(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you spot them, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!!)
Kain’s face was the very definition of pale at the moment. It was as if he had not a drop of blood flowing in his body.
After a minute or two of total silence, he somehow managed to squeak out some words.
“….Say what? They will come for me on their own?”
He even ignored the intense pressure emanating from the Old Man. Because to him, nothing else mattered except the shock of the revelation.
Originally Kain stood up as he shouted at the top of his voice. He was full of righteous vigor back then. But now, it felt as if there was a giant boulder crushing down on him. The pressure weighing down was terrific and suffocating.
He staggered backward, nearly tripping on the uneven floor.
Seeing the pale faced boy, the Old Man sighed, and eased the pressure coming from his aura. “Look, kid. Now that the things have come to this, you don’t have a choice. Train like there’s no tomorrow, and just maybe, you can defeat whatever bastards comes knocking on your doorstep.”
Kain’s face flushed with color as he came round. He hadn’t forgotten about the difference between him and the Old Man, but still, his fury hadn’t cooled yet.
So, without hesitation he angrily shot back at the Old Man instead. “What?! Hey, this is all your fault, you know!! If you hadn’t chosen me to learn kung fu or wushu or whatever, then I wouldn’t have to worry about fighting in the first place!! Wait, that’s it!! I’m not going to learn anything from you. As a matter of fact, I’m gonna leave, right now!!”
Kain then stomped his way out of the grand dining hall, storming out of the fort’s entrance. He didn’t even slow down, as he ran right out of the fort’s crumbling defensive walls and entered the empty streets of the dead city.
The Old Man could only sigh and shake his head. He was about to raise his hand and command the vines to bring the boy back when, suddenly, his face darkened.
Grabbing his chest, he began fitfully coughing, until he spat out a mouthful of dark blood that smelled like a rotten egg. He looked visibly weakened, as if the candlelight of his life was flickering unsteadily.
Grim faced, the Old Man wiped the blood off his lips, wryly chuckling at his sorry state. “Looks like…. I need to hurry.”
As soon as those words left his lips, his expression changed to that of a determination. He closed his eyes, and manipulated the boundless ch’i swirling inside of him. This was the only way to suppress that dark blood from rising up again.
As the pain in his chest slowly receded, some color returned to his face. By his own calculation, if he continued to exert pressure on this…. illness, then he’d be able to hold out for another dozen decades or so.
By his own estimates, when that time arrives, then he’d be strong enough to face the tribulations that were coming to this world. But, as his eyes focused on the empty stool where Kain had sat, he knew there was someone, or something, that had thrown a wrench in the grand plans of the creatures calling themselves the gods.
Taking a deep breath, he sent out his ch’i-infused sense, Yi Hai, outward, trying to locate the boy’s current whereabouts. To his bemused surprise, Kain had made quite a good distance, while the Old Man had to meditate for a second or two. Chuckling to himself, he wondered whether it was better to simply force him back, or let him taste yet another trial by fire, which could lead Kain to discover the reason why he needed to learn to become stronger.
He extended his Yi Hai further, and swept across the entire forest in one breath, scanning and analyzing. When he found what he was looking for, the Old Man’s eyes glittered.
While the vines shot out from nowhere to clean out the blood on the floor, the Old Man murmured a new command. As to who it was directed to….
Meanwhile, unaware of what was happening back inside the fort Kain wondered around the dead city as he fruitlessly tried to find the elusive exit. He had run like hell using the Aeterna-bolstered legs but once he was out in the crumbling streets, it was not easy trying to pin down his exact location in regards to the city limits.
Recalling what he had seen from the rooftop, he decided to head towards the canal on the East side.
Oh wait, was it towards the West? Bah, can’t remember properly. Whatever, let’s just go there and see. Even if it’s the wrong way, I am sure there will be an exit somewhere. And no one can stop me from leaving this place. Absolutely no one!!
He only wasted a breath before deciding on the direction. It was unusual for him to be so certain of anything, especially when it came to the matters of the unknown, but the harrowing experiences of the last few weeks had changed him. Whether he was aware of this change within him was another matter entirely, however.
Before he could take another step, though, he was interrupted by a crisp voice of a girl.
“Oh hey, Lil’ Kain. Where are you off to now?”
