By Kayne Sampson
For Grandpa Len, who taught me the joys of storytelling;
My little brother Korey (Boy), who has both seen and assisted with the evolution of my characters;
This is an independent book, Your reviews and comments are worth gold to me. Please consider leaving one on www.amazon.com when you are through. That would be fabulous.
LIGHT AND DARK
The silver haired boy stumbled backwards, cautious of the snow underneath his feet and took a moment to catch his breath and gather his bearings. There was no dancing around the fact that Keta Night was outmatched. For all his skill and training, he couldn’t win. After all, how could you defeat the man who taught you everything you knew?
Standing opposite him was Master Inferno, or rather his former Master. Keta would forever address the man as Master, however. The man was over twice his age, and that alone should have granted him an advantage. But Master was a Demon, and they stood as the most powerful race in the world.
Keta’s hand faltered as he struggled to keep hold of his sword, blood running down his arm. He had several cuts on him already, and the fight had barely started a minute ago. He realized that Inferno was toying with him.
“Why do you continue this useless endeavor, Keta?” Inferno asked, walking forward slowly, his red and black outfit contrasting the white snow. “You know you cannot defeat me.”
His Master’s voice was hypnotic, both menacing and alluring. It held such power over others that you couldn’t help but agree with him. Keta had always looked up to him as a child, and wanted to be like him. But he couldn’t help him now, not this time.
“I can’t stand idly by while you and your cult work to commit genocide.” Keta said, boldly holding his stance.
Inferno stopped moving. “You would protect the Humans who oppress my people? Who slaughter us like we were monsters? They created the Empire and their first decree was to order the execution of all my kind? Why?”
Keta thought carefully about his next words. His Master was a hero of the Demon people. “Do you remember what Master Xehemoth taught us? What you have been doing...what you are trying to do goes against all that!”
Inferno roared and stomped his foot into the ground, as flames erupted around him. Keta leapt to the side to evade the raging fires that threatened to engulf him. “Don’t you dare mention Xehemoth to me right now. It is because of those Human filth that he is dead right now. His dreams died with him, because those he wished to protect betrayed him. Why would you continue to defend them?” Inferno asked, pointing his blade at Keta.
When Keta didn’t answer right away, Inferno continued. “The way we operated, this...cycle of fighting and seeking redemption. Always looking for the best in our enemies, trying to save them as well as those they would persecute. In the end, it could only end one way, as Xehemoth’s death proved. If you continue on your foolish crusade, you will die with a blade in your back as well. Knowing that, do you still wish to continue this?”
Keta, stung by the words Inferno had spoken, was silent. Finally, he shook his head slightly, and resumed his stance. “I won’t let his dream die. I understand your grief, but he wouldn’t want you to do this.”
The giant man paused for a moment, his eyes narrowed as he pondered his words. For a moment, Keta felt that he had finally got through to the older Demon. But when he finally raised his head, there was only sadness in his eyes. “Perhaps...but I know that he would not have wanted to die, either.”
Inferno spread his arms out in a welcoming manner. “Keta, I give you this ultimatum. I will destroy this world that Humans have created and make a better world for my people. It will be bloody, but it is necessary. You do not have to join me in my crusade, but if you don’t support me, then leave. Hide amongst the shadows, away from the light. Because you have a kind heart, and I wish to spare you the sight of the slaughter to come.”
But then his voice hardened, and his arms fell to his side. “However, I have no more time to waste on patience with you. My people...they need a savior. I will bring them into the light. If I must stain my hands with the blood of my enemies to do so, I will carry that burden. If you oppose me anymore...you will die.”
Keta stumbled to one knee, lifting his gaze to see his mentor’s eyes. He knew them, but where there was once warmth and hope, they were now cold. “Then it seems we have no choice. I can’t look the other way any longer.”
The older man stared at him for a moment, and Keta saw the hurt flash in his eyes, if only for but a moment. Then Inferno shook his head sadly, and pointed at Keta. “Very well then. Let us put an end to our story, my young friend. I shall make this quick for you.” Inferno grabbed his sword with blinding speed for an older man, and charged. Keta lifted his blade and readied himself. But in an instant, his sword dropped to the ground and blood splattered the snow as he fell forward and everything began to fade around him as he entered into oblivion.
“Goodbye Keta Night.”
It had been over 2 years since Pent Telim had left his village to hone his sword skills in the wilds. It was an ancient ritual that the Demon clans of old used to undergo during their ascension into adulthood. It had fallen out of practice quickly, as the mortality rate for the children involved had been catastrophic and the Demon population had begun to dwindle.
Still, when he had been only a few years old, his mother had been killed in a raid executed by the Human Empire. He had been helpless to save her, and he had begged his father and older brother to train him as a warrior from that young age. He had picked up the sword every day with them until the day when he could learn no more from them. And so he had left.
Looking over the peaceful snow plains, accented by the falling snow, Pent realized that even though he had refused to admit it, he had missed his homeland. His mentor had told him that he could not spend his entire life fighting. He had told him to go home and see his family, visit his friends, and celebrate his birthday. For less than a week ago, he had turned 12 years old.
He knelt down before a small grave amongst the rest in the small graveyard that lay outside the chapel. ‘Here lies Milada Telim, loving wife and mother and honored priestess of the Frostclaw clan.’ His mother’s death had been especially hard on him, making him realize just how cruel and unforgiving this world was.
“Power controls everything in this world,” Pent repeated the mantra he had had given himself every day since that fateful night. “Do not worry, mother. I have become strong enough to protect everyone.” Reaching into his tunic, he pulled out a crudely made bouquet of flowers and laid them by the grave.
A sound brought him out of his thoughts, and he whirled around in the direction it had come from. He had heard the sound before...one of the weapons that the Humans carried. A cowardly weapon, used to feel less inferior to his kind. Deadly, but he had experience dealing with them. He began to make his way towards the sound, and as he got closer, he began to pick up scents. Three Humans...and blood.
At last, he could start to see the outlines of the intruders through the heavy snowfall. Two Humans were standing and arguing, but one of them was lying on the ground. As he was pondering this, it was only then that he noticed that the snow around the fallen figure had turned red...blood? Had there been an altercation between the Humans?
The Humans hadn't seen him yet. Pent pitied their weak senses. He had no love for Humans, but he had always been taught not to antagonize them by his father. 'I'll just have to frighten them off the land, I suppose.'
"Can you believe that the stupid thing tried to fight us?" Pent stopped in his tracks, and stood still, trying to listen.
"Johnson, you idiot! Why did you shoot? I was trying to talk!" The man who was speaking was smaller and younger than his comrade, his blonde hair cut in a regal style that made him appear refined.
"I did you a favor, boy. That person is one of the most wanted criminals in all of the Empire. The way you were going on, they would have escaped," the man named Johnson said. He was a muscular man, at least a head taller than the other soldier. His grizzled face turned into a smile, and he clapped his ally on the back. "But when we return to the council, we are going to be rewarded quite well."
"I don't care who it was or what the rewards would be. How can you shoot so casually? Hmph, is this what I am to expect from the ranks of the Empire military?"
"Look here, kid. I understand that you come from nobility and all, so this might be foreign to you. But the rest of us have to work hard so those pampered pricks can continue to hold their little council meetings. Whoa, hold on there," Johnson stepped back, as the younger man whirled around in anger. "I didn't mean you, I meant those other nobles who sit around all day and order us around. You've proven yourself, kid."
"Yeah, proven that you are a pair of bloodthirsty brutes." Pent said, as he knelt down to look at the fallen Human. He could feel the gaze of the Humans on him, confused as they turned to see him. While they had been arguing, he had snuck past them without their knowledge. He felt a flash of anger when he saw that long raven colored hair fell over the face of a young girl.
He looked her over, noticing that her wound was still bleeding. There was no other choice, he would have to take her to receive medical attention. Just as he was preparing to pick her up, he noticed that the big Human had pointed his rifle at him.
"I don't know who you are or where you came from, but this is Empire business. Move along." Johnson growled.
The younger man sighed, but added "You'd better listen to him. This is official business of the Empire."
"Right. And how does the Empire business justify shooting a girl? Huh? Answer me!" Pent shouted, standing up and clenching his fists. "What gives you the right to just do as you please. You make me sick. Arguing over stupid little things while this girl might die. Did you ever think of getting her help? Do you even care?"
For a moment, neither of them spoke. The younger man opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Finally, Johnson spoke up. "We are just following orders, boy. And sometimes, those orders aren't pretty. But it's our duty as soldiers to follow the will of the Grand Commander. The Empire does what it does to protect us from the Demons that roam this land, and keep us safe."
Pent laughed and lowered his hood. "And how will the Empire protect you from this Demon?" Pent asked, his red eyes flashing in the night as he stared down the two men.
"Crap...he's a Demon!" The blonde man said, taking a step back.
Johnson was less than impressed, however. "What are you doing? He's just a kid.” This man was a true soldier of the Empire; cold and ruthless. Pent could tell just by the look of the man’s eyes that he had carried out some of the more heinous acts the Empire was known for. Still, none of that mattered to Pent.
He turned his attention back to the girl. She was still bleeding, and it needed to be stopped. “I’m going to take this girl to my village for some medical attention. Seeing as you are Humans, I doubt you have a city or outpost nearby that you can treat her with, correct?” Pent asked.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that he had flustered the older man by ignoring him. Instead, he kept his weapon aimed at him and watched. The younger man was the one who answered him. “No, we do not. However, we have been ordered to bring that girl back to headquarters with us. As good natured as you are feeling, we cannot allow you to take her into a Demon village. Please, for your own safety, I require you to stand aside and not interfere.”
This girl was their target, and when the Empire wants something, it usually gets it. But not here, outside of the Empire’s territory. Pent had no love for Humans, but this girl was barely any older than him by the looks of her and they were hunting her like an animal. If she didn’t get help soon, he feared the worst.
“You are a long way from home, Empire soldiers. You hold no jurisdiction in these lands, unless you are an advance force for an invasion. And given your...questionable weaponry, I can rule that one out. No, it’s just you two correct? You’d best go then. My father has asked that I avoid antagonizing Humans of the Empire, but he would not object to me dealing with a pair of intruders on our lands. Now, if you’ll leave me be, I have to get this girl some medical attention,” Pent said, kneeling down beside the girl.
He heard the weapon move in the wind, and with his eye still trained on the soldier, saw his finger move. Realizing what was happening, his eyes predicted every move that could come next, and chose the most likely one. So when the soldier pulled the trigger of his weapon and the bullet flew past him as he dodged to the left, the soldier was left standing in confusion as to why his weapon had missed at close range.
Pent did not give him a chance to react afterwards. Following his dodge, he pushed off the ground and kicked up snow at the Empire soldier. The Human instinctively raised his hands to shield his eyes and Pent reached down to his waist, drawing one of his prized swords from within the sheath hanging from his belt. With the brilliant crystalline blade in hand, he made a quick cut and sliced the man’s rifle in two.
The man watched as half of his weapon fell to the ground, and the other half rendered useless in his hand. He dropped the remaining half, and began to back up, his hand on the hilt of the sword hung at his waist. This was Pent’s favorite part; to see the look of fear on a Human’s face as they realized the mistake they had made by challenging him. Gripping his sword, he stepped forward to finish the deed.
“Stop!” Pent halted his advance as the younger man stepped in front of the two, spreading his arms. “The boy is right. This girl needs attention. If your village is nearby, and you can help her, then we must entrust her to you.” The blonde man said sternly, his eyes meeting Pent’s.
Pent carefully considered the man’s words. He sounded like he was telling the truth. But before he could do anything, Johnson spoke up. “Hey! What are you doing? This is a mission for the Empire. You can’t just throw it aside because you feel sympathy! If you don’t have the courage to do this, then perhaps…”
Pent watched with amusement as the blonde man turned and hit Johnson in the face. The older man held his hand to his cheek, giving his partner a look of utter fury but the younger man showed no signs of intimidation.
“You seem to forget that I am in charge of this operation. I have endured your rashness as best I can, but if you continue these acts of insubordination, I will be forced to report this directly to our superiors. Do not question me again.”
Pent let his pride get the best of him and he flashed a grin. “I’m glad to know at least one of you Humans knows their place.”
The blonde man turned to him and Pent noticed that it was not fear in his eyes, but determination. “Do not let my decision fool you, Demon. You are right, that girl does need medical treatment. I am not without mercy, I will allow you to take her. However, we are still on a mission. We will return for her after she has healed.”
Pent stared at the man, both amazed by his calmness and outraged by his audacity. “You can’t be serious. What right do you Humans have to tell me what to do?” His grip tightened around his sword hilt. ”I could just take care of the two of you right now and put an end to this little problem."
“I’ve no doubt you have confidence in your abilities, kid. But my partner and I are trained soldiers of the empire. And even if you were to best us, it would take some time. I’m sure you realize that this girl does not have the luxury of waiting right now.” The blonde man stated with his arms folded, nodding towards the injured girl.
Pent let out a small curse, but sheathed his weapon. This Human was young, but he was clever. He had no idea how powerful this man was, and an extended skirmish with him was not in the girl’s best interest. The young man had made a read on his personality and made a judgement call. He was both impressed and enraged.
“Get out of here, before I change my mind, Humans,” Pent said, kneeling down and picking up the girl in his arms. Johnson looked furious, and he was sure that if Pent had not destroyed his rifle, he would have tried to shoot at him again. The younger man seemed honorable enough to keep his comrade in check, and this was affirmed as the two walked off into the storm while Pent watched.
Pent watched them through the blizzard until he was sure they were really retreating and turned. The scent of his clan showed him the direction of his village, and he let out a small sigh as he began walking towards it. It had been years since he had been home, and now he was bringing a Human back with him...
“Gerald is not going to be happy about this…”
The trek to the village from the graveyard took less than 5 minutes. The girl was surprisingly light, and Pent was able to sprint with her in his arms. As he had come into sight of the village gates, he was stopped by one of the watchmen, but after recognizing him and realizing the condition of the girl, he was quick to admit him inside.
As he had expected, his elder brother had made a fuss about him bringing home a Human to the village, but his sister had been the voice of reason. He had stayed in the room while the clan healer had done what she could, sitting in a chair in the corner. After, she had told him that there was nothing else to do but wait until the girl woke up and that he should get some rest. Pent had declined, and had resumed his vigil. He wouldn’t be able to sleep until he knew that the girl would be okay.
He had met Humans who were cruel, but that Human soldier he had met was a new low. Why would they attack a young girl like that? It was curious. Still, it was at least a few hours until he heard a whimper, and looked up to see the black haired girl starting to stir. She sat up and began to shake her head, looking around.
“Good, you have awakened. I was beginning to worry,” Pent said to break the ice and announce himself. The girl whirled her head around, and spotted him in the shadows at last. Such weak eyesight was one of the things that Pent always pitied Humans, one of the reasons they feared the darkness. But he didn’t want this Human to be afraid. So he decided to stand up and present himself.
His gesture was not met well. In the dark, his red eyes were probably even more noticeable. The girl let out a gasp of surprise, and started to move herself backwards, falling over the edge of the bed she was lying on and landing with a thud. When Pent rushed over to the bedside to help the girl up, she threw her hands up in front of her and began cowering into the corner of the room.
“No, please...no more. Just leave me alone.” The girl said, covering her face.
“Relax, Human. I am not going to harm you. I brought you here to receive medical attention,” Pent said, moving forward and extending his hand to help the girl up. He was shocked when the girl slapped his hand away.
“Don’t lie to me! You are a Demon. Why would a Demon help a Human? This is a trap...you are just like all the others. You want me for something…”
Pent looked down at his hand, and then back at the girl. “Listen, I don’t know about that. I just…”
The girl moved back into the corner once again. “Why won’t everyone just leave me alone! I just want to live in peace!” The girl was crying now, her face in her hands. For a moment, only her sobs could be heard as Pent stood in silence, before turning on his heel and leaving the room He had tried to help the girl, but…he could do nothing for her right now. Only time could help her.
The familiar voice was soothing to his ears, and Pent turned to greet his sister. “Hello Ophelia,” Pent said, as the girl rushed up to hug him. She held the embrace for a while then pulled back to get a good look at him, studying his face carefully. “What is it?”
The girl let out a sigh, and reached out to touch his face with her hand. “Brother, you have grown so much since I last saw you. And yet, I am saddened. You have scars all over your body now.”
“What did you think I was doing all this time? You can’t become a warrior without a little sacrifice. Besides, what kind of man would I be if I didn’t have at least a few scars to show off,” Pent replied with a roguish grin.
The girl laughed and let out a small sigh, brushing blonde hair out of her eyes. “It’s really good to see you again, Pent. But I have to leave now. I have to check on another patient of mine. Strangely enough, that girl you have brought me is not the only outsider that has shown up injured. Make sure you go and visit father and Gerald, I’m sure they will be anxious to hear of your exploits. And I want to hear all about it later today.”
Pent bade his sister farewell, and left the building, feeling the sun bearing down on his skin. Thoughts were jumbling around in his head. That girl was drawing heavily on his mind and he had no idea why, only that he needed to talk to her again when she had calmed down. But he would worry about that when the time comes. For now, he was finally home.
Keta Night was awakened by the sunlight pouring in from the window. The last few memories in his head were a bit hazy, but he could recall one thing vibrantly. He had confronted his former Master and tried to stop him. And he had failed miserably in his attempt. There was no way around it, he was not even close in strength. And yet, as he looked himself over, moving his arms and legs, instead of crippling pain, he felt only mild injuries.
A girl walked into the room, interrupting his thoughts. She was carrying sheets, and when she noticed that he was sitting up smiled at him. "Ah, you've returned to the land of the living! We feared the worst when you came to us."
"I've been in worse shape...but tell me, do you put all patients in your care in confines?" Keta asked, gesturing to his body. He had been tied up, his arms and legs in binds.
"You’ll have to forgive me, I was content to treat your injuries and lay you to rest. However, our captain of the militia is a cautious man. He would not allow me to help you unless he was allowed to take...precautions," she explained, and moved over to him, placing a hand on his forehead. "Ah good, your fever has left you. You were in a critical state when you arrived."
This struck Keta as odd. He could remember little regarding his battle with Master, but he had been bested quite thoroughly. Master had not tried to kill him, but was intent on incapacitating him for a while, no doubt to eliminate him as a threat. And yet, here he was, with only a few minor injuries.
Before he had a chance to bring this up, the girl spoke up. "Forgive me, but Gerald requested that I inform him immediately when you regained consciousness. If you will wait here, I will bring him to you," And with that, she hurried out of the room, leaving Keta to his thoughts once more.
Keta took a glance at his bindings. They would have been easy for him to escape, but he'd rather avoid causing trouble and simply meet this militia captain to explain his situation. Instead, he lay back down and started to think about what would happen next.
But in the end, he was still at a loss when a young man walked into the room and stood at the foot of the bed in front of him. He looked older than Keta by a few years, but was built much larger. His eyes were piercing, as if he distrusted everyone he ever met, and it was only then that he noticed something that he must have missed with the young woman. He was a Demon.
"All right, speak now. What brought you to our village in such a state? Who are you? Where are you headed? I need answers," The man spoke quickly, folding his arms and looming above Keta. Another Demon? Had the Master sent him to the Shadowlands? Still, he couldn't worry about that now. After all, he was in the middle of an interrogation. He tried to keep his face blank as he started to think about his next answer.
"Well, I'll try and answer as best as I can. But I can only answer one at a time," Keta said, sitting up. "I am Sora Maxwell, a travelling mercenary. I was working a job, and well...I failed to put it bluntly." He'd rather not give up his real name in a place like this. Despite everything he did, there were those who did not take kindly to his actions. It was better to stay anonymous and tread on the safe side.
The man's eyebrow raised over his left eye. "A mercenary, you say? It's poor form for a mercenary to suffer defeat. Besides, when has failing a mercenary job not resulted in the death of the losing side?" The man was quite perceptive, it seemed. He had every right to be skeptical, but what Keta had told the man, besides his name, had been the truth.
"The reason I still live is that my foe was an honorable warrior. Though, he was no slouch on the field of battle for such a man, either. Aye, it's quite a blow to my ego. In truth, I fancy myself a skilled swordsman," Keta said, admiring his acting skills. He had to play off his personality as that of a mercenary. Thankfully, his best friend just so happened to be one of the best mercenaries in the world, so it was easy to mimic him.
Keta did not like lying about any of this. Though the man looked frightening, he could tell that his dedication came from trying to protect his people. He was generally a good judge of character. Of course, because of what he was is just another reason he was forced to lie about his existence. If the Empire...or even some of the Demon clans ever found out what he was, there would be chaos.
Keta tried to hide his emotions and appear as another of many sellswords in the world, as the man looked at him. He could only guess what was going through the older Demon’s head. Finally, he spoke. "Come, the clan leader would have words for you." Drawing a sword from his belt, he cut the ropes that bound Keta and helped him to his feet. The man then started to walk and motioned for Keta to follow.
"I'm surprised that you’d cut my bindings. I'm grateful, but aren't you concerned that I will cause trouble for you?" Keta asked casually, rubbing his wrists as the two exited the building.
"I am armed, and you are not. I would be a poor excuse for a warrior if I were to be bested by you under these circumstances," came the response, and the man turned to him. "I am Gerald Telim, of the Frostclaw Clan. Forgive my brazen attitude with you. I needed you confined until I could speak with you and ascertain your temperament. You are a guest here, so I would not treat you unkindly. Welcome to Frostclaw Village." As he said this, Keta felt a surge of respect for Gerald.
Keta was thrilled to feel the sun on his skin again as they stepped outside, although his excitement died down once he felt the cold air and the snow beneath his feet. His Master had always trained him to ignore the elements and focus on his task, but he secretly despised cold weather.
His initial reaction to the outside was replaced by the realization that everyone in the village had stopped and was looking at him.
Keta had visited both Human settlements and Demon settlements, and the two were nothing alike. While Humans lived using the technology they were so proud of, the Demons lived off the land. This clan was no different, wearing animal hide clothing and living in modest living conditions. Despite being inside one of the houses just recently, it had eluded him how buildings such as these existed in the middle of a snowy wasteland...the pain and confusion had made him oblivious to such a fascinating observation! How was this even possible? These Demons must have some skills to erect such buildings out here.
Gerald had been approached by one of the older villagers, and the two had begun conversing, as a few more gathered around them. Keta noticed that the other villagers were watching, but kept their distance from him. A few of the children began to inch towards him, no doubt curious of the outsider. Keta was about to say hello, when Gerald grabbed his arm. "Let's go."
The two of them walked together, Gerald in front and Keta following behind until they reached the biggest building in the center of the village. It was then that he realized just how small the entire village was. He was about to ask about this when Gerald disappeared inside the building. Keta let out a small sigh. Gerald may have his respect, but the man wasn't very friendly at all. Keta quickly followed after him, almost crashing directly into the man as soon as he entered.
"We shall wait here! Our clan leader has guests."
Keta nodded, but from where they were standing, it was not hard to hear what was going on inside. Keta had no desire to snoop, but in his line of work, information on his surroundings was key...
"Well then, have you come to a decision?"
"Why do you pester me so? I was given more time to decide. You have no right to be here asking such pointless questions."
"I understand, but even you must understand that there can only be one answer."
There was loud shuffle and a banging sound. "Silence, pup! Do you know of whom you speak with?"
"But of course...you are the great Peter Telim, hero of the clans and legendary warrior. We all know your name. But of course, you know who I speak for, yes?" The voice was soft, but he could sense the foreboding tone behind it.
There was a moment of silence. "Leave me. You will have your answer, later."
Two figures, draped in black travelling cloaks, appeared in the doorway to the room. They stared at Gerald and Keta, as the young man moved to the side to let the guests leave. One of them was a small Demon woman. The second was a giant of a man, wearing an imposing skull mask over his face. He felt their gaze upon him, studying him, as he moved to let them pass.
The woman walked past, flashing them a smile as she did so. She was very pretty and it seemed like she was looking directly into his eyes as she went by. The man said nothing, as he followed his partner. The two walked into the sunlight and out of their sight. Keta felt himself breathe, and his muscles loosened up. He hadn't realized how tense he had become. There was something strange about those two...
"What honest man can hide his face behind a mask in public? What ill company has he been keeping?" Gerald muttered under his breath, as he walked into the room. Keta joined him, and was greeted by the sight of what he assumed was the clan leader. "Father, I bring you the stranger who came to us injured. His name is Sora Maxwell."
The man he called father had been standing with his back to the door, looking at something on the shelf, when he heard Gerald's voice and turned around. If he had thought Gerald looked imposing, his father had outmatched him easily. "Ah, the sleeping beauty rejoins us. Forgive my son, he takes his position seriously, as you might have noticed. But where are my manners? I am Peter Telim, the leader of this village."
Even Keta had heard the stories of the legendary Demon Peter Telim. Now, the famed warrior stood before his very eyes. As Peter reached out to shake his hand, Keta realized that the stories really were true, as he offered up his left hand over his right. The man was a muscular giant, but where his right arm should have been, there was nothing.
These were times of war, but it never made seeing the casualties any easier. Keta's face must have betrayed what he was thinking, because Peter flashed him a smile, saying "Don't worry about this, it's an injury from years ago in my youth. My people consider this a badge of pride."
Gerald cleared his throat, and his father turned to him. "As I said, he says his name is Sora Maxwell, and that he is a mercenary. He claims he sustained his injuries after a mission went sour."
Just as his son, Peter's face showed his skepticism. For a moment, Keta wondered how he would react before the older man let out a great big laugh, and added "This is cause for celebration, would you not agree? It's not often a man lives to fail as a mercenary. That usually signs their death warrant. But tell me, Sora, where are you from? You are no Demon, but I can't mistake you for a Human, either."
He was baiting him, and Keta could now see the wisdom that made this man the leader of one of the Demon clans. However, Keta had lived his whole life concealing his identity, and he was ready for this. "If only I knew myself. My mother was a Demon, but she would tell me nothing of my father. We are of the Firehawk clan. She was one of the few who survived that fateful day, and we'd travelled on our own until the day illness took her from me." Keta recited the origin his Master had given him years ago.
Peter looked thoughtful after this story. "Ah...the massacre...what a dark day that was. Damn those Humans that think they are better than us. Forgive me, I did not wish to bring up such painful memories, it is just that I have never seen eyes such as yours. This may sound silly coming from a Demon, but they look otherworldly. But pay me no mind. If you grew up amongst the clans, then you are welcome to stay with us until you have recovered as my guest."
"Father! He may have ties to the clans, but he is still an outsider and a mercenary," Gerald spoke up, causing the two to turn their attention back to him. "We have no idea what his mission is, or if the one who did this to him in the first place will return to finish the job. If we are to secure the safety of the village, we should send him away now. It may seem harsh, but it's the only way to protect the clan."
For a moment, there was silence. “Gerald, one day you will lead the clan in my place. And while your efforts to protect our people are admirable, you must remember. We of the Demon clans never turn our back on one another. Unlike the Humans, we have our pride. You will have to realize this one day," Peter said.
"Yes Father, I understand. Forgive me." Gerald said, bowing his head to the older Demon. Demons held their customs very close to heart. Gerald turned to Keta and added "Come, I shall find you a place to rest during your time with us."
"Thank you. It has been an honor to meet you, sir Telim." Keta said, bowing to the chief before following Gerald. The two walked in silence out of the building and through the village road. He had been speaking to the son of the famed warrior Peter Telim this whole time and he hadn’t even realized it. He could only imagine what it must be like to live in the shadow of such a great warrior. Whatever was going on through the man's head, it had something to do with the words his father had given him. Keta didn't like it. He decided to lighten the mood with some light conversation. "Gerald..."
"No, don't say anything. It is I who should apologize," Gerald said, not stopping or turning around. "My father is right. It was rude of me to suggest that you leave. I...hope you won't hold it against me." Gerald's voice was different as he said this. Perhaps he was still confused about his role. He respected his father as the clan leader, but this must be a matter they disagreed upon. Keta was about to reply, when Gerald whirled around, his eyes flashing. "Move!" He shouted as he drew his sword, pushed Keta to the side to get in front of him and held up the blade just in time to block another sword from cleaving him in two.
Keta crashed to the ground, but instinctively rolled and leapt to his feet afterwards, straining his neck up to get a look at his attacker. The newcomer was one of the villagers, a boy by the size and look of his face, who quickly repelled himself from the weapon lock and leapt to a safer distance, holding his sword at the ready. His long blonde hair fell and settled from the abrupt movement, but Keta's gaze was at what was holding his hair back. He was wearing a red headband with the insignia of a dragon; the very same insignia upon his own headband that the Master had gifted him! With a shock, he just now realized that he was not wearing it. But there was no time to worry about that now it seemed.
"Pent, what the hell are you doing? Put that away. This man is a guest of the clan," Gerald said.
"Step aside, Gerald. That blow was meant for him. If he was a real warrior, he'd have seen such an attack coming and stopped it. Well, what are you waiting for? Is this really the best you can do, Silver Flash? Or would you prefer I simply call you Keta Night?"
Keta cursed in his head. Whoever this boy was, he knew him and his reputation. Things weren't looking good. If he was an enemy, Keta would not have much of a chance against him. The boy was armed, and of no small skill given the surprise attack he had launched. 'My sword must have been confiscated when I was brought in, no doubt thanks to Gerald,' Keta thought to himself sourly. Could he be from the Brotherhood of Shadows? This was a Demon village, after all.
"Silver Flash? Keta Night? What nonsense is this, Pent? This man is Sora Maxwell, you must be mistaken." Gerald explained to the younger Demon, not lowering his guard.
"Sora Maxwell? How craven are you, Night, that you would hide behind a false name!” Pent said indignantly, turning to Gerald while pointing at Keta. “I know that man to be Keta Night, my Master has described him to me in no small detail. I have followed his career with quite some interest."
Master! Keta grimaced, realizing that he must be an agent of the Brotherhood of Shadows. Master Inferno was the only one who could have such knowledge of him...at least the only Master alive. Had he sent one of his agents to make sure he could cause no more problems? Keta shook his head. He had too many questions, things that didn't add up. But for now, he had to help Gerald. If this boy was of the Brotherhood of Shadows, then he could not let the young man become involved.
"It's okay, Gerald. It's me he is after. I won't let you fight my battles for me." Keta said, walking past Gerald, who still had a stunned look on his face. "If you know who I am, I assume you mean to fight with me. I will accept, under one condition. We take this outside of the village. I don't want anyone to get caught up in the battle." Keta hoped that he was dealing with one of the more rational members rather than one of the fanatics who held the cause above all else.
"Worried for others over yourself? That line of thinking will get you killed one day," the boy gave him a smirk of contempt, and Keta immediately didn't like this Demon. "Still, I’d rather not have my people injured in the crossfire. Very well then, I accept. I've been waiting for a chance to cross blades with you for a long time, I can entertain your notions of justice this time. Follow me!" And with that, Pent sheathed his weapon and began to walk away.
Good...that will keep the people out of harm's way, Keta thought to himself. However annoying this brat is, he was honorable enough to accept my request. But now comes the hard part. Now he would actually have to fight.
"You don't have to fight him, you know," Gerald's words interrupted his thoughts. Keta looked back at the man, who was staring at him with actual concern in his eyes. "That one is crazy! Just say the word, and I will put a stop to it." Whatever harsh things Gerald had said to him earlier, he was willing to defend him still.
"Thank you, but this is my battle. However, I will need to ask you a favor. If I am to fight, I will require my sword," Keta asked. Gerald looked thoughtful for a minute, before removing something from his belt. His sword, tucked away in its sheath! The Master must have dealt him serious injuries, for him to be so unobservant as to not notice the man had held his blade on his person all this time
Gerald noticed his shock, and laughed. "What? Did you think I would leave a stranger's weapon with anyone, other than myself? Especially one of such an interesting make..." Gerald said, admiring it once more before handing it to him. But his hand lingered on it, as Keta took it. "I will not interfere with your fight, I know how important these duels are to you travelling swordsman types. I must ask that you restrain yourself from striking the killing blow. As crazy as that boy drives me, he is one of our own."
Keta nodded, slinging the strap across his shoulder. He lifted his hand and let it rest on the hilt of his sword, feeling whole once more. He looked over to where the boy stood at the gates, waiting for him, and began to walk. "A word of advice, however?" Gerald offered, as he was walking away, "You will need to fight as best as you can. Because if you don't, he will kill you for insulting his pride."
"Great! What have I gotten myself into this time?" Keta mumbled under his breath, following his challenger. As he neared the gates, the boy took off into the fields, motioning for him to follow. Keta made his way outside the gate, the man guarding it giving him a nod of acknowledgement.
Keta followed in silence for a minute or so, then without warning, the boy rushed at him. Keta, surprised by the impulsive action, leapt backwards and twisted in midair, landing on his hands and flipping himself back to his feet, a distance away. Whoever this kid was, he meant business. Reaching back, he removed the sheath and drew the blade from within, tossing the empty holder aside. He held up his sword, the purple blade gleaming in the sun. Abyss, the Demonic blade...a gift from his former Master and quite possibly one of the most powerful weapons in existence.
"That's quite the magnificent blade you've got there, Night. How about we make a wager? If you lose to me, I get your sword!" The Demon child exclaimed, leaping at him again and swinging the blade downwards from above this time. Keta brought his blade up and deflected the sword to the side, exposing his attacker’s side. But the boy had been expecting this and aimed a kick at his ribs.
Keta's reflexes kicked in before he could make contact, however and he caught Pent's foot in mid air. If he could manage to throw the boy to the ground, the battle would be in his favor from the start. This second of thinking cost him and Pent slammed his palm into the snow, pushing upwards, causing Keta to stumble.
Taking advantage of this, the boy twirled his sword out of the weapon lock and swiped upwards at Keta’s unprotected stomach. A good attempt, but Keta was no amateur and he dodged to the side and leapt backwards to create some distance between the aggressive Demon. Keta thought this would be a good time to try and speak to the boy.
“You are skilled, but you also are impatient. You know my name, yet have not introduced yourself to me? Gerald called you Pent back in the village, did he not?” Keta asked, lowering his guard as he spoke. If he could get some more information from the child, perhaps he could find a way to settle this without bloodshed. The boy did seem to follow the warrior’s code, so Keta would try to appeal to his honor.
“Very well, you shall have it then. I am Pent Telim, of the Frostclaw Clan. Or as I will be known, the man who bested the Silver Flash,” came the response, and he rushed at Keta again, his sword raised.
It seemed that he would get nowhere trying to talk his way out of this one, but at least he knew a name now. Bringing his weapon up to guard himself, he struggled against Pent’s might. For such a young boy, he possessed great strength. “Telim? So then you are related to Gerald and Peter then? You share their name,” Keta asked.
“I grow weary of talking. You will have answers when our duel is decided. That is of course, assuming we both come out alive,” Pent said, with a sadistic grin. Overpowering Keta’s grip, he pushed away his guard and stabbed at his exposed body. Keta saw the motion and almost reacted too slow to avoid the sword's tip from stabbing into his chest, barely sidestepping and freeing himself from Pent's trap.
With momentum on his side, Pent slashed at Keta's chest with his now free right sword arm, but Keta surprised his opponent by nimbly leaping over his sword, and hitting the ground in a roll, creating distance between the two combatants. Keta was panting slightly, realizing how close he had come to being sliced in half, while Pent turned around, looking annoyed.
"You are no slouch, that is for sure. A sword fight is usually won within seconds of it's conception, yet you have managed to avoid my sword," Pent complemented Keta, holding his sword at his side. "However, you are a coward. You agreed to the terms of a duel. I must insist that you begin taking things seriously and fight me."
"Very well, but I trust that you will regret those words soon. Your offensive is impressive, but Master should have told you that while a sword fight is won in seconds, a good warrior knows that defense is invaluable," Keta said, walking forward. "Allow me to show you why I am known as the Silver Flash." With a burst of speed, Keta moved towards the boy.
Pent moved to intercept with his sword, but Keta moved alongside the blade. Pent let out a gasp of surprise, for Keta had evaded with such precision that body and blade were nearly touching. Before he could even react with his left hand, Keta grabbed hold of his wrist, twirled and flipped him onto the ground on his back.
Pent's sword dropped to the side of him as he fell, and against another lesser skilled warrior, Keta would claim victory with that move. Pent was not a novice, however, and before Keta could even attempt a coup de grace, the Demon kicked out at his legs, forcing him to fall. Grabbing hold of Keta's vest with both hands, the boy brought his left foot up and pushed it against Keta's chest, throwing him backwards. Keta hit the ground, and instinctively rolled to his feet just in time to see Pent retrieve his blade.
‘This is ridiculous,’ Keta thought to himself. This kid was years younger than him, and yet his abilities were far beyond his own at that age. Was this the hidden potential of the Demon clans? It was no wonder the Humans coveted their abilities so. Still, he was a Kitaan trained by legends. He couldn’t afford to lose here. Not when the Master had taught him other techniques. And one that would turn the tides of battle in his favor, he realized as the Demon child rushed at him once more.
Pressing the offensive, Pent stabbed at Keta's stomach, forcing him to block the strike. The moment the swords connected, the Demon flicked his wrist to break Keta's guard and aimed a punch with his free hand. In an instant, Keta ducked the blow aimed for his head and thrust a palm at Pent’s chest with his free hand. Pent braced for the impact, probably fearing nothing from a simple strike with his powerful Demon body, but Keta knew in his head that nothing could have prepared him for what had happened next.
Keta was a Kitaan, a race that once served the gods. As such, he possessed certain divine powers that were gifted to his people. His palm struck Pent’s chest and an explosion of light blinded the pair; but not before Keta saw the look of awe on the Demon’s face. Keta held his ground fast as spirit magic erupted from his palm and crashed into Pent, launching him backwards through the air until he crashed into the snow, sliding several yards before coming to a halt. Keta’s hand fell to his side limp and he crashed down to one knee, exhausted. It had been quite some time before he had been forced to use that skill...the technique the old Master had dubbed the Dragon Fang.
As with the others, the Old Master had taught them all a legendary technique that best suited the abilities of the user. Keta was not strong like the others, so instead the Old Master had changed his teaching of the technique for him. Rather than focusing on the brute strength of the technique, it borrowed from his own magical (or more accurately divine) power as a Kitaan. It wasn’t lethal, but it’s incapacitating ability suited Keta’s fighting style.
But...Keta realized something was wrong. “This isn’t good…” He muttered to himself, looking down at his arm. He hadn’t fully recovered from his injuries, and in his weakness, his entire left arm had been paralyzed. Was it really the injuries, or had he just neglected his spirit training for too long? Whatever the case, he let out a sigh of relief. His ace in the hole technique had gotten him out of quite the jam this time. He started to smile, but it didn’t last.
Pent was slowly lifting his head, and Keta could see the struggle that the Demon boy was putting up in his face. ‘How could this boy still be conscious after such an attack?’ Keta raged inwardly. He may have trained with the Master, but even so, how was a boy as young as him able to withstand his most powerful attack? No, he had to stay calm. Even if he had managed to remain conscious, the battle was his. And he had to take it now...however young this boy was, he was an enemy and he had to treat him as such.
As Keta began walking towards his opponent, the fallen child gave him a glare of contempt, his Demonic eyes flashing. “What the hell was that? What kind of sorcery did you employ against me?” The young boy yelled indignantly at him. Keta was slightly off put by the offended tone the boy had taken. It was a battle, and he did what he must. However, he felt the boy deserved at least some explanation...whatever differences they had, he was a fellow swordfighter.
"You have trained with Master, you must know of the ability. That was the Dragon Fang, one of our prized techniques. Mine is infused with a special type of magic, one many are not aware even exist. And that is why they call me the Silver Flash, because I can defeat opponents, and all they ever see is a flash of silver." Keta explained. "Most people believed it was because of my hair."
This did not appease the boy at all, if anything it made him all the more furious. "Regardless, this was a duel between swords. You dishonor the tradition by bringing your wizardry into the fray. I thought you would at least grant me an honorable battle," Pent yelled at him, and Keta could feel the anger resonating off of him.
For a second, Keta looked confused. This boy was talking about honor and recognition too much for his position. "Pent, why are you fighting me? What does the Brotherhood hope to accomplish by sending you here? The Master had made it very clear that he could put an end to me at any time." Something about this wasn’t sitting right with him. For whatever his feelings toward Pent, it seemed like the boy wanted an honest battle to test his skills. Most of the Brotherhood would put the mission above personal pride.
"What the hell are you talking about? The Brotherhood of Shadows, is that what you mean?" Keta was all the more shocked at hearing the confusion in Pent’s voice. "Why would you think I would be involved with those radicals?"
"You were saying you trained with someone who knew me very well, that you call Master."
"Yes, Master Xuan always said that you two knew each other from when you were children. He claimed you were his best friend, though I would question his taste in friends if this is true,” Pent said.
Hearing that name was a shock for Keta. But at least now everything made sense, and though he was still confused, he was delighted to hear that his old friend was still well. Indeed, the ability to face off against a student of Xuan’s was pretty interesting. So this boy wasn’t one of the Brotherhood after all...he let himself relax as the revelation took effect. Xuan must have been bored indeed if he had taken on a student. He had never seen his friend take an interest in anything for very long.
"Well, well. I think we have a case of mistaken identity for you as well. I believed you were one of them, yet the Master you speak of and the Master I speak of are two separate people. So then," Keta said, dropping into a ready stance once more, “You truly wish to merely test your skill against me? My apologies. However, I would not lose to a young man such as yourself, regardless. I would never be able to forgive myself for sullying my Master’s teachings.”
Pent had been slowly getting to his feet, first by lifting himself up on his knees, then carefully onto his legs steadily. Then, he clenched his fists and his expression changed once again...Keta could feel his determination. Why? He shouldn’t be able to stand, much less fight. Just what the hell kind of training did Xuan give this boy? Keta thought to himself. Or was it the boy’s will alone?
“I don’t give a damn what you think, to be honest. Master Xuan always spoke so highly of you, and yet you aren’t honorable at all. In fact, if I hadn’t let my guard down, you wouldn’t have landed a scratch on me,” Pent boasted, bending down and picking up his sword and holding it at the ready. “You aren’t even worth your reputation, Silver Flash. So come on, let’s end this now!”
From an outsider’s point of view, this must have been a pathetic sight. A man with a crippled left arm and a child who could barely stand about to engage in a sword fight. Keta laughed inwardly at himself, though he made sure not to show it for fear of offending the young warrior further. As much as he hated the boy’s attitude, he respected his warrior’s spirit. “Very well then,” Keta said simply, and started to run towards the boy, sword raised. Pent did the same, his movements still unsteady. Even without his left arm, he could easily overpower Pent in the boy’s current state and force him to submit.
Or so he thought.
Keta’s sword went spinning through the air, landing far away in the snow. A beautiful crystal sword tip was pointed directly at his chest, held by Pent’s left hand. Keta’s weapon had been knocked out of his hand with such force that he felt his arm nearly wrench from it’s socket. Keta stumbled back and fell to his knees. The battle was lost.
He had not been expecting the surprise from the boy. In an instant, he had reached for his belt and drew a second sword from it’s hidden sheath. He had noticed that Pent had two swords hung around his waist during their encounter in the village, but Keta had assumed he carried spares just to be safe. A sword in each hand, he had struck both blades against his single sword, with more force than he could have imagined. The flawless movements, the grace at which he moved the blades, it seemed that Pent had been trained expertly in a two weapon fighting style. He had been careless again.
“A twin sword fighting style?” Keta said, both his arms hanging uselessly at his side. “Bold. Very bold, Pent. And yet...it suits you, I believe. Well, claim your victory then. I’ve lost.”
Pent held the blade tip up to Keta’s throat and stared at him for a moment. Then the boy scoffed, and sheathed his swords. “I can’t fight you like this, Night. This battle will be settled at another time,” he stated, and turned away, walking towards the village.
Keta was speechless. Here the boy had been going on about beating him in combat, and yet he was declining his victory? Even after he had witnessed Keta’s techniques. “Wait! What are you doing? You could claim victory with that last attack? Why are you withholding?” Keta asked finally.
“I am not a coward, Night. There is no way you should have been so weakened after one of your own techniques. You can’t hide it, you still have not yet recovered from your injuries. I noticed you were favoring one leg during the battle. I will wait until you have recovered...and then I will best you at your truest potential.” Pent explained as he walked off.
Keta collapsed to the ground, with a grin on his face. Even if he didn’t like the boy, he respected his warrior’s pride. He looked up to see Gerald walking over to him and gave his head a small shake. Had the young man been watching the whole affair? “You two are quite skilled. As Pent’s older brother, it warms my heart with pride to see him evolve into such a warrior. But I’m afraid what you did near the end eludes me. Magic was never my strong suit,” Gerald mused, reaching an arm out and helping Keta to his feet.
“Nor is it mine. I am a jack of all trades, master of none it seems,” Keta said sheepishly. Of all the warriors that the Old Master had gathered to join him, he was undoubtedly the weakest...not strong like Xuan, nor gifted in the magical arts like Velgauder, one of the other initiates. And he was nowhere close to the level of Sarel, his deceased older brother. He felt a sense of longing for those days gone by when he was amongst his old companions. This was something that he could never have again, he realized with a pang of sadness.
“Lucky for you, I know a master of healing trade. We’re going to get your injuries looked at. Follow me,” Gerald said, and motioned for the Keta to follow him. Keta trudged along obediently, holding his sagging shoulder with his one barely usable arm. The pain from his battle was excruciating. It felt like the boy had broken his arm in that attack, which made him fear Pent’s prowess even more. The amount of power in a boy that young was frightening. What the hell had Xuan done to him?
