260 Eyes of a fighter
Auren was feeling rather anxious right now.
It might be because he was tied up and being dragged across the desert by a group of masked individuals riding on monsters as if they were knights on top of their horses.
It might also be because he was lost in the middle of nowhere, with no idea of where his family or his friends were, and the last thing he remembers was being attacked by a huge dragon that was under the control of some weird white-haired man with orange eyes, and he could not stop worrying about whether they were okay or not.
It could also because his only current ally, Evlin, one of the most powerful mages he had ever met, was not doing a single thing to help the situation and was just letting the monster riders drag her over the sand as well while staring at the sky as if she was taking her time solving a math question.
"Hey... Evlin...?" Auren softly asked trying to contain his nervousness, "Shouldn't we be trying to escape right now?"
"..." Evlin didn't respond and just continued to look lost in her own thoughts.
"Evlin!!" Auren shouted.
"Ah!" she gasped, "Sorry, I zoned out for a moment, what's up?"
"Can you use your magic to get us out of here!?"
"And go where exactly?" she replied, "I have no idea where we are... Even if we run, we would just get lost in this desert and die from the lack of food or water..."
"Then... What do we do??"
Evlin raised her head to look at the red shark with crab legs that was dragging her and the rider on top of it, "They must be taking us to their village... Let's see if we can get some information and supplies so we can prepare ourselves..."
"What if they try to kill us?? I can't use my blessing without Ria!!"
"I can still use my magic if anything happens..." Evlin stopped for a moment while thinking about Knucker's warning, the more she uses her power, the more the terminal being inside of her continues to grow, and once it became strong enough, it would burn her body, "But... For now... Let's try to save it for emergencies... We don't want to attack recklessly without knowing if they are our enemies..."
Evlin looked at her tied up body and noticed that her whip was still latched on her arm like a bracelet. The riders must have assumed that it was part of her clothing and not an actual weapon. This was not enough to create large spells like her crossbow, but it should probably be enough to handle a couple of random sand people she assumed.
As the riders continued to drag them, Auren began to spot a large shadow approaching on the horizon. The closer they got, the more he could make it out its shape, some kind of village of stone houses surrounded by a gigantic wall. On top of the wall, a group of watchers could be seen with bows and arrows pointed to anyone that tried to enter without permission, also mounting different kinds of beasts.
They arrived at the gates and took a closer look at the city inside.
Large buildings and houses built on top of hills of sand, a massive tower in the middle of it all with a red flag on top of it with some kind of drawing of a fist being swallowed by fangs, and on the streets, a large number of individuals all walking around with different types of monsters either by their side or riding on it.
Some were using the monsters to perform delivery, others were performing races on an open field built inside of the city, and others were simply just petting the creatures and playing with them.
"What is this place...?" Evlin whispered. She never thought she would see humans and monsters living peacefully by each other's side like this.
"Some kind of... Monster tamers city?" Auren assumed.
"Monster tamers...?" Evlin repeated.
She kept gazing at the place and started to feel like she was in heaven. So many people getting along with monsters like they were their pets. Not just crab sharks, but also two-headed crocodiles, serpents of the size of a horse, a turtle with a shell made of diamonds, and so on, all wearing saddles to carry one of the masked citizens of this weird place.
"Man... I wish Sphinx was here..." Evlin whispered.
The riders finally reached their destination, a huge prison located under one of the buildings that could only be assessed by some kind of elevator and locked Auren and Evlin inside a cage made of metal while still tied up.
As they were thrown into the cell, one of the riders leaped off of his beast and stared at them. He carefully began to study their expressions to see what their state of mind was right now.
Auren was shaking a bit, which made the masked man think he was scared when in reality, he was just worried about Ria and Cia.
Evlin was laying against the wall of the cell and losing herself in her thoughts once again. The rider was surprised by her calmness and after a while, just exited the area with his beast and his friends, leaving the two trespassers alone in the prison.
Auren stared at Evlin again who had now laid on the ground to get more comfortable and continued to ponder to herself.
"Evlin!!" he shouted again.
"What...? I'm trying to think..."
"Think about how we are going to escape?"
"What? No, of course not... I can get us out of here whenever I want... I'm trying to think on how I'm going to kill Knucker..."
