Monday, October 7, 2013

Page #35

“Alright ladies and gentlemen looks like the challenger made quick work of team spirit. The first round of the bloodbath goes to team Kota who earned a rest until tomorrow. We will have a short intermission while a crew cleans up the bodies until then we ask that you all head to the main dining room on the fifth floor for a feast. The next battle will begin after the meal.” Kota glared at the girl with batwings as he passed her something seemed overly familiar about her. Victor and Azelf followed Kota out of the arena and up to his room. Atlas was waiting on them leaning against Kota’s doors. “You three did much better than I anticipated. Kota you are a born leader my boy I was so impressed I had some of my other slaves redo your room.” Atlas reached behind him and opened the doors. Inside almost all of the candles had been removed and the one moldy bed had been replaced with three newer twin beds that all had sheets and pillows. A fire was lit and glowed warmly in the hearth and a small table had fresh fruit and bread stacked in the middle. “Well boys welcome to your new room. The three of you will stay together until the tournament is over or until Kota fails. Also in the trunk over next to the wash room door I have provided new armor for all three of you.” Atlas stated as he twirled around pointing at the new touches Kota sighed and walked over to one of the beds began to strip till he was just in his underwear and went to the washroom. Before he entered he turned to Atlas and said, “Master I’m taking my leave of you. You can give me all these gifts and challenges but I will just ignore your affection and overcome your warriors. I do your will only as self-preservation not to entertain you.” Victor and Azelf struggled to keep straight faces as Atlas’ fury rose to the surface he opened his mouth to say something then closed and walked out saying “You will regret that boy.” After he exited Victor and Azelf erupted into laughter and collapsed into a giggling mess. Kota could not hold back hearing their chortles and snickers he began to laugh heartily. 

Page #34

With the phantom distracted and Azelf about to lock into battle with the reanimated corpse Kota ran right up the middle avoiding flying stones as the golem hurled them at the phantom. His hatchet an extension of his arm Kota wielded it to deflect a projectile being launched at him from across the field. The shaman had cast brimstone storm a spell that hurls sharp stones at a foe in rapid succession. Kota did his best to dodge the flying stones and the ones that came close to him he deflected with his hatchet all while running straight at the shaman gaining ground quickly. Off to Kota’s left Azelf’s blade was cutting through the corpse like butter and to the right Victor’s golem was locked in battle with the phantom knocking the phantom around like a ragdoll. This battle was close to over. Kota pointed his hatchet’s rifle at the shaman. The shaman shocked he instinctively reached out for his phantom with is mind and telepathically pulled the phantom across the field from the golem’s grasp and as Kota shot the phantom’s physical body absorbed the gun fire. Kota struck the knight through the breast plate a stream of blood shot from the other side him as he fell to the ground. That’s when the shaman made his move his eyes rolling into the back of his head he began to chant another spell. Kota felt the familiar pull of magic behind him so he simply stepped to the right and watched as a beam of light struck the shaman in the chest and shot through the other side. Victor had shot a lightening pulse spell from the other side of the stadium and struck the shaman dead center. Kota turned and began to walk away as the crowd roared in their victory then the crowd let out a collective gasp as Kota felt something wet hit his neck. Turning he saw Azelf with the phantoms blade slicing into his arm and his sword removing the phantom’s head. “Stupid human you never turn your back on an undead opponent.” Kota pulled the trigger inside his gauntlet and aimed the palm at the phantom. “Gehennam.” <Hellfire> Black flames erupted from the palm of Kota’s gauntlet and struck the phantom knight in the chest sending his body flying into the air landing in the arena’s seating just below Atlas’ private booth. Atlas looked down with a sick smile; he was obviously pleased by how easily Kota’s team took out team spirit. Kota looked at the wound Azelf was clutching. “Are you okay?” Kota asked standing over Azelf. “I’ll be fine I just need some blood. I haven’t drunk fresh blood in weeks.” Kota offered him his hand and said. “Thank you Azelf come on I’ll give you some fresh blood.” Azelf ignored the hand and stood on his own, puffing on his pipe he blew smoke out of the side of his mouth then said “Thanks but I’m not sure you want me to drink from you, I might not want to stop.” Azelf emphasized this by flashing his fangs at Kota in a smile. As Kota and Azelf walked up to Victor walked up and touched his stone golem and in a flash of light the golem disappeared. 

Page #33

A lone man walked out of an iron gate on the opposite end of the arena. The man was of short stature and seemed to be dragging a much larger man behind him. “Hey atlas one man against the three of us this really is going to be a bloodbath!” Kota yelled the crowd went into an uproar of laughter. But behind him Victor had a worried look on his face. “Introducing, John Stone leader of team spirit!” The girl with bat wings announced. “The first fight of the Demon Atlas’ Bloodbath begins in three, two, one Fight!!” The demon girl flew off and Kota put on his goggles. Behind John there was a swirling mass of cloudy energy and Kota’s heart began to pump furiously as he realized what John Stone was. “Azelf, Victor watch out he’s a Shaman he has a phantom behind him.”  The little man on the other side of the arena began to giggle as he shot a tendril of magic toward the swirling energy and the phantom took corporeal form. The mass of energy slowly gained legs and arms as it passed through the veil cut open by the shaman. Soon after a phantom knight suit of armor, shield and sword was standing next to John; but there was still more energy flowing through the veil and into the man that John had dragged onto the field. Kota gripped his hatchet in one hand and his fingers wrapped around the trigger inside of his gauntlet as the man began to stand. Kota suddenly realized in horror that is was a reanimated corpse wielding two oversized cleavers. “Okay that’s better.” Kota said as a smile spread across his face. “Azelf, you take the corpse dismantle that thing. Victor I want you to summon something to keep that phantom occupied. I’m going after the shaman we have to close that veil before he summons more spirits.” Swifter than the wind Azelf sprinted across the field with his hand on his sword and his pipe hanging from his mouth. As Azelf rushed the field the phantom charged as well but he was not able to intercept Azelf before the ground began to quake beneath the arena shook as a stone golem burst from underneath the ground. With a bead of sweat dripping down Victors face he finished a chant commanding the golem to attack the phantom knight. Azelf ran up beside the golem using it as a distraction as he made his closer to the reanimated corpse that was slowly making its way into the field. Kota looked at Victor who had exhausted most of his energy summoning that golem. “Rest for a moment let your creature do the work as soon as you catch your breath I want you to aim your most powerful elemental spell at the shaman.” Kota said as he ran off to join the fray. Leaping over the field Kota ran almost as fast as the phantom had. 

Page #32

“I need to know something about the two men I am aligned with.” Kota said as he knelt down in front of Atlas his master looked up with a bit of intrigue. “What have you stolen from them? You have my soul but what did you take from them to force them to obey your every command.” Kota looked Atlas dead in his bloody red eyes. “That is none of your business Kota and I wouldn’t tell you simply for asking. If they want you to know they will tell you but I wouldn’t suggest you ask them either. If you all survive they may tell you on their own.” Atlas’ eyes and smile narrowed he was enjoying watching Kota’s curiosity and frustration grow. “Thank you for your time Master… One more thing master may I ask you to charge a mage stone for me.” Kota removed one of his pieces of quartz from his gauntlet and handed it to Atlas. The demon looked at the stone for a moment then squeezed it between his claws. A dark light surrounded his claws as the quartz absorbed the energy. “I’ve never done this before so I have no clue what will happen if you decide to use this.” Atlas said handing the stone back to Kota the once clear quartz had turned black. “I have a hypothesis.” Kota said as he exited.

With the arena full of Atlas’ guests Kota walked out on the field followed by Azelf and Victor. Kota looked into the crowd many were grotesque monsters he assumed were other demons and some were vampires but toward the V.I.P. section next to Atlas Kota could make out a few humans. “Get your head in the game human any moment now three men are going to charge the field trying to kill us.” Kota turned and saw Azelf take off his mask and put in his pipe. Kota felt the pressure from the demon stone in his pocket, his hatchet at his hip and his arm in his gauntlet. Kota looked at Victor he had a book out and was going over his spells his staff at the ready.  At that very moment a young woman flew down from Atlas’ booth on a pair of bat wings. “Good evening ladies and gentle monsters. Welcome to the four hundredth annual Atlas Cain Bloodbath. This year’s challenger is a plucky human boy named Kota. He has chosen from last year’s top contenders and chose Victor the Labyrinth Mage and Duke Azelf of the Vampires as his comrades for this year battle. Anyone who witnessed last year’s Bloodbath knows how strong these guys are. With seven days of battle ahead I wonder how long these three hope to last.  Without further ado let’s bring out our first team of challengers Team Spirit."

