Chapter 01 – Those who never lost hope...
In the heart of the night, a warm, sad feeling envelopes you, alluring, reminding you of passion and love gone.
A touch, a smell, soft skin, a smile... And then, the touch of lips upon your own.
What follows is a devastating, breath taking fall to a grim reality where this person is no more around and the inability to snap out of it. Tears might follow, with a good amount of self-loathing.
Now, imagine having to be in that state all the time, for days: whenever your guard is down and you don’t force yourself to be happy, sadness and gloom come knocking.
This, is called depression.
And now let it expand, let it become your daily “normalcy”: day in and day out, without fail or repose from yourself, caged within walls of desperation, self-doubt, impotence and even anger.
That is called chronic depression.
What did depression have to do with young seventeen years old Heath?
Well he had been alone in the world since he was thirteen and depressed ever since.
His father had died when he was nine, due to overwork, trying to pay off a small debt with the town regent, Viscount Ronaux. The kid was then left alone with his mother and grandmother on his father side.
Not long had passed, not even one year, and his mother had left him with a note, too tired to keep on living for paying off her husband’s never ending “small debt”, which she and the man she had loved had already paid times and times again.
The seed for depression had been planted in the kid back then, at ten, when his mother, always angry at him, would always scream at him “When will you grow up?” for anything he would do, or say, or ask for.
After she left, living with his grandmother was not bad: although there were times when he had to take care of her, instead of being the other way around, he was happy whenever he saw her loving smile.
It really made it all worthy.
But then, she caught a flu, which she had never been allowed to cure. Like a rock rolling downhill, in the turn of two years, this consuming malady had taken everything away from the poor old lady. Slowly at first, oh so slowly, to the point where she would keep on working, convinced that it would just go away on its own had she kept on behaving normally.
But then, after a few months still, she had found she had no energies left and was bedridden.
By then, her lungs had been irreversibly damaged, to the point where they would fill with fluid so often she never had a nice night of sleep... Until her last one came.
When that morning Heath didn’t hear his grandmother’s wheezing come from her room, he felt... Relieved.
Immediately he regretted that feeling. Thankfully, his only friend had taken care of his grandmother’s last rites. The old and kind lady was put to rest under the tree in front of their shack.
He had grown up alright.
He had grown up feeling that everything which had happened to his family was his fault. His father had contracted his debt trying to build a bigger house for his family, the kid thought, which in his brain meant he was the reason.
His mother had left him because she was tired of always having to work so hard for him.
His grandmother had died the same way as his father, taking care of him.
He was cursed. Everyone knew and they all kept their good distance from the unlucky kid for fear to get entangled with whatever was wrong with him.
Superstition and popular believe where the forces which ruled the lower cast of which Heath was part of. And who needed facts and logic, when they already had gossip?
Heath, for fun and for lack of choice, spent days without speaking, without eating, without sunlight...
He had grown up alright.
Really... He had not. He was just an unhappy, older kid with depression.
Heath started hating the world, but most of all, he hated himself still.
By the age of thirteen, suicide was his second best friend. Heath would dream of it, walk beside it on the streets, dance with the idea when alone in his room, at night.
The idea of him possibly dying possessed such charm, he actually tried to take his own life several times by age sixteen, stopping for silly reasons, like: “what would Agatha think of me?” or “I am hungry” or at times lack or drive. Too bored to even take his own life.
And even without counting his mental state, how was he still managing to stay alive, someone might ask. First necessity goods costed, and the Viscount sure was not a gentle and kind being.
Heath, as a kid, had learnt from his father with eagerness and voracious attention, wishing to recreate those things and make them his quickly.
By age eleven he had already enough experience to be considered a master at weaving all sorts of fabrics and, thanks to his friend Agatha, he had also been able to consider his debt void by age fifteen.
His work was enough to keep him fed, clothed and with a roof over his head, which was even more reason for his peers quartered at the Viscount’s citadel to resent him.
While not a free man yet, he was very close to being one.
This still didn’t make him happy.
He was still the same silly, chronically depressed young man, playing with death, weighed down by his own flawed and cursed self.
This lasted until one fated day, when doing something very mundane with his best friend, she realized Heath, didn’t know how to read.
-I am so stupid... How is that I have not seen this until now? Heath, would you like me to teach you?
-And what would be the point? Is not likely to be useful for anything. A smart idiot remains an idiot.
-Now! Stop uttering such nonsense. You are far from being an idiot. I have seen you count in ways I will never be able to and notice things I never had. I have always seen you as a genius. That is why I always assumed you knew how to read.
Heath was a little flattered, but it had lasted for not even the count of one breath. A small, shiny spark though had flared in front of his eyes...
-What is so good about books, anyway?
He asked her. After several hours of explanations, Heath finally conceded. Giving up on that one battle, would have been the best choice he ever made.
Heath needed less than a week, to start to read properly, devouring new knowledge and massing up new concepts.
He spent months holed up in his best friend’s quarters, teaching her how to weave cloth and other fabrics, while she taught him how to read.
Teaching her was the only way he could think to pay her back for the annoyance he was giving her.
Without Heath realizing it, the shadow of death and the constant toying with the idea of suicide started leaving him, evaporating like water under the roaring summer sun.
Heath really was gifted with a great intellect. He understood something was shifting inside of himself.
Simply put, the best cure to death, turned out to be life.
Happiness had started to radiate from him, something so shiny and so bright, it made other people green with envy.
He was getting beaten-up regularly by older women but also kids of his own age, and was pretty much hated by everyone else whose name was not Agatha in the estate and commoner’s areas.
Other people could only be angry and wonder “Why him?”, “Why is he still staying?”, “Why is he allowed to live?”
Heath didn’t mind the beatings: he had learned long ago how to defend from those, but something happened soon after, which he did not expect.
One night when Heath was seventeen, a group of drunk older kids, coming out of the only commoners’ watering hole on the estate, had decided to give him the lesson of his life by setting his apartment on fire.
The night was bright with yellow lunar light and cheerful with the happy buzzing of people and animals. Only that night, before even arriving to his place, Heath had met the angry men while coming back from the house of the Viscount, carrying a heavy and voluminous sack, which contained spools of threads, fabric samples and... Three big leathery books about divine lore, one of Heath’s favourite subjects.
He also had bought several candles in order to read through the night from the general store.
When the drunken party spotted Heath, the big young men, as empty headed as donkeys, decided surprisingly quickly that giving him the thrashing of his life was going to be a good solution too.
Heath got caught off guard by plenty insults and shoving. The weaver tried with little conviction to make a run for it, but the heavy treasures in his arms were too much to let him go fast and yet, impossible for him to give up; had he done so, he could have escaped in a second from a group of poorly coordinated drunkards. He did not move.
That was the day, Heath was done pretending he didn’t see, hear or feel what people had against him.
Four against one was not the best situation possible.
Heath managed to headbutt one of his assailants and kick another one in his nether regions, but once the other two had realised the man today was not going down as easily as he usually did, they doubled over and managed to pin him to the ground.
The first man Heath had hit was out cold, blood flowing from his left eyebrow, covering that side of his face.
The thug whom had been hit to the groin instead, unable to hold in the content of his bloated stomach, puked, loudly, coughing and almost choking. When he regained control of his faculties, after almost two minutes, he was still massaging his crotch, bent forward, swearing and hissing.
Soon the concert of insults picked up once more, with kicks, and spits, all aimed at a rioting and, apparently, untameable Heath. He growled, struggled and almost managed to free himself from the grip of the men several times but, in the end, he could only free one of his legs.
Still, it had happened just in time to hit his assailant with a heel square in his teeth from the left side. The man’s cheek got cut clean through, making him spit blood with every word he tried to speak.
-Hold him properly, fucking turds!
The injured man screamed at his associates before grabbing one of the bottles they were carrying along by the neck.
The bottle was already broken in half, with edges that reminded of a carnivorous beast’s teeth.
-The little wuss likes to play dirty. Let’s see for how long you can bleed now, huh?
This scene, the man’s insane look, Heath would remember for a long time, while in the shiny night, he skewered his guts with a broken bottle.
In those crazy eyes there was excitement, a hint of resent and... righteousness.
That man probably did really believe he was in the right, trying to kill Heath.
Heath started bleeding and soon passed out from the pain.