Keta crashed into Gerald, who had abruptly stopped. The warrior turned to him. “Wait here, I need to have a word with our healer.” And Gerald disappeared into a building. Keta looked around, and realized it was the same building from which he had awoken. He didn’t have to wait long, for soon Gerald emerged and with him was the same young woman that had entered his room earlier.
He had been too dazed and confused to note her appearance before, but now he realized that she was young like him, with long blonde hair that flowed past her shoulders, tied together at the back. She wore white robes that seemed very different from the other villagers he had seen earlier. The design was familiar to him, but he couldn’t recall it right now. Before he could think about it any further, the girl walked up to him and looked him up and down.
“You and my little brother are quite the warriors, I see. You should have asked me before you ran off to fight. I would have told you that even though you are back on your feet, you shouldn’t be doing anything strenuous for a time,” the Demon girl said, not unkindly as she extended her arms, her hands covered with lace gloves. “May I?”
Keta nodded, and the girl took his injured arm in her hands, feeling around up and down. Keta did not like the feeling, but he’d been in worse shape before, so the pain was nothing new to him. After a few more moments of this, she stood up and turned to her brother. “Gerald, I believe our dear little brother has shattered this young man’s arm. I did not expect him to return so powerful.” Keta cursed, knowing just how long an injury like this would set him back.
Gerald merely grunted, and stepped forward. He took a look at Keta’s limp arm, before muttering to himself, “Remarkable. I was nowhere near his skill when I was his age. What on earth has been doing these last few years.” His contemplation was interrupted by the girl clearing her throat behind him. “Yes? What is it, sister?”
“Our guest will need to stay with me for a while. I need to treat his injuries...again.” She added, giving Keta a teasing look. Gerald was glaring at Keta from the thought, and the girl noticed this too. “Brother, you know that I am the clan’s healer. Everyone who is injured must be in my care. I don’t sense any hostility in this man, if that is what you are worried about.”
Keta didn’t know if she was willfully ignorant of why her brother was protesting him staying with her, or was just playing with him. Either way, Gerald growled before giving his consent. “I have to report to father about all this. You! If you cause any trouble for my sister, whatever Pent did to you will pale in comparison to what I do.” Keta nodded and Gerald took his leave. Soon, it was just Keta and the girl left.
“My my, those brothers of mine are quite dramatic, yes?” The girl said, turning to him with that smile of hers. “You’ll have to forgive them, they are very passionate about what they do. But where are my manners? My brother mentioned me, but allow me to introduce myself. I am Ophelia Telim, the Frostclaw clan priestess.”
That was where he had seen those clothes before. They were garments worn by the priests and priestesses of the Demon clans. Demons believed that the world and all in it were created by a Goddess, one whose name was lost to history, and that one day she would return to the world. Perhaps because of their dire living circumstances, many clans stuck to their religious beliefs, both out of faith and as a reason to carry on.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ophelia. My name is Keta Night.” There was no point in hiding his identity any longer now that Pent had revealed his ruse. He wanted to shake her hand, but when he tried to stand, he realized that his body was spent, and he lurched forward. Ophelia held out her hands to catch him, but his reflexes kicked in and he was able to steady himself. “I’m sorry. Thank you for the help. Your brothers are warriors, that’s how warriors act.”
“Regardless, the least I can do is now reverse the damage my brother has wrought upon you. Come, I’d like to get you returned to bed so I can take a look at you. Can you walk?” Ophelia asked, and Keta nodded. “Good, come along then.”
She led him inside and ended up showing him to the same room he had been sleeping in. He saw his headband on the desk and hastily grabbed it, putting it on. He felt safe with it. While she continued her examination Keta and Ophelia had a pleasant conversation about her village life. Though hers was different as the priestess, she told him of the usual days that passed by. He was intrigued by the lives of ordinary people. He had been grateful to the Old Master for raising him, but he never had been able to experience a normal childhood as a result.
Unfortunately, he could not speak about it to her. He had been given certain restrictions on what he could speak of. His existence was public, but his origins were not, and Master Xehemoth had made it clear that he was not to speak of such things. He never understood why though, the existence of Kitaan pretty much proved the existence of the gods. Nevertheless, the Master had forbade it and he respected his wishes.
“You must live an interesting life, being a mercenary, Keta,” Ophelia said, without looking up.
“I’m not a mercenary, exactly.” Keta replied. “I’m more of a…”
What exactly he was going to say was lost to him. Instead, his eyes were focused on Ophelia. She had removed the white gloves she had been wearing and was holding her palms one on top of the other over Keta’s right arm. A brilliant light began to shine from her hands. As it happened, Keta felt the strangest sensation. Then, there was pain from his arm, like it was twisting and turning. It only lasted a moment, and then it was gone. And he could feel no pain in his arm any longer. Startled, he reached out and grabbed her hands.
“No don’t!” She screamed, and she yanked her hand away fiercely, jumping up from where she had been kneeling and backing up to the wall, holding her hands and staring at him with wide eyes.
Keta realized that his reaction must have frightened her and held out his hand to calm her down. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to grab you like that. I was just...that light. It captivated me for some reason. I reached out without thinking. Forgive me, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“No, I’m not scared for myself. I was scared for you. Or I was. But something is different. Why are you not hurt like the others?” Ophelia said, and she moved forward and picked up the gloves that were on the ground. Slipping them onto her hands, she then stared at Keta.
“What do you mean? You healed my arm. I didn't even know that divine magic could do things like that…” Keta said incredulously. The only people he had ever seen use divine magic had been him, his brother and Master Xehemoth. He had always assumed that he was the last of the divine vessels.
“Something is very strange here. You act like you know what my power is,” Ophelia said. She moved closer to him again. “You called it divine magic? I’ve never heard my father speak of it thus. I’ve only known that from a young age, I possessed the ability to heal injuries. But it comes at a cost. Whatever magic flows through me, it is too potent. Direct contact with me results in the person becoming injured. That is why I was concerned when you touched my hand.”
“It won’t hurt me,” Keta boasted. He understood what was going on now. He was no expert on magic, but Master had always made sure he understood the basics. If someone was harnessing magical energies into their bodies, it was dangerous to touch them. But if this girl was avoiding contact at all times, that must mean that the amount of magical energy coursing through her was extremely powerful.
“I can see that. What I want to know is why? Everyone that has ever touched me before has been hurt by me. You are the only one who hasn’t been. Why is that?”
Keta had always been careful to safeguard his secrets. He had never spoken of his past with anyone other than Master and the others he had grown up with. It was a natural part of his life to live this way. And yet, looking upon someone who shared something he thought he was the last of, he felt his need for secrecy vanish.
“It’s the reason I could tell what you were doing, and the reason you didn’t hurt me when I touched your hand. I can control divine magic as well, so my body has adapted to it,” Keta said. “The reason the others can’t touch you is because...your power is overflowing out of you."
“Overflowing? What do you mean by that?”
Keta lifted his hand to explain. “People that can use magic, or divine beings, have that initial magical essence stored within their body. It’s how they can do what they can do by releasing said power at any given time. You...can’t seem to control this essence. Or rather, it's constantly generated from your body. It’s too potent for regular people to be exposed to.”
The girl had been listening intently to his explanation, nodding her head every now and then. When he finished, she tilted her head to the side with a quizzical look on her face. “You sure know a lot about this. But I have to know, why does it not affect you? You said your body has adapted. How?”
Keta had already come this far. “The reason I can do all this is because I am a Kitaan.”
There was a moment of silence between them. When she spoke, she was calmer than he would have expected. “Kitaan? As in the angelic enforcers of the goddesses? But then this is amazing!” Ophelia said and she started pacing, overcome with excitement. “Do you know what this means? There are so many that don’t have faith in the world. Your very existence proves that the goddesses really existed!”
“Well, of course. How else would the world exist?” Keta asked. Master Xehemoth had always mentioned that he had met the goddesses. It just seemed silly to him that people would question how the world came to be without creators. “I never expected anyone would believe me so readily.” Many people of the world would prefer to remain skeptical of things they did not understand.
But the priestess shook her head. “I believe you, but it’s not unreasonable for people to think that way. After all, nobody has heard from them in a long time. And the difference between Humans and Demons? Well, some might find it easier to believe that it wasn’t due to divine initiative.”
Keta had never thought about it like that. He wasn’t a Human or a Demon, but the difference between the two races was like night and day. The Human population was much greater than that of the Demons, but it must have been hard to live in the shadows of what ifs.
“This is fantastic!” Ophelia said, clapping her hands together. “I’ve never met someone that understood me or this strange power before. Since I was a young, nobody has been able to touch me. This blessing doubles as a curse. But now…” she reached out for Keta’s hand and held onto it. “Nothing!” She exclaimed, giggling.
“I should hope it’s nothing.”The voice startled both of them and they turned to see that Gerald had returned. Keta drew his hand back quickly under the brother’s gaze. He looked from one to the other with his arms crossed. “Just what the hell is going on here?”
Ophelia was the first to speak. “Brother, it’s wonderful. Keta has the greatest news of all. And as you can see, he isn’t hurt by my touch. He held my hand and everything and he’s fine. And the goddesses are all real!”
Gerald looked flustered by this barrage of exposition. “Ophelia, quit babbling. You aren’t making a lick of sense. We don’t have time for this. Father has requested your presence.” Gerald said, gesturing to the door. “I’ve been instructed to collect you.”
“Oh, but of course. Father will be thrilled to hear all this as well. I’ll go see him right away.” She rushed towards the door before doubling back and looking at Keta. “That arm should be fine. The other one you just exhausted, it should be back to normal in a few hours. I’ll see you later, Keta.”
As soon as Ophelia left, her older brother rounded on him. “All right, what nonsense is my sister spewing? I have never seen anybody so much as pat her on the head thanks to her ...condition,” Gerald said, arms folded. “And yet I just walked in to see you two holding hands. Start talking.”
Keta had already been identified, so he felt no need to lie. He explained everything to the young man, who listened intently, nodding every so often to let him know he was following everything. When he was done, he shook his head.
“I never did believe, to be honest. I only believe in things I can see with my own eyes. But if you exist, then it must be true. No...let me rephrase that. It could be true. It raises questions of course, but I am no scholar, I will leave that to the thinking men,” Gerald said, drumming his fingers on the desk. “Regardless, I’ve wasted too much time hearing your story. I have duties to attend to. You’d best rest as my sister prescribed.”
The two exchanged their farewells and the Demon was soon gone, leaving Keta to his thoughts. He fell back on the bed, and sighed. Now that the young woman understood about her power, there was one more fact that he had to share with her. And he was not looking forward to it.
Pent opened the door and walked inside. ‘Damn that Keta!’ He thought to himself angrily, his tired body screaming in pain. In that battle, he had put on a brave face to unnerve the man and make him seem like his greatest techniques were nothing to him. But it had not been easy, for Keta’s technique had nearly knocked him unconscious.
If it hadn’t been for all the training he had undergone with Master Xuan that focused on fighting on one’s last reserve of energy for one last desperate stand, he would have lost. He had been careless. He slammed his clenched fist into the ground. He could not afford to let his guard down again.
Still, the technique that Keta had used on him intrigued him to no end. What seemed like a simple palm strike held hidden properties. Could it have been magic? Magic was the tools of cowards, he had always thought. But that was often the sayings of those who did not possess such talents. Even if he could not use magic, he would need to find a countermeasure for fighting against it in the future.
Pent limped his way towards a door, holding his injured arm. His sister would be furious with him for not going to see her to get his injuries tended to. But there was something that he had to do that he couldn’t wait for. He lifted his hand, but hesitated for a moment. He wasn’t sure if this was the best idea, but he decided that he would have to at least try. He took a deep breath and opened the door.
The girl was sitting on the bed, with her hands in her lap, staring at the wall. She hadn’t reacted when he entered, her face still blank of any emotion. Pent wondered if it was a good idea to disturb her while she was still calm, but he felt compelled to go to the girl’s side. He could not explain why he was so interested in this Human’s well being, but nonetheless he walked to the girl’s bedside, pulling a chair with him to sit down.
She noticed his presence and turned her gaze to him. Her eyes carried a sad look in them, like a lonely animal. But this time, she did not react as before. “You’ve come back to see me?” She asked instead.
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay. After my last visit...well, I’m sorry if I frightened you. I was just worried,” Pent said, averting his gaze.
There was a moment of silence. “I still don’t know why a Demon would care about a Human…” she said, her voice trailing off as if she was still pondering it, “But a girl was here to check on me after you left. She said that you brought me here when I was injured. That you saved me from Human soldiers who were hunting me.”
“That’s right. A couple of Empire soldiers had shot you. I don’t know why they were after you, but I rescued you from them.” Pent explained.
“I...,” the girl opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it and looked down, embarrassment written on her face. She found her voice a moment later. “I am sorry for what I did earlier. Nobody has ever been kind to me without wanting something in return. I didn’t expect such selfless kindness. I am grateful. But I am also curious. What brings you here to me now?” She asked, with a curious look.
Pent could not place it himself. Perhaps it was the fact that she was a Human and out of the ordinary for him. Or perhaps it was that he couldn’t get her face out of his mind. He was suddenly very aware of his thoughts, and he hoped that it didn’t show on his face. “I just wanted to see if you wanted to talk or something. Recovering from injuries tend to make for boring days.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“What?” Pent looked at her, startled.
“Nobody does anything for nothing. Once might be a deviation, but I cannot believe you would act on my behalf once again. I may be Human, but I’ve lived amongst the Demon clans for years with the Master. My kind are monsters, and for good reason the clans have treated me with contempt. So then, why are you being so kind to me?”
Pent shrugged. “I just don’t like seeing girls getting hurt.” The girl just stared at him with those forlorn eyes, and there was an uncomfortable silence for a while. “Why were those Humans chasing you anyways? I have no love for the Empire, but I didn’t think they’d do something like this at random,” Pent decided to ask, when he couldn’t take it any longer.
For a little longer, there was silence. The girl looked down at her hands and then up at Pent. “It’s because of what I can do.”
Pent laughed a little in his head. Humans were weak and fragile creatures, so he highly doubted a Human girl could accomplish much. The girl’s face became angry, and Pent realized that he hadn’t been laughing in his head, he had been laughing out loud. “Why are you laughing at me?”
“Forgive me, I was just...well, to Demons, Humans are sort of weak. And with you being a girl, it’s…” Pent began to trail off, seeing that the Human girl had started to get angrier. “Look, I don’t mean anything bad about it. I just mean that...well, women don’t really know how to fight or anything so…”
“What is that supposed to mean? I’m trying to figure out if you are doing this on purpose, or if you are just ignorant of how to talk to women…” the Human said angrily.
“I mean no disrespect. In my culture, it is the highest honor for a man to defend the women of his village. The women of our village are the lifeblood of the clans and it’s the job of any man to protect them,” Pent said quickly, trying to defuse the situation.
The girl seemed appeased by the answer. “Yes, I do recall the Master telling me of some of these traditions. But why would that apply to you? You are but a boy,” she observed.
It was Pent’s turn to be indignant. “Hey, who are you calling a boy. We are not like the Humans who grow slowly into their roles in life. We are considered men in the clans the moment we reach the age of ten and undertake the ascension ritual.”
The girl’s face lit up after hearing this. “Oh! Master told me a story one night and he mentioned an ascension ritual in it. But he never got around to explaining what it was or what it entailed. Would you tell me the tale of your ascension...um...I just realized. I don’t even know your name.”
“My name is Pent Telim, son of the Frostclaw clan leader Peter Telim,” Pent said proudly. His father being a great warrior and clan leader had been a great influence on how he had chosen to live his life. One day he would become a warrior known all throughout the clans just like his father. “Would you grant me your name, Human?” Pent asked.
“If only so you would stop calling me Human...it’s rude to address someone in such a way. My name is Formetis.” The girl said, and Pent let the name settle in his head. Something about it seemed familiar. “The people call me Formetis of Nightmares.”
Pent scratched his head. “Formetis of Nightmares? Why would they call you that? That sounds more befitting a Demon than a Human girl like you.”
“It is because of what I can do. I...can use magic as well. They call it nightmare magic. I borrow power from the Realm of the Dead to do...things. I haven’t fully grasped the entirety of my abilities, but I am beginning to understand them. As far as I know and have been told, I am the only one who can use this type of magic, as well as the only Human who can wield magic,” the girl explained.
“A Human that can use magic…” Pent trailed off. Magic was something that was unique to a select few of the Demon clans. It was another thing that set them apart from Humans and they resented the clans all the more for it. Even though Pent despised magic as well, preferring to fight with weapons, he understood that for some of the clans that was how they survived.
Pent flinched when the girl placed her hand over his own hand. The girl was looking at him with concern. “You are hurt…” she said simply.
Pent pulled his hand away and turned his head. “I’ll be fine.” He said to her.
“No, you won’t. I can use magic, remember?” The girl reminded him. Pent had no idea what that meant, and so he asked her. “Magic draws on the life energy of the person using it. So when a person’s life energy is wavering, I am able to sense it. And I’m seeing yours is in crisis right now, as if you’ve just been in a fight. You may be able to hide your physical injuries from me, but you cannot hide your spirit.”
Pent cocked an eyebrow. “That’s not right. I may not be able to use magic, but I studied how it works. You should only be able to detect your own life force. Something about you is unique…” Pent said, studying the girl intently. She looked no different from any other Human he had encountered. But there was definitely something strange about her.
“This is why the Humans pursue me. This is why Demons despise me. This is why I am ostracized from all civilization.” She concluded, sadness in her voice. “I am the only Human that can use magic, and such a unique type of magic has never been seen before. At least, that is what He told me.”
Pent was about to ask who He was, when he heard someone bang on the door. He turned to see Gerald at the door. “Brother, you should not be bothering our guest while she is resting. Besides, I need to speak to you about earlier.”
Pent grumbled, but acknowledged his older brother. He would already be in trouble for that attack on Keta, he assumed. He said his farewell to Formetis, who nodded before turning back to the wall.
Pent closed the door and the two brothers walked out of the house. Finally, Gerald stopped and turned to him. “What the hell was all that about earlier?” he asked.
“I had to fight that man. My Master told me all about him. He said I could not advance any further until I tested my skills against other worthy opponents. And I could figure no worthier opponent than the legendary Silver Flash,” Pent answered truthfully.
Gerald was silent for a minute, his arms crossed. When he finally spoke, his voice was still angry. “Even so, you can’t return home after years away and break all these rules. I am the leader of the village warriors. I can’t have you undermining my authority.”
Pent slumped his shoulders. He was too weary to be defiant, and his brother was right. He had breached the regulations of the village. In his eagerness to engage Keta, he had forgotten everything he used to know. “I am sorry, brother. I have overstepped my boundaries,” Pent said, bowing his head in apology.
Gerald put a hand on his shoulder to let him up. “You have been gone for quite some time, brother. It’s understandable that you make a few stumbles along the way. But now that you have returned, you will make a fine addition to the village guard.”
“Village guard?” Pent raised an eyebrow at his older brother. “Brother, you don’t think I plan on staying in the village, do you?”
The surprise on Gerald’s face was apparent. “What do you mean? Why wouldn’t I think that. You’ve been gone for so long and you’ve finally returned. Father will be pleased.”
“I’m sorry brother, but I came to visit as I have been away for years and Master demanded I return for a time. I am grateful to see you all again, but I will leave shortly again. You are the eldest son of the village leader and Ophelia is the village priestess. You both have roles here. I will never become stronger if I stay in the village,” Pent said.
Gerald grumbled and growled for a moment, but Pent could see on his face that he understood. “Regardless, it is good to see you are back for now, brother. I have missed you,” Gerald clapped him on the back. “Come on now, let us enjoy a meal and you can tell me all about your adventures outside the village!”
“That sounds…” Pent began, but he trailed off as he saw one of the villagers waving at them, rushing forth in a hurried pace.
“I’m sorry to bother you, Gerald, but we have some visitors at the village gates asking to speak to Peter,” the man said, gesturing in the direction of the gates guarding the village entrance. “I figured you’d want to meet with them first to see if their story checks out. See, they are both Xegin.”
Gerald raised an eyebrow. “Xegin, you say? Very well. Go alert my father. I will go and greet them. They’ve travelled quite a distance from their lands. I’m curious as to why.” The villager nodded and took off to find the clan leader. “Come along, Pent. It’s not everyday we get to meet a Xegin warrior.” And with that, he started in the direction the man had come from, with Pent in tow. As they caught sight of the gates, he could see a few of the village militia standing guard with two strangers.
“What brings such esteemed guests to our lands?” Gerald said, kindly but still with authority. He was being hospitable, while maintaining the claim that this land belonged to his clan. The two people were close enough for Pent to notice that they were wearing metal armor. Pent and the warriors of his clan disregarded wearing armor, instead donning light clothing that would not reduce mobility. However, this armor made no sound and didn’t seem to restrict their movements as he was prone to seeing armor do to it’s wearers, when they shook Gerald’s hand in greeting.
“My apologies for our arrival without notice. However, we have come quite a distance to speak with Lord Peter Telim.” The mechanized voice came from the taller of the two strangers.
Gerald dipped his head in acknowledgement. “Very well then. I will escort you to meet the lord of the clan. After all, Xegin are always distinguished guests in our village.” The two strangers bowed in response and Gerald allowed them to fall in with him and Pent.
The two Xegin soldiers followed behind the pair in silence, flanked by the other warriors. Pent still had much to say, much of which had to do with these strangers themselves. He had spent much of his time in the Xegin lands of Teforia, while training under Master Xuan. And yet he had never seen these two before.
Pent’s attention returned to the present when they were met by Peter himself, with four other armed guards. Gerald looked wary being in the presence of the Xegin, but Peter was smiling and he walked forward to greet them. “Welcome to Frostclaw Village, my friends. I am Peter Telim, leader of the Frostclaw Clan. What brings you to us this day?”
“I apologize once again for our unannounced visit. I am Tianna and this is my partner Sephiel. I’m here to speak with you, Lord Peter Telim. May we speak in private?”
Gerald stepped forward in front of his father swiftly, and Pent could sense his tense demeanor. “My father will not meet you alone. He is the leader of our clan and can’t see foreign diplomats without his guard.”
Peter flashed a small smile. “You would ask me to be afraid of treachery from the army that founded the country known as the Land of Peace? I think I should be fine. However…” Peter said, holding up his hand to halt his son’s protests, “My son Gerald will accompany us. He is the leader of our militia, but is also the next in line to be leader of the clan. It would be good for him to observe such meetings. Agreed?” The taller Xegin nodded approval, and the two joined the Demon pair as they disappeared into Peter’s home, leaving Pent standing alone as the other dispersed.
“I guess I’ll go eat by myself,” Pent muttered to nobody in particular, before heading off to find a place to get some food.
THE END OF PART ONE
“Daddy? Are you listening to me?”
Erisda Walker’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of his daughter’s voice. He had been staring outside as the rain splattered against the window.
“Ah, sorry, Silvia. I was lost in thought again.”
Erisda turned on his heel and made his way to the bed of his six year old daughter. She was looking at him with a happy expression on her face. “I wasn’t sure when I would get you see you again, Daddy. Moira told me that you were very busy with work.”
“I am very busy lately working for the Administrator. But when work brings me into the city, I always make time to take a detour to visit you,” Erisda said with a smile, and his daughter jumped up and gave him a hug. “Tell me, have you been listening to Moira while I’ve been gone?”
“Yes, she has been very nice to me. She took me to the park the other day to go play. I tried to ask some other kids to play with me, but...they never want to when I get too close…” Silvia said sadly. Erisda let out a sigh. Even in the land of peace, Humans were still subject to prejudice.
The girl’s mother had been a Demon and Erisda was a Human, making his daughter a half Human, half Demon. It was because of this that Erisda had decided to live in Teforia, where all races were accepted but even then it was tough for his daughter to fit in. Although all races lived in Teforia, there was no true city that housed more than their native race.
Half Demon children could never hide their heritage either, because Demon eyes were dominant genetics. Looking down at his young daughter and seeing those glowing red eyes looking back at him happily was normal for him, but some of the Human children grew scared when they saw her and even some of the adults looked uneasy.
Life had never been easy for him or his wife beforehand, but he had not expected that it would be so hard for Silvia. Especially after his wife’s death, when it was just him with a half Demon daughter walking around. The people of the city tolerated her presence, but in his vision of Teforia, he wanted more than tolerance...he wanted her to be accepted.
Putting his arm around her, Erisda pulled Silvia close. “Don’t worry about those children, Silvia. They don’t know any better yet. Or rather, they could just be jealous of your gifts. Your eyes are even better than your old man’s.”
The girl’s smile faded, and she looked down. “I’m not sure I like having this gift though. I don’t want to be different. I just want to be normal like everyone else.”
Erisda had an idea. “Silvia, let me tell you a story. This is a story of a boy and a girl. They were both different from one another. One was a Human and the other was a Demon. They met by circumstance, and they became fast friends. But it would not last for the elders of their villages scorned their friendship and they were torn from each other.”
“Oh no! That’s so sad.”
“Indeed. But, years later, those two were reunited. Now that they were adults, they decided to ignore those traditions of hate and prejudice and continued their childhood friendship. Eventually that friendship turned to love and they were married. So you see, things like friendship and love can overcome such differences, if only we give them a chance,” Erisda explained.
Silvia looked lost in thought. “That was a nice ending to that story. I’m glad that they found each other again.”
“I am too, little one. Because that is the story of how your mother and I met. Those times were the darkest, but we managed to move past our differences. That is why I brought you to this land, and why I fight for Teforia and it’s beliefs. If it happened for us, it will happen for you as well, I am sure. One day, it won’t just be our land that we can all live in peace. The whole world will share those values.” Erisda said, smiling down at his little girl, who smiled back at him.
“Ahem...I’m sorry to interrupt, General, but we are already late for the meeting.” A young woman with long brown hair had entered the room. She was dressed in her military uniform, and held a stern pose as she waited for his response.
“Right...okay, Silvia. Daddy has to return to work. Moira will take care of you while I am gone, as always, so feel free to depend on her.” Erisda said as he leaned over to hug his daughter. When she didn’t say anything, he whispered to her, “Don’t worry about the other children. In time they will realize that you are just like the rest of them. Remember my story, it’s the way I want the future to be.”
The girl nodded, and then gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I won’t forget. Thank you for visiting and telling me stories! Don’t forget to tell me more when you come home.” Erisda put the girl back to bed, and turned out the lights before leaving the room.
As he closed the door, the young woman said to him, “It’s awful nice of you to make the time to visit your daughter even while you are still on duty. Most people would be afraid to miss a scheduled meeting time with the Administrator.”
“Yes, they would. You’ll have to forgive me, Giselle. I fear you are always being pulled into my affairs without my consulting you. For that, you have my apologies.” Erisda said, picking up his raincoat and sliding it on.
“You don’t have to apologize to me, sir. I think it’s important for a little girl to see her father. However, I’m not the one you need to be worried about. Bakuya will not be impressed by your tardiness again.”
Giselle Leclair was one of his new officers appointed to him by the Administrator of the Teforia Human colonies. She was young, only sixteen years old and fresh from the academy. Her superior scores at the institute had led her to an early promotion at his side. A logical soldier with a good head on her shoulders in his eyes.
She was the complete opposite of the second officer he had been assigned, who stood with his arms crossed waiting to join the two. “Someone needs to assume responsibility for his actions. It’s probably for that reason that the Administrator assigned me to him.” He said in response to this and Erisda smiled. Bakuya Telreya was another that the Administrator had appointed under him. A year older than Giselle, he had graduated from the academy with outstanding combat scores, but was known for being curt with his instructors. Indeed, he found himself being lectured by the younger man many times.
Erisda noted the irony of it all. He himself was not an old man, being 26 years old. Yet he was still in the position of being lectured by this youth. He deserved most of his lectures, that much was true enough. But to his defense, when you live in a country known as the Land of Peace, there was a tendency to become a more laid back individual.
As usual, Giselle was quick to come to his aid. “Bakuya, I don’t think that tone is appropriate when speaking to the General!”
Bakuya was just as quick to retort. “It is appropriate when it comes to making sure he is following orders. Every time he does this, it reflects badly on we, his retainers. Or do you want to be demoted one of these days?” The blonde haired youth was all about rules and order.
The two began to argue back and forth as they usually did. It was not uncommon for them to debate for hours, so Erisda held up his hand to end it early. “You are both right in this situation. I will always make time for my daughter, but Bakuya does make a valid point. Come, let’s make our way there before we waste any more of the Administrator’s time.”
And so the three walked through the rain until they reached the town hall. Stepping inside, Erisda felt relieved to be out of the rain as he hung up his raincoat and straightened his uniform, with his young charges following his lead. He made his way to the meeting hall, and opened the doors to see all the military officers already sitting.
Every head turned to Erisda, and he could feel their disapproving gazes on him. He could do nothing but let out a sheepish smile and gave a small wave. Bakuya was not wrong in his assessment of him, for much of the Teforia Human army felt the same way. They had always wondered how such a man had become the General of all forces. They were well aware of his exceptional combat ability, but there were those who deemed him fit as a common soldier, nothing more.
“Well, well, it seems our military commander has finally decided to grace us with his presence. General Walker, would you please come and join me up here so we can begin?” Erisda was happy to hear the friendly voice. The man that stood at the podium at the front of the room was his good friend. He also happened to be the Administrator of the Teforia Human colonies.
As Erisda was making his way forward, he casually added, “It always astounds me how a blind man can tell who enters a room.”
Raphael Mcpherson could not see, he had suffered from a genetic disease and lost the use of his eyes from a young age. Even so, he had never lost his cheerful outlook on life and his hope for a brighter future. Perhaps it was because he could not see, but he believed in Teforia’s cause...to bring all races together in peace. Erisda had known many politicians in his life, but he had only ever trusted Raphael as one.
“All people have distinctive footsteps, if you only listen for it. There are other ways to tell, of course, but we did not come here to hear the tricks off a blind man, did we?” A few of the officers chuckled at this. “No, we are here to plan for a way to end this war before any more suffer because of it.”
“Well said, Administrator. My primary concern is getting a meeting with Tyrannes in Zelrega. We have not heard from him since this war has started, and before any more fighting is to commence, we should try and communicate with him…”
“Why should we listen to anything that monster has to say! All our envoys sent to speak with him have been killed,” an officer spoke up, and a few of the others in the audience murmured their agreement.
“The circumstances behind their deaths are suspect and I’m not sure what to trust until I speak to Tyrannes himself. Furthermore, I have no intention of sending anyone else to parley with the Xegin if it could mean their death. I will go myself to speak with them and get answers.”
Another officer stood up. “There is no need to meet with them at all. When we captured the Imperial Gate at the onset of the war, we were in a prime position to enact Operation Blackout. You have stalled it thus far, but…” The entire hall erupted into arguments at this, until Erisda raised his hand in the air.
“I will not condone that course of action until I have met with Tyrannes,” Erisda declared, and the arguments stopped. “However, we must still remain vigilant. It’s time to reinforce the gate before…” Erisda stopped, when Raphael cleared his throat beside him, “Administrator, is there something you would like to add?”
“Indeed, thank you General Walker.” Erisda moved aside to let the man speak. “My friends, these are dark times indeed. There has never been a history of war in Teforia since it’s conception. We do not wish for conflict nor do we condone the harsh treatment we have been given by the Xegin. We were to be friends...equals in all things.”
Erisda wanted to retort, but bit back his reply. He knew many of the Xegin, particularly the Imperial Generals. He didn’t want to fight with them or assume that they were doing...whatever it was they were doing without a reason. However, Raphael was the leader of the colonies and it was his job to lead them, even if that job was making the tough decisions.
“I do not wish to kill anybody, but I also will not stand by and let them destroy us. They demand our surrender, yet we came to this country to be free. I swear to you as your Administrator that I will keep us all safe.” Raphael said confidently, and cheers from the officers started. Erisda knew better though. His friend had something else to say and he was getting them on board beforehand.
Quite the politician you’ve become, Raphael, Erisda thought with a smile.
“As an added precaution, I have decided to take further measures to ensure our safety. As such, I would like to introduce you to someone. This man is a trusted friend from the homeland who has finally agreed to come to Teforia. He is a valued warrior and friend and to help protect our interests, I have decided to grant him the rank...of general.” Erisda nearly fell forward at this revelation, and it didn’t take long for the other officers to realize what was said.
“What is this nonsense? What do you mean, Administrator?”
“How dare you promote someone over your own men?”
“An outsider becoming a general again? Have you no respect for your army?”
Erisda sighed and looked up at the ceiling. This was not the first time he had done this either. When he moved to Teforia, there had been another man who had been appointed as General of the army. In a skirmish with the Empire, that man was killed and Raphael had appointed Erisda as his replacement. It had not been a popular decision, and many of the soldiers still did not trust him. This would not bode well…
“I understand your concern, but I feel that this man will be able to lead us to better defend our lands. He will be coordinating with General Walker to end this war and ensure peace for our people. I am expecting you to give this man a warm welcome and treat him as you would myself. Now, please come in and introduce yourself,” Raphael said, looking up from the audience to the door and everyone followed his gaze.
In walked a man dressed in military attire, garbed in a white cape. He wore a helmet with a visor that concealed most of his face as well. The man was built large, his frame easily superior to any of the soldiers as he walked into the hall and up to the podium. He looked over at Erisda for a moment and their eyes met (or at least Erisda assumed their eyes met since his face was covered) before he joined Raphael, who moved aside.
“It’s good to meet you all.” The man said, his deep voice echoing in the room as he looked from one side of the room to another. “My name is Ivaldi. I look forward to working with everyone.”
It was still light out when Keta ventured out of his quarters. He was feeling better and Gerald had come by to say he was allowed access to the village during his stay. The sun felt nice on his skin as he wandered into the village square, attracting the eyes of the villagers. Despite this, none of them approached him, hurrying to get out of his way.
‘Well, I can’t really blame them,’ Keta thought to himself as he walked by himself. His arm he had used to attempt the Dragon Fang was feeling much better now and since Ophelia had used her magical power to heal his other arm that Pent had injured, he was almost back to normal.
Unfortunately, his left leg was still injured from his battle with Master Inferno. He could ask Ophelia to heal it for him, but…
Keta shook his head. I’m going to have to tell her eventually. It’s going to break her heart, he thought with a sigh. In the meantime, he realized that he was hungry as his stomach started growling. Perhaps they would find some food for him.
After Keta had heard the voice, he turned to find the source and turned to find Ophelia walking up beside him. “Oh, hello there. Nice to see you again.” Keta said in greeting. She smiled at him, and he returned the gesture. “I was just going to try and find someplace to get some food. Care to join me?”
“Oh, yes, that sounds lovely. Thank you. I was just on my way to join my father and brothers for dinner. If you haven’t secured other arrangements, I’m sure they would love to have you,” Ophelia offered.
The thought of being in the same room with Pent again wasn’t the most appealing idea. The young warrior had shown nothing but contempt for him since they had met, despite being his friend’s pupil. How he had offended him so much in such a short time they’d known each other was beyond him.
Gerald was like his brother, but he acted more out of duty than...whatever it was that motivated Pent. And all the stories he had heard about Peter were true. The man was just as interesting as he had hoped. “That sounds nice,” Keta replied, after weighing the options in his head. Perhaps sitting down and talking with Pent would help clear the air between the two.
“Fabulous. Come, this way!” Ophelia said with delight, and she grabbed his arm and together they made their way through the streets. “How do you like the village so far?”
Keta spun his head to take a quick look before answering. “It’s smaller than the other settlements. In particular, the Human cities are grand in scale. Their buildings are enormous.” Keta said, recalling his time travelling. Before she could ask him anything else, she led him into one of the buildings. Soon they had entered a room with a table, seating the members of the girl’s family.
“Hello Father. Good evening brothers. I ran into Keta on my way here. I thought he could join us for a meal,” Ophelia explained, moving a hand to gesture towards Keta.
Pent scoffed, but Peter stood and spread his arms in welcome as he had done before. “Splendid idea, Ophelia. I was just hoping I could have another chance to speak with our guest. Gerald, go and fetch another chair for him.” Gerald hurried into the other room and in no time, Keta was sitting at the table with the Telim family eating dinner.
For the most part, it was a pretty pleasant event. The familial atmosphere was a welcome change to him. His attempt to speak with Pent was thwarted by the fact that he and Gerald spent much of their time debating fighting skills and swapping training strategies. Ophelia did her best to include him in the conversation, and Peter was accommodating, but he still felt slightly out of place.
“My daughter tells me that you are a Kitaan?” Peter asked all of a sudden, after most of the food had been eaten. Pent’s face changed when he heard this, and he looked up from his plate. “Servant of the Goddess and all that. She seemed very excited about it all.”
“Yes, that is correct.”
“That is incredible indeed. If it were true…” Peter said slowly, and everyone turned to look at him when he said this. The man shrugged his shoulders and put his hand to his chin. “If you are a servant of the Goddess, then where is the Goddess you serve?”
“Father, what do you…” Ophelia began, but she was cut off by a look from her father.
“Silence, Ophelia. I’d like to hear what he has to say on the matter.” Peter explained, and turned his gaze back to his guest.
Keta had not been expecting this. It almost felt like the clan leader was attacking him for his claim. ‘But why would I lie about such a thing?’ He thought to himself. There was no way he could answer that. He did not know where or what had happened to the Goddess. When he said just that, the older Demon grunted.
“So you make such a bold claim like that and have no proof to back it up? How irresponsible…” Peter admonished him, shaking his head.
“But...I have nothing to gain from lying to you!” Keta said quickly.
“Are you sure about that? What if you were part of a religious sect, claiming to be one with the Goddess to recruit people to your cult. It seems like such a fantastic way to escape the hardships of these times, joining a celestial being. And you would reap the benefits, gathering zealots to your cause.”
Keta opened his mouth, but nothing came out and he slumped back into his chair. Ophelia leapt out of her seat. “Father, you don’t know any of that. Keta is a good man. He wouldn’t try to mislead us.”
Pent raised an eyebrow. “Oh? He already tried to mislead us earlier with a fake name. What’s to stop him from doing so once more?” He pointed out.
Ophelia looked from Pent to her father, and then moved to Keta’s side. “But look...this has to prove something,” she said, removed the glove from her right hand and grasping Keta’s hand. “Nobody in the village has been able to touch me since I was a baby.”
“That just proves that magic works in mysterious ways. None of the people of our village can use magic, so it would make sense that we could not touch you,” Pent argued, pointing at Keta. “This boy here is the first magician to come through so we’ve no way of knowing.”
“Enough,” Peter said, rising from his chair and everyone looked to him. “Keta, I say these things to you not out of spite or disbelief. I am only suggesting you exercise caution. You should not reveal your heritage so openly. Your words could be considered blasphemous to some, and they might seek to attack you because of this. I’m sure the ones who raised you spoke the same.”
Keta let out a deep sigh. “Yes, they did. I’m sorry, I acted without thinking.”
Peter let out a hearty laugh. “Think nothing of it boy, I was young once as well. I only wanted to help you. I’ve heard tales of your exploits, they were very interesting. Your people kept the peace between the Humans and the Demons for years. I was saddened to hear about what happened.”
The room went quiet. Even Pent didn’t speak, the usual look of disdain on his face softening. Keta stood up, thanked the Telim family for the meal and excused himself, stepping into the night. He debated going back to the room he had been given to stay in, but instead he picked a random direction and decided to go for a walk.
He had talked about it with Master Inferno during their altercation, but before that, it had been some time since he had thought about that day. It still hurt to think about. He heard footsteps behind him, and he turned to see Ophelia running up to him.
“Keta, what’s wrong? I don’t know what happened exactly, but you and everyone else got all quiet after what my father said,” she asked.
Keta thought about what Peter had told him earlier, that he should be mindful of revealing his lineage. But right now, he felt he needed to talk to someone. “I suppose a girl like you all the way out here wouldn’t know about it. It’s a bit of a long story, but if you wish to know, then I shall oblige,” Keta said, and he began to recall that black day.
Keta opened his eyes and blinked a few times, before raising his head as debris fell from his hair. Dust had been scattered through the air as he tried to look around. Where was he? That was the only thought he had as the ringing in his ears started to slow. Once it had finally dissipated, he remembered.
He was in Empire territory, one of their outlying cities. He and the others had received
information that the Brotherhood of Shadows were planning an attack there. They had arrived and found them and a battle had ensued. Master Xehemoth and Master Inferno had been fighting in the city’s central area. And then there was a loud bang and a blinding light and he was knocked over by a powerful force…
And then a horrible realization came to him as he looked around and saw devastation in the city. It had been an explosion, and it had leveled much of the city in its wake. Collapsed buildings littered the area and paved the way around what he assumed was the detonation spot.
Keta struggled to his feet, stumbling as he realized that he had taken quite some damage from the resulting blast. He seemed to have been spared the greater part of it, but he must have hit a wall hard on his way down. His face and arms were bleeding and he could see a small shard of glass had lodged itself in his leg. Still, he had to find everyone else and make sure they were safe.
“Hello! Is anybody out there?” Keta yelled into the darkness. Almost immediately, a figure emerged from the shadows and tackled him to the ground. He grunted in pain, and reflexes kicked in and he threw his attacker off him and readied himself to fight.
“Are ya stupid? Why the devil would you announce yourself after what just happened!” Keta was shocked at the harsh tone, but he let out a sigh of relief. Xuan stood before him, in much the same shape as Keta, but alive nonetheless. “We were just the victims of a bombing and you are going around advertising not only that you are alive, but your position. You must have a deathwish.”
“Regardless, it’s good to see you are still alive,” Keta said, flashing a grin to his comrade. The young Demon did not return his smile though, looking quite grim, so Keta returned to an alert state. “I never expected the Brotherhood to use such underhanded tactics though…”
His companion shook his head. “No, this wasn’t the Brotherhood. You know Master Inferno would never condone such actions. Which has me worried all the more. We need to regroup. The Masters were fighting near the city centre. Go to their aid. I will check on the rest and meet up with you there,” Xuan said, and without waiting for confirmation, took off in the other direction.
Something had Xuan spooked, and Keta did not like it. His friend was usually not the serious type. But then, this situation had taken a serious turn of events. He turned and started to make haste in the direction he had last seen his Masters fighting.
It was then that he could see the aftermath in it’s horrible entirety. The fighting had started before his people could evacuate the citizens of the city, and so Keta had been assigned to that duty, being the quickest as well as the least combat efficient. He had yet to reach this area, and now he was seeing the results of his failure.
The streets were littered with bodies, some of them burned, some skewered by fragments. Keta almost vomited when he saw some of the bodies blasted apart, but he had to keep it together. This was horrible...he had never seen destruction on this level, it was a massacre.
He kept running, ignoring the dead until he caught sight of a familiar black and red figure and he ran as close as he dared to, before stopping and drawing his sword, holding it at the ready. “Idiot boy. Get over here,” the man said, not turning around. “The situation has changed and we only have a few moments before all hell breaks loose. But we are not enemies at this time.”
The Demon Lord Inferno had been Keta’s master when he was younger, teaching him much of his fighting techniques and practically raising him. He had founded Sanction alongside Master Xehemoth and had been active as a peacekeeper until the day the Humans took it too far and killed everyone save for Inferno and Xehemoth. He had founded the Brotherhood of Shadows afterwards, intent on making the Humans pay.
Keta had joined Sanction afterwards and had been fighting against the Brotherhood...against Master Inferno for a long time. But he still knew the man, and the way he had spoken, the tone he had used...Keta knew that the man was done fighting him. He quickly made his way over to the Demon lord and his eyes went wide.
Laying in a puddle of blood, covered in burns was Master Xehemoth. Keta did not even need to bend down and examine the body to know that his mentor was dead. He covered his mouth with his hands and shook his head. “No...not him…no no no no,” Keta said repeatedly collapsing to his knees. “Master Xehemoth…”
Inferno’s hands were balled into fists, his veins popping from his arms. “We were set up...lured here. I assume you heard from an anonymous tip that we would be here? My people heard a rumor that the Grand Commander himself was here for a visit. I was careless…”
Keta took a look up at Inferno. The Demon was covered in wounds, all sorts of fragments protruding from his body, blood staining every part of his outfit. And yet, he was a fire Demon which meant that there was no way his fireproof skin could be burned. All those wounds meant the man should be on death’s door, but he stood looking as imposing as ever.
“They killed him. My greatest friend and mentor. He wanted to protect everyone and they had him killed. Do you understand now, Keta? The Humans of the Empire orchestrated this attack. They tried to kill us all in one fell swoop. That is the type of people you have sworn to protect.”
Keta couldn’t say anything to that, still looking upon the corpse of the man who had raised him, so he remained silent. Master Xehemoth had wanted everyone to live in peace and was willing to be a shield for those who couldn’t shield themselves. He didn’t deserve to die here.
“They underestimated me if they believed I would die to a coward’s attack like that. However...everyone else...even their own civilians. This is the type of enemy I must fight. How?” Keta looked up and saw that the man was looking at him. “How did you survive?”
Keta explained the mission he had been given, and Inferno scowled. He looked down at the corpse of Xehemoth. “Even when you were up against me and my warriors, you would thin your numbers to help the civilians...my friend, the Humans did not deserve you as a protector. Did anyone else survive the attack?”
As if to answer the question, Xuan came running into view. When he saw Inferno, he faltered, but he approached regardless seeing Keta standing next to him. Upon seeing Master Xehemoth’s mangled corpse, he dropped to the ground and let out a wail of despair. Keta gave him a few moments to grieve before inquiring about the others. To his horror, the young Demon simply shook his head. The two stayed beside their fallen master in silence, until Inferno placed a hand on their shoulders.
“The Humans who did this probably were far enough away to escape the blast, but close enough to know when it detonated. They will be coming here now to confirm their kills and perform mop up.”
