“ There are no heroes, little one. With each swing of the sword, two people die, on each end. The only difference between a hero and villain is how the people worship them to be. Never pick up a sword, little one, unless you are prepared to be both the hero and the villain, the slayer and the slayed”
– Old Kruruvath saying, Tales of the Wild, Silax Gorosh,1125 A.C
I had ridden for a full day without stopping. By the time I neared Shrafingshire, the Serrad had grown ragged. Serrads were like Velociraptors that were a little smaller than horses. They generally had deep green backs with bellies the colour of rotten hay. Even though they were meat eaters, they were very tame and obedient and were used to pull carriages due to their strength and speed.
Night had already fallen when the Serrad finally broke it’s leg. I was catapulted violently forward when it happened, smashing me into the ground. The Serrad was frothing at the mouth and its eyes were clouding with blood. The beast had done its work well, bringing me almost to the village. I wish I could do something for such a loyal steed but right now, I could do nothing. Rather than letting it suffer, I soothed it by cradling it and closing its eyes. Then I drew a dagger that I had got from the mercs across its neck. The beast died twitching as blood gurgled out of its slashed throat.
May you be reincarnated as an overindulged otaku in our world, my friend. I shivered at the unpleasant sensation of the invisible wave hitting me every time I killed something.
I skirted around the village in the soft moonlight. There was eerie silence through the village, permeating its very air. I walked through the oft visited roads to where I had seen the dream. There lay the X, with something barely recognizable nailed to it. Arin had turned into a black, charred mass. Apparently, they had decided to finish the trial quick and spread false information about its deadline to prevent demons from rescuing her.
Even though I had prepared myself for this scene ever since I ran with the Serrad, I still couldn’t bear it. I broke down in choked sobs and animal groans. However, things were needed to be done. There was no one near the body. A wooden sign planted near the site explained why.
“By the Order of the Church, no one is allowed to approach the site of the Witch Trial for 7 days and 7 nights. The body would be left to the natural elements for spiritual cleansing and the punishment for colluding with the demons for all the world to see. At the end of 7 nights, the public are free to cut parts of the Witch’s body and take them as wards against evil. Praise be to Talaviel”, said the sign.
I clambered up the X and cut Arin down. Crows had pecked out her eyes and tongue. Most of her body had charred black, carbonized. They hadn’t given her peace even after she had died; driving a wooden stake through her chest. When I tried to carry her, her poor body broke down into pieces, ash and dust. I couldn’t even hold her for one last time. The bastards had taken even that from me.
I gathered her body parts and ashes onto the jacket I had bought from the mercenaries. Then balling it up, I made an impromptu pouch to carry her. I knew what I wanted to do. I carried her to the secret place we had made love in, beside the river.
Today too, the moon was high up in the sky, its soft light playing games of shadows with the forest. Today too, the Sellanerna flowers bloomed in the hundreds, soaking up the moonlight. Today was exactly the same as that day, only the girl wasn’t alive. I burnt the rest of her body in a small pyre I made from wood and oil I had gathered on my way here. When her whole body was turning into ashes, I gathered all the Sellanernas on the bank. After that…I scattered her ashes in the river she loved so much.
“Flow with the river, Arin. Flow till you reach the seas where your parents lie. Flow till you get your hearts desire”, I heard myself say in choking sobs. I floated the Sellanernas in the river after her. Hundreds of flowers followed the girl in her last journey, as if they were guiding her to the seas.
The girl who had river in her hair and the seas in her dreams…finally merged with the river.
I cannot follow you yet, my Sylvanna. I still have work to do. Wait for me at the seas, I will follow you soon enough.
“There you are, you bastard”, I heard a half-cry behind me. I turned around an saw Karro inching towards me with a naked sword. He looked…ghastly. Unkempt hair fell over his face in lanks, his beard overgrown and slovenly. The clothes were tattered and covered with filth. Only his eyes shone deep red in the moonlight.
“Karro…why didn’t you stop them?” I asked, unable to keep my fury.
“Stop them from w
hat? It is you who caused this! You are the reason she is dead!” He shouted. He came forward, swinging his sword at me, “You filthy demon seduced her and made her your servant! She died because of You ! You! You!”
