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Fleshcrafting Technomancer 3 From Junior Duke to King Consort Bundled Arc, Part 1

Table of Contents
3: Survival Games

Kars is a marvel. Regardless of how deep his hatred ran, Kilian was forced to acknowledge that every day in Kars was a day in heaven. Built on top of Lake Scharbuhel, the city's 1349 square kilometers of land accommodated 3.2 million citizens, about 2% of Orloth's population. Tourists and citizens alike could find limpid ponds in every street and tall fountains surrounded by lively parks.

Known as the City of Crystals, Kars' domed houses and sky-piercing towers were all built in the same icy-blue, crystalline material: orstalph. And though it sat in the city's center, a large stream isolated the Palace of Crystals, seat of the Duke of Kars, from the rest of the city. Visitors came and left through flying frigates prepared on either side of the stream, and palm-sized sports cars raced across coiling bridges. Indeed, Kars' cars could shrink to fit one hand, self-drive, and anticipate all collisions.

But none of this could compare to the three platinum orbs that hovered in the city's sky to manage its climate.

The three orbs browsed the minds of the 3.2 million citizens and maintained the climate preferred by the majority. If the many wanted summer, then summer reigned. If they wished for winter, winter followed, and if driven by madness they asked for a combination between both, then they still had it. Usually, Kars lay in an eternal spring. And as he sat on his room's balcony—watching drone squadrons patrol the sky to release nanomachines and eliminate all viruses or problematic bacteria—Kilian silently cursed Klaus' abilities.

There was only one city throughout the Arcadian continent where a commoner could freely argue a case against an aristocrat: Kars. After spending 16 months within its walls, Kilian fell in love with this land. Aristocrats threaded carefully, slavery neared abolition and what few slaves remained enjoyed better lives than commoners in other grand cities. The poverty rate was below 1%, and the words "Treat Evil With Justice" shone above the execution platform where Klaus beheaded his tyrannical father.

And to those millions of commoners, Klaus was the greatest hero of all times, the harsh but fair god that saved them all from ruin. Often they attempted to erect statues in his name, but were always rejected. Across the rest of the duchy, the situation was mostly the same.

The sun's rays shafted through the sky, and an alarm chimed at Kilian's bedside.

"We will hold today's lesson in the garden," Klaus' voice echoed and, without delay, Kilian left his room. He didn't have to touch the door handle. From light to door, everything in that room followed Kilian's brainwaves.

"Greetings, Junior Duke," dozens of maids lined up in the hall and bowed at Kilian's passage. Although Klaus equipped the castle with a self-cleaning mechanism, they still needed hands for some mundane task. It also left jobs for those with no other options. And while Kilian could simply use a teleportation circle, Klaus forbade it. "Crossing the palace on foot is good for self-discipline," he often said. And while Kilian never shied from hard labor, having to cross two hours' worth of stairs every morning wasn't discipline, it was bullshit.

Stepping into the garden, Kilian caught Klaus pruning a bonsai tree as he did every Thursday. But contrary to the usual scenery, a man kneeled beside him, handcuffed and sweating like pig iron.

"Welcome, Kilian," Klaus said and snapped his fingers. The man's cuffs crumbled, and like a blood-frenzied war fiend, he lunged at Kilian. Unprepared for the twist, Kilian recoiled. The assailant threw wild swings at his face, but all failed to connect. Yet, he didn't stop, and as if hungering for Kilian's life, pressed onward.

Never in his existence did Kilian face such an opponent, and while his foe pressed on him, he trembled, not out of fear, but with pure rage. Pivoting on the right, Kilian let the swing go wide, and kicked into the right side of his opponent's knee. The bone cracked, and thrown off-balance, he tumbled on his side.

"Aargh!" The assailant groaned, but with billowing rage Kilian seized his healthy leg, and snapped it without a second thought. Clutching at his broken legs, the defeated howled in pain. But while the broken bones wracked him from the inside, Kilian mounted him, and punched all teeth out of his mouth.

Battered and bloodied, he could only lay there, pummeled by Kilian's rage until his last breath left him. And still, Kilian didn't stop. They had neither grievance nor enmity, so why did he attack him? Why? Why? Why?

It wasn't fair! He couldn't accept it, so he punched till that man's face became a wretched sack of gore, punched till all trace of who he used to be vanished, punched, punched and punched!

Meanwhile, Klaus stood on the side, tending to the bonsai tree. And when Kilian's rage could no longer power him, his ducal father turned to face the result.

"I give you a D. You used way too much strength to kill the man. Although guilty of murder he was just a jeweler with no martial training. If you need to exhaust your breath on the likes of him, how do you handle an ambush?" Klaus asked in an apathetic tone. Only now did Kilian snap out of his feral state and witness the result of his rage. Appalled, he sprang back, and lowered his eyes on his bloodied hands. This was his first kill, a man he knew nothing of but battered to death like some blood worshipping barbarian.

When did he become so vicious?

"Learning to dehumanize your foes is critical for your survival. Just like him, I told him that if he killed you, his sentence would change from flaying to life imprisonment. And look at how well he adapted?" Klaus stepped toward Kilian and whispered in his ear. Vines sprouted from the ground, wrapping the fallen's corpse before grinding him to dust.

"From now on, you will practice your killing arts on death row inmates. We will start with one per month, then two, three, four, thirty—until you can kill without second thoughts, we will continue. On top of your studies, I will also prepare assassins to hunt you day and night. And I do not doubt that my many enemies won't let you rest, either. Try not to die," Klaus whispered in his absentminded son's ears.

"Now come, you have someone to meet." Pulling Kilian by his wrist, Klaus led him back into the castle. And as they crossed its icy-blue walls, Kilian's mind lingered on his kill's bleeding face, then like a glass mirror, the face shattered, and Kilian yanked his hand out of Klaus' grasp. The duke smiled but said nothing.

Together, they reached the greeting hall. From the entrance to the main seat, portraits of Kars' past 60 dukes hung on the walls. Custom required that at Klaus' death, Kilian drew and added his portrait to the hall's walls—he wouldn't. Best burn them all to spare the walls more abuse. In any case, they didn't have much room left.

Upon the two's entrance, the eight noblemen and women awaiting in the hall bowed in greetings. On the scene, only one grabbed Kilian's attention: a 13 years old girl with the blue eyes and curly black hair of the von Karstens.

While the house's lasses typically couldn't hold his gaze, this one was hard to ignore. Like a masterfully carved doll, she would have looked flawless if not for her pale-white skin that screamed vampire vibes. And while Kilian wondered if her tiny lips hid fangs, the girl's large eyes blinked at him.

