearby, Rosa watching in awe at the ingenuity of Oscar Diggs illusion. Before Glinda had arrived on scene, Cecil had been in the middle of a conversation with D’daear. The Dark Knight had been merely informing him of how and why they had come to Oz. The how D’daear had already figured out when Evanora had attacked them. Cecil had gone off to explain how he had gotten worried for you, and asked the King for him to go off to find you. Upon the King’s blessing’s, Cecil came rushing to the scene along with Rosa whom invited herself. The Dark Knight didn’t complain. Together, they went off their way to the Land of Oz through means of dark corridors. Surprisingly enough, Cecil was only able to locate them because of a scent of darkness. Wanting to do reconnaissance first before engaging whomever the scent belonged to, they ended up in the forest where they found Gwynt; by mere coincidence. From there, it was all self-explanatory.

    “Hi Glinda.” Oscar greeted, the tone of voice dropping to a softer and love stricken. Glinda returned the feeling with a beautiful smile. “Hello Wizard.”

    Oz looked over to Master Tinker, and nodded for him. Upon seeing his signal, the Tinker turned off the machine. He felt the Witch’s soft hands on his feeble back. “Well done, Master Tinker.” she complimented. With a chuckle, the old man placed both hands at the peak of his cane, turning the head slightly to look down at her. He gave her a soothing smile. “This is just workmanship. What you displayed out there, was real courage. Your father would’ve been more than proud. He would’ve marveled at the woman you’ve become.” He praised, referring to the way she handled herself while captive.

    “Zim Zala Bim! Great work people!” shouted Oscar Diggs as he brushed aside curtains that hid a back room. “Now we’re ready in case anyone wants to speak with the wizard.” He said, walking to stand at the front of the throne to face them. Both D’daear and Gwynt walked forward when Cecil and Rosa looked over to them, gesturing them to join the group. Oscar Diggs stood tall, facing Glinda, China girl, Finley, Master Tinker, Knuck, D’daear, and Gwynt. “Remember, Oscar Diggs died…so that the wizard of Oz could live. And when the Wicked Witch of the West comes back; and she will come back, we’re going to need everyone to believe.”

    “Your secrets safe with us.” Said China girl.

    “Good. And now…time for some gifts.”

    “Gifts!” spoke up the little girl in joy. Knuck raised a brow, not having seen this coming. “Gifts?!” he exclaimed in bewilderment. Being a royal herald, it was his job to announce a situation with the sound of his trumpet! However, upon playing the start of it, he was gestured to stop with many of the others having already braced themselves beforehand. The China girl looked up to the Great Wizard, showing the enthusiasm of a little girl. “What kinds of gifts?”

    “Well you know I can’t grant wishes… Sso this will have to do.” He said, walking over to the Master Tinker. He handed him over a customized pocket knife with all sorts of utensils, and tools attached to it. “First, the Master Tinker. To the man who can make anything, I give my lucky…thing’a majig. I hope it will serve you well in the reconstruction of the emerald city.”

    The Master Tinker grinned, taking ahold of the item in his hands. It served to be useful back in the caravan when they had to fix a loose bolt. Above all, he knew this was a symbol of their friendship. “I will cherish this, forever.” He said, locking eyes with the Wizard. Oscar Diggs breathed in heavily, trying to keep a serious demeanor without tearing up. “Thank you for believing in me.” The Wizard told him. The Old Tinker nodded. Oscar moved on to the next person.

    “And now, for sour pus.” Spoke Oscar Diggs as he moved to stand directly in front of Knuck. The Munchkin stomped the floor, looking up at Oscar Diggs somberly. “My name, is Knuck!”

    “Sour pus, I grant you something you are in need of most. Something that can turn the saddest day into a happy one.” Said the Wizard, grinning as he spoke, reaching into a pocket within his coat. Knuck’s eyes widened in curiosity. The wizard extended the gift to the Royal Herald a Popsicle stick with a smile attached to it. Knuck held it in his hands, looking down at the object. With a scowl, he looked up to the carnival magician. “I don’t want that!” he protested.

    “It is yours!”

    “Take it back!” implored the sour munchkin. Oscar smiled at Knuck, shaking his head. “I cannot.”

    Left unsatisfied for a bit, he looked down at the toy in disappointment.

    “Knuck, you look nice with this.” Spoke the China Girl as she looked up at the Munchkin. Hearing the little girls words seemed to reassure the Royal Herald, which merited Master Tinkers, D’daear’s, and Gwynt’s soft laughter as well as Oz’s smile. “You do look nice. “ Spoke the wizard. Knuck settled down, feeling comfort in their reassurance. With a newfound tender smile, he looked up to Oscar Diggs. He gave him a warm thanks. Moving along, Oscar looked to Finley whom stood next to Knuck. “Aaah Finley. You stood by my side when any other monkey with a right mind would not have.” He started, lowering himself to one knee. “To you…I give something that I rarely give anyone… My friendship.” He finished, taking off his top hat to put it on top of the monkey’s small head. “Now you’re my partner, my right hand.” He explained. Finley looked up to Oz while adjusting the large hats position.

    “That’s all I ever really wanted.” He replied with a smile. As Oscar Diggs rose to his feet, China girl stirred with excitement. “Ooooh ohhh me! Me!” she repeated as she jumped up and down with her hands held high. The Wizard picked her off the floor, and gently settled her on a step that led to the thrones seat. “I’m afraid I can’t give you what I know you want…” he said, pausing as he turned to the others. “But I can offer you this. A new family.” He said, gesturing with a hand to everyone whom was part of the group: Master Tinker, Glinda, Knuck, Finley, D’daear, and Gwynt. China girl clasped her hands together with lit up eyes. “It’s perfect.” She stated, wrapping her tiny arms around Oz’s embrace. She thanked him as they parted, with her running up to Glinda, and embracing her as well. When they finished, China girl looked back to Oz. “You better have something for Glinda!”

    “Tsh, and us too…” uttered Gwynt in a whisper. The purple haired soldier nudged her side, keeping a straight face while he looked on. She pursed her lips and scowled.

    “Oh child, I don’t need anything.” Glinda responded quickly. However Oscar Digs had something in mind for the beautiful White Witch. “Oh but I do. I saved the best for last.”

    He extended a hand out to her, which left the Witch wondering with a bewildered smile. Taking the man’s hand, he led her towards the curtains where the hologram machine was. “For you, I offer you a sight seen by me, and none else. You’ll be astounded by what you find behind the curtain.” He led on, closing the curtains as they soon stepped into the small room. D’daear raised a brow, placing knuckles on hips as he pondered. What was he supposed to show her? All that was behind there was obviously the machine Oz was using to project his image. While he pondered, Gwynt began to blush. Her keen intuition immediately understood what was going to happen. She crossed her arms, and tensed her jaw in embarrassment. As if on cue, the lights behind the curtain came on, crafting Oz’s and Glinda’s shadows. It didn’t take a genius to understand what the shadows behind the curtain were doing.

    D’daear’s eyes widened as it hit him. A joyful smile arose over him at the site of the two sharing a sweet tender kiss. It was happy ending for the two, one that stirred the light in his heart. “Oh wow! This is great! I’m so happy for them!” he shouted in earnest delight. He turned to Gwynt to see her a bit uncomfortable. She was blushing, and her arms were tightening with embarrassment. “You ok, Gwynt?” D’daear asked. Gwynt quickly turned away from him. Rosa watched the two’s reaction, giggling a bit at Gwynt’s specifically. Cecil remained calm in all of this, with arms folded while staring down at the floor. He had been deep thought about something; nothing relating to the current situation. In the heat of the moment, one of Cecil’s hands curled into a fist amidst pondering. The Dark Knight was indeed struggling with thoughts that stirred emotions, although it seemed he’d have to continue this at another time. Knuck’s horn instrument sung loud and clear at the site involving the couple behind the curtains. Cecil stirred, turning the yellow eyed gaze to the curtains. With a heavy sigh, he remained silent as he leaned against the wall while everyone else cheered for the Wizard of Oz and the White Witch.

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

    Outside the City’s gates, the yellow brick road lay before them. The group was biding each other farewell; only Oscar Diggs and Glinda were with them as the others were still tiding up the castle. Cecil and Rosa gave a courteous bow to the Wizard and Witch before commanding a void of darkness to manifest. Cecil walked on through with Rosa; leaving the portal open for D’daear and Gwynt. Oscar Diggs gave the purple haired man a friendly handshake while keeping eye contact. “Thank you D’daear. For everything. You risked your life to protect us when we needed you, and most importantly…you never gave up hope. You’ve earned my respect, as well as my eternal friendship. If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

    The soldier gave Oscar a smile, and nodded in acknowledgement. “Sure thing.” He said. After releasing each other’s hand, he went over to Glinda whom was busy talking with Gwynt. The two looked as if they had been locked in a deep conversation, for Gwynt looked rather pensive. When she heard D’daear’s footsteps, she quickly masked herself with an enthusiastic smile. The red ochre woman gave the sorceress a courteous bow before being stopped. The White witch initiated a hug, which in turn was reciprocated. Gwynt then turned and gave D’daear a nod, notifying him that she’d go on ahead into the portal. With acknowledgement, the two walked in each other’s opposite directions. The young soldier stopped before Glinda’s presence, giving a bow. Glinda nodded courteously. “D’daear. It’s been a most wonderful adventure. I hope you two will visit us again.” She said with a sweet smile. D’daear rubbed the back of his head, giving a soft pensive look. He had no idea whether he’d be able too. Now that they helped this land, and had attained the information in which they had been sent here to gather in the first place, he had his doubts whether he’d be sent here again. “Heh…we’ll do our best.”

    Understanding, she smiled and simply nodded. Before D’daear left, Glinda gathered her wits and stopped him as there was something that she needed to inform him. “D’daear…!” she called out, holding her wand with both hands. Gentle hands gripped tightly around the wand. She watched as D’daear halted in front of the portal, turning back to face her with mellow curiosity. “Hmmm?”

    Glinda’s eyes showed concern. “Your friend…The Dark Knight…”

    D’daear immediately made the assumption about her concerned look. It’s true that they had just faced foes whom could wield similar abilities or at the very least attribute as a Dark Knight. It was only natural for her to assume Cecil to be working for the bad guys in some strange conspiracy. “Oh, don’t worry! He’s one of the good guys! I can assure you.” He quickly interrupted with a kind smile. However, that was not Glinda’s train of thought. She could tell from the moment she laid eyes on him that he had a gentle, and good heart…but she could see something else. The Witch shook her head. “That’s not what I was meaning to talk about…” she spoke, pausing briefly to gather herself. “It’s not my place to tell you... So all I will say is…keep a close eye on him. His heart is in a very sensitive state of balance. All it requires is a tip to lose it...” she forewarned. D’daear gave Glinda a long stare into her eyes, gauging her words carefully before lips curled slightly into a gentle smile with thankful eyes. He nodded at her before stepping into the portal. Oscar Diggs and Glinda waved the young man farewell, before the vortex of darkness collapsed, and ending the Soldier of Barons visit to the Land of Oz.

