Having rested the morning and afternoon away, Kaidus was walking through the forest, searching for dinner. What he was after today was a derring boar that he had heard grunting and snarling through the forest while he was trying to sleep.
It’s been two days since his talk with Zavon and obtaining the mirror shard that was now in his shirt. He was also making good time getting back home.
Approaching his prey, Kaidus fanned out his mana to investigating his surroundings, making sure there were no predators in store for him.
Derring boars were small and only about the size of a dog, but they were extremely ferocious. With metal tusks half the size of their body and a bite that could sheer through rocks, derrings could even stand up to larger predators—three to four times their size—that share their territories. Unlike other species of boars, derrings were solitary, only seeking companions during the mating season and killing any would be competitions.
They have been known to kill many unlucky hunters.
Not sensing any other presence besides the boar, he stepped forward and looked through the thicket.
A derring was feeding on roots and plants, minding its own business. Adorned with a glossy coat of red and black, the animal sported two tusks of iron, gleaming as the rays of light that penetrated the forest canopy hit it. Kaidus willed the thicket to move aside and it obeyed, opening a path for him.
The boar noticed him almost instantly and turned to face him. Fur of red and black flared up and it charged, two sword-like tusks aiming outward to pierce him.
As the grunting boar closed in, he deftly caught the boar’s tusks. His body infused with mana, he stopped the boar in its tracks, then delivered a forceful blow into the boar’s head, killing it instantly.
Using the knife he bought from the village several days ago, he bled and skinned a part of the animal and sliced off a large chunk of meat. With a sturdy stick, he conjured a fire and began spit-roasting his dinner. Using the time it would take to cook, he made off into the forest to scrounge for any edible plant that may supplement his meal.
Night was descending, and he was enjoying his dinner of fire roasted boar meat and forest roots and greens.
The rustling of leaves could be heard again as he ate quietly.
He had already discouraged a pack of wolves that tried to steal his boar earlier, but this time was different. As it got closer, the sound of people brushing away leaves and hacking at branches as they rushed through the dense forest could be heard.
Sending out a wave of mana, three distinct presences were headed straight at him, followed by a larger group.
“Don’t do anything.” He commanded Zion.
Kaidus put on the cloak’s hood and stood his ground, waiting to see who in their right mind was this far away from the main roads. If they were bandits, he would deal with them before he sets off. The hood was to conceal his face in case they were hunters that had spotted his fire.
In the light of the fire, three men came out of the thickets.
A short older man wearing a leather jerkin, black trousers, and a head of long and graying unkempt hair. The man had a short sword and a couple of daggers at his waist.
The second was a stocky bald man. The man wore a pair of metal greaves, leggings, and chest plate but had no helmet or arm guards. He had a long two handed sword strapped on his back.
The third man was a skinny man wearing patched leather armor. He had a short bow, half a quiver of arrows and carried a short sword in his hand.
All three looked disheveled and exhausted.
The three looked at him in shock.
“Seize him!” The graying man commanded and the other two wrapped around to his sides, pointing their swords at him.
Armored in steel forged with magic fire, a man ran alongside his six subordinates who were wearing mercenary leather. He was already in his early 50s, but even in heavy armor, he ran swiftly—not falling behind the others.
They were chasing the leaders of a group of brigands.
Thurllton, a hunting town in northern Darsus had been plagued by bandits for the past two turns, and had commissioned the mercenary guild to get rid of the bandit infestation.
They found the hideout and eliminated most of the bandits eleven days ago, but the leader and a couple of his underlings escaped their grasps, vanishing into the forests. Splitting up their mercenary group, he had chosen to lead the hunting party and had been chasing them ever since.
After eleven arduous days, only 3 of the bandits remained. As they followed the direction of where the three fugitives had gone in the darkening forest, fire light could be seen up ahead.
“Prepare for an ambush.” He notified his subordinates as they approached the light.