When he turned around, he saw Emma staring at him with her deep amber eyes, while munching on something that sort of resembled a carrot. She was half leaning against a wall, the jagged shadows of the ruined buildings embracing her like a cozy blanket. If she hadn’t said a thing, he’d never even find her there.
“Uh, hey Emma. Right, yeah. Well, I’m trying to leave the city, you see.”
“You’re leaving? Looking like that?” Emma gave him a wide-eyed stare of shock, her mouth agape as she stopped chewing for a second. After recovering from the shock, she resumed the consumption of the carrot-like vegetable, while shaking her head slowly. “You do know how far it is to the outer rims of the mountain range, right? You could walk for weeks before arriving there, you know. And never mind all the fierce Fiends out there.”
Kain froze on the spot when he heard this. Now that he was a bit calmer, it was easy to see how ill-equipped he was currently for the journey. He had no water, no food, no protective clothing, nothing. Not even a vague sense of where he should head towards, for that matter.
“Oh, well. I came here empty handed anyway. Might as well leave just as empty, too. Somehow, I’ll manage.”
Kain shrugged his shoulders, and began walking.
Emma tilted her head in confusion. She was wondering what had happened between the Old Master and the boy – usually, the older man would shut himself behind the fort’s closed doors to meditate. But for some reason, he decided to open the doors for this kid.
She couldn’t understand it. Sure, he had a bit more Aeterna Pool than an average non-Elves, but from as far as she could see, it wasn’t anything special. Heck, she could easily tell the boy haven’t even received the blessings of the Nature Spirits, like every Elven children ever born had. So what was so special about him?
Suddenly, her curiosity flared up. Smiling gleefully, she swallowed the final stump of the vegetable in one gulp, before calling out to the boy.
“Hey, wait there, Lil’ Kain. Let’s go together, wherever you’re off to. You don’t mind, right? At least you won’t get bored with me around, right? Right?”
Kain hesitated. He turned around to see Emma and her excited face that kinda resembled that of a ten year old kid all ready to go to a Disneyland or something. “Uhm… why would you want to go with me? It’s not going to be much fun, you know.”
Emma frowned sadly, unable to hide her disappointment. “I can’t go? You don’t want me?”
Kain felt a knife of guilt stab him in the chest. Cursing inwardly, he smiled apologetically and scratched the back of his head. Her pleading eyes were bearing down on him like a sharp power tool, and he began sweating hard. Before long, he lost to her pressure, and ended up carefully weighing the pros and cons of her suggestion.
Finally, he nodded his head. “Okay, sure thing. Let’s go together.”
Emma smiled brightly, and punched the air, before jumping right next to him in one motion. Seeing this, Kain too smiled, albeit in a wry manner. He was inwardly musing just how old Emma’s exact mental age could be.
So, the two of them set off, followed by Orion the Roc hatchling who watched from a distant roof top, its face still and observant.
Lizbeth and Michelle aided with the healing of the injured after the rioting was brought under control. There were many wounded, and some even perished but the good news was, due to Damien’s actions three of the men who incited the crowd were now under arrest by the Academy’s own garrison. Although having said that, one was only a hair’s breadth away from dying, while the other two were in not any better shape themselves.
Of course, as it is a norm in life, a good news always had a habit of accompanying a bad news as well. In this case, because of the turmoil in front of the Checkpoint, the impromptu Festival, the rudimentary testing of Kaleena and Katrina’s abilities, were postponed to another day. This meant the family had to slum it out in Michell’s residence within the Academy’s borders for a foreseeable future.
Her house was actually more opulent than that of Damien’s back in Riverfield, the fact which made him feel rather complicated. Not ashamed, no, just that he ended up contemplating all the decisions he had made in life so far. And he found that he didn’t regret becoming RIverfield’s lord one bit.
Anyways, his job was far from over. After getting the girls settled in, Damian and Michelle were summoned to the central district of the Academy, to answer the questions of the investigators.
They opted to rent a carriage rather than taking Michelle’s own supply of horses because she wanted to talk to him about that one body she was able to examine. And her analysis was a grave and uncertain one.
“Basically, you are unsure of the composition of the toxins,” said Damien while furrowing his brows.
