Chapter 1: Tempest
He kept his head down, the hood of his cloak up to try and conceal his face. The last thing he needed were for those meddling ‘do-gooders’ in the Company of Light to find him or catch word of where he’d been spotted. Hell, he didn’t need his Mothers to figure out where he was or what he was up too either.
No. This was something he needed to keep quiet about until it was time, until he was able to completely break free of it all and disappear. (For a time. Just long enough to get his own ideas in order and to let the Magical Dimension ‘breathe’ and forget about him… And then he’d return. Of his own accord and with his own agenda.)
The Dimensional Bazaar was in full-swing on Magix, vendors from realms far and wide had set up shop to sell their wares and trinkets. (Mostly useless junk… Or little oddities from their realms, but nothing of true value.)
Valtor kept his eyes peeled though. There was one vendor who dealt in maps… Not necessarily rare maps, or even ones that would make sense to a navigator… But there was one in particular that the wizard needed, and the vendor was the only one who had it.
(A distraction… He needed a distraction to get the old man away from his tent and table, just long enough to grab what he wanted.)
He closed his eyes, feeling the flames beneath his skin. One touch to the outlying trees of Gloomy Wood Forest had the masses in panic of the fire. Flames spread, ash and smoke forcing the crowd back.
And just as predicted, the map vendor left everything out in the open. Maps of the known realms splayed out about the table, but only one stood out.
A map of Earth. (An oddity, Earth was believed to have been drained of magic long ago. The world considered to be dead as far as magic went.)
Valtor took it, hiding it in the arms of his cloak as he made his way out with the crowd, trying to blend in as much as possible.
He watched as the flames spread and engulfed most of the bazaar, up until a trio of fairies arrived. The wizard smirked, taking them in.
Queen Niobe was leading this charge, a fine choice considering her hydrokinetic powers. Her aqua-blue wings fluttered fast as she used her fairy dust to merge with the water she pulled from Light Rock Lake, trying to put out the flames.
The others assisting her, Alyssa and Princess Luna began to converge with Niobe, saving not only the bazaar but Gloomy Wood as well.
Cheers erupted from the crowd, and the wizard couldn’t help but clap his hands along with them. It was inconsequential that they had succeeded in their preservation tactic, he already had what he wanted.
He internally thanked Darkar for never keeping ShadowHaunt under intrusion spells as he made himself at home in the older wizard’s study. Granted, very few would dare come to the underrealm to begin with, let alone make their way into the castle… But nonetheless, Valtor was glad to have a hidden study.
He spread out the map of Earth and brought out the book he’d found during his ‘visit’ to Domino.
The tome was beyond ancient: the binding was coming apart, the dark brown of the leather cover was fading out, the pages dog-eared or torn in places… But the power it held, no, the knowledge it held still thrummed inside of it.
Valtor turned to the page he’d marked already, The Elemental Totems. Four totems imbued with the powers of fire, water, earth, and air. And if one possessed all four, they could be in complete control over the elements.
(Not to mention with the water totem, he could rid himself of the bond he’d made with his ‘mothers’. No longer would he need to serve them in fear of retribution, he’d be free.)
The only issue would be finding the totems and to get them to find him worthy enough to bond with. (He knew they were hidden on Earth, but that was about it…)
He studied the book and the map, noting key words that could be used as a form of hidden message and images that could match the ones on the map. Something would have to give… Eventually…
A glow on the map caught his attention, a small golden point appearing on the highest mountain of Earth, a Mount Everest. The wizard frowned, knowing the point indicated a hidden pocket dimension…
But if that was where the Totem of Fei Lian was, that was where he’d go.
It didn’t surprise him that few humans dared to trek up this high. They couldn’t withstand the pressure, the chill, or the lack of air. (Hell, even his inner flames were beginning to flicker, worried with the lack of oxygen keeping him warm.)
But Valtor was no human, he was a wizard and one of the strongest. He could do this. He’d withstood Belladonna’s flash freeze training, he’d withstood Tharma’s whirlwinds, and he’d withstood Lysslis’ illusions and impossible standards. He could do this.
He just needed to keep his thoughts clear and his eyes peeled… (And ignore the damn blizzards…)
The portal… That was all he needed to find. The hidden portal into the pocket dimension… He’d face whatever horror the former magic users of Earth hid away inside of it, and take the totem.
Valtor closed his eyes and planted his feet firmly to the ground, ignoring the feeling of snow slipping into his boots and the shards of ice hitting his face. He focused on his inner flame and what he needed.
The portal. Find what’s hidden to human eyes. Find the portal.
Once his eyes opened, a pale blue flamed-orb appeared, moving toward a cave opening. The wizard smirked, following the wisp as closely as he could…
The further Valtor ventured into the damp and frozen cave, the more he realized he wasn’t nearly as cold as he had been.
Light filtered in through an opening, letting him glimpse the outside world. Bright blue skies untouched by clouds, songbirds giving a symphony, and warm sunlight.
(He could admit it, it was beautiful. A near paradise. But he couldn’t lose himself in it… He had work to do.)
Finding the cave’s exit was easy enough. He just followed the lights and the sounds of the birds, giving a slight smile when he no longer saw frozen mountaintops but grassy hills and lush forests.
He fell to his knees, beginning to gasp for air as the winds picked up. They seemed to howl in rage at the intruder, forcing the air straight from his lungs, using his own breath to assault him.
Breathe. He had to keep fighting to breathe. He had to-
“I wouldn’t try anything Obsidinite. Your very presence here has disturbed the balance.” A voice threatened. A feminine voice, clear and precise. Authoritative. But he couldn’t see her, all he could do was fight to breathe.
The winds stopped just as swiftly as they started up, Valtor using the moment to gasp in for air. “What makes you… So sure… I’m an…. Obsidinite?” She was right, of course, but how could something from Earth be so sure of what he was.
“You smell of ash and smoke… Much like my Phoenix friends… But unlike them, the aura of death follows you.” The same voice, this time from a different direction.
He tried to look for her where he knelt, still unsure of if he should get off his knees. (He didn’t know what his new friend was and he sure as hell didn’t want to piss them off yet, not until he knew what they could do.)
“Funny, I don’t smell anything but the flowers here.” He tried to make light, tried to form a rapport.
A laugh. He could hear her laugh. Though it didn’t sound quite human… A breezy sort of thing. Gentle, soothing.
“Your kind don’t have the heightened senses we do… It’s what makes you all so vulnerable.” A teasing tone, this time from above. He tried to look, tried to get a glimpse.
Something fell in front of him. An elongated feather, soft and black. Crow or raven? He didn’t get a good enough look to know for sure… “Vulnerable to what?”
“Attack. Death. Your own demises.” Another laugh. “Honestly it’s like you think you’re the first to come here. That you’re the first to find this pocket dimension…”
He frowned, slowly getting to his feet. Valtor kept his movements slow and deliberate, not wanting to be suffocated again. “You know… I think I’d prefer to have this conversation face to face… I like knowing who I’m dealing with.”
Another laugh, a slight gust of wind going over his head. He paused, taking her in as she landed a few feet in front of him, swaying a bit.
She had long purple hair, braided back. Amber eyes with slitted pupils, a grin with too-sharp teeth. Pale skin tinted with flecks of black marks. A dark red dress covered her, but bared scars on her shoulders and legs that had to have been from some sort of clawed creature.
Wings. She had feathered wings that had begun to disappear, sinking into her skin. (Black, much like the one that had fell before him.)
Her hands and feet shifted too, going from what appeared to be sharp talonned claws into human hands and feet. “I think you mean, you want to know what you’re dealing with.” She teased, crossing her arms.
It made sense. Harpies were known to be the embodiment of the air and wind, so why wouldn’t one be guarding the air totem?
“A harpy?” He asked, not daring to go near her as she shifted her weight from foot to foot. (Harpies were known for their speed. One wrong move, and she’d kill him.)
She tilted her head, giving another smile. “That’s one word for us…” He paused at the word.
“Us? There’s more of you?” She gave a laugh, moving to her left.
“There’s several of us here… But I have a feeling I’m the one you wish to seek. After all, you’re here for the totem, yes?” She moved again, almost as if she was unable to stay still. (Most likely a crow-based harpy… They couldn’t stay still either.)
“What makes you say that?” He asked, trying to play it off. He didn’t need a confrontation yet. Not until he knew more.
Another grin, this time she moved closer to him, forcing him to take a step back. “No one comes here otherwise… So tell me… Why do you want the totem? What makes you think that you’re worthy of such a power?”
Valtor changed his posture, standing to his full height. “I’m the Keeper of the Dark Dragon’s Fire. And I need the totem to-”
She moved so fast he couldn’t see her until it was too late. She had him on his back, tsking as she sat on a tree limb above him. “What the hell?” He glowered at her, getting back to his feet.
The harpy shrugged, as if it was nothing. “That was strike one. You don’t need the air totem. You’re breathing just fine on your own. Which means you only want it. And as for the whole… Dragon Fire thing… None of us on Earth cares for such matters.”
“The world of Earth is no longer governed by the Dragons’ ideals of right and wrong… Your Council declared this a dead planet, separated us from the Magical Dimension. Earth became its own entity. Right and wrong on Earth is not as dark and light as it is in your dimension… So try again.”
This time she was back in front of him, close enough he could really see the amber in her eyes, how they seemed to shine. “Why do you want the totem and why do you think you’re worthy of its power?”
Valtor took a step back, trying to think of a way to say it. “I want the totem so I can combine its powers with the others. I want to use them to stop an upcoming war. And so I can break free of a bond I’d made.”
The harpy tilted her head again, seeming to consider his answer. “Your kind tend to make bonds in blood… And that can only be done with consent on both sides…”
“Let’s just say I made a few regrettable decisions…”
“Still, that would require the water totem… Not the air.” She frowned. “And the war you speak of…? Has no bearings here. What happens to the Magical Dimension doesn’t concern us.”
He frowned. “The war could come here. Your world could be destroyed too, or did you even think of that?”
She gave a slight smile. “If war comes here, we will use the totems then. But I have my doubts it will ever reach Earth. As I said, your Council declared us dead.”
Fine. If she wasn’t going to be reasonable…
Valtor rushed her, grabbing her tightly and holding her to him, letting his flames heat his skin, wanting her to know he could burn her easily. “I’ll kill you if you don’t help.”
The harpy didn’t struggle. “Go ahead. Kill me. But you’ll never find the totem without my assistance. And my flock will kill you. Is that a risk you wish to take?” She asked, voice far too calm and level for someone in her position.
He released her, watching as she rolled her shoulders and stepped away. “That was strike two, by the way. A third and I’ll rip your throat out and leave your corpse for the hounds.”
Harpies… What did he know about harpies…?
“What if we could strike up a deal? What is it you want?” Valtor asked, stepping toward her again.
The harpy turned on her heels to face him, giving a little hum. “That’s the question isn’t it…? What could you possibly have that I would want?” Her eyes wandered over him, as if trying to figure something out.
“How about freedom? You can’t tell me you don’t feel trapped here. Can you?” Valtor tried.
She shook her head. “I can leave as I wish, so long as I return within a few days. Unless the Tribunal decides to pick a new guardian… I’m not into gaudy trinkets like my brother. And I don’t care for pet humans like my friends do. So tell me, what could you give me that I don’t have here?”
Valtor stepped toward her. “That’s not freedom. Freedom means you don’t have to return until you wish to return. Wouldn’t you rather see the world without having to be rushed with a time limit? Or… Maybe you’d even like to see the Magical Dimension? Or maybe… Even help me stop this war from happening? You’d get to see firsthand how the totems work together.”
The harpy seemed to perk up at that, her wings acting as if they’d unfurl. “If I do this, how can I be sure you wouldn’t try to turn me into a pet of some sort? Your kind have tried to do so before.”
That made the wizard stop. How could anyone try to control such a powerful being? (Especially one that was as fast as the wind and claws sharper than most swords?)
“I can give you my word. It may not seem like much, but I am a wizard of my word. If you give me the totem of air, I can make sure you’re free to go wherever you want. Hell, I’ll escort you there.”
“And if I want to see what the totems do? If I wish to see the Magical Dimension again and… Stop the war you keeping mentioning?”
“We’d be partners.” A harpy at his side? He’d definitely take it. With her speed and knowledge of the wild magic of Earth, he’d be unstoppable…
She looked him over, studying his form. “Fine. But be warned, if the totem doesn’t choose you, that’s your fault.” He seemed to blink and she was in his space, talonned claws grasping him. “And if you lie to me or try to betray me, I will kill you where you stand.”
And like that she was gone, the only reminder that she’d been there was a few feathers. (Where could she have gone?)
He didn’t wait long for her to return, the harpy shifting into her more human form as soon as she landed.
A statue was in her hands. “This is the Totem of Fei Lian, the god of the winds… Or at least… In this hemisphere. If He deems you worthy, you’ll receive His power… If not…” She gave a grin, revealing those too-sharp teeth. “Well, it won’t be your problem anymore… Will it?”
Valtor watched the harpy set the statue down, the beady eyes staring him down. Fei Lian was a strange creature: head and beak of some sort of bird, horns, a long and spotted body, an even longer tail, and feathers on its legs and head.
He walked toward it, removing his gloves and placing his hands on the statue. A light flashed, power thrumming through his body.
The winds picked up, the air seeming to force itself out of his lungs again. (Worthy… He tried to make himself seem worthy. Surely he was. He had the Dragon Fire. He wanted to stop his mothers.)
Soon enough the winds died down, a feeling of a kiss pressed to his left wrist. He glanced down, giving a smile as the sigil for air appeared. “Guess I was worthy.”
The harpy strolled over, giving a hum once she spotted the sigil. “I suppose so.” She stretched her arms, her wings unfurling. “Congratulations. You didn’t die.”
He chuckled. “I guess not.” He got to his feet and walked over to the harpy, extending his hand. “Time to hold up my end of the deal…”
She hesitated, studying his face before she walked to him, placing her hand in his. Valtor pulled her close, being mindful of her wings as he focused his flames.
