chapter thirteen | arael | waterfall

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"We should just go to the Queen's kingdom first and stay at a hostel for a night," Asurma suggested, earning a nod of approval from the guild leader, Sienna.

"Let's roll!" Akuma enthusiastically snapped her fingers. The same portal that she made earlier on appeared again, spinning around in its own place. Knowing the drill, we quickly leaped into the portal's neon purple light.

After a few moments, I stepped out of the portal and took a look around.

I turned back. "What time is it, Lyra?" I asked as I watched her appear behind me with a flash.

"Um... I don't have a watch, but judging by the lack of active life forces here along with the dark sky, I think it's safe to assume that it's past midnight..." she said.

"Let's just quickly find the nearest hostel and stay there. We're all exhausted," said Sienna once the rest had arrived at Queen Malika's kingdom.

"Found one." In a flash, we whipped our heads towards Reaper who leaned against the wall of a tall building. EVALON INN, its sign read.

We shuffled into the building. Stifling a yawn, I struggled to keep my eyes open.

The rest was a blur. All I remember was watching a fuzzy figure who resembled Sienna speaking to the receptionist at the front desk, opening a hotel room's door and dropping my body onto the nearest bed I could see.

Then I drifted off to sleep.

~

After starting out the day by stuffing myself with toast and eggs, the eleven of us made our way towards Queen Malika's castle. It was located at the far back where the Queen would probably have a bird's eye view of the now bustling kingdom.

As soon as we arrived at the castle's doorsteps, Sienna grabbed hold of the giant door's knocker and slammed it against the door several times, the impact's sound making me cover my ears.

Our guild leader stood back. We waited for someone to answer the door.

Nobody came.

A puzzled look found its way onto Kaito's face. "Why isn't anybody answering the door?"

"...I don't know..." Sienna shook her head. "Maybe we should just walk in, even if it may seem kind of rude."

"A-are you sure? What if we anger Queen Malika or something?" said Lyra.

Lana let out a sigh. "We have no choice. Let's just get this over with." And with that, she slowly pushed the grand doors open, holding open the doors to let all of us inside and closing it behind her.

"Can you sense any life forces, Lyra?" I questioned.

Lyra closed her eyes and focused. Then she opened them and shook her head. "My intuition tells me there is, but my magic tells me there isn't... Sorry..." she answered apologetically.

"That's okay. I guess we'll just have to find out the hard way. Something feels off, though. Keep your guard up," said Kiran.

My eyes scanned the place for any source of life. The floor was made out of stone and pillars towered over us, holding up the grey ceiling.

Then I heard a door being shut carelessly, followed by footsteps towards us. They seemed too heavy to be of Queen Malika. We drew our weapons. I pulled out my sword which I hid in my umbrella.

Hikari turned towards the sound of footsteps. "He's here."

"Arael? Is it Arael?!" Lyra asked, panic-stricken, loading up her twin guns with shaky hands.

"Yes."

A tall figure made its way to us, covered by the shadows of the lengthy corridor. When he was finally revealed, we saw a burly man holding a glaive at his side.

His eyebrows raised. Then he smiled. "Ah, it looks like all of you are here," he announced pompously, "Now, I understand your concerns on Queen Malika, but I assure you that she will be safe. Once you give me the keys, of course."

"What did you do to her? Who are you?" Sienna asked through gritted teeth.

"It seems that you are not as intelligent as I thought you were. I am Arael, of course," The man answered.

So our assumption had been correct.

"Now, if you would just give me the keys-"

"Like hell we would. You still haven't answered my question about Queen Malika," Sienna tightened her grasp on her scimitar.

"I see. Then we will have to do this the hard way."

Setting the blade of her scimitar ablaze with fire, Sienna lunged towards Arael with a slash. He dodged in time. His reflexes were quick- I could tell that he was a good fighter. It would take all of our combined efforts to take him down.

All of a sudden, his body diffused into a shadow. It made its way towards the first key holders, Reaper and Grim. He rematerialised from the shadow and slashed the lightning mage's arm, Reaper only having half a second to deflect the blow.

So he used shadow magic, had a strong weapon and was experienced in fighting.

We can totally beat this guy! No sweat! I thought.

Then I snapped back to reality.

No. We're screwed.

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