    Chapter 38

    2 months later…

    D’daear rested his head against an open palm while elbow rested on a desk that belonged to the castle library. The library is fairly wide, with walls looping together to make a round circumference. The soldier was on the first floor, where rear end had been placed against a seat as he flipped through pages with the hand that was not occupied. The book the pages belonged to was a brownish color, with stretched hexagonal patterns neatly spaced throughout the border of the cover. The book had a lump spine, with strange writing that traveled along the spine until it reach the bottom, where a peculiar emblem; resembling a crescent moon and stars, rested. The library was more or less empty; with the few exception of scholars and mages study their craft. He had been tasked with doing research on the desert lands he was to be sent to next. It was a quick briefing on the situation, but it was enough information to let him know he was to be sent away yet again. A new adventure to some royal city out in the eastern part of the world. He should have been excited, and yet there was a dull appearance in those blue irises that socketed themselves in D’daear’s skull. Almost as if he was not really there, but in a reverie.

    When they had arrived to the castle of Baron after saying their good byes to Oz and Glinda, Cecil was already there to lead D’daear someplace. Rosa and Gwynt had walked on while Cecil withdrew D’daear for conversation. Being the Captain of the Red Wings; and a senior Dark Knight, he felt it necessary to have a meeting with the King. When they met with the King of Baron, they had presented him with every bit of Intel they had gathered. The King seemed unmoved, save for the thoughtful expression the man had.

    “Kingdom hearts… that’s the name she gave it, correct?” the King queried.

    D’daear nodded as he stared back at the Large King whom sat at the end of the table. They were in the King’s war room, where a long table extended; capable of seating thirteen people total. Behind the King’s seat was a large world map where various marks were scribbled all over. Standing next to him were two of the kings most trusted people. One was a tall dark man with slicked back ginger hair. Aside from the lack of helm, the man dawned a full set of purple (Oddly shaded) armor that set him apart from every other soldier in this castle. This man was the Kings trusted bodyguard; which was perfect because the man gave a yellow stare that just pierced right through. The other individual sitting to the other side of the King was a young woman; a little older than D’daear, but her height did no justice. She wore a black headdress that covered the entirety of her head, and a black clergy outfit. From the looks of it, the woman had soft pale white skin, and a beautiful complexion that complimented her face and green eyes. This woman was the King’s Royal advisor. A part of D’daear couldn’t help but feel that they had never met once; however he wouldn’t be surprised if he was oblivious to their existence the entire time.

    “Are you sure this Delothia person was working with the Witches?” the King inquired once more. D’daear nodded. “Yes sir. She confessed to me before Oz had become… uhh…. Immortal...” the soldier explained, pausing briefly to make sense of the next bit of detail he was to explain. Eyebrows furrowed mildly as he recalled how Delothia had used some sort of magic to empower Evanora. “It was also pretty obvious when she…used that weapon of hers on Evanora. It was strange, it was as if somehow Delothia was able to unlock some kind of power within Evanora’s heart. ”

    The King scoffed. “Unlock? Power of the heart? Don’t be so caught up in such assumptions, D’daear. I think you’ve been spending far too much time in Oz… They were witches. Goodness knows if they had used a spell to strengthen themselves. I very much doubt there exists a weapon that can...tap into someone’s heart”

    The King of Baron turned the attention to Cecil whom stood by D’daear’s side quietly. “My boy. Is there anything you’d like to add to all of this?”

    The Dark Knight stood tall, hands resting on his sides. Memory of their personal encounter with Delothia arose. He remembered their little chat while she was subdued. “She spoke of there being more of…her kind, sir…”

    The King raised a brow. “Her kind?”

    The two soldiers nodded. “Yes sir. We believe it to be related to an experience D’daear had a month prior to meeting Delothia.” Cecil spoke. The King turned eyes to D’daear, gesturing for him to speak. Jaw tensed as D’daear cleared his throat.

    “A day after I had arrived at Glinda’s palace, we were attacked by one of the witches. Before she left, she had left behind a parting gift in the form of a masked man dawning similar clothes to Delothia. The only difference was that this man was Silver in color…and….well…a man.”

    “It could very well just be a uniform, you know…” The King deduced, dwelling on what D’daear had described. He looked up to the purple haired man. “Don’t you and Gwynt wear similar attire?”

    D’daear let the thought simmer before responding. “…that could be it as well-”

    Cecil quickly interjected. “But why would she say ‘Her own kind’, then?”

    The King gazed at Cecil, evoking an apology from the Dark Knight. With a small chortle, the King rested both arms on the chairs arm rest. “For all we know she could have been referring to the kind of brotherhood she shares with her comrades. At this point, we know little about these…catalysts of chaos. There’s no point in dwelling on something so vague. Let us gather more clues before we continue this particular discussion… Moving this conversation along…” the King paused, turning to Cecil. He continued, “…what do you make of D’daear’s performance out on the field, Cecil?”

    The King gave D’daear a quick glance before remaining fixated on his most trusted pupil. Cecil was taken by surprise. The question was unexpected, and it certainly was blatant considering D’daear was still in the room. The Dark Knight was about to speak when the king stopped him in order to emphasis, “and remember…although he may be a close friend, I want to hear your non-biased opinion. One’s growth cannot occur without first treading through hardship.”

    Cecil’s shoulders slumped a bit, understanding the reasoning behind the Kings words. Hands found themselves placed on hips. With a silent sigh, Cecil spoke; doing his best to not see D’daear through his peripherals. “Well your highness…I...” he started, pausing briefly to look at D’daear whom was staring at Cecil with forced curiosity. Staring into the man’s blue irises, he could tell his friend was self-aware of his own performance, and was only confirmed when D’daear gave a weak smile, while eyebrows leaned to the side in a look of empathy. “It’s ok Cecil…I can take it.”

    Black gloved hands curled to small fists in worry. Every part of Cecil was willing to tell the truth, but a part of him understood what it would mean for D’daear. “When I arrived on scene, it was to have only milliseconds to save D’daear’s life. I found him wounded, and defeated in the castle courtyard. Delothia was about to end him… Given that, he also spent a month MIA without even so much as considering to give word to us….” He critiqued half-heartedly, pausing to turn to his friend. Cecil wasn’t showing it, but, behind the mask, it pained him to be blatant. “…I thought with Gwynt there, the two of you would be more than capable to deal with this threat. But, it seems I might have overestimated your abilities…”

    Ever since taking care of business in Pyrdain, he had secretly felt like he was some kind of hero with lady luck on his side. Delothia changed that opinion. She held nothing back, and she truly had been intent on ending his life; which is something D’daear had never truly contemplated on ever doing. Most of the time, he would always go for the beat them up route, always with the intent of knocking them out cold; NOT ending them. He always fought defensively, and fighting Delothia was no different. However, compared to him, she fought with such ruthlessness, and power; far from what he would have imagined a witch to be doing. Easily overpowered by her elegant ferocity, not even his sword could handle the situation. It was something he won’t be forgetting anytime soon. He let out a deep sigh as he flipped through another page of the book he was currently “analyzing”. Mind recalled the way Delothia had splintered his blade, shattered it with her bare hand like it was nothing more than thin wood. Such supernatural strength was unfathomable. Even the Dark Knights weren’t THAT strong; he’s heard stories of the way darkness can amplify a user’s strength. Just the thought of it all made him feel so feeble. Back then he believed he could take the criticism, but he was wrong. It felt like a hammer had just slammed into his pride, and left a mark. Thankfully, the blow was lessened when the King offered to give him a second chance.

    D’daear bit the inside of his lips, nibbling as he remained in the train of thought. What they had encountered in Oz was something on a whole other level. It was something he could not handle, which stirred this uncomfortable ache in his mind, in his psyche. He spent years after leaving the Garden honing his skills, trying to be the best soldier he could be. Yet, all of that proved to be in vain as he got tossed around like some training dummy. He couldn’t help but feel a bit aggravated at the thought as he flipped through another page with a rough twist of the wrist. A sigh escaped him while eyebrows furrowed in concentration. “Whatever… I need to focus on this right now… -“ethereal words spoke. A stale facial expression constructed itself. He had been so busy worrying about his pride, and ideals that he had not been reading the pages. Mind raced to recall if he even remembered what he had been reading. He could not. He had been on autopilot the entire time. Placing the other elbow on the desk, he placed both palms on his face, letting out a moan of frustration.

    “Yooou… Okay there?” questioned a female voice. The desk reverberated with a thud.

    D’daear recognized this voice. Dragging his planted face along his palms, he made eye contact through the gaps in fingers. Leaning against the desk using arms for support was Sarah; the commander of the Army corps. Her thin hairline parted long black hair at the middle, which helped accentuate her widow’s peak. The silky hair traveled from her scalp and past shoulders. Sarah’s eyes looked down at D’daear with curiosity. With a lighter moan, D’daear removed hands in order to reveal a mellow smile. “Hello Commander.” He greeted. The woman was wearing a silk blue long sleeve blouse that nearly covered past her wrists. Black cargo pants covered her lower body, with the lower portion being tucked away inside her shin high boots.

    Sarah snickered while she found a seat adjacent to him, noting D’daear had avoided her question. “I see old habits die hard for you. I’m no longer YOUR superior, remember?” she reminded as she opened a book. The chair moved with a skid away from the desk as she crossed her legs by placing one over the other knee. With an opened book in hand, she placed the same hand’s wrist against the leg and simply began to read with leisure pace. D’daear hung his head, looking downcast. He let out a small sigh.

    “Yeah, I keep forgetting…” he muttered. Dragging arms off the table, he leaned back against the chair, and just slid to slouch sitting position. Tilting head back, he let his head rest against the chair’s upper rail. Sarah did not bother to remove her main attention off the book, but to be mindful she did inquire of D’daear’s current behavior; despite the man having avoided the previous question. “What’s on your mind?”

    “Nothing…”

    “Well there has to be SOMETHING on your mind for you to be acting like that.” She retorted, still leisurely reading her book.

    Keeping eyes on the libraries ceiling, the young soldier lifted both arms in order to cross-fold in front of pectorals. If Sarah was asking him, it was probably because she cared enough. Perhaps she could aid him in this current predicament. Right thumb tapped against the blue uniform that covered the man’s biceps. If he was ever not fond of sharing his thoughts or feelings, it would be today. Two months he had these thoughts bottled up inside; and his pride had yet recovered. He had not shared anything to his friends in all this time. Eye lids lowered themselves to give a hidden dullness to their owner’s succumbing. Perhaps it’d be best if he just spoke up and shared his mind. Eyes hid themselves for a brief moment before continuing to remain fixated on the ceiling. “I just never thought being a Dark Knight Apprentice would harbor so much…” he began, pausing at a loss of words.

    “Hardship?”

    “Yeah…”

    Sarah shrugged while remaining fixated on the book. “Only the truly gifted become ACTUAL Dark Knights. Like Cecil for example. He’s been training ever since he was a boy.”

    “…but so was I…we grew up together.”

    For a moment, the woman took her eyes off the book to look at the self-pitying D’daear. She had a serious demeanor. “Were YOU training your whole life specifically to become a Dark Knight?” she questioned before going back to reading. D’daear held his tongue last second, realizing where she was going with this. “N-no…”

    “Without a clear goal in mind, a person can never truly get anywhere. Your goal was to become a soldier if I remember correctly. That was all.” She explained. “Do you know what happens to someone once they’ve reached their goal?”

    The male soldier raised his head off the chair’s upper railing. “What?”

    “They settle, dwelling in conformity because their passion and ambitions was all aimed for just that one goal.” She explained, pausing for a moment to see if D’daear had anything to say. He didn’t. The man’s attention was transfixed onto her. Aware of this, she closed her book and tossed it onto the table. Sarah turned her head to D’daear. “Your passion and ambition was all aimed to merely become part of the army corps. You never truly aspired or trained specifically to become a Dark Knight, unlike your friend Cecil whose goals were aimed much higher. You need to find yourself a NEW goal to aim your passion and ambitions towards. You’re thinking and acting like a soldier. STOP. You are no longer a member of the Army Corps. You are a Dark Knight. Understand?” she asked rhetorically. “I don’t know what happened to you in the Land of Oz, but it seems ever since you came back you’ve been acting all…depressed, and full of self-pity.”

    The commander of the army corps rose to her feet, turning to walk away towards a book aisle. “Suck it up and start acting like the Dark Knight you’re supposed to be. Such a position are for the Elite ONLY, and the Elite do not act the way YOU are acting.”

    “…Yeah…” D’daear murmured. He regretted ever starting this conversation. Each word that was spoken stung hard. He let out a small sigh before noticing Sarah walking away. “Where are you going?” he queried. Sarah looked back at him before entering an aisle. “The book I had wasn’t the right one.” She replied as her voice faded out. This evoked a curious D’daear to raise a brow in question, compelling him to turn to the book Sarah had thrown on the table mid conversation; well more like lecture. Upon resting blue irises on the book, he immediately made out a detail on the spine of the book. It had a familiar strange text written on it. What’s more, there was an emblem engraved at the bottom of the book’s spine. He picked up the book and had a good look at it. It was a crescent moon with stars closely kept near it that streamed out of the emblem and into the spine in the form of sand or dust. Closer inspection turned out that the text he thought was written on the spine was merely part of the emblem. “This is a book on the desert lands. What is she doing with a book like this?” he questioned out loud.

    “Found it.” Spoke Sarah. She neared the table with a new book in hand. It took D’daear a second to confirm what Sarah was reading on about. The woman planted herself on the seat, and in the motion revealed the books spine which contained the same emblem just like the other book. D’daear pushed himself up from his slouched seating position, and proceeded to stand. Placing both hands on the table, he leaned a little in order to get a better view of what she was reading. Of course, Sarah was aware of D’daear’s actions. “What are you staring at?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at him. The hand holding the book lowered itself.

    “Are you going to the desert lands too?” he asked in assumption.

    Sarah cocked her head slightly to one side, raising a brow at him. “Well of course.” she replied naturally. D’daear’s eyes widened at the new information. “Oh. I didn’t know… They’ve barely told me anything except that I was heading to the desert lands. Cecil didn’t say anything about you joining me.”

    “Well I wouldn’t put it like that. We’re not joining YOU. In fact, it’s more like you’re joining US.” She stated. Now this confused the purple haired man. He had no clue just what she was going on about now. Hands left the table while locking eyes with her. “Us? Who else is coming?” he asked. It was Gwynt and himself that Cecil had assigned to partake in these kinds of missions. It did not make much sense to D’daear, unless Sarah was tagging along because of how badly he performed in the Land of Oz. “You mean Us as in Gwynt and yourself?”

    “I meant US as in the ENTIRE Army.” She answered, eyes skeptic on just how much D’daear knew.

    “I’m joining the army corps? Wait, the WHOLE army corps is tagging along too?!” the man exclaimed in shock. Guessing by D’daear’s reaction, Sarah was beginning to suspect that there was a lot he was not briefed on. Crossing her arms as she took in a deep inhale of air, she let out a strong sigh through her mouth. “D’daear, sit down. There are some things I need to tell you…” she said, gesturing for him to sit back down. Wary of her words and reaction, D’daear did what he was told. The commander’s eyes closed briefly to gather her thoughts. “Now I get why I was advised me to come to the library…” she murmured under her breath. Letting out another sigh, she began to speak.

    “King Sharaman is asking for our help. They suspect the city of Alamut to be harboring and giving weapons to the enemy; the very same weapon and enemy you encountered at Oz. The K-“

    “Whoa whoa whoa! How does King Sharaman know about the weapon and the enemy we fought?” he interjected.

    Sarah’s nose flared a little. “Unbelievable. They really kept you out of the loop? Before you came back, both Kings had a meeting. In their conversation in regards to the current situation over in the deserts, King Sharaman had no idea until the King of Baron mentioned it. That was when they put the pieces together. Seeing as the two have something to benefit from working together, our King has agreed to help out with this predicament. Anyway, like I was saying... The King has asked for all members of every corps to begin preparations. We will be leaving in 3 days. From what I’VE been briefed on, A few Dark Knights along with the King’s Personal guard Corps will be in charge of protecting our King of Baron, while Cecil will lead the Red wings; carrying with them Kain and his dragoon corps. I along with the army corps will be fighting on the ground alongside King Sharaman’s army. The White Mages, and Black Mages will be divided among the ground and air forces.” She finished explaining, adding, “Now, where you specifically will be I do not know. You might be with the King since you’re a Dark Knight. However, I’m left uncertain...”

    All the while she spoke, D’daear listened with unease. Did the King or Cecil not fully inform him because of his performance in the Land of Oz? The soldier leaned back against his chair, taken aback by the sudden information. Brows furrowed opposite of how they would normally while cheeks sagged in a frown. Forgetting for a moment his suspicions regarding the lack of information, it dawned on him that this was the first time they would be going into battle with everyone! Blue irises were visible to the adjacent woman as they widened from realization of their current predicament. Despite the man’s previous experiences with their small warfare, this was the first time he’d actually be a part of a full scale battle. He remembered how he felt when he thought nobody had survived the poppy field’s battle. It was such a relief; and a miracle in itself, when he found out everyone had survived. However, this time he knew that things would be far different from the Land of Oz.

    “I just realized…this is the first time we’re going to a full-scale battle.” he queried in disbelief. “…Are we ready for this? Are we ALL ready for this?”

    Sarah averted her eyes, jaw tensing as recollection stirred of what happened in Pyrdain. An unresolved anger rekindled itself, causing hands tensed while arms remained folded. “My soldiers and I are more than ready. This won’t be a repeat of what happened at Pyrdain. I’ve made sure of that…”

    Chapter 39

    Just after having left the Land of Oz…

    Stalagmites in shades of black blue structured themselves throughout a pitch black environment in all shapes and sizes, pulsing with light blue energy that emanated from cracks within them. Earthy protrusions spread throughout the realm, while the skies streamed with shades of dark violet like an aurora that enveloped this realm in its energy. Canyons, hills, cliffs and all kinds of rock formations were visible all around. High heels emanated off in the distance, each step clapping against the sandy floor. The sound closed in on an area surrounded by more stalagmites, where a light as bright as gold glimmered. However, it was eclipsed by a large throne. Seated on it was a strange entity with eerie yellow eyes that pierced the darkness that covered it. The dark being casually sat upright as the footsteps approached.

    “You did well.” Its omni-ranged voice spoke.

    Knee high boots stopped just a few feet away from this being. Dawning the silver jawline that connected to a stainless fractured black mask, it was Delothia. She knelt on one knee, placing her right forearm over right knee. Her hand laxed as while bowing to the dark entity that claimed the throne. “I was merely doing what was told of me to do, Master.” She spoke in coy manner. Out of respect she kept her head tilted towards the floor, making sure her eyes were averted, despite wearing a mask; this was the very being that called her into existence after all. Their father, as they all thought of this being as, demanded their utmost loyalty, if blatantly. The Xtracted remained where she was, aware of where her place among this hierarchy stood. “What would you have me do next?” her soft voice queried. The entity kept his gaze fixated on the Xtracted.

    “I need nothing from you as of the current moment, child. Lay to rest...” he responded as something began to morph beneath Delothia’s feet. Petals black as night began to surface beneath the Xtracted. They were large, almost resembling a large flower. It was large enough for petals to envelop around Delothia. The Xtracted remained still, not afraid of the bizarre structure that was constructing itself around her. It swallowed her as petals united like tight lips. Delothia found herself falling into a deep sleep. Instinctively her arms latched around legs as she pulled herself into a fetal position. The flower had become a chamber of sleep, with translucent blue suddenly emitting from within as petals became transparent. The chamber levitated off the ground, and found itself merging into one of the many stalagmite that surrounded the throne. Like all the others, a blue light began to radiate out of its visible cracks.

    “… I’ll be needing you very soon.”

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

    Day 1 of preparation

    The sound of a hard blown whistle emanates behind the walls that safeguard Baron’s lively castle. In the training grounds; where a lot of soldiers are off and about honing their skills, the sun shines down on soldiers who are seen lined up in a square formation. They scream together as one while swing their blades in perfect harmony. The whistle blows once again. On cue, the soldiers shift into a stance along with their blades. This happens several times, each whistle signaling the warriors to switch into a new position, a new stance. The crowd of warriors are in perfect unison, with a fierce look of determination in their eyes. Each shift in their posture, stance, and handling of the sword is followed by an energetic shout. Upon the final whistle, the soldiers return to their starting positions, and stare off into nothing while they await orders from their commander. Beads of sweat are rolling down these hard working soldiers.