Page #31

Kota thought about it for moment then said. “How many unseen barriers can you cast at once and how long do the incantation last?”  Victor looked at his hands and balled them into fist. “I can cast up to five unseen barriers at a time but if they are physical barriers like a stone or iron wall I can cast up to twenty at a time. I was once recognized by the name the labyrinth mage and my unseen barriers can only last an hour, but my physical barriers can last up to 4 hours.” Victor was fired up for a fight you could see it in the way he spoke. “Okay very impressive Victor we can defiantly work with that. How about you Azelf other than a vampire’s speed and strength what else are you capable of?” Kota was excited to hear what the vampire was able to do. Azelf removed his mask and revealed his mouth he immediately stuck a pipe in his mouth and lit it. “I can heal myself and others with the life force I drain from my victims. I can also cast a smoke screen with this pipe that only vampires and certain equipment can see through. That along with my speed and strength is the reason Victor told you to choose me. What can you do human?” Azelf said with a sneer. “I can use fire magic and I’m able to summon fire creatures as well. But the reason that Atlas hates me so enthusiastically is that I can see through glamors and illusions.” Kota said as he removed the pair of goggles from his pocket. The opals were cracked and the mage’s charge of magical energy had long since dissipated. “All I need is a small charge to these babies, Victor would you mind giving them a bit of magic?” Kota said as he handed them to Victor. “Yep not a problem these will come in handy.” “Now as far as the battle goes here is what I’m thinking.” Kota went into detail over the next few minutes going over strategies and maneuvers. “Okay you two now that we are clear on the battle plan gather any remaining supplies you need and meet me back here.” Kota ran off and called out to master Atlas. “Master Atlas may I see you?”  Deep within Kota’s void he heard Atlas’ voice whisper ‘come to my room’. Kota ran up the spiral stair case to the top floor than around the walk ways until he reached a large stone archway. ‘Turn inside here’ the void whispered. Soon Kota was knocking at the door of the demon.
“Yes human come inside.” Kota heard from the other side of the doorway. Kota entered to find a huge room filled with the scent of honey and smoke. The walls were painted a bright yellow and the floor was covered with one giant red silk pillow. Ten golden chandeliers hung from the ceiling each filled with pink glowing lanterns. Atlas sat in the very center of the room in thin bath robe reading a large leather book. “What do you want human? I’m reading now and my guests will soon arrive so I must be dressed shortly.” Atlas said as he flipped a page in the leather tome. 

Page #30

Kota stood and looked out over the field as iron doors began to open along the interior wall. Out of each door warriors of all shapes and sizes began to pour out and fill the battlefield. “You may choose two comrades from these men they will obey you as if you were me. If they don’t I will destroy something precious to them. Be cautious though human the men you do not choose will try to kill you.” Kota watched as the men lined up quickly and organized. “I need all of the humans to go stand against the walls No offense but I won’t have any use for you in a battle.” About six men left the ranks of the brawlers. “Now if you are a mage I need you to take a step forward everyone else take a step backward.” Kota watched as all the mages came forward. There were about twenty or so all together far too many to ask about their strengths.  “Okay then when I first saw our master I threw a magical lightening grenade at him and caused over half of his body to be burned and chunks of his torso arm and leg to be missing. Now who wants to battle beside me instead of against me?” Atlas came up and smacked Kota across the face with the back of his claw. Kota just smiled as one of the mages in the front row raised his staff. “Okay then mage get over here the rest of you can line up against the walls.”  Kota smirked at the mage as he stood next to him and the mage had to stifle a giggle. “Okay the rest of you come closer I want to see you up close.” Kota and the mage began walking through the ranks looking over each warrior. Then without Kota asking the mage tapped Kota on the shoulder and pointed to a man wearing a mask. Kota stopped for a moment to look him over his muscles were well defined and his eyes were sharp. “Okay mage I’ll take your word for it. Come on masked man.”  Kota and his two comrades walked towards Atlas as the other men began marching into the open gates and back into the dungeons. “Okay human meet Victor the mage he is a pain in my side but he works off his debt competently. And then we have Azelf the most effective killer in my entire battalion, a pure bred vampire has some of the fastest strikes I’ve ever seen.” Atlas introduced him to these two men and they bowed out of respect and master Atlas’ claws on their backs. “You three have one hour to prepare for battle and develop a strategy. Report back here within that time so we can begin the tournament. If you survive this week Kota I will give you a chance to earn your soul back.” Atlas said as he walked away. As soon as Atlas was out of view Kota turned to the mage and the vampire. “Okay Victor was it I need to know what type of magic you specialize in.”  Victor looked at Kota with fire burning in his eyes. “I work with barriers and summoning. I am proficient at casting elemental spells but I mainly work with barriers.” 

Page #29

Kota looked around they were in the middle of a lush forest but just on the edge of the horizon Kota saw a huge stone structure. “Master Atlas where are we?” Kota asked as he stood wiping chunks of mud off of his pants and pack. “We are currently located about four miles away from my home and your prison. Now hurry the hell up I want to be home before dark and that is the closest body of water big enough to transport two adults.” Kota did as he was told and kept his mouth shut the whole walk; it was another two hours before they made it to the stone structure. Kota couldn’t believe that just one man stayed in such a huge building. When they finally arrived Kota noticed the building was over one hundred stories tall. “Master Atlas does anyone else live here or is it just you?” Kota spoke as they entered through a twenty foot doorway. “I have many guests who stay with me in my coliseum but most of the residents here are slaves just like you.” Atlas remarked as he lead Kota up a tall spiral staircase. When they reached the top of the stair case Atlas lead Kota to a room filled with a large bed and thousands of candles. There were spiders crawling all over the ceiling and the bed only had a thin sheet on it. “This will be your room until I decide on a permanent place for you. I will let you know the more pleased I am with you as a slave the nicer your accommodations will become. If you displease me however I’m sure the dungeons have a few loose chains. You may sleep here though until I call you, but you may only have one candle lit.” With that Atlas excused himself and closed the Iron door behind him. (Like I would ever take a single thing that demon offered.) Kota thought as he dropped his pack and fell onto the bed he was asleep much faster than he could have imagined. As he slept Kota’s mind didn’t dream but instead was left in a void of sight, smell, sound, sensation and taste until the void was interrupted by that familiar whisper. “Wake up human.” The whisper woke Kota and he stood upright quickly scanning the room for anyone. “Come to me I await you in the coliseum’s battle field.” Kota still half asleep soon found himself running to get to the bottom of the spiral staircase Atlas had guided him up yesterday. Then instead of taking a left out the large stone entryway Kota took a right and followed a narrow pathway into the battle field. As Kota took his first step onto the field he heard a loud slam behind him an iron gate had just been slammed shut. Kota knelt down before he said, “Mater Atlas how may I serve you?”  Atlas looked surprised to see his new slave being so obedient. Inside Kota’s mind he was visualizing chopping through Atlas’ jugular vein with his hatchet. Kota slightly grinned at the thought. “Human I have called you here for one reason and one reason only. You shall compete for your place in my coliseum. The more battles you win the more I will reward you. Lose and continue to lose and I will feed your rotting corpse to my pets.” 

Page #28

“That is a warning human try to disobey to ask questions ever again and it will be much worse.” Kota stood up and grabbed his gauntlet and ripped his hatchet out of the wooden pillar in the wall then he ran upstairs and gathered everything else that belonged to him. Soon he was waiting outside for the demon. After an hour had passed Kota needed to stretch his legs so he walked around back to the airship and climbed inside looking around he found twelve gold coins and picked them up. Then Kota heard a whisper that sounded like it came from his void that said “Come to me human and be quick about it.”  Kota ran back inside where the demon had cleaned the entire house and his mother, his father and his brother had all been restored to life. Kota was overwhelmed at the beauty of seeing them alive but some part of him was unable to enjoy this moment. The demon stood beside his father and his mother while they discussed the farm and Scotty played on the floor with a few wooden toys his father had sculpted. “Mom dad it’s me!” Kota suddenly burst out. His parents didn’t even look up. “Hello guys it’s me Kota.” Once again there was no response from either of them or Scotty. “They can’t see you or hear you human and if you were to touch them all they would feel is a breeze. I just wanted you to see that I have indeed fulfilled my contractual obligation. Now you are coming with me.” Kota looked once more at his family as he walked past them and out into the village square with his master picking up his pack as he walked a few paces behind the demon. “Um what am I supposed to call you?” Kota asked as politely as possible. “My name is master as far as you’re concerned and your name is human as far as I am concerned, but if anyone asks you who your master is you will reply I humbly serve my master Cain Atlas. Is that understood human?” The demon turned and looked him in the eyes. “Of course Master Atlas.” Kota said through gritted teeth. When they reached the village well Atlas grabbed Kota by the neck of his jacket and through him in jumping in just after Kota. Kota screamed on the way down then the demon caught up to him as they hit the water. But instead of being surrounded by water Kota found himself flailing around in a puddle. Somehow the demon had transported him from the village well to somewhere where the air was cold the sun was bright and the air tasted of blood. “Stand up human you are embarrassing yourself.”

