Chapter 1: Prelude to the Dance
A sharp vibration rang out in the air, rippling through the atmosphere, and broke the silence of the tranquil forest. A small current cut through the valley, filling the surroundings with a soft mumble of the stream running through.
With a slight rustle, a rabbit perked up and stared along the water towards the direction of the noise. The green in the air was almost visible, as if nature itself breathed in the picturesque scene.
No signs of disturbance showed in the surrounding forest, having the typical aura of an untouched spot of land, no evidence of civilization anywhere in this forgotten land.
Once more the sharp noise broke the ambience, causing a disturbance in the air of the otherwise peaceful meadow. As if roused by this foreign element, a slight breeze rose, rustling the leaves of the trees, bending the high flowers and flattening the grass. Hopping down along the treeline, a rabbit nibbled on the greenery, staying near the stream to avoid stronger creatures that hid in the long growth.
Unlike its smaller cousin, the rabbit sported a sharp horn on its forehead, yet it still posed no threat to anything bigger and meaner. Even smaller creatures posed serious danger to a lone rabbit; if the rabbit was outnumbered, that is.
The small animal continued on its path, filling its small belly with all sorts of herbs, flowers, and grass; unaware of the sharp pair of eyes fixated on its white fur.
Startled, the rabbit dashed into the opposite direction, abandoning all precaution.
Behind it sat a small nest in the grass, hidden at the base of one of the many great trees that made up the forest.
The nest, made up of weeds, long grass stalks, and tiny branches, held four eggs consisting of a white shell with small specks of red, green, black, blue, yellow, grey, and brown for the greater part of the respective shells. Three showed signs of hatching, the fourth already revealed cracks over the surface, ready to hatch.
The cracked egg squirmed away from the others and rolled towards the edge of the nest. A bloodied arm reached down and stopped the rolling egg before it fell outside and shattered. Another pale arm also reached down, to place the egg back into the center of its small sanctuary.
The owner of the arms donned a black and red cloak, the original colour reminding of a deep black, and the dried blood added its own flair. Each of the eggs exceeded the size of the mysterious traveler’s torso, which wasn’t small by any means.
Glancing at the other eggs, he judged that he didn’t have much time left. He wanted to get back to the path before the eggs hatched.
Suddenly, much like the rabbit, the head beneath the cloak jerked up and scanned the surroundings. The calmness in his eyes quivered slightly, giving the impression that his gaze alone could destroy the forest. Suspicion rose inside the cloaked man. Treading lightly, his leather boots inched forward without making a sound, as he tried to catch what felt off about the forest. Nothing in his range of view was out of place, despite the fact that his intuition rang all alarm signals. The metal decorations on his boots never rattled, like he wasn’t walking at all.
Leather pants, adorned much like his boots, gave a slight rustle as the man got down on one knee. The man flinched as a new red flower bloomed on his mantle, which shined with a scaly luster, despite the dirt and encrusted blood.
Unable to see this anomaly anywhere close, but sensing it, a small headshake belied the silent and calm demeanor on display. A ring of air spread out, a small pulse in the air, discernible and centering around the cloak that lifted off the hooded figure. It pressed down on the grass and small scared animals in the vicinity. Unlike the breeze, the ring did not move, but spread at a steady pace. Rippling through the narrow valley, it crossed over the small stream and passed a few trees on the other side – suddenly, the ring broke and created a strong gust, destroying the picturesque landscape.
Faced with someone or something hiding in the vicinity, a low and sharp hiss escaped his lips.
Upon dispelling the protective magic of the enemy, the cloaked traveller was able to discern who he was up against. An older adventurer leaned against a tree, a slight unease visible on his face. It didn’t look like he had yet discovered where the disturbing noise was coming from, and it seemed to leave him unsettled.
As the magic collapsed, it emitted a feeling very similar to that of the [Water Wall] spell, yet the [Searching Wind] he had used had barely been able to shatter it, meaning that the opponent wasn’t likely to be any weaker than himself.
The traveller couldn’t believe the other party to be stronger than himself either, since there would be no reason for a stronger opposing opponent to hide instead of overpowering him.
With this reasoning the cloaked man came to think of the old adventurer as a mage of the seventh rank, much like he was.
With neither side making a move, he could make sure to carefully ponder about his options.
With this stalemate in place, the two opponents didn’t dare to act rashly and silently tried to appraise each other.
The cloaked traveller had a good grasp of the position of his enemy, yet didn’t wish for a full on confrontation at the moment because of his poor physical condition.
The former adventurer on the other hand, didn’t know where the cloaked traveller was hiding, and if he was to estimate himself more powerful than his counterpart, there would be a good chance for the encounter to escalate into an all-out fight, since the cloak traveler had the ability to sneak upon the traveller.
Silence quietly returned to the valley after the disappearance of the remnants of the sweeping air wave, only leaving the small rumble of a stream to fill the air of its pleasant song, forever uncaring about the worldly matters.
The old man shook his head once and mumbled to himself, before tensing up.
Concerned about the blind brawl to break out, the traveller steeled himself and took the initiative.
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
The inquiry cut sharply through the surrounding tension, swatting down the prospective assault the adventurer could have planned. Exhibiting strength by putting up a ruthless front was necessary, or the enemy might consider simply taking him out.
Without giving the old man a chance to answer, he continued, maintaining his previous haughty behaviour.
