“Well, what now?” Vick questioned as they walked around Imvera.
They had found the town easy enough that morning. The only problem was that the town had been abandoned, and many of the houses were either ransacked or burnt to the ground.
The only thing that stood out, was the road that appeared to still be used by travelers.
Kaidus pulled out the crude map from his pack. Thankfully for them, he had shown it to Narissa and she had added what she knew to it. The woman had circled where they landed, and above it where Imvera was supposed to be. A large cross marked where the capital Mavehrus was located, along with a few other markings showing some of the villages and towns.
Their current location was in the south of Malpaars, and judging from what he drew on the map, the closest mountain range was to the west. From the marking of Imvera, the next town or village should be at least eight to ten days walk away. “We keep moving while we still have some food. We’ll follow the road west and see if we can find a place to hunt in the next day or two. Maybe we’ll meet someone on the road.”
“Sure,” Vick replied, looking over his shoulder at the map. “But man, it really is unfortunate. It would have been nice to have a warm bowl of soup.”
“Agreed.” Kaidus replied, putting the map away.
They had spent the past three days in the woods, and he was looking forward to something else besides dried fish, stale bread, and wild herbs.
“Here.” Vick handed him a dried fish. “It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing right now.”
“Thanks.” Taking it, he began walking. Vick fell in beside him, and the two of them walked in silence as they snacked.
What began as a straight road cutting through an open plain had started to curve, and was now moving through a valley alongside a small river. The tall hills on both sides obstructed their vision, and the curving road concealed much of what was ahead of them.
“Looks like a perfect place for an ambush. Don’t you think?” Vick smiled as they approached a sharp curve on the road.
“If only. At least then, we’d have someone to interrogate.”
“My thoughts exactly.” Vick replied with a light chuckle.
“Say… you think there’s any fish in there?” Kaidus questioned, looking down at the river. It was calm and dark, and he could see nesting birds around the few trees that were beside the water’s edge.
“Probably, but let’s hold off on that for now. Let’s at least try to find something substantial. A hog or deer would be perfect. I’d even settle for a forest cat or a wolf.”
“Why not just wish for a full banquet of delicacies?”
“Ah, now there’s an idea. You’re a mage. Do mages grant wishes?” Vick feigned a serious look, then burst into laughter.
“I wish.” Kaidus chuckled.
By evening, they had passed through the valley and arrived at a fork in the road. One path continued west, the other was going towards the north.
“Most of the tracks are traveling north. Maybe we should follow them?” Vick suggested, as a breeze blew by them.
The wind whispered to him, and Kaidus immediately turned toward the west. Dismissing Zion, “Vick. Did you hear that?” He questioned, making it appear as if like he had heard something.
“Hmm… the birds? The wind?”
“No. There’s something happening in that direction. Come on.” He quickly ran off, following the road west.
Confused, Vick hurried after Kaidus.
The sound of yelling eventually came within earshot, and they found a large group of people surrounding someone in the middle of the road.
As he closed in, Kaidus saw that the group carried long wooden spears and they were pointing them at a man in the center of the encirclement. There were at least twenty of them around the man, and a dozen more were watching from the back.
The lone man in the center held a bloody sword and was bleeding from a shoulder wound. On the ground beside him, were the bodies of two others.
“Stop!” Kaidus shouted, and a few of the people turned in his direction. Spear in their hands, some pointed their weapons at him. The ground beneath immediately bulged outward, launching him upward and over the group. He heard Vick call out his name but didn’t give it a second thought. “What is going on here?!” He demanded.
“There are more of them! I told you this would happen! Kill them before more show up!” A man screamed from the crowd, his voice filled with panic.
Many of the people lowered their spears and began inching forward awkwardly. Kaidus stood his ground and unsheathed his sword, ready to defend himself alongside the unknown man. He could see that the group were inexperienced and consisted of both men and women. Locking eyes with a few of them, there was fear in their eyes along with something else, something he knew all too well. Hatred and anger.
“Thank goodness you’ve come! Did Lady Belinde send you ahead?! Where are the rest of your group?” The man who had been surrounded cried out.
“Lady Belinde?” Kaidus shot a quick glance at the man beside him.
“You… Who are- Watch out!”