“Yes. It is a strange concoction indeed. There were a few medicinal plants that even I’m not aware of. But….”
“I’m not certain whether the item ingested was supposed to be a poison in the first place.”
Michelle wasn’t sure what to make of her own findings. Even though the concocted item took lives away, she couldn’t tell whether that was the item’s intended purpose. It was as if, the victims were nothing more than guinea pigs to test out the potency or the side effects of the so-called medicine.
What she was sure of, though, was the level of alchemist required to prepare such a complicated item.
“I’m sorry, Damien. At the rate this matter is heading, it seems like I’ll be tied down for a while, trying to cooperate with the investigation. More than likely I will be too busy to look after your girls. Well, at least not until we find those responsible, that is.”
Damien shook his head. “Yeah, well. Don’t worry about it, Michelle. Somehow we’ll manage.”
If Kain heard the words uttered by his father, his expression would’ve become strange. After all, they have said the exact same thing. Sure, the soul inside Kain was that of a twenty-something year old dude from another realm, but by staying together for more than five years, certain habits had become ingrained in both of them. In other words, like father, like son.
Just like how it was with Orion and the Old Man.
Their trip didn’t take too long, as there were no traffic jams within the Academy. Rather, the whole place had this vibe of caution, as if the late morning’s activity weighed heavily in the minds of the residents here.
Arriving at a large, squarish gray slab-sided building, Damian and Michelle were ushered into an office of sorts with a large round table and not much else, not even a window. Michelle took a seat and waited, prompting Damien to do the same.
While waiting, Damien looked around the room, thinking this place was more like an interrogation chamber than a room reserved for friendly interviews. The walls were devoid of any and all furnishing, and there were only two doors here, one behind him and the other on the opposite side. Other than that, it was eerily quiet.
Damien didn’t like it. The atmosphere he encountered while coming here was somber, which he understood very well why so. But the way some of the Invokers were eyeing him when he entered this building was not all that friendly.
Perhaps that’s not quite right. Not hostile, no, but rather wary. Wary of strangers, probably.
Damien nodded as he reorganized his thoughts. He mentally went through everything that had happened, putting them in order so he could answer whatever questions the official investigators might have for him.
Before long, a whole bunch of somber and serious-faced people entered through the door on the opposite side to where Damien sat. Judging by their attires, all of them were Invokers of high ranks. They sat down on the opposite side of Damien and Michelle, each of them placing various scrolls and notes along with quills and jars of ink.
Michelle broke the ice first.
“This room never gets old, no matter how many times I’ve been here.”
Directly opposite of her was a man in his late nineties, his face like that of a weathered leather bag. There was a large black spot on his left cheek, the only bit of skin on his face that actually had any sort of color. Even his swept-back hair was paler than white.
He radiated such an aura of ancientness, Damien had to wonder, rather rudely, how the hell a man that decrepit still hasn’t died yet.
The old, decrepit man opened his mouth and spoke slowly.
“Master Banovsky. I have to say, it is unfortunate to see you here in this room once more. Although, as I understand, it wasn’t completely of your choice.”
Michelle chuckled. “We’re all victims of malicious circumstances, Master Grisham. More to the point, though – I’m not the one in the proverbial doghouse today.”
“You’re correct, Master Banovsky. This meeting is just a formality to ensure that we have visited all the avenues of investigation, nothing more.”
The decrepit old man, whose name was Grisham, nodded as he languidly unfurled the scroll in front of him. Then he cleared his throat of phlegm loudly.
He was handed a quill dipped in ink by the person to his left, an attractive Pantherikin woman with black furs and a pair of piercing golden eyes. Thanking her, Grisham coughed lightly again, before scribbling something on the parchment leisurely, his thick and ancient brows trembling in concentration.
“So…. Master Banovsky. Could you be so kind to tell us once more what you have uncovered in your primary examination of the…. corpse sample number 12? Ah, from the very top if you would, please.”
Grisham said without looking up from the parchment. The other investigators also unfurled their respective scrolls, and readied their quills, ready to scribe.
The way Grisham referred to the boy’s remains slightly ticked Michelle off, but she chose not to bring the point up. Instead, she nodded lightly and imperceptibly glanced at Damien to silently communicate her thoughts, before opening her mouth.
