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"You will still be paid," Kayla reported, slowly rising from her position kneeling before the shrine in the basement. "I'Leria recognizes that it was Derek's fault that her commandment was ignored."
"Good," Matt replied, his arms folded in front of him. "Why did she want the dragon alive, anyway?"
"It was entirely for your benefit," Kayla explained. "She would've flown us across the sea to the tower and this entire ordeal would've been over and you would've been home in record time. With your money."
"Oh, good to know that she's looking into making our task more efficient, I suppose," Matt said, shrugging in disappointment. "…is there any way she survived?"
"How did you kill her?" Kayla asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I snapped her neck," Matt answered, turning to glare at the stairs above. "Is that a no?"
"She is dead, sadly," Kayla replied with a deep frown. "Well…she's probably dead."
"Probably dead," Matt repeated with a glimmer of hope. "How could she have survived?"
"When Dragon's ruled in the first age, they sometimes walked amongst their subjects using homunculi," Kayla explained, taking a breath. "Constructs made of materials such as gold and marble that would bear the human visage the dragon wished to display. There were stories of a dragon falling in combat with another dragon, only to get their dead body healed and their consciousness returned because the dragon continued to act through the homunculi."
"Were they rare?" Matt asked immediately.
"Back then, only the greatest of the Dragon lords were permitted to even know how to make one," Kayla answered with a frown. "And that was thousands of years ago. Even if she did have one, I don't know if she would even have something that could heal such a massive figure."
"If she did, she would've swooped in and tried to murder us," Matt said, deflating in defeat. "Or simply taken the opportunity to fly away while we were gone. We are definitely taking the long road, then."
"I'm sorry, Matthew," Kayla said with a deeply sympathetic look on her face. "I'm truly, truly sorry."
"It's not your fault," Matt replied with a sigh.
"If I had known, I would've had Derek stay here with Brother Redbrick," Kayla stated forlornly. "And I would've led you to the cave."
"Hindsight is twent-er, hindsight is always clearer," Matt said with a shrug. "What matters right now is what we're going to do about Derek. Because my contract still stipulates that he's coming along and I want to know if I'Leria's changed her mind."
"No, no. I believe that he must still come along," Kayla replied with a dirty look to the side. "Though I cannot see why."
"Believe me, you're preaching to the newly converted," Matt said, running his fingers through his hair. "But as long as that's what my contract says, that's what happening."
"Do not get me wrong, I do trust that my Goddess has a plan that will work perfectly," Kayla hurried to correct herself. "I just would rather it not involve my brother any further."
"But apparently he has to," Matt replied. "So, what do we do? We can't have him running off in the middle of the Tower of Magic just because he sees the open door of their treasury."
"Can you just encase him in a bubble when we're near a trouble spot?" Kayla asked with a frown.
"Could I? Yes. But that'd bring its own host of problems," Matt began. "Number 1, that's a drain on both my energy and focus which is dangerous in a fight. Number 2, unless I want to leave the ground unblocked, he'd be encased in a spherical shape which would be very heavy and would roll everywhere, causing him serious injury if he failed to keep up."
"Why does it have to be a spherical shape?" Kayla asked with a confused blink.
"Because that's a limit I've got, all of my walls have to be circular," Matt explained with a annoyed frown. "I get around it by only making part of the wall solid. I've only recently figured out how to make ovals, but that's hardly better than a perfect sphere in this case."
"Oh, so because you can't simply do straight edges or sides, you'd have to leave the ground uncovered," Kayla surmised with a nod.
"That's right," Matt nodded.
"Okay, so why does that matter in this case?" Kayla asked with a raised eyebrow. "My brother isn't a mole, he can't burrow through the ground."
"I'm more concerned with keeping him safe from the things that can burrow under the ground and catch him in a tiny box where he's got no room to move," Matt explained with a sigh. "Because even if a shadow spawn can't do that, the Ring's got something in store that could."
"How do you figure?" Kayla asked with a frown. "I've heard of no such thing."
"I guarantee you that they've got something," Matt affirmed. "Or they will have something soon. Either way, it's best to be prepared and that means not shooting ourselves in the foot with a bad plan to keep your brother contained."
"I…yes, I see," Kayla sighed, looking at the floor.
"Can you at least talk to him?" Matt asked with a frown. "He is your brother, after all. Maybe you can at least talk him into not trying something this stupid again until we've eliminated the Ring?"
"I will try," Kayla replied. "Maybe learn what he was thinking, if anything."
"I hope so," Matt said. "Anyway, we're supposed to catch a ship to the Parakan Desert, right? Do we have money for the fare?"
"Erm, it's Paraka," Kayla corrected with an awkward look on her face. "And…no. No, we do not."
"Alright then maybe we should go back to the Dragon's cave and grab some coins," Matt suggested. "It's not like she's using them anymore."
"I suppose that's a good idea," Kayla sighed. "Though stealing from the dead bothers me; even a dragon."
"Well, you can talk to Derek while I'm off getting the money," Matt replied, turning toward the staircase. "You don't have to get your hands dirty and we'll be able to pay for the fair. Sound good?"
"That sounds fair, yes," Kayla replied.
"Excellent," Matt explained, his black and blue armor forming around him as he walked up the staircase.
"Um…Matthew?" Kayla asked, following after him.
"Yes?" Matt asked, stopping at the top of the stairs to turn toward her.
"Forgive me if this is a foolish question," Kayla began. "But your armor looks more like cloth than plate. How does it protect you?"
"Oh," Matt replied with a smirk. "The cloth is such that it hardens when struck, but otherwise behaves like fabric. It's good because it breathes a lot."
"That sounds marvelous," Kayla said with a smile. "I wish magic like that was available here."
"You guys will get there eventually," Matt replied, one of his glowing orbs encircling his torso. "You know, provided you can stop what's-his-name from waking up."
"Makaboros?" Kayla asked.
"Yeah, him," Matt nodded. "See you in a bit!"
Then he shot up into the sky in a flash of blue fire and rapidly soaring faster than any bird could even dream. The fire trailed behind him like the tail of a shooting star before he vanished in the trees.
Kayla let out a breath and walked around the house to the front door. Opening it, she saw Derek sitting at the table, bowl of porridge empty in front of him. "So, will you allow me to explain?"
"There is no explaining to be done," Kayla replied with a glare. "Only apologies and restitution."
"Why would I apologize?" Derek asked with a frown. "He's going to betray us."
"Who?" Kayla asked.
"Matthew is an honorable man," Kayla protested, sitting down on the table with a huff. "He is more mercenary than I would like, but that is out of necessity."
"We almost died because of him," Derek barked in anger. "He's only helping us because he's getting paid and I know his type. He'll turn on us the moment he gets a better offer. All mercenaries do. It's just business."
"This is not about Matthew," Kayla retorted hotly, pointing at her brother. "This is about you. This whole thing could have been done and over with in a week had you not attempted steal from a dragon. A dragon, Derek!"
"I just wanted some insurance in case things went to the nethers," Derek argued, taking a breath and trying to calm himself. "He turns on us, we need to go into hiding. A mana stone could guarantee us a life of luxury while hidden away from the Ring. But no. You had to destroy it."
"I was not about to allow you to be rewarded for stabbing our best chance at victory in the back," Kayla replied, also schooling her feelings. "If we fail, it will not matter how well we are secreted away, Makaboros will destroy everything in this world. Everything. You know this."
"You'd be shocked at how well some things can remain hidden," Derek snarked, looking out the window. "Besides-"
"No, there is no besides," Kayla interrupted. "You are merely upset that you had to sacrifice a fortune for the ritual and your paranoia prevents you from seeing him as honorable."
"And your naivety prevents you from seeing that Matt is no honorable mercenary like you fancy him to be," Derek barked back. "Honorable mercenaries don't exist. This is something I've learned through hard experience and something I'm trying to shield you from."
"By stealing from a dragon?" Kayla asked incredulously. "By cutting off an effective ally in destroying the Ring of Sorcerers? By bringing about the death of a dragon? That was going to help us?"
"No. Stealing from a dragon and antagonizing our greatest ally by making his job harder is somehow protecting me from getting double crossed by the ally that you antagonized," Kayla summed up, still glaring. "No, you know what? I want to hear this. What convoluted explanation do you want to offer instead of the simple truth that your greed stole your sense?"
"I will not be spoken down to by my little sister," Derek glared at her.
Kayla merely raised her eyebrow and said nothing.
"I am trying to ensure a better life for both of us," Derek continued. "That means having material possessions. You may be willing to sacrifice everything for your goddesses plans and inane trust in others, I am not."
"So that justifies your actions leading to the death of a dragon that would fight on our side?" Kayla asked with a frown. "We won't have a life to live, at all, if the Ring kills us on our mission."
