Well, we were able to turn east off the southern road out of Rogert and get far enough away the first day of travel. I was comfortable enough with our progress and the solitude of our camping site to order everyone to remove their uniforms for civilian clothing and then bury the military uniforms without much fear of immediate exposure. And with that, the 78th Platoon should be no more. As for what they would be in the future, I’d have to put some thought into it.
As for why I had the clothing buried instead of burnt, an intelligent writer I once read said that burning stuff brought attention to it. Hiding something in plain sight could take years for people to find it. So I had some extra large “latrine holes” dug for ditching the uniforms into after the armored bits were stripped out.
While the soldiers… While my men were busy with clothing disposal, I trained Aase’s magic during the last hour of daylight.
Yes. Aase’s magic. I knew I should have been working on my magic. Not being proficient with it in close quarters was what nearly got me killed the other day, after all. But when Aase asks for my help in her own training I just don’t have the heart to say no. That, and I was a bit of a procrastinator, so putting off my own training for a while was fine with me.
Though, looking at the limb sized lances of jagged ice that Aase was still producing made it seem like our combined efforts were without any real success. With Aase panting with exertion and disappointment while facing the half dozen or so trees she’d obliterated, I asked just to be sure, “You’re certain that you’re releasing as little power as possible. Dead certain.”
“Yes,” came Aase’s frustrated and annoyed response, loud and clear. She wiped her forehead that was exposed since she’d pulled her hair into a ponytail for training. “I’m releasing the least power I can, but this big wad of magic always jumps out! It’s exhausting trying to fight it, and I always lose! And that over there is what happens!”
Yeah. A shattered tree stump half a human wide. Obviously training towards hold back on the magic output wasn’t working for Aase. If my magic was a garden hose that could ramp up to a fire hose, Aase’s was a water cannon. …Okay, that simile didn’t make much sense but since I didn’t say it aloud I was fine with it. What I wasn’t fine with was Aase not being able to have any fine control with her power. Too many problems could pop up by leaving things as they were. This required more research.
“Well, Aase, we’re obviously going about your training the wrong way. Try breaking down the process you’re using to me.”
Aase did, at length and with some unnecessary details included. It basically amounted to: Deciding the magic. Drawing the magic from her pool. Focusing the magic towards the desired effect. Release.
It was just like how I did my direct attack magics, like my solidified spheres and rods, or my air effect spells, like gale force winds and concussive blasts. There had to be a loophole in that set up. After all, I’d already proven that the magic system in this world was more malleable than the residents here thought it was. Maybe a way to skip a step, add a step, or alter a step? Like how I adapted to Nigeman…
“Aase, can I ask you to try something that will sound weird?”
“Like I told my ex-boyfriend, you can ask, but that doesn’t mean I’ll do it.”
Aase’s response was kind of a verbal sucker punch. Ex-boyfriend? Were they intimate? Sounded like they were intimate. How long ago? Damn, I was thinking about Aase’s age again! How old was she?
Aase’s serious face split into a grin as she saw she’d gotten me good, and said, her mood lifting as mine diminished, “I was just kidding. What was it you had in mind.”
Ugh. She pulled a fast one on me. It took a few false starts as I worked my mind back towards magic and away from Aase’s potential intimacy habits. But I was eventually able to say, “I’d like you to try releasing your magic power itself into the area around you without trying to turn it into a spell effect, and without releasing it from your control. Make a cloud of your magic, and then, once you have it, focus it on a target.”
“Alright,” said Aase as her face took on a determined look, and finished her words more slowly, as she began to concentrate. “I’ll try…”
I felt something in the air as Aase spoke, the sudden weight of magic power that felt as heavy as highly humid air. A few moments in I realized I probably skipped a step in trying to simplify Aase’s magic, the act of forming a spell out of parts of the released magical power.
“Say, Aase, I forgot to-”
The blasted stump crik-crackled, the moist fibers of it’s internals splitting and splintering with the power of flash frozen sap expanding in an instant.
“I did it,” exclaimed Aase as she gave a small hop and then dashed towards the stump to inspect her handiwork. I let the rest of my sentence go unsaid and lamely closed my mouth to follow Aase.
Aase was gleefully bending down to get a closer look at the stump, and checking the splintered wood. I however checked the area of effect.