After they were done with him, as an extra punishment, all the men decided to pee on top of Heath’s merchandise, including the books, ruining them forever.
Heath had been lucky that time. The bottle had only grazed his intestines and the neighbours knew what would happen to them if someone was to die in front of their houses. Some guards were bigger goons than the men who had assaulted Heath, and could use any sort of excuse to extort them, had they failed to report the situation.
The Viscount was not happy of what had happened; only in part for Heath, of course.
Had the young man died, the Viscount would eventually get annoyed by his daughter’s lament and mopiness, but what had really angered him beyond level, was his loss of property.
Those books of his had been display pieces, conversation starters used to impress other nobility and shame them into inferiority during business deals.
Obtaining other copies of those books was going to be nigh impossible.
It had been a while since last public execution and the populace needed this, in more than one way.
When, two days after the fact, the four men were ready to be roasted alive into heavy metal pots in the middle of the commoner’s area into the Viscount Ronaux’s citadel, it was made a grand spectacle. Four five feet tall black, thick and ominous looking cauldrons were resting on dancing flames, which hissed with anticipation.
The crowd went crazy as the four convicts entered the plaza, rolled from head to toes within oiled rope.
The more they struggled, the more the coarse rope would cut into their skin... And yet they did. When those bleeding peasants got lowered inside the pots and the lids closed around their necks, leaving their heads out of the contraptions, the screams raised high to the heavens above. Pain and elation mixed together in a primordial ritual which, if needed, while entertaining and scaring the masses, reminded them the one golden rule of their life:
“Thou shan’t fuck around with the Viscount and his stuff.”
Even from his room, which was quite far from the executional plaza, Heath could hear the perdition screams of those lost men, while they were rolling down on the slippery slope to hell, cursing him and his name, while still very pale, he was assisted by his only friend.
He cried for them, but mostly he cried for himself.
He had done it again: he had survived, he had escaped death and someone else had paid the price.
He could not help but relapse into his depression... Just a little bit.
They were not kind or nice people and he understood they did not deserve his compassion or sadness. The reason why he was depressed was realizing he was still trapped.
No matter what he tried to do or who he tried to be, he remained inside a cage as long as he kept on staying within the Ronaux Citadel... No, within the Rage nation.
In the Rage world, he was different, wrong and inferior. Nothing could change that.
The Rage people were proud warriors, confident that their draconic looking race was the superior one, entitled to lead their world as they most see fit from the top.
They had waged war during the centuries to all other species except for the Angi nation, too far remote and scary to try and mingle with.
The tree looking Lore, and forest dwelling Selva had already failed to resist the invading Rage, allowing the Rage Nation to become the Rage Continent.
So Heath, being of mixed blood Selva and Lore was something that, even trying to be on no one’s nerves, Rage kids would point their finger at while their parents looked at him with disgust.
Even his own people didn’t know what to make of him.
That was another of the reasons why, he thought, his mother might have left him: taking care of him was way too dangerous and complicated. Alone, she might have been accepted in one of the Lore lodges.
The last nation the Rage had attacked, and the one they had most fun fighting, apparently, was the noble Haiol. The velvety, feline looking Haiol had no intention whatsoever to become part of the Rage Empire and were just as proud of their story and civilization as their scaly assailants.
The world of Spinel was at war. It was a war for dominance and survival of which no one could pay the price, in case of defeat.
That being said, the war had not been really violent in recent years, although there were always active fronts and pockets of resistance sparking into action, here and there.
One thing was sure for Heath. He did not care for being a trapped animal for the rest of his natural life but, whatever he would do from that day onward, he’d better hide from others.
A life was a precious commodity and his, for sure, more than anyone else was valuable to him.
He was destined for greatness, he was sure, in spite of his poor beginnings, in spite of his shrivelled soul, in spite of himself. Who was him to stand in his own way to that greatness?
He would hide, he would learn, he would evolve: he had to finally become the main character of his own story.
That night, after the fires of excitement and punishment from the execution had died down, Heath was lying in his bed, alone in his house, he thought.
He woke up, throat feeling harsh and raspy, craving for some water and cursing that his night stand, was slightly too far.
As Heath had discovered on his own skin, getting his abdominal muscles stitched back together made it so that he couldn’t really do any movement with his belly.
Trying to pivot himself to a sitting position, was out of the question, pushing himself onto an elbow was too painful and he imagined that, while possible, rolling onto a side to reach over was going to be all sorts of drama too.
He cursed once more.
-Let me help you with that, young man.
A smooth and charming voice said, coming from a dark corner of the room.
It almost gave Heath a stroke, so much was the fright he felt rushing all through his body.
Moving fast to see who the owner of the voice was, Heath winced, afraid he had opened some stitches, but he could not care too much about his pain, given what the last batch of concerned citizen had done to him just recently.
-If I wanted to harm you, I would have done so while you were asleep and without any warning.
Stop for a moment and think... After you drink your water, that is.
Heath could hardly argue with cold logic.
Indeed, if the dark man in his room wanted to harm him, he could have done so sooner, without offering to even help him.
Heath stopped to ponder and connected several dots. Like hearing the ringing of a bell, over and over, all the pieces felt painfully in place. He drank his water and started speaking with a clear voice.
-You are right. You might not want to kill me, but you could still be a sadistic and twisted man, whom might rather torture me for some reason, like say, resentment for the people which got executed.
-The proof of a learned man. You can use big words like “sadistic” now. I am impressed. You must be a really ambitious young man.
The man’s face, even if he was now in plain sight, was covered by a hood which hid all of his features.
The only thing which one could understand by the way he uttered his words, was the race: Rage.
Heath’s heated scrutiny did not go unnoticed and the man returned to his dark corner.
-You are in my room and yet I am still alive and not worse than before. I have nothing to steal and you do not sound crazy. If I have to follow my logic, you can only be one person, for as silly as it might be; the only man with an even remote interest in being in my room.
-And who might that be, young man?
-Viscount Roneaux, of course.
There was a moment of silence, but soon after, the man got into the light again, holding a chair in his hands and sat down near Heath’s bed.
-Bravo! I am indeed impressed. I hope you don’t mind me keeping my face hidden: you never know who might be looking.
-Right. Which brings me to the heart of this odd situation: what are you doing at night in my room?
-You have done so much guessing, you already know I want to speak to you.
-Yes, I guess my question should have been: “what are you wishing me to do for you?”
The Viscount smiled from the heart.
-Indeed, brilliant, young Heath. What I need from you is the simplest of tasks: my daughter would not allow any soul near her except you and you are as such, the only one qualified to fulfil my request.
-I need you to protect her and make her happy.
-In case you didn’t notice, your grace, I got very much stabbed and, might I add, it really hurts, at the moment.
Viscount Renaux passed two fingers on his lips nervously, like his mouth and brain were fighting over what to say next.
-I am not asking you to go now, of course, but... you see, my position, is not a simple one, so to say.
Looking at the ceiling, Heath scoffed and half laughed of this last sentence.
-Amusing, but please do not make me laugh. Correct me if I am wrong, but you should be a spymaster of the Rage empire, a very important one, a central figure, for sure.
The Viscount tilted his hooded head and massaged his bearded chin
-And how do you reckon so?
-You are capable and smart, ruthless and respected. If this was not enough, you are a man of profound knowledge. You try to hide it, but I figure you did read every and each book into your personal collection. If the Empire wanted a capable man to groom up the social scale in order to cover more important stations, they would need to look no further than you.
-A man like you could rightfully be greatly ambitious and yet... You are not. Quite the opposite, in fact. One could say you even shy away from the Empire. Not only from your peers, but from your people too. Some at your citadel don’t even know what your face looks like. This has to be by design.
-All of this, makes me think you are a spy. And since you have been for more than twenty years and you are still in one piece, a very good one. You also received honours and grants from the Emperor, which makes me think you are important and quite valued by the Empire. You might even be the Prime Spy-Master of the Rage court.
Viscount Renaux was impressed and irritated at the same time.
-I guess this is the part where I try to deny what you just said with compelling arguments, but I will spare your beautiful reasoning this insult. I am indeed what you say. But is it a smart idea to put a spy on the spot, young man?
-It is not, sir, but I needed to establish a base for my next thread of thought, before we discuss protecting or assisting your daughter.
-My father, sir.
-I see. What about him? He was a...
