“Where are the rest of them?” a soldier whispered, his voice echoing through the trees.
Despite his low tone, it was loud enough to reveal the fear behind it.
“Keep your mouth shut!” someone said in a harsh whisper. “Do you want them to find us?”
That voice, too, couldn’t hide the owner’s fear.
They’re too shaky from the last battle, the soul in the sword thought.
The army had killed the first enemies that fled from the smoke. But no one else came from the labyrinth. So Alonso had commanded them to enter the bandits’ new hideout, but they had yet to find the enemies.
They’re around… I can sense them… but I can’t tell if they’re close or not… this place is messing with my senses…
The smoke had cleared, but the stench of the plants remained, impregnating everything in the labyrinth.
Even with the cloths covering their noses, no one could breathe without smelling it.
Even I can’t stand this…
Despite the general fear throughout the troops, the lord told the soldiers to press on.
You’re not letting this chance get away, are you, my wielder? Tetsuko wanted to ask him but couldn’t. You want to end this, but you also fear being a victim of Lucky Chaos’ touch…
The sound of hundreds of hooves and thousands of feet moving echoed in the dark forest, the sound of water splashing becoming louder.
The trees are so close it’s hard to tell it’s morning, Tetsuko thought, looking up at the treetops. It’s always dark in here…
The army went deep inside the labyrinth carefully, but they had yet to find more enemies. They looked up at the higher trees, but apart from them, there was no sign of life in that strange forest.
They turned here and there, not knowing the real way. Then the column of soldiers stopped advancing; the men and women on the front couldn’t make their horses go own.
A murmur ran throughout the soldiers
“What’s the matter?” asked the lord. “Why did they stop?”
The word finally got to the center of the column, where the commanders were.
“It’s the ground, my lord,” a soldier informed. “The water… it’s only mud ahead…”
The lord looked down.
Even through the strange fog that covered the ground, it was possible to see a thin layer of water under the hooves of the horse.
The lord held the reigns tighter.
“The bandits must’ve flooded the area to make it hard for us to use the horses,” the advisor said. “It’s best if we go on foot from here.”
Alonso stared at the ground for a moment.
“Agree,” he said in a low voice.
Even if she was on his waist and not enclosed by his fingers, Tetsuko could feel the change in her wielder’s energy.
It was flowing fast and in an intense mixture of colors.
He’s not only angry by the situation… he’s more anxious, Tetsuko realized, staring him for a long moment.
Hope that doesn’t hinder the way he uses me…
As his order passed on to the front of the column, the lord got off his horse.
He had trouble raising his feet after his metal boots sunk a few inches in the mud, but he said nothing.
A few of the soldiers who had yet fully recovered from the last battle were ordered to return with the horses.
After they had left, the column moved once again.
The march became even harder.
The strange fog that covered the ground became thicker, and the smell of the plant became stronger as they entered deeper into the Stone Hill Labyrinth.
It was getting harder to breathe, so they took the cloths covering their mouth and noses.
The eerie silence was barely broken. Only the sound of their heavy steps on the mud echoed in the darkness.
Even Tetsuko couldn’t help but feel anxious.
They’re closer… I can feel them… but I can’t tell where they are!
In the heavy silence in the dark forest, a scream echoed. A high pitched scream that sound as if many beasts were dying everywhere around them.
It was so loud it reached even the soldiers in the back.
Everyone topped and raised their weapons, looking everywhere for the source of the scream.
The lord did the same, drawing Tetsuko.
As the fingers closed around her handle, the soul in the sword felt stronger.
The former human sensed the energy in her flowing faster.
She tried to concentrate and sense where the enemies were again.
But now the excitement from the battle was too much.
Only now that I’ve become a sword I can enjoy a battle, Tetsuko thought.
The soldiers looked around, trying to find any sign of the bandits.
Their breathing became heavier and louder.
Soon it drowned every other sound.
In the darkness, the soul in the sword could see.
Two soldiers backed away and their backs touched.
They shouted and turned around, swinging their weapons at each other.
In the last moment, they realized it wasn’t an enemy and managed to stop.