Xuan lifted his head, and Keta saw rage and hatred, something he had never seen on his friend’s face in the entire time they had been together. “Then…”
Inferno silenced him before he could complete what he was going to say. “You are going to take Xehemoth’s body and escape. At the very least, I can ensure he has a proper burial. Besides...I don’t want you to see what I am going to do next.” Inferno’s voice had hardened as he said that.
Keta knew that he would kill everyone in his grief. “Come with us, Master Inferno. We can escape together and…”
He was cut off by Inferno stepping forward past the body and bursting into flame. “Keta! I told you what I wanted you to do, but it’s up to you if you follow it. But know this. We are enemies. If you remain and try and rob me of justice for my oldest friend…” Inferno slowly turned his head, flaming hair lapping at the air, “Then you will share their fate.”
Keta got to his feet, and stared at the Demon. And then he heard the sounds of approaching soldiers in the distance. Before he could do anything else, Xuan had picked up the Master’s body and glared angrily at Keta. “We’re leaving! I’m not going to lose you alongside everyone else because of your sense of justice over a pack of murderers!” he yelled.
Keta looked at Xehemoth in Xuan’s arms, then back to Inferno, who was listening intently in the wind. He put his hands to his head, and then started running in the opposite direction, with Xuan following. He knew that look in Inferno’s eyes. If he stayed and tried to do anything else, he would die. No, he had to escape with Xuan. They were the last two remaining of Sanction.
The two kept running...they didn’t know how long they would run, but they weren’t safe until they had crossed the Empire’s borders. They continued to run in silence, until they heard the sound of an explosion. Keta turned around to see a great pillar of flame erupt from the city.
“Don’t turn around Keta. I know that you don’t agree, and perhaps the Master would not have either,” Xuan said. “But he’s gone now and it was because of them. He deserves justice, and right now… Master Inferno’s justice is the only one I believe in.”
Keta finished his tale, remembering the anger and rage that day, in both Xuan and Master Inferno. Xuan had left Keta after they had put the old Master to rest, denouncing his ties to Sanction and becoming a mercenary. He had understood his friend’s decision, but he had never been able to accept giving up himself.
“Oh my...Keta! I am so sorry,” Ophelia said, placing a hand on Keta’s arm. “That is awful. I had no idea.”
“Thank you for your concern. But I am all right. I have come to terms with it. Besides, I must always remember my Master’s teachings. As long as I keep hope, we can change the future,” Keta said.
“Well, that’s good to hear I suppose,” the girl replied with a smile. She had such a lovely smile, but Keta knew that if he told her what he’d been avoiding, she would not be smiling any more. Still, he had danced around the fact long enough. The girl needed to know. Such power could not be used irresponsibly.
Keta decided it would be best. “Ophelia, do you want to go for a walk with me? I have something I would like to discuss with you.”
“Of course. What did you want to talk about?” The Demon girl asked, but Keta said nothing for the moment, and she followed in silence. “Are you okay? It sounds like you have something to tell me that isn’t good.”
“Tell me, what do you know of your healing power?”
“Is that what you’ve been so worried about? Don’t worry, I’ve had this power since I was a little girl. One day, I just...couldn’t be touched by people any longer. When I got a little older, I discovered that I could use it to help injured people,” Ophelia said.
Keta wondered what it was like to have to grow up under those circumstances, to wake up one day and find that you are different from the other children, that you had abilities that nobody could understand. But then, he realized that his own childhood mirrored the young woman’s.
Keta sighed, and decided to just say it outright. “Your healing power...it’s healing, but it’s not the way you think. You are using the divine power of the goddess to hyper accelerate the body’s recovery. But when you are doing so, you are rapidly aging the person’s body at the same time. In essence...you are shortening their lifespan at the cost of their health.”
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence as the girl began to comprehend exactly what it was he was telling him. He had been dreading this moment and had been trying to convince himself that there was something else. But in the end, he could not refute it. Nothing in the world came without a price, and magic was no exception.
“What do you…” Ophelia started, but she trailed off and turned away. “Keta, I don’t understand. Please tell me this is just a cruel joke you are playing on me.” She said, looking at him with desperate eyes, but Keta said nothing.
Keta could only watch and wonder what was going through the girl’s mind, as she tried to grasp the situation, her hands shaking and raising to her lips as she paced back and forth, looking back at him but seeing no reassurance.
“Gods no. This can’t be happening. I’ve used my power to heal children. From little things like scrapes and cuts just because I could,” Ophelia said, the level of panic in her voice rising.
Keta’s heart began to break, seeing her like this. He started to walk towards her, with an outstretched hand. “Ophelia, I’m sorry. I never wanted to…”
“No! Don’t come near me!” The girl interrupted and raised a hand to stop Keta’s advance. But because Ophelia’s emotions were so frantic, she unwittingly unleashed the divine power within her and it exploded from her, knocking Keta flying backwards until he crashed into one of the nearby buildings, falling in a heap.
The noise had attracted several of the villagers, who had started to gather at a distance and were watching, speaking in hushed voices. Ophelia looked from Keta to the villagers and then down at her hands, before holding them up over her mouth, shaking her head furiously. “I’m...Keta, I’m so sorry.” And she turned and ran off.
“All right, all right. Everyone clear off,” came Gerald’s voice, who cut through the crowd, waving them off. Upon seeing Keta, he rushed over and helped him to his feet. “All right, Night. Mind telling me what the hell is going on this time?”
Keta reluctantly relayed what he had told the girl and what had transpired as a result.
Gerald was oddly silent both during the story and after. When he finally did speak, it was in a weary voice. “Damn it all, this is the hardest thing for that girl to endure. She only thinks of others, bless her. This will crush her...Night, are you okay? That magic must have hurt you something fierce for you to show tears.”
Keta lifted a hand to his face and sure enough he wiped away tears from his eyes. The damage done to him was nothing he wasn’t used to. He realized that he must have been crying for the poor girl’s plight. “Perhaps I should go after her.”
“No. I appreciate the concern, but at times like this, it would be better to be with family. You should go get yourself looked at,” Gerald said, and the older man bade him farewell to try and follow his sister.
“Well, well, well. I wouldn’t have believed it, but here you are. Keta Night.”
Keta turned around at the sound of his name and was met by a sight he had not been expecting. Two people were standing next to each other and they were both garbed in some kind of armor that he had never seen before. The way it shone was beautiful and imposing at the same time. One of them was a woman, at least he assumed from the sound of the voice, though it was distorted by the armored helmet she wore. The second was also in full armor, standing completely still with arms folded. This person was younger than Keta was by the size of them.
“I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve met…”
“Oh, of course. I am here as a guest of Lord Telim. My name is Tianna,” the woman said, extending her right hand for Keta to shake. After, she nodded her head at the other person. “That’s my partner Sephiel.”
Keta turned to Sephiel and extended his hand in greeting. The armored figure looked down at the hand, but kept their arms crossed and simply stared at him. Keta felt like he was not going to get any more information from this silent soldier so he just returned his attention to Tianna, who was looking amused at the situation.
“Don’t worry about my partner. Sephiel doesn’t play well with others. But I am quite interested in meeting you. I’ve heard much about your exploits back in the homeland.”
“What do you mean the homeland? Where do you hail from?” Keta asked.
Tianna had a quizzical look on her face. “What? Are you serious? Can’t you tell from our armor that we are Xegin?”
Keta’s eyes lit up at this revelation. In his time with the Master, he had heard all about the Xegin and their exploits. The land of peace Teforian was founded by them after all. They were similar to Sanction in their goals. But he had never seen them in person.
“Ah, you’ll have to forgive me. I have never been to Teforia before. I’d heard of the Xegin of course, but I’d never seen one.” Keta said.
“Of course...that makes sense after all. What need would the heroic Sanction have to visit the Land of Peace after all. Oh...forgive me, I didn't mean to bring that up…” Tianna trailed off.
“No, no. I appreciate the sentiment, but it is fine. It happened a long time ago. My Master and my friends would have wanted me to move on,” Keta said, more confidently than he felt on the inside. Would there ever be a day when he would be able to move forward and accept their deaths properly?
The smaller Xegin stepped forward. “Tianna, we have no more time to waste here. We’ve already wasted enough time on your little mission out here. We need to return home and assist in the war effort.”
“You are right of course, Sephiel. Such a shame too, I was really hoping to have a chance to talk to the famous Keta Night. But I suppose that must be for another time. It was nice meeting you,” Tianna said and with a bow, she and her companion walked off down the road.
Keta was left alone now. Gerald and Ophelia were off somewhere, Peter was busy and Pent seemed to be actively against being in the same room as him. He was alone, and yet...he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched. A chill on his spine, he decided it would be best to return and sleep. With Ophelia’s distressed face still fresh in his mind, he just wanted to forget all about what had happened today.
Pent woke in the middle of the night, his nose picking up another scent. It was faint, subtle even. But he was a cautious person and he got up from bed, throwing on his clothes. He normally slept with his tunic on, swords at his belt. But he had finally come home to his village, one of the safest places in this crazy world, so he was feeling at ease. Even so, he noted as he grabbed his blades from the bedside table, Master had taught him to always be ready for anything.
As his people were known affectionately throughout the world as the Wolf Demon Clan, he always trusted his sense of smell over any of his other senses. The other villagers would have disregarded it, perhaps even the guards at the towers. “Bill is probably on guard duty today, that lazy fool,” Pent muttered to himself, climbing through the window and then leaping to the roof, as quietly as he could.
So what happened next was a surprise. Pent heard the metal whistling in the air, whirled around and saw a dagger flying breakneck speed at his face. If he had been Human, the darkness of the night would have concealed that blade and he would be dead. No...there are Humans that have the reflexes to dodge such a direct attack, Pent corrected himself, as he ducked to avoid the dagger.
His eyes cut through the darkness and he caught a second dagger in his right hand. Whoever was out there, he was skilled. He had thrown one dagger at him with precision, and then used that as a distraction to throw the second dagger at the spot he predicted he would dodge. He stood upright, and looked at the small weapon in his hand.
Someone was trying to kill him, and he was very skilled at trying to kill people by the looks of it. “I changed my mind. A Human would definitely be dead right now,” he said to himself.
“And Humans are such fragile creatures, aren’t they?”
The person had moved silently in the shadows, appearing a few paces from him. Pent was impressed, but he was also shocked by the revelation that the person that was speaking was a woman. She was wearing a black cloak that covered her entire body, the hood covering her face. She was young, but maybe in her twenties from her size and the sound of her voice. So why was a young woman invading his village?
“Any reason why you are in my village, and why you tried to kill me just now?” Pent asked, keeping his eyes on the stranger as he walked towards her slightly.
“Wow...you are a little boy? I didn’t even notice. Sorry about that, sweetie. I have to eliminate threats before they see me, of course,” The woman said, as she got closer, leaning over to look at him. “Go on, little boy. You’d better get home. It’s past your bedtime.”
Pent held back an indignant response. He was being treated like a child. Before he could even say anything, the woman spoke again, this time her voice was more shrill. “Wait a minute. You just avoided both my daggers! That’s not very childlike...what are you? You look like a kid, but you move like a warrior! Fascinating…”
The woman was real close now, and a hand pulled out of the cloak and reached to his face. Pent stepped back a few steps to avoid this, surprised at this woman’s erratic behavior. The woman held her hand for a moment, and moved her head curiously to the side. Pent stole a glance at her hand and noticed that it was entirely wrapped in bandages.
“Enough of your nonsense, woman. Answer me! Why are you here?” Pent demanded, circling the woman, and she began to mimic his movements. “What are you doing? Stop that!” The girl was acting erratic, dancing around in a circle. And then he noticed the look in her eyes; those of madness.
She stopped, suddenly and stood up, one hand on her hip and the other on her chin, as if she was thinking. “Oh right. I’m here to get that girl back for the Master. Did she really hope to finish everything on her own? Now I have to clean up her mess.”
Girl? Could she be talking about Formetis? But no, that would make no sense. Why would a Demon (for this stranger was a Demon he could tell) be looking for a Human? Then again, why were Humans hunting their own kind? Something about all this wasn’t making sense, but he didn’t care right now. “I don’t know who you are or what you want with Formetis, but she’s under my protection. Leave now, before I have to make you,” Pent threatened the woman, drawing his sword.
“What? You want to fight? Against me?” The woman asked, and when Pent didn’t reply, she began to giggle. She continued for a few seconds, and then looked back at him. “Eh? You weren’t kidding? Listen kiddo, I don’t have time to waste with you. I’ll only ask you one more time to get out of here. If not...I’m going to have to hurt you.”
She was saying this all in a slow condescending voice with her hands on her knees, bending down to talk to him. The sheer amount of disrespect was infuriating Pent. Without waiting any longer, he tightened his grip on his sword and swung at the girl full force. The girl bent over backwards with incredible flexibility and Pent’s sword slashed over her stomach.
Pent flinched as the girl lifted her leg and slammed the flat of her right foot into his stomach. But as unexpected as he was for the attack, he was relieved that he could shake off the pain pretty easily. The girl may be skilled, but she wasn’t strong at least. Pent moved backwards, and the girl did the same.
“I’ll admit, your reflexes are pretty good. But you won’t defeat me with such weak attacks like that,” Pent boasted, with an arrogant grin.
“You’re impressive for a child, I will admit. You’re an interesting one. I like interesting people,” The girl said, straightening up and folding her arms. Her eyes had genuine curiosity in them as she said this. “However, I am on a mission for Master Inferno. I cannot fail him. As much as I would like to stay and play with you, I have to bring the girl back with me.”
Inferno? Then this girl must be one of the Brotherhood of Shadows as well. Keta had been talking about them earlier, so it made sense that they were in the area. Why the Brotherhood wanted a Human girl was beyond his comprehension, but it didn’t matter. He had promised that he would protect Formetis.
“I don’t want any trouble with the Brotherhood of Shadows. We are all Demons here. But I told Formetis that I would protect her, so I can’t let you take her. I’ll give you a chance to walk away. If not, I’ll have to forcibly remove you,” Pent added, raising his sword and pointing the tip at her threateningly.
The girl stared at Pent for a few seconds, and then her shoulders slumped as she sighed. Then she started to chuckle and Pent stepped backwards instinctively. She looked up at him, her eyes flashing and pulled up her hood. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
In a flash, she rushed at him and pulled concealed daggers from her robe and tossed them at Pent. He easily followed them with his eyes and knocked them aside with his sword, as she leapt into the air to strike him, readying another volley of daggers.
Pent jumped to the side to avoid the dagger, and as the girl touched down, he stabbed at her torso. She deftly avoided the blow, and moved to grab his arm. “Not this time!” Pent said, and he lifted his right arm in a fist. She abandoned the move and stepped backwards a few times to make distance to avoid the punch.
“You are pretty skilled for a boy, I’ll admit it. I’m not going to play around any more.” The girl said, and she threw some powder at Pent. His eyes told him it was just sand, so he merely shielded his eyes from it. When he looked up again, the girl was gone.
Pent cursed, and started to try and locate this girl. She was smart, she knew that he would see it was sand and not avoid it, because he was confident. Now, she had hidden somewhere in the village. Even if he could see in the dark, he would have to find her first. This was a bad situation.
“Think about this, girl. You are in a village full of warriors. Even if you could defeat me, you’d never get out of here alive. Leave now, and I’ll forget all this,” Pent said, trying to distract her with his voice as his eyes scanned the environment.
There was silence, and Pent unconsciously started to sweat. He had never been afraid to fight an opponent before, but that enemy had always been in plain sight. Not knowing where this girl had hidden was starting to unsettle him.
He tried to focus and remember what Master Xuan had taught him. But he couldn’t concentrate with the threat of an assault so close by. What he had to do was stay on guard and stay alert.
He had never trained against an invisible enemy, and it was starting to enrage him. “Get out here and fight me like a real warrior, coward!” Pent muttered, whirling around wildly. When she didn’t answer, Pent cursed under his breath. He could just sound the alarm and rally the village militia, but his pride would not allow it.
Pent’s ears pricked up as he heard the sound of something moving and Pent grinned, as he rushed towards the location, leaping off the building. It had been coming from behind a small shed. “You can’t fool a Demon’s senses, especially not a member of the Frostclaw Clan!” Pent said, as he raised his weapon and circled the shed. And he found nothing…
Yet he whirled around and stopped a dagger from slashing his neck with his sword, and parried a second stab with his second sword. His attacker’s eyes were wide with surprise at this development, and she leapt backwards to create some space between the two as Pent focused his gaze completely on her. She would not escape his sight again.
“How? How did you know that I was coming? I did not make any sound!” The woman raged on, stomping her foot into the snow in a tantrum. “You should be dead right now and I with my prize.”
“Perhaps. But you failed to realize that I am of the Frostclaw clan. You can’t fool our sense of smell. I could detect where you were coming from by your scent. Now then, if there is enough trickery going around, let’s do this as honorable warriors,” Pent said.
The woman shook her head. “No...it is as you said. I have already wasted enough time here. I will return for the girl another time. But I will not forget you, boy. You have piqued my interest. I do hope we can meet again in the future.” Having said this, she turned and began to run into the darkness once again. Pent growled and began to pursue her until he came to the village’s outer gates and caught sight of the intruder. Deftly, she scaled the wall and leapt over and out of sight.
Pent was annoyed as much as he was impressed. To attempt a feat such as that was no small task. Even Pent could not make that jump. It took him a moment to climb the gate’s walls, but when he was finally on top, he scanned into the distance until he could see the woman in the distance. She had stopped to turn around and waved when their eyes met, before rushing off. After that little display, he was more annoyed than impressed.
“Why are women such a pain,” Pent muttered to himself before footsteps caught his attention. Expecting another attacker, he whirled around with his weapons at the ready before he noticed that it was Formetis. How she had snuck up on him was beyond his comprehension, but why she was here was the bigger concern.
“That woman was here for me, you know. Why did you fight her on my behalf?” She asked.
“Stop asking me stupid questions!” Pent growled, walking over to her. “I told you I would protect you, didn’t I? So just leave it at that.”
“Pent!” The sound of running footsteps echoed in the night. Gerald and several of the village warriors were headed his way. They must have heard the battle and come to help. “What the hell is going on here? We heard signs of struggle. Are you okay? Why is she here?” He motioned towards Formetis. As always, he spoke very quickly asking too many things at once.
“I’m fine. Someone came to kidnap her, but I chased her off.”
Gerald frowned. “How could someone have gotten into the village without being detected?” Pent went over the details of the attack and that she had been a member of the Brotherhood of Shadows. “Well, that explains how she got in...but why would a member of the Brotherhood of Shadows be after a Human?” All the warriors turned to look at Formetis, who timidly ran behind Pent.
“I don’t know,” Pent lied. Whatever he knew of the girl, he didn’t want to expose her to anything that would put her in danger.
One of the warriors with Gerald spoke up. “First the girl was being hunted by Humans, and now she’s being sought after by the Brotherhood of Shadows. Those people are Demons like us, we should have given her to them.”
“No, this girl is under my protection. Whatever the Brotherhood wants her for, it can’t be good. No good will come from handing a Human over to the Brotherhood of Shadows.” Pent said, shielding her from sight, his hand on his sword hilt.
“Calm down, Pent. Take your hand off your weapon, there’s no need to fight. Nobody is giving the girl over to them, it was merely a suggestion. And a poor one at that,” Gerald added, glancing at the man who had spoken up. The man lowered his eyes at this. “If the Brotherhood want someone who is a guest in our village, common courtesy would be to meet with the clan leader and request such a thing. We won’t bow down to such heavy handed tactics.”
Pent let his hand fall off his weapon, and he straightened up. He was happy that Gerald understood both his wishes and a Demon’s pride. Formetis came out from behind him, and he saw that she was smiling, if even just a little.
Gerald nodded at the girl. “All right, Pent, take the girl back to her quarters. The rest of you, return to your homes. Bill, I’m going to be joining you on guard duty. If you can’t detect an infiltration, I’m going to run you ragged until you learn.” Bill looked less than pleased that Gerald was joining him, but he was smart enough to not say anything as the warriors made off into the night.
“Now that we’re alone, how about you explain to me what the hell is going on.” Pent said, turning back to the Human girl.
“I’m sure you already know.”
“I’ve got a notion, but I still wish to hear it from you. But not here. You need to return to your quarters. I will escort you.” Taking the girl by the hand, he made his way to the home the girl was using. Once inside, Formetis made her way to the bed and sat down, while Pent leaned against the doorframe. “Very well, tell me...how did you end up with the Brotherhood.”
“I don’t really know. As far as I know, I’ve always been looked after by the Master.” Formetis said.
“Then why did you end up here?” Formetis didn’t answer, and she lowered her gaze, refusing to meet his eyes. He waited for a minute, and when she didn’t respond, he said, “I cannot help you if you won’t tell me. If we are to harbor you in our village, you should at least be willing to tell us the truth.”
The girl sighed, and nodded. “Very well. I left because for the first time, I had some doubts about what it was that the Master wanted to accomplish.”
His Master Xuan had been trained personally by Inferno, before he had founded the Brotherhood of Shadows. He had even fought against him a few times while the Brotherhood was active. Xuan was one of the strongest men he knew, and he had told Pent that if he ever found himself in battle against Inferno, he was to run.
Pent had always heard about the Brotherhood of Shadows and their crusades. It was true that they were champions of the Demon people, attempting to bring their people back to the light. But he had also heard that they were zealots, letting nothing stand in the way of their cause. Stories of their more extreme methods were especially chilling.
So to hear that one of their own was having doubts was disconcerting to say the least. “So you are with the Brotherhood, and you want an out? If that’s true, then why are they sending that woman to bring you back?”
The girl fumbled with her fingers. “I kind of...didn’t tell them that I was leaving.”
“Oh, perfect. So the most dangerous Demon in the world thinks we’re holding his little Human pet hostage,” Pent said, pacing through the room. He let out a bitter chuckle at the thought of it.
“I am sorry, Pent. One day, I woke up and realized that I couldn’t follow his vision anymore. I used my magic to get me away from them. Not long after, those Empire soldiers found me. And that’s how we came to meet,” Formetis said.
Pent walked over to a chair and sat down on it. He ran his hands through his hair. “We should talk to my father about this. He is one of the most well known Demons in all the clans. Perhaps he can…I don’t know, talk to Inferno and the Brotherhood. Convince them to let you go.”
There was a moment of silence, the wind howling outside the window. “I don’t know what to do. In truth, I have no idea what the Master would do. When he first started looking after me, he was always kind. Even when the Brotherhood was formed, he did everything he could for the clans. But…can I trust you?”
“I’m kind of insulted that you need to ask after what just happened. Come on, you can tell me,” Pent said.
The young girl took a deep breath before continuing. “The Brotherhood is beginning a massive operation. The Master came to me and told me that I would have a starring role this time around. I have never been involved in most operations. The way he was talking, the conviction in his eyes as he explained his plan, I have never seen him like this. I was scared.”
The girl got up and folded her arms, walking towards the desk. “The Master wasn’t always the man he is today. When he first took me in, he had a friend who had mentored him. That man died, and when he did, a part of his soul died as well. Even then, I could sense reason in him. When he told me his plan, I could not sense that any longer, no compassion. I realized that nothing short of genocide would come of it.”
“What plan? Stop speaking in riddles and tell me.”
Formetis placed her palms on the desk. “There is no need for you to know the details. I have told you more than I should have. I only meant to explain to you why I cannot return to them. If I do, I would lose my soul forever. I tell you this because what you suggest will not work. The Master will not listen to reason any longer.”
Pent’s head was buzzing from all the new information. The Brotherhood of Shadows were heroes in the eyes of many Demons, but he had found their methods to be crass. The stories Master Xuan had told about when he had battled against them further cemented his distaste. They may try to help the clans, but they had no honor.
“I have told you exactly what would happen if you try to parlay with the Brotherhood. You people have been kind to me and I would not have another midnight assault claiming the lives of any of your villagers. You could have been killed by Celran tonight,” Formetis said.
Pent felt a smile creep to his lips. “Oh please, if you think I would lose to a lesser Demon like her, you clearly don’t know me well enough.”
“Your confidence is astounding, for someone so young,” Formetis said with a giggle. Then her face soured again. “I am going to miss that of you when I’m gone.”
“Don’t talk like that, Formetis. I wouldn’t send you out into the world by yourself, when both the Empire and the Brotherhood of Shadows are hunting you,” Pent said.
“So what would you have me do? Stay in this village forever? I overheard you and your brother talking. You don’t plan on hanging around either.”
How could she have possibly heard that? Was this more of her magic shenanigans? Pent cursed the very idea of magic. “No, I don’t. I’ve no intention of living my life out in a small village. But If you were to come with me, I could protect you and you wouldn’t need to live your days hiding in fear.”
His statement had taken her by surprise, he realized. “Go with you? But if I’m with you, everyone will be after you as well. You’d be one of the most hunted people in the world!” Formetis said, shaking her head.
“Good. I welcome a good challenge.” The girl began to object, but Pent refused to hear any more. “Look, just think about it. It’s late, so we’d best get to sleep. It wouldn’t do for my brother to find me lingering here with you this late at night. Just remember, if you don’t wish it, you don’t have to do it. It’s your choice.”
The girl turned to him, tears in her eyes. “Thank you, Pent.”
Pent nodded at the girl, and he said his farewells for the night, leaving the room. He felt a pang of sadness at leaving her. For whatever reason, he could not help but miss the girl when he was away from her. He had spent much of his time away from home fighting bandits and honing his skills. He had not had much time to talk to girls but he was enjoying it.
Pent shook his head and let out a little chuckle. If Master could see him now, infatuated with a Human girl, he would tease him relentlessly.
Pent had no idea that the moment he was out of sight,Formetis pulled out the letter that she had been concealing from him, her name on it. Somehow, Celran had managed to plant the letter during her fight with Pent. She unfolded the letter and read through it. When she was done, she threw it aside and fell to her knees, sobbing into her palms.
“I”m sorry, Pent.”
Ophelia stepped out of the snow and into the chapel. She lowered her hood and moved in closer to the altar. After everything that had happened that day, and the revelations about her healing power, she needed to be somewhere she could be alone.
Keta had been honest with her about how it worked, and she couldn’t blame him for that. But she had been inadvertently causing harm to every person in her village. How could she possibly rest knowing that.
“It seems like you are in distress, my lady,” came a voice from behind her suddenly. Startled, she turned to face the newcomer and gasped in fright. There was a man in a black and red cloak standing before her, his face covered by a mask. She was tiny in comparison to his massive frame.
Ophelia gulped and decided to try and find her courage. When she finally found it, her voice still shook as she asked, “Who are you?”
The giant raised a hand and Ophelia flinched before he instead extended it to her politely. “Fear not, my lady. I am the one who knows of your divine purpose. Tell me, would you like to learn of your place in the Goddesses’ will?”
The sound of a knock woke Pent. His room was already filled with light from the window. It wasn’t like him to sleep past sunrise. Then he remembered that he had been engaged in a skirmish with that woman from the Brotherhood of Shadows. And then there was Formetis...
Pent didn’t know what to think about her being a Human and him being a Demon. He disliked Humans, but he didn’t dislike her. He claimed that she annoyed him, and yet he didn’t want to see her unhappy. Problems are much easier when they can be solved with blades, Pent thought to himself as he rose from his bed. “I’m awake, come on in,” he said to whoever was behind the door.
His brother walked in and stood at the door, his arms folded. “Father wishes to speak with us. Make yourself presentable and meet me outside,” Gerald said. He was very blunt as always. He turned to walk away, but stopped. “The guards tell me you were speaking with that Human again last night.”
Pent could not deny this, nor could he be upset that the watchmen had been keeping an eye on him. After all, she was a Human and they were Demons. Still, it bugged him. “Yeah, what of it? I was with her. She wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
Gerald let out a sigh. “Little brother, you are naive to not suspect her. Do not forget, she is a Human and we are Demons. They are our enemies by birthright. Do not forget that.”
How could he forget? In his time away from home, he was told the same thing everywhere he went. Even his Master had told him to avoid Humans as much as possible. But this girl was one of them, and yet…
“Brother. It is true that we are Demons. However, we are a proud and powerful clan. What do we have to fear of one Human girl?” Pent asked, staring down at his feet. He had told Formetis the same thing. Why did he have to fear them? He was strong enough to make his own fate.
Gerald didn’t answer him right away, but he heard a noise from him that he couldn’t recognize. After a moment, his brother turned to him and put his hand on his head. Pent’s immediate thought was to pull away, before he remembered that Gerald had always done that to him when he was young. His older brother hardly ever showed affection, so this was a rare occurrence.
“I’ve heard about your exploits out there in the world. I was worried you would have lost your youthful innocence after having killed so many. I’m happy to see that you still retain some of it. However...it’s youthful innocence that prevents you from grasping the gravity of the situation. Always be vigilant, even if it’s a girl. The Humans don’t share our sense of pride. Remember that. Now hurry, we’d best not keep Father waiting.” And with that, Gerald turned and left Pent’s room.
Pent clenched his fists in anger. Innocence? He had given up his innocence the day he picked up the sword. His brother had started speaking in riddles just as Father. He would become leader of the clan one day, so it made sense. “But I am not tied down by such fate. I am free to claim my own destiny,” Pent said to himself, and he smiled.
By the time he had gotten outside, Ophelia was waiting as well, so he joined his siblings as they made their way to their father’s quarters. Gerald announced them, and the clan leader bid them inside. “Welcome, my children. It warms my heart to have all of you in the village again. As the heirs of our royal bloodline, I have something I must ask of you all.”
“Of course, father. What is it you will of us?” Gerald said first, and both Pent and Ophelia voiced their own acknowledgement. The man was a shining example of the clan. He had shaped their lives in his teachings while they were growing up. Each was ready to aid the father and the clan in any way they could.
“Please, everyone take a seat. There is much I must tell you before I continue.” Peter said, gesturing to chairs in front of his desk. The three sat down and their father took his seat, folding his hands. He did not speak for a moment, and they sat in silence. Finally, he said, “To start, I must confess something to you, something I have never spoken of before. After your mother died, I was angry. In an effort to quell that anger, I met a man who promised me a better world for our people.”
“Father...what are you going on about?” Gerald asked slowly.
“Too long have our people been shrouded in the shadow. The Humans have long since treated us as garbage because we are the superior race. And we have tried to deal with them peaceably, despite their animosity. But why? Why should we continue to tolerate their nonsense?” When none of them said anything, Peter continued. “My children, as the leader of one of the Demon clans, I have an opportunity to stand up for our oppressed brethren. And I want you three to stand beside me in this task. Gerald, you and your little brother are peerless warriors. And you, Ophelia are to play a large part in the things to come as I have explained. As long as we follow the Master’s commands, our people will never have to suffer again,” Peter said, a big smile on his face.
Pent didn’t know what to think or say. “Father, do you hear what you are saying? The promise of a better world? This Master character? It sounds like you have joined a cult,” Gerald said, a look of disbelief on his face. His brother’s words seemed to resonate with his own mindset. Could his father be talking about who Pent thought he was?
Peter grimaced. “Have I ever told you about how I became leader of the Frostclaw clan?”
This piqued Pent’s attention. “You know full well you never spoke of such things,” Pent said. His father had always forbidden any of the villagers who may have known of the event from recanting the tale.
“It’s not a pleasant one. I lost my arm, but that was not the full extent of it. Once upon a time, the Telim bloodline was abundant. Forefront amongst the great Demon families,” Peter said. He hesitated, then sat down. “It’s time I shared this story for you all.”
Pent quickly sat before his father, and his siblings followed suit. He had never been so excited to learn about history. The reason behind his father’s injury, and how he came to acquire Susanoo, the legendary frostblade. Even now, he could not stop himself from stealing a glance at the magnificent weapon at his father’s side, his own weapons paltry in comparison.
“I was the third born to my parents, but the eldest son. My sisters had no interest in leading the clan, so it was assumed that I would train to take the mantle from my father. But I had no interest either, and instead I soon left the village to go on a warrior’s journey.”
Pent was shocked by this news. His expression must have betrayed this, because his father turned to him and laughed. “Yes, my son. You and I are not so different, though you undertook your journey at a much younger age than I did.”
“But wait, if you left the clan, how did you end up as it’s leader?” Gerald asked.
Peter’s face darkened. “It happened so fast. One of my father's most trusted allies had always coveted his position. He wanted to rise to one of the Six."
Pent could understand to an extent. There were six Demon clans spread throughout the world, and each one was led by the strongest of their clan. Demons prided themselves on their strength above all else, so they needed to be represented by their very best.
"He challenged my father to a duel and he lost. Unable to accept his defeat, he left the village in shame. But...years later, he returned. In his exile, he became proficient in the black magics that the fallen Demons of old utilized. And with his dark magic, he bound the souls of my family into a blade of darkness. This one," Peter said, holding Susanoo in his hand.
Pent marveled at the blade once more. What did this have to do with his father and the clan? Pent looked over at his elder brother, who looked sick hearing this. Ophelia was taking it slightly better. The clan were forbidden from speaking of the event. Why was his father saying all this?
“You asked if I joined a cult? No...more of a…” A crash followed by screams interrupted him. It had come from somewhere outside. “What the hell?” Peter said, getting up from his table and running outside. Without a second thought, Pent leapt to his feet and rushed after his father, with Gerald at his heels. The two drew their weapons as they headed in the direction of the commotion. Villagers were screaming and running away from something that way. It led them to the north gate, where one of the guards was slumped against the walls and two hooded figures stood beside him. But it was not just any hooded figures...it was the same ones that had visited the village the other day.
“Dranon! What is the meaning of this?” Peter yelled, as Pent and Gerald caught up to him.
The hooded man was the one who responded. “My apologies, Lord Telim. You seemed so hesitant when we last spoke. I figured a show of force was necessary to remind you of what you are dealing with. Hahaha!” As he stepped forward to speak with them, his companion was content with hanging back.
Gerald leapt forward and thrust his spear into the air. “You’ll regret the day you made an enemy of the Frostclaw Clan! Prepare yourself!” He roared, and began to charge the mysterious stranger.
“Gerald! Stand down!” Every head in the village turned at these words, as their gaze rested on Peter, who had just stepped forward to give the command in a loud voice.
Gerald had heard his father, and had turned around with shock on his face. “But Father...he attacked our people and is invading our village!” Gerald spat out, and he turned back to face the stranger, his hands grasped firmly on his weapon. “We must answer this attack with our own might!” And he started to charge again.
“Gerald Telim!” Peter’s voice boomed throughout the village and every villager shrank at the intensity. “I am the leader of the Frostclaw Clan and your father! I command you to stand down. NOW!” There had been a few times that Pent had seen his father angry, or heard him talk with such force. It was inspiring. Or it would have been, if he had not been seething with rage. Gerald was the eldest, so Pent had deferred the honor of defeating an invader to him. But if Gerald had not gone to retaliate...he would have.
Gerald did not turn back, but he was visibly shaking. Pent caught a glimpse and he had never seen his brother’s face contorted with such rage. After a moment, he stabbed his spear into the ground and stared at the stranger.
“Ah, good to see that you keep your clan in line. I would hate for there to be any...unfortunate business between us. Now then, as we discussed. Is the girl ready?” The man named Dranon directed his question towards Peter.
Girl? ‘So I was right all along,’ Pent thought to himself. The Brotherhood of Shadows was after Formetis. It made sense, after all. She was a Human. But why was the Brotherhood and the Empire both after her? Either way, he’d be damned if he let either of them get their hands on her.
“She is. I was in the process of speaking to my sons before your arrival interrupted us. But I assure you, we will cooperate. Just...no more violence against my people,” Peter said with a sad voice, and then he turned and extended his hand. “I am sorry, Ophelia. I wish I had another choice in the matter, but as I explained, this is for the greater good.”
The focus on the girl’s face was apparent and she did not speak right away, holding her father’s gaze. When she finally spoke, her voice was spiked with emotion. “Do not be sad, Father. When I first learned about my power, I was lost in myself. Now that I know I can save our people, I will trust your judgement. If I can help in this small way, I will do what I must.” Ophelia said, reaching a hand out to touch her father’s cheek before taking his hand and walking forward with him toward Dranon.
Gerald was the first one to speak. “Father! I don’t understand what is going on, but it looks to me like you are giving Ophelia to this intruder! Why!?” Other voices began to rise up from the villagers after Gerald spoke.
“Where are you going with priestess Ophelia?”
“Unhand the priestess! She is one of us!”
“What is this, chief? Let her go!”
The outburst from the villagers concerned for one of their own was incredible. Pent was still trying to make sense of what was going on. These villagers had probably heard of the Brotherhood of Shadows living this far from the Shadowlands, but it seemed like Peter was more than familiar with them. Is that why he was bending his knee of them? Because he was afraid? No...his father would never back down like this. There must be another explanation.
“Silence! I am the leader of this clan and I have been for years. I have led us through war and persecution and you dare to question me now? Who among you wishes to challenge me for authority?” Peter roared at the villagers. They grew silent at the sound of the old warrior’s fierce voice. “I do what I must for the good of the clan, regardless of whether I must make a hard decision. Such is the role of a leader!”
The villagers grew silent after hearing his words, and even Gerald’s expression began to soften as he heard these words. “For the good of the clan, even if one must make a hard decision, huh?” Pent said to himself, and then realized what he must do. He had been training for years and had acquired all this strength to protect those important to him. If his father and brother did not have the strength to do so, then it was time to show them his true power. With grim determination, he ran forward passing his father and sister and stood face to face with the stranger.
Gerald was the first to call him out. “Brother...this is a clan matter, and Father is the leader. Stand down.” It seemed that their father’s words had resonated with him. After all, as the eldest child he would one day become the clan leader. He must have been trained by Father to be a leader since he was young. Still, he wouldn’t stand down now. He drew his sword and stood defiantly.
“Pent!” His father’s voice broke his thoughts. He couldn’t afford to break the strangers gaze, now that he had engaged him, but he could tell that his father was angry. “What are you doing? I gave you an order. Stand down at once!”
“Why would I do that? This man attacked our people and it sounds like he aims to involve Ophelia in something dangerous. I heard it all. What I’m wondering is why all of you are standing around doing nothing!” He said forcefully, nodding to Gerald and the other warriors. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed some of the others shift uncomfortably and Gerald’s hands were clenched so tightly he could see his elder brother’s muscles straining.
“Peter, I thought we understood each other. Why is this little man standing in my way?” Dranon asked, turning around and exposing his side to Pent. What the hell was this guy doing? He hadn’t even taken up a guard. It was almost as if he didn’t even care that Pent was there. He started towards the large Demon again, ready to strike when his father roared at him once more.
“Pent, I am the leader of this clan and your father. I order you to put down your sword and stand aside! You don’t know what you are getting us into.” Peter’s voice was loud, but it was also filled with concern. Why was his father so afraid of this man?
Still, Pent’s courage did not fail him. “I don’t take orders from you. The man I call father would never bow down and give up one of his own without a fight. I don’t know what has happened since my time away, but you have become a coward. If you are not brave enough to defend your people, then I shall do it.”
“Pent! He is still our leader and your father. Do not speak to him in that manner,” Gerald reprimanded Pent, defending the Frostclaw leader.
“Oh, so this boy is one of your sons? Yes, yes. I can see the resemblance. I applaud his warrior’s spirit. He is poised to kill me right here and now. But enough of that, I’m not here to praise your people,” Dranon said and waving his hand dismissively, he walked towards the clan leader. “I am here to finish a mission for the Brotherhood of Shadows. You do realize who exactly it is your boy is defying, yes?” Dranon asked, looking directly at Peter.
Whispering began immediately amongst the gathered villagers. The Brotherhood of Shadows were well known amongst the people of the clans.
“I am well aware, I just…”
Dranon folded his arms, his cloak billowing in the wind. He was an imposing sight, towering over Pent. “I did not come here to debate with you, Telim. I have the utmost respect for you as a warrior. However, my Master sent me here to collect the girl. We are all Demons, and as I see it, comrades in arms. But we will do what we must to accomplish our goal. And surely you don’t want to anger the Master.”
Peter let out a defeated sigh, and turned his attention to Pent. “My son, you have to stand down. This is for the good of the clans but do not entertain the thought that they will not hesitate to remove any obstacles in their path. That is the way of the Brotherhood of Shadows. If you oppose them, they will kill you. They are too powerful.”
Pent turned to look at his father, and he could see in his eyes a defeated look. The greatest man, the warrior he had looked up to since he was a child, looked like a shallow husk of his former self. He was filled with equal parts of sadness and disgust. How could the great Peter Telim bow down to these people without even putting up a fight.
Pent could not contain his fury. “You claim that you are trying to spare us and that this is all for the good of the clan? But I think that you are just scared. You are letting this man bully you into submission and handing over your only daughter to them without telling any of us what the hell is going on. Even if this was an unwinnable fight...the man who raised me would have at least tried!” Pent yelled, his emotions bursting out.
The look of shock on Peter’s face was apparent. Pent turned back to Dranon. “If he won’t fight for his clan, then I will. If you think we of the Frostclaw clan are cowards, allow me to educate you on the matter,” Pent said, raising his hand and pointing his blade directly at Dranon.
Murmuring began to erupt from the crowd, and several of the warriors, Gerald included, started to glance amongst each other. ‘Good, I have them riled up. As long as all the warriors are on my side, this should be easy enough,’ Pent thought to himself, allowing a smile to reach his lips.
But his hope began to falter when he realized that Dranon had done nothing throughout all of this. He still stood there, his arms crossed and unmoving. His mask prevented Pent from seeing his face, so he could not even gauge his reaction to what was going on. It was infuriating.
Pent’s eyes began to shift from side to side, scanning the area to understand the combat zone and how much room he would have to move around. As it was inside the village, the fight would be close quarters. He then focused his eyes back on Dranon, trying to predict how he would attack. But no matter how he tried, he could read nothing from the Demon.
Finally, Dranon unfolded his arms. “You’ve got guts, kid. And skill too, if I’m not mistaken. You’ve got the eyes of a warrior after all. But I warn you, once you go down this path with me, it will end in your death. I have no love of killing fellow Demons, but if you get in my way, I will not hold back. Do you hear that?” Dranon said, turning to the crowd. “I will personally kill any who interfere.”
An opening! Pent thought, when the Demon turned his head. He gripped his blade, but before he could move, Peter placed a hand on his shoulder. Pent turned angrily, ready to tell him off once again, but stopped when he saw the look on his father’s face.
“You will not threaten my people any more, Dranon.”
Peter’s voice echoed through the village, and Dranon stopped his address to the crowd, turning his head to the clan leader. “I would not have to if you kept them in line, sir Telim. If you would be so kind?” Dranon gestured towards the people.
Dranon’s head tilted to the side. “No?”
Pent felt his father’s grip tighten. “I will not back down. My son is right, though it shames me that I needed him to remind me of this.”
“Are you sure about all this? Do you really wish to anger the Master? You know full well what he is capable of,” Dranon asked.
“Then I will appeal in the ancient ways to him. I challenge you to a duel as is the custom of the clan leaders of old. If I win, you leave and tell the Master what transpired and the brotherhood will leave us alone,” Peter declared.
“And if I win?” Dranon asked.
“If you win, we will not interfere. My daughter will go with you willingly. But that is if you win. Do you accept these terms?” Peter said, his face stern as he looked over at Ophelia, who still looked shocked at the revelations.
Dranon shrugged. “It matters not how I go about my mission. If you want to fight me, feel free. The sooner I complete my mission, the sooner I can fulfill the Master’s glorious vision.”
“Father, I don’t need you to protect me. I would have fought him on my own!” Pent said indignantly.
His old man chuckled before responding. “No you don’t. But it is my duty as clan leader to be the first to engage any threats. You reminded me of that. For that, I thank you,” Peter said, his voice full of pride. But then, it hardened. “However, I need you to get out of my way. For all your bravado, you are still just a boy. Allow me to show you what age does for a true warrior!”
Pent stood for a moment in awe. Inspired by the man’s words, he rushed to join his brother, who was standing beside Ophelia now. His previously shaken faith in the man had been replaced by pride.
“My my, what a treat we have here. The mighty Peter Telim, hero of the Demon clans and renowned warrior. To be able to have a chance to battle with you is a dream come true,” Dranon said, stepping forward to meet the Frostclaw leader. “I am saddened by this as well, of course. We are both Demons after all.”
“As am I. However, I must defend my people. Don’t worry. I’ll make this quick.” Peter said and in a flash, he ran forward, closing the distance between the two combatants. Dranon hadn’t even put up his guard when Peter pulled back and swung a fist at his chest. His fist sent the Demon careening into the village wall.
Peter didn’t give his enemy time to recover. He grabbed the man by his collar and slammed him into the ground. Picking him up again, he spun his opponent away from the wall and aimed a kick at Dranon’s torso. The Brotherhood Demon slid backwards in the snow several feet until he came to a halt, pulling himself upright, but had no time to defend as Peter rushed forward to continue his assault.
Pent noticed that something was wrong. His father had just hit this man with a few hits and the clan leader was very strong indeed. And yet, Dranon was taking the hits without so much as flinching. As his father landed hit after hit, the Brotherhood Demon simply stood back up for more.
“Damn you! Stand and fight!” Peter yelled as he hit his opponent with a punch to the face, causing a crack to form on the mask. But otherwise, he seemed unaffected. “Fine...I was extending you the courtesy of using my fists. But it’s time to end this.”
Peter reached to his waist where his blade sheath hung. It had been years since Pent had last seen the famous blade, as his father drew the weapon and a flurry of ice and snow erupted from the shimmering blade. The legendary sword Susanoo the frostblade.
Pent marveled at its appearance. The elders had told stories of how Susanoo had been made by binding ice spirits to the blade. His father had acquired it by defeating an enemy Demon back when he was younger, at the cost of his arm.