She basically repeated what she had already told Damien. But she also added one more thing – that she thought the toxin, or whatever it was, could not have been concocted by a non-Invoker. Rather, she believed it was done by a member of SOIR who successfully appropriated the Society’s considerable resources to his or her own gains.
She added to that by saying she needed more time to closely examine the other “samples,” which would then give her a better, more complete picture.
Next, it was Damien’s turn, He described the facial features of the inciters that got away, and although he could not give a detailed description, it was better than nothing. Next up, was his opinion regarding the men he fought, such as their level of training and even their possible professions.
The Q&A session went well, and ended soon after. Since there was a surplus of time, Damien couldn’t help but ask a question himself at Grisham and the other investigators.
“What of the three I’ve apprehended? Have they talked yet?”
“No, not yet. Even though their injuries are…. on the light side, one man hasn’t recovered from the coma, while one has asked for a legal council. As for the other one, he refuses to speak at all.” Grisham chuckled, fingering the black spot on his cheek absentmindedly. “It won’t be long before one of them talks. We’ll make sure of that.”
“Will you provide council as he asked for?”
“Legally, we are compelled to, but at the same time…. well, there’s still time before the deadline for that.”
Grisham flashed a cold smile, showing off his crooked and mostly missing teeth. He gingerly stood up from his chair, and waved his hand at the posse he brought along.
As they began to file out one by one via the door, he turned around and gazed meaningfully at Damien and Michelle before speaking.
“Please don’t leave the Academy’s premises while the investigation continues. I’m well aware of the time isn’t on your side, Sir Damien, but please, try to understand.”
Not saying anything, Damien vaguely nodded his consent.
Later that night, Damien slipped out of the Academy and headed for the Capital. His destination was in the Commons district, where at night it was inadvisable to enter unless one was well armed and ready to take action. Damien was both of those things.
Smuggling himself out of the Checkpoint wasn’t too difficult. In fact, calling it smuggling would be a disgrace to all the smugglers out there. All he had to do was to flash a metallic totem that was an Invoker’s identification. Lizbeth had one custom made for an assignment that involved rogue Invokers many moons ago.
Even though he couldn’t use Aeterna all that well – no, he couldn’t utilize it at all, unlike his cousin Derrick – still this bit of fakey little identification totem came in handy numerous times in the past. It only reacted to his life signatures, his own unique Aeterna Pool. Just because he couldn’t cast Invocation, that didn’t mean he didn’t have any Aeterna in him. After all, all living things in this world were born with a certain amount of the mysterious substance in them. That included Damien.
Since the totem indicated that he was an Invoker, the guards manning the station didn’t really look too hard. After all, only the qualified Invokers were allowed to carry a totem like Damien’s. Who in their right minds would suspect a man leaving the Academy while carrying a seemingly genuine totem in broad daylight? Or in this case, late evening, with the sun now well and truly gone for the day.
He had borrowed a horse from Michelle and set off towards the city with one singular purpose.
He still had the city entry permit on him so there was no need to get reexamined by a Truth Board. He breezed past the guards and entered Argos, and headed straight for a certain bar in the seedier side of the capital.
He had to leave the horse behind in the city’s communal stables since where he was going to wasn’t such a nice place to be. It was a pain to walk there, but he had no choice as no carriage would go there at night.
He walked briskly, and as he got deeper and deeper into the seedier underbelly of the city, he noticed there were more eyes scanning him than before.
Even at night there were a fair number of people out and about, disregarding the ever-crumbling public order. Hustlers of various races and ages, burly pimps oozing arrogant attitudes, greedy-eyed cutpurses, hoodlums out to ruin someone else’s evening, those looking for a quick score of illegal narcotics – all sorts of them wandered around the streets as Damien waded past all these shifty eyed men and women.
Once, a cutpurse tried his hand in fleecing Damien but he got his fingers broken instead. Whimpering in pain, the would-be thief ran off in a hurry, screaming bloody murder and expletives at his way, even going as far as promising a righteous retribution.
Seeing the back of the fleeing man, he ruefully smiled, his mind going back to the days when he was treading the very same streets all those years ago while working under Marquis Phillips.
