The Blue Priest paced atop the sunken palace of Kumari Kandam, walking around the massive remains of the once mighty Serpent. Though it had been nearly an hour since he had seen those warriors off that morning, he still remained there, guarding that beast, as if it might reawaken at any moment. Even knowing the monster was gone – destroyed by the power of The Mystic Blades – there was a part of him that could not fully accept it – could not truly believe it. For so long that creature had ruled over them and suppressed them and now – in what was a comparatively a blink of the eye – they were free. There was no longer a Serpent that reigned over them with terror. There was no longer a Divine Beast for him to swear reluctant loyalty to. There was no longer a monster to rule their realm. There was only… a giant corpse.
The Blue Priest stepped close to the serpentine cadaver, stretching a hand hesitantly toward it. He was frightened of what might happen were he to actually lay a hand on The Serpent, but at the same time, he felt he needed to do it. He needed to press his palm against her cold skin and truly feel the emptiness of the monster in order to trust what his eyes were already telling him – what he already knew. His hand quaked as he brought it close, his palm pausing less than an inch from the beast as he stared at the bluish-green scales beneath it. With a trembling arm, The Blue priest pressed it forward that last little bit, resting his palm on the monster's body.
The man flinched as he did, fully expecting the Creature of The Gods to writhe and wiggle, lifting herself from where she laid, lifelessly. But nothing happened. She did not move. She did not breathe. She just remained there, still as dead as she was a second earlier.
He couldn't help but laugh at himself as he stared at his hand – his palm pressed against the beast. He was partially amused by his own foolish, but he was mostly just overwhelmed by the knowledge of what it meant to touch the monster – the acceptance of the fact that she was honestly, truly dead.
The Blue Priest jumped at the sound of the sudden voice, launching himself a few feet into the air before he feel back, shaking as he stared at The Serpent's still corpse in front of him.
"…They really did it."
As the priest's eyes trembled, staring at the monster's body, he realized it was not The Serpent's voice he was hearing. The voice was deep, cold, and familiar – it belonged to a man he knew very well. A man that, at the moment, he feared almost as much as a reanimated Serpent.
The Blue Priest turned his head toward the voice, looking down the length of the beast's body toward the man that stood there, his gruff face frowning as his wrathful eyes took in the sight. Clad in black, the man was covered nearly head to toe in weapons, a number of battle scars marring his already unnervingly stern expression.
"You didn't stop them, Kuval." The Black Priest turned his gaze, resting his condemning gaze upon The Blue Priest, turning to reveal he had already drawn one of the many blades that he carried.
"Da… Damarion… what are you doing here?" The Blue Priest stuttered, scooting himself back. Though a large distance already separated the two of them, the startled priest couldn't help but feel like the black warrior's blade was already pressed firmly against his throat.
"My job." The Black Priest responded, matter-of-factly. "Should you not have done the same?"
"I did as The Serpent requested." The Blue Priest replied quickly, trying to defend himself from the rueful gaze of The Black Priest. "I tried to turn them away."
"If you're still alive, and they managed to succeed… then you didn't try hard enough."
The Blue Priest gulped, the tension gripping him so tight he felt like it was crushing down upon his throat. The unforgiving glare of The Black Priest was relentless, even at this distance. The frightened priest could see in the man's eyes that the warrior had already passed his judgment.
"B-but it doesn't matter anymore!" He tried to plead, pushing himself further away from The Black Priest, trying to give himself enough room to flee should the man decide to attack. "The Serpent's dead! Her decrees are meaningless now!"
"Meaningless?" The Black Priest's gaze seemed to intensify, his eyes narrowing as he repeated the word. "If a man kills the judge who declares him guilty, then does that then make him innocent? What idiocy are you spouting, Kuval?"
"Th-this is different!" The Blue Priest insisted, passionately trying to defend himself. "She was a tyrant!"
"Tyrant or benefactor, it makes no difference." The Black Priest's tone came out cold and reproachful as he began to slowly stride forward, closing the distance between the man on the ground. "Murder is still murder."
"If a man murders a killer in order to save himself or his family, does that make him wrong!" The Blue Priest struggled to rise, stumbling over himself as he fell back to the ground in his rush to keep the space between him and his fellow judicial enforcer.
