A flare of pink and white rocketed across the room like a meteor against a starry sky. Its target, a stoney structure, reflected the attack and sent it crashing to the ground. Around the stone, a blue barrier flickered before turning invisible once more.
"You almost got it." A hissing, yet encouraging, voice broke the silence.
On two legs and wearing a thin protective suit, the owner of the voice quietly stepped over to the caster. A shriker, the being was called. Angular and sharp, especially in the facial area where their snouts ended in a narrow tip, their amphibious nature required them to wear a suit above ground. So long as most of their body was kept moist or otherwise protected, the helmet could be taken off safely and allowed her long black fins to extend.
She bent down, purple-skinned face offering a kind smile to the caster, a dragon. He was much smaller than her in height, head only coming up to her chest, but walked on four legs. Cousin species, the two were. Dragons were covered in scales, heads crowned with horns as well as possessing wings. The biggest similarities were the tails, sharp talons and fins that ran down their backs and tail.
"How in the world do you do that, Methir?" The caster asked breathlessly, shaking in his cream scales. Protofeathers, beige in color, bristled from stress. Peridot eyes widened in frustration, mocha-tipped tail blade jabbing at the crystalline ground.
"Focus and willpower." Methir answered simply, encouragement gleaming in her orange eyes. "I know you can do it, Kyrik."
"I know I can too, but it doesn't make it any easier to accomplish." Kyrik grumbled, face contorted in a hint of anger. Not that Methir could tell, as it was covered by a skull mask, something he never took off in public.
"If life was easy, it wouldn't be worth it." Methir shrugged, the clear crystalline spikes on her shoulders bending to avoid her neck.
"Well, we wouldn't know different, would we? I mean, for all we know, this is the easier life."
"Rhetorical phrase, Kyrik." Methir rolled her eyes with an exasperated smile.
"Still a valid question..." Kyrik mumbled. "Alright, I'm ready to try again."
Kyrik stood on hind legs, his silvery chain necklace clicking softly. At the base, a sickle-shaped ornament that glimmered in the overhead lights.
"Remember, you need to draw the arcane from the air around you and amplify it with your mind." Methir stepped away to give him space. "Feel the barrier around the target; assess its strength. You need to match or surpass it."
"I know." Kyrik nodded slowly, pink and white glowing in his palms. His eyes shut in focus, drawing at the arcane in the air.
Magic - or Arcane, as it's often referred to by spellcasters - was very much a tangible presence in the world. Like air or other forces, it was all around. Every being breathed it, even the plants and the smallest of animals. Anyone with the willpower and focus could manipulate it, but it took time. Dedication. An understanding of the three steps of casting.
First was that the world naturally created arcane energies. The second was mastering a form of augmented sight; Arcane Vision. Through it, the arcane appeared as text or runes, and it was a matter of combining them together. Some even described them as numbers; it varied from individual to individual. Rule three was weaving them together to create a spell.
Kyrik no longer needed Arcane Vision, able to sense the 'runes', as they appeared to him. The ethereal forces became solid in his palms, connecting in a line as a ball appeared in the center. In Kyrik's mind, he pictured the ball getting bigger and stronger, and at his command it did so.
"Think of it as a plant." Methir spoke. "Nurture it. Give it what it needs to grow, don't force it."
The arcane orb intensified, turning starry as it swirled and churned around itself. Kyrik felt his will being tugged with each rotation, straining as if a physical action. But he couldn't give up; not until it matched the barrier. A few more seconds and it would.
Opening his eyes, Kyrik found the orb to be as big as his head, the biggest he'd never made it. A small grin of satisfaction crossed his lips. Like pushing an object, Kyrik threw his arms out and expelled the spell.
It rocketed in a streak of pink and white, striking the barrier with a dwompf! The barrier flickered, holding back the spell, but it gave way and shattered into tiny shards that evaporated. The stone was struck, the concussive energies not damaging the surface but instead flinging it backward where it collided with the ground.
Kyrik fell upon seeing his spell strike home, exhaustion clinging to him like a veil. Methir was there to catch his fall, using herself for support.
"I told you." Methir said with pride. "I knew you could do it once you knew how."
"I don't think I can cast another spell like that today." Kyrik muttered.
"Well, that was a tier four arcane blast." Methir waved her claw in the air, a pitcher of water appearing. Kyrik snatched it almost immediately. "I don't expect you to get it so soon after mastering tier three."
"I know. Just wish it was as easy as casting necromantic magics."
Methir frowned, something she tended to do when deep in thought. "I know. But you must learn other magics, as someone can easily counter you if you know just one type of spell."
"I get that, but I don't understand why I can't really practice it. We have a dark arts section in Falmari."
"I've been learning it myself to teach you." Methir said. "But Jirmen does not allow it to go too far. I know you understand the reason."
"I do, but I can't help but feel redirected constantly." Kyrik pouted, cheeks puffing slightly.
"Hmm," Methir eyed him, still in thought. "Well...he's not here. No one is. I don't see any reason for you to not practice low level ones, see if you can amplify them."
Kyrik bolted to all fours, a sudden surge of energy erupting from within. He said not a word, beaming at her with his wide eyes.
Methir knew it to be a risk to practice necromantic arts - or dark arts in general - in public, but this training area was on the edge of Falmari, the city where they resided. Being about noon, most of the other students were still in class. Not Kyrik, though. He was, according to the Archmage and Methir, a 'special' case. One on one was a better teaching method.
