The march was slow and steady.
“At this rate, we’ll be there tomorrow,” said Rui, the captain of the soldiers.
“Yes… but we should have met with them by now,” Alonso replied, more to himself than to the man who had saved him.
You were the one who didn’t want to go through the forest. Guess you still have some traumas, Tetsuko though, rattling slightly on the sheath that was too big each time the horse took a step. But who am I to complain? We’ll have a fight soon… I can’t wait to cross blades with someone.
The Lord had left the castle with a small troop of seven hundred soldiers. With the two thousand under Faela’s command, they had more than enough to crush the Demon Worshipers and the bandits.
If they had gone through the forest, the fastest route to Vidal’s castle, they would have already joined with Faela. But instead, Alonso had sent word to the court informing he would follow the road along the river.
“I’d rather avoid a forest for a long time,” Alonso answered Rui’s unspoken question.
The newly promoted captain said nothing, only acknowledging his commander’s words.
Was that your only intentions, my wielder? So no one would question your orders? Why didn’t you bring your advisor?
The Lord had told his retainer to stay and take care of the castle while he dealt with the Worshipers.
Despite his protests, Enrique obeyed.
It does make sense. You can’t leave your castle unattended for so long again. But after everything, can you really afford to leave someone who’s that loyal to you? And you even made that soldier who helped you escape a captain, Tetsuko thought, glancing at the man. He’s barely a man… and from what I can tell, he doesn’t have a talent with a weapon…
Tetsuko didn’t waste much time thinking about that. As long as she was used, she was satisfied. I wonder what the taste of a Demon Worshiper… is their energy any different? Alonso said they weren’t normal… it means they should taste different.
The soul in the sword couldn’t wait. She had been wishing for a new energy. Lucky Chaos had been the only one she had in a long time, and she couldn’t even make it her own.
As the sun began to set, Alonso ordered the soldiers to stop.
“We’ll set camp here and leave before the sun is up,” he said, dismounting his horse.
Despite some faces saying they would rather keep marching for a little longer, they obeyed.
“Who’s there?” someone shouted.
The moment the soldier screamed, everyone stopped setting the camp and turned towards the voice.
“Please, don’t kill us!” someone shouted from the trees. “We’re just peasants!”
A man came walked out from the forest with his hands raised.
The soldiers raised their weapons but only watched when two women and a young man, followed by three children joined the man.
“Peasants?” Alonso asked. “Who are you?”
“W-we’re from a v-village south of here,” the man explained despite the fear. When he realized the soldiers wouldn’t kill him or the other, he lowered his hand slowly. “We were expelled from our homes… the few who escaped had to…”
He couldn’t hold the tears. Nor the others.
Alonso glanced from one face to the other.
“Rest now. You can tell me everything later.”
“Thank you, milord. Thank you,” the man said, bowing deeply with the others.
“Rui, share some food with them. See if you can get anything. But don’t force it out of them,” the lord said to his captain.
After the soldier left, Alonso walked away. When he was alone, he almost fell to his knees. With his breathing heavy, he rested against a tree, clutching his chest. “Shit…”
It’s getting stronger, Tetsuko thought.
Ever since he met Lucky Chaos in person, the twisted energy inside him had been stirring even more. He didn’t even have to draw the sword with a soul. He only needed to be awake.
It’ll take over his soul soon… I could try devouring that energy but I don’t know if I can take it all… if there’s a seed left, it’ll grow again… And even if I did, I have no idea what would happen to me…
But this is all pointless. Alonso would never cut himself with my blade.
The sun had set completely by the time Alonso had subdued the twisted energy.
After he hid all the traces of weakness, the Lord walked back to where the soldiers were.
They had already set most of the camp. But instead of the usual laid back and relax mood, everyone was tense.
Only then he noticed most of the soldiers were surrounding something.
“What’s going on?” Alonso asked.
No one answered him.
The few soldiers who noticed him made room for their commander.
In the middle of the circle, were the villagers.
They looked even more afraid than before.