"It is still murder." The Black Priest replied, quickly closing the gap despite the slowness of his gait.
"Then what is it you do!" The Blue Priest screamed, terror filling his eyes as his body suddenly froze, refusing to move as his fear bound it to the ground.
"I deliver justice." The Black Priest responded calmly, glaring down as he finally reached the cowering fool.
"Who are you to decide what justice is!" The Blue Priest yelled, quivering where he sat. "Who gave you the right!"
"What kind of stupid question is that?" The Black Priest chuckled, the laugh sending a nerve-clenching chill down The Blue Priest's spine. "You did."
The Black Priest swung down, sending his blade careening toward the collapsed governor as the man let loose a horrified scream, his eyes stretching wide as they focused in on that gleaming blade. Though it was the intention of that judicial warrior, The Black Priest's sword did not reach the cowering fool – its blade did not taste of the man's blood. With all the suddenness of a bolt of lightning, the sword was halted, dragged to a stop by a firm and feminine hand.
The Black Priest grunted, the fingers appearing around his sword in an instant, the nails painted a deep and vivid red. His eyes traced the path of the arm that hand was bound to, following it toward the iridescent beauty that was attached at its opposite end. A slim figure punctuated by shapely hips and a firm chest, a mass of wavy, auburn head, and a beguiling face accentuated by a pair of crimson lips and pinkish eyes. The vixen was clad in a tight outfit, layered with a short dress, a tight corset, and a flowing vest – each of which seemed aimed to flaunt her figure. He knew this woman – he had met her once before.
"You…" The priest sneered at the intruding female, the woman giving him a seductive smile as he addressed her.
"Wh… who are you!" The Blue Priest slid himself back from the woman who had appeared in a blink of an eye, startled at alarmed by not only her sudden appearance, but also her incredible strength as he stared at the sword pinched between her thumb and forefinger.
"If you think you can interfere because of the assistance you offered me before—"
"No, of course not." The woman replied, shaking her head, her ginger locks undulating with each turn as she interrupted the warrior priest. "I think I can interfere because I'm more powerful than you."
"Wench!" Damarion roared, attempting to rip free the sword in the woman's clutches, but the weapon would not budge even an inch – as if frozen there. The Black Priest grunted as he strained to pry it free from her grasp, but no matter the effort, that weapon would not be moved.
"You should spare this man." The auburn-headed temptress nodded toward the man still cowering on the floor, staring up at the woman in complete disbelief. "His death serves no purpose."
"I'll be the one to decide that." The Black Priest argued, suddenly releasing the sword the wench held. He quickly tore a matching blade from his other side, slashing toward the jezebel with all the speed and strength he could muster. But once more, though his sword ached for the taste of the woman's blood, it was forced to go hungry as she raised a single finger, deflecting it away.
"Now, now," the woman sighed, shaking her head as she put one hand on her hip, giving Damarion the same look a disapproving mother might turn on her son, "I was really hoping you'd be more obliging than this. I didn't save you so you could ignore my requests and do as you please."
"I did not ask for your assistance before!" The Black Priest sneered, searching the woman for a weakness or an opening – or at the very least an explanation for her incredulous power. It was true he would not be standing there if not for this woman's help – it was thanks to her that he recovered so quickly from his battle with the Arctic Bladesman when she had paid him a strange and unexpected visit – but that did not mean she had the right to interfere in his judgment. "Don't think it means I'm indebted to you!"
"I'm not asking you not to kill him for my sake," The woman sighed, "I'm doing it for yours."
"That sounds as if you're trying to threaten me." The Black Priest forced himself to calm down as he took a step back. Whether he liked it or not, it was clear this woman possessed considerable power; he could not take her lightly.
"No threat." The woman shook her head gently, eyes still focused on the grizzled figure of the warrior priest. "I'm just trying to help."
"By standing in my way?" Damarion scoffed, the chilling calm returning to his eyes as he sheathed the blade in his hands.
"In this case, yes." The auburn haired vixen nodded. Raising her hand, the strange woman motioned toward The Blue Priest, still crouched upon the ground nearby. "If you want to follow those children, we're going to need this man's help."
"Once that's done," The jezebel turned away from the azure leader, closing her eyes as she animatedly shrugged, "I couldn't care less what you do with the fool."
