Chapter 1: Long Road Ahead

"One year..." Mersa sighed and sipped her drink. She looked across the cafe table at her husband. "...One year since what people are now calling: Solomon's folly"

Ozy chuckled, the arctic fox almost always in a good mood. "Dear...you need to stop drinking that stuff...you're going to make yourself more jittery and nervous than usual. As for 'Solomon's folly' It is a celebration...Your birthland was liberated from an evil...by three determined individuals."

She smirked and leaned over to kiss him on the nose. "Sublte, Ozymandias."

He blushed and kissed the skunkette in return. "You aren't still uneasy about being the appointed ambassador from Valentia to Toanth are you?"

She gave a heavy sigh. "No, Ozy...I just wasn't made for dealing with councils and what have you. What's wrong with Larenhane...Making me this go-between."

"He knows that you are the person for this job due to your passion for your homeland, your knowledge of it's inner workings, your rank in the royal guard, and your ability to defend yourself." Ozy sipped his water. "Shall we head to the institute? Don't want you to be late for the Toan Council meeting."

Mersa nodded. She and Ozy headed through Volen's market streets before veering off towards a small secluded plaza in which stood a small building in the center.

The Arcane Insitute's "introductory" building did not look like much...but it was just that, introductory. High above and 'behind' it was a massive floating structure. This structure was a set of cylindrical buildings attached in a circular fashion. Each contained classrooms and departments of magical research.

The two walked up to the door of the building. The door appeared to have no handle or means of pivoting or sliding ajar. Ozy placed his paw upon the door and it slowly vanished. Beyond that seemed to be nothing but a dark void. They walked past the door, it materializing back where it had stood. Mersa held her husband's paw as they stepped into the shadow and pushed through it. It wasn't the shadow that caused Mersa unrest but what was beyond it. The void cleared away to a circular plaza with an abstract fountain in the center.

The skunkette looked out of a row of windows, they were no longer in the small building...or on the ground. They were in one of the cylindrical structures. The sheer height almost made Mersa vomit. She was used to Drell carrying her...but this...She shook her head and stepped from the window. She was still not used to looking out the institute windows even after countless visits.

"Mersa? I thought you weren't going to do that anymore?" Ozy walked up to her, concern present.

"Well...I can't deny beauty, even if the consequences are terrifying."

"Ah! Exactly how I felt when I met you. But you're not just terrifying are you? You're Deadly!" Ozy clapped his paws together. "We need to get going. You shouldn't be late, now..."

"There you are!" came an all too familiar voice. Leena ran up, dressed fully in her librarian garb. "They're waiting for you in the warp room!"

"Leena...I would appreciate it if you didn't shout at me...I have enough stress dealing with the upcoming ordeal of travel...warp crystals my rear...Nauseating body manipulation is what it is."

The scarlet feline rolled her eyes. "Mother...They have assured me they have made it more expedient as to lessen any discomfort you may feel."

"What ever you think is best...not like I can get there in a timely manner otherwise."

They walked past a large set of double doors that had two guards on both sides. Past the doors and down a winding hallway, they found themselves in a circular room with a small elevated pad in the center.

"AHA!" came a cry. A rabbit male with mint green fur in a simple set of robes walked forth. "I told them you would be on time...So...Madam Elcex...tell me...are you prepared? My colleges and I have looked over the tomes and made certain that we could adjust a few things as to cause minimal discomfort by speeding up the travel time."

"For your sake, Reginald, you had better be right. Last time I had to give my assessment while laying on the council table. Grandmaster Trenge was not amused." She stepped onto the pad.

"Good luck dear!" Ozy waved alongside Leena.

Leena smiled.

Mersa breathed deep as her body began to feel lighter. Soon, she felt weightless. Reginald was right. There was no discomfort. Everything did feel more rapid but her body felt at peace. She had been told that her body was being made into magical energy and rapidly transported over a long distance at a high speed.

She felt her body come to a rest and she heard the sounds of chatting in an echoing hall. Her eyes were opened and she smiled. She was in the Ter-Chrys Grand Council hall. All chatter seemed to stop and all eyes were on her. Normally it would be just a glance at the fact that she had arrived, but this was unnervingly long for a glance.