Wind and air. He could feel the element thrumming in her veins, needing to be free. He closed his eyes, feeling the new sigil sting as he sensed her out, finding the inner chain that… Tribunal… Had placed on her.
A spell to keep her tethered to this dimension, a strong one… But he was air now, he could set her free. A strong and sharp gust of air with tornado speeds, all that was needed to break her free.
She’d nearly slumped against him, her feet unsteady as he helped her down to the ground. “You okay?”
“Peachy.” She snipped, rubbing her head with her hands. “Just… Tired. What did you do?”
“I broke your tethers, just as you asked. And if your guardian friends would like… I’ll free them too, once they hand over their totems.” He rose up, extending his hand to her to help her up. “Which brings me to this… Which of your friends should we visit next?”
The harpy hummed, stretching her wings out. They seemed longer now, and the color more lustrous. A shinier black, almost blue.
“If you’re in a hurry to rid yourself of your bonds… I’d say we visit the Sirens for the Totem of Poseidon… That’d be near Greece… But if you’re not in a hurry… The Phoenixes will be guarding the Totem of Vesta. It’s near Italy… Both are fairly close by…” The harpy offered.
“Which are you closer to?” He asked. (The friendlier the guardians, the easier it would be.)
“The Sirens. Though I feel I should warn you… Ediltrude and Zarathustra may try to drown you. They don’t like outsiders.” She extended her hand to him, as he’d done her. “To Greece?”
“To Greece.” He took her hand, leading her toward the cave he’d entered from. He paused at the entrance, turning to her. “You know, I don’t believe we ever exchanged names…”
The harpy let his hand go, as if he’d burned her with the question. (Names meant power… And giving a name meant to give a little power away.)
“Griffin. They call me Griffin.” The harpy, Griffin, finally answered. “You?”
“Valtor.” He gave a smile, taking her hand in his again. “I do believe we’re going to be one hell of a team, Griffin.”
She returned his smile, her wings furling back beneath her skin. “For your sake, I hope so.”
Chapter 2: Ocean Waves
I know it's long... But I had a lot of feelings for this and tried to make it flow.
They were on a secluded island off the coast of Greece, not wanting to attract attention. (Especially not after Griffin nearly tore into one of the merchants. Granted, the man deserved it for the things he said to her, but the harpy didn’t need to draw attention.)
Valtor couldn’t help himself, watching as she soared in the Grecian skies. Her wings spread wide, the sun glinting on her feathers to make them seem more blue than black.
He could feel her excitement, her wonder at the world. She was finally free of her tethers to the pocket dimension she’d once called home, and freedom seemed to agree with her. “Are you seeing any signs of your friends?” He called, wanting her to come down.
Griffin landed close by, her wings and talons disappearing as she took her human appearance. The only sign that she wasn’t entirely human being the black patches of skin and her slotted amber eyes.
“No… I think they may be within their dimension… There are no storms due here for weeks and no ships are close by… They’d deem this… Not entertaining enough.” Griffin admitted, crossing her arms.
“Meaning what exactly?” He asked, walking over to her.
“Meaning there’s no one they can… Charm into the water. Surely you’ve heard stories of the sirens?” She teased, raising an eyebrow. “They charm the lonely and the wicked into the waters, never to be seen again.”
Valtor gave the harpy a look. “I’ve heard the stories… But after meeting you, I figured stories didn’t do them justice. I know none of the stories I’ve heard on harpies really… Capture what you really are.” He admitted to her, glancing back to the sea.
She shrugged. “They seldom drown their victims immediately… Ediltrude and Zarathustra enjoy having… Pet humans.” The harpy glanced to the waters. “Normally they come to me if they sense me near… But we may have to go to them…” She seemed apprehensive at the thought, backing away from the coast’s edge.
Valtor frowned, pulling out his map. A little golden circle formed near where they were, but it seemed, lower. “Seems the pocket dimension is underwater…” He turned to her. “Fancy a swim?” He half-teased, taking off his jacket to keep it from weighing him down.
The harpy seemed to hug herself, her wings coming out to wrap around her, protecting herself. “I… Can’t swim. I’ll drown…” Griffin admitted, almost shyly, her eyes glancing back to the waters. She swayed on her feet, nervous. One of her hands covered the tip of the scars on her shoulder, almost absently.
"Not even with your wings put away?"
The harpy shook her head, defeat flashing on her features.
The wizard tilted his head. “You can’t swim? Seriously?” He asked, tempted to taunt her. But the way she looked to the ocean, the way her wings seemed to try to shield her, he knew it was more serious than just not being able to swim.
“Don’t worry. I know a few spells that can get us underwater without the fear of drowning.” Valtor assured her, moving toward her and extending his hand. “I’m not going to let you drown.” A promise.
She seemed hesitant, but walked toward him, taking his hand. “Don’t make me regret this.” She muttered, hand holding tight to his. He flashed her his smile, giving her hand a squeeze.
“You won’t.” He started the incantation, feeling pockets of air surrounding them and molding to them. “Into the depths we go.”
If someone would have told Valtor that he’d be on a quest to break free of his mothers’ hold on him and that it would end with a literal harpy clinging to him for dear life as they swam in Earth’s oceans, he’d have laughed.
But here he was, searching for the portal into the sirens’ lair, with Griffin’s hands holding tightly to his shoulders as he swam with her on his back. (She was so light. Even lighter with the water around them… And her breath on his neck… The way she was pressed against him…)
“The portal is just up ahead in that cavern… I can feel it.” She gestured to one of the underwater caves, breaking him out of his thoughts.
A large fish swam from the cavern, fast and scared. “Wonder what it’s scared of..?” Valtor asked, moving toward the cavern.
“A siren… Or a shark. Maybe even a bigger fish.” Griffin admitted, watching the creature disappear into the kelp. “I never knew how colorful it was down here… No wonder Ediltrude gets so angry at the humans.”
“She’s the more… Aggressive one, right?” Valtor asked, needing to clarify which of the twin sirens he needed to watch himself with. (He didn’t need to drown and he couldn’t leave Griffin stranded in their dimension.)
When did she become a concern?
“She is. And she has a deep… Disdain for humans.” The harpy gave a hum, the sound more like a purr in his ear. “Of course… Considering the damage they do to their oceans… I can’t say anything. Look what they do to my skies.”
“Your skies?” He teased, making it into the cavern and setting her down on the rock. She tested the sturdiness, seeming to be relieved she could walk here.
“Yes. My skies. I was the guardian of the air totem, therefore the skies are mine.” Griffin crossed her arms, defiant. He gave a laugh, shaking his head.
“Whatever you say.” He finished climbing in, observing the cave.
Rocks and sand. Red and green kelp beds housing fish of multiple colors. “I don’t see anything that would have made that one fish flee… These guys seem okay.” He frowned, turning to Griffin. “Does it seem off to you?”
The harpy wrapped her arms back around herself. “None of this seems right to me. I’ve never been this far from the surface.” She reminded him. “Maybe that fish just got scared off… Like how robins do.”
“Little song birds… They can’t handle sudden movements or loud noises. They will fly away…” She looked around the cave, taking his hand. “To the back of the cave… The rocks change color.”
“Meaning the portal opening is back there.” Valtor started the trek, feeling a bit annoyed at having to tread water despite the spell. Griffin didn’t seem to be having a better time, having to force herself forward.
Valtor opened his mouth to make a remark, when powerful wave of… Bubbles? sent him back into the rock wall.
It wasn’t painful, the water and spell cushioning the impact, but it did create a panic. The fish in the cave scattered, creating a hurricane of bubbles as they fled, making it hard to see.
He could hear a roar and a frantic yell, but he couldn’t focus.
Something grabbed him, pulled him fast and hard along the graveled floor of the cave. He fought against the hold it had, but it just dragged him faster and faster.
Valtor glowered, focusing on the air that had to be in the water, using the force to try and fight back against whatever it was that held him.
A roar echoed, the creature releasing him. He swam up above the bubble stream, trying to glimpse what it was that had attacked.
Panic sunk in as he beheld the creature: a kraken with barbed tentacles and a reddening eye, its maw opened and trying to consume all.
Griffin was fighting against two of the limbs, her nails having become talons and her wings unfurled. He sensed for his magic, mind searching for the necessary spell.
The kraken flicked its barbed tentacle at Griffin, hitting her in the back. He could see panic in her eyes when her wings suddenly fell back, drooping and causing her to sink.
The barbs cancel spells. He realized, fear settling in. This was not the plan. This was not okay.
He swam down, trying to get to the harpy before she drowned. A stinging pain hit his back, his lungs beginning to burn immediately.
So this was how it was going to end… Drowned in the Mediterranean. On Earth. How… Pleasant.
He felt chilled and sore, his senses running back to him as he lay on the cold stone of the… Cave floor?
Cave? Had to be. It felt damp and cooled, much like a cave.
Valtor rose up quickly, trying to take in where he was, to remember what happened.
There’d been a fight with a kraken. He’d passed out… But there was… There was song before he collapsed. A beautiful, entrancing song.
He was alone and damp, having partially dried on the stone of the cave. It was dark, but light seemed to pore in through the openings in the ceiling, making the crystals (crystals?) glow.
There was a pool that led to the ocean, crystalline and pristine enough he could see the bottom.
It was beautiful. A haunting sort of beauty. But there was something missing.
Griffin. The harpy who had trusted him to get her into and out of the ocean safely. Shit. He got to his feet, wincing a bit.
Sore. He was so sore. And his legs had marks from the kraken’s hold. (Heal. He should heal himself first… Right?)
No. No he had to make sure she was okay first. He’d made a promise and dammit he was a wizard of his word.
He followed the ocean pool toward what had to be the heart of the cave, keeping his ears and eyes out for-
Feathers. Damp blue-black feathers scattered around the cave floor. “Griffin?” He called, chancing another encounter.
He had to find her. Had too.
The water rippled beside him, signaling an arrival. Valtor felt for his magic, letting his inner flames ignite.
“Show yourself and I might take it easy on you.” He threatened, feeling the heat rise on his skin.
Two beings came from under the waters, giving grins with their too-sharp teeth. They were similar creatures, perhaps the same species, but they had their differences.
They both had skin so pale it seemed to be blue, with webbed-like ears. Both had dark eyes and those smiles that would have made a lesser man putty in their hands. (Webbed hands, with sharp nails.) Sirens.
One had short green hair flowing about her. She was slightly smaller than the other, and wore what seemed to be an armored shirt, green as the kelp from the cave. Her tail had dark green scales the fins a bright red.
The other had long black and white hair that splayed around her, and seemed to be longer than the other. She had a torn maroon shirt, showing a few scars she had along her neck and stomach. Her tail had dark red scales leading down to her bright green fins. A reverse of the other.
“Look sister, it seems our new toy’s woke up.” The green haired siren chuckled, bubbly and light.
The dark haired sired studied him, her smile seeming to become more sinister. “Seems he has. Tell me, do you honestly believe you can threaten us? That you’d stand a chance?”
“After all, our pet almost made fish food out of you.” The other tilted her head, giggling a bit as if she’d told a joke. “We almost hated to pull you out.”
Valtor felt for his inner flame, letting heat rise into his palms and forming an orb of fire. “I’m only going to ask this once, where’s the harpy?” He had to find Griffin. These creatures were not playing around and he was not going to leave her with them to drown.
Both sirens shared a look before laughing, their bodies sinking back under the water. He growled and hurled orb after orb, making sure to get heat going in the water. (He’d fry them both, he didn’t care.)
The water rose from its peaceful pool and crashed against him, shoving him into the cave wall. Two splashes and the sirens were sitting on the edge of the water. “There was no need to turn our pool into a hot tub.”
“We were only trying to make sense of your question.”
“I mean, so few humans know about us.”
“Let alone get an escort out of us.” They seemed to finish each other’s sentences, almost as if they had a hive mind.
Valtor went to wring out his shirt tail, glowering at the sirens. “I want to know where the harpy is. Did that… Did it kill her?” He asked, feeling heated again.
His inner flames began to work on drying him, warming him as he stood to his full height. “Where is she?”
The sirens gave each other another look and shrugged. The green haired one opened her mouth, though there didn’t seem to be any sound coming out. (But if the other siren’s reaction was anything to go by, she was making noise, just one he couldn’t hear.)
“This had better be pretty damn important Zarathustra… I’m almost dry and-” A familiar voice started from the cave mouth, the comment dying on her breath. Valtor turned and felt relief as he viewed Griffin.
Her hair had come undone from its braid, curling around the edges. Her wings still drooped, but her feathers were looking dryer than they had. “Glad you’re awake… I got worried.” She told him, turning to the sirens. “Which I wouldn’t have been, if someone would have kept their pet on a leash.”
“Oh come on, Griffin. We apologized already. We didn’t know the intruder was being escorted by you…”
“Yeah… Give Medan a break.” They huffed, crossing their arms. The wizard made his way over to Griffin, giving her a once over.
“How… What happened?” He asked. She glowered and gestured to the sirens.
“Just what I thought would happen. Ediltrude and Zarathustra tried to drown you… And because I happened to be with you, I nearly drowned too.” She growled. Of course. That would explain it.
The guardians of the water totem. The sirens. “I thought you said they were twins.”
“Hello. We’re fraternal twins.” The green haired siren snipped. “Now… What exactly are you doing here?”
“Or wait… Let me guess… You want Poseidon’s Totem. Right?” The dark haired siren asked, tilting her head. “Do you think you’re worthy?”
“Fei Lian did.” Valtor responded, rolling his sleeve up to show the sigil of air. “And I definitely think I am.”
The sirens shared a look before turning to the harpy. “Griffin? He went to the air dimension first?”
Griffin gave a nod. “Fei Lian chose him, so I didn’t see a need in arguing.”
“But what did you get out of it?” The green haired siren asked, going into the pool to swim closer to her friend. “You’ve never been one to just hand over a totem.”
“And I didn’t just hand it over.” She agreed. “I wanted freedom, and I got it.” The sirens turned to each other again before ducking under the water.
“What’s that about?” Valtor asked, staring at the water.
“They’re negotiating amongst themselves.” Griffin shrugged, moving away from the water’s edge to try and stretch her wings. “They’ll never get dry…” She grumbled, trying to force them to flick off the extra drops of water.
