The steps faltered in front of Ethan’s tent, and a head poked inside.
“Just what in hell did you do now?” Kothar asked in a reprimanding tone.
Ethan couldn’t utter a single word. Kothar entered the tent and removed his gag.
“You did what?” Asked Kothar in shock, after Ethan explained the situation.
“It just happened, okay?” Ethan said morosely.
“Hah! And you actually managed to restrain her?” Kothar was unbelieving.
“Yes.” Ethan answered.
“Then you made her submit and promise not to harm you?” Kothar was having trouble restraining his facial muscles.
“Then you let her go!” He could control it no longer and exploded in a burst of uncontrollable laughter.
“What’s so funny?” Ethan was becoming irritated.
It took Kothar a while to control his emotions and talk seriously again.
“In hundreds of years, and as far as the Krell could remember, we’ve had Eragoth as The Matriarch. Do you know why?”
“Because she’s immortal?” Ethan asked.
“No. Not at all. It’s because no one could challenge her for the position. She defeated anyone who issued a challenge, including my father who travelled far and wide to learn fire magic to defeat her, only to die at her hands in the end.” Kothar explained.
“But today, my boy, you came this close to being the Krell Patriarch.” He said with his index finger and thumb almost touching.
“What? But I’m not Krell! I’m an outsider!” Ethan protested.
“Doesn’t matter one bit. You made her submit in fair combat in front of witnesses. So – technically – you are The Patriarch of the Krell.” Kothar said with a feral smile.
“That doesn’t explain why I’m tied down and she’s not.” Ethan wondered.
“You are tied down because they do not know what to do about you.”
“What about Eragoth? Is she still Matriarch?”
“Temporarily, until the elders render judgment on the matter, and right now she can’t retaliate because she swore on her honour as a Matriarch not to harm you.“
“What will she do?”
“This puts her in a very tricky situation: in order to harm or kill you, she’d have to step down as a Matriarch; but if she did that, you become the winner of the challenge, and she can’t challenge you again and kill you for an entire year.”
“But I didn’t even know about any of this when the fighting started!”
“So why didn’t she order the men to kill me instead of doing it herself?” Ethan asked.
“Because they would never do it. It would count as outside help, which is forbidden.”
“So how do I get out of this situation?” Ethan asked after a lull in the conversation.
“You demand your rightful position, of course!”
“She can’t harm you, remember? If you challenge her again she will have to forfeit.” Kothar explained.
“But she’ll try to murder me in a year!” Ethan exclaimed in dismay.
“A lot can happen in a year. It’s either that or you wait for the decision of the elders.” Kothar shrugged.
“What kind of decision is that going to be?” Ethan asked.
“Most likely, you’ll be exiled with nothing on your back to die from starvation or at the hands of the predators that live in the mountains.”
“Fuck.” Ethan swore.
Normand, the [Rogue] in the party, was trying his hardest at following Giran’s tracks.
Unfortunately, with their injuries, it was a difficult task, made even more difficult by his lack of skill on the subject of tracking over rocky mountainous terrain.
Too bad they lacked the means to perform a divination spell, he thought sadly. Even if they had access to a [Seer], they didn’t have that kind of money or resources to begin with.
He was following yet another promising lead, a piece of cloth stuck in a bush, when they found themselves inside the Krell ambush.
They sprang out of nowhere and started peppering the party with fire arrows.
Jormun – their Polarii [Wizard] – got the brunt of it, of course. The Krell hated the Polarii Empire with a passion, not that anyone could blame them.
He went down first, with 4 arrows sticking out of his chest and neck.
The twins retreated quickly, Normand had vowed that he would protect his sister no matter what, ever since they were young, and he now made good on that promise, as he covered her escape with his own body.
Normand looked on with his dying breaths… Milandera had escaped, and that was what mattered.
That left Adrian, who was the last man standing. A white halo surrounded him, and as more arrows pelted him, the halo grew more intense.
With a bright white light, the halo exploded, and all the arrows stuck into it found their way back to their owners.
Some of the Krell fell, but eventually, Adrian and Normand were surrounded with spears.
Normand’s last conscious thought was a wish for his sister to escape unscathed.