Page #27

The demon’s tail wrapped around Kota’s other hand rendering him defenseless. “Now shut up and pay attention worm you have two very simple options here. You can die like the rest of these people.” The demon’s said gesturing to the corpses of his family. “Or” the demon ended. “Or what?” Kota asked. “Or I can give them their souls back in exchange for you selling your soul to me. It’s your choice son you can sell your soul and get your family back or I will rip it out of you and you can die like the rest of them.” The demon smiled an evil sickening grin. The choice was clear Kota would have to consent. “What do I have to do?” Kota practically spat the words at him. “So glad you can see reason.” The demon removed his claw and tail from Kota’s arms and from his jacket pocket produced a quill and a long piece of parchment. With lighting fast speed the demon pricked his finger tip with the quill and began to write on the parchment. In about 5 seconds he had filled the entire page with miniscule script to tiny for mice to read. “Just sign and date here and I will return your family and as an added bonus I will even fix any damage I caused while I was ripping out their souls.” Kota looked at the contract for a moment then at the bodies of his mother and father. Kota reached for the quill and the demon struck out and stabbed Kota’s fingertip with it. “It must be signed in blood.” He said as he handed the quill to Kota. Kota put the pen to the parchment and before he could sign he watched the blood run of the tip and form his signature. Then the parchment began to float into the air and began to glow. The light was so intense that Kota had to shield his eyes when he looked back a simple glass jar floated where the contract had been. The demon reached out and snatched the jar then he placed a claw on Kota’s mouth prying it open he reached inside his throat and stuck his entire arm down his throat. When the demon began to remove his arm Kota could feel something fighting to stay inside it felt as if the demon was ripping his heart out. Strands of pain like chains to his body were being snapped as the demon removed his hand. In his hand was Kota’s soul, a red smoky ball of energy that the demon shoved into the jar immediately. Kota felt sick his mind and body were fine he was still alive but something was deeply wrong there was this void in him a place he had always known as himself. “You now belong to me my every desire is your desire my every thought is your command if you try to disobey you will know a cruel pain no human has witnessed in over six thousand years. You are my property as such you have no rights no privileges you have nothing in this world. Your friends your family they will not recognize you. The good news is you are alive and will stay that way as long as your soul belongs to me. Now stand up and gather your belongings anything you own when you are finished wait outside until I tell you otherwise.” Kota started to protest but as soon as he opened his mouth a sharp pain like one thousand needles jabbing at his insides sent him writhing in pain.

Page #26

It stood up and roared a deep bellowing roar then ran out of the doorway. Kota hurried over to Scotty and picked up his motionless body. Tears streamed from Kota’s face as he closed Scotty’s eyes. After placing Scotty on his bed Kota located his pack and pulled on his power gauntlet. Following the black blood the monster had left a trail throughout his house Kota had his hand on the trigger inside. It was in the kitchen where he found the creature along with the headless body of his father. Kota’s mother was swinging a clever at the monster as it deflected her attacks with one claw it dropped orb of energy into its mouth with its other claw. Kota pulled the trigger then chanted a spell so quickly the monster had no chance to evade. “Flammis deglutait exitum hostibus meis!” < Flames of destruction swallow my enemy!>
A red hot flame shot from the palm of the power gauntlet and was heading straight for the monster’s back. Then at the second of contact the monster stepped to the side and Kota watched helplessly as his spell hit his own mother. Kota’s mother let out a blood curdling scream that echoed throughout the house as the flames from his spell consumed her body. With Kota’s mother distracted the monster stepped behind her and thrust his deadly claw through her back and ripped up into her chest cavity. Kota screamed in protest as he watched the monster remove her soul and devour it just as he had done with his brother and father. As he swallowed the demon’s body became fully healed, then with a simple gesture the demon was suddenly dressed. With his hair once again tied back in a ponytail not a hair out of place. Kota was shocked and amazed at the level of power this creature seemed to have it would take a miracle to kill this thing.
“Well now that they’re out of the way let’s talk.” The demon said as he picked up a cup of tea from the kitchen table and began to sip from it. Kota let out a roar and charged at the demon removing his hatchet gun from his coat he fired a shot at the demon and as expected the demon avoided the blast, but Kota swung his hatchet and barely missed the demon’s head and connected with a wooden pillar.
“Now really son you might want to hear me out.” The demon teased as his tail wrapped around Kota’s wrist and snatched off his power gauntlet. Kota tried to pull the axe from out of the pillar but he had swung with all of his strength and his axe was embedded deep in the wood. “Why would I waste my breath I’ll kill you, you fucking monster!” Kota screamed as he threw his fist at the demon’s face with all the strength he could. The demon caught his hand before he could land a punch. 

Page #25

Kota couldn’t seem to breathe as the creature started to walk towards him. Kota freaked out then ripping the goggles off his face and threw them in the direction of the creature. While in midair the goggle connected with something and the hovered there for a moment before pink lighting began shooting from the lenses. Thunder cracked as the lighting began to grow more frequent building and building a high pitch tone seemed to scream as the energy seemed to reach its apex. Then an eerie silence filled the room as the opal lenses began to glow pure white. Then with a violent blast the goggles exploded sending Kota flying into a wall, knocking him out. When Kota came to his eyes couldn’t seem to focus and his ears were still ringing from the explosion. As the room came into focus Kota could see the explosion had caused everything in the room to crash into the walls and most of it was on fire smoke billowing out of the window. But standing in the middle of the room was the creature Kota had seen except his suit was gone and chunks of his torso, left arm and right leg were missing. Large patches of his pale skin were burned and black blood dripped from his wounds. “What the hell are you?” Kota whispered underneath his breath. The creature then slowly turned his head to Kota one of his eyeballs hanging from its skull. “Souls …I want your souls, muhahaha!” The creature cackled until it coughed up blood. Rushing towards Kota with its gold claws gleaming in the fire light, Kota stood up and braced himself. “Kota what’s going on?” Scotty said from the door way coughing a bit from the smoke. Kota looked away for just a moment to glance at Scotty and the creature ripped into his left arm with one its gold claw. “Kota! Mom Dad help something is attacking Kota!” Scotty screamed down the stairs as he grabbed a piece of a broken chair. The pain from the gash in Kota’s arm was excruciating but Kota didn’t focus on that instead he kicked the creature in the gut and sent it crashing to floor in front of Scotty. As the creature landed Scotty struck at it with the broken chair, but it launched itself up and before Scotty could land his hit the creature dug its golden claw into Scotty’s chest. Scotty’s face twisted in agony as the creature ripped its claw upward and cut through his torso. Kota watched in horror as the monster pulled out his claw removing an orb of smoke and energy from his brother’s chest. The monster held it in his claw dripping with blood for a moment then swallowed it whole. Kota could only watch in horror as the creature’s burns began to heal. “Yesss.” The creature hissed as it licked it claws clean.

Page #24

“What do you mean by that?” Kota said chasing after Morten, but Morten just kept walking placing his glass at the bar and walking out of the tavern. Kota followed suit setting his glass down as well then chasing Morten out into the street. “What do you mean by making it through typhoon season? My family has always had plenty to live off of during the wet season.” Kota screamed after Morten. Morten turned a scowl on his face then walked back to Kota. “Yes until you left for your fancy school didn’t you know? I mean you must have realized your father and mother sold half of their farms earnings to that Professor your studying with. That’s the reason he came all the way from Mirage City. Not because you scored above average on some apprentice exam.” Morten said matter of factly. Kota doubled over he felt like someone had sucker punched him in the chest he could barely catch his breath as he thought of all the letters from home, some of which had been addressed to Professor Faulk. Kota stood up and lunged forward throwing his fist into Morten’s jaw. He connected hard like striking a stone with your bare hand. Morten fell over and lay completely still. “Morten … Morten are you okay?” Kota leaned down and put his ear to Morten’s chest. As he listened he heard the big lug breathing, so he picked up his friend and half dragged and half carried him back to his forge.

Walking back to his home Kota absent mindedly kicked at the stones along the road. Looking at his home he felt challenged to even walk through the door. Kota put his reservations aside and snuck inside without waking a single soul in the house. The next morning Kota awoke to Scotty shaking him. “Kota wake you lazy butt up, Mom is making breakfast and she wants the whole family eating together.” Kota opened his eyes a bit shocked when he realized he could see Scotty’s blood flowing through his body. Kota put his hands up to eyes and felt the goggles on his face. “Okay Scotty I’ll be downstairs here in a minute.” Kota said giggling a bit. As Scotty walked out the room Kota swung his legs out of bed to put on his boots. Out of his peripheral vision Kota sees a shadow move. Turning to look Kota is horrified to see a something not quite human standing in a three piece suit staring at him. Instead of hands the creature had solid gold claws sticking out from his sleeves. His skin was almost transparent it was so white. The creature’s teeth were straight but they were elongated and sharper than any Kota had ever seen. His hair was black as midnight and pulled back into a ponytail, and to Kota’s shock a white tail with a sharp arrow like point whipped back and forth behind him. The most unsettling thing was his eyes blood red eyes that were looking straight at Kota.

