"Am I dead?" asked Kyle with a horrified expression, no Ymir or anything Godlike was present this time around and he didn't remember passing out.
"No little fox, your body and soul remain present on the mortal realm. It is only your mind that is with us now." Explained the old man.
Kyle calmed down as he studied the old man "Soo…why am I here? I didn't even get to select a sub-class?"
"I believe that is best left for me to explain." Stated the old man with a sigh "You do not know me but I know you little fox, you are my descendant after all." He walked by Kyle and stood facing the city below "I helped build this city, a place of study and wonder for those minds that wished not to be part of the conflicts between other kingdoms. Our people, the Spirit Beasts, they called us the Ancients.
Worshipped by the Beastkin like Gods we were, our powers beyond reality itself. Imagine little fox, the capability to bend the will of others, to command entire armies to surrender and they would have no qualms to. The Beaskin worshipped us but the other races…They feared us." The old man's expression turned dark as if reminiscing on darker days.
"This was before the Elven Empire's rise?" asked Kyle.
The old man shook his head "This was how the Empire rose. Through fear mongering and deception the Elven courts turned the Orcs and Ogres against the Beastkin, at the time the Human alliance did not dare take part while the Dwarves and Fae also kept to themselves. The war lasted for twenty eight years, the Orcish Horde harassing the farmland cutting our supplies off, the Ogre warlords crushing our cities to dust and the Elven stalkers destroying the Beastkin's chain of command.
The Beastkin begged us to help, to use our powers to bring them victory over their foes." He looked down at his own hands in disgust "We massacred hundreds of thousands, Orc, Ogre and Elf alike fell before our power. That…is when the Humans, Dwarves, Fae and lesser races intervened. It was all against us, with the Beastkin hiding behind our backs we fought against everyone. We were too powerful, even for our own good."
Kyle couldn't see how they lost if their power had been so vast "How did you fall? How did they defeat you then?" he asked sceptically.
The old man sighed "They didn't, our own neighbours did in their stead. Seeing our powers in warfare the Beastkin grew to fear us, the Elves used that fear and turned it towards us. It all happened over night, the Beastkin lead Orc and Elven assassins to our homes, to our families…We had no one left to trust, nowhere to go or hide. We died, quietly and alone."
"I see…I understand now." Kyle's expression turned cold as he fully comprehended what happened to these people, how the Empire rose "The destruction of the Ancients…That was their quest, the Elves' quest."
The old man nodded sagely "That it was and on it's completion the Elves turned the Orcs and Ogres against the Human alliance, they left the entirety of Hasharr to them after exiling the Beastkin to the small continent of Barik. Where after the fall of the Human kingdoms they, the Humans were banished to it as well. And now here we stand, our entire people extinct, our treacherous neighbours and their treacherous allies bound for war against the deceptive Elves yet again."
"But…what does all that have to do with me?" Kyle asked as he now fully faced the old man.
The old man turned to face Kyle "You are the last, the survivor. Even back then our numbers were few, new generations came in small amounts as we bonded with other races more frequently than not which produced no offspring of ours. Of course when one offspring with Spirit Beast blood mates with other, even if they are of a different race our blood still flows through them and through that a Spirit Beast can be born."
He smiled "My son, out of all of us he was perhaps the wisest. He saw the Beastkin's fear and acted upon it, sacrificing his and his wife's life to save their newborn son from the fate of war. He sent the child through the veil using an old banishing spell, sending it to the magic-less realm." He held his right hand over Kyle's head "It seems that act of sacrifice, was the production of our people's survival."
"Me?..." Kyle asked in bewilderment.
"No the unicorn you travel with." Joked Celica as she slapped his shoulder hard "Yes you, stupid boy. Your mother isn't a Spirit Beast but she held their blood, joining with your father to make you."
"Oh, okay but that doesn't mean I'm the last? That son could have produced others? Different branches to the family tree I don't know of?" Kyle explained.
"Yes that is possible, yet who stands before me now? Is it not you?" asked the old man with a grin "They matter not for it is you who managed to come back, it is you who was chosen for the quest and it is you who has caught the elusive Avatar's attention."
He stepped away from Kyle "I am Durin Soultail of the Fox clan, one of the seven founders of Kori and your ancestor by many many generations past. You who has our blood, you who is a Spirit Beast, you who has returned to Chaoz. There are many things I wish to speak to you of but first…there are others that wish to meet with you." Durin gestured to the palace "Follow me."
Kyle and Celica followed Durin to the palace's entrance, a gaping hole in two spires that lay in the very front centre. As they stepped inside Kyle gawked in amazement at the palace's inner for it was unlike anything he'd ever seen.
Calling it a palace was by how it seemed from the outside yet the inside was something else, from the crystal walls to the pillars that kept it all together shelves full of books, scrolls, tablets and crystals were all the eye could see no matter where one looked. The palace was not a palace but a massive circular library.
In the very centre of the library was a pond of water that reflected light the same way the crystal walls, ceiling and ground did making it hard to discern from the rest. Around the pond stood six others, each one a Spirit Beast.
As they approached the pond each Ancient inspected Kyle and he inspected them while Durin introduced them.
