Age Thirteen – Shadows Shifting 2
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This is bad! Really really bad!

Urie had fallen into panic. His heart started to palpitate at the scene occurring in front of his shut eyes. Since 'World of Flames' was operating, the picture he saw differed slightly to what Ashur and the others were seeing.

Erden Tower's luminescence, as if welcoming the appearance of the bright moon— stars had popped up one by one, not in the night sky but along the blackness permeating the city's interior.

“Gah—!?”

Within an arm's length, one of those very stars had manifested itself beside Urie. Instinctively, he reacted by swatting his hand at the ethereal object, and not one second later, his entire forearm was clad in a glove woven with threads of flame.

Urie was startled but immediately regained his calm. This had happened once before. He gave swift instructions to his mana seed and the flames retreated into his arm like they had never been there.

Now, from the tower's flash of light to Urie extinguishing his burning arm, this all happened within a span of time not exceeding even a quarter of a minute. Meanwhile, the other three were all still reeling from the sudden occurrence and were covering their eyes. They had missed the opportunity to witness his odd display.

“It cannot be!? We are too late!”

“Brother Ashur, calm yourself! The night has yet unraveled and the Greater Fire Spirit still holds position over our heads. Come! It is still our responsibility to see this through!”

Ashur quavered and was losing confidence while Arpaschad cooly instructed, “Little lamb! Quickly, take the youngling with you to Luca Varethe and enlist the aid of the Flame Brigade!”

“Wait! Grandpa—!” Ashur and Arpaschad, leaving Urie and Elliot behind, continued running towards Erden's Tower.

—They were elves blind to the presence of Nifyr! Urie thought that he couldn't let them go off on their own, but equally as important was that he should urgently call for Luca, Stella, and Simone.

“U-Urie, what should we do?”

A candle wick in his head lit up as Urie was reminded of Elliot's timid presence.

“Uhm—Elliot... I need you to do something for me.” Urie spoke with a serious tone. He thought that Elliot would be fine on his own as the Nifyr were gathering towards the tower.

“I need you to run a few blocks towards this direction and circle around the area while loudly screaming for help.”

“Huh—? Yes?”

“And when either a mean-looking man with red hair, a strict older female half-elf or an unreliable-looking male half-elf comes to your aid, tell them I need the entire Flame Brigade's help at Erden's Tower. Thanks, I'm counting on you!” leaving the confused Elliot behind, Urie dashed towards Erden's Tower to catch up with Arpaschad and Ashur.

“Hah— How? How can two old men wearing robes run so fast—!?”

On the street leading up to Erden's tower, he could vaguely see the two's outline a distance away. They had a few seconds head start but had already made their way to the square at the foot of the tower. Urie on the other hand...

“Guh— I don't have time for you, get out of my way!” another small star had appeared in front of him— an imitation mana seed infused with glowing red. Around it the body of a Nifyr manifested itself. He moved quickly and unsheathed his blade.

Shortly after, a thin red line drawn on its black canvas separated the Nifyr in two. Urie stepped forward to resume his sprint but abruptly stopped to take a look back at his handiwork.

“Tch. You're still alive?” he clicked his tongue while asking a question he already knew the answer to. The Nifyr didn't die unless they were burned till nothing was left of them. He groaned.

Along his path, the Nifyr were converging. At this rate, it would take him forever to catch up to the two old men.

“Ah!” in his mind, another candlewick ignited.

His attention was placed on the bisected Nifyr dragging itself on the ground. He brought his right hand closer and placed it on the Nifyr's head. Immediately, however, mana drained from his body at a rapid pace and even faster when the Nifyr grabbed onto his outstretched arm.

Lightheaded— Urie unhesitantly stuck his hand further until the Nifyr's mana seed was within his grasp, and before he was overcome with the lethargy that accompanied mana deficiency, he clenched his fist and dispersed the Nifyr's seed into countless motes of red light.

“The Nifyr devour mana through touch... Maybe I can do the same?” Urie said with a chuckle. Others may not have been able to, but he possessed mana roots capable of absorbing mana at an absurd rate. After the process of defeating yesterday's Nifyr, he had experienced taking in its mana seed so he was certain it was possible. And earlier, there was the one he'd accidentally swallowed before it had even manifested itself.

Then for the first occurrence, he thought... What if he skipped the process of defeating it and went straight to absorbing? Would it work? He wasn't completely confident. Call it throwing caution to the wind spirits. If he failed with his gamble, then there really was no choice but to wait for reinforcements. Thankfully, he found his speculation correct.

