The Magician who was clad in an ice bearskin cloak walked out from the forest under the watchful eyes of the Wind Tiger. The hood of the cloak covered most of the Magician's head, concealing his face. As he walked, hints of garnet Magician's robe beneath the outer cloak were revealed, and in his hand, the Magician was holding an exquisitely well-made wand.
At first, the Wind Tiger saw the figure but still couldn't recognize the mysterious Magician's identity. But, the heavily wounded Warrior beside him was much quicker in this regard.
"That's the Starcatcher wand!" he shouted. "And you're wearing the Flame Controller Magician's robe! You're Link!"
This Warrior had been a core member of the Syndicate, so he was familiar with the weapons and gear of the strongest figures in the continent. Furthermore, Link had been the one who had completely wiped out the Girvent Forest branch of the Syndicate and single-handedly killed the demon Tarviss, so naturally, the Syndicate took special notice of any news and information about him.
It was no wonder then, that the moment Link appeared the Warrior could easily pin down Link's identity with just a few details exposed.
Link had planned to remain anonymous in front of these people, but the moment he heard the Warrior's words he went silent for a while and decided to pull down the hood of his outer cloak. The moment he did that the fire elements that revolved around the Flame Controller were suddenly revealed in all its glory. These elements flowed all around Link's body and then gathered at the top of his head, forming a visible crown of flame.
The snowy white bearskin cloak, the bright red fiery aura, the glorious crown of flame and the intense fluctuations of Mana energy around Link's body all combined to carve a striking figure whose power and talents were most obvious to even the least experienced of observers.
Just as it was on earth, an intimidating external appearance was very useful in the world of Firuman as well. With a presence that Link radiated then, the last remnants of defiance in the Warrior's eyes were now gone and were replaced instead with a look of fear and awe.
There stood right in front of his own eyes, the very person who had crushed the Level-8 demon Tarviss with a magical fiery hand. Even though the Warrior was himself an elite member of the Syndicate and was respected and feared by thousands of people, he still couldn't muster up the courage to hurl insults at such a mighty figure.
"You shouldn't be here!" was all he could manage. "Why are you here? Shouldn't you be in the Ferde Wilderness?"
The intelligence network of the Syndicate had done a very good job apparently, even though they still weren't good enough to outplay someone like Link.
Even the Wind Tiger was stunned! It had seen the Magician who had defeated the demon Tarviss that night, yet this man still exceeded all its expectation. Never in its dreams had it ever imagined that anyone could drive Andre into a corner and force him to flee in just a few attacks!
That was truly impressive!
Link approached the Warrior until he was about 20 feet away from him. He then bent down his head and looked down at the Warrior.
The armor on his body had mostly been scorched by the Flaming Hand earlier. There were burn wounds all over his body, although some traces of Battle Aura still remained. Albeit, it was now far too weak to pose any threats to Link.
He then examined the armor closely and discovered that it was pure black with an engraved insignia on the chest. It was an inscription of a dagger with six drops of blood trickling from it—the insignia of the Syndicate. The six drops of blood signified this Warrior's level and position in the organization.
"The Syndicate, huh?" Link remarked.
The Warrior made no reply.
"The Shadow Shield?" added Link.
Previously in the game, Morpheus had by this point ignited the Sacred Fire. Because of the powerful MI3, the Norton Kingdom in the North was still largely unaffected by the rise of the Syndicate. But here in the South, the whole region had by now fallen into the tight grips of this evil organization.
This was due to the emphasis on trade and commerce by the six southern kingdoms, which meant that their military power was weak. Moreover, these were only six small kingdoms who couldn't amass enough power and resources on their own to fight against such an expansive organization like the Syndicate. Thus, the southern kingdoms became the fertile grounds for which the Syndicate grew in power and influence—so much so that they were said to be ubiquitous here.
Meanwhile, the Shadow Shield was an elite branch of the Syndicate which comprised of shield-wielding Warriors.
"How do you know anything about the Shadow Shield?" asked the Warrior with terror in his eyes. This wasn't something that a Magician from the North should know about!
"Oh, I wasn't sure earlier," said Link smilingly, "but now you've confirmed it."
The Warrior was left speechless. This kind of interrogative technique was one of the first things he'd learned as the core member of the Syndicate. How embarrassing was it to inadvertently leak the secrets of the organization by falling into such a benign trap!
Now that the matter was confirmed, Link noticed a notification lighting up on the interface. He looked over at it and realized that it was the message of a completed mission. He'd now earned 100 Omni Points and the Soul Stamp. Link showed no discernible reaction to this news and turned back towards the Warrior.
"I don't feel like fighting anymore today," he told the Warrior. "But I'm not letting you go either. You know what to do, don't you?"
The Warrior breathed a long sigh of relief at Link's remarks. He knew that there would be no chance of him defeating this Magician and no chance of escaping alive. If he continued to fight him, it would only bring more suffering and pain to himself. The only choice left for him was to commit suicide.
