Chapter 28: Departure | Layover

“No spears here, either,” I simultaneously asked and incredulously exclaimed.  “Is there absolutely no one who sells spears in this entire country?!”  This was the third shop I’d inquired in since I left Rogert and the answer was always the same.  They didn’t make or sell spears.

The owner and smith of the all purpose metal shop in the small town nodded his head and said, “Most likely not.”

He was a well muscled man with scars from burns and other sources on his arms and white appearing at his temples.  He was wearing a workmans leather apron with soot stains all over him.  And he seemed pretty dang sure of himself in his answer for a blacksmith of a small town on a highway stopping point.  Seeing that, Xander had to ask the man to explain himself.

“Well now, lad, I don’t know how it is in the port havens you Demon Bloods live in,” I quickly interjected with the words “I’m not a demon,” that the blacksmith completely ignored as he continued on, “But tell me what you see outside this here town.”

“I dunno.  Farmland?”

“Beyond that,” said the blacksmith waiting for me to catch up with where he was going with this.

“A shitload of trees?”  Seriously.  There were way too many trees in this country.  The caravan had to stop twice to clear the highway of tree debris for our wagons to continue on.  Every camp ground was nestled against the forest and the only time I’d seen plains was where there were crops growing out of them since I’d come to this world.

“Exactly,” said the blacksmith as though I’d just answered the outstanding question of the universe.  But I was pretty sure my answer was not 42, so I was confused.  When I prodded the blacksmith to explain himself he continued with, “Kid, I spent the full ten years in the army, and seen this nation from one end to the other.  And I can tell you for a certain fact that every square inch is covered in forest.  Have you ever fought in a forest, kid?  Unless you have short weapons there’s a real good chance you’ll get hung up on a tree branch and get gutted for your troubles.  Hell, that’s how I got my first kill.  That’s why we use short swords in Fulchas, lad.  Because they work.”

That… made more than a little sense.  I mean, if the environment made a weapon a liability, then you’d use a different weapon, right?  That’s what I did when I got Nigeman to trim down my staff when we fought.  But while it made sense, I was untrained and shitty with a sword.  I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a fight without a spear, no matter the combat zone.

“Is there anywhere I can get a proper spear in Fulchas?  Anywhere at all,” I asked in a last desperate request.

“Only places I can think of are in the border towns that see trade from other nations.  They tend to stock things that appeal to Fulchans and non-Fulchans alike.  But I don’t know if you’d be able to count on their quality.  People don’t tend to put a lot of effort into making things they don’t know if they can sell.”

I sighed heavily and resigned myself to using laundry poles for the foreseeable future.  It was a good thing I’d been working on my air daggers so much, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to be killing anyone with a physical weapon any time soon.  Oh, wait.

“Hey, old man,” I said as the forgotten thought had jumped back to the forefront of my mind.  “Do you have any good daggers you sell here?”

The blacksmith gave me an evaluating look and asked, “Knives or daggers?”

“Whichever.  Just as long as it’s suited to slitting a throat and is strong enough to block a sword swing.”

The blacksmith stared at me for a few moments trying to gauge me for some reason.

“You know, practical uses,” I followed up.  If the dude’s gonna keep looking at me like that, I might just leave.  I was a customer, and I didn’t have to tolerate rude looks trying to peer into my soul.

“Fine,” the blacksmith eventually said and hitched a thumb towards a business counter.  “I’ll show my stock to ya there.”

After disappearing into the back of the shop for a minute, the blacksmith arrived with a shallow crate lined with straw that had a large multitude of daggers in it.  They were in leather sheathes, so I picked one up and pulled the blade free saying, “This is all your daggers?”

“No.”

“Then where’s the rest?”

“Kid, these aren’t daggers.  These are knives.  If you’re gonna be buying from me, at least get the names right.”

“…What’s the difference?”

“Daggers are thinner than knives, they’re used for penetrating armor or decorative little shit stickers for nobles to wear at their parties when swords aren’t allowed.  I got a couple I made for fun, but they’ll shatter under a sword swing and they’re built for stabbing, not cutting.”

“So they’re useless then?”

“Not if they save yer life, kid.”

I gave an unconvinced growl and pulled one knife after the next free of their sheathes to look at them.  Some were basically non-folding pocket knifes meant for skinning rabbits or the like.  Some were a bit larger, but I skimmed over them all in favor of the three largest ones.  One of the three was an automatic fail because the hilt had a knuckle guard over one side.  That style would probably be good for a consumate knife fighter, but the guard would only get in the way of me gripping the hilt when I was in a hurry.  I knew because I tried a few practice grabs with it.

The second and third knives were without any obvious defects, for my use at least.  I pulled the longer and thinner knife from the sheath and tested the weight.  It was balanced and fine.  Good product.  Then I pulled free the last one and fell in love.