    The Commander walks around, holding a blade in reverse grip; laxed. The whistle drops to her chest, dangling as she moves throughout the lanes of soldiers. Her eyes watch carefully, wanting to make sure their form was perfect. Although some may say that it was silly to worry about such trivial things, to Sarah it was more than that. It was about teaching her soldiers discipline and proper technique. Boots crunched down on the dirt as she continue to inspect. A sense of pride overwhelmed the Commander as she passed by each lane. At the end of the final lane, she couldn’t help but snicker. Walking to the front of this large group, she blew her whistle three times consecutively. To the crowd, they understood this meant the session was over. With a bow, they all parted to jog around the castles perimeters. The commander’s eyes scanned the large wave of soldiers that began to stream onto the castles perimeter. She was looking for someone. Specifically the one soldier she knew had amazing talent. The one who passed all physical tests with ease when she was first brought to Sarah’s army. The one with the emerald eyes.

    Scanning through the horde of soldiers, Sarah could not find the prodigy. The commander had been meaning to check up on the gunslinger ever since she spoke with D’daear the other day. Those two seemed like a dynamic duo, and when they had returned from Oz it seemed as if those two had suffered a deal. However, Sarah had not really acknowledged it until speaking with D’daear in the library. While she stood there looking for the girl, the very same individual was jogging in the midst of all the other soldiers.

    Gwynt was jogging at a normal pace, much like all the others. Everyone had enough space between them to run without worry of bumping into one another. Green eyes kept themselves focused on what was ahead, doing all they could to lose some steam. Yet, mind was elsewhere. Behind that focused demeanor, Gwynt was in a reverie. In that reverie, she was thinking back on the events of Oz. It had been quite the experience to which she found to be…unsatisfying. Heck, it left her feeling ashamed. From when they abandoned ship to the jungle. From the jungle to Glinda’s palace. From the palace to Emerald City. Jaw tensed as recollection of her vulnerability arose to the surface. She remembered when her ribs had been broken because of a random tornado. The pain had been so much to the point that she needed to rely on D’daear. The feeling of unable to do anything, having to be left behind so that HE could find help on his own. That dreaded feeling attacked her once again when Evanora had caught her off guard outside the castle. Being subdued to the dirt floor, she couldn’t even move and could only watch as Evanora took Glinda away. Actually, she couldn’t even manage to do that! Upon realization, legs began to move a bit faster as the herd of soldiers neared the first corner of the castle’s perimeter. Nostrils flared as oxygen entered her windpipe, and into thirsty lungs. The group’s footsteps sounded like a stampede.

    Brows furrowed themselves while Gwynt continued to remember. That stench of uselessness lingered on her when she arrived back to the castle of Baron. She had been trying to wash it off with her sweat through hard training these past months. Yet there it still was, stinking up her pride. Out of all the things that annoyed her the most, it was the feeling of being a damsel in distress. Weak. Now mind you, it’s not that she did not mind receiving help every once in a while, but to have that happen to you twice on the same journey was just too much for her sensitive ego. Really the only thing that lessened that feeling were the moments when she was actually useful. A soft snicker arose on her soft lips as the memory resurfaced in an attempt to bandage her injured pride. In Glinda’s palace AND in Emerald City she had made up for her uselessness with her combat prowess. The time when she saved D’daear from the swarm of Winged Baboons using her new magic or the time when she swooped in to finish off Evanora. Yes, she remembered that too. However, such actions were more narcissistic when she began to ponder on it. The smile faded as the group turned the first corner. The soldiers running beside her began to close in on her unknowingly. It was beginning to hamper her running space, and concentration. She kept a close watch on them while continuing her train of thought.

    The Silver helmed individual that got away. It was because of the Silver warrior that fueled her desire to take out Evanora without hesitation when the chance emerged. There was no way they could let another villain escape, especially since the Wicked Witch of the West managed to escape as well- Ooh. “Great…I had completely forgotten about her… That makes two…” she uttered to herself in disgust. Despite having ended Evanora, she felt no remorse for her action. Although, if any remorse did come from it, then it would be how Gwynt had almost exposed her secret because of her desire to prevent another villain’s escape. A sudden irritation sprung within the green eyed soldier. The group’s formation had been tightening. There was no breathing room for her. She hastened her pace, squeezing past a few soldiers as she worked her way to the front of the stampede. Soldiers felt the bump of Gwynt’s shoulders as she swam through them. “This…is so…aggravating…”she murmured while trying to recollect what that silver helmed woman had done to Evanora. Remembering Delothia, that woman had used her weapon to strengthen the wicked witch before leaving them be. “She must have been pretty desperate to have pulled a stunt like that…” Gwynt contemplated. A small sigh escaped her rhythm. “Delothia…” she uttered, not helping but to look up. Something about that name rang a bell, but she couldn’t quite process how. It was the first time she had ever seen or heard of her. “Tch…” she uttered. Increasing her pace, she passed to the front of the herd, eventually diverging off of them as other wandering soldiers began to form obstacles in her running path. This began to irritate her more. All Gwynt wanted was to just wanted to run in peace. She wanted to think. This sudden obstacle course was not helping at all!

    Meanwhile off in the distance, a group of soldiers were sparring with wooden swords. They seemed to be locked in serious combat. Being stuck in thought, Gwynt had been unaware that she had dramatically diverged from the path. The woman was heading straight for the group of sparring people. As she went on, the two swordsmen continued to swing their false blades around, parrying one another in a quickly escalating fight. A crowd had formed around the combatants. People were beginning to cheer for a victor. One of the soldiers swung horizontally to slam the other’s shoulders, but the opponent was too quick. Ducking swiftly, the wooden sword swung right overhead with great force. Unfortunately for the one who swung, it was too much force as it slipped through the rookie’s untrained hands. The wooden sword went flying over the crowd, causing them to laugh and cheer as the opponent took advantage and subdued the sparring partner.

    Gwynt was too side tracked to notice any of this as she was remembering something D’daear had told her. Something about feeling pain in emerald City. Brows furrowed deeply in frustration as she couldn’t remember the exact words D’daear had spoken that day. A growl escaped her as she avoided another soldier who was in the way.

    “Hey! Watch out!” shouted a soldier warned from a distance.

    Think it had been the soldier she had just passed, she had become fed up with it. All she wanted was to spend this time running in peace. Running to just vent out some thoughts.

    “Why don’t YOU watch it!?” she exclaimed, looking back to the wrong person. With a great smack to a pressure point on her head, the wooden sword that had flown into the air found itself landing on Gwynt’s head. It was so sudden for Gwynt, and unexpected. Eyes lost visual on her surroundings as everything became a blur within milliseconds. All she managed to see before hitting the ground was a wooden sword lying beside the area of inevitable impact. In a quick escalation, she blacked out and dropped to the dirt floor.

    Blackness surrounded her senses, all except one.

    “This smell…it’s so…familiar.” Her voice spoke.

    Little by little her senses began to awaken, starting with the rhythmic sound of waves. The waves became a recurring sound, appearing to be up-close even though she couldn’t see. Next came her sense of touch. There was wet muddy sand beneath small feet, with waves washing over them. Gwynt could feel the power behind each gentle wave as they collided with her lower legs. The waters were cold, soothing her body while the sun beamed down on her small form. The wind reeked with the familiar tropical smell as it spirited past her body, swaying her long red ochre hair and outfit. A green tank top fits her torso, with the end of the shirt hanging low past the pelvis. White fitting shorts cover her lower body, up to her knees. The next sense to awaken were her eyes. Eyelids opened, fluttering as pupils adjusted to the sunlight, exposing doll like emerald green eyes. In the background, the sound of kids running around could be heard; although Gwynt was too busy standing in awe of the scenery. The horizon before her was nothing but ocean with clear skies that mirrored the waters beauty. Nearby cawing of avian creatures caught her attention, pulling her eyes towards the skies. Surely enough, there were two seagulls surfing the winds current. Gwynt’s heart smiled.

    “Hey Gwynt! Gwynt!” called out a child.

    The girl turned around to see a young boy with brown hair waving his arms. Standing beside him were a group of other kids wielding wooden swords. Next to them were another group of kids building sand castles, and a ways off a few other kids were racing one another. Black hair, brown hair, reddish hair, to blonde. There were kids of all hair color here, and the kids ages ranged from seven to twelve. It was easy to determine they were all standing on a beach just a mile away from a familiar town. If one were to walk inland, they would encounter a lot of vegetation beside a dirt road that led to the town. It was to be expected from a tropical homeland. A joy she had not felt in a long time began to arise in the Gwynt’s heart. The same child called to her again.

    “Gwynt! Hellooooo! Over here!” waved the boy.

    With a smile, Gwynt ran over to that group. Their faces were so familiar. Somehow, it brought her great joy to see them. It was like her heart had found home. The group cheered, suddenly feeling the hype that Gwynt’s presence brought.

    “Alright! Gwynt’s here!” a silver haired boy cheered. Light blue eyes watched Gwynt with a smile. In hand, he held a boomerang.

    “Yeah! She’s going to be on our team!” spoke the boy who had called Gwynt over. Shoulder length brown hair covered the boy’s scalp. He held two wooden swords in his hands; one was a lot bigger than the other. Aside from the T-shirt he wore, he dawned a blue sirwal-style trouser with low-cut sandals that resembled leather boots.

    A blonde layered hairstyle dressed the boy who spoke up next. “What!? Nu uh! I want her to be on MY team!” he objected, pouting at the boy. Wielding two wooden daggers, this boy had an odd sense of fashion. For although he wore regular shorts and shirt, he enjoyed wearing a fake tail.

    “Psssh… No waaay. She knows she’ll just lose with you guys. Besides, I called her over first!” he retorted, sticking his tongue out at him.

    “Lose!?” the tailed boy exclaimed in injury. He started to take stomps towards the latter. The boy with the boomerang quickly intervened. “Come on guys! Save it for the brawl!” he complained, eyebrows falling back in a worry. Running between the two forces, he placed both palms on either of their chests.

    “Calm down, both of you! No need to get all ruffled over this...” a spoke a girl with blonde hair. It was tied to look like stylish pigtails with short fringe and two long side bangs. Dark red baggy pants like sirwals enveloped her lower body, with a grey tank top and sandals. She took a stand next to Gwynt, placing her wooden staff behind her own neck while letting her arms dangle over it. The girl leaned her head towards Gwynt in order to whisper something. “You should join our team, though. You know we can beat them if you do.”

    The brown haired boy paused in the midst of their childish dispute to look over to Gwynt. Blue eyes lock on to the girl with pigtails. “Hey hey hey!” he shouted, moving away from the current group to interrupt the cheating. “That’s cheating! You can’t try to convince her like that!” pouted the dual wielding child.

