A thin soup of plant roots and bark.
Carefully taking a sip of the hot broth, he scooped a thin piece of cambium into his mouth. With it having been soaked in water overnight, the sinewy fibers easily broke apart, giving the inner bark a tender, almost meat-like texture.
It went down easily and though mostly tasteless, there was a hearty warmth to it. “Hmm, this is good.” Kaidus smiled, allowing his surprise to show for the girl who had been waiting for his verdict, “Tell Arleen and Darla, thank you.” He added, spooning up a piece of root.
“It is, isn’t it? My sister got up extra early this morning to help prepare it.” Sarah replied with a wide grin on her face, as if to make sure that the very fact was known to him.
“Then please give Saadra my regards as well.” Returning a smile, he scooped another spoonful of soup into his mouth and appearing content with herself, Sarah happily skipped away.
Sensing that a number of eyes were still quietly watching him even with Sarah gone, he looked up from his bowl, only to catch the various gazes all hurrying to look away.
Words about how he healed Juliana and Emila the previous evening had already circulated through the group, and it had culminated in even more awkwardness as some of the young ladies were now refusing to meet his eyes lest he entrapped them.
Yet, on the opposite side of the fire, unlike their older and more self-conscious sisters, the younger boys and girls who had been fearfully keeping their distance due to Zirus, were now quietly watching him with curious wonderment.
Taking a final swig of his soup, he looked up and saw Emila shyly approaching him with a second bowl.
Fair of face and figure, the young lady was perhaps a good two to three years older than himself. With long auburn hair that fell down to her waist like a beautiful mirage of the sunset, her fierce and unyielding brown eyes from the evening before were now screaming and darting nervously as she made her way toward him.
Greeting her with a cordial smile, “Good morning, Emila. You’re looking much better.” He complimented, surprised to see that she was already up and about.
The sight of a nervous but lovely smile tugged at her lips and looking embarrassed, the young lady quickly lowered head. “G-good morning. Uhm- thank you, and here’s a second helping if you’re still hungry.” With a modest but gracious bow, she carefully handed him the new bowl and tensely took the empty one in his hand.
“Thank you, but what about you all? Will there be enough?” He asked, seeing that it was another generous helping of soup. Glancing over to where the pot was, along with Arleen and Darla, it did not look like those who had been serving breakfast had eaten yet.
“There’s still plenty left to go around, so please enjoy.” Holding his empty bowl to her chest, Emila quickly turned around and swiftly hurried away as if to flee from him.
She’s a strong one. He mused to himself as she walked away with what appears to be an energetic gait in her steps.
From what he had heard, the girl had fought back against their assailants, allowing her friends to escape and get help.
That, even after being chased down by the dogs who had wanted their ways with her, she had clawed and kicked at them, screaming and biting until help arrived. Due to her unwillingness to submit and the frustrations of her assailants, the result had ended with her bloodied and bruised.
Upon seeing her the previous evening, she had been scarred with a large gash that ran down the side of her left thigh to her knees, which ended up incapacitating her with a dreadful fever. There were also more than a few dozen bruises throughout her body with deep tissue damage, and two fractured ribs on the right side of her torso, along with a nasty sprain on her right wrist.
Yet, looking at her now, one would not have known that she had been through such a horrific experience.
“She’s a pretty one, isn’t she? Those bastards deserved what Vick did to them.” A voice filled with a forced sense of calm came from his side as Narissa joined him.
“Narissa. Good morning.” Returning a curt greeting to the kovus woman, he took a second look at the bowl in his hand and resumed his breakfast.
She was too kind. What Vick had done, was spare the dredges. Their punishment had been nothing compared to the fear inflicted upon Emila, Ashlyn, and Juliana, and paying only an ear each for such a betrayal… it was too small a price.
Instantly reeling back her candor as if she had caught onto his state of mind, “R-right. Good morning…” Narissa quickly replied, before sitting down on the seat beside his.
They sat in silence, and though she was holding her own bowl of soup in hand, Narissa did not eat. Instead, he could feel her eyes constantly darting over to him.
The conversation with Zion the previous night began to coil about his thoughts as she continued to watch him, and, “Narissa…” He sighed, lowering his bowl. “If you have something to say, you might as well speak.”
