Nenet let out a groan before opening one eye to look at Gaia, raising one hand weakly. "'Sup?"
While her choice of words was nonchalant, it was clear that she was in a bad state after being hit by the attack that had knocked her out of the air. It was fortunate that her phoenix flames kept her from bleeding to death, and by the time Gaia had summoned Harmony and the dragon moved closer to tend to her Nenet was already looking like she was no longer about to faint, even if she was still covered in blood and her wounds hadn't closed yet. "Hey there beautiful, mind patching me up? Normally I wouldn't ask, but we're about to have company and I think your summoner is busy with her own thing."
Gaia had already passed through the outer barrier and entered the shrine proper, so Nenet together with Gaia's two summoned dragons would be left to defend against the three outsiders who were coming to claim the blade.
And indeed, it wouldn't take much longer before three figures flew up from the mountainside and landed on the summit, one of them using magic to slow down their descent so they wouldn't have to worry about fall damage. One of them was male, the other two female: the male one was in the lead and was shorter than the other two, dressed sharply in a stately, shamrock green robe, but also of a stout build. He wielded a staff which looked like it belonged to a lord more than a wizard, crafted of finely carved hazel with the tip shaped into the appearance of an owl, each eye a polished piece of lapis lazuli. Thin lines of gold spiraled up the length of the staff and adorned the feathers of the owl in a lifelike pattern, making its plumage glimmer in the bright sun that hung above.
The two female companions were dressed in a more pragmatic fashion, dark fabric hugging their frames to not interfere with their movements and leather reinforcing the joints of their clothes to increase durability. However, the person who designed these outfits had clearly also meant for them to be visually appealing: a belt around the waist helped emphasize how their hips flared out underneath, the collar was cut low to reveal part of their cleavage, and subtle, flowing decorations of a slightly lighter shade than the surrounding fabric would draw eyes towards their shapely legs and their slim figure, right up to the underside of the chest.
One of them was wearing a hooded cloak over her outfit, the colour akin to the night sky with a silver clasp holding it together at the base of her throat. She was holding a staff of lacquered redwood with a rich brown hue, straight and unblemished. At the tip, a peridot teardrop was solidly held by twelve wooden talons.
The other had doubled down on the practicality of her outfit by adding a pair of gloves and boots, the leather of which reached up to her elbows and knees and secured with clasps. Lines of bronze reinforced the leather, with caps adorning the knuckles of the gloves, and the heels and noses of the boots. Her weapon was a spear with a long, maple shaft. The tip was made of bronze, the edge flat despite being exposed to the sun. A deviation from the standard design, however, was the sharp hook that extended from the shaft at the base of the speartip, pointed downward as the woman leveled her spear at the phoenix and the two dragons guarding the shrine.
The man stepped forward and raised his staff, puffing out his chest in pompous indignance as he proclaimed his demands. "Halt! I am the Right Honourable Viscount Shawn of the House Connal, son of The Right Honourable Earl Darrot of the House Connal! You may address me as Your Lordship, or Lord Connal!"
While the man was busy introducing himself, and completely failing to say anything about his companions, the other two remained silent and kept their eyes on the mythical figures in front of them. The one holding the spear was balanced on the balls of her feet, her eyes focused, while the other had a more relaxed posture but her staff was slightly leaned forward."The legendary blade Divinus was gifted upon humanity by the gods themselves as an acknowledgment of our nobility and grace! Only those of noble blood are allowed to wield it!"
The man ignored Harmony, Nenet, and Pachua as he instead fixed his eyes on Gaia, speaking loudly enough that she would hear him. "In the name of House Connal, I am claiming the sword! You, who consorts with beasts and monsters, have no right to it! Apologize for your transgressions, and I shall allow you to leave this place in peace!"
The look on his face was arrogant, clearly believing his offer to already be generous and merciful.
Nenet snorted as she slowly pushed herself back to her feet. "Thanks. I owe you one."
She shot Harmony a grateful grin before turning her attention to the nobleman. "Boy, does he have a mouth on him."
While she was no longer stuck crawling on the ground, she'd still wait and give herself some more time to recover. It'd be up to either the two dragons or Gaia to answer Lord Connal's claims.
The barrier was smooth to the touch and felt neither cold nor warm, like room-temperature glass. There was a faint humming at the edge of the consciousness, barely perceptible to human ears. While touching it didn't cause anything to happen, trying to push through it would quickly prove to be fruitless.
Further studying the runes would reveal additional information, but only if Gaia was familiar not only with modern readings of the runes but also with more traditional interpretations. Stroke hadn't been a sage or a scholar, but for the sake of protecting the blade a lot of effort had been put into this shrine and the runes that sustained the barriers.
The modern reading of the runes was "Those who possess great skill can claim the blade most divine from the pedestal."
A more ancient reading, however, would yield "The blade will yield to those who have the ability to sever heaven from earth."
A second look at the barrier might also allow Gaia to notice that there was an intentional flaw in its design. At the height of the top of the pedestal, there was a line, ever so faint, which ran around the circumference of the barrier. The line was thinner than a hair, and even after you saw it once you might just lose track of it after blinking.
To sever heaven from earth: to disable the barrier one had to slash horizontally through that line as if severing the air from the pedestal. However, given the thinness of the line, the cut had to be precise, straight as an arrow's flight with no hesitation or deviation. A single, decisive Stroke, matching the skill of the one who had held that name once and who had placed Divinus here, to ensure it could only be claimed by one who could be considered a true heir to one of the greatest swordmasters to ever live.
Of course, once you knew that the trick was to divide the barrier into two parts, one covering the height of the pedestal and the other reaching to the heavens above, you could probably think of some other methods to achieve the same effect.
As Itori was tied up keeping the majority of the raiders from climbing the mountain slope she was limited in her ability to ward off attacks from those few vikings who had been smart enough to move around the forest of illusions. It wasn't exactly impossible, but she'd have to divert her attention, which would cause her illusion to lose some of its complexity and create gaps for the vikings to slip through if they knew what they were doing. As such, she'd have to leave it up to King Apalala and Queen Dorolth. Not that this was a great concern: she was quite confident that these two dragons could handle a bunch of humans, no matter how physically robust they were.
The fact that the two dragons now had something else to focus on than Itori's humming also meant that up and down started to make sense again. Although Itori herself couldn't help but have her nose twitch as it was assaulted by the scent of cucumbers, fresh but also quite strange given the circumstances.
The raiders were met with a wave of water as they advanced on their target, and they cursed as they were pushed back. Being used to fighting against the waves as they entered or left their longboat their strong legs allowed them to anchor themselves, resisting the flow and slowly resuming their advance, each step deliberate as they planted their feet as if planning to take root.
The vines, however, pushed them off balance again, leading to more cursing as they felt the sharp thorns cutting their skin. Their durable bodies, however, once again allowed them to persevere: the vines failed to pierce their muscles, and after being caught off guard they lashed out with their weapons, axes and swords, to cut through the vines.
One of them released a fierce roar as he leaped forward, barbarian longhair trailing behind him as he brought his axe down in an attempt to split open Dorolth's head. Given that Apalala had already revealed himself as the one to produce the water, he'd correctly deduced that it must be the other dragon who was responsible for the vines.
The other raiders were a bit more cautious, spreading out to try and surround the two dragons while holding their weapons out in front of them. If one of them saw an opportunity they'd quickly dash forward, closing the gap to engage the dragons and the tenko in melee combat. This was hardly the first time they'd dealt with either monsters or spellcasters, and they were afraid of neither.
TWC: 20,839/20,000 (Completed)@Gaia