"Kilian, Anke. Anke, Kilian. Future wife, future husband. I hope you two get along," Klaus made the presentations, then motioned for the seven kin to clear the hall. They did so without delay.

Alone, the two faced one another for three long minutes before Anke broke the silence.

"When uncle said you were a bit unstable, I didn't believe him, but you do look like someone about to murder millions." At first taken aback by the words, Kilian glanced at his bloodied hands and realized they were reasonable.

"Well said, but it's hard to take you seriously when you, yourself, look like a bloodsucking lolita. Anyone ever asked you if you were afraid of sunlight?" Kilian countered, making Anke's large eyes narrow at him.

"My skin is snow white."

"No, it's chalk. Don't fetishize ghosthood."

Struck hard by Kilian's words, Anke staggered and balled up her fists. Where did this hateful creature come from, and how could her beloved uncle ask her to marry him? As if seeing through her thoughts, Kilian nodded in approval.

"I know what you're thinking—Oh my god, he's too good for me—and you're absolutely correct, so this marriage...will never happen," Kilian said, spun and left.

On that day, as she stared at his distant back with indignation teeming in her heart, Anke swore to make him grovel at her feet—she never could.

4: What's the Point?

"One empire and four kingdoms occupy the Arcadian continent. Together, the four kingdoms only control one-tenth of the land, with the rest under the dominion of the Arcadian Empire. Nargoz north, Orloth south, Sogard west and Drucia east. Though they nominally maintain sovereignty, all four pay massive, yearly tributes to the Emperor of Arcadia—sole sovereign of the continent's five billion citizens," a woman nigh-identical to Alina told Kilian while a replica of Viktor sat at her right.

Facing the two, Kilian lay on his stomach, enjoying the brush of a gentle spring breeze within a verdant prairie. It was in moments like these that he discovered a passion for cramming.

"And what does this year represent?" Alina's replica asked.

"The 3,018th year of the Arcadian Empire, 50th year of Emperor Niklas' reign, and the time of my 18th birthday," Kilian said like a well-programmed automaton while his attention shifted between the two.

"The three grand eras that preceded?" Viktor's copy chimed in.

"First, the Theocratic Age ruled by the clergy. Second, the Holy Rebellion led by the Grand Orders whose leader, Eginolf von Skoll, went on to establish the Arcadian Empire. And last, the Eternal Night that back then saw the death of half the human race."

"Why does the empire maintain the four kingdoms?"

"No one kn--"

Before the words ended, a foreign grip forced Kilian out of the dreamland, returning him to his room where his body floated in a magenta bubble. With a light explosive sound, the bubble popped, and Kilian tumbled on his bed.

"As the future Duke of Kars, how can you spend hours idling in a Dreamscape? Shame on you," a mischievous voice came from Kilian's left. But even without turning, he knew who it belonged to.

"You have three seconds to roll out of my bed before I make you a single mom," Kilian replied, but still didn't turn to face the voice's owner. With a snort, she leaned over, locking her sapphire eyes on his as her wavy black hair fell at either side of his face.

"And how would you do that?" Anke asked and leaned in, eyes still glued on Kilian. Her lips closed on his, and at first, he didn't evade, welcoming her with a few gentle kisses before tugging on her lips with his. But as the kiss grew more passionate, and Anke stuck out her tongue, Kilian flipped her on the other side of the bed and replied:

"By entertaining your hopes long enough to get you pregnant and then abandoning you like the cunt I am."

It was always like this. Across the six years since they first met, Anke would run after Kilian and get rejected daily. Sometimes she'd chance on him wrestling with Klaus' assassins, and they'd fight them together. Yet, she made no progress. At first, her wounded pride drove her. Now it was a mix of conflicting emotions she couldn't handle.

"We're getting married, though. There is no escaping it. In a few months—at best—we will be married,�� Anke stated the facts they both knew so well. Before they could walk, the marriage was set in stone. And though surnamed von Karsten, Anke was heir to Arcadia's highest-ranked noble. Legions would divorce their wives to secure her hand in marriage. Yet here she was, bound to someone with zero interest.

"I said it before, it won't happen," Kilian replied, kissed Anke's cheek, and got out of bed—another one of those cruel reminders that they could be many things, just not lovers.



The six years deadline had reached its end, and having mastered all of Klaus' lessons, Kilian was now prepared for magic. But as he crossed the icy-blue hallways leading to the duke's study, Kilian knew that of all the things he learned, acting came first.

Day and night he wore masks of sarcasm, of treachery and cynicism, facing subjects, guests and relatives alike with the same smile—while burying his loathing in the recesses of his black heart.

Those six years in Kars carried more weight than his 22 years on Earth or the 12 years in his tribe. They redefined his mind and perceptions, turning him into an individual he could no longer recognize. Bits by bits, madness crept in.

At the entrance of Klaus' study, two guards stood, clad in amethyst, crystal power armors that covered them from head to toe. Thanks to Klaus' strength, resources and leadership, Kars by far possessed the highest technological level of Orloth, and ranked third among the empire's top cities—another reminder of the gap between father and son.

"Greetings, Junior Duke. His Grace is waiting for you," the two said with polite bows and sidestepped to let Kilian pass. As soon as he reached it, the door opened for him. In the study, Klaus sat at his office table, with a bearded old man facing him. Ignoring the visitor, Kilian stepped toward Klaus, arms crossed behind his back.

"Your Grace," Kilian bowed toward his father, making both the duke and his guest turn toward him.

"You still call your father by his title? What are you? A soldier?" The bearded guest said, and Klaus smiled at the words.

"Grandfather, you sneak into the duke's study early in the morning or late in the evening. Matter of fact, you're the only one with the privilege. Does that make you his private cock-sucker? Mhm?" Kilian countered, making the old man's eyes twitch.

"The duke is the duke, so out of respect I call him Your Grace. He doesn't care, why do you care? Mind your goddamn business—unbelievable." Shaking his head to and fro, Kilian shifted his eyes back to Klaus. In Kars, this bearded old man was a mystery. He came as he pleased and left just the same. And while none ever saw his face, he'd been by Klaus' side since he was a child, tutoring him in magic and more.

In fact, many assumed that he was the true foundation of Klaus' meteoric rise—Kilian jokingly called him grandfather.

"Impudence!" Enraged, the man leaped on his feet, towering above Kilian at almost 1.9 meters. But knowing that with the right skillset, shapeshifting was child's play, Kilian distrusted the old man's current appearance.

"What? You can't handle me with words, so you must use your fists? Barbarian! This is Kars, not the imperial arena. The 31st century, not the dark age! Here we have laws that protect children from mad bitches. If you don't behave, I will call the cops!" Kilian placed his hands on either side of his hip and bawled at the elder's face.