Ethan was escorted from his tent to The Matriarch’s by the tribesmen. Although he was still tied, they seemed reluctant to touch him all the same.
There, in front of the reproachful looks of the elders and Eragoth herself, he cast ‘Stabilise’ on his bindings, and they quickly froze and broke away.
The tribesmen edged away with caution. The elders didn’t comment.
“I challenge The Matriarch for her position of authority!” He calmly announced.
Everyone present, except Eragoth and Kothar, looked shocked.
“Your challenge is invalid, for I have already stepped down as The Matriarch of the Krell.” Eragoth’s tone was frosty.
It was Ethan’s turn to look shocked. Kothar appeared surprised as well.
“Then Ethan West is now The Patriarch?” Kothar asked in surprise.
“No, he did not challenge the former Matriarch formally beforehand. His claim is dubious at best.” An elder stated.
Wait? Didn’t that mean that Eragoth was free to murder him now since she was no longer Matriarch? The look in her eyes certainly suggested that.
“Then who shall lead us?”
“For the first time since time immemorial, we find ourselves with no leader to guide us. The elders have thus decided that this matter will be resolved by a contest between all the Krell.” The elder stated.
“As for you, Ethan West: you are Arru Amati. You will join the contest or be killed. You will become a Krell or die with our secrets intact.”
Eragoth looked at him menacingly. She must have had a plan to make sure he did not succeed.
“Eragoth is forbidden from joining or meddling with this contest in any way, including harming any of the participants.” The elders gave her a pointed look.
Eragoth looked dismayed. Did that mean Ethan was no longer in danger from her retaliation?
The look Eragoth was giving him was murder. He suspected that the only thing preventing her from pouncing on him right now was the decree from the elders.
“I accept your decision. I will fight in the contest.” He gladly accepted.
“Fight? Who said anything about fighting?” The elders snickered.
“Giran?!” Adrian exclaimed once he was led to a cage. He had an urge to fight the tribesmen and free her but they had him surrounded with spears, and he was alone and unarmed. Even Normand was heavily injured and unconscious.
She looked haggard and miserable, but she was unharmed as far as he could tell.
“Adrian?” She looked up in surprise. “What happened? Where are Jormun and Milandera?” She asked with fear in her eyes.
He waited until the tribesmen locked his cage and left before responding in a low whisper.
“Jormun is dead. Milandera escaped with Normand’s help, but I don’t know what happened to her after that.” He said regretfully.
“Oh my god. Poor Jormun… is he truly dead?” She sniffled and her tears started to fall.
“Damn Krell savages! A Polarii in their mountains is too much for them to stand.” He whispered.
“I’ve seen a Polarii woman living here. She works with them.” She said quietly in between tears.
“A Polarii? Here? In their home?” Adrian was shocked.
“Yes. You won’t believe me until you see her for yourself. She came and fed me a health potion. It healed me, but I think she was only testing the effects.” She said as she cradled her head on her knees.
“You think her an [Alchemist]?” He asked.
“Perhaps. Who knows?” Giran shrugged.
“What should we do if she starts experimenting on us?” He asked after a bout of silence.
“Throw up everything she gives us. I don’t trust that woman.” She whispered.
“You think she’s one of the slave sympathisers?” He asked.
“Maybe. Those folk hide in shadows all the time. It’s not like we have any idea what goes between the Empire and the Krell except by way of stale news from the trading ships, and those take months or even years to travel around half the continent to the south.” She said with bitterness.
“So, any plans to escape from here? Once Normand wakes up we can try our hands at it.” He said hopefully.
“Maybe. I do know the timing of the guard shifts, and their patrol routes. Besides. I think I have a way to break the cages.” She whispered.
“How do you plan to do that.” He whispered back.
“You’ll see.” She said as she patted the crimson vines growing on the volcanic wall behind her back.
Jarret Lytell was being ripped a new asshole.
After safely making it all the way back to the Imperial camp and reporting to [General] Gremand, he’d been taking so much shit he simply didn’t care anymore.
With every airship downed by the Krell the abuse increased.
Today, he had reached his tipping point and lashed out at everyone and everything.