“Look at this, Aase. See how these blades of grass here are frozen as well, the ones up near the stump, but none of the ones any further away are damaged?” I plucked a few and rolled them between my fingers, finishing my thought. “They aren’t even cold.”
Since Aase was wearing a skirt today instead of pants she bent over to check the ground and exclaimed slightly in wonder at the effect, but not with the kind of understanding that a person who appreciated the laws of physics would have felt. She then asked, “What does that mean?”
I very nearly went into a speech about thermal dynamics, I really really wanted to, but I’d learned that Aase wasn’t much for mathematics and merely cut to the chase, with a knowing smirk.
“It means you’ve found a way to use your magic with high precision, Aase. Congratulations.”
Aase hopped and scampered a bit with joy. A part of me rejoiced that Aase still hadn’t hadn’t had a chance to put on a bra, but my morals quickly mauled that part with an axe in the time it took Aase to mostly calm down. When Aase approached me again, she said with bright eyes (and I meant that literally, her eyes were shining with an inner light like mine did), “What do I do now?”
“You name your new move, of course!”
Aase was stunned for a moment before asking, “What?”
I sighed when I realized that Aase had no idea what I was talking about. She’d obviously been reading the wrong literature and had never touched comic books or D&D Sourcebooks. Patiently, I began my explanation.
“Okay, Aase. There are two ways I can describe a fireplace. I can talk about the brickwork. I can talk about a firescreen, the fireplace poker, the metal grill that holds the burning log in place and the flue and the chimney. I can spend five minutes describing every detail of what a fireplace is, and what it’s made of. Or I can just say the word ‘fireplace’ and the image of one pops into your mind. A name can be a shortcut to producing a result, Aase. Especially with super powers.”
“You mean magic, right?”
“Yes, magic. Magic, of course. Magic.”
Aase crossed one of her arms under her chest, giving her bust something to perch on, and put one knuckle under her lips as she went into thought. Before long, she said, “But what on Earth should I call it? I can’t think of anything.”
“Frozen Clutch,” I immediately said aloud. Perhaps I should have waited a second and pretended to give it thought. People tended to appreciate imagination more when it looked like it took effort. But Aase slowly repeated the proposed title in the Meaorh language, and then in what I assumed was Norwegian as the words lost all the hard vowel sounds and the ‘t’ in ‘clutch’ became silent.
“Frozen Clutch. Frossen Clutch.”
Oh, Tish, that’s Norwegian! Kidding! But her intonation was far more adorable than the same words could have been in English.
Aase looked up at me, smiling as she said, “I like it,” then turned and said, “Frossen Clutch,” again as a second stump was flash frozen in an instant. Aase did a kind of wiggly happy dance at replicating her magic.
I stepped up next to Aase and said, “Good job. The next step is to train your accuracy and spacial awareness with the magic. You don’t want to accidentally hit an ally along with an enemy when you use it in the future.”
Aase nodded and asked, “How should I do that?”
I looked around a little and said, “Try and freeze individual leaves on the trees, and entire branches you’ve broken off laying on the ground. Alternate between big and small targets until you are use to tailoring your attacks to individual sizes. Remember Aase, accuracy is everything, because if you can’t hit someone, it doesn’t matter how strong your attacks are.”
“Okay, got it,” Aase replied with a determined bob of her head, her pulled back hair bobbing in the pony tail.
“While you’re doing that, I’m going to be trying some things out as well,” I said gaining distance to have my own stretch of forest along the roadside to practice on. There was only about a half hour of sunlight remaining and I would really like to try and get some training in on my own magic. Aase wouldn’t need me for the rest of the day anyway.
So now that I had my own breadth of woodlands to ruin with my training… I couldn’t think of what to do. The problem as far as I could see it was that I had a lot of long distance firepower, like gale force winds, concussive blasts, solidified geometric shapes, air bullets and the like. But the only really close range thing I had going was the concussive impact magic I used to blow through Nigeman’s wall and only successfully used against the man himself once during our fight.
What I really needed though, was quick use magic that was effective at close range that I could use while having my hands full. And, unfortunately, it seemed like the air bullets were out of the running.
For testing sake, I tried to form one again, just like I’d tried doing on my own when the caravan had stopped for lunch of that day. I tried compressing the air, forming the shape, putting density into the object, giving the bullet it’s hollow point center, firing the slug while putting a spin on it for accuracy and penetration. Without using my finger like it was a pistol. The process took several minutes to achieve, and the result was completely lackluster.
It was just like the example I had given Aase about a fireplace. The idea of shooting a bullet of any kind was so intricately woven in my imagination with the act of firing a gun that they were practically inseparable. Meaning if I wanted to use an air bullet, I had to have a hand free to pull the trigger. And something like that was impossible to incorporate into this world’s combat methodology, as Nigeman had demonstrated. The man had only needed a hint of the coming attack to bisect my fired magic. If he’d have been charging me when that had happened I have died, hands down. I couldn’t afford to use magics that required a specific physical gesture in combat again.
Which meant the Force Choke was off the table as well, since I did the grasping fingers when I used it. But Force Choke was already unusable in combat as I had to specifically maneuver my magic and target specific parts of the human anatomy when used. When used in combat it was like trying to throw a dart into the bullseye of a dartboard that was bobbing and weaving to try and avoid you. And maintaining the magic was like flexing a muscle, as it took attention and focus to do. Just like with solidified weaponry in my first testing inside the secret base. The reason being, the blocked airway was a constantly moving biologic shape, and the solidified air had to constantly be adjusted to the victim’s struggling esophagus. Easy if one concentrates, impossible if one is distracted by, say, someone charging at you with a sword.
In summation, the Force Choke was completely impractical to live combat.
And none of my magical abilities really had any killing power in the first place, except maybe the air bullet, and I’d already decided it was pointless. Besides, it seemed unlikely the people of Meaorh even knew what a bullet was, so if I used an air bullet for intimidation or warning purposes, people would probably not be impressed by a tiny fast moving blob of air.
What I needed was something that I could use without any gestures, that would be recognizable and intimidating to people who recognized swords as the normal weapons of war, and could kill a man in one hit.
I just stood staring at the woods for a while as the enormity of my own self appointed task weighed on me. I blew past the thought blockage by breaking my problem down to the most basic element I needed to take care of first, just like I used to do for my homework. Find the starting point, and go on from there. What I needed most of all was a form for the magic, one that suggested that it could kill.
The obvious weapon in my mind was a spear. It was, after all, the weapon I had trained with as a kid and practiced with in college with my sparring buddy Ray. The guy had gotten addicted to Rurouni Kenshin in middle school and joined a martial arts dojo just to learn to fight with a katana. He’d been a year ahead of me in his mechanical engineering program and we’d met when he saw me practicing with a quarterstaff in the field near the dorms one day. We sparred for his remaining three years at the college after that.
So to me, a weapon for killing had to be a spear. But they were too long for use in close combat. And it seemed like the locals here didn’t consider spears to be weapons worth having, which was total bullshit as I’d be happy to tell anyone who was interested in hearing. So, something shorter. A spear head? Well, the bladed head of a spear was basically a dagger. A weapon of murderers and assassins…
“Okay, let’s try a dagger,” I said into the air to solidify my will.
I had the shape, next came the action. The dagger had to be hands free, meaning self propelled. That meant it had to float free and be able to be fired at a target.
“A flying dagger…”
Next came the conjuration. I crossed my arms and began to expel my magic in the same way I’d suggested Aase did. I released my magic into the air around me, my awareness expanding with the release, and then started slowly compounding the magic into a shape. I immediately discarded the idea of a real dagger shape, the hilt would be pointless and allow swift hands to grab onto and throw my own magic back at me. Which left a blade, suited for flight but simple in design. The result was an elongated eight sided polygon, the lengthy part being the stabbing tip of the object.
“It… kinda looks like a kunai,” I remarked to myself. Because really, it did. It looked like the Japanese throwing knife made famous by ninja portrayals in manga and anime. Ray had been big into Japanese culture and it had rubbed off on me as well, thanks to some top picks of his.
I suddenly realized I was never gonna read Gintama again and a part of my inner being died.
To quote the Simpsons, Urge to kill… rising.