Page #23

“Was it that bad?” Morten asked as he held up his pint to drink. Kota snatched the pint right out of his friend’s hand and downed that one in two gulps. “I guess so!” Morten began to chuckle and Kota held up a silver piece. “Here buy us another three rounds and I’ll tell you all about it.” Morten grabbed the coin and immediately grabbed the bar tenders attention. Kota walked off and found an empty table next to a group of travelers. From the looks of then they came from the southern coastal country of Rowanur. Kota felt inside his jacket for his hatchet, it was there and that reassured him a bit. Morten walked up shortly after and placed the next round of drinks onto the table. Within an hour Kota had forgotten about his mother’s concern and he and Morten were recounting tales from their youth. All the while the travelers from Rowanur were quietly playing a game of cards. “Do you remember the time you, Quesha and I broke into old Quincy’s stables?” Morten asked Kota a dirty smile covering his face. Kota responded, “Which time? The time we took the black stallion out for a ride in the middle of the night and Mrs. Malcolm swore up and down she saw children flying on a shadow the next day? Or the time we got drunk off that bottle of honey wine you stole from old hog face?” Kota asked as he gestured with his ale. “The time we drank three whole bottles of that honey wine. You and Quesha had just found out that your apprenticeships were going to take you both out of the village and my apprenticeship forced me to stay here in the village.” Morten swirled his ale around in his glass before he gulped down the remainder. “Aye that day was hard on all three of us Quesha was to go deep into the jungle to study with the medicine woman. I had to travel to Mirage city to study with Professor Faulk and you had to stay here with old Hoggart. We drank ourselves completely silly that night. If my memory serves me right Quesha passed out and fell asleep in Snow fire’s stable and me and you finished the wine on top of the stable while we watched the stars.” Kota recalled the night very clearly he had often thought of that last night in the village with fondness. “Yes my friend that is indeed how the evening played out… It’s good to have you back Kota. When Quesha returned it was as if my life had started again, but now that you’re back as well it can be just like the old days.” Morten looked at Kota then through an arm around his shoulder and gave him a slight squeeze. “Well almost Morten I still have things left undone in Mirage City. I must finish my studies and receive my certification.” Kota said as he removed Morten’s arm from around him. “Ahh that’s not what you need Kota you’re plenty smart already. What you need to do is open a mechanic’s shop here with your mother so she won’t have to race to make it through the typhoon season and so I don’t have to go without seeing my friend.”  Morten swung his body away from the table and walked toward the bar.

Page #21 & Page #22

When Kota arrived at home he couldn’t believe his eyes the old airship he and his mother had designed seven years ago was not only running but had a large golden trophy sitting next to the steering column. Inside the house Kota could hear his mother and father screaming. He ran inside with a smile spreading over his face. Scotty was the first person to welcome Kota home as he walked through the door, Scotty suddenly hugged Kota. “She won! Mom one first place in the Bladesville Annual Airship Race! She actually won, Kota can you believe it?” Scotty’s face was lit up like a candle. Further inside Drugen had lifted Kota’s mother off of the ground and was spinning her around and around.
It wasn’t long before the family had lost all of their energy celebrating and they sat down to listen to Ash-Lynn telling the story of her victory. “So I had just unloaded the crops and hides at the market I ended up selling most to that trader Joseph that came through here a few years ago. With all that money I had got from Joseph I went to the mage guild in Bladesville, threw it all on the counter and said ‘I need the most powerful mage stone in the city.’ Well you would have thought I had asked for the head of the mage king. Because they all erupted into a furious debate about where or how they could procure it, I then said ‘I don’t give two fuzzy rats asses how you do it I need that mage stone in hour.’ Then I walked out of the door and went to take a nap on the airship. When I woke up there were four mages loading a mage stone the size of a dog into the power uplink. They thanked me for the money and I thanked them for the stone. I had already signed up for the race earlier that day and it was about to start in less than three minutes so I had to fly like an arrow to get to the starting line on time. When I finally got there the starting flare had just been shot. I was in dead last but I quickly gained a strong hold in the middle of the pack. There were over twenty different airships racing every one of them was sponsored by a local business but my lone flyer was much smaller and smaller means less defenses and more speed. My evasiveness helped in many ways I had one ship try to launch a chain cannon at my steam pump. Without hesitation I threw my anchor down which ended up hitting a ship that was trying to pass me from underneath they ended up pulling me out of the line of fire. But with my anchor hitting their steam reserve they began to lose altitude so I had to dislodge the anchor chain. Without my anchor weighing me down my acceleration and my altitude increased drastically. Soon I was in third place and I couldn’t believe my luck both the airships in second and third were locked in a battle of cannon fire I saw my chance to pass beside the first place vessel and took it. Accelerating as much as possible I began to pull alongside the first place airship but the vessel in second place saw me coming and launched a volley of flares at my ship. I managed to slip by without the flares doing any major damage to the ship but they hit my steam reserve and I began to lose momentum. I only had one option if I expected to overtake them both and pull out in first place. I had to activate my flare boosters but being so close to the enemy ship I was hesitant. I saw the finish line only about a hundred yards ahead. So with my heart in my throat and my hand on the lever I threw my weight down activating the flares. I was hurdled backward almost falling out of my post when they kicked on behind me I saw the crimson flames licking at the side of the enemy ship. But I flew ahead of both of the enemy vessels and rocketed past the finish line! The best part was landing in the winner’s circle and hearing the hundreds of people cheering and applauding. I would trade anything to feel like that again, well anything besides the five hundred gold pieces and that huge trophy sitting in the airship.” Ash-Lynn and the rest of the family giggled for a moment. Then she noticed the bandages wrapped around Kota’s arm. “Drugen dear why don’t you and Scotty go and unload the ship before it gets too dark. And if you have time check on how much a new anchor and chain is going to cost us.” Drugen and Scotty looked at Kota then back to Ash-Lynn then decided to get out of the house and do as she said. Before they finished closing the door Ash-Lynn erupted, “What the hell happened?!” Kota spent the next few hours explaining how the shifter had attacked him and how Quesha had healed him. After he had told Ash-Lynn everything she proceeded to lecture him for another hour on how he could have and should have been more careful. By the time Scotty and Drugen had returned she had fallen asleep sitting in her chair. It was dark outside so Kota had lit a single candle which painted the room in warm light. As soon as Drugen walked through the door Kota stepped out of the back and ran off to the tavern. At night the street was mostly empty aside for the traffic in and out of the tavern. Before Kota stepped inside he made sure the bandages were tight on his arm. Walking in the tavern Morten was waiting at the bar holding two frothy pints of beer. Kota walked up to his old friend, snatched a pint out of his hand and downed it in three gulps. 

Page #20

“May I ask you a personal question sir?” Kota asked as the old mage turned to leave. “If the question is not to personal.” Said the mage. “The shifter that attacked you did you manage to kill it or did you let it escape?” Kota gave the old mage a moment to answer. “When the beast attacked me I did not hold back I destroyed it. Though some times when I think about it I wish I had not taken his life.” The old mages eyes showed a twinge of regret and for a moment Kota felt the same of his own attacker. “How about you, did you kill your assailant as well or did you let it escape with its life?” The old mage asked brining Kota back to the moment when he had crushed that shifter’s skull. “I killed it but, my only regret is that I didn’t do it cleaner and faster to ease her suffering.”  And with that Kota turned and left. Kota walked around the village for a few hours thinking of how he had taken away that assassin’s life. It had been easier than he thought stopping her was his only goal and he was willing to do anything to accomplish this. But the life he had stolen from her was just as important as his. Kota had been wandering through town absently and only then did he realize where he was standing. Kota stood in front of the parish, the church had arrived only a year or so before Kota had left for mirage city. Kota walked in and took a seat on one of the benches before the alter and silently he said a prayer for the soul of his attacker. Then he exited quickly before he had a chance to see the priest. Kota practically ran to Morten’s forge to see if he was finished with the settings for his lenses. As Kota had expected Morten had finished the settings and sat outside smoking his pipe. “Finally my friend I was begging to worry about you.” Morten said as he tossed the bronze setting to Kota. The settings were just as Kota had specified down to the gear shape that would surround the lenses. Kota removed the potion from his pocket along with the opals he poured the potion on the lenses and then inserted them into the settings making sure the lenses would not shift in any way. Kota then removed a few leather thongs and tied them to either end of the goggles. “Go ahead Kota try them on I wish to see how they fit you.” Morten said as he stood up snatched the Goggles from Kota and began fastening them to his head. Through the goggles Kota saw everything clearer than clear. He saw how the water flowed through the trees how the wind blew through the sky how the blood pumped through Morten’s body.  “Oh Morten they work even better than I could have imagined I see the flow of everything. Now I only need to test them on a glamor and my theory will be proven. With these no assassin will be able to get within a mile of the mage king or any other king. I am going to be a very rich man.” Kota said as he removed the goggles. “Well I don’t care much for all that assassin nonsense but the very rich man sounds promising. Especially cause the first round is on you tonight.” Morten said as he poked Kota in the shoulder. At that very second a loud whirling sound began to invade the air growing louder as an airship flew overhead.  As it passed over Kota and Morten looked at each other. “I will see you at the tavern later.” They said practically in unison as they shook hands. Then without warning Kota took off running like a mad man towards the fields behind his house. 

Page #19

Walking into the mage guild Kota could feel eyes on him though he saw no-one.  He ventured further inside as he did a single man began to descend from a stairway to his left. “Well hello sir I was beginning to wonder if the guild had closed.” Kota began as he offered his hand to the man. The man’s eyes were cold even for a mage he was older than most men in the village and his hand reached out for Kota’s. When they shook hands Kota noticed a single black vein twisting around the man’s wrist and up his arm hidden beneath the man’s robes. “So sorry young one at my age I nap a bit too often.” The old mage said with a bit of chuckle. “What can I help you with today a love potion, a cure for your wound perhaps, or did you just need a simple spell done?” As the old mage asked his question he moved behind a counter and onto a stool. “Actually sir I have a rather strange request I need you to charge to theses opal crystals as you would a mage stone then I need a dispel potion.”  Kota said as he reached into his pockets to pull out the opal lenses. The old mage removed a pair of spectacles from his pocket and began to examine the lenses. “It will take about ten minutes for me to brew your potion and to charge these two thin stones it will cost you oh a silver piece. Do you agree to that price young one?” The old mage stuck out a hand for them to seal the deal. Kota reached out and shook his hand, when he did the old mage held it and set down the stones. Soon the old mage lifted the edge of Kota’s bandage. “You survived an arachnid shifter assassin as well.” As the old mage said this he lifted his sleeve to reveal the blackened veins Kota had imagined to see. “It was only a few years ago that I stopped receiving challenges from young mages passing through here. Take this as a warning young one never leave home without your arm covered, unless you are looking for bloodshed.” Kota just nodded his head and the old mage let go of his arm, leaving to prepare his potion. Kota watched as the old mage climbed up and down a ladder removing ingredients from high shelves behind the counter stopping occasionally to add something to a cauldron filled with boiling water. After he had finished gathering the items he needed for the potion he spoke a chant over the cauldron, and with a puff of smoke erupting out of the pot, he began to spoon the potion into a large glass bottle. As soon as he finished with the potion the mage placed the two lenses in a spell circle then began the process of transferring a portion of his magical energy into the stones. Kota could not look away as he watched the flow of energy coat the stones in power. After the mage finished the opal lenses glowed and pulsed with light. “Here you are young one, now for my payment.”  Kota handed the old mage a silver piece in exchange for the potion and the lenses. 

Page #18

When daylight finally broke through the storm the next morning Kota could no longer stay in his bed. Looking through the pack, Professor Faulk had sent through the warp gate with him, Kota found his Opal lenses packed away carefully. Scotty and Drugen were both working in the fields behind the property clearing away fallen limbs and trees. Kota decided to walk around the village and see what all had changed since the last time he was home. The village had grown considerably not only in size but also in number. When Kota’s ancestors had settled this area sixty years ago there was only a wooden wall separating their homes from the lush jungle surrounding them from three sides. Now the stone walls of the village had almost reached from the mountain at their backs to the valley many miles away. Before Kota had left many of this had been similar but now the walls were fortified and a sentry was posted every few feet. As Kota walked down the paths he heard the familiar clank of a hammer meeting hot metal. Kota quickened his pace to catch his friend Morten a blacksmith’s apprentice. “Morten you bandit what are you still doing here? I thought your last letter said if old Hoggart ever smarted off about you work ethic you were going to join me in Mirage city.”  Kota teased as Morten suddenly stopped hammering and threw the red hot rod into a barrel of water. “You dog I can’t believe you survived that bite everyone in the village was sure you were gonna meet the divine.” Morten said running up to his old friend covered in sweat he wrapped his arms around Kota and pulled him close. “It is good to see you well old friend.” Kota said as he hugged him back. “I need your help Morten I need the help of the best metal smith in the village.” Kota looked at Morten seriously. “Name it my friend if it is in my power I shall provide you with it.” Morten said stepping back from Kota and towards his forge. Kota removed his journal and gave Morten a page. “I need a bronze setting for lenses made to these specifications if you follow the instructions on this sheet to the word I will reward you with two silver pieces.” Morten’s eyes lit up as he began to look over the pages Kota handed him. “I can have them ready in four hours is that okay?” Morten asked as he headed over to his forge to begin. “Do it in three and the first round of drinks is on me tonight.” Kota said as he turned to leave. “You’re on Kota, see you in three hours.”  Kota left and knew with confidence Morten would have the settings ready when he returned. With only two errands left he hurried to the mages guild Earth Movers. The earth mover’s guild was a home for mages on the road it was a place for them to take jobs in town and to lodge during travels. The mage guilds also served as a shop where humans could buy potions and get their mage stone’s charged. As Kota was walking a pain shot through his arm that made him stagger and almost trip. Kota clutched his arm as he sat for a moment. He was more than half-way to the mage guild so he decided to continue. Before long they pain began to ebb away and the stiffness soon dissipated as well.

Page #17

Finally Quesha had the bandages undone and everyone looked over to Kota who had gasped a bit as he saw his arm. The veins around his wounds had turned black and he saw where the shifter poison had traveled through his veins it had almost made it to his shoulder. The blackened veins stretched from his wrist to his to his bicep. “How long will it be until the color begins to fade?” Scotty asked. Kota whispered the answer barely escaping his mouth, “Never.”  Quesha picked up Scotty and signaled for Drugen to rise. “Kota needs to rest and I need to rewrap this wound you two go get some sleep as well.” Kota’s family passed through the doorway without a fight. As she turned Quesha looked longingly at her friend lying in bed with such a severe wound and for the first time she let the gravity of the situation hit her with full force. “Do you know how close this was Kota? We almost lost you dammit! An hour later you would have been dead as soon as the poison reached your heart it would have ate through your flesh and you would have been a sack of skin filled with blood! I swear by all that is holy and right if you ever do anything this stupid I will help your father etch that gravestone.”  

Quesha composed herself as she reached over and began rewrapping Kota’s wound. “I swear Quesha I never meant to scare you. I’ll be more careful I promise.” Kota looked at her for a moment the thunder seemed to stop as she looked at him. “Damn right you promise to be more careful, what you think is going to happen if I’m not there to stitch you up.”  Quesha emphasized her point buy tightening Kota’s bandage. 

Page #16

Kota squeezed his brother tightly holding him while tears streamed down Scotty’s face. Drugen bounded up the stairs taking them two or three at time while Quesha followed in a slightly hurried pace. As Drugen entered the room his eyes teamed with tears daring to flow down his cheeks. He approached the bed cautiously at first then threw a fist straight into the top of Kota’s skull. Drugen’s knuckles collided cleanly with the top of Kota’s head. “Daddy what the heck is wrong with you? Kota are you ok?” Scotty went on worriedly. Kota was fine he looked up at his father the look on his face sent shivers down his spine. “If you ever get into another fight with an overworlder I promise you Kota I will etch your gravestone myself.” Drugen said with a smile on his face. “Yes sir, it will never happen again.” Kota knew when his father was being serious. Quesha entered the room her light frame was so opposite to the chubby little girl he had grown alongside in his early years. “Well hello there Quesha I believe I owe my life to you, I will never be able to repay your bravery or compassion. I am truly humbled by your actions.” Kota said as he crossed his good arm over his chest and bowed his head. He held that position until Quesha walked over and placed a hand on his shoulder. “What else would you expect of me old friend.” She bent down and gave Kota a nice firm squeeze. “Here let me look at that arm now.” Quesha said as she took a seat next to Kota and Scotty on the bed. Drugen took a seat from Kota’s old desk as he did this he ran a finger through the dust on the desk then placed the chair next to the bed. “Okay so where is mom now?” Kota asked as Quesha undid the wraps on his arm. “Your mother is in the annual airship race in Bladesville. I had sent her there to trade some crops and hides for more weapons and mage stones. But you know how your mother is any chance for a race and she’s there.” Drugen answered as he pulled out a simple pipe and began to pack in some tobacco. Kota looked at his father with a knowing smirk. His mother had always hated Drugen’s smoking and he had always hated her racing yet they loved each other more and more each day. “Do you think she’ll place this year? I remember her letter from last year saying it was a close run.” Kota said with a bit of a laugh. Drugen lit his pie as Scotty and Quesha both let out a giggle. This time Quesha spoke up, “Your mother was no closer to placing than I was, she came in second to last.” Kota let out and uproar of laughter soon even Drugen was snickering. “Well then when is she coming home?” Scotty answered this one, “She is supposed to be back tomorrow afternoon but knowing her it will be more like midnight, especially if this storm keeps up tonight. You know how dangerous airship travel is, personally I prefer a horse.” As Scotty said this he stared out into the storm. 

