Surprisingly, or perhaps not so, Iros was extremely proficient with his lute. The fingers of his left hand danced through the aged frets with ease, and his right hand plucked the strings with a practiced precision. I watched on in awe as he played masterfully, completely forgetting that I was supposed to be learning how to use my own guitar.
Minutes raced by unbeknownst to me as I was entranced by the notes swimming through the air and into my ears blissfully. All thoughts of earth, my new abilities, this whole new world and even being reunited with my mother, it all faded from my mind until a final crescendo brought the song to a hasty and regretful conclusion.
As if awakening from a hypnotic trance, I looked about, startled to find the doe eyed expression my mother wore, like a young girl being wooed by another tool playing wonderwall.
"My apologies, it has been so long since I have taken her up, I... found myself lost in her strings..." Iros apologized with a bow of his head. "Though it appears I was not the only one to be lost within the music." He mused quietly as my mother shook herself from her trance, wiping a line of drool dribbling from her open hung mouth.
I groaned aloud with displeasure, not keen on the idea of seeing my mother literally drool over some guy I barely knew.
"Now, now, Lord Kenneth, let me teach you what I know. If I can."
We practiced long into the night, only taking a break when my mother finished cooking dinner for us to eat. It looked like a standard chicken strip, but she had called it a cockatrice breast strip. Battered in beer and dried bread crumbs, deep fried in oil over the campfire, it tasted better than anything I had ever eaten in my life.
When I said as much, my mother -ladle in hand- merely harrumphed triumphantly, a look of pride plastered across her still strangely youthful features.
Hours more passed and just before I felt like I was mere minutes away from nailing this ultimate ability riff, Iros abruptly put away his lute and ordered me to bed.
"My lord, we must sleep now. Tomorrow will be a long day as well, your mother plans to summon your father under the first light of dawn, after all." He said evenly as he began to lay himself down on his sleeping bag across from my mother, who was snoring loudly near me.
The shock of his statement hit me harder than I would have thought, and my eyes drooped downward with my shoulders. Iros paused as he noticed my obvious change in demeanor. Abruptly he rose, gently taking me by the arm and pulling me up and walking me out of camp.
"Come, let us discuss away from Lady Lucy." He whispered, a growing dread scoring each of his words as we walked both quickly and quietly. I followed him numbly, unable to pull away even if I wanted to.
Iros pulled me along until we reached a grove of tall trees, their canopy blotting out the silvery moonlight and stars above. Strange foreign sounds echoed in the distance as mysterious bugs chirped and beasts howled. I looked up to see Iross glowing hazel eyes peering down at me.
"Lady Lucy will not be successful in her summoning tomorrow... Will she?" He asked finally after what felt like an eternity.
"No." I answered simply. Naturally, Id had plenty of time to come to terms with his death as it had been years ago, but we both knew it would be a fresh dagger in the heart of my mother.
"My Lady has been eagerly preparing and working diligently for these for the better part of three months. This will devastate her..." He added solemnly.
I nodded my agreement. Now that I had my mother back, the last thing I wanted was to see her in pain. I had spent so many years watching her placid, unconscious face... I wanted no more of that.
"So what do we do?" I questioned, determination set firmly within my voice, willing to do whatever I could. Iros gave a slight approving nod as he reached into a pouch at his waist. Pulling free a large pearlescent orb that swirled with a mix of deep red and vibrant orange, he offered the orb to me. Wordlessly I lifted my free hand and he let the orb drop heavily into my palm.
"This is a heart of living fire. Taken from an elemental inferno king, from the plane of eternal sun." He explained wisely as I rolled the ball around in my hand. The swirling colors within seemed to react to each spoken word as if it were alive.
"Okay, so why
e you showing me this?" I inquired, curious, but impatient as to what the point he was getting at.
"The summoning spell requires many components to be successful. This was among those most difficult to obtain. It is an ultra rare item that has only been seen one other time on this plane of existence."