Valtor hummed, moving toward her. She paused, showing her talons. “Easy… I was just going to help.”
“Air drying does absolutely nothing for wings. I’ve already tried that.” She snipped. He put his hands up, defensive.
“But I have the Dragon Fire too… I could create a small change in the temperature and you’d be dry. Do you trust me to do so?” He asked.
She studied him, eyes boring into him like she was trying to see his soul. Maybe she can. “Fine. But don’t try anything… I’m still faster than you are and I will not hesitate to rip out your throat.” She warned.
Valtor smiled and nodded. “I wouldn’t doubt it… Now… Hold still.” He removed his gloves and gently placed his hands on the wing closest to him.
Soft. Even soaked it was as soft as it looked. But the underlying muscle beneath the feathers… He wouldn’t be surprised at the winds she could create.
He closed his eyes, focusing (trying to focus) on the heat that he’d used to dry himself with, letting it come off in waves to her feathers and wings.
A slight groan and her pulling away made him stop, his thoughts whirring. He’d hurt her. Or did he?
She had a hand over her mouth and a flush to her cheeks. “I’m dry enough. Thanks.” She gave a curt nod, her voice slightly hitched.
The wizard tried not to smirk. (Wings are touch sensitive. That will be looked into at another date.)
Valtor frowned toward the waters, sitting on one of the larger rocks in the cave. “Are they still arguing about this?”
The harpy shrugged, laying back down on the cave floor. (She was keeping her distance now. Maybe he shouldn’t have offered…)
“They’ve argued for centuries before… I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still at it.” She admitted. “Don’t worry though, I’m sure they-”
Both sirens appeared above the water, leaning against the edge. “When Griffin says that you freed her, what does she mean?” The dark haired siren asked, her voice having an edge.
“You see, we’ve got family on Andros we’ve not seen in years… And the only way we can see them… Is to leave through the underwater gateways… But we can’t do that because we’re tethered here.” The green haired siren explained.
“So does the freedom expand to just being able to leave the dimension or to be able to roam all the dimensions?”
Griffin rose up, letting her wings out for them to get a good look. “He completely shattered the tethers the Tribunal placed on me. I’m sure he’d do the same for you.” She turned to Valtor. “Right?”
Valtor rose off the rock, walking to the water’s edge. “I would. But I’d need the Totem of Poseidon first.”
The green haired siren ducked under the water, coming back up with a statue in hand. Poseidon.
He looked enough like a man, with finned ears and a trident crown. His body became scaled and led into a tail with elongated fins. The ruler of the oceans.
“If Poseidon deems you worthy, you’re quest is done.”
“But if not… Well Medan would love to have a new bone collar.” The sirens told him, placing the statue near him.
Valtor took a breath and removed his gloves to handle the statue, letting his eyes meet that of Poseidon’s.
The wizard could feel the air leaving his lungs, replaced solely by water. Drowning, he felt like he was drowning and yet… He could breathe the water.
He was in no danger as the water plunged beneath his skin, into his veins and around his inner flame. (Worthy. He had to be worthy. Stopping his mothers and their war… That was a worthy cause… Right?)
Poseidon seemed to think so, the waters dying down and a warmth on his right wrist. The sigil for water.
“Ah well… He didn’t drown…” The dark haired siren sighed, almost as if she was disappointed.
“But this means we get to go home. I see it as a win-win, Edi.” The green haired siren smiled.
“Assuming he’ll hold up his end of the bargain.” The dark haired siren, Edi (Ediltrude?), spoke.
Valtor took a breath, feeling the waves call to him as never before. “I always keep my promises.” He made his way to the water’s edge, dipping into the ocean water with them. Valtor took hold of the hands of both sirens, feeling them out.
Water rushed in their veins, the ocean whispering in their ears. Their song enchanting those who came too close.
And to the bottom of the ocean floor, they were chained, unable to leave their dimension. He called to the ocean, to sea life and the waters, forcing the chains to break apart.
He helped the sirens hold to the stone on the water’s edge, watching as they came to. Their scales seemed to shine, no more dull and dark colors. Life was theirs again.
“We’re free.” They laughed, holding to one another as Valtor climbed out of the water to dry.
“You are. I hope your family is eager to see you two.” He honestly did hope they’d be welcomed back. (As much trouble as they caused him, he’d love to see the issues they’d bring to Niobe and her people.)
The sirens gave a smile to each other and to the two on the surface. “Where are you two headed next?”
“Or the Phoenixes?”
Valtor turned to Griffin. “I think we were going for the fire totem next… Right?”
“It is closer… Relatively speaking. Sicily isn’t too far off from where we were on Earth.” The harpy paused, swearing. “We’re going to have to go back into the damn water.”
“Medan’s on his leash… He won’t bother you again.” The dark haired siren tried to soothe.
“Yeah… Should be easier to leave than it was to get here.”
Griffin glowered. “You’d better hope so… Or you’ll end up fish food. I swear it.” She showed her talons as if to make a point.
The sirens chuckled. “Whatever you say, Twinkle Toes.”
“Twinkle Toes?” Valtor asked, amused.
“She literally walks on air.” The green haired siren teased. Griffin smirked.
“Least I’m not an air-head.” She turned to Valtor. “Ready to make our way back to the surface?”
“I’ll make sure our spell doesn’t wear off this time.” Valtor assured her, taking her hand. The harpy gave it a squeeze, moving down the cavern.
“It better not.”
They rested on the cliffside of the island they were on, not quite ready to head out to Sicily yet. (Besides, it was late and they were both a bit tired, so setting up camp was the way to go.)
He walked off from their campsite, letting himself fly down to the beach, near the coast. Valtor had freed a harpy and two sirens, now it was his turn to free himself.
Sliding off his jacket and unbuttoning his shirt, he let both fall to the sand, his gaze settling at his chest.
Belladonna’s snowflake. Lysslis’ eye. And Tharma’s lightning. All etched into his skin. Controlling him just as much as their damned Whisperian Crystals did. (Those would have to be destroyed later… He couldn’t risk being forced back into their hold.)
Valtor ditched his boots and socks, going to wade into the ocean. He closed his eyes, feeling for the heart of the ocean.
He could feel the waves coming in, seeping beneath his skin and into his veins. He couldn’t describe the feeling of the water coming to him, how it seemed to soothe and heal all his wounds.
The marks from his blood bonds were gone. And so were the scars from his training and his fights with the Company of Light. No more marks from frostbite. No more stab wounds from swords and daggers.
Even the Lichtenberg figures from Tharma were gone.
He was new. He was a new being and newly freed from their grasp. His own wizard. His own… Person.
Valtor couldn’t help but shake his head at the sight when he returned from the ocean. Griffin had his jacket on, laying in the sand. She wasn’t quite asleep, but he could feel the exhaustion around her. “You should have stayed at camp. I was coming right back.”
She gave a huff, moving to her feet. “Wasn’t going to risk you drowning yourself.” She seemed to give him a once over, as if making sure he hadn’t injured himself. “Seems you’ve got a handle on the water totem though.”
“Guess so, considering I’ve broken the blood bonds.” He gave a smile. “Jacket’s a little big for you, don’t you think?”
The harpy snorted, her cheeks redding a bit. “I got cold and you just left it laying here. Made it fair game.”
He chuckled, grabbing his shirt and boots. “Come on. Let’s head back to camp… I’ll get the fire going again.”
Chapter 3: Eruption
(As I'm sure you're all becoming aware of, these chapters are long... But they're so full of plot and stuff.)
Sicily had a thriving community for tourism; ruins to visit, temples to explore, and foods to taste. A great place to study more of Earth’s cultures and traditions… One that Valtor mentally put a pin in for later. (It’d make for a great getaway… After all was said and done in his dimension.)
But for now, they were trekking through the eastern coast, a mountain standing large and proud within their line of sight. “So this is where the fire totem resides?” He asked, looking around. Alone. He was alone. “Griffin?” He called, listening for the harpy.
The tell-tell flapping of wings had him stop completely, waiting as the woman landed and shifted forms. Her wings and talons disappeared as she touched the ground, a bag of fruit in her hands. “And just where did you find those?” Valtor asked, his tone teasing.
Griffin held the bag close to her. “Does it matter? The fruit’s fresh and no one will miss it. Sicily has several citrus groves, most owned only by the goddesses’ of Earth themselves.” She walked over to him, handing him one of the fruits.
“Besides, you don’t get to act high and mighty about this, I’ve seen you swipe talismans and books from the merchants while we were in Greece, and just hours ago when we arrived back at the village.” Griffin reminded him, giving him a look. The harpy let her talons show, using them to peel her fruit before taking a bite.
Valtor chuckled, peeling and taking a bite from the one she’d gave him. Sweet, maybe just a bit too sweet. But it was good. Much like Dragon’s Fruit from Obsidian. “I wasn’t trying to start an argument. I was just… Amused.”
The harpy raised an eyebrow, tilting her head. “Amused at what? That I’m just as capable at taking what is needed as you are? Or that I can do so without as much fuss as you?” She teased, handing the bag to him as she handed the peelings to him to burn.
“More like I didn’t take you for a klepto.” He teased back, putting the bag into his pocket dimension for later, burning their peelings. She snorted, shaking her head with a laugh.
“Says the man whose idle fingers get us into more trouble than he’s worth? You nearly got the police called to us during one of your ‘market days’. Though I admit, I’m impressed with how many of those trinkets and books you managed to get away with.” Griffin gave a nod to him, an acknowledgement.
Valtor shrugged, giving her a look. “What can I say? I needed information that you couldn’t give.” She gave a look, a hand coming to her dress top, a feigned look of hurt.
“I’m a reservoir of knowledge, thank you very much. Just because you can’t understand what I’m saying means absolutely nothing.” He laughed, shaking his head and glancing to the sky.
This was something he could see himself doing more and more. Connecting. To her? Why her?
He’d be stupid not to admit to himself that the harpy made him feel… Lighter. Like he could walk on air the way she seemed to. That he was… Something more.
(He could joke and laugh with her, something he could hear Belladonna cursing him for doing. Saying how frivolous and unnecessary it was.)
Valtor paused, trying to push the feelings away. He had a job to do. A mission. He couldn’t afford to get distracted. Not now. Not while he was so close to his goal. “So the mountain we’re headed to… What can you tell me about it?” Subject change. Time to get back on track.
Griffin shook her head. “It’s not just a mountain, Valtor. It’s Mount Etna. A volcano. Or more precisely, it’s the largest volcano around this part of the world… And its home to the phoenixes.”
“And they are the guardians of the fire totem.” Valtor clarified. She shifted her weight from foot to foot.
“Sort of… There’s only one phoenix who guards Vesta’s Totem… And that would be Oritel.” Griffin admitted.
Oritel. That name… Surely it couldn’t be…
“Oritel? That’s… Not a common name…” He needed to know. Was he about to walk into the Light Dragon’s den? Was he about to jeopardize everything he’d worked for?
Griffin frowned, moving closer to the wizard, a hand on his shoulder. “Is something wrong? You seem… Distressed.”
He placed a hand on hers, debating about whether to remove it or not. (Light. Her hand was so light. Like feathers.)
“There’s… Someone in my dimension who… I’m not exactly friendly with. Marion. She’s my opposite, my counterpart. And at the moment, we’re truly on opposite sides of things. At least, as far as she’s concerned we’re on opposite sides.” He thought for a moment.
She most likely wouldn’t understand the situation he was in right now. Griffin had made it perfectly clear that the Dragons didn’t dictate what happened on Earth. Would it matter to her about Marion and Oritel?
The harpy removed her hand, but kept her eyes on him. “So Marion is the keeper of the Light Dragon…? Okay. What things are you on opposite sides of? The war you keep mentioning?”
“Something like that… It’s…” He paused. “Two groups. The Ancestral Coven, which I’m officially no longer part of now that I’m free of my bonds; and then there’s the Company of Light… Which Marion and her husband Oritel are part of.”
“Which is why you aren’t on… Better terms. She still believes you to be with the enemy.” Griffin frowned. “And her husband is…” A realization seemed to hit her, amber eyes lighting up.
“That… Makes sense.” Valtor frowned at her.
“Why Oritel is always gone from his post. I know his flock often tire of him being gone so often, but because he’s always back within two days… There’s nothing they can do. But now that you’ve mentioned he is married to someone from your dimension… It makes sense. He goes to her.” Griffin frowned. “It also explains why he does not take form as he used to.”
“Take form?” Valtor asked. This time he was the one tilting his head, confused. The harpy rolled her eyes, stepping away from him and unfurling her wings and letting her talons come from her nails and hands.
“Take form. Show what he really is. A phoenix. Like how I’m taking form right now.” Griffin explained, her wings furling back and talons retracting. “He’s been in human form more often.”
“Like you’ve been doing?” She glared at him.
“You’re the one who said we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves. I’m fairly certain a harpy would bring much attention.” He gave a hum.
“True. True.” Valtor looked back toward the mountain. “Is there anything I should know about phoenixes before we get there?”
Griffin paused. “Refrain from using any of your fire magic… It will only give Oritel strength.” She stretched for a moment, starting back for the trail. “Come on… We should get started.”
“After you.” He gestured for her to start the trail, falling in behind her.
Mount Etna went from chilling to boiling the more they trekked upward. Ashes seemed to float around, almost like snow. “Can you sense out the portal?” Valtor asked, glancing to the skies.
“It’s nearby… Close to the mouth.” Griffin called, landing by his side and gesturing to the very top of the volcano. “Think you’ll make it?” She half-teased.
Valtor snorted. “I trekked Everest and survived under the ocean waves. I’m pretty sure I can handle a little volcano.” He glanced to her. “Of course, my main concern would be you and those oh-so sensitive wings of yours.”
The harpy’s eyes slitted, a scowl coming to her features. “My oh-so sensitive wings are what help keep me alive, thank you very much.” She snipped.
“And I can handle the volcano. It’s the phoenixes I’m not found of.” Griffin admitted, crossing her arms. “They’re… Difficult to reason with.”