Reeling back from the words' impact, the cloaked man stared dumbfounded at Kilian. Although by now, he should have gotten used to Kilian's ways, he couldn't believe that Klaus could raise such an anomaly.

Seeing the show end, the duke beckoned for Kilian's attention.

"Enough. The King of Nargoz is dead, skinned alive and left to rot by the emperor this morning." The words snatched Kilian's attention, and he spun toward Klaus, "Skinned alive? Nargoz rebelled?"

Ranking among the most brutal execution methods of the Arcadian Empire, execution by flaying was reserved for rebel leaders. But how could the tiny Nargoz dare rebel against the empire?

"No. The annual tributes were just...three days late," Klaus replied, making Kilian's eyes widen in disbelief.

"Now that's a man that knows how to make himself respected."

"You really think so?"

"No. Unless there's a bigger plot here, he's just a fool. But how does that affect me?" As he observed the prompt exchange between Kilian and Klaus, the bearded man frowned and fell back on his seat.

"The Grand Prince of Nargoz is an old friend of mine. Go and reassure him of Kars' support. Lay the groundworks for an official alliance and bring me an exclusive trade deal for orstalph and zuri sales. Your team and bodyguards await. When you return, we will summon the kinsmen and handle your Dra Root Ceremony," Klaus said and pushed a letter of credence toward Kilian.

Inwardly, he sneered. Having been by Klaus' side for so long, Kilian knew that under the guise of an assignment, he wanted him out of Kars. But since he'd long been plotting a trip to Nargoz, he didn't object.

"Do I have full negotiation powers?"

"Anything is fine as long as it doesn't disadvantage Kars."

"Very well, as you command, Your Grace," Kilian half-jested before leaving for Nargoz.

"I don't understand. Nargoz will be wiped out within three years. An alliance has no use," the bearded elder said.

"Although King Erik remains docile, since I became Grand Justiciar of Orloth, the elder princes allied with the imperial aristocracy and some of my dissatisfied vassals to plot my house's destruction. I may not care for Orloth's forces, but imperial nobles and princes require more considerations. I need a few days to handle them," Klaus replied with a lopsided smirk.

"If every time it truly matters, you send him away, what's the point of all this training? The Gate will never open," the elder sighed, Klaus' smirk vanished, and a dreary pause followed.

"Of all people, I thought you'd understand." Flinching at the words, the elder lowered his head and faded in a swirl of amber winds. Alone, Klaus reclined in his seat and closed his eyes.

5: Nargoz's Upheaval

Crossing the central courtyard leading to the castle's gates, Kilian came across a squad of 14 men, 12 of which stood in a horizontal line, as immobile as the two ancient busts in Klaus' study.

The 12 men wore Zurishells, platinum muscle fiber armors crafted in zuri. A rare mineral unique to Arcadia, zuri was primarily used to produce top templar armors. Its flexibility, robustness and reception to magic transcended that of all other minerals. It also served as an alloy for various electronic parts.

In the eighth year of Klaus' reign, his Technomancy Department devised a way to craft zuri into muscle fiber armors that not only provided superhuman strength, resilience and speed, but incorporated the latest advancements in Technomancy. Supersonic propulsors, stasis fields, plasma lasers and a 360-degree vision ensured that whoever wore those armors could rip the average High Emissary to shreds.

"Junior Duke, by His Grace's orders, I have selected these 12 members of the Seared Hearts as your bodyguards. I believe you're most familiar with them," Wilfried said, and the 12 bowed in greetings. Out of courtesy, they kept their faces exposed, enabling Kilian to identify them all.

Ignoring Wilfried, Kilian's eyes stopped on the agent at the seventh place from the left, "Your face...you're new. But did I not kill you? Or was it a twin?" He asked with as much tact as the king of oafs. But without straightening his back, the agent nodded.

"My brother failed the Seared Hearts' examination, and in a moment of weakness, was bribed by enemy forces and attempted to murder Your Lordship. He shamed our family and deserved one million deaths," the agent replied with no ripple in his voice. Klaus wasn't the only one that sent assassins after Kilian. Disgruntled vassals, princes, dukes and marquises, all those that'd rather see Kars fall in the hands of Kilian's imbecile of a younger brother, gunned for his life.

"Were you close?"

"Very much so."

"Do you want vengeance?"

"Some people don't deserve to be avenged. Anyone with the nerve to threaten His Grace's world merits a brutal death. If Your Lordship didn't kill him, I would have."

"Is that so?" As if bored by the exchange, Kilian spun to face the 14th man on the scene, his younger brother, Florens von Karsten.

"Why are you here?" He directly asked. Undisturbed, Florens flashed him a fake smile and stepped forward.

"Father wants me to follow your lead and gain some experience. This is an opportunity to cement our brotherhood, grow closer, and show the world Kars' unity," Florens said, barely able to suppress his glee. Though two years younger than Kilian, he always saw himself as the true highborn and heir of Kars. On this trip, he intended to prove it. However, Kilian tilted his head to the left, and eyed his brother from head to toe.

"I screwed your mom," he straightforwardly said, and startled by the words, Florens blinked in confusion.

"W-what?" To say nothing of him, Wilfried aside, all others' faces experienced drastic changes.

"I screwed your mom. No, I screw your mom. Matter of fact, I'm the only one that banged her in the last two years. Father's orders, couldn't stop it." Slammed hard by Kilian's casually spoken words, Florens staggered and whirled to face Wilfried. The silent acknowledgment he saw in his uncle's face sapped all strength from his legs, and he neared collapse.

But at that time, Kilian gently tapped his right shoulder and whispered in his ear, "I hope our brotherhood survives it." He then walked past his dazed brother and led his men toward Kars' gate where a Mach 2 frigate awaited them. Only now did Florens tumble, and after a brief observation of the boy's state, Wilfried pressed his earchip to contact Klaus.

"Your Grace, I'm afraid Lord Florens can no longer join the delegation."

...

"Before we reach Nargoz, let me make something clear. You have to drop your Arcadian, human supremacist views, less you cause me needless trouble," sitting in a beige cabin, Kilian told his bodyguards who now had their faces covered by dark-gray helmets. Thanks to the empire's millennia of propaganda, the belief that humanity stood supreme clouded the citizens' eyes. In the Arcadian humans' mind, other races were either inferior or abominations.

The view worked in most places, but in Nargoz, would only bring them hatred.

"Your Lordship needs not be concerned. As you know, His Grace has always advocated tolerance and reformed much of Kars' culture. Although some prejudices remain here and there, they don't affect the likes of us. Still, I'm confused. Aren't the Nargozis human?" A bodyguard inquired.

