Previously on Aetherius Saga…
Jon the Compassionate, Sage of Water, returned to his old home of Cider Village only to find it threatened by the Crustavo. However, even with their Leviathan summon the Crustavo are no match for him. Jon spares the invaders and offers both them and Cider Village his protection. Now, he travels once more to meet his brother in the Mystic Jungles…
The nearest major town to Cider Village was Jova Village to the southwest. Like much of the Highlands, it was a quiet and peaceful village. It’s the first town many go to when traveling between northern and southern Poluyim when avoiding the Kingdoms of Nanow and Xanad. Jova Village was more of a resort than an actual town. Its main attraction was the artificial hot springs created using the natural lake the town was built around. A portion of it was closed off and then heated by Voltranic Coal, a unique stone from the Va’ Sif continent. Blessed with Aether from the Fire Elemental Agni, it gives off a constant warmth year round. Because of this and its location on the borders of two Kingdoms, it existed as one of the few neutral territories in Zeratal.
“Ugh.” Jon groans as he lays face first in the grass. “Tella, go on without me. Let me reincarnate and go to them. They’ll treat you better than I do.”
“Mwor…” Tella mews disinterested.
“It’s okay Tella. You don’t need to cry. All will be-” Before Jon can finish speaking he’s bitten on the hand by Tella. “OW! That really hurts Tella…” Jon sits up to leer at Tella when he realizes a traveling Centaur is standing within view staring at him blankly. “Hiya.”
“Are you okay?” the Centaur asks. His brown mane flowing in the wind.
“Oh fair traveler, I’ve walked many long days and nights captivated by my surroundings and the wondrous creatures. Taking time to draw each with equal care and detail all the while. Sadly, my talent is too great and the time spent doing it was far longer than anticipated. My supplies have run out and now I lay at death’s door. I implore you…would you mind letting me ride you to Jova Village?”
“Is that all? Hop on, I’ll give you a ride.”
“Really? Thanks, if I knew it was gonna be that easy I wouldn’t have wasted your time.” Jon says with a smile before getting onto the Centaurs back. “I’m Jon the Compassionate and my fuzzy friend is Tella.”
“Like the Sage?”
“Yup, that’s me.”
“Uh huh…I don’t believe you.”
“Why does everyone say that? Isn’t Tella proof enough?” Jon asks turning to look for Tella who is nowhere in sight. “Of all the times…” Although Familiars lived to assist the Sages, they were not always required to be by their side all day every day. Historically, they’d only appear when required to assist them and the fact Tella was with him so frequently was a rarity.
“Whoever you are, I’m Reinhardt of Jova.”
“Nice to meet you…” Jon sighs.
“So what really happened?” Reinhardt asks.
“I was planning to visit my brother in the Mystic Jungles but I may have gotten a little too distracted. Spent so much time drawing and taking my time I used up the little I had.”
“How long ago was that?”
“I think that was maybe 13 days ago?”
“Thirteen…it takes a week to walk from Cider to Jova.”
“I get really distracted easily.” Jon defends poorly.
With Reinhardt’s help, they arrive at Jova Village with little delay. It’s streets filled with the most diverse population throughout Zeratal. Elves, Trelzans, Humans of all walks of life, and more roamed more or less peacefully. The Centaur that led the town were a largely peaceful race but they were formidable when threatened. What they lacked in respect they made up in fear.
“Thanks for the ride Reinhardt. Hope our paths cross again soon.” Jon waves farewell before departing. His first destination was an inn to the northern side of town connected to the hot springs. It was the size of a mansion and built primarily from stone walls and bamboo roofing. While the external took architecture cues from the Myurkyurians and Highlanders, the inside took from the Mages. Using a mix of wood and straw flooring. On one end was the check-in where a Highlander innkeeper attended to visitors. On the opposite was a Request Board hung against the wall where Guilds could take a variety of jobs. “Hi, how much would it be for a room?” Jon asks the Highlander innkeeper.
“That’ll be 150 Gold for a night, sir.”
“Seriously? Why is it so high?”
“Do you know any other inns with a hot spring? No? Didn’t think so.”