“Nevermind, I don’t want to deal with you. Leave, you’re not allowed to be here.
Leave and live, or force me to cross this brook and make sure that you won’t ever tell anyone about this place.”
The traveller emphasized the two sole choices the adventurer had, making him pick between a brutal fight against a likely stronger foe and a safe departure. His voice didn’t carry any violence, only reason and confidence, the vibrant proof that he was able to do exactly as he had stated was floating in the wind, to the aged man.
Waiting for his reply, the cloaked man stared at him in silence.
As the adventurer was fleeing the scene, the traveller scowled and looked at the retreating back.
He had carelessly let an important piece of information slip by : the fact that a powerful being didn’t want anyone to remain in the area, that therefore there might be something important in this place, important enough for that very being to ignore its own injuries and fight against anyone brave enough to challenge him upon encounter, and forbidding that trespasser from revealing his experience to others.
While this was not the only possibility, the prospect of a treasure or a rare cultivation resource would be enough for most adventurers to consider fighting an unknown, supposedly mighty, existence; and since he could have allies in the area, those kind of greedy hyenas might come as a group or try to ambush him.
The cloaked man had always known that his task would include many dangers, and various people would try to rob him if they knew of the treasures he carried, hence his master had forbidden him to talk to anyone about it.
The confrontation with the adventurer had strengthened his vigilance. Even if his mission was almost over, an accident at the last second would still ruin everything he worked hard for, and thus betray the trust his master placed in him.
Thinking about that unfortunate meeting, he regretted letting the adventurer get away. His duty included the prevention of any information leak, no matter how small, and albeit the old fellow hadn’t seen anything and was unlikely to tell anyone about what he had encountered earlier, he still represented a potential witness, and therefore a threat.
In his prime condition the cloaked traveller would have taken care of an enemy, mage or not, immediately, but the repeated fights had severely affected his mana reserves, and the additional bruises and cuts all over his body were impeding his ability to battle, so avoiding a clash appeared as the right choice given his circumstances.
Nonetheless, the ‘activities’ of the cloaked man were bound to cause a commotion, the systematic elimination of the surrounding beasts and monsters couldn’t go unnoticed, yet he hoped that he had travelled deep enough into the Wilderness to avert the the nearby kingdoms’, or worse, the guild’s, attention. He was supposed to prevent those two powers from creating a subjugation party, as it could result in the discovery of this place, along with its secrets.
Fortunately the consequences resulting from his task would take many years to manifest themselves. Passerbies wouldn’t be able to discover what exactly the cloaked traveller had left behind him for a long time ; and even that elf from before would not be able to find this location again if he were to only pass through the area. But unfortunately the paranoid traveller didn’t believe their meeting to be a coincidence.
Waiting for the old adventurer to return with a party made of others from his kind to rob him, he kept a vigilant guard on his treasures, closely observing the forest.
The wind gently rose again, rustling through the leaves and adding new tones to the creek’s song, filling the air between the trees with an intricate melody.
Relaxing more and more with each additional minute, the initially tensed pose of the cloaked man gradually loosened.
Sweeping the surroundings a last time by pouring his mana into the breeze, he confirmed that there truly was no one left in the area.
The encounter might have been fortuitous and held no meaning, after all.
The cloaked man settled down once again near the nest, looking over the eggs within. While the first egg already had some scales shining through the cracks, the other three also had their first fractures forming. As the role he played in this mission neared its end, he left some slabs of meat, the first meal for the future alpha of the pack. He didn’t bother separating the pile, as the fight over meat would prove as an excellent training exercise and lesson, everything had to be taken through conquest. And if one of the inhabitants of the eggs would be gluttonous enough to tear through all of the meat, that would simply be proof of strength and not a problem for the traveler.
Checking one last time for dangerous entities in the valley, he set off to return to his home and master, looking forward to the future.
If any of the young ones survived, they would become strong, if they died it would be because they had been weak. The race his master belonged to did not place special importance on caring about their offspring, and his relation with this race came only from his father’s side.
Still, he incurred many injuries to take care of the task that his master had given him, as he cleared the valley, the mountain, and even a bit of the forest around them for any beast stronger than rank 5, and everything above rank 3 in the valley.
He wasn’t weak, and even arrived at the lower limit of the 8th rank, but fighting against hordes of monsters still took a lot out of him, and he planned to slow down on the return trip to recover his injuries. And at the end of the day, the appreciation of his master still outweighed any hardship.
Reminiscing for a moment, he missed his moment to make a swift exit and saw the first eggshell break apart. A small, scaled body, with deep black scales that shifted into a vermillion red tip made up the main part of the body. Stunned at the sight of a member belonging to the same race as his master, he lingered for a moment longer, hesitating for a second. Certainly, at the moment this small scaly creature represented the weakest living being in this valley, but he knew its heritage, this assessment would change very rapidly, if they manage to survive and avoid being preyed upon.
Still lost in thought, he watched the scaly little hatchling sniff the breeze with its nose held high and eyes still closed. His scent must be the thing the little one picked up, as the lizard tilted its head in his direction. The moment he prepared to set off, the closed eyes of the first born hatchling opened. Even its scale’s unique colours did not prepare the hooded man for the amazing and unusual spectacle he saw, a pure golden iris with small black rifts in it, surrounded by a pure black pupil. As the iris started to get used to the light, the other eggs also started cracking apart, but at this point in time, no one remained in the vicinity.