That sounded about right. Beings of the fire element would be stubborn and fiery, just as fierce and passionate as their core element. Reason would be hard to find, but not impossible. “I’m sure we’ll work something out… If this is the same Oritel that I’ve been facing, he’ll give anything to remain at his wife’s side. Even the fire totem.”
“Vesta’s Totem.” Griffin corrected. “She is the goddess of the flames. And she’ll be the judge of you and your intentions.” She started back up the mountain side. “That is… If Oritel doesn’t kill you first.”
Valtor noticed a cave near the mouth, giving a slight groan. “I suppose that’s where we’re heading?”
Griffin gave a laugh. “Tired already? I thought you were more durable than a human.” She teased. The wizard shot her a look.
“I didn’t say anything about being tired. I was merely asking a question.” He reminded her. (Okay, so he was a little tired already, but he wasn’t telling her that.)
The harpy opened her mouth to retort, when a wall of flames got between them, forcing them to separate. “Well, well, well. You’re a long way from home, aren’t you, Song Bird?” A melodic voice taunted, a flash of white and gold going by Valtor’s vision.
“Oh great… You’re still here.” He could hear Griffin snip. Valtor frowned at the wall of fire, feeling for the water lodged deep into his soul, putting the flames out.
(And perhaps it was a good thing they were near the mouth of a volcano, because the sight before him had his blood boiling.)
There was some sort of half-man creature circling the harpy, her agitation and discomfort evident on her face.
The (what was he even?) had pale skin and long blue-black hair in a ponytail, wearing a white tunic top and beige pants. Parts of his skin had red and raised spots, large white and gold feathered wings out with a sharp claw at the edges.
She’d had enough, unfurling her wings and creating a strong enough gust of wind to force the man back, even as his own wings tried to keep him tethered to the spot.
“Do I even want to know?” He asked, making himself known as he got between the other man and the harpy. The other frowned and he could feel Griffin’s mood alleviate a tad.
“A human? Well aren’t you full of surprises, Griffin…? I didn’t take you for the pet type.” The other was looking Valtor over. “Though I can feel why… The power radiating from him… It’s intoxicating.” He chuckled, extending a clawed hand. “I’m Avalon.”
He didn’t take the hand, instead glancing to Griffin. She shrugged, keeping her distance from Avalon. “He’s a phoenix who lives here… But he’s mostly harmless. His bark is worse than his bite.” Griffin explained to the wizard, giving a look to the phoenix.
“Song Bird, you wound me.” Avalon chuckled, looking to Valtor and retracting his hand. “Still doesn’t explain your new pet human.”
“I’m not her pet. I’m her partner. Valtor.” The wizard explained, doing his best to keep the growl out of his voice. (Growl? It’d been many years since that side reared its head.)
Avalon seemed to be genuinely taken by surprise, his face dropping and eyes losing their gleam. Wings dropping. “Partner? Well isn’t that an even bigger surprise?” The phoenix looked to the harpy. “Why are you here?”
“Why do you think?” Griffin asked. “We’re looking for Vesta’s Totem. Is Oritel in?” He hummed, looking between Valtor and Griffin.
“He’s in… But I don’t think he’s going to go for this…” He gave a smile, revealing fangs. “Of course, I’m all for seeing mortals go up in smoke.” Avalon leered to Griffin. “You haven’t introduced him to your brother yet, have you? I’d hate for Salvador to get broken hearted.”
The harpy glowered. “Keep talking and you’ll be missing a limb.” She snarled, already having a hand wrapped around his throat.
Valtor had to keep from smirking, watching in amusement as the phoenix forced her back. “I get it. I get it.” Avalon looked Valtor and gesturing to the cave nearby. “Just through there, you’ll find Oritel… But be warned… You’re likely to get more than you bargained for.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine.” Valtor turned to Griffin. “After you, or are you staying out here?” Griffin shot him a look.
“I’m with you.” And with that, they ventured into the cave.
The cave opened up to a world of scorched earth and reddened skies. Craters and lava pits. Volcanic mountains and falling ashes.
“Do you feel at home?” Griffin teased, keeping close. She was at his height, walking on the air instead of the ground.
He gave wave of his hand. “This reminds me sooo much of home. The flames. The despair. Perfect.” Valtor snarked, looking to how she was walking. “What’s wrong? The ground burning your feet?” She was often barefoot (or talonned, depending on the situation), and the ground was warm even to him…
She looked away, moving ahead of him. “The flames are harsh… But I’m fine. Don’t worry.” She assured, looking to the skies. “Normally he’d be here by now… I wonder if he left again…?”
Valtor frowned, looking the world over. “I don’t know… But…” He paused, unable to finish his sentence. His dragon was waking up, a feeling of unparalleled warmth and light surging within him. “He’s not alone…” He swore, keeping check on the skies.
If he could sense her, she could sense him. And that was not a fight he was wanting to have. (Not yet anyway…)
Griffin was suddenly at his side, one of her hands taking his, squeezing tight enough he could feel her through his gloves. “Are you okay? You seemed lost for a moment.” Concern was in her voice, worry.
“Marion… My counterpart. She’s here and I can feel it.” Valtor admitted. “Which means we could be looking at a fight.”
The flapping of wings had them both turning quickly, Griffin’s wings unfurling and talons coming out.
There were two familiar faces in front of them, Oritel and Marion. The fairy queen was in her Enchantix, long red hair curled and blowing in the ashen winds. A golden dress and wings adorned around her.
And Oritel… Now he looked different from what Valtor was used to seeing. Oh the king was still dressed in his regal armor, but now he had the added effect of large red and orange feathered wings, little claws at the edges. His hands were clawed, eyes glowering and shiny in a way they weren’t in the Magical Dimension. Little red flecks of skin dotted his pale complexion.
“We don’t have to fight, if you explain what the hell you’re doing here.” Marion crossed her gloved arms, standing firmly on the ground, bare feet unbothered by the scorched ground. Oritel snarled, looking to the harpy.
“Shouldn’t you be at Everest? What are you doing here? And with… Him?” Oritel snapped, gesturing to Valtor. She crossed her arms, wings flapping slowly.
“He untethered me. The least I could do was escort him to the rest of you.” She spoke, that tone from the air dimension returning. Dangerously calm. A gentle breeze that came before a hurricane.
Oritel tilted his head. “The others?” He paused, glowering to Valtor. “You’re after the totems now?! What in Dragons’ names could those hags want with the totems?!” Oritel snapped, wings stiffening.
Valtor shook his head, raising his hands in a defensive position. “I’m am looking for the totems. I’ve already gotten the power from the air and water totems.” He explained, trying to keep his voice calm and even. “But I am not here on their behalf.” He snarled at the thought. “I’ve broken my bonds to them.”
Marion frowned. “Assuming this is true, what do you want with the totems? Hell, how do we know you’re even telling the truth?”
“Do you even know what the truth is?” Oritel asked, the growl in his voice. Griffin got between the monarchs and Valtor, keeping her wings spread to separate them. The phoenix king glanced at her feathers, eyes widening.
“I need the three of you to calm down. I understand that tensions are high and that you all have some history…”
“You don’t even know the half of what he’s done. Do you?” Marion’s attention turned to the harpy. “What sort of spell does he have you under?”
Valtor glowered. “She’s not under a spell. She’s here because she wishes to be.”
“Then what’s with her wings?” Oritel snipped back. The fairy shook her head, flying to the harpy and tossing a glittery substance at her.
“This should help… It’ll sting, but you’ll feel so much better.” Marion tried to coo. Griffin flapped her wings, quick and angry enough to create a small enough whirlwind to fling Marion into Oritel.
“Listen to me carefully. I’m not under a spell. He never put a spell on me other than to allow me to breathe safely in the water.” Griffin kept her voice leveled. “My wings are back to their original hue. He freed me. And he can do the same for you. That is, if you can get out of your own heads for a few damn minutes and listen.”
Warmth. He felt warmth toward the harpy, catching himself staring at her as she finished her little ‘speech’. She was defending him… She stood up… For him?
Marion and Oritel shared a look, concern and uncertainty obvious in their features. Valtor stepped forward, around Griffin’s wings, so he could see their faces when he spoke next. “Look, I know it’s hard to believe… But I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands. I left the Coven. I left my mothers and their ideas for war. All I want to do right now is get the totems so that I can help put an end to it all before it gets started.”
“It’s not hard to believe. I just flat out don’t believe you.” Oritel raised his hand, the world around them starting to shake as the volcanos spit out more ash.
Marion rushed in front of him, pushing his hand down. “Oritel… Wait.”
“I…” The fairy looked to Valtor and Griffin. “I believe him. And if he’s had two other totems give their power to him… Maybe he’s telling the truth.”
Oritel crossed his arms. “I don’t trust him.”
“You don’t have to trust him, Oritel. Trust me and your wife.” Griffin took a breath. “I don’t know what happened in the Magical Dimension, but I do know he isn’t that anymore.” She tilted her head.
“And just think about this Oritel… If he can free me, he can free you too. Wouldn’t you rather stay with her than have to keep coming back and forth between the dimensions every few days?”
That had the phoenix pausing, his wings drooping a bit. “Why would he do that?” Valtor shrugged.
“Because you’ll allow me to try for the totem? And… Maybe I’m a closet romantic.” The wizard gestured to Marion. “Or maybe I’ve just discovered how amazing true freedom is. Take your pick.”
Oritel looked to Marion. “Darling?”
The fairy nudged him. “Go. Get the Totem of Vesta…” She gave a twisted sort of smile, one that belied her normally sweet nature. “I mean, it’s a win-win situation for us and the Magical Dimension. If he’s honest, you’ll be free to come home and we’ll have a new ally… If he’s not…? Vesta’s power will kill him.”
Oritel seemed to weigh the information, glancing to Valtor. “Fine. I’ll get the totem… But so help me, if you don’t hold your end of the bargain….”
Valtor gave a smile. “Come on, Oritel… You know I’m a wizard of my word.” The phoenix’s eyes narrowed.
“So you claim.” His wings flapped a few times before he took to the air, heading straight for one of the volcanos.
Griffin looked to Valtor and Marion, as if studying them. “Counterparts, huh? Exactly how does that work?” She was trying to defuse the remaining tension, wings furling back into her skin as the air took over keeping her off the ground.
“Very carefully.” Marion answered, keeping her eyes on Valtor. “But at least there are few secrets between us… Our flames bare all.”
The harpy’s face seem to falter, something crossing over her features that Valtor couldn’t quite place. “I see… So then why are you with Oritel?”
Marion seemed surprised at the question. “Counterparts aren’t… It just means we share a power source, we share a magic connection. Nothing more or less.” She gave a slight smile. “As for Oritel… He’s one of the few who… I can’t burn. One of the few who understands just how important the flames are to me.”
Valtor shook his head. “Which has always been annoying to me… But I do enjoy the challenge he brings to a sword fight.” He looked to Griffin, nothing she seemed to have her… Normal(?) demeanor back.
“Sounds like a fun time.” She paused. “Your dimension still uses swords?”
“To a degree.” Marion admitted.
“It’s more challenging. And far more satisfying.” Valtor explained. “Especially in a dimension so full of magic.” He paused, thinking it over. Earth should be included in the dimension… It had magic still… Wild magic. An admittedly more honest connection to magic.
He’d said that out loud and Marion was giving him that damn knowing look and Griffin was chuckling. “It was once part of the Magical Dimension… Perhaps it will be once again… Assuming the Tribunal and your… Council… Can get along.”
“Good luck with that.” Marion shook her head. “Those bastards can’t even get along with each other.” Valtor hummed.
“They are a bit… Hasty with outsiders.”
Oritel flew down, red and orange feathers falling to the ground as he landed. A statue of a woman was in his hands.
She had a serious expression on her face, eyes narrowed, what appeared to be a flame in her hands. “This is the Totem of Vesta. Prove yourself to her, or don’t. I get something I want either way.” Oritel handed the totem over.
Valtor shot a look to the phoenix before removing his gloves. “Love your belief in me, Oritel. It’s very reassuring.” He quipped, putting the statue eye-level with him.
Something ignited within him, something deep and powerful in a way that he’d never felt before. A primal flame burning beside his own inner flame.
Brighter. Hotter. A feeling of boiling alive resonating within his veins.
And yet… He never felt so alive. The flames burning out around him, awakening something.
A warm, burning sensation came to in his right palm, the fire sigil taking hold.
Valtor showed the sigil to Oritel, feeling oh-so-smug. “Still think I’m unworthy?” He taunted. Oritel snorted, flames coming up around his feet as he walked.
“Just hold up your end of the bargain.” Oritel told him, extending a hand. Valtor took hold of Oritel’s wrist.
“All you have to do, is relax.” Valtor told him, sensing out the flames within Oritel. He could see the chains on Oritel’s wings, the tethers on his hands and legs.
The flames Valtor controlled couldn’t burn through the chains, but once he summoned water and turned it to ice, using the flames to strike at the shackles, the chains falling uselessly to the ground.
Oritel groaned, falling to the ground, wings out. His feathers changed colors, brightening up and seeming to elongate. “Oritel!” Marion flew to him, wrapping her arms around him. He gave a chuckle.
“It’s wonderful… I… I can breathe again.” He sounded awestruck, looking to Valtor. “I… Can’t believe I’m saying this… But thank you.”
Valtor gave a slight bow, glancing to Griffin. The harpy had an approving smile on her face, shifting her weight from foot to foot. (How she could do so in midair, he’d never know.)
“Of course… Now you’re free to go wherever you like. Just try not to get into too much trouble.” Valtor looked to Marion. “Though I feel that won’t be possible.”
Marion shook her head, about to retort when the sound of flapping wings had them all gazing into the reddened sky.
Avalon was flying fast, face contorted into fear and worry. “We have a problem!” He landed, stumbling on his feet. “Shadow creatures!” He panted. “There’s… Shadow creatures coming this way.”
Valtor swore as the skies darkened, creatures rising up. And in the center of the creatures was Lord Darkar himself. “I guess now we know why you’ve not come home… Gallivanting around with… Company members and….” He looked to Griffin. “A harpy.”
