Chapter 7 : Mercenaries, Witch Trials and Whistles
“Once upon a time, Iruvana, daughter of the god Uruth wanted to experience life as a mortal. She incarnated herself as a human and married the King Galavandar, the High King of the Ifnetian Seas. In time, she bore a son. However, the divine blood shewed itself by granting the boy strange magick. Upon seeing that, the King ordered Queen Iruvana to die by stringing her on the walls of the Capital City, on suspicion of having lain with a demon. Goddess Iruvana had locked her divine memories, making her unable to refute. As she lay hung on the wall, the entrails of her eviscerated son around her neck, her father, the Lord God Uruth came upon her disguised as a crow. He asked, “Grant me thy soul”. Iruvana, devoted to her King, said “Nay. Be content with my liver and depart”. The crow ate her liver and departed. On second day, he came again as a fox. Iruvana said the same, offering her tongue. On the third day, Uruth came again as a snake. Unable to endure the pain, Iruvana gave up her soul, regaining her divine form. For 40 days and 40 nights, storm raged on the Empire, at the end of which nothing but dust remained of The Capital and its King”
– Gods and Mortals, Sage Kagashan, date unknown.
I hit the tree canopies before I could realize what was happening. My fall was broken by the numerous tree branches hitting me from every direction. Finally, I broke through the branches and whammed straight to the ground. The spears that were penetrating me had come off during the fall and now clanged down from the branches, like rain. The sword fell blade first and sunk into the earth inches from my crotch.
Bloody fucking hell.
Unbelievable fatigue assailed my body. My muscles were screaming for release. Blood drenched my whole torso. Torn meat and skin showed through the gaping holes in my body. Red drenched bone peeked out here and there. My eyes closed by themselves. I couldn’t keep my lids open even while trying. I was dying.
A terrible sense of danger woke me up. It was as if alarm bells had started ringing in my head. I opened my eyes at once and saw…glowing small fireballs by the tens at a level of about 2 feet above the ground. As my eyes adjusted, I could discern the black masses behind the fires. Kivala packs had surrounded me, probably drawn in by the smell of blood. They won’t let go of an injured, easy prey.
Sweat trickled down my temple. With a shiver I realized their fangs were glowing in moonlight.
How do I fend them off in my injured sta…dafuq?
My wounds had healed. Not that I was fully fit and fine but there were no wounds and the scars had healed up to, I discerned with a touch. I didn’t know what was happening, but this was an opportunity.
I picked up the executioner sword that had fallen with me. It was to be used two handed but made in the length of a one-hand, so a very bad one to be stuck with. I would have liked a shield but… oh well, beggars can’t be choosers. The sword came off the ground when I pulled it out by the hilt. Damned thing didn’t have a tip… so no stabbing.
I took a stance. I put both my hands on the hilt, looking at the green lights reflected from the Kivala eyes. Ages seem to pass as we stared at each other. Tension, thick and palpable like fog seemed to drift up between me and the monsters. My muscles started to hurt from the tensing when suddenly the lead Kivala jumped up, as if a certain milestone had passed unknown. The monster had pounced on me, his paws aimed at my shoulders. I swung up the executioner sword and slashed at it’s chest. The blade dipped in and out smoothly, trailing blood droplets and shreds of meat behind it. The Kivala had died before it hit the ground with a dull thud.
As if on cue, the packs of Kivalas closed in at once, howls reverberating the air around me. I slashed at the front runners, aiming for quick dodge and slashes. The sword cut off the front legs of one but went too wide for a quick slash recovery. A Kivala slammed into my stomach, throwing me backwards.
This bloody sword…I had forgotten this shit is top heavy to cut heads better. The balance is out of whack.
By now, the monsters had surrounded me and came at me from both sides. I swung the sword in a wide arc, taking advantage of the momentum of the heavy blade. For the first time in my life, I understood the idiom flying heads. The sword was good at what it did, that is beheading. I slashed at the oncoming Kivalas in huge arcs, often hitting two at opposite ends, turning my body in a screwing motion as if trying to hit a homerun with baseball bat.
In spite of that, I was only a lone man and there were tens of Kivalas. I was accumulating more and more wounds from their fangs and claws. There were deep claw scores that tattered my clothes. One of my slashes got caught in the spilled intestines of a monster, while another bit me from behind. I let go of the handle as it had got royally snagged, and punched the biting one in its eyes.