"What?? Why are you thinking about this right now?? We need to leave this place and find our friends!!"
"I don't know where our friends are, nor do I know where WE are... We got blasted by Ria's portal remember? For all we know, we might be on the other side of the planet... And I assume the same happened to them..."
"How can you be so sure?? What if they are still in the castle and were captured by Knucker and that dragon!!??" Auren shouted.
Evlin noticed that he was breathing heavily, "Auren, relax... I saw sparks of energy flying around and hitting our friends right before we were teleported, I'm sure they got out of there safely as well!"
"But what if they were transported to some dangerous place!!?? What if Ria is alone? She can't make a barrier right now! What if she gets attacked??"
The man started to shiver, "I... We... We need to get out of here!! Get us out of here with your magic right now!!" Auren yelled while glaring at Evlin, which made her shiver as well. She never saw him glare at anyone or anything before.
"Auren, please, calm down..."
"Calm down!!?? My wife is missing! My daughter is missing!! All our friends are missing!! We are stuck in this stupid cell with no idea of where they are or if they are safe, and all you can do is dream about that orange-eyed weirdo?? What's wrong with you!!??" he replied. Evlin couldn't understand his fury but acting so relaxed when she had all this power inside of her and still not using it when they found themselves in such a dire situation was making Auren really frustrated with her.
The mage lowered her head, "... Sorry... It's just... I had a lot in my mind right now..."
"Like what?? What could be so important that can keep you from focusing on our current problem!!??"
"... ... ... I'm trying to think if Knucker killed Dalla..." Evlin whispered.
Auren gasped for a moment, "W- What...?"
He remembered hearing the name Dalla before, it was the name of Evlin's old caretaker that took her in when she first arrived in this world and acted like a mother to her before passing two years later.
"What do you mean...?" he asked now with a calmer tone.
"Knucker... He... He has the power to see the future..." Evlin began to explain, "He told me that all the bad things that happened in my life were his doing... All because he wanted me to hate this world so much that I would never want to stay here... "
"Why would he do that...??"
"Because, according to him, I'm the cause of his death... For some reason, the simple fact that I exist ends up leading to his downfall somehow..."
"And because of that, even though I didn't even know him, even though we never talked before, even though I already wanted to return to my own world before, he just hates me... He hates me in a way that I don't think I was ever hated before... And trust me, a lot of people hated me..."
"And when he told me what he did... I kept thinking about all the things that happened to me, and couldn't stop wondering... How many of these things happened because of him and how many were just left to chance... In fact... Was anything even left to chance? Was my whole life just one big play set up by this one guy? Is my whole life just his personal fanfiction? Am I just a toy for him to play with??"
"I- I'm sure that's not true..." Auren tried to say.
"But what if it is?? What if everything was just a game playing in the palm of his hand?? What if... What if Dalla ended up dying because of my connection to him?? Did he kill her just so that I would leave the city? You would think that this is impossible, after all, she passed away from old age right in front of me... But what if he did something? What if she could still have lived longer and he... I don't know... What if he sneaked into the house while I was away and poisoned her, or maybe he did something before she ever met me when she was just a kid? Did the fact that I was going to meet her leaded Knukcer to her? Or maybe I only met her because he wanted me to?
I... I just don't know what's real anymore..."
Auren stared at her face and realized that she was trying hard to hold her tears. Every time she uttered a word it was like a dagger was pressed against her heart.
Evlin took a deep breath and tried to relax again, "So... Yeah... My head right now can't really think of anything besides getting rid of this guy for good... So I'm sorry if I'm not worried about some random monster riders making us their prisoners or our missing friends... As of right now, I'm trying to think if even this mere moment wasn't just something he planned for me..."
Auren wasn't sure how to respond. He could see that Evlin was just as troubled as him, if not more, but was just trying to remain calm in order to not lose herself in her own uncertainty.
A sense of guilt began to surround the man. He already knew that people around Evlin always placed a lot of pressure on her shoulders. This was the price to pay for being the stronger one. When you can do things others can't, others simply expect you to just be able to do everything.
He was familiar with that situation. During the old days, Auren too was always placed in a position to handle the hardest problems by himself. He was someone with a very strong physique and a unique ability that allowed him to heal himself, making him the perfect fighter.
