Frey had watched the wagon's ceiling for too long, it wasