Fates Intertwined part 3
Cairn eyed the horizon behind them. Somewhere among the rolling hills and smattering of trees lay Hedath just beyond it. He leaned into the wall of the wagon bed, shifting his attention to the clear blue sky above.
Home… he thought to himself. It just doesn’t seem fair. Was everything they taught us empty?
He turned to his brother. Vahti was meditating again. It was his way of coping.
The monks always spoke of the differing paths. Of how everyone has a road to walk, and while the journey was different for the individual, each diverging path lead to the same destination.
Vahti has chosen the Way of the Fist. Mastering body, will, and emotion. It came easily to him. He understood his limitations, gaining the resolve to overcome them or accept what was beyond his reach. He tempered his heart through the strict disciplines he learned. At least he tried to.
Brother Arridus always said there was strength in emotion, but like any tool it it required understanding in its use. If not properly honed and kept in check it would become a distraction. Mistakes are born of these distractions.
It’s my fault, Anki. I’m your distraction.
Cairn cradled his legs against his chest and closed his eyes. He could feel it, just under the surface. Like a rainstorm assaulting the land, the latent power within demanded release. Cairn knew his abilities were linked to his emotions, but keeping them in check was difficult. It seemed counterintuitive to who he was.
Cairn closed his eyes, focusing on his breathing, pushing back the sadness and pain of rejection stabbing his heart. He knew the monks held no malice or ill will; they were just scared and concerned for the community. Like them, the question still lingered: What if I Surge and it’s more than something catching fire or a stray burst of lighting?
Cairn shuddered as his imagination took over. Accidentally getting someone killed was a sickening thought. Regardless, it changed nothing. He was a pariah to the community and Vahti just another injury left in his wake.
Serindeth lay ahead, and while they meant it to be a temporary home, Cairn couldn’t shake the feeling it would become more. The histories spoke for themselves. Absonians are a stringent people. One bent on law and order.
With his blonde hair and blue eyes, they would mistake him for Sokoran, while Vahti’s dark hair with red highlights and hazel eyes would stand out. Their skin tone lighter, so even with their hair dyed, passing as Absonian would be difficult.
We aren’t given to a spirit of fear… he told himself. But one of power, love, and a sound mind. It was a mantra Brother Justus often quoted. He said it was about identity, about knowing who you are, and that fear is the enemy of the soul. He often referenced history and spoke of men who, if they had allowed fear to control their destinies, couldn’t have accomplished the great things they had if they let it take root.
‘The Creator didn’t imbue us with a fearful nature. Fear comes from the doubts within us. It is born of the negative things we allow ourselves to believe.’
“Serindeth isn’t a terrible place you know.”
Cairn tore himself from his thoughts, turning to the trader paid to carry them to the capital. “It’s easy for you to say. I’m sure you’ve been everywhere.”
“Mostly northern Absion, but Serindeth is my home. I grew up there.”
“I heard people are strict there. That the Inquisitors will arrest you for even the slightest infraction.”
The trader laughed. “Rumors mostly. The Inquisition is powerful, but the Senate and the Emperor keep them in check. The Advocacy monitors what they do. Besides, I thought those watchdogs were forbidden from interfering with you monks.”
“Supposedly, but The Order and The Inquisition rarely talk.”
The trader grew quiet, seeming content to stare ahead. Occasionally Cairn noticed the trader peer at him from the corner of his eye. “You’re a sorcerer, aren’t you?” he asked.
Cairn locked his emotions, quelling his fear. The latent power within him pushed back. He felt it trying to break his hold.
“No,” he replied.
“I have ears, you know, boy, and eyes,” the trader commented. “You brothers seemed eager to be rid of you. You make them nervous; the question is why?”
Cairn pursed his lip. “We aren’t being sent away,” he replied. “Our brothers in the capital need help and we asked to aid them.”
The traders turned his head, doubt showing on his face. “We will see, but I give you fair warning,” he said. “If you are a sorcerer or have talent, keep it to yourself. Some people aren’t very understanding. If you know our history, the only magic Absonian’s trust is that which we can control.”
Cairn nodded, though inwardly he wanted to run. He felt someone grab his left forearm and turned to Vahti. His brother’s expression was stern.
“Be strong, little brother, we will be okay,” he said.
“Will we Anki?”
Vahti smiled. “No matter what, I will keep you safe.”
“But what if I need to protect you?”
Seeing Vahti tense gave him his answer. Even if they had both received the same training, his older brother knew the longer the fight went on, the greater the risk of a Surge. It wasn’t just the Surges that made him tense. The Order was against using the various martial styles to harm others.
“You won’t have to he replied.”
Cairn turned to the trader. He was obviously listening. I hope you’re right, Anki.
“On your guard with that one! Don’t let his chains fool you.”
“You can’t be serious. Look at him, that’s blacksteel they’ve bound him with.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Lysius.”
Gmork lifted his eyes, staring at the guardsmen from his cell. The one called Lysius was rather thin, but like most Absonians he had dark brown hair and tanned skin. The other guardsmen’s name was Siccarius. He was plumper. While some might mistake his build as fat, Siccarius was anything but. As humans went, the man fairly strong.