Well, let’s see how the magic dagger flies…
Making sure I didn’t make a single bodily gesture, I fired the magic dagger at a tree. It struck with a loud thunk, burying into the wood. After a few seconds the magic made object dissipated and I checked the hole I’d made in the trunk. It was disappointingly shallow. The head of the kunai was fat and shifted the weight of the weapons into the blade. That probably made it good for throwing, but not so good for penetration since the fat sides would work against the momentum behind the throw. It was also a gardening tool in the first place that was re-purposed for clandestine combat. No, the shape wouldn’t work. But I liked the simplicity of the eight sides…
I made another polygon, but this time I started reducing the width by compacting the material. It ended up being denser and harder according to the feedback I was getting through my sensations of the magic with the smaller surface area. The slimmer design should make for more penetration, but for a check I sent it at another tree. Checking the hole after the weapon had dissipated, I’d found that the same amount of magic and force had produced a deeper hole with the updated design.
But I still wasn’t satisfied. My magic at this point was nothing more than a short floating blade. It was made of magic, so it should be capable of doing more than just cutting or stabbing. At this rate I’d be better served by working hard to remove my reliance on a finger gesture to make an air bullet, the bullet at least tore up the inner body.
…It wasn’t the body of the bullet, though, that was what tore up the human body. Sure, you get shot in the heart, you die from having a hole in the heart. But the real damage from a bullet was the ripping of internal organs. That’s why hollow points were so damn dangerous to get shot by. The shape of the bullet on impact flattened the bullet, creating a high surface area for turning all the momentum of the fired bullet into a transferred kinetic shock wave that was released into the body of the victim. The kinetic shock wave was what did the most damage. It was why a “through and through” gunshot wound was a better prospect for survival. Because the bullet didn’t mushroom and it carried its kinetic force with it as it exited the body. Much less internal damage. Not that it wasn’t still a death wound, but the point still stands.
It’s the same as Tai Chi’s methods of doing damage. The palm was meant not to break bones, exactly, but to create a concussive strike to the body to do damage to the organs instead of to the muscles or the bones. If I recall the distinction, it was “Soft Martial Arts.” Damaging the soft tissues instead of the hard with a strike that did concussive force instead of kinetic force.
And I’d already figured out how to use magic to make a concussive force, now hadn’t I?
I formed another floating blade, thin and deadly, and fired it into a tree. Before the dagger dissipated however, I had the buried tip burst inside the trunk. The wood splintered and exploded outward from the concussive blow. Which made absolute sense.
A firecracker that explodes in the palm of your hand will burn the flesh. A firecracker that explodes in your enclosed fist will blow off the fingers. When pressure was exerted without anywhere to go, everything in the way would be shattered by the exerted force.
A smile floated up from the depths of my soul. I could definitely use this move to make some heads explode.
“Now to name it…”
I crawled inside my head a bit until I came up with something I’d be satisfied with. Simple and descriptive. As simple as “fireplace.”
“Piercing Impact,” I exclaimed aloud as I forged and fired another air dagger, exploding a golf ball sized chunk of wood from a tree. I’d have to work on the speed and power, and experiment with the concussive release, but I was happy with the new move. So, since the light was failing me and I’d made a new killing move I could practice while traveling, there was a new idea the floating dagger had planted in my mind.
I made a thick rectangular block about ankle height, sturdy and filled with my power. Then I stepped on top of it. The block didn’t fall to the ground. I smiled and then started the block lifting higher from the ground, about a foot up, and then propelled the block forward. I slipped off the flat and untextured surface, landing flat on my back and knocking the wind out of myself.
“Fuuuuuuu~” I cussed breathlessly. I was was still close to the camp, so I could only pray no one had seen that. Taking a minute to catch my breath, I decided to learn from my failure, and try something different. Hey, it took mankind five hundred years of effort to figure out sustainable flight, I could give it a second shot.
I conjured the rectangular foothold again, stepped on top of it, and then concentrated. By reforming the density I was able to allow my feet to sink into the material of the rectangle and then re-solidify it. The rectangle was solidly formed around the soles of my boots nearly deep enough to cover the toes. Now that there was no danger of falling off, I moved the rectangle up, and then forward. After the sudden movement caused me to fall backwards, my embedded feet left me being dragged along the ground for about five feet.
Okay. Okay. I’ve learned from my mistakes. I can do better. I mean, there’s a reason why skis have those safety release locks. And it didn’t feel like my ankles were broken, so I could give it another try. I knew what I did wrong anyway. I was standing. After all, who flies in a standing position, am I right?