-He was a bad man of some sort. He must have done something wildly outrageous for you to keep him here for all those years, bound by chains of hopelessness.
The viscount smacked his lips before licking them and answering.
-He was... And he did, but I will not tell you what his crimes had been. Nor will anyone else in this citadel.
-You were punishing him for what he did while also keeping him very close. He was not a simple person, but I have no wish of knowing what he had done or who he was.
Just remembering the looks of love he had for me and my mother, I am sure he was a changed man. We were his real priorities and he never made me miss a single thing. He was the best father ever.
-And I would agree, young man. Now that you know...
-It changes nothing. I loved the man. Back to business. You want me to protect your daughter. Might I ask from whom?
-All and nothing. I got the feeling she might want to leave my court and the security of this citadel soon, and when the time comes...
-By which you mean...
-What I mean is not something which matters. What matters is: have you ever heard the expression “too smart for your own good”?
The Viscount had cut Heath’s word in half with a vexed shoulder roll.
What Heath would have said before being wisely interrupted was “you think this place is not safe for her and you wish for her to be free from here but you cannot help her with this and wish for me to.”
-Yes I have. I am sorry for my silly mouth, your grace.
They were never alone. Just by coming here, the Viscount was putting in motion prying eyes and ears that, caught wind of what they had said, would be causing a chain reaction of events which Heath was almost scared of imagining. He had to be indeed more subtle. If anything, he should have learned already that showing off was dangerous in this town; he sure had the stitches to prove it.
The conversation between the two men kept on going for five more minutes, in a cryptic fashion, with obscure references which made Viscount Renaux smile and nod.
By the time his visitor was gone, Heath had found himself burn with passion and desire.
His path was clear, his road, one could say “sanctified” by dark forces.
For the first time in his life since he had lost his father, the young man was at peace, feeling like someone was looking out for him, almost protecting him. One thing was for sure, no matter how many days or years he had left before a plan was to be set in motion, Heath had to grow way more strategic and crafty, if he wanted to survive this game.
The barn was dark and hot, with creaky wooden floor and walls, also smelling hot and unpleasant with animal’s sweat.
A lone man was resting on some relatively clean hay, silently floating on a sea of unspent tears; sadness and broodiness had become kind of second habit to him for quite a while now.
He was afraid to open his eyes, afraid to take his next breath even.
Heath Weaver was most definitely a broken soul wishing for the time to disappear and the world to swallow him.
Had he been able to stop feeling...
He had had a moment of brightness a few years back, but it had all ended when a broken bottle had entered his guts.
Since then, he had been invisible.
No, he was overestimating himself: a useless sack of bones.
Town drunk would have been a worthy career option... although an expensive one.
For sure, too expensive for his almost empty pockets.
He had to let his underage desires of alcoholic destruction go back to the nether before even starting to drink.
Living was slavery, if a man was not able to be free.
That is what Heath thought... but he was getting distracted.
He was sad.
He wanted to keep on being sad for a while still. After all, his self-punishment was the only thing which kept him human, making him recognizable from his work tools.
Without those consuming feelings of his, he knew he would have been no different than a shovel or a scythe, moving back and forth all day just because someone made it so.
In his case, that someone was the Viscount, the previous owner of his family’s debts.
He so desired a shot at higher education...
-I am a selfish little shit! Wasn’t I mourning my family? There I go thinking about making myself better. Fancy trash is still trash: what good would learning do to me?
He sighed. Had he at least been good at mourning, someone from the church might have noticed him, and helped him becoming an altar boy or even a deacon. But he was not good.
He thought too much and he was not good at lying...
Heath caressed a piece of cloth which his grandmother used for covering herself at night: he had been ordered to burn it, but how could he? It was the last memento he had left of her.
While all these bright and positive thoughts were chasing each other in a sure constructive way inside Heath’s brain, someone entered the barn with the pacing and presence of the righteous, ready to scold and saw justice.
It was a young woman, not on the tall side, but sure spirited, covered in freckles and with ginger long messy hair. She was clothed in cotton candy pink, with fluffy clothes, clean and dignified: all things which Heath seemed to be missing.
She could even be called beautiful, wasn’t it for the fact she had a terrible attitude and a dark soul which oozed out with every action she took.
The girl stood under the door’s frame, hands on her exquisite and round waist, looking around for Heath.
It wasn’t hard to locate the boy, since he was too heartbroken and distraught to even consider hiding properly: the pile of hay he was resting upon was in front of the door, a little to the side.
What did this tell her about him, she wondered. Did he have a secret desire to be found out or punished?
-Heath, you lazy man, you know you should be working right now.
-Go away, you monster. How can you talk to me about weaving cloth when I am in so much pain? Go and find someone else to bother!
He shouted, rolling in a ball of resentfulness, holding his knees pressed against his chest.
The pretty girl was very incredulous and stomped her way up to the stack Heath was sobbing on.
-I am pretty sure you just didn’t call me monster.
In her voice was all the hot and clawing anger she had learned to direct at insolent people, namely, Heath, since everyone else in the estate, knew better than to mess with her.
Heath considered for a moment if he actually had dared to call her that... He soon decided he had not. The man might toy with the idea of death, but wasn’t a total masochist yet.
Had he said “yes”, Varia would have sent him to meet his ancestors faster than he could say “underworld”.
-Sure I didn’t, you are hearing things... Madame. Now, go away... Please.
He added quickly, not daring to poke the creature twice in a row.
-Why, you sure are an odd man, Heath. You are lucky the young mistress likes your work enough to allow you to pay your family’s debts and you still keep being a nuisance. You are a half-bred and son of a lowlife. Where is all this haughtiness coming from?
He weighted the word for a moment
-Being in mourn is wrong, being happy is wrong, being too tall or strong is wrong and of course I am an accursed son of sin... my life is wrong and I wish you all go to hell and leave me the fuck alone.
That is what he wanted to say, but he knew better...
-I will be on my way in a moment.
He said while letting himself slide off the pile of dry, fragrant hay. The heart-wrenching pain in the young man’s voice sounded so genuine, even monster Varia felt a little stab of sadness. She didn’t appreciate it.
-Life is life... sad sack, why can’t you just live it? Get your ass off to work and be grateful I don’t report you.
The sooner she could see him off, the sooner she could return to playing with her toys in her room. She was a spoiled mistress of the Viscount but part of her life was making sure that the young lady, the Viscount’s only daughter, was kept properly, pampered and happy.
That, mysteriously, included the rough and loose job of an unskilled, untrained and unrefined weaver like Heath.
All Varia knew, was that until the young lady was happy, she was happy and could play and eat to her heart’s content. She liked eating. She sure liked it better than starving to death like she did before the Viscount had taken her in as his concubine, when she was a dirty beggar, invisible, on the side of a road.
The Viscount, a fine man if anyone asked Varia, was a noble of one of the purest and oldest families of Rage of planet Spinel.
Rage were reptilian people with long prehensile tails, hard scales and a variety of colours, which were at war on many fronts with almost all of the other races of the planet. The only ones which they had not bashed heads with, so far, were the Angi, but not for lack of trying.
Angi were just a race of winged men with a reclusive and non-caring nature which allowed them to do just what they wanted: study new technologies.
No outsider ever entered Angi cities and no Angi ever tried to leave them either, making them almost a mythological bone fire story, more than a threat to the Rage Empire.
What really was a problem for the Rage, were the Lore and Selva races. Those tree looking and beasts looking people were hard to get rid of, like a lice infestation.
For every hidden village the Rage armies destroyed, another two spawned, endlessly.
Some factions of Lore were less interested in war and just wanted to live in peace and isolation in forests, but Selva...
They had made of this war against the Rage their banner, even going as far as involving the high Haiol Principate.
When the war had been almost over for the Rage and the enemy vanquished, the Selva alliance had gone and found solace and help in the Haiol Principate. The Haiol had joined the fight because, being a smart feline looking bunch, knew all too well that a race like Rage was unable to live without war... And not just metaphorically speaking: such a huge warring empire as the Rage, needed war to gather resources, food, slaves, support and grant employment to their young men and occasional women.
Ruthlessness and violence were the norm in every corner of the Rage Empire. Their people had to be strong, proud and awe inspiring, in order to make right by the ancestors and keep their enemies at bay.