Now, I knew that my strength had increased a lot. Those wave like masses that had hit me every time I had killed something? Those were probably some sort of power that passed from the dead to me. Somewhat like exp from monsters in a game, but in this world, it somehow just increased my power. But what did happen, sort of exceeded my expectations. The Kivala’s face caved in as my hands went wrist deep into its brain, blood spraying into my open mouth.
By now, the number of Kivalas had decreased quite a lot. Only a few remained. Their eyes were losing their green glow as day slowly broke. I went near the dead Kivala and tore open its entrails to recover my sword. The Kivalas backed away, seemingly scared.
I swung my blade in a wide circle, to disperse the blood droplets on it. The blade had made a constant whistling sound throughout the battle as it cut the air. That was caused by the 3 holes near its square tip.
Back in Earth, the Executioner Sword was made to whistle like this to strike terror into the hearts of the Executed whenever the sword is swung. The high-pitched whistle was called the song of the blade.
The Kivalas now flinched every time they heard the whistle. Finally, they turned and ran, bounding away in short leaps, tails between their legs. I heaved a sigh of relief, as I propped the sword on my shoulders and took stock of the situation. I panted heavily, leaning on the sword.
By now, the day had fully broken. Soft light had broken through the mountains, illuminating the forest beneath, while still some parts remained under the umbra of the peaks. The ring lay like a black belt across the sky. And I totally didn’t know where I was.
I had never come across this place during subjugation quests with the guard corps. Moreover, there were no traces of any of the jungle trails that criss-crossed the forests surrounding the road to Haven. But, it wasn’t surprising, considering I had probably crossed Haven.
I could recognize the familiar outline of the Ishkal mountains, from a bit different angle than I am used to. By the direction of the sun, Shrafingshire would be North from here. And the distance was probably a lot, considering the distance from Ishkal by eye.
What the fuck did actually happen?
From what I gathered, Arin had probably unleashed some teleport type spell that dropped me here. What I was really worried about is the black light that had flowed out of Arin when the spell happened. It was too close to the black shadows flowing from my arm, I thought unconsciously clutching my arm.
I need to get to Arin. I need to keep them safe.
My teeth gnashed together as I thought about what had happened. I took deep breath to relax myself after the heated fight with the Kivalas. I used the blunt tip of the blade to break a few oversized Kivala canines. Those things could grow up to 20 cms. I used the canine as an improvised dagger to retrieve the Cores and cut myself some meat. Then, gathering some fallen brambles, I stacked them up to make a bonfire. My magic invocation was still shit, but the fire spell could create at least a few sparks to start a fire.
I could think more clearly after eating. I needed more power. The Black arm thing was very unreliable and I didn’t even know what that was. I couldn’t even get to work it again. Even after a lot of tries, I was still here with a very human arm. I needed to find a way to fuse the monster cores with myself. However, I didn’t have access to a Church or Soulcaster to do it. Moreover, they didn’t do it much in the first place due to the huge risks and chances of failure involved. And I didn’t think I would be too welcome at the company of other after the whole demonspawn thing.
What’s up with that, I wonder.
I cut off some pelt from the Kivalas and made an improvised satchel out of it where I kept the Cores. As I understood it, they had a chanting to fuse the Cores with your soul, So I had some experiments to do. But for now, only one thing was left to be done.
I got up and walked towards Shrafingshire, where lay my hearts desire.
I will reach you.
I cleaved open the head of a poison Tirath. The monster was like a five foot long lizard, with a sharp spiny tail and red coloured tough skin. The thing had a one foot long neck that could rotate 360 degrees and then some. These suckers were fast, nasty and plain ugly. What made them dangerous however was they injected paralyzing venom with their fangs. However, the paralyzing venom did nothing to numb pain, so you had to suffer the horror of getting eaten alive while you felt everything in excruciating detail. Yep, so gravy.
I swung the sword again and half of the face of a lizard went flying. These monsters had strong skin that routinely deflected blades after chopping. The only weak area was the head and the neck that had too many vertebrae to facilitate the 360 parlor trick. I collected the monster Cores and walked towards the river I had found.