This time I made a rectangle not to stand on, but one to sit on. I didn’t have the imagination to make a fully formed chair just yet, but baby steps. I took a seat on the rectangle and held onto the edge with my hands while leaning forward to fight against the upcoming shift in balance. With great satisfaction, I found myself comfortably levitating above the ground at about a jogging pace. With a laugh I slowly increased the height of my floating box from the ground and piloted myself back to the camp to show everyone my triumph. Laughing loudly, I called everyone’s attention to myself as I made a circuit around the campground, impressing and confusing everyone on site, including the horses who whinnied and shied at seeing a grown man fly.
Then my concentration lapsed and I fell over ten feet to land awkwardly on my already sensitive ankles and ass. Something definitely broke and I started growl-shouting in pain. It seemed like an eternity of agony as my people gathered around me in a circle to see what had happened and one of them, Kyl Benko said aloud to everyone, “Don’t touch him! Get Daphne! Where’s Daphne?!”
Through the legs of the people watching the pain show I was putting on, holding my leg like a soccer player in the World Cup, I saw Callic between their legs laughing his ass off from a distance.
Urge to kill… rising…
Soon after that Daphne broke through the encirclement of bodies and seeing where I was cradling, took hold of my shin and then some magic shit started happening. I didn’t know what Daphne did, but it did the trick. The pain faded and with it my anger.
Urge to kill… gone…
“Thanks, Daphne,” I said as I rose to a sitting position. Daphne then gave me a swift and painful swat to the chest. After an exclamation of “Ow,” Daphne laid into me verbally.
“Are you trying to get yourself killed? You have to take better care of yourself! It’s not just your life you’re playing with, Xander, we’ll all die if you die! Stop trying to kill yourself!”
Geez, what?! “I’m not trying to kill myself, Daphne! I swear!”
“Then what is this I heard about you and your fight with Nigeman?!”
“What about my fight with Nigeman!?” Gads! The tiny woman’s ferocity was starting to get overwhelming!
“Private Hateen told me about it, Xander! As soon as Nigeman beat Callic you charged him yourself! You could have died! It was stupid and you’re stupid for trying to fly around like a lark! Nigeman could have easily killed you! Why didn’t you have the soldiers fight Nigeman, that’s what we’re all here for, after all! To keep you alive so the rest of us don’t die! Idiot!”
God damn! Daphne was just saying whatever popped into her head at this point! And the surrounding members of my caravan were agreeing with her. But I wasn’t going down without a fight.
“Daphne, fighting Nigeman myself was the best move for me to take.”
“Are you serious,” demanded Daphne. “How can you possibly justify that?”
“I think everyone in camp is aware of the fact that Callic over there is the strongest one in your unit, right?” I was addressing the crowd to try and gain a home field advantage in this tiff. The people grudgingly agreed. “So when Callic went down, who the hell else was I suppose to send out to fight Nigeman? Any other one of these guys would have been cut down in seconds.”
“You could have sent all of us at him,” said Tobias from my left. “That’s what we’re trained for, killing through weight of numbers.”
I looked back at Tobias and said in the same argumentative tone I’d been using with Daphne, “That is fucked up on so many levels. But even then, Nigeman would have killed four or five of you guys at the least. And I am not about to have that. No one in my caravan dies on my watch if I can help it, and I will never ask any of you guys to do something I’m unwilling to do myself. Except latrine duty!”
I felt that full honest on that point was important.
By this point I was standing up again and I was pacing around to face the circle that had gathered around me, pointing at the former soldiers with my finger to drive my point home.
“You guys are a strategic resource,” I said, emphasizing my viewpoint so that there was no mistake in their minds. “I repeat, a strategic resource. Not a disposable one. Losing even a single member of my caravan when it can be avoided is unacceptable. So I fought Nigeman myself, because I knew I had a shot of winning one on one. You guys still wanna do things the army way, human wave tactics? Well tough titties, you’re in my crew now. And nobody dies without my permission!”
“So no, Daphne,” I hissed as I turned to face the woman who was still on the ground. “I’m not trying to get myself or anyone else killed. So stop trying to henpeck me. Okay?”
Daphne took a moment before she numbly nodded her head and I gave her a hand to stand up. After getting Daphne back on her feet I stated that I was hungry and that there had better be some food handy. Thankfully, there was and I was able to fill my belly. I calmed down some after my angry eating session and was able to look back on the situation from the others’ viewpoints. Yeah. It looked like a was a hot doggin’ grandstanding idiot for fighting Nigeman when I could have sat back and left it to others. But that’s not how you really lead. That’s not how you hold onto power.
You had to be someone that other will fight for. Not be someone people will die for. And I hopefully got that across to everyone tonight. But honestly… the fact remained that it was really fucking stupid for me to fight Nigeman like that. I had the three years of sparring with Ray, but that had been with padded weapons while wearing protection. With a staff I’d been pretending was a spear. My real life combat experience was limited. I was going to have to work on that like I was going to have to work on my magic.
All in all, I was lucky. I was able to get my hands on Nigeman’s small fortune and get out of Rogert before we all got burned.
* * * * *
The wagon filled with Nigeman’s underlings creaked and groaned as it traveled the road leading northeast towards the town of Klai where a slave broker that could sell them was based. Each man had been adorned with a Black Rose. Each man was also chained to bolts in the wooden planks of the wagon. Each man was also hooded with a burlap sack to prevent them from seeing about them. This helped keep the men afraid and docile at the same time as they had no way of knowing what was about them or who was watching them. Even so, sometimes the men would try and pull at the chains upon them, hoping against hope that they could be free before their awful fates could fall upon them.
There would inevitably be a sharp crack as a rod struck the men. The soldiers of the Rogert garrison were not slacking on their escort of these men, the largest shipment of rose adorned prisoners in memory from the city. Most of the men were placidly accepting their fate, unreasonable hope that they’d be bought by lonely widows for sexual favors. But none had any illusion that their lives as they knew them were not over.
As the prisoners felt the cooling of the day and the diminishing of the afternoon sun upon their exposed arms, the wagon came to a rest. There was the noise of a camp being set up, the sound of cooking fires ignited, and eventually the smell of soups or stews filling the air. Even through the fug smelling burlap sacks, traces of the cooking food could be caught, and the stomachs of the prisoners growled in complaint. One man piped up, “Hey, when are ya gonna feed us?”
He was beaten with a rod for his questioning. But it was a good question. The prisoners had gotten breakfast that day, but no lunch. Even if they had done nothing but sit on hard benches until their bodies were sore from inactivity, hunger had caught up with them hours ago. Even with the beating of the man who’d spoken up, the prisoners were confident they’d get their meals eventually. After all, a starved and half dead slave was not worth much money at retail.
As though without warning, the prisoners heard the sloshing of liquid and felt the splash of something too slimy to be water upon them. Each man cried out, but they were unheeded. Suddenly there was the crackling of flames a lot closer than the sound of the campfires and heat could be felt on their flesh again. Then there was the sound of screaming. One man after another began to scream in pain and panic infected all the men on the wagon. They all began to tear at the chains that held them in place, vainly and desperately.
Before long, every man on the wagon was screaming in pain as the fire caught to the oil that had been splashed all over them. And all too quickly, the screaming ended as the flames and the super heated air the men sucked into their lungs did their terrible damage.
Watching all of this play out was Garrison Captain Horatio Theen, as he sipped lightly at a bowl of soup. As the last screaming voice died out, Horatio smiled secretly to himself. All the evidence of his wrongdoing had just gone up in flames, as he’d longed for. And the deaths of the criminals would simply be explained away as the casualties of a Beast attack that went horribly wrong, culminating in a travel advisory from Lord Bahwell. Everything cleaned up, nice and neat.
As Horatio watched the bodies of the criminals incinerate, he knew he’d be able to sleep well that night, even though he was going to be sleeping in a bunk on the hard ground.
All Patreon Backers are notified of the Publishing of all Baka Pubs chapters before all non-backers are. All it takes to become a backer is a single dollar per chapter, and you can read Baka Pubs releases before anyone else.
Follow this LINK to become a Patreon Backer
I am still accepting questions for the next Q and A chapter.
Press the LIKE Button to inspire me to write faster and better! Share the love!
Stop Calling Me A Demon King is now being hosted on Royal Road Legends as well as here. The story on RRL has received another editing pass, so some minor details are updated. Why don’t you visit, and leave a positive review to increase SCDK readership?
Chapters will always be uploaded on BakaPubs first to reward Patreon Backers.