The problem was that Auren never liked fighting. He hated violence, hated hurting others, hated having to raise his fists to cause injuries, and most of all, he hated how people would look at him, at his muscular body, and all they could see was a warrior when that was the last thing he wanted to be.
Nobody ever tried to understand him, ask him what he wanted to be. That is until he met Marceus, the first man that ever said the words 'What do you want to do?', to which Auren replied, 'I want to help people, not harm them...'
Marceus smiled at him and after slapping his back simply said, 'Welcome to the team!'
He was never asked to be on the front-lines, he was never asked to fight. He always stayed in his position of support. The position where he met Ria, the woman he fell for.
Auren wanted to untie himself just so he could punch his own face. Despite how much he hated being treated like a tool and how grateful he was for being given a proper choice, he never realized that Evlin was going through the same things he was. Everyone looked at her and would only see the mage, not the human. They didn't see that she also could get hurt, could cry, could be sad, the same way they never looked past his appearance when he was in the same position.
The strong are not allowed to be weak, because if they are, they weak won't have someone to rely on.
Auren was afraid, worried, concerned, agitated, and he wanted Evlin to solve all his problems, but he did not realize that she had her own problems as well.
Still, he himself couldn't calm down while thinking about Ria and the others. He needed to get out of this place, and he needed Evlin for that. He needed to fix this situation so they could work together and leave this place.
"Look, Evlin... I know you must be frustrated..."
"Actually I'm not, to be honest..." she quickly replied.
"You... You're not?"
"Yeah! Didn't you hear me? This guy is the reason all the bad things that happened to me ever happened! So if I get rid of him, I can finally enjoy my life once and for all!!"
Auren then realized, Evlin wasn't just troubled, she was also excited. She wasn't so focused because she was afraid of Knucker, she was focused because she couldn't wait to free herself from him, the one that caused so much misfortune for her.
But he still wondered, how much did Knucker actually do? Auren began to think if Evlin wasn't placing a bit too much faith in killing Knucker being some kind of magical answer to all her problems.
"You sure about this...?" he asked.
"Totally!! I can finally see a light at the end of my tunnel! I can finally say goodbye to this life as a mage and just enjoy my own world like I wanted!"
"I see..." Auren whispered, still unsure of what the correct way to respond would be, but for now, he could see that Evlin was finally having something to feel good about, so he decided not to take this away from her, "So... What do we do now...?"
"I told you, I'm trying to think of a way to get rid of him... and for that... I need to find his real body..."
"What if-" Auren was about to comment, but was interrupted by the sound of the cage doors opening and revealing a strong-looking man with tanned skin with his hands behind his back. He was much bigger than everyone there present, and the guards of this city were already pretty big themselves, but this person, in particular, was so huge that his head could almost scratch the ceiling.
He was staring at the two prisoners behind his white mask with red paintings while a group of guards stood behind him, around ten people.
"Oh, hi!" Evlin said, "We are kinda discussing something important, so if you're here to feed us to the sharks or thrown us into a volcano to please your gods, could you come back in like, five to ten minutes or so?"
"..." the white-masked man did not reply and just glared at Evlin, at least Auren assumed he was glaring, it was hard to tell since his body gestures were rather composed.
"Evlin... I think we should take this more seriously..." Auren suggested.
"You want me to take these guys seriously when they walk around with these tacky-looking masks on their heads? It would be easier to ask the planet to spin backwards..."
The man walked into the cell and came closer to Evlin. The two stared at each other for a couple of seconds as if they were playing a game to see who would blink first. He finally raised his hand and grabbed Evlin by the neck, raising her entire body with one arm.
He noticed that her gaze showed no shock though, she simply continued to look at him with focus as if patiently waiting to make her move.
"Hey, my neck hurts..." Evlin muttered, "Could you let me go?"
"You..." the man finally talked, "Your eyes have no fear..."
"... Wha...?" Evlin whispered.
"You have the eyes of someone who stared at the abyss and returned to tell the tale... A calming gaze that does not waver even after witnessing all the beasts from our land or being faced by my presence... Do you not fear death, little one?"
Evlin began to think about her answer and started to grin, "If I died I would finally get to rest in peace a little bit... And I'm pretty sure the universe would never let me have that so easily, I'm its favorite punching bag..."