Page #15

With his breath labored and his nerve endings burning he looked around the room. “I’m home … Oh thank God.” Kota reached down and stroked the hair off of his little brother’s face. Scotty was sleeping peacefully even through the rain and thunder. With his brother asleep at the foot of his bed, Kota slipped out of bed and placed the blankets around Scotty. Downstairs he heard two hushed voices whispering though Kota couldn’t make out their words over the clattering rain, so he decided to slip part way down the stairs to hear better. Hidden partially behind the stairwell Kota could see the dim light of a single candle burning in study. “I believe Kota will make a full recovery but a shifter’s venom will stain his skin for the rest of his life. Those discolored veins will always be blackened. Others may see it as a sign of weakness but warriors will see it as a sign of his strength. Did you happen to notice the change in his physique?” Quesha’s voice was a welcome comfort Kota had grown up alongside her in the village. “No I haven’t noticed …” Drugen began, “Actually now that you mention it when Kota arrived through the warp gate I thought he looked undernourished and he seemed to have less muscle mass before.” Kota began looking at his arms and legs but didn’t notice any difference from before. “A shifter’s venom works by breaking down the proteins in muscles and in fat. Since the cure for a shifters bite reverses this process the cure cannot tell the difference from muscle and fat so it reconstructs the proteins as all muscle. This will continue throughout the next few months. Very soon Kota will be much stronger than ever before. But forever marked with the venom’s mark, fighter’s may wish to test his strength if they know of this it may make him a target.” Quesha spoke softly but her words carried much weight. Kota began to turn pale fighting had never been his strong point and he had barely survived his fight with this shifter. “We will deal with that bridge when we come to it Kota has many other strengths besides brute force.” Drugen had more pride in his son than Kota had realized. Kota smiled at that and began walking back upstairs, as he crawled back into his bed young Scotty stirred and began to look around sleepily rubbing sleep from his eyes, when his gaze finally rested on Kota his eyes lit up and a smile flashed across his face. “Kota you’re awake! Daddy, Quesha Kota’s awake!” Scotty screamed as he flung himself into Kota’s arms. 

Page #14

She waited for him at the well with her bow and quiver on her back and a spear in her hands. She dressed in a tight tunic which hugged her body and a bit of leather armor covered her vital points. Scotty was dressed in a pair a britches and a loose shirt. But his bow and quiver were all he needed. He had ventured into Orielas many times without his Father’s consent. “Okay you volunteered for this I won’t slow down either you keep up or go home. If I tell you to stop moving, stop moving one whispered word could mean death for both of us in there. You must move quickly and quietly the sun is our ally many of the more dangerous creatures hunt at night, but that does not mean we won’t run into danger. If we run into an enemy use your bow and cover my back. I will face anything head on that we run into but the creatures that hunt in the day, hunt in packs. So we must stay together. Do you understand?”  Scotty just nodded then without warning Quesha turned to the jungle to and began run with Scotty close on her heels. Drugen watched from his doorway as his son run off into almost certain danger to save his other son.
It was over 5 hours before Quesha and Scotty emerged from the jungle with the medicine for Kota’s wound. In that time Kota had taken a rather nasty turn his wound had closed off and became swollen with puss. The veins around the wound had begun to turn black. “We must hurry Scott run to my house and get the bandages of my examine table. Drugen I need you to boil some water while I open the wound and drain most of the venom.” Both Scotty and Drugen followed her directions and after about thirty minutes of hard work. Quesha and Kota’s family watched as the venom drained from his wound. Soon after Kota’s wound was bandaged the whole lot of them had fallen asleep Scotty fell asleep next to Kota’s bedside while Quesha and Drugen both lie still as stone in the study. Around midnight a summer storm began to brew heavy droplets of water struck the roof sending a symphony of clatters and bangs as the thunder roared outside. As his family slept Kota was battling for his life and in his mind his dreams were more disturbing than the present. (His heart racing Kota still felt the fiery burning of the shifter’s fangs planted in his arm pumping his body full of her deadly venom. The only way he thinks to stop her is to tear her head off of his arm but when he reaches for the shifters skull he finds his little brother Scotty there sucking out the venom. Before Kota can say anything Scotty turns his head and spits out the venom. As it hits the floors it suddenly turns into hundreds of gold coins clanging along the floor. As Kota is watching this a miniature version of professor Faulk appears in a mouse hole with big $$ for eyes running out into the chaos of bouncing coins. With inhuman speed the little Faulk collects every coin returning to his mouse hole. Out of curiosity Kota leans down into the professor’s hole. Inside the hole the mini professor is mixing chemicals at a blinding pace barley paying attention. The result is of course a giant and violent explosion that burst forth with such force that it Kota was when flying until he crashed into the sky which fell away like broken glass.) Kota awakened with a silent scream that barely escaped his lips as he shot forward out of bed.

Page #13

“Wake up you lazy boy you’ll sleep your life away if stay in bed any longer.” Drugen shook his son, Scotty, awake. Scotty burst out of bed half-dressed and dripping with sweat. “Was it another nightmare Scotty?” Drugen asked his son, concern chiseled into the lines of his face. Scotty nodded and then ran off without a word straight into the middle of the village, where the well lies and to his brother Kota. Upon seeing Kota lying by the well Scotty screamed, “Someone help! Fetch my father and the healer!!! Kota wake up…Kota come on Kota wake up, please wake up.” Scotty eyes began to water as he tried shaking Kota awake. Drugen and the rest of the village all rushed to Scotty and Kota’s side. So many people gathered that the village’s healer had to push his way through the crowd. “Make way you buffoons how am I to treat the injured if all of you are in my way? Move!!!” The Healer Quesha was a beautiful woman strong and proud who demand respect. “Scotty hand me the scrap of paper sticking from your brother’s jacket.” After Quesha read the note from Professor Faulk she announced, “Kota has been poisoned by a shapeshifter we don’t have much time I need men to help me gather herbs for his cure. We will have to voyage into Orielas to gather these herbs I need volunteers.” At first no man spoke and the crowd began to thin. “Stop right there are you so heartless as to turn your back on a fellow villager and let him die!” “I said I need volunteers now who will go with me?” Once again the crowd moved away without any man speaking up. “I will go with you.” Scotty spoke. “Father stay here you must comfort Kota if at all possible.” Quesha looked Scotty over for a ten year old he was tall but in the jungle of Orielas he would be little help. “Fine run home, grab your bow and meet me back here in ten minutes. Drugen take your son home and get him in bed. Try not to worry we will rush back as soon as we find the herb.” Scotty helped his father carry Kota home and place him in bed. After that though he picked up his bow and quiver but Drugen stopped him before he left. “Your mother will be back in two days if Kota is not better by tomorrow she will blame herself hurry but keep yourself safe as well. Watch Quesha’s back she risks much by help us.” Drugen hugged his son then sent him on his way. “Pray for Kota father I will return with his medicine swiftly.” Scotty ran off to meet with Quesha. 

Page #12

Antiqua virtus inest, ut puer hic frater tuus transibit hic lapis in Madaemar.” <Ancient power that resides here switch this boy with your brother stone in Madaemar.> As Madam Dianna recites the spell each of the rune stones of the warp gate begin to light up until all five of them glow like stars, with a final burst of light Madam Dianna and Professor Faulk turn away averting their eyes from the blinding flash. When they look back Kota’s body and is gone and lying in his place is a simple stone with a glowering rune sizzling in the earth.
Inside the warp Kota’s body flies through a cylindrical worm hole with countless curves and bends then suddenly at the end of the tunnel Kota sees the ground rush up to meet him. With a resounding thud Kota lands in the middle of his village just beside the well. Unable to sustain consciousness Kota’s mind fell into a void where he could only feel the heat and pain of the venom pulsing through him.