I kept looking at the cores. A bead of sweat flowed down my spine as I was reluctant to do what I had to. A heavy sigh escaped me as I got to crushing the Cores. Yeah. That’s what I had found out after a bit of tinkering. I crushed the cores into powder, then I diluted them with water and gulped them straight down. Just like knocking back a few beers, right?
Only that this particular one is fucking excruciating. The first time I had tried this, I had fallen off the rock I was sitting on, clawing at my throat. The Core fragments had shredded and tore the insides of my throat, tearing everything on their way down. I had fainted in a pool of vomited blood. However I had noticed the results almost as soon as I had woken up. If I eat enough Cores, I didn’t need to rely on the black arm that Arin hated so much.
I wonder what Arin thinks of me now. That look…she gave me when she saw my arm…I can’t stand it. Can’t stand it, can’t sand it! She thought I betrayed her! She thought I killed everyone on purpose….
Do I even have the right to go save her? Does she even love me anymore?
Do I even have the right to save myself?
I gulped the potion again, my fingers curling up to brace for the incoming pain.
Probably I didn’t.
It has already been the third day that I was separated from Arin. Three fucking days! How long do I have to bloody wander here! I had already killed hundreds of monsters in these forests and consumed their cores. The monsters now ran away whenever they heard the whistle of my blade. I had killed so many that even the sharpness of an executioner sword was gone; leaving me to use it as a bludgeoning weapon.
The whistling didn’t stop. It won’t; until it has met the girl with river in her hair. I’d endure the pain of a hundred Tirath stings if that would have brought me closer to Arin. I had been wandering through this god forsaken forest for days, without a way out. I need to go to her!
Suddenly, I heard shouts of human voice, and growls of the Kivala accompanying it. I ran towards the voices, without paying heed to things around me. I burst into a clearing, with a dirt road through it. I had been so close to a road!
A pack of Kivalas were attacking two covered carriages. The Carriages were pretty big, with canvas covering it’s topside. The 2 pairs of Serrads that were reined to the carriages had went wild, scared of the Kivalas. Five lightly armoured men were defending themselves against the onslaught of the monsters. Two of the men were already severely wounded and bleeding. The men desperately tried to fend off the Kivalas with no avail. The monsters pounced on them repeatedly. Some even attacked the defenseless Serrads, jumping on their flanks and the long neck to bring them down. A well dressed man was shouting, “ Defend the goods, dammit! I don’t want to die here!”
It all took just a few seconds to register. The men were having a hard time, defending the carriages, their wounded, the Serrads and the whining man. I swung my blunt sword a few times in full circle and jumped into the fray. The Kivalas immediately changed their targets towards me, wary of the high-pitched whistle. Their rabid eyes wavered as I gave a bestial howl, not unlike a Kivala itself.
Then, my blade was swung, smashing the limbs of a Kivala, all four if it. I kept extending the same swing till it reached a Kivala that been scrambling to climb the roof of the carriage. That Kivala had the side of its head smashed in, brain leaking out of its other ear. The armoured people didn’t miss the chance and plunged their weapons into the Kivalas. Some fell, while the others turned tail and ran.
The men hailed for me, I put up a hand to acknowledge their shouts. “Thank You so much, said one man, “You saved us there, kid”.
“Its alright. Do you know the way to…” my head swam as I pitched forward, fatigue and relief finally claiming my body.
“Oi…what happened?” The man caught me. I could hear whispers as my whole body relaxed, coming in contact with other people. Merciful sleep washed over me.
“Finally awake, eh, executioner?” a warmly smiling middle aged man said when he saw me wake up.
“Where…what happened?” I asked, still groggy from sleep. I was in a moving carriage, with a few other men. The inside was dark with boxes piled up on the sides. The carriage shook and jerked with every movement. I could hear the sounds of whipping.
“ Black Rhissot mercenary group’s carriage, in service to Merchant Kattors from Sonozoa”, the man said, “You?”
“Rigel”, I said in a pained voice, my muscles screaming from the intense shaking, “an unfortunate adventurer”
The man laughed loudly. His hearty voice spreading into the forest. “A lie, boy. Adventurers do not carry those”, he pointed towards the executioner sword, now propped up against the side of my carriage, “particularly not the ones in service to the King”.