“I- I uh-…” She paused, and then anxiously took a sip of her soup.
Seeing her surprise and hearing her lack of words, “Where’s the garrulous woman I traveled with all those days ago?” He asked, turning to face her. “You’re not suddenly too afraid of me now to speak your mind after everything, are you?”
“P- that’s- that’s preposterous! W-who’s afraid of you?!” Exclaiming loudly, Narissa quickly recoiled in embarrassment as those around them turned to look at her. “I- I just wasn’t sure if I should be asking you while you’re eating, that’s all.”
“It’s fine. Ask away.”
“Ahem! Uhm…” Narissa quickly drew closer and, “You… you said for us to begin yesterday. What did you mean by that? Are we going to leave soon?” She questioned, her voice a curious whisper.
She had indeed come to inquire about that specific affair. “I meant just that. And no, we won’t be leaving just yet.” He calmly answered.
“I’ll let you know later. There is something I must tell you as well.”
As commanded, Zion had scoured the Shadow Peak Mountains. Yet what it had found, was not something that should be regaled lightly. Especially not at breakfast, and with so many children around.
“Hhmmm… fine.” With a disgruntled and helpless groan, Narissa sat back and began to probe her soup with her spoon.
They sat and ate in silence once more, and as he stood after finishing his breakfast, the sound of footsteps immediately drew themselves toward him as if they had been waiting.
Looking over his shoulders, Koran, the guard who had been ordered to stay near him was walking in his direction.
“Milord.” The man stopped behind him.
“What is it?” He questioned, turning to look at Koran.
“The Captain sent words, Sire. The hunting parties have departed.”
Beyond Koran and toward the entrance of the group’s encampment, he could see another guard was standing there. A stout young man not much older than himself, the blonde youth was looking around nervously, as if afraid of stepping into the girl’s camp.
“Got it.” About to step away, “Koran.”
“Have the messenger deliver a message for me. Tell the captain that I said to go ahead and start preparations for our departure. He’ll know what to do.”
Without questioning him, “Yessir.” The man bowed and swiftly retreated two steps before turning around and striding away.
Sensing an odd pair of eyes on him, Kaidus turned to look beside him.
Narissa was grinning from ear to ear. “Are you sure you’re not some lordling?” She questioned from her seat, narrowing her eyes playfully.
“I am certain of that fact.”
“Well, you could have fooled me. Perhaps in another life?” She quipped jovially.
Reciprocating her joke with an indulgent smile, “Perhaps.” He wryly concurred, before walking away.
Approaching the table that had been designated for dishes, he saw Arleen, Sarah, Saadra, and Ashlyn eating together along with a few others who had been busy serving.
The older woman caught his eyes and quickly set her breakfast aside, before hurrying over to him. Taking his empty bowl before he could discard it, “How about another?” She kindly questioned as she looked over to the pot of soup.
“It was delicious, but I am perfectly content right now. Thank you.”
“Kaidus?” She quickly voiced as he was about to leave, “Can I still call you Kaidus?”
Curious at her choice of words, “Of course. It’s my name.” He replied and at his answer, the older woman’s eyes instantly began smiling.
“I’m sorry, but do you have any plans for today?” Arleen hastily inquired and looked back to a few of the girls behind her.
Through the corner of his eyes, he caught a few of the young ladies mouthing words and shaking their heads at Arleen. “Not much. I’ll probably take a look around the camp. See if there’s anything I can help with. Why do you ask?”
“We- the girls are planning to go to the stream for more water. A few of us also want to wash and bathe, so I thought I’d ask if you would join us.” There was a grin on Arleen’s face. Peeking beyond her, the complexion of the other girls had flushed red. “Of course, it’s to keep an eye out. I think everyone would feel more relieved if they knew you were nearby.”
With a cordial smile of his own, “It is a tempting offer, but maybe next time.” Politely declining the invitation, he gave a grateful nod and headed back to his tent.
““Arleeeen!”” A number of voices scolded behind him as the older woman began giggling.
Uncertain of his decision, Biran sat forward and took another gander at the piece of flattened hide in front of him.
Upon the crude map, the large circles that had encapsulated the position of their camp was now divided into four quadrants, with each extending at least two days out from camp.
Sticking to Jonns initial plans, they had divided the workload between their hunters, guards, and volunteers, sending out four groups in four different directions.
The groups would then further fan out into smaller teams led by capable hunters that he had appointed, and with the assistance of the volunteers that had answered their urgent plea for help, they would scour the forest for food and game.
Four smaller groups had also been established with the sole purpose of transporting food back to the camp.
Yet with only a few dozen hunters and a little over a hundred volunteers, there was no telling how long it would take before the first successful hunts come back.
“Captain?” One of his guards who had been positioned outside of the tent peeked inward, catching him slumping over the map, “Will you be making your rounds soon?” The man questioned.
Looking up, he quickly fixed his posture, “In a moment.” Biran replied, not allowing his worries to show as he picked up the map. Taking notice of the guard’s troubled expression, “Is something wrong?”
“I… think we might have trouble already.” The man replied.
Inhaling deeply to steel himself for the day’s first bickering that he would have to mediate, “What’s going on this time?”
“Ildirn just came from the old lord’s camp, sir. Said there was an altercation, and that someone got banged up pretty badly. The old man wishes for you to go help resolve it.”
His stomach churned upon hearing that it was Lord Shradech’s people, and the faces of a few furious parents instantly manifested within his mind. “… they sure picked the perfect time to stir trouble, didn’t they?” Sighing to himself, he gave the guard a stern look, “Get Tak and go with Ildirn. Make sure that the situation does not escalate further and wait for me.”
“You’re not coming with us?” The guard queried back.
“I will get his lordship. If it is who I think it is, maybe they’ll listen to him.”
Dismissing the guard, he quietly stood up and made his way to his room in the back.
Stopping before the sheet of cloth that separated his room from the rest of the tent, he could already feel the beckoning of the weapon that was within.
Like it was alive, the enchanted blade always knew when he was approaching.
Even without seeing it, he could sense the coldness of its steel reverberating through his bones. Could feel its incredible strength as the blood within his body vigorously resonated with it, becoming one and the same.
Stepping closer to the weapon that was lying atop his bed, he felt himself trembling in excitement.
Small ice crystals had already formed around the weapon’s handle and guard, and were glistening dimly as clouds of cold air continuously oozed forth from the mouth of its scabbard.
“Huuu…” With a deep and slow breath, he knelt down and quietly admired the beautiful sword.
Intricately carved, the hilt was dark and appeared to have been crafted out of a single bone or a petrified piece of tree. Its guard on the other hand, was made of metal and had a number of small runes lining its length, with small ice crystals jutting from each of them, giving it an oddly intimidating allure. And the blade… though nestled within its shabby metal scabbard, he could distinctly visualize the thin and transparent metal that was now undoubtedly glowing an eerie blue.
The air around it slowly rose upward as if to greet him as he stared, and quickly swirling around his right arm, it begged for him to take hold of the sword.
Inhaling deeply, he slowly reached forth and grabbed the weapon by its hilt. “Kugh-!! Grrrrkk-” Gritting his teeth, just like the night he had sworn himself, a surge of power rushed into his body, freezing his arm all the way up to his shoulders as the ice upon the weapon shattered and fell to the ground. “Haaaa… Haa…” Exhaling harshly as the rush of power slowly subsided, he sucked in a few extra breaths of air before standing up. Having been subdued, the ice along his arm slowly receded into his flesh as if it were a part of him.
Unlike its usual self, the weapon had been acting up since a few days ago, and he could not understand why. Even with the lord’s return, the abnormality had not vanished. Instead, it was now like a cup that was constantly overflowing.
Not with water or a liquid, but an indescribable power that someone the likes of himself could never wholly tame or wield.
Deftly fastening the weapon to his waist, he took a moment to quickly compose himself before leaving the confines of his room and command tent.
Hastily moving north through the camp, “Doyle?” He called out, spotting the eager youth that he had sent to deliver his message earlier.
“Captain!” The young guard cried out with surprise and rushed over to him.
“Did you give the lord my message?” He questioned, seeing that the youth was coming south toward him.
