"I could not help but wonder-"
, the silver-haired man would begin speaking aloud once more, his eyes firmly locked on the last of the remaining criminals he had confronted, a man who seemed to be thoroughly misplaced in the current situation, frightful, shaking gaze darting from the source of every volatile sound that would erupt in the city to the next one as if he expected something to come and take his life at any second. Of course, he wasn't entirely wrong. The soldiers of Dies Irae had begun entering the city, taking out any dark mage that was left and eliminating the last pockets of resistance. Soon, there would be only sporadic opposition left to fight, and in due time and with due effort, they would cleanse this island of this unlawful invasion force, this group of degenerates and murderers. The thought would pass through the Ambassador's mind again. All in due time, of course ..."-I have fought some of your comrades before, but I can only assume that your leader wasn't amongst them. Surely, I would have noticed, hm? The Guild Master of the famous Highbrand Dark Guild ..."
, Johann continued, slow steps taking him closer to the man with every passing moment. He didn't seem to pay too much attention to what the God of Ishgar was saying, instead stumbling back on shaky legs, stuttered, frightened words leaving his lips. "O-o-our l-leader?"
. It seemed that the criminal couldn't put two and two together in his current state, anger momentarily exacting its characteristic pressure on Johann's throat, leaving him to wonder how a bunch of incompetent fighters like this one had managed to take Kenrojima in the first place, but the island didn't have much defense to speak of, to begin with, he knew. The silver-haired man would sigh softly, composing himself. He'd just have to ask for the information he wanted directly."Yes, your leader. Your ... group-"
, the last word was vocalized with audible disdain, "-you have someone like that, right?"
. The man nodded hastily, repeating the motion once or twice in his restlessness. Good, at least that much the Ambassador of Dies Irae could confirm. He wouldn't exactly have thought a roving band of bandits, dark mages, murderers, rapists, and criminals to be the democratic type. Usually these types of arrangements required a strongman figure to tie the lawless bunch together. He'd seen many groups like this one back in his mercenary days, albeit on an admittedly far smaller scale. This was an army of them. He couldn't help but speculate, though. Would that mean that whoever headed this bunch would be a man of matching strength, matching appearance? Undoubtedly, the Ambassador would be fated to find out. The man, though, would continue to speak, seemingly seeking to add something to his previous gesture. "O-our leader isn't our ... our Guild Master. O-one of the Aces is, uh, is our Commander for this e-expedition"
. Expedition, huh? That was what they called it. The Ambassador took a deep breath, once more pushing to suppress the sudden onset of hatred that coursed through his veins, threatening to take over his actions. He would keep a level head, for now, though the other party of this dialogue was beginning to move on a very thin ice."I see, thank you. I am glad that we can finally seem to communicate on a basis of mutual understanding. Now, based on what you have told me, my question is the following:-"
, the Ambassador continued with steady voice and cold, analytical tone, not taking his eyes off the other for one second as he slowly circled the criminal, coming to a stop to the man's side, some paces away from him, the silver-haired man's head turned towards him. "-Where can I find this Ace? A name and brief description of your commander's appearance would be helpful, as well. I'm sure you wouldn't want to disappoint my trust in your capabilities, would you?"
. The other seemed to be getting increasingly nervous, the Ambassador's obviously faked smile, which would widen slightly as Johann spoke, adding to the unsettling impression. The man's eyes would periodically divert from the silver-haired man to his side to the rest of the group, his fallen fellows, only to tremble for a few moments before wandering back to the Ambassador, reminding him that it was nothing short of his own life that was on the line. "O-of course not"
, the criminal would laugh nervously, averting his eyes and keeping them locked on the ground. He was about to betray his guild, but his life was more important than money, women, freedom, or any of the other things that had drawn him to this lifestyle. "C-commander Novgaard i-is probably still at the city hall, or whatever that large building in the center of town is. He, uh, you can't really miss him, he's, uh, ... ya know, h-he's a- ... a massive man, p-probably like, like 7 ... or more like 7 and a half feet tall. B-built like a Vulcan, a-and fights like one, too, w-which is why the men respect him ..."
Johann would nod, though kept his eyes locked on the man expectantly, the sweat beginning to build up on the other's temples. The criminal didn't know what else the man wanted from him. He'd said everything that could be said, his mind still scrambling for details when the Ambassador would take another step towards him, which seemed to, metaphorically, open the floodgates. "H-he's got grey hair, a-a bit like yours. U-usually wears s-some kind of leather armor w-with a wolf's head insignia on it as- as well as the g-guild tattoo over his right eye. This one!"