"Depends on whom you ask. In short, Nargoz is a remnant of the Eternal Night. Founded a century before the empire by the bloodkins to act as a base for their chiropteran masters. The rulers of Nargoz, house Veidt, are direct descendants of the bloodkins that survived through a timely rebellion against the chiropteran invaders. Although they lost some of the original bloodkins' features, their blood-red eyes and innate abilities remain, reminding the world that they aren't quite human," Kilian explained, making the 12 exchange curious glances.

The most secretive and isolationist of the four kingdoms, Nargoz rarely involved itself in Arcadian struggles. Likewise, information about that kingdom rarely circulated among aristocrats, to say nothing of commoners. Thus, it became a mythical land, with endless legends pouring from gossipy mouths. Yet, while most stories presented no truth, one was quite accurate.

Though the most powerful of the four kingdoms, Nargoz failed to thrive because its aristocracy, the Blood Court, lived in perpetual strife. But as his frigate crossed 20,000 km of blue sky to reach the foreign state's border, Kilian's thoughts remained glued on the two things he truly came for, and how to snatch them right.

...

Within Nargoz's royal palace, Grand Prince Oliver, heir to Nargoz's throne, sat alongside top-ranking nobles of the Blood Court and senior members of the royal council. Anxiety strained all faces.

"Who could think that the empire would shoot down our tribute-delivering aircrafts, force a three days delay, and then use that as an excuse to execute our king. Again, the emperor proves his cruelty unrivaled," said an old Nargozi councilor with gray hair and blood-red eyes. Aware of their helplessness before the empire's tyranny, several councilors and nobles sighed.

"Nargoz was never a thorn in the empire's side. We administer this land because they allow us to, because we forsook human-blood-drinking, and remained docile to their laws. If the empire wishes to replace us, it doesn't need such petty excuses. What then is this? A warning? A reminder?" A duke followed, but with a wave of his pale hand, Oliver dismissed the words.

"I'm afraid Emperor Niklas is branding us traitors, forcing us to renew the Covenant, break the Peace Barrier, and contact the Balmarian continent to ask the Chiropteran Dynasty for assistance. He must be ready for war and wants to use our despair to lure his foes into a fatal trap. But so long as I breathe, this will not happen," Oliver said, making councilors and nobles nod in approval.

Still, their hearts soured. Nargoz couldn't survive by lobbying the Chiropteran Dynasty. But for how long could it endure the Arcadian Empire's pressure?

"August Orphan, can't you ask the Duke of Kars for help? After all, aren't the two of you great friends?" The gray-haired councilor offered, but instantly, Oliver sneered.

"Friends? Besides that mysterious man that groomed and protected him throughout his younger years, Klaus has no friend."

6: Bloodkins

Even at Mach 2 speed, it took Kilian's delegation eight hours to reach Nargoz's territory and dive toward its capital. Having warned the Nargozi beforehand, they didn't face any hurdle. Shrunken to palm-size, the drone-like frigate dropped on the private landing platform reserved for foreign dignitaries. But while the frigate's size and speed gave no one the time to gaze upon it, the racket left by twice the speed of sound startled many citizens. And as Kilian's aircraft landed, his bodyguards stood up, ready to line around him.

The aircraft returned to initial size, Kilian's eyes opened, and alongside the 12, he stepped out of the frigate. Thick icy-blue mist welcomed them all, but activating their visors, the bodyguards saw through it and stood in a perfect military formation.

The blue mist dispersed, revealing three figures dressed in black wizard robes embroidered with red flame patterns. Silver belts tied their waists, and they all possessed the same blood-red eyes. While commoners and women in Arcadia's cities dressed in a similar fashion as on Earth, due to their clerical and thaumaturgic heritage, male aristocrats adopted a more austere look. Kilian, for example, wore a long-sleeved white robe with large golden epaulettes, and the von Karstens' eagle emblem on either side of his belt.

"Welcome, Junior Duke, to Nargoz," the three men said and bowed in greetings. At first, the move surprised Kilian. After all, Kars may be Arcadia's number three city, but in traditional hierarchy, Nargoz ranked higher. However, when he saw the red half-moon marks on their foreheads, he realized why.

"Whose huntmasters are you?"

"The August Orphan, the chancellor and the chamberlain's," the three answered Kilian's inquiry. During the Eternal Night, bloodkins were hunters and herd-keepers for their chiropteran masters. Equipped for the job, bloodkins were all born or reborn with a huntmaster and several hunting dogs.

The huntmaster remained one level weaker than his bloodkin, and the hunting dogs, a whole rank below. And while in Nargoz they possessed a lofty status, on Arcadian law, huntmasters were household slaves.

"Very well, lead the way," Kilian said. While some might think that a reception of huntmasters was beneath their dignity, Kilian didn't care for aristocratic pedantry and understood Oliver's good will.

Satisfied by his reaction, the huntmasters clapped, red mist gathered, coalescing into fifteen, massive blood-red mastiffs. Each possessed the strength of a top-level Core Templar, showing that their masters either were top High Templars or High Emissaries.

"The August Orphan hopes you will do us the honor of riding his blood hunters and get a glimpse of Nargoz's scenic places," one huntmaster said, and before his bodyguards could protest, Kilian leaped on a blood mastiff's back.

With thrice the muscle mass of an English Mastiff, blood-colored fur and the mane of a lion, those blood mastiffs indeed didn't make the average man feel safe around them. Fearing an accident, Kilian's bodyguards were about to plead their case when his voice echoed in their earpieces.

��Let's get something out of the way, you're my jailors, not my bodyguards. Wilfried chose you to make sure that I won't use the assignment to escape; the rest has nothing to do with you. Until I give you express orders, behave, or I will have to prove his choice incorrect."

The words stopped the 12 in their tracks, and underneath their visors, their faces experienced wild changes. Not daring to reply, they backpedaled, and bowed in understanding.

"Those 12 won't need mounts. Let's go," Kilian ordered, and although they could sense that some silent confrontation occurred, the three huntmasters didn't care to investigate, clapped, and sent the excess blood hunters on their way back. Riding their own mounts, they soared into the air, leading the way for Kilian. With their flight-able Zurishells, Kilian's guards followed right behind, experiencing Nargoz's eponymous capital alongside him.

Cold and nightmarishly even is the best description of Nargoz's climate. Although it seemed trapped in an eternal ice age, Nargoz didn't have that much snow. But while snow didn't last over two months, the bone-chilling cold remained all year long. A dark, overcast sky prevented the sunlight from freely dropping, and while in good days the weather stagnated at 0 degree celsius, intermittent waves of icy-blue mist often covered the citizens' eyes. Bloodkin or not, most citizens had pale-white skin akin to Anke's.