The man began to let out a small noise which got bigger and bigger until it turned into strong laughter that infected all of the guards as well.
Evlin and Auren traded glances feeling confused before the white-masked man finally calmed down.
"We have ourselves a warrior in our hands!! Bring this one to the arena!! Have her show us what she can do!" he shouted while pointing at Evlin, "Let me see what you have done to earn these eyes!"
"And if I refuse...?" Evlin asked.
The man began to chuckle, "You two are trespassers on our lands... If you are of no use for me, you will be made of use to our beasts... By becoming their dinner!!"
Evlin stared at him for a moment, she was once again in a position where someone wanted to make use of her for one reason or another, but right now, she needed to clear her head, and a little bit of action might help her she assumed, "... Eh... sure..."
The riders moved Evlin to another floor located even deeper down the current building after removing the ropes that were wrapping her body and started to stroll through a couple of dark tunnels towards the battle arena.
They began to whisper about her performance on the battlefield commenting things like how long would she last, how much she would cry, or how hard it would be to clean up her remains.
Auren was walking right behind her after being freed as well and shaking with worry, "Evlin what are we doing?? Why are we following what these guys are saying?"
"I think the big guy liked me or something... If I give them a good show, maybe they will lend us a ride back home..." Evlin explained.
"What!!?? That's your plan??"
"You have a better idea?"
"Can't you use your earth powers to locate the exit to the desert or something?"
"I tried! But I still don't know where is the exit of this land of sand! I'm not sure you understand how big of a place a desert actually is... You think I can just scan an entire..." Evlin paused for a moment and began to speak in pauses, "An entire land with my power..."
Auren noticed that her eyes had widened up for some reason, "Evlin...??"
"That's it!! That's how I can find Knucker's body!! I just need to use my geo-radar on the entire planet!!"
"Auren! You're a genius!!" Evlin stated while kissing his bald head.
"Wait, hold on!! You wanna use your power on the entire planet?? Can you even do that??"
Evlin began to ponder about that and a dangerous idea came to mind, "Maybe I can... If... If I use terminal energy..."
"We are here!" stated one of the guards that were guiding the two as they reached the end of the tunnel.
"You will come with us! Make company to the emperor while he enjoys the battle... And act as a motivation in case she tries to escape..." another one ordered while looking at Auren, "As for the girl, she must go alone!"
Evlin began to worry about her friend, "Will you let us go if I win?"
All of the masked men began to burst into laughter.
"Lady... If you win with these small arms and legs, we might just make you our queen!" the guard from before commented.
Evlin gazed with confusion at her limbs for a moment. It was true that she had quite the defined muscles for someone her age, but when compared to the riders who all looked bigger than her fridge and had arms of the size of a log, she began to see how they could assume she was not as strong as her supposed warrior eyes were letting it out to be.
"Is that a promise?" she wondered.
"Just try to last more than five seconds, young one!"
They pushed Evlin into the arena and closed the doors of the tunnel leaving her to study the place by herself and realize that she was locked in what appeared to be some kind of underground colosseum. Since they were underground many torches had to be lit up to illuminate the area.
The place was filled with masked civilians cheering and roaring for the show to start from the grandstand.
Her gaze continued to circle the place until she spotted the white-masked guy from before sitting on a throne with Auren by his side. Evlin waved at him as if asking to wish her luck.
From the looks of the throne, it seemed like this guy was some kind of king or emperor to these people.
"Begin the challenge!!" he shouted while waving his hand.
Evlin stared at another gate located on the opposite side of the arena and noticed it began to open as well.
She assumed her battle stance and began preparations for whoever it would come out. The guards asked her if she wanted an ax or a shield to use in battle before, but she replied that she already had everything she needed while staring at her magic whip.
Immediately she began to use it to release healing magic in order to boost her strength and speed.
A massive cry was heard coming from deep inside of the opposite tunnel and a large shadow began to come out of it with heavy steps.
Evlin took a deep breath and stared at the beast, a huge humanoid creature with four arms, grey skin, and no head. It's torso had a face with a pair of red eyes and a wide mouth that couldn't stop drooling while looking at her.
Its lower half had the tail of a snake and several spikes could be seen behind its back.
"Human foooood..." the grey headless being whispered.
"A demon...?" Auren gasped, "You guys don't use monsters to fight?"