But their screams put the fear into the other soldiers.
The fog on the ground thickened. As it moved further from the ground, it became impossible to see more than three meters beyond.
I need to see everything!
Tetsuko calmed the energy inside her. Then, concentrating on her hilt, she imagined the cold metal.
She imagined the cold spreading inside her.
Her energy slowed down, and then she could see beyond the fog.
But not in the usual way as if she still had eyes.
Unlike before, where she could only sense an ember, now she could see blurs of energy.
The energies of the soldiers… I’m getting stronger…
And that wasn’t the only energy around; the soldiers weren’t the only ones in the labyrinth.
On the higher trees, other energies lurked around.
The bandits, Tetsuko realized at once.
She wanted to tell her wielder. But when she sensed his energy, she knew he wouldn’t listen to her, even if she somehow could speak.
The lord was as afraid as the soldiers.
He tried to keep a brave façade as a noble and commander, but he couldn’t hide the truth from his sword; the energy inside him was out of control.
Damn it… he’s not gonna be able to use me this way!
Tetsuko stirred, swirled and then made her energy explode. Then she threw it on the direction of the closest bandit.
Her metal body moved. It was only a little, but it was enough.
As the lord looked in the direction of his sword moved, he noticed a movement despite the fog.
“We’re under attack!” the lord screamed.
It was so loud even the bandits hidden in the fog hesitated for a moment. And that was enough.
One of the soldiers lost his control and swung his weapon against the fog.
He managed to hit a bandit.
A scream and the sounds of metal on metal filled the air as the soldier struck again and again.
That seemed to give courage to the others.
The fear was still on their faces, but they widened their eyes and struck blindly at the fog, hoping to hit the unseen enemies.
Many hit the bandits close enough.
Then the bandits threw away that tactic of sneaking around.
They rushed towards the column of soldiers, using their numbers and the fog as strength.
The fight was the same as the one in the forest; bloody and messy.
Alonso killed those who tried to take his life, but he didn’t notice a bandit lurking closer
Tetsuko tried to make her energy explode in the direction of the hidden enemy.
But it was impossible to concentrate as she absorbed more lives.
When the bandit was within reach, the lord swung her in his direction.
It was so sudden the bandit couldn’t even block.
Tetsuko’s edge buried against his arm and shoulder.
He slid down to the mud and never stood up again.
“Even with these tricks, they’re still just bandits!” the lord shouted above the confusion of the battle. “Do not fear!”
Tetsuko smiled in her head.
Good… don’t let the fear hinder you. Use me as much as you want, she thought.
The energy inside him was still out of control, but the whirlpool became slower, as if focused in one objective.
The soldiers drew strength from those words.
They fought the enemies hidden by the fog.
And when the bandits began retreating, they chased them.
“Don’t chase them!”
Some soldiers screamed
“Burn the threes!” someone shouted. “If they fall, the fog will go up!”
“No!” the advisor screamed, but in the confusion, his voice couldn’t be heard.
Idiot! That’s a stupid idea!
One of the younger soldiers lit a torch and pressed it against a tree. Others did the same.
Little by little, the wood began to burn and lit.
The light made the visibility much better.
But then a brown, thick, and smelly fog added to the first one.
The bandits put something on the trees, she realized. I didn’t think they’d be this cunning…
The soldiers coughed and covered their faces. Their eyes stung and watered.
But the bandits didn’t seem bothered by it.
Through the brown fog, Tetsuko saw that they wore heavy masks over their mouths.
Without the need to cover their faces, they managed to kill many soldiers.
Many soldiers ran, trying to get away from that place.
The lord’s panic grew again.
He tried to shout a command, but he had no voice, he could only cough.
Then a bandit appeared next to the lord.
Tetsuko widened her eyes.
I didn’t sense him at all…
She looked at him and then froze. His energy was twisted, just like Lucky Chaos.
Who is this man…?
Unlike the bandits, he had an aura of strength.
Then she knew who he was.
“Hello, my lord,” the bandit said in a dry hoarse of a voice.
Alonso widened his eyes.
It was the last thing he said before the bandit hit him with the blunt side of his sword.