In front of him were the three they had been chasing. “No matter how many reinforcements you have, the results will be the same! Give up!” He shouted, his tone deep and commanding. His men made a small formation beside him, ready for any surprises.
“I don’t know about that!” A man with long gray hair countered, stepping aside to reveal a small figure at sword point. “One move, and the boy gets it.”
“You-” He stopped.
‘What is going on here?! Why is there a boy here?!’ his mind shouted in confusion. A figure, small enough to be a young boy of 10 was cloaked in dark red with a hood that concealed the upper half of his face. The boy stood in the middle of the three bandits.
“I don’t know what you’re playing at, but let the boy go and I will give you a merciful death!” He shouted back. “You don’t want to do this!”
“You destroyed our hideout, killed our brethren, hounded us for days, and you expect us to just lie down and die?! NO! You move, and we will kill this boy right here!” The gray-haired bandit leader shouted. “I don’t know what the gods have in store for us, but this is undoubtedly a gift from them! You will all stay here and allow us to leave, or the boy joins us in the afterlife!”
“What do we do captain?” A subordinate asked from his side.
Taking a closer look at the figure, the small boy did not look scared nor was he nervous or shaken up. Instead, a calmness exuded from the small hooded figure.
‘Could this be a ploy?’ He wondered. ‘People like these have no qualms about killing children, but this boy could possibly be one of their own, planted here for this exact purpose. It is incomprehensible that a child would be here alone at this time of day.’ He persuaded himself.
Not yielding to the other party’s demands, he took a step forward.
“Stay back!” The bandit with a bow shouted, inching his sword ever closer to the boy’s throat.
He glanced at the boy once more. In the flickering light of the fire, he saw that the child’s mouth was curving upward into a smile. He hesitated for a second, then move forth with his gut feeling.
‘Sorry if I am wrong, but I cannot let these men go.’ He apologized to the boy in his mind and lunged forward, closing in on the bandit who was holding the sword to the boy’s throat.
“Helto-!” The bandit leader called out, then suddenly stopped.
His target attempted to jump back but froze for an instant. Not letting the chance slip, he brought his sword forth from a low angle and sliced upward in a half moon slash in front of him. The wiry bandit was cleanly cleaved in half.
His subordinates had also moved as soon as he made his attack. The bandit leader and the bald armored bandit to the side both fell without making a single sound.
“So much for being the leaders of their band of brigands, they didn’t even put up a fight.” His subordinates scoffed.
It was quite puzzling that they did not even attempt to defend themselves. Without a second glance at the three dead bandits, he turned toward the boy. “Are you alright?”
“Yes. Thank you.” A polite reply. A childish voice, befitting his small size.
“What are you doing here at this time of the day?” He asked the child, gesturing to the dark forest around him
“I am sorry, but I must be on my way. Thank you for your help.” The boy replied, taking a step toward the darkness.
A lone boy in the middle of these forests. The closest road was at least a day of walking distance away and dangerous animals roamed the forest. Yet here the child was, undaunted by everything that had just occurred around him. Something wasn’t right.
“Who are you, and what were you really doing here?” He pointed his sword at the boy, recalling the eerie smile earlier.
“Captain what are you doing!?” One of his subordinate called out at his actions.
“I’m not with them if that’s what you’re asking.” The boy calmly replied, staring at the three dead bodies.
“What is your name? Where are you from ‘boy’?” He inquired in a serious tone, keeping his sword pointed at the child.
“Who I am or where I’m from is irrelevant.” The boy replied. With the hood obscuring most of his face, it was impossible to determine what the boy was thinking. “I can see that you all are bounty hunting. Put that sword away, or none of you will be returning to collect on those bounties.” Yet, a low voice unlike that of a child’s squirmed through the air, whispering death into his ears.
His senses went up in alarm and he quickly took a step back, falling into a defensive stance. Although unsure if they also heard the voice, his men saw what he did and they too, readied themselves for an ambush.
