Several agonizingly long minutes passed as Zeke sat in shock from Narroth’s appearance, as well as his words about needing to ‘ripen’ more. There was no doubt in Zeke’s mind that Narroth wants him to get stronger, though he couldn’t wrap his head around why Narroth would wait to ‘harvest’ him. Bewildered, Zeke stared at Yazmak’s lifeless body sprawled out before him as he thought about the image of Yazmak’s soul being shattered before his very eyes, “There were so many things I wanted to know. In just moments everything has been turned upside down. What can I possibly do now?”

 

Gritting his teeth, Zeke slammed on the brakes in his swirling thoughts and brought everything to a complete stop. Though physically he was out of breath, Zeke could feel his very spirit was at its brink, ready to follow suit with Yazmak. Resolutely he set his jaw and forced himself over to Barkstripe first. Upon kneeling down he could immediately see that his friend was definitely alive as he tucked his hands underneath Barkstripe’s torso and lifted with his legs to roll Barkstripe over onto his back.

 

Face wrenched from the pain, Barkstripe opened one eye to just a sliver as he looked up at Zeke and rasped, “Thanks for the assist, it was getting a little stuffy. I think I’m just going to lie here for awhile.”

 

 

Zeke waited several moments to see that Barkstripe only closed his eyes and took long, slow breaths but otherwise remained motionless. Then he hurried over to Delairyus, who was now sprawled on the ground on her back, and found that she was still breathing, though unconscious. Getting on all fours, Zeke called out to her, “Delairyus! Wake up, please!”

 

 

 

There was no response, and Zeke reached out with his right hand, placing it on her shoulder to shake her as he was uncertain of what else to do. As soon as his hand made contact with Delairyus, her right hand darted out and clenched Zeke’s wrist with claws digging into his flesh. Her eyes opened with a flash and locked with Zeke’s, rage danced in her gaze before fizzling out as she realized who it was before her. An apologetic look washed over Delairyus’ face as she let go of Zeke’s wrist, “Sorry about that Zeke. I can heal that up right away if you want.”

 

 

 

Though Delairyus’ reflexes shook Zeke, he waved away her offer as he held his lightly bleeding wrist and cracked a weak, reassuring smile, “I’m glad you’re alright Delairyus. You were unconscious so I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

 

 

 

Instead of smiling back, Delairyus cocked her head to the side, her pupils dialated somewhat from seeing Zeke’s prismatic spirit outlining his body with a slow pulse, “Nevermind that Zeke, you’re at your Soul Shatter point. You need to rest immediately and-”

 

Holding up an index finger with his free hand, Zeke interrupted Delairyus, “That means little to me right this second. I’m going to find Salien and check on her,” Zeke took a moment to look back at Barkstripe, who was still taking deep breaths but otherwise remained motionless, then looked back into Delairyus’ eyes, “Barkstripe is taking time to recover, and you seem to be doing alright. I’ll bring Salien back after making sure she’s alright.”

 

Shooting to her feet, Delairyus gave Zeke a blank stare, her tone was more icy than her stare, “If you insist on being reckless, then I won’t stop you, instead I’ll go with you.” Without looking at Barkstripe, she pointed a thumb at him, “Blockhead over there will be fine on his own, he’s much more durable than he looks at least.”

 

A twinge of guilt hit Zeke from the tone Delairyus gave him, but he swallowed it back as he went to walk past Delairyus, who stopped him by grabbing his injured wrist. A momentary lavender glow covered Zeke’s wrist before Delairyus let go and walked ahead of him without another word. Looking at his newly healed wrist, Zeke sighed to himself in resignation before following after Delairyus.

 

The grim pair hurried through the forest, searching every bush and tree along the way. It was shortly after they commenced their search that Delairyus halted Zeke behind her as she peered around the tree in front of them. Before Zeke could question her, Delairyus mumbled, “I should have guessed they’d show up eventually.” Turning her attention to Zeke she motioned for him to follow her as she stepped out from behind the tree. Following behind, they stepped into a small clearing where nine bunny Anthros were huddled together in front of a particularly large tree with their backs to Delairyus and Zeke.

 

 

Upon approaching the group, one of the bunny Anthros heard their approach with a twitch of an ear and whirled around to face them with a halberd at the ready. “Who goes th-, Oh! Delairyus! I-I didn’t realize that was you. Are you here to investigate the light that was in the sky as well?”

 

 

Zeke gazed upon the person before them, standing at what he figured to be 6′ 3″ with short, grey fur colored this bunny’s entire average-sized body. Stern, magenta eyes locked with Delairyus’ eyes, eagerly awaiting a response. Slowly looking down, Zeke noticed that the bunny in front of them as well as the whole group of bunny Anthros wore the same forest green armor as the guards in Castel City. It was then that he also took note of the white lightening bolt on the breastplate, as well as one on the right leg of every member of the group.

 

 

It was at this time that Delairyus plainly responded, “I saw what happened with the light in the sky.” Casually he pointed a thumb at Zeke, “He was the one who made it.” Then folding her arms over her chest, Delairyus shifted her weight to one side, “I thought that the Thunderfoot squad would have made it out here sooner. What took you so long Sharla?”

 

 

Though Sharla stiffened upon looking at Zeke for the first time, she didn’t miss a beat as she answered, “We were making our way to the source of that light when we came across her.” Turning to one side, Sharla pointed at what her squad was surrounding, revealing that it was Salien slumped over at the base of the tree.

 

 

In a single gasp Zeke’s eyes widened with panic as he went to rush over to Salien as he cried her name, only to be blocked by Sharla’s halberd, “You will go no further. By order of King Dekarius, the Thunderfoot Squad is taking this ‘Salien’ back for medical treatment as well as questioning.”

 

 

There was a twitch of Salien’s ear as she heard her name being called out as she slowly opened her eyes, mumbling, “Zeke, are there?”

 

 

Seeing Salien come to made Zeke push past Sharla as he rushed over to Salien. He immediately got to his knees and embraced her, sobbing, “I’m so glad you’re okay! I-I-” Zeke’s words became incomprehensible as he cried and buried his face in her snowy white fur.

 

A weak smile spread on Salien’s face as she mumbled, “There there Zeke, everything will be alright.” She gargled a moment from Zeke squeezing just a little too hard, which made her urge Zeke to let go of her as she caught her breath.

 

 

Delairyus looked to Sharla, “I can take you to where the fight happened and update you on what’s going on.” Her gaze shifted to Salien and Zeke, “This way everyone can get the rest they need.”

 

Nodding in understanding, Sharla stomped the ground with her right foot several times in succession, causing the other eight in her squad to stand at attention as she said, “We’re going to follow Delairyus to where the light came from, let’s move!”

 

 

The group surrounding Salien and Zeke followed after Delairyus and Sharla while Zeke kept fussing over Salien as she reassured him that she could move just fine, that she only needed to catch her breath. When the group reached the area where they were attacked by Narroth, Barkstripe slowly sat up to see his companions had brought more than they bargained for back with them. A sly smile cracked on his face, “Seems you guys found more friends while you were away.”

 

He slowly scanned the group and tsked, “If it isn’t the Thunderfoot Squad, Dekarius’ most bragged about group of scouts, what hole are you guys digging for the King this time?”

 

 

Salien and Zeke sat down near Barkstripe while Delairyus gestured for Sharla and her squad to join them as Sharla’s questioning gaze went from Yazmak’s lifeless body to the torn up ground from Zeke’s blast, “It’s going to get dark soon, and we may as well camp here for the night while we tell you about what has happened.”

 

Despairing at being ignored, Barkstripe mock wailed, “Oh sure, just ignore the fox! I see how it is!”

 

 

Salien and Zeke smiled to themselves upon hearing Barkstripe’s words while Delairyus and the rest made a fire and sat in a circle around it while the details of the past few nights were discussed.

 

 

Night turned to day and everyone was up and about as though nothing has happened, except for Zeke. When he awakened, one of the first things he laid eyes on was Yazmak’s corpse, which served as a stark reminder of recent events. This made his heart sink to stomach as he rolled over to look away, only to see everyone else already moving around while he continued to lay there. He jumped when there was a sudden voice of protest from Salien, “So you’re just going to run off with him to who knows where? Do you really think you can protect him on your own?”