. Without hesitation the man would roll up one of his sleeves, presenting the Ambassador with a bronze symbol decorating the skin of his triceps, resembling a jagged skull, mouth torn open in a scream. "Interesting"
. The Ambassador couldn't hold back the hint of condescending tone in his voice, his disdain for the imagery clear to any observant beholder. "Is that all?"
. Johann raised an eyebrow.
The man flinched, his mouth twisting into a forced smile. "I-I told you everything I know ... uh, Sir. P-please ..."
. Johann believed the man. He sensed no real aggression coming from the other, and it was obvious that he was afraid. "Yes, that will do"
. Only now would the Ambassador turn his head, his gaze shifting from the lowlife criminal to the larger building in the distance. It didn't seem like the man had been lying. There was quite the commotion that built up around it. His eyes, however, would briefly shift back to the member of Highbrand, the grunt seeming like he was frozen in place, expecting some kind of trick or twist of events. The Ambassador wanted him out of his sight. "Well, what are you waiting for? Get lost"
. The other appeared surprised, though that surprise would linger only briefly, swiftly being replaced by relief, "O-of course, of course, Sir. T-thank you"
, and with those words, he scurried off into a nearby alleyway. He wouldn't have thanked the Ambassador if he knew that the city was already swarming with the rest of the Soldiers. He would get picked up or dispatched by any of the other guild members, certainly, but Johann would save himself the time, especially now that he had a clear objective, his anger that, with some considerable effort, had been suppressed, bursting forth from inside his chest and coursing through his body once more. The air around his flickered, crackling with the force of magical energy before, in a flash of arcane power, the silver-haired man would vanish, in a similar flash of energy reappearing before the town hall with a loud crash."HOOOL' YA FIRE"
, was the first thing the Ambassador heard, his heterochromatic eyes, with lightning-fast speed switching from face to face, person to person, taking in the situation around him in a split second as the booming voice still echoed from the cold, empty stone walls of the houses around. He had teleported near the highest concentration of magical signatures, and indeed, it appeared like he had stumbled right into the wasps nest. The town hall was in front of him, a grey building of stone bricks, its copper-plated roof having long lost its distinct color, replaced with a thin layer of green-blue verdigris. That, however, wasn't the only thing he noticed. The windows of the town hall had been smashed, dozens, if not hundreds of gunbarrels pointing in his direction. Sandbags formed a perimeter around the building, and the plaza of decent proportions before what had once been the proud center of a bustling city was now lined with all manners of shady figures, daggers, axes, swords, arrows, and a wide range of other weaponry glistening in the sun as it was drawn, pointed towards the silver-haired man with not a bit of good intent. Not to mention the immediate attention of any mage in the crowd that was now unmistakably drawn to him. From within the mass of people, a figure began to approach the edge of the improvised defenses, a loud, bellowing laughter echoing forth. "Didn't think that it would take ya so long, Dies Irae mage! We almost bored ourselves to death!"
. The voice, deep and resounding, belonged to what Johann soon recognized from the description he had been given not too long ago to be a certain Novgaard. The grip of his right hand tightened around the hilt of the blade, produced by the guild spell.
The grunt hadn't lied, it seemed. The man was, well, matching the description, certainly. A massive man, probably around 7'6" in height, would stare down from the top of a barricade at the Ambassador with a wide, toothy grin, framed by a thick beard that stretched from ear to ear. His expression showed sharp, hard features, grey hair surrounding a somewhat wrinkled face, though his body displayed no other obvious signs of age, the defined and excessively muscular stature of the man giving him the appearance of a season fighter. Judging by his name and he appearance Johann assumed that he was originally from Iceberg. His form was wrapped in bound furs, leather, and heavy plates of glistening steel, occasional magic shimmering across the surface of the metal in the form of arcane runes and crystalline inlays. Eyes grey like his hair, one side of his face covered by a jagged symbol that resembled that of the grunt, though his was of an icy-blue hue, his oculars were glowing with ferocity and obvious excitement, mustering the Ambassador with unabashed and direct curiosity. All of this told the Ambassador two things: First, the hulk of a man's troops had been ready to fire on him as soon as they had noticed even the faint hint of a threat, they weren't lacking discipline as those from before did, and second, the man was confident in himself and his abilities. He wouldn't have stopped them otherwise. The silver-haired God of Ishgar couldn't help but wonder. Did he think Johann was not enough of a risk to warrant an all-out attack? The Ambassador grit his teeth, admittedly somewhat unsettled by the chain of events unfurling before him. Was there something he didn't know, a factor that he hadn't yet considered? Would it matter? He and his men weren't cut from the same cloth as most of the thugs and common criminals they had encountered on this island. There was only one way to find out. It looked like the God of Ishgar would have to keep himself in check just a little bit longer, still."My apologies for the delay, your subordinates weren't exactly the most talkative. Novgaard of Highbrand, I assume?"
