Hmph. So Baera was telling the truth. The thought passed idly through my head. But since there was no real need to let Metria know I had spoken with his Lord, I instead responded, -Gone? Has something happened while I was away?-
“Various things. Over the years…a few faded out, a few more sacrificed themselves… Before I knew it, I was the last one of us left…” Metria trailed off. He seemed to have been greatly saddened by the passing of our brethren, to the point where he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, keep his emotions from showing on his face.
I, on the other hand, could only feel glad for them. We, the dead which serve the Lords, are wholly unnatural existences, indefinitely delayed from our true destiny. Being released from our burden is a thing to rejoice over, not grieve. Although. It does sound a little hypocritical coming from me, who has strode this world for well over a millennium.
Of course, whether I rejoiced or grieved, no one would ever know. The advantage of not having a face, I suppose.
-Our Lords have not replaced them?- I asked.
“No. I didn’t notice right away, and when I finally realized our numbers were dwindling, Lord Baera only told me that there had been changes in the Courts of Death.”
That useless bastard. -I see. So that is what is going on.-
Metria’s eyes widened. “You…you know what’s happening?”
-Of course. I have seen this before. I told you, there are no real changes in this world.-
“Please. Explain it to me?” Metria stared beseechingly at me, trembling a little.
-Simply put, the gods have retreated.-
Metria blinked. While he contemplated my response, I cast my attention around his establishment. All the patrons which had been sitting at the bar itself had left, including the unusual young lady. Most of the employees who had been behind the bar had gone elsewhere as well, leaving only the fiercely glowering bartender.
I’m really starting to like that guy.
Out in the main room, some of the nearby tables had been vacated, but the hostile man was still at his table. He didn’t appear to be openly armed, but the briefcase at his side caught my attention. As for the subtle man, I finally tracked him down to a stool behind me. He had a hand in the pocket of his nondescript jacket, probably holding some sort of weapon. The angle was fairly good, however; should he or the hostile man attack, I would be able to shield Metricarisenikai from both of them quite easily.
The young-looking dead man finally spoke up. “I’m sorry, Zedda, I don’t understand what you mean.”
-Really? It is very simple though.- Though come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve actually explained it to him before. Whoops.
Metria bit his lip, but said nothing.
-Very well, I shall instruct you. What is our purpose, Metricarisenikai?-
“To maintain the cycle of death, in the name of the Reaper Lords,” he responded automatically.
-Very good. Why is it necessary?-
Metria blinked and said, “E-excuse me?”
-Death is inevitable. It comes for all equally, and cannot be denied. Is this not true?-
“W-well, no. Lots of things can reject death. Like the undead that still surround your building in the abandoned area, and necromancers, and…well, us.”
Once again I was saved by my lack of facial features; I would no doubt have lost a lot of dignity if Metria could see me roll my eyes at him. -Are you not someone whom Lord Baera has tasked with collecting information? How can you possibly believe that those three examples are of the same nature?-
Metria winced and dropped his gaze. He raised his left arm to grip his right, as though giving himself half a hug, and murmured a low apology. Incidentally, the bartender looked like he wanted to jump over the bar and strangle me to death. While I appreciated his sentiments, he would probably find the task somewhat difficult, due to my lack of a windpipe.
-No matter. Let us take necromancers, then. Tell me, Metricarisenikai: how many necromancers have you encountered in the past century?-
“Three.” The answer was immediate.
-Were they powerful?-
Metria hesitated. “Not…especially. They were honestly more like local nuisances.”
I deliberately nodded to him. -I am not surprised. Now, how many necromancers did you encounter in the century preceding the last?-
“Sixty-seven, of varying levels of strength.” He frowned, and asked, “Are you saying they receive their power from the gods? They’re magicians, not priests.”
-You are starting to understand, but you are looking at the situation backwards. It is not they who receive power from the gods; it is magic itself that is empowered by the gods’ proximity.- I hesitated briefly, then continued, -Although that is not a wholly accurate explanation. I shall set aside a year or so to more fully instruct you in the intricacies of the interactions between the gods and the world.-
“Ah, please don’t trouble yourself. I’m sure I’ll be able to find the information on my own.” Metria seemed a little panicked as he hurriedly rejected my offer. As usual, he’s trying too hard. What a foolish person…
-Nonsense, this is remedial. I shall certainly teach you what you should have known centuries ago.- Metria looked a bit depressed at my words, but I wouldn’t have been myself if I had paid any notice. -In any event, with the gods in retreat, there simply is not enough potential for violation, to justify the existence of numerous exceptions to the Prime’s law. Therefore, as the gods’ influence diminishes, so do our numbers.-
“I see…” Metria frowned, considering the implications of the information I revealed to him. Despite his weird habits, he was actually very intelligent, so I believed he would tentatively accept my words. He seemed to have regained control of his emotions as well.