I tried to reason, “I did no…”, “Shut up you mongrel. I knew she had chosen you when she had wore Sellanerna in the festival. But you just used her for your depravity, you demonspawn!”, Karro cut me off, not wanting to hear.
I swung my sword to block his blade. We exchanged furious blows. Oddly enough, Karro had grown much stronger than I had last seen him. Maybe too strong. “ Every night I had dreams. Dreams that I knew to be true! Do you know what they did to Arin? They maimed her! Burned her!”, he couldn’t speak without sobbing, “They raped her day and night, till she forgot she was human! When the lord was done with her, the guards had their share and fucked her like a pig!”
With every word he said, I could feel my head swim. My body grew hot due to anger, my fingers tightened their grips on the blade. “All because of you! Why couldn’t you keep your claws off her, fucking filth!”, Karro was totally manic now, frothing at the mouth, “I saw her being tortured every night in my dreams, I waited outside the gates but was beaten by the guards…all I wanted was for her to be happy…but you ruined it all!! She was killed like an animal!”
By now, my breath came in rugged gasps, as my knuckled tightened enough to their breaking point. I couldn’t hear anymore, but I had to. Karro was slowly overpowering me now, his blade aflame at this point.
“I asked for power to kill you, to make you suffer like she did…and he gave it. HAHHAHA, now I will kill you, maim you, torture you fucker! You will die like the shit you are! HAHAH I have power to kill a demon now!”, Karro had an insane look on his face, his facial expression twisted beyond recognition. A manic light played in his red tinged eyes. He took a deep breath and spat out fire.
Yep. Spat out fire, I repeat. He didn’t pay heed that it burned his own mouth and his lips but he spat out fire to kill me. His fist went aflame, as it punched and cornered me. I had no chance of winning, now that he could use higher level magic.
“Die, bitch!”, He laughed like a deranged person, paying no heed to his burning hands. Smells of burning meat came from him, but he didn’t seem to be in pain.
It has come to this. I will kill the one responsible. “Karro, I am sorry but I can’t let you win”, I knew what I had to do, I had known this for a while now.
Karro’s eyes went wide when he heard me. He backed off and started chanting an unfamiliar spell. Too late I thought as I completed my invocation in my mind.
The power that clads the powerless in their journey. The power that rises from corruption. The power that sullies the sullied, come forth as I offer you my sacrifice; Hand of the betrayer.
Shadows swirled up my left arm and covered it in jet black armor like skin, the fingers sharpening into tough claws. The freezing sensation was worse than the last time, threatening me to lose consciousness out of pain. However, this time, the hand was in my control. I closed the gap between me and Karro, and before he could complete his chant, I thrust my black hand deep within his chest.
Bones crunched as my hands pierced him. Karro spurted blood out of his mouth as his flames died down. He flailed weakly as he was staked by my arm. His lifeblood dripped and flowed down my arm, as if soaking it up. I held his heart in my hands as I squeezed it, the sharp claws perforating the drumming heart and finally bursting it. Red blood flew everywhere inside the hest cavity. It felt like squeezing a lemon.
I had given my first sacrifice for power, the life of my best friend.
I gently laid Karro’s body down. After a while, spontaneous white flames erupted from his body and claimed it in few seconds, as if it was paper. However, my suspicions were confirmed. The same wave that hits me after I kill monster hit me after I killed Karro, much more stronger.
I laid down, leaning against a boulder. I needed answers, and for that I needed sleep.
Sure enough, I was where I wanted to be. Rather, who I wanted to be with. The landscape had turned even more violent. There were X poles everywhere, littering the red earth as far as the eyes could see. A cloudless, angry red sky spread through the horizon where four black moons hung. Countless hands rose up from the ground, clawing the earth around them, as if trying to rise out of a grave. Fire burned over streams of bright red blood.
Yep, my dreamscape alright. So inviting.
And a few feet from me stood who I wanted to see, Astria. This time, she had worn a torn black gown that billowed behind her.
“Nice clothes”, I offered, “Now, answers”.
She knew what I was talking about. Astria sighed and spoke, “Nice to see you too, Rigel.” I scowled at her which just made her assume a somber expression, “I assume you are asking about why they called you a demon and about the…girl?”