The warrior then took off his armor and promptly stabbed a dagger straight into his own heart. With one decisive move, the dagger pierced through his skin and flesh and struck his heart. The Warrior then slumped to the ground, dead by his own hands.
The Wind Tiger watched the scene with shining eyes, his heart filled with awe and respect for the Magician.
He uttered a few words and the Warrior obediently killed himself without a protest, thought the tiger. What a fearsome man!
Once he'd made sure that the Warrior was dead, Link then turned his attention to the Wind Tiger.
"Do you have a name?" asked Link.
"Yes," replied the tiger proudly. "My name is Dorias."
"I see," replied Link tersely. He circled around the weak and heavily wounded Dorias and discovered that it was not in mortal danger.
"I'd really like to know," said Link again, "what you were thinking hanging around a forest that was so near to a big city. Don't you know how bottomless the greed of humans can be and what danger that would bring you?"
"Oh, but Master," lamented the tiger after a long sigh, "you don't know the pain of a broken heart!"
As it spoke, the tiger dragged itself to the banks of the creek and slumped down haplessly. Not a trace of ferocity could be found in its eyes, only the wistfulness of memories.
"Enlighten me," said Link, his interest now piqued.
Dorias' eyes concentrated as he tried to recall the events that occurred all those years ago. He lay there silently for a while before finally spilling out his story.
"Did you know that this whole region was a lush forest 200 years ago?" began the tiger. "Back then, I was the king of this forest. Us Wind Tigers were few in numbers and were spread far apart. Every full moon night of the spring we would all gather together and feast on small animals, engage in conversation and play games together, forming tight bonds among our kind and finally choosing a mate for the year."
As the tiger reached this point in his story, its head slumped sorrowfully and hung limply over its shoulder.
"At the time, I had a mating partner who'd been with me for more than a decade," said Dorias. "Her name was Ora, and she was my queen. She had thick and soft fur that was pure green in color and a slender figure. I'm always intoxicated by her gentle eyes, and even after all these years, I can still distinctly recall that surge of pleasure I feel when I'm mating with her. I'm the strongest of my own kind, and I could always sustain it for a full minute. A full minute! Can you believe that? I know all my brothers could only sustain it for half a second! Yet now everything is gone…my queen, my children, my home—everything has been buried by time and belongs to the unreachable past now."
Then, the Wind Tiger turned around to face Link with a face distorted by grief and pain.
"Human Magician," he addressed Link, "you will never understand the depths of my despair. I have nowhere to go now. Why don't you bring me back to Azura Tower? Although it can get quite boring in there, at least no one would bother me."
Well, then, now that the tiger had spilled out his story; Link began to understand the motive behind his seemingly odd behavior earlier. He stared at the thick black fog that surrounded the tiger, then he reached for his wand and pointed it towards Dorias.
"Expulsion!" he chanted.
Effects: A high-level dispelling spell that can expel very strong magic from a target.
This was a spell Link recently mastered in his spare time. It was from a notebook written by Master Magician Grenci where he recorded invaluable lessons he'd learned and his precious experience along with his Supreme Magical Skills. Naturally, Link found the spell to be interesting, so he took the time to master it.
Once the spell was cast, a fist-sized light orb radiating with the colors of the rainbow took form at the tip of Link's wand and flew straight towards the Wind Tiger Dorias. It danced around the tiger for a while, showering it with its glorious light. Everywhere the light hit on the tiger's wounded body the remnants of dark energy and dark elements that remained inside were squeezed out and scattered into the air.
Once the spell was complete, Dorias' body was completely purged and purified, and not a thread of dark elements remained. It moved its body tentatively and started to stand on its feet. It then began to walk in circles. At first, his steps were wobbly and unstable, but soon enough, it regained its footing and gained its speed again. Even the wounds on its body were almost healed now, and the bleeding had completely stopped. He was recovering at an astonishing speed!
It must be stated that one of the reasons for its speedy recovery was the Wind Tiger's own relentless will to live. It then stopped in its track and turned towards Link.
"Master," it said, "did you come down south to eliminate those fugitives?"
"No," answered Link as he shook his head. "I had another plan in mind." Even so, Dorias' question had reminded him that there were still some mighty and, most probably, evil escaped prisoners still at large. He should do something about it.
As for this magical beast, he had at first intended to keep it as a battle animal and used the Soul Stamp to control it and keep it in its place. But now that he'd heard the beast's story, Link had started to empathize with Dorias, so much so that he felt uncomfortable using the Soul Stamp on it.
The reason for this was simple, it wasn't so much out of sympathy, nor did he intend to let this beast go free. He just felt that for such an upright beast who also possessed high intelligence, there would be no need to use the Soul Stamp or any other spell to get his loyalty. Instead, a few simple psychological tricks would suffice.