-Enough. For such a small matter, I have no need of further allies. Presuming, of course, that you have the information on this particular Cultivation prepared?-
“She’s a failed Cultivation, Zedda. And her situation is…complicated. I actually know her quite well…”
-Excellent. Tell me what you know.- Whoops. -In a moment.-
I smoothly surged to my feet, turning my back on Metricarisenikai. Behind me, the hostile man had flipped open his briefcase, and pulled out a small pistol from within. Without hesitation he took a firing stance and shot me three times. I heard Metria shout something, but I was not even slightly worried, since my ancient mantle was more than capable of blocking ordinary small-caliber rounds.
Sadly, these shots were not ordinary.
I felt the first shot pierce straight through my defenses and explode within my chest. It was surprisingly painful, in a distant sort of way; my body is not really equipped to feel pain under normal conditions. Two more shots quickly followed, destroying my ribcage and parts of my spine. Fortunately, the bullets seemed designed to cause maximum damage to a single target, so Metria remained safe behind me.
It was interesting, encountering something that could actually cause me inconvenience. However, the hostile man had opened fire in my younger brethren’s home, and I had no intention of letting such disrespect go unpunished. A broken spine would inconvenience a mortal to the point of death; but to me, it was but a minor detail.
With a grin (mental), I drew Arkesis from the holster where she had been lying quiescent. She immediately hummed to life, and I drew a bead on the hostile man and pulled the trigger without the slightest hesitation. There was no need to let the man live, and getting answers from his corpse would be quite easy.
Arkesis shrieked, and a terrible light struck out at the hostile man. But once again, my expectations were totally betrayed; not only did the coruscanting round fail to kill the target, it actually struck something about a foot away from the man, and shattered into a burst of sparks without harming the man in the slightest.
Whatever had blocked Arkesis, it was now visible around the man. It appeared to be some sort of aura, though not one I had ever encountered before. Well, my expertise was in necrotic essence, of course. But although it had blocked my weapon once, this strange barrier looked like it would fail at any moment, as it seemed to be fluctuating wildly around the hostile man. Nodding to myself (mentally), I prepared to shoot him once again when his defense failed.
Seeing me still standing, and his protection about to fail, the man grimaced slightly. His eyes suddenly, literally flashed, and with a burst of acceleration that caught me entirely by surprise, he hurled himself through the front window of Metria’s shop.
Behind me I heard Metria shout, “Shen, go!” I felt more than saw the subtle man leap through the window, following the hostile man. So, that one works for Metria. One less problem.
I turned around, and examined Metria closely. As expected, he had taken no damage, although the chain around his left arm had brightened considerably, and tinted red. He had immediately started taking control of the area, instructing his employees to reassure his remaining guests, and telling the young bartender to call the constabulary. As usual, he was quite reliable in a crisis.
Once he had everything in hand, he turned back to me, and winced when he saw the damage to my chest. He began to open his mouth, but I cut him off before he could speak. -Are non-humans so common now? How strange.-
For some reason his eyebrow twitched, but he ignored my question and said, “I’ve got to take care of things here, Zedda. Please, go wait in my office. I’ll explain everything I know once I’m done here.”
-There is no reason for you, yourself, to take care of such a small matter.-
“Zedda, please.” His gaze was firm, and much more in line with how I remembered him. Which was good.
-Very well. I will await your explanation. I presume your office is behind that door?-
Metria nodded. “Just ask one of my employees, they can guide you there. Just try not to frighten them too badly.”
-I never try to frighten anyone. Mortals are simply timid.-
For some reason, Metria sighed.
A/N: Hey, you made it! Thanks for reading!
Are you starting to get an idea about what the story is about? I hope so. I was actually hoping to get the plot just slightly further (Irine was supposed to show up at the end of this chapter, for example) but things got slightly out of control. And now I have to somehow explain “the hostile man” in the future. How annoying. (What’s worse, it isn’t even Baera’s fault this time.)
So, the next chapter will be from Metria’s point of view. It will probably take me awhile to write it though, as Metria is much more complicated than Zedda, or something like that. And it might run long, because I don’t really want to have too many chapters that do not focus on Zedda’s POV. Well, look forward to it! 🙂
P.S. Synopsis is up! Check the archive page!