 

Salien was speaking to Delairyus, whom calmly stood before Salien, seemingly unphased by her words, except for the flicking of her tail as Zeke noticed, “Zeke needs to be trained, and properly I might add. He clearly has a lot to learn, which he will not as long as you and Barkstripe are around to coddle him at every turn. Narroth isn’t the only danger on Stormhaven as a whole and if Zeke is to stop him, then he has to grow up in time.”

 

 

Before a punch could be thrown, Barkstripe was there to stop Salien as he gave her a reassuring smile, “You’ve seen it yourself Salien, Delairyus here can do far more than even I can, though I LOATHE to admit it, and if we’re only going to be in the way, then we’ll have to take her word for it.”

 

 

Growling in frustration Salien turned away from Delairyus, “Fine, then I’d better say something to Zeke before we go.”

 

 

Seeing Salien’s approach, Zeke slowly sat up as he stretched with a yawn, “What’s going on Salien? Is everything okay?”

 

 

Upon kneeling down, Salien embraced Zeke and began to stroke his hair, “Everything is alright Zeke. Barkstripe and I are going back with the Thunderfoot Squad to report to the King about what has happened here. Delairyus is going to look after you in the meantime, so be strong for me okay?”

 

 

Though he was puzzled by her words, Zeke squeezed in response, “Okay Salien, hurry back as soon as you can.”

 

 

Salien gave a hearty squeeze of her own before letting Zeke go and getting to her feet. Upon following suit, Zeke watched her approach the awaiting Squad with Barkstripe giving a strangely nervous smile of his own as he weakly waved goodbye before turning around to leave. Delairyus caught Zeke’s attention as she sauntered up to him, with what felt to Zeke like a predatory gaze, “So, we have a mission of our own that requires our immediate attention.”

 

 

Swallowing back the building anxiety that now shrieked in his mind, Zeke asked his question slowly to keep his voice from breaking, “What exactly do you mean?”

 

 

Recognizing the building tension that Zeke was hiding, Delairyus gave him a warm smile, “Why, to train you of course!” She stood at arms length from him, still smiling, “So we’re starting now, attack me.”

 

 

Taken aback by her command, Zeke stared her with eyes ready to pop out of his head, “Y-you mean n-n-now?! I-I don’t want to hurt you though!”

 

 

Delairyus chuckled, which only served to make Zeke shiver in fear, as she urged once more, “I’ll block your attacks, trust me. I want to see for myself what you can do, so please, take a swing.”

 

 

Gritting his teeth, Zeke turned all of his anxiety to anger as he took a boxing stance, “Alright then, you asked for this.”

 

 

Starting with his left, Zeke jabbed at Delairyus as she blocked with ease while making a point to lock eyes with him. Grunting with effort, Zeke jabbed with his right hand this time, only to be blocked in the same manner as before. Re-assuming his stance, Zeke took a moment to think about his next move with a short “Hmm.” It was then that Zeke took a step forward as he did a steady one-two-three jabbing combo, which was effortlessly blocked by his opponent.

 

Getting back into stance, Zeke once again took a moment to consider his next move as Delairyus chimed, “Give me all you’ve got Zeke! You can throw in some kicks too!”

 

 

A quick nod was all the response Zeke gave before punching with all he had in a four punch combo and a follow-up roundhouse kick. Un-phased, Delairyus blocked every strike without retaliating in any way. This was something that Zeke grew increasingly irritated with as he focused more on punching and kicking than putting together a plan. In seconds, Zeke was feeling winded, forcing him to stop his would-be assault. There was no hint in Delariyus’ eyes or her stoic expression that hinted at any bit of fatigue.

 

 

There was a twitch of Delariyus’ left ear only a moment before her left fist shot out and connected with Zeke’s jaw. The force of the blow harmlessly staggered him, much to Zeke’s surprise, and he turned his head just in time to see a twitch of her right ear this time before her right fist knocked him in the jaw. Focusing on keeping his breathing in a steady rhythm, Zeke got himself back into his boxing stance as he readied himself for Delairyus’ next attack.

 

 

Once again there was a twitch of Delairyus’ ear that corresponded with the punch she was going to throw, which Zeke felt prepared for but still felt the blow connect with his jaw. This time the shock of being struck was far less for him as he blocked the next blow just in time. Gaining some confidence, Zeke managed to block several more strikes consecutively. As if she could sense the hope building inside of him, Delairyus shifted tactics, now twitching the opposite ear of the side she would strike with. It was enough to throw Zeke off for several strikes before he caught on to the change and blocked her oncoming punches.

 

 

Now Delairyus had a glint in her eye the made Zeke’s widen in anticipation as she began to throw feints in with her punches, as well as aiming for his stomach. Though Zeke was fully on the defensive, he couldn’t read Delairyus’ movements as she continued to knock him around. Though it felt like an eternity, mere seconds passed when Delairyus punched Zeke with enough force to make him double over, following up with a sweeping kick to knock him flying off of his feet, then swinging herself in a full circle to kick Zeke and send him careening through the air for several feet before sliding to a stop on the ground.

 

Patiently she stood with arms folded as she watched Zeke get up on one knee and take several deep breaths before glaring at Delairyus. The intent in his eyes was clear as he slowly aimed his charging Buster at her. Their gazes locked with each other for a moment, allowing Zeke to see the curious joy now in Delairyus’ eyes before he let loose his charged blast. To his chagrin however, the blast was easily side-stepped. Instead of coming up with a plan, Zeke tried again and he belted out a cry of frustration as his blast from his Ion Buster was once again side-stepped by Delairyus. Her stocky feline body was only a cover for how agile she is, which aggravated Zeke more. All that showed in Deliaryus’ lavender eyes was an expectation for more.

 

 

 

Taking a deep breath, Zeke took a moment to focus on his self-imposed task of not only hitting Delairyus with, but to also make sure it hurt, a lot. Having been attempting this for what felt like an hour, Zeke’s patience was at an all time limit. Having been jerked around, figuratively and literally, in his last few encounters as well as learning about his importance in what felt like life itself, he desperately wanted to feel that he was still in control of his own life.

 

 

 

As he slowly let out his held breath, Zeke began to rapid fire at Delairyus, shooting everywhere he felt that Delairyus would be. In the blink of an eye, Delairyus became nothing but a blur as she danced around each shot fired at her. In what felt like a gesture to add insult to injury, Delairyus would pose just long enough for Zeke to observe as she continued to avoid each shot.

 

 

Reaching his limit, Zeke screamed, “That’s it!”

 

 

 

In a flash, Zeke summoned his Prismatic blade to his free hand before rushing headlong at Delairyus, leading the way with his Buster that was still firing. His vision focused solely on his target, who was still evading with ease, and nothing else mattered in his mind. When he closed the distance between them, Zeke thrust his sword at Delairyus, aiming to impale her through the abdomen.

 

 

 

Suddenly there was a clawed hand gripping his wrist, which ripped Zeke out of this tunnel vision to see that Delairyus was standing to the side of Zeke, her outstretched arm grasped Zeke’s wrist. There was a fury in her eyes that made Zeke’s widen with fear and realization at what had transpired. In what felt like a bucket of ice water, guilt and sorrow washed over Zeke when it occurred to him what he tried to do.

 

 

 

 

Zeke let go of his sword, causing it to fade away as Delairyus continued to hold his arm at the wrist. Her gaze didn’t move from Zeke as she slowly approached, “This is what I want to work on with you. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are at anything if you let such rampant emotions drive your actions.”

 

 

 

The seriousness in Delairyus’ voice reminded Zeke of someone who is teaching a child, which deepened Zeke’s guilt. Unable to meet her eyes, Zeke lowered his gaze to the ground. With her free hand, Delairyus held up Zeke’s head to meet his eyes, the fury in her eyes was replaced with deep concern, “During the real thing, you have to remain focused, the moment you lose control of your emotions is when the enemy has already won. There are times when those feelings can help drive you forward, however, they can’t be the very fuel behind your actions.”

 

 

 

 

Blinking away the tears welling up in his eyes, Zeke weakly asked, “Then what am I supposed to do? How can I defend myself if every living thing here can so easily overpower me?”

 

 

 

 

A playful smirk found its way on Delairyus’ lips, “The answer to that is a process, and it’s going to start with you learning to have better control of your emotions. It’s one thing to simply feel determined to accomplish a goal, then to hone that feeling into something deadly takes practice. In my previous battles I’ve learned how to do that for myself, and I’m going to teach you what I know and find what works for you. You’ll have plenty of times where you feel like you do now, there’s no avoiding that, and it will all lead to the point where you can do the same things I can.”