Oritel growled, unfurling his wings and taking his stance. “This isn’t your realm, Darkar. Get lost.”
“Oh I’m well aware of where I am…” The skeletal man looked to Valtor. “I’m on Earth tracking down My Dragon… And lo and behold… He’s a traitor.” He tsked. “Won’t Belladonna be so disappointed? Guess I’ll have to bring you home in pieces.” Darkar snapped his fingers, looking to the creatures he commanded.
The shadow creatures began to hiss and screech, charging toward them. Griffin and Avalon immediately took to the air, attacking the winged creatures.
Oritel looked to the lava pools, summoning creatures out from under their depths to assist in fighting the ground troops.
Marion and Valtor shared a look, both digging deep into their inner flames and summoning their dragons to attack Darkar directly.
The Shadow Phoenix lunged for them, dark orbs of flames and shadows forcing them back.
Valtor glowered. He always hated sparring with Darkar… Always. But this… This was a whole new level.
Marion had been shot down, the darkness consuming her despite her light shining through attempting to dispel it.
And Darkar was trying to wrap his shadows around the wizard, trying to drag him back in. Back into the darkness and the depths of Obsidian.
Back in with his mothers.
Valtor growled, feeling the sigils on arms and palm lighting up and igniting something with him.
The flames of the dimension began to draw to him, water materialized from the moisture in the air, and the winds began to pick.
He could hear the others trying to calm him down, but the elements were out of his hands now.
Darkar tried to shield himself, tried to fight back. But when the forces of nature are against you, there’s not much you can do…
Hearing was the sense he got back first. A murmured song caught his attention, the language one he’d never heard but admired all the same.
Soft. He was propped up on something, surrounded by something… Soft. (Feathery?) A cool breeze coming and going around him.
Valtor groaned, opening his eyes to see the blue skies of Earth.
Another presence. The one that was holding him?
“Good. You’re alive.” The song stopped, turning into a familiar voice. Griffin. Her wings moved from around him, the harpy moving to face him instead of holding him. A swift shove to the ground had him pausing for a moment.
“Oww?” He asked, giving her a look. “Pretty sure you’re not supposed to further injure someone already injured.”
“Then you shouldn’t have made me think you’d died.” She snipped, her eyes narrowing back into slits as she stood. “Who was that anyway?”
“Who was who?” Valtor asked, gathering his bearings as he stood, taking in their surroundings.
They were back on Mount Etna. On Earth. And Marion and Oritel were nowhere to be found. “Where did they go?” He asked.
Griffin shrugged. “Their dimension if I had to guess. Or chasing after your… Ex friend?” She frowned. “I think he was your ex friend… Oritel said something about you two being close.”
Valtor groaned. “Darkar. He was… A friend. But I have a feeling we won’t be talking anymore…” He paused, looking to the harpy. “What happened?”
“You summoned the elements… But because you do not have all of the elements to balance each other out… You essentially overloaded yourself and the fire dimension. But on the bright side, you did send Darkar packing… So… Win-win?”
“And I got out here how?”
“How do you think, genius?” She snipped, crossing her arms. “Look… It doesn’t matter. What matters is your… War… Is trying to find its way to Earth. Which means we need to go and get the final totem. And soon.”
Valtor couldn’t help but smile. She’d got him out. She’d tried to save him. (And she stuck by. She didn’t leave.)
“Right… And just where would we need to go for that?”
“Nigeria… It’s… A ways off. But I’m sure we’ll get there soon enough.” Griffin admitted, looking over the mountain side. “Ready to start down?” Valtor gave a nod.
“And then we’ll make camp. It’ll be dark soon.” He gestured to the sky. “And then we’ll head toward Nigeria.” Griffin gave a nod, taking his hand.
“That’s a plan.” She glowered at him. “And for the record, if you ever try to die on me again-”
“You’ll rip out my throat?” Valtor finished her sentence, giving a smirk. She flushed, but kept the glare.
“Or I’ll have Ediltrude and Zarathustra drown you. Whichever comes first.”
They followed along the Niger River, heading toward the Borno Plains. “I want to hear you say it again. Why do you not anger the adze?” Griffin quizzed.
Valtor rolled his eyes, giving a sigh. He felt like he was undergoing his classes again, having to recite everything back to his mothers. “Because the adze are vampiric and if I anger them, I will be setting myself up to be drained of all I have.”
The harpy frowned. “And?”
“And they have an earth golem friend who would happily crush my skull. Does that about sum it up?” Valtor snipped to the woman, turning to face her. She wrapped her arms around herself, amber eyes glowering.
“Yes. It does.” She paused. “I know I’m starting to anger you with the quiz… But after what happened in Sicily…”
That had him pause. Was she worried about him? “Griffin… I know what I’m doing. I’ve faced dangerous unknowns before...” He flashed her a quick smile. “Besides, I have a harpy on my side. I think it’s safe to say, I’m covered.”
She shook her head at him, pinching the bridge of her nose. “And if I can’t be there?”
“I have a feeling you’re not going anywhere.” He winked, starting to walk ahead of her. “Any feel for the portal?”
“Not yet. But I can hear-” He heard her swear and could feel the gust of air as she flew into the sky, a few feathers falling to the ground.
Valtor felt for his magic, not sure what sort of enemy or threat she’d perceived, but needing to be ready. He could hear voices in the wind, the language was off, but it sounded… Like singing? Cooing perhaps?
“Griffin?” He called for her, looking around. Valtor’s heartrate picked up, the wizard trying to feel for where she’d went. “Griffin!” He yelled this time, worry settling in.
Worry, however, quickly turned to something else. Something flaming, his fire wanting to ignite and set fire to all he could see.
The harpy seemed to be dancing in the air with another (harpy? Phoenix?) man. It was hard to tell from where he stood on the ground, but the man with Griffin seemed to be taller than her, winged and talonned much like she was. (Though his wings weren’t as sleek. Dark-blue or black in color.)
Short dark purple hair. A torn, red tunic top. And torn blue pants.
“Griffin?” He called again, making both winged creatures turn to him. The harpy smiled, flying down and shifting as she landed, the man following suite. “Who is this?” He asked, trying to keep the growl out of his voice and a smile on his face.
Burn him. It’d be easy enough. Or drown him… The Niger River is right there…
She placed a hand on the man’s shoulder, her body swaying from the excitement. “Valtor, this is Salvador. My brother.” Brother. Brother.
Right. Brother. (He could laugh at himself. The man was her brother. The resemblance much easier to see once both were on the ground. He even had her amber eyes. Her wing color. He was her brother.)
The other gave a smile, walking toward Valtor and extending a hand. “So you’re the wizard who’s been globe-trotting with my sister? She’s not been a bitch has she? Because trust me, I’ve been there.” He laughed, a breezy laugh like she had.
Griffin elbowed her brother’s ribs, glowering. “Ass.”
Valtor laughed, shaking the man’s hand. “We’ve been getting along well-enough. Or at least, we’ve survived each other this long.” He teased, shooting a look to Griffin. The harpy shook her head, but the amusement radiated from her. “What are you doing out here anyway? Isn’t Everest your home?”
Salvador shrugged, looking to his sister. “It is… But I’ve been doing some globe-trotting myself… My mate’s been working on some paper thing about the importance of Earth and its resources to share with his superiors in his dimension.”
Valtor tilted his head, looking to Griffin for clarification. “My brother married an elf from the Magical Dimension. A… Palladium. He stumbled onto our pocket dimension a few years ago and…”
“And I shared my enriching knowledge with him and decided that ‘yeah, he’s the one’. So here we are, trying to get evidence and photographs for his report thing.” Salvador finished, grinning. “He’s at one of the waterholes right now, observing some of the elephants.”
“Yeah, Sal only showed up because he heard us talking.”
“And I thought I’d pop in and meet the man who’s whisked my sister away.” Salvador gave a smile, revealing his far too-sharp teeth. “Tell me, what are your intentions with my sister?” Was he being serious? Or was he joking?
Valtor felt himself freeze up and noticed how Griffin was shaking her head, how she nudged her brother back.
“Would you leave him alone? I wasn’t cruel to Palladium.” She snipped. “And it’s not even like that.”
Salvador chuckled. “Awh, Griffie, I’m just messing around.” He pulled his sister close, kissing the top of her head before turning to Valtor. “I know what you’re doing… With the totems, I mean. I wish you luck.”
Valtor felt himself relax, the smile back on his face. “Thank you. Do you want to join us in finding the Earth Totem?”
“You mean, Aja’s Totem.” Griffin corrected. Salvador chuckled.
“I’d love to. I would. But I’ve got to make sure my elf doesn’t get himself trampled in a stampede or eaten by lions. He’s… Got an amazing sense of curiosity that leaves him danger prone and it just doesn’t end well.” The harpy unfurled his wings, looking to Valtor. “I will be seeing the two of you later, though.” And with that, he flew into the air, gone in a matter of seconds.
Griffin chuckled, shaking her head. “I warned him about Palladium’s nature… But he never listens.” She looked to Valtor. “Ready to start back? I’m sorry we got sidetracked, but when I heard him calling to me in the winds…”
Valtor raised a hand, wanting her to pause for a moment. “I get it.” He gave a smile. “Your brother seems like a lot of fun, by the way. I bet the two of you got into trouble as… Children.” (Children? Or fledglings? Which would be the correct term?)
The harpy snorted. “I could tell you so many stories… Like how he managed to anger an entire swarm of bees by attempting to steal honey from them. Or how he nearly drowned us both while playing with some male siren.”
Valtor laughed at the image he imagined, extending a hand to the harpy. “You’ll have to tell me more while we walk.”
She gave a smile, those amber eyes lighting up to a golden color. “If you want… But we should still keep our senses open… We don’t want to walk passed the portal and we do not want to be out here at night.” Griffin took his hand, giving a light squeeze.
“How about we find our portal, and after all is said and done, if the adze doesn’t kill me, you can tell me everything.” He compromised, not wanting to be wandering the plains at night either.
The locals told horror stories of how people disappeared in the middle of the night on the plains. Normally he’d chalk it up to old wives’ tales and superstitious locals… He didn’t want to risk it. (Especially not since his mothers found out what he was up to.)
“That depends… Are you going to tell me stories too?” That had him pause. What was there to say? He was in and out of classes his entire life. He had to be great with a sword. He had to learn how to control his dragon. He had to be able to pinpoint weaknesses in his opponent and exploit them.
And they had him believing that they were the only ones who wanted him in the dimension. That he had been abandoned when they found him.
That he owed them for saving his life. And it’d all been a lie. All they wanted was-
“Valtor?” Her voice cut through his thoughts, the harpy suddenly in front of him, both hands in hers. “We don’t have to talk about anything until you’re ready. Or ever… I didn’t mean to overstep.” Did she know? Could she hear his thoughts in the wind? (Or was she just… Knowing?)
“It’s nothing you did, Griffin… It’s just… I didn’t have a… Conventional childhood. Let’s leave it at that, okay?” It was the only explanation he could give in that moment. The only he could voice.
She gave a nod, squeezing his hands before letting them go. “Come on… I’m sure if we time this right, Faragonda will be in a good mood and the totem will be yours in no time.”
“Explain to me why the portals are always inside a cave?” Valtor questioned, following close behind the harpy as they walked into the cave hidden near the Borno Plains. She shrugged, her shoulders rolling back.
“I’m not sure why the Tribunal set it up this way… But I have a feeling it is to protect against unwelcome guests…” Griffin answered, giving a smile. “The light is just up ahead. We’ll be in the earth dimension soon.”
Valtor nodded, feeling awestruck as the scenery around them shifted. Gone were the cave walls and feeling of dampness.
Now they were in a realm where the sun was warm and welcoming, the skies blue and birds sang their praises. A waterfall could be heard roaring close by, the plains now a jungle paradise.
Exotic flowers were in bloom, trees tall enough they seemed to surpass the clouds. Animals wandered around, confident and in control. Nothing around to harm them. “Seems your adze friends live in style.” He teased.
Griffin shook her head, letting her wings unfurl. “Don’t let yourself be fooled by the beauty of the realm. The adze are masters at deception. They will present themselves as lambs, when in reality, they are lions.”
“Oh, Griffin… You wound me.” A melodic and cheery voice called from above in one of the trees. The vines moved, creating a staircase as the voice’s owner walked down.
She appeared human-enough, though her tanned skin seemed to have an ethereal glow to it. Her blue eyes were bright, shining in an unnatural way. Long brown hair done up in a braid, flowers adorning the tresses.
She wore a dress that seemed to mimic tree bark and vines, flowing around her in a way that would have entranced others. Vines were wrapped around her legs, acting as shoes. “My, my, my… And just what have we got here?” The woman tilted her head, giving a smile. A feeling of comfort and familiarity formed, but Valtor pushed it down, looking to Griffin.
The harpy glowered, stepping between them. “Faragonda, he’s not one of your pets.” The harpy snipped, gesturing to one of the trees.
Valtor looked up, feeling his blood run cold at the site. Various men and women were in bark cages, drained of energy, their obvious pain belied by the smiles on their faces and the euphoria in their hums.
The adze, Faragonda, frowned, crossing her arms. “I wasn’t going to hurt him, Griffin. I was just going to have a taste… It’s been awhile since anyone with magic came by…” She turned to look at Valtor. “Though I suppose playing with other entities’ toys is bad luck… And I’d so hate to anger the wind spirits.”
Valtor frowned. “What is it with you beings and assuming humans are nothing more than pets and… Toys?” That was starting to annoy him and he couldn’t stop himself from pressing the issue.
Faragonda chuckled, shaking her head. “Sorry, honey… I keep forgetting that it’s different in the… Magical Dimension.” She sobered up, leaning against the nearest tree. “You see… We mostly deal with… Non-magical beings… And they… They have so little understanding of our world… It’s hard to consider them anything but toys or pets. So I apologize for my… Ignorance on the matter.”
The wizard sighed. “Don’t worry about it…” He took a breath. “But I suppose I should get to the matter of why I’m here.”
“You want the Totem of Aja.” Faragonda interrupted. “It’s what everyone who comes here wants… Well… That and a good time.” She gestured to her ‘pets’ in the tree. “But of course… The totem comes with a price.”