"We don't need to do even be here," Derek barked hotly, gesturing to the door. "The Demi-god has been summoned! He can fly over there himself! Why do we need to accompany him to slow him down so that this takes a whole month? You saw what he did to the shadow spawn, you saw what he did to the risen dead! There is no reason for us to continue."
"You do not know that," Kayla rebuked. "Matthew's destructive powers are great, yes, but he is not a healer and he is not a thief. We still have parts to play and you must have faith that the Goddess has a plan."
"I've got no doubt that your Goddess has a plan," Derek replied with a raised eyebrow. "I just doubt that this plan has even the slightest chance of turning out well."
Kayla groaned. "I will not force you to stay, Derek."
"I'm not going to leave you alone with the demigod," Derek went stiff as a board.
"Then you must put your greed aside until our task is done," Kayla explained with a serious frown on her face. "Like it or not, your arrogance and lust for wealth cost each of us greatly yesterday. Whether you seek to justify it behind blind paranoia or not, you cannot deny this. Do you understand?"
Derek got quiet. A dark look settled behind his eyes as they shifted from side to side. He was silent, as was his sister who was watching him like a hawk. Derek started to drum his fingers on the table, looking toward the doorway then to the bowl, then to Kayla.
"Fine," Derek threw up his hands in anger. "Very well. No more stealing from me. I swear on my honor as a Thief."
"Thank you," Kayla replied with a sigh. "Please don't make me regret trusting you again."
Derek growled to himself and pointed in Kayla's face. "But mark my words, this will turn out badly for us, and then we will have nothing left to show for it."
"We will merely have to see," Kayla replied coolly.
At that very moment, Matt walked through the door with two large sacks in his hands. "I got enough to pay for the fare on the boat, plus a lot of extra. Gold's worth a lot in this world, right?"
"It's second only to platinum," Kayla answered with a smile. "And even dragons are hard pressed to obtain platinum coins."
"I thought so," Matt replied, handing one of the sacks to Kayla. "That's yours."
"I don't want it," Kayla objected, trying to hand it back.
"No, no. We need someone responsible handling the group finances," Matt explained. "And I don't know what's a reasonable price here."
Kayla frowned, looking at the gold. "Yes, that makes sense."
"And Derek?" Matt inquired.
Derek looked up at him with a neutral expression.
Matt pointed to the large sack of jangling coins. "If you don't do screw up again on our journey to the tower and this is yours. Contents and all. Otherwise, I'm keeping it. You understand?"
"Yes, I understand," Derek muttered out angrily.
"Good enough," Matt said, flipping the bag to hold it over his shoulder.
"Remind me, you said we needed to make two stops?" Matt asked, hefting the now significantly heavier bag into the boat he made.
"Yes, that's right," Kayla blinked. "I had forgotten."
"How far down is our second stop?" Matt asked with a frown. "Do you know?"
Kayla hummed. "I don't know. I honestly am not sure we need to make two stops anymore. Or perhaps the first stop we made where we made your new clothes was the stop we needed to make."
"That's a relief," Matt replied, actually smiling now. "We might be able to make up for some lost time and speed ahead. I actually wonder if the boat captain would be averse to me speeding us up for a bit…"
"I think he might," Kayla replied seriously. "No mortal was meant to go as fast as you take us."
"But it's fun though, right?" Matt asked with a raised eyebrow. "The sound of your heart beating in your ears, the rush of lighting coursing through your veins…"
"I…suppose I can see the appeal," Kayla allowed with a nod. "But it's just not for me."
"Fair enough," Matt replied with a shrug.
"So, if you don't mind me asking," Kayla began slowly, holding her hands in front of her. "Are you…spoken for?"
"Better not let your brother hear you asking me that," Matt replied with a smirk.
"I suppose I shouldn't," Kayla rejoined with a chuckle. "But still…are you?"
Matt let out a tired breath "I used to be."
"Oh," Kayla said. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to dig up painful memories."
"It's okay," Matt shrugged. "Back home, there was a girl I met and liked for a year. I finally asked her out on a date, she said yes and we ended up going steady."
"That sounds good," Kayla offered with a sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry it didn't work out."
"Well, it was fine until I got summoned to help some nation of elves deal with an demonic invasion," Matt continued, taking a seat by the river shore and kicking his feet up on the canoe. "See, when I get summoned, it freaks everyone out at home. I disappear for weeks at a time. The first time it happened, I was gone for a month and my parents got in front of the entire nation to ask for help in finding me."