“Oh? A battle with swords?” Dranon said with a bored voice. “I suppose we can do that if you like. Though, it is pointless.” Dranon drew his own blade, paltry in comparison to Susanoo. Pent hated this Demon more than anything right now. He was acting as if this battle was little more than a nuisance to him.
As Pent watched the fight continue, he was becoming more and more confused. Peter was dominating Dranon in every aspect of the battle, his swordplay overshadowing everything. Dranon was getting hit by everything, and yet he did not look tired. He wasn’t even bleeding.
The villagers were cheering for their clan leader’s success, but Pent knew better. He could see a similar look of skepticism on Gerald’s face. What was going on? Dranon’s demeanor didn’t befit a man in his position.
Peter swung his sword, and Dranon finally parried the blow. Peter was starting to become tired it seemed. Dranon let out a laugh and thrust his sword at Peter.
“Insolent whelp!” Peter roared, sidestepping the stab and gripping his own sword, he thrust it into Dranon’s chest, burying it deep in the Demon’s cloak. “I have no idea why a common warrior like you decided to challenge a clan leader, but you have forced my hand in this!”
The Frostclaw clan villagers erupted into cheering at the sight of their leader’s victory. Even Pent’s former skepticism had vanished. The blow was a mortal one. “Magnificent...you are truly a marvel to behold, Lord Telim...” Dranon said in a slow voice, lifting his head.
Blood splashed the ground from the open wound. Peter had been nothing short of a flash, his speed and power compensating for the fact that his right arm was missing. Even with the handicap, the fight hadn’t lasted very long at all.
So it was to everyone’s surprise when Peter fell to one knee, as Dranon pulled free his blade from the mighty Frostclaw warrior’s chest, Susanoo still lodged in the cloaked Demon’s torso. A cry of despair rang out from the village as Peter clutched at the wound, before falling over sideways.
“However, you failed to account for the power of the Brotherhood of Shadows,” Dranon said to the fallen man, pulling Susanoo from his body and tossing it to the ground beside Peter. “Our mission is a holy crusade, to purge this world of the inferior Humans. Rejoice, my brothers and sisters, for soon we shall be allowed to walk in the light.”
“No!!!” Pent saw the life leave his father’s eyes and his hand fell to the ground limp. Pent knew all about sword strikes and he realized that Dranon had been merciful, aiming for the heart for an instant death. But merciful or not, he hated Dranon more than anything at that moment. He began to run forward, reaching for his sword when Gerald came from behind him and clamped his arms around him, holding him tightly. Pent was confused, and he struggled against his brother, but the older Demon was stronger than him. “Gerald! What the hell are you doing?”
“Father...father lost the duel. He challenged him in our old ways and was defeated. He’s gone, but he was a Demon warrior. We must honor the outcome of the fight,” Gerald choked out.
“What the hell are you talking about? He just killed Father!!” Pent shouted, struggling to break free from his elder brother, but he kept him in a locked hold. Pent wanted nothing more than to kill the Demon who had murdered his father.
“Do not shame us, little brother!” Gerald yelled, his voice loud enough that even Pent flinched and he stopped struggling. His brother turned him around and Pent could see the look in his eyes. “We are Demons of the clans. Our honor is everything to us. You would tarnish Father’s reputation by reneging on his duel’s agreement?”
Pent understood his brother’s words, and as a Demon warrior, he could almost respect them. But in the moment, in his heart...all he could think of was vengeance. His father had just been killed by a blade through his heart. And he wouldn’t rest until he had repaid the favor to Dranon.
When he relayed this to Gerald, his brother turned a shade redder from fury. “You fool! Have you no pride?”
“It’s you who has no pride. You would let the man who killed father walk away free? You are a coward, brother. If you do not have the courage to do this, then I will finish this myself!” No sooner had he said these words when Gerald drew his spear from the ground, turning it on Pent in anger.
Dranon in the meanwhile had been standing alone over Peter’s body. “So, I won the duel. Your leader lies dead at my feet. Will you turn over the girl now? Or do I have to tear a bloody swath through the rest of the village?” Dranon threatened, again in that uninterested voice of his. It made Pent sick. But when he turned to engage the Demon, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his head as he was blindsided by the shaft of Gerald’s weapon and he fell to the ground.
“Gerald...how could you…” Pent said, his vision blurry from the surprise attack. His body was weak and he struggled to sit upright. Gerald walked past him, and as he did, he looked down at his brother with a look of pity and regret.
“Please...no more violence. If you would spare the rest of my people, I will go with you.” This time it was Ophelia who stepped forward, appealing to the Demon in the skull mask.
Dranon let out a laugh, it’s hollow sound echoing through the village. “You are really in no condition to be bargaining with me at this point. But, I have no wish to continue to harm my Demonic brethren. If there are no more interruptions, let’s end all this hostility and get out of here.”
“Dranon! You have to stop this.”
Pent recognized that voice, and his eyes tracked it’s source. Keta had appeared and was standing near Gerald. He was opposite Dranon, who now had Ophelia beside him.
“Night, this is a matter for the clans. This does not concern you,” Gerald said to the silver haired warrior.
As Pent slowly raised himself to his feet, he saw Keta turn to his brother. “Gerald, you can’t allow the Brotherhood of Shadows to capture your sister. Whatever they plan with her will not only endanger the lives of thousands, but your sister may end up losing her life too.”
At this, Gerald whirled around to face Dranon. “Is this true, Dranon? What treachery is this? Ophelia decided to go with you in good faith,” Gerald said, his face contorted from fury.
The Brotherhood Demon casually waved his hand in the air. “I never said that she would not come to harm. I know not what the Master wants her for, but if it is his will, I shall carry it out. If she should die in the service of the Master, she should consider it an honor.”
“Oathbreaker! Have you no honor?” Gerald said, running forward with his weapon at his side.
“Brother, stop!” Gerald froze mid step at the sound of Ophelia’s voice. She had stepped in front of Dranon to plead with him. “I don’t want anyone else to get hurt or worse. If I can stop this before it comes to that, I must.”
“Ophelia…I won’t accept that. Now that father is gone, I am the leader of the clan. And it is my job to protect us from honorless warriors. Kaufman, get the villagers to safety,” Gerald commanded. He looked down at Pent. “Come on, little brother, get up already. You are with me.” He extended a hand to help him up.
Pent let out a mocking laugh. “First you deny me my attempts at vengeance, and now you want me to fight with you?” Then he smiled grimly and accepted his brother’s help and the two stood together side by side. “Very well brother, let us avenge father together.”
The warrior named Kaufman, who Pent remembered was Gerald’s second in command, protested this. “Gerald, let us stay and fight. We can help you.” The older Demon said, his hand on the hilt of his sword as he stared at Dranon with hatred.
“You will follow my command and get everyone to safety now!” Gerald stated, and then added, “And once that mission is complete, feel free to come assist with the mop up. That is, if me and my little brother have not already handled it.”
Kaufman sighed and nodded, and turned with the other warriors to usher the villagers away. This whole time, Dranon stood standing there with his arms folded, betraying no emotion. He watched as the last of the villagers escaped from sight, then turned back to the two brothers.
“Are you certain you wish to do this? I would rather not wipe out Sir Telim’s entire bloodline.”
“Don’t you dare speak of him!” Pent shouted and he grabbed his sword, charging at Dranon. Before he could reach the Demon though, a purple light blinded him and when the flash had ended, Pent’s mouth was left hanging open.
“I grow weary of this. Celran, kill them all. And you...make yourself useful,” Dranon said, and the woman leapt from behind him at Gerald, who narrowly managed to bring up his weapon to deflect the strike. Keta had drawn his sword and had begun to engage her with Gerald at his side. But Pent’s attention was elsewhere. There was another person who had appeared with Celran.
“No...not you. Why would you do this?” Pent asked the girl who stood between him and Dranon.
Pent had only known Formetis for a short time, but he had felt a connection with the young Human. And now the young raven haired Human was standing as a shield for Dranon.
“I am sorry, Pent. But I follow the will of the Master and the Brotherhood of Shadows.” Formetis explained. She was standing defiantly, but he could sense it in her voice, in her posture. She was not happy about the situation.
Pent let out a nervous chuckle. “I thought I told you Formetis. You don’t have to go back to them. I told you I would protect you. Don’t worry about them, go back to the house,” Pent said.
The girl said nothing, and for what seemed like an eternity, the two of them just stood there, eyes locked.
“Pent…” Formetis seemed to be struggling to find words. Finally, “I am sorry for what happened. Celran told me that we only needed the girl. No one was supposed to die. Why did you interfere?”
Pent growled when he heard this. Why was she saying that? He had done the exact same thing that he had done when the other Brotherhood Demon had come to take her away. He wasn’t about to let anyone close to him be taken.
Formetis shook her head vigorously. “Why do you keep interfering in things that are bigger than you? You are going to get yourself killed!” Formetis shouted at him, her voice thick with emotion.
Pent clenched his fist so tightly that his nails dug into his palm. “I already told you none of that matters to me. I am a Demon. We are warriors. Life and death...they are two sides of the same coin for those of the clans.”
The girl bit her lip. “That’s so wrong though, Pent. Why do you have to live that way, as if any day could be your last. Don’t you want to just be happy and enjoy life?”
Pent narrowed his eyes at the Human. “What you are saying goes against the warrior’s way. You would have me live my life as a coward? That is the way of Humans, not Demons. You are only Human, so I figured if you were not able to fight, I would do it for you.”
“But why? Why won’t you just enjoy your life. Why do you insist on protecting everyone? Why do you insist on protecting me?” Formetis asked.
Her question was a legitimate one, Pent realized. But for someone who embraced the old ways of the Demon clans, there was no other choice.
After his mother had been killed, he had vowed to not let anyone else he loved be harmed.
He had failed already. He had let his father die in front of him. He had been forced to let the clan leader fight the Brotherhood Demon. His father was one of the most powerful and skilled people Pent knew. But perhaps if he had fought instead, things would have ended differently. After all, Master Xuan had trained him.
“Formetis, this is the way I am, I can’t change it. I said I would protect you because I don’t like to see girls sad. So stop being afraid for me and let me end all this,” Pent said, walking past her to confront Dranon.
A purple light flashed behind him and a semi transparent light formed in front of him. Pent put a hand up to it, and felt resistance as he tried to push through. It was a magic wall of some sort, he realized as he turned to see Formetis holding a hand towards him, glowing with the same purple light.
“Formetis, what are you doing?” Pent asked.
“I’m sorry, but just as you said that you can’t change, it seems I cannot too. I tried to run from my destiny, but they reminded me of my duty. I am...Formetis of Nightmares,” the young girl said, her eyes showing her conviction as she held the magical shield.
Pent blinked, and for a moment, his mind was blank. It was a fleeting moment, and when it had passed, a new emotion came forth; one of utter fury. How dare this girl who he had protected since he had first met her betray him like this? To Pent, there was nothing in the world that mattered more than avenging his father’s death. Not his training or his family. Not even this girl that he had come to care for.
So blinding was his fury that he did not notice his hand raise from his side, nor the fact that it curled into a fist. He didn’t even see when that curled fist struck the girl. He only came back to his senses when he saw Formetis fall to the ground.
He opened his mouth in horror. He reached out a hand to the girl on the ground, but then pulled back. He couldn’t believe what he had just done. He didn’t like fighting women and he hated to see them get hurt. His father had always taught him...
No, Pent thought, shaking his head. His father had taught him to never back down from an enemy. His father...he had taught him his morals, his demonic pride...and now he was dead. And his killer was in front of him.
Anyone who would prevent him from punishing his father’s killer was an enemy, man or woman. This girl he had thought was his friend was now an enemy if she was protecting these invaders.
“Stay down, Formetis. I don’t want to hurt you,” Pent said sternly to the girl, before turning back to Dranon, who still had not made any movements at all. He had just been watching the whole thing. This man is really starting to piss him off, he thought to himself, gripping his sword.
And once again, he was blocked by a purple wall that materialized. Furious, he hit it with a fist with all his might, but all that came of it was pain in his hand. With a growl, he whirled around to see Formetis on the ground with a hand stretched towards him, that purple glow surrounding her again.
“Formetis, you really need to stay down or I will treat you as an enemy just like that man there.” Pent roared, pointing to Dranon. “And I promise you, as my enemy, he is about to end up dead.”
“Just as you must follow your own code, so must I. The Master has been good to me, but that is not why I follow him. I follow him because he wants to help the clans. That includes you and your own. So if you want to get past to interfere...you’ll have to kill me.”
Before Pent could process this information, a voice rang out. “For the love of the Goddess, let it end. You two children are so sickening with your banter.” Dranon said, walking forward at last. “And you...the Master ordered me to not let you come to harm. I don’t know why you are so against fighting today, but you will not die on my watch. Let the little one come if he’s so inclined.”
Formetis sighed, and let her hand fall and the wall disappeared. Seeing his opponent in sight, Pent rushed at him and he slashed at the Demon, who stopped the blade with his own. “Finally decided not to hide behind a little girl, huh?” Pent taunted, pushing against the larger Demon. “Where’s your Demon pride?”
“I don’t need to prove anything to you, little boy. I have already bested your clan leader. You shame your own people by resisting me,” Dranon pointed out.
Pent let out a challenging roar and leapt backwards to break their weapon lock. Jumping forward again, he deftly avoided a second strike and stabbed Dranon in the stomach. Pent’s eyes widened as he had to avoid Dranon stabbing him in the same way his father had died by leaping backwards, pulling his sword from Dranon’s body, but to his despair, there was no blood.
“What the hell…” Pent said, staring at his sword. He had struck him he was sure, but whatever was under that cloak was...hollow? Not quite, he had felt something, but it certainly was not flesh.
“Did you really just try the same tactic as your father? It didn’t work for him, and now he’s dead.” Dranon sneered, before turning to Formetis. “Go, take the girl and use that gate of yours to get her to headquarters. Once you’ve done that, come back and get us. We had to walk all the way here without you, so I’d appreciate an evac.”
Formetis nodded and she ran over to where Ophelia was waiting. Pent could not make it to them, Dranon was blocking his path. He could only watch helplessly as Formetis grabbed Ophelia’s arm and let her purple energy consume her again.
“Formetis!” Pent yelled at the girl. “You won’t get far! Once I’ve dealt with this guy, I’ll be coming for you to rescue her!”
Despite his claim, Dranon began to laugh. “I’m sorry to say, my boy, but the girl was lost to you the moment Formetis touched her. You see, she has some very impressive abilities. Watch.” Dranon turned his back to him to look at the girls.
This guy keeps turning away from me, Pent thought to himself, growling, and he started to rush at Dranon’s unprotected back. But then he saw what was enthralling Dranon. A purple tear had opened up in the air in front of Formetis, the magical energy sparking around it. Formetis took a sorrowful look at Pent, before she pulled Ophelia through the tear...and vanished.
“No!” Pent yelled, as the magical sphere evaporated from sight, taking Formetis and Ophelia with it. He charged forward, but was met by Dranon’s sword that he had to raise his own weapon to block. “Where is she? What the hell was that?”
“A useful trick. With it, that girl can create gates that allow you to travel from one place to another. It’s very useful, but it’s freaky as hell once you are actually inside,” Dranon explained, shuddering. The purple shimmer finally evaporated, leaving no trace. “Regardless, my point is that she is not your concern any longer. I am your most immediate threat. As is that over there. How cute they are together. These types of reunions are always so heartwarming,” Dranon observed, his arms folded as he looked over at Keta and Celran, circling each other with Gerald close by. He tilted his head to Pent. “But then, I suppose our little conflict cannot be as nice. My offer still stands, young Demon. You could join us in the Brotherhood of Shadows and create a new future.”
Pent answered this with a furious slash at Dranon, and was distraught when it struck his body, slicing a portion of his clothing but failing to pierce his body and bouncing off harmlessly. His hand stung from the impact and he pulled back. What was more infuriating was the look of disinterest on Dranon’s face; as if he was no more of a nuisance than a fly.
This man was responsible for the death of his father. He had to try another way of defeating this giant. His swords weren’t doing any damage to him, he had some kind of body armor underneath that robe. But all armor had some weak spots, and Pent’s eye would find it sooner or later.
“You do have spirit, little one. You just struck to kill me, didn’t you?” Dranon laughed, looking down at Pent. He looked inquisitive, before adding, “But I’m afraid the Master requires our attention elsewhere. I’m only going to ask you one more time. I offer you the chance to become one of us. Otherwise, stand aside.”
Dranon turned around and started to walk towards Keta and Gerald. Burning fury erupted in Pent, and he drew his second sword and jumped at the hooded Demon. If he couldn’t cut his body, then he would go straight for the neck. He brought his sword up and brought it down with all his might as Dranon’s head turned, a look of surprise on his face.
Sunlight glittered off of Pent’s sword, as it shattered into tiny pieces against Dranon’s neck. Pent landed and stared in horror at the hilt of his destroyed sword. He couldn’t believe it. Ever since he had left home to train, he had had that sword with him. It was the last gift his father had given him. His rage began to turn into grief once again.
Dranon, however had turned from apathetic to angry. “Well, don’t say I didn’t try to warn you. I try and spare all my Demonic brethren, but you have tried my patience. It’s time for you to join your father.”
“You...what are you...why won’t you die!” Pent bellowed, still staring at the broken shards of his sword. Nobody should be alive after one of his strikes to the neck. This didn’t make any sense; he’d never met an opponent he couldn’t finish off.
Dranon stopped walking. “I tried to warn you all. It’s not wise to mess with the Brotherhood of Shadows. I will guard the Brotherhood’s interests until the Master’s visions are realized. But you want to understand why I am still alive? Very well, look closely.” Dranon said and lifted his left hand to his face and pulled the mask off, letting it drop to the ground.
“You...what the hell are you?” Pent had seen many types of Demons in his travels, but this was new to him. Underneath that mask was no face, but a sullen skull. There were no eyes, but the unmistakable red glow of a Demon still inhabited the sockets.
“I am the result of fel magic that should not exist in this world. As you can see,” Dranon said, reaching up and grasping his now tattered cloak. With one swift movement, he tore the fabric apart and tossed it to the side.
Underneath the cloak he was wearing no more than rags for clothes, but it no longer hid what Dranon was talking about. His arms, his legs...he was nothing more than a walking skeleton. Was this what he had meant when he said he couldn’t die?
“Does this frighten you, child? I take no pleasure in the form I presently inhabit. However, it allows me a second chance at life. A chance I will use to exert the Master’s and the Brotherhood’s will,” Dranon said, reaching down with his gloved hand and retrieving his sword. “Come, it’s time to obtain the fate you sow.”
“I don’t care if you are a walking sack of bones! You killed my father! If you are already dead, I’ll just smash your bones into dust!” Pent said, rushing at Dranon once more. He struck at the skeleton Demon, who was able to deflect the attack easily enough. Pent wanted to go on the offensive, but with his second sword lying in pieces, his fighting style was compromised.
Dranon was no slouch as a swordsman, and he swung his sword in a flurry of strikes. Pent was smaller than his opponent and was able to evade them rather than expending the energy clashing swords. After avoiding an overhead slash, he leapt forward and took a swing at the large Demon’s waist. Instead of cleaving the man in two, his sword reverberated violently as it bounced off harmlessly.
Pent was hit by a fist and knocked into the air before crashing down into the snow several feet away. “How can you expect to beat me? I’ve been extending you the courtesy of fighting you with a sword, but I don’t even have to defend myself. This dark magic has made my bones tougher than steel!” Dranon said, laughing darkly.
Pent put a hand to his head to stop the throbbing and quickly got his feet, retrieving his blade. Dranon was trying to get in his head and rile him up. The only problem was, he was right. Nothing Pent did was hurting Dranon. And even if he did, he was at a disadvantage with one of his swords shattered.
In the distance, he could see Keta fighting against the other invader. Near him was the guardhouse, where all the weapons were stored. Perhaps if he made a dash for it, he could replace his broken sword. But he doubted Dranon would just let him do so. He’d need a distraction. With a plan in his head, he continued his assault.
Pent recognized Dranon’s competence as a swordsman, but it was obvious he was nowhere near as skilled as Pent. None of this mattered because nothing he did could hurt the man, but it helped him avoid the Demon’s attacks, while hacking away at Dranon’s body. It wasn’t doing any damage, but it was establishing his dominance as a warrior.
For all the good it was doing him...he was getting tired, and Dranon showed no signs of growing tired. He would need a moment to get ready. He hoped Gerald was having a better time than he was.
“Little Keta, tell me something. Why are you fighting against us? The Master always spoke well of you. We’re not so bad. I don’t want to have to kill you.”
Despite her words, the woman came at him full force, slashing at him with daggers in her hands. Keta evaded her strikes and tried to keep his distance but his attacker was surprisingly agile and was able to keep up with him. If she didn’t want to kill him, she had a funny way of showing it.
It was clear that unless he started taking the fight seriously, she was going to stick one of those knives into his heart. As much as he wanted to avoid fighting, he drew his sword and deflected the dagger strike, revealing an opening that she hadn’t been expecting. But instead of stabbing her with his sword, he spun the sword to strike her with the hilt to incapacitate her.
And then he felt a sharp pain in his leg, and felt the warm blood on his skin. He had paid for his mercy dearly. In the time it had taken to switch to a nonlethal attack, the girl had been able to avoid it altogether and counter attack. The girl pulled the dagger from his left leg, and leapt backwards, crossing her arms. “Oh Keta, you never change, do you? Always such a darling to all living things. Even in the middle of a battle…”
Gerald came in, with a thrust of his spear and Celran was forced to retreat. The Demon warrior turned his head to look at Keta. “Are you going to be okay, Keta?” He asked. Keta dropped to one knee, fighting back pain, but he nodded all the same.
It was not a mortal wound, it was a crippling wound. With an injured leg, he would not be able to move as fast in a fight. Whoever this girl was, she was skilled. And she was also not kidding about not wanting to kill him. The way she moved, the abilities she possessed, he should have been dead. And they way she was talking to him. He had to ask.
“You speak as if you know me. Why are we enemies if you do. Reveal yourself.”
“You really don’t remember me, do you? I’m a little upset right now. I feel like stabbing something...or someone!” The woman walked forward and thrust her face close to his. “Look at me. My name is Celran. How can you tell me you don’t remember me? You rescued me from that Empire lab years ago. I’ve never forgotten about it.”
This girl...she was one of the Empire’s guinea pigs. She had been just like him at one time. Keta decided he would try and reason with the girl. After all, he had helped her before apparently. “Celran, if I did save you from that lab, it’s only because I know what it is like to be held captive by the Empire as well. We are not enemies, there is no reason for us to continue fighting each other. Besides...if you remember me from back then, you must realize that you have no chance of beating me.”
“Well, we will just have to see how much I have improved, won’t we?” Celran said, continuing her assault. Keta did remember this girl, but she was an assassin. Assassins did tend to be less proficient in a straight fight. He needed to finish this quickly and help Pent. But, he realized that his injury was slowing him down. He needed to end this sooner rather than later.
Keta rolled to avoid Celran’s dagger and rushed at her, intent on taking her down. She was ready for this, and leapt backwards, reaching down to her leg and throwing three sharp needles strapped there at him. Unable to block them all, he had to dive to avoid once more. This girl was quick, and he was still injured, so there was no way he could keep up with her.
“Come on, Keta. Just give up. I don’t want to fight you. Just let me go kill that boy fighting Dranon so we can hurry up and go home. Once everyone that needs to be dead is dead, we’ll be out of here. The Master will be so pleased that we accomplished our mission,” Celran said proudly from the top of one of the buildings.
“Do you even hear yourself talk, Celran? I can’t let you get away with these atrocities!”
A mournful sigh broke out from Celran. “Then die!” And with that, she launched herself off the building at him with daggers in hand. Keta prepared to defend himself, but someone rushed in front of him and blocked the attack first.
Gerald shoved the girl away and looked back at Keta. “I’m grateful for you trying to assist us, Night, but at this rate you will end up dead. My people will keep the villagers away from the fighting, so let me handle this. It is a Frostclaw problem.”
Keta considered his words carefully to the Demon warrior. “I am grateful for that, Gerald, but this woman is a member of the Brotherhood of Shadows. They are warriors of no small skill. You should not attempt to engage her alone.”
“I was worried you would not be able to fight any longer. If you can assist me, I would appreciate it. We must take this girl out quickly and help Pent.” Gerald said, looking back at him and giving him a reassuring nod. “Follow my lead.”
“Two against one? And against a woman, nonetheless. Didn’t you boys ever learn manners?” Celran said, looking from Keta to Gerald. But if anything, she seemed to be more amused by this turn of events. “Oh well, more fun for me I suppose. Come on boys, show me what you can do.”
“Night, I see that you use a sword as your weapon. Do you know anything of spear tactics?” Gerald asked and Keta shook his head. All his allies had used swords mostly. “That’s all right. Just know that my weapon has greater reach as well as sweeping strike range. It would be best if you let me lead the frontal assault on this woman, while you flank her.”
Keta was skeptical of this plan. “I’m not sure if separating would be in our best interest. This woman is in league with the Brotherhood of Shadows. There is no way they’d count her amongst their ranks if she was not dangerous.”
“Don’t underestimate me, Night. I am the son of Peter Telim. I can hold my own in battle. Regardless, my weapon works better if I have room to work with. If this strategy does not hold, I am proficient with a sword as well and we can discuss your tactics. Now, follow my lead!”
Watching Gerald’s movements were quite marvelous, Keta had to admit. As he stabbed and thrust at the robed woman, he also used the weapon as a staff to try and strike the woman. But Keta had already seen the weakness of using spears in one on one combat and sure enough, Celran ducked the sweeping strike and rushed forward, a dagger in hand aimed at Gerald’s chest.
“Well, well, aren’t you a lucky one?” Celran said as Keta intervened with a swift slice of his sword, forcing her to abandon her assault. “But it won’t be long before you are both dead. You, sir Telim, are too slow to keep up with me. And you, Keta, have a leg injury. It won’t be long before you are both full of holes.”
Gerald stepped backwards, indignant. “That was close. Thanks for the help, but what in the hell was that, Night? How does she move so fast?” Gerald demanded, his eyes narrowed as he stared at Celran.
“I already told you. She is an assassin. She specializes in killing instantly and swiftly. She isn’t like soldiers you are used to, she is wearing no armor or heavy weapons to slow her down. As such, a heavy reaching weapon like the spear would be inferior to a sword that can be used to defend and strike quicker,” Keta explained, never keeping his eyes off Celran. She was not one of the Demons he had been used to fighting, so he had to be careful.
Gerald sighed, and stuck his weapon into the ground.. He reached to his belt where his sword hilt rest and drew the blade. “All right then, I can see that I am lacking knowledge in this department. We’ll go along with your plan then.”
“Are you boys just going to keep talking over there, or are we going to have some fun? Very well, if you won’t make the first move, allow me.” She lifted her hand and threw something at Keta. Gerald pushed him aside and barely managed to evade as a long sharp needle whizzed past and embedded itself in the building behind them.
“Get your head on right, Night! She’s got hidden weapons in that robe of hers, so be on guard!” Gerald explained, his red eyes intent on Celran as he closed the distance between the two, slicing at the woman’s torso.
“Damn it...using your Demon eyes is cheating!” Celran said, evading Gerald’s blows. She wasn’t trying to match the younger man’s strength, using her agility to avoid attacks and conserve her energy.
“You are a Demon yourself, how does that make any sense,” Gerald asked, confused. He swung his sword in anger and tried to silence her. But in that moment, Keta saw the change in the Demon woman’s eyes. She evaded the strike and slipped behind Gerald, raising a dagger to strike at his back.
There was nothing Keta could do to stop it. Gerald countered at the last moment, pivoting clumsily and managing to avoid a death blow. However, blood splattered across the snow as he stumbled backwards from a gash across his chest. Celran followed after him to finish the deed, but Keta was quick enough to step in, swinging his sword. Celran was forced to avoid the strike and retreat.
Keta fell in line with Gerald, ready to defend the Demon warrior. His eyes however, never left Celran. “Gerald, are you okay?”
Gerald’s breath had become slightly more ragged, as he held a hand to the gash, his chest heaving with each exhale. “Do not be alarmed, the wound is not as deep as it seems. If I had not managed to evade in time, though, I’d be a dead man. Be very careful when engaging that woman...she’s not as crazy as she seems.”
Keta nodded, having come to the same conclusion. Celran was misleading them it seemed. He had originally thought that the woman was crazy and that fighting against her would be more of the same. But he had caught her movements prior to her attack on Gerald. What she was doing was deliberate, to get them to drop their guard. It was quite the strategy. But against two warriors with swords, what hope did someone with knives hope to accomplish?
“I’ll give you credit, you’ve skill to evade my deathblow. But that injury is the end for you. And Keta, I don’t know how you are still up, but it won’t be long now. Hate to say it boys, but it looks like you are going to lose this fight,” Celran said in a taunting voice.
Keta didn’t know what to think of this situation. Despite the odds being two against one, she did have a point. Keta’s leg would slow him down, and Gerald would have to fight more deliberately with that wound. The fight should have been over in seconds, but he had been careless and let it drag on.
But Gerald was far more confident. “Don’t get cocky! Just because you got lucky and I underestimated you doesn’t change the fact that it’s still two on one. If you think this wound is going to stop me, you are crazy.” And with that, he stepped forward. But just as he did so, his weapon dropped to the ground and his arms slumped to his side. “What...the hell?”
Celran smirked and reached into her robe for a needle, but Keta wasn’t about to allow her to gain another advantage. He pressed the attack and forced her to abandon her assault on Gerald. “Hey! What are you doing? Now’s not the time to lose your composure.” Keta said, chasing after the Demon woman.
“I...I can’t,” Gerald said, and he heard a crash from behind him. Cautiously, Keta abandoned his pursuit and looked back to the Demon warrior. He had collapsed, his body and limbs at an awkward angle. “My body...I can’t m…” Gerald had stopped speaking in mid sentence, staring straight up into the sky.
“I tried to warn you fellas. You there, I know you can still hear me. I’m sure you’d spout something about Demonic pride and honor and blah blah blah. However, I am an assassin for the Brotherhood of Shadows. What assassin worth her salt doesn’t use poison.”
Poison! Of course. Keta had been careless. He rushed over to Gerald’s side, kneeling. The warrior’s body was completely still, but when Keta felt for a pulse, he realized that he was still breathing. Some kind of paralyzing poison?
“Hey!” The sound of Celran’s scream brought him back to his senses and he had to quickly dodge to the left to avoid being gutted by her. “This is a battle, don’t forget your surroundings. I’ve never understood while you men prefer to carry those heavy swords in a fight. With the right tools, one nick of this small blade is all you need. Just look, I took down that guy and he’s huge!”
“The reason is because a dagger lacks weight. You could never hope to block such a hit with those tiny things,” Keta said, before realizing he would fall into her trap again if he kept speaking with her. He focused his mind completely on his sword fighting.
This seemed to frustrate the Demon woman. “How are you still standing? You were dosed by the poison even before that guy!”
It was Keta’s turn to smirk. It all made sense to him now, she had been trying to poison him at the start so she wouldn’t have to fight him. “Was that your play from the start? A shame that you are fighting me then, isn’t it? I’m a Kitaan and we have divine power that expels such things from our body. No, if you’re going to defeat me, you’ll have to do it with your own skill.”
Celran’s mouth hung open for a moment, and when she finally spoke, it was like a child throwing a tantrum. “It doesn’t matter either way if you have cheating magic powers. That leg won’t support you forever. And the moment it can’t, you are finished. Think you can keep up?” Celran’s face split into a wide deranged grin. “Now let’s begin!”
“Looks like your friends are having fun over there. Those boys were cruel indeed, teaming up to fight against a girl. Ah well, it looks like she’s evened out the odds. I suppose the gentlemanly thing to do would be to assist her all the same. But first, I must get rid of you,” Dranon said, observing the battle between Keta and Celran, now that Pent’s older brother had been incapacitated.
Pent was getting angry and impatient. The longer he stayed here, the further away Formetis got with his sister. Formetis...he had been a fool to trust her. He would need to deal with her after this as well.
But before he could worry about her, Dranon was the immediate threat. Despite his greater skill, nothing seemed to hurt this freak. Master had taught him little of a single sword style combat, but his true prowess came from two weapon fighting. He decided now was the time to make a break for the guardhouse.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Dranon yelled, and rushed to intercept him. Whether he knew of his plan, or simply thought he was fleeing, it didn’t matter. Dranon was surprisingly agile for a larger Demon, as he did not need to wear armor for protection.
“I don’t have time for this!” Pent roared impatiently. Despite all common sense, he gripped his sword and after dodging an aimed cut from Dranon, swung at his neck with all his power. He immediately regretted it, as his own strength had caused a reverb shock that knocked him off his feet.
He looked over at his blade, relieved that it was still in tact. Milada, the namesake of his mother, had been made during his time with Master, who had helped him to create a more powerful weapon. He muttered a silent thank you to the mercenary before hopping to his feet.
“Why do you persist, little one. The Brotherhood of Shadows seeks a better life for all the Demon clans. What is one life, one sacrifice, to our dream of a Demon utopia?” Dranon asked, walking forward slowly. “Are you so selfish that you would condemn all our brethren that live in the Shadowlands? Or worse, those in captivity within the Empire?”
Pent attacked again, and Dranon lifted his blade to defend. “Right, so you are saying I should just sit back and let my sister die? That I should forgive you for the death of my father at your hands? I will repay death with death, Dranon. You will die, and my father shall be avenged. And then I will kill anyone else who tries to keep my sister from me.” Pent growled, as he hacked and slashed at Dranon before retreating, frustrated that he still had not dealt any damage.
“Let me tell you a story before you die, little boy. It may not sate your anger, but it might grant you some closure as to why the Brotherhood is acting now and why I do what I do.” Dranon said, planting his sword in the ground and folding his arms. “You think that this happening to your clan is bad? But something far worse occurred almost 2 years ago, when the Empire massacred my own clan. Including myself.”
Pent stopped his assault for a moment, to take in what the man was saying. Two years ago, he had been travelling the Shadowlands, honing his sword skills. In his time abroad, he remembered hearing about a clan that had been decimated overnight by an Empire raid and the uproar that ensued. What he was saying made sense, but… “What did you mean when you said including yourself? I can clearly see you standing in front of me.”
“Not very smart, are ya kid? I did mention that magic is what keeps me going, aye? I was on death’s door when the Master arrived on the scene. Never had I seen such fury, such power. He burned all the soldiers in a torrent of flames like it was nothing.” Dranon explained.
Pent wondered about this. He had heard stories about Inferno, the Master of the Brotherhood of Shadows. “Hold on a second, this Master of yours is a fire demon, is he not?” Pent asked, and Dranon acknowledged this with a nod. “So then how can he use magic that has the power to bring one back from the dead?”
“Ah, but I’m not dead yet. Rather, it forestalls my death. When all of this is done and the Brotherhood is victorious, I will have the spell broken and I will join my clan in eternal slumber. But you are correct, that type of magic is impossible for him. Instead, another was the one who cast the spell. You and her are acquainted after all, as that little show you put on earlier demonstrated.”
“Are you telling me that Formetis is the one who did this to you?” If what Dranon said was true, it meant that Formetis was far more powerful than she let on. She had been holding back the entire time she had been trying to stop him. Was it pity for him? Did she still think of him as a friend, even now that they had become enemies? He shook his head vigorously to get the thought out of his head because either answer pissed him off.
“At the request of the Master, that girl cast her foul magic upon me. Only an evil sorceress could use such dark magic, but the Master sought to use it for good. There is a reason that girl is called Formetis of Nightmares, after all,” Dranon said, chuckling. “Still, when the Master realized the extent of my injuries, he asked if, given the chance, I would like to help him achieve the Brotherhood’s goals and allow Demons to take our rightful place in the world. I accepted without a second thought, after the butchery the Empire displayed.”
“Do you want to hear the worst part of it all? The reason we were annihilated? After the Great War, my clan would send raiding parties across the border to their cities. In order to stop these, the Empire made a treaty of nonaggression with us. We accepted, thinking of our welfare being near the borders. But a few years ago, we were approached and asked to betray our fellow Demon clans and act as spies for them. Naturally, our leader grew angry and told them that if they ever suggested such a thing again, the treaty would be void.”
“So of course, they sent an envoy to offer an apology to us for their insolence. But it was a trap. The Humans were so twisted, they placed a bomb inside one of their own and let him die to detonate it in our village. Blew everything and everyone to hell. They broke our pact and they didn’t even allow us to die with dignity, with honor. And that is why I will fight. Until those cowards are brought to justice.”
Pent was not surprised at hearing this, however much it infuriated him. The Humans were cowards and the Empire would like nothing better than to wipe out his kind. In another time, the Brotherhood of Shadows would have been heroes to him. However...
“I am not without sympathy for the fate that befell your clan. But you murdered my father and that debt must be repaid in blood,” Pent said. He resumed his attack on the large Demon, to no avail. The man could not keep up with his speed but it didn’t matter. Each blow Pent landed did nothing and his hands were beginning to numb from the reverberations off of the man’s impervious body.
After several minutes of besting the man to no avail, Pent leaped backwards and fell to a knee, panting heavily. He cursed in his head that despite all his training, this gorilla of a warrior was not even fazed by him. As an added hit to his pride, the skeletal face that was staring him down was laughing at him.
“I warned you, did I not?” Dranon said smugly, stepping care forward. “You do realize that you will never defeat me. But your stubborn pride will not allow you to comprehend this, yes? In that case, allow me to end this quickly. For both our sakes.”
Pent jumped aside to evade the sword and stabbed forward with his blade at Dranon’s chest. To his dismay, the large Demon managed to dodge his strike. It was the first time Dranon had been able to evade him. His body must be feeling the exhaustion of this prolonged skirmish. He had to finish this while he could still fight. And then something caught his eye, a small gleam of light.
His father’s body was nearby, and beside it was his sword. Peter had never talked much about that sword, but he always kept it on his person. If he could get to it, he would no longer be at a disadvantage with only one weapon. Dranon was busy laughing at him, so as quick as he could, he rushed over to the sword and picked it up.
Dranon frowned, and said something. At least, he appeared to be saying something. His mouth was moving, but no sound was coming from it. There was a voice in his head, obstructing his thoughts. Pent blinked as everything began to go hazy. He felt like he was about to pass out when he was interrupted by terrible pain as Dranon slashed across his chest.
Blood splattered the snow as he tumbled backwards, falling to the ground. “I never imagined you would have given such an opening, boy. Could you have really tired out this fast?” Dranon said with a sneer. Still holding his weapons, he held an arm to his chest to stop some of the bleeding. “You’ll never win with that wound. You’ll lose too much blood if you continue trying to fight.”
“Shut up! I’ll just have to kill you quickly and patch myself up then!” Pent said, charging at him once more. He kept his one arm covering the wound however, fighting with one sword. He was not stupid enough to not realize that Dranon’s words were true.
“What the hell are you doing, Dranon? Get out of my head!” Pent roared, continuing his assault. The voice in his head would not stop, but he couldn’t understand it. It was a gutteral type of noise that followed him.
Pent stopped in mid swing, and it almost cost him another wound, narrowly avoiding a stabbing thrust from Dranon. Focusing his mind on the task at hand again, he said, “Susanoo? Who the hell are you? Actually, where the hell are you?”
“It seems you’ve slipped into madness with death imminent, boy,” Dranon said, staring at him with a tilted head. “I never would have imagined it from such a promising warrior.”
Pent shook his head. There was a voice telling him to ignore Dranon and asking him if he would accept assistance. “Right now, I’ll take any help I can get.” Pent said, and there was a growing feeling (acceptance?) within him. And with that, the sword began to glow and ice sprouted from it and onto Pent. He yelled in pain and shock as the ice creeped up his skin to his wound, and formed an icy wall around it. It was odd, but the bleeding had been stopped.
Pent felt the area, now cold to the touch and let out a small laugh. “I don’t know what the hell you just did, but thanks.” He looked up at Dranon and readied both his swords. “This time, I won’t be distracted.”
“Interesting. I did not think you were able to use magic. Still, it matters not. No matter what you try, it will do you no good,” Dranon said. Pent swung both blades and caught Dranon at the shoulder and the hip, and true to his words, it was to no avail. He ducked to avoid a punch and aimed both swords to stab his chest.
Dranon parried the blow with such frenzied speed, Pent was put off guard for a moment. He hadn’t seen the Demon move that quick yet. He stepped backwards a few times to gain his distance from Pent. Then a thought occurred to Pent, one he was shocked that he hadn’t thought of until now.
“How does that ice magic work?” He asked, looking down at the sword. He felt foolish, talking to his weapon, but only until the sword replied.
And then he knew same as all magic. It draws on energy and the surrounding atmosphere. This sword...it had all the answers.
“So would you be able to freeze anything that I hit with you?” His mind was linked with Susanoo and he now understood things he never knew. “Just be ready for my signal,” Pent said, ducking under Dranon’s sword and rolling to the Demon’s blindside.
“Stop talking to yourself! It’s starting to annoy me. I was going to be nice and let you die by bleeding out peacefully. I’ve changed my mind now,” Dranon said, turning around and brandishing his sword. “I’ll take that head clean off your shoulders. No more games!” He charged at Pent, and swung his sword at Pent’s neck.
Pent parried the blow with Mileda and swung at Dranon’s leg with his father’s sword. “Now! Freeze his leg!” He commanded the sword, and it shone again, as the same thing that happened to him happened to Dranon’s leg, freezing it in place. Dranon deflected his sword and slashed at Pent, but he had already gotten clear.
Dranon tugged at the ice on the leg, but it held fast. He looked back up at Pent, his eyes flashing red and his skull’s mouth opened up in a laugh. “Cute trick there, boy. But it changes nothing. This won’t hold me forever, and you can’t kill me regardless. When I get out of here, you will die. Nothing you do can change that.”
“Wrong. I’ve been going about this all the wrong way,” Pent said, tossing Milada into the ground beside him and gripping his father’s sword with both hands, staring at Dranon with bared fangs. He needed to unleash his feral Demonic energy for this to work. “I have to start thinking about this less like a real fight and more like magic. I hope you are as strong as I think, Susanoo!” With the Demon’s leg frozen, he would not be able to able to dodge, so if he could manage this, the battle would be his. He ran forward to Dranon, his sword raised as his opponent readied his weapon to intercept his.
Pent swung his father’s sword with all his might, the blade swinging effortlessly through the air and striking Dranon’s sword. It shattered into little pieces that flew past the giant Demon’s surprised face, and Pent smirked at this new power as he followed up by swinging Susanoo upwards, and thrust it into Dranon’s chest.
“Of course...why didn’t I think of it before?” Pent mused to himself, as Dranon slumped to the ground. “Magic, as ridiculous as it is, follows certain rules. Something had to be tethering you to this world from the grave. This is it, isn’t it? Your heart.” Pent said, as he pulled the blade from Dranon, this time covered in blood.
The large Demon let out a small chuckle, as blood seeped from the wound and he put up a skeletal hand up to try and stop it. It was a useless endeavor on his part, as it was a mortal wound. He had done it...he had avenged his father.
“Well done, young one. But do you have any idea what you have done today?” Dranon rasped, in ragged breaths. “I was supposed to usher in a new age for the Brotherhood with my strength. You have crippled our efforts. How does it feel to know you have betrayed your people?”
“I already told you that I have no interest in your radical movement” Pent said, as he walked in a circle around the fallen Demon. He kept his guard up for any surprises, but it looked like Dranon was down for the count. Whatever arcane magic was keeping him alive seemed to stall his demise slightly. “How many lives would you sacrifice for your precious plan?”
The large Demon looked up at Pent’s face. “As many as it takes. As many lives as I needed to sacrifice for the glory of the clans.”
“Hmph...then you made a huge mistake. You made one of those sacrifices one of my family. And now...I will bring your organization to it’s knees to return my family that you stole. That...is my promise to you,” Pent explained sternly.
Dranon began to cough. “Then I leave you with a warning. If you are determined to continue on this crusade of vengeance, when you meet the Master...if you meet the Master...you will have only two options. Either join him in his vision...or die. Farewell, Pent Telim, son of Peter.”
And with that, the glow left Dranon’s eyes as he took his final breath. As Pent looked over the dead Demon, he felt nothing. “Good riddance...now that he’s dead, I can rescue…” Pent was saying out loud, but he lurched forward suddenly. The world was starting to spin, and as he looked down, he understood why. His wounds were horrible, and the blood on the snow wasn’t just Dranon’s...it was his.
He had been so focused on defeating Dranon, and rescuing Ophelia that he had failed to realize the extent of his injuries. His adrenaline had kept him fighting, but it had cost him greatly. He fell to the ground and rolled onto his back, covering the greatest wound with his hand. He looked over to see that he had dropped his father’s sword. Susanoo was calling to his consciousness once again, but it’s magic couldn’t save him this time.
“Damn it...I have to save Ophelia. I can still fight...” Pent muttered to himself, before his vision blurred and his world faded to nothingness.
“You’ll have to do better than this if you hope to defeat me, Keta!”
Keta could not keep up with this Demon woman. Every time he tried to stop and catch his breath, there she was in his face with those knives of hers. He was faster than this girl, he understood, but with his leg still injured he was at a disadvantage. He parried another blow and leapt backwards to create some more distance.
“You can’t beat me, Keta. Just give it up. If by some miracle you were able to best me, what would you do when you came face to face with the Master?” Celran asked, walking towards him. “You of all people should know exactly how powerful he is. In fact, me killing you here would be merciful to you.”
Keta had not been expecting logic from this girl, but she was correct. If he was struggling against Celran, what possible way was there for him to defeat the Master? Keta shook his head. He couldn’t think like this, especially when he still needed to stop Celran.
He looked over to where Gerald was still lying paralyzed by poison, and thought of Pent, who had disappeared battling that giant of a Demon somewhere. He needed to help these two brothers. And to do that, he reminded himself as he flourished his sword, he would need to stop Celran.
Celran brightened up at the gesture. “Ah, there’s the Keta I know and love. Always ready to fight to protect everyone. It’s adorable really. I’m going to miss it.” As she ran forward and resumed her attack.
Keta was pushed back towards a house, forced to hold his ground afterwards with his back against the wall. He fended off all her incoming attacks, having begun to analyze her attack pattern. What seemed like a random flurry of strikes was actually a well calculated assault, disguised as crazy attacks. This girl was masking her ability with her madness, which was an uncanny ability.
Keta began to get frustrated. If he were rested and recovered from his injuries, it would have been easy to defeat this woman. He was confident in his abilities in this at least. But as is, he could make no progress. In his current state, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened and he was defeated.
And so, the battle continued on like this for a few minutes with Celran pushing her offensive and Keta avoiding the blows. When he had no other choice, he lifted his blade to exchange blows with her, but he quickly grew weary to the point where he could barely lift the sword. In his frustrated state, he attempted a feeble offensive strike and it was easily deflected and she trapped his arm and twisted his wrist, forcing him to drop the sword.
Keta let out a yelp of pain and Celran followed up her trap by performing a shoulder throw that sent him flat on his back. Before he could try and recover, her foot was on his chest and a dagger was pointed at his head. He had lost this battle and he could not summon the energy to escape or fight back any more.
“Oh Keta, if only it didn’t need to come to this.” Celran said, her eyes and her voice betraying her sadness at the situation. Keta could not help but feel pity well up inside him. He could tell that fighting him was hurting her inside. “Dranon told me to kill you if you were to interfere with us, but perhaps I can convince you to help us? An unsavory option is always more appealing with a weapon to your throat, yes?”
Keta let his shoulders slump to the ground and stared up at the young woman. His body was spent, but his morals were not. He had seen firsthand what the Master was capable of these days. “I am sorry, Celran. But I can’t return to him. I will never turn a blind eye to suffering, and he will cause much suffering. As long as I live, I will fight him.”
The Demon woman raised an eyebrow. “Then I suppose it is a good thing for him and you that you will die here. Goodbye Keta.” She lifted the dagger high above her head and held it there for a moment, her hand trembling with her teeth clenched. Finally, her eyes showed her resolve and she was ready again. But before she could drive it’s edge into Keta’s neck, there was a loud noise and the weapon was blasted from her hand.
Keta weakly lifted his head and turned in the direction of the noise. Standing in the distance was the Xegin soldier from the other day...Tianna. She was pointing her gun at Celran, who was looking quite confused at the situation. “Pardon my intrusion, but it seems like you could use some assistance, Keta Night.”
“Tianna...stay back, these people are dangerous,” Keta managed to yell out a warning.
Celran burst into her crazed laughter once again. “Come now, Keta. Where’s your sense of excitement. There’s some new players in town, and I’m dying to take them out for a test,” she declared, stepping off of him and reaching down to her leg to grab one of the many daggers strapped there to replace her missing one.
“Tianna! Listen to me! This woman is dangerous. You have to escape here now!” Keta shouted, as Celran advanced towards the ironclad soldier.
“Keta, you make it seem like I am not a soldier in the Xegin army. I can handle a little thing like her,” Tianna replied, her weapon still aimed at Celran. “Demon woman, my name is Tianna of the Xegin army, Gamma squad. I do not know the circumstances of your being here, but these people are under my protection. I would kindly ask that you cease your attack and leave.”
Celran stopped advancing, and stared. “Cease my attack? Why would I leave now when I’ve already won?”
“Because I’d hate to have to bring you down by force.”
Keta was amazed at the boldness of the Xegin soldier, who was calmly talking to a member of the Brotherhood of Shadows. Celran seemed to be taking the nonchalant attitude of Tianna badly, for her usually smiling face had turned to a frown. “I’m sorry, but it sounds like you said you would take me down? Forgive me if I’m skeptical...what can a lone soldier do against me?”
“Who said she’s alone?”
It was so fast that even Keta didn’t see it coming. In an instant, Tianna’s partner was beside Celran and hit her with an open palm. The soldier had kept to the shadows and blindsided the Demon while Tianna had kept her busy. Celran staggered backwards, holding her side as her right hand dropped her weapon and sagged limp to her side. The tiny Xegin soldier weaved to avoid as Celran slashed at the air with another dagger and hit her with another palm strike.
“Gah!! This isn’t going my way at all,” Celran moaned as her left hand went limp as well, her second weapon tumbling into the snow. She stepped backwards, her arms flailing helplessly in the air as she staggered about. “This isn’t how this was supposed to happen. This was supposed to be an easy grab mission. But you all keep getting in my way. You keep getting in my way!!!” She growled, her disheveled hair concealing most of her face.
Keta could tell that her sanity was slipping, as Celran charged the Xegin soldier. She had no control of her arms, but she was aiming kicks at her opponent wildly. “Tianna, would you kindly put this woman out of my misery?” Came the metallic voice from underneath that helmet, as the Xegin struggled to avoid the erratic kicks.
“You can’t stop us! The Brotherhood will prevail! We will…” Celran’s speech about the Brotherhood was cut short by the sound of the Xegin energy weapon firing. A burst of light struck Celran and she was blasted off her feet, soaring through the air until she came crashing down into the snow. Her head lifted slightly, but then Celran slipped into unconsciousness. Tianna holstered her weapon and walked towards Keta, extending her hand.
“Looks like you could use a hand, Keta.”
Keta accepted the offer as she pulled him to his feet. “Tianna…I have no idea what brought you back, but thank you for your help. It’s good to see you again, but these people still need your help. There is a boy out there fighting another of the Brotherhood north of the village. You have to help him.” Keta explained, pointing in the direction he had last seen Pent.
“Understood. Sephiel, did you hear that? Can you go find this other Brotherhood Demon and put him out of commission like his friend here?” Tianna said, nodding at Celran. The young soldier nodded and without a word, took off in the direction that Keta had last seen Pent and Dranon.
“Are you sure that is wise? I can’t tell with all that Xegin armor, but Sephiel seems rather...young,” Keta said. The young warrior was so small, there could be no mistake that Sephiel was just a child. It was not a question, more an observation. But it was also a challenge to Tianna.
“You don’t approve, do you?” Tianna asked, her voice echoing inside that helmet of hers. Because her face was hidden, Keta could not ascertain her emotions. But she heard a little laugh from her. “You can relax, however. Sephiel is...unique. There are few in this world that I rely on more. Sephiel isn’t just my partner, but my equal. Now, let’s waste no more time. I have to secure our prisoner, and then tend to the wounded.”
Keta was aghast. “There is still a Brotherhood Demon out there and you just sent a child to fight him! We both need to go over there and help! This isn’t a job for one person!”
Tianna sighed, and turned her back to him. She walked to Celran and pressed a few buttons on her arm. A compartment opened at the hip of her left leg and from there, she removed shackles that she placed on the Demon woman’s wrists. “Keta, not everyone is helpless. We are Xegin warriors, we can handle our own in combat. And right now, these people need my help as well, so I need to trust my partner. That is the way of the Xegin, the way of Teforia. From what little we know of the “Silver Flash”, there was a time when you trusted your partners as well.”
Keta was taken aback by her words, for they bore a sharpness he was not expecting. His old life had been a lifetime ago it seemed. His thoughts were interrupted as Sephiel returned. “Tianna, I bring news. It seems the Demon boy that was fighting against the man from the Brotherhood of Shadows emerged victorious against his foe.”
Keta was amazed by this revelation. He had underestimated Pent. Tianna seemed equally surprised. “Well, well, it seems this village houses quite a few skilled warriors. Very well, bind the Brotherhood warrior and put the two of them together. HQ will want to question the pair of them. In the meantime, let’s assist the villagers with their wounded.”
But Sephiel raised a hand in objection as Tianna was about to leave. “I’m afraid we will only have one prisoner to question.” Sephiel stated, as Keta stared in disbelief. He didn’t want to believe what he was hearing, afraid of what was coming next. “The second Brotherhood Demon...he’s dead.”
Three days had passed since the fateful day when the Brotherhood of Shadows had attacked the Frostclaw village. Three days since his sister had been kidnapped by the Demon fanatics. Three days since he had been betrayed by a girl he had wanted to trust. Three days since his father had been murdered and he had avenged that murder by killing the man who had killed his father.
Pent was still laying in bed, recovering from his injuries of that day. His body had been covered in bandages, but now most of them had been removed. He healed fast, partly because he was a Demon, partly because of his training, but also because he was still young. If Ophelia had been here, her power would have been able to help him recover in a night. Instead, he walked with a limp and still had to hold his sword cautiously.
Gerald had been spared most of the fighting of that psychotic woman thanks to Keta and if it wasn’t for the return of the two Xegin soldiers, Pent and his brother and all the villagers would be dead. He would always be indebted to the Xegin for this, but it hurt his pride that he had needed their assistance.
The village was in shambles from the fighting, but thanks to the Xegin soldiers, order had been maintained. With his father dead, Gerald was in charge of the clan now, Pent realized. In light of recent events, he was worried that his brother would ask him to remain in the village. Yet he had no desire to do so. Pent lifted his arm, and moved it around, satisfied that he had control over it again. No, he needed to leave and pursue the Brotherhood of Shadows and rescue his sister...by any means necessary.
He had only just been discharged by the medics, and the first thing he wanted to do was find his weapons. He
was having a tough time finding anyone who could help him. Eventually he found a soldier. He had told him where he could find his swords.
Stepping into the armory, he reached for Milada and tucked it into his waist. Then he noticed that Susanoo had been placed here as well. He reached for his Father’s sword. It felt natural in his hand, after that battle with Dranon.
Ah, so you’ve finally woken up.
Pent was startled enough to drop the sword. There was the voice in his head, but it wasn’t that same distorted one he had heard before during his battle with Dranon. Or rather, it was but he was hearing it clearer now. He quickly retrieved the weapon from the floor and felt the familiar feeling touching his mind.
I take it your mind has adjusted to my...presence. That is good.
Pent simply blurted out what was on his mind. “What...are you?”
I suppose I owe you an explanation at least. You did help me avenge Peter after all. But first, if you don’t mind, could you release me. I’ve been stuck as a sword for a few days.
Pent blinked. “What do you mean release you?”
He heard a sigh. I am the sword’s spirit. I do not exist as a blade all the time. I’ve seen you plenty of times when you were growing up, and you might recognize me as well. But as for releasing me, you just have to hold the blade and will me to be free. I am forced to accept help in that aspect.
Pent nodded, unsure of what he was doing. “Be free?” He said cautiously and no sooner had he said this that the sword exploded in a ray of light, and he backed away, shielding his eyes. The light disappeared after a few seconds, and Pent blinked as his sight began to return. Standing where the sword had been a moment ago was a young woman. An extremely naked woman! Pent quickly turned around, his face turning red. “What the hell? Why aren’t you wearing any clothes?”
He heard laughter from the woman. “Come now, if I transform into a sword, how would I possibly have clothes with me? Any clothes I am wearing when that happens just end up on the floor. Speaking of clothing, Peter always kept something for me to wear whenever I manifested this form. Be a dear and help my modesty.”
Pent nodded though he was sure that the woman was teasing him by her voice. Regardless, he rushed out of the building and went to his sister’s house to find something for the woman to wear. As he entered, he felt his mood sour as nobody came to greet him, and until he could rescue her, he would never see her warm smile again.
Pent tried to hurriedly gather some clothes for the currently naked woman waiting in the armory. He felt a little weird rummaging around for girls clothing, but it would have been equally odd to ask someone else for some women’s clothing without having to explain himself and that could take a while, considering he didn’t even understand it all himself.
As quick as he could manage, he had returned. “Sorry for the wait. Here.” Pent said, entering the room he had left the woman in. His left arm was covering his eyes, so he held out the clothes with his right hand, and he felt them being taken, so he turned back around.
“Thank you, dear boy,” Susanoo said, and for a minute she was silent. “A little small for me, but beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose. I appreciate your help. You can turn around now.”
Pent turned around and was able to get a better look at the spirit woman now. She was quite tall for a girl, and she looked to be at least in her twenties. She smiled and walked towards him, bending over to look at his face. “What?” Pent asked, stepping backwards.
“You really don’t recognize me?” Susanoo asked.
Pent grunted. He did not remember this woman at all. But then again, he had not been very social with much of the villagers growing up. Even the children avoided him because of his temper and his tendency to pick fights. “It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you explain to me why my father had a sword that is a spirit.”
“Very well, I suppose I can do that. It’s quite a fascinating story in itself. You are aware of how your father came to lead the Frostclaw clan, correct?” Pent nodded, so Susanoo continued. “The man that he defeated was guilty of more than just treason. You see, in his quest for power, he came across a black ritual. It allowed you to create a sword that possessed great power. And all it required was the sacrifice of innocents.” She held up her hand to her forehead. “All that power and all you had to do was sacrifice your soul! How marvelous.”
“Seems like a shortcut to power. I don’t like shortcuts.” Pent said, raising his eyebrows.
Susanoo folded her arms across her chest and smiled. “You don’t seem too worried about the whole dark ritual thing.”
Pent grunted. “I’m a Demon. Black magic is something our people will forever be tied to. I prefer blades myself, but one can never ignore their roots. I’ll need a little more information than a sacrifice though. You are far too powerful for that.”
“I like that attitude. You recall that the traitor killed the entire royal family save for your father, who defeated him and reclaimed control of the clan. However, that is a lie. Nope, they were murdered for their royal blood as part of the ritual. And the catalyst was me,” Susanoo said, bowing slightly.
“So you used my clan’s blood to power yourself up? I always knew my clan was powerful, but I never imagined it would cause all that,” Pent asked.
Susanoo waved a finger. “Not your clan, your family. You’ve heard that there are Demon lords that were the most powerful Demons in the world, blessed by the goddess herself. Your family descends from one of those lords. You should feel so proud. And it’s your family’s blood which powers me.”
Pent nodded, lost in his own thoughts. So his father had possessed a black ritual blade all this time? He had always known that the sword called Susanoo was special amongst other weapons, but he hadn’t considered this. Was this weapon the reason his father was so feared as a warrior?
Regardless, if this weapon was created by a ritual using the blood of his family, then it was his by birthright. Pent had always tried his best to keep his weaponry in the best condition he could, but if he were to wield a mystical blade like Susanoo, he would be even more powerful.
He’d made up his mind. “Susanoo, with my father’s passing, I wish to take possession of the sword.”
“My father was a warrior as well as a clan leader. And I have no intention of living my life in peace in the village. I am a warrior, and I will spend my life fighting. To do that I need power. And it just so happens that one of my swords was shattered in my battle with Dranon, meaning my current strength did not match the strength of my old sword,” Pent said with a grin.
His old sword had been given to him by Master Xuan, and it had been even more durable than Mileda. Now that it was gone, he craved a stronger weapon. Part of him had wanted to duel Keta for possession of his sword, Abyss, but what better way to strengthen his arsenal than with the legacy his father left behind.
“That’s all well and good, dear boy, but there is something you must know. You understand that while I may look like this, the reality of such mystical weapons in this world is that they are cursed.”
“What exactly do you mean cursed?” Pent asked.
Susanoo turned around and picked up one of the swords in the room. “A normal sword relies on the power of the user itself,” she said, swinging it clumsily. She turned back to him and tossed it to him, and he demonstrated a few simple slashes. “Now a sword that is created with a black ritual uses magic to enhance the user’s abilities. But there is no way to gain power without a cost.”
“I will be blunt about it. There are costs to using such a weapon. I don’t care what the others are, but as I was created by blood, blood is my cost if I wish to continue to exist. I can grant my wielder special abilities, but they are powered by blood as well.” Susanoo explained.
“A blood based sword, huh? How very demonic.”
“That’s what I thought! There’s such poetic irony to it, yes?” Susanoo said, twirling around dramatically. “But I am not to be underestimated. Your father rarely used me, but he did feed me his blood so I can continue to live. Such a kind soul. But if you were to fight using me, hypothetically, you’d need control...control over trying to use my special abilities. You could theoretically kill yourself by using up all your blood trying to win a fight.”
Pent thought about that one. It could prove tempting to abuse that type of power and die from blood loss. He wondered if he might lose himself in the heat of a battle and try to overpower someone. He remembered his fight against Dranon and feeling helpless and he couldn’t rule out the possibility.
“That’s what it means to wield Susanoo...er, me. If you will it, then all you have to do is enter a blood contract with me. Well, a contract is a bit of an overstatement, more like a promise. You supply me with your blood, and I will become your trusted partner. There you have it, I have told you about all the rules behind wielding this weapon. The decision is in your hands now,” Susanoo said, smiling at him.
Pent tapped his fingers on his leg. “Susanoo, I can tell that you’ve barely told me anything at all. I hate secrets, but Xuan tells me you women are quite fond of them. Having spent some time with Formetis, I can confirm that. However, I don’t care about any of that. I require more power, and my father trusted you. I am up against the Brotherhood of Shadows, so I need any edge I can get. Is that okay with you?”
Susanoo’s eyes went wide, and she blinked a few times. “I’m sorry, did you just ask me if I was okay with that? Interesting. I never realized that the weapon had a choice in the matter.”
“My weapons are my partners. And you are a unique case in that you are sentient. I wouldn’t ask you to join me in my crusade if I didn’t explain it all to you and give you the chance to decide. After all, that’s what you just did, more or less,” Pent pointed out.
Susanoo laughed, and brushed the hair out of her face with her hand. “Peter always treated me with such kindness, so I can’t help but trust in his son. Even if you are lacking his...social refinements. Very well, let’s team up then. This sounds like it could be fun.”
“This isn’t supposed to be fun, Susanoo. I need you at your best, all right?” Pent said and the woman nodded. “I will expect you will teach me all your tricks so I can make full use of you.”
“But of course. Here’s to the start of our beautiful partnership,” Susanoo said, extending her hand. Pent stared at the spirit woman for a moment, feeling slightly light headed. He knew that this moment would cost him dearly, but he did not care. He would do anything that would make him a more deadly fighter. He needed that power if he was going to challenge the Brotherhood of Shadows. And so, he accepted the woman’s hand.
Keta knocked on the door and waited. The bandage on his leg itched, but he ignored it. The Xegin had occupied Peter’s residence during their stay in Frostclaw Village. The two of them had been invaluable in helping the clan recover. Both had extensive medical knowledge and were able to tend to the injured. At least their presence was helping to maintain order in the village.
“Come in.” A voice from inside announced. Keta made his way in and stopped at the door. Tianna was sitting in a chair, her helmet on the table. Tianna gestured to the table and Keta took a seat.
He had only seen the Xegin warrior in her armored suit, so it was a bit of a shock to see her face. From the rumors he had heard of the Xegin, he had expected something more...mechanical. But she looked just like an ordinary human. Except... only when he was looking at her did he notice it. Tianna was looking across the table, but she was not looking at him. He took a closer look, and he noticed that they were clouded. “Tianna, your eyes…” He said carefully.
“Perceptive, aren’t you,” Tianna said, clasping her hands together. “Most people don’t realize it right away. But yes, I am blind.”
“How can you be blind?” Keta asked with incredulity. “You are a soldier. I saw you take on those warriors from the Brotherhood of Shadows. I saw you shoot Celran. How can a blind person do all this?”
Tianna laughed. “Just because I am blind does not mean I am helpless. You’ll have to forgive me for being cryptic, but my abilities are a matter of Xegin secrecy. Suffice to say, I am able to fight to the best of my ability regardless of my inability to see. But I brought you here for a different reason. I waited a few days so you could have some time to rest, but it’s time to debrief you on this whole situation.”
Keta nodded, and for the next few minutes, he relayed to Tianna the circumstances of the attack on the village by the Brotherhood. He told her of his reasons for being in the village and his connection with the people of the Brotherhood. And he told her of the Brotherhood of Shadows’ plans (at least the ones he knew of). He had debated with that last part, but the Xegin had risked her life to help the villagers. He felt like he could trust this woman.
When he was finished, Tianna had to take a moment to digest all this information. Finally, she let out a sigh and said, “You’ve certainly lived an interesting life, Keta Night. I’d heard the rumors of course in reports, but I knew you’d be fascinating to meet in person.”
Keta let himself smile hearing this. It was not often that he had the chance to speak with someone who knew him that didn't want to try and kill him these days. It was a nice change. “So, where is Sephiel?” He said, looking around. The young Xegin was nowhere to be found.
“Oh, you'll have to forgive my young partner. Sephiel does not like you,” Tianna said simply, still smiling. If the woman could see, she would have noticed his change in expression. He didn’t expect such a reality check delivered so casually. “Sephiel left with the prisoner right after I said I wanted to meet with you to not have to deal with you any further.”
Keta let out a sigh. “I had a feeling Sephiel didn’t like me for some reason. I just wasn’t ready to hear about it so...well, bluntly.”
“Oh...I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. We Xegin are very efficient, and so we don’t waste precious time on the...subtleties the other races of this world are so fond of. Humans and their feigned courtesies, Demons and their pride...it’s a waste of time and energy. The Xegin way is to utilize our attention to their full potential,” Tianna explained, tapping her fingers on the table. “However, it does make relations difficult. I will try and acquiesce for your sake though.”
“Thank you. So what will become of Celran?” Keta asked.
Tianna’s face turned grim now. “She was taken to Zelrega, the Xegin capital to be handed over to Tyrannes and the Imperial Generals. She will be questioned and what happens next is up to Tyrannes. Which brings me to the next reason I brought you here. I am going to return to Zelrega, and I’d like you to accompany me.
Keta was not prepared for that request. “Why would you want me to return with you?”
“All of this happened on the border of our territory. The circumstances are very suspect, and the Imperial Generals will want to speak with you. As you are no doubt aware, you are a witness to these events. And in the name of national security, I would bring you in to consult on these matters.”
Keta took a breath and watched her face. He could tell from the way her tone had subtly changed that what she was asking was a request in name only. He decided to choose her next words carefully. “I can’t. If you know me, you know the type of work I do and that I don’t involve myself with governments. I have told you all I know, and hope it will help you in your investigation. But that is all I can do.”
Tianna lifted her hands from the table and crossed her arms across her chest. “You know, I could bring you in by force. You are a witness to a terrorist attack and have information about their organization. We Xegin act on instinct and duty above all else so you coming with me would be the natural conclusion. Besides,” she added with a smirk, “if need be, you wouldn’t be able to defeat me.
Keta opened his mouth to speak, but Tianna held up her hand. “Let me save you the argument. I could do all those things, but I won’t. I’ve only met you, but I feel I can trust you. You came to help these people on your own and for that, I thank you. But you shouldn’t feel the need to face these people all on your own. If you decide against this solo crusade, we Xegin would assist you most likely.”
“Thank you for the offer.”
“That’s the last of what I had to do here. I’ve given people here enough guidance to get through this, but I believe that young man Gerald will be next in line to lead the clan when he recovers. I will be leaving once our little meeting concludes,” Tianna stated.
“Of course. It was nice to meet you, Tianna,” Keta said, getting up and preparing to leave.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll meet again. Until then, I wish you well.” Tianna waved, letting Keta leave the room. Stepping out into the street, he realized that he had dodged the bullet by encountering Tianna. He had heard much about the Xegin Imperial Generals, and if he had encountered any of them, he would be on his way to the capital, if not freely then in chains. He would have to be more careful attracting attention to himself. Celran had told him that Teforia was their target, so that was where he would go. Headed towards the house that he had been staying in, he knew it’d be best if he rested one more day before he headed out.
The sun had set hours ago, and the village was quiet. There was no other time to make his move. No goodbyes, no witnesses...this was his life, to leave without attachments or friendships beyond his team. It was a sad life, but it was necessary. Back then, when he had been with the others of Sanction, it had been easy. They had each other after all. But now he was alone...
His pack had been filled with several provisions he had received from the villagers. They had been more than happy to assist him after he had helped save their village from the Brotherhood. They had been kind to him, but it was time to go.
As he made his way to the gate, the guard in the watchtower hailed him. His name was Kaufman and he was a good man. He had been one of the warriors Gerald had asked to evacuate the village during the Brotherhood’s assault.
“What brings you out at this hour, Night?” the man asked, raising a brow as he eyed his travel pack.
“Hello Kaufman. It’s time I left, now that I know the Brotherhood is operating again. I have to stop them,” Keta replied.
“In the middle of the night?” Kaufman asked, and ran his fingers through his beard. When Keta was silent, he spoke up again, “Well, if you would wait until morning, I would join you and I’m sure some of the other warriors would consider it as well.”
The Demon man nodded. “Those Brotherhood maniacs killed our chief and kidnapped our priestess. If Gerald were conscious, he would be offering the same thing. You are an honorable man for helping us fight off the Brotherhood. We would be proud to fight alongside you once more.”
Keta had not been expecting this, the intensity behind the Demon’s words. He considered his words carefully as the man watched him. “I appreciate the gesture, Kaufman. However, I can’t accept your help. Before you say what I think you are going to say, you know how dangerous these people are. I can’t risk other’s lives in my fight against them.”
The Demon crossed his arms. “With all due respect, Night, I don’t think that is your call. We of the Frostclaw Clan are a proud people and we don’t take kindly to attacks against our own. This may have started as a vendetta between you and the Brotherhood of Shadows, but now they have brought my clan into the fold. We deserve the right to avenge our fallen.”
“The right, yes, but what you lack is the ability.” Keta said, staring directly into the large Demon man’s eyes.
Kaufman walked forward until he was face to face with Keta, tapping his chest. “How dare you accuse me of being a weakling! I don’t know where you are from, Night, but we of the Demon clans pride ourselves on our strength. To insult my strength is to insult my very being.”
Keta had spent years amongst Demons, and his best friend was the typical ‘might makes right’ Demon that populated this world. He knew that they valued strength above all else. But the Brotherhood of Shadows was a different matter completely. And this crusade had no place for posturing.
“I am sorry if I hurt your pride, Kaufman, but I would prefer to save your life. I am capable of being quite blunt, an after effect of my time with Sanction. Your leader, Peter Telim, was a great warrior and even he fell before the Brotherhood’s might.” The man flinched when he said this, but Keta continued. “If you tried to go up against them, you would die. I am no match for most of these people, but even so, my abilities are beyond yours.”
A laugh came from this man when he said that and Keta was relieved to hear the mirth in it. “You are quite bold to say such a claim, Night. And yet, we all watched as you battled that Demon. I am confident enough in my abilities to realize when they aren’t enough. No, you are right of course, though it does my pride no favors. So, what would you have me do? I assume you are about to ask me something.”
“You’ll let me pass without any more questions, and not let anyone else know where I’ve gone.” Keta looked back at the village, illuminated by the moonlight. The people had been kind to him. He wanted to spare them any further pain, any further bloodshed. “I want you all to stay out of this.”
Kaufman laughed again. “That’s quite amusing, Night, because you are not the first one to leave through here tonight. Pent Telim has left the village to avenge his father and rescue his sister.” Kaufman grinned at Keta’s look of surprise. Keta had expected that the boy was rash, but he hadn’t expected he would be this impulsive. “I may not be strong enough, perhaps none of the other villagers are. But Pent Telim is the son of Peter and the man who killed that Brotherhood of Shadows Demon. If anyone can defeat them, it’s him. I will grant your wish and let you pass. But if you are on this fool’s crusade as well, please, lend him your aid. Don’t let any more from the Frostclaw Clan lose their lives..”
Keta faltered, before nodding at last, and the older Demon extended his hand to him. Keta reached over and shook Kaufman’s hand, and after an exchange of farewells, the two parted ways as the man returned to his tower. Keta made his way out of the village, trudging through the snow plains. There was no snow falling tonight, so it was obvious from the prints that preceded him that someone had gone this way. He decided that he would quicken his pace to catch up to the boy.
He eventually caught up to the young Frostclaw boy, who was sitting cross legged in the snow, his two swords beside him. The boy had a flair for the dramatic, it seemed. “Why are you following me, Night? I picked up your scent a while back. Are you here to stop me? I spoke true when I said I would kill them all and save my sister.”
“And you would leave? To challenge them all on your own. You will die.”
“I’ve defeated one already. The only reason I was not able to stop them from getting Ophelia was because I was distracted. I became injured because I lost my focus. It won’t happen again,” Pent said.
Keta sat down beside the boy and picked up some snow, placing it in his palm. “Defeated? Don’t you mean killed?”
“Night, why do you always twist things with your idiotic morality?” Pent said, narrowing his eyes. “The people that you are fighting will never show you any mercy. My father was killed by them and my brother nearly gave his life in the battle. No thanks to you, of course.”
The scathing accusation hurled at Keta pained him, and yet he could not retort it. It was his fault that Gerald had been injured. “I was hesitant to fight Celran, yes. I must accept that Gerald came to harm because of me. But how can you be so casual about killing people?”
“Don’t be naive. You are a swordfighter. The moment you pick up a blade, you throw your innocence aside. Every fight can end in either yours or your opponent’s death. You are older than me, you must have gotten used to taking a life by now. Unless…” Pent’s eyes narrowed as he stared at Keta, “Of course, how did I not realize this before. You’ve never killed someone before, have you?”
“Of course not,” Keta said proudly, “I was raised by Master Xehemoth to treat all life as sacred. Therefore, my techniques are non lethal.”
“And what happens when the only course of action is to kill your opponent? When your life or the life of another you care about is on the line, what will you do? Let them die so that your enemy may live? Preposterous.” Pent said irritably.
Keta shook his head. Debating this point with the boy would do him no good. “What do you plan to do on your own? You would challenge the entirety of the Brotherhood of Shadows? You are still a child.”
That struck a nerve. The boy stood and drew his blade, pointing it at Keta’s face. “Call me a child again, Night and see what happens. I am a proud warrior of the Frostclaw Clan. I threw away my childhood the moment I took up my blade.”
Keta didn’t flinch, even with the Pent’s sword inches from his face. “What I say is not meant in offense, Pent. I am merely pointing out the folly of charging off to fight the Brotherhood by yourself.”
“Don’t mistake your own weakness for mine. My opponent was immortal. Yours was a woman with daggers. I get what you are trying to do, Night. You want to join forces, since both of us are pursuing the brotherhood. However, I can’t afford to be held back trying to protect you at every turn.”
It took Keta a moment to realize that the boy was being serious. And for the first time he grew angry at the young Demon. “Protect me? What kind of arrogant talk is that? Don’t think that you are that much better than me.”
But Pent merely laughed straight to his face. “A swordsman who doesn’t kill. Non lethal attacks...you are nothing but a joke, Night. How will you ever have the power to change the world if you lack the conviction to do so?”
Keta bit back a retort. There was no way to talk to this boy. No, the only thing that mattered to him was strength. If he was going to communicate with him, he realized as he gripped his sword hilt, it would be through swords. “If that is what you think, then you should have no issue defeating me here and now.”
Pent narrowed his eyes to red slits at the gesture. His condescending grin grew wider. “I shouldn’t expend energy so casually, heading out like this. But then,” Pent faltered, and his hands found his swords, “I expect defeating you should be an easy task.”
And so they fought. And this time, Keta treated it like he was practicing with his old comrades. For every strike, Keta provided a parry and followed up with a lunge. For every one of his moves, he attempted to stay in Pent’s guard. Now that his injuries had healed, he was able to fight on even terms with the boy.
Pent was very skilled, but Keta was faster. And he was determined to let Pent know this. And so, they crossed blades for what seemed like hours, though in truth it was merely minutes. Neither had managed to land a blow on each other, and it was Pent who at last stepped back and put up his blades and Keta followed suit.
“I am insulted, Night. You were withholding your skills last time we fought,” Pent said, putting his weapons away. “I figured you were only good for your magic trickery. But your swordplay is magnificent. Why did you not reveal this earlier?”
“I am sorry, but I was injured. However, my point is that I am not helpless.” Keta stated, and he could see the gears turning in Pent’s head. “If our goals are intertwined, an alliance is only logical. You don’t have to do everything alone.”
“I am not a fool, Night. I realize that going after the Brotherhood is a dangerous task. The real question is, do you realize this? I’ve seen you show mercy to all your opponents. If you continue like this, you will die,” Pent pointed out. He sighed and put a hand to his head. “You understand what I am saying, yes? If you are going to help me, I need to know that I can trust you to watch my back.”
Keta blinked back surprise. “Why wouldn’t I?”
Pent sighed and glared at him. “When I spoke earlier, I was being serious. If the choice came down to it, and you were forced to kill to save my life, I need to know if you will take it.”
Keta shook his head. “No, I will not. I would find another way. And if we are going to be working together, I would ask that you do the same. That thing with Dranon. I don’t want everyone you face to end up dead.”
Pent scoffed at this. “I promise nothing. To stay your blade in battle out of mercy will get you killed. You will have no shortage of enemies if you neglect finishing them off. And you, it seems, have a knack for attracting enemies.” Keta was about to speak, but Pent cut him off with a glance. “However...I will consider it. I am not a monster, Night. But if they pose a threat, I will not hesitate. That is the way of the warrior.”
Keta met the boy’s eyes and he could see something he hadn't before. Understanding for the situation. As well as respect for his abilities. He realized that they may disagree with many things, but he could trust this boy now. “Very well then, Pent. We can do this together.” He extended his hand to the boy.
Pent looked up at him, and it was then that Keta realized just how young he was. But then, he and his comrades had been young warriors as well. The boy had shown much promise and had been trained by Xuan. If anyone was going to help him...“I suppose I should introduce you to Susanoo…” Pent said casually, before reaching out and accepting the handshake, cementing their alliance.
THE END OF PART TWO
Erisda yawned as he looked outside the office window and turned his attention back to the papers on his desk. Giselle was going over some reports with him and Bakuya was relaying some information from the other officers. He tapped his pen on the desk and wondered how Silvia was doing this morning.
Erisda snapped back to reality at Giselle’s voice. He must have missed something important and she had realized he wasn’t really paying attention. “What did I miss?” He asked innocently.
The young woman sighed, and placed the reports down on her lap. “Honestly General, if you aren’t going to take any of this seriously right now, we can come back another time. But you are the leader of this army. You would do well to familiarize yourself with the new strategies.”
“I don’t know about all that. General Ivaldi seems to be pretty good at doing all that, and I’ll be honest, it’s nice to have a little help these days. Gives me time to ponder things.” Erisda said casually.
Bakuya stood up and slammed his palms on the desktop. “Am I to believe you are still okay with the Administrator appointing a new general to the army? Or are we still not going to talk about this?” Bakuya said, looking from Giselle to Erisda. “You’ve been able to keep your position for so long with your questionable work ethic because of your friendship with the Administrator. But now, it is clear that he needs more from his subordinates and he’s aiming to replace you.”
“Oh, I’m not here to replace him. I’m here to assist him. Don’t worry about that.”
“General Ivaldi? I...forgive my words. I did not…” Bakuya stammered, as the pair saw the man enter the room. Erisda had to let a smile reach his lips. It was rare to see the young man flustered. “I apologize for my actions…”
“Peace, Bakuya. I have no intention of chastising you for having those thoughts. Truth be told, when the Administrator told me what it was he wanted me to do, even I was skeptical. But I believe in him and his wish to protect the people. And to that end, I will join him and you as well to protect our peace in this land.” The man certainly had a way with words.
Bakuya looked surprised at this, but he seemed relieved as well. “Thank you for your leniency, General Ivaldi.”
The man turned to Erisda. “General, I have something I wish to discuss with you. Can we speak in private?”
Erisda was more than happy to have an excuse to escape the hell of paperwork. But this man was still an enigma to him. Raphael had been too busy to talk to him for very long and so he was given the short explanation; that they needed to protect their freedom while living in Teforia. From what little he had told Erisda, he was a gifted tactician and a skilled soldier. Erisda should be happy to have another hand to assist in the war, but he was still cautious about new people and even more so about new people in a position of power.
Since that day he had been first introduced to the newcomer, they had lost another city to the Xegin. The war would be over in a few weeks and they would all either be prisoners of the Xegin or banished from Teforia at this rate. The entire situation was insane. And so he was willing to trust Ivaldi if it meant ending this conflict. Or rather, he would entertain the idea of trusting this man. There were questions that needed to be answered beforehand. Erisda nodded to his subordinates. “Will you give us a moment?”
“Of course. We’ll continue in the boardroom. Come along, Bakuya. General.” Giselle saluted to Ivaldi, and Bakuya did the same as they made their way out of the room.
“Your subordinates are very dutiful, General Walker. I must admit, I am a bit envious.” Ivaldi said, walking through the room and stopping at the window, looking outside. “This place is interesting. It’s not so different from cities back home, but you can feel the difference; the people here have freedom...they exist outside of the Empire’s shadow.”
“Forgive me, General, but I am not a man to mince words. I have difficulty trusting a man who always keeps his face covered. I have noticed that you never remove your helmet. Why is that?” Erisda asked bluntly. He was not going to dance around the subject here. This was something that had been bothering him since the first time he had laid eyes on him.
“I am sorry, it must appear odd I am sure. Forgive me, I had not thought about the consequences of such a thing until now. But there is a reason for this,” Ivaldi said, and then he stopped, before putting his right hand to his head, “But, as we are going to be working together, I suppose it is only natural that you see the real me underneath this mask as a sign of trust. Gaze well, Erisda Walker, upon the face of a friend.” And with that, he lifted the helmet off.
Erisda quickly drew his sword and grabbed hold of the man, pushing him to the back wall. Erisda was in a panic, a rare occurrence for him, and he did not know how to remedy it. He was staring upon the face of a man younger than him, but with glowing red eyes of a Demon. And he also knew the face that inhabited them. “You!!! You are Grand General Durail’s son, Ivan Durail! But then...why? Why do you possess those eyes?”
“You have every right to be concerned, so allow me to explain from the beginning. To start, you are correct. I am the son of Thomas Durail, though I denounced my ties to him and go by the name Ivaldi now. As for these eyes...well, they are a ‘gift’ from my father.”
“What do you mean gift?” Erisda shouted and he instinctively raised his fist, before catching himself. Realizing his anger was getting the better of him, he breathed slowly and continued. “What did you do?”
Ivaldi slumped and a sad smile touched upon his face. “After creating the Empire, my father became obsessed with strength, you see. He wanted to find more and more ways to increase his power. He would lock himself in his laboratory for days, weeks at times to discover ways to tap into more power.”
Erisda had met Thomas Durail years ago when he lived in what was now the Empire. He had never met a more imposing or ambitious man. The man was older than him by quite a bit, but Erisda had never been able to defeat him in proper combat. Why would such a man need more power? Erisda was curious, so he asked just that to Ivaldi.
“The answer to that is the true cause of his madness and all of this…the Empire, Teforia and the banishment of the clans. What my father…what that madman desires is power. And innately, Demons possess more power than Humans do. You understand, he won’t stop until he is better than them,” the young man explained.
Erisda let go of the man and dropped his sword to the ground. He stepped around the table and sank into his chair, running his hands through his hair. It was not often that he was unsettled, but this was too much for him right now. He could not help but remember all the horrible things that happened in his homeland during his youth, he realized as he looked at that face.
His guest must have realized this, for he returned the helmet to his face, adjusting the visor. “Now you realize why I must conceal my face, yes? However, you are the leader of this army and the soldiers respect you. I needed to show you this so you can trust me as an equal. If you place your trust in me, the others will as well.”
Erisda folded his hands and stared at the table. He could hardly keep his repulsion in check. A Human with Demon eyes....it was an abomination. What kind of workshop of horrors did the Empire keep secret.
Still… “What you have shown me takes courage, and I admire that. Furthermore, you are correct. This would do no good for morale to see the son of our greatest threat among us. Part of me wants to send you away and be done with this. But I do reside in this great land of opportunity, and that means I must abide by it’s goals of inclusion for all. After all, we are refugees of the Empire as well,” Erisda commented.
The young man bowed upon hearing this. “Thank you, General Walker,” he said simply.
Erisda shook his head upon hearing this. “Please, we are of equal ranking. Just call me Erisda.” After the young man nodded his approval, he added, “Speaking as equals, I would like to see for myself the prowess of the man who the Administrator deemed fit to carry the rank of general alongside me. If you are up for it, I would like a chance to cross blades.” Erisda wanted to see exactly what this man was capable of.
“But of course. A leader must know what all his soldiers are capable of. We can make our way down to the training grounds now,” Ivaldi stated, and a few minutes later, the pair were standing across each other, blades drawn. “Go easy on me, General Walker, I have heard of your skill with a sword.”
“I told you...call me Erisda!” And with that, he rushed at Ivaldi and swung his blade underhand, which was caught with a quick block. Erisda grinned, and continued his offensive. And so their contest went on for a few minutes, until Ivaldi collapsed to one knee and put up a hand. Erisda stayed his attack, and returned his sword to its sheath at his belt. He had expected more from the imposing feeling he had felt since meeting the man. Ivaldi was very skilled, but he had won not one of their bouts. Erisda realized that with his background, there would be few who could stand against him in the first place.
“I see the rumors are true, General Wa...I mean, Erisda. I have never seen such swordsmanship. But it is not a style used by Empire soldiers. I wonder...how did you come upon that kind of skill?” Erisda smiled. This man was definitely clever. He had noticed that his swordsmanship differed from the common way that Humans practiced. It was one of the reasons he could easily best Human swordsmen. But he wondered if he had guessed just what he was capable of.
Erisda was not about to reveal it regardless. He had grown to respect the man, as warriors often do crossing blades, but he still did not trust him with such secrets. “Forgive me, Ivaldi, but some things in my life I prefer to keep hidden. I trust that you, of all people, understand such a stance. However, I appreciate you coming to speak with me and for undertaking my little trial. I understand people a lot better through combat than through talking.”
Ivaldi laughed, a curious thing muffled by the mask. “Of course. But that is not the only reason I have come. I wished to discuss the rest of the operation with you before we depart tomorrow. An ambitious plan for sure, but they will not be expecting such a tactic. If we can defeat them here, the war may be as good as over.”
Erisda nodded. “Please, let’s take this to my office. Training grounds are no place to talk strategy,” he said, gesturing towards the exit. As the two made their way back through the base, Erisda couldn’t help but feeling better about his chances now that this man had joined their ranks.
Those were Keta’s first words he said upon his first glance. At the far edge of the frozen plains that Pent and his clan called home, the land had begun to start upwards. He could not even see the top.
Pent had been pretty nonchalant in his explanation. “Aye. It’s called Darkrune Mountains, named that way by the Darkrune clan Demons who inhabit them. A fierce clan that like my own, decided to strike out from the Shadowlands. While we relied on the cold and the snow as our natural protection against enemies, these warriors used the mountains to defend themselves. It’s not as smart as my clan’s decision, but I suppose it has it’s benefits.”
“So you are saying the only way into Teforia is to pass over this mountain?” Keta had asked, staring upwards.
“Right. The Xegin were quite clever when they decided on a country to settle. The way in is surrounded by water and the only way by land is this path. It’s no wonder they have managed to defend against the Empire all this time,” Pent pointed to the mountains, “Any army that wanted to attack by land would have to cross the snow plains and scale the mountains before even attempting to assault their forces. Morale would have already plummeted and the soldiers would be exhausted. Their defenders would have a huge advantage.”
“Likewise, trying to attack them by sea is folly. The Xegin are a technological race you see, so they have weapons that can be deployed in the water or even weapons capable of decimating sea vessels from the land. The Humans of the empire would have to be crazy to attack. And that’s why even the Mad Emperor Durail is wary of an invasion.”
“That’s great...except now we have to scale this mountain to gain entry as well.” Keta sighed and the pair began their ascent. That had been three days ago. Keta and Pent had been making steady progress, stopping to rest only a few hours before keeping up. Pent’s eyes made up for the lack of light during the night, so the only thing that was hindering their progress was their own fatigue.
His decision to travel with the young Demon weighed on him heavily. The boy had not been wrong in his assessment. With the Brotherhood as his enemies, it only made sense to join forces. But he didn’t like it. Pent was completely opposite of him, even though he had been trained by his best friend Xuan. He was cold and calculating and did not regard the lives of enemies. To him, they were merely obstacles.
Each time they stopped to rest, they would spar for a little while before one of them slept and the other kept watch. They needed to be prepared in case of an attack, so they needed their sword skills to be sharp. And each time they did, he was reminded that the reason that Pent was travelling with him was because despite his age, he was a warrior to be reckoned with. He may have trained with Xuan, but the boy’s style was his own, vicious and effective.
“Your attacks lack weight, Night. You need to strike as if you were going to kill!” Pent shouted, deflecting a frontal attack. They had just stopped for the night, and Pent had demanded their duel as per usual. He stepped forward and broke Keta’s guard with his own attack and Keta was barely able to dodge the follow up. He pulled up his sword just in time to stop an overhead slash, struggling with both hands to not fall.
“If we’re practicing, why would I be trying to strike to kill,” Keta asked, summoning the strength to push Pent away.
Pent landed a few feet away. “Because I wouldn’t be a worthy opponent if I couldn’t defend such an attack. And you insult me by not giving it your all when you practice with me. I won’t give you such a leisurely stroll in the park!”
And so Keta fended off the furious assault of the Demon boy for a while until he stopped his assault and sheathed his weapons. “I’ll take first watch, then,” Pent said, walking a distance away and sitting on the ground, legs crossed.