Nothing much had changed, even after all these years have passed. The buildings remained largely the same, the shops remained the same, almost, and the only thing that did change were the faces of the pimps, the whores, and the forgotten of the society.
Passing by a gaudy bordello and the alluring girls in front, Damien opting to head for the back alley next to it.
Hidden against the backdrop of a darkened backstreet, an old but sturdy three story building came to the view, lights dimly flickering out from the heavily draped curtains. Outwardly, there were no signs of this place being anything other than a regular residence. There was no sign boards, no drunkards loitering about, no litters and vomit stains.
The only thing that could rouse suspicions was a pair of really butch Caniduskin males, sitting around on empty crates of supplies and conversing in a lively tone.
When Damien arrived near the entrance, the two stopped their chatting and slowly stood up. Their eyes went over him like a fine tooth comb, searching for any untoward signs.
Ignoring the pair, Damien pushed open the thick wooden door and entered the building.
Almost immediately he was greeted by a thick haze of blue-gray smoke and the unforgettable stench of hard drinks.
He walked past the scantily dressed ladies giving him a seductive gaze, their perfume wafting into his nostrils. With it, some of the memories of this place rushed back in, causing him to smile ruefully once more.
There were thick burgundy curtains blocking his way, but first, he had to contend with burly men, also Canisduskins, giving him cold stares. One of them spoke in a cool voice.
“No weapons allowed, including hidden ones. Leave ’em here with us.”
For this journey, Damien had loaned a simple steel shortsword before coming here. As much as he liked keeping his life, he didn’t trust this establishment enough to hand over Frostbane and risk it being stolen.
Wordlessly, he took the sword off his hip and lightly tossed it over. A Caniduskin man then handed him a receipt. Not even bothering to read it, Damien brushed past the curtains and walked in.
Past the narrow and dark corridor, until he was in the wide open hall. More husky smoke, more smell of booze, and more clamor of noise; before him, was an illegal gambling parlor, a casino of sorts.
The Empire had banned all gambling activities, including even horse racing. Of course there was always a thirst for betting one’s hard earned coin on pointless competitions no matter what the worlds were, so without an exception there were many illegal, hidden-from-view casinos like this all over the continent.
The walls were gaudily painted but devoid of any embellishments. There were two dozen tables reserved for the gambling activities, while to the one side, there was a large bar that served strong alcoholic beverages. The crowd mostly consisted of rowdy, half drunk nobles and merchants here to blow off some steam, accompanied by young and bouncy girls of various races.
And as if remind everyone to behave, now and then burly Caniduskin bouncers could be seen, silently observing the organized mayhem unfolding on the floor.
Wrapping them all in was a sensuous music gently floating in the air like a distant memory, just beyond one’s grasp but distinct enough to leave an impression of sorts behind.
Damien ignored all these, and instead headed towards the very end of the hall, where there were several private booths set up for certain discerning customers who sought out privacy.
Among those, there was one booth that was heavily guarded by the combination of Pantherikins and other races that rippled with power, intimidating all those wishing to approach.
When Damien got close, one of the guards stepped forward, blocking his way.
“I came to see Mikael.” Damien unhurriedly told the guard.
However, the guard didn’t even change his expression, and simply replied. “So does a million others. Back off, human. Or you lose the other arm too.”
“Tell him its Damien Lucius,” Damien calmly gazed at the man, letting loose just a tiny bit of his Gold-ranked Adventurer’s aura. However, the guard wasn’t too badly affected, only narrowing his eyes and observing the one armed human in front of him.
A short pause later, the guard signaled to his partner, who then entered the booth to convey the message. The answer didn’t take long, before Damien was allowed in.
“I’m watching you,” the Pantherikin guard threateningly growled as Damien walked past him.
Ignoring the man completely, Damien stepped past the throng of guards to stand before a large table and a bevy of beautiful women surrounding a man.
He looked young, yet it was difficult to tell what was his exact age. In one moment, he might be in his twenties, but then, in the next instance, in his forties.
And he was shockingly handsome, almost otherworldly so. His skin was flawless, smooth and unsullied by the passage of time. His golden hair gently flowed downward, and he carried an abundant amount of elegance that seemed inborn, rather than from a protracted practice.