And perhaps due to this harsh climate, tall black towers with pointed roofs and dark cathedrals dominated the city. Most wore black, or other dark colors, with the cathedral-styled buildings hosting schools, colleges and the like. Led by lower-ranked huntmasters, blood hunters patrolled the city, keeping order through their daunting auras alone. But while far from Kars' technological level, Nargoz was equipped with a rotation mechanism, enabling the royal family to modify the geography at will and control all that occured on land.

Riding on clouds of blood, the hunters descended upon Nargoz's royal palace which, just like its city, boasted a gothic architecture. Like a small mountain of its own, Nargoz's royal palace housed about one million citizens. Low-ranked nobles or commoners with red eyes had to leave their families for the Veidt palace and spend the remainder of their lives behind its walls. There, they learned to control their powers and the craving for the hunt that brimmed in all their hearts. Should a bloodkin drink human blood, they'd obtain the slit pupils of a snake, and give off the stench of their victims' blood—execution followed.

Around the castle's tallest tower, the statue of an abomination with the upper body of a hulky werebat and the lower end of a dragon coiled, reminding the world of Nargoz's chiropteran heritage.

Wrapping Kilian and his guards into a red orb, the mastiffs turned into sanguine mist, charging past the walls to dive straight into the great hall where the Blood Court stood with Grand Prince Oliver and his wife, the ravishing princess Kathrin.

Leaping off his steed, Kilian landed before the heir apparent to Nargoz's throne, a handsome man who despite being twice his age, didn't look older than him.

"Greetings, Your Highness," Kilian said, and instantly, the atmosphere tensed.

7: From Negotiation to Coercion

In Arcadia when a monarch died, until the next coronation, it was common courtesy to refer to the legal heir as August Orphan. If all citizens were the monarch's children, then the heir naturally was the most honorable of them all—hence the term "august." At least that was how the Arcadians saw it. By refusing to employ proper decorum, Kilian was telling the Blood Court that Kars didn't recognize Oliver as heir to Nargoz's throne.

Hell of a way to start negotiations.

The Nargozi Grand Prince's eyes twitched, narrowing at Kilian who stared back as an equal rather than the lower ranked aristocrat he was. Instantly, Oliver disliked him. But seeing that Kilian's face showed no contempt, he restrained himself. Others didn't have the same self-control.

"What does Your Lordship mean by this? Please refer to the August Orphan as propriety demands. Unless, Kars refuses to acknowledge our lord's rightful claim?" A Nargozi duke chimed in. But ignoring him, Kilian took three steps toward Oliver, breaching his personal space, and now standing a few centimeters away from him.

"In a case like this, decorum is for sycophantic cunts. My deepest condolences, long live Your Highness, all those are lies, and I don't care to spew them. As things stand, if you take the crown, on your father's first death anniversary, we will carry your coffin. My father's words, not mine," crossing his arms behind his back, Kilian replied without glancing at the indignant duke.

By using Klaus to give his words weight, Kilian knew he'd instantly throw Nargoz's court into a panic. And as expected, many started fidgeting in their pants. Meanwhile, the bodyguards couldn't understand why the Junior Duke so actively provoked the Blood Court.

Still, Oliver kept his composure, and with a smile, motioned for Kilian to take a seat. Nodding, Kilian took his assigned place, and the Blood Court followed suit. For a second, Kilian swept the sanguine tapestry depicting Nargoz's history, then returned his attention to Oliver.

"According to His Grace, there's no way that Nargoz, the most powerful of the four tributary kingdoms, could miss the tributes' deadline. Better, it makes no sense that after 3,000 years of loyal service, the emperor's first response, is the worst of humiliations. This year's incident quite possibly stems from the will of Emperor Niklas, and if he doesn't get what he wants, next year we shall have a repeat." Taking a brief pause, Kilian observed all the changes in Oliver's face. Using the irregular flutter of the prince's eyes and the nervous moves of his lips, Kilian confirmed his assumptions, and pursued.

"However, what the Empire wants isn't something you can give. Perhaps even the Tear of Kalarac, your Crown Jewel can't compare. Otherwise, your father wouldn't be a flayed corpse. Your back is against a glassy, fractured wall, and you're about to tumble from the 15th floor.

Seeing your plight, my father sends me to offer you Kars' protection—in exchange for a few things." In less than five minutes, the situation went from negotiation to coercion. And though Oliver couldn't digest the implications, as the future monarch and protector of 200 million lives, he had no other choice.

"What do you want?" Oliver asked. With his father's death, Nargoz lost its only Archon. And with its military's level, to say nothing of the empire. Any one of the grand dukes could effortlessly trample it. Such was the gap between the true Arcadian high nobility and the tributary kingdoms. A supportive Klaus was indeed his only hope, and Kilian saw that right off the bat.

Klaus dared not get attached to things he couldn't protect from himself. Therefore, his mysterious guardian aside, he didn't have friends. Only servants and tools. Since Oliver understood that truth better than Kilian, the talk could proceed smoothly. But even with his father's crushing pressure, there were things Kilian knew Oliver would never agree to. Those two things, he'd snatch.

"Simple. For the next 100 years, Nargoz trades only with Kars. Orstalph, zuri, knife-staves, dra reactors, all will come from Kars. Naturally, we set the prices." Although zuri was the number one mineral of magitech matters, most couldn't afford it in large quantities. At the state level, orstalph became the cheaper option. And while overall less efficient, orstalph was more malleable than zuri. Still, though the largest reserves lay in Kars, most countries and duchies had substantial quantities.

On top of other requirements, by forbidding Nargoz from exploiting its own reserves, Kilian was forcing them to become Kars' economic slave. Let's not mention the Blood Court. Even Oliver couldn't contain his fury. But as he neared his outburst, Kilian cut, "In exchange, you will receive three Crystal Lords and 12 Zurishell-equipped guards," and instantly, all dissent vanished.

Equipped of three meters tall, amethyst power armors, with refraction fields, stasis fields and dra lasers able to blast a city into dust with a casual strike, Kars' Crystal Lords stood at the peak of Arcadia's military might, a match for even the empire's Golden Knights. More importantly, they represented Klaus' will.

With those three alone, before attacking Nargoz, the empire would first have to confront Kars. How could Oliver not be elated.

His lips stretched into a broad grin, but then he wondered if the boy had such authority, and as if anticipating his words, Kilian pulled out his letter of credence stamped with Klaus' Mystical Seal.

Before the glowing amethyst eagle, Nargoz's August Orphan had nothing to add, and bowed in thanks.