 

 

 

Excitement glittered in Zeke’s eyes, “You mean, I’ll be able to turn into a blur like you and Barkstripe?”

 

 

 

Delairyus giggled, “The way that jock-strap moves is far different from how I do it, and it’s that very reason that he can’t beat me.”

 

 

 

In that moment Delairyus embraced Zeke, imparting a genuine feeling of comfort over him, even though the tips of her ears poked his chin. Hugging her back, Zeke took it all in, feeling like everything was right in the world for that moment. As soon as the feeling came, it was gone as Delairyus stepped away, a look of grim determination painted her face as their eyes locked onto each other.

 

 

 

 

Zeke didn’t like the idea of what was to come next but he knew he had to hear Delairyus’ words as he swallowed back the building fear. “From now on while I’m training you Zeke, things are going to get very difficult. I don’t want to have to put you through so much, except there isn’t much choice. If you really want to learn from me, you need to be ready to go through hell. Do you think you’re prepared?”

 

 

 

 

Though he wanted to spout out the word ‘Yes!’, the word caught in his throat as his instincts soaked in every implication behind Delairyus’ words. Visions of anger, pain, and suffering flashed through Zeke’s mind, and the fear of it all happening clawed at him. Inside all of the negative feelings that stormed through him, at the epicenter was a feeling of hope. It was enough to shine through and allow Zeke to have the courage to nod with a grim look of his own as he heavily responded, “I’m as ready as I will ever be.”
A warm smile crept over Deliaryus’ face momentarily before disappearing as she said, “Then let’s not waste any time.”

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A growing tension began to build in the air around everyone as the shock from Delairyus defeating Yazmak so easily settled in. Still staring at Zeke, waiting for a response, Delairyus shifted her weight to one foot as she crossed her arms, her face clearly asking, ‘Don’t you have something to say?’

 
Zeke shook his head to bring himsel back to the present, his eyes grew wide when it occurred to him what Delairyus was referring to, which made Zeke stumble on his words, “R-right, the whole exsis-, exsi-, the-the reason why thing.”

 
There was a muffled chuckle from Yazmak as his face was still in the ground, and lifted himself just enough to speak clearly as he asked in almost disbelief, “Still having trouble doing things on your own Zeke? I can already see why-”

 

 
Yazmak was abruptly cutoff by Delairyus’ foot shoving his head back down into the ground. With a frustrated grunt, Yazmak reached for Delairyus’ foot, but she stepped back in time to avoid his grasp, which also gave him enough time to sit upright and stare directly at Zeke, “You really want to know why I kept you working on the same projects? Or why I kept bringing you back?”

 

 
Snorting with distaste, Yazmak continued without waiting for any kind of response, “Every time you were brought back into this world, you would have a different perspective on your S.W.O.R.D armor and Reishigi Siphon projects. At first, it was all an idea to test the S.W.O.R.D armor on animals before use on humans, which later turned into an idea to simply improve the equipment on the animals, making them smarter, stronger and so on. The Reishigi Siphon was at first intended to be used as a means of making humanity immortal through the ability of switching from one body to the next. By accident it was discovered that the Siphon worked on those who have already long passed as well, which led to further ideas, as well as the beginnings of the ‘Sandman Virus’. Of course word got out about the testing, so there was a lot of contreversy, which led to an untimely death on your part.”

 
A look of horror scrunched Zeke’s face as he tried to digest Yazmak’s words. Salien protectively held Zeke to her, the fire in her gaze was ready to sear through anything she locked her eyes onto, which was Yazmak’s cool expression. Barkstripe finally caught his breath and stumbled over to Salien and Zeke, a deep and pondering sadness painted his face as he recalled the times he was there for Zeke’s ‘resurrection’. Another mirthless chuckle came from Yazmak when his gaze hovered over Barkstripe, Delairyus and Salien, then he stated, “Of course, in one of Zeke’s lifetimes he was successful in making your Anthro bodies. With every success came more controversy over what was ‘ethical’ and ‘humane’. It didn’t matter if everything was aimed toward bettering humanity in any way.”

 

 
Barkstripe and Delairyus both looked lost in clearly forgotten dark memories as Salien and Zeke shared a look of concern for their friends. Yazmak grunted in disdain, “This then led to the Anthro Wars, on top of the advances in the S.W.O.R.D armor that became part of our military forces and some civilian labor forces as well. The Reishigi Siphon then became a highlight for ‘renewable’ energy. Instead of creating more Anthros, it was decided that the focus be geared toward improving the lives of those who were still with us. To this day, the Siphon technology has been very useful.”

 

 

Though Zeke attempted to break away from Salien’s arms to show his contempt toward Yazmak, which gave Zeke the courage to speak clearly, only managed to wiggle around to face Yazmak directly, “It’s no wonder that Narroth was able to yank people’s souls from their bodies! The Reishigi Siphon was only meant for use by the military and local law enforcement, not some common battery that people pump a chunk of their soul into!”

 
Stepping in Barkstripe asked, “I thought it was proven that anyone would recover from using the Siphon technology?”

 
Rubbing his temples in frustration, Zeke grumbled, “Yes, full recovery was always expected, but the time needed for that would leave a person in a weakened state, especially without the proper training, which if Narroth really got his hands on the Siphon technology, means he would have free reign to completely drain unsuspecting people.” Zeke stopped to think for a moment before continuing, “Yet somehow Narroth has managed to take all of his victims from across the Veil.”

 
Stunned, Barkstripe gazed at the ground as he could only manage to say, “Oh.”

 
Nodding, Yazmak agreed, “Yes, this was why the Siphon technology was replaced with different variations of Zeke’s S.W.O.R.D techonolgy. Though it still required a person to use their own Reishigi, the technology itself wasn’t as demanding or straightforward in cost, allowing for wider application of its technology, from vehicles to personal suits.” Pausing a moment, Yazmak pondered out loud with his words still directed at Zeke, “I thought you were aware of what was happening in the outside world with your technology. My demands could not have taken so much of your time that you hardly left your own house?”

 
Salien growled and spat at Yazmak as she tightened her embrace on Zeke, “You have no idea how much Zeke poured himself into his work! He was so concerned with making sure he completed every project for you that he never thought to do anything else! I would have to remind him of his own needs just so he wouldn’t starve himself to death from working too much!”

 
Yazmak harrumphed, “That’s Zeke’s fault for not taking care of himself. He clearly needed a baby sitter and you, Salien, fit the role perfectly it seems, especially since Barkstripe wasn’t there to inspire Zeke into being rebellious anymore.”

 
It was Barkstripe’s turn to be frustrated as his eyes flared to life with green flames and bared his teeth, “I only wanted Zeke to think for himself! The fact that he would disagree with you at all should have been an indicator for you Yazmak, that you aren’t always right! You must have been so thrilled to be rid of me and all other Anthros on Earth when the war came to a close!”

 
In a sudden outburst of laughter, Yazmak said, “If you are so opposed to me, then why would you even take orders from me for so many years? To get to Zeke? Because you could have done that on your own! What are you really after Barkstripe?”

 
There was a building silence as everyone’s attention turned to Barkstripe, who’s eyes were no longer flaring with emerald light, but his teeth remained bared, though his tone carried a touch of defeat, “I’m not entirely sure anymore. So many years have passed that I don’t know what I’m fighting for exactly.” With clawed hands curled into tight fists, Barkstripe raised a shaking fist at Yazmak, “This does not mean that I will stop fighting. I’ll go wherever my instincts lead me.”

 
Clearly amused by this, Yazmak heartily laughed more, “It’s no wonder you never came to get Zeke on your own! To live with such a vague ideal like yours, you’ll never accomplish anything!”

 
This time when Zeke tried to move out of Salien’s embrace, she let him go, causing Zeke to stumble a moment as he got to his feet. In a display of what Zeke felt was bravery, he walked over to Yazmak and stood over the hulking dragon-man that had been the closest thing to a father that Zeke could claim to have, staring Yazmak down as Zeke aimed his slowly charging Ion Buster at Yazmak’s face and demanded, “Why have you kept bringing me back? Am I even really Zeke? Who am I and what is it you really want from me?