It looked like a slightly smaller bowie knife, the knife that won the west.  The tang, the flat backbone of the knife, was completely straight until about two inches from the knife’s point where it was sharpened and curved in to meet the cutting side of the blade to form a dangerous looking point.  Even I could tell this meant more piercing power than if the tang had been completely flat like a kitchen knife.  The body of the knife’s main cutting edge had a subtle but wicked curve in it as well to increase the weight distributed into its cutting edge, putting more weight and power into it’s swings.  And there was a serrated sawing edge for the three inches of the cutting blade extending out from the handle.  My first thought was that it was very good for ripping people’s guts, but then I realized it was probably for cutting tree branches for firewood.

It was a very good knife and well made.  Even the grip felt good in the palm of my hand.  The unfamiliar weight promised effectiveness when I needed it as well.  At some point a smile had crept over my face, like the time the shop owner let me heft that Kimber forty-five cal that had entranced me from the other side of the store.  Seeing the look on my face, the blacksmith said, “Hell yeah, am I right?  That baby there is everything I wished I’d had when I was a grunt.  You want me to wrap it up, or will you be wearing it out of the store?”

I had to admit, the blacksmith asking the question like a clothing shop attendant made me smile even more.  But I still confirmed the price before I let thoughts of ownership carry me away.  In the end, I was able to haggle the blacksmith down from six Sul to four, and then wore my purchase out of the store.

* * * * *

“Captain,” said Vilos as he interrupted Mur’s practice swings in the courtyard of the former Bahwell estate.  There were seven or eight of the knighthood sitting around, exhausted from their sparring match with their captain while the person in question was a safe distance away swinging the halberd with trained tenacity.

Mur stood up from his combat stance and asked, “What?”

“I’ve finished finalizing the reports of the scouts we sent out.  All returned alive and unharmed.”

“Good,” remarked Mur as he swung the halberd to insert the haft through a loop of metal reinforced leather above the left hip and threaded the shaft through until a thicker part was near a knobby protrusion near the right shoulder blade of Mur’s breastplate.  “Lock me in.”

Vilos lightly pulled on a mechanism that opened the knobby protrusion and placed the halberd’s haft into the hollow, the thicker part of the haft on the opposite opening, before closing the knobby protrusion around the shaft.  There was a click as the securement sealed shut, ready to be opened by a strip of metal reinforced leather hanging down from Mur’s right shoulder.  It was the device that made it possible for Mur to carry around his halberd at all times without occupying a hand.  It also meant that Mur had to always be armored whenever carrying the halberd, but he didn’t mind that fact at all.  It may have even been a comfort.

“The office,” asked Mur, to which Vilos replied, “Yes, captain.”

Mur began walking with Vilos behind him.  The path took them through the hall past a room in which Lady Bahwell was reading to her two children, daughters both.  Lady Bahwell had been acting bravely through the last fiveday since her husband’s execution, and had kept her children calm enough that nothing unfortunate happened.  Seeing the woman doting on her children caused Mur to pause a half step, peering into the room for a half second longer than he needed to before returning to the business at hand.  Even so, Mur reflected inwardly that the Lady and the children had been cleared of any knowledge of the 78th platoon, Braug, or the confirmed charges of corruption against the late Lord Bahwell.  Which meant that unless his parents were feeling singularly cruel or paranoid, which they could be on occasion, all three of the women would be fine in the future, provided their family connections held out.  It was actually a fairly comforting idea, needless as it was, though, since if an order came back for it, Mur would kill them all himself.

Mur reached the office of the deceased Lord Bahwell and sat behind his desk in his office chair, where the left armrest had been torn off for the sake of Mur being able to comfortably sit with his halberd in place.  Mur removed his helmet for the first time since breakfast, placing it on the top of the desk.  What was revealed from under the metal was hair as dark as obsidian, that caught and played with the light cast upon it and hung perfectly straight just past the jawline.  There was a spot on the right side of Mur’s forehead that was pure white, inherited from Mur’s father, and the hair that hung down the right side of the face and brushed over to the left side created something of an unnatural and exotic frame to Mur’s features.  Features for an oblong face, where none were overly pronounced, but instead slightly stretched in length.  If it were not for the crystal blue eyes and sun starved complexion, any world traveller from Earth would have assumed Mur was a woman from the Eastern Mediterranean sea.

At first glance, anyone would assume that Mur was a woman, because Mur’s facial features were far too beautiful and perfect to belong to a man.  Once someone heard Mur speak without the helmet, that impression would be confirmed as Mur’s voice was deep and sonorous like the aural equivalent of black silk without a hint of masculinity in it.

“The scouts sent south reported nothing, it seems.  Looks like the destination Braug gave the gatekeepers was false after all.”

“So it seems, captain.”