He was left panting and drained of strength but shortly after, a refreshing wave washed over his body and replenished the mana in his dried-up roots. The excess spilled out through his right arm and incinerated what was left of the scattering apparition. He turned towards Erden's Tower with shut eyes, and the road towards it was glittering with Nifyr.

“They should've waited for uncle Luca...” a feeling of anxiety caused a few lines to appear between his eyebrows. He needed to catch up to Ashur and Arpaschad. Who knows if the two were still safe? What was running through their minds when they dove willingly into this?

With his left and right each equipped with a flame-clad blade and glove respectively, Urie waded into the sea of stars. He used his left to carve a path and his right to keep fueling his mana reserves. By the time he'd stepped onto the stone pavement of the city square, he was gasping heavily for air. The excessive use of mana circulation had built-up fatigue.

“Where... huff... Where are they?”

There was no sign of the two but beside him, another Nifyr lumbered past and almost grazed his shoulder. Urie jerked backward and swung his right arm.

“Huh?” oddly enough, the Nifyr this time didn't react. In fact, all of the Nifyr around the square were ignoring him.

“Erden's Tower...” the structure of mystery, wonder... and the path to the other side. The Nifyr seemed to be moving with one goal in mind. Urie moved deftly past a few of them and reached the entrance of the tower— a large arching doorway devoid of a door. He stood rooted in place with his heart beating wildly, even more so than the first time he'd seen it.

“This... W—Why...!?” he unconsciously blurted out.

Visible under the arch wasn't the usually dark, stone-carved corridor. There was a familiar light coming from the other end of the path that was bright enough to scratch at the toes of his shoes.

“Mother... Father... Elder brothers...”

A wave of emotion had come over Urie as his feet stepped forward automatically. He dashed and headed for that fateful room, and inside, he arrived at a familiar scenery.

“Ah... Ahhh...” tears unwittingly spilled from his eyes at the sight of a small mirror that was supporting a bright column of light piercing the ceiling.

“I—I'm here... I'm here...”

His lips quivered as he tried to utter words to express himself but sadly he wasn't spared a moment of bliss. Darkness had shifted from behind him and reached for the light at the center of the room.

At that moment, of the five stoney-looking pedestals that surrounded the light pillar— the pedestal that was distinctly covered in soot ignited a flame on the small indent in its cap. The flame moved like a whip and lashed at the murky claws reaching for the light.

But that was all it could do.

More and more came and the small flame could do nothing to prevent them from flinging themselves forward. Urie himself was caught in the wave of Nifyr and was dragged along until his body met with the pillar of light.

It was an incredibly bizarre feeling. His body dispersed into crimson particles and reformed kneeling on the ground within a matter of a few seconds. The addled Urie lifted his head while panting and glanced around the room. The Nifyr were gone but a few details that he had caught while panning his sight caused the pounding in his chest to grow stronger.

“The pedestals...” the dreary stone pedestals... they had regained their individual characteristics.

Urie glanced at them in the order that he had first seen them— there was the first that was cold to the touch and appeared waterworn; the second that was undamaged and smooth; the third that appeared weathered; the fourth that cultivated vegetation; and lastly, the fifth that was now carrying a small torch.

“Hahah...” the last time he was here, he was with two young girls— one timid and the other boisterous. He let out a peal of soft laughter as his eyes moistened from the memory. He didn't bother to approach the pedestals and instead walked briskly towards the corridor leading to the outside.

“I...I can make it back this time, surely...” two years had passed since he was last here and a lot had changed for him. A rock drake nor a shadow wolf, he was confident now that neither could impede him if he wanted to return to the city of Daerin.

Along the ground as he proceeded was a narrow stretch of light that slowly climbed his body as he approached the end of the corridor. With that final step, he finally made it out and what was waiting for him was the baptism of warm light coming from the ceiling of Erden's Tower.

“Urgh... So this is what she felt like at the time...” Urie felt disoriented as he was suddenly exposed to the daytime environment. He recalled how Celeste had difficulty adjusting to it. If he felt like this after spending two years in that dim city, how much worse was it for her having lived ten years over on that side?

“—Rock drake!?” before his vision had even adjusted, a low vibrating hum coming from some distance away had entered his ears. He recalled a large, lumbering creature with a craggy exterior.

“—There's another one!?” the same sound started coming from a different direction, indicating the presence of another. Urie then swallowed a mouthful of air as he felt his surroundings reverberate from the conflicting frequencies. Soon the cries of the rock drakes resonated and more joined as if participating in a choir.

“What's going on? Why is this happening?” he still couldn't see properly but he could tell. All of them seemed to have woken up at the same time. It was then that he remembered. They suddenly disappeared but he wasn't the only one that transferred over to this side. Urie took a deep breath and with shut eyes, he whispered...

“World of Flames.”

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