"'We'?" The Black Priest repeated the word; sure he had heard the woman say it. "I do not remember you and I ever being described as a 'we'."
"Did I say we?" The woman let her eyelids open just slightly, peering toward the grizzled warrior with an alluring gaze as she twisted her lips into a playful smile. "Slip of the tongue. I meant 'you', of course."
"What is going on here?" The Blue Priest spoke up once more, pupils twisting back and forth between The Black Priest and this strange woman, his terror finally subsiding enough to speak as he realized that – for the moment, at least – this woman was protecting him. "Damarion… who is this?"
"Don't know." The gruff voice of the battle priest replied, eyes not moving from the crimson temptress.
"You do want to follow them, don't you?" The devious vixen questioned, ignoring the azure leader entirely.
"Follow them where?" The Black Priest growled back, his irritation with the woman growing with every second. "There is nowhere for them to run so long as they are in this realm."
"But they aren't in this realm." The scarlet jezebel grinned knowingly, twisting around to face the man still collapsed on the ground. "Isn't that right, Blue Priest?"
The Black Priest's eyes widened only slightly, his interest and surprise visible for only a moment before he turned back toward Kuval, The Blue Priest. He focused his dark pupils in on the cowering wretch, his gaze burrowing into the man, the stare like torture to the cowering fool.
"I…" The Blue Priest paused, eyes flicking back and forth between the two, finding the same demanding glare emanating from both of them. His body shuddered, a feeling of his eminent demise clinging to him like barnacles to a ship. "They…"
"Some assistance here may prove beneficial to you and your realm." The seductress cooed, her voice soothing as she bent closer to the man. "It may result in your world being spared from His wrath."
The Blue Priest shook, trembling as the woman spoke. Though her voice was soft and her tone comforting, the terror her words brought was chilling. With only the one word – without any other clues – The Blue Priest knew full well who He was. Shaking, his pupils quivering in their sockets, he stared transfixed by this strange girl. Who was it that he was talking to? Who was this beguiling woman?
"They… p-passed through the b-barrier a while ago." The Blue Priest stumbled over his words, lifting his trembling arm to point toward the eastern wall of the Realm of Water.
"Through that one?" The scarlet woman followed the man's gesture, grinning as she stared at the shimmering red wall that divided the world. "Interesting."
"Impossible." The Black Priest grunted, staring at that same eternal crimson wall. There were no men that had the power to breach those barriers. There was no mortal soul that had been gifted with the power to bend the divine grid Lance had established so long ago. Then again…
The Black Priest's eyes softened slightly as he stared at the wall, his mind working. No mortal had ever been gifted the power to move between realms, but yet there had clearly been three intruders to their watery world – three outsiders that had brought in a force that had once breached those mighty walls: The Mystic Blades. He had thought those children were trapped in his clutches – locked in his realm – but perhaps that had been foolish. Perhaps they did have the power to move between worlds.
"You say that, but your eyes seem to believe otherwise."
Damarion turned his gaze back to the bewitching vixen, glaring at the devious wench as she grinned mischievously back at him.
"… Why are you here?" The grizzled warrior glared at the woman, forgetting the sins The Blue Priest had committed as his curiosity toward this jezebel grew. "What is it you want?"
"To help you." The woman replied cheerfully, still grinning as she strode lazily toward the shimmering wall of red.
"Help me…?" The Black Priest grunted, gaze following the woman as she moved. "You helped me once before, too. But why? What is it you're after? Why do anything for me? What is it you actually want?"
"Does it really matter?" The scarlet harlot slid her palm across the surface of the magical barrier, feeling nothing more than a slight tickle as its energy pulsed through her.
The auburn-haired stranger turned back toward The Black Priest, staring into his untrusting eyes.
"If you're seeking something malevolent…"
"I simply want the same thing you do." The woman pulled her hand from the wall, crossing her arms over her chest as she turned to face the grizzled warrior fully. "I want those children stopped. They're destroying His balance."
"His?" The Black Priest stared inquisitively at the crimson damsel, studying her for clues to her true identity. The woman seemed human in nature, but he had lived long enough to know that meant little in that world. Monsters had long ago begun donning the skin of man to accomplish their goals – whatever they might be. Still, there was something distinctly 'human' about this strange scarlet woman that he could not place.