"Allow me to introduce the other six founders of Kori." Said Durin as he gestured at each "Aina Soulclaw of the Tiger clan." the woman looked to be in her late forties, had long blonde hair, crimson eyes, ember tiger ears and tail striped black. A thin aura of dark red flowed around her.
"Gerald Soulhowl of the Wolf clan." An old lanky man with a short trimmed black beard, moustache, short hair and black wolf ears and tail. His eyes glowed unnaturally blue making him stand out from the rest.
"Tien Soulfeather of the Owl clan." A short old woman with greyed long hair held back in a bun, her eyes at first squinted before opening wide revealing large golden eyes. White and grey feathers grew out from her back forming a pair of large wings that hugged most of her body while two long feathers grew from each side of her head pointing backwards.
"Rel Soulhoof of the Reindeer clan." A young boy looking to be in his teens with short ginger hair, brown eyes and a set of antlers growing out of his forehead. His cold gaze seemed to be beyond his age, his demeaner straight and proud.
"Silvester Soulfang of the Snake clan." A tall muscular man within his thirties, bald with green slit eyes and dark green-brown scales covering most of his body. His serpentine tongue snuck out from time to time as he stood perfectly motionless otherwise.
"And finally, Terrance Soulshell of the Tortoise clan and first founder of Kori." The last person looked to be the eldest of all, the oldest person Kyle had ever seen. He sat with legs crossed and hands on them as he stared with eyes half open at Kyle, sitting on the complete opposite side of the pond. Terrance had medium grey hair held in a warrior's band, his eyes were a light white with little yellow making Kyle believe the man was blind.
Terrance's body was short and almost sickly thin, almost a skeleton compared to the massive light brown tortoise shell around his body. Only his arms, legs and head were visible as the rest lay within the shell, a shell that seemed so beat up and tattered that it might as well been chewed on by a crocodile.
Durin gestured at Kyle to stand closer to the pond next to him, Kyle did as told while all of the founders' gazes fell upon him.
"Oh how should we start…I believe a welcome would be appropriate? Although it is best you do not stay." said Terrance with a croak chuckle.
Rel coughed "I believe it is best to approach this more professionally master Terrance?" the young boy stated.
"Yes yes…More so due to the being asking than anything?" added Gerald with a wolfish grin.
"Ah very well." Terrance sighed dramatically "Child of the Fox clan, I am sure Durin has already explained yet I feel obliged to repeat. You are the last and the only of our bloodline to live and walk on soil of mana. You are, if any, the only hope our people has to survive. Our traditions have long been lost, our culture all but exterminated."
Kyle tensed as Terrance spoke, the words digging deep under his skin "Whether you accept the legacy we offer or decline is all up to you. Our ways can be…different than what you are used to." Terrance explained solemnly as he moved to stand.
Kyle remained silent and waited for the old man to stand straight, or what he was capable of managing before speaking again "Little one, you aren't here today simply because of your blood. Not only as a descendant of the Ancients, you stand here today as a Chosen, as a Dark Hero who has caught the attention of change itself. This…has indeed brought change." Terrance stated as he closed his eyes and sighed silently.
"What do you mean? What change?" asked Kyle.
"A new prophecy has been given, the Grand Quest has changed." Said Terrance before explaining further, a brief sigh in between "Three Trials shall take place, a test of courage, a test of perception and a test of alignment. Heroes shall take part in these Trials, if one fails then they lose their title as Hero."
Kyle's expression darkened "What do I gain for winning?"
Silvester hissed a chuckle "Already thinking of victory? Good, you have a right state of mind. The victor of the last Trial will be bestowed a wish by the Avatar itself, one change to be made to the reality of any realm within existence."
Kyle's eyes widened in surprise at the hefty reward, it seemed so much more than the original Quest's reward.
"The first test has already gone by, breaking away from a nogitsune's mental grasp you claimed the test of courage." Durin suddenly stated from Kyle's left.
Kyle grimaced "Please tell me you meant killed the nogitsune…"
Terrance shook his head "That creature is hale and alive, all you destroyed was an embodiment of itself crafted from mana. Which brings us to why you are here."
Kyle's expression went cold at the affirmation he feared, his suffering was not over just yet.
Terrance continued while looking saddened "The monster still lives and threatens your very existence. The Gods cannot step in further, they've gone far enough as it stands. It is up to you Kyle Dean Soultail, you may have freed your family from it's curse but at the same time you also freed the nogitsune of it's shackles.
It roams free, searching for another host. It's power is unimaginable yet not insurmountable. You, the one it has afflicted for so long, the one it hung to like a parasite since birth, the one it chose as it's perfect vessel. You are the sole being capable of defeating it. It is not far-fetched to say that your Trials will pertain to it."
Kyle stood stalk still as Terrance spoke, his mind blurring through the details. ("For how long…for much longer…") Hatred he had held onto for so long, the ice that made up his soul began to crack and fall apart "After…so much…why…why can't it just…go away?..." he spoke his mind out loud, his tone monotone.
