Taking a moment to finally relax, Tetra took in the marvel of the grand and imposing space before him. The walls of the longhouse are made of rough-hewn wood and adorned with various weapons, shields, and other trinkets collected from past battles. The floor is covered in thick furs and pelts, providing warmth and comfort. The fire pit in the center of the longhouse crackles and pops, filling the room with a warm and inviting light. The chief's throne sits at the far end of the room, made of intricately carved wood and adorned with precious stones and metals. A sense of power and authority radiates from the throne, reflecting the chief's status as the leader of the village. The ceiling towers high above, adorned with a breathtaking painting that stretches across its entire expanse.
The artwork tells the story of four creatures that emerged from a mysterious, shadowy mass. The first: a tall and slender woman with long, sleek fangs. The second: a snarling beast with massive claws and a ferocious mane. The third: a boy with ashen grey skin, pale red eyes, and a small pair of horns atop his head. The last: a towering giant with four arms that dwarfed its siblings. Their master commanded them to hunt and collect souls to feed into his power, and for each soul they collected, their own strength would grow. However, fearing that they would be no match for the giant, the woman and the beast fled to the western side of the territory and created a new home in the dense forest.
As the years passed, their family grew into a thriving village that lived in peace and harmony. However, the dark being commanded the giants to crush their brethren for their betrayal. The giants stormed over the mountainside, and the woman and beast fought with all their might, but they were no match for the raw power and magical prowess of the giants.
The giants surrounded the village and trapped the woman and the beast in the center. With a series of mysterious signs, the couple became frozen in place. The giants returned to their home in the mountains and told their dark master the news. However, they were unable to find the Shadow within the sprawling expanse of caves. The giants sought him out on the peak of the mountain, where the last thing they saw was a mass of shadow and fire hurtling towards them.
"It's quite the tale isn't it?" Iilthane remarked, noticing Tetra's awe at the mural.
"It certainly paints a vivid picture," Tetra replied.
"Indeed," Iilthane said. "We are fortunate that my great-grandparents were left alive to chronicle the tale, lest the world would never know of the betrayal my people felt at the hands of the Devourer."
Tetra shifted in his chair, looking a bit uncomfortable.
"I noticed your eyes keep coming back to the boy with red eyes," Iilthane observed. "Truth be told, when I first saw you, I wasn't sure what to make of you either. Despite all that my people know about the Cataclysm, there is next to no information about the boy with red eyes. At this point, we assumed that he probably died along with the Devourer and the rest of the Ryokan."
"So, unless you're hiding a set of horns under that hair, I think it's safe to say that you're not him," Iilthane chuckled.
Tetra relaxed a bit. "No horns up here, I'm afraid. Only a vast wealth of knowledge and a yearning to learn more."
"Ah, yes. Let us begin our discourse," Iilthane smiled.
The pair spent some time discussing the various schools of magic and their practical and theoretical applications. As their discussion reached a fever pitch, a fit of coughing erupted from the other room.
"Illinoct..." Iilthane called out.
"Excuse me for just one moment, Tetra," Iilthane said, before turning to the other room.
"Do you mind if I join you this time?" Tetra offered. "I have a fair bit of medicinal practice."
"By all means," Iilthane smiled, leading Tetra to Illinoct's bedchamber. As Tetra enters the room, her eyes widen, never leaving him for a moment.
"Illinoct, this is Tetra," Iilthane introduced. "He's going to take a look at you and see if he can't figure out what's wrong, okay?"
Illinoct wearily tried to reach out to Iilthane, who took her hand in his own and squeezed it tight before letting it go and gesturing for Tetra to go ahead.
"A Vampyrys... a starving one at that..." Tetra thought, placing his hand on her head. "Though Iilthane is certainly a powerful mage, the concoction he's been giving to her has been watered down by the mana of the Frostclaws. I wonder if he's even fully aware of what she is..."
"I believe I can help your sister, Illthane," Tetra said.
"Really!?" Illthane exclaimed, shocked. "You can!?"
"I think so," Tetra nodded. "However, I will require absolute focus while I work. Thus, I would ask that you please leave the room."
Illthane's look of glee quickly shifts to a frown.
"Now hold on just a moment here, Tetra. I’m not sure if I’m ready to trust you here alone with my sister. Especially in her weakened state."
Tetra steps back from Illinoct, who reaches out for him with a pleading, hungry expression.