"Okay, so what... You
e gonna destroy it? Won she figure out that you did that?" I countered, offering the orb back to him, unsure if I was willing to betray my mothers trust in such a way.
"No no no. You are correct, Lord Kenneth... She would know. What I intend to do is drain the orb of its power. Just enough that the summoning spell fails." He explained sorrowfully. "This will force her to restart her journey for materials once more, whilst also giving her the hope she can still summon him..."
I stared into his strangely glowing eyes which appeared earnest and honest. Coupled with his strange samurai like attire, I did feel strangely compelled to trust him..
"I suppose this would give me time to break it to her slowly..." I murmured thoughtfully, to which he nodded gratefully as he took the orb back in his hand. He opened his inventory and handed me a large vial.
"From what I saw of your summoning, the essence of an elemental inferno king is extremely potent, and I believe it will also provide you with a significant boon. Capture it with this vial as I release it, then store it away. I am sure that should she ever discover our plot, she would prefer it this way." He added, the growing sense of guilt evident in his tone. Once again I nodded my understanding and took the vial.
A howl roared in the distance just then, causing me to jump and almost drop the vial.
"Careful, Lord Kenneth! That is a crystal vial you hold in your hand, very hard to craft..." Setting down my weapon Bloody Melody, I took the vial in both hands and waited for whatever came next.
Iros held the orb in his palm, fingers clutching the edges tightly. With his free hand he held out his fore finger and it began to transform into a single large scaled claw, obsidian black and menacing.
"What the he-" I started, but Iros hushed me silent as he brought the claw down, cutting into the orb and drawing open a small gash. Immediately a lava-like ooze began to pour free and he took my wrist in his free hand, positioning it so that the ooze dribbled into the vial.
The minutes trickled by as we watched the orb drain steadily like a dying buck waiting for the hunter to cut its throat and finish it off, its slow plodding essence filling the vial with a dull hiss.
Finally Iros motioned with his free hand that we had enough, and I plugged a crystal topper into the bottle as I watched his clawed finger shrink until only a single scaled finger remained. He pressed it into the bubbling gash and swiped the surface, leaving it as smooth as if it had never been tampered with.
"There." He whispered as he inspected the surface of the now slightly dimmer heart of living fire.
"How did you do that?" I asked curiously as I opened my inventory and deposited the crystal vial, making a note to inspect it again later.
"A story for another time...." He waved away the scaled finger, returning it to normal as he spun on his heels. "Come, let us return before she awakens to an empty camp." He added as he began walking off without another word, leaving momentarily alone to consider what I had just done...
I had just sabotaged my mother... for my mother? Or for me?
Another sharp howl shook me from my quiet brooding, followed by the rustling of bushes and rapid snapping of twigs. Somehow I instinctively reached for Bloody Melody, twisting the guitar upright in my hands as one would hold a true axe.
My eyes darted left and right as I searched for the unknown entities. Iros was immediately beside me, his gaze lazily tracking the moving objects that raced within the trees.
"It appears I must twice this day, disappoint my lady... Not only will she not reunite with her love tomorrow, but she will miss your first fight tonight... I truly must do better.." He spoke somberly, more to himself than to me.
Not bothering to examine the enemy any further, he instead turned to me, scrutinizing me with a tough, well trained eye. "Widen your stance, my lord." He said as he slid his foot into mine, forcing the stance wider. "Drop your knees.. Like so." He added as he pushed down on my shoulders. "Good, good. Now, hold your shoulders back, and your axe high... Higher... Here." He instructed as if he were teaching a child to fight for the first time... Which I may as well have been.
"Now, these are Horned Owl-Wolves. Strong in a pack, and agile, but fairly weak. They are all less than level 5. So more than doable. I will watch from the sidelines and intervene only should you become wounded. But trust that I will not allow you to perish here, Lord Kenneth."
"Hey, quit it with the lord stuff. Just-" I started in protest.
"Here they come! Focus!" He interrupted harshly, stepping back away from me just as a strange grey feathered wolf with a massive jagged horn leapt from the shadows, its frothing mouth trained directly for my throat...