    “Uuh…!” uttered the girl with an embarrassed smile. It only took Gwynt a second to realize what was going on going them. It was obvious although they were all shouting and disputing, that they were enjoying themselves. The pigtailed girl moved away from Gwynt, skipping over to the tailed boy’s side. The blonde hair boy spoke up.

    “You can call us the…Genome Dancers!” he smiled with a grin. He aimed a thumb at himself.

    “Whaaat? We’re giving ourselves names now? “The brunette boy questioned. Turning to his partner, he placed the hand with the smaller wooden weapon on his hips. “What do you think?”

    “Misdirection! Call us MisDirection!” shouted the silver haired boy.

    “Really? Misdirection? I was kind of hoping something like…Supersoldier…or Slash and Burn…”

    He gave a shrug and turned to Gwynt.

    Now all four of them looked at Gwynt.

    “Well?” asks the brown haired boy.

    “What’s it going to be?” queried the pigtailed female.

    Gwynt stands there, eyes jumping between the two groups. Wind picks up again, causing her green tank top to sway. The familiarity here was so strong, that she could not help but just become one with the moment, as if she was reliving a time when the joy of youth was all that mattered. Raising a brow, her lips pursed to the side. The girl’s small head cocked to one side.

    “Hmmmm….” Pondered the little girl with the emerald eyes. They were all her friends. So it WAS going to be a tough decision. She might need some help.

    “Who should I chooooose?” her soft prepubescent voice asked.

    Chapter 40


    D’daear ran through the castle in great haste. He had to be quick to maneuver on a moment’s notice as there were people roaming the halls. It was not too long ago that he had received news of Gwynt’s accident. From what he had been told, it looked pretty bad. The young man ran past Cecil and Kain, not even giving them a second glance. The two warriors looked at each other, their curiosity suddenly having been stirred. A crowd was beginning to form on the castle’s training ground. Some of the runners broke off from their course in order to take a peek at what everyone was crowding over. From heavy cladded individuals to light clothed soldiers out for a jog, their eyes were gazing down upon an unconscious Gwynt. Beside her fallen form, a wooden sword lay in rest.

    “Haaa!” shouted the young Gwynt. Brows were furrowed with eyes dead set on the swords target. The wooden sword in her hand led the strike as the girl lunged forward, aiming for the opponent’s stomach. With such swiftness, the sword met its mark. The boomerang wielding child got knocked back from the sharp jab that smacked into his stomach. “Oof!” he uttered. The young boy fell into the sandy beach while holding onto the spot that had been inflicted with pain. With the boy left exposed, Gwynt took the opportunity to finish the boy off. Sliding one foot forward, lower body muscles tensed as the girl lunged forward once more; this time swinging the equipped hand overhead as to gather power. A powerful shout escaped her lips as she readied to bring it down.

    “I’m done I’m done! No more! Ouch….” Spoke the downed boy. He winced as he braced himself incase words did not registered on time. To his good fortune, however, the wooden sword stopped just centimeters from the young boy’s curled body. A few seconds had gone by. Nothing happened. The body began to slowly uncurl itself as he noticed a few seconds had gone by without feeling another affliction. Raising an eyelid open, the silvered hair boy peeked to where the wooden sword was hovering over. Hazel eyes trailed up the sword into its owner’s arms, and inevitably the face. Gwynt stood over him, grinning. It left satisfaction in the girl, being able to let off some steam through this battle.

    “Gee Hope… Relax. I heard you in time. Tee Hee…” she said. Grin loosened to a soft sincere smile while an open hand extended itself out to Hope. Pouting, Hope took the sportsmanship like gesture and rose to feet.

    “Gwynt! I need a little help here!!” shouted the pigtailed girl just barely avoiding a hit to the face. She quickly swung her staff around to knock the blonde haired boy upside the head.

    “On my way!” Gwynt shouted back. Letting go of Hope’s hand, she gave him a nice pat on the back. “Keep score?” she asked. Hope nodded with a smile.

    “Awesome! Alright, wish me luck!” she said, darting off towards her teammate. Gwynt sprinted towards the scene that lay ahead of her. Off by the seashore, her pigtailed friend struggled to fend off her opponents. The boy with the fake tail jumped at her with his reverse gripped wooden daggers. He thrust forward a fist with one of the blades in an attempt to swipe at the girl’s torso. This boy was a speedy one, and he was putting up a good fight. The staff wielding girl jumped back, her feet being nimble enough to plummet in and out of the sandy battlefield when necessary. Twirling the staff using dexterous hands, she quickly parried the incoming strike and retaliated with a nice slam of the staff to the boy’s gut. However, she didn’t stop there. While the other end of the staff slammed against the boy’s torso, she used all of her strength to push the boy away from her.

    “Aaack!!” shouted the tailed child. He reeled back with a thud, just as the other boy with brown hair ran past him. In hands, this child held a large wooden sword and a dagger sized stick. Blue eyes had caught an opportune moment with which instinctively compelled the rest of this boy’s body to move. He leaped into the air, keeping the dagger in front of him while he swung the large sword overhead. “Got you now, Penelo!” he shouted.

    The girl readied to jump back and out of harm’s way when her heel stumbled upon a mass heavy enough to hinder her foot; or at least surprise her long enough to distract her. Penelo quickly looked behind her to see it was a sandcastle, and next to her were the younger kids building upon it. It seemed the fighting had shifted through the beach, and had led them towards another area of the beach. When she looked back to her adversary, all her eyes locked on to was the large wooden blade coming down upon her head. Penelo only had a moment to throw herself out of the way, but the sand castle and the children would be endangered. Accepting this truth, Penelo shut her eyes and braced herself for impact as there was nothing for her to do.

    A loud collision emanated in front of the girl. However, there was no pain. Eyelids quickly retracted to reveal blue eyes that immediately locked on to the scenery before her. Wooden blades had found themselves locked in a clash of strength. The Brown Haired boy gritted teeth as he did the best he could to push against the opposing force that was Gwynt. “NNnnggh… No Way-!” he shouted in denial. It was just seconds ago that Penelo had been left exposed, allowing the boy to attack, and yet here he was locked in combat with Gwynt. The red headed girl grinned at the situation. “I guess you didn’t see this outcome as a possibility, huh Noel?” she spat out in competitive comradery.

    “Ggrrr…” the boy uttered.

    “Penelo now!” shouted Gwynt as she repositioned herself. Turning her body all at once, Noel’s blade began to skid past the newly positioned wooden sword as it was redirected forward. The boy lost his balance almost immediately as he had pushed against the power struggle at the wrong time. Shock and confusion contorted the child’s face as he fell forward. All he was able to see was Penelo with a wide grin.

    “Why is she grinning?” Noel spoke to himself mid fall. When he came to realize it, it was already too late. Blue irises readjusted themselves to notice Penelo’s staff sticking out like a pole in the way. Irises widened at the inevitable collision between his Face and the pole that stood in the way. With a great thud, Noel’s face smacked into the wooden staff which made for a good comic relief. “Ow…” he breathed out in silent pain.

    “Hah! That makes three! Yeeeeeerr OUT!” Hope shouted as he ran up to the group. Both Gwynt and Penelo cheered as they ran towards one another to commence their victory dance. The two danced without a care in the world, celebrating their victory against the boys while the trio of males regrouped. Noel sheathed the dagger into the large sword, and while holding it in one hand, began to rub the afflicted forehead. The tailed boy let out a chuckle.

    “Man, that must’ve hurt!” he pointed out, literally. With a firm index finger, he pointed at Noel’s red forehead. “It’s as red as an apple!”

    “Zidane… do me a favor and just can-it, alright? Ooww…” the brown haired child replied in small irritation. “Alright alright. Let’s calm down. We tried our best, right? No shame in being defeated.” Hope said. Folding the boomerang in hand, he placed it in a small holster before advancing towards the girls. With a sigh, Noel soon followed suit along with Zidane; whom could not help but have a cheeky grin. Upon approach, Gwynt stopped dancing and gave a grin. “So boys, you here to bow before our prowess?” she queried while placing a hand on hip. The other hand repositioned the wooden sword onto shoulder. She gave Penelo a look, to which she responded with a coy giggle. Noel rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment with eyes averted while Zidane smiled weakly with a finger scratching his own cheek.

    “This is the best we’ve ever seen you Gwynt! How’d you get even better in so little time?” Hope inquired in great curiosity. When the match had started, Gwynt had jumped in head first in order to take on the three. It was nothing but swift leg work on her part as she had evaded every attack the three boy’s had to throw at her. After having played with them long enough, she immediately wailed on Noel, striking two consecutive blows in one moment. It was from there that she moved on towards Hope, leaving the other two for Penelo to handle. To Gwynt, It was nothing more than a good way to vent off the frustration that had been building up before. Emerald eyes exposed themselves a little more at Hopes inquisition. “…I guess you can say I’ve been practicing a lot when you guys weren’t looking… heh…” Gwynt replied, giving a coy smile. Wanting to change the subject, she turned towards the inland before them. “Hey, why don’t we all go get some ice cream? I don’t know about you guys, but I worked up a sweat…”

    Zidane was the first to be thrilled. “I hear that! Last one to the ice cream shop is a rotten egg!” he shouted, being the first to start sprinting. “Hey wait up!” Noel said as he went after him, Hope following suit. As the three went off, Gwynt let off a heavy sigh that removed all her frustration. She let her lips stretch into a smile as Emerald eyes locked gaze with Penelo’s. She knew what to say in order to get things rolling. “Well? Ready?”

    “Set…” Penelo immediately followed up with a grin. She got into a runners stance. Three seconds went by slowly as to gather the jittery suspense between the two. Then all of a sudden-

    “Go!” they both shouted in unison as the two raced off inland.

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

    The inlands of this tropical paradise had a small lake that connected to the oceans, and in this lake were many docks. The young kids sat on one of the many docks, all sitting together while they went about eating their ice creams in comradery. They laughed together as they shared talk amongst themselves. At one point, Zidane had stood up to show the group a neat trick he could do with the ice cream in hand. However, all he ended up doing was stirring a choir of laughter as ice cream splattered all over his face. Moments later, the group was back to sitting side by side at the edge of the dock, letting their legs dangle in the air while they talked; although Zidane looked a little sour that his ice cream had gone to waste.

    “Even if this is all just a dream, I hope it doesn’t end. A girl can get used to a vacation like this!” Gwynt uttered happily as she stretched her arms to the skies, Popsicle melting away the ice cream.

    The group chuckled in unison, assuming her words to be meaningless.