“The scouts sent east, though… Strange.  These reports match the rogue military group we’re after, but at the same time, they don’t.  Which means this ‘caravan’ as they call themselves is either not Colonel Braug’s missing underlings, or they have disguised themselves.”

Mur pressed together her pouty lips as she studied the remainder of the scout report.  There was no report for any directions to the west of Rogert, or even to the north.  Colonel Braug and his cronies had traveled to Rogert from the west, so there was little point in them travelling from Rogert back to the west.  And the group left through the southern gates, meaning they’d have to circle around half the settlements of the city to even begin travelling north, leaving far too many witnesses for such a tactic to be effective in covering their tracks.

“My thoughts exactly, Captain.  But some of these reports are-”

“Bizaar.  Yes.”

Mur narrowed her eyes as she studied the part of the report concerning the intelligence the scout had obtained from the village blacksmith.  The physical description was all kinds of conflicting.  This caused Mur to look into the report at length before saying anything else.  After fully ingesting the intelligence, Mur said, “We have to consider the possibility that Braug has been compromised by another nation, or dead.”

“Well, that’s somewhat of a leap, Captain.  Care to explain your logic?”

“Vilos, you should know about Braug’s Noblesse Armor, correct?”

“I have seen the report, yes.”

“Then you should recognize the coat worn by the man shopping for a weapon in this report.  There is no way a man like Braug would willingly allow someone else to wear his own armor.  That means he’s either no longer alive to protest, or someone has so solidly taken control over him that he can not risk a protest.”

“I fully agree, Captain.  He is likely dead or captive.  Especially since the report said nothing about a member of that ‘caravan’ matching his description.  The part I’m confused about is, why would you believe it was another nation that was responsible.”

Mur narrowed her almond shaped eyes and said, emphatically and full of meaning, “He was trying to buy a spear.”

Vilos lightly uttered the words, “Oh, of course.”  After all, there was no way any native Fulchan would prefer to use a spear, especially anyone who’d served in the military.  Which meant the man in Braug’s armor was not from Fulchas.

“But the fact that he wished for a spear, or any physical weapon is also strange,” continued Mur, losing herself slightly in her own thoughts and merely giving voice to them aloud.  “Because if he’s wearing Noblesse Armor, he must therefore be a magic user.  Why would a magician even want a physical weapon instead of a focus?”

“Perhaps he just likes the coat’s style?  Or wears it as a trophy?”

“As if such a reason could be likely.  Unless the man was particularly starved for clothing, why would he take a coat that can’t be used?  One that likely would not fit him nearly as well as one he could have bought in a shop any other day of the week?  No.  The man must be a mage.  A demon blooded mage…”

“Then he’s not from Rennou,” said Vilos.

“Why?”

Vilos shrugged a little and said, “As good as you are Captain, there are some things only experience can teach.  You know how much Rennou hates demonkind, yes?”

“Yes.”

“That’s not the half of it.  I saw a border town lynch a wealthy merchant for being dressed in Arachne silk.  That’s how much the people of Rennou hate anything to do with demons.  No one from Rennou, especially those in power, would risk dealings with their kind.  Even in secret.”

“Which leaves a half dozen other possible nations.  Speculating on our foe is pointless, Lieutenant.  For now we pursue, and we do it quickly.  Our target has at least a sevenday head start on us, maybe even a week.  Prepare the squadron.  I will write a dispatch to my parents.”

“You’re quite the dutiful daughter when you want to be,” said Vilos with a sarcastic smile on his face, and continued on before Mur’s glare could advance into a browbeating.  “But there’s something that’s been bothering me.  Why is the 78th following the orders of a non-Fulchan Demon Blood?  Especially if Braug is out of the picture?  I read the report on them.  Solid and capable enough to be trusted with a special mission, but not so important that they’d be missed on disappearing.  They couldn’t all be traitors, and the reports match the physical descriptions and numbers to perfection.  Even the extra civilians.  It doesn’t make sense that Braug and his retainers would be eliminated and no one else.”

Mur was quiet for a long moment before saying as a flat statement, “My parents are holding something back from me.”

“That’s my guess, Captain.  So I’d be careful what you report to them.  You might be their daughter, but we’re all military in the Seventh Squadron.  And that means we’re all expendable.”

Vilos exited the office, closing the door behind him as he did so, with his captain silently staring at a blank sheet of paper on the desk.

* * * * *

I was staring intently at the object that was hanging over the entire camp.  It was the magic I’d decided to name “Rain Guard” for ease of casting.  It was basically a long, wide, and thin version of my solid air attacks, except instead of using it to break bones I had tied off the magic to remain floating above the campground to keep the rain off of us.  Like I’d done with the sound blocking field in the secret base and the cones I’d fired into Nigeman’s body.  But to say I’m ‘tying off’ my magic…  It didn’t quite feel accurate…

Emplacement.  Yeah, that sounded more appropriate.