“Please! Please, milord! Don’t kill us! We never meant it!” the man from earlier begged. The woman next to him spread her arms to protect two kids. The other family trembled and huddled together, looking around with fear in their eyes.
“Why would I kill our people?”
“They’re not our people, my lord!” a soldier shouted, pointing to them. His expression was as afraid as the villagers. “They’re Worshipers!”
As the words echoed and died, all that was left was an eerie silence.
“No, we’re not!” one of the women shouted. “We were forced! Or they would kill us!”
Alonso had no expression as he stared at the families.
“Show me,” he said in a low voice. Even so, the menacing tone was clear.
The villagers trembled even more. The man who seemed the oldest took a step forward. Despite the fear, he lifted his shirt.
The air on the camp became even tenser as the soldiers took a step back.
Even though Tetsuko had never seen the mark on the man’s chest with her own eyes, she recognized it. The mark of the devil…
Thanks to Fael’s memories, I know what it means…
As if branded with hot iron, the face of a deformed beast, with teeth too big for its mouth. The twisted horns coming out of the sides and pointing towards the neck of the man, as if trying to get out through the mouth.
Even though it was faint, Tetsuko could feel a strange energy pulsing from that mark that seemed to be burned from the inside out.
It’s not cold or twisted like Dale’s… it’s not even alive… it’s… dormant… waiting to be awaken…
No one dared to say anything.
Alonso stared at the mark for a long time. The lord’s energy stirred.
And it wasn’t the only one. But instead of trying to consume the man, Lucky Chaos’ energy was twisting in anger.
The swordsman flexed his fingers, the hand moving over to Tetsuko’s handle.
Yes… draw me… use me, the soul in the sword thought. It has been too long since I’ve been used…
“Please, milord!” the man said when he saw the hand hovering over the hilt. “We were forced to join them! The moment we had the chance, we escaped! Please, have mercy!”
Alonso didn’t react, the sweat coming down his forehead.
“I’ve dealt with Worshipers before… So did my father and my grandfather. Even though we’ve been fighting against them for almost a thousand years, we know too little. But there’s one thing I’m sure; that mark cannot be forced on anyone. Only if the person accepts the demon in their heart.”
The villagers stopped trembling. Even the kids. None of them showed the fear anymore.
At the same time, their marks stirred, awakening.
Get ready, Tetsuko shouted in her mind, projecting her voice to her wielder.
Before Alonso could draw her, the leader jumped towards him with his hands stretched.
The others did the same, getting the soldiers off guard.
The man squeezed Alonso’s throat, the fingers trying to meet each other.
“This rotten kingdom will bow down to the true God!” the man said in a hoarse voice, his eyes wide and bloodshot.
The mark on his chest burned, the energy pulsing. As it became strong, the man’s eyes became black and the pupils yellow.
Alonso’s face became red as he gasped for air. He tried to get rid of the hands strangulating him but the man was too strong. Then he punched the villager. It was the same as nothing; the leader didn’t seem to feel pain despite the blood coming from his nose.
With both energies inside him going wild as his life came to an end, Alonso drew a knife and stabbed the man’s hands again and again.
The Worshiper only laughed. “I’m a follower of the true God! He protects me! He protects us!”
Alonso stabbed at the man’s throat. The blade didn’t even scratch the skin. All he got was a sinister laugh from the man.
The lord was gasping for air. In a desperate attempt, he aimed the blade on the worshiper’s eyes.
The knife broke.
Tetsuko made her energy flow inside her metal body.
When she rattled, her wielder didn’t even have time to think. Out of reflex, he pulled the sword on his waist and tried to hit the man as his conscious faded.
The blade hit the Worshiper on the side.
He screamed and let go of the lord’s throat, holding the wound.
Alonso coughed and tried to breath deep.
Tetsuko should be thrilled to finally be used again, but she wasn’t. I meant to cut him in half… even without a good swing… my attack was… shallow…
The shock was too much. She barely registered she didn’t eat the man’s energy.
As the astonishment faded, she trembled in excitement. An enemy I can’t cut… yet…