“Well… that went worse than I imagined.” I said with a dull groan as I stood up from my computer, having watched the first meeting between the halflings and the centaurs play out on the screen. When I walked out from my room, I was surprised to find that the entire pantheon had gathered in the living room, their eyes glued to the television. Even the self-proclaimed shut in Udona was there, though she was tucked away in the corner.
On the screen was the same scene that I had just been watching, and the gods had different reactions to it. Most of them were simply disappointed that the first meeting had gone so poorly, but there were two with different responses. One was Aurivy, who was leaning against Terra on the couch with watering eyes.
The other was Tryval, who stood behind the couch, his fists balled up in anger. When he saw me, he immediately made his way past the other gods to stand in front of me. “Milord, please let me go down and put an end to this conflict before it can proceed any further.” As he spoke, Aurivy looked up with hopeful eyes, and I could only sigh reluctantly.
“No.” I said, surprising most of the gods present. Only Terra seemed to have expected that answer, smiling approvingly.
“What? But, why?” Tryval took a step back, shocked by my denial. “Surely, you do not support this fight between the races?”
Even Aurivy’s eyes seemed to turn cold when he said that, but I shook my head. “It is nothing like that. Really, I wish that they’d stop fighting as well. But, we can’t have the gods interfere in this battle. If you want to get involved, you can only do so by using the Heavenly Game.”
Tryval still seemed not to understand, his brows furrowing in confusion. “I request an explanation, milord. I simply cannot understand why you would not allow us to end such a bloody battle.”
Rather than answering him, I turned to look at Terra. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but the gods can’t interfere with the invasions, correct?” She nodded her head in confirmation, so I turned back to look at Tryval. “You’ve spent all of your time on the world below, so it is normal for you not to know about this. But, once this world becomes powerful enough, it will be invaded by others. These invaders will be seeking nothing less than the complete destruction of the world itself.”
Seeing the surprised gazes once appearing on several faces, I came to the conclusion that Terra had not told a few people about this matter. “During these invasions, the gods cannot interfere with the fighting. But, if we start using you guys to prevent wars now, they will become dependant on that. Most of the races will never figure out how to fight for themselves. And when the time comes that the world is invaded, they won’t be able to fight back, thinking that you all abandoned them.”
Hearing my explanation, Tryval took another step back, nodding his head. “I understand, sire.” After that, he turned towards Aurivy, his gaze softening. “I am truly sorry for the actions of my people, little one.”
Aurivy didn’t immediately respond to Tryval, just looking pleadingly at me for a moment, before nodding. “It’s… alright, Tryval. But, can I make a suggestion while everyone is here?” When Aurivy said that, everyone turned their attention from me to her. “This is… hard to say. But, no matter what happens, or what wars go on, can we all make a promise now that we won’t let it come between us?”
As she asked that, she looked between every god and goddess in the room. “I don’t want our family to get hurt because of what is happening below. And maybe, just maybe, if we spread the word after these battles are over that we see each other as friends and family to our people, they won’t want to fight each other as much.”
Seeing as she was the first victim of such a conflict, her words carried even more weight. One by one, the gods and goddesses began to nod in agreement. Terra even spoke up, reaching up to ruffle Aurivy’s hair. “Since when did you become so wise, huh?” Of course, this caused the halfling goddess to flail her arms about pitifully, raising a round of laughter from those in the room.
“Anyways…” Terra said as she looked to me. “You should fast forward a bit again. Not by much, just a week or two. We’ll need to see whether the halflings choose to fight or to flee.” After saying that, she looked towards Aurivy. “And don’t interfere with their decision this time, okay Rivy? Like Dale said, they’re going to need to get used to fighting like this eventually, so let them decide for themselves this time.”
Although Aurivy looked like she wanted to protest, she nodded her head slowly. “Okay… I don’t like it, but okay.”
With that taken care of, Terra clapped her hands. “Okay, then! Everyone who hasn’t already started the Heavenly Game, feel free to pick a side to contribute to this battle. Remember, we want to minimize damage, not help one side win over the other.” Hearing that, the others all looked away awkwardly. “Wait… did all of you already create an incarnation?” Terra asked in surprise, closing her eyes and focusing on something.
“Aye, lass.” Tubrock spoke up first. “It seemed too interesting a thing not to do.” Several people nodded at his words, showing that they shared a similar believe.
“I needed to begin practicing and spreading martial arts.” Bihena continued, giving her own reason.
“I only suggested the system in the first place so that I could learn more about magic.” Ryone admitted with a nonchalant shrug. “How about you, Terra?” She asked mischievously to the catgirl goddess, whose ears flattened against her head.
“Well… I wanted to see what it was like to be mortal.” She spoke in a quiet voice, causing the others to laugh. Surprisingly, Irena was the one to nod in agreement this time.
Smiling at their reaction, I couldn’t help but ask a couple questions. “Is there a reason why you guys can only have one incarnation at a time? I didn’t remember seeing that as a restriction for this system. Also, are you even able to make one that’s not from your own race?”
Unsurprisingly, it was Terra that answered. “We could make more than one, but even we can only split our minds so many times before we start slowing down mentally. Especially when most of those fragments have to move at a faster speed than what we have here. I might be able to support an extra incarnation because of my system knowledge being a substitute for training, but I doubt the rest of them can.”
