The flaming red petals of the trees danced in the rays of the early morning sun, drowning the area in an auburn hue. A small group of individuals dressed in black attire stood around two graves, the names clearly engraved on the polished stone surface.
"We stand here today to honor the passing of two A-rank adventurers, Olivia and Noah Moon," said the guild member, his expression void of emotion as he recited the lines that were required of him. "We pray that their souls venture safely to the resplendent lands of Celestia, and we thank them for their contribution to the safety of Elyon and its people." The man took a deep breath before finalizing his opening speech, "may they find peace alongside the gods."
A brief silence ensued as the funerals' participants closed their eyes in respect, bidding farewell before returning their gaze to the orator. He cleared his throat before withdrawing a piece of parchment from the pockets of his formal black attire.
"According to their final wishes, which were submitted to the guild a few weeks prior to their passing, all of their possessions will be left to their child: Ash Moon."
It was customary for individuals to step forth should their name be spoken, but nobody moved. The crowd shifted uncomfortably, attempting to locate the child, but to no avail. The speaker tensed up momentarily, unaware that the boy named Ash was not present. He swiftly moved on with his reading, silencing any murmurs in the area:
"A-Additionally, Ash Moon's guardian has been identified according to Olivia and Noah's will. It states that Zane Naso, who has signed approving of his new position, will look after Ash until the boy turns eighteen."
The silence that had briefly overtaken the funeral was suddenly broken once more. Whispers of concern swept across the crowd like a tidal wave, engulfing the area in a turbulent storm of noise.
"Zane's going to look after a kid? Is he even able to do that?"
"Doesn't the boy have a family that could look after him?"
"Will Zane step down from his responsibilities as one of the Three?"
The loud sound hushed the crowd as they all diverted their attention to the source of the noise. A man straightened himself from the tree bark he had been leaning on, walking to the front of the gathering slowly.
His long platinum-blond hair sparkled in the amber sunlight, contrasting with his dark clothing and violet eyes. There was no mistaking the man that had taken the stage. His handsome appearance spoke for itself, and the pressure that accompanied his gaze was terrifying to even the bravest of fighters.
Blessed with the mark of Zeus, Zane stood at the top of the natural hierarchy of power. Those with strength towered above the rest, only responding to the royal families and the gods themselves.
"So, uh, I'm Zane," started the man, the cheeriness that was usually present in his voice completely untraceable. He kept his hands in his pockets, pausing. Introductions were unnecessary, considering Zane was a member of the Three, but his mind seemed to be elsewhere. "I've always been good friends with Olivia and Noah. You all probably know that the main cause of death for adventurers is the Dungeon, but this wasn't the case this time."
A new surge of concerns echoed, but Zane swiftly silenced them as he continued:
"I'll find whoever was responsible for this one way or another, and when I do, I'll make sure they pay the ultimate price. If they think they can run away from me, I assure you… they're mistaken."
A stunning white eagle swooped down from above, landing on the adventurer's shoulder gracefully. The bird's sparkling blue eyes gazed over the crowd, inspiring a mixture of fear and awe.
Divine Beasts were common amongst the adventurers of Elyon, but rumors said that Zane's bird had been given to him directly from Zeus, the king of the gods.
"Ash will be safe in my care."
With those final words, Zane turned and returned to the tree he had been leaning on. The ceremony proceeded normally after everyone had regained their thoughts. The presence that had followed the adventurer's gaze had completely vanished as if he had become a specter with no clear physical body.
The funeral ended shortly after. The guild employees returned to their everyday routines, leaving Zane alone on the small hill. He eyed the two graves before him with a neutral expression.
The polished stones lay underneath a small redbud tree, isolated from the other gravestones. The location was reserved for the wealthy, but nobody had questioned why two supposedly random adventurers were occupying the place if Zane was personally attending their funeral.
The Three were paid handsomely by the royal family of Elyon, and everyone had suspected Zane of financing the entire ceremony.
"The truth must be hidden," he muttered to himself, his words partly directed at the engraved names in front of him. "If word were to spread of how you two died… panic would spread. I worry we may be facing a new era of fear."
"The boy is the answer," echoed a voice. Zane turned to face the divine beast on his shoulder, the eagle's calm voice penetrating his mind.
"I know. He's the bridge between both worlds, after all."
"The gods will be watching him closely."
"They won't interfere. Our priority right now is to keep him concealed from the public. The world must forget about this incident."
"Watch over him, Remo."
The large eagle took to the skies, soaring back to the capital city of Elyon. Zane stepped forth, gazing at the silver building that stood in the center. Twelve statues surrounded the monument, each depicting one of the gods that resided on the council of Celestia.
Zane focused his gaze on the main plaza located right in front of the Dungeon entrance. Hundreds of adventurers were gathering and preparing to enter the endless abyss. Some wore expressions of excitement while others, usually the more veteran adventurers who knew of the horrors that dwelled deep within the ground, double-checked their maps and equipment.
Some chose to sharpen their blades while others studied their incantations, afraid that they might jumble their words and fail to produce a spell. Then again, the chants were ingrained within the individual, meaning that it was impossible to forget them.
A variety of races mingled together, their different shapes and sizes creating a mountainous illusion. Zane could make out the small silhouettes of the Lupos and the Elves, the vibrant contrast of colors reminding him of the different districts within Elyon.
The white-haired adventurer looked up into the sky, his indigo eyes clouded with anger.
"You're probably sitting back and watching excitedly, aren't you?"
Zane's only response was the rustling of the tree leaves behind him as a calm breeze wafted through the graveyard. Contrary to popular belief, Zane was someone who disliked the gods.
And yet they were the ones who had given him everything in this world. Without them, what would Zane Naso look like?
The adventurer looked at the small crowd in the distance, noticing that small teams were beginning to enter the Dungeon. He sighed, turning around and following the path that led back to Elyon.
None of them were prepared for what was to come. An era of conflict was rapidly approaching, and only a select few would be able to withstand it.
The vile creature known as the Dungeon was starting to fight back.