"Of course!" the emperor replied, "You think we would risk getting one of our warriors or our monsters killed just for momentary entertainment? That would be a waste of resources!"
The crossbow mage without a crossbow began to giggle. She was worried about having to harm some poor beast due to her fondness of animals, but harming demons on the other hand was barely a problem for her.
"HUMAN FOOOOD!!!!!" the grey demon shouted as it rushed through the field to catch the young woman in front of him.
Evlin raised an eyebrow, "You know... I never really got why demons love saying that... 'Human food' is something humans eat, it doesn't mean food made of humans... It kinda sounds like you guys are asking for a sandwich or something..."
"HUMAN FOOOD!!!!" the demon shouted again, this time inches away from striking her.
"Not a guy with very rich vocabulary, are you?" Evlin commented.
All of the citizens began to yell "Blood! Blood! Blood!" in excitement.
She used her geo-radar and easily dodged the demon by predicting where his attack would land as she hopped to his side, much to the surprise of the public.
The woman rushed to strike her opponent but its skin was harder than she expected and she ended up being pushed back by the demon. Evlin boosted her legs to escape his attempts to catch her and began to play a game of cat and mouse, constantly leaping left and right to avoid its arms.
The audience started to sheer seeing how well Evlin was handling herself and surviving for so long.
"Hahaha!! She ain't half bad!!" the emperor stated while hitting Auren with his elbow and pointing at the mage.
She tried to land a few more hits here and there but the creature was too tough for her regular boosted-strength.
He turned around to search for her and noticed the miss getting ready to attack one more time.
"Okay, girls... Show mommy what you can do..." she whispered as she began to focus on the terminal beings inside of her.
Evlin took one look at the demon, raised her fist, and just as the creature was about to swallow her, her eyes shined with three different colors for a split-second.
Her body began to get warmer, power started to flow through her bones, the same kind of power she felt when facing the demon leader of Sloth, when fighting against Wrath, when helping Ria boost her portal, the power of terminal fire.
The words [Let us out...] echoed in her mind as her fist ignited itself with energy that continued to change colors.
"Human foooo- Guaaaahhck!!!"
The mage stared at the grey man and smacked its stomach-head right in its center, sending it flying all the way to the gate where it came out from and trashing it completely in the process.
The entire audience went silent at that very moment and began to stare at her who just clenched her fists.
She gazed at the emperor, who looked like he was completely frozen, and began to smirk, "So... Does this mean I'm your queen now?"
"What...." the emperor whispered, "What... Was that...??"
He did not know how to react after witnessing one of the demons that his men had so much trouble capturing being sent flying with one punch from a girl that was half his size.
"What did she do!!??" he screamed.
"She punched him in the face..." Auren bluntly replied, "That's kind of her thing... That, and blasting things with her crossbow..."
"Crossbow...? Wait a minute... Is this woman..."
The emperor continued to stare at Evlin who was taking her time stretching her arms and legs after defeating the demon.
She was carefully analyzing the aftermath of activating terminal energy on her own since she now was planning on using that on a much larger scale in the future.
"Mmm... Doesn't seem like there is a lot of knockback from using just this much... But I wonder if I could end up in trouble if I used it on a global scale..." She mumbled while holding her chin, "I need to do a few more experiments... HEY, WHITE-MASK!! CAN I GET ANOTHER ONE??"
The public shifted their gaze to the emperor who acted like he was frozen in time for a second. He quickly recovered his senses and started to scream again.
"Send out the next challenge!!" he shouted.
The audience started to cheer loudly as they were now excited to see Evlin perform.
She stared at a gate opening on her left and witnessed another creature coming out of it.
It looked like a serpent with three alligator heads and wings of a fly on its back. Each head contained a massive horn that was set on fire.
"Oh, man... This is so weird... I swear one of my students drew something just like that once during one of my lessons... Except his was red..."
The creature circled Evlin like a dragonfly, constantly trying to stay away from her field of vision and getting behind her.
Evlin was never a big fan of facing flying opponents so she decided to leave the terminal fire testing for later and try to handle the situation with her usual powers.
She pulled out her whip and struck the ground to make a massive hand made of rocks appear in an attempt to grab the creature.
"Earth magic!!" the emperor gasped, "It really is her!!"