Army detachments and outposts were everywhere, without counting the private soldiers’ groups nobles kept on retainer for security and land control. The whole empire, spreading across almost two continents, outside of its majestic cities, reminded a lot of an infantry encampment.
Heath slid down the hay stack. Wasting more time would only attract unwanted attention on top of his well scheduled apathy.
-I am going now. You can return to your... Whatever it is you were doing before. I am pretty sure it is better than this.
-Of course it is, waste boy, but I have to make sure you actually reach the room of the young miss: get moving. The sooner you do, the sooner I can get out of this heat, too.
Seeing the monster suffer was one of Heath’s secret pleasures. He smiled while unseen and walked slowly to his place to grab some of his tools, all the while listening to the soft music which was the sighing and complaining being brined down behind him by the bag of gas which was Varia, in his eyes.
It had taken them almost twenty minutes to actually arrive at the door of the young mistress of the citadel, Agatha, and Varia had hated every second of it, wishing she could be eating candies while having a bath. The woman almost didn’t knock on the door, but the sour memories of the last time that had happened, sent a cold drop of sweat down her spine, causing her to shiver. She was the first concubine, everyone paid her heed and feared her. Only Agatha was the itchy mole on her otherwise perfectly smooth life. Varia moved her hand away from the handle with a wave of anger, before softly knocking.
-Young miss, the master Weaver is here.
-Good, pet. Now go! And close the door. I don’t want all of the cold to be gone from the room.
Varia had a disgusted face, like she had swallowed a bucket of flies... raw. She would have loved nothing more than to twist that tongue out of Agatha’s mouth, but instead, after a little stumble, she curtsied and managed to slowly and shakily muster a smile, before bringing her scaly self out of the room.
Varia was going to stress eat so much... Agatha felt almost pleased by it.
When the door was finally closed shut, Agatha ran to hug her closest friend Heath.
Her long dress made a complex rustling noise and was a little heavy, since her father had this impossible ideal that all the ladies in his court should be wearing formal attires at all times.
A very unpleasant mean of torture, if anyone cared to ask Agatha.
Agatha pressed her arms around Heath’s soft bark-like skin but was sad to see he did not do the same.
-What is going on, Heath?
He sighed, enjoying the hug, but unable to reciprocate, like someone had seeped the strength out of him. When he finally felt like speaking, under the worried look of his sweetheart friend, he admitted to something he did not want to.
-I moulded myself into the shape of mediocrity for escaping the weary looks and jealous plots of others. I have nothing to be proud of, my friend. Should a possum think itself smart because he can feign its own death?
Agatha smiled with a caring smile which flowed directly from her sisterly loving heart and replied with calm
-You are surviving and preparing! We are hiding in the way a hunter stalks the prey. Our hiding is just a mean to an end: this is not our place to fight. The days when we might become heroes will come, but before then, we should struggle to reach the days when we get to be ourselves, don’t you think?
Heath agreed, finally feeling comfortable returning the hug, and rejoiced a little of the contact with his friend’s curly hair which smelled like violets and her velvety skin.
Really that was still part of his act, being kind of a drama queen. He partly did enjoy acting and partly loved plotting. Together with crafting and survival skills, strategy was his favourite subject and the Viscount, thinking himself a great leader, had books aplenty on the subject.
Sure one thing was learning from books and another was being on the practical side of things. There were schools for military and war strategy which taught all of it, available for the elites and nobles. Agatha could have gone to one of those, but decided otherwise because she had wanted to remain with her friend.
She was a girl, but her passion was into fighting, as she was a ruthless warrior. Same age as Heath, she was covertly already the strongest with a sword in the entire province.
-We are so close I can taste it already, my sweet friend. Next Octane, we will be free. Only four days to go.
-It did take quite a while to come up with the right plan, your father sure did not make it easy, with his extra tight security, but... For as much as he loves you...
-He would never really let me go to see the world. I am his only family. He is a dangerous man and scary one for all the world, except for me. He thinks all of life is expendable, apart from mine.
-We don’t know how he might react once he thinks...
Heath tried to comment benevolently
-It does not matter. He will be him and I will finally be me, Heath.
-Now, grab your batons, if you please, I am itching to give you a proper lesson in weaponry.
-Say it as it is, you want to injure me... So cruel a friend you are...
Their getting ready was just a little different: Heath retrieved a loose sparring light brown shirt from a chest and put it on top of his thick tree leather armour he had knotted and shaped himself. He also removed his linen dirty and patchy pants to reveal a nice pair of armoured pants of the same material of his top, going down all the way to under his knee.
Agatha, on the other hand, had to carefully and slowly remove all of her garment to finally reveal her fighting gear.
Tree leather was a light material obtained from Sage willow’s bark soaked in a natural softener, rock oil.
Heath and Agatha, lucky for them, had found a source of oil in their many excursions around the property. After three baths in rock oil, with long waiting times in a moist and warm environment between each, the tree leather was ready to be worked with. The entire procedure took three Octanes.
The result was a fabric which almost entirely absorbed the hits from blunt weapons and could resist a few attacks on the same spot from a cutting weapon if knotted tightly and properly.
-I am waiting, young man. Are you ready for an arse kicking?
-Sure, but that would not be nice of me, you are still a lady, after all.
-You didn’t dare...
-But I did...
Heath beckoned Agatha intriguingly.
When it was about fighting, Agatha liked flexibility, working a weapon with two or one hand, according to what she wanted to achieve. The free hand could later on brandish a shield or be used for punching, deflecting or gripping the weapon itself.
She was what would be called a flexible fighter, always trying to get advantage of the situation.
Being someone so much in love with strategy, Heath was somehow different in his approach while still flexible and adaptable. He liked to fight with two weapons, changing the way he fought entirely, if necessary, but without changing his choice. That was the kind of man he was. When he found a piece which fitted the puzzle, he would grab onto it and set it into the picture, instead of asking questions about it, trusting his guts and going for what felt right.
Using a weapon in each hand, was the comfortable choice for him and that was that.
Why, one might ask: he was a protector. A real protector, in real life, was that one fighter which was dangerous, that one fighter which could claim all of the attention for himself and which the enemy would channel their hatred onto.
In order to have that happen, a warrior had to look scary, imposing and dangerous, giving the message “we don’t want to let that one warrior be able to scour around the battlefield”.
Felling enemies would be part of that job description, being everywhere and on everyone at the same time.
A protector is someone no one can ever afford turning their back to. That is what Heath was achieving to obtain. Only, it was a harsh path.
Taking her wooden sword with two hands, in a low stance, Agatha attacked Heath with anger from underneath, at an angle, she thought, would be hard to predict.
Heath was ready to react though and parried the hit with a wide defence which allowed him to slow it down while also sliding to the side with the same motion, bringing himself parallel with Agatha’s body, Heath brought his weapons to her chest, but before he could lock on, the bigger sword was once again in front of him blocking his way, pushing against his arms.
Without losing heart, Heath stopped applying force and kept on circling around, trying to attack, but once again Agatha, like she had eyes on her back, stopped the hits before even turning around to face him.
Defending... What was the best path to it? Attacking endlessly so that the enemy would be too worried to leave you be, or blocking their path? Of course the answer was not clear. Defending, meant being a threat, a commanding and towering figure which demanded attention. Heath knew how good theatrics were for this, but using razzle dazzle on Agatha could not help him winning the current bout.
Heath was not going to give Agatha another chance to attack him anytime soon, he decided and slowly walked towards her. Today he was going to win, for Agatha’s good.
They were indeed going to be out of there soon and he needed her to be ready, which in this case, meant scared.
Agatha, noticing the change in the flow of the battle understood what might be coming and switched her stance, carrying the sword higher, in a more defensive pose, leaving only a small space on her belly open, but easy to cover, should the need arise by lowering her weapon.
Heath knew the real weak point of this stance was at the sides, but Agatha would never let him go to a blind spot and attack her; at the same time, being in front of her was pretty much begging to be hit to the face.
He needed to pressure her until the right moment when, even with his lower physical prowess, he might find an opening: this meant attacking Agatha at all possible points without leaving her any chance for retaliation.
Heath closed his eyes for a second, bucking to the front, almost like he would fall face first. Before reaching a bad angle, he pushed onto his right toe, launching forward with his right weapon, aiming for his sparring partner’s sword, blocking it and then pointing at Agatha’s forearm with the tip of his left baton. For as strong as her grip might be, hits from continued attacks could make anyone’s grasp on a weapon uncomfortable; Heath felt confident and in control.