Kaidus quickly turned and parried the spear that was coming toward him. In two smooth motions, he knocked it to the side with the flat of his blade and cleanly lopped off the tip. “Stay back if you wish to preserve your lives!” He snarled, pointing the sword outward threateningly. Many of those who were edging toward him hesitated and stopped.
“Kaidus!” Vick shouted, breaking through the wall of people and running over to him. Behind Vick, a small portion of the encirclement had crumbled as people were trying to get up off the ground. “What were you thinking?!”
“That I needed to stop this.” He replied, not looking at Vick.
“This is for my brother!”
A frightened woman lunged forward with her crude spear, trying to stab at the man beside them. Vick easily stepped in and caught the spear. “What are you doing woman?!” He shouted, jerking the spear out of the woman’s grasp.
“T-thank you, stranger.” The wounded man thanked as Vick threw the spear to the ground.
“Attack them all at once! Kill the butchers!” Someone shouted, and people began screaming. The incomprehensible screams began to sound like war cries. The group moved forward once more, eyes blazing with a vengeful ire and full of bloodlust.
“Stop!” Kaidus roared, raising his sword and many halted in their steps.
“Throw the spears!” The same man screamed again.
Before they could throw, Kaidus charged and was instantly upon the man yelling orders. His sword to the man’s neck, “Enough I said!” His voice thundering through the air.
“How did-?!” Surprised, many of the people were frozen at the display of speed before them.
“Are you the leader?” He questioned, looking down at the man.
“Kill him! T-those dregs were harboring and collaborating with dangerous criminals! They killed two of my companions!!” The wounded man he had saved shouted from behind.
“What are you all waiting for?! Even if I die, you must kill them!” The man beneath his sword shouted.
“Stop it!!” A new voice overwhelmed the noises and the circle parted to reveal an old man supported by a young lady. “Let them go! Everyone, go back and alert the others!”
“You!! Kill that old man and we will be handsomely rewarded!” The wounded man behind him exclaimed angrily.
“Elder. We cannot allow them to escape!” Others cried out in refusal.
“Stop this! Are your eyes merely for decorations? Many more of you will die here if you fight! Hasn’t there been enough bloodshed already? We still have people to mourn right now! We can always relocate and rebuild even if they come for us!” The old man shouted with a stern and powerful voice. People began to grumble but the bloodlust in their eyes slowly faded away.
Kaidus released his hostage, and saw anger flashing in the man’s eyes. He stepped back to join Vick and the unknown man he had unwittingly saved.
“You don’t look like you are with them, so why are you helping him?! That man is a murderer! A scout for Countess Belinde’s troops! If we do not kill him, then our families will all be slaughtered!”
Kaidus turned to look back at the unknown man beside him. The man was barely a few years older than Vick, and looked genial enough. “Is what he said true?”
The suspect became quiet. “Is it true?!” He raised his voice.
“Gu- Insubordinate refuse like them should be grateful that the Countess is willing to pass such mercy upon them! Death is too good for what they’ve done.” The man retorted.
“We have done nothing wrong, and those from the liberation army are not criminals! You and your Cuntess are the true crooks. Like common bandits, imposing impossible taxes then razing our crops when we cannot pay!!”
“That’s Countess, you degenerate!” The man screamed out. “Young warrior. Please kill that man over there! If you do, I’ll tell the Countess all about you! You may even become head of her guards!”
Kaidus gave the man a sharp glare and ignored his pleas. “I heard on my way here that this land had become corrupted. I did not realize the magnitude of it. Tell me. If letting you live would cost these people their lives and families, why shouldn’t I allow them to have their way with you right now?”
The people around them began gripping their spears. Their bloodlust rekindled by his words.
“You- You can’t do that to me after all this!” The wounded man took a couple steps back. “You saved me!” The situation had turned on him in an instant.
It was true. The man’s life was his responsibility for having saved it. Kaidus glanced around and without turning to the man, “Follow me.” He began leading the three of them toward the edge of the circle. Vick followed behind, guarding the unknown man in the middle. A path reluctantly opened before them. No longer surrounded, “Leave now. I will not stop you nor will I allow them to.” Kaidus spoke loud enough so that everyone heard.
The man’s face distorted with surprise.
“T-thank you! Thank you!” He shouted, taking off and running for his life.
Kaidus scanned those around him once more. The people were giving him faces filled with disgust and hate as if he had just sealed their fates.