"No need for false pretense. From now on, Nargoz is in your care. As long as you don't threaten our foundation and future, we will do our best to meet your expectations," Oliver humbled himself to stroke Kilian's ego. But at that time, Kilian swept the Blood Court, seeking among them the true reason for his eager visit—but failed to find her.

"I do not see Her Highness," Kilian said, and the Blood Court answered his words with hardening gazes and clenching fists. Even Oliver and his queen showed complex looks.

"Well, how can I say this? My sister...hasn't left her chambers in the last three years. I'd rather not disturb her."

8: The Monster of Nargoz (Part 1)

Eleonora von Veidt, princess of Nargoz. Despite being born with outstanding magical talents, she rejected the arcane path to dedicate herself to the pursuit of martial excellence.

Though the incomprehensible choice made her the high nobility's laughingstock, she persisted, and proved an outstanding martial talent, becoming a High Templar at the tender age of 19. Unlike most scions of royalty or high nobility, Eleonora refused to study at the Imperial Academy, preferring the teachings of her bloodkin ancestors instead. Moved by her devotion, her father made her head of the royal guard.

Still, knowing that templars couldn't reach Archon tier, not many took her seriously. The focus soon shifted on the tales of her peerless elegance and enrapturing beauty, with many Junior Dukes and Princes pledging to claim either the hand or body. Such ridiculous tales had long since stopped shocking Kilian.

Arcadia's aristocracy was a circle jerk of bored imbeciles. Commoners of various classes did the real work, keeping the economy spinning for their noble masters whose absolute military power prevented all revolt. Unless they focused on the arts or Unique Disciplines such as Technomancy, most aristocrats spent their lives accumulating power to abuse it. Unavoidably, Eleonora became a major priority.

However, little did anyone expect that two years after her promotion, the martial queen would sink into depression, give up her position, dye her black hair purple, and vanish from public sight. Alarmed, the previous king attempted all he could to bring Eleonora out of seclusion, but failed in each attempt.

With no other recourse, he chose the extreme road and gave her husbands—they vanished one after the other. Yes, across the four years following Eleonora's self-confinement, she received four husbands that all vanished on the wedding night. Realizing that perhaps, marriage prospects didn't make his daughter ecstatic, the king gave up—and was flayed by Emperor Niklas a few months afterward.

And now hearing Kilian ask for his accursed sister's whereabout, a sister he planned to murder, Oliver couldn't stop his heartbeat from spiraling out of control. Did Kars' Junior Duke also crave his crazed sister's bosom? He wondered, and prayed to all the gods that didn't exist that he was wrong.

Sensing the awkwardness settle in, Kilian inwardly chuckled.

"As expected, to say nothing of the Tear of Kalarac, he dares not give me Eleonora's hand in marriage. But Oliver, the choice isn't yours to make," Kilian thought and flashed a harmless smile at his future brother-in-law.

"No need to quiver. I understand your concerns and merely spoke out of curiosity. If she doesn't wish to appear, so be it. After we draft and sign the agreement, I shall send a message to Kars, and have my father give you what is due. In the meantime, let's adjourn this meeting," Kilian spoke in a more formal tone and stood up. After abusing his bargaining chips and milking Nargoz to this extent, Oliver wouldn't doubt his motives.

Although Klaus would gain more benefits than expected, Kilian knew that it made no difference. For the current Kars, controlling Nargoz's economy was, at best, a distraction. If anything, though they didn't realize it yet, Nargoz profited a lot more than Kars' did.

Standing up, Kilian let two maids lead the way toward his chambers, but as he left, didn't forget to cast Oliver's queen a furtive gaze. Well, furtive enough that only the royal couple saw it. Instantly, Oliver's eyes narrowed, and after Kilian departed, he leaned toward Kathrin.

"According to my intel, though a masterful scholar, this Kilian von Karsten mentally collapsed from the myriads of assassination attempts on his life, both internal and external, and now uses lust to keep his mind at peace. A notorious rake, he deflowered most of Kars' noble ladies, and even fills some married beds. Perhaps we can put this to use," Oliver whispered in his wife's ear, and her face contorted into a frown.

"You mean me?" Kathrin countered, with her hardened gaze staring into Oliver's.

"I naturally won't have you compromise yourself, but these are sensitive times. I will have a banquet thrown tomorrow in the boy's honor and let you sit beside him. We will also bring several of our most attractive handmaidens to the festivities. If he shows genuine interest, entertain him long enough to put him under your thrall and use that spell. We can then use the handmaidens and blackmail him into giving us more benefits. This is definitely not Kars' limit." Oliver replied and kissed his queen's cheek.

Although her long loose curls and sanguine eyes were the norm in the Blood Court, Kathrin stood out with an unearthly seductive appeal that, following Eleonora's disappearance, made many dub her the Crown Jewel of Nargoz. Though mostly out of flattery, the words testified to her beauty, which Oliver hoped could subdue Kars' teenaged heir. Still, Kathrin felt unsettled, and pulled her head back.

"He's the heir of Klaus, the future son-in-law of Rulweil. In military might, those are Arcadia's mightiest duchies. In prestige, only the imperial family's high-level can compare. I can allow you to use me to test rumors, but should they prove correct, do you truly dare antagonize him? I know that you've never digested Klaus' eternal superiority, but you can't use his son to vent your spleen," Kathrin said, and hearing his wife talk of his childhood rival's "eternal superiority," Oliver struggled to contain a surge of emotions.

Pulling in a deep breath, he reclined in his chair, and swept his court.

"This has nothing to do with Klaus. Look at them, the so-called Blood Court. Today, out of fear of the empire's might, they gather like a flock of birds toward the holy light. But once assured of Nargoz's safety, they will be the first to bite us both." Oliver stated, and as his words trailed in Kathrin's mind, his eyes went from one noble to another.

"I will be one of the few non-Archon kings in Nargoz's history. Bloodkins have twice humanity's lifespan, but the same magical talent, and unique racial abilities. Why then do we cower in their shadow? Numbers? No, it has always been internal strife. We stand here because the Blood Court excels at butchering its own future.

Kars' Crystal Lords may protect us from outside threats, but will they bare their arms at the internal ones? I don't think so. Which is why we need more power, more agreements, more insurance. Right now, I don't care to fall in this Kilian's bad graces. Unless Klaus dies early, he won't be Duke of Kars before several centuries. A compromised Junior Duke's ire is something I can handle. Just follow my lead."

Knowing that there was no room for concession in Oliver's tone, and aware of his difficulties, Kathrin no longer argued.