Also, poking her forearms and wrists would help making her limbs grow numb.
Agatha endured all of it with less and less patience as the attacks piled up, hiding her wish to smash behind a steady breathing.
When the seventh attack combination from Heath struck, the wooden sword, accomplice a good poke to the right wrist, buckled for a moment to the side, leaving a spot open for a spinning elbow attack for Heath from the top down.
Realising what was happening a second too late, Agatha took several steps back, covered in nervous perspiration, feeling the burn left by the armour covered elbow on her left cheek and on the tip of her chin.
There was no blood, but it did still sting quite a bit as Agatha ran two fingers onto the swelling red scratch mark.
-Now you have done...
Before she could conclude her sentence, Heath went at her with a ruthless double stabbing motion from the top, in a full blown jump.
Just at the last instant, Agatha forced her body to shift to the left, only being hit by the right handed strike between the shoulder and the armpit.
After landing, Heath flopped to the ground and vaulted backwards a moment later.
Although he wanted to continue the attack, he was a little out of breath, in need of a few seconds for recovery.
Agatha, feeling like she had gotten enough of being on the defensive foot and outraged by all of the lack of etiquette, charged in frontally, with her sword high, almost imitating Heath’s last assault.
Too fast... The man didn’t even have time to properly consider before reacting.
It was only instinct which guided him to move at the moment both of Agatha’s feet had left the ground and pushing from under her armpit, he shoved her to the ground.
The same instinct, drove Agatha to land with her feet first and her back second, but she still had the wind sucked out of her.
-Since when are you so... wild?
-Since today I wanted to show you something for a change: while it is true that we are still in hiding, soon we will be in the real world, going against real people, possibly joining the real army.
They will not care how, prepared or willing we are. We will have just one chance to be ourselves, most likely, on the front lines.
I will have your back, and I hope you will have mine, but the enemy will care for none of that.
They will be ruthless and unwilling to die... Strangely enough.
Agatha, slapped away the hand Heath was giving her, but immediately regretted doing so.
-Sorry. Hand please.
-Don’t worry. I should have warned you I would go all out.
-No, I should have known you would get so good sooner or later.
She got to her feet and ruffled Heath’s hair.
Agatha asked, inviting him, while stepping back.
Heath was sweating profusely through the knotted black armour, but couldn’t help smiling of this happiness his life had given him after so long. In this room he was not the orphan kid of an uncaring mother or the grieving youth who had lost all the people which shared even a drop of blood with him. Here he was a peer and a brother to a young woman whom wanted for them to be free.
Unseen, from his room, the Viscount, was busy looking with both eyes, inside a pipe sporting several crystal lenses.
How was it possible? That was a unique artefact he had “requisitioned” after having ridden the world of an old hag which was supposedly a witch, according to common folks’ tales.
Really what she was, Viscount Renaux had found by having his men hot tail the hag for a month, going through a lot of danger: she was a human trafficker and a pagan sadist of the worst kind, who liked sacrificing good people to pagan gods too much for her own good.
The little toy which the Viscount was now using, turned out to be the only real piece of unquestionably magical origin the woman had in her possession which had become an invaluable asset, in the expert hands of Viscount Renaux.
On the outside it looked to be a normal spyglass, although for both eyes, but on the inside of its black lenses, it could show every picture, from every angle, of any individual on the planet, when asked properly.
The Viscount needless say, was observing his daughter.
His scales and quills were shaking, reacting to what he was seeing, with a vicious smile on his face.
Viscount Renaux was a peculiar man: he was an absent, yet surprisingly caring father, a savage ruler for his people, a shady character for his peers and a monster for the rest of the world.
He was the man which the Emperor tasked with all of the “odd” tasks, although often covertly and, without doubt, the best spymaster a man so high up on the line of command could ask for.
Viscount Renaux was not a man of politics, nor did he care for what the Emperor desired for their country: he was who he was and did his job with attention and smarts.
Why, might one ask, since he did not care for the figure of the Emperor at all?
Two reasons: he was sure that although the Emperor was a power hungry crazy man, there were many less qualified individuals to sit on the throne which could have harmed their nation far more, with less brain or charisma... And the man was able to blackmail the Viscount into obedience through the only weak spot he had: his daughter.
The only reason he had to look the part of the distant father, was indeed for not making even more prickly the already thorny situation. Had the Emperor known how much he really cared for his daughter, he could have forced Viscount Renaux to way worse than what he had already done.
Young Agatha always felt like she was in golden prison... She didn’t know how right she was, or how dangerous her prison actually was or that she was not in it alone.
Why did Viscount Renaux care at all about Heath though?
He did not: everyone needed a brother in arms to look over their shoulders. His daughter was no exception.
Renaux had observed a lot of people in his life and had become a prodigious judge of character, which also made him and exceptional spymaster.
The man had understood Heath would have gone through fire and brimstone for his daughter.
That was what gave him all sort of value, to the Viscount... Plus he kind of reminded the nobleman of himself as a young and starving youngster, eager to meet the world and pave his name into its history; the only difference being the Viscount had never been a starving youngster.
When the father had realized his daughter had started scheming trying to extricate herself out of that bad bundle of constricting vines, he had been moved to pride in an all new way, seeing how nature had passed to her more of himself than just his good looks.
She was a fighter and a “struggler” and her father wanted to see just how hard his daughter was able to kick and buck trying to get out of there.
Was it not for his “third eye blind”, as he loved to call the bifocal instrument he was looking into, he could have only imagined how ready she was.
He thanked the heavens his daughter was a stubborn independent young woman every day.
This being said, the Viscount needed to remind himself he actually liked Heath.
Had he not, he might have marched straight into their room to remove Heath’s skin with a rusty nail, after the beating he had given his little Agatha.
She was trying to escape and build her own future. Her father was indeed proud... And also very sad.
Somewhere else, on a field littered with greasy carcasses, bones and rotting bowels, a man with a hunched over posture and a black cape was fumbling and struggling to keep on walking, following the scent of something which was not the overbearing decay and death.
He skirted piles of mangled bodies and remains of animals chopped and hacked into by weapons, laughing slowly to himself, every now and then, with his raspy voice.
All of a sudden, a hint of anticipation flickered on the man’s semi-covered face and he hurried his shaky pacing.
When he had reached the spot he was seemingly looking for, he slowed down, scouring the ground, and pushing mangled carcasses to the side with his long cane.
The disgusting smell coming up from the soil was so strong that any living creature would not only die, but have its body rot from the inside out, at the spot the man had chosen.
And yet, he seemed not to be bothered by it at all, like not even feeling it, while busying himself, while digging.
Slime and corrupted blood oozed from the hole the Wicked Man had created... And yet he kept on going.
After a short while, the long cane hit something with a deep, hollow sounding, “thud” and the Wicked Man could not help but smile his twisted smile. With a decisive push, he pierced through the membrane he had reached before and his cane, with a sudden gush of disturbing fluids, sunk one more meter under the deathly outer layer of the hill, reaching into the guts of that poor, desolate and agonizing place.
The Wicked Man had not even tried to dodge the substance which had sprayed onto him but, nonetheless, had managed not to get soiled by it in any way. He reached down with one of his dark, putrid hands whistling a low tune: the music he produced was slow, sad and creepy, but at the same time had some enticing quality to it that common folks would think belonged to a fancy city bard crying to his instrument.
Answering to this tune though, was not a shy young lady, nor a wined-up farmer, but a transparent body made of some mysterious, impalpable substance, radiating a low, grey luminescence.
The Wicked Man rejoiced as a partly sentient creature climbed its way around his cane, while also pulling the muck covered wooden stick out of the ground.
-There there, my little thing. Now, tell me, how many of you are hidden down there?
Asked the Wicked Man while slightly squeezing and caressing the ectoplasm with his right hand by the long brown, curved fingernails.
Faint images of a thick stream of plasmid souls came to his brain: millions of them, maybe even tens of millions.
With all those souls, he could create an endless amount of minions and creeps, adding the raw materials on that hillside.
His lips curled up in a vile way which was foreshadowing nothing of the good variety. The plasmid life form left out a scared squeamish sound, trying to escape from his grip, but the Wicked Man just hid it underneath his cape, in an unnaturally big and dark space in between two of the many folds.