 
Whether or not Yazmak was even phased by Zeke’s threat, it didn’t show as his face went stone cold. Unmoving, Yazmak matched Zeke’s gaze as he calmly replied, “Who you really are, is a dragon named Zekendrion who is a being made of seven different dragons merging into one. As for what I want from you, I want you to keep balance in every universe, and to do that, you have to destroy Narroth.”

 

Delairyus stood next to Zeke, her curiosity clearly piqued, though the threat in her eyes was clear as day as she asked, “Every universe? Do you mean to say that every realm of Stormhaven is actually connected to an entire universe?”

 
Barkstripe and Salien exchanged wary glances at the new information, however Zeke didn’t budge with his buster still aimed at Yazmak as he said, “Or it could some story to throw us off and make us want to follow orders again. I only give credence to the dragon thing because it confirms what Erikalika has told us. However, stopping Narroth is only a priority to me because he has threatened my friends. And I thought you sent me here originally to obtain new technology to save everyone on Earth? Was it all just a lie?”

 

 

Calmly, Yazmak replied, “Not entirely. The technology here may be far more advanced than what is on Earth, but this may only be limited to certain Sectors.” For once Yazmak seemed lost in far away memories as his gaze clouded over from the deep thought. When Delairyus cleared her throat, Yazmak visibly jumped with wide eyes, but steeled his expression moments afterward and added, “Narroth has been a threat for eons, continuing to grow in power. Yet, the one thing keeping him from shaping everything according to his will, is you Zeke.”

 

 

Though Zeke could see in Yazmak’s eyes that he is telling the truth, his heart didn’t want to accept what he’s been told. After having gone through so many explanations and half-truths, Zeke couldn’t bring himself to simply nod and take Yazmak’s words at face value. Still charging his buster, which now crackled with snaking bolts of energy from the extended concentration, Zeke seethed at Yazmak, “And what makes you think I should believe you? How do I know you aren’t involved in Narroth’s plans in any way? Why wait till now to tell me such vital information?”

 
There was a chilling, yet charmingly deep voice behind everyone that called out, “Believing Yazmak or not, is completely up to you Zeke. Though I should add it is rather rude to talk about someone behind their back, wouldn’t you agree?”

 
Everyone turned their attention to the voice and in a breif moment of unity exclaimed, “Narroth!”

 
Barkstripe and Salien both got into a stance, ready to pounce on Narroth, who stood confidently within arms reach of them, as Zeke aimed his furiously charging buster at Narroth while Delairyus only flicked her tail in irritation. Yazmak slowly stood, his whole body was clearly tense as he stared Narroth down and threatened, “You must be asking to be killed here and now for you to have shown up at this moment.”

 

 

A cruel, toothy smile spread over Narroth’s face as he held out his arms pleadingly, “Please don’t hurt me yet, I have only come to be a part of your conversation. This way I can directly clear up anything that needs some,” He paused to look Zeke in the eye, “light shed on it.”

 

 

Holding up a finger as a thought came to him, Narroth added, “Oh! Maybe something like, my whole grand plan and how I’m going to do it? I can monologue for awhile and pretend to not take note of every one of you plotting your next move and act surprised when you attack all at once and then an arduous battle will ensue where in the end I limp away, shaking my fist at you saying something like ‘Next time will be different!’ Or….”

 

 

Trailing off in thought, everyone looked to each other as Narroth remained frozen, caught mid-sentence. Spreading his feet, Zeke used his free hand to brace his trembling buster arm as he cried out, “Eat this!”

 

 
Firing off the long sustained charge blast created a blazing orb light the size of a semi-truck that headed right for Narroth, ripping up the ground beneath it as it raced to its target. Nobody moved as they were overcome with shock at the sight of Zeke’s creation, except for Narroth, who held out a hand and completely halted the blast. Puzzled, Narroth asked, “You want me to eat this? I somehow doubt it’s healthy, though one could say it’s a, oh what do humans call it? Ah right, a light snack!”

 

 

Laughing uncontrollably at his own joke, Narroth tossed the blast into the air high above them where it exploded before fading away. Deciding to follow-up, Barkstripe and Salien swung their swords at Narroth, who just as suddenly as he began to laugh, sprung into action by grabbing the back of Barkstripe’s head with blinding speed and slammed him into the ground, making an indent in the ground in the shape of Barkstripe’s body. Like a blur, Narroth moved to Salien, jabbing his first two fingers into her abdomen, robbing her lungs of air as he tossed her backwards and into the trees out of their sight. Without moving except with a flick of his tail Narroth sent an attacking Delairyus flying into a nearby tree, knocking her out cold as he muttered, “Bad kitty, thinking you’re so sneaky.”

 

 

Then Narroth zipped past Zeke to grab Yazmak by the neck and hold him aloft as Narroth asked, “Do you think you’d eventually be able to forgive Yazmak? Whether he was dead or alive? Would it be easier if he was dead? What do you think?”

 
Speechless, Zeke couldn’t think of any sort of response as he watched in horror. With a shrug Narroth answered his own question, “Dead would be easier I think. Then you can have your own image of him to cope with this oh so tragic loss. Plus I need something from him anyways so I guess asking was rather pointless in the end wasn’t it?”

 

 

 

Looking to Zeke for any kind of response, Narroth blinked several times before rolling his eyes, “Come on, you don’t have some inspirational words? You’re not gonna scream ‘synchronize’ and go all-out on me?” Shrugging again, Narroth added, “Well, that’s all the same to me. At least this way is faster.”

 

 
Several gurgling sounds escaped from Yazmak as the iris’ in his eyes shattered, leaving only pure white in their place. Afterwards, Narroth tossed Yazmak’s body at Zeke’s feet and cheerily asked, “See? Isn’t this better? Now you don’t have to take orders, and you certainly don’t have to worry about being lied to anymore either. Well, there are those who love to lie, I’m not one of them, so that point is moot, but hey, who cares? Now you can do whatever you want!”

 

 

In shock, Zeke fell to his knees with his jaw hanging as far down as it would go as he managed to choke out the words, “W-what ab-about everyone else?”

 

 

Snorting in disgust, Narroth replied, “They’ll be fine, I only rendered them unable to fight as it seems you still need them unfortunately.” Narroth focused his delighted, icy stare on Zeke, making him quake with fear as Narroth evilly smiled, “You need to ripen more before I can properly harvest you, and to that end, your-” He paused to find what he could deem as the appropriate word for Zeke’s friends, and spat with insinuation, “partners.”

 

 

Internally Zeke wailed at himself, trying to move any part of himself that he could to break free of the terror that gripped him. There was no words that came forth, no wellspring of emotions to counteract his panic, Zeke could only stare in disbelief at the crimson reptilian figure before him and the piercing sapphire eyes that bore their way to his very core. Seemingly satisfied with himself, Narroth strode over to Zeke and pat him on the head while coyly saying, “Fret not little one, when the time is right, we’ll have our little dance together when you’re ready.” Bending to whisper in Zeke’s ear, Narroth continued, “And I really can’t wait till that day, so please, do make haste.”

 

 

Narroth’s words sounded like a lover begging for satisfaction, which made Zeke shiver all the more. Standing upright, Narroth looked around to admire his handiwork before walking away, whistling an upbeat tune to himself as he faded away into the wind.

 

 

With immense effort, Zeke was able to manage one small thought to himself, “What am I going to do now?”

Recently I have been feeling this tightness that restricts my breathing. It only seems to occur when I’m feeling an extreme low point, which has also been frequent. When these times happen, I can get myself back up to a point where I’ll be okay for the rest of the day, my point in this case however, is the frequency of these occurrences.

Ordinarily, I would only feel this low point every so often when something really awful happens i.e bad news, crappy customers, the unavoidable sort of things. Instead, I’ll get to work starting at these low points, the kind where I ponder very seriously on walking out of that store, driving somewhere high enough up, and making that jump. Because of the division in my own brain, I know that I wouldn’t actually do that until every section agreed on that, which has been eerily close to happening.

 

I have even had to consciously resist the urge to lash out at customers when they ask for a bag AFTER their transaction, since CA charges for bags now, and I feel like a lot of customers knowingly do this. Of course, this is but one of many things that somehow shoves me to that point. Sometimes when a customer asks for smokes, chew, or even a pint of alcohol, since those are all behind the counter, I mumble to myself, only loud enough so nobody hears, about how much I dislike that person.