“I did, sir. But…” A hint of cumbersome worry mixed with confusion appeared on the boy’s face.
“I think I’ve seen him before. Is he really a lord?” Doyle supplemented, voicing his curiosity.
“He’s my lord. The person I have sworn my life to. You and the others don’t have to worry about it.”
“Oh… okay.” With a thoughtful nod, Doyle looked up again, “Oh. He also wanted me to bring you a message.”
“His lordship did?”
“Yes.” Another quick nod. “Koran said that the message was for you to start preparing for departure. I don’t know what he means, but he said that the lord mentioned you’ll know what to do.”
Biran looked to the direction that Doyle had come from, “… very well. If that is the lord’s will, then let us begin the preparations.” Placing a hand on the sword at his side, he turned away from his purpose for coming there and proceed eastward instead.
His lord had trusted him enough to not interfere with his authority within the camp. To be requesting assistance for such a minor problem as an altercation, it would only prove how incapable he was.
“Come. I’ll need you to relay a few orders to the other guards who are still here while I deal with what’s happening.” He commanded.
The responsibility was his, and he would take care of it.
“We should never have allowed them to stay!” A man’s voice angrily resounded through the air as Biran approached the location of the elder’s hut. “Just look at what is happening around us! We’ve no say anymore! And you, you’ve all completely lost your positions and voices to these newcomers!”
“I’d watch what I say if I were you, Galag.” A familiar but imposing voice warned.
“What are you going to do if I don’t? Beat me like you did Angson?!” The angry voice contested loudly.
“You try what he did, and I’ll do more than give you a beating.”
“Do you all hear that?! This! This is what we have come to after everything that we’ve been through!” The voice shouted, “Governed by brutes and cowards! Is this what you all want?!”
Biran edged upward to see what was happening, and spotting his approach, his guards whom he had sent ahead earlier quickly rushed over. Pushing through the circle of spectators who had begun clamoring at the man’s provocations, the three of them barely managed to force an opening for him to enter.
“What is going on here?” He questioned as the others around them also spotted him and began to tone down their voices.
On one side, standing before the doorway to the old lord’s hut was Pelwin, the old man’s guard. The lord himself, was nowhere to be seen.
On the other side, with his back to a group of people, Galag, a face he had familiarized himself with over the past handful of days, had caught sight of him and was now glaring at him.
“Do you see what I mean? We have even lost the right to our own disputes! They have completely taken over OUR camp and OUR people!” The man, Galag, exclaimed.
“Enough!” Pelwin roared, silencing the area. “Is this what you all really want?! Do you truly think that this is the best decision for us right now?!”
“What we want, are our sons back!”
A man who had been standing behind the one called Galag shouted.
“My son did not deserve to be cast out like that!”
A woman complemented angrily.
“Stop it! All of you!” Haggard and exhausted, the old lord’s voice came from inside the hut that Pelwin was protecting. Supporting himself with a large stick, Lord Shradech slowly limped out of the hut.
“My lord!” Biran called out and the old lord met his eyes, acknowledging his words with a nod.
“As none of you will listen, since the Captain is here now, I will leave this matter to him. I am tired of this nonsense, and I have no wish to hear any more of it. Now leave me be and go elsewhere.” The old man brusquely stated before quickly turning back toward his hut.
“You- you spineless old man! We trusted you!” One of the mothers screamed from the audience, and something immediately flew toward the old lord.
Biran hastily rushed forward. With an upward flick of his sword, the stick was cleanly severed in two and its momentum instantly halted. Falling to the ground, the two pieces slowly began frosting over from their points of severance.
“I am going to go out on a limb and assume that this is about the exile of your sons… again.” He calmly stated as he slid the translucent weapon back into its scabbard. Looking to the group of resentful parents who had come together once more, “Am I right?”
“An- an outsider like you… how dare you?!”
“Sirs and missus.” He retorted with a cold glare, “You were all given a choice that day. Either leave with your sons, or stay. You all chose to stay. Just what sort of reasons could have brought you all here today?”
“Justice! Justice is what brought us here!” Galag cried out indignantly. “You summarily exiled our sons without so much as a fair trial. Today, we will have justice!”