Without wasting time, the man knelt down and pushing back his right sleeve, he traced a few shiny spiralling twisted symbols on his forearm: he shoved it down the hole he had previously opened up, down to his elbow, moving more green ooze and rotting blood.
-To me... To me. Yes... Yes...
He could feel the tiny pieces of broken souls responding to his call and going towards him, feeling the urge of obeying to him, the need to be enslaved and employed for an evil use, as the Wicked Man had started corrupting the stream of souls.
The more of his corruption he sent down the hole, the more of himself he could share through his skin, the more his eyelids fluttered, like he was enjoying this to no end.
And then his eyes and mouth opened wide, when he turned his evil energy gouge to the maximum of his capacity, stuck in a silent scream, emitting bright yellow greenish light out of all his orifices, even seeping from under his skin, like he could barely contain it without breaking apart.
A few cracks soon started to appear on his complexion, while more and more of the lost coalesced underground souls slowed down their flowing, playful swimming and started to resonate with the corrupting light shining on top of them.
Several of them, from nice and lustre, dimmed down, shaking, morphing into more monstrous aspects of themselves.
New cracks appeared on the Wicked Man’s skin as more and more of the creatures kept on getting trapped into his claws.
After this experiment, no one would be able to stop him from corrupting the planet on a bigger scale. He knew that.
As answering to this new source of swirling energy, on the hill, the air had started slowly spinning, and grazing the evil man’s skin; he felt like even that small amount of breeze could have gone through him, so much energy he was dishing out from god knows where.
Thousands, then hundreds of thousands and millions, were being bewildered to an unknown level. Those uncaring and happy go lucky wandering souls, were becoming an uncountable conglomerates of anger and killing intent, lusting for massacre and carnage.
This was the beginning of the end for Spinel...
The Wicked Man had succeeded and silently rejoiced with his perverted smile, while the energy pouring out of him, started to dim down a little.
All the underground creatures were now enveloped by his domineering will, wishing to destroy everything and everyone, in the name of the Wicked Man.
But then... Coming from above, a single stream of dark green and purple light, quickly swam down through the gaps between the transforming souls, bravely, on the edge of uncaring, with a lofty and smiling crudely designed face on its front.
This different light life form soon reached the core of the now evil swarm and after one last, naughty laugh, begun whistling a small yet powerful slow tune.
As this picked up tempo, several of the souls around the intruder, stopped their angry transformation to look at it.
The Wicked Man noticed something was amiss and, while almost at his limit, decided to give everything he had to his horde of souls, ordering them to destroy the intruder.
It was already too late though. As the dark green light creature started to dance to its own rhythm, all of the other souls felt enraptured and engrossed in its frenetic energy, so much that they let go of the yellowish green energy altogether like it was stale and unappetizing, returning to their original form, before getting pierced by small whiskers of dark green and purple, slowly become more sylvan, more “natural” and varied. Some of the creatures now looked like grass patches, others were furry and brightly coloured... But all of them were happy and swinging to the beat of the small cluster of brave light which couldn’t help but sigh with relief while the dancing party kept on going.
Freed from the bodies of the creatures, the evil energy was getting burned, unable to resist the overbearing natural one, falling like ashes.
This caused the Wicked Man to be washed over with overwhelming pain; almost fearing for his life, he let out a maddening, wild and angry roar, before briskly waking up and looking up.
There, barely an inch away, a majestic and gigantic animal had her face and answered to the roar with one of her own, so powerful it could have made blood freeze inside the veins of even the wildest of beasts and vilest of creatures.
The Wicked Man felt a tingle down his spine...
They stared into each other’s eyes, before the big animal bashed her skull against the man’s forehead with visceral, righteous anger.
-You are done... This is your end, you cancer of the universe.
Her voice shook a little with an intense and complex mix of feelings.
She had spent the last thirty years hunting this man down and finally getting at the end of her restless chase felt good, and enraging at the same time, thinking how much bad she could have spared to her planet, only had she managed to get here sooner.
She had been in time to stop this last evil plot of the man though.
As the Wicked Man struggled to get back to his feet, he noticed his... well his nemesis, for lack of a better word, The Beast Queen, had six out of her eight orange furry extremities planted into the ground, using a transformation spell which was consuming dead bodies and inanimate objects to create a “domain”, a lush green field to better sustain her own spells, while weakening his.
-Crafty little bitch, how did you get so close, without me noticing?
A hint of panic could be seen going through the eyes of the Wicked Man, which had lost previously a great deal of his strength and could barely keep himself together, let alone fight the Queen.
-I am not going to talk to you, monster, you know that, but... I will be glad to show you.
The Queen waved one of her hands and a full circle of women and men, appeared in the still growing tall and flowered grass.
They were the scarred and hardened veterans of hundreds of battles against this man and his armies. Together with their leader, the Queen, they had defeated most of them, destroyed enough to push this man with his back to the wall. Now was the time for their last assault.
The Queen, she did not really have, nor needed, a better name, was a subspecies of what is commonly known as dragon: three meters tall, with tough scales which faded from deep orange to an intense yellow, to black and six furry legs; the fur also grew, to soften her chest, all the way up to her neck and face. Hers, was a perfectly, sound battle form, with plating and talons aplenty for defence and attack. Also, on top of her head, between the yellow scales with black tips she had grown six horns, giving shape to a very crown like formation.
She knew just half of the strength from the headbutt she had given before to the Wicked man would have killed an average elephant, so she was sure he was both spent in the body and in the soul.
The Queen, on her side, had spent a lot of energy to hide her people and to use the domain spell.
She needed to end this fast.
The good thing about a domain spell is that it will immediately have a beneficial effect for the caster. In this case, the spell had eliminated the miasma and dread which were part of the battlefield domain which the Wicked Man was feeding on, making him way weaker and the Queen’s party stronger.
At times, two or more domains could fight each other, at times coexist: in this case, one was a domain of life, the other, one of death. There was no way for both to exist at the same time.
Would this be what people could call magic though? Only to a certain extent. It was more control over energy.
Even while she looked calm on the surface, really the Queen had to fight to maintain the control tipped on her side.
-Men, let’s end this: TAKE AIM!
She proclaimed with passion.
The men and women in armour, as one entity, released the safeties on their big crossbows and brought them to the front, with an air of holy savagery, waiting with their fingers on air-light triggers.
The Wicked Man had to focus with all he had just for not having his essence destroyed by the pressure emanating from the Queen, he literally could not move, even if he wanted to, caught in an enormous energy made bear trap, struggling against its iron bite.
And then the Wicked Man did something which the Queen did not expect. He laughed, in the face of his demise, he laughed, wholeheartedly and said
-My enemy, if I may: one final word of...
The Queen was not going to have any of that man’s nonsense any longer. She had allowed him to roam on her planet, destroying and corrupting for too long.
He had killed her kin, annihilated entire species, villages, cities, without differentiating between beasts, kids, women or men.
All the man wanted to do was killing meaninglessly and consuming souls aplenty for his own dark devices... His time had come.
Nine darts, covered in soul energy, sprung out of as many dark metal bows, spinning and pushing more powerfully than any arrow could normally do.
Every single one of them found its target, every single one of them, given the weakened condition of the Wicked Man, was enough to destroy his body: the choral and mostly simultaneous impact was so strong, the Wicked Man was reduced in dust so fine, one could have sworn it was starch.
The Queen did not dare releasing her domain spell, letting even the dust be consumed by it and transformed into life. Every single speck of death, was absorbed and purified.
All of the man was finally gone...
Not his cape though. The black piece of dishevelled fabric laid on top of the tall grass, without really touching it, still covered in dim yellowish green runes, pulsating like veins.
Beyond exhaustion, The Queen almost allowed herself a smile, before asking.
-Is it really over?
Her men, almost did not dare rejoice, but still a few cheers resounded all around.
Only... one pair of feet, started moving towards the Queen, slowly, like their owner was fighting a fight against something alien, which was taking control over him... And losing.
-Filthy bitch... You brainless... Animal. That stung...
One of the men, from the Queen’s left moved, one slow and painful step at a time, heavily punctuating his words.
-As I was saying before being so rudely interrupted...
His skin had started to turn sickly pale and his veins, like for the cape, were shining with a yellowish green light now.
-There is always...