        Upon waking Kota is aware of voices calling to him but his mouth feels as though it is locked tightly be some invisible chain of pain, for every time he attempts to open his jaw a vicious pain hinders his speech. As Kota opens his eyes the evening light of a single candle burns his eyes as though he was gazing into the sun itself. Eventually his eyes adjust to the room it feels as if years have passed since he was last awake. Kota managed to sit up inside his bed and look around. (Of all the angels in heaven…I’m home…How did I?) His eyes flew to his arm covered with far too many bandages. They smelled of death and Kota eyed them warily wondering when the last time his bandage shad been changed properly. Kota took a closer look at the room he was occupying though it was most certainly his old room many things were different. For starters his room had been painted yellow, there were now two beds occupying his space and his once proud trophy case had been removed and a mural painted in its place. Although all of this had changed his desk from before he left had every paper right where he left it, a film of dust covered his half of the room. His desk seemed to be undisturbed by time. And at the foot of his bed a young blonde boy with a long green ponytail sleeps quietly. Kota has to double check but the little brat snoozing at the end of his bed is indeed his little brother Scotty. It had been over 4 years since he had last laid eyes on his little brother. When Kota had left Scotty was a scrawny brat who had little to no promise of ever developing a worthwhile skill. Now it seemed Scotty had a chance of being a decent care giver. 

Page #11

“Well tell me woman he needs the cure and quickly only the gods know how long he has.” Professor Faulk said this with anger and impatience. He was far too anxious the unknown poison coursing through Kota’s veins was obviously putting Kota in a great amount of pain.
“The cure lies in the jungles of Orielas just outside the village of Madaemar in the country of Holiiand, but in the jungle lies creatures whose entire diet is made of human flesh the venial plants eat humans but in their roots lay the cure for a shifters poison.” As Madam Dianna spoke she used a somber tone. “Be warned Faulk there are many dangers in Orielas.”
 Professor Faulk was almost joyous though at least there was a chance of saving his apprentice. “Why are you smiling Faulk? Your ward may very well end up dead before you reach Holiiand.”  Professor Faulk stifled a laugh “Because Madam Kota hails from Madaemar that is where he became my apprentice since then I have always left a warp stone in Kota’s village just in case he ever needed to rush home, but the warp stone is only good for one person… We will have to hope that Kota’s fellow villagers are able to read.”
Outside the university Madam Dianna and Professor Faulk place Kota inside the warp gate. The warp gate is a group of stones arranged in a pentacle; each stone was etched with ancient runes imbued with power from long ago. After setting him down Professor Faulk attached a note to Kota’s chest. <This is Kota son of Drugen and Maya; he has been poisoned by an arachnid shifter. The cure for which is the venial plant’s root ground into a paste. The venial plant grows in the jungle of Orielas near flowing water. If you manage to cure him please send him back to Mirage City to complete his training. If not please realize we did everything in our power to save this young man. P.S. If he does die he owes me twenty gold pieces which I will expect by your earliest convenience.> 
        “Okay Madam the rest is up to you and his fellow villagers I only pray that he found in time for them to administer the cure.” Professor Faulk steps outside of the warp gate and Madam Dianna waved her hands over the poisoned youth. You would never know by looking at her but the dean of Mirage University is one of the most powerful mages in all of Etherya.

Page #10

The shifter’s body fell to the ground with a hard thump. Even though the shifter had been defeated its venom filled fang was still protruding from Kota’s arm.  Kota felt light headed and his head began to spin like a top. Unable to keep his balance Kota feel hard to ground. Barely able to keep his thoughts collected Kota removed the fang from his arm. Acari jumped from the netting as he did this the flames surrounding him subsided. Acari reached down and grabbed Kota’s collar between his jaw and began to drag Kota out onto the streets.
It was an hour before Acari was able to drag Kota back to the university in doing so he expended much energy.  By the time he reached the doorway to the university Kota’s extremities were numb but his body felt as though acid poured through his veins. Acari accomplishing his mission let an extremely loud howl echo through Mirage city then his body rested turning him into a stone statue. At that moment Professor Faulk came to the glass door of the university practically stumbling over his apprentice. “What in the…Kota? Kota oh my, what has happened Kota…Kota speak to me. Kota!” Professor Faulk picked up his apprentice and carried him into the glass structure. Professor Faulk looked back for only a moment then whispered under his breath, “Good dog.”

Inside the university Professor Faulk stands over Kota while the Madam Dianna waves burning incents over his body. The smoke forms the shape of the shifter woman latched onto Kota’s arm. “An arachnid shifter this is bad Faulk very bad, I only know of one cure for shifter venom and it is far beyond our borders.” Madam Dianna shakes her head in frustration. 

Page #9

As Kota stood he saw what had become of the guards. Above him strung up by the shifter’s silk laid the lifeless bodies of all twelve guards shriveled and dried like raisins in the sun. Fear rushed into Kota’s mind and heart. At that moment when Kota was stricken with terror the shifter leaped into the air hissing. Kota looked even more frightened for a split second as the shifter leaped right in between his cross hairs. A wonderful smirk replaced his frightened expression as he squeezed the trigger a bullet shot from his hatchet and hit the shifter in the shoulder. With a deafening cry “Aaaaggghhh!” the shifter fell to the ground and began to convulse, writhing in the agony. While the shifter was distracted by its pain Kota spoke these ancient words, “Ego summoneas te, veni foras acari flammiferum cane non” <I summon thee, come forth acari the flaming hound.>A flame flew from Kota’s gauntlet and etched circle the size of a coffee table into the earth. A tower of flames shot from the earth and high into the air what was left inside the circle was a pile of molten stone that was cast in the shape of a large dog. “Sick it Acari.” Kota commanded, the molten stone dog suddenly burst into flames as it sprinted towards the wounded shifter.  The shifter sprang to its feet and began to run up the wall of the jeweler’s store and into its webbing. This made little difference to Acari his stone claws dug into the iron side of the building and chased after the deadly creature. “What are you after shifter?” Kota screamed at the shifter as it fled from his hell hound. Undeterred the shifter spoke casually as it evaded the hound, “Idiot I only want your blood!” In that second the shifter used another attack launching multiple poisoned barbs at both Kota and Acari. Kota easily dodged most of the barbs but one of them hit its mark and protruded from Kota’s arm. Acari however managed to avoid all of the barbs by launching his body from the rooftop and landing in the webbing his flaming body burning through most of the web as he landed. “Now Acari, use your molten breath!” from deep within the stone dog a sudden burst of magma shot from its mouth and landed on the shifter’s torso. With a horrible ear shattering scream the shifter fell from the webbing and landed with a thunderous crash to the ground. “Now tell me the truth you retch what do you really want with me?” Kota began to walk over to the shifter to see if it was still alive. “The journal I want the journal now give it to me!” With what little strength she had left the shifter lunged forward and hooked one venomous fang into Kato’s unprotected arm.  The pain was unbelievable like acid running throughout his veins with Kota’s arm caught on the shifter’s fang Kota placed the gauntlet’s hand over the shifters head, “Don’t make me do this!” but the shifter did not budge, then he squeezed with all the power he had left crushing the shifters skull like a piece of fruit. 

Page #8

Outside the jewelers iron shop the air was still. The light of the moon shone from high above Kota as he exited, he noticed the quiet the uneasy calm that had settled into the night. Kota looked in all directions as the solid thud and clang of the iron doors fell behind him. The guards were not at their post all twelve of the brawlers and swordsmen were nowhere in sight. Kota inhaled deeply to detect the smell of midnight mist wafting from the many oases surrounding mirage city but there was another scent infused with evil and violence the smell of blood wafted through the streets. Kota began to turn when he heard a voice smoother than spider’s silk behind him. “Where are you going young one?”  There behind Kota stood a shifter. <Shifters or Shapeshifters were notorious assassins they never looked entirely human though they usually favored their animal forms over their humanoid appearance, often because they could never maintain this shape for too long.>
The shifter was a very attractive young woman her body was covered in the thinnest thread Kota had ever seen. Her hair was blacker than the night beyond the stars and her eyes stood out from her heart shaped face a very cerulean blue. Her skin was pale as sand and her clothing were more or less under garments. The only way Kota knew for a fact she was a shifter was the not so subtle hint of the six arms she had folded across her front.
“Me?  Miss…I’m going home but a woman of your beauty should not be out in this cold with so little on. Would you care to come home with me?”  Kota teased as he prepared his power gauntlet. He did not turn it on but merely hand his hand on the trigger inside the mechanism. 
The Shifter woman laughed and clutched her sides. “No thank you I don’t play with my food.” As she finished speaking she threw her hands up and tossed a sticky net over Kota, knocking him down and pinning his power gauntlet to the ground. Kota struggled for a moment then reached into his cloak and removed a hatchet his only other weapon. With a great amount of effort he swung the hatchet and began to free himself from the webbing pinning his gauntlet to the ground. After only one swing he pulled the trigger inside and the gears of the gauntlet began to spin tearing through the rest of the shifters net.
With a venomous hiss the shifter began to change her shape her pale skin turned black, her hair changed to a milky white; her arms erupted into powerful claws and her hearts shape faced twisted into a maw of gnashing pincers. “I wonder how your blood will taste.” 