It was a curious feeling, even now.  It was like I was like…  Damn.  Like, uh…  Well, using magic, like constantly using it, was like flexing a mental muscle.  I was diverting my attention and willpower into doing it.  So when I tried the flight magic, as soon as I was distracted, the effect ended.  But Emplacing magic, it was like… well, I guess I could describe it as throwing a dart.

You do the flexing, but with the purpose of letting go of the spell and having it stick in a specified spot.  But at the same time, there was this kind of remaining link between the spell and me, so it wasn’t completely cast off.  Like, I’m still powering the magic, but not consciously.  I was still getting feedback from the magic when I concentrated on it, but otherwise the feeling of the Rain Guard was relegated to the background of my mind.  Like that annoying song you’re not thinking about and just jumps up every now and then when your thoughts pause and you find yourself humming a few bars over and over again.

It was an interesting feeling… and the Emplacement effect had already proven its use in the fight with Nigeman.  But this particular magic, the Rain Guard.  Try as I might I can’t think of how to use it in combat.  I mean, I could make it thicker and harder, and set it up as a defense against a volley of arrows, (Essea mentioned arrows and crossbows were a thing in this world when I talked with her about Wind Magic before) and I’ve already developed the Arrow Guard derivation of this magic…  But there’s no point in using something like this in personal combat.  I knew because I already tried it.

On a previous rainy day, I worked on some personal shielding that I named “Point Guard” and had Callic throw some attacks at the floating sheets of solidified air.  The results were unsatisfactory.  The thinner plates were shattered or cut through easily with conventional means (Callic broke one with just his damn fist), and the thicker ones that took more time to make were cut through with Callic’s fire magic sword.  Which meant the entire point of the Point Guard spell, making a floating and Emplacable shield that could deflect attacks the mage armor coat I’ve taken to wearing in every town couldn’t… well it was an enormous failure.  It took more energy and time to make the Point Guard plates than it would to block or evade an attack.

With all this experimentation, I could see how mage armor came to be a thing.  A worn mechanism that automatically drew from the wearer’s reservoir to protect against attacks.  A reliable and automatic defense.  One I couldn’t improve upon.  Yet, at least.  It was my considered opinion that the magic of this world was systematized and oversimplified.  If a guy like me was constantly doing strange new things with it, then there had to be a lot of untapped potential.  So, the men’s romance of personal shielding had been pursued during the dead hours of the evenings when there was little else to do.  With continually wasted effort.  Leaving me taking the most desperate act I could take.

Consulting Mercy.

“Well, Xander,” said the mad scientist with an even voice, “Have you tried imprinting your magic into a Focus?”

“Have I tried doing what now?”

“Imprinting.  Into a Focus.”

Mercy had better not be acting intentionally obtuse here, or she’s getting more than a few smacks upside the head.  I mean, I did it to people intentionally, but it was funny when I did it.

“Mercy, I have never been properly told what a focus is, how they’re made, or how they’re used.  I break every one that I touch, remember?”

“Ah!  Yes, I can see how that would make things difficult…”

“Mercy, are you really trying to say you forgot I can’t touch focuses?  Foci?  You were there when I destroyed Colonel Lumpy’s focus, you know.”

“Yes, now that I recall, any quartz you touch will immediately be overloaded.  Ah, I tried an experiment with Aase later.  She has a similar effect on quartz, but she didn’t destroy it right away.  The quartz lit, then pulsed bright before exploding.  While the final effect on the quartz was exactly like your own, the means by which-”

“Shut up,” I hollered at close range.  Whether it was the Enslavement magic or just that I shouted at her, Mercy shut her damn mouth on her Magibabble.  Then I sighed and said, “Well Mercy, considering I can’t use Foci, it seems like this is a rather pointless conversation to continue with.  Good night.”

Mercy cocked her head and asked, “When did I say you couldn’t use a Focus?  All I remember mentioning was that you overloaded quartz.”

That seemed like… a rather important distinction…  Oh, for fucks sake, Mercy start with important stuff like that, would ya?  I was so tempted to slap Mercy upside the head, but I bit back the aggression and growled for her to explain properly.  There was a bit of aggression in the word ‘properly’ that I couldn’t bite back, though.

“Well, quartz is simply the most easily used mineral for the creation of Imprinted goods and Foci.  There have been many long term studies about-”

“Only cover the highlights, please.”

“Oh.  Well, the basics are, that clear and crystalline formations are the best at refocusing and utilizing magical power, whether from a person or a quartz battery.  Apparently a lack of coloring ‘impurities’ allows an easier flow of magical power, and the insertion of desired effects.  So, glass, quartz, crystal, and diamonds are the most efficient materials for utilization of magic power.  But the durability of a Focus also allows for greater amounts of magical power to flow through it without compromising its structural integrity.  Thus, fragile glass is pointless for all but the most delicate of imprints, such as light sculptures, and diamonds are the more desirable for, well, everything else.”