However, all was not perfect, as shocking scars could be seen on both of his ears whenever he ran his fingers through the strands of his hair. It was as if the tips were roughly cut away, and the wounds were not healed properly since then.
He wore simple yet expensive looking clothing, oozing the sense of refinement from every pore, and with every action he performed, such as picking up a goblet of wine and sipping it.
The women were also beautiful but next to the man, their aura seemed to deem ever so slightly. Although, it was clear to see how besotted these women were with him, as they dotted on the handsome man like he was their god, their savior, their soul mate.
“Damien, it’s been a while,” the handsome man smiled warmly. “Please, take a seat. Let us share a toast to your much delayed return to the streets of Argos.”
“Thank you, Mikael.” Damien nodded and sat down, but politely declined the drinks. Rather than beating around the bush, he stated the reason for his trip here. “I’m looking for some people.”
“Aren’t we all,” Mikael chuckled lightly.
“True,” Damien shrugged his shoulders. “But they are a bad news. To me at least. So, I came to collect on the favor you owe me.”
Mikael kept his enigmatic smile as he took a long gaze at Damien. His eyes narrowing, the handsome man slowly tilted his head to a side and probed softly.
“You…. have certainly changed. A lot has happened to you, some of them rather unkind. The years sacrificed as a lord in Riverfield, was it worth it, now that you’re here at this point in life?”
Damien grimaced a little. “Mikael, I didn’t come here to discuss my life choices with you. I only seek information, and that’s it. I know you already possess the knowledge I came here for. Please, share it with me.”
“Impatient as always,” Mikael sighed softly, before shaking his head. “I hoped that living in the countryside might have slowed your temperament a little, but alas, it is not so. Very well. But I still need to ask you.”
Mikael leaned forward, and rested his elbows on the table, his hands locking with each other. He then lowered his chin on the hands and gave Damien a long stare.
“Why do you seek this knowledge? Do you feel you have enough strength to go up against whoever it was that caused you this grief, the knot in your heart?”
Damien’s grimace became deeper. He didn’t say anything but his fist clenched harder, popping noise escaping from his knuckles.
His mind flared up angrily just thinking about the bastards that caused his son’s demise. How many times did he dream of flailing the skin off those responsible? How many times did he think of tracking them down and punishing them?
“Mikael, just tell me. I’ll take care of the rest.”
His voice seethed with barely-masked rage. The anger seeped out from him and tainted the air, causing the guards to frown in concern. One or two were ready to draw their weapons and strike Damien down if he were to act impulsively.
Seeing this, Mikael sighed softly again.
“Very well. Even though it pains me, I can only provide you with small snippets of information on the men responsible for harming your children. My ability to collect intel has not diminished one iota, but it is difficult to gather any meaningful data on these men.”
“Who are they?”
“An organization of personages from across all spectrum of the society. More worryingly, they seek to introduce anarchy to the streets of Empire.”
“Why was my family targeted? Why my kids?”
“I do not know. But one thing’s for certain – there’s a traitor in the midst of the Lomax House. More than one, in fact. Traitors intimately connected to this organization, and could become a major threat to you and your family. You’d do well to take note of this if you’re planning to return to your ancestral lands.”
“What are they called? This organization, what’s its name?”
“The Children. It’s only a half of their full name, and I’m in the process of uncovering the rest. But it’ll take time.”
“The Children….” Upon hearing the name, Damien’s face couldn’t hide his derision. A shady organization named like that trying to harm his children was a very definition of irony, at least from his point of view. “You know who the traitors might be? Anyone I know?”
“I am certain of one man, but for the rest….”
“A merchant named Westbrooks. He has had a great deal of business dealings with your brother, and earned a considerable influence in the Northern Territories. It is safe to assume that some, maybe all, of his associates could be suspected of being in the same organization as him.”
“This information has been verified?”
“Yes. My augury skills haven’t let anyone down yet, least of all my valuable customers.”
Damien nodded, and slowly got up. “Thanks, Mikael.”
“A piece of advice, if you will,” Mikael raised his hand, calling for Damien’s attention on him. “You need to tread on this one carefully. The reason why I couldn’t unearth more about them yet is because there’s someone very powerful, someone quite frightening supporting them. I wouldn’t be surprised if their hidden reach has already penetrated into the most spheres of the government.”