“Yes”, I replied.
“Origin of all magic is the same, the Magic of Ancients. It is the power of all immortal beings. Gods and Demons are not so different from each other; only which side of the fence you are looking from”. She took a deep breath, “The current magic used by the Aesvegr, the younger races are degraded forms of the ancient magic, weak and crude. From that perspective, the magic of gods and demons are not that different. You didn’t have any magic in your previous world, so never wondered how you could use it now? When you contracted with Zain, a magic circuit was inscribed on your body”.
Astria came forward and took my left hand, tapping it with her fingers. The black pattern from before resurfaced, however this time, it wasn’t freezing. “This, Rigel, is the circuit that lets you manipulate Ancient Magic; the magic of gods and demons.”
“I can understand that you gave me some unusable tools, but why was Arin able to use it!”, I shouted, unable to control my anger.
“Life and death, creation and destruction, is the strongest of all magics. Even immortals are not exempt from it. You had sex with a woman, Rigel. The younger races have forgotten about the power of the most ancient of all magics. The act of sex is the birth of new life; the crux of life magic itself. It holds unbelievable power; the power used by every race since the dawn of time.”
Astria continued after a pause, “When you spilled your seed inside her, it invoked the life magic; the sharing of emotions and your very being with each other. It set up a conduit, allowing you two to exchange each other’s powers. However, she was a human who didn’t posses any magic, hence you got nothing, while she got access to the Ancient Magic inside of you. That is why, she was able to invoke the spell to teleport you and heal you, in accordance to her intense desire to save you.”
Fucking gods and their machinations! What the actual fuck!
“Doesn’t that mean every time someone fucks someone, they will get magics?”, I asked, anger making my voice quaver. My knuckles were clenched beside me.
“No. The degraded magic of the younger races cannot do that; they have forgotten the importance of life magic. However, you possess the circuit of Elder Races, making you able to do that” She replied in a serious tone.
“So you mean the Arin died because I made love to her?”, I couldn’t keep the despair clouding my voice, the sounds came in half-sobs.
“Yes Rigel. She died because of you. Her blood is on your hands. You doomed her by loving her and she suffered because she loved you. You are not alone, immortals have descended throughout the ages in the mortal realm and lain with mortals…to invoke the magic”, Astria delivered in a cruel tone, devoid of any mercy.
This broke me. A blade materialized in my hands while I throttled Astria. Then I plunged the blade in her heart. Astria did not stop me. She caressed the blade with her fingers and with the other hand, touched my face, propping up my face towards her.
“This is just a dreamscape. If you really want to kill me, grow powerful and then do it. That is the only way to kill us, the gods you hate”, she said in a soft murmur, looking straight into my eyes as I sobbed like a child, tears dripping down my face.
She turned to leave, the blade dropping out of her chest in its own accord. While she was walking away, she turned towards me and said, “Know this, the girl really loved you. Magic from the Exchange cannot be used by a human unless she really gave her everything to you; heart, body and soul”.
I crawled up in a fetal position and sobbed, my breaths choking and mangled. I lay under the red skies and in a land of a thousand crosses, where no one could hear my silent screams for all eternity.
I woke up after sometime. The discussion with Astria weighed heavily in my mind. It was as if I condemned Arin to die myself. I had taken the world lightly, not learning its inner workings. I felt hollow enough to die, but I had work to do. Something that Karro said interested me. He kept talking about gaining powers and that someone had told him to kill me. His dreams of Arin were also probably the work of this entity, seeing how I too had got visions. Moreover his remains vanished without a trace. Yes, the gods were involved.
I stood up and wore the jacket I had carried Arin’s remains in. The thing still had some of her ashes stuck to the inside. I picked up my bloodied sword and swung it to disperse the blood droplets.
Tonight, gods and men needed to die.
The Church of Talaviel was situated not far from the village. When I reached there, I saw a few guards in front of it. The Bishop was in there. I walked up to the guards.