9: The Monster of Nargoz (Part 2)

A welcome change from Kars' dazzling crystal walls, Nargoz's stygian atmosphere brought Kilian a certain peace, enabling him to put the demons in his mind at ease. Two bodyguards flanked his large suite's door, while the rest occupied their assigned rooms in silence.

As Killian stated, those 12 members of the Seared Hearts were nothing more than his jailors. Protecting him from harm was a consequence, not the aim of their duty. Having fought with and killed more than one, Kilian knew very well of their fanatical tendencies. Just like Wilfried, they lived and died for Klaus' glory—nothing else mattered.

But as the 12 stood watchful of any suspicious move, Kilian rubbed his chest, and while a dynamic, holographic replica took his place, he vanished from the room. An anti-heat-sensor mechanism that made Kilian's hologram project the same infrared radiations as his body swindled the 12 guards, preventing them from sensing his departure.

As Klaus said, Wilfried sometimes overthought things and took unnecessary actions. If Kilian wished to escape, it wasn't those 12 that'd stop him. Breaking down into detached, invisible molecules, Kilian bypassed the walls and reappeared on top of Nargoz's Chiropteran Tower. From there, he swept the stygian kingdom.

"Mother, father, here I take the first step of my fell rebellion. Blood will flow, the self-destructive and innocent alike will suffer, but to avenge your tears, even if it wrenches my heart, I will not stop until Klaus' dreams are torn to shreds.

If heaven embraced you, will you renounce me?

If hell stole you, will you welcome me?

I don't know, yet dearly hope, that one day I can see you two smiling once more—beyond the phantasms of my dreamscapes," Kilian whispered, and as per his tribe's customs, gashed his palm to let his blood flow toward the ground. Arcadians may have lost their faith, but the remote tribes still held on to some ancient traditions.

In Kilian's fallen tribe, a child cutting open his palm to drip his blood on his parents' grave was the greatest form of filial piety. Alas, Kilian didn't have a grave to shed his blood onto, and so could only spread it from the highest vantage point, hoping that the wind would carry some droplets to his beloved—it didn't.

Death was the starting point of a new journey. As Kilian would come to accept, the world had neither heaven nor hell—only endless reincarnations. But as Kilian's open wound healed at abnormal speed, night replaced dusk, and the scent of fear swelled from Nargoz's streets.

Due to all the rituals and genetic enhancing that surrounded his birth and growth, even on Arcadian standards, Kilian was an anomaly. Sight, smell, physical abilities, even without knowledge of dra manipulation, he could now rival Core Templars like Viktor. No, in terms of pure senses, he left them far behind.

Only Klaus understood the roots of his unique condition, something he kept hidden from all besides that mysterious old fogey others dreaded. And now, this condition warned Kilian of a danger in Nargoz's night. With a smile, he stretched out his arms, and from beneath his aristocratic garb, black plates surged, tearing off the fabric and turning Kilian into a walking mech suit.

With an obsidian metal that devoured the moonlight, a helmet shaped like a ravenous demon knight, retractable energy wings and 2.5 meters of height, Kilian's power armor made his guards' Zurishells look like rotten cabbage. But in fact, it wasn't that much stronger. Klaus called it the Fallen Angel Armor, a name Kilian always found puzzling.

A prototype straight out of Klaus' labs, the Fallen Angel Armor was a bridge between the Zurishells and the Crystal Lord Armor. And while all Zurishells and Power Armors required extensive training, only High Templars or anomalies such as Kilian could endure the toll of the Fallen Angel Armor.

Activating his bright-red visor, Kilian scanned all activity across 50 square kilometers and cloaked himself to patrol Nargoz's streets. Although he initially had other plans laid out, should he catch bloodkin cabals preying on Nargoz's citizens, Kilian didn't doubt that Oliver would dance on his tune.

Men, women and children alike rushed back into storeyed houses of thick black stones and hip roofs. If their hurried moves and fright-torn faces didn't paint a vivid enough picture, the sudden gathering of blood hunters and their huntmasters in various key corners of the city put Kilian on maximum alert.

Mauve mist surged from Nargoz's streets, filling the many quarters with overwhelming clouds whose indiscernible magical nature contrasted with the city's natural mist.

Twelve huntmasters currently guarded the streets, each with six blood hunters by his side. The massive mastiffs growled, eyes glowing red as they stared at the source of the sudden cloud of mist. And while all those huntmasters were top-level Core Templars, unease creased their brows.

"It's time," said a senior huntmaster through an earchip, and instantly, all his peers stretched out their hands, summoning long blood lances while eerie, slithering sounds came from narrow corners.

Sitting on top of a three-storeyed house, Kilian watched as sanguine fog gathered around the huntmasters, and their hounds aligned, ready to pounce on the expected threat.

And so it began.

Crack

Faster than the first huntmaster could react, a serpentine figure emerged from his back, constricted his arms, limbs and neck in its monstrous snake tail, and snapped all his bones with one squeeze. The huntmaster's eyes widened, his lips parted, and his tongue flopped over as he struggled to choke out his final words—they never came.

The serpentine figure's blurred upper body snaked around the huntmaster, and it sank its fangs in his jugular, tearing through flesh and veins to siphon all his blood. The red liquor gushed forth, splattering the creature as its blood feast went on. Only now did Kilian get a glimpse of the fiend's true form.

With the upper body of a female and the lower end of a mighty constrictor, she moved with predatory grace and boundless bloodlust in her bright-red eyes. Dozens of purple serpents adorned her head, all matching the uncanny shade of her scaly tail. Hissing in a mixture of glee and thirst, the snakes lashed at the blood hunters, expanding endlessly to fasten the disoriented mastiffs.

Without their huntmaster or bloodkin lord to control them, the blood hunters lost much of their efficiency, becoming easy prey for the vampiric medusa's serpent to feast on—and feast they did.

As the abomination pulled out her fangs, releasing the atrophied bloodkin from her grasp, her snakes dined on the thrashing mastiffs necks. Resistance proved futile, and by the time the huntmaster reached the ground, his mastiffs no longer had the tiniest drop of blood in them.

The vampiric medusa glanced at the barricaded houses in the distance, sneered, and ignored them to lunge at the nearest huntmaster.

Seeing this, Kilian couldn't prevent his lips from curling into a smile.

10: The Monster of Nargoz (Final Part)

A night of gory screams followed. With a black corset covering her toned torso and heavy breasts, the vampiric medusa, or vannorin as most scholars dubbed them, snuck on and exsanguinated each of the huntmasters. They didn't have the time to scream, to rebel against their fate or strive for salvation. No, they crumbled, one after the other like gagged babes before a crocodile.