“Got something to say?” Lysius asked.
Gmork tightened his lower lip, feeling his tusks brush against it. “You wouldn’t last a moment in out there against me.”
Lysius narrowed his eyes. “You should watch that tone slave.”
“It’s hard to when seeing how afraid you are.”
Lysius reached for the bars when Siccarius stepped forward and grabbed his arm. “Don’t,” he warned. “He has a fight today. If the Arena Master hears you laid a hand on him, he’ll throw you in that cell.”
Lysius sneered and backed away. “He’ll die here, eventually. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see him fight Her.”
“That depends on the crowd.”
Gmork shifted his weight, using the blacksteel steel chains anchored to the wall to pull himself to his feet. The chains kept his arms bound to his chest. Lysius seemed a bit nervous while he watched, which was comforting. It didn’t matter though, blacksteel was the hardest metal anyone knew. Charnoans often used it to bind drakes before they killed them.
“He’s been fed,” Lysius commented, looking at the plate at Gmork’s feet. “We have others to Attend.”
I can hear it in your voice, Lysius… You’re scared.
Gmork eyed the plate at his feet. It was the same mush they fed him the day before, and the day before that. The flies had already begun gathering, but nonetheless, he knelt, burying his face in it and eating it up.
Senka, please be alive. I don’t know how long I’ve been here. I can’t keep killing for them.
Is that really so bad, Gmork?
Gmork lifted his head, his eyes falling on the shadow sitting the corner. Its face was obscured, but in form it resembled an orc. It never stepped into the light and clung to the dark like a sloth to a tree.
Don’t you feel more alive when you’re fighting? it asked. Just a minute ago you were thinking about snapping Lysius’ neck.
“No, no matter how angry he makes me. I can’t do that.”
The shadow laughed. But you can. It’s easy, just let go of that thread holding you back. Become who you were meant to be.
“I wasn’t meant to be this… I’m not a monster!”
The loud click of the chamber door opened and Lysius stepped in. He was holding a club with metal bands molded into it.
Now’s your chance, Gmork. He’s gonna kill you if you don’t give in. Do it… He’s tormented you for months. What mercy does he deserve?
“Slaves should know their place,” he sneered. “Look at you with the mush we fed you covering your face. You’re no better than a dog and we beat dogs who forget who their masters are.”
Gmork stood. “Lysius, please, don’t do this.” He cast at the shadow as the guardsmen stepped up to his cell, unlocking it. The shadow laughed and Gmork felt the rage within ignite.
Lysius flung the gate open, cudgel in hand, and came at Gmork, smashing the weapon against his skull. Flashes of white cascaded across Gmork’s vision and he stumbled. His chest burned, his thoughts parading numerous ways with which he could kill the guardsman.
“Where is the beast they chant for so vigorously for?” he taunted. “Where is the Butcher of Men, as they call you?”
He swung again, but the pain held no sting. Stop fighting, Gmork. Let go…
Another blow followed and Gmork screamed, his fury building. “No, Lysius… please.”
“Begging, are we?” he laughed. “Come now Butcher, I thoughts orcs had more pride. I can only imagine how much shame it would bring your family if they could see you now.”
The next blow came, but there was no pain. Gmork felt the heat rising in his chest. It burned like the sun. Every muscle was taut, his body tensing.
To Gmork’s ears, Lysius voice had become nothing more than a dull buzz against the thudding of his own heartbeat. The taste of something coppery in his mouth followed next, the tight grip of the chains binding him loosened. Like a gentle whisper, instinct told Gmork he was free. A sense of satisfaction washed over him and more soft buzzings pricked his ears.
The buzzing grew louder… “Don’t let him breach the door! Barricade him inside!”
“But Lysius! We can’t leave him!”
“Open that door guardsman and if the Butcher doesn’t kill you, I will!”
Gmork turned his head, blinking and gathering his senses. Through the bars of the tiny window of the wooden chamber door, he saw half dozen guardsmen on the other side bracing it. The door had splintered with cracks in the grain across its surface.
Pain shot through his skull and he looked behind him. Lysius’ lay dead in a pool of his own blood. His throat was torn out and face smashed in.
Looking to the wall, Gmork saw two divots where anchors to his chains had once been. Like black serpents, they trailed behind him.
His stomach turned at the aftertaste of Lysius blood in his mouth, and he looked toward the panicked guards on the other side of the door. “I surrender,” he panted, falling to his knees, realizing how winded he was. “I’ve got nothing left.”
The banging against the door stopped, and he heard them set their tools down. One looked through the barred window of the door. “Get the Inquisitor and a Healer,” he shouted.
Gmork heard boots clomping against the stone as one of them ran off, but his attention was elsewhere. His gaze fell to the dark corner of his cell, where the shadowy orc haunting him for months sat. The orc stood, stepping toward the light, and Gmork’s heart sank upon seeing his tormentor’s face.
It’s about time, he said. Let the carnage begin, Butcher of Men.