, the silver-haired Rune Mage would shout back with similarly loud tone, two resounding voices sounding in unison. The man would whistle loudly. "Hah! Ya really did ya research, eh, boy? Who are ya?"
. There was something distinctly disrespectful about being addressed as "boy", especially given the fact that the actual difference in age between the two was probably not too great, though the man brushed that off. "Johann von Weiss. Ambassador of Dies Irae"
. "Oho! Ya one of the higher ups, aren't ya?"
. Johann raised an eyebrow, though the monstrous dark mage didn't appear to fazed. Quite the contrary, to be specific, a jovial grin not fading from his expression. "Ya strong?"
. The inquiry seemed ... awfully casual, Johann honestly unsure how to respond. This man, this Novgaard, as he was called, was an odd one. He seemed to speak with a certain vigor, asking his question out of interest over tactics, as if he was personally invested in the Ambassador's "strength". It was quite bizarre, given the situation at hand. "Find out"
It seemed like those words had been the exact signal the other had been waiting for, Novgaard, with a a hearty cackle and a wide leap, jumping over the top portion of the barricade, his massive body slamming into the road below him before he would return to his full height, easily towering over the Ambassador. A good dozen paces separated the two, but Johann could sense the man's aura and the emotions that threw it into a state of turmoil from where he stood. "Ya won't have to tell me twice. I love me a duel, heh"
. "Before I fight, would you mind answering a question?"
. The out-of-place character of this encounter wouldn't leave the Ambassador's consciouss thoughts, and he had to obtain some sense of clarity for himself. The other, however, seemed to hesitate. "What's questionin' good for, lad? I thought ya wanna fight"
. Johann maintained eye-contact with the other, and while he hadn't been too confident that Novgaard would give him a straight answer, he was, from what the Ambassador gathered, a somewhat influential dark mage, after all, his hopes of getting some information out of the man dwindling. About to resign to what would simply be a fight to the death, he would tense up, his hand wrapping around the hilt of the blade in his right tighter still. "Gods fucking damnit, fine, ask ya questions. But ya better give me a damn good fight, boy"
. The Ambassador's eyes narrowed, though he wouldn't have to be told twice."I understand that you're the leader of this attack on Kenrojima"
. The bearded giant scoffed. "Damn right I am"
. "Then I assume you were the one who ordered what we've seen outside the city walls?"
. Anger began to seep into the man's words, the God of Ishgar unable to continue to hold back his emotions as he evoked the imagery of the massacre they had been greeted with not too far from here. Novgaard seemed to stop to think for a moment, and Johann could've sworn that he'd heard a subtle sigh whistling from between the other's lips before he spoke. "That's right. Sad bunch didn't put up much of a fight. A damn shame"
. The Ambassador's eyes narrowed further still, his brows furrowed. "Why did you do it?"
, the two voices would growl in unison, the dark guild leader losing no time to let go of a chuckle. "Because they were weak. All I care about is a good fight. If ya can't stand up for yaself, can't defend yaself, then by what right do ya exist? Ya live on borrowed time, and anyone can come and make ya their plaything. My men simply did what they wanted, and they were too weak to resist. Couldn't care less, I can tell ya"
Johann lowered his gaze. Was that really all? Was that the entirety of the other's worldview? Something so simple, so easy in its barbarism that it was almost utterly incomprehensible to any rational being would really constitute this man's morals, had driven the decision to slaughter hundreds, thousands of innocent men, women, and children? Johann's thoughts inevitably would trail off, back to days long since past, memories of Amber Island passing by. Had they, too, been nothing but playthings that someone toyed with just because they could."Have you ..."
, the Ambassador began, trying to keep it together as best as he could, "Have you ever fought for something, Novgaard? Do you know what it's like to fight for something other than yourself?"
. The other's first reaction to the question was a distinctly confused "Hm?"
. Then, as if it was the simplest thing in the world, the other would respond, raising his voice in laughter. "I fight cuz I wanna fight, kid. It's really not that hard. Fighting's fun, don't ya think?"
. It was more or less the answer the Ambassador expected. The silver-haired Rune Mage took a deep breath, closing his eyes."I see. Thank you for your honest answers. Now, then ..."
Johann briefly recalled Amalie's promise, the blue-haired woman's smile. Sivvy's expressions and the girl's unmistakably unique attitude. The faces of his guildmates. The island that they called their home. The massacre they had encountered today. The massacre that had occurred 30 years ago.