“Who goes there!”, a guard challenged me, pointing his pike. I didn’t give the guard a reply. He didn’t deserve one. I recognized that face for being one of the soldiers who had disgraced Arin in her pyre. I swung the blade with both hands aiming at his torso. He tried to guard using his pike, but the thing broke in half, the sword continued its slash and cut the man in half from the waist. The top half toppled forward while the bottom shot backward towards the second guard. Blood and intestines dangled forth the severed torso. The bottom half hit the approaching guard, disrupting his balance. I strode forward and slammed the blunt tip of the weapon down on his face, smashing it in. A violent sound of crunching metal reported his death.
The last two guards were shocked at the spectacle. The stood dumfounded, shivering in fright. The moonlight was too weak to let me see their expression but I doubt it spoke of bravery. I swung my sword to make it whistle, and the guards ran away, screaming. I strode forward towards the church, slamming it open with a kick.
“What is this ungodly commotion!”, the bishop Andalus stood in front of the altar, his face indignant. His face changed colour as he saw me, bloody and smeared with brain matter. “Gua…guards!” He shouted, scrambling backwards behind the altar of his god.
“They are dead, bishop”, I was surprised at how cold my voice sounded.
“Wha… Talaviel wont stand for this affront, lowly demon!”, he screamed in fright, throwing a large fireball at me from behind the altar.
I raised the large shield I had picked up from the equipment the guards threw away when they ran in fear. Heated flames washed over me, singing my hair and coat.
“Talaviel won’t stand at all, priest”, I chimed in, “When I am done with him”.
After the fire had subsided, I ran forward and swung the sword overhanded at the altar, breaking it into two. The bishop rolled to the side, escaping my blow.
Tch. But this way, it will be more interesting.
Immediately, a golden barrier like the one he had used that day enclosed me, sealing me in. The barrier didn’t budge when I hit it with the sword. A sharp metallic sound rang out when I hit it again and again.
“Ha..hah..hahah! A lowly scum like you can’t break a barrier made by me!”, he had regained some of his composure.
Shadows flowed from my arm and transformed it into the black clawed forelimb. Unlike earlier, I could freely control it now. I pushed at the barrier with the black left arm, dragging the claws across it. It stung like hell.
This is nothing compared to how Arin must have felt when she burnt.
With the sound of breaking glass, the barrier shattered. Andalus’ face went ashen when he saw his precious barrier break. I jumped forward, driving the top end of the sword into his chest. The blade didn’t go through as it was blunt, but it broke a few ribs, caving it inwards. He tried to crawl away, dragging his white robed fat body. I let him go.
He dragged himself to the far corner of the Church, and started chanting. I could feel power concentrate from his words, so I used the Black hand to shield myself. But…nothing came.
Andalus gave a cry of anguish, coughing up blood, “Why hast thou forsaken me…Talaviel!”
I approached him with a wry smile on my lips, “The gods never were on anyone’s side, priest”.
I stepped on his legs as he was trying to get away and cut it off at the ankles. Bright red blood flowed like a river from his cut stumps as he wailed like a gutted pig.
“AAaaaaAaaa..why is this happening!”, he wailed, “Spare me! Spare me!”, he cried in deep anguish. His eyes had gone white in fear, as he clutched at the ground.
“Did you spare Arin when she begged for mercy, priest?”, I asked him, stooping to his eye level as the thousands of candles burning in the hall reflected our shadows on the walls. Without waiting for his answer, I separated his arms from his body.
The bishop sobbed and begged. He cried, pleaded for mercy. He threatened, just like how I had tried to when they were burning my Arin. “The gods wont stand for this! They will kill you!”, he screamed between sobs and tears.
“Then let me send you off with your god”, I said as my lips curled up in feral glee. I picked up the hymn book that he used to preach to the people about his god. It was a leather bound monstrosity, gaudily decorated with gold and silver. I smashed the book on his face. His teeth caved in, bloody and broken from the blow. I kept hitting him with his god’s words till his head became nothing more than a bloody pulp, deformed and crushed. I didn’t stop even after he died, spewing grey matter all over my face.
Then I dragged his body, devoid of its limbs under the picture of his god, Talaviel. I swiped a tri-headed candelabra that was as tall as me. With a monstrous throw from my black arm, I threw his body upwards while at the same time, grabbing the candelabra and stabbing him through the chest with it. He hung from the wall, a few feet above the ground, the candelabra piercing him like a massive trident. I staked him just like he had staked her.