Keta put away his own blade and found a spot to lie down. Thus had been the routine since they had first joined forces. Pent did not speak much, so Keta knew very little about the boy. It was quite odd to travel with someone he didn’t fully trust, but he would have been naive to believe that he could form a bond with Pent after so little time. Instead, he had made attempts at small talk during their rest times.
“You are wasting time that would better be used to sleep. You never know when we’ll be under attack,” Pent had said their first night, when he had attempted just such a thing.
Still, he was undaunted. “So, tell me a little about your training with Xuan,” Keta asked casually.
The boy turned his gaze to him. “You used to travel with him, I assume it was the same kind of training you underwent.” Pent said simply.
“Not necessarily. We were trained years ago, there must be some things he does different now,” Keta said. He was being persistent because he was also curious of how things had transpired. “How did you even end up meeting?” He asked, voicing his curiosity.
“Yes, I’d love to hear all about this Master of yours too, Pent,” came the nuanced voice of Pent’s sword...partner...whatever she was, Susanoo. He was still getting used to the fact that the woman was a weapon and that she could take on a physical form.
At first Keta noticed that Pent was talking to himself. It happened often enough that he was beginning to wonder if the boy had gone crazy. When he finally confronted him about it, he explained that he was talking to his sword. He was not prepared for the sword to have actually been a real person...well, spirit. Regardless, Susanoo provided much better conversation than Pent.
Pent grunted. “It’s not a story I like to tell, but it is an important one, I suppose. I had heard the rumors of a mercenary who had never failed a job. Naturally, I wished to test my skills against his so I followed leads to find him. Can you believe it? He was sitting outside taking a nap under a tree when I found him.” Pent said, incredulous. Keta let out a chuckle at this. That sounded exactly like the Xuan he knew.
Pent continued his story. “I approached him and challenged him to a duel. He seemed amused, and got to his feet and told me I could start whenever. So I fought him. And I lost…” Pent said this slowly, like it was paining him to voice it. “He defeated me so soundly and so brutally that I could not even walk away on my own. And do you know what that smug jerk did afterwards? He took me to a hospital and paid for my bill! The gall!”
Keta was amused by this. Seldom did Xuan do anything that didn’t hold his interest, and most of the things that held his interest were lazing about and fighting. And yet, for all this, Xuan was one of the nicest people he had ever met.
“After I had recovered, my pride would not allow me to leave things the way they were. So I returned to him and paid him back with the money I had earned in my travels. And I challenged him again. I was determined to defeat him and I had spent the week in the hospital playing through my mind our fight and developing a strategy to counter him. But it didn’t matter. The difference in our abilities was too great, and once again he decimated me in combat. And so I ended up in the hospital again, and my bill paid for once more.”
“If you know anything about Demons, it’s that we hate to have our pride wounded. And so after I spent my time recovering once more, I decided that I would challenge that man again. I would not rest until I had defeated him. It was irrational of course, for an 11 year old boy to think that he could best one of the most famed mercenaries in the world, but my pride was on the line. I fought him once again, and the outcome was the same. But this time when I awoke in the hospital, he was there sitting at my bedside. He said he liked my spirit and offered to train me.”
Keta raised an eyebrow. “And you accepted? I figured your pride wouldn’t allow such a thing.”
Pent shook his head and stared down at his feet. “I take it upon myself to overcome every challenge that faces me. If I am given the chance to become more powerful, I take it. That is what pride means to me. It is a great honor to be given an opportunity to learn from one such as Master Xuan, who had defeated me so easily. But I have answered your curiosity, so indulge mine. You and Xuan trained together when you were younger, yet he is so much stronger than you?”
It wasn’t a question the way he phrased it, more like a statement. And really, there was no answer he could give that didn’t seem like an excuse. Pent already didn’t think very highly of him, so he decided he would keep silent. The boy scoffed, and turned away. “Get some sleep while you can, Night.”
Keta rolled over, but he couldn’t fall asleep right away. Pent had to remain on alert in case of any attack. “You know, it wouldn’t kill you to be a little more friendly with Keta. He’s a nice guy,” he heard Susanoo say.
“He’s too naive to be worthwhile conversation. He has skill with the blade, but that’s about all he is worth at this time,” Pent said, with a tone that said the topic was dismissed. “Besides, he’s nothing like Master Xuan…”
Keta’s heart sank. Xuan...he had been the best warrior of Sanction. How could Keta ever hope to become as great as his old friend. Not wanting to think on the topic any longer, he let himself drift off to sleep, unaware of Pent’s gaze never leaving him.
“All right Pent, that’s enough for now.” Pent collapsed to the ground, panting heavily. His face was thick with sweat, while Xuan didn’t even look winded. He curled his fist in anger at seeing this. Xuan moved towards him and knelt down. “Don’t look so upset. You are beginning to match my movements and keep up with me.”
Pent bit back a harsh retort. He did not like this man pitying him, even if he was superior. “I just don’t understand is all. That weapon you carry is massive and quite heavy. I should be able to move faster than you, and yet I cannot. It’s...disheartening.” He finally admitted.
Xuan scratched the back of his head. “Is that all? You can’t really expect to defeat me so quickly, can you? If it’s any consolation, I will tell you this. You are indeed faster than me. But my reflexes are better than yours. I am much stronger than you at this time, so wielding this large sword is no big feat.”
“You don’t need to remind me of this all the time!” Pent growled.
Xuan beamed him a great big smile. “Oh, but I do. After all, that is why you agreed to train with me, is it not? You will never acquire your true strength if I coddle you. You are making magnificent progress, but at the same time, I must remind you that you are not invincible. I am not invincible either.”
“Are you sure about that? I heard a tale that you took on a mission to fend off almost 100 Empire soldiers head on by charging their ranks. Some of the other mercenaries I met seem to think you are immortal,” Pent pointed out.
“Is that what they are saying? That’s pretty funny to be honest, though it does help my resume quite a bit. But no, charging 100 soldiers armed with guns is suicide. You’d never get through that crossfire no matter how fast you were, the chances of being hit by a stray shot it too high. Seriously, anybody who would attempt such a thing would be a fool,” Xuan explained.
“Oh...so the whole thing was a myth?” Pent said quietly. He was a little disappointed to hear that. The story of Xuan storming 100 soldiers by himself was something he had really looked up to, and he secretly wanted to be able to fight soldiers as such.
“It’s no myth, just exaggerated. I did take out the 100 soldiers and clear out their temporary outpost. But I did it in the dead of night, amidst the shadows. Sabotaged all their lights and then slaughtered them in the darkness,” Xuan said proudly.
“What? You fought them in the dark like a coward? Where is your pride as a Demon?”
Xuan reached down and rustled Pent’s hair. “The reason you will never beat me is because your pride limits you. To be exceptional in combat requires tactics and tactics require strategy. That means that you have to use things other than your own strength to achieve victory. Do you understand what I am saying?”
Pent jumped out from Xuan’s grasp. “Yeah, I hear what you are saying. But it surprises me as well. I had always thought that hiding in the shadows was the coward’s way to fight. So I never imagined you, one of the most renowned warriors in the world, would employ such tactics in a fight.”
“Regardless, I hope you take my words to heart. I would hate to have my cute little apprentice die to a hail of bullets because of his pride,” Xuan laughed, and Pent growled. “Regardless, let us return home to eat. Need to replenish our energy after that workout. You’ve come a long way, Pent. Tomorrow, we can really pick things up.” The older Demon beckoned to him and Pent followed him.
“Darkrune Village is close to the mountain top. The clan is hospitable enough, we should be able to resupply there,” Pent said. Keta had not been expecting such a forced march. The boy had explained that it was because they had to join forces with Xuan before the Brotherhood’s retaliation. One of their own had been killed and another a captive of the Xegin due to their interference...it would not be long until they felt their wrath.
After their little heart to heart conversation last night, he had thought he and Pent had bonded a little, but it was business as usual with that kid. Still, he could respect that at the very least, he was capable of sound strategy. Besides, he was looking forward to being able to have some decent food in the village. He and Pent had long since finished off the travel supplies they had set out with, and to eat, they had to either forage or hunt for food, neither of which a mountain was known for an abundance of. He hoped they reached the village soon. He could already picture a nice meal in his head.
“Night!” Pent’s words snapped him out of his daydream. The boy had stopped moving and was staring down the path. Keta followed his gaze to see that up ahead, just off to the side of the road, there was a man lying with his back to a rock.
“Is that man…sleeping?” Keta asked, squinting his eyes.
“If he is, he’s a damn fool,” Pent muttered, a look of disdain in his eyes. “On a road like this, anyone could be attacked by bandits. And to leave yourself vulnerable by sleeping out in the open in just inviting misfortune.”
“Yeah, you are right. We should go and wake him up, make sure he is all right.” Keta suggested.
To his surprise, Pent shook his head. “That is only one possibility. Another could be that he is a bandit himself and has friends lying in wait to ambush us when we let our guard down. Perhaps he is a serial killer, and he tries to kill us to hide his identity after we disturb him. The list goes on. Let us just avoid this path and leave any of this to chance.”
Keta understood what the boy was saying; it made sense. But still… “I’m sorry Pent, but we should still go check on him. I know what you think about such things, but I will still attempt to help my fellow man out if I can, it’s the way I live my life. Besides...I trust that if it is a trap, you’ll be able to handle any trouble.”
Keta added the last bit to attempt to win Pent over with flattery of his abilities. The Demon slanted his eyes, but he did not object any further, so it must have worked at least a little. Satisfied, he walked up the path with Pent in tow until he was in front of the sleeping man. “Pardon me, why do you take to sleeping in the open like this?” Keta asked.
“I was waiting for someone and I was tired,” came the reply from the man, who had not even opened his eyes yet, still reclined. Keta heard Pent’s grunt of disgust from behind him, because the young man before them had not even deigned to ready a weapon or take a look at who was approaching; the epitome of reckless.
“I see. But you must realize that it is dangerous to do this?”
“Not really,” said the man. “I heard you two talking back there this whole time. The kid is pretty perceptive there. But you… you are quite naive, aren’t you? I heard your whole spiel, but I can’t get my head around it. Either way, I like your guts. Name’s Max Revia.” With this, the man’s eyes snapped open and he got to his feet.
“Nice to meet you, my name is Keta Night.” Keta said. Max turned to Pent and waited for a moment, but Pent did not extend the same courtesy. “You’ll have to forgive him, he’s not the friendliest of sorts.”
“Few are these days. Regardless, it’s good to meet you. We fellow Demons need to stick together after all,” Max said, with a wide grin.
“Yes, well. If you are quite all right, then I suppose we’ll part ways now. Come on Keta, we’d best keep moving.” Pent stated, walking past the two, before stopping. He whirled back and started sniffing the air. “What the hell..I smell Humans coming this way.”
Max’s grin faded. “What? Why would Humans be here? These are Demon controlled lands, held by the Darkrune clan. They would never allow Humans to wander around freely,” Max said with a concerned voice.
“Shut up and get out of sight. Maybe then we’ll figure this out,” Pent said, rushing off the road to hide behind some large rocks. Max turned to look at Keta, with an inquisitive look on his face and Keta merely shrugged his shoulders.
“He’s usually right about these kind of things. Tracking is his clan’s specialty so we might as well trust him on this,” Keta said, following the boy’s lead. Max followed him shortly after and the three of them sat in silence until the sound of footsteps proved Pent’s instincts right.
The young Demon was already reaching for his weapons, but Keta held his hand out and put a finger to his lips to keep him quiet. Still hidden, they could hear the Humans talking to each other and he wanted to see what they were doing here.
“That scientist freaks me the hell out…”
“Don’t let anyone hear you say that. He’s apparently a very high ranking official. The Grand Commander has him directly under him.”
So they were Empire Humans...he had hoped that they were inhabitants of Teforia, but there was no mistaking it now that they had mentioned the Grand Commander. Pent looked at him, but Keta shook his head. "Not just yet…"
“I don’t even know why he even brought us along. He seems capable of doing this all on his own.”
“Don’t you remember at the briefing? He needs a few hands to do the ‘grunt work’. My mother would be so proud…”
Keta heard laughter and then a sigh from one of them. The footsteps had passed them and were heading in the opposite direction now. Keta was relieved. They would not even need to confront the soldiers.
“Oh shut up. We’re on a mission for the higher ups. This is how you advance in the Empire. Besides, the doctor told us we’re merely to locate the girl and report back to him. It’s too dangerous to engage her. But now that the village has been taken out of the picture, we can rest easy.”
“I’ll rest easy when I’m back in the homeland. I don’t like being out here, especially with those Brotherhood fanatics running…”
“Excuse me, gentlemen. I’d like a word with you.”
Keta heard Max’s voice, and turned to realize that the Demon had vanished from his side. He looked up to see that Max had exited their hiding spot and was on the road with the soldiers, who had whirled around in a panic at the sound of his voice.
“What is he thinking?” Keta muttered quietly, getting ready to go to the Demon’s aid. “He’s going to get himself killed.” Before he could get up however, Pent caught his arm in a tight grip. “Pent? What are you doing?”
The soldiers were shouting something, either to themselves or Max, but Pent didn’t react, still focused on Keta. “There’s something odd about this Max character. I want to see how this plays out.” Pent said, his eyes not straying from the older Demon. Keta wanted to object, but part of him was also curious. Why would Max approach armed soldiers head on like this?
Max was waving at the Humans, who were aiming their rifles at him. There were four soldiers, each one wearing the Empire’s crest. Regardless, Max was quite calm when he spoke. “I want to know what you meant when you said that a village was taken out of the picture. Were you talking about the Darkrune clan village?”
One of the Humans spoke up. “What’s this? It looks like the doctor missed another one from the village.”
“No, look at him. He may be a Demon, but he’s of a different clan,” one of the others said, stepping forward to get a better look. “Yeah, he’s just a random encounter.”
Max cleared his throat and stepped forward. “I’m afraid none of you have answered my question. Your words have pretty much confirmed it as such, but just as well, I’d like to hear it from one of you. Otherwise, I’ll have no use for you.”
“Right, enough of that. Kill him,” the Human who looked to be in charge commanded, and the soldiers all opened fire as Keta leapt from his hiding place to help Max. But he was too far away to be of any help. Pent too had followed after him but the pair were shocked at what happened next.
There was a bright flare and Keta and Pent had to squint in the intense light. Max hit one of the soldiers in the stomach with a punch, crumpling him to the ground. Snaking an arm around one of the other soldier’s weapons, Max lifted the man into the air with ease and slammed him into one of his allies and the two were flung across the hard mountain path, the force of impact rendering them unconscious. Without missing a beat, he hit the fourth soldier with a kick to the chin that sent the man soaring into the air and landing in a heap a distance away.
Whirling back in place, Max dusted his hands together and turned back to Keta and Pent, who had stopped in their tracks, weapons in their hands. There were no wounds, no blood on him. He was perfectly fine. The muscular Demon broke into a wide grin. “Well, isn’t that cute. You thought I’d need help against Humans,” Max said with humor in his voice.
Pent was less than amused however. “Don’t give me that crap. Those soldiers outnumbered you four to one and they all opened fire on you and you just walked through it. Not only that, you took out every soldier in one hit.”
Max laughed and started flexing. “What, did you think these were just for show?”
But Keta spoke up as well. “No, Pent’s right. An explanation is in order. I’ve never seen anyone take one of the Empire’s bullets head on, at least not without protective armor. And your attire is clearly the opposite of armor. Who are you really?”
“Look...there’s an explanation for all this, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to stick around and chat,” Max said, his smile fading as he looked over his shoulder in the distance. “What those Humans said does not bode well for the people of Darkrune Village. I need to go and see what is happening for myself. It was nice meeting you two. Goodbye.” And with that, he turned and sped off down the road.
“Well, that was different…” Keta said, and then he remembered the soldiers. He knelt down beside the crumpled Human who had been knocked out in a single punch. There was no magic, no finesse to the attack, just raw strength. It was impressive, if not a little frightening. “I can’t believe he beat them all in mere seconds. He’s incredibly powerful, to say the least. Perhaps even as powerful as Xuan. What do you think happened to make those weapons not affect him, Pent?”
When the boy didn’t respond to him, Keta turned to see Pent with a thoughtful look on his face. “I’m sorry, Night, but I need to follow that guy. I have to see what has befallen Darkrune Village. My clan and the Darkrune clan are allies. I am honor bound to assist them.” Pent declared.
Keta nodded. “I would never turn my back on those in need. Let’s go.” The two of them took off down the path after Max. “If there are Humans here, what do you think they are after?”
He had never expected Humans would attack so far out of their borders and especially so close to Teforia. Keta realized that part of this was his fault as well, being the last member of Sanction. He had been so focused on the Brotherhood of Shadows that he had neglected tracking the actions of the Empire.
“Who cares why they are here. If they’ve done anything to bring my allies to harm, I’ll kill them all,” Pent said.
“Come now, you told me you wouldn’t kill so casually back when we joined up. Look at Max, he took out all those soldiers without killing a single one,” Keta pointed out. All he got was a grunt as acknowledgement, so he didn’t press the subject. The two warriors quickly caught up to Max, who seemed surprised by their appearance.
“The Darkrune clan are allies of my own, so if you are trying to help them, allow us to assist,” Pent explained, when Max asked. The older Demon looked quite happy at that response and the two fell in line with Max. For all his strength, Keta and Pent could move much faster though, so they let him set the pace and it wasn’t long before they could see the outline of a village. Only…
“No! Damn it!” Max roared, as they got closer. Smoke was coming up from the village and the main gate had been toppled. The trio jumped over and entered the village, but the first sight to greet them was not a pleasant one. There were broken homes everyone, debris littering the ground amidst blood...lots of it. There had been quite a struggle here it looked like.
Max ran off in another direction before Keta could stop him, distraught. Keta looked around at all the destruction. How would Humans have done something like this to a Demon village? Max had been able to take out those soldiers pretty handedly. All of this was devastating, but it didn’t make any sense. The sheer destruction of the area did not fit the patterns of Empire soldiers.
Whatever came here was something else entirely. This destruction reminded him of the day long ago when Sanction was destroyed. Such senseless violence. But he couldn’t dwell. Not when their new friend was so distraught. “Come, we’d best not leave Max alone. He obviously has ties to this place.”
Pent nodded, and the two hurried off in search of Max. They found him amidst a house that collapsed in on itself, staring at something in his hands. When they caught up with him, he turned to them slowly, his face emotionless. “How could this have happened?”
Pent elbowed Keta roughly and when he turned to the boy, he could see a wary stare. Following his gaze, he could see that kneeling near one of the broken homes a distance away was a person in dark robes, with a white moon emblem on the back. They had encountered another member of the Brotherhood of Shadows, Keta noted with panic. The stranger had noticed their presence and had gotten to his feet, making his way towards them.
Pent realized what was going on as well and drew his weapons, dropping into his attack stance. Keta placed a hand on the hilt of his sword, ready to draw at any moment. But Max had left his guard wide open, even when he noticed this newcomer. Keta was about to warn him when the Demon rushed forward straight at the stranger. He’s bold...but it’s three against one, so we have the luxury of such a strategy, Keta thought to himself.
What he didn’t expect was for Max to run up, waving and catching the robed man in an embrace. “Forsythe! I was waiting for you outside the village like you told me. Why are you here?” Max said, lifting the other person up in his manly hug.
“Same reason as you, I would imagine,” came a surprisingly youthful voice from the robed man, whose hood had fallen down, revealing a gaunt looking face with short brown hair. His red eyes flashed with sadness as he looked around. “I was on my way to meet you when I spotted...this…”
Max’s face soured. Keta looked around in dismay, realizing the full extent of the destruction in the village. But there was something else as well. He could not see any other people anywhere. An idea popped into his head. “Hey Pent? Can you use your nose to try and find anyone hiding out in the village?” Keta asked, turning to the young Demon.
“You think I hadn’t done that the moment we entered the village, Night?” The boy replied indignantly. “No, aside from that guy there, I can’t scent anyone else here. Or rather, I can smell lingering scents...the clan and Humans. And it wasn’t long ago, either. Perhaps a day or two. But...we have a more pressing matter, don’t we?”
Keta nodded, and turned his attention back to the Brotherhood of Shadows Demon, who had returned their gaze and was looking at them with an odd expression. This complicated things a little, as the two had intended to recruit Xuan to their cause before they challenged the Brotherhood further. Not to mention that this newcomer knew Max, which could prove disastrous for them, considering his earlier display of power.
“Forsythe...we have to find out what happened here! I...we need to find Luna. I don’t understand any of this. How could this have happened with her around?” Max was speaking in a baffled voice, choked by emotion.
Forsythe's eyes had not left Keta or Pent since he had first spotted them, and there was an odd look on his face. “Calm down, Max. You know as well as I do that she must have been away from the village during the attack, otherwise this wouldn’t have happened. But it seems we’ve got bigger problems to deal with.”
“Bigger problems than...Forsythe! The entire village has been destroyed! What are you…” Max shouted incredulously, before he realized where Forsythe’s gaze was and he turned to Keta and Pent. “Oh, those two? Don’t worry about them, they are good people. They tried to look out for me and they came to help the village.”
“Is that right? Perhaps they forgot to mention that they are also enemies of the Brotherhood of Shadows.” Forsythe said, his eyes still on Keta.
Max let out a little chuckle, but the awkward silence afterwards took the smile off his face. He looked from Forsythe to the other two slowly. “You’re kidding right? The kid’s a Demon, why would he be an enemy of the Brotherhood of Shadows?”
“I’ll not wager to know his reasons. I only know that those two are responsible for the death of one of our own. And their interference caused yet another member to be captured by an enemy nation. They are no friends of ours.” The Demon exclaimed.
Max stayed silent for a moment. “Well, what do you have to say to this?” He said finally, turning to the two of them. Keta couldn’t quite understand the look on Max’s face. It was like he was imploring him to refute the accusations.
But before Keta could say anything, Pent stepped forward. “I don’t care what you call me. Those people attacked my village. They killed my father and accosted my sister. I won’t rest until I’ve rescued her. If you get in my way, then you shall suffer the same fate as your fallen comrade,” Pent said, placing a hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Pent! Don’t antagonize them,” Keta said, but his interjection was met by a swift glare.
“Night, the enemy is in front of us. You knew that we would have to fight against the Brotherhood eventually. Here they are, and in perfect numbers. Two of us, and two of them,” Pent pointed out.
“Well yeah, but…”
“Enough! What is the matter with you all!” Max shouted and everyone turned to look at him. “I could care less about anything aside from the people of the village at this time. Forsythe...they are your clan! How can you not be concerned about all this?”
Keta couldn’t help but feel sorry for Max. He had seen destruction like this village before, but it never made it any easier. He could only imagine how Max was feeling.
“Max, I understand your feelings, but you must remember your duty. We are called to a higher purpose. Do not question. This is all for the greater good .” Forsythe was quite eloquent it seemed. The voice he spoke with was mesmerizing.
Max seemed to absorb the words and he seemed to be processing them for a moment. “You are right, my friend. I’d rather not fight you, Keta, but I cannot ignore what you’ve done to the Brotherhood of Shadows. Whatever your reasons, I cannot overlook your transgressions. It...is my duty. Prepare yourself,” Max said, raising his hands and curling them into fists.
“Well, if you are going to go toe to toe with your new best friend, then I shall take care of the new guy,” Pent said, stepping forward.
He didn’t get too far before Max thrust a hand out to stop him. “No...he will not be fighting. I will take on the both of you.” Max said.
Pent raised an eyebrow, but he did not press the matter. “Your funeral. Even if you manage to defeat Keta, you’ll be too weakened to be able to deal with me,” he said with a smile.
Max returned the smile. “Please, like I’d lose to a little kid like you.” He turned back to Keta. “Regardless, Forsythe is not to be harmed, all right? I shall be doing all the fighting. I trust you will oblige me.”
Keta sighed. He had hoped that he and Max would have been able to talk through this. He could see now that wasn’t going to happen. “If that is how it must be. I can’t be stopped here though, Max. I am sorry. Draw your weapon and we can begin,” Keta said, as he drew his own sword and held it at the ready.
Max raised an eyebrow. “Weapon? What are you talking about? I don’t fight with weapons.”
Keta blinked back his disbelief. “Don’t be a fool. I saw your strength firsthand, but you would have to be insane to fight a swordsman unarmed.” When Max shrugged his shoulders, Keta felt slightly annoyed. “Max, if you fight against a sword with only your fists, you will die.”
Keta had met a lot of people in his life, and a good majority of them were soldiers. But this man was perplexing to him. The arrogance Max possessed reminded him of Xuan, but even Xuan had the common sense to bring a sword to a fight. The Demon smiled nonchalantly, cracking his knuckles.
Keta did the only honorable thing he could do. He turned his sword and stabbed it into the earth. It didn’t matter if the man in front of him was an enemy. He wouldn’t take on a challenger with such uneven odds.
Max noticed this display with an odd look on his face, as if he was trying to figure Keta out. “Are you sure about this, Keta? You don’t really know my true skill.”
“I’ve been trained enough in the ways of the world to know that if I were to fight you with my sword, you would stand no chance. Besides, Master taught me how to fight in unarmed combat, should the need ever arise.”
“And it has!” Max shouted and just like that, their fight had started. He came in swinging with a right and Keta sidestepped the strike easily, pushing him away with his right hand. He was not counting on Max’s quick reaction. The Demon a quick pivot and Keta had to avoid the fist that came after by moving backwards. But Max pursued him.
The next few seconds of his life were a humbling experience. Max was by no means a small guy, but his brawling technique was flawless. Every step he took was calculated, the swings of his fist exquisite. He had refined his hand to hand combat much the same way a swordmaster would his swordplay. And Keta knew then that he had made a mistake challenging him this way.
Keta tried to hit him with a palm strike, hoping to end it all with his Dragon Fang technique. But the way that Max was weaving in and out of attacking range was making it impossible to land a hit. Finally, there was an opening and he took it. Only too late did he realize he had been baited into the attack.
“Magnificent, Keta. I haven’t been challenged like this since…” whatever Max was thinking about he did not know, because the Demon had stepped away from the attack and came in fast following the evade with a right cross. Keta realized he should not have committed to the attack, as his only option now was to guard the attack.
Keta was knocked over by the impact, even as he guarded the blow. His entire body felt the shock of that hit and it was then that he knew he had made a mistake. He tried to stand, but he could only get on one knee, his body still shaking. He looked up, and saw Max running at him, his fist reeling back. Pent intervened, his sword slicing through the air and forcing Max to retreat.
“You underestimated him, Night, and you paid for it. He’s not someone you should take lightly.” Pent admonished him, keeping an eye on Max’s movements.
“I already told you two that you cannot beat me,” Max boasted, spreading his hands out to the side in a taunting gesture. The older Demon didn’t look fazed by the intrusion. Rather, he looked excited.
“I don’t like it when people tell me what to think. You had it easy having to face Night. He is too softhearted. Allow me to show you a real fight.” Pent said, and despite seeing what he had done to Keta, looked eager to fight this new foe. Max returned the crazed grin but before they could engage, someone shouted and rushed between the two.
Keta lifted his head to see the person who had interrupted the fight. A Demon girl, dressed in dark pants and shirt. Her black hair fell down to her shoulders. She was quite muscular he noticed as she stood in the middle of Pent and Max, holding her hands out to stop the two from fighting.
Keta was glad to see that someone else was trying to stop all the fighting, but he could already see Pent’s annoyance at this intrusion. The boy did not like being ordered around after all. But Max had a different expression on his face. He had started walking towards the woman, his guard completely gone.
“Luna? Luna! What are you doing out here?” Max asked. He approached her with his arms out ready to embrace her but the girl slapped his hand away. Max looked at his hand, then at her dejectedly.
“Damn it Max! I don’t see you for months and this is what I find you doing? That boy is of the Frostclaw clan. They are allies of our people. Why exactly are you attacking him?” The girl asked with an angry glare.
Max smiled, a roguish grin. “Hey come on, don’t be like that. We’re passing through the mountains on a mission. Something back at the village. But then these two showed up...”
“It’s Brotherhood of Shadows business,” the Demon called Forsythe had approached the woman as well with casual abandon. Keta did not know what was going on. If this woman was a companion of the other two, this did not bode well. Still, the woman didn’t seem set on fighting at the moment. “We’re on special orders to retrieve...something important.”
“Forsythe. You are here too? No way,” the girl rushed forward and embraced the smaller Demon. “I haven’t seen you since your family left the village. But...oh goddess. I got distracted. The village...it’s in ruins. Someone attacked it. Everyone is gone!”
The sudden shift in the girl’s voice alarmed Keta. How could she have just realized this? Max was the first to respond. “This doesn’t make any sense. How could the village be attacked? Nobody could have bested you.”
Keta looked over at Forsythe, who had been gazing intently at this woman since her first appearance. A Demon village was attacked and there just happened to be Brotherhood warriors around. Could they have been responsible for this as they had Pent’s village? But, Forsythe had appeared equally shocked when they encountered him.
“Obviously. But I was out of the village for a while. I returned to find it in shambles. I was out looking for the culprits but I found no leads. I was returning to see if I could find anything else back here when I ran into you two,” the girl explained.
Keta noticed that Pent was starting to look agitated. “Hey! Stop ignoring me. Anybody mind clueing me in on what the hell is going on?” Pent said angrily.
The girl seemed to have just again realized that Pent and Keta existed. “Ah, forgive me. I got caught up in my reunions. I am Luna, daughter of the Darkrune clan leader. It is good to see someone from an allied clan,” the girl said, nodding her head in greeting.
Pent returned the gesture. “Well met, Luna. I am Pent Telim of the Frostclaw clan. Tell me, what is your relationship to these two?” Pent asked, pointing at Max and Forsythe.
“Who, those two?” Luna asked with a sideways glance. “The smaller one is named Forsythe and he is a member of my clan, though he has been away for a time. And the big guy is Max. He...well, he’s not a Darkrune Demon, but he’s lived in the village since he was young. He’s one of us.”
That explained why the three of them seemed so familiar. The odd thing was that the new girl, Luna, seemed to be in charge of the two, at least the way they addressed her. But then, it did make sense as she was the clan leader’s daughter.
Pent was still agitated at the situation. “Regardless, your clanmates attacked us. They did so as members of the Brotherhood of Shadows.”
“The Brotherhood? Look, I don’t...understand exactly what you all are feuding over right now. And quite honestly, I don’t care. Can we just cease all hostilities for a moment? I think the village problem takes precedence!” Luna said, looking from one party to the other.
Forsythe looked distraught at this suggestion, but to Keta’s surprise, Pent said, “I agree. The state of the village is troubling. We might be enemies, but you are members of the Darkrune Clan and our clans have sworn unwavering support to one another. We need to find who did this.”
Keta was impressed that the boy would put aside his vendetta to try and help. Perhaps he is not as stubborn as I thought, he thought to himself.
Max nodded his head in agreement, having already forgotten the fight with Pent. Forsythe sighed and gave his consent as well. Luna turned to Keta, her glowing red eyes acknowledging him. “And what about your silent partner, kid?”
It was only then that Keta realized he had not spoken since the girl had made her appearance. He had simply been content to watch the four of them work out their problems. After all, they were all Demons and so it seemed apropos.
But now that the people of a village were in trouble, he had no choice but to help. “If everyone can agree to lay down their arms, then we can do this. Is that something you can do, Forsythe?”
The Demon reacted to his name with surprise. Keta had been right in his assumption. The Brotherhood of Shadows member was adamant on trying to get rid of Keta and Pent, obstacles to their cause. Had Luna not shown up, they had held the advantage and would most likely have sealed their victory. But Max seemed too distracted by the news and the appearance of their friend. He had no choice but to acquiesce.
Forsythe muttered something under his breath. “Very well, Night. If you agree to assist us, we shall stay our hand. But this is a limited reprieve. You will answer for your crimes against the Brotherhood when this is over.”
Pent was quick to respond with a laugh. “Be grateful your friend stopped me before I got started,” came the retort.
“Enough!” Luna yelled, the sound of her voice echoing through the mountains and all four of them turned to face her. She wore an impatient frown on her face. “Honestly, you idiot boys and your feuds. You can beat the crap out of each other after we’ve investigated.”
Forsythe crossed his arms, his face flushed with anger. Before he could speak Max noticed this and stepped in between the two. “Come on now. We need to all be on the same page. What’s the plan, Luna?”
The girl looked skyward, and Keta couldn’t guess what she was thinking. All he could imagine were little wheels turning in her head. After a moment, she pointed in a direction. “I don’t know. I guess we should start searching somewhere. How about over there?” It was a suggestion that held as much thought as a child’s, though Keta dared not point this out.
“Perhaps it would be better if we started in the direction of the clan’s scents,” Pent said. Everyone turned around to look at him. “I’m a Frostclaw Demon, our clan prides itself as skilled trackers. I could lead us to them,” Pent offered. A far more reasonable plan. The others looked at each other, and when nobody offered anything better, they accepted the plan unanimously.
“Right, of course! The Frostclaw clan are amazing! Now we’ll be able to find the Darkrune clan villagers in no time! You are amazing, Pent!” Luna said, smiling at Pent, who looked away to hide his obvious embarrassment.
“R-right. Anyways, I can smell mixed scents coming from that direction. Follow my lead and be ready for anything,” Pent said, and he sniffed the air, nodded to himself and began to walk.
With Pent in the lead, the fragile alliance started off in the direction that the young Demon led them. Forsythe had a tired look on his face as he fell in line with them. Max started walking after them and Keta followed him. “You are pretty tough for someone who doesn’t use weapons,” Keta admitted, trying to break the ice.
The Demon turned to look at him, a wide grin on his face. “Really? That gave you trouble? Because that’s not even close to the extent of my abilities. Think long and hard on that if you want to continue your disruption of the Brotherhood. I’d hate to have to hurt you again. You seem like a nice guy.”
It was odd. Keta could sense the zealotry in the other one, Forsythe. But Max didn’t possess that same malice. He had a kind heart, even if he was his enemy. But an enemy he was, and a powerful one at that. He hadn’t had a chance to see if Pent could take him on, but barring that, he would need a plan.
But just perhaps he could appeal to him. “The Brotherhood of Shadows is not what it used to be,” Keta said hopefully.
His hope shattered when Max’s eyes narrowed at him. “Save it. I won’t be poisoned by your lies. Forsythe already revealed what you did to the others. The Brotherhood of Shadows is going to bring the Demons back into the light. I’ll not let that light be snuffed out by non believers like you,” Max declared, and he moved to Forsythe’s side, leaving Keta alone in the back.
Bakuya let the cool air run through his hair as he stared down at the army that had assembled a ways out from the gate. The Xegin had set up camp a few hours ago, but aside from that, they had done nothing but watch. And Bakuya, in turn had done nothing but watch.
He had been expecting an envoy with a message, or a challenge, or something. What he was expecting, he didn’t really know. This was after all, his first war and exercises and simulations could only prepare you so much. Sure, he’d been in these situations at the onset of their war with the Xegin, but General Erisda had been in charge.
But now, the General had been ordered back to the capital to see the Administrator and he had left Bakuya and Giselle in command in his absence. And he and Giselle could never agree on anything.
“There are only a few of them,” Bakuya had said, when the sentries had brought the news to them. “We could easily wipe them out while they are separated from the rest of their army.”
But Giselle wasn’t convinced. “We have no idea their fighting strength. It would be unwise to engage them without the general.” That was so Giselle; slow and cautious. She didn’t act unless she was completely sure of it. There would be no convincing her at this point. So now he stood up atop the gate, staring down at the Xegin soldiers, unable to do anything.
“Sir!” Bakuya was not alone any longer. One of his fellow soldiers had made his way up to join him. Carter was his name, and he had been in his training squads a few times. As unimpressive as he looked with his scraggy brown hair and eyes that always seemed too wide, he was a good soldier.
And the best part was that he too possessed the resolve to make the tough decisions to get the job down. “It’s all set. The men are ready to sortie.” Bakuya smiled. While Giselle had opposed the plan, Carter and his men had spoken up in favor of it. They understood that the Xegin were formidable opponents, and if they did not fight them when they had the advantage, they would regret it.
“Very well. Tell everyone we will begin the operation in 15 minutes. Have everyone check their gear and be at the designated area by then,” Bakuya said and the soldier saluted and was gone. All his equipment was accounted for, so now all he needed was to ready his mind. There was no time for reflection, however, because he was joined by Giselle and she always had something to say.
And sure enough… “You are going to get people killed with your reckless actions.”
Bakuya sighed. He had heard it all before from her, and his instructors at the academy. But his achievements on the battlefield had always produced results. It was why General Erisda had chosen him as his lieutenant. It was why the other soldiers trusted him. And it was why he always trusted his gut.
Giselle said, “Those soldiers believe in you and so they will follow you. But you need to listen to reason. Those are Xegin soldiers down there. They were built for war. We should wait for the general.”
Bakuya put his fingers to his temple. “Giselle, there are 37 Xegin soldiers down there. We have 96 soldiers here. Even if we leave soldiers behind at the gate to cover our approach, we more than double their numbers. And you and I are specially trained by General Erisda. We need to take the initiative before their numbers increase.”
Giselle crossed her arms, her dark hair blowing in the night wind. “Bakuya, you are being arrogant. The reports don’t lie. They may be a small platoon, but among their number is the Imperial General Alpha. Or had you forgotten?”
Bakuya laughed bitterly. How could he forget. Everyone in Teforia knew all about the protectors of the land. The Imperial Generals that were formed under Tyrannes, leader of Teforia. Everyone spoke of them as if they were gods among men. But Bakuya wasn’t afraid of them. He had trained under General Erisda, and he had not expressed fear of the warbots, as some of the others had taken to calling the Xegin.
Besides, once you started believing that someone was out of your reach, it was already too late. He would prove that he, a Human, could stand up to Xegin soldiers. And if he managed to capture one of the Imperial Generals, then all the better.
Bakuya turned around to look at his friend (because they were friends despite all their bickering). “Giselle, we are not helpless here and we have a plan. As long as I have you up here covering for me, I’ll be fine. I trust you, don’t you trust me?” Bakuya said with an appealing voice.
The girl did not fall for his words. With morbid sincerity, she looked him dead in the eyes. “Tell me Bakuya, and I need you to be honest with me. Do you think you can defeat General Alpha? Because none of those soldiers would stand a chance against her.”
Her tone was skeptical, and for Bakuya, that hurt. “Giselle, I would not put together a mission like this if I did not believe it could succeed. My pride aside, we have to take this chance while it still exists. The general is counting on us to make the tough decisions while he is away.”
Giselle said nothing for a moment, as if she was digesting his words. Finally, she spoke. “Just don’t venture too far from the gate. My aim will be compromised the further you get.” He gave her a reassuring smile, but she did not return it, whirling around and leaving him alone once more.
Ten minutes later, Bakuya, Carter and 68 other soldiers rushed out of the Imperial Gate’s open doors and it closed behind them. Bakuya gave the signal and they split into smaller teams like they had planned. The darkness would conceal their approach for a time but it would be enough.
And so, they travelled in silence towards the dim light of the Xegin camp. Their plan was a good one, but nobody had been prepared for their ambush. Bakuya heard the first shot, and narrowly avoided another blast. They had been set up.
“Light’s on, boys!” Bakuya ordered, trying to regroup the soldiers who had splintered at the first shot. The energy weapons that the Xegin used were more exotic compared to their own guns, but they would make it work regardless. Bakuya could see the Xegin soldiers in the darkness, their silver armor reflected by the light and took aim quickly, taking down two of them. Even if they had been ambushed, it changed nothing. They still held the advantage in numbers.
Bakuya saw another of the Xegin soldiers point it’s rifle at him and he took him out with a quick shot. Three down, Bakuya thought to himself, turning around and seeing that Carter’s team was doing well. He tried not to focus on his soldiers on the ground who had already been killed. In a few minutes, it would be over. And then came the screams. “She’s here! The Imperial General is…” The cry was cut short by a guttural sound.
“That’s my cue,” Bakuya murmured to himself, making his way in the direction of the chaos. And there she was, as she cut down two soldiers effortlessly, her armor repelling the bullets being hailed down on her. Regular weapons might work on the infantry, but the Imperial General armor was known to be bulletproof at least. Still, as he drew his sword from his belt, he knew that it would not stop a blade. “General Alpha!”
She turned at the sound of her name and underneath that helmet of hers, he knew their eyes met. Her metallic frame illuminated in the light, her grip tight on a magnificent sword, dripping with blood. Her armor was command issue, designed to be cutting edge of military efficiency and protection.
She looked him up from head to toe. “Ah, so you are in charge? You’ll do.” She attacked him directly and Bakuya felt insulted, easily stopping the blow. He deflected the blade to the side and thrust forward with a stab. The Xegin woman was surprised by this and had to quickly dodge to the side.
Bakuya wouldn’t give up this advantage. He pursued the Xegin woman, who had to continue to block his attacks with her sword, and he gave her no chance to regain her composure. With a sudden burst of adrenaline, he knocked the woman’s sword to the side and went for a fatal cut.
But his arm was caught at the wrist by an armored hand. “Don’t get cocky, kid!” Came the mechanical voice from underneath the helmet.
Bakuya tried to fight against it, but her hand held him tight. She was very strong. Bakuya abandoned his trapped hand in favor of his left, grabbing his gun from it’s holster with a quick draw in a moment of desperate quick thinking. A poor decision, he realized, as when the bullet reflected off her shimmering armor and hit him square in the shoulder, the pain exploded through him.
Upon seeing this, some of his other soldiers had come to his aid with their own swords. With a grand gesture, she tossed Bakuya aside like a rag doll and turned to contend with the soldiers. As he landed with an unpleasant thud, he knew that the soldiers who had come to aid him would soon be dead. And sure enough, he heard their deathly wails soon after.
Despite the pain, he slowly rolled to his feet. And the sight he saw nauseated him. Alpha was too fast, too skilled for the soldiers. She moved along them, cutting them down like animals. Some of the soldiers seemed to have forgotten how her armor worked, just as he had, and were firing off rounds at the Imperial General, to no effect. Bakuya came at her from behind.
He was slashed cleanly across the chest. He didn’t realize that he had slowed down so much from his shoulder wound. If he hadn’t pulled back at the last second, he would have been cut in two, just like that poor soldier over there (was his name Rob? Bakuya couldn’t remember). Her failure to do so caused her to turn around to face him.
“Ah, you are still alive. Good for you. But you are going to die all the same,” Alpha said, focusing her attention on him as she started walking towards him. His soldiers, the ones that remained (for most were either dead or had fled), gathered to him and were firing rounds or charging at Alpha.
“Don’t shoot her, our weapons don’t work. Use your swords!” Bakuya cried desperately. The soldiers with swords were just no match for the Xegin’s strength and she easily overpowered their attacks. They were cut down as she approached the remaining soldiers. “Get behind me,” Bakuya commanded. He was bloody and his body in pain, but he would be damned if went down without protecting his people.
“I must commend your effort, even if it was fruitless. You did manage to take out some of my soldiers. For that, I shall grant you a clean death,” Alpha said. She started towards them and Bakuya knew that this was the end. And then he heard the sound of metal on metal. But he had not been the one to defend.
“General!” Bakuya cried out, upon seeing his mentor in weapon lock with the Xegin.
“So...you’re here,” Erisda Walker said to Alpha. The two pushed away from each other and now stood a few paces away from each other, meeting each other’s gaze.
“General Erisda Walker. How unfortunate that we must meet like this,” Alpha said, with the same tone that one might use to address an old friend. “But, let’s not mince words here. I hereby challenge you to a duel.”
Bakuya was suddenly wary. A duel amongst commanders was a big thing to agree to. Not only would the opposing warrior be killed, but all remaining forces would lose their chain of command and become panicked and disorganized.
Even Erisda did not like the idea. “I wish you wouldn’t,” he said simply.
But Alpha didn’t take kindly to such a dismissive attitude. “We’re beyond words and courtesies now, Erisda. We will settle this here and now.” And so Alpha attacked. And Erisda reacted. Three moves was all it took. Alpha’s sword lay on the ground beside her and Erisda held his sword to the Xegin soldier’s chest. Everyone who was present was shocked, but none more so than Alpha, who had a horrified look on her face. It was not even a contest and despite the circumstances, it infuriated Bakuya.
The general is on a whole different level of skill, Bakuya thought to himself.
Alpha lowered her arms to her side but stood up proudly, otherwise. “It is done. Finish it.”
But Erisda let out a sigh and sheathed his weapon. “I will not. The duel’s been decided. Take your forces and go,” Erisda said, and he turned around to walk away.
“Do not sully my honor. As one general to another, you must have my head.”
The desperate pleading in the Xegin’s voice was a shock to Bakuya. Why would she beg for death like that? Either way, it stopped Erisda in his tracks. When he turned his shoulder to look back at Alpha, he had a smile on his face. “I’d like to think that our ideals as the Land of Peace are not so easily destroyed.”
Alpha thrust a fist forward in anger. “Damn it, Erisda! Do not think so lightly on this. One of our Imperial Generals is dead. We have no patience left.”
Upon hearing this, Erisda turned around fully and began to walk towards her, his hands in his coat pockets. Bakuya hated how brazen this man could be, but he definitely was skilled enough to warrant it. He walked up close enough, as if the two were merely having a friendly conversation and said, “If this situation was reversed, would you have killed me?”
General Alpha hesitated upon hearing this. His words had struck a chord with her, and it seemed like she was trying to figure out how to answer. Eventually, “Circumstances demand that I must.”
Erisda’s face had not changed in the entire exchange, and he simply turned away again and signalled to his soldiers to leave the battlefield. He must have had faith that Alpha would do the same, and sure enough, she gave the order. “Return to Tyrannes. Tell him I wish to talk.”