"It's your decision, my friend," Tetra says, a smirk crossing his face.
Illinoct outstretches her hand toward Illthane, looking straight into his eyes, and giving him a meek nod.
"Very well," Illthane sighs, relented. "Come get me when you're done." He leaves the room, shutting the door behind him.
“Good,” Tetra whispers coldly before turning back to Illinoct. “Now my dear…”
Tetra cuts open his hand with a single elongated fingernail. As a black liquid begins to pour out. He holds his hand up to Illinoct, who eagerly latches onto the wound.
"Feast," Tetra says, a devious smile crossing his face as his eyes flash a brilliant crimson. "Feast to your heart's content."
Iilthane stands from his seat as Tetra emerges from Illinoct's bedchamber, supporting the towering maiden that is Illinoct. She's dressed in a battle skirt and bra adorned with Frostclaw fur. Her exposed midriff reveals a pack of muscles that match her bulging arms and legs. Finally, a massive sword lay strapped to her back as if to reinforce the idea that this woman is not one to be trifled with.
"Illinoct!" Iilthane cries out, tears streaming down his face. He rushes to her, and she lifts him into a warm embrace.
"Illthane!" she exclaims, finally letting him go. Iilthane doubles over, catching his breath.
"I see, huff, you’ve regained, huff, most of your strength, huff," Iilthane says between breaths.
"Most of it? I feel amazing, brother," Illinoct says, her voice filled with excitement. "Far better than I ever would've thought possible." She turns to Tetra, looking deep into his eyes. "And I have you to thank."
Tetra clears his throat, slightly embarrassed. "Think nothing of it, my dear. It was a simple thing really."
"Nonsense!" Iilthane exclaims. "We must celebrate! Our War Chief has been made well again!"
"Actually, Iilthane, Illinoct and I agreed that, as recompense for my assistance, I should be shown the archives of your village so that I may sate my hunger," Tetra says with a sly look in Illinoct's direction.
"Illi…Are you sure?" Iilthane asks, concerned. "He's an outsider."
Illinoct laughs, "Bah! Think of all the good he can do with that knowledge, Illthane. Think of just how many lives he could save with the information we have locked away in that dusty vault." She leans in close to Iilthane and whispers, "Besides, I know how long you’ve wanted a friend to discuss all of your silly magic with."
"It's not silly, Illinoct!" Iilthane protests. "That magic is the very same that was keeping you alive all these years."
"And the very same that has finally brought me back to my full strength," Illinoct says with a grin, "Which only proves my point. Now quit gatekeeping and show our friend to the archives." She begins stretching, "Besides, I have a snowball fight to finish..."
With a loud boom, she slams the door of the longhouse open and exclaims, her voice echoing across the roofs of the housing district. "People of Mmemtuan! Your War Chief has returned!" She scoops a handful of snow from the stairs, packs it into a snowball, and hurls it at the nearest bystander, smacking them in the face. "And she's out for blood!"
The village erupts into a roar of cheers and hollers as Illinoct leaps from the top of the stairs onto the snow-covered ground, dodging a hail of snowballs while simultaneously returning fire.
"She's really something, isn't she?" Iilthane says, watching Illinoct dance through the snow, dodging snowballs with ease.
"Certainly not what I was expecting," Tetra replies, his gaze fixed on Illinoct's beauty.
"All she's ever known is combat," Iilthane explains as the two begin their descent down the steps of the long house. "She was trained by her mother, just like her mother was before her. The Mmemtuan hold a rich history of powerful Chieftesses, starting with our ancestors painted on the mural."
"The tall lady?" Tetra asks, referring to the mural.
"The very same," Iilthane nods.
They approach a longhouse that appears to sink into the ground, its doors replaced by a heavily guarded gate.
"And here we are, the Mmemtuan Archives," Iilthane says with pride.
"Even the building looks like it has a lot to say," Tetra comments, staring at the structure in awe.
Iilthane lets out a hearty laugh. "It certainly does. All our history and magical knowledge is recorded and cataloged in these halls. You'll be the first outsider to experience them."
"It's an honor," Tetra says, grateful for the opportunity. "Thank you for your kindness and hospitality."
"Think nothing of it," Iilthane smiles. "If Illinoct trusts you with our knowledge, after what you did for her, this is the least I could do. Now, step back so I can dispel the wards on the door."