The bishop hung dead pinned on the picture of his god, as his blood dripped on the alter from where he preached about his words.
His dripping blood reddened the pages of his god’s teaching.
I washed my face with the holy water kept at the entrance in a basin. Couldn’t go to a noble’s house with such a dirty face, could I?
Lord Icchvarion had a lavish house. Golden light spilled from the windows into the garden outside. The house was pretty quiet, given his penchant for regular balls and parties. Maybe the guy was taking rest after systematically raping and killing a girl? The dozen odd guards standing outside the mansion had already lost their limbs or heads, sometimes both. My clothes now smelt of iron from the blood of people and ashes of Arin. I savagely pulled at the sword that had gotten entangled in the intestines of the last guard while he twitched feebly staked o my sword. I jerked the blade to dislodge the dead guy. The few more guards inside the mansion didn’t prove to be much difficult. The only thing that I was having problem with was the invisible wave that jarred me whenever I killed a person. The sensation was greater than killing a monster.
“Good Evening, Lord Icchvarion. I hope you are in good health”, I said while I strode into his room with my best smile. Just because I was there to torture a person didn’t mean I should forget my manners, does it?
“Th…the..demon is here!”, he screamed hysterically. Another round of frantic guard calling ensued. These guys stupid? How would I be here if I hadn’t already met them? Surprisingly enough, two guards strode forward from corners of the room.
I didn’t even bother with the sword. I just punched the guy in the face with my black arm before holding his head in a death grip. He screamed as I kept crushing his head. His eyes grew clouded with blood discharge as I pummeled the other guy with my free hand. Icchvarrion just wept in a corner, unable to move. Finally unable to hold the pressure, the guard’s head burst with spraying blood and brain matter. I dropped the body and approached Icchvarrion.
“Sp..spare me..I will give you gold! Lots and lots of treasures…just let me go!”, he wept.
I was growing tired of the spare me charades. I didn’t even bother replying. I used a mace picked up from the dead guard to smash his limbs. His fingers grew distorted as the joints broke with cracking sounds. The proud lord wailed as his limbs grew bloody and shattered. Bones jutted out from his broken hand, at impossible angles. These were the hands he tortured Arin with, weren’t they?
I could hear myself laugh with a manic glee. When his limbs had grown more twisted than a wire puzzle, I chopped them off with the sword. Each time my sword sung its song of whistles, the man flinched and begged me to kill him. He started bleeding out from the stumps, the puddle of blood grew under my feet. I left the guy and went to his fireplace where logs were burning. I picked up a poker that was glowing red hot.
When I came back, I saw him trying to crawl towards the door. He left trails of blood as he tied to wriggle and writhe. He wasn’t very successful as his limbs were absent. I dragged the guy back and cauterized his wounds with the hot poker to prevent him dying of bloodloss. He whimpered every time the red hot poker seared his stumps.
I got tired after all the fighting and torturing. Revenge is hard work, y’know? I sat down on a plush chair while looking at the limbless lord. I poured myself some of his fine wine. Damn. That really was very fine.
“…th..the kingdom will find you! My fa..father will burn you on a stake you filthy demon!”, he still had the energy to whimper curses at me.
“You will be killed like the girl! Like a dog! Ahahha!”, he seemed to have lost his marbles by this point. But what he just said…
I noticed the guard I had pummeled with my normal right arm still writhing on the floor. I called him, “Oi old man! Do you want to live?”. He whimpered and flinched when he heard me. “Old man!”, this time I said in a loud voice.
“Ye..yes please!”, the guard croaked while he pissed his pants. Pungent smell wafted through he room.
“Then come over here and cut off this guy’s dick”, I ordered in a cool voice.
“Yo…young masters!..no no…”, he whined an objection. I swung my blade, and it whistled. The whistling gave him shivers. He crawled over to the prone body of Icchvarrion.
“No..no! anything but that! Please!”, Icchvarrion went mad, apparently understanding what was going on.
“Didn’t Arin plead like this too, eh Icchavarrion?”, I was surprised at how ugly my voice sounded.
“Stop! I will gi…give you everything in my vault…please don’t cu…cut it off!”, he screamed desperately.
“Oh? Where is the vault?”, I asked. Icchavarrion showed me a picture on the wall. Sure enough, there was a safe in the hole in the wall under the picture. Nice.