    “So tell us Gwynt. How’d you get so amazing all of a sudden? You didn’t even lose a single point back there!” Penelo flattered, blue childish eyes gazing back at Gwynt in amazement. Gwynt shied away from wanting to say anything. So much so that she turned her head in the opposite direction. Being the one sitting at the end of the line, she was safe from anyone seeing her face. Worried she was, as Gwynt had no actual answer for that, or at least she just did not know how to explain her situation. “It’s…kind of a long story…” she hesitated, looking down at her ice cream.

    “Well in case you haven’t noticed, we got time.” Noel spoke with a snicker.

    “Yeah, come on! We want to know!” Zidane shouted in protest.

    “Tell us! Tell us! Tell us!” the lot of them began to chant.

    Gwynt remained coy, green irises locked onto the Popsicle in hand. A part of her wanted to tell these friends, but she knew she could not. The secret did not lie with this being nothing more than a dreamscape. No it was more than that. This was no ordinary dream where fantasy blended itself with other imaginings to craft a temporary world for a mind in sleep. No, this was a memory she was reliving. Everything that had happened today had already happened. Suddenly, eye lids lifted higher to expose emerald eyes as Gwynt remembered something in regards to the day. Gwynt suddenly looked away from her melted ice cream and towards the other side of the lake. Like lenses her eyes began to adjust to the distance, trying to find something. Docked boats filled the lake, making it a bit difficult to catch the one thing she was searching for. However, like Destiny she was able to spot the oddity. A figure cloaked in beige stood at the edge of one of the docks on the other side, suddenly shifting their position as the figure began to walk away.

    “It had been so long ago… I completely forgot...this was the day…!” she muttered to herself in shock.

    The chanting persisted as the boy’s continued to press on, except for Penelo who had taken notice of Gwynt’s reaction. She leaned in closer to her in concern. “Hey Gwynt, you ok?” she asked. The red ochre haired girl did not respond, but instead began to get up. All of a sudden, Penelo watched as she watched her friend suddenly bolt out of the dock, dropping the melted ice cream onto the sand. The boy’s chanting faded as they saw Gwynt run off, which triggered Penelo’s desire to chase after her. She picked herself up, and immediately made haste. “Gwynt wait up!!! What’s wrong! ” she shouted, trying to catch up as feet went in and out of the sand. With all her might she tried to at least keep pace, but it was impossible. Teeth gritted as she chased Gwynt half way around the large lake; lungs greedily absorbing oxygen. The chase was beginning to feel futile when the pigtailed girl realized how far they had run. Penelo began to slow down as Gwynt expanded the distance between them, proving her athletic superiority. It was like she was racing a completely different Gwynt. It was uncanny to her!

    Penelo soon came to a halt, with chest expanding violently as lungs drained the air while heart pounded away. Beads of sweat slid down her soft cheeks as testament to the strenuous pursuit. Soft crunchy footsteps emanated from behind her. She turned around to see the boy’s slowing to a halt.

    Noel slowed to a stop right next to Penelo, feeling just as exhausted as her. Blue eyes brushed gazes with hers. “What was THAT all about?” he questioned while staring towards the direction Gwynt had disappeared of to. “Did we push some buttons by accident?”

    Hope took a step toward Penelo in order to deliver something in his hand. She took the item from his hand, holding it from both sides with both thumbs and index fingers. It was Gwynt’s Popsicle stick, and branded on the side read, “Winner!”

    Eyelids winced in worry. Penelo turned towards the direction she had lost Gwynt, and frowned.

    Chapter 41
    “Move MOVE!” shouted D’daear with a stern look. The people in the halls began to part as they saw the reason behind D’daear’s desperation. In his arms he was holding an unconscious Gwynt. Arms held Gwynt tight, making sure to be as rigid as could be. Her weight was no concern for him, so there was no struggle when having carried her from the training grounds. The problem was that he was not sure whether she was ok or not. He had checked her breathing, and to his relief she still is. However, he wanted to be sure. The man turned the corner of the hall, seeing the door that would lead him to the infirmary just up ahead. Upon entering the room, he was quick to gather the nurse’s attention with his heavy steps. A nurse ran up to him; while another entered a small office, and quickly placed her hands on the unconscious Gwynt. Quickly, the female nurse gestured for the girl to be placed on the empty bed. Upon D’daear placing the girl on the soft bed, a male white mage entered the room alongside a nurse. The two immediately went to work while the other nurse slowly herded D’daear back from the scene.

    “Is she going to be ok?” he asked, worried for the dear friend. Just as he had asked the nurse, Commander Sarah of the Army corps had walked in the room in great concern. “How is Gwynt doing?! I heard she had been injured badly!” she exclaimed in worry. D’daear quickly turned attention towards the Commander. He was going to speak out when the white mage interjected.

    “Don’t worry. She’ll be just fine. Nothing more than a bruise on the head. She just needs her rest.” He explained with a smile.

    The two soldiers let out a sigh of relief in unison, quickly catching on to one another’s reaction. A snicker arose on D’daear. “Relieved for your star pupil, Sarah?” he queried in jest. The Commander gave the man a quick glare before realizing D’daear’s response. She tried to work with this as to remove them from the present topic in conversation.

    “Well look at you…no longer referring to me as the Commander…” she pointed out while crossing arms. Sarah let a brow raise while her smirk settled. “At any rate, I could ask YOU the same.”

    D’daear’s eyelids lifted a bit more than usual after having been caught. He turned to Gwynt, not really minding the white mage and his nurses. “Yeah well… she’s a good friend…that’s something that’s hard to come by these days…” he said, remembering what happened to Gordon and the rest of the militia at Pyrdain. The loss had been big on him when they had returned from that land. Gwynt was by his side, helping him cope. He then remembered how she had stuck by his side all this time. She was there for him when he needed her most at Glinda’s palace. She was there for him when he had been severely hurt at the castle courtyard in Emerald City.

    Sarah looked on towards Gwynt, unable to hold back a sincere smile. “…That’s true…although…I may have to disagree with that other bit you said…” Sarah said, letting her arms drop with a sigh. A part of her was a bit disappointed that he would say that, but she understood what D’daear was trying to convey. Legs began to move on their own as she backed away from the room. “You have a lot more good friends than what you let on. Heh…” The Commander stood by the rooms exit, placing a hand on the frame of the door as she got ready to make a turn into the hallway. D’daear quickly turned to see Sarah getting ready to leave.

    “What do you mean?” he asked.

    Before Sarah headed off into the hall, she gave D’daear one last look and said, “I’ll let you think about it.”

    D’daear stood watching the empty entryway, confused at what Sarah was trying to convey to him.

    Gwynt’s red ochre hair swayed like a flag as she sprinted away from the docks, heading inland towards the coast of her homeland. Up ahead, all she could see was the path that led to the shoreline. Passerby’s took the time to get in a quick glance at little Gwynt as she ran down the neighborhoods. Of course, why would they NOT? The roads were peaceful, with nothing more than a few natives strolling on through towards their destinations. Seeing a small child scurrying past them would cause for any head to turn. Feet came on and off the ground as Gwynt made her way to the beach. Reaching the opening, she came to a slowing hasty halt, nearly losing her balance. Head turned both ways as emerald eyes did their best to catch any glimpses of a person out of the norm on the beach. There were kids playing with sand, racing, adults taking a stroll by the beach’s shoreline, but nothing that would catch her attention. Brows furrowed in reverse, her mouth unable to hold back a frown of disappointment. It was strange. She had just seen the cloaked figure in the docks, but as she ran through the streets of this tropical place, she could not see her up ahead. Not even on the beach was this person at. Could she have taken a wrong turn?

    “Where…is she?” Gwynt questioned herself in desperation. Taking a few steps into the sands that made up the beach, the girl’s arms lost tension, and her young heart nearly lost hope of ever seeing this figure again.

    “Now now child... No need to look disheartened.” Spoke a very suave voice. Almost like Strange whispers.

    Gwynt’s eyebrows raised with excitement in nearly an instant. Quickly turning around, the girl’s sight had picked up a presence that she was hoping to find. Dressed in a beige cloak that nearly covered everything up to shins, was a woman whose face was concealed by a hood. With a smile, the little girl quickly sprinted forward and jumped onto the cloaked figure, wrapping her small arms around the figures lower body where her waist would be. Eye lids wrapped themselves over eyes in glee while cheeks pressed themselves over the woman’s abdomen.

    “I knew you were here!” Gwynt said.

    The woman gently placed her hands over the little girl’s shoulder blades, returning the hug from her position. “How are things with you my dear?” the woman spoke. With a last squeeze, Gwynt let go and took a few steps back to get a good look at her cloaked friend. “Things are going great! Today, my friends challenged me to a fight, and I used everything you had taught me in a spar! My friends didn’t even see it coming!” the zealous girl explained. The young Gwynt’s eyes glittered. With a light chuckle, the concealed woman walked past her protégé, stopping only a few feet away.

    “I’m happy to hear that…” she responded lightly. Gwynt turned her body completely as to face the woman. The hooded figure stood there, direction looking on towards the horizon. The sun was setting, falling into dusk as the advent of night neared. In only a few moments would the stars be displaced out in the night sea above to showcase those phenomenal jewels. The woman turned to the young girl, and with a gesture of hand, began to walk towards the far side of the beach where barely anyone ventured to. Gwynt with a big smile on her face held the woman’s hand as they walked. Her hands were long and soft. Slender. Gwynt had always wondered if maybe this was how her mother’s hands would have felt like. Green eyes averted to the sands while she leaned her head on this woman’s arm. She remembered that day they had met. This woman that held her hand was mysterious then, nothing more than a phantom drawn to her by the call of her young heart. A soft smile formed on Gwynt’s lips just at the thought of it. At the time, she remembered how her mind wondered whether this woman was her actual mother or not. Man, was that disproven quickly. Oh how that small fantasy had crashed and shattered into many pieces, and yet by the tender loving care of this woman, she was able to mend that dream and make it a reality. No, she was not her mother, but this woman had treated her like a daughter. It was only natural that she would treat her like a mother…the mother she never had until now.

    The two walked on to a small dock by the edge of the beach where a small row boat was tied right next to it. Gwynt took the initiative and ran up to the rope. With both hands grasping the rope, she reeled the boat in, close enough as for the woman to step into. Jumping in next, the rest was a simple matter of untying the other end, and sailing off into the ocean. The two rowed together, making the trip a lot faster as they went around the large island where a smaller island neighbored just a few miles off the coast. Already making the turn around the homeland, could Gwynt make out the smaller island. It was brimming with vegetation; something that was to be expected. It looked small from their current distance, but as the two rowed the boat, the land became much more prominent. It was still small compared to her home, but big enough for it to be considered an island worthy of settling in. As the boat got closer to shoreline, the waves became much stronger to which the two females found joy in as they struggled to row the boat closer. Once they were close enough, Gwynt jumped out of the boat first and by taking ahold of the rim, she began to pull the boat closer with all her might. Of course, she was not doing this alone. The woman in the cloak took to the waters as well in order to help her young friend. Feet skidded against the sand beneath the shallow waters as they pulled the boat closer and closer. In just a few moments they managed to reel the boat onto the sandy beach where it rested there, anchored by the sand that surrounded it.

