Kyrik coughed as dust filled his lungs, a board falling before him and throwing it into the air.
After the talk with Methir, he decided to go check on Kali, with her passing out upon arrival on one of Kyrik’s seats. Kyrik refused to let her sleep in such a place, and so went out of his way to try and find somewhere else. The rooms near the study, being in the Archmage’s Spire, were used by apprentices in the past. However, they hadn’t been cleared in years.
Not wanting to awaken the sleeping alien, Kyrik and Methir silently got to work trying to clear a medium-sized room. They’d need to get a new bedding, but the foundation was there. Kali should have room to stretch and fill with whatever trinkets she desired if they finished. However, some of the leftover shelving was in a state of disrepair, leading to one collapsing under a small gust to clear dust.
“Are you alright?” Methir laughed.
“No.” Kyrik hacked as if trying to throw up a hairball. “It went down my throat.”
“Don’t use your element so strongly, I guess.” Methir clapped her palms together, a rune etched on the floor beginning to glow before a cot materialized. “I’m sure the store won’t mind if one went missing, right?”
“Depends on how well they’re doing.”
“They’re fine; nobody wants a cot like this. We’ll get her something better later.”
The clicking of claws before the door opened slightly alerted them to Kali’s approach. She squinted as if still half asleep before looking at the two of them.
“Oh.” Kali said in relief. “I thought someone was breaking in.”
“No, just us.” Methir giggled. “We’re trying to clear a space for you.”
“I really appreciate it.” Kali smiled widely. “Can I help?”
Right before Kyrik was about to say yes, he noted something about Kali he never registered. She had the same amount of digits in her front claws, but he never saw her bend her thumb. Kyrik had her move it to sate his curiosity and sure enough, she had trouble bending it in a proper manner. Slower and at an awkward angle, nowhere near as dexterous to hold most tools.
“…How’d you open the door?” Methir questioned after Kyrik stated his discovery.
Kali demonstrated by placing her index and middle fingers on the knob handle before folding her palm over it. From there, she turned it.
“Hm.” Kyrik examined the room. “That’s interesting, actually. I wonder if your species doesn’t rely on furnishing like ours.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Kali shrugged. “Does this mean I can’t help?”
“Not at all! We just need to tighten the screws on these boards for now, and you can hold them in place.”
“Wouldn’t magic do this better?” Kali did as instructed, Methir reaching into her toolbelt to pull out a hammer.
“Relying on magic to solve all your problems isn’t wise.” Methir deftly nailed the shelf together. “I wish I learned more about gemforging before I came here, though. I can’t stand wood…too flimsy.”
“Maybe we can learn together?” Kyrik asked hopefully. “I’ve been meaning to do that too.”
“That wouldn’t be a bad reprieve from our lessons.” Methir paused thoughtfully. “Never know when you’d need to learn it.”
Right as she said that, Kyrik’s other half flared in warning. Something powerful was coming to the spire, and from the way Methir paused and looked upward, she felt it too. The curiosity quickly faded into horror followed by disbelief.
Kyrik knew the presence before it arrived. He’d met her a few times, sneaking quite literally into her castle on accident. He remembered appearing in her garden that snowy night, confused by the lifeforce he felt, only to come face to face with the Queen of the Damned. Why she didn’t strike him down on the spot, he didn’t know, but the brief flicker of hatred and malice in her eyes was something he never forgot.
“Why in the world is he bringing her here!?” Methir all but shouted. Kyrik wondered the same, yet was unable to help notice she held fear in her voice. More than Kyrik did. Methir was never one to lose form like this.
“Who?” Kali asked.
“Azulia, Queen of the Damned.” Kyrik explained quietly as Methir took off from the room in a flurry. “Stay here; I need to do something before we chase after her.”
Kyrik dashed to his room, making sure Kali wasn’t looking before pulling a hidden lever in his study. A bookshelf in the back opened, revealing a secret room. Once again checking, he crept inside, being bathed in a soft green light.
On a pedestal against the far wall was a glowing orb slightly bigger than his palm. It swirled and churned with energy, and Kyrik felt his own inside. An invisible tether linking the two together.
The SoulSaver, he called it, for lack of better term. Much like a lich’s phalanctary, if he were struck down, he’d pop back at the location of the orb. However, he would need to fix it after, as it shattered in two upon use. But he was fine now; he remembered to do so the last time this happened. He probably didn’t need to check, but if Azulia was here, anything could happen.