Page #7

The jeweler began to weep slightly then he sank on the very spot he stood and crumpled to the floor. “Every man who has touched this book has died within ten days. Some tell me there was a curse laid upon the wicked thing. A curse cast by a mage of the Merfolk.” (I was unaware the merfolk had mages hmm… Who is teaching the merfolk magic?) “How long has it been since this supposed cursed item came into your possession?” Kota asked while he searched through his bag. “Two months but I have never laid my hands upon it fearing the curse. But many people have asked much like you and demanded I let them examine it. From what I’ve heard from the guards the curse has taken its toll each and every time.” Kota finally produced a gauntlet twice the size of his own arm and proceeded to put his arm inside and attach it to his coat with a set of straps. “Do you have any mage stones lying around? A piece of quartz should do just fine.”  The jeweler was taken aback for a moment then left and swiftly returned with three quartz mage stones. “If you don’t mind me asking what in Etherya do you plan to do?” Kota responded simply, “I’m going to lift the curse.”  Kota placed the three pieces of quartz inside a slot on the gauntlet and closed the slot. A second latter the gears along the device were moving rapidly and sparks of energy were jumping in between the gauntlet’s finger tips. “Levabo ad depellendam tempus et claustra venenatis ligula.” < I lift the barriers of time and space to dispel the magic here.> Green fire erupted from the gauntlet’s fingers and slammed through the iron and glass making contact with an invisible barrier surrounding the journal. As the flames encircled the journal the magic seeped into the journal. A moment later the glass exploded as the curse tried to escape in the form of purple smoke, the green fire rose out of the journal and engulfed the smoke until there was nothing left. The jeweler was astonished his mouth hanging open like a fish out of water he tried to form words but none seemed to express what he wished to say. “Here take these four gold pieces I’m taking the journal with me if the mage returns looking for it tell him he was outbid.”  Kota reached inside the case and removed the journal. Inside the first page he found the ancient scrawl of magic runes written in lapis lazuli. The crystal ink had been burnt until it was almost unrecognizable but Kota could decipher the markings later. He stuffed the journal inside his large canvas bag then exited the Jewelers wearing his now fully charged power gauntlet even if he ran into that vampire he would be unafraid.   

Page #6

Kota quickly ran through the events of the day and explained he needed two opal lenses. “The Opals you require are quite expensive so we keep them in the back give me just a few minutes.” The shop keeper shuffled away leaving Kota waiting inside the reception area.  After ten minutes the shop keeper had still not returned so Kota picked up a candle and began to wander the store. With no windows and the only door being the one Kota had just entered that only left the adjacent rooms to look through. Kota slowly made his way around to the room opposite the waiting room. Guiding his candle along the walls he noticed glass encasing fine jewelry and elegant clothes. He stopped only for a moment when he found a worn leather journal encased inside a glass box with iron bars surrounding it. (Strange… with all these valuables, why is this worn book incased in iron while these jewels are left only in glass?) Kota pondered for a moment as the store keepers lantern came into view.  “Well, Sir were you able to find anything useful?” Kota says partially covering his eyes this time. In the shop keepers hands rested a serving tray, atop the tray laid 4 sets of opal lenses and the Jewelers lantern. The first sets of lenses were outlandishly wide in diameter and far too thin like sheets of paper. The second sets were the right diameter but once again far too thin only about a blades width. But the third sets were right on the money a beautiful fire green opal pair perfect diameter like a ripe orange and the perfect width like a window pane. Anything excess Kato could have a mage perfect. “I’ll need the third set sir how much?” The Jeweler thought it over for a moment then said, “One gold coin each young master.” Kota removed two of the gold coins he had and handed them to the Jeweler. “Fine here now that this business is over what can you tell me of this journal?”  The jeweler barely contained a gasp as his hands began to shake set the opals on the tray to clatter. “I’m so sorry young master but that tome is already spoken for a young mage came in and made and offer of three gold coins for it a week ago. I’m sad to say he has yet to retrieve it or pay me more than the reservation fee.”  Undeterred Kota pursued again. “I did not ask to purchase it sir. I asked what you can tell me of it. Where does it come from what are its origins? Surely you know that much?” Kota eyed the jeweler again this time he was setting his tray down his nerves unable to steady his hands. “All I know young master is that it supposedly came from an engineer somewhere off the Gilldaland coastline.”  The jeweler was sweating profusely and his fear was pungent in the air. “What else do you know sir? Your body betrays you; you cannot hide your fear when it fills this whole room.” 

Page #5

Kota’s heart raced the vampire was inching closer the smell of blood was wafting through the air. During peace talks all creatures and nations gathered to discuss the continent’s affairs but Vampires were undoubtedly the most hated and feared even over the werewolves. The thirst is not something all Vampires can control but most do not feed more than once a month. Apparently this vampire is not in control and a vampire mid blood lust versus a lanky human is like the insect versus the spider. Thinking quickly Kota dug his hands into the sandstone wall beside him and began ascending toward the rooftop. Mere seconds feels like hours as he struggles to reach the edge of the roof, once on top he peers over the side to ascertain the location of the vampire. He is still steadily dragging the corpse into the graveyard licking his fingers of any remaining blood. Kota seizes his chance and takes a running start as he leaps from one rooftop to the next only stopping when he can go no further thanks to the iron wall of the jewelers. The slick iron walls were too high to jump over so Kota is forced to climb down the front of the building he was currently on top of. As Kota began his decent he sees the guards walking over to him. Twelve heavily armored men stare at Kota with questioning eyes. “Ay what the hell do you think you’re doing?” A guard walks up standing almost seven feet tall with massive arms like tree trunks he catches Kota by his collar lifts him off of the wall and dangles him over the street. While Kota explains his unusual behavior one of the guards writes the statement down practically word for word. “Well you better get inside boy, if he shows his face around here we’ll tear his pretty little fangs out his skull.” The guard emphasized his point by picking at his own teeth with a dagger. Thankful for the protection Kota runs inside the jewelers and slams the heavy iron door behind him. Inside the jewelers the room seems cold and quiet. The store is very dimly lit as Kota enters he sees two white candles and a bell sitting on the  front desk both candles are lit yet they burn slow and the light cast from them is too dim to make out much else in the room. He walks over cautiously and rings the tiny bell. “Ding-a-ling” echoes throughout the store. Within a few moments a flurry of stomping sounds over Kota’s head, someone upstairs is stirring about, a waterfall of steps come crashing down stairs somewhere else in the shop and a rather infuriated old man with a hook nose comes bursting into the room with a lantern. The light from the lantern is far brighter than the two candles and blinds Kota for a second as his eyes adjust. The store keeper looked Kota over for a moment then asked, “What do you need boy? I was on my way to bed.” 

Page #4

“No problem at all, Princess the very first pair shall be yours.” Kota said as he bowed and walked out of the room. With the coins in hand Kota sprinted towards the market place to track down two opals that he would be able to use for his goggles. The market place a usually uproarious place of laughter and screaming was almost disserted only a few food peddlers remained. “Dammit now I’ll be forced to go to the jewelers.” Kota cursed his bad luck but he could not wait while he had this ambition, this drive… the best time to act was now. Kota ran through the streets leading just outside the City. A glass building is no place to keep expensive jewels so about fifty years ago the mage king commissioned a building to be made entirely of iron with no windows, and only one door. This building is guarded at all times by some of the largest brawlers and swordsmen all of Reyanall has to offer. Unfortunately getting to the building proves to be trying since it is located outside of Mirage City. The out skirts of the city are not the safest place to travel alone. Kota took his time slinking along the walls of the stone building surrounding the city. Every time he heard a sound other than his own feet he stopped and waited till he heard it moving away. Kota peered around every corner and checked every alley as he stalked his way to the jewelers. With the entire city’s wealthy and powerful celebrating the peace talks the workers, dregs and the poor aren’t enjoying these affairs. Kota was nearly there when he saw the graveyard three young women gathered around one of the grave stones. The fastest route to the jewelers was to cut through the graveyard. Uncertain Kota dashed from his hiding place among the stone buildings and shot straight past the three young women, and out the other side of the graveyard. As he exited the holy ground the jewelers building came into view. Without hesitation Kota dashed along the street stopping short and diving into an alley when he noticed a Vampire strolling down the pathway his face and neck covered in blood dragging a dead man along as went.