    Giggling, Gwynt fell on her rear end; exhausted. She turned to her hooded friend, grinning childish as ever. With light laughter, the woman sat next to Gwynt, allowing for the little girl to lean her head against the woman’s shoulder. The suns light began to wane rapidly now, giving way to the evening sky. Gwynt sat there, being content in each other’s presence.

    “I wish we could stay like this forever…” Gwynt uttered wistfully. She felt the woman place a hand over her head, tenderly stroking it while muttering something under her breathe. The young girl could only catch the last word. “…foretold…”

    “Hmm?” Gwynt uttered.

    “…We can be together.” The lady in the hood said.

    Green eyes lit up with surprise at those words. Raising her head off of the woman’s shoulder, Gwynt looked back at the woman with a hint of joy. She had been waiting for this response for a long time, since they first met. “You mean-?” she queried, implying the idea that she so hoped would be. The woman looked down at her protégé and nodded as confirmation. Without notice, Gwynt jumped onto her to feet and began to dance joyfully. It was a dream come true! When all fun and games were over, Gwynt slid to knees next to the woman.

    “So when will you come back to sign the papers, or-! Are we going to do it today? Ooooh!! Where do you live? Do you live on the island or or-! Do you live outside of the island?” she bombarded the woman with questions. Little Gwynt lost herself in questions, not noticing how the woman had outstretched her hand as to stop her from talking, yet refraining from doing so. The hooded female looked away, eyes keen set on the evening horizon. The waves could be heard as loud as ever, and the stars shined bright in the sky.

    “Gwynt… there’s something you need to know about me first…” the woman said as she looked on to the horizon. Gwynt stopped in mid question, and looked at her mother figure. Naïve eyes stared at the woman, curious. “What is it?” she asked. The woman slowly rose to her feet, never turning to look at the young girl. “There’s a reason why I’ve been hiding my identity… And a reason why I cannot go with you to the orphanage to adopt you…” she began, hands slowly moving up towards the rim of the hood. Gently wrapping her fingers on the opening, she pulled back the beige cloak to reveal white flowing hair, and beautiful face. However, such beauty was quickly masked by the one thing that made Gwynt’s eyes widen with fear. Horns. Two black stubby horns that protruded from her scalp. It did not help that her white hair was a great contrast to them. The woman’s head turned towards Gwynt, catching her bewildered look.

    “It’s that same expression you’re wearing that beckons me to wear this…”

    “Sorry… I just… I’m just shocked… I’ve never seen someone like you before…” the little girl replied, locking on to yellow eyes that stared back.

    “You said you wanted to explore what was beyond your island…but did you ever once consider WHAT was beyond your island?” she asked softly. “This world we live in…it has many masks…many hidden truths. This knowledge that encompasses us all, it is not for the faint of heart.”

    Gwynt’s emerald eyes looked lackluster after this sudden reveal. Everything up until now, she thought nothing of it. All she knew was that her curiosity compelled her to explore what was out there, instead of being caged within these islands like a bird. Yet, after seeing this woman’s face, and hearing the implications. Gwynt found herself wondering if this is what she REALLY wanted. She was beginning to doubt her desires, her dreams. The woman’s gaze fell to the sand, showing no emotion. Legs began to move her away from Gwynt, heading in the direction of what looked like a large hill with a curved palm tree protruding from it. Emerald eyes found themselves trailing the footprints left behind by this woman whom she had looked upon as a mother. Following each print, they led her to the Woman whom had now stopped. The little girl looked up to see yellow eyes staring back at her. Being night time, this made her appear to be a bit frightening. Gwynt remained on her knees, startled by all this news that enveloped her mind. All of this was just too much to take in all at once.

    “What does your heart say, Child?” the woman spoke. “You have great courage, I can see that. Despite the fear I know you are facing, you have yet to run or cower. So I suppose, you are lacking a proper decision?” she began to deduce. “I may not seem like what you had expected, but I am still the same person…”

    “Still…the same person…” Gwynt muttered to herself. Eyes averted to the sand in contemplation. The horned woman was right. Despite her foreign appearance, she was still the same person. Nothing about this woman had really changed. Kind, gentle, loving, and a teacher. These were the things that made Gwynt see her as a mother. Had this woman not revealed her identity, Gwynt surely would continue to love her. So what HAS changed really? Upon this realization, the little girl began to search her heart for an answer. All this terror she was fighting off, it was merely a reaction to the unknown. This fear was nothing more than an instinct. If she truly was determined to quench her curiosity, and to discover new and exciting things, then she would have to face this unknown head on. Legs shifted in order to stand up. Taking a deep breathe, Gwynt closed her eyes as she exhaled. “My Heart…it tells me to keep fighting for my dreams. I…” she paused, letting eyelids rise to reveal emerald eyes. However, that naïve look was no longer there. Innocence was there yes, but she no longer had the stare of a child. Determination lit in her eyes.

    “I want to go out there, and discover new things. I want to learn what’s out there. You…you’re still you, and I trust that knowledge.” Gwynt spoke out, staring deep into the woman’s amber eyes. Suddenly, as if from nothing, this blackness spawned from behind the woman. It was coming from the floor, and it only grew larger and larger, almost as if it was budding. It was like a black entity that desire to form a shape, that of an oval. It soon stopped growing, becoming a black void with a shade of purple in the mix. The young girl was taken back once more by the surprise. Extending a hand out, the woman gave a soft smile with serene eyes.

    “It’s alright my dear. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Come, there’s someone I want you to meet.”

    Hesitant at first, all it took was one look at the horned woman’s peaceful demeanor for her to find peace to tackle her worries. Biting the bottom lip, Gwynt made her walk towards the woman. She paused for a second when she reached the woman’s side, looking up at her for reassurance before taking her first step into the unknown. The woman stood there, gazing at her protégé.

    The Paradox will fulfill the prophecy foretold”

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

    Day 2

    A strong light entered her vision as Gwynt began to open eyelids. Everything seemed blurred from the overwhelming sunlight that emanated from the window beside her. With fluttering eyelids, the young warrior was able to adjust her sight. Hands were relaxed at her sides, the feeling of a soft texture beneath her skin. “What…? Oh right…I must’ve been dreaming…” Emerald eyes adjusted as they locked on to the brick ceiling of the room. Where was she? Taking a deep breath, she slowly rose to an upright position. Eyes looked dreary from wakefulness, but her body felt fully rejuvenated. “How long was I out?” she asked herself while taking in the scene. Gwynt was laying on a bed next to the open space made for a window. By the looks of the walls forming this small room, she was in the castle. It did not take much for her to realize she was in an infirmary. Birds chirped outside to the morning. Taking her own hand, she rubbed her eyes as to try to fully awake.

    “I need to get out of here…” she muttered while repositioning herself. Undeniably, her head was throbbing a bit, although she could not recollect the incident that evoked such pain. Getting ready to leave the bed, Gwynt stopped as she noticed a familiar purple haired individual sitting right next to the bedside on a chair placed against the wall. D’daear’s head was cocked forward with eyes closed shut. Arms intersected with one another, gently moving according to the way his diaphragm inhaled air. From the looks of things, the man had been by her side the entire time. Gwynt’s lips stretched to convey the happiness she suddenly felt. Reaching out to him, her hand grasped the man’s shoulder and began to shake D’daear awake. The soldier stirred with eyes fluttering the sleep away. With a loud yawn, the young man turned to see Gwynt sitting on the side of the bed, placing her boots onto feet.

    “Morning Sleepy head.” Gwynt said, putting on the last boot.

    “Hey! Glad to see you’re doing ok. How’s your head?” he asked. Rising to feet, D’daear extended a hand out to Gwynt, acting as support while she stood. Taking his hand, she could feel her head throb a bit as she stood. The room spun a bit, causing her to lose balance briefly. Luckily, D’daear was there to help her.

    “My head’s still throbbing. What happened?” she queried, while holding her head.

    “Well, according to everyone who was there, you got hit by a sparring sword. It was hard enough to have knocked you out cold.” He explained. Gwynt rubbed the afflicted spot. “Well I guess that explains a few things…” she muttered. Just as Gwynt had said that, the White Mage who had been there the other day entered the room along with the two nurses.

    “Aha! I see our patient is finally awake!” he said. “How are you feeling?”

    With a smile, Gwynt let go of D’daear’s hand as the nurses insisted on taking his place. “I’m surprisingly feeling better than ever; save for the headache.” Gwynt replied. The mage poured a glass of green and handed it over to Gwynt whom took it without thought. She thanked him before consuming the content.

    “So here’s the deal.” The Mage began, looking to Gwynt before D’daear. “I want you to rest today. I understand tomorrow is a big day for you all, so it would do you well to take the day off from anything strenuous.”

    At first Gwynt was ready to interject, however when she tried to take a step forward, the room began to spin again. The nurses quickly caught her before she fell. Worried, D’daear looked to the mage. “Will resting help alleviate her headache?”

    “It should. I would cast a spell on her to help reduce the pain, but I’ve already given her a potion. The last thing I want to do is accidentally overdo it. If anything she’ll probably wake up with a small headache, but nothing that would hinder hand eye coordination or anything. Trust me, it’s better for her to take it easy today than to pay for it tomorrow. The King needs every last bit of soldier out there…” the doctor explained.

    To this D’daear simply gave a complacent nod, turning to Gwynt. “Well, Sarah isn’t going to be happy to hear it, but she’ll have to understand.”

    Gwynt simply fell onto the bed, letting off a disappointed sigh. “Uuuggh… what am I supposed to do in bed for a WHOLE day?” she asked. One of the female nurses grinned, holding in front of the female soldier a pair of clothes for her to change into. “You’ll see. Here, We can’t have you wearing dirty clothes, now can we?”

    The other nurse turned to D’daear, gesturing for him to take his leave. “If you will, sir.” She said. D’daear quickly took the hint, and in embarrassment turned away. The White mage chuckled, walking up to the man. “Heh…D’daear, it’s not just because she’s changing cloths. She really does need to rest. Come, let’s see if there’s any breakfast being served at the dining hall. Don’t worry she’ll be fine.” The man said. He patted the soldier on the back, and began to lead him out of the room, although D’daear was reluctant at first. As they left, Gwynt could not help but pout. With the new change of clothes in hand, a sigh escaped her before she commenced to change attire. When she was done, the nurse helped Gwynt lay flat on the bed with her new white shirt, and white long pants. Placing an index finger on the red heads forehead, the nurse chanted something to which Gwynt was surprised. Before the soldier could do anything or say anything, she suddenly began to feel heavy-eyed. In seconds her consciousness slipped back into the dreams.