Only the growls and barks of the thrashing blood hunters could potentially warn bystanders of the ineffective police's misery. On the one hand, this vannorin could compare to a top-level High Emissary, while on the other hand, the huntmasters failed to realize that the mauve mist...was her body.

As long as they remained in that mist, she could appear and disappear as she pleased, and even dull their senses. With their inferior abilities, how could they compete? Before the battle started, they were already dead. Holding the last huntmaster's neck in her jaw, the vannorin dragged him back to the city's center, and had her snakes wrap and pull the 11 others alongside their blood hunters. Piling them all up to form a grand tower, the vannorin placed her last meal on top, and snapped her fingers.

One red pentagram condensed and swirled at her left, as a pole of solidified blood surged from the ground to impale the corpse-tower.

"As macabre as she's beautiful," Kilian thought, for beneath the monstrous hide, the vannorin hid quite the beauty. While she kept the upper half of her face hidden by a blindfold, from the contours, nose and lips, Kilian could imagine the beauty hiding under all the fiendish facade.

With her enemies dispatched, the vannorin lady turned from the slaughter, keen to vanish into the night—she wouldn't. A dome of black light split the mauve mist screen from above, and from it, an armored man emerged. With the horned, alien-like helmet of a demon knight, a majestic obsidian armor and large energy wings, he appeared like a figure straight out of a sheltered princess' nightmares.

His visor glowed crimson, and arms folded, the armored man dropped on the ground, facing his monstrous foe with naked indifference.

"I didn't expect that on this trip, I'd joust with a Fehl Beast. That's about 100 times better than a blooddrinker. I wonder, who are you that Oliver only leaves this motley crew to deal with you?" Kilian asked, and modified by his helmet, his voice echoed like a cacophony of infernal voices.

With her attention snatched by Kilian's appearance, the vannorin stared into his scarlet visor, neither advancing nor retreating. But as he met her gaze, Kilian frowned. Fehl was a name, a race, an Arcane Discipline, a plane, but most importantly, a taint. Just like dra was omnipresent, permeating all corners of the world, Fehl existed in all places, in every breath, in water, in the sky and the earth. All breathed it, but in some, it would one day trigger a reaction: the Fehl Taint.

Most arcane researchers claimed the taint linked to an unidentifiable gene present in some but absent in the many. Others, however, believed Fehl sentient, and that in its perpetual depravity, it chose its victims. Regardless of the truth, those tainted by Fehl would instantly develop a mutation, becoming Fehl Mutants.

If there was one thing the world didn't tolerate, it was the Fehl Taint. Though made superior to their peers, Fehl Mutants typically started out harmless, but once they developed Fehl Magic, the taint would gradually worsen until they finally morphed into Fehl Beasts—creatures of pure madness driven solely by hedonism and destruction.

Who could tolerate them?

That added to the fact that mutants and beasts aside, only Fehl Daemons could use that horribly powerful magic, regardless of race or affiliations, all hunted the Fehl-tainted. For those unable to conceal their mutations, dark forests and secluded cults were their sole options.

With pureblooded humans, random mutations occurred. But in others, the result always was the same. Bloodkins for example always became vannorin.

However, despite the Fehl Taint, Kilian could see that the Vannorin Fehl Beast before him retained her full mental faculties.

How did she accomplish that? No, if she could accomplish that, she no longer was a Fehl Beast but a genuine daemoness.

"Who are you? A dog of the Arcadian Empire, or of the Technocracy?" She asked as her snake hair hissed in expectation. Behind his helmet, Kilian's eyelids twitched.

"It's been centuries since the Technocracy fell. As for the Arcadian Empire, it doesn't have this much swagger," Kilian leisurely replied and stepped forward. Feeling the threatening aura rising from his armored form, the vannorin lady stretched her clawed hands out.

"Third Circle Spell: Hellstorm." With no arcane gestures, three pentagram-shaped circles appeared above her head, firing a deluge of red lightning bolts and barbaric, dark wind squalls that barreled into Kilian.

His black energy wings glittered in their stygian shade, the lightning bolts skewered his blurring form, and he reappeared behind the vannorin to place an armored kiss on the nape of her neck.

"How can you start a relationship with lightning bolts? With such a fiery temper, you will never find a husband—might as well marry me," Kilian jested, but incensed by the words, the vannorin spun and swept her claws at his protected neck. The move hadn't reached Kilian that he bashed his right fist into the vannorin's abdomen, releasing five dark blades that shot from his knuckles and skewered the enraged lady.

But while her mauve blood spilled from five holes, the vannorin flew backward from the fist's impact and crashed into the adjacent wall.

"In my human form, I am not your match. But once I don this armor, throughout Nargoz, not many can withstand my blows. Why don't you do the both of us a favor and give up?" Kilian seriously asked, but taking the words as insults, the vannorin leaped from the rubble, soared into the sky, and with her tail zigzagging at her back, she dropped on Kilian.

Lunging at the vannorin with an elbow strike, Kilian struck her neck, but watched her collapse in mauve mist to reappear as his left. Defying gravity, he spun to stab her heart, but again she faded and rematerialized above him.

Throwing his leg like a scorpion tail, Kilian struck the daemoness' temple, but now she stood at his back.

"You lost," she whispered. Like Kilian realized beforehand, the mist was her body. Unless it vanished, she could dissipate and reappear wherever it stood. But bent in such a twisted position, no human one could escape her grasp, or so she thought.

As with the huntmasters, the vannorin wrapped around Kilian's neck and limbs, aiming to crush armor and bones with her tail's overpowering grip—a fatal mistake. Two cannons sprouted from Kilian's lower back, firing beams of condensed blue dra that hit the daemonic creature point blank. At the same time, Kilian's wings kicked into gear, and while the shafts of light blasted his foe several meters away, he flew out of her range, then dove back to slam into her like a flaming meteor.

Battered like a ragdoll, the vannorin cratered and spurted a large moutful of blood. Kilian stretched out his arms, causing mini-dra-cannons and gatling lasers to sprout from his torso, hands, knees and shoulders. At the same time, the Fallen Angel Armor released Dra Vacuums that siphoned all the mauve mist and left the vannorin defenseless.

"That, beautiful, is how you win," Kilian chided before unloading unending rounds of sky-blue dra beams and lasers on his collapsed foe. Stone, dust and burning smoke sprang up as the relentless dra strike battered the weakened vannorin.

But while her lifeforce dwindled, a massive scarlet energy shield sprang up, repelling the full-force of his artillery, and buying the vannorin enough time to turn into a sanguine mist and escape through the ground.

Crack

By the time Kilian's beams and laser rounds crushed the blood barrier, the vannorin was long gone. But instead of examining her escape path, Kilian spun toward the royal palace and flew toward it.


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