"Hello...everyone...how are..." She shuddered. Why was it so cold? For that matter...her clothes felt...She looked down and instinctively wrapped her tail around as much of her...delicate areas...as she could. She heard the falling of cloth beside her. Her official garb had materialized after her. "Son of..."

"My little girl!"The gray skunk male, Laupe Kelst, had run up. He was the representative for Curavere and, of course, Mersa's father. "So good to see...oh my...I know that you said you might try casual...but this...?"

"Father? What would indicate that I would EVER wish to display myself in just my fur as a representative of the Empire?" She whimpered.

There was a loud humming noise as Ozymandias appeared through a small explosion of magical energy. Very very few who studied magic knew the secret about and could execute a teleportation spell. Only some Arch mages or those at an equivalent skill level could harness it. Ozymandias knew several variants.

"Mersa!" The arctic vulpine smiled. "I am glad to see that...ehehehehe" Ozy blushed and giggled nervously as he saw his wife in all her glory. "Oh my...usually I am only privy to this pretty sight...I think I might get jealous."

"OZYMANDIAS!" She snarled. "...please help me..."

"Oh dear...of course, my sweet...I am sorry...Mr. Kelst if you don't mind stepping back?"

Laupe nodded and did so, watching as Ozy clouded his wife in a blue smoke, only moments later, after it cleared, Mersa was in her robes, dusting herself off.

"Well then...Now I am actually here...Thank you sweetheart." She kissed Ozy on the lips.

"Oh well, for my sweet cuddllet-..Wife...anything at all..."

She smirked. "I love you Ozy...now head home...and try to get that warp problem fixed."

"And I love you too..." the snow fox waved his paw at her words and vanished.

Mersa clasped her paws together. "NOW...let's get started."

Kayze and Izec waited outside the gates of Volen, beside a carriage that was to be pulled by a Vuleesh. Vuleeshes walked on four legs like a Tekre, but were much more slender and sleek. Their bodies were coated in hard layers of white shell with a pinkish flesh that could be seen in the gaps that separated the shell pieces. Their heads, also covered in that shell plating curved to a slight downward crescent, the mouth opening at the downward point. Two eyes could faintly be seen underneath a slit on each side.

"Hey!" The carriage driver shouted down. "Is that sister you talked about going to be here soon?" The naga gave him a look of impatience. her long broad tail that was also her bottom half snapped back and forth.

"Patience...Cossi was it?" Kayze smirked. "You got paid...But thank you for agreeing to take us so far for said price. We are very grateful."

"Well...normally I wouldn't...but usually I have to deal with brutish morons or noble stuffed shirts...It's refreshing to deal with people who know tact and courtesy." She hissed affectionately, sticking her long tongue out as it were.

Izec hopped into the carriage and smiled. "Just because you drive a carriage doesn't mean you deserve to be ignored or verbally abused, my dear. You aren't invisible and you have feelings."

"Now...are you sure I can't convince you to sit by me?" She blushed, moving her long, purple hair from her eyes. "You are just so sweet."

"Sorry" Izec laughed but then gave her a sincere smile in return. "I appreciate the offer but I have my skox over there after all."

"I know I know, I kid...Love is a beautiful thing...I would take no part in damaging it." Cossi sighed then sprang up from her stupor as she heard a low groan from the Vuleesh. She looked down at a silver feline girl in casual clothes who was gently petting it and snapped her fingers to get her attention. "Hey! Excuse me! I know he looks sweet but Xenian is a bit rough around the edges!"

"Sorry!" She backed away and walked over to Kayze, hugging him. "All ready little brother?"

Kayze nuzzled her cheek and nodded. "My bag is in the carriage...along with my supplies."

"Watch it Kayze..." Izec peeked his head over. "Oh hello Neyla."

"I see you finally decided to join us Izec." Neyla smirked as she and Kayze climbed into the carriage after storing their small amount of luggage.

He nodded and smirked. "Well everyone needs a vacation..."

"Cossi!" Kayze shouted. "Were ready when you are!"

"Got it! Get comfy! Next stop isn't for a long while! Hya! Xenian!" The carriage rattled before starting to move.

"Lucky us little brother...we get to spend time together like when we were kids." Neyla leaned forward hugged him tight once more.