Why was everyone in this world so smart…where are the stupid muscleheads from the Light Novels…
“Secret mission for Kingdom. Attacked by bandits. Left for dead in forest” I delivered, punctuating my words due to the shaking.
“That’s alright. I didn’t want to question our saviour anyways. We men in this line of work do not question”, He said with a somber voice, “But boy, how long have you been in there? Your sword is all banged up”.
“Longer than I would have liked, uncle” I said.
“The name’s Old Krag. Behind you is Dead Raf, the one that looks like he ate a frog is Drunk Bale, the one that is scowling is dead-eyed Drast, and the one lying there is Frothe”, the man introduced everyone.
Everyone put up a hand as a sign of acknowledgement while leaning against the carriage.
“Well. You saved us boy, and fainted immediately afterwards. We dressed your wounds and stuff. Want something to eat?” Krag asked.
Well….I was hungry… I replied, “yes, something quick but first answer me something. Which way is Shrafingshire?”
“We would go to Vessar village so Sharafingshire is on the way. It would take like 4 days to reach”, he said while giving me some bread and dry meat.
“What! Why so long?” I asked, impatience colouring my voice.
“Because it is 500 cress far”, Krag was surprised, “Didn’t you know?”
I sat listening to old man Krag’s stories by the campfire while sharpening my blade with a whetstone. Oil dripped down the cold steel, obscuring the mark of the Kingdom, a winged dragon.
It has been 3 days since I started traveling with the mercenary group. I traded the leftover Cores I had for new clothes and equipment. As a thanks for helping them, One-eyed Drast had fixed my banged up sword. I thought of stealing a Serrad and run, but I won’t reach Shrafingshire without proper directions or food for the beast. Just be okay, Arin, just be okay. I looked up at the sky, the moon hung overhead. The ring glowed at the edges. The same sky, but Arin and I were worlds apart. She might not even want me back. Still, just be okay. I am coming.
“Oi Executioner! Come here, listen to this!”, called out Krag. They had started calling me executioner on account of my sword. It was irritating, but that’s just how mercs call each other.
“Remember the Mounted Royal Army guards we had come across today? They told a funny tale. Come and listen. It came from Shrafingshire.” He hailed loudly.
My hurt lurched. I went forwards with unsteady steps. “They said a demon was caught in that village. A huge demon with black skin and fiery eyes! Fiery Eyes they said haha! It killed a hundred people, ate their heads right with his mouth!” He shouted , half-drunk, “Moreover, there was also a witch with him! The witch fucked him and called him to kill everyone. At the end, the Lord’s son caught him and subdued him with brilliant swordplay! Hah! As if people can win against a demon…specially that brat…hahha!”
“What happened then? Tell me old man!” I shouted, unable to keep composure.
“The witch sent the demon away with her power…after that they caught her and are interrogating her under the Church. They say the witch will be put on trial a month from now…but why are you so excited boy?” he asked, sobering up, “Perhaps…your mission was regarding the demon?”
I couldn’t talk…in fact, I could barely hear the old merc. A storm raged inside my heart. I couldn’t hear anything as blood rushed through my ears. Breath fell in ragged gasps as I shook the old man by his collar, “Take me there right now! Fucking take me there!”
“Uruvath’s spear…boy. Calm down! We can’t, it’s too far…” he said in a panic.
“Take me there no..”, I staggered as my words lost its coherence.
“Sorry, bro. Even if your family was killed by a demon, you can’t go rushing there. Rest for now”, I could see Drast holding his poison blowpipe behind me. That’s not it. Drast
Then, everything turned black.
I was back in Shrafingshire. People milled about in the hundreds at the outskirts of the village. It was a festive atmosphere as food was being sold, toys being peddled. People wore their most colourful clothes and walked boisterously towards the same direction. I saw several people I knew, as I called to them, they didn’t respond. They didn’t even seem to hear me. I ran towards Illya and tried to turn him around but my hands just passed through his body. I looked at myself; I was translucent and incorporeal. I tried to touch everyone and everything, but my hands just passed through everything. No once could see me, or hear me. I was alone in a throng of humanity.