I nodded my head, understanding that issue. If it were me, I might not even be able to split my mind once, with both moving at a normal speed. Let alone with one moving tens of thousands of times faster.
For two days, Makin ran as if his life had depended on it. It took him less than an hour to overtake the large spider that had been leisurely crawling along to deliver its own message, not even stopping to explain. He did not stop to sleep, or to eat or drink, using his own power and will to push through the journey.
By the time he arrived at the Rest, his own red bar of life had begun to gradually deplete. Seeing this, Savir quickly ran up to greet Makin. “Little one, are you alright?” Savir was the Hunter living in the Rest, and thus would often take the messages from the beasts and monsters that delivered them.
Seeing that Makin was near death, Savir took out some food and water, slowly feeding them to him. At the same time, he accepted the message that Makin was desperately trying to push into his hand, opening it up to see only the red handprint, the blood having long since dried. Unable to understand the meaning of the message, he continued to nurse Makin back to health for a full day and night.
Only when his health had recovered did Savir connect his mind with Makin. “Tell me, little one. What became of your friend.” After saying that, a blurred scene replayed within Savir’s mind. Makin often slept in his friend’s shirt, finding it more comfortable, so his first real sight of the creatures that attacked them came only after Salvin had been felled. All he saw were the strange creatures laughing as they shot down the halfling, and the expression of despair on Salvin’s face as he handed the scrap to Makin with his dying breath.
Seeing this, Salvin felt as if his mind had been struck by lightning. His blood began to boil with a rage he had never known. Unlike the young ones that were with Sjorn, he had heard of halflings killing each other before. Each time he received a message of such an act, he would send word to every Rest within his reach, letting them know that person was not to be given shelter. As a people blessed by the goddess, to slay one another was the greatest betrayal. And yet, these creatures did so with such pride and joy.
“Do not worry, little one…” He said as he looked to Makin, who was curled up on the floor, resting to recover his health. “I have received your message.”
For the rest of the day, Savir began writing messages to every Rest, sending back replies with every beast or monster that entered his Rest. Blood had been spilled, so he sought to gather every halfling in the area. Any who would heed his call. And with every message, he would cut open his own palm, placing a bloody handprint on the back of the message. This would serve to remind them of the urgency, so that none would delay.
Within two weeks, Savir’s Rest had more people within it than any Rest had ever held at once. In the center of the Rest, the buildings had been uprooted and moved to allow everyone to gather at once. There was a tense atmosphere as everyone waited for Savir to speak. When he stepped forward, they noticed that he had a bloody handprint across his face, causing many to be shocked.
“Thank you all for coming in this time of need.” Savir spoke in a heavy voice, turning to address his audience. “The blood of our brethren has been spilled, but not by beast or monster, but by the hands of another. Creatures with the bodies of man and beast in one, savage and untamed. They killed a family without cause or provocation.”
Several people in the audience gripped their fists at this news, beasts growling in anger. “I have prayed to the Goddess for advice in this matter. And She is saddened by this loss. She spoke to me, saying that only we could resolve it. She will not turn her back on us, but neither will She aid us in the shedding of blood. Yet, this is indeed a debt of blood.”
This time, his words caused those around him to become nervous, as if they could tell what he was going to say next. “If a man kills another man, he shall be barred from all Rests, given no help from his fellows. Then, what do we do about these creatures? They care not for our aid or our Rests. How are we to seek justice for this blood debt, I ask you!?”
Nobody among the crowd would answer, so he continued. “I speak not for you all, but for myself. A debt of blood must be repaid. If we can not shun them to repay it, then we must do so through other means. As of this day, I cast myself from this Rest. I will shoulder the price for the blood I seek to spill.” Again, shocked cries could be heard through the crowd. Savir was willingly banishing himself from his home and his people in order to seek justice for his fallen kin.
“I do not ask for forgiveness, as I do this knowingly. If others seek justice, I invite you to join me. Know that this is an action that can not be taken back. Although you would be my brother in this, we would have no home to return to. So I ask of you, who will stand with me?”
There was a long moment of silence before one of the halflings pulled a stone dagger from his back. Gripping the sharpened edge with his hand, he then slapped his chest, leaving behind a red handprint. Afterwards, he walked up to stand next to Savir, declaring his allegiance.
One by one, daggers or arrows were pulled out, and bloody prints were slapped onto the bodies of the halflings gathered. By the end, over half of those in the audience had sided with Savir. Seeing this, a warm smile was brought to the hunter’s face. Finally, he turned towards one of the ones among the crowd who had not declared his allegiance. “Jatun, brother, I ask that you take my place in leading this Rest. It is selfish of me to ask you to end your life’s journey, but I am no longer suitable for this task.”
Jatun, a younger hunter who had known Savir since they were young, smiled at the other man. “I had a feeling you would choose me, brother. I accept this task, but know this. Even if you shed the blood of those beasts, this Rest will not shun you. You will always have a home here.”
And so, the first army of the halflings were created. To remember those that fell at the hands of their enemy, they named their party the Bloodied Hand.