chapter 78: a call to arms

I let out a sad sigh when I watched the scene of Shara being reunited with her family. Although it was a happy ending for her, to be able to see them all once again, a lot of people did not share her luck. In fact, Shara herself had been truly fortunate. From what I could tell, Aurivy sent a message to her father, letting her know when and where to find her.

After speaking a bit with Irena, I had learned that most families did not get reunited for weeks, or even months after any given member died. There were just too many souls to process, so it was no wonder. Only on rare occasions when the dead had family members present when they crossed over did they get the chance to reunite quickly.

Of course, that also got me thinking, and I asked the death goddess that I had summoned to my room. “How did they do the transfer to the afterlife? I thought only you could create those portals?”

Irena smiled slightly, bent over at the waist as she watched the screen. Unlike myself, she only seemed to be happy that the halfling family was quickly reunited. “It’s a technique that we worked on for decades, and one of the things that were absolutely necessary in order to prepare for my ‘ascension.’” She explained.

“It needs to use a total of twenty thousand spirit energy to activate, more if you wanted to make a bigger transfer. Even with all of those people, they will need to rest for a couple days before they can do that again. However, when it activates, it allows the transfer of souls within the area from the living world to the Underworld. The technique can also be used in reverse, but doing so that way is far easier, as they can draw upon the energy of the Underworld itself.”

Hearing her explanation, I nodded my head slightly. “So you are still unable to form a stable portal, and can just open up gaps to brute force it? Kind of like what that chimera soul did when it forced its way into the living world.”

Irena grimaced slightly at the comparison, but nodded nonetheless. “Exactly. However, that creature did not know how to wield the energy of the Underworld, so it had relied on its own energy to forcefully ‘break’ the barrier between the worlds. Unfortunately, I am still the only one able to create an actual portal, though they are researching how to solve that problem.”

That did make sense. I’m sure eventually they would be able to create devices that would allow them to quickly travel from the afterlife to the living world whenever they wanted. But for now, such things were only distant dreams. “I see, thanks for clearing all of that up for me.” I said with a smile.

With that, Irena stood up and stretched lightly, before turning to leave the room. “I’ve got to go make sure everything is ready. This war is probably going to have effects in the Underworld as well, and I need to let the governor prepare.”

After saying that, she left the room, and simply vanished in the hall. If you’re just going to disappear dramatically like that, why bother walking out the door? I couldn’t help but ask myself that question as I turned back to look at the monitor again, fast forwarding once more.

After the battle at Savir, those halflings who had originally chosen to leave before the fight eventually made it to the Rest. Along the way, many began to feel ashamed of themselves for abandoning their kin to die in a hopeless battle. Yet, at the same time, they were completely aware of the fact that their presence would not have changed the outcome of the battle. And even if they did, there would only be another one just beyond the horizon.

As such, they did the only thing they could. They passed along Shara’s message, her dying will. They told anyone who would listen at the Rest about the army that had invaded the forest. They spoke of how Shara and her Bloodied Hand stood there to defend every halfling in the forest, even when they were outnumbered beyond belief.

And they spoke of how she died. Some sought to embellish the story, putting in details as if they themselves were there. In some stories, Shara stood atop a pile of corpses, fending off attacks from every angle. In others, she was dashing from foe to foe, leaving death and destruction in her wake.

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Yet, every story had something in common. Shara led the people of Savir to fight a hopeless battle. All for the sake of her kin, those who they had sworn to protect. She did not die in shame, and not one of those who had left Savir tried to mock her for what she did. They had seen the army, that is the reason that they chose to flee in the first place.

To any that heard the story, Shara was a hero. Probably the first true hero among the halflings, regardless of those who had earned the class named such. Shara was an example, she showed that it was possible for them to fight, to defend against such odds for her people. And, after sending scouts to Savir only to find it a wasteland of death, they knew that she had succeeded.

The enemies that she fought against did not quickly return to the forest, and the sheer number of bodies being feasted upon by the scavenger beasts told them that the stories were not in the least exaggerated. If anything, those scouts that had investigated Savir felt that the stories were lacking. What they found was a sea of flesh and blood, mangled bodies scattered as far as they could see.

By that time, Shara’s body had long since been dragged away by some nameless beast, and they could not even gather enough of the remains to identify people. So, there was no way for them to receive a proper burial, to be put at rest beneath the ground, as was tradition. Instead, they brought dozens of halflings to the ruins of Savir, all armed with bone daggers.