Griffin unfurled her wings, making sure to show them to Faragonda, letting them expand to their full length. Beautiful. And soft. Damn he remembered just how soft they felt. The power behind them…
“Assuming you’re like the rest of us, you’ll want your freedom, Faragonda… And he can and will deliver it, for the totem.” The harpy explained. Faragonda moved from her place at the tree’s base, taking her time to look the other woman over and examine the wings.
(She never touched them. Either because of boundaries or because she needed permission, he’d never know.)
“They’re… They’re glossy again… And shiny… Tell me, are you using a new oil or… Or is this how freedom manifests on you?” Faragonda asked, standing face to face with the harpy.
“It’s freedom. He broke the tethers. And not just for me, but for the twins and Oritel too.” Griffin gave a smile. “You could make your way back to Linphea if you wished. Or to Lunaris. Or travel the world over. Head for the Amazon.”
The adze seemed to glow brighter at the thought, one of her hands weaving into her hair. “That does sound promising… And if he managed to get Oritel on board… Well… That’s a plus.” She turned to face Valtor.
“You see, Ornery Ori…. Oritel… He’s the oldest of us guardians. Or at least, he’s been guarding his totem longer than the rest of us… So he’s become our sort of… Defacto leader. Where he flies, we follow.” Faragonda hummed. “But… I’d still have to speak with Hagen.”
Griffin snorted, walking toward Valtor. “Where is your earth golem anyway? Isn’t he normally around you at all hours?” A teasing tone was in the harpy’s voice, her eyes trailing the adze.
Faragonda seemed to flush, her smile becoming more… Genuine. “He went to make sure our gazelle were okay… Something spooked them last night and… We’re not taking chances. Not after what happened in the fire realms.” She looked to Valtor. “That was your doing, wasn’t it?”
The wizard frowned, raising his hands in a defensive position. “I didn’t summon Darkar. He followed me.” He swallowed, making sure to look her in the eyes. “I promise, I will not allow him or anyone else from the Coven disrupt Earth’s peace again.”
She placed a cold hand to his face, tsking. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep Obsidinite. It’s unbecoming.” Faragonda turned on her heels, her demeanor going back to cheerful and bubbly. “I’ll go see if I can find Hagen…” She flashed her smile. “You see, I keep the totem on him, just in case. And well… I’d hate for him to miss an execution by Aja… Or my being freed. Whichever ends up happening.”
Faragonda took a step away, glimmering, see-through wings unfurling from her back. “I’ll be back soon enough. So behave.” She winked to Griffin, heading deeper into the jungle.
Griffin shook her head, sitting on the ground. “She’s a bit tiring, isn’t she?” Valtor chuckled, moving to sit by the harpy.
“She’s… Something.” He frowned, a realization hitting. “Was she thrilled at the idea that the totem might reject me? I mean, the sirens and Oritel I understood… They’d get something out of it… But her?”
“Faragonda has a… Twisted sense of humor. She finds death… Exciting.” Griffin admitted. “Personally, I find it about as… Charming as her… Pets.”
Valtor shook his head. “That is… Kind of creepy… Keeping the humans as pets and draining from them slowly… It’s a bit morbid, even for me.” He looked to Griffin, meeting her eyes. “Do… Harpies keep pet humans?”
Griffin’s demeanor changed, her amber eyes darkening. “My flock does not associate with humans. Not if we can help it. Not after…” A hand went the scar on her shoulder. “Not after one managed to get into our dimension and tried to hunt us down.”
She glowered at the memory, her hands threatening to turn into talons. “We are not creatures of prey and we do not take kindly to being hunted for sport or… To be kept as pets ourselves.”
Her anger radiated, and Valtor had half a mind to press her for more. But given the way she was acting, it’d be best to drop the subject. To let it die. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.” Griffin shook her head, sighing.
“It’s not… It’s fine. You were curious.” She gave a slight smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Just know that… My flock would rather not deal with humans.”
“I can only imagine how they feel about me then.” Valtor shook his head, letting out a bit of a laugh. A nervous one. “Or am I not considered human?”
“Humans are humanoid creatures without magic. You have magic, therefore, not considered just a human.” Griffin clarified, looking to the sky and the tops of the trees. “I wonder just how high up the tree goes…”
“You could find out. I’m sure Faragonda wouldn’t mind.” The harpy gave a grin as she got to her feet, taking to the sky.
And Valtor sat there, watching as she soared up higher and higher. Up until she disappeared in the clouds…
Faragonda returned to the harpy and wizard, a large humanoid creature following behind her.
Male, with long brown hair and an almost as long beard. His skin was tanned, but looking closer Valtor could see the marks that denoted he was made of clay instead of bones and skin.
The creature had full body armor made from sort of stone, shiny and polished. “So this is the wizard who’s been collecting the totems?” He spoke, voice rough and gravelly.
Faragonda cooed, taking something from his (?) hands. “Down, Hagen. He’s just a totem seeker. There’s no harm in letting him see if Aja trusts him.”
Hagen gave a grunt and crossed his arms, glowering down at Valtor. “Just be wary of him, Fara… Something’s off.”
“You feel that way about everything.” The adze chided, laughing. She turned to face Valtor, the wizard finally seeing what was in her hands.
A statue of Aja. The woman had a serious look in her eyes, her hair made of leaves and flowers. Vines grew and connected around her body, the woman holding a stone of some sort in her hands.
Griffin nudged him, snapping him back into reality. “Take the totem. See what Aja thinks of you.”
“Let’s hope she sees what the others did…” He took off his gloves, handing them to the harpy as he stepped toward Faragonda. The adze handed the statue off, giving a sly smile.
“Good luck, wizard.”
He gave a nod, looking into the eyes of Aja.
Connected. He could feel vines wrapped around him, seeping into his skin, wrapping around his veins.
The world around him was connecting into his body, his mind. Each plant, each stone, each portion of earth was with him. Connected.
Connected to the hearts of others, connected into the world around him, deep into the core.
Something pierced against his skin, the sigil of earth appearing on his left palm. “I… I guess I’ve done it.” He whispered, awestruck as each sigil began to glow. They were connecting, lines going from each sigil to the other.
“Seems we have ourselves a true elemental.” Faragonda teased, walking over to Valtor. “Now… About that freedom you kept mentioning?”
The wizard grabbed her wrist, about to start when the ground shook beneath him. “Dammit, Hagen! Relax!” The adze moved away from him, back to the earth golem. Hagen snorted, looking down.
“I was just making sure he wasn’t going to hurt you.” He muttered, glowering back to Valtor. Griffin moved over to the golem, taking his hand.
“He won’t hurt Faragonda. But if he’s going to free her, he has to be able to connect with the tethers.” She reasoned. Hagen glared.
“Fine.” Faragonda kissed his cheek, giving a smile.
“I’ll be safe, Hagen.” She moved back to Valtor, extending her hand. “Free me, please?” The wizard carefully took her wrist in his hands, feeling for connection.
The adze was connected to the root and vine system, just as he had been when Aja tested him. But these were chained down, restricting the adze to the pocket dimension. Tethering her here.
He had the system release her, having the vines and roots pull and tug at the chains. Valtor brought the water from the rivers out, having them ice the chains enough for the vines to snap them loose.
Faragonda fell to her knees, her wings unfurling as she took deep and deliberate breaths. The glow on her skin seemed to lighten up, brightening her entire being. Her wings were longer, more stylistic and oh so glowing.
Hagen was at her side, helping her up as the adze just seemed to glow. And glow. Even her smile had a new depth to it. “I’m free. I’m free!” She giggled, hugging her golem tightly.
Valtor smiled, feeling a bit warm and fuzzy at the sight. He chanced a glance to Griffin, the harpy giving a smile of her own. “You’re free to come and go as you please now.”
Faragonda stretched out her wings, eyes shining. “This is so incredible. I haven’t felt this way in… In centuries.”
“It’s a grand feeling, isn’t it? The newfound freedom?” Griffin chuckled, unfurling her own wings. “Want to go for a test fly?”
“Race you.” The adze giggled, taking to the air. The harpy shook her head, laughing as she flew off after her.
Valtor and Hagen shared a look and a laugh as they watched the women fly higher and faster, seeming to dance with the clouds…
He’d been tempted to head straight into the Magical Dimension, head for Obsidian, and take down the Coven that night…
But the harpy had convinced him that one more night on Earth wouldn’t kill him or doom the Magical Dimension.
And Borno Plains was beautiful. Nestled in close to the Niger River, the sun about to set… It was very picturesque.
Even Griffin seemed to be enjoying the sight, her wings unfurled around her as she watched the colors change in the sky. “Tell me, does Obsidian have anything like this?” She had a teasing tone in her voice, amber eyes focusing on him.
Valtor sighed, laying back on the ground. “No. It doesn’t… Or at least, it doesn’t anymore…” He gave a sad smile, not truly feeling it. “I mean… I heard stories of how beautiful Obsidian used to be… How it was this sort of haunting beauty no one could look away from… Especially during the triple full moon…”
“What happened?” She was at his side now, watching him intently. He raised up, making sure they were face to face.
“My mo- The Ancestral Witches happened. They came to destroy the rulers of Obsidian, wanting to steal the Dragon Fire from the king. But because of who they were and what they were, the Dragon’s spirit wouldn’t listen to them, instead choosing the young prince to be its vessel… So they raised the prince as their child… Well… As their weapon.” He was watching the sky as he spoke, feeling further and further away.
He felt a squeeze on his hands, realizing she was holding them both. “You’re more than a weapon, Valtor. You’re more than the Dragon’s vessel. Don’t ever forget that.” Griffin’s voice had such conviction in it, he could almost let himself believe that.
And looking into those amber eyes, he could let himself believe a little more. He removed one of his hands from hers, carefully cupping her cheek and bringing her closer to him.
He wasn’t going to back out, he wasn’t going to chase her. He was all-in with this decision. She would be-
The earth began to quake, powerful enough to make the river quiver. The animals nearby could be heard shrieking and leaving, stampeding away.
Griffin was already at her feet, wings unfurled and talons out. Valtor got to his feet, glowering. “Is it the season for earthquakes or what?” He asked, trying to keep his voice level.
“My guess would be, or what.” A familiar voice taunted. Gantlos. But where was he? Valtor sensed out his magic, trying to keep close to Griffin.
“Show yourselves, Black Circle. Maybe you’ll live through this encounter.” Valtor growled out.
A laugh and a blast of magic had him and Griffin splitting up. Her taking to the air, him ducking for cover. “I’d rethink that threat, My Dragon.” Ogron’s voice taunted. “Especially since our Mistresses’ aren’t very happy with you…”
Griffin’s wings began to flutter fast and strong, delving into the air to create hurricane level winds. “Consider us even then. We’re not exactly thrilled about them either.” She snipped.
The winds blew, forcing one of the wizards out of their hiding spot in one of the trees. Duman, if the hair was anything to go by.
“You may want to take it easy there, Harpy. This ain’t your fight.” A voice spoke, zipping quickly by Valtor and creating a strong enough gust of air to force Griffin to the ground. Anagon.
“You’re on Earth. This is my fight.” She started after him, the two starting a game of cat and mouse, zipping around plains.
Good enough, he could handle the other three on his own. Valtor placed his hands on the ground, smirking as the earth itself began to work in his favor.
The vines and tall grass began to sway and move, wrapping around the intruders and squeezing tight.
Duman shifted into an eagle, flying above the vines and trying to use his talons and beak to free the others.
Gantlos crashed his foot to the ground, creating more shockwaves and quakes. “You’re outnumbered!”
“Are you sure about that?” A familiar voice called, a gust of wind settling beside Valtor. Salvador. The male harpy had arrived, and with his husband at his side.
Or at least, the elf with the sword had to be Palladium. (Right?) “You’ve got excellent timing.” Valtor smiled, looking other men.
Salvador grinned. “It’s a talent.” He turned to the Black Circle unfurling his wings. “So which of you nice men want’s to dance with me?”
“Or do you prefer a more… Petite partner?” The elf taunted, brandishing his sword.
They were doing well so far, keeping the Wizards from converging or summoning their circlet or masters. But it was still becoming a grueling fight.
Palladium and Duman were going head-to-head, the elf doing his best not to let the shapeshifter psyche him out.
Salvador and Gantlos were proving to be an unequal match. The harpy had an air-advantage, but Gantlos’ sonic waves were starting to get to the winged man.
Griffin and Anagon were still engaged in some sort of race, feathers and gusts of wind sweeping around the plains.
And then there was Valtor and Ogron. They were rivals before, but this brought a new level to it.
Ogron was powerful as he absorbed each blow and each attack from Valtor, throwing that power and energy back at the wizard.
Something had to give. He knew he couldn’t summon his dragon. That’d make things worse… But…
Wild magic. The elemental magic he had now.
And he had all four sigils. What happened last time wouldn’t happen this time. He had a real shot.
Valtor teleported near the Niger River, away from Ogron as he tapped into the sigils and the wild magic around him.
He could feel the winds picking up, the river beginning to rise, flames licking at his skin, the earth opening around him.
Gantlos and Anagan may have had some elemental power, but nothing like this. Nothing like the powers that had been graced by the Earth gods and goddesses. A whole new level had just been introduced.
He could hear them summoning a portal, he could hear the words for retreating, but he kept up the assault.
Ogron and his Circle were done.
“That was some battle. I haven’t been this exhausted in a long time.” Salvador panted out, the harpy laid out on the ground, wings splayed.
Palladium was resting against one of the boulders near the river, taking deep and even breaths. “Who were they anyway?”
“The Black Circle… A group of wizards who typically hunt fairies.” Valtor answered, getting to his feet and looking around. Griffin hadn’t shown up yet. Where was she?
Something didn’t feel right, an uneasy feeling settling in his body. “Did either of you see Griffin after Anagon left with the others?”
Salvador rose up, his wings stiffening at the mention of his sister. “No… But that doesn’t mean anything… She’s probably on her way back here now… She just… Probably got sidetracked by fruit or something.”
Palladium frowned. “I don’t know… She’s usually quick to return. Even from scouting… Remember when she was showing me the mountains around your realm?”