I had to interject at that moment, since there was an absolute flabbergasting point that Mercy had just raised.  “Wait, are you actually telling me you make your magical crap in this world out of diamonds?”

“Oh, no.  Not at all.  Diamonds are far too rarely found to be utilized for Foci or Imprinting.  Finding a diamond without a flaw and in the right size for a specified imprinting is actually quite difficult.  So, we use quartz, which we can manufacture and customize to our purposes for all things magic related.”

“You can make synthetic quartz?  But you can’t make synthetic diamonds?”

“I’m afraid not.  Though several decades ago, there was an alchemist that tried to do so for the Currain Empire.  I’ve heard she produced limited results, but the expenses were so great that after a few years, the Empress at the time ordered her quite painfully executed for excessive waste of royal funds.  Aside from her, there were some legendarily capable earth mages in the past who were able to purify the flaws in various diamonds, making them usable as Foci, but any powerful earth mages in the past few centuries have been put towards battle and siegework use.  Or just plowed fields.”

“So Mercy, exactly what is the point you’re trying to make with all this?”  Not that I didn’t appreciate the small history lesson, but really, it’s only at the level of trivial importance.

Mercy stopped talking completely, thought hard and asked, “I had a point?”  Before I could slap her upside the head, Mercy exclaimed upon remembering, “Oh, yes!  I would like your permission to get a diamond from Janette.”

“Why?”

“To test whether or not you’d be able to use a diamond as a Focus.”

Okay, I’m not so stupid as to not see the importance of knowing whether or not I can use diamonds for Foci.  But then again… exploding diamonds…  “Make sure you bring the smallest diamond we have, Mercy.”

After some minutes, Mercy returned with a diamond about a fifth of the size of a pea.  In the time that Mercy was gone I’d obtained a breastplate, a pair of gauntlets, and a shield.  Holding the shield up, covering my neck and face, I extended my gauntleted hand as far away from my body as I could and said, “Alright Mercy.  Put the diamond in my hand.”  I think I was able to keep the fear and anxiety out of my voice, but I think some of the people around reacted and moved towards cover.

I had my teeth grit, ready for the searing pain of gemstone shards tearing my flesh apart, but nothing happened.  Relaxing slightly, I asked aloud, “Mercy?  How is the situation?”

“The diamond is glowing the way an active Focus would, Xander.  There seems to be no problems with it.”

I held the shield in front of my face a while longer.  For some reason, Mercy’s guarantee did not instill me with confidence.  I finally asked, “You sure?”

“Yes, quite sure.”

It was still a few moments before I chanced lowering the shield, and there I saw the diamond shining gently in the palm of my gauntleted hand.

“Now to try contact with the flesh,” said Mercy as she picked up the diamond, and slid the gauntlet I had neglected to buckle in place off my hand.  Before my protests could amount to anything more than partial words, Mercy had already deposited the diamond into my hand.  After an involuntary wince and recoil, nothing happened.  I opened my eyes again and saw the diamond on the fleshy palm of my hand, doing nothing but shining a little brighter.

“Well, hey, look at that,” I said with quiet satisfaction.  I had no idea how much it would mean to be able to touch something magical without it exploding.  It was like I was cradling a baby bird or something.  Then reality slightly dampened my happiness as I said, “Now just comes the unrealistic goal of finding a load of diamonds I can use for imprinting…”

“I think you’re underestimating the value of our discovery, Xander.  The fact that there is a material out there that can be used for the sake of creating a proper focus for you, a summoned human through my own personal circle, is of exceeding import.  The gathering of materials for future study is of significantly less importance.  The fact that we know what we need for the future; that is what’s valuable.”

I thought hard for a moment before saying, “I guess you’re right, Mercy.  We now have a starting point for- FUCKS ALIVE!

The entire sky light up like it was day as I fell over backwards jerking my hand to toss the diamond away from myself as quickly as possible.  Mercy dove after it, and I couldn’t see if she retrieved it as I had fallen flat on my back as the sky kept burning in different colors.  There was a restless surge of excitement in the camp as everyone exclaimed aloud before someone cried, “It’s only the fucking elves, again!”

There was an audible groan and the tension settled as people either went back to what they were doing or simply watched the lights in the sky calmly.  The sky lights were like aurora borealis, except thicker and with more illumination than I would expect.  The light changed color and swirled off in the distance, but the color stained all of the visible night sky.  I was caught in rapt attention, my entire being focused on the sight as I felt something special from it.  Aase soon appeared near me, but she didn’t say a thing.  She stared at the same swirling and dancing colors that I was, her whole being caught as well.  Eventually, I asked aloud to the air around us, “What is that?”