“Is there any way to get a discount?” Jon asks with his best attempt at a cute smile.
“But what if I said I’m one of the Seven Sages?”
“Still no and then I’d remind you that the saying Sage is off limits here.”
“The town is still neutral but talking about them or any of the religions usually leads to nothing good.” his brow furled in annoyance. “So are you going to get a room or not? We don’t have space for freeloaders.”
“Pfft, I am no freeloader good sir. But I will get back to you on that room.”
“Come back when you have gold to spend.” he scoffs crossing his arms.
Ignoring the innkeeper’s complaints, Jon walks to the Request Board and examines it. “Excuse me.” he says facing a nearby warrior. She wore heavily plated armor synonymous with the Knights of Celestia. “Would you happen to know any Guilds active in the area?”
“Yeah, which one were you looking for?” she asks.
“Have you heard anything about The Eternals Guild recently?”
“Not much, they usually stick to the Mystic Jungles. Jova’s a little too far out of their area. There are closer Guilds if you needed a job done, or maybe I could just help you.”
“Thank you for the offer but I was just making sure they’re still active.”
“How would looking at the Request Board answer that one?”
“It wouldn’t but it’d let me ask someone like you if they were.” Jon winks with a thumbs up. “Thanks again.” With his question answered Jon leaves the inn. “Where to stay now?” he sighs before trying to think. The loud talking from nearby distracted him. A massive graying Centaur leered down onto a group of soldiers from the Empire of Myurkyuria. Their smooth samurai armor shone golden in the sunlight. Their leader wore a horned helmet emulating a wolf’s head.
“We aren’t playing favorites.”
“Yet we aren’t treated any better than commoners. After all the traveling we’ve done just to get here shouldn’t we get more respect?” The leader asks.
“You want more respect? First, stop pissing me off. Second, we have people who come from as far as Ari’ Divo. You aren’t special so stop pretending you are. Lastly, you do this again and I will crush you under my hoof.”
“You’re going to regret this.”
“No, I don’t think I will. Now get the hell out of my town.” he snorts fiercely, staring down the leader until he finally leaves.
“That’s not good.” Jon thinks to himself. “Excuse me, those guys have been coming here a lot?”
The Centaur glanced at Jon briefly to size him up before responding. Yes but it’s not something we can’t handle.”
“If say…they were to come back and try to attack and someone were to stop them. Would that someone be able to get a discount on a room in the inn?”
“Ugh, why is everyone so stingy?” Jon groans.
“Don’t go doing anything stupid Highlander.” the Centaur orders before walking off. Despite Jon’s heritage as a Mage, his clothing was synonymous with the Highlanders of the region and he’d often be called by that title. While the Centaur was dealing with the Myurkyurians, Jon sensed something off about them. Whether or not he’d get a discount he decided to follow the soldiers. Their camp was small and located 10 minutes outside of Jova to the south. Although they made threats on the village they hardly had enough people for the task. Only about 14 scouts were present not an outright attack force. Rather than doing anything about them, Jons first instinct was to pull out his sketchbook and begin drawing them.
“EK!” Jon shrieks as an arrow lands at his feet barely missing him. “I come in peace!” he exclaims with arms raised. Within a minute he’s surrounded. “Um…hi.”
“I remember you, you’re that Highlander from Jova.” The leader thinks aloud. “Did Chief Faust send you?”
“No, I came on my own.”
“Who are you then?”
“Jon the Compassionate, Sage of Water.” he says nonchalantly.
“Hahahahah, you’re a Sage?”
“Why does everyone act surprised when I say that?” Jon sighs.
“You’ve given me a good laugh. I’ll let you run back to your master this time.”
“Thanks but again, I came on my own.”
“Is that so?” he says drawing his sword. “Why are you here then?”
“We really don’t have to fight…I just had a feeling and thought I’d look into it.”
“And what feeling was that?” his patience begins wearing thin.
“That something was wrong with your Aether. I saw someone with the same black stains not too long ago.”
“I’m done entertaining him. Cut his head off and let’s be done with his ramblings.”
“Would you really behead a guy with glasses?” Jon asks with a nervous chuckle that receives no response. “Guess you would.” he sighs before standing up. “I’m not a huge fan of doing stuff like this but you aren’t giving me much choice.” his words calming and soothing the soldiers.
“W-what are you doing to us?” Unable to fight back, his sword drops to the ground.
“Sage remember? I’m just pacifying you a little. Really wish we could’ve talked this out without me being forced to do it this way. This isn’t your fault.” Each word more comforting than the last. The Aether swirling around them all gently. “I know the war has taken its toll on you. But please, be at peace. You don’t have to threaten or bear a grudge against people who haven’t harmed you. They aren’t your enemies.” The Aether purifies and changes into a white hue before calming. Jon then wipes dust off his glasses before putting them back on. “Sorry I had to do that. But I don’t really like the idea of getting stabbed a lot.” Jon puts on his glasses once more before walking off. “Remember what I said! Don’t go attacking innocent people anymore!”
“Kazumi, take my horse and inform the Emperor.” The captain watches as a female archer rides off as quickly as she can moments before a kunoichi appears. Her black ninja garb kept her species of origin perfectly masked. “Jubei, follow the Sage and use your Aura to keep us informed.” Without saying a word, she disappears as swiftly as she appeared.
Following having successfully stopped future attacks against Jova, Jon returns and finds Chief Faust sitting exhausted in an office that was little more than a glorified stable. Dealing with conflicting interests was a daily occurrence that bored him to no ends. With the mix of different cultures and species, there was no shortage of things to deal with.
“Next!” he bellows as an elderly woman steps forward with a slight shake in her walk. “I swear if it’s another complaint about the Trelza shedding by the hot springs you’re just going to have to deal with it. The Aether cleans the water so it’s just a nasty sight. There’s nothing actually wrong with it.” The poor old woman was too scared to respond. “Well? Speak up.”
“I-I just wanted to ask if there was a part of the hot springs that was a bit cooler.” she meekly says.
“Oh…” Chief Faust’s expression goes from bored and harsh to a more relaxed one. “When you go to the hot springs you just have to go to the left most portion. There’s a separate section where the water is still warm but not as warm as the main area. It should be more tolerable for you.”
“Thank you sir.” she smiles relieved.
“Was there anything else?”
“No, thank you again.” she says before departing.
“Next.” Chief Faust bellows signaling Jon to step forward.
“I was wondering, how long have the Myurkyurians been trying to take control of Jova?”
“A few months…did you do something Highlander?”
“I’m a Mage, I was just raised Highlander…And I just had a talk with them. They won’t be bothering you anymore.” Jon smiles proudly to the annoyance of Chief Faust.
“What did you do?”
“We just talked.”
“What. Did. You. Do?”
“Fiiiiiine, I’ll tell you. As one of the Seven Sages, I took it upon me to investigate why they were bothering you so I followed them. I then drew them because that’s a thing I do, purified them, and told them not to go after any innocent people. Namely you guys.”
“…Next.” Chief Faust waves off Jon’s explanation as a tall tale.
“Only one thing left to do…” Jon thinks to himself before returning to the inn. “I’d like a room please.”
“Sure you can actually afford it?”
Jon inhales and ignores them. “I’d like a room please.”
Reaching into his bag he pays the innkeeper. “Here you go.”
“Pleasure doing business traveler. Let me show you to your room.” He says without a hint of his normal condescension.
The room was small and simple. Just a bed for one, nightstand, and a closet. Modest but a step up from what many wanderers would make in the wild. Jon didn’t often stop at inns but he also rarely had money. It was the second time in months he was able to lay down on a soft bed. In moments he almost falls asleep. The sound of Tella’s mew was the only thing that stirred him.
“Welcome back Tella, had fun?” Jon asks before she jumps on his chest and lays down. He gently runs his hand down her back. “That’s good. I was kinda worried about you. Next time make a noise so I know you’re leaving okay?”
“Raowr.” Tella purs, rubbing her head against Jon’s chest.
“You mind if we stop at Cerise’s after our trip is done? There’s something I need to find out.” Jon glances at Tella who’s sleeping peacefully.
“I need more friends who can actually talk back to me.