    With a satisfied smirk, the innocent nurse patted Gwynt’s head. “Nighty night.”

    Falling back to the confines of the dreamscape, Gwynt could feel herself swimming in pitch blackness. She could not see anything, and at the same time she felt unable to fight this sleep that had overtaken her. Drifting in this ocean of blackness, a phrase rung through her mind, although she would inevitably forget once she awakes to the new day.

    The Paradox will fulfill the prophecy foretold”

    Chapter 42
    “It is said some lives are linked across time. Connected by an ancient calling that echoes through the ages.”

    The March to the Holy City of Alamut

    The sun was slowly rising in the horizon, its light crawling throughout the land of Baron bit by bit. A dawn arises in introduction to the third day where it is chaotic as the castle had already been stirring with life since before the suns rise. Soldiers scurried about making great haste as to ready their convoys that were positioned at the front gates of the castle. The gates were opened with the bridge having been brought down. A sea of troops lined up beyond the gates where the sound of chatter, and movement emanated from as they waited for their supposed transport to arrive; so they may board them towards an unknown destination. None of them really understood what was going on at the moment; and most of these soldiers had been waiting out here since before dawn. All were ready to head out on a moment’s notice; and more as the neighboring towns of Baron had men and women who most of them were soldiers. Clad in armor, these individuals of all proper ages flocked from these towns, gathering at the front of the castle to take part in this collective mass of soldiers. Many of them had hardened faces in an attempt to suppress any thoughts or emotions that could hinder their performance. Most of them did not want to think of their families and friends at the moment. The truth of the matter is, many of them may not return. They were all foot soldiers that made up this massive army; disposal warriors for the greater good of Baron. Everyone knew this, and they accepted this.

    A few hours into the day had passed before the soldiers got the cue that it was time for them to move out. How did they know? Well, the earth beneath them began to reverberate with power. At first everyone had started to panic and question their rather random situation; and who could blame them. It was not until the sun’s rays were blocked out that they all decided to look up to the skies. Eyes upon eyes, and voices upon voices could be witnessed in that moment standing in nothing but awe. One after the other, and spread out in formation were the weapons that would change the course of how this battle in Alamut would play out. Blotting out the sun with their magnificent size, were the airships that had been kept in secrecy for so long. It was a fleet of aerial warships that loomed over them, and with their colossal sizes evident, everyone suddenly began to cheer in an already eminent victory, bursting out with their gleeful hysteria. In this moment, every soldier knew they would have an opportunity to make it back home after all of this.

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

    The sands that bodied this desert land flowed within the winds. The sun was near its dusk as the troops neared the edge of a large cliff. Ahead of the troops; by a few yards, were four individuals in which commanded their armored steeds to halt. A man wearing an armored red turban stood next to these the other three. Long hair flowed as the sandy winds whisked past their forms. With a well groomed beard, this man was Tus, the heir to the throne of a kingdom in which the King Sharaman ruled over. At his side on a horse, the royal advisor Nizam stood upright. He watched as his nephew looked on to the horizon before them. Before them was a large city just miles off of where they watched. There was green everywhere, with patches of dirt visible every now and then; and a small river that coursed through the land, separating the city and its acres of land with other.

    “There it is…the fabled city of Alamut.” The young prince spoke out loud. Brown eyes watched in awe as the sun touched the mountainous horizon, giving the bronze land this mystical appearance. “It’s even more stunning than I had imagined…”

    “Do not be fooled by beauty, Prince Tus, it’s just a city like any other.” Nizam interjected.

    “Soft countries make soft men. They stooped in treachery and now they must pay for it.” Spoke one of the horsemen at their side. This individual maneuvered his horse around the two. It was Tus’s young brother, Garsiv, and King Sharaman’s second son. He was a bit of a hot head, and at times could be quick to jumping to conclusions. However despite these traits, he always had a strong sense of Justice. Tus remained fixated on the lustrous city before them.

    “Father has made clear that Alamut is not to be touched until we know for certain that they are the enemy…since some consider it sacred. H-”

    Garsiv snickered in disbelief; not because of the city being sacred or anything, but because they had journeyed all this way for this one simple task, and yet NOW is when Tus is telling them about what their father is thinking. A fourth horsemen clad in armor as black as night glistened like marble reflecting sunlight. “This is not what your father told me, young Prince.” Spoke the armored individual. The three turned to this armored horseman.

    “My soldiers and I have come a long way to aid you and your people. I assure you, this is NOT the time to be hesitant over something as trivial as evidence. Both your father and I spoke about the similarities in our situation. Someone has to be supplying these louts with these…weapons.”

    Tus averted eyes, and looked back to the city. Being in a situation as complex and fragile as this was indeed one of his trials at being a successor to the throne. Only a great King could find a single well thought out decision. Letting a sigh be known, he spoke what came to mind. “You are right, King of Baron. And I suppose my father is not here…so the decision rests with me.” He started off, eyes still dilated as words came to mind. He turned to Nizam and Garsiv. “I’ll have one last council… with my noble Uncle, yourself, and my two trusted brothers.” He said, looking Garsiv. “Garsiv and-“words paused from his mouth as he went to look at his other brother, but realized he was nowhere to be seen. Confused, Tus scanned the area around him; evoking Garsiv and Nizam to do the same. “Where’s Dastan?” Tus asked, unable to locate his third brother. The King of Baron paid no mind to the three as he looked on towards the horizon before him. Shoulders lifted gently before falling in a sigh, eyes watching as the sun slowly fell from dusk, allowing better emphasis on the large heart that would illuminate the night.

    After a moment of searching, it was Tus’s personal guard that had found the young Prince Dastan. It was difficult NOT to find the prince, as a large crowd had formed a circle where a small competition had been taking place. Naturally, it would be the Prince who was involved in this little game as it was in Dastan’s nature to let loose every now and then. Once the Prince had been brought to Tus, everyone formed camp for the evening that settled. The camps were diverse in soldiers and tents. King Sharaman’s army and the King of Baron’s were mingling with one another, the simple troops trying to have a good time and taking the opportunity to get to know their new brother in arms. Through it all, one tent stood out the most, and that was the one where the council was being held. It was far larger than any of the tents posted. To the side, a large opening was left exposed so that the sergeants of the armies could stand and listen as well as the commanders. At the front entrance, the most trusted guards were stationed as security; including the man with the purple armor that kept the King of Baron safe.

    Inside the tent, a large crate was pried opened to which a bunch of weapons came falling out. They clattered to the floor with the sound of their metal ringing in the air. Different shapes and sizes, they all bore the same resemblance in template. They all looked like strange looking key swords. Nizam picked up one of them, and carefully presented it to everyone inside the well-lit tent. “One of our spies…intercepted a convoy that was seen leaving the City of Alamut. This crate was one of many that were seen within the caravan.”

    The King of Baron stood and walked forward to pick up the blade. Armor had been taken off before hand, leaving him in comfortable attire. Purple eyes gazed down at the mystical blade, bewildered by the shape and design. It was a weapon like no other he had ever laid eyes upon. “So this is the kind of blade with which D’daear had clashed with… Simply amazing. Its design is like no other I’ve seen.” The King said out loud, eyes entranced by the exotic blade. He turned towards Cecil; whom he had personally made sure to be a part of this council. Wonder filled eyes gazed at Cecil. “This is the sword, no?” he asked his most trusted warrior. Cecil stood next to the seat in which the King had occupied prior. Helm tilted slightly down as he looked onwards towards the sword. With a soft nod, the man gave his answer. “Yes, your highness. The weapon looks very similar to the one that helmed witch wielded.”

    Aside from the King, the princes themselves marveled at the swords; although Dastan looked more wary. Prince Tus picked up a scroll that had fallen along with the weapons. As he opened it, brown eyes began to skim through its contents, and widened as it picked up keywords. Dastan took a seat, looking away from the scene pensively while Garsiv examined the pile of key swords. It all did not make much sense to Dastan. For a city that is revered as sacred or holy, and then to just turn to aiding an enemy just did not add up. Tus walked up to his brother with the scroll, and passed it along to him while pointing to the page. “Look Dastan. A Promise of payment.” Tus pointed out with relief. It was indeed a lot of pressure for this man. On one hand, he wanted to obey his father’s command, knowing how sacred of a place Alamut was, but on the other hand he understood that The King of Baron had come a long way to aid them. At least now, with this proof they were able to prove that Alamut had been part of treason. “This proves that Alamut has been selling weapons to our enemies.”

    “Alamut’s walls will fall for this.” Said Garsiv, tossing the blade back into the pile.

    Dastan stood up, trying to find a way to help stir the party in favor of not attacking. He did not know why, but something in his heart told him that this just did not feel right. Perhaps it was because he revered the city as holy or as sacred grounds, and maybe that was affecting his decision subconsciously. Who knew, and Dastan couldn’t really understand it, but his heart was telling him loud and clear. “OR, our soldiers will fall from its walls. Listen, just because we have our proof does not mean that it’s concrete. There could be a number of reasons as to why all of this was found in one of their convoys. Perhaps Alamut itself is not directly responsible. There could be a traitor among them!” he defended.

    Tus smirked, nodding his head in agreement. To him, that was sound logic Dastan had used. “Wise words, brother.” He praised, eyes falling to pensiveness.

    “Words won’t stop our enemies, Prince. These weapons can’t be manufactured by merely one person. It takes several individuals.” Nizam interjected.

    With the royal Advisors words, Tus stood up frustrated by the sound logic they were both using. Taking hands, they found themselves over rugged face as Tus tried to clear the mind that was jumbled in thoughts. He walked away from the group, carrying prayer beads in hand. The decision was beginning to prove difficult. He turned around towards the King of Baron, and then the Dark Knight. “You’re a captain, correct?” he asked Cecil. The Knight nodded as Tus got ready to ask more. “What say you in this situation?” the question came out. Cecil stood there, a bit taken back by this moment. He was not expecting this question. Black helm turned to the King of Baron whom was looking back at him. The purple haired man gestured with a simple nod for his Captain of Red Wings to answer. Cecil’s hands curled to fists as he felt unsure. Looking back to Tus, he was struggling to find a proper answer. You see, he too had felt something in his heart. This situation they had all found themselves in did not feel right to him, and yet he found himself obligated to follow his King.

    “I’ll go and do whatever my King commands of me.” He replied, which beckoned The King of Baron’s smug.

    Tus s