Terrance stared at him, his expression hardened as he spoke "Because it is vile, it was born from the very precepts of evil and creating more is all it can do and therefore it shall. There is no rime, no reason to it's actions other than to cause suffering, agony and hatred…It lives off of them, it sustains itself with them. They are its air, it's bread and water, it cannot survive without." He quickly gestured something at Gerald.
"You say it is so evil…and so powerful…yet defeatable? What does it matter? If something such as the Avatar exists, why doesn't it just remove it?" Kyle asked, his tone still cold and voice beginning to croak.
Terrance closed his eyes again as he spoke louder than before "I do not pretend to understand the Avatar's means, I definitely do not agree with them and will not stand for this either. The creature must be destroyed, for the insult it has thrown at us, for the suffering it has caused you and many others before." He suddenly disappeared before reappearing in front of Kyle, two heads taller than the adventurer.
The Ancient sighed, sadness clear on his expression as he gazed down at Kyle "That hatred of yours, it will eat you from the inside. Slowly it will turn to anger, then to rage and after that…insanity. Do you not feel it boy? Do you not understand?" he asked in a commanding voice.
Kyle looked up at Terrance "What…I don't understand?...Ju-Just tell me! How do I defeat it!?" his expression turned to anger as he bellowed into Terrance's face "How do I kill it!?"
Terrance shook his head "You do not understand, you do not feel it so I cannot tell you yet."
Kyle's expression grew uglier as his fangs and claws suddenly grew out "What the hell are you talking about!? Just fucking tell me already!" he reached out for Terrance's shell collar.
"I'm afraid you leave us with little choice little fox, else it will get it's way. Damned be the Avatar, this trial is too much for you." Said Gerald as he appeared between Kyle and Terrance, grabbing Kyle's arm he twisted it and easily as if lifting a feather, he threw Kyle over the Tortoise-man.
Kyle turned surprised as he flew over and down towards the water, he glimpsed Aina and Silvester holding Celica back as she screamed something at him. Durin's expression was solemn as he whispered something as well. Yet it all blurred as the buzzing in his head muffled them all out.
He glanced downwards right as he hit the water, suddenly he felt it pull at him and he shot down into it three times faster than he was falling. Kyle struggled and spun around as he was pulled down into the pool's depths, quickly he ran out of breath and began to suffocate and drown as the light grew dimmer and dimmer until all he saw was darkness.
Kyle felt his life drifting away, death's door approaching as his consciousness dulled. He drifted in the seemingly endless darkness, the rage he felt earlier all taken away from the embrace of surrender. He felt it, so close he was to losing consciousness. So close to dying, to leaving it all behind. To finally rest in peace.
It was all so sudden, nothing that he had seen coming. Yet he smirked, he would of laughed at the insanity of it all if he could. That was what death was anyway, something you do not see coming, something you cannot await nor evade as it is both undetectable and inevitable.
He closed his eyes as he felt his last moments nearby, surrendering himself to what he had no control over anymore.
Yet, it never came.
The silent embrace of death was near yet it stayed away, he felt at death's door but could not open it. Reopening his eyes Kyle reached out around himself no longer feeling the water until he did, he felt bewildered. The water wasn't there unless he tried to look for it? No it was something else…It wasn't there until he thought it was?
Realisation came as he suddenly took in a deep breath, no longer suffocating he collected himself. Already calm from nearing death he now understood what had just happened, what was still happening.
He wasn't actually there, this was all happening in his mind. He was never actually drowning, he was never actually dying. Due to the rage he had forgotten that, the anger that suddenly had come from within blinded his reasoning.
But now his mind was clear as he floated yet again in utter darkness, ("Why was I so angry?") he searched deep within himself for the source of that rage ("The Nogitsune…I may have rid myself of it but…is it because It's temporary?") he asked himself and the thought brought him some sliver of anger but nothing compared to what he had felt a few moments ago.
Nothing the Nogitsune did now could compare to what he had already gone through, he was already numb from feeling pain that way again. He collected himself and reviewed the conversation he had just had, the memory of it blurry from the rage but there.
("The Nogtisune…It is now free from it's shackles…") this brought him much more anger yet not enough ("It searches…for another host…") and then he understood. The rage had returned but he numbed it out by restating himself into a state of drowning letting the panic and the following calm to cancel it out.
The Ancients sent him here, wherever he was, to clear his mind from the rage. He didn't know why, he didn't understand what was wrong with feeling the rage. It was only natural for him to do so, the very thought of someone else going through what he had because he freed the creature brought Kyle no small amount of guilt and anger.
He continued reviewing Terrance's words until a certain part brought him realization "The hatred will eat me from the inside…Turn to anger…then rage…insanity…" Kyle spoke out loud to himself "Feel? Feel what?..." he looked down at his hands as the darkness didn't seem to cover his body as if there was actually light.
His skin had begun to change, a shadowy smoke oozed out of patches on his skin as it turned blacker than the darkness that surrounded him. Kyle knew exactly what that smoke was, it was no smoke, no darkness but instead a black flame. A slow, calm flame made of pure darkness, this along with Terrance's words got Kyle to comprehend his situation.
He understood what was happening.
He understood the second trial had already begun.
But he did not know what he was supposed to do about it.