“Alright, I would ask you to stay here still, but I wouldn’t listen to me either.” Kyrik came back to retrieve Kali, who was still in the exact same spot. “She’s going to find out about you sooner or later and I’d rather you confront Azulia with us there.”
Climbing the stairs rapidly to catch up to Methir, they spotted her before the entrance to Jirmen’s chambers. She was calmer than before, yet still kept out of sight until their arrival. She looked ready to speak but instead sighed.
“Get out of here!” She shooed him. “We don’t need her to notice Kali!”
“Oh, but I already have!” A sinister, feminine voice came from the chamber. “I heard your little hearts beating the moment you climbed the stairs.”
With a defeated slump of her shoulders, Methir gestured the two to stay behind her before walking in. Kyrik moved a bit ahead of Kali protectively, noting the serious expression on Methir’s face. A faint snarl split her mouth, a first.
Queen Azulia stood in the center, staring down with a critical eye. Kyrik still hadn’t gotten over how big she was compared to him; he barely came to her chest. He felt her gaze upon him and couldn’t help but fidget uncomfortably. The reaper side threatened to take over and strike.
Her eyes shifted to Methir, narrowing slightly as they ran across the shriker. Methir gave the same look, but there was something strange about how Azulia lingered. Kyrik couldn’t tell what she was thinking or read emotions, but something must’ve interested her.
That was, until Kali drew attention to herself by moving.
“My, my,” Azulia’s voice was silky smooth, “and I thought I was the one who collected the strange.”
“She is our…guest.” Jirmen flicked his gaze to Kali.
“Is that so?” Azulia grinned, fangs glimmering. “Such a pretty hide on this one. What is your name?”
“Kali.” Kali answered with uncertainty. “I’m guessing you’re the Queen of the Damned?”
“Ah, she knows who I am! Have you already told her how vile I am?” Azulia turned to Jirmen with amusement.
“Why is she here?” Methir demanded of Jirmen.
“We have come to an agreement,” Jirmen said while Azulia snaked around Kyrik and Kali with interest. Jirmen kept one eye on her, ready to defend. “If this killer is doing as we think they are, both of our domains are at risk. In addition, the darker arts are of her domain.”
“This is your logical conclusion after Magthra!?” Methir nearly shouted.
“Will you at least wait until I do something before you start?” Azulia frowned disapprovingly. “I did come to your rescue in the Seraphim war, yes? In fact, had it not been for me, you might have fallen on the spot…”
Methir didn’t saw a word, snarling slightly instead. Kyrik exchanged a look with Kali; both had never seen Methir react so negatively to anyone. Including Azulia in the past.
“That snarl is unbecoming of you.” Azulia made her way over to Methir, staring her down. Jirmen tapped his staff warningly. “Has the dark side of the arcane wiggled it’s way in? I can tell you are learning necromancy…”
“Enough.” Jirmen slammed his staff. “We have a murder and a golem to solve. Bicker after.”
“I can always teach Kyrik, you know.” Azulia turned away from Methir, a flaunting glint in her eye. “I am quite adept in his area of strength. You don’t have to decide now; the offer is indefinite.”
Before Methir or Jirmen could reply, she snapped her fingers loudly. Instantaneously, her body was enveloped in a pink-purple light as it began to change. Wicked horns curled, scales a glittering purple. Intense crimson eyes now blue with a seductive gleam. Her size shrank too, yet Kyrik couldn’t detect any magic emanating from her.
It was as if she quite literally became her illusion.
“You should be grateful, Jirmen.” Azulia sounded…normal. No echoes or otherwise antagonist features to her voice. “Only for you shall I change my form.” She shifted her gaze to Kyrik. “What do you think, Kyrik? You have been awfully quiet…”
“…How did you change your size?” Kyrik asked blankly.
“Like I said, I can teach you quite easily.”
“Enough.” Jirmen once again interjected. “I’m teleporting us directly to the crypt.”
That was the only warning Kyrik had before he felt himself being yanked through an ocean. At least, that was how it felt. Unlike a portal, this was akin to someone grabbing and pulling him. Much faster but also disorienting, as evidenced when Kyrik bumped into a wall when they arrived.
Kyrik strangely felt comfortable in the crypt. Maybe it was because of his nature, but it was quiet. Almost peaceful. The dead wouldn’t bother him, and the living who came didn’t either. If he ever hit a retiring age – maybe on the twilight years of a Reincarnation – he’d be a cryptkeeper or something similar.