Kayze laughed. "Yeah. It's a long ride to the Tolesht border so, we'll have plenty of time to bond."

Izec sat straight up, looking at the two with a look of pure confusion. " Tolesht? You're serious? Were talking AAALLLL the way to the divide between two countries?"

"To be technical...The border is where Cossi is taking us. A vuleesh can't take the type of cold most of Tolesht has to offer. Were going by foot after the border." Kayze leaned on the snow leopard. "I thought you could handle the cold, hon."

"I can...you know that...my kind is built for it...but it isn't the cold that is bothering me. What exactly warrants needing to go that far Neyla?" He wrapped his arm around Kayze.

"The headmaster of the institute, Gunreyln Fior, wants me to pick up something for the library. It is an ancient history tome that the scribes in Vint cannot translate. It is written in ancient dragon writing...there's a better chance of Leena and I as well as castle Volen's scribes deciphering it despite it being so ancient...it's a small advantage."

"...You're not exactl-"

"Dragons...we know..." She cut Izec off, looking a bit irritated but soon relaxed. "We've studied the language in and out...Actually, Headmaster Fior did not even let us apply for the librarian position without having a deep understanding of it."

"I don't think Izec meant to offend, sis. I don't think he understands that Valentians, dragon or not, mostly share the same history from living on the same land for so long..were all taught some of the ancient languages...though most of us, dragons included, treat 'Dragon Language' and Complex 'Dragon Language' as those classes in school we all bear through and try to do so without falling unconscious.

"HAH!" Came a shout from the front. "I certainly took a snooze!" Cossie giggled. " 'Miss Minst! The language of your homeland is nothing to snore at!' Yeah...that did little good."

Everyone laughed, even Neyla. Of the Twin's Neyla was less tightly wound and if there was any sibling that 'got' Kayze the most, it was Neyla.

Kayze looked down at his feet and sighed.

"Hey, not getting homesick now are ya?" Neyla teased. The silver feline looked through a small book.

"No...I had a strange dream the other night...it was a nightmare really." He looked out at the moving landscape.

"Do tell..." Izec held him close.

"In the dream...I was standing at the Galv plaza...and so was mom...She turned to me and said nothing but handed me a short sword. All of the sudden, we were some distance apart and facing each other. Mom held her blade ready and I did the same. She moved faster than I could imagine and before I could even raise my own sword, she had knocked me down and held her blade to my throat and said one thing. 'Pathetic.' As she sliced, I awoke." Kayze held onto his thick bushy tail, just as Mersa would do when stressed.

"Kayze...that was just a dream...mom would never...ever...It isn't conceivable." Neyla placed her paw on her younger brother's.

Izec shook his head. "Oh he knows that...He's just been a bit nervous around her is all..."

"Hey! How did you find out about that? You read my..."

"No...dear...your mom noticed and told me. Did you forget she frequents the Last Pint?"

Neyla cocked her brow. "You...are nervous about mom? Honestly?"

"Yeah...ever since Solomon's Folly...I mean...she helped to take down just...overwhelming odds. You always hear about people who are so great in deed that they go rogue for instance, Solomon...what if..."

"No...Kayze...don't even entertain that thought...it was a dream based of some small insecurities, neither mom nor dad, or Uncle Drell are going rogue or any other such nonsense..."

"Speaking of the other two...why were you only nervous about your mom?" Izec said.

"May I?" Cossi spoke. "Just based on the conversation alone I can guess that he has formed the closest bond of the three with his mother. She becomes a sort of worshiped figure...Hence her role in his dream." The naga chuckled. "I am quite on the right note, I'll bet."

"Eerily so, yes." Kayze sighed.

"You just have to trust that nothing like that is going to happen..." Neyla spoke. "Now relax..."

They traveled for quite a while before finally stopping near an Inn. Cossi had let go of the reins and approached them as they got out.

"Ok...it's about to get dark out...we're staying here for the night. In the morning, we'll keep going." I'll be camping out by Xenian...He gets lonely...and I don't want anyone trying to steal him.

Kayze nodded, "Good plan."

Izec stretched. "Hmm...Quiet. Nice and Quiet." He looked over at Neyla. "You were nodding off for a moment there."

"Yeah...didn't sleep much last night...come on...food then bed." She yawned deeply.

Kayze opened the door and walked inside. "Great...just...peachy"

"What...oh...wonderful." Izec sighed.

"Mhm..."

Their reactions were to a very disheartening sight. All of what appeared to be the patrons has been huddled to the back and five figures in dark leather armor, daggers drawn, stood apart from them.

"Look at this...More in our little trap...against the wall you three..." A tigress smirked, folding her arms against her chest, Most likely the leader.

"For the love of the maker..." Izec walked past towards the crowd, Neyla followed suit.

"Hey! Didn't you hear her?!" a crocodile stepped forward towards the unmoving Kayze, he was a bit taller than the skox. "Get moving!"

"Don't feel like it." Kayze stayed motionless, but gave him a smile.

"Well, aren't you fearless?" The tigress stepped past her subordinate. "It is commendable...but unless you're looking for death...I'd recommend moving to the back."

"Boss?" A male rabbit spoke up from behind. "He looks like he's planning something...he could have a blade on him."

She grinned. "Thank you...Yes he does look like he knows something we might not. Alright then...the clothes...lose them."

Kayze cocked his brow. "You...are serious...?"

"You want to play a hero, buddy? " She tapped the flat of her blade on his nose. "Then you get a special bit of treatment."

"No...Allow me..." The skox, in the blink of an eye, reached up and grabbed her arm, his paw glowed a bluish hue as he did. The fur on her arm started to stiffen.

"AAAAHH! DAMN YOU! YOU IDI-GAAAH!.." She howled in pain, falling to her knees as the cold burned her. Kayze grabbed the fallen dagger and let her go. He noticed that Neyla had conjured a barrier around the hostages as the bandits' attention was misdirected.

"No way! I'm not dealing with some magic user!" The crocodile sprinted out the door.

"Coward!" The rabbit snarled then ran towards Kayze, swinging rapidly. The skox stepped back at each swing before finding a moment and swung upward with the dagger, cutting the lapine's chest before knocking him hard against the wall, knocking him out.

"GRAHH!" A Bear ran forward, wielding a warhammer. As he did, a Panther male helped the leader up.

"...Hit me if you can." He ran back and around the ursine as he swung. "However..." Kayze pressed a part of his paw to the metal of the dagger, super heating it. "I wouldn't count on it!" He ducked and slid under the bear. As he did, he jabbed the blade through the leather of the boot, spearing his opponents ankle.

There was an audible intake 'ssssss' of breath from not only the hostages but the tigress as well. There was an audible thud as the hammer wielding ursine hit the floor. Kayze got up and kicked the bear in the head, knocking him out like the rabbit.

Just then, a mother wolf and her cub walked into the inn and before they could leave the panther had dashed forward, grabbing the child and holding the blade up to his throat.

"Jonas!...NO! Put him down!" The tigress growled. "No kids! You agreed!"

"Tough, Miran! Were not about to be taken out like this by some upstart hybrid freak!" The panther, Jonas, started to back away. "Apparently you failed to get us any sort of coin...but I'm atleast going to have my freedom!"

The mother screamed. "Put him down you psycho!" The cub was crying.

Kayze grabbed the fallen rabbit's dagger. "Put the child down...Now...no one needs to get hurt..."

"Shut up! You've ruined everything!" He moved towards the door.

The skox sighed. "Don't be stupid!"

"STUPID?! You...Just for that!...This child pays!"

"MAMA!"

He saw the twitch of the feline's blade paw and reacted, tossing his dagger at the panther's head, it sunk deep. Kayze moved quickly forward and grabbed the cub before the bandit fell. The blood began to pool around his head, reflecting his still open eyes.

Miran looked at Kayze as he gave the child over to his mother, got on her knees, and raised her paws in surrender. "I'm done...I NEVER intended for a child to get involved...Just...I give up, ok?"

Kayze walked over to behind her and bound her paws behind her back and did the same with the other two. The hostages got up and walked over. "Someone go and find the nearest guard you can...Oh and who is the innkeeper?"

A shepherd female walked forward.

"Two rooms please..."

Cossi slithered in and surveyed the area. "It was getting a bit loud and I thought...yeah...I missed something...Guess it is all taken care of then? Ok...none of my business." and with that she left.