After a span of time with nothing happening, the boy turned away from the fire and began walking into the darkness. “Stop!” He shouted, but the boy kept walking. “Pazilr, apprehend that boy!” He ordered one of his men.
The man obeyed and dashed toward the boy, bringing his arms out to grab onto the child. With a sudden motion, Pazilr was sent flying back at the group, grunting in pain as he hit the ground. All his men angled their swords and the boy slowly turned to face them.
“I implore you to not try that again. The next one will be joining those three.” The child warned, pointing to the dead bandits. “I appreciate what you’ve done and as a token of my gratitude, there is a boar over by that tree. Feel free to help yourselves to it.” The boy pointed towards something hanging from a tree before walking away again.
“Halt!” He shouted and the boy stopped to turn and look toward him again. “I am Captain Zikale Lorvak, leader of the Droxxon mercenaries. I gladly welcome death.” Announcing himself, Zikale charged to apprehend the small figure. He was confident in his abilities and those of his men. They would capture and question the boy.
Infusing mana into his legs, he stormed forward, ready to counter whatever the child may throw at him. As he loomed over the boy, his hands went for the hood that was hiding the boy’s face. Before he could grab the child, his body froze for a brief moment and in that inexplicable moment of helplessness, with a wave of the child’s hand, he was blown sideways into a tree.
Dumbstruck at what just happened, Zikale quickly pushed himself off the ground and yelled for his men to stop what they were about to do. “You… that was magic…” He spoke in astonishment. Even if the child’s magic had taken him by surprise, a mere child blew him away as if he was nothing. Armor and all. He himself knew a little magic, but what just happened was beyond his understanding. Not to mention, a mere child held such power.
“You could have easily taken care of those three… they did not move to protect themselves because you stopped them while we killed them…” He rationalized what happened out loud. “How is it possible that a child… Who are you?” He questioned again.
“I am just a traveler.” The boy replied before stalking off into the darkness once more.
This time, he stopped his men from attempting to follow the boy.
Away from the group and making sure that no one was tailing him, Kaidus took to the sky.
He had wanted to see who the group chasing the three bandits were before exterminating them all.
The second group was a group of seven:
Six of them dressed in leather armor, each wielding a slim short sword, perfect for quick attacks. Two women and four men.
The seventh man adorned a full plate of armor, covering his entire body from head to toe. He held a longsword, unlike that of the other six. His sword radiated a soft orange glow as if it had just been taken out of the forge. An intricate pattern of runes ran along the side of the blade, giving it an ornate design.
His impression was that they were bounty hunters, considering the dialogue between the two who he deemed the leaders.
In the brief fight against the bandits, as soon as the armored man moved in for an attack, he had immobilized the three who were threatening to kill him—resulting in a one-sided slaughter. The seven did not look like bad people, but he was uncertain about the circumstances that brought them to his location.
The man began questioning him, and a quick exit did not seem to be an option. Even after offering his boar, it did not appease the armored man’s curiosity.
‘Droxxon mercenaries. Captain Zikale.’ It clicked in his head instantly after the man had shouted out his name and position.
The man was Zikale the Red, one of the Ten Captains in Darsus’ mercenary guilds, and Troyle’s former captain from his mercenary days. He had heard many great stories about the man from his parents.
As the man charged him, he could not bring himself to take the life of his father’s old captain. He willed Zion to blow the man away as a show of his domination over the group. His plan succeeded and deterred any further actions.
He was thankful that in the darkness—and with his hood on—none of them had seen his face. Moving away from the fire, he was also glad none of them had followed him.
‘Next time will be with swords.’ He mused to himself, recalling how he had used magic against the unsuspecting man. He smiled.
He had wanted to clash head to head against the man in a test of skill, but tonight was neither the time nor place.
Three days later, he walked out of Ferrent’s proximity village where he had spent the first night of his journey. Having rested and refreshed himself during the day, it was time to return to Ferrent.
Kaidus walked into the woods away from the village as the sun descended over the horizon. In the dark of night, he soared south, following the road to Ferrent.