“Oh, it’s your first time seeing it, right boss,” asked Zent who meandered up to Aase and I.  “It’s a sight to see, huh?”

It sure was.  My first thought on it was that the sky was aflame, and then the similarity to the assaulting colors I suffered through when I was summoned to this world struck me.  But after watching it for a while, I realized they were completely different.  The colors here were moving like an organized and well rehearsed dance routine.  They were moving like graceful living entities rather than random assaulting forces.  It was like watching the most well organized fireworks display of my life, minus the explosions.

Zent continued on while my mind was processing the sight, categorizing it’s beauty and harmless nature.  “That’s the Choral Magic of the Elves.  The one they use to blow up entire armies.”

“The fuck!?”  Okay, seriously?  Even Aase exclaimed, “Hva!?”

“Okay,” I said with the importance of a man needing information right-fucking-now, “First, there are elves in this world.  Secondly they’re being attacked, and thirdly they’re blowing their attackers up right now!?  Do we need to take cover or something?”

Zent kind of backed up a step and waved his hand in front of him saying, “No, no, no!  They’re just practicing their magic, not using it to blow people up!  Sorry if I spooked you.  The elves do that once a month or so like we do morning drills.  They turn it into, like, a performance or something.  I hear the weaponized version looks completely different, but I think there only a few people who are still alive that have seen it in action.”

“Practice my ass,” grunted Callic from a little ways off.  “They’re just a bunch of jerks showing off their power.  Making sure no one gets the idea to knock them off their high horses.  I’m going to bed.”

I looked back towards the lightshow, and I started to feel what I had felt before all over again.  It wasn’t an emotion or a feeling of awe that had been the sensation that had captured my attention.  The show was beautiful, I’d give it that.  No.  What I felt from the lightshow was the magic.  Even hundreds, or thousands of miles away, I could feel the magic that was in those dancing colors in the lightshow.

“One thing’s for sure, though,” I said aloud, a feeling of cold dread encroaching on my sense of wonder.  “I pity anyone who’d try and pick a fight with those people.”

* * * * *

Duke Faberjeene sat in the dreary room with his eyes closed, waiting, listening.  He was not alone, as his pale butler stood motionless as a statue by his side.  Duke Faberjeene’s manor was one of the finest in the region, with great works of art and comfortable furniture throughout.  But the room he sat in, in a regular and unadorned chair that looked so rustically uncomfortable to sit upon, was bare of any comforts.  The chair was the only furniture.  The walls had no decorations.  And there were strange stains and marks over odd surfaces of the room’s interior.

It was in that room that Faberjeene sat.  His breath was slow and even, and his pale skin seemed paler still, as though he had crossed from the edge of death over to the grave itself.  The air leaving his nose and mouth as he breathed coiled in vapor upon his exhalation.  And with his eyes still closed, he lifted an arm and reached out.  Not just physically, as a faint glimmer of colorless magic stretched from him, to beyond the room.  After a time, it seemed like something else arrived, as Faberjeene’s face took on a visage of warmth and kindness.

“Hello Kaila,” said Faberjeene to the air with his eyes still closed.  “I’m glad to see you’re still doing well.  Was there something you wished to talk with me about?  …No, no, of course you can just visit.  But it feels like you have something urgent about you today.   …Oh, Kaila, if you force me to guess we’ll be here the rest of the night.  Please don’t tease me too much.  …In that case, happily.  Please, oh great and beautiful Kaila, I beg your indulgence.”

Faberjeene’s voice held a kindness not unlike that of an uncle seeing his favorite niece would have.  Though his body did not move an inch nor did his eyes open at all while he was speaking to empty air.  And for a minute, he sat still, doing nothing more than listening and making a few random noises to express his attention to something unheard by any but his own ears.  Finally, Faberjeene said, “Why that is interesting.  Thank you ever so much, Kaila, for telling me.  Is there anyway you can bring this man to speak with me?  …Thank you, Kaila the great and merciful.  I will wait with baited breath.”

And so he did.  Quietly.  Silently.  He waited.  Until there came a presence again.  One that seemed to dampen the meager light that was in the room even further.  Faberjeene did not react to this presence except to say, :Thank you for escorting the man to me, Kaila.  I hope I can ask you for some privacy?  …Thank you, my dear.”

The double doors that were the only way into the room closed by themselves, with an echoing boom.

“I was told you have a very interesting story to share, my friend.  I would love to hear it.  …Why, you would gain the ear of one who resides in the material world, of course!  For one in your situation, I dare say that alone would be invaluable.  And further, if we find each other agreeable, I dare say we could do great things together.  Is that also not a reason for us to speak?  …Thank you.  I will most gratefully listen.”