Only allowed on

These halflings got to work, each one picking a tree and carving a name, before moving on to another. The Bloodied Hand had died to protect those who live in the forest, so they decided for the trees to mark their graves. In this manner, over a hundred trees were marked, each one carved with a name and a symbol of a palm print.

Yet, no matter how they tried, not all of the members of the Bloodied Hand had people who remembered their names. Many were known only to the other members. For those, they did something special. They gathered in front of the largest tree, which Savir itself had been built around, and carved on last memorial.

In these woods, Shara stood with her brothers and sisters, who joined her cause. She fought for what she believed to be right, to defend all of us. With this, we let you return to Mother’s embrace. May she be more fair to you than we were. But know, we will never forget.

For Shara, and the Bloodied Hand.

This message was carved deep into the tree, causing many daggers to break as they wanted to ensure that this memorial would last until the tree itself was no more. This was the best that they could do for her, to show her wherever she was that they had not forsaken her. Rather, her actions were causing a change that she had never expected, one that no mortal being could have.

After leaving the memorial, the halflings of the forest gathered to retrieve the dead. Yet the ones being retrieved were not the halflings, but their enemies. As they had the skin of beasts, they were treated as such. Their lower bodies were skinned and used for leather, while the few halfling bodies they found were buried.

Once they had gathered as much leather as they could from those creatures, they used them to send messages. One message to every Rest within reach, and a request to spread the word. The message was simple, a tale worthy of being known to all.

It was the story of a little girl who did the unthinkable. The story of how she grew up with her father, journeyed with him to repay a blood debt, and lost him in that same journey. A story of how she saw the cruelty hidden within these intelligent beasts, and formed a group of her own to fight. Yet, she did not lead them to slaughter as her enemy would have. Instead, she used her group to defend against the fiercest of odds, to fight back an unimaginable army. And she won, dying for those she loved.

These messages were extremely significant, for two entirely different reasons. First of all, though this fact was largely unknown to the halflings, this would become the first full book in history. Although there existed scrolls of leather, those were but a single page. Only the elves and beastkin had begun to learn how to create papyrus, so a full book of this size was unheard of.

Secondly, and this was far more significant to the halflings in the immediate future, this was a call to arms. With this book, everyone would know exactly what happened. The word would spread, and people would come south. Because this was not just the story of one heroic girl, it was a warning. To the south, there exist creatures who would act to hunt down every man, woman, and child.

Faced with this warning, the halflings only had two options. One, they could flee to the north, move as far away from the threat as they could. Doing so would guarantee that they would live the rest of their lives in peace, but would perhaps condemn their children to suffer this fate in their place.

Or the other option, to follow Shara’s way. And many chose this, heading south towards the forest. Although this meant that they themselves would have to spill blood, it meant that their children would be able to be free. Their future generations would not have to suffer under the threat of these beasts.

It was months before the first centaur reported back to King’s Hope. Not because the journey was long, or that they lost their way, but because they had been utterly terrified by what had happened. Of those who managed to escape, not a single one had dared to walk any path that took him through tall grass. Some had even avoided the watering holes, afraid that there might be lurking hidden dangers beneath the surface.

So, when the first man came back, it was clear to see that he had not had food or drink for days. He was on the verge of collapse, and almost jumped right out of his skin when one of the guards called out to him. It wasn’t until he had been nursed for several days when they learned that he was part of the army that had left the plains.

Although anyone could tell by looking at him that he had experienced a living nightmare, there were still those who secretly mocked him for running from the battle. Some asked about the condition of the Knights of the Round who had led the charge, and then refused to believe that they had fallen within the first moments of battle. Many of them ended up believing that he had simply ran away as soon as the fight began, his fear taking control of him.

Yet, there were those who did not question this in the least. The remaining Knights of the Round had soon heard this report, and it was as if their fears had come true. Before the army had left, each of the Knights had been given a promise scroll, which would only be complete upon the death of the carrier. This was a token measure to see whether or not the one holding the scroll lived.

When the Knights of the Round died, the original scroll that was kept in King’s Hope shattered into light, showing one of two results. Either the scrolls that had been taken with them were torn in the battle, or the three Knights of the Round had died. Naturally, those remaining wished to believe the former. After all, the Knight of Leadership had been chosen to be the next King.

It was only when the story was again verified by more people coming into the city that the knights went to deliver the news to the King.

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