"Why help me?" Damarion asked, his voice gruff as he started distrustfully at the wench. "You seem to have more power than I do; why not fight them yourself?"
"Can't." The woman shrugged. She answered as if the priest had instead just asked why she did not take to the sky and soar about the clouds. "It has to be you."
The Black Priest narrowed his eyes, twisting his head as tried to comprehend the hidden meaning of this girl's words. Why couldn't it be her? What held her back?
"Let's say I accept your help, what is it you're going to do?" The Black Priest questioned. "I can't exactly travel to other realms myself."
The woman grinned, as if she had been waiting for that very question. The crimson damsel stretched out her hand, placing it back against the surface of the realm's barrier. It took only a moment for that shimmering wall to react, a ripple of power spreading out from it to form a noticeable circle of distortion roughly ten feet in diameter. The innards of that circle shimmered, disintegrating before the priest's eyes to reveal a long and stretching tunnel. Were he a man known for showing his surprise, he might have gasped or flinched back, but he instead stood still, staring unblinkingly into that extending passage.
"If you want to follow them…" The woman motioned toward the tunnel, smiling deviously as she moved a few steps away from it, letting her words trail off as The Black Priest continued to focus on the distant center of that deepening hole.
"This… will let me follow those kids?" The Black Priest nodded toward the new passage, still not moving from where he stood.
"It will. Into the adjoining realm." The woman nodded, moving her arms back to their previous position, crossed in front of her chest.
Damarion glowered, turning his gaze toward the crimson woman, studying her once more. His mind tried to figure out who she was – what she was. There were none that could open those portals through the barriers. Yet, he could not deny what was in front of him. He couldn't ignore what he had just seen the woman do. Was she man? Or beast? Or… perhaps… divine?
The Blue Priest asked the question that rested in the grizzled warriors head, but both he and this strange woman paid no attention to the man, eyes locked as the judicial priest tried to decide what to make of her, and whether or not to trust her. She claimed she wanted only to see those kids stopped – same as him – but… was her motivation really the same? Was that even really her goal? Every logical fiber of his mind urged him not to trust this devious vixen, but…
The Black Priest turned, striding across the short distance that separated him from the path to his goal. He hadn't enough evidence before him to pass judgment on this woman just yet – there were still too many unanswered question. However, he did know that he had to stop those would-be destroyers – that arctic child and his friends. If they were allowed to continue, they would surely bring down the same fate on the other realms as they had just doomed The Water Realm to face. Though he had failed to protect his realm's people from the ignorance of those self-righteous brats, he would not allow himself to ignore the opportunity this woman was giving him – the chance to halt any further damage they might bring to the world.
The grizzled warrior paused, stopping just outside the passage the crimson creature had opened for him. He grunted, turning his eyes back toward The Blue Priest, the man still kneeling on the ground. The man shook, perhaps from fear or anxiety as he forced himself to his feet, steeling his gaze on the black warrior.
"What are you doing!" The azure leader shouted, trying to sound as forceful as his cowardly form would allow. "Why are you pursuing those warriors! Why help this woman!"
"Kuval… I will spare your life." The Black Priest turned, showering a pitying gaze upon his fellow priest. "But you are not forgiven for your sins on this day. You face a far worse punishment than what I can condemn you to. You must stay here."
"Damarion…" The man looked upon The Black Priest, his eyes uncomprehending.
"It is your job… to protect this realm. Just because The Serpent is gone, does not meet the monstrous denizens of this realm will lie down and die quietly. Quite the opposite." The Black priest sighed, closing his eyes as he lowered his head. "They will rise up, wilder than ever."
"And… it is your job… to explain yourself to Him when He comes." The Black Priest turned, moving into the tunnel. "It's your job to find a way to spare this realm from His wrath. So I have decreed."
The Blue Priest blinked, watching as the hole in the barrier wall slowly collapsed, blocking the grizzled priest beyond from view. His mouth hung open, eyes still fixed on that point as his mind processed the man's words. The priest gulped, turning his gaze to each side, trying to find that strange crimson woman, but she was gone as well.
Lowering his head, the man allowed himself to collapse on the ground, The Black Priest's words echoing in his head as he realized, all at once, that every capable warrior – every force that might truly stand an protect the people of The Water Realm… was now gone. And the war those children had started… was only just beginning.