Alpha made an odd noise. “You’ve no idea what you ask…” and then she was gone, with her soldiers behind her. Bakuya was about to follow the others when he noticed that Erisda had made his way over to him. Not that he was expecting anything else.
“Why did you engage them?” Erisda’s voice was calm as always, but there was something else too. Anger? Disappointment? Between his injuries and his shame of his loss, he could not tell and he averted his eyes from the general’s gaze.
“I…thought I could win.”
Erisda sighed. “If Giselle had not gotten a message to me, I would not have returned until the morning. You were just lucky I was close enough to get here in time. We could have lost the gate and lost the entire war effort.”
Bakuya realized now how much his failure would have cost them. He had not understood the true strength of the Imperial Generals. Or rather, he also failed to account for how powerful General Erisda was. “I underestimated them…” was all he could say.
Erisda put his fingers to his temple, and he looked older than usual. “How many?” He said simply, and Bakuya knew what he was talking about.
“Too many…” Bakuya replied, and then he remembered something he saw during the battle, and despite himself, felt bile in his mouth. He could still picture Carter’s face, shining with admiration as he followed him into the night.
Erisda’s hands clenched into fists at this news. “Damn it, Bakuya!” He yelled and he turned away and ran his hands through his hair. That was a habit he had when he was flustered, Bakuya knew. When the general turned back to him, he said, “You should be in chains right now for your reckless and insubordinate actions. Unfortunately, your skill is vital to this army. However, you have been stripped of your rank.”
Bakuya was shocked at this revelation. He was being demoted? “But General…”
“Be silent, Bakuya. Be grateful you are still employed at all. Now get out of my sight and assist in the recovery operations. Our fallen comrades must be given a proper burial.”
Bakuya bit back any retort he had. He knew that he deserved it and worse. He had messed up as a commanding officer. “Yes sir…” He walked away from the general, and began to head in the direction he had last seen Carter. He would make sure the soldier who had followed his lead would be put to a proper rest. He looked up to see Giselle and their eyes met. By silent consent, she fell in with him and they continued their task.
“Damn it!!!” Both of them tried to not be affected by the emotional wailing they heard from their commanding officer in the dark. Bakuya had betrayed his mentor’s trust. He would never let himself be able to live this down.
Pent hated the word hero. It had been thrown at him several times. The people he had rescued from bandits. The others from his village after he had killed Dranon. Keta wanted to be a hero and he wanted Pent to try and be one too.
But being a hero was nothing but misery. Everyone who had ever been called a hero were all dead. Heroes didn’t have the resolve necessary to make the tough decisions. Rather, they made stupid decisions. Keta deciding to fight a new enemy with a handicap was stupid. Almost everything he did was. It was a good thing Pent was there to help.
But he couldn’t decide if he had made a stupid decision. He had considered the Brotherhood of Shadows his mortal enemies since his father’s murder. They had kidnapped his sister. And now he had found himself allied with them.
The two Brotherhood Demons had both been residents of Darkrune Village, comrades of the girl who had come searching for help, Luna. The revelation of the attack on the village had even caused Pent to delay his revenge. The people of that village were allies of his own clan. He would do everything in his power to help them. And when it was all over, and their alliance concluded, he would bring the Brotherhood down.
“Are you okay?” Pent was brought out of his thoughts by Luna, who was keeping pace beside him.
“Yeah, I’m good,” he grunted. Pent was never good at small talk.
“I see. I just wanted to say thank you.” Pent grunted as well, but he could feel her eyes on him so he met her gaze and she smiled. “I don’t know why my friends are fighting you or why you are fighting them, so it means a lot that you stopped to help.”
Pent was kind of annoyed at her now. She was worried about her village, but it didn’t change the fact that he was an enemy of her friends. “Aren’t you concerned that when this is all over, I’m going to kill your two friends?” He asked.
She looked over at him with her mouth open, as if the thought had never occurred to her. “Oh! I didn’t think you would do something like that. I mean, you are helping out the Darkrune clan. And they are members of the Darkrune clan.”
Great, this girl is an airhead, Pent thought to himself. He had to set this girl straight. “You understand that this is a temporary alliance, right? When this is all done, your friends and I will resume our fighting.”
The simpleness of the question surprised him. “They are members of the Brotherhood of Shadows. Those maniacs killed my father. They have my sister held captive. But I’m sure you know nothing of it.”
“Aren’t the Brotherhood of Shadows Demons trying to make life better for our people? Why would do something like that to their own?” Luna asked.
Pent was annoyed now. He didn’t know what to make of this girl. And he didn’t know if after all this was over if she would be an enemy or not. Pent was confident in his ability to take on Max, but if he had to fight everyone at once…
Pent shook his head. “Go ask your friends if you want to know. See what lies they tell you. I can scent the villagers not far so I’m going on ahead,” Pent said running ahead. He was eager to put some distance between himself and the rest of them. It didn’t take long for him to find the source of the scent. But he had no idea what it was, and he could do nothing but wait until the others showed up behind him.
The others may have looked confused at what they were looking at, but Keta was not. He had seen others like it. Pent had led them right to it, told them that was where the Humans had taken the villagers. ‘Of course they brought them here,’ Keta thought bitterly. They were looking at an Empire laboratory.
Keta had spent some of his time as a member of Sanction tracking down and destroying these labs and liberating those that were within. He would never forget the insignia used for the Empire’s research. The things he had seen within...
Pent pointed at the great silver doors and said something that Keta missed, because his mind was racing. If the Darkrune clan villagers had been brought to an Empire lab, nothing good would come from it.
Luna had run up to the door and tried to open it, but to no avail. She reached back and hit the door with a clenched fist, but all that came of that was Luna shaking her injured hand, letting loose a barrage of curses. Of course it wouldn’t open so easily. Human technology was pretty advanced.
“Allow me,” Max stepped forward, undaunted. Keta knew that the Demon was strong, but he doubted that he could break steel all the same. To his surprise, Max didn’t try a punch at all. Instead, he raised his hands at his side, his fingers twitching. There was a bright flare, like that one time back with the soldiers, and Keta’s eyes instinctively shut out the light. But this time, he kept them open a slit, and was shocked to see that Max’s hands were on fire.
The ground underneath Max was swirling in a circle surrounding him, as if he was siphoning from the very earth beneath him, seeming to feed the flames in his hands. He lifted those terrible fiery hands, took aim at the door, and unleashed a torrent of hellfire that melted a hole through it. Max stepped forward, his hands extinguishing as he did so and he pushed the doors (which should have been hot from the flames still) open. He turned and grinned, gesturing for the others to enter.
Luna was the first to enter, and then Forsythe. It was Pent who said “What the hell was that?” Luna stopped in her tracks, and Forsythe looked at Pent with a morbid smile. Keta would not have been so blunt, but he wanted to know as well. He had seen this type of flames...
Max didn’t seem too concerned with their awe. “What do you mean? I’m a Demon; a fire Demon. Surely you’ve heard of us.”
“Don’t play dumb with me, Max. Most Demons don’t have such power and you know it. Only those descended from the most powerful of our kind can use such abilities,” Pent said, getting in the older Demon’s face. There was a slight change in the boy’s voice. Jealousy? His hand was on the hilt of his sword.
“Whoa, don’t get so upset, kid.” Max said. He was lifting his hands to defend himself when Keta stepped in between the two. “Why are you acting like this?”
“Shut up,” Pent growled, walking away from Max to follow the other two, who were watching the display with amusement. “I still will not lose to you when this is over, even if you have the old powers.”
“What an odd kid,” Max said.
“Greetings. It appears I must have missed a few of you.” A distorted voice rang out from around them. Nearly everyone in their party jumped. Keta scanned the area around them trying to locate the speaker to no avail.
Pent was the only one who had not been spooked, though he seemed agitated by their stealthy intruder. “Where are you? Show yourself.”
Laughter was the answer. “I am not there right now. I am speaking to you from inside. You see, this is something called technology. No doubt a savage like you wouldn’t understand.” More laughter. Keta then recognized it as one of the inventions of the Humans. He had seen it before. It allowed them to communicate at distances they would normally be unable to.
“Don’t belittle us. What have you done with the Darkrune Clan?” Luna, who had very clearly not ascertained this, asked the emptiness around them, and she spun as if to catch the mystery person in the act.
“Oh? A rescue attempt? How interesting. By all means, the answers you seek lie further in, if you desire them. After what you did to my door, I look forward to studying you quite thoroughly. Oh, but I see something else interesting in your party. It is good to see you, Keta Night.”
Keta had not been expecting to have been called by name. “You know me? Who are you. Show yourself.”
A moment of silence. Then… “My name means nothing to you, but I am Albert Warren, the greatest genius in the Empire. And as for this place? Well, why spoil the surprise. Take a look around, why don’t you. I shall see you shortly.”
And then there was silence. The person, the one named Albert Warren, must have grown bored of them. So now it was just the five of them left in the entrance to this lab, the front doors melted.
Pent broke the silence. “What did he mean, Night? Do you know this place?” It was a solid question, but Keta had no memory of this place. He had been to labs with the other members of Sanction to liberate them. But this one he could not recall. When he relayed this message to his allies, they were stumped all the more. Nobody spoke, until Luna decided to turn and start walking further into the darkness. Everyone followed in silence.
The first minute was an impossibly long corridor, the walls coated with a brilliant silver metal. They weren’t sure when it happened, but slowly the ground began to slope and they began descending into the depths. When they reached another closed door, Keta’s skin began to crawl in anticipation.
“All right, Max. Do your thing,” Pent said, tapping on the door. Max nodded, and he stepped forward, but before he could light a fire he was interrupted by a mechanical sound and the door slid open by itself.
“Now, now, there’s no need for all that. Honestly, you people are such barbarians. Come in, have a look around.” The voice of Albert Warren rang out through the facility, courtesy of the Human technology.
Pent and the others started forward, but Keta blocked their path. “I have to warn you all. I have been in these places. There are things that shouldn’t be. Prepare yourself.” Pent simply grunted and snaked his way past Keta, but Luna and Max shared a glance.
Forsythe cleared his throat. “I have long since stopped being affected by the atrocities the Humans can conjure up. It’s all the more reason why the Brotherhood must do what it deems right.” And he followed after Pent.
Keta entered the room last and almost stepped back, the pungent smell hitting him hard. As he looked around, he saw the usual decor of an Empire lab; operating tables, vials, containment cells. Each time Sanction had raided a lab, the Master had asked if he wanted to sit out the mission. And he had always decided to join the mission, to be able to help any poor soul inside.
But this one...there was fresh blood littered throughout the halls, as if something horrific had ran rampant through them. Keta remembered Celran had said she had been rescued from a lab. Had that been the reason her body was covered in bandages? What Forsythe and Max were saying was resonating heavily with him upon seeing this carnage. The Humans that did this needed to be stopped.
“I must admit, I never expected to find you here, Keta Night. Don’t you find it nostalgic” Albert Warren’s voice echoed from the intercoms.
Keta was getting tired of hearing this man’s riddles. “What are you talking about? Why would I be nostalgic? I have never been here before,” Keta said.
“Is that what you think? So then you really don’t remember? My my, this is absolutely marvelous.”
Keta, who normally remained calm and collected in his dealings with others, was growing even more irritated by the cryptic man. “No more games. If you know more, you will talk.”
More laughter. What was so amusing to this man? “I won’t ruin the surprise for you. Go on, just a little further in the next room and all will be revealed.” And then there was silence again.
Keta was so on edge that he nearly jumped when Luna placed a hand on his shoulder. Her voice was soft as she said, “He’s goading you, Keta.”
That was obvious, Keta thought to himself dryly. “Yes, but I have to find out what he’s talking about nonetheless. No one else moved, allowing Keta to take the first step down the hall towards the next room. When he reached the end of the hall, he stepped inside, looked around and it hit him. “This place...I remember it!”
The others filed in after him, Pent coming in last. His reaction was a loud curse. Max was too distracted to notice, and if Luna realized it, she hid it well. Forsythe, who seemed the most level headed of the Demon trio had seen it and was looking at Keta with pity. It was just like all the other rooms in the lab. But above one of the containment cells was a nameplate that read Subject K-27. But carved expertly underneath it, even larger was the name Keta Night.
“What do you mean you remember? I thought you said you had never been here before,” Pent said accusingly, pointing to his name. “They very clearly have a place for you, Night.”
“Oh, don’t be so hard on him, little boy,” the voice of Albert Warren filled the room once more. The man was clearly watching them, but how? “All this was quite some time ago I would imagine. But how does it feel, Keta Night? You grew up here. This is where you were born. Or rather I should say, where you were created.”
The word hit Keta wrong. Created? What did he mean created? But all the memories that had been nothing a moment ago (blocked or repressed?) were reforming in his mind and he batted them aside. “That’s…” Keta began, but he could not form words. Created? No, he had to get these thoughts out of his mind. It was a trick...
“I could only imagine what those scientists must have felt. To have successfully created an artificial Kitaan.”
Keta’s legs gave way and he collapsed to his knees at the words. Max rushed over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder, before whirling around and yelling at the empty room, “I’ve heard enough of your voice!”
No laughter this time, just a cough. “But of course. I’m sure Keta wishes to look around and remember his childhood. I’ll leave you to your explorations.” And then he was gone again. But he was still watching of course.
“I’m going to kill that guy!” Max shouted.
Forsythe was the voice of reason. “Calm down, Max. It would be unwise to rush ahead and become separated. The one who knows the most about this place is not in the best condition right now. We must exercise caution until he recovers.” The Demon was talking about him as if he couldn’t hear him.
Pent had walked over to him and knelt down. “Is he telling the truth, Night?” Pent asked bluntly. Despite everything, he appreciated Pent being nonchalant about it, but his mind was still hazy. He wanted it to be a trick of some sort. But the way his mind had triggered memories at the sight of all this...no, he had to be sure of it all. He got up and made his way to the cell.
It was the same as the ones from before, but for some reason he felt something familiar as he stepped inside. And that feeling was horrid, so he stepped back quickly. There were charts set up, graphs, all those things that scientists used to keep data. They had destroyed them all when they liberated labs, so no one would use them again. But at the table beside it, he saw something. A journal. Subject K-27. Keta opened it and started looking through the pages. A few of them stood out to him
Subject K-27 has survived the initial process and remains in stable condition. So far, he remains the only pureblood subject to live. We will continue to monitor the subject to see if he will survive the night.
Subject K-27 has reacted positively to being with subject K-11, who has in turn become noticeably less aggressive during his time with Subject K-27. We have given Subject K-27 the name Keta, and told him that Subject K-11 is his brother. They will be grouped together for testing from now on.
Subject K-27 has been showing poor results on all performance exams. His Kitaan potential should be exemplary, but he is not reacting to combat as well as we had planned. We will continue to record data, but should consider the fact that Subject K-27 simply lacks the aptitude for combat.
Subject K-11 has been assisting Subject K-27 in his performance exams. At first, we were going to intervene, but the supervising officer allowed it. Their results were astounding. We are already reworking our theories, now that this partnership has occurred. We will begin new studies immediately.
Subject K-11 and Subject K-27 have begun acting quite odd. Subject K-11 has become violent and can only be appeased by Subject K-27. This is most likely due to his age, but the supervising officer is concerned. He does not believe that Subject K-11 can be controlled any longer. He has sent word to the homeland, to see what their opinion is. If Subject K-11 is discarded, what will become of Subject K-27?
And then there was no more. Keta...he had merely been a test subject, born in a lab. Subject K-27 and Subject K-11, pawns of the Empire. Who knew how they had made him suffer here, how many had suffered before they had perfected their twisted experiments. Forsythe was leafing through the book he had just dropped now. Keta could do nothing but lean against the cell door.
“Is he really telling the truth?” Pent had walked over to him, seemingly uninterested in the things that were around. Luna and Max were looking at another cell with the name Subject K-11, and the name Sarel Night was carved underneath. So his brother had been here too.
With a sigh, Keta waved at the various charts and journals in the room. “All of this...proof.”
Forsythe growled and tossed the book aside. He rounded on Keta. “Do you finally see, Keta? Look around you. These are the Humans you would protect from the Brotherhood of Shadows. I ask you, are they really worth defending?”
Keta could say nothing to this. He had always seen the good in people. Was his mission flawed? And if he could be disheartened so easily, did he even deserve to call himself a member of Sanction?
“Snap out of it, Night. I sympathize with your situation, but we have to find the others,” Pent said, walking over to him. “That person said that we just had to keep going further in, right? It’s about time we got some answers. We’ll worry about the rest later.”
Keta nodded, ashamed that he had forgotten their reason for being here in the first place. The people needed help. Only afterwards would he find the time to process all of this.
This time, Pent took the lead and Keta took the rear. “I’m sorry, Keta.” Max said from up ahead, but nothing else. Nobody spoke, the silence preparing them for whatever was next. At least Albert Warren had no more secrets to taunt him with. He was going to make sure that this scientist didn’t hurt anyone else.
He had subconsciously begun staring down at his hands, turning them over. Everything he was, was it by his own hand? He had been created, but for what purpose? Were the Humans planning on using him as a weapon, given his Kitaan blood. How had he come to be part of Sanction with the Master and the others in the first place? Was he...a spy? The thought was too terrible to bear. Had he caused the disaster that day somehow?
Forsythe’s words had resonated with him a little bit. The Humans of the Empire were guilty of some abhorrent things. But the Brotherhood’s solution was to simply exterminate them all. There had to be another answer. If only the Master and the Brotherhood of Shadows could see that. He was so very tired of fighting.
“What the…” Pent’s shocked voice trailed off. He had just gone through the door at the end of the hallway. Keta and the rest hurried to catch up and he could see now what had mystified the Demon boy. They were clearly underground, but they were standing in a large dome that resembled a grassy field. The Humans were quite clever to be able to manufacture environments indoors. And standing in the midst of this masterpiece was a bespectacled Human with impossible slick black hair wearing a white lab coat.
“Welcome, my friends, welcome,” the man said, spreading one hand in greeting. The other hand was holding a clipboard. The man was quite tall, and he had a pleasant smile on his face. But he knew that voice. “Allow me to introduce myself to you properly. I am Albert Warren. Welcome to Genesis. Such a pleasure to have you all here.”
“Cut the crap,” Pent said, “The only reason I haven’t already come at you, sword in hand, is because I need to know where the Darkrune clan villagers are.”
“My my, aren’t we impatient. In the Empire, we of the upper echelon are courteous to even our enemies. However, it seems to be lost upon you rabble,” Warren sneered, with a frivolous wave of his hand. “But, if you so wish to see your friends, allow me to introduce Subject D-157.”
The man whistled and something burst through a door behind him. Keta could only think something, because it didn’t look like anything he’d seen before. It was a giant black muscular looking beast. With it’s long powerful arms ending in sharp claws and protruding fangs, it was little more than a monster. It bounded forward with unexpected speed for such a giant creature, but it stopped when Warren snapped his fingers.
Keta grimaced at this monster, who the man had called Subject D-157 with a horrible feeling in his gut. Luna was not clever enough to begin piecing this together. “What are you talking about? I said to bring out my people. If I have to plow through your monster to get answers, I will!” She said.
“You fiend! How could you do this?” Forsythe’s angry shout startled Luna, who turned around to face him. He was staring at Warren and his monster with fury in his eyes, pointing at them. “Luna, he’s...that maniac has done something horrible. That beast is...it’s all that is left of the clan…”
Luna’s eyes went wide. Keta had guessed this, but it didn’t make the revelation any less horrific. Pent had heard enough, and he drew the ice blade of his, Susanoo, attempting to pierce the Human through the heart. He was forced to give up his assault and retreat when the monster moved to intercept, his large forearm slashing the air where he had been.
The Human waved a finger at them. “So sorry, my friends, but this creature is loyal to me. Genetic coding at it’s finest. You should be proud of course. Most don’t survive the process. But your people were of solid body and mind, and with each death, better research, making me closer and closer to my perfect results. And now look upon the masterpiece of scientific ingenuity, the glorious Terror Demon!” He was gazing upon the monstrosity as a mother would a newborn.
“No...no it can’t be. Everyone is…” Luna began to mutter, but trailed off. Then she clenched her fists and let out a loud wail. “I’m gonna...I’m gonna kill you!” With reckless abandon, she flung herself at Warren.
“You idiot!” Pent shouted, and he ran to cover her. Max followed after them. With the three of them covering the approach, Keta felt it would be better to stay back and watch the situation. At the very least, he should be close to protect Forsythe.
Luna must have seen the approach of the monster and she did a very agile leap over the attempt to impale her on it’s claws. Max had come from behind and went to tackle it at the waist. Pent took the opportunity while the man’s bodyguard was busy to pick up where his last attack failed, this time going for the man’s neck.
And there was something strange that happened. Max plunged straight through the monster, falling flat on his face. Pent’s sword passed harmlessly through Warren’s neck. When both of these happened, Keta noticed that Warren and the monster flickered briefly when their bodies were touched.
“Everyone, get back! Something’s not right. There’s some kind of illusion,” Forsythe yelled out, but it was too late. Blood spurted from Luna’s shoulder, the monster appearing out of thin air. If she hadn’t moved, the claws that cut her would have pierced her heart. Pent fared better in the surprise attack, his reflexes allowing him to stop a knife that had been aimed at his throat with the flat of his blade.
Max hit the monster (the real one, as the previous one vanished) with a rising fist, knocking it backwards a few paces, but no more. Pent grabbed Luna and retreated to where Keta and Forsythe were waiting, with Max holding the line against this monster. The false Warren slowly faded into nothing and a new one appeared further down by the door in the room.
“Forsythe, take Luna, she’s hurt. Do something to stop the bleeding,” Pent ordered, handing the girl to the Brotherhood Demon, who nodded without complaint, already tearing part of his robes off to use. With that taken care of, he turned back to the action, where Max was grappling with the monster while Warren stood in the back. “All right, what in the hell was that? Does that monster have some kind of magical power?”
“No,” Forsythe said, as he wrapped Luna’s shoulder with the strips of cloth. “I...know a little about these Terror Demons, the Master was calling them. They are mindless beasts, all power. As crazy as this sounds, I think that power, the illusion thing, is coming from him.” He pointed at Warren, who was watching Max and the monster fight, writing on his clipboard at the same time.
“Hey, can one of you idiots stop talking over there and give me a hand?” Max managed to grunt, holding the giant monster’s arms from cutting into him. Keta grabbed Abyss and went to help him, but before he could cut into the beast, Warren was in front of him, and he jabbed at him with a sharp knife.
Keta was kind of amazed. He moved fast for a Human. But Keta was faster, and he dodged the blade rather than parry the blow, sinking his sword into Warren’s chest. “Blast it, another illusion,” Keta muttered, as his sword plowed through air, the smiling face of Warren disappearing into nothing. He instead slashed at the Terror Demon, who had seen the attack coming and leapt backwards, landing in a feral stance on all fours.
Max limped over to Keta. His clothes were cut up and he himself had a few scrapes that were bleeding, but mostly he looked tired. “That thing is very strong, stronger than me. And that’s hard for me to say,” Max said with a sigh. “It doesn’t help that something is messing with my mind. I’m seeing things and I don’t know what is real or not. I can only react at the last second because of my Demon eyes. It’s kind of pissing me off.”
The Terror Demon was hissing at them, and Albert Warren was watching them, furiously writing on his clipboard. “Such marvelous data,” he was saying. The sight of him being so casual was annoying to Keta.
“Is there anything that we can do?” Luna had gotten up, her shoulder wrapped. Everyone understood she was speaking about the Terror Demon, who was once one of her clan. Looking over at the snarling beast that stood opposite them, Keta could only imagine how little chance of that there was.
And sure enough, it was Forsythe who said, “I am sorry. Something like that, it’s methods are crass. There would be no reversing that. The kindest thing we could do is put it out of its misery.”
Luna stared at the monster, and then turned back to the others. She used her arm to wipe away the tears, for she had been crying. Now her face showed her determination. “Keta, Pent. Can the two of you deal with the Human. That thing...whatever it is now, it was once one of us. Max and I should be the one to lay them to rest. And we can’t do it if the Human is messing with our minds.”
Keta agreed that it would be the kindest thing they can do. He nodded, and now that everyone understood their roles, split off. This time Luna led the charge against the monster, evading it’s jaws and blindsiding it. Max was about to join her, but he started to retreat, swinging his fists at the air. Was he being hindered by an illusion again? The monster was busy, so it seemed like Forsythe’s hypothesis was correct. In that case…
“All right, Albert Warren, it’s time you surrender. You are outnumbered,” Keta said, when he and Pent had taken up positions on either side to surround the Human. Even if this guy was as skilled at magic as Forsythe assumed, there was no way he would be able to take on both him and Pent. The young Demon swordsman would easily be able to take out a single Human, which was good, because Keta was still flustered.
The Human, who had been watching Max and Luna fight the Terror Demon, seemed to have just noticed that the two of them were watching him. “Oh please, as if I wouldn’t be able to deal with you. I’ve been taking notes on your fighting styles up until now,” Warren said, tapping the board. “Your power isn’t even enough to make me wary.”
“Yeah, keep talking Human. We’ll see how much trash you spew with a blade through your chest. I’ll show you the difference between us,” Pent issued the challenge and he committed to an overhead slash. With incredible dexterity, Warren had tossed his pen aside, reached down and grabbed a knife from inside his coat. He held it up, with the back of the clipboard for support in an attempt to block the attack...and he did.
“Oh, there’s no need to tell me the difference between Humans and Demons. I know it all too well,” Warren said, a gleam in his eyes, and he pushed Pent away with a shove of his knife and board. Pent was astounded by the strength the man possessed, and chose not to continue his assault.
“Those movements...that strength. He’s no Human…” Pent said.
That familiar condescending laughter. “You are partly correct, little boy. I am a Human, frail in comparison to the wonders of the Demon body. However, with the advances in genetic engineering, that can be corrected. My genes have been combined with those of Demons. Quite fascinating, the result.”
That would explain the strength, and the magic. “You Humans are always exploiting us!” Pent said. He was keeping his eye on the Empire doctor. When Keta didn’t respond, he yelled loudly, “Night, you need to snap out of it!”
Keta had been thinking about himself and his ties to this place to the point that he hadn’t even been paying attention. The Human had somehow moved from the spot he was a moment ago, right in front of him, with a knife raised, ready to strike. There was no way for him to react in time to defend himself, and there was nothing to do but await the end.
Pent had come running in, tackling Keta out of the way. He was too slow and he took the blow meant for Keta, yelling as the blade pierced his skin. Keta crashed to the ground, and it seemed like the world was slowed to a crawl, seeing Pent in Warren’s grasp. Pushing off against the ground, he found his sword and aimed a cut above the Human’s shoulder.
It was for naught, for the Human was gone again, like some kind of nightmare hallucination. Pent fell to the ground, the blood from the wound staining his tunic. Keta looked over to see Warren a distance away, his pen in hand scribbling away at that clipboard of his.
Pent lifted himself to his feet, but stumbled. Keta stepped over to help him. “I’m sorry, Pent!” He reached out a hand to help the boy steady himself, but Pent angrily slapped his hand away.
“Don’t be an idiot, Night. Keep your eyes on that guy. He’s dangerous!” Pent’s eyes were narrowed, his red eyes focused completely on Albert Warren. Keta realized that the young Demon was panicking, his initial assessment of the Human proving false. “That magic he’s using is messing with my senses. We’ve got to react within seconds of his attack…I can’t even see it with my own eyes.”
Pent was in shock from the wound, but he was right. They were being messed with by this Human, who could somehow bend the rules of the world. And until they could find a way to counter it, they were at the mercy of this psychopathic Human.
Max had learned early on to conquer his fears. Having grown up in a village that wasn’t his own, he had been used to being ostracized. His mother had always told him how strong he was. He had used to fight as a means to fit in. Whenever anybody had made fun of him for being an outsider, he would beat them up. It earned him no friends and so he had ended up even lonelier It had been the happiest day of his life when he had been in a fight and it had ended in a stalemate.
That was the first time he’d talked with Luna. She had heard about all the fighting he’d been doing and came to put an end to it. He’d laughed about a girl trying to tell him what to do and she’d hit him harder than he’d ever been hit in his life. In his rage, he’d hit her and he realized that she’d not gone down like the others, instead getting up to fight. She was tough and she’d given him the fight of his life. He’d been battered and bruised, but he had never felt more alive.
And now, he was holding an eight foot tall monster in a headlock while Luna tackled it’s legs from behind. It was funny how life worked. But humor had no place when facing against an abomination, and it reeled it’s massive head and flung Max off. He landed with absolutely no amount of grace and saw Luna get kicked away from the beast. This thing was strong, that was for sure.
That didn’t matter to him, and he pushed himself off the ground. He was enjoying himself, the thrill of a greater challenge. He rammed into the monster who had been aiming to impale Luna; for all the good it did. The Terror Demon was only mildly annoyed and it swung a giant arm at Max. He blocked it as he would any punch, but the creature was just too powerful, swatting him aside with ease and sending him falling backwards.
He crashed onto the grassy floor and looked up at the ceiling, in pain, but with a smile on his face. Luna ran over to him with an extended hand that he took, heaving himself up. “The two of us side by side brings back memories, huh?”
“Cut the crap, Max,” Luna said, brushing the hair from her face. “This thing is too tough to fight with fists. Why aren’t you just lighting this thing up?”
Max had been having too much fun. He didn’t want to admit it, but he was pretty sure this thing was too much for brute strength. With a sigh, he said, “I wouldn’t use my flames in such an enclosed area so recklessly, Luna. I’ll end up hitting you or Keta and the kid. I’ll have to wait until I get the right opportunity. Besides, this thing ain't so tough.” He was lying of course, but he had to put on a brave face.
Luna wiped away some sweat from her face. She knew they were in mortal peril as well, but Max knew her well enough to know that part of her was feeling alive from the fight. They needed to win, not just to advance, but for the sake of their clanmates. And glancing over at Pent and Keta, he could see they were struggling against the Human, however ridiculous that sounded.
“Max!” Max had been so distracted that the shout almost came too late and he moved to avoid massive jaws clamping shut on his torso. Looking at the sharp teeth, he realized that he would be pretty dead if those managed to get a hold of him. But he had an opening. All he needed to do was lay his hands on the beast and set it aflame.
His plan worked, to an extent. He ignited the beast’s flank and it howled in pain, whirling around and striking at Max with it’s great muscular arms. Max felt the blow connect, but he didn’t bother to dodge it, opting to inflict as much damage as possible. But as he crashed to the ground, he could definitely feel his ribs rattling.
The beast was panicked, it’s backside on fire. It was the chance he was waiting for, and he knew Luna would take it. She was already running, and the monster saw her, was ready for her. It slashed at her with a great claw, and it caught her across the chest, but too late to stop her fist. And it was all over. Keta and Pent had no idea, but Max and Forsythe had always seen her true power up close.
Max smiled. Nobody, not even himself, could match Luna’s power.
Pent saw the flames, and watched the girl approach the Terror Demon. But he had not been expecting what happened next. With such resounding force, Luna had hit the creature. No, hit was not the right word. She had impaled the beast.
And now he was looking at a girl only a few years older than him holding a massive monster in the air with one hand, her hand plunged into the monster’s chest. In its death throes, the body squirmed and wailed, it’s tongue lashing violently, before it finally dropped it’s head and lay still. Luna tossed the body aside, her hand holding a bloody heart.
I’ll never call a woman weak again, Pent decided then and there.
“Wh...what? My precious Subject D-157 has been defeated?” Albert Warren, who had been so calm and collected since their meeting, had finally shown some emotion. He had dropped his clipboard in his distress, rushing over to his creation.
Pent was still clutching at his wound, but he made no move against the deranged scientist. He was in worse shape than he wanted to admit, and he was sure that with the monster dead the others could handle the Human. At least, he assumed it was dead, Luna had ripped the damn thing’s heart out.
“Your creature is dead, Human. And now it’s your turn,” Luna said, throwing the heart aside. With her face and body covered in blood, she looked like an absolute monster, and Pent was glad the girl was on their side. She was slowly advancing on the Human when he thrust up his hands.
He never had a chance to defend himself or use any of his illusions. The others may have been complacent, but not Pent. In an instant, he had made his way to the Human and had pierced his chest from behind. Albert Warren gasped, blood escaping his mouth as the blood forced itself up from the wound, unable to talk.
Luna walked up to him, unhindered and raised a hand to strike. “No!” Pent said loudly, enough to give the girl pause. He hated this Human and now that he had killed him, he was content. But to brutalize a corpse was a cowardly thing to do. “The strike was fatal. He is already dead.” And indeed, the Human struggled again, but it slowly faded and then the life was gone from him.
Pent pulled his blade from the Human, and his lifeless body slid to the ground, a pool of blood forming beneath him. Luna, from where he was standing, her eyes furious slits, lips forming a scowl and covered in blood, was quite imposing. She made an annoyed sound, but turned away. “I should have had the privilege of killing him for what he did to my clan. It was my right to kill him.”
Pent understood how she felt. Unlike Keta, this girl understood honor and a warrior’s pride. And he felt a pang of sadness that he had robbed her of it to save her life. But as the girl reached Max and helped him to his feet, Max beamed at him. “Don’t let her mood bother you, kid. I saw what you did. You saved her and I owe ya for that.”
Luna smacked him on the back of the head. “Hey, nobody asked you for your opinion,” she said harshly, but Pent could see that the girl had a smile on her face. Forsythe was laughing as he went to join them, and the three began talking amongst themselves.
“Was this the only way for this to end?” Keta had moved to where Albert Warren’s body lay. He could see the sadness in his eyes.
That sadness pissed Pent off. Was he really thinking of an outcome where he could have saved the Human? Albert Warren had done everything in his power to kill them and had sacrificed much of his kin to create his abominations. He had no regrets in killing him.
Keta looked at Pent, and all he could see was kindness in the silver haired boy. That kindness was going to get him killed one day. Had he been pulling his attacks during the fight? In a real battle, death could come in seconds and that had been Albert Warren’s downfall. He was not a warrior, not a soldier. He had great power, but he was careless. He was reckless, losing his composure at the sight of his creature being defeated. And it had killed him.
And, Pent was sure, Keta would end up the same way, with a blade in his back. Pent sighed, thinking that this person who had become his partner, would be so troublesome. But he was also worried. If the Empire was this far along with genetics and biological engineering, it would only be a matter of time before real soldiers were given these enhancements.
He shuddered at the thought of highly trained warriors given powers like...whatever magic Albert Warren had been using. Instead of dwelling on it any further, he made his way to the remains of the Terror Demon, and he was joined by the other three Demons.
Luna began to perform the funeral rites as was ritual for Demons, and Pent listened in silent reverence. When she was done, she stepped aside and nodded at Max. The Demon raised his hands and the flames erupted from them, engulfing the body. He kept the flames going on until the body was incinerated to nothing. Pent said a silent prayer to his fallen comrades.
No words were said for Albert Warren, who Max incinerated by silent consent. Nobody wanted whatever was in that scientist’s DNA to get back to the Empire, though Pent heard Keta mutter what sounded like a prayer for the man. Softhearted fool, Pent thought to himself with disgust.
When everything was finished, Max was the first to speak. “I...think it’s best that everything be destroyed in here. Whatever all those things were, I think this world would be better without it.” Everyone looked at the other, and they each nodded in agreement. “Good. Then you all need to get out of here, because I am gonna burn it all to the ground.”
And so they had all done as was told, evacuated the building while Max did his thing on the lab inside. Luna had moved to sit beside the melted door, her head drooping as she dozed off, leaving Pent and Keta with Forsythe.
Forsythe was glaring at the two of him with an unreadable expression. Pent held his gaze with an equal expression. This Demon held little threat to him, even if he did wear the Brotherhood’s colours. “So, what happens now?” Pent asked the question they were all thinking.
“It’s the same as it was before. Either end your ridiculous vendetta against the Brotherhood of Shadows or be put down,” Forsythe said. Pent felt amazed that the Demon who possessed no combat abilities would speak to him so calmly.
Pent let out a chuckle. “You sure are confident. Your muscle is off torching the lab and your friend is taking a nap. I could take you out in a single strike,” Pent said, and to emphasize his point, half drew his weapon, enough to let the light hit the blade just right to make it shine.
A smug smile appeared on Forsythe’s face, and despite himself, Pent grew agitated by it. “I am but a harbinger of the Brotherhood. A speaker and devout follower, if you will. Killing me would do nothing to aid you against the Brotherhood of Shadows. Besides, I’m pretty sure your companion would have qualms with you killing an unarmed man,” Forsythe said, nodding at Keta.
Forsythe was refusing to be provoked, and it was impressive. He knew Keta’s temperament, and he was making assumptions based on that. And besides, he was right. Killing this useless Demon would do nothing for him in his mission. The real threat was Max. And Luna as well, if he chose to antagonize them too much.
“Forsythe, I don’t want to fight you. But the Brotherhood can’t be allowed to operate as it is,” Keta spoke up. Pent rolled his eyes. Of course the Kitaan would try to be diplomatic about all this. As if this could end any other way. Pent was already devising strategies in his head to defeat his potential enemies. The two continued to argue about this and that, and Pent walked away, already weary of the conversation.
He knew he shouldn’t walk too far from the others, as they were enemies and their truce could end at any moment, but he didn’t care too much at the time. Max wouldn’t start a fight before he was back, he was sure, and Forsythe angered him. He was arrogant for a weakling.
He walked for several minutes, in no particular direction. He was not expecting to see her. Formetis stood opposite him. “Hello, Pent.”
Pent started to feel tense. They were outnumbered now. He had to do something. He could kill her before she joined her allies. His hand instinctively reached for his sword. Pent you idiot, this is Formetis… he thought inwardly. He ended up saying nothing.
“Still haven’t forgiven me, huh? I figured as much,” Formetis said with a hint of sadness. She folded her arms and let her shoulders slump.
Pent found his voice. “What do you want, Formetis?”
“Straight to the point, that’s so like you. Very well. I’ve been watching you. You and Keta and the others. I think you are still trying to stop us. I’ve come to ask that you desist.” Formetis declared.
Pent was in no mood for games. In an instant, his sword was in his hand. “I’ve had enough of this nonsense, Formetis. I already told you what would happen if you got in my way again, right?”
He tried to search for any emotions on the girl. Fear? Sadness? Regret? This was the same girl he had found injured and broken outside his territory after all. She had been a mess. The last time he had seen her, he had been recovering from his battle with Dranon and he had denounced her. He had said it in anger, but he had meant it.
Formetis looked at him with doleful eyes, rubbing her hands together. When she spoke, it was barely a whisper. “I told you not to come after us. I didn’t want you to get hurt.”
Pent wished the girl would go away. He was so tired of fighting with her. “I already told you that I wouldn’t stop until I rescued my sister. If you don’t want me to continue to fight, then bring her to me. Bring me back my sister!” Pent had started shouting now, and he wondered if the others had heard him.
Formetis stopped fidgeting with her hands and she looked straight into his eyes. There was something different in them, as if something had been resolved in her mind. “This isn’t a fight you can win with swords,” she said in a low whisper. She began to glow with that strange purple light. “You can’t beat me.”
Pent’s mouth gaped open from surprise. Was...this girl going to fight him? An unwanted smile crept to his face. He never had intended to fight Formetis. But… “All right. I did warn you. Allow me to show you a Demon’s resolve.”
“All right, I’m all done!” Keta heard Max’s voice from inside and a moment later, he emerged from the lab.
Keta felt relieved to hear that the Empire’s research had been destroyed, but also to see Max. The Demon was much friendlier than Forsythe, who had been giving him the evil eye ever since Pent had gone wandering off. “Thank you, Max. It’s for the best that nobody ever sees what was in there,” Keta said.
Max smiled at him, but a look from Forsythe wiped the smile from his face. “So...what happens now? I mean, we killed the Human responsible for the tragedy that befell our clan. But…”
Forsythe stepped up to his friend. “Our alliance was a temporary one after all. He is an enemy of the Brotherhood of Shadows. Even if we were to all walk away from this, it would be inevitable before we had to fight each other. Our ideals differ after all.”
Forsythe would not be compromising in his insistence on dealing with them as a threat. He had been against teaming up with them in the first place, and had only reluctantly agreed at Luna’s urging. But Max he could tell was still conflicted. Luna did not seem to be associated with the Brotherhood, but would she stand by while her friends fought? At the very least, if he could stop Pent from killing either of them, she may remain content to stay neutral.
Max had been able to defeat him in their earlier fight, but that was only because Keta had underestimated him. He had not known that Max was a greater Demon, capable of immense power. Even so, he was not afraid. He would use his full powers this time if need be.
“Maybe...maybe we don’t have to fight. Keta...the Humans need to be stopped, surely that whole display in there showed you that,” Max said, and Keta could hear genuine pleading in the Demon’s voice. Keta felt bad that he had been thinking only about defeating him now. “Especially with what we learned about what they did to you. I don’t exactly understand it all but the Empire is no friend of yours. Why not join us?”
Keta had not been expecting that from him. He had sensed that Max was different from his companion, and despite his great strength, Keta could sense an innocent kindness from him. But he didn’t understand that their two paths stood on opposite moral grounds.
Max wasn’t finished though. “Yeah, what about it Forsythe? It might take some convincing the kid, but after all we accomplished together, maybe he’d see reason. If they could just meet the Master, perhaps they would understand.”
The Master… “I’ve already met the Master, Max. We used to travel together, but our...ideals conflicted. The last time we met he nearly killed me.”
“You should be happy the Master was gracious enough to let you live. He could end your life without a second thought if he willed it.” A typical fanatic response from Forsythe.
But Max’s eyes widened when he heard this. “Wait, you know the Master? And you’ve travelled alongside him? So then why…”
“Ugh, you people are so loud!” Luna had woken up from her little nap. She yawned and stretched, making her way over to the three of them while rubbing her eyes. “What’d I miss? Where’s the kid?” Keta told the girl that Pent had gone for a walk, so she shrugged. “Max, I still need to talk. After all, that’s why I was out here looking for you.”
“Why were you out looking for me? I told you I’d come visit you. If you’d been at the village, then maybe…” Max said, but he trailed off into silence. “You know very well I was not welcome in the village. That’s why we had our meeting spot.”
“This couldn’t wait! It was very important!” Luna insisted, waving her hands as if to prove her point. “Look, it’s a little...can we talk. In private?” And she grabbed Max’s arm and dragged him off and out of earshot.
And so with Pent gone and the two others away now, Keta was left alone with Forsythe. The level of awkwardness was too much and he was going to break the silence, but the Demon beat him to it.
“I don’t hate you, Keta Night. Our ideals clash is all. I hate that your ideals prevent the dream our Master and the Brotherhood of Shadows work towards,” Forsythe said delicately. He was trying to speak politely now it seemed. “But...the Master would welcome you again.”
Keta didn’t really know how to respond. The shift in attitude was unexpected. Could it be that Max’s words had affected Forsythe? He must really be fond of his friend to try this tactic.
So he chose his words carefully. “Forsythe, the last thing I want to do is fight anyone. I wish for nothing more than to make peace with the Master. But do you know what the Brotherhood intends to do?”
Forsythe met his gaze without blinking. “Yes. To finally bring peace to our people, all the Humans must be exterminated. But you already knew that, didn’t you.”
“Yes, but does Max?” Keta said, with a pang of realization. And sure enough, he saw the Demon look away. “Whatever you think of me, you have to at least tell him what he’s getting into. Max wants to help the clans and you are exploiting that.”
“Yes...you are right. As much as it pains me to admit, I can do nothing for my people. Well, at least anything that involves fighting. I am not like you and Max. I am not a warrior, my body is frail. I can only help with my loyalty,” Forsythe said proudly.
He was clearly devoted to the Master, and that made him dangerous. Not with blades, but as a follower gifted with words. He could stoke the masses, and his deposition made him appeal to the average civilian. Master Inferno was clever in recruiting him.
Keta sighed. There would be no persuading him. He sat down on the ground instead. “Are you going to kill me?” He asked simply.
“Have you been listening to anything I’ve said?” Forsythe said, and he crossed his arms, turning away. “Look, I am grateful for your help. I...you helped us avenge our clan. I preferred you when I didn’t know you, just another enemy to the Brotherhood. But now that I know you aren’t some kind of monster trampling on Demon’s advancing in life...it just makes it harder, you know.”
Keta laid down on his back. He felt a little more at ease around the Demon having heard this. “Then make sure you think about that. Because I could be one of those millions of lives you and the Master intend to destroy.” Before he could get a response, Max came running back with Luna following behind.
“Forsythe! You’ll never guess what!” Max said, grabbing his friend in a giant bear hug. Before the Demon could even respond, he blurted out, “I’m going to be a father!”
So he hadn’t been imagining it. Keta had noticed the bond between Luna and Max was quite intimate. Now it made sense. The two weren’t just friends. They were lovers. Keta had only known the muscular Demon for a few hours, but seeing Max with such a look of joy on his face made Keta smile.
But something was wrong. Max had put Forsythe down and still had that great big grin on his face, and his friend should have been sharing in his happiness. Instead, his face was blank. “That is...unfortunate,” Forsythe said simply.
“Huh? What do you mean, buddy? I thought you’d be happy for me.”
Forsythe turned and pointed to Luna. “I would be, but I assume that Luna is the mother, yes?” That funny feeling you get before something bad happens? Keta was starting to feel it.
Luna simply let out a laugh, that lasted for a few seconds. “Well of course I am. You think this big idiot would be in any shape to be moving about if I found out he’d been messing around with some other girls?” She said, jabbing him playfully on the shoulder.
He didn’t return the smile, and the gesture made Luna’s grin fade. “That makes this...even harder than I thought it would be. The Brotherhood’s next target is… I’m sorry Max, I didn’t want to tell you, but it’s Luna.”