The harpy frowned. “I remember…” He got to his feet, stretching out his wings. “We should go look for her. Something’s not right.”
“Agreed.” Valtor closed his eyes, trying to feel for the harpy. He tried to feel for her wind, her connection with the air around them. (Nothing. Why couldn’t he feel her?)
“Which direction did Anagon come from?” Palladium asked, getting to his feet. “East or west?”
“West I think.” Salvador shifted his weight back and forth from foot to foot. “I don’t like this.”
“She’s okay. I’m sure.” Valtor tried to assure the other man, starting toward the west. “We just need to find her, that’s all…”
They found a trail of feathers and fallen leaves, a sure sign that a fight had occurred nearby. Griffin had to be close.
Palladium grabbed Valtor’s wrist, making him stop. “Do you see that? I think its blood.” The elf gestured to the tree, the bark darkened by some sort of substance. (It was red… But it could have been sap… Right?)
“If it is blood, it could be Anagon’s… Griffin’s a bit… Vicious in a fight.” Valtor tried to calm the elf down (and himself).
“True. My sister may have a touch of blood lust…” Salvador seemed sure, but his voice still wavered.
“And it’s not a pool of blood… Which is a good sign it may only be a small wound.” Palladium swallowed, starting back toward the trail.
Valtor and Salvador followed, keeping their eyes and ears peeled for signs of the harpy or the fight she’d had with Anagon…
The trail led to a field overgrown with tall grass, next to a watering hole. And…
He felt the air leave his lungs, his legs threatening to buckle at the sight.
Feathers were strewn about, portions of the grass smashed down. And in the center was Griffin.
She seemed limp, laying on her stomach. Blood was running down her back, originating from…
From stumps where her wings once were.
Salvador let out an inhuman screech, wings unfurling and his body shaking. Palladium held tight to him, trying to calm him down…
Valtor couldn’t breathe. Seeing her there. Seemingly lifeless. Wingless. That pained expression on her face.
The Circle would pay dearly for this.
All I can say is... I'm sorry.
Chapter 5: Death and Defiance
Death and Defiance
Valtor managed to snap himself out of the rabbit hole of horrors he was going down, rushing to the harpy’s side, trying to assess the damage.
A faint cry could be heard, a near-silent whimper coming from Griffin. (Alive. At least she was alive.)
“Salvador! Palladium! We’ve got a shot here!” He called to the other men, looking up toward them.
The male harpy was shaking and crying, the elf doing his best to soothe him. “Anything you need. Say it.” Salvador managed to get out, his voice trembling. “What do you need?”
“First aid kit?” Valtor asked. “We’ll need the bandages and the antiseptic.” Salvador gave a nod, moving away from Palladium on unsteady feet, wings unfurling.
“Keep her alive.” He warned, taking to the air.
Palladium swore, turning to head over to Valtor. “What do we need to do?” Valtor looked to her back. She was still bleeding pretty badly, and the wound needed to be cleaned.
“I need you to hold her without covering her back. I’m going to try and clean her wounds.” The elf gave a nod, moving to sit in front of Griffin, moving so her head and a portion of her torso was draped over him. (He had to have been a medic at some point, his steadiness with the task at hand wouldn’t make sense otherwise.)
Valtor removed his gloves, taking a deep breath as he sensed the water flowing within him and around, feeling for the waters of the Niger River.
His hands were encased in the water, the clear liquid becoming like chilled gloves. He moved them over her back, cleansing the blood and trying to keep infection out of the wound. She gave a gasp, hands clutching tight to Palladium as he worked, the elf murmuring something soothing to her.
Fever. Valtor could feel how heated she’d become, sickness already threatening to rear its head. “Salvador’ll be here soon with a first aid kit… It’s going to be okay.” He found his voice, trying to keep it low and even as he glided the water over her.
Salvador would be there soon. He just had to keep the wound clean and her fever down. He could do that. He had Palladium to help. He could do this.
The tell-tell flapping of wings had Valtor and Palladium sighing in relief. Salvador had arrived, a kit in hand. Palladium frowned when he noticed how shiny and new the kit seemed. “Do I want to know?”
“I’ll tell you everything after we’ve got my sister taken care of.” Salvador promised, handing the first aid kit to Valtor.
“Doesn’t matter anyway, so long as this works.” The wizard reminded him, opening the kit up and glancing at the materials. (Shit. The labels were all off and nothing looked right… But what could he do?)
He grabbed what seemed to be the right bottle, carefully applying the solution to the wounds before wrapping them in the bandages.
Griffin cried out a time or two, her body shaking as Palladium held her and tried to soothe her. “It’s over, it’s over… We’re going to get you some help. Okay?” He murmured, looking to Salvador.
“There’s nothing more I can do for her. But in the Magical Dimension… The Company of Light have incredible medics. They’ll be able to do more for her than I can.” Valtor explained. The harpy gave a nod, shifting from foot to foot.
“Okay. Okay… Get the portal ready… Palla and I’ll get her up.” Salvador moved toward his husband, going to try and cradle his sister without hurting her back further.
Valtor got to his feet, summoning a portal to lead them to Magix. “This should do it.” He moved out of the way, letting them walk through first. She looked so small, cradled by her brother, limp.
He took a deep breath, following close behind.
They were on the outskirts of Gloomy Wood Forest, close to where the Fortress of Light was rumored to be.
“Where is the medic?” Salvador asked, starting to get antsy. “Where are they?” He held tight to his sister, wings spread and fluttering.
Valtor closed his eyes, sensing out Marion’s flames. He called to the fairy, hoping his presence would bring her out.
He could feel a warmth surround him, a light that couldn’t be dimmed. “What’s going-” Marion’s voice started. “Oh dear! What happened?!”
Marion and Oritel had shown up, Marion’s face contorted into worry and disgust. “The Black Circle happened. Can you help her?” Valtor asked, stepping forward. “Can you help her?”
Oritel looked to Salvador and Palladium, to the limp body in the harpy’s arms. “Ofelia should be able to… If infection hasn’t set in…”
“We cleaned the wound and sealed it off as best we could. But we’re no professionals.” Palladium told him, keeping a hand on Salvador to keep the harpy calm. “Where do we need to go?”
“Just open your minds and focus on staying with me.” Marion commanded, raising her arms. Sparks flew from the fairy queen’s hands, surrounding the group.
In the blink of an eye, they were in the center of some sort of strategy room/armory. The Fortress of Light.
It had to be the Fortress. It surely wasn’t Domino, or he’d be feeling drained….
Rhodos rushed forward, his wife Alyssa by his side. “Marion? Oritel? What’s going on? Do I need the magi-cuffs?”
Oritel shook his head, stepping aside so they so could view Griffin and Salvador. “Get them to the infirmary and let Ofelia know she’s needed.” Oritel commanded.
Rhodos nodded, walking toward Salvador, hands in a defensive position. “Come on… I’ll take you down to Ofelia. She’s the best in the business. I’d swear by it.” He half-cooed, aromagic starting to swirl around them to keep all parties cool and collected. Alyssa gave one of her smiles.
“I promise, your friend will be in good hands.”
Salvador and Palladium followed them toward the door, turning to Valtor. “Aren’t you coming?” Palladium asked.
Valtor paused. It was his fault. He’d gotten her involved. She didn’t need him around. Not right now.
“I’m going to try and work something out with Oritel and Marion… You two keep an eye on her.” He swallowed, hoping the elf would understand.
If he could understand, then she would too… Right?
“Just remember to come find us later.” Palladium gave a smile, walking back after Rhodos and Salvador.
That left him with Marion and Oritel. “Tell me what have on Obsidian and the Coven. We need to end this sooner rather than later.” He spoke up, turning to both monarchs. He tried to keep his voice level, his body standing straight at his full height.
“I think the only way to end this would be to end you, wouldn’t it?” A voice came from behind.
Valtor rolled his eyes, not even needing to look to know who it was. “Well Saladin, I’ve thought about that… And I don’t think it would work out quite the way you’d picture it. Marion and I both need to stay alive. The whole balance of the universe thing. You understand.” He quipped, turning on his heels to face the other wizard.
Saladin wasn’t much smaller than him, though he was battered and bruised. Amelia, a fairy from Isis, didn’t seem much better than him. Her hair was mussed and she had a black eye.
“What happened on Cybill?” Oritel asked, changing the subject as he got between the three of them.
“I’ll tell you what happened, Darkar and Mandragora!” Amelia growled out. “They ambushed us and starting setting fires. We had to retreat.”
“But I bet you already knew that, didn’t you?” Saladin asked, glowering to Valtor. The wizard glared, fists clenching.
“Think what you will of me, Saladin, but I’m no longer bound to the Ancestral Witches or their Coven. Believe it or not, no one wants to end their reign more than I do.” He snipped. “It’s why I’m here. To lend my assistance. I know Obsidian and the Coven better than anyone in this Fortress. I can help stop them.”
Saladin and Amelia turned to Oritel and Marion, as if needing them to confirm. “He’s telling the truth, for once. And we’ll gladly take his help if it means stopping this war before it gets worse.” Marion affirmed.
Oritel sighed. “I can’t believe I’m saying this… But Valtor has already proven himself as an ally.” The phoenix turned to Valtor, extending a hand. “Which is why we’ll listen to any ideas you may have.”
Valtor took it, giving a firm clasp. “In that case, let’s start with finding a solution to our Cybill problem and work our way to storming the gates of Obsidian.”
He took a deep breath as he walked toward the infirmary. He had to check in, see how she was doing.
He shouldn’t have gotten her involved. He should have made her stay at Everest. Should have made her leave him.
Valtor took note of the lobby area outside of the infirmary. Salvador had his wings withdrawn, but he was pacing back and forth along the room, unable to stay still. Palladium was sitting near the window, working on his notes, glancing from time to time at Salvador.
“Any news?” Valtor asked, keeping his hands in his pockets. Salvador shook his head.
“None.” He swallowed. “Medic won’t even let me in there… Said I’d get in the way…” Salvador fumed. “But she’s my sister… I should be in there…”
“Salvador… Honey… I’m telling you right now, Ofelia knows what she’s doing. Just have a little faith and take a seat… You’re starting to make me nervous.” Palladium set his notes away, gesturing for the harpy to come sit with him.
The wizard watched them, how Salvador wrapped his wings around Palladium, laying his head down. Valtor swallowed, taking a breath. (They were leaving soon… He needed to tell them.)
“I’m sorry.” The words seemed to burn on his tongue. “I never should have let her get involved.” He couldn’t stop now. He was on a roll. “I should have made her stay at Everest. Or told her to go with the two of you.” His fists clenched, his body holding in tension.
Salvador shook his head, giving a breathless laugh. “She always did whatever she wanted. If she wanted to be part of that fight, there wasn’t much you could have done to stop her.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much… Griffin’s got a strong will. This won’t hold her back long.” Palladium assured. “It’s just a tense situation.”
Valtor swallowed. “Right…” He looked to the door. “Just… Keep me posted. I…” Tell them. Tell them now. “I’m heading out with a group of from the Company… We’re going to Obsidian.”
The elf’s ears twitched and Salvador had his wings withdraw into his body. “You’re going where?”
“That’s a suicide mission! Do you even have a plan?” The questions and arguments kept up until Valtor held his hands up.
“Hey! Hey… Relax. I know what I’m doing.” He tried to assure them. “The Coven is already weakened since Oritel called in a few favors with his siren and phoenix friends to retake Tides and Lamen.”
“Now we’re going to do our part and shake Obsidian down to its core. We’ve got a strike team ready and if things don’t go according to plan, Marion has Domino on lockdown.” Valtor looked to the men, noting their frowns. “I promise, we’re going to be okay.”
Salvador groaned. “You’d better be. I’m sure as hell not going to be the one to tell Griffin that you got yourself killed.” Palladium gave a shrug.
“I’m with Salvador on this… You’d have to answer to that on your own.”
The wizard gave a slight smile. It was nice of them to think Griffin would willingly speak to him after this. After he’d gotten her wings taken. If she survives. A voice reminded him.
“I’ll be careful. Promise.” He started to leave, giving one last glance to them. “Make sure she gets rest after… After Ofelia is done with her. She’ll need it.”
Obsidian was always a foreboding realm, its skies red and the feeling of dread sinking in as soon as the ships’ hatches opened up, the soldiers ready to deploy into the nether of the world.
“We’re all familiar with the plan, right?” Faragonda asked, her wings fluttering fast. “I don’t feel like dying today.” The adze and her pack, along with the earth golems, had joined the Company of Light. (Faragonda wanted revenge for her friend, and a few new… Toys. Who could deny her?)
“Just remember that as soon as the castle begins to shake, you need to get the hell out.” Valtor reminded her, letting the feeling of Obsidian take him over.
The realm gave him a power surge, the darkness just coursing through and igniting his inner flames. He was more than ready to put an end to this war.
Oritel unfurled his wings, turning to his Dominon soldiers and the Solarian troops that were on loan. “Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come!” he shouted, diving down out of the ships.
The soldiers and the adze began to follow suite, Valtor close behind as the ships closed up and began their own attack.
Obsidian would fall.
Faragonda and her golems had earthquakes shaking the realm, Coven members having to fight to stay steady as they fought on.
Oritel and Avalon were setting fires along the courtyard, and Saladin and his dragon brigade were keeping the shadow creatures at bay.
Valtor made his way through the fights, firing blasts where he could and sending up shields when needed. Faragonda flew down, giving a hypnotic glow that had a group of soldiers pausing. “Get going!” She hissed at him, urging him on.
He rushed inside the castle, keeping a flaming aura around him so the shadow creatures wouldn’t be able to touch him.
The scenery around him changed from the foyer to the ceremony room, candles lit up around the picto-prophecy Lysslis had been so proud of.
“Well if it isn’t the Prodigal Son… It’s about time you showed yourself. You’ve been gone for months.” Belladonna snarled, the room beginning to chill.
“We were so worried about you, especially when we couldn’t feel our bond anymore.” Lysslis hummed. “And then we found out from Darkar and Ogron that… You’ve…”
“Betrayed us.” Tharma roared, lightning flashing and hitting him hard, sending him into a wall.