The demon managed to avoid the hand with its superior speed and began to unleash a beam of fire from each of its horns aimed at Evlin after moving to her blindspot while screaming "Fooood!!!"
Evlin whipped the ground again and raised a wall of diamonds to block the blast. She then used her whip to latch onto the wall and threw it and the demon, but just like before, it's superior agility proved to be too much for her, and it easily avoided the projectile.
"Ugh... This is so annoying... Where is Ashley when I need her? She would have come up with ten different plans to take this thing down by now..." Evlin complained.
The demon tried to fly behind her again and launched another triple blast of fire.
Evlin released some healing magic and leaped out of the way with her boosted speed. The demon continued to follow her with its beam like a kid trying to burn an ant with a magnifying glass.
The mage noticed the demon playing follow the leader and decided to strike the ground once again to raise a pile of smoke, and once it cleared out, several earth golems that looked just like her were revealed, making the demon confused on where to aim.
While the demon kept himself busy with the golems, Evlin used this chance to take a page from its book and rushed to get behind it.
She launched her whip one more time and finally managed to grab its serpent tail.
Evlin smirked at the demon and released one word, "Boom!"
Immediately after that, she unleashed a blast of raw energy from the end of her whip that blew up the demon's body into pieces.
As its remains continued to fall Evlin pulled her whip back and tied up again to her arm.
"I'll admit, it's not really my thing, but I guess I could get used to it..." she commented while trying to get used to her new weapon.
"Way to go Evlin!!" Auren shouted.
"Thanks, Auren!" She replied while making a victory sign with her fingers.
Then, as if following Auren's behavior, one person in the audience began to scream as well, "Evlin! Evlin! Evlin!"
The mage turned around confused thinking someone was calling her, but right after that another person began to call her name as well, then another, then another.
She then finally realized, they weren't calling her, they were cheering.
"EVLIN!! EVLIN!! EVLIN!! EVLIN!!"
"What in the world...?" she mumbled. Evlin was more than used to people hating her, but this was the first time such a large number were expressing support.
"Send the next challenge!!" the emperor shouted again.
Another gate began to open, this time on her right, and from it another demon crying "Human fooood!!" came out once again.
This one was also humanoid, but its muscular body was covered in black fur, his hands and feet were replaced with claws and paws, and above its shoulders, instead of a human head there was the face of a lion with blood-red eyes.
"Daren...?" Evlin whispered as she looked at the demon.
"Human food..." the demon replied, followed by standing on all four and vanishing in thin air.
He then quickly reappeared in front of the mage and slashed her arm with its nails.
"Guaaahhhh!!" Evlin cried as she rolled on the ground that was now covered with some of her blood.
"Evlin!! Fight!! That's not Daren! That's a demon!!" Auren tried to scream.
"Ugh!! Right, right... Daren has been freed from his curse years ago... " she whispered while healing her wounded arm.
The black beast vanished again with great speed, but Evlin reacted by using her geo-radar and predicting where it would strike next.
"There!!" she shouted while striking the ground with her fist that was tangled in her magic whip and made a wall of diamonds rise up to block the beast's attack.
The black demon lion was caught off-guard by the sudden wall appearing and Evlin used this chance to send all of the golems she had summoned before to go after him to lock it in place.
"Gruaahhhhh!!!!" he screamed trying to fight off the golems latching onto his arms and legs.
Evlin hurried towards her diamond wall and smacked it with her fist to send out some modeling magic that turned it into a griffin's head flying at the demon and striking it in its stomach.
"Kuaahhhh!!!" the demon cried after being smacked by the bird-shaped diamond.
Evlin noticed the lion-man no longer moving and began to call all of her diamonds to her in order to create one huge golem in the shape of a griffin to ride on top of.
"WHO IS YOUR QUEEN!!??" she shouted for the entire audience to answer while pointing at the sky.
"EVLIN!! EVLIN!! EVLIN!! EVLIN!!!" all of those present began to chant in response.
"I can't believe it... It really is her!!" the emperor whispered sounding as if he was about to cry, followed by shouting even louder than anyone present there, "OUR HERO IS HERE!!! THE CROSSBOW MAGE IS FINALLY HERE!!!"
Auren just stared at him, feeling a little lost, "Hero...?"