 

During these lows, I try to remember what I’ve been told from friends, as well as what I have learned on my own.

 

Unfortunately when I think of self care during these times, it doesn’t always involve a reasonable solution, for instance, get more water and some form of caffeine, rather, I want to yell at or chase away customers so as to rid myself of their presence and thus achieve peace.

 

Grrr, and now i’m struck fatigue.

 

At least writing this out helped a tiny degree

I don’t feel worthy of my own attention

Every time I feel down, I tell myself that I need to forget about it, that there are so many others around me experiencing a sadness that could overwhelm what I feel.

I’ve grown to think that if I help others enough, that if I bring enough happiness to those around me, that they’ll have the solutions to my sadness, the answers will become clear.

Rarely has that been the case

And that’s not because anyone I care for doesn’t want to help in return, it’s that they want to know what I think so that they may be able to understand.

I don’t really know what I think

I simply feel  most of the time.

As though my own gut reaction to everything will always bring me to the best solution, when in fact, I habitually find the most difficult path to a solution.

I’m writing now as a way to externalize the thoughts and feelings I have had of late, as well as partially catalog some of the theories I have come up with in recent history.

In some of my talks with friends or co-workers, I analyze the things I say, the phrasing I use, the amount of feeling I put behind my words, and I’ve come across a noticeable variance in how I interact from one individual to another.

That in itself doesn’t really matter, the issue at hand is trying to understand myself and come up with a solution of my own.

I’ve been told time and time again to make myself happy and once I can do that, I will be ready to make others happy. But when I take the time to really ponder on what I can do to be happy, I draw a blank, it’s as though the idea of making myself happy is beyond understanding.

Hell, when I want to cook for myself, I feel really down and tell myself that I’m not worth the time and effort for that. So I resort to fast food.

Now that has become a near poison to my body in the sense that I get acid re-flux regularly from it. Which in the long run, it’s good that my body is giving me a signal, but it still hasn’t brought me much closer to wanting to really help myself as it now has become more of a necessity rather than a desire.

want to improve, to make myself happy, to heal my own pains.

But it’s all so much.

I can’t be worth all of that effort.

Barkstripe and Salien glanced at each other before turning their attention back to Zeke with expressions like they were seeing him for the first time. Delairyus seemed tense as well, though she remained seated to keep observing the scenario before her. Erikalika calmly sipped on his tea, un-phased by Yazmak’s appearance. Zeke donned his S.W.O.R.D armor and began to charge his buster like a clenched fist at his side, his repressed anger pinching every muscle in his face as he seethed, “You kept making me work on the same experiments over and over, all just because you wanted to keep me close. Why didn’t you ever tell me the truth? I did everything for you and the sake of humanity! What was the point of it all if I had to come here to Stormhaven? Not even just that! But the fact that I’m some ‘heir’ to this Council that has been working behind the scenes of life itself and I’m supposed to just accept responsibility for it? Tell me all you know, right fucking now!
Yazmak matched Zeke’s glare but remained silent, building an unbearable amount of tension in the room. Breaking the silence, sapphire flames trailed out of Yazmak’s mouth as he growled with narrowed eyes, “You dare to challenge me boy? I doubt you can back your aggression towards me!”

Barkstripe, Delairyus, and Salien all stood at Zeke’s side as he didn’t back down, “I’ve got friends here who think differently.”

Salien chimed in with determination set in her jaw, “That’s right! This time you won’t take Zeke from us!”

Folding his arms while giving Yazmak a side-long glance, Barkstripe added, “Damn straight! We’re the ones who will put you in your place!”

A dangerous smile spread over Delairyus’ face, “I agree with lunkhead here for once, this is a battle you’re going to lose.”

Yazmak smiled, “It seems you’ve been reaching out Zeke. Let’s see how far you’ve come then!”
With a whirl of his glaive, Yazmak enveloped the five of them in a sapphire glow and transported them back to the surface. Immediately after doing so, Yazmak rushed at Zeke with his spear ready at his side. Caught by suprise, Zeke released his charge blast at Yazmak while Barkstripe followed Yazmak’s lead and bolted forward, with Delairyus and Salien standing guard ahead and to the side of Zeke. Yazmak caught Zeke’s blast with the end of his glaive and guided it back towards Barkstripe who was leading his charge with an upward swing of his broadsword. When their weapons clashed, the energy from Zeke’s blast exploded, sending the unguarded Barkstripe skidding backwards into a prone position, allowing Yazmak to continue forward unhindered. Salien pulled out Zeke’s Masamune and was next to push forward with covering fire from Zeke. Yazmak expertly flicked away each shot fired at him with his spear while he still advanced, Salien leapt up several feet and clashed with Yazmak’s glaive.

This time when he shoved Salien away with his glaive she only somersaulted backwards to keep herself in Yazmak’s path, allowing her to strike at him once again. Yazmak deflected Salien’s attacks with ease, though Salien remained airborne from the sheer force of their weapons making contact. Zeke keep firing at Yazmak only to have each blast deflected while he fended off Salien’s barrage of attacks. Delairyus calmly observed everything before her, picking apart every detail in her mind. Barkstripe got up and in a flash he jumped into the fray, attacking Yazmak from behind this time. As he came down with an overhead strike, Barkstripe’s blade was blocked by Yazmak’s butt end of his glaive. With an unearthly speed, Yazmak simulataineously blocked Barkstripe, Salien and Zeke’s attacks with ease.

Delairyus’ voice whispered in Zeke’s head, “Concentrate your attacks and charge your boosters, when I give the signal get in Yazmak’s face and let him have it. I’m going in.”

Though Zeke was caught off guard by the sudden voice in his head, he quietly obeyed and began to charge his buster as well as his boosters. Barkstripe and Salien continued their assault while Delairyus strolled forward, showing no sign of readying an attack. Yazmak went on the offensive and dug the blunt of his glaive into Barkstripe’s gut and lifted him up. In one swift motion Yazmak slammed Barkstripe into Salien as he followed through with his attack and brought them to the ground on top of each other. As he went for the killing blow, Delairyus appeared to the side of Yazmak, kicking him in the face with enough force to stagger him. In that instant, Delairyus cried out in Zeke’s mind, “Now!”

In that moment, Zeke flew faster than he thought possible, for that breif time everything was only a blur of color, with only Yazmak in his focus. Barreled into Yazmak, taking him to the ground as he shoved his Buster into Yazmak’s face while yelling, “Eat this!”

There was a small flash as Zeke’s Buster fired on Yazmak’s face.

Everyone froze, unsure of the outcome but it was Delairyus who grabbed everyone’s attention as she called out, “Get back Zeke! He’s far from being done!”

Before Zeke could react, Yazmak’s clawed hand grabbed ahold of him by the neck as he stood up with no visible sign of damage to his face. Holding Zeke aloft, Yazmak cruely smiled, “It seems this armor hasn’t done you much good Zeke, how about I get rid of it for you?”

Using his free hand, Yazmak ripped the front chestplate of Zeke’s armor off, causing prismatic bolts of lightening to cover Zeke’s body as they shot out of his armor while he cried out in pain. This went on for several seconds before Yazmak finally ripped off the chest plate, causing the rest of it to forcefully disengage and fall to the ground. Exhausted from the pain, Zeke dangled in Yazmak’s grip, his eyes only half seeing the world before him. Seeing Zeke in his now helpless state made Yazmak’s face go cold as he huffed in disappointment through his nose, “Useless whelp.”

Without a second thought, Yazmak heaved Zeke to one side before turning his attention to Delairyus. Salien managed to catch Zeke before he hit the ground, cradling him as she cooed, “I’ve got you Zeke, you’re going to be alright.”

Barkstripe gritted his teeth as he got up with one arm over his abdomen, his breathing ragged as he still needed to finish catching his breath. Delairyus called after Barkstripe, “Take a breather meathead, I’ll handle this one.”

Yazmak raised an eyebrow at her, “You intend to fight me alone? What happened to fighting together with everyone?”