The man touched the cape and whatever shred of a fight had been there, was over. He had lost.
Once more he spoke, his voice both a whisper and a scream, both controlled and angry, both wild and sickly charming.
-ALWAYS! GOING! TO BE! A! WICKED! MAN!
The cape was now on the Queen’s soldier, hood hiding his face, with an aura way stronger than ever before.
The Queen was not sure what was actually happening, but it was nothing good...
Was this still the Wicked Man’s doing?
She did not have the luxury to dilly dally; with what energy she had left, she pushed down on this new enemy. Her voice quite shaky, she shouted on top of her lungs.
-Men, aim! Once again!
-Do not bother, cretins.
The Wicked Man, stretched out his left hand and his nails grew into dark talons, spawning another knotted long cane. His right hand also waved, transforming, but as it did, it released a terrifying amount of decay and destruction, first warping and immediately after shattering the domain spell of the Queen.
As that happened, the Queen felt her core also shattering in hundreds of small glossy shards.
The grass and flowers quivered and withered away, releasing a bad smell.
The Queen looked at her people, terror in her eyes as she understood what the Wicked Man wanted to do to them.
-All of you... Run...
Some woman replied with devotion.
It was clear as the sun in the sky, they had lost.
-Run I said. Do not worry about me!
As this was happening, under the hill, the brave small cluster of energy and joy, realized something was wrong with the Queen and returned to her, as fast as possible, entering into her.
The Queen felt that her prime was back but still had a moment of hesitation.
Too many thoughts crossed her mind at once:
She had led what little men were left in her personal army to death. She was a failure, through all the years she had understood nothing about the Wicked Man... She could do nothing to save them, even if she wanted to...
Right at that moment though, the small cluster of joy inside of her, as reading her mind, gave her the vitality she needed to act.
Feeling that sudden surge of power, the Queen moved the energy inside of her belly then, after absorbing it, she was able to move her legs.
Six of her nine men and women were still alive, the Queen needed to open a portal for all of them to escape through before the Wicked Man could kill them, also.
With no little effort, she was able to send each one of them through a fiery portal of white and blue light.
When the Wicked Man realised what was happening, he spun around with ferocity and sent up a huge wave of miasma toward the Queen, which got struck without a chance to retaliate, busy as she was in keeping the portals stable.
In the nick of time, everyone had gone away, and it was now up to her to disappear.
She knew the Wicked Man was not going to let her live though. The miasma she had absorbed had already been a fatal dose, without counting the shattering of her soul’s crystallization. She only had a few, precious moments to give meaning to her life.
-A protector... I need a protector of the bloodline of the order. Please, find me a protector of the order...
She begged with her last breaths for the gods and creators that the portal she was creating to bring her to a protector of the order. Before it was too late, she slipped the portal right under her feet.
Seeing the shiny round door closing, the Wicked Man, had only a moment. He waved his cane, releasing some energy and ordered.
-Go and finish that bitch!
From two of the dead bodies of the soldiers he had killed, fresh souls quickly crawled out, angry and corrupted, ready to chase the Queen down the closing portal.
-Silly animal. Thinking she could stop me of all creatures. What a foolish woman...
The Wicked Man smiled underneath the cloak, his face too, was now changing, reverting to what it had been before. Getting rid of him, was indeed impossible.
Heath, later that day, on a hillside just out of the Viscount’s mansion, had just taken a shower after fighting for the best of two hours with Agatha. In spite of the protective gear he had crafted for the both of them, they had collected a few new bruises.
The young man also had a lot of new thoughts in his head. What he had told her during the training was not food for thought for Agatha alone to absorb; he had been shocked to hear himself say those words. He had thought about them before, of course, but putting them out in the open was another whole level of scary.
They would soon be free to roam the world, free to find their own path into it and trace new tracks that no one had yet dared to.
It was very dangerous, scary and exciting at the same time. Heath had so much to learn, so many books he wanted to find about all sorts of topics...
He wanted it all. A “want” was his purest wish, his core desire.
Looking at his hands, he could almost feel the world roll inside of them for him to taste.
All of a sudden he felt full of energy and in need to vent some steam, even though he had just finished sparring.
His heart was racing and his look was vigilant.
Heath pushed hard on the ground, kicking back some rich, black dirt and grass, while sprinting onward.
In less than ten seconds he had already disappeared from sight in a thicket of trees, soon turning uphill.
Heath almost forgot he needed to breath; the thought came back to him only after a long while.
He was once again covered in sweat and red in the face; with the biggest of smiles, he attacked the last part of the hill that was still encircled by the fortified walls of their citadel, going up a tall pile of dirt which he had moved there with a lot of time and patience.
He did not even stop to look down or to consider how steep the raise and the fall were.
He simply kept on going.
By the time he had taken his last quick step on top of the city walls, no one had noticed him yet.
Heath was flying... And then falling into the emptiness of air like a rock.
Good thing this was not his first time taking that jump.
When the ground was only six meters away, Heath caught hold of some stretchy ropes made of the same blackened tree leather he wore as protection, which extended between two trees.
It was not the only such thread in the clearing either. Several dozens of them were placed close to each other, so to be sure that no matter the trajectory while going down, he would always be able to somehow get one.
Heath, did not fight gravity as he hit another rope, soon bouncing back up. It was kind of painful and sure dangerous, for his clothes, that is why he kept his fists crossed and tucked underneath his chin, to cover his chest. Heath bounced one more time, before using his arms to dangle from the ropes on top of a consistent pile of leaves several meters underneath.
It took him quite a bit to roll and walk off from there, while huffing and puffing.
He had dead leaves everywhere too, but the thrill he got out of it was so worth it.
As soon as he cleaned himself up a little with his hands, he took a deep breath of the good smelling air in the multicoloured forest at early dusk.
He could feel the under-brush, he could feel the grass, the mushrooms, the tree bark... It was all there in his nostrils and it made him want to run like a wild animal.
He sprinted away so fast, once again, he sent tens of leaves flying, making quite the ruckus.
He ran through the thick of the forest, aware of every tree, and every hole, careful still on how he landed his feet, not to slip on a root or a branch.
It was the greatest feeling in the world.
Ten minutes later, there was not one inch of Heath’s body which was not sweaty and hot, one more time, attracting a lot of insects. The young man tried to dodge them, seeing them buzzing in front of himself thanks to the reddening light of the sun.
All was silence, in the clearing he stopped into, apart from the woodpeckers and a few early owls, far away from him.
Heath knew he was not alone. The forest harboured game for the hunting, being that the Viscount’s private reserve... And all sorts of predators too.
Heath did not care though.
All things considered, he should have, on that particular day.
Heath undid his shirt to let the wind take care of the sweat rolling down his sides and chest, enjoying the breeze while breathing heavily, resting leaning on a tree trunk.
He still wore the protective gear from the afternoon, but that did not block the warm air.
Heath was young and as such, complaining and being unhappy came with the hormones as part of the job, but those moments, he was wise enough to appreciate, feeling lucky to be alive.
He looked for a bit at the finest details of the trees, the deep greens and purples of the moss around him, taking it all in, smiling, before...
The woodpecker had stopped, and a loud bang resounded somewhere on Heath’s right side.
The young man turned to look at it, just a breath of time before being hit by a gigantic, mostly orange creature, passing through some silvery-blue, portal of light.
Heath did not even have a chance to understand what it was, before falling to the ground and being trampled upon.
One of the six legs of the beast had stepped on top of his ribs, while another had struck his leg to the point of almost breaking it.
Thank heavens for the treeskin’s leather armour: most of the hit to the ribs was deflected, instead of sinking in, due to how slippery the fabric was.
Heath, not wishing to be hit once more, rolled several times to the side like a pin, eventually getting out of arm’s way.
Having set a little distance, between them, he got to see how big and scary the beast really was.
Heath coughed, abundantly, but could not take his eyes off what was happening...
And then, just a few seconds later, when everything seemed to go back to calm and the door in the sky seemed to be closing up, another banging noise echoed in the opening, letting through two disgusting shiny, sinister omunculi which charged at the furry, distressed creature just as soon as she turned around to look at them.
Heath could not help but shudder when he better gazed at those two monstrous oddities, seeing them smile with mouths which drooled profusely.