Link made a move as if he was about to leave, but then turned his head around at the last moment.
"The human world is full of cruelty and greed," he said to the tiger. "It's too dangerous for a magical creature like you. You should escape and go as far away from here as possible and don't come back. Also, don't commit any more crimes."
After that, Link pulled up his hood and simply turned around and left.
Dorias was caught off guard by Link's actions. This was completely unlike what he'd expected to happen. This Magician had saved his life and banished dark elements from his body, yet he just left him here before he could even say thank you?
"Hey, wait!" shouted Dorias. "Are you mocking me?" Dorias was a mighty Wind Tiger after all! He would never just run away from his obligation to repay a debt of gratitude!
Link ignored him and just kept on walking. He soon entered the forest and continued heading towards the South. After about half a mile, he heard the rustling sound of light and swift footsteps following him. Soon the loud voice of the tiger emerged out of the silence of the forest.
"Hey! Human Magician!" shouted the Wind Tiger. "Where are you going?"
"Why would that concern you?" asked Link, concealing a smile.
"Of course it concerns me!" answered the tiger. "You saved my life! I can't just leave you! This isn't the way I, the honorable Wind Tiger Dorias, should behave!"
Link smiled secretly but remained unmoved in his words.
"Don't worry about it," he said. "It was no big deal."
"It's no big deal to you, but it was a matter of life and death to me!" answered the tiger. "Besides…I have nowhere else to go. And now that the Syndicate had put a price on my head, it won't be safe for me to move alone. Why don't you let me go to the Girvent Forest and hide there? I won't harm anyone, I promise!"
Although Dorias could be a little too upright and naive sometimes, it was still very clear of the tight situation it was in at the moment. It was aware that the world was a dangerous place for a magical beast. Right now, there must've been countless other pursuers who were out to capture it. If it still remain as a lone tiger, there was no hope for it to survive!
If it wanted to live, he would have to find strong allies. Obviously, the Magician in front of him was a man powerful enough to save him. Furthermore, he had saved its life, yet did not demand it to do anything for him in return. Dorias was sure that this was the kind of man he could trust!
Link knew Dorias was in his hands now.
"How about we work as a team?" suggested Link. "I will protect you and give you shelter, and you will become my Warrior. Once we return to the North, I will let you stay in my estate. I will order my people to prepare food for you that would suit your taste, groom your fur, trim your nails, clean your teeth and so on. If you want to, I can even send my people to find you some wives. Would you like that?"
"That doesn't sound too bad at all!" answered Dorias, his eyes shining brilliantly. He never even dreamed of such luxurious treatments! Tsk. He might even get a few wives and would have people serving him all the time. Just thinking about it had made his mouth water!
"Very well, then," said Link. "If so, then kneel down now and let me ride on your back to the Opal City in the South."
"Alright; you're not that heavy, anyway." Dorias then somewhat reluctantly let Link step on his back. He would only allow this for someone like Link. Had anyone else make this kind of demand to him he'd eat them up in one bite, even if they had saved his life!
The Wind Tiger's speed was indeed as fast as it was rumored to be. At first, Dorias was jogging slowly as his body was still weak from the attacks. But then, Link cast the Elemental Cure on Dorias, so its speed accelerated very quickly as its body healed. It had taken them less than two hours to traverse the distance of about a hundred miles, and they were now at the gates to Opal City.
"There's the headquarters of the Southern Magician Alliance in the city," said Dorias. "It's full of Magicians there; I can't go near it."
"Fine, wait for me here," said Link. "I'll be in the city for a while."
Link then hopped down the tiger's back and entered the city gates. His perceptive soul had now detected the tangled mess of dark energy inside the city even from here.
There are definitely demons from the abyss in this city! Link thought. Good. That means that Celine isn't far from here then.
In a Southern Magician Alliance Meeting.
Right at the moment when Link entered the city, a brand new investigation team had just left the Mage Castle and was entering the Opal City as well. The team comprised of 30 people and was led by Master Magician Hanlott. Among the members of the team was one of Hanlott's disciple, Wavier.
"The demons are evil entities that must be exterminated," said Hanlott before their departure. "Whoever stands in our way in this mission will be regarded as our enemy, whether it's the Syndicate or anyone else!"
"Exterminate the demons!" echoed the team members.
Wavier had joined his colleagues in shouting those words as well, even though he was unknowingly gripping his Merlin's Wand tightly in his hand. An image of the woman who had stolen his heart popped up in his mind.
Forgive me, thought Wavier as he gritted his teeth. This is my duty; it is what I have to do.
Hanlott didn't notice his disciple's odd behavior. He could only sense the high spirits and full enthusiasm shown by the Magicians in his team and was deeply satisfied by it.
"Let's go!!" shouted Hanlott. It was his last command before they left the Mage Castle and head for the Opal City.