Tetra takes a few steps back as Iilthane performs a series of hand positions, causing the gate to disappear and granting them entry into the archives.
"After you," Tetra says, gesturing for Iilthane to lead the way.
As they reach the bottom of a long staircase, the torches lining the walls of the archives spark up in unison, illuminating the musty librarium. Tetra's eyes scan over the thousands of texts before settling on a massive black door in the back of the room.
"What's back there?" Tetra asks.
"As far as I know, that door holds the secrets behind the Ryokan Tempus magic," Iilthane sighs. "The same magic that froze our ancestors in the town square."
Tetra smirks and the light in the room dims for a moment before returning to normal.
"Unfortunately, Tetra, I can't allow you in there," Iilthane says, shaking his head.
"Come now, Iilthane. Haven’t I proven myself enough to you? You'd still keep your secrets from me, friend?" Tetra asks, his eyes narrowing.
"Yes, I would," Iilthane says firmly. "It's forbidden for even me to enter. And even if I wanted to, Illinoct would have to be here to help me. Four hands are required to complete the complex incantation needed to bring down the ward that guards the door."
Tetra walks up to the door, its chill radiating from the cool black stone. "Get your sister," he says without turning back to Iilthane.
"Excuse me?!" Iilthane exclaims.
Tetra turns to face him, a look of malice in his eyes. "Get. Your. Sister…" he repeats, coldly.
But before he can finish, a shrill scream is heard from above the archives, interrupting their deadlock.
"The village!" Illthane darts out of the library and into the snowy grounds of Mmemtuan.
"Illinoct!" he screams, searching frantically for his sister before disappearing from Tetra's view.
Tetra takes one final glance back at the massive blackstone door before ascending the staircase. The scent of ash and blood fills his nostrils as he surveys the town for Illthane. A fire has erupted in the main hall, and many of the once thriving villagers now lay lifeless, scattered on the frigid ground.
Tetra finally spots Illthane, sword drawn, poised to fight an unseen creature in front of the statue in the center of town. Tetra glides silently through the snow, approaching the magus cautiously.
Illthane mutters, "I- I don't understand... How- How could you...?"
Tetra grins wickedly as he lays eyes on Illinoct, her face buried in the down of an Avian Anamalis child, draining its essence. Her once brilliant, orchid eyes now a deep, pulsating red.
"I- I'm so sorry..." Illinoct pleads.
"Your eyes, Illinoct. Your eyes..." Illthane weeps as he stares at the creature that was once his beloved sister.
"Please... Illthane. You must," Illinoct says.
Tears streaming down his face, Illthane raises his sword and brings it crashing down upon Illinoct's neck. Her head comes tumbling off, rolling several times in the air, before settling down in the snow, laden with a guise of tranquility. Wracked with the guilt and agony of his actions, Illthane falls to his knees, unleashing a cacophonous howl of grief and agony.
"What have I done..." he cries.
Tetra places a hand on Illthane's shoulder, but it is quickly shrugged off as Illthane rises, turning to face Tetra.
"What... Did you d-" Illthane begins, but his question is cut short as Tetra plunges his hand into Illthane's chest.
"I suppose this is partially my fault,” Tetra frowns as his hand writhes around in Illthane’s sternum. “I guess I don't know as much about healing magic as I thought I did," finishes with a fierce grin.
“Oops.” He says maliciously, placing his foot upon Illthane’s chest and kicking the soon-to-be corpse to the ground, freeing his hand from the gaping cavity. Within Tetra’s clutches, a shining stone, swirling with Illthane’s essence.
"Now this, is a high quality specimen," Tetra says as he walks over to Illinoct's body and removes a similar stone. He squats in front of Illthane and speaks once more.
"Thank you again for your kindness and hospitality, Illthane. I assure you, it shall not be forgotten."
Illthane closes his eyes for the last time, watching as Tetra places the stones in his pockets and sets off toward the mountain range outside of the village.
As the sun sets behind him, Tetra reaches the base of the mountain range that separates Icarus from Enderteria. He places a hand on the mountain, looking up at its impossible peak, before realizing his mistake.
"Dammit Kirin, how am I supposed to get back through the tunnel without you," Tetra sighs.
He turns back to the icy expanse of Icarus, just as the sun dips below the horizon and several pairs of eyes emerge from the darkness.
"Looks like we're taking the long way home..." Tetra says.