Shrugging, Delairyus evenly responded, “Sometimes it doesn’t always work that way. I can handle someone like you though.”
Unamused, Yazmak charged at Delairyus with blinding speed, closing the distance between them within a second. In the next instant, Yazmak swung his glaive, aiming for her ribs, but instead Delairyus grabbed ahold of the blade of the glaive as it went harmlessly by and used the momentum to swing herself up and give Yazmak’s face a staggering roundhouse kick. Instead losing his balance, Yazmak rolled with the blow, twirling his massive body to catch Delairyus with one of his wings while using the bottom end of his glaive to weaken Delairyus. Without missing a beat, Delairyus caught the incoming attack with both hands and instead of stopping herself, she lunged to the ground while still clinging to Yazmak’s weapon, digging her heels into the surface.

Yazmak responded by holding her up while she was still clasping onto his glaive and spun her around. Without Yazmak noticing, Delairyus used the motion to slide herself closer to Yazmak and in a flash she wrapped her legs around Yazmak’s head as she leaned backwards, causing Yazmak to bend painfully backwards as he held onto his glaive. They remained in this pose for several seconds before Delairyus pushed off of Yazmak, taking his glaive with her. Instead of using the glaive for herself, Delairyus flung it at Salien and Zeke, making sure it dug into the ground next to them.

The now unarmed Yazmak mirthlessly smiled and took a boxing stance, his deadly gaze fixated on Delairyus, who didn’t react at the sight of Yazmak and tensed herself for her next move. In a blur, Delairyus rushed forward, appearing before Yazmak’s eyes with her right fist cocked back for a solid punch to the face. Yazmak threw out a quick jab with his left to stop her in her tracks only to connect with air as the visage in front of him faded away. The real Delairyus had slid between Yazmak’s legs, clawing his genitals along the way. This caused Yazmak’s knees to buckle, so when Delairyus grabbed ahold of Yazmak’s tail, it was much easier for her to yank him backwards and off balance. Taking the opportunity, Delairyus leapt at Yazmak and grabbed ahold of his wings as her legs snapped out to kick him in the base of his skull.

As her feet connected Yazmak lost his footing and fell over onto his face with Delairyus standing on top of his head. Continuing in her ruthlessness, Delairyus stomped with all of her might on Yazmak’s head, eliciting a solid grunt as his face was mashed into the ground. As a precaution, Delairyus slashed through the webbing of Yazmak’s wings before stepping off of him, confident in her efforts. Barkstripe, Salien and Zeke were watching with wide-eyed expressions, unsure of how to react to the scene before them.

Delairyus gestured towards Yazmak as she made eye contact with Zeke, “He’s all yours now, I’m sure he’ll answer anything you ask now.”

The drive to do something is there

But with no clear goal

A scarred warrior ready for his past demons to haunt him

But with nothing there

Instead only this writing seems to put to words of how this feeling is

But nothing is changing

Only this quiet desperation for an immediately solution

But it’s never that easy

There is always more to what things are

But…..

Dejected I’ll slump down and let everything release itself

But that doesn’t solve anything

Only with a clean slate can I move forward without losing anything more

But what about all that was set free

With experience comes better decisions, better results

But you can’t live in constant repeats of past events

Each time I’ll get further than before

But how far are you really getting

Overall progress comes with time

But there is only so much time for each individual

Too many risks lead to devastating consequences

But then where is the real reward

Patience has always been rewarding

But that is too broad, there is more to it

Then…..maybe I haven’t grown all that much

But you said experience has made you better

Not as much as I would like to believe

But then, what are you trying to accomplish

I have no idea

But what about your future

In the end, there may not be all the much to hope for

But you have to keep fighting

Fighting my past or the possibility of danger

………

Then it seems we both don’t know

Salien embraced the teary-eyed Zeke, tightly wrapping her arms around him and squeezing him with her own happiness. Her sobbing friend attempted to hug back with equal strength but was overpowered by Salien’s newfound physical prowess. Muffled blubbering could be heard from Zeke as his face was smothered by Salien’s chest as she realized that she now stood almost a foot higher than Zeke, which alarmed her, and she immediately let go to find that Zeke was heavily gasping for air between joyous sobs. Apologetically rubbing Zeke’s back, Salien weakly smiled, “Sorry about that Zeke. There is just so much to take in at the moment, I had no idea I would be so-”

 

Barkstripe cut her off as he approached with Delairyus and Erikalika, each one of them with a warming smile of their own, “Strong. Yeah, it will take some getting used to but you’ll find that your body will be as strong, if not stronger, than Zeke’s S.W.O.R.D armor.”

 

Without skipping a beat, Salien huffed at Barkstripe, “You always have to be the ‘suave’ one don’t you?”

 

Nonchalantly shrugging, Barkstripe put his hands up in mock surrender as Delairyus spoke for him, “Don’t mind the muscle junkie here, he’s terrible with words.” She folded her arms, sizing up Salien with a hint of jealousy in her voice, “You must be the loved one that these two lost on their way here.”

 

Though Zeke was still holding onto Salien, she only gingerly draped one arm over his shoulders. A hurt smile creased on her face, “Yes, it was terrifying when it happened.”

 

Interjecting, Erikalika motioned towards the chairs, “There is still much to discuss, why not get comfortable with some tea as we shed light on these developments.”

 

Everyone looked to each other in agreement before wandering back over to the chairs. Now that Salien was there, an extra chair was needed, which Erikalika fixed with a snap of his fingers, making an identical chair appear with the rest. Erikalika took his seat while Barkstripe and Delairyus sat in chairs next to each other with Salien and Zeke following suit. After the ragtag group of friends got comfortable, Erikalika asked after sipping his own tea, “Would anyone care for a fresh cup of tea?”

 

Exchanging glances, the four shook their head in turn which made Erikalika grunt, “To each their own then.”

 

Still excited, Zeke didn’t waste time, “So what happened Salien? How were you brought back? Where did you end up after you were taken from your former body?”

 

Though she shook her head, Salien smiled from Zeke’s boundless curiosity, “During our battle with Violet, I could see myself leaving your S.W.O.R.D armor. I tried to call out to you Zeke, but nobody could hear me. Before I knew what to make of the situation, I was taken to a white space. There was nothing else there, except for a single voice calling out to me.”

 

Clearing his throat, Erikalika interjected, “That was me reaching out to Salien here. It took far less time for my words to reach her than most lost souls.”

 

Nodding in acknowledgment, Salien continued, “So after hearing Erikalika’s voice, I followed it. Time didn’t seem to matter in this strange place, so I couldn’t tell you how long I was running for, but Erikalika’s voice changed when I drew closer and a purple miasma appeared around me.”

 
Sitting on the edge of his seat, Zeke asked, “What did you do then?”

 
Shrugging slightly, Salien responded, “Initially, I did nothing. I tried to call out again but this distant voice kept repeating itself, beckoning me closer. So I followed voice and saw two figures in the distance. Suddenly they were directly in front of me.”

 
She paused a moment, the fear of her meeting Narroth still fresh in Salien’s mind. Seeing this in her eyes, Zeke reached out with a comforting hand, covering her hand with his. Barkstripe awkwardly said, “You don’t have to continue if it’s too much.”

 
Delairyus huffed and folded her arms, irritated, “Or Salien could continue. This could be vital information.”

 
Erikalika sipped his tea, calmly agreeing with Delairyus, “You have a point Delairyus,” Looking to Salien he coaxed, “Please continue Salien, this is something we all need to hear.”

 

Taking a deep breath, Salien flashed a smirk at Zeke before recounting her tale, “The two figures turned out to be Narroth, and one of his henchmen named Xiden. Narroth was a tall, buff, red lizard-man with wings and piercing blue eyes. His sidekick, Xiden, had the same kind of eyes but was lanky, dark, and quietly plotting. Narroth kept going on about how he was going to bring Barkstripe and Zeke to this place called Limbo to reunite us, that even though Limbo is unstable, it has yet to be used for it’s true potential. Before I could get any real answers out of Narroth, he left me with Xiden, who immediately made a pit of snakes under me. Thankfully, my training still paid off and I was able to fend of Xiden. Upon doing so, Erikalika here showed up to take me here and offered me a new body. After hearing about how being without one leaves you very vulnerable, I took his offer and now here I am.”

 

Having finished her tale, Salien felt her whole body relax, the memory of her experience having subsided. Zeke kept rubbing his hand over Salien’s in a gesture of sanctuary while Barkstripe thoughtfully scratched his head as he mumbled, “This can’t be good.”