“You left it out?” Azulia tutted. “Then again, such things don’t rot so easily…”
The golem in question gave Kyrik an impression akin to uncanny valley. It was so lifelike, yet not. Something was missing now that he looked at it. Still, he kept his distance, letting Azulia work.
“The threading is masterful.” Azulia spoke with some surprise. “How peculiar, this is. No ordinary necromancy could create this. I understand fully how you couldn’t figure out who made such an exquisite work.”
“Does that mean you can’t either?” Methir asked wryly.
“Oh, I certainly can, but not here.” Azulia said. “I can feel the tethering. I simply cannot get a good grip. No, I will need a Nexus Point.”
“Of course.” Jirmen huffed loudly. “Why did I ever think you were here to help? All you wanted was to go there.”
“Jirmen darling, you forget that I could have easily found a way in.” Azulia rolled her eyes. “You are the archmage, this is true. However, I am the Queen of the Damned; you would do best not to second guess my intentions right now.”
Kyrik paled. He doubted any of the others felt what happened, but given Kyrik’s nature, he was more in tune with the darker arts. A wave of dark magic erupted from Azulia when she spoke her title, crashing into Kyrik like a shore. She was flexing her power, and if it went over the heads of Jirmen and Methir…
“Are you alright?” Kali whispered.
“I don’t suppose you felt that, did you?” Kyrik muttered.
“My mind hurt from the sudden spikes that grew around Azulia’s mental block.” Kali eyed the queen, who had returned her attention to the golem. “I’m not sure why the others didn’t notice that.”
“I don’t know, but I’m worried. Follow my lead on this one; there isn’t much we can do in this space.”
“Kyrik dear, it’s rude to talk about someone behind their back.” Azulia laughed lowly. All heads turned to him, making Kyrik pale more. “Now, fact check for me because your lovely masters are making my life difficult; you can confirm there was a bone in the spine of this and another, yes?”
“I can.” Kyrik nodded slowly.
“Good. As I told Jirmen, the bone is that of an Orithras. You know what that is?” Kyrik nodded at her question. “Now for the next part; Necromancers do operate on life magic, but they cannot create it. They can raise the dead or reverse decay, but when it comes to creating new organs and the like, that is outside their realm of possibility. Am I wrong?”
“No, you’re not.”
“Then how come this golem was made completely from base materials? By that, I mean scientific elements. Carbon, hydrogen…not even the strongest sorcerer of this world can do this.”
“What!?” Jirmen cried in shock. “How did you figure that one out? None of our probing detected this.”
“Because whoever was responsible isn’t using magic you would think to use.” Azulia turned her eye to Kyrik. “No, they are using Reaper magic.”
“I checked that!” Jirmen pointed his staff at the golem. “See? Nothing is showing up on the probes!”
“Jirmen, would you stop acting like an apprentice for five seconds and consider that you aren’t attuned to life magic as I am? Or, rather, unattuned.” Azulia chuckled darkly. “I am a Vampyr. I have no heartbeat. Blood does not flow. I am effectively dead, frozen in time. As such, I can feel life magic whenever it is nearby, as I have nothing to compare it too. It is something I lack, and it is what I consume to keep my mind.”
Jirmen withdrew his staff, calming. “Say that is true,” he began slowly, “the only one with such powers is Kyrik.”
“He was with me the entire day.” Kali jumped in immediately. “He couldn’t have done this; I would have been able to detect it.”
“I wasn’t suggesting he did.” Jirmen said to Kyrik’s surprise. He expected the archmage to suspect him for the hundredth time. “No mortal can wield reaper magic without severe risk. But I haven’t detected any reapers…”
“Why do you think I need your Nexus Point?” Azulia asked impatiently. “Whoever did this didn’t count on someone such as I arriving, but they still hid their tracks well enough. With it bolstering my power, I can track down your assassin with ease.”
“I still never understood why you couldn’t utilize your own Nexus Point.” Jirmen muttered.
“It is, as you say, tainted. This pure well of Arcane will serve me well, as it can differentiate much easier.”
It was no surprise the queen had her castle built upon a Nexus Point, but Kyrik hadn’t ever heard of one becoming corrupt. It made sense, he supposed, given the darkness Azulia operated in. Still, it came from the world itself, and if such an opening was tainted, it should have had ramifications. Was it contained well?
One more mystery to the castle Kyrik had to solve.
“Methir,” Jirmen swiveled to his former apprentice, “gather the Warlocks. I will be taking her to the Nexus Point, and I expect you to be ready the instant I give the signal.”