"Oh my," Kayla said with a worried frown. "I'm…very sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Matt waved it off. "You didn't know. Anyway as I was saying, I disappeared, she was worried sick, then I came back. I managed to play it off, things were okay, then I disappear again, this time trying to help someone stranded on a desert plan-er…sorry, stranded in the middle of the desert get home. I was gone for two weeks. She was distraught again, I pulled it back. Then the third time…oy vey. The last time I was summoned that year. There was a plague, it was bad, I was gone for two more weeks."
Kayla sat down on her knees, paying full attention to the story.
"So, I called her and we talked. I told her everything," Matt explained, bringing a hand up and making one of his balls. "Showed her the force fields, my magic walls, explained why I always disappeared. I felt like I needed to be honest with her, since I'm not really public with what I can do back home."
"Why not?" Kayla asked with furrowed eyebrows.
"I just want a quiet life," Matt explained. "I get enough excitement as it is when I get pulled randomly. So, I told her everything and…we haven't spoken since."
"I'm deeply sorry about that. This," Kayla said, her frown having only gotten deeper. "I didn't mean to…contribute to the mess as I have."
"As I said, don't worry about it," Matt waved it off. "You had no way of knowing."
"But…surely there are others," Kayla began. "You've doubtlessly saved dozens of fair maidens in your adventures. Surely they might've been interested in a romantic relationship?"
"I have," Matt shrugged. "But it doesn't matter. Once I get back home, I never see them again."
"Oh," Kayla replied.
"So yeah," Matt explained. "That's part of why I'm so insistent about my contracts. Getting them and honoring them helps keep the number of times I get summoned down."
"I see that is definitely a necessity," Kayla replied with a slow nod.
The sound a twig snapping caused them both to turn. Derek walked around the tree. "Alright, I'm ready. Kayla, do you need to relieve yourself?"
Kayla hummed. "You know what, yes. Yes, I do."
She stood up and hurried around the tree, leaving the two young men to themselves.
"So," Matt began, slowly standing up. "You seem very insistent that I'm going to backstab you."
"I know your type," Derek growled. "You'll do it the moment you get a better offer."
"I think this is more you being mad about getting caught and not wanting to own up to your terrible choices in life than truly being afraid of me," Matt replied, rolling his shoulders. "Because I know your type too…been backstabbed enough by thieves. But in case you really are scared that I'll backstab you, let me explain something to you."
Matt walked two steps forward and Derek simply stood straight as they looked into each other's eyes.
"My ability to obtain contracts and get paid is directly proportional to how completely I honor my contract," Matt explained levelly. "If I default on a contract for any reason, my ability to negotiate with deity on even the smallest level goes out with window and dies on the street in a red splat. The contract which stipulates that you are to survive is the only reason you're not dragon chow right now."
"All the Ring has to do is offer you a trip home with more money and you'll take it in a heartbeat," Derek spat.
"Nah. Because one, I can't trust them and two," Matt continued neutrally. "I default on my contract and I'll never have a moment at home again. Which is why if you do anything, anything at all which causes the Ring of Sorcerer's to triumph, and default my contract due to failure, I will kill you and scatter your blood on the sands of the Paraka desert. You do well, you get paid and everything's fine. If you do poorly, you'll get to see your home again as much as I will. Do you understand?"
Derek simply glared.
"Do. You. Under. Stand?" Matt's whisper was colder than ice.
"Yes, I understand," Derek finally replied.
"Good," Matt said, nodding.
Author's Notes: This chapter was meant to be a little bit longer, but honestly I got everything I wanted to say out of it. So, I hope you enjoyed it. I apologize for the wait, my fanfic, SHINOBI: The RPG has finally reached the conclusion of it's first act, and it's one that I'm very, very happy with. I also see that I've got several people that have followed and favorited Summoned after I mentioned it in the author's notes over there. Neat! Welcome all, I'm glad you decided to come on over, hope you enjoy your stay.
Shout out goes out to newest Super Patron Sultan Saltlick! Thanks so much for the support. Shout out also goes out too Melden V, Anders Kronquist, Ray Tony Song, makopaulo, Volkogluk, Aaron Bjornson, iolande, Martin Auguado, Julio, Jiopaba, Hackerham, Tim Collins-Squire, Maben00 and Devil's Bite. You guys are the best, thank you so much for your support.
Until the next time!