“You’ve doomed us all!” A young man screamed, running at him with a spear.
Three fleeting steps forward and he easily avoided the thrust while closing in on the older boy. With a palm strike, he slammed the boy’s chest and pushed him to the ground. “I am sorry for what I did. But if what you said is true, then more reason for that man to stay alive.”
The boy grunted in pain, and a man quickly ran over to help him. Four other men growled and lowered their spears, preparing to charge.
“Stop it all of you! We must head back and tell the others!” The elder shouted one more time, and people reluctantly began streaming into the woods.
“They really hate you.” Vick who had been quiet throughout the whole ordeal finally whispered to him.
“Looks like it.”
He spotted the man he held hostage earlier, and the man glared at him before stalking off with the rest of the disheartened group. As he watched them leave, Kaidus spotted the one they called elder looking at him. Curiously enough, instead of hobbling away, the old man and his aide began moving toward them.
“Here’s your chance to make amends. That old man should be important and he’s coming this way. Oh, look at that girl. I bet she’s a beauty.”
“…” Kaidus stared ahead, not taking his eyes off the two people moving toward them.
“Why are you not leaving with your companion?! Get out of here!” The elder yelled angrily upon nearing their position. His gray eyes piercing through them like a sharp spear.
“He’s not our companion, old man.” Vick answered, looking down the road. The man was nowhere to be seen. “Just a stranger we happened to help.”
The old man took a long gander at them. His face befuddled. “You-! I can’t believe it! You idiots meddled in our affair like it’s your own, even though it’s unrelated to you?!”
“Sorry.” Kaidus made a respectful bow to the elder.
“You should be! Because of your mindless actions, hundreds of people will have to pack up and flee once again. Many without the strength or will to do so will perish. I hope you are satisfied!”
“Oi old man. That’s a little harsh don’t you think? It was your people who mistook us for being in cahoots with that man. We were just defending ourselves and trying to figure out the situation.” Vick replied.
“You defended that man and allowed him to escape, even after hearing what would happen. Don’t go pretending you didn’t know.”
“That’s because my friend here is plann-”
“You could have easily allowed your people to kill us without intervening.” Kaidus cut in before Vick could keep going.
“And risk losing all of them? I’m old, boy! Not blind!” The elder replied with irritation.
The old man opened his mouth to speak once more, but stopped and simply stared at them. “Is there something wrong?” Kaidus questioned, wondering what the old man was doing.
“Argh! The others are going to lynch me for this, but come! Both of you!”
“Come with you? Old man, if you haven’t noticed, your people wants us dead. And how do you know we’re not with this Countess what’s-her-name? This could all be an elaborate ploy.” Vick reminded.
“Hah! If you were, then I’d be dead already. As for wanting you dead, I don’t blame them one bit. You two screwed up. Bad. If you have even a shred of sympathy for those whose lives you’ve ruined, then come. I could use your help!”
“Ruined? Whose lives have we ruined?” Vick quizzed.
“Lives you will ruin, smartass. Now are you coming or not?”
“Sorry, but I cannot join you. There are things I have to do.” Kaidus replied, declining the old man’s generous offer of servitude.
“You oafs dare to refuse after what you did?!”
“Yes.” He stared at the old man with an unyielding gaze.
“Kuh! Curse you both! May the gods punish you for what you did!” The old man cursed loudly and turned around. The young lady supporting him silently turned alongside him and walked him away.
“There are no gods, old man. Only devious spirits…” The so-called gods had never answered him, and he would not fear them. What he feared was much worse.
“What was that?” Vick questioned from beside him.
“Nothing. Just something I read in a book.”
“How come you didn’t tell him? It would have helped pacify his anger.”
“Tell him what?”
“C’mon Kaidus. You can fool them, but I know you better than that.”
“Is that so?” He gave Vick a wry smile. “I thought it was best that they are oblivious to what I am about to do.”
“You mean what WE are about to do. You’re not going to leaving me out of the fun are you? Ashe and Zede wants to play too.”
“…” The tense atmosphere from being yelled at and cursed by an old man immediately disappeared. “Really? You’re still calling them that?”
“Of course.” Vick smiled.
Kaidus turned to the two dead bodies still in the middle of the road—the bodies of the other two scouts. No one had bothered to take or move them. He willed it, and they quickly burst into flames.
“Well, let’s go.”