“I’m aware of that,” Damien replied coolly. “Well, take care of yourself, Mikael. Don’t get killed.”
Ignoring the gazes of pity and sympathy, Damien left the illegal gambling establishment and emerged into the cooler night air.
Breathing in deeply to expel all the dour and corrupted smell out of his lungs, he headed back to the communal stables where he had left behind his borrowed horse.
As he rounded the darkened corners one after another, he sensed several presences tailing him from the shadows. Their technique was shabby and easy to see through so that didn’t concern Damien one bit, but what made him frown was just how many of them were there, all emitting high level of hostility.
It can’t be because of that pickpocket, can it?
Damien held the hilt of the sword in reverse grip, ready to unsheathe it in a moment’s notice. He calculated that a wide open space with plenty of lights would serve him well and so, his eyes locked on a well-lit crossing ten Ruten away. There weren’t many people out and about around here, as if they all sensed something was about to go down and decided to avoid the trouble of getting involved inadvertently. Damien preferred it that way, actually.
By the time he arrived at the crossing, he was surrounded. They were more than a dozen of them, all baying for his blood. All of them held weapons of various lengths and sharpness.
Surprisingly, Damien recognized the faces on one or two of his attackers, as the ones from the day’s rioting mob. They were the inciters that had escaped, and now they were licking their lips in anticipation, circling him like a pack of predators eyeing a juicy prey. A cold, murderous light shone from each and every one of them.
Damien examined them all indifferently. Inwardly, however, he was calculating whether it’d be better to aim for escaping unscathed, or taking them down for good.
He didn’t want to get tangled in SOIR’s business. They had sufficiently qualified people to handle their own mess. He figured that as long as the fools behind the rioting situation left him alone, then he’d not poke them with a stick. Yet, here they were.
Suddenly, a vicious and devilish smile lit up on Damien’s face. His chained anger violently rebelled against his control and began to break free.
The truth was that he had been keeping his rage in check until now, hoping to unleash it at those responsible for his son’s death, but seeing that these men decided to kindly throw away their lives, he also figured that he might as well let off some built up energy.
Otherwise, he’d go insane from the frustration.
“What are you waiting for? I haven’t got the whole evening. Hurry up.”
Damien’s words caused the men to act. They attacked in unison. But he was faster.
As the men closed in, Damien already identified the potential weak links in the group, and went for that first.
As he bopped and weaved out of the slashing blades and other blunt weaponry, he caught the sight of the attackers’ shocked expressions. That was quite satisfying, he thought. Since he lacked an arm, his close quarter combat style had to evolve, where he never, ever blocked an attack, nor did he try to win in a struggle of pure strength.
Rather, all of his moves consisted of dodging and parrying, a style of combat refined over time by sparring with Derrick on many occasions.
Compared to his cousin, these men were nothing special. The number might put him in a disadvantageous position, but by adhering to the basics of watching out for the four directions, Damien would be fine. Him not losing concentration was the key.
Since he was short of one arm, a lot of his attacks now centered around his legs. Using a feint of drawing his sword and swinging it in one motion, he caused his target to raise his own weapon to block. Of course the expected attack didn’t come, but instead, Damien’s well practiced kick directly landed on the unprotected kneecap, shattering it an instant.
There was no time for a pained cry, as Damien’s naked blade smoothly came down, piercing through a minute gap in the chest armor of his target. He clearly felt the sensation of internal organs getting crushed by the thrust of the weapon.
“One down,” murmured Damien. His eyes radiated a cold killing glow, and if his wife, Lizbeth, saw him in this state, she’d have a hard time recognizing him.
The swiftness and the decisiveness of the strike caused the others to stop in their tracks, shocked. One or two even looked hesitant, glancing at their comrades to see whether a withdrawal was on the cards for them.
Damien calmly pulled the bloodied sword out and flicked the blood off it by sharply slashing downwards. A line of crimson streak formed on the cobbled stone ground.
Cracking his neck, Damien coolly called out to the men. “Hey. If you’re going to attack, then come already. If not, go away. It’s been a long, lousy day so I’d like to go and take a bath soon.”
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.