The two crazed monsters, instead of slamming into the Queen, though, went through her. As they did so, her face transmogrified into a cold, distant grin, like she was not inhabiting her own skin any longer, but just assisting to the scene from a remote and dull place, far away.
The Queen was dying, but the Craze-hounds of the Wicked Man could not risk leaving her any chance of being saved. After a very short search, they found, hiding in the bushes, and midway to a large pack’s burrow, a couple of dire wolves, holding their head down and belly to the ground.
Possession was a simple matter for them and those woolly bodies moved with agility: in the amount of time it took for a match to burn the two creatures had come back with a new skin and with a vengeance.
Direwolves were already nasty creatures to fight against, but they were noble animals, which would not attack anyone, if not for feeding.
Entering into another creature for these spirits was not a difficult task and even though the direwolves tried to put up a fight, they had died, their bodies shaking, their shape changing and their bones cracking horribly.
In the end, they resembled shambling, hunched over bad copies of the majestic creatures they had been, moving fast towards the clearing where the Queen was struggling to stay alive, to finish what they had started.
-Mother! Mother answer me! What is happening? You are alive! It is not time to stop fighting!
The Queen, was very close to the end of her journey, she could feel it: every breath was heavier and colder than the previous one and she was not in control of her body any longer too, she realized, falling loudly on a bed of dead, brown and green leaves.
When that happened, the “Princess” could only feel the essence of her mother dimming, growing paler with any passing second.
Her mother had arrived here seeking the aid of a protector. A protector was the only thing which could have helped them. But where was it?
Some animal, not too different from a tarantula climbed her way out of a marsupial sack the Queen kept hidden beneath her abdomen’s scales decided to help her mother on her own!
Someone had to do something!
The little creature went up to her mother’s mouth and talked to her.
-Mother, resist, we can make it!
-Soul... shattered... Run...
The majestic Queen did not want to give up. That had never been in her character, but life was leaving her and her kid, the Princess could see it clearly.
The young creature did not know what to do.
Just at that moment, with her last drop of will, the brave Queen bit down on her arm, hoping... Wishing.
-Boy... bring him here.
The Princess did not lose time.
She had no idea why her mother wanted that youngster, but she was the wisest creature she had ever met. She might use the boy to survive, somehow. Or at least she hoped so.
The small creature jumped in front of Heath with surprising agility and without asking for permission or ceremonies, she burrowed herself into the flesh of the man’s wrist.
Needless say, even though it took the Princess just three seconds to be done, having eight needled legs planted under his skin, was for Heath almost as bad as having his guts ravaged by a broken bottle.
Even though he wanted to scream, all that came out of his mouth was little more than a whistle, realizing he was quickly losing control over his own body.
He was being compelled by the little creature to do her biddings and to listen to her voice.
-Do not resist and everything will be fine.
She lied not caring an iota if the young man lived or died.
-Close...r, bring him here.
The little Princess willed it and Heath did just so, quickly and clumsily, tripping several times on his own legs and hands, while crawling in the Queen’s direction.
-Are you... The protector?
Said Heath’s voice, although slow and deeper than his own had ever been.
-I am... glad. Here.
The Queen bit once again into her arm and poured a single drop of her royal green blood into Heath’s mouth.
The liquid was extremely toxic and corrosive, melting down a hole into his tongue and leaving a burning trail down his throat and oesophagus, until, reaching for his stomach, instead of being assaulted by the gastric acids, the single droplet undid itself into rivulets and converged toward a place which... Was not there.
Where it “expected” to be, there was nothing... Or so it seemed. The six smaller tears of blood, pulsed with power and started revolving around a space between the stomach and the heart, a black spot, which, pressured by the action of the blood, started to shimmer with light, brighter with every revolution of the small green, bloody comets.
A second heart-like organ, was becoming more and more real, although remaining colourless.
When it had entirely appeared, the small droplets sipped into it, and expanded, filling it with liquid which, after inflating the organ, started to escape towards its six side openings.
And there it waited, multiplying, filling the organ more, and more, getting it to expand and swell in a painful way which, although controlled by the Princess’ will, made Heath spawn a tortured, screaming face. It felt to him like someone was tearing at the essence of his being, stripping away piece after piece, sawing him apart, making him feel like he could burst in confetti at any given moment.
But, just when he was about to blissfully pass out for the great, unbearable pain, his new translucent organ, started beating, slowly at first, but with such a strength
it could be heard from outside of his body, circling the liquid on thick veins and arteries which were intertwined and overlapping the existing ones.
One beat after the other, the greenish liquid went up, down, left right, spiralling with great force, being poured into all organs and tissues, before coming back, and wherever it went, it operated changes, thickening muscles, washing bones from impurities and making them sturdier and, at places, changing shapes entirely.
While this process took some time to describe, it was over in the turn of ten seconds, with the last change being to the liquid itself, which had assumed an intense pale blue and shimmering colour.
Panting, still drenched in sweat and bewildered, Heath looked around, not sure of what had happened to him any longer.
He had little time to keep on pondering though, before, from the thick brushes to his left, he heard some twisted sounds, which were like heart beats, but sinister and very slow, together with leaves rustling.
Picking up on those information, the Princess pleaded.
-Defend my mother.
She almost fell like adding “please”, but it would have been asking too much of herself. She wasn’t sure really, considering the life of her beloved mother was on the line, to her knowledge.
Heath though, back in his own control, felt still compelled to react, not because of any outside voice or power, but because of what was inside of him: the new organ’s beat was like a war drum, screaming with a commanding and impossible to ignore tempo, spurring him to action.
Wild and relentless, the beat went on, whispering into Heath’s ears.
Heath sprung to his knees, and to his feet a moment later.
The two possessed direwolves had just charged from the bushes, out in the open, jumping at the Queen, but before they could land...
-’Pro-tec-tor... Pro-tec-tor... PRO-TEC-TOR!’
A single blink time away from the other, Heath’s hands had grabbed hold of the two beasts’ throats, very much intentioned to crushing them, stopping their charge like metal poles stuck in the ground.
The direwolves’ crazed and enormous faces contorted and attacked at every inch of flesh they could reach, sinking their teeth into Heath several times.
The young man winced, but soon realized the pain was less intense than what he had expected, like when he received a hit through his treeskin leather armour. For some reason, Heath felt like biting too...
He opened his mouth wide, wider than he had ever been able to, and sank his robust teeth into the animals’ skulls.
This caused some reaction from the attackers: Heath’s saliva was an incredible corrosive, which melted away at their bones, making them struggle madly.
Realising what was going on, as soon as he saw the chemical smoke rise from where his mouth had been, Heath smiled, before switching his vice-grip hold onto the wolves heads and smashing them hard against one another.
As the young man did so, both skulls exploded.
The wolves, needless say, went limp on the ground, with the inner of their heads flying in all directions for meters.
Said the Princess to herself while Heath came to terms with what he had just done.
Heath felt like righteousness, but also he could feel dread and a sickening wrongness which smelled like the gore he was covered in. He looked at his hands, unbelieving.
In the meantime, on the floor, the two evil souls attacked the bodies of the direwolves once more, making their claws bigger and sharper, like razors, while also growing a bloody red eye from their necks. As soon as this was done, noticing Heath’s moment of distraction, the two aberrations attacked again, intending to reach the Queen.
Heath, once again was called...
And before he could think, his eyes became sharp and veiled at the same time, finding his training batons and using them to hammer down onto the enemy.
The longer the fight went on, the more it became clear the two creatures were not Heath’s equals, but at the same time, they were too wild, too relentless and also... Too damn weird.
Every single time Heath was able to put them down, breaking bones and tearing pieces away, they came back intact, hacking at the man’s stamina, making him very tired.
Forcing himself to think, he realized one thing: their heads had not regrown.
He had to wonder why...
Maybe the pieces were too small, or maybe the wound was too serious. Whatever the case, he knew the reason he had been able to do what he had done, was his saliva.
For disgusting as it was, when the time came for another attack, he spat on both animals.
As it had done before, the liquid started soon to sink into the beasts with big releases of smoke and pain.
Hitting them once more, Heath was able to hack them to pieces, severing their front parts from their rears, then he spat once again, and more, until nothing bigger than a fist was left of the animals’ flesh.
Heath was panting... Satisfied, nodding to himself.
-Pro... tecto... r.
He heard one last time. This time it was the Queen, calling onto him and he turned to look, suspicious.