A loud cheer echoed and I looked towards the commotion. A large metal X had been erected and a person strapped to it. For some reason, my heart fell through my stomach when I saw the figure. I ran through people to reach it. It was…Arin. She was barely recognizable. Her limbs jutted out in strange angles, bones and joints out of alignment. White bones poked through her torn skin, red muscles hanging from her naked body. There were holes dripping with blood on her, with severe burn marks on her white skin. The bastards had branded her with holy symbols.
Her beautiful hair had been torn and vandalized. Claw marks gouged across her body, with deep incisions on her breasts, It was as if someone has tried to chop off her body parts and dropped her into a grinder. Long, savage whiplashes had cut open her body, splitting the girl open side to side. Her limbs had been nailed to the metal X.
A….Arin! AAAAAAAAAAH! I wailed like a mutilated beast. My legs folded under me, as my hands clawed towards her. I couldn’t breathe, I gulped for air like a beached whale as I sobbed and cried. I crawled towards her, unable to stand. My voice, which had been shouting all the while in an anguished cry had turned hoarse, choked up. Unceasing tears had entered my throat, making me unable to breathe. I looked around, for help.
People circled her from a distance and jeered at her, laughed at her. They made fun of her tortured body, her nakedness. Men and women who had known her since birth; people who had laughed and cried with her till few days ago spat at her with manic glee. They picked up stones and threw at her vulnerable broken body. Rocks flew through the air, hitting the poor girl. Stones ravaged her already mangled body, cutting open new wounds on her. I ran towards the people, to stop them from throwing. I pleaded, I cried, I threatened but they didn’t listen. My arms went through them, my futile attempts did nothing to stop the hail of stones. I clambered up the X, to shield her from the stones. The projectiles flew straight through my body, hitting her.
I tried to talk to Arin, but she didn’t respond. She was already half-dead. Each time stone hit her, she would groan and writhe, yet no one stopped. The place was drowning with voices pouring searing contempt at her.
“Die, you witch! You dare call upon a demon!”
“Die like the whore you are, opening your legs for a demon!”
“Witches will die! All hail Great God Talaviel!”
“just like her parents…”
“You liked a demon cock? Should have asked us if you were so horny you whore!”
“Praise be Talaviel! With your death we will be cleansed!”
“Die, demon’s fucktoy!”
“Finally, you show your true colours, daughter of the betrayers!”
I was aghast at how people who called her their daughter once were hurting her, injuring her with their hate. The people had started chanting the grace of gods while they mercilessly killed a defenseless girl. I roared with anguish, with pain but what came out was a whimper. No one listened. No one wanted to.
The Bishop Andalus strode forward, upholding a huge piece of glass. He proclaimed with a regal voice, “Now, let the great sun god, Azrakh cleanse this girl’s filth. May she be born anew in fire and join with the father of all. Praise be to Azulai!” With a violent start, I realized what the glass was. It was a piece of convex glass. He held up the glass to the sunlight and focused it on the huge pile of wood and bramble piled under the X. In a few moments, the wood began to smoke and burn.
In the same bonfire the girl had danced a few nights ago, she burned.
When the flames licked her feet, Arin screamed. I screamed with her too…or maybe the people screamed in glee. The girl pleaded people to save her, the gods to release her from her agony. No one listened. When the flames had reached her torso, she had lost all energy to shout. Smell of burning flesh and hair singed my nose. There were armed guards, all around the pyre, condemning the girl, pissing on the flames, wagging their manhoods at her. No one saved her.
My tears had stopped falling . The heat from the blazes evaporated my tears before they could form…or I had no more. Suddenly, Arin looked up, straight at me as if she could see me. Her lips moved, and though no sound came out, I could read what she said, “I love you, Rigel”.
I woke up, screaming. I was still inside the carriage but I knew that what I had seen was real, it had happened already. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing around me, barely recognizing the mercenaries I had been traveling with look at me with panic. Tears stained my face, while my heart still thumped like a drum.
“Which way is Shrafingshire?”, I was surprised at how hysterical my voice sounded.
“S…straight forward along the road we are taking, a day and a half far” someone replied haltingly.
I picked up the executioner sword and jumped from the front of the carriage straight onto the back of a Serrad pulling it.
“Wha…what are you doing?”, Krag spoke in panic.
“Something I would regret not doing till I die”, I replied in a hoarse voice as I cut the reins of the Serrad and kicking it mercilessly to run forward, towards the village of Sharafingshire.