 

 

Delairyus stared knowingly at Erikalika as he tilted his head slightly in acknowledgement, “I know Deli, this bodes ill for all of us.”

 

Erikalika’s words drew everyone’s attention to him, each individual blinking with confusion and intrigue. Silence grew heavy in the room while the group expectantly waited for their billy goat friend to elaborate on his words. Instead it was Delairyus who spoke up, unable to wait, her voice was very matter of fact, “Narroth plans of using the chaotic energies of Limbo to encompass all of Stormhaven, and Earth I would imagine, so that he can control everything. And not just as a monarch or silly figurehead, he wants to become a god.”

 
Her last words pierced through Barkstripe, Salien and Zeke, bringing a horrific picture to all of their minds. Erikalika raised a brow, annoyed, “Your words may be true Deli, but rather dark.” Clearing his throat, he continued, “Nevertheless, evidence thus far would point to an outcome as you have illustrated. Though using the energies of Limbo would be foolhardy at best.”

 

 

Eagerness now overtook Zeke as he redirected his focus on Erikalika, “What do you mean exactly? Why would using the energy in Limbo be a bad idea?”

 

 

After taking a sip of tea, Erikalika placed his cup on a table to his right that appeared before folding his fingers together on his lap, “You recall the being known as Violet, correct?”

 

 
Everyone slowly bobbed their heads to show that they are listening closely, Erikalika continued, “Violet was one such being made from the miasma. Though she had a mind and will of her own, her ultimate goal was to consume other souls to not only sustain herself, but to gather enough necessary to allow Narroth to control the entirety of Limbo. When Violet targeted you Zeke, it was no coincidence. She must have sensed a large amount of energy in you and was drawn to it. Had she succeeded in her endeavor, Narroth would have all he needs to accomplish his goal of enshrouding every realm in Limbo and having complete control of everything.”

 

 

Barkstripe, Salien and Zeke exhanged looks as they digested this information while Delairyus saucily asked, “Even though Zeke has no idea what his potential is, Violet could have still absorbed all of Zeke’s energy and used it for that purpose?”

 

 

Sighing in resignation, Erikalika forlornly replied, “Yes, the mind’s restrictions on how we use our energy does not apply when said mind is no longer in control of it.”

 

 

Bewildered, Zeke exclaimed, “What do you mean my potential? Please explain to me how I have all of this so called power that has yet to be unlocked? The whole point of the S.W.O.R.D armor was to tap into that! How could there still be limits that have yet to be reached?”

 

 

Instead of following suit in comforting Zeke, Salien butted in with determination of her own, “Exactly! Why do you keep talking about Zeke like he’s not even complete? What aren’t you telling us?”

 

 

Barkstripe leaned back in his chair with arms folded, feeling no desire to add on to what has already been clearly stated. Delairyus pointed an accusatory finger at Zeke, “You think that silly suit of yours is going to tap into countless millennia worth of energy? You have no clue as to what’s been happening and you somehow expect that to be all you need to win?”

 

 

Growling, Salien shot up from her seat, “Zeke has always tried his best, pouring all of his heart and soul into his work! How dare you talk to him, as if he is a mere child!”

 

 

Delairyus closed her eyes in irritation as she snorted, “And you think fighting his battles for him is going to help? Maybe you’ve been mothering him for too long that you fail to see how much growing he needs to do!”

 

 

Barkstripe stepped in between them, “Take it easy you two, Zeke here can speak for himself right?”

 
Everyone turned their attention to Zeke, who was now struggling to find the right words, “I-I can…I…don’t know what to s-say.”

 

 

Erikalika calmly added, “How about we have Zeke here explain how his S.W.O.R.D armor works instead? Maybe then we can come to a more accurate conclusion about his potential. Afterwards, we shall reciprocate by explaining what we mean by his untapped power.” Looking at everyone in turn, “Does this satisfy all of you?”

 

 
Slowly each member of the group nodded in agreement before quietly taking their seats once more and turning their attention to Zeke. Closing his eyes, Zeke slowly took several breaths, “I can do this. It’s not any different than when I presented the idea to Yazmak.”

 

 

After pushing aside his nervous tension, Zeke looked around and cleared his throat, “Ok, so as you know, this armor I wear has been called the Symbiotic Wavelength Omni Reishigi Drive, or S.W.O.R.D for short. Engage AUTO mode.”

 

 

Standing up, Zeke stepped out of his S.W.O.R.D armor and pointed where the missing head of the armor would be, “Here is, of course, where the helmet would be, equipped with a Heads-Up Display that can scan the nearby area for incoming traffic, weather conditions, compositions of architecture, as well as give a readout on target Reishigi levels, any possible weapons, on top of being able to give a report on your own Reishigi level, heart rate, condition of your body, i.e. physical injuries, toxins, and how your state of mind is reacting to your current situation.”

 

 

Momentarily Zeke looked around to see his friends were listening intently, even Erikalika had an intrigued gleam in his eyes. This spurred Zeke forward as he pointed to the chest piece, it had horizontally protruding shoulder plates that folded over each side of the shoulders. The center of the chest was comprised of three parts, two of them covered each breast, while the third covered the stomach and core of the wearer. The back of the chest piece had two protruding, half-moon shaped rods that rested at a 45 degree angle with a perfectly round indent beneath where the rods begin. Zeke cheerfully explained, “This chest part of the armor serves as the gathering point for your body’s Reishigi. It draws from your heart as well as your core at your waist, to distribute your energy to the rest of your body, bestowing accelerated strength and speed, as well as bolstering your body’s overall ability to absorb damage. The back of this part contains your boosters, which can be used in quick bursts for evasive action, or for long term flight.”

 

 

Now with his finger pointed at the arms, beginning from the shoulder the arm was small and smooth, rounding out into larger forearms, with gloves sticking out from the ends. Zeke paused to clear his throat again, “At the arms of the S.W.O.R.D armor, beginning from the shoulder the arm was small and smooth, rounding out into larger forearms, with gloves sticking out from the ends. Zeke paused to clear his throat again, “At the arms of the S.W.O.R.D armor is where weapons like the Ion Buster can be housed. At the rounded section on the forearm is where the muscle enhancing occurs as well as where any compatible weapons can be stored. With a simple flex of your arm, this part of the arm expands and folds out to allow use of said weapon.”

 
Motioning with his finger, Zeke indicated the lower half of the armor, the waist down to the beginning of the knee were straightforward metal leggings. From the rest of the knee to the feet were large boots, adorned only by a single spike on each knee that curved outward with the tip pointing up, “From the waist, there is a built in module that allows the wearer to be unhindered by any change in gravity, as well as preventing disorientation from any usage of the wearer’s boosters. At the boots, this armor has features like the ability to stick to most surfaces, enhanced running speed, an extra set of boosters at the soles of the boots that allow the user to do quick bursts in any direction. As a whole, this armor is capable of many things, what I have explained is only the basics of this armor. Anything beyond this wil be a custom creation and should always be treated with care. Just as a side note, the color scheme of any S.W.O.R.D armor can be customized, but it will otherwise always be a metallic grey.”

 
Salien cocked her head to one side, “Aren’t you forgetting something Zeke?”

 

 

After thinking about it for a moment Zeke’s eyes widened, “Right! My particular armor has the ability to be summoned on command. I can do this because of a special module I built and implanted in my head, which signals the armor and teleports it to my location. This is due to the first two parts in the S.W.O.R.D acronym, Symbiotic Wavelength, which stands for the relationship between the wearer and the armor itself. Upon donning the armor it is powered by your own energy, or Reishigi, allowing the wearer to do fantastic physical feats. But, due to the nature of the armor, it can use so much of your energy that you reach your breaking point, or Soul Shatter, which as far as we know your soul undergoes too much stress, causing it to literally shatter. The Wavelength refers to how each S.W.O.R.D armor in particular is tuned to a particular individual. Should anyone else use it, they will suffer dire consequences, such as a horrific fusion with the armor, or immediate Soul Shatter. Omni is addressing the fact that the wearer’s armor is intended as an all-around enhancement. Reishigi Drive is in direct reference to how your energy is the source of it all.”

 

 
Delairyus sauntered over to Zeke, an eager glint in her eyes as she paced around him and his armor, “So this armor can do all of these things, and yet you still couldn’t beat lunkhead over here?”