“Old man, please castrate him from the roots”, I ordered while I went to loot the vault in the next room. I could hear whimper and screams from behind me. He talks a lot, this is annoying me.
“Stuff it down his throat after you are done”, I told the guard, “I don’t want to hear his voice anymore”. The guard looked at me as if I was deranged or some demon. Hah! gotta live up to my reputation, ain’t it?
The vault had a large amount of gold coins and high powered magic stones. Magic stones were crystals of highly condensed form of monster cores or pure magic supplied by a caster. I found another interesting thing in the vault. A scaled leather pouch that seemed to have no end. Like those bags with unlimited carrying capacities you see in RPG games. I swiped it and put everything in it. It didn’t have much weight.
When I was turning back, I saw something deep within the vault, hidden. A bastard sword with a deep blue guard and handle, inlaid with a few magic gems. The sword looked sharp enough to cut even air. I couldn’t recognize the metal the blade was made of. For some reason, I could read the inscription on the blade, written in an unfamiliar language. It said the name of the blade, Thirst. Needless to say, I pocketed it.
When I was returning, I saw something shine at one corner of the room. When I went to check it out, I saw it was the Kivala necklace that I had given Arin. It was smeared with blood. I didn’t want to imagine what it was used for. I picked it up.
The lord was still breathing after getting his manhood cut and stuffed down his own throat. This is one tough bastard. I decided to end the farce. I swung my executioner sword, taking his head. His head rolled away towards the corner like a spinning top, if a spinning top could have a contorted expression.
“Leave old man, this mansion won’t be safe anymore”, I told the guard who I had promised to let live. I didn’t mind of he couldn’t move and died here though. He scampered and crawled towards the exit door.
I opened Lord Icchvarrions liquor cabinet. Wines and other otherwordly liquors were displayed rows upon rows in expensive looking decanters. I took one and sipped. The rest I carried back. I unstoppered the decanters and doused Icchvarrion’s body with the high grade alcohol. Then I lighted it on fire. I didn’t forget to light the dude’s silk curtains and clothes either. The guy had an obscene amount of silk curtains.
Smells of burning meat and hair were wafting out when I came out of the mansion. The lord’s mansion was on fire in a few moments. I walked out of the compound when I saw a tall man leaning against the outside walls. He had a white toga wrapped around him, with golden edges.
I swung my blade and made it whistle, but then put it down.
“Prudent choice”, the figure said.
“Well, I am not stupid enough to try fight a god”, I said with a guarded expression. Yes, the guy gave off the same feeling of oppression and cold detachment as Zain and Astria.
“I am Talaviel, the god of righteousness and justice”, he declared with a lofty voice, “and you just killed my priest”.
“Are you here for revenge?”, I asked.
“No, to thank you. That priest was corrupt and drunk on power. It is well that he who strayed far from the path has been killed”, Talaviel replied.
“Why didn’t you stop him yourself?”, I asked.
“Do you think gods have much choice in who worships them? Besides, we can’t directly interfere in affairs of the mortals in this world. My priests are chosen by the clergy, not me”, Talaviel said in a somewhat heavy tone.
“You interfered in the fight, didn’t you?”, I asked to confirm my suspicions.
“Gods cannot interfere, unless his worshipper asks for a wish, tapping into the god’s power. I couldn’t stop him directly, so when he asked for a spell bestowed by me, I refused him”, a small smile flashed across his well featured face, “Otherwise you would have been a smoking crater by now”
“Don’t expect to get thanked, Talaviel”, I said. Shit, do I have to fight this guy now?
He seemed to have been expecting my reply. “However, mortalkin, no matter how corrupt the priest, he was mine. By killing him, you have made an enemy of the Holy Order of Talaviel and me. Expect no mercy, mortal.” A cold chill ran down my spine. My hands slick with blood, started to sweat.
A loud crash sounded behind me and I turned to look. When I turned back, Talaviel was gone. I resumed walking down my path, in the light of the burning mansion.
The moon was high in the sky, the ring glowed at its edges. Under it, a man walked with his blade. He swung the blade as he walked, as if that was a game. Whistles came from them, but no one knows if it was the man or his blade.
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