That had shifted the mood and nobody spoke for a moment. Max had tried to laugh, but the look on Forsythe’s face silenced it. Finally, he said, “No, that can’t be right. There’s no way something like that...we were supposed to get a maiden and…” but he trailed off. He seemed to be realizing exactly why they had come to the mountains now.
“Forsythe…” was all Luna could manage to say.
So this was the same as back in the Frostclaw Village. Back there, Ophelia had been targeted by the Brotherhood of Shadows. And now they were after Luna. The Master was kidnapping young Demon girls. What could they possibly be up to. Even if they had not been responsible for what had happened in Darkrune Village, it may have ended up a massacre regardless...
Nobody else spoke, so Forsythe cleared his throat. “I...we’re under orders to bring her to the Master.” He was trying to speak casually, even amidst the glare of Luna.
Max was quick to respond, his voice rising. “No way! There’s no way I’d ever do that!” He said. He might not have noticed that his fists were clenched too tightly.
His outburst had seemingly angered Forsythe, who rounded on him. “Don’t let your emotions cloud your resolve. You would deny the Brotherhood in our time of need?” The Brotherhood Demon demanded. Despite himself, he walked forward and grabbed Max’s collar.
In an instant, Luna had slapped Forsythe’s hand away and he backed off, holding the affected hand gingerly. “Hmph, you speak as if I’m not standing right here,” Luna said, placing her hands on her hips. “How exactly were you planning on capturing me?”
Forsythe rubbed his hand one more time before letting it fall to his side. When he spoke, it was with a wounded voice. “Your words insult me, Luna. Did we not grow up together as children? Don’t you think I would have tried to convince to come along without violence?” He said, placing a hand to his temple.
Luna let out a sarcastic laugh. “Then you remember how stubborn I was as a child.”
Forsythe threw up his hands as if he had given up. “As I figured. But that is why he is here,” he said, pointing to Max. His usual smugness was gone.
“Oh yes. Don’t you remember? Back in the village, you two were the strongest fighters, but you were equally matched. Who else could defeat her?” Forsythe pointed out.
“You thought wrong. Luna is the one person I could never hurt,” Max muttered under his breath.
Keta wondered if they remembered that he was even there. He felt like he was stepping into a giant family drama. He had to stop them from taking Luna, but he couldn’t act rashly. Suddenly he was wishing Pent was at his side.
And then he heard something he wished he hadn’t. “But...perhaps my words could reach you?” Max said, saying the words carefully and soothingly. He walked over to Luna and looked her in the eyes. “Come with us. If the Brotherhood of Shadows has use of you, then why not? There is nothing left for you here. We could be together again.”
Keta wasn’t really sure what made him do it. His body just seemed to react on it’s own. In an instant, his sword was in his hand and he ran at Max, who turned to him with a bewildered expression and backed off at the fierceness of his demeanor as Keta put himself between Max and Luna.
He could see the look of shock on the Demon’s face. “Keta? What the hell are you doing?”
But Keta wasn’t looking at Max, not really. No, his attention was focused on Forsythe. “Well, Forsythe? How long do you plan to keep Max in the dark. You haven’t told him why you need Luna yet, have you?”
Those words meant nothing to Luna or Max, but Keta and Forsythe understood. There was no need for him to mince words here. Forsythe may have been conflicted in his dealing with Keta, but he would never betray the Brotherhood of Shadows, that much was certain. “It matters not what they need her for. Isn’t that right, Max? The Master’s will must be upheld.”
Max’s head was bowed and he let out a sigh. “Keta, you don’t understand. The Master knows Luna is precious to me and he wouldn’t let her come to harm.”
Keta could tell that Max believed that. But… “There was a time where he wouldn’t have. But I’ve seen the way that he does things now. He…”
He was cut off by Max. “And just what the hell do you know about him?” Max shouted. Keta was taken aback by the ferocity in his voice. “You travelled with him you say? Fought alongside him. But how can you know him better than blood? There is no way that you could understand my uncle better than I!”
The revelation hit Keta like a splash of water on his face. Everything that had happened today had happened so fast that he hadn’t time to notice. Max’s fire powers resembled his former Master’s, albeit unrefined and sloppy. He couldn’t believe it. “Master Inferno is your uncle?” He voiced his amazement.
The Master had never spoken about family in his time with Keta. He had once said Keta was like a son to him, half in jest, but there was some warmth in his statement. He had never expected him to have a nephew that was his age.
“You talk so high and mighty because you used to run with him. He’s family to me,” Max said, pounding his chest. “That is why I cannot defy my brotherhood. I won’t betray my family.”
Any chance Keta thought he had of swaying Max from the Brotherhood had gone out the window. Demons held family above all else, and there was no way Max would turn against his uncle without enough cause. And Keta simply didn’t have the words to reach him right now in his heated state.
But perhaps one more attempt would be worth it. If Keta was anything else, he was an optimist. “Max, if you let them take Luna…”
“Shut up!” Max roared and lifted a hand into a fist, erupting into a bright flame before it disappeared. It was clearly meant as a show of force. “You’ve insulted my family’s pride and the Brotherhood of Shadows long enough. We’ve given you enough opportunity to leave us alone. This is your last chance.”
Tch… where the hell was Pent? Keta thought to himself. His hand had been forced. There was no more talking. Luna he was fairly sure would not fight against him, so it was a fight between him and Max. And this time…
He came in with a cut from above, aiming to slash from shoulder to waist. It would be a debilitating wound, and end this battle right away. But he was underestimating Max, who saw the attack coming and retreated to evade the strike, throwing his fists up in a fighting stance and Keta decided against pursuit now that his opponent had a defense up.
“So this is your answer? So be it. I won’t go easy on you this time, and I wager you won’t either, given the trouncing I gave you earlier,” Max said, and despite everything, he smirked. But it was gone right away, and he lifted his hands.
Keta reacted in time to avoid the jet of flame that came after. He hit the ground rolling and kicked off, ready to strike. Even if Max had the power of fire, he was still unarmed and it was a death wish to face a swordsman without any weapon to protect oneself.
Max lifted his hands into the air and Keta could see the flames forming at the base around him. He abandoned the attack as a flame wall rose up around the Demon and began tossing fire recklessly.
Keta rolled under the flames and ducked behind some rocks. He began to sweat as the fire blasted around him and he had to jump back from the heated earth. He needed to wait for a chance when Max would need to recharge his powers.
There! Keta saw the last of the fire leave Max’s palms and he approached. This was it, he had the advantage, and he aimed a cut across the Demon’s chest. And then Max lit on fire. Not surrounded himself with fire, but engulfed in flames. His hair, his face, his clothes (which oddly didn’t seem to be incinerating itself). And suddenly, Keta was afraid. He knew this technique, one of Master Inferno’s.
He took Keta’s sword. In exchange, Keta took Max’s flaming fist. Keta was slammed into a tree, a reminder of the Demon’s monstrous strength. Keta’s clothing was fireproof. He was not. He scrambled to put the flames that licked at his body out, but they had already done some damage to him. He struggled to his feet, panting as he did so.
Max’s flames had gone out as well, and he clutched at the wound Keta had inflicted with a burning hand. The trade had left them both injured. Max smiled despite this. “I like your style, Keta. Not many would challenge the Flames of Rage head on. But in doing so, you’ve ensured my victory.” And he charged Keta again.
Keta realized that he had been the worse for wear in that exchange. His blade had not cut deep enough. Whether a result of his reluctance to land a killing blow or Max’s technique didn’t matter. In the end, he couldn’t win. His sword moved to slow and in an instant, Max had disarmed him. Keta tried to fight back, but he was hit with a powerful punch to the stomach that doubled him over and then a crushing blow to his jaw that sent him crashing to the ground.
Laying flat on his back, he realized how much he needed Pent’s help. He couldn’t move, his energy had been spent from the fight with Albert Warren, and the beating he’d just taken. He’d been careless again. Two hits were all that the powerful Demon had needed to disable him.
Max walked over to him, cautiously, but Keta hadn’t the strength to rise. Only when he was standing over him did he meet the Demon’s gaze. “Well? The battle is yours. Aren’t you going to finish me off? You are part of the Brotherhood, yes? That is what they do to enemies.” Keta said.
Max dusted off his hands, and Keta noticed why the fight had been so one sided. Max’s wound...he had cauterized it! This guy was more capable than he’d given credit for. He stared down at Keta. “Whatever...it may be the Brotherhood’s way, but it ain’t mine.” Max said and, satisfied that Keta wasn’t getting up, turned and walked away.
Beaten, but alive. That seemed to be the story of his life these days. Wherever Pent was, he hoped he had his guard up. For now, he could do nothing else. He decided that maybe...it was time to close his eyes for a little. Yes, he was so very tired.
Keta had been pulling his punches...again.
Max had already cauterized his wound, engulfing it in the purifying flames that he had come to control. But even so, Keta had not been trying to kill him. He wasn’t overly concerned with fighting swordsmen. He had strategies for dealing with their longer reach. But they had always possessed the killing intent, going for lethal strikes.
The kid would have aimed to kill. He could sense it in the way Pent held himself. He was a warrior after all. But not Keta. It made Max realize that deep down, Keta was a good guy. And that made it all the harder to understand. Because it meant that maybe he was telling the truth.
Forsythe had clapped him on the shoulder and walked over to look at Keta’s unconscious body. The look of joy on his face was apparent. “Excellent. You never cease to amaze me, Max. With Keta out of the way, the Brotherhood can operate more freely.”
The Brotherhood wanted Keta out of the picture. But why? Max did not trust most people who guarded their secrets so carefully. But Keta possessed a kindness and innocence to him.
He caught it out of the corner of his eye. Forsythe had lifted a knife from his robes and was raising it in the air. Without thinking, Max tackled his friend to the ground. He rolled off to the side as Forsythe shouted, “What the hell are you doing?”
Max turned his head to his friend, raising an eyebrow. “What? I should be asking you that. He’s already beaten, what were you thinking?” He was having a hard time believing what Forsythe had just tried to do.
Forsythe closed his eyes and sighed. “Max, you naive fool. You heard him. He made his choice. We offered him a chance to join us or leave. He’s an enemy. He must be dealt with as an enemy.”
Luna had come over to him and kneeling at his side. “Max…” was all she said, but he could already tell from the crack in her voice. The two of them had always had an unspoken bond, and could usually tell what the other was thinking. So Max decided to vocalize their thoughts.
“Forsythe...let’s leave the Brotherhood behind.” Another moment of silence. Max could not read his friend’s expression. So he continued. “My pride wouldn’t let me say it earlier, but Keta is right. I can’t just give Luna over to them, not after what he told me. I...don’t believe he would lie about something like that.”
His friend still wouldn’t answer him, so he decided to talk more. “The kid, he said that the Brotherhood of Shadows attacked his village and killed his father. He said they took his sister, just like what they’ve sent us to do with Luna. I thought he was lying to mess with me, but...what if it’s true? I...don’t see the justice in this.”
Forsythe lifted a hand to his head, covering his face with it. He then ran it through his hair with an exasperated sound. “Max...think about what it is you are saying. The Master…”
Max didn’t let him go on. “He is my uncle, yes. And yet, if he knew me at all, he would never ask me to make such a decision. I can’t...but look, you are one of us, Forsythe. Come with us. It’ll be just like old times.” Max said with a smile.
Forsythe did not return the gesture. “No, not like old times. Back then, when we were younger, it was just you and Luna. Big and tough Max and Luna...and their frail little friend Forsythe. Even back then, I was just an extra to your story.”
Max had not been prepared for the bitterness in Forsythe’s voice. He sounded even more tired than before. Luna had gotten up from Max’s side and walked over to Forsythe. She laid a hand gingerly over his. “Forsythe...you don’t mean any of that. We…”
Forsythe pulled away from her. “I need not your pity. However, I am a loyal member of the Brotherhood of Shadows, proudly. And I must fulfill my mission. Even if I have to go through you, Max.”
Max got to his feet slowly. He wondered how to proceed. He figured he would be delicate about it. “Forsythe, be reasonable. How could you possibly hope to defeat me?”
Forsythe glared at Max. “Right, because of course frail, fragile Forsythe can’t do anything by himself, is that it? When my family was captured to be experimented on by Humans, I was the only one they cast aside, too weak of a host. When everyone was dead, they had no use for me…”
His voice was hardened now. “But my friends...never came for me. No, it was the Master who saved me. I was nothing to him, not a warrior he could recruit. He didn’t care. He saved me because that’s what he does, what the Brotherhood of Shadows represents; to save Demons. And so yes, even if only as a speaker, I will serve the Brotherhood of Shadows.”
Luna let out a noise, and Max turned to see that she was crying. Max bowed his head. “Forsythe...what are you saying? What happened to your family?”
Forsythe’s grip on his dagger tightened. “As I said, after we left the village, we were captured by Humans who did unspeakable things to us. In the end, they all lost their lives. If the Master had not arrived to save me, I would have shared their fate.”
Max could not believe what he was hearing. It had not been long since Max had reunited with his old friend. And in that time, Forsythe had not once mentioned any of this to him. “Forgive me, my friend. I had no idea.”
“I did not say this to garner sympathy, Max. I say this because the Master saved me. And he is attempting to save all Demons who are suffering,” Forsythe said. “Just as you cannot betray Luna, I cannot betray the Master. I owe my life to him.”
The conviction in Forsythe’s voice moved Max. That his uncle had such a loyal follower was quite impressive. However, he knew that the man would never turn against the Brotherhood. “I am sorry, my friend. I spoke carelessly. I won’t force you to come with us, given your allegiance. But let us pass by.”
Max had hoped that his friend would have reconsidered. Whatever Forsythe was, he was his friend. But he understood his feelings too. To be the one more to him and Luna. But he would be damned if he let any harm come to Luna, especially when she was going to be the mother of his child.
“I’m afraid that is not possible.”
It was the answer he did not want to hear. Forsythe was the least imposing thing he could imagine. His friend...why did it have to come to this? And yet still, “I already told you. You can’t beat me.” Max said.
Forsythe shuffled uncomfortably. “As we are all aware. I’m not one who can stop someone like you. However, she is,” Forsythe said and pointed at something behind Max. Luna had turned around first, and Max followed suit.
A raven haired girl was coming up to them. She was dragging Pent behind her...dragging wasn’t the right term. Pent was behind her, but he was being pulled by an invisible force. She stopped her advance and waved her hand to the side. Pent was carried by the invisible force (no, not invisible, Max could see the purple energy surrounding Pent and the newcomer) to where Keta lay and placed beside him.
“Well now...what exactly is going on here?”
Formetis could feel it, the power that was coursing through her body. Master Inferno had told her that as they proceeded with their mission, the more maidens they captured, the more her powers would improve. She had not been expecting it to be so different.
She had delivered the girl, Pent’s sister, to Master Inferno. He had done everything else, set her upon the ritual altar. And he had sent her to aid the others. But he hadn’t told her what else would change with her. And now she realized she had new abilities. It was marvelous.
Pent had not been expecting it. And as she experimented with it, she realized that he wasn’t much of a match for her. Not in that weakened state she had found him in. It had been easy to defeat him. But she didn’t expect that Keta would be defeated as well.
Forsythe bowed to her. “Greetings Formetis. Good timing. We’ve found the girl that we need. I require your assistance.”
Formetis frowned. “Hang on a second. Why do you need my assistance? I took care of Pent, and Keta’s already been defeated.” He’d been briefed that the other guy with Forsythe was a new recruit as well. The girl was ripe for the taking.
But the new recruit had stepped in front of the girl, shielding her from Formetis. “That may be, but I’ve decided against taking the girl to the Master. I’m sorry, girl, but she’s a friend of mine. I’ll be taking her with me.”
Formetis raised an eyebrow. Why was he rebelling against them? She had come to the realization that Master Inferno was going to bring the Demon clans into the light.
“My friend, you don’t want to make the mistake of betraying the Brotherhood of Shadows. Not when we are so close to victory,” she said simply.
“Give it up, Max. Just accept that this is fate. We can still change the world together,” Forsythe said, with his impressively deceptive silver tongue. Since he couldn’t fight, he spent most of his time talking, so he was good at it.
The boys were talking again, but Formetis was paying it no mind. Whatever they said wasn’t important. Only the results mattered. And very soon, she would help Master Inferno bring in a new age.
Master Inferno trusted her. And now he needed her to do this for him. So Formetis would not fail. The boys were still arguing, so she interrupted them. “All right, stand aside. I have to take the girl with me.”
The one called Max turned to her when she said this, a look of either confusion or disdain. “Forsythe, who is this girl?” He asked.
Formetis let the comment go right through her. She was used to people not knowing her, ignoring her. Forsythe let out a small laugh. “This is Formetis of Nightmares. She is one of the Brotherhood of Shadows.” He explained.
Max’s eyes went wide. She knew what he was going to say before he said it. “But she’s a Human.” Just as expected. Everyone was always like this. Only Master Inferno had the ability to get things done. Pent too, but he had become an enemy.
She started walking forward to the girl, who was glaring at him. Before she could reach her prey, Max stepped in front of her. “Move, please. I’m in a hurry.” Formetis said as politely as she could. When he didn’t reply, she raised her hand and focused her power around Max.
“What in the...augh!” Max began screaming in pain as Formetis’ shadow magic began binding him, constricting him. She was so much stronger now that her powers had awakened. She could try to snap him in half, but he was resilient and would fight it. Besides, she didn’t want to kill him. Why would she? Yes, it was probably best that these powers remained in her hands and not some bloodthirsty brute.
But before she could do anything else, Formetis was blindsided by the girl. She hit the tree behind her with such force that she was left breathless, her magic hold broken on Max. She slumped to the ground and stared up at her attacker. “Keep your hands off him,” the girl said.
Formetis was still vulnerable. Master Inferno had said that when everything was finished, she would be invincible. She would need to survive until that time.
She raised her hand, but cried out in pain. The Demon girl knew what she would try and had grabbed her wrist, squeezing tightly. Formetis couldn’t concentrate, and this woman raised her until her feet were off the ground. “You might have some fancy magic tricks, but you aren’t much of a fighter, are ya?” Luna said, a disinterested look displayed on her face.
“And you aren’t very smart if you are touching a sorceress,” Formetis said with a subtle grin. Before the girl could register what she meant, Formetis let the magic flow through her body. It acted like a sort of electric shock, and the girl seized up, starting to shake violently. Free from her grip, Formetis hit her with a magical blast that flung her off into the distance, landing with a sickening crack. She wouldn’t be getting up anytime soon.
Formetis was still hurting as she turned to face the other threat. She was hurting even more when his fist caught her in the stomach. She had shielded herself with her magic aura at the last moment, but the impact had sent her tumbling backwards, rolling across the ground until she came to a stop.
“You aren’t some ordinary Human girl, are you? I’m sorry to have to do this, but you’ve left me no choice,” the Demon boy said as he burst into flames. And in an instant, she was so very hot. He was directing those flames towards her. Her magic was shielding her from the worst of it, but her strength was fading. No, she was not invincible yet. She could be killed just as easily as everyone else. She was going to die here.
But Master Inferno’s face appeared in her mind. Those flames...she recognized them now. They were the same as Master Inferno’s flames. It all made sense now. It was no wonder she would lose. Yes, there was no one stronger than him after all. If she was going to die, to be eradicated from this realm of existence, then it was best to be purified by flame. She smiled weakly, knowing the last of her energy was about to expire, and waited for the end.
“Gah!” Came a shout and the flames stopped attacking her. Formetis wondered if she was dead, but she reached up and touched herself with her hands. She was still there. So then what had happened to the man attacking her?
Max was standing with his hands at his side, with Forsythe behind him, who stepped back, a bloody knife in his hands. Max fell to his knees and then flat on the ground. Forsythe looked at the weapon with cold eyes. “I’m sorry Max, I didn’t want it to come to this. But you defied the Brotherhood. As powerful as you are, being weak had taught me a valuable lesson,” Forsythe said, dropping the knife at his side. “You see, the powerful believe in their face to face fights. Most do not expect a knife in the back. That is the folly of you warriors.”
Formetis walked over to the fallen Demon, and saw the wound had run deep. “You saved me Forsythe,” she said, breathlessly.
But her comrade was not happy despite hearing this and put a hand to his head. “Yes, but at what cost? My best friend turned on us and I had to kill him with my own hands…” he said, with a choked voice. “I would never let a traitor to bring ruin to the Master’s plans, but this...it weighs heavy on me.”
Formetis frowned. “What do you mean? He won’t die,” she explained.
Forsythe turned back to her, a haggard look in his eyes. “Are you blind? I stabbed him in the back. People die when they are stabbed!” Forsythe’s voice was bitter, trying not to look at his friend. “Even if he should survive initially, he will bleed out or die from infection.”
Formetis raised an eyebrow, but then it dawned on her. “I am sorry, Forsythe. It slipped my mind that you were not present when it happened,” she said. The young man was loyal, but he had no knowledge of these things. “I can save him with my new powers I was granted following our capture of the first maiden.” She knelt down and placed her hands over Max’s wound and her hands started to glow.
But in contrast to her purple nightmare glow, this glow was bright. And slowly but surely, her magic began to repair Max’s damaged body. His friend watched in awe as the wound closed up before him. This was the result of Master Inferno binding the other girl to the ritual stone. That girl who Formetis understood possessed the healing light had now granted that power to her.
She only used her magic to close and heal the stab wound however before turning him over to lay on his back. This boy...he was much stronger than he seemed. And she had no desire to have to fight him again at his full strength. Still, Forsythe seemed to relax after seeing this, and breathed a sigh of relief. “Formetis...I never would have expected you to have such tricks up your sleeves. But I am grateful. If anything else, he is still a friend, ” he said.
Formetis wiped away the sweat from her forehead. Perhaps because it was a new power she was not used to, but it exhausted her. After she returned them to the hideout, she would need to rest. Her fights and extended use of power had left her weakened. She would not be able to assist the Brotherhood for a time. Suddenly a thought came to her. “Forsythe...what are we going to do with him?” She asked, pointing at Max.
Forsythe raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean? He’s betrayed us and the Brotherhood of Shadows. Leave him. The only other options are to slit his throat, which I am reluctant to do given our history. Or to bring him back and keep him locked up. Imagine the shame that the Master would endure to know his own nephew would abandon him.”
“That boy is the Master’s nephew!?” Formetis said, though her voice came out as little more than a squeal. So that was how he had the same abilities as the Master. She did not feel as bad about losing now.
Forsythe moved closer to Max and knelt beside him. The two Demons eyes met, and he could see that both held great sorrow. “I won’t ask you to forgive me and I would not accept it. You let your emotions get the better of you. You betrayed the Brotherhood of Shadows. Your uncle!” He shouted the last part. Max said nothing.
“Do you know how much I hated you for all those years. I hated my best friends. I was so weak and pathetic and you two were so...not that. Now that I have finally found my calling, you two tried to stop us. Do you see now? How hard it is to be in your shadow? To be at your mercy to make every decision. Do you?” Forsythe was yelling in his friend’s face now.
Max’s face had started to develop into understanding. “Forsythe...I’m sorry. I never realized…” but Forsythe cut him off.
“Your life is yours, Max. I would never wish death upon my closest friend. I will tell your uncle that you died fighting for the Brotherhood so he will not have to live in a world where his own nephew betrayed him,” Forsythe said, and turned away before Max could reply. “I’ll spare you as a friend, but those two I have no such connection to. They shall be eliminated as threats to the Brotherhood.” He added, walking towards where Pent and Keta lay unconscious, brandishing his knife.
“Forsythe, don’t! They helped us! You can’t be that cruel,” Max shouted, but it was to no avail. With a mad gleam in Forsythe’s eyes, he stopped in front of the two of them and raised the knife.
Not on my watch, Formetis thought to herself, and she raised her hand. Her magic escaped her and flew forward to constrict the knife in her comrade’s hands, disabling him from moving it. “Don’t you even dare!” she said forcefully...or as forcefully as she could.
Forsythe turned back to her, a furious look in his eyes. “Are you kidding me? Not you too. These two are enemies of the Brotherhood of Shadows. Life will be so much easier if we kill them right now.”
“If we did that, we’d be no better than our enemies. I knew Keta long before I joined the Brotherhood. And that boy saved me from Empire soldiers that were hunting me,” Formetis explained.
But Forsythe wasn’t having it. “All you people are such idiots. You don’t have the fortitude to make the hard decisions. All of this...is for the prosperity of the Brotherhood of Shadows!” Forsythe was seething now, his eyes wider than before.
But Formetis would not back down on this. “Regardless, they are defeated and even if they come again, they are nothing to me. It’s kind of hypocritical that you would spare your friend and critique my decision to spare these two,” she exclaimed.
“Don’t be absurd. Max is the Master’s nephew…”
“And Keta was like a son to him,” Formetis interjected before he could continue. She remembered seeing Keta and the Master training or talking with one another, back before life had torn them apart. It was so sad to see them fight. Keta was such a kind soul, but he did not have the fortitude to see the Master’s vision come to fruition.
Regardless...she would not let him die before the world could be changed and they could all come together once more. “Anybody...who tries to kill them will have to deal with me,” Formetis said, and she steeled her gaze to make herself look as imposing as possible. For all her power, she was still just a Human after all.
Forsythe made a grunting noise and lowered his head. “Fine, whatever...let all the enemies of the Brotherhood go free! I’ll be crazy too. I don’t care anymore, the consequences are on you,” Forsythe bellowed, and he walked over to where Luna lay unconscious, picking her up in his arms. “Right then, get us out of here. I’m already sick of today.”
“Forsythe, please. Don’t do this…” came the weak plea from Max, but Forsythe ignored him. Formetis decided it was probably for the best as well. She focused her mind on headquarters and realized that this would drain her of her powers for sure. She opened up the tear and watched as her comrade stepped through.
Looking back at the defeated warriors she was leaving behind, she lamented her actions. I’m sorry, Master. It’s up to you and the rest for a while, she thought to herself before she stepped into the tear herself and disappeared from sight, leaving Max to watch the tear fade from existence.
Bakuya hit the bag. And then he hit the bag again. And he hit it again and again until his hands were too sore to hit anymore. Only then did he remove his gloves and sit down on the floor. Even that had not been enough to improve his mood.
He had been stripped of his rank and for all intents and purposes dishonored amongst the military. But that was not what had been bothering him. He had failed his operation and he deserved the consequences. No, it was his pride that was the problem.
He had always thought that if he were to come face to face with one of the Xegin, he would be able to hold his own against them. But he had been overpowered easily. The Xegin were simply beyond his capability.
That should have been the end of it, with the knowledge that Xegin were simply more powerful than Humans were. But General Erisda, the man who had mentored him, had defeated General Alpha so easily. And the general was a Human as well, so he could not tolerate that excuse.
In his rage, he picked up one of the weights on the floor and flung it across the room, landing with a loud crash. The gesture did nothing to calm him, and he felt like a fool for believing such a childish display would appease him.
“Is everything okay?”
He would have expected to see Giselle coming to speak with him, perhaps even the general. He was half right. Standing in the doorway was General Ivaldi, who made his way to his side.
Bakuya quickly straightened up and saluted him, and the man nodded at him. “I am sorry, General Ivaldi. I didn't mean to cause a disturbance,” he said apologetically.
“Don’t let it concern you. I was merely passing by and I heard the commotion. You seem distressed,” Ivaldi said, and Bakuya remained silent, unsure how to respond. “What happened out there wasn’t your fault.”
Bakuya clenched his teeth together. There was no amount of words anybody could say to convince him that the battle wasn’t his failure. But he didn’t expect to hear such words from a general.
“I appreciate the sentiment, General Ivaldi, but I was the commanding officer at the time. It was my responsibility and therefore the consequences are on my head,” Bakuya said. He wouldn’t run from that fact.
Ivaldi nodded and said, “I expect that is not the only reason you are upset. I heard you fought against one of the Imperial Generals.” Bakuya lowered his eyes, unable to meet the man’s eyes. But the soldier’s words were kind. “Do not be disheartened. To have stood against one of the Imperial Generals and survived is a testament to your skill.”
Bakuya scoffed at that notion. To a soldier, all that mattered was victory. And the commanding officer was responsible for creating favorable odds for those soldiers. Failing that, it was his duty to protect them. He had failed in both regards. It was no wonder Erisda had demoted him.
“Don’t mistake my words for coddling. I am praising your skill as a soldier. I have seen the records and your documents from the academy. For one so young, it is exceptional.”
“For all the good it did me. I was too weak to defeat General Alpha. And yet, General Erisda defeated her in mere seconds. The difference in our abilities is too grand,” Bakuya pointed out. His faith had been shaken. He had never been defeated so completely and the revelation frightened him.
“There is a reason for that,” Ivaldi explained, and Bakuya looked up, curious. “You were trained to fight as a soldier. The general, and I as well were trained to fight as swordsmen.”
Bakuya frowned. “What does that even mean? Soldiers are trained to fight with swords.”
Ivaldi laughed. “Sure, you are taught how to use a sword. But you are not taught how to become one with it. To know your surroundings and where your feet are at all times, to be able to defend at the slightest moment. No, the soldiers in the army are taught to use swords and guns, and neither particularly well.”
“Hey, what do you mean by that?” Bakuya demanded, offended.
More laughter. “Don’t get me wrong, you seem to have come much further on your own than the rest. But it stands to reason. The soldiers are trained to be able to use both gun and blade. General Erisda knows how to use a gun, he just knows it would be useless compared to his skill with a sword.”
Bakuya sighed. He already knew this to be sure. The general’s skill was far beyond his. Ivaldi went on. “But I can tell from the way you fight, the way you move, that you understand this. You possess the drive to master the sword. But there is something that General Erisda is hiding from you, the true reason behind his mastery of the sword.”
Bakuya looked up with genuine interest in his eyes. “True mastery of the sword? What do you mean by that?”
Ivaldi chuckled, and he picked up one of the swords on the rack. He then grabbed another and tossed it to Bakuya, who caught it. “Haven’t you ever noticed that General Erisda’s sword fighting style is different?” The general came at him with the drill they practiced in the mornings. The two continued the back and forth.
Bakuya parried an incoming blow and aimed a counterstrike. The attempt failed and he had been disarmed. “I noticed all right. But he never spoke of it. I assumed it was his own unique style and he would teach me when he deemed me worthy.” Bakuya said, retrieving his sword and the drill continued.
“Incorrect. But you do not recognize it because it is Demon sword fighting,” Ivaldi said, and in a moment of confusion, Bakuya forgot where he was and forgot his guard. A sword was pointed at his neck.
“Are you trying to tell me that the general was trained by Demons?”
“Aye. Both of us were, actually. Humans possess...less tactics than Demons, to be sure. We cannot keep up with Demon sword fighting since they can move faster, analyze combat situations more fluidly. To put it bluntly, we are inferior,” Ivaldi said.
Bakuya didn’t bother to retrieve his sword this time, he was more interested in this conversation. “Hang on, if Demon sword fighting is so much better than our own, why in the hell do we not start learning it?”
“Because to even begin to understand and execute such feats, it goes beyond our abilities as Humans.”
“Don’t belittle me,” Bakuya said, his voice rising. He wasn’t sure why, but his blood was boiling now. “You just told me you and the general can utilize Demon sword fighting. How is that possible then?”
Ivaldi let out a chuckle. “Tell you what. I heard that General Erisda removed you from his command. But you are far too valuable to leave amongst the rank and file. I can teach you the tools you need to become as strong as the general if you were to become my lieutenant. Do we have a deal?”
“A deal? A deal for what? You haven’t told me anything. What tools are you talking about?” Bakuya asked. The general was being very cryptic and he didn’t like it. Why should he accept this?
Ivaldi held up a finger in response. “I am sorry, Bakuya, but if you want to use this type of power, you need to trust me. You need to take a leap of faith, just as I did, and just as General Erisda did. This power is not for the weak. It will test your very core being. Only those who can kill their heart will emerge triumphant. My offer still stands. You have natural talent, and with the right training, you could become as strong as us. What say you?”
There was a time before when Bakuya would have been suspicious of all this. He would have scoffed at the idea of this newcomer trying to recruit him. And he would have also pieced together exactly what all this did to implicate General Erisda. But at that particular time, he did not care. He needed to redeem himself and help to end this war.
“When do we start?”
Keta awoke to Max sitting at a fire next to him. The Demon noticed him open his eyes, but he did nothing.
“Am I a prisoner?” Keta asked simply, sitting up. No binds...that was a good sign. Max shook his head, and continued to stare at the fire, so Keta continued. “Why are you here?”
Max sighed and placed his hands on his knees. “It pains me to say this, but you were right.”
Keta looked around. Pent was nearby on a makeshift bed of leaves, unconscious. But he could not see Forsythe or Luna. “Where are the others?”
“Gone,” Max said simply. He didn’t say anything afterwards, and so Keta let the silence permeate the air. He was staring into the fire as well now. “They took her. She was to be a sacrifice upon the altar for the Brotherhood of Shadows, as they said. My Luna…”
There was such emotion in the words that Max had to choke them out. Whatever had happened, it must have broken him. “I see. Still, you have not answered my question. Why are you here?” He emphasized the you for Max. The Brotherhood of Shadows had succeeded again. Why was Max so down? He knew the answer, most likely, but he wanted Max to say it.
The Demon warrior turned to him, and Keta noticed the gaunt expression, as if lifeless. “I tried to save her. I...she was right there. We were right there… I turned my back on the Brotherhood of Shadows, on my uncle. But even so, I was defeated. And now she’s gone,” Max muttered and, as if he lost the will to speak any longer, turned back to the flame.
Keta could see the sadness that had overtaken this man. He needed to choose his next words carefully. “If we had fought together, she would still be here with us,” Keta ventured saying. He left out the part that it was because of his stubborn attitude that this had happened. It was true, but he had no desire to poke the bear.
As soon as he had said this, the campfire exploded to three times the size, the flames raging in the wind. When Max whirled around to face Keta, his eyes were almost as blazing as the fire. “You think I don’t know that, Keta!?” Keta held the angry Demon’s gaze calmly, until the flames died down and Max looked down at the ground. “I let my pride best me. I was betrayed by someone close to me, though arguably I did the same to him. And now, I have nothing.”
Keta didn’t know what to say, so he stayed silent. Max got up from his seat and walked off. The man had suffered greatly in the past few hours. He had been a fool, true, but Keta still felt pity for him.
“I don’t want to fight anyone, Max. But do you see now what you wanted to be a part of? A group of fanatics that kidnap women for rituals. I cannot let the Brotherhood of Shadows go on this way,” Keta said.
Max let out a bitter chuckle. “I know that. Upstanding, righteous Keta. Always willing to help those in need,” Max said, before turning around and walking up to Keta. “But...that’s precisely why I wish to join you.”
That had been a hope of his earlier when they had been infiltrating the lab. But after their second fight, he realized that the Demon had made his choice. “Why would you want to join me? You made it very clear that you wished to assist your uncle.”
Max’s hand began to twitch nervously. “Something happened. I realized something. It’s Luna. I realized that I would do anything to save her, Keta. She is...well, she will be the mother of my child. I have to rescue her.”
Keta’s eyes narrowed in anger. “You would betray all you know for one person? How selfish are you, Max?” Keta said, and all the previously kind thoughts he had about Max started to evaporate.
But to his surprise, Max smiled sheepishly at his reaction. “It ain’t like that, Keta. I have to save her, but that’s not the only reason. I thought to myself, if I felt this way, then how will all the others who have lost someone to the Brotherhood’s mad schemes feel. And I knew I could not stand by and watch.”
Keta’s anger ebbed away. Max had always seemed so naive and brutish, so to see this side of him was unexpected.
“When my uncle reached out to me, I was so happy that he came to me to aid him. I’d always heard from my mother that he was the strongest Demon in the world. I’d wanted to be like him, but I was never any good at using swords. So I ended up using my fists to fight. Anything to become strong like him,” Max stated proudly, but his smile faded. “But something was different when he reached out to me. It was like he had some deep pain. I had no idea it would lead to things like rituals and sacrifices. I mean, what use is a world where you have to sell your soul to do so.”
Keta could empathize with the man’s feelings. After all, the Master had been a big part of his life. “Master...he believes that if he must shoulder the evils necessary for a new world, then so be it. But hearing you talk...well, I thought you were just some ruffian when we first met. But it looks like you have morals after all,” Keta said jokingly.
But Max was looking right at him, no humor in those eyes. “I don’t want a massacre,” The words were simple and Keta took it at face value, “I just wanted to fight for my oppressed brethren.”
“Admirable, but you mustn’t fight for one race if you want to help others,” Keta pointed out. “You know, Master was once part of Sanction. He used to believe in our ideals. The world destroyed his kindness.” Keta could remember when Master Inferno would take pride in his work, and his rough but kind exterior. Master Xehemoth’s death had killed that part of him.
Neither of them spoke for a while. Max was fidgeting, tapping his legs with his fingers. He had something on his mind, but he seemed to be struggling with his words. But at last he spoke. “Keta. This may seem odd, considering just recently I beat the crap out of you, but I really do wish to help people, just like you. I admired the Brotherhood of Shadows for their goal to help the Demon clans.”
“You know, there was a time when I used to believe that was their only goal. But Master Xehemoth could see the darkness that had consumed him. That’s why he recruited me and the others. But now…” Keta trailed off, unable to continue. Talking about the old days was still painful.
Max leaned against a tree lazily. “The kid’s dad...was it true?”
Keta was mad now. After everything that happened, he was still questioning them. “Your allies...they would have killed everyone in the village for their defiance. If Pent and I and the Xegin soldiers hadn’t been there, things could have gone very bad. I don’t want to fight either, but I won’t let the strong trample the weak.”
That shut him up, and Max looked away in shame.
The Brotherhood of Shadows were one piece closer to their goal, and Keta still had no idea what their plans were. He had joined with Pent and was no longer alone, but even with the young swordsman’s strength and skill, they were still steps behind their enemy. And now, they had Ophelia and Luna for whatever twisted designs they had in store.
Back in Frostclaw Village, they had defeated Celran and Dranon. But here, he had been defeated by Max. He should hate this man, who had stood by and let the Brotherhood achieve victory. But he knew that the Demon standing in front of him was highly conflicted. He had been deceived and only uncovered the truth too late. And there was the fact that he was Master Inferno’s nephew.
“Listen Keta, I know I messed up, but let me help you. You are going after them, yes? I have to rescue Luna. And this will let me make up for my mistakes.” Max said. Keta kept the blank look on his face so Max kept talking. “It’s my fault...it’s all my fault. If I hadn’t fought you, that crazy Human girl wouldn’t have come and interfered. I beat her, I was stronger than her but Forsythe...I didn’t think he would do that to me, but he tried to kill me while I was distracted.”
Crazy Human girl? That must have been Formetis. Keta clenched his teeth. Why was Master so intent on involving that poor girl. She had always been unusual, with those powers of hers, but she had never wanted to fight. Master Inferno had been the girl’s protector after her guardian’s death. Why was he doing this?
And what was all this about Forsythe? Keta decided to ask and Max turned away so that his face was hidden. “That girl came in and defeated Luna. I was angry, angrier than I had been in my life. My flames...they were the most powerful I have ever seen. I understand now why Uncle called them the Flames of Rage. She was powerless against the onslaught and then...he stabbed me in the back. Literally.”
Keta heard the distinct change in his voice and realized why the young Demon had turned away. He gave him a moment and Max raised his arm and ran it over his face. Satisfied that the Demon had composed himself, Keta said, “You said you were stabbed. How are you moving around like this?” He was genuinely concerned about all this. Keta had been beaten senseless by Max, but that would heal in time. Being stabbed was far more deadly.
Max shrugged. “I heard it all, felt the wound close up. That Human girl did it. She used some kind of medical magic and my wound was healed. Forsythe told me that he would tell the Master I died in battle fighting you to spare my honor. So yeah, Uncle is going to be pissed at you…”
“Fabulous,” Keta muttered sarcastically, but his mind was racing. What Max was describing was the same type of healing that Ophelia performed. Had they somehow stolen her powers and given them to Formetis? Something was odd to him. Was that the reason the Master had brought the girl with them? Just where did she fall into all their plans. Keta had a very bad feeling about it.
Keta laughed. And there was no reason for it because he wasn’t happy at all. He had been dealt a crushing defeat by the Brotherhood of Shadows, and so he laughed because this man was the reason he had been defeated by the Brotherhood of Shadows. And yet, here he was offering to help. And the fact that he was quite possibly the best hope he had against Master Inferno was even crazier. And he sighed. “Max, if you really want to help, then use that power of yours to help me stop that mad uncle of yours.”
Max’s eyes brightened when he heard this and grinned, despite the circumstances. “The kid’s not going to be happy when he comes to.”
And Keta laughed again. He had suffered quite a bit in the last while so all this laughter was welcome. “He rarely is,” he said. Pent would not be thrilled at the idea of teaming with a former enemy. But he would see the practicality of it. They were fighting a war, and they were losing. And the one who had caused them to lose the battle in the first place was offering to join their side. The boy was prideful, but he was smart.
Keta got to his feet and made his way to Max. Whatever Master Inferno and the Brotherhood of Shadows was planning, it was going to happen soon. If he was going to try and stop them, he would need enough power on his side. He had Pent, and they were headed to find Xuan. If Max were to join them, then perhaps his goal was not as crazy as he had thought. At the very least, it would be a team capable of opposing the Brotherhood.
The word team caught in his mind, and he realized that he had been fighting his battles alone all this time. At last, he could call it a team once more and reclaim the name. He extended his hand and Max took it. The two shared a genuine smile as the sun rose to the start of a new day.
“Welcome to Sanction, Max.”
DARK AND LIGHT
The sun was at just the right height at this time of day to enjoy it, the warmth gently offset by the shade of the tree. Having just finished lunch, there was nothing left to do but lounge around and wait. There had been no new requests, at least none that he had considered taking, so he would spend the rest of the day doing nothing it seemed.
Xuan was bored. And when he was bored, he did nothing but practice. And with that he grew tired. So he would sleep and wake again to be bored, and the cycle would repeat infinitely until his next job. It always came as he was very sought after, so it never worried him.
But today was an especially interesting day. Xuan had been resting his eyes, but his ears caught the sound of metal. He looked to see one of the Xegin approaching him. His eyes grew wide with excitement when he realized that it wasn’t just any old Xegin and he hurriedly got to his feet.
“General Delta. What an honor to meet you here.” Xuan said with a greeting smile.
Delta was one of the Imperial Generals in Teforia, which meant that he was one of the highest ranking Xegin soldiers. From what Xuan knew of them, he was one of the most feared amongst them due to his extensive military career, even before the Xegin were created by the Empire. His armor was gold, polished to perfection so that every feature was gleaming. It was impressive.
“Greetings, Xuan Barakan.” His response was curt and to the point. Xuan had met the Imperial Generals before and he remembered that out of them all, this one was the least likely to pursue idle conversation.
No matter. Xuan reached for his weapon. “You’ve come quite a way to see me, General. We should celebrate this meeting. How about a quick sparring session?” Xuan said with a flashy grin.
Delta wore a concealing helmet so Xuan could not tell if his comment had affected the soldier. “Know your place, Xuan. You are well known in the world, but don’t think you have the right to challenge an Imperial General while residing in the capital city.” The tall soldier crossed his arms as he said this.
Well, he clearly is in no mood for that, Xuan thought to himself and laughed inwardly. “Very well then, what brings you here to me, Delta?”
“‘General’ Delta. You must address me with due respect, boy.” Delta said curtly. “But regardless, I come representing the Imperial Generals. We have a proposal for you.”
Of course they needed his help. He was Xuan Barakan, a mercenary renowned for never failing a mission, after all. And they were in a war. What had piqued his interest was what the mighty Imperial Generals were struggling with enough to bring in an outsider.
“Interesting. So you have a job for me? You know my services are always offered to my protectors,” Xuan said. He liked all of the Xegin. They had allowed him to live in Teforia and use it as a base of operations. There was a reason of course, and that was because most of his contracts were directed towards the Empire. His efforts usually ended up as a problem for their enemies. But they had never contacted him for a job. This was getting exciting.
“It’s good to see you understand your station,” Delta said. This man was unpleasant, Xuan thought to himself. “Very well. The war against the Humans inhabiting Teforia has been progressing smoothly. Naturally, we will emerge the victors and crush their little rebellion.”
Xuan just couldn’t resist. “Clearly there is more to it if you have come to hire me,” he said, and he saw the soldier shuffle irritably. That had struck a nerve.
“Yes, well, ordinarily we would not have much trouble with Humans. However, there is an...individual amongst them that exceeds normal Human expectations. We Xegin are soldiers, but this one is a swordsman. He is without peer. Even our young General Gamma, who is peerless in her sword fighting amongst the Xegin, cannot match his skill. His victories have turned the tide in their favor and shame us in the Imperial Generals. He must be taken out of play.”
That had gotten Xuan’s interest. He always enjoyed a good fight, and anyone who could give the Xegin soldiers pause was someone who could give him just that. “You’ve got my attention. Basically you want me to accompany your army and defeat this warrior when he shows up?” Xuan asked and Delta nodded. What an interesting way to spend his time. “Very well, who is my target?”
The Xegin General handed him a file, and Xuan opened it. Inside was a dossier that had a picture at the front. It was a man, young from the looks of him, perhaps mid twenties. His face held a gentle confidence that Xuan knew all too well. It was the aura of a warrior who was without fear due to their abilities. It was how he himself viewed life. “His name is Erisda Walker.”
Xuan’s eyes flashed and he clenched his free hand into a fist. Oh yes...things were about to get very interesting.
END OF BOOK ONE OF
THE LEGEND OF SANCTION