The march was even slower than the day before.
No one slept in the camp. Even with lookouts, everyone was too afraid anymore worshiper could still be lurking around.
Even Alonso had trouble resting. For the first time in a long while, he slept with his sword by his side. Any sound stirred him, his hand going for Tetsuko’s handle.
The moment the sun appeared on the horizon, the soldiers raised the camp and marched as fast as they could. But even if no one talked, the scars of the fight still remained over their heads.
They burned their dead companions along with the worshipers. The injured ones who didn’t die rode on the wagons. The restless sleep hadn’t helped them; they had gotten worse.
Tetsuko checked, but she didn’t sense that faint strange energy emanating from the demon mark in them. It’s not the cause of their fever… but it must be connected… somehow…
Everyone has lost morale. And that was against only seven worshipers… I know they hesitated to kill children, but still… they’re gonna face many more in the battle ahead. If they can’t shake the fear from last night, they’re doomed.
Only those three seem to still have any will to fight, the soul in the sword thought, looking at the only soldiers who had managed to harm the Worshipers.
A woman with short brown hair and a hard expression, a bold man with dark skin, and a tall man with one pale eye.
Apart from Alonso, they’re the strongest here…
I wouldn’t mind if any of them used me… but my wielder is Alonso… for now…
The march wasn’t only slow; it was tense. Everyone was so cautious any sound made most almost draw their weapons, even if it turned out to be only a small animal.
“My lord.” Rui rode by his commander and called him quietly.
“What is it?”
The captain gulped, his face even paler. “A-are you sure we should still be going? After yesterday, we… I don’t know if we have the numbers…”
“Yes, Rui. We cannot go back. Seven people caused that much trouble. Imagine what a hundred of them could do?”
“Probably over a thousand. If a whole city and a bandit group joined them…” Despite his neutral voice, Tetsuko could feel the energy stirring inside him. Both his and Dale’s.
He knows three thousand soldiers might not be enough. The number is on the limit… if they get even a little careless, my wielder will suffer another defeat. And maybe this time it’ll cost more than just his honor…
“If they’re as strong as those, we can’t fight them, milord…” The fear was such Rui was losing his composure.
“They’re probably stronger. Even so, we have to fight them,” Alonso said without looking at his recently promoted captain. After a while, he turned to the boy. “Do you have family? Someone you care?”
The captain gulped with the sudden question. “My mom died when I was young. My father raised me as best as he could. He worked at a bar, cooking. But he died a couple years ago…”
Alonso kept quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry, son.”
“Thank you, my lord. He was… a quiet man. Even when working, he barely talked. But he was a good father. And everyone in the bar helped me after… but that life wasn’t that life…”
“So you took the sword.”
“Now think about those people at the bar. Imagine those Worshipers running around the kingdom. It took several soldiers just to kill one. Just one can cause a lot of damage. And if they increased their numbers…” Alonso shook his head as he imagined. “We need to deal with them right now… they’ll come back… they always do… and we’ll deal with them, no matter how many times we need…”
Rui said nothing as he considered his commander’s words. After a long time, he spoke again. “Y-you’re right, milord…”
Then he let his commander ride alone.
There was no more talking as they marched towards Vidal’s castle.
Midday had come and gone, but they didn’t stop to eat. Few had any appetite.
When night came and they couldn’t ride anymore, they set camp. But the faces illuminated by the fires said it all; no one would get any sleep again.
“Who’s there?” a woman who was on the lookout shouted.
Everyone raised their weapons, waiting.
Alonso closed his fingers around Tetsuko’s handle, ready to draw her.
“You all are awfully nervous,” a soft voice came from the forest.
The next moment, a woman rode out from the trees, followed by a few soldiers.
“Faela,” Alonso said in a low voice, taking his hand from his sword.
Despite being companions, it took a while for the soldiers to relax.
As everyone settled, Faella joined Alonso for some food.
“I was expecting you earlier,” the noble said.
“Please, forgive me, my Lord. But you were the one who decided to take the long route,” she said, bowing her head slightly. “It took time for us come through the forest.”
“You didn’t run into any trouble?”
The woman put her food down, the fire casting shadows across her face. “We did. Some villagers turned Worshipers of the Chaos appeared a couple days ago. They tried to pretend to be runaways… I take it you ran into them too?”
Faela understood the Lord’s tone right away. “How much damage did they cause?”
Alonso chewed his tongue. “63 dead. Several injured.”
“That’s a lot. More than we can afford in this fight…”
“I know… We didn’t expect them to be–”
“So strong,” Faela finished the sentence, gripping the bowl with more strength. “They were always hard to deal. But now they found a way… some demonic way to become much stronger…”
“Yes… For centuries my family has been dealing with them… they were never like this… even a kid…”
“Did…” Faela looked around and lowered her voice, leaning closer to the fire. “Did anyone drink their blood?”
Alonso widened his eyes. “Yes… three soldier drank, but two died… a few spat right away and didn’t drink it… why?”
Faela gulped. “Some of my men did too… and they… they turned mad and we…”
The woman nodded. “I believe the same thing that gives them strength can take away someone’s sanity… did you hear about Lord Vidal? About… his mark?”
“He had… the Chaos mark on his chest…” she said, not meeting the noble’s eyes.
“What?” Alonso’s voice was so loud everyone looked at them. His energy stirred as he tried to process the information. “He wasn’t a Worshiper! He fought his entire life against them!”
“I know, my Lord… and that why I think he went mad. He didn’t worship the Chaos…”
Alonso widened his eyes when he understood. “So—”
Before he finished speaking, a screamed echoed through the camp.
Without wasting a second, Alonso and Faela ran towards the sound.
One of the men who was resting on the wagons was on the floor. He screamed and squirmed, holding his head with both hands.
“He’s one who drank the blood,” the noble said in a low voice to the woman.
Faela drew the sword, her eyes cold as she stared at the man suffering.
“What are you doing?”
“He’s gone, my Lord. He lost his mind to the Chaos.”
With a scream, the soldier stood up and drew his weapon too. He swung around, making sure no one got close enough.
With another shout, his eyes became bloodshot and the pupils yellow.
No one dared to move. Even Faela’s soldiers.
Only the woman took a step forward, blocking his blade.
“I’m not a Worshiper! I’m not!” the soldier shouted, clutching his chest.
“I know. But you’re an unlucky one,” she said in a grave voice before bringing her weapon down.
As the man let out his last breath, everyone looked shocked.
Before anyone could say anything, she knelt and tore the man’s shirt.
Alonso couldn’t say anything as he saw the mark on the soldier’s chest.
It was the same demonic head as the villagers turned Worshipers, but unlike theirs, it was red, as if the blood within had boiled.
“My lord, the Worshipers have changed too much,” Faela said, swinging her sword to clean the blood before sheathing.