His muscles tensed, his senses sharpened, an unparalelled rush of emotion and adrenaline that had been held back surging through his veins. The Ambassador ripped open his eyes, two dark oculars adorned with crimson pupils staring at their opponent. Liek flame, the runes on his skin would burn their way across his body anew, alight with an arcane power that gave form to the all-swallowing sensation of rage burning in his chest. His magical aura once again would shift, swell, before exploding with a roar of of power that would briefly crash through the space around them, windows to both sides of the street shattering along the pulse of energy, shards of glass raining down around them. The Ambassador raised the sword, his expression contorted into a grimace of hatred, a growl escaping him before he, too, would eagerly participate in a fight.
"... come and die"
Novgaard seemed delighted by this invitation, and indeed, the display that the Ambassador would show him only seemed to spur him on more. With a shout of excitement, the man would throw himself forward, armed with nothing more than his fists, raising his right with the intention of bringing it down on the silver-haired Rune Mage to crush his skull with brute force. As soon as the dark mage would step into the range of his blade, however, Johann would go on the offensive, his body moving reflexively as it twisted the blade in his right hand. With a lightning-fast swing, a motion that was performed in less than the blink of an eye, the Ambassador had swung the weapon upwards, first severing the dark mage's right arm before, in the same motion, using the same mometum, bringing it down, dragging it across the man's chest, tearing through the man's armor like it was nothing and ripping open a massive gash in his flesh. Blood splattered across the grey cobblestone road, the dark mage stumbling back with a grunt of pain, and though the wounds were serious, the other would give himself unfazed, much to the Ambassador's surprise. The pain alone should be overwhelming. Did the other simply not feel any? "Pah! You little weasel. I thought we would handle this like man, fist on fist"
. Blood would burst from Novgaard's mouth, staining his beard and chin red. "But if that's how you wanna play ..."
. How was he still this agile? The man raised his remaining arm before slamming it down into the road below, a grey magic circle bursting outward where he had hit. With the force of his punch amplified, the ground would begin to tremble, the road below shattering like glass, stone and rubble launched into all directions as nearby houses began to collapse inwards, though the destruction seemed to be fairly localized. Still, getting hit with one of those would spell trouble, even for the Ambassador, Johann swiftly dashing to get out of the radius of his attack.
If he wanted to avoid dragging this out any longer than was necessary, he had to end this. Here and now.
Twisting the hilt of the blade, he would bring the weapon around, a red circle appearing beneath his feet before, in a sudden and immediate shift in space, he would move, appearing behind Novgaard and, with the same swiftness as before, striking forward through the middle of the other's thorax, piercing his heart, before pulling back. The sudden, albeit critical blow would leave the dark mage speechless for a few moments, though he would turn and stare at the Ambassador, who readied himself for another attack. Surprisingly, though, it seemed that another attack wasn't coming, the dark mage instead grinning once more. "Tseh. To think that I'd go out like this. Pitty, but ... I suppose ya are the stronger one, boy. Tell me-"
, Novgaard begun calmly, slowly lowering himself to the ground, drops of his blood gathering at his feet, "-what is it that ya fight for, huh? Is it fame? Women? Money?"
. The Ambassador froze, speechless, once more finding himself unsure of what to make of the man's question, especially at a time like this. "Come on, boy, I was honest, too. Grant a dying man his wish, will ya?"
. Johann took a breath, taking a step towards the man, though keeping a firm grip on his blade. He didn't want any surprises. Novgaard seemed strangely understanding. "Very well"
, the silver-haired Rune Mage would grant the man his request, leaning in closer before whispering something to the dark mage for a few passing seconds before the other's eyes lit up with joy, a broad grin spreading across his face. "HAH! And I thought I was a crazy bastard"
. The dark mage would pause, coughing up more blood. He knew that his time was running out. "Well, it was fun, uh, Johann, was it? Good luck with ya ideas. Ya will need it. That's all from me, but ... before I go out, I have one last surprise for ya. Orders from my boss, ya see. Don't take it personal"
. Johann raised an eyebrow, instinctively taking a step back, and yet, nothing seemed to happen for a few seconds. The tension in the air was almost palpable, and the seconds dragged on for what seemed like an eternity before finally, something would happen. The leader of the dark mages felt his limbs go numb, his vision fade, his world grow grey and dull, though he would muster all of his strength one last time. Drawing one last, deep breath before falling onto his back, the man would release a massive shout, his booming voice echoing throughout the entirety of the city before, ultimately, he would fall silent forever.
"RELEASE THE KRAKEN!"
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