As a result, he was allowed sneaky little getaways to practice what he felt his true calling.
"Alright, I redid the barrier." Methir announced. "I want you to burst it with a Necrotic Bolt."
A Necrobolt, huh? Simple enough, and Kyrik's go-to spell whenever he was in trouble. It would decay objects, making them brittle and, well, causing necrotic tissue. Easily curable with any grade two spell depending on the damage, and Kyrik never went to kill.
Much like charging the Arcane Blast, it came from his inner willpower and charging the arcane around him. Unlike it, he was shifting the runes into a new shape, creating something akin to a word with them. Kyrik fixated on the words 'necrotic' and 'decay' whilst charging, and a sphere of sickly green light formed between his palms.
Fwoosh, it burst forth as an ichor-like substance, dripping as it went along. When it crashed, it splattered against the barrier, causing it to fritz and turn off as the spell attacked all around rather than a single projectile impact.
"You weren't kidding." Methir mused. "That was grade four and you cast it much faster. Have you been practicing in private?"
"No, but I just...feel it." Kyrik shrugged. "It probably has to do with having reaper powers."
This was another reason why Kyrik was largely segregated from the other students his age. The darker parts of his mind and soul, although largely contained, were a threat. The skull mask acted as...well, a mask, keeping his powers subdued until he could 'grow into them'. When that was, Kyrik didn't know. But the darker arts, such as over life and death, came incredibly natural to him. It was his nature, even if the means of acquiring the powers were not.
"Most likely." Methir nodded. "Admittedly, I do and don't understand why he doesn't allow us training, but there isn't any reason why we can't go elsewhere."
"I hope he doesn't think I plan on detonating a town." Kyrik fidgeted anxiously.
"I don't think anyone thinks that, Muffin."
Kyrik felt a slow smile form at the nickname. Only she called him that, a way of showing how much she cared. It didn't help that he really loved muffins.
"Still, I think we did enough offensive training for today." Methir clapped her palms together, sending the training stones onto a shelf on the far side of the room. "We need to practice that prismatic armor."
"I know you hate it, but you have to learn it. But I need to go grab something really quick, so take the time to rest."
Kyrik watched her go, the doors leading to the training area opening at her presence. Kyrik pouted again, but he knew her to be right. For all his offensive spells, he seriously needed to learn some defensive. Sure, he could conjure wards and reflections, but those only worked against spells. If someone came after him with a mallet, he was getting punted across the room.
Creating prismatic armor involved similar casting, but instead of projecting it outward, he swirled the arcane around him. Multiplying the runes until they swirled and shaped sounded easier than it was, as more runes made it harder to control. When they spun around him like a protective cocoon, Kyrik felt the strain in his very bones. Faster and faster like gusting wind, a pink barrier appeared over his scales.
Right as it was coming into shape, a small crack echoed and Kyrik fell to the side, panting.
It wasn't like offense, where it came from supercharging a rune. Creating multiple simply strained his mind; an easy explanation, but not one Kyrik could fix. Not immediately, anyway.
A presence brushed against his mind, a dark suggestion. Not necessarily malefic or of any ill intent, but one he never liked. It was an intrusive thought, one he never liked to hear. Like another part of himself.
To use his darker arts as a protective barrier instead of a prismatic one. But to do that, he'd have to give into his powers a bit. And if he were to slip control...no, the risks were too great.
"Besides, what if someone counters it?" Kyrik asked the air. The presence didn't reply. "Thought so."
Kyrik sat for ten minutes, waiting for Methir. It wasn't like her to keep him waiting. Reaching out telepathically, he found himself blocked. Not by her, but by something else. It wasn't the presence from before, either.
Retracting the projection, he heard distant bells. Slow and tolling, like at a funeral. Kyrik's two hearts - natural among dragons - beat faster. He knew what they meant, and it was never a good sign. Getting to all fours, the bells sounded stronger and closer. Almost from right outside, in the alley.
Kyrik fiddled with the silver chain necklace around his neck, grasping the sickle-shape pendant dangling from it. It'd been a while since he had to reap someone, especially in Falmari.
The sunlight blinded Kyrik upon exiting, the reflective tops of nearby white towers directing it into his face. If only he had a spell to counter it! Luckily, he didn't have to stay out for long, the warm iridescent ground already starting to hurt his claws. How strange; wards usually protected against both sunlight and the ground being scorching hot. Being in a desert, they were all but mandatory!
Rounding the corner into a darker alley, Kyrik stopped, eyes widening in horror. Mouth agape, he stood like an imp in a trapping rune. The bells all but drowned out the distant noises of Falmari, Kyrik now recognizing them to be ringing in warning, and for good reason.
There, laying before him, was a young dragon, maybe a bit older than Kyrik. Underneath his green scales, a growing pool of his own blood stained the ground. Protruding from his back, a sharp bone from some sort of animal. Kyrik slowly approached, hearts thumping. Sending out a probe, he found no one else nearby.
Kyrik was no stranger to death. He rarely went a month without seeing someone near death or recently so, being attracted to them if nearby. The reaper powers he possessed acted as both a curse and a boon, as there was a chance he'd be able to save someone if he got there in time. But there was no saving this dragon.
It wasn't the helplessness Kyrik felt over the situation that bothered him, though. It was a far greater concern:
Someone, somehow, was murdered in Falmari, the biggest magical city on Fatea with the strongest protective wards.
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