 

 

She had a thumb pointed at Barkstripe, who was quietly grumbling to himself while Zeke meekly answered, “Well, I assumed it was a matter of skill, not so much a lack of physical prowess.”

 

 

Maintaining her inquiring tone, Delairyus asked, “It had nothing to do with the fact that every Anthro is easily twice, of not four times in some cases, stronger than a human being? Not to mention the fact that every species of Anthro has their own innate senses on top of that?”

 

 
Nodded in agreement, Zeke replied, “Yes, it all came down to the more experienced fighter, and obviously Barkstripe is just that, a better fighter than me.”

 

 

Swishing her tail while thoughtfully holding her chin, Delairyus slowly admitted, “That may be true. However, in the case of your real potential, none of us here could hold a candle to you Zeke. With the right training from me, you’ll be capable of so much more than you ever believed.”

 

 

A pained smirk spread over Salien’s face, “How do you know that Zeke can do all of this?”

 

 

It was Erikalika and his ever patient tone that replied, “Allow me to explain,” Sipping the rest of his tea, he began, “Though we have referred to Zeke as an ‘heir’ to a seat on the council, he, like other spirits, was not born from a coupling of anyone, but rather a being that was given life from the very balance maintained between each realm.”

 

 

Now that he finished grumbling, Barkstripe jumped in, “What does this for Zeke in particular?”

 

 

Zeke, with a stoic gaze, added, “I want to know all that you can tell me.”

 

 
A polite smile flashed on Erikalika’s face, “Very well then. Boys and girls, get as comfortable as you can because there is quite a bit of ground to cover here.”

 

 

He took a moment to check if his listeners were giving him all of their attention, and to his delight, everyone was waiting with a ravenous desire to know more. Still smiling, Erikalika made a welcoming gesture with his hands, “Let’s start from the beginning shall we?” He cleared his throat, “Long before there were humans, there was the Fey spirits, and Demons. Let me clarify this now, though the Fey are spirits of light, and Demons are spirits of darkness, this does not mean they are good and evil. Rather, they are two sides to one coin, a means of keeping balance, if you will.”

 

 

Erikalika paused to take a sip of tea, “Though they have different names and looks, the Fey and Demons share many walks of life together. And much like humans, spirits have to eke out a living in what ways they can. To paint a picture on this, think of each realm every spirit lives in as a different place in ‘time’ or particular ideology. Take Terragleam for instance, no doubt by now you have come to see that this particular Sector is set in what you would refer to as ‘the dark ages’. These realms exist because time itself means little to spirits, and yet, because of the vast differences in ideas, it was decided that the Council would be made to ensure that everyone was spoken for while placing responsibility on the shoulders of an individual for each Sector. In the case of Terragleam, a spirit does not find life in working for money like humans do, rather, we trade what we craft or find with one another, some of us will hunt dangerous creatures for their own various personal reasons. Whether you create baskets to the finest weaponry for beast slaying, we all count on one particular resource, Aetherium. This mineral comes in many forms, from various plant life to rich ore veins. As to its origins, we concluded that it comes from concentrations of energy from every realm. Conflict would arise in various ways, whether it was a carnivorous Wyvern coming to feast, or a dispute among ourselves, we would have to find a means to push though. Contrary to human beliefs, spirits also experience death, however, not in the same way. For instance, a human will pass on from age or sickness, a spirit can pass on from a lack of energy, or Reishigi. This occurs when a spirit has used up all of their energy, whether from deprivation of balance or from taking on too great of a task. Which leads to the earlier statement that balance is a necessity.”

 

 

Taking a moment to check on his listeners, Erikalika could see the questions on everyone’s faces, except Delairyus, who was cleaning her claws as she listened. Then he continued, “Balance between the realms has been kept by the Council, to which everyone would come together to maintain the energies of every realm. To do so, a ritual would be performed, asking for the world itself to help guide this seemingly boundless Reishigi to where it would be needed most.”

 

 

Zeke butted in, “Where does all of this energy come from? How is it that this Reishigi falls out of balance in the first place?”

 

 

A slight twitch of Erikalika’s brow went unnoticed as he took Zeke’s question into consideration before answering, “From what we understand, this energy has always existed around us. There are fluctuations in the amount of energy as a whole, which is one such reason that led the Demons and Fey to create a Council to find a solution to that. You may be wondering why any sudden changes in energy would be harmful, and my answer to that is this, as spirits we thrive on said energy, too much of it could cause us to become part of this energy and we would simply fade away. The other side to this, is when there is a lack of energy, and best way to describe this is similar to being starved to death. As to why this happens, there are many theories surrounding that. One such theory is from humans developing so much technology and the battles that would follow. Some have blamed greedy Demons or Fey while there are a few that feel it is simply the Earth’s way of keeping us working together. So back to what I was saying, balance is necessary as a means of keeping every spirit alive, because without spirits, Demon and Fey alike, life would cease to exist altogether.”

 

 

Taking this information in brief silence, Barkstripe, Salien and Zeke would look to each other and Erikalika as they wrapped their heads around Erikalika’s words. Even Delairyus stopped what she was doing, her eyes looking past her claws in deep thought. As expected, Zeke stepped in with another question, “How does this affect humanity then? Does having a seat on the Council relate to that?”

 

 

Before letting out a patient sigh, Erikalika gulped the rest of his tea, “Humanity is affected because of how the entire world is connected. Your science may be only aware of life as it is presented before your eyes, but just beyond the Veil lies so much more. Think of the Realm of Humans and the Realm of Spirits as existing side-by-side on the same coin, but because of being on opposite sides, we never see one another. As spirits, we believe that humans came from a union between Demons and Fey, creating a new lifeform altogether. Unfortunately, the exact details of this were erased by Narroth himself, including any spirit who had been there for the event. As for having a seat on the Council, it does relate to humanity as I stated before, without Reishigi and Aetherium, life will no longer exist.”

 

 

This information made Zeke forlornly gaze at the ground while Salien carefully asked, “Then, why Zeke specifically? Couldn’t you have someone else be lined up for a seat on the Council? And why should it matter now?”

 

 

Slowly shaking his head, Erikalika frowned, “As a spirit, Zeke was a dragon, and as such, he is quite literally a force of nature. Due to this, Zeke has limitless potential in Reishigi alone, which is why we need him to be a part of the Council.”

 

 
Though Erikalika paused, everyone could see the words trailing through his eyes. Sensing the uneasiness in the room, he cleared his throat before continuing, “I must say this now, it is because of all that I have explained that Zeke must take Yazmak’s place on the Council. In acting on his own accord, Yazmak made it difficult to trust him, especially after his crossing into the Human Realm.”

 

 

A gruff voice came from behind Erikalika, causing everyone but Erikalika to jump up into a battle stance, “I heard my name, is everyone speaking well of me?”

 

 

Yazmak’s towering form stood over Erikalika, fresh cuts and bruises covered his entire exhausted body. One of his eyes was closed to keep blood from getting into it as his piercing gaze swept over everyone, “No need for alarm everyone, I’m here to help.”

 

 

Delairyus didn’t hesitate to verbally jab at Yazmak, “Unless it’s information your giving, you don’t look like you would be much help.”

 

 

What started as a chuckle turned into a sputtering cough as Yazmak smirked, “Fret not, I have come to shed more light on what Erikalika here has already explained.”

 

 
Barkstripe and Salien stepped protectively in front of Zeke as Salien spat, “As far as I’m concerned, you’re as much a cause of this mess as Narroth is. Why should we listen?”

 

 

Closing his eye a moment, Yazmak took several deep breaths before opening his eye, giving Zeke a pleading look, “Because what I know can help you understand what’s going on.”

 

 

Seeing Yazmak in the flesh as something more than human only made Zeke feel curious about the pleading look in Yazmak’s eye as well as something else. No memories were triggered, no sense of duty to his work, no promises. A bitter taste in Zeke’s mouth matched the anger festering in him as he pushed past Barkstripe and Salien to stand resolutely before Yazmak, “There’s a lot I want to understand, especially now, however, take this into account, I don’t know if I can forgive you for manipulating me for so long.”

 

 

A sky blue aura covered Yazmak for several moments as all of his wounds faded away. Now rejuvenated, Yazmak stood up straight, his head only inches from the roof of the room they were in as he tilted his head to crack his neck. Narrowing his eyes, Yazmak icily said, “I would have all of the information possible before making such bold statements if I were you, child.”