Looking at the large farmer, Galag was at least half a head taller than himself. The man’s arms were muscular like that of a miner’s and could probably easily crush a man’s throat. His aggressive posture alone would be frightening, were it not for the overly large mouth plastered upon the bottom half of the man’s face, along with his incessant squabbling.
“What need is there for a trial, when the evidence of wrongdoing is so plainly obvious, and those responsible have all admitted their guilt?” Biran snarled back, not backing down from the infuriating man. “Or am I to believe that the damages we have all witnessed upon those girls were self-inflicted?”
“Admission of guilt?! They were coerced, and you know it!”
“Your son Arnold admitted to everything in front of witnesses, and the others confirmed his words. It is time you did the same and ceased this pointles-” Biran gritted his teeth. His whole body suddenly stiffened midsentence, as what felt like an invisible wave of heat passed through him.
Quickly grasping the sword at his side in fear of an enemy, all of the muscles within his body instinctively tightened up as a surge of raw power coursed into the weapon in his hand, exploding outward to freeze half of his body.
“Kyaaa!!” Someone screamed and, “AaaRaaGGhhhh!!” Others shouted excruciatingly.
From the distance, many more voices erupted in a discord of agonizing screams as if everyone had been affected by the very same burning sensation.
“W-what- What’s happening to me?!” Panicked yelps filled with tears came from a few people around them, while others began gasping for air.
“AAAAHHh!!” And from within the old man’s hut, came what sounded like the death throes of a man at the end of his life.
Eyes widening upon realizing what it might be due to the fact that he had personally experienced it already, Biran clenched his teeth once more and forcefully shattered the ice around him before hurrying toward the hut.
Inside, the old man had fallen to the ground and was clutching onto his legs.
“By the gods…” He uttered in disbelief, seeing that the old man’s crippled leg was no longer curled slightly, but had fully extended with its scars gone.
Rushing back outside, the screams had all but dissipated. There were no longer any coughing coming from those around him, and men and women were staring at one another with terrified gazes, unable to give voice to what had just taken place.
“My… my hand! It- it grew back!” Someone screamed, raising a hand into the air as others shouted incoherently as they began to sense and feel the changes within their own bodies.
Appearing terrified, Galag’s eyes widened upon spotting his own. “What- what is happening?” The man stuttered, squeezing the words out.
Straightening himself, Biran imposingly sauntered before the man without breaking their gaze.
“You and yours would be dead by now, had it not been for my lord’s grace. What you have just experienced, was another of his blessings.” He growled harshly, using the sudden and unexpected turn of events to his advantage. “Should you and your foolish retinue still wish to remain safe amongst everyone here, you will all cease this flagrant display of insubordination. Is that clear?”
Peering into the man’s eyes, there was terror within them the likes of which he had never seen upon the man before.
And unable to retort, the man blankly returned a terrified nod of compliance.
Turning its head, “Guuuk- gurrrakhhh!!” It groaned painfully, fighting back the urge to waste its strength as it looked toward the horizon once more.
Another explosion of mana had rippled through the ephemeral realms.
Originating from the one it had been seeking, though it was not as powerful of a sensation as before, the mana within had been incredibly pure and dense, like none it had ever felt.
“GU- Grah!” Fighting itself, it growled and arched its back, contorting its body impossibly as the tips of its wings threatened to emerge, to propel it toward the source.
“NO!” Smashing itself against a nearby tree, it roared in defiance, painfully forcing itself to resist as the delicious taste of eternity consumed its thoughts.
I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving/Holiday/November, and have been keeping yourselves safe.
As for this chapter, I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did writing it. I’ll be diving into the next one as soon as I can since I already have most of it planned out, so please look forward to that.
On another note, I’d like to do something for my patreons to show my appreciation, so I’ll be uploading the chapters there first from now on. It won’t be a huge delay or anything. Just half a day or maybe a day’s delay before releasing it here.
Doing so also allows me to go over the chapter and fix/edit the many things that I might have missed, or rewrite/add whatever I need to make the chapter flow better. In essence, you can technically call the version that is being uploaded on patreon a finalized rough draft.
Anyways, enough rambling from me.
As always, thank you for reading, and I wouldn’t be here without all of you, so thank you all for your support!