And listen he did.  For the time which the unknown presence communed, Faberjeene did not move but to utter sounds to facilitate the telling of a story, and small questions of, “And then what?”  Finally, Faberjeene said, “Truly interesting.  I believe you have helped me greatly, Colonel.  If there is something within my power to aid you, I will do so.  …I’m afraid I will have to refuse.  …Because the man you wish for me to take revenge upon may very well be the man I seek.  …I did not lie, nor did I use you.  I promised that we may be able to help one another.  And so I still can.  If you can let go of your malice, I believe I can help you find your way to Paradise.  …No, I have no proof at all.  Simply- …I am no such thing.  I never promised anything but possabil-  …Good sir, if you do not calm yourself, I will be forced to act.  …Do you really think I can do nothing to the dead?  Hmm-hm-hm.”

Faberjeene’s smiling face cut open as he began to sing, a slow, sad ballad of loss and pain in a language unknown to anyone but himself in the room.  With each note ushered from his throat, the atmosphere inside the room changed.  There was a dull heaviness that was not there before, and the dim light seemed to color unnaturally.  The light slowly became redder and redder, and became a deeper hue as the air itself chilled such that a fine mist hung through the entirety of the room.  As the presence noticed the change, there arose a loud growl from no material throat and there was a thudding at the walls, and a scraping at the floor and the ceiling.  Finally, the doors of the room began to bang, as a force attempted unsuccessfully to throw them open and escape.

Finally, the mist hung heavy enough that there was a visible void in it, one that turned upon Faberjeene in his chair.  A loud growl was heard in the room again, and Faberjeene opened his eyes to look into that man shaped void.  Faberjeene only smiled while singing, and his voice grew in delighted intensity.  The presence in the room growled again, and lunged.

Faberjeene’s previously immobile servant moved like a released arrow, diving to cover Faberjeene.  The servant’s clothes were rent along his back, and the flesh was torn.  Fire erupted on the body of the servant, but he did not move.  Fire erupted on the walls and crawled along the floor, a fire a hue too pale to be natural.  It assaulted the chamber, and tried to reach Faberjeene, but his servant relentlessly hung on him as a shield.  Finally, there was a growl from the air that made the previous growls seem like those of a pup, and the void in the misty air froze up and turned in horror.

The mist of the room swirled like a typhoon had erupted.  Noise was everywhere as Faberjeene continued to sing his sad ballad, that held a note of mad glee.  The figure in the mist seemed to brace itself against what was happening, but could not react to what came.  A void far larger than it, that had the feature of a voracious maw that was so great that it could not possibly fit even a part of it’s presence in the chamber.  It swallowed the figure in the mist like a whale would a minnow, and simply passed through the chamber and to eternity afterward.

The last few notes of Faberjeene’s ballad came to a sonorous, and lamentary close.  As the last note hung in the air, the doors to the chamber opened, and the few remaining mists in the room reacted to a new disturbance, a void that was half as tall as the one that was there before.

“Thank you for the help, Kaila.  I dare say our rude guest would have suspected something if I had been the one to close the chamber.  It never truly pleases me to send one to The Beast, but it had to be done.  …No, no, you were truly a great help.  Do not doubt yourself,” said Faberjeene as he lightly brushed the peak of the void in the dwindling mists.  “You’re a good and kind girl.  I count myself lucky to be your friend.  And as your friend, I ask once again.  Are you sure you do not wish for me to send you on the path to Paradise?  …I see.  Well, I am the last person who would try and get in the way of your playtime.  …Yes, please do.  Ah, but if you don’t mind, Kaila, if you happen to encounter a spirit by the name of Nigeman, could you escort him to see me?  …Perhaps.  We will have to see if he is also a rude guest, now won’t we?”

The small presence departed from the room like it was soaring on the wings of happiness, leaving Faberjeene alone with his half mauled, but otherwise unmarred servant.  “If you wouldn’t mind, ‘Francois,’ could you clean up a little before Kaila returns?  I would not want this Nigeman to see the chamber in shambles.”

The servant pulled a cleaning cloth from it’s inner breast pocket and began wiping away at drops of moisture and soot stains wordlessly, the rending across it’s back not bothering or hampering it at all.

“Thank you.  Well, let us hope the second witness corroborates the first.  For if he does, I may have just found our new, and quite fascinating, Demon King.  And, just maybe, the person that can be used to destroy the Elven Kingdom.”

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8 thoughts on “Chapter 28: Departure | Layover

  1. Thanks for the chapter, as usual. Gonna be sad when book 1 comes to an end, and then it’ll be a longer wait. 😡 But it’ll be a good wait, because I freaking love this story, man.

    So, noticed some errors, so here’s some editor/TLC for ya. Parts separated by numerals.