And now the [General] and The Vice Magister were piling on him after he broke a soldier’s nose with magic.
Broken regulations, violations of conduct, and threats of dishonourable discharge were being thrown around.
He just didn’t care anymore.
“Fuck you both! And fuck the Empire! I can’t believe [Commander] Talius sacrificed himself for scum like you!” He shouted at long last.
He hadn’t meant to shout his thoughts aloud, then that happened.
“Guards! Arrest him!” The [General] shouted. Two speechless guards entered the room and grabbed a hold of Jarret.
“Fuck, what did I land myself into this time?” he thought.
“The Hands will take care of you and your crime of treasonous heresy.” The Vice Magister said with a smug air of superiority.
Jarret’s only response was raising his middle finger in the universal signal for greeting.
“This is not fun!” Ethan complained.
“Who said anything about this being fun?” Asked Kothar from below him.
“Contests are supposed to be fun.” Ethan insisted.
“Not this one, apparently.” Kothar was panting with effort.
They were currently climbing the mountains in search of a Rok’s nest. Their objective was to bring back a single unscathed egg per person.
How they did this was still up in the air though, not many had chosen to participate in this first stage of the contest, even though it would bring them a great opportunity for power.
They knew that their lives were worth much more than a position of leadership no matter how one thought about it.
Ethan was of the same persuasion. Unfortunately, he had no choice but to participate.
Kothar was not interested in the position of Patriarch at all, but he had joined him out of a sense of guilt.
He’d brought Ethan to the Krell, and he felt it was his duty to help him survive at the very least.
But to Ethan, losing here was not an option.
The looks Eragoth gave him – or her breath, quite literally – could melt stone. He would not give her a chance to kill him so easily.
Unfortunately, climbing without tools or safety ropes was just heart wrenchingly difficult.
“Don’t look down! Don’t look down!” He commanded himself over and over.
Then he looked down and his heart skipped a beat in his chest.
His footing slipped on the next step and he started falling.
“Fuck!” He screamed with regret.
|Class (1st)||Harbinger – Science (Level 7)||Strength (STR)||18|
|Class (2nd)||Magineer – Chaos (Level 8)||Vitality (VIT)||17|
|XP (Deferred)||1,056 (0)||Dexterity (DEX)||19|
|AP/SP Available||0 AP / 0 SP||Agility (AGI)||24|
|Health||173/173 (+1.7/min)||Intelligence (INT)||24|
|Mana||263/263 (+2.4/min)||Wisdom (WIS)||25|
|Divine Lawbreaker||You have broken a Divine Law and incurred the wrath of the heavens. Beware the consequences.|
|Analyse (Active)||8 (16%)||4 MP||You analyse any object or living being, obtaining information about it. More details will be revealed as the level of this skill rises.||[Scientist, Level 1]|
|Lecture (Passive)||5 (18%)||—||You instruct another character on a subject. The level of knowledge conveyed and the success rate are limited by the level of this skill.||[Harbinger – Science, Level 5]|
|Assemble Schematic (Active)||2 (27%)||15 MP||You assemble a schematic quickly and efficiently. 10% Less material wasted per level.||[Engineer, Level 1]|
|Adjust Entropy (Sustained)||6 (78%)||~||Adjust the level of entropy in a system or creation. 10% To effectiveness per level.||[Chaos Engineer, Level 5]|
|Stabilise (Active)||2 (76%)||~||Allows you to stabilise any chaotic reaction, quickly bringing down the energy of an unstable system, chemical reaction, spell, or machine.||[Chaos Engineer, Level 5]|
|Mana Manipulation (Passive)||2 (19%)||—||The ability to manipulate mana is at the core of spell-casting. This skill governs how much mana your body can channel. 2% bonus to maximum mana per level.||[Magineer – Chaos, Level 8]|
|Rune Mastery (Passive)||2 (13%)||—||The ability to construct and maintain spell models in one’s mind is what governs Rune Magic. Your mastery over runes will increase with the level of this skill. Can control +2 extra runes per spell model per level of this skill.||[Magineer – Chaos, Level 8]|
|Design Schematic (Active)||2 (43%)||100 MP||Allows you to design a schematic.||[Scientist, Level 2]|