Shock. The shockwaves were beginning to subside long enough for him to stand. “I had to betray you… I couldn’t keep betraying myself.” He snarled, feeling his dragon come alive within him.
(He’d never felt this close to his dragon before, but now… Now he could feel the heat beneath his veins, his inner fire burning through him.)
A flaming aura came to life around him, knocking off the chill Belladonna had set. She sneered, raising her hands. Ice encased his flames, forcing them back into steam.
“We didn’t summon you just so you could throw one of your temper tantrums.” She growled out.
“We only brought you here to offer a second chance. Either rejoin or you’ll perish like the rest of them.” Tharma snarled, tossing a few of her lightning bolts to him, forcing him back.
Lysslis stepped between them, tsking and shaking her head. “Sisters… Relax. Our little Dragon just wanted to spread his wings for a moment. And he tasted freedom, he grew up.” She gave that laugh that always had his stomach churn.
He needed to be ready to burn himself need be. Anything she had planned was worse than he could imagine.
“He even learned to care for a pet… Though I think Anagon broke her.” Lysslis raised her hand, her golden eyes flashing as a seeing orb formed.
Anagon and Griffin fighting near Borno Plains, how the two clashed their twisters and their hurricane winds. How Anagon managed to pin her and cut her wings. “Of course… Something like wings can always be fixed… For a price.” Lysslis hummed.
She stepped toward Valtor, extending her hand. “Tell me, Valtor, what’s the price you’d pay to fix what you broke?”
Her other hand had brought out the Whisperian Crystal, Tharma and Belladonna bringing out theirs.
“What will it be?”
Valtor closed his eyes, hands clenching tight. Maybe she’d forgive him one day. Maybe they’d all forgive him one day.
He felt the sigils on his hands begin to heat up; the wind began to howl, the realm started to quake, the heat he felt began to rise, and he could feel his blood thrumming.
“I choose to stay free.” He growled out, sensing out the Whisperian Crystals. All they were was a trio of gemstones. Gemstones were earthbound.
The crystals began to shatter like glass, the shards falling to pieces on the ground. The Witches had sense enough to seem worried, the only things they had to control him gone.
“You wouldn’t dare.” Belladonna sneered at him, her ice shards forming.
“Let’s think this through.” Lysslis tried her melodic voice.
“Don’t be stupid, Boy.” Tharma growled.
Valtor gave a mirthless laugh. He could feel the fear radiating from them, from everyone on the realm. “I think I’m about to make one of the smartest decisions of my life.” He felt out his dragon, merging its power with the elements, allowing the aura to glow and grow around him.
The castle began to shake, the walls cracked. He could hear the water rushing down from upstairs, flooding the castle.
The candles flared to life, their embers getting more and more out of control as the winds outside blew harder and harder.
And then there was the Dark Dragon, able to project and take form, its fury evident in how it lunged for the trio, maw opened and flames spewing forth.
The onslaught continued, and he could vaguely make out muffled cries from outside, the takeoff from the ships.
All that he could focus on was how they’d beaten him over the years. How he was never good enough. How he was never strong enough. How he was lucky they took him in.
How they drained him, how they froze him over. The lightning strikes. His blood getting boiled (or frozen solid). How they’d twisted his mind with hallucinations that were just so real.
He couldn’t let them continue their lives. He couldn’t let them survive this.
Someone had told him to stop, that it was done… But he couldn’t… He couldn’t seem to make himself let go until the Ancestral Witches were nothing but ash and dust…
Valtor couldn’t tell you how he’d made it back to the squad ship. He couldn’t tell you how the Obsidian Castle fell, or how anyone managed to survive the surprise attack of the elemental uprising.
Really he couldn’t even tell you how Oritel and Faragonda had managed to talk him down from suffocating Anagon when the wizard had ran out of his hiding place. Or just when exactly the Ancestral Witches had died. What were their last words?
All he knew was that he was on a squad ship, a ‘shock’ blanket draped over him (courtesy of Faragonda because ‘if Griffin knew I’d let her wizard die of shock, she’d kill me’). He knew that there were a few Coven members that had survived and were currently awaiting trial by the Council. (Aside from the Wizards… Faragonda had a special idea for them…)
And he felt exhausted. Emotionally, physically… Magically. Just… Drained.
“Gold piece for your thoughts?” The adze asked, taking the seat near him. Her nimble fingers were playing with a gold piece, half-offering it to him, half-just teasing. “You seem a little down for someone who just helped put a stop to war.”
Valtor forced a smile, shaking his head. “It’s nothing… Just… This whole situation brought a few things to light. Nothing important.”
They always said he was nothing but a Harbinger of Death… That only destruction and chaos could follow him… If only they’d seen how easily that power could be turned…
“If you say so.” She hummed, playing with one of the flowers in her hair. “I’m just glad I have a few new toys to play with…” Faragonda seemed to light up, a sly smile on her face. “When Griffin gets to feeling like herself… Have her stop by the Plains… I’m sure she’d love to help me out.”
Now that was something Valtor could manage… If she was still speaking to him after this. “Anyone ever tell you just how twisted you are?” He asked, giving a teasing smile.
Faragonda let her lights dim just a bit, as if to make herself more innocent in appearance. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m a ray of sunshine.” She laughed. “To the right people.” She gestured over to where Saladin and Hagen were having a discussion on staffs versus swords. “Aww… He’s making friends with outsiders.”
She shrugged. “Some of the fairies seem interesting… But I have a feeling they see things more… Black and white than I do.”
Valtor chuckled. “But shades of gray make things far more entertaining.”
“To shades of gray.” Faragonda laughed, nudging him.
“To shades of gray.”
Chapter 6: When Life Starts
When Life Starts
The ships landed near the Fortress, soldiers and loved ones beginning to reunite. Talks of parties and celebration kept the chatter alive. Shrieks and praises raised high to both Dragons as the Company rejoiced in their victory.
Valtor wasn’t feeling celebratory. The dread still had itself lodged in his chest, the self-doubt threatening to drown him alive.
His body ached and his blood thrummed, magic still wanting to spark. He’d never felt so drained and so alive at the same time…
He watched as the others started toward Magix, wanting to hit the town. But he couldn’t bring himself to go.
Instead he stayed at the Fortress, debating on whether he should head for the infirmary or leave. (Where would he go? The only home he’d known was up in smoke… And Earth was most likely not an option…)
Valtor turned his head, swearing softly when he saw Kerborg flying about freely, heading for the infirmary. He tried to blast at it, snarling as the creature managed to dodge and duck, clearly taking advantage of Valtor’s weakened state.
The wizard glowered, giving chase to the creature, not wanting one of Darkar’s minions to somehow throw everything back into chaos. (Because if Kerborg were here… That meant Darkar wasn’t far behind. He couldn’t let that stand.)
Valtor stopped in the doorway, trying to process what he was seeing. Kerborg was laid out on the bed, cooing as nimble fingers scratched his head. “Good boy… You brought me exactly what I needed. Good boy.” A familiar voice cooed.
Griffin. She was up, wearing an oversized shirt and what seemed to be someone’s sweatpants, a water bottle on the table beside her as she stroked Kerborg. The creature saw him and squawked, wings covering himself.
“What’s…” Amber eyes met his, a slight smile twitching at her mouth. “So, how did the mission you left me for go?” Was that… Venom in her voice?
Valtor swallowed, leaning against the doorframe. “I was… You were still under with Ofelia… I didn’t want to cause trouble and… I let Palladium and Salvador know…” He paused, looking around. “Where are they, anyway?”
She frowned, pulling her legs up beneath her. “They’re gone to Everest to set up… Apparently I have a two month recovery time because… You said her name was Ofelia? Yeah… She had to…” She paused, her skin paling as she seemed to recall the events.
Kerborg nudged himself closer, as if sensing her distress. “She had to completely amputate what was left of my wings because that jackass did a hatchet job on me.” She snarled, glowering down at the floor. Her hands clenched. “It’s why you left… Isn’t it? What use is a harpy who can’t fly?” She snipped. Anger radiated from her.
But it wasn’t… Directed toward him. Not entirely. It was… Inward?
“Griffin. I left you here because you needed medical attention that I couldn’t give. Hell, I’m sure I’d have ended up killing you because I have no idea how to… To fix that.” He shook his head. “But I never thought you to be useless.” At that thought he gave a breathless laugh, pushing back strands of his hair.
“I just didn’t want to risk-”
“Risk what? Me dying because I can’t fly away?” She growled. She was nearly face-to-face with him now, her speed still there despite not having her wings. (But she still couldn’t quite look him in the eyes… Not barefoot anyway.)
“I wasn’t going to risk you dying for a war you never should have been part of.” There it was. “I never should have gotten you involved.” He swore, backing away. “I should have had you go off with your brother or something. I never-”
A small gust of wind swirling around him had him shutting up. The wind died down, Griffin crossing her arms and shaking her head. “I made that choice. Do I need to say that again? I chose to fight with you. I chose to stick around. I could have left you after Everest. But I could have left you the instant you mentioned heading into the damned ocean.”
“But I didn’t. I wanted to stay. And I’ll stick by that decision. So stop blaming yourself with that.” She gave a scowl. “Besides, if anyone is to blame about… My wings… It’s Anagon. And believe me when I say this… If I ever get my talons on him again… He’ll never breathe again.”
That had Valtor laughing, imagining the harpy jumping him and ripping his throat. “Well have I got news for you… Faragonda has a few new toys… One of which you’ll be very interested in.”
She gave a smile, those all-too sharp teeth showing. “I guess some of my forced rehabilitation will be on the Plains.”
“I think the adze would like that.” Valtor looked to where Kerborg was nestled down on the bed. “Want to explain him?”
“Oh that?” She gestured to Kerborg. “That’s my new pet. Ediltrude and Zarathustra brought it back from Tides… Something about its original owner getting banished into the UnderRealms…?” She shrugged, moving to collect the spider-bat into her arms. “All I know is that I think he’s adorable and I’m keeping him.”
Valtor shook his head, chuckling. “And how does Salvador feel about that?”
“He has his pets. I have mine.” She smirked, stroking the cooing shadow creature for a moment before setting him back down.
“You never did say how things went on Obsidian…” Her voice was quiet, serious in tone. Valtor sighed, taking a seat in the chair nearby.
“I… Don’t think there’s much to talk about. The Company won. The Coven is destroyed. And Obsidian is a dead planet.” Valtor gestured to her clothes. “Where’d you get the new look?”
She snorted. “Ofelia said it would be best to wear loose-fitting clothes so my bandages and stitches won’t be agitated.” She groaned, sitting back on the bed. “I’m not looking forward to my two months of ‘recovery’.”
Valtor nudged her leg a bit with his. “Trust me… If she’s says you’ll need it, you’ll need it. There’s nothing wrong with taking it easy for a while.”
Griffin looked to him. “And what about you? Are you going to be ‘taking it easy’?”
He paused. He really wasn’t sure where to go from here. (He could assist in returning the stolen artifacts to the rightful realms, after studying them for his own purposes… But he didn’t feel… A connection to that.)
“I’m not sure. Maybe travel a bit… Who knows?” He shrugged, looking to the harpy. “What about you? After you recover, that is?”
She turned her head a bit, as if looking for her wings. “I’m going to see what I can do about fixing my wings. Ofelia told me not to get my hopes up… But I just have this feeling that there is a way to get them back… It’s just a matter of how…”
Valtor hummed. “We could start on Linphea... There’s a willow known as the Black Willow and the rumor is that her tears can heal all wounds… And if that doesn’t work, I have a contact in the Nether… Granted it’ll be risky, but I think we could swing it.”
The harpy smirked, raising an eyebrow at him. “We? Who said you were coming with me?”
Valtor paused, flushing a bit when he realized what he’d said. “Force of habit. If this is-”
She was faster than he was, the harpy sitting in his lap before he even got his sentence out.
She was soft, a gentle breeze flowing around him when her lips touched his. And just as gently, she was pulling away.
“You’re such an idiot.” She murmured against him, foreheads touching.
If he could find the words, he’d agree. Instead he settled on wrapping his arms around her, careful of her back, as he kept her in place. He could help but breathe her in, his hold probably just this side of ‘too-tight’.
He could breathe now. He could breathe freely and fully. (And he had a new mission…) “After we solve your wing crisis… Maybe we could start studying the magic of Earth? It’s apparent wild magic still exists, and if wild magic exists, other types must too…”
She chuckled against him, laying her head on his shoulder. “Hmm… We’d need to start with the Library of Alexandria for that quest. It’s in Egypt…”
“Didn’t it burn down?”
“That’s what the Tribunal wants you to think.”
“Okay… So first we get you healed… Then to Linphea to start our wing quest. Then to Egypt. Maybe we should search along the oceans too? I heard something about an Atlantis…?”
“Not as fun as it sounds. Oceans.”
“Right. Then perhaps we search the ruins of the Mayans? I’ve heard a few conversations about those.”
“Just try not to get yourself sacrificed.”
He smirked at the thought. “They could try to sacrifice me, but I have a feeling it wouldn’t go well.”
“Whatever you say.” She chuckled, moving to get off him, giving him a look when he tugged her back.
“And just where are you going?” He asked, tilting his head. She shook her head, getting onto the bed.
“Getting back where I’m supposed to be so my brother doesn’t yell at me for being out of bed again. I can hear his wings heading this way.” Griffin gestured to the door. “And I’ve already had to be lectured by him enough today.”
Valtor gave a smile, extending his hand to her. She took it, giving a squeeze. “If it helps, I’m probably going to be lectured too… At least we’ll be in the same boat.”
“Let’s just hope it doesn’t sink.” She teased, watching for the door. “You are coming to Everest with us. Right?”
Warmth. There that warmth was again. She wanted him there. She’d kissed him and had wanted him back.
“I’m going with you. Unless you don’t want me too?” She squeezed his hand again.
“Just… Try not to leave me like that again.”
“Promise.” He was a wizard of his word, after all.
He wouldn’t leave her. Not unless she told him too. Not unless she wanted him gone. She was his.