    1) All references to a tang here are incorrect; that’s the spine of the blade, while the inverse is the cutting or blade edge; the belly is the deepest portion of the arc of the blade edge. Where the tang sits is actually the portion of the metal that sits at the core of the knife grip; that is, the billet (unshaped bar of metal) that is used to make a knife is drawn out to length and hammered to shape, then where the handle is going to be is left mostly as is (though it’s still polished and finished, somewhat), while a hidden tang knife (far weaker and easier to break) is much the same, but the tang is drawn out thin from a smaller billet, so that the handle scales (the parts that you actually grip) completely encases the tang, and the face of the blade is drawn out and hammered down, forming the shoulders (the flat faces of the blade facing the handle) and the general profile of the blade before filing, grinding, and polishing.

    What you refer to as, “…completely straight until about two inches from the knife’s point…” is actually referred to as the grind leadoff that leads into the swage, or what you refer to as, “…where it was sharpened and curved in to meet the cutting side of the blade to form a dangerous looking point”. This can be either sharpened or not (if not, it’s called a false edge), and is done to thin the cross-section of the blade so the sharpened tip can stab more easily, while not weakening the body of the blade and making it easy to snap; it’s also done when you want a thicker spine to resist snapping with ‘spear point’ knife designs, but there the swage is a straight cut at about the middle of the spine, forming a sort of pseudo-dagger tip, but thicker. This actually leads to *less* overall stabbing power than a straight spine that meets the cutting edge, which is referred to as a ‘straight back’ knife pattern (since that transmits the force of the thrust more efficiently, along a single consistant axis), or a ‘drop point’ (also called ’round point’) knife pattern where the spine actually ‘drops’ to meet the cutting edge (which provides a thinner tip that comes to a point in the middle of the knife’s blade face, but is much easier to chip or snap off) versus an actual spear point (where the cutting edge and spine follow the same curve and meet in the middle to form a tip, as with traditional spearheads and daggers, but with a bit thicker face, as it raises up to a blade spine, (an unsharpened edge on the blade face, where the edge and spine grinds meet), so the tip is very strong, but the edges aren’t very effective for drawn cuts, or slashes, as seen in almost all throwing knives).

    Serrations on the choil (where the blade begins just after the front quillon (the bit that sticks out sort of like a crossguard on a sword does, to protect the fingers)) are actually to increase leverage when cutting; that you can use it as a mini ripsaw is not intended, and frankly just chopping with the blade would be more functional. And yes, it’s as useful for tearing flesh and sinew as it is for cutting wood- it’s for leverage on anything you cut at all, after all.

    As such, rewriting it with the appropriate terminology, “The spine, the flat backbone of the knife, was completely straight until about two inches from the knife’s point where it lead off into a swage, the point where it was sharpened and curved in to meet the cutting side of the blade to form a dangerous looking point. Even I could tell this meant more strength to the blade when stabbing than if the tip had curved down into a drop point like a chef’s knife. The belly of the knife had a subtle but wicked recurve in it as well to increase the weight distributed into its cutting edge, putting more weight and power into its swings. There was also a serrated sawing edge for the three inches of the cutting blade extending out from the handle. My first thought was that it was very good for ripping through wood, or tearing open people’s guts, but then I realized it was probably for getting leverage when cutting all sorts of things.”

    Of course, all that is unnecessary if it’s assumed to just be him thinking out of his ass, not having a damn clue whatsoever about knives at all, and he’s thinking it’s all impressive, but using incorrect terminology and bad information, but I spent like an hour writing this and doublechecking my info to make sure I wasn’t giving you false info, so it’s staying. >_>

    2) “…If it were not for the crystal blue eyes and sun starved complexion, any world traveller from Earth would have assumed Mur was a woman from the Eastern Mediterranean sea.

    At first glance, anyone would assume that Mur was a woman, because Mur’s facial features were far too beautiful and perfect to belong to a man. ”

    This just seemed unnecessarily repetitive. That last sentence should have been cut from the previous paragraph and folded into the first sentence of the following one, telling us readers that people from Earth would have said that based on facial features, Mur looks Eastern Mediterranean, while the soft lines of said features were too graceful and beautiful to be those of a man, or something else of the sort.

    Or, in short, amalgamate those two sentences into one. Something like, “At first glance, any world traveller from Earth would have assumed Mur was from the Eastern Mediterranean region, if it weren’t for the colour of her eyes and pale, sun-starved complexion; while people from this world wouldn’t understand what that meant, they’d at least agree that Mur’s facial features were too refined and delicate to be those of a man.”

    3) Simplest for last. Just two typos that stuck out for me. “Bizaar. Yes.” should be, “Bizarre. Yes.” and, “The entire sky light up like it was day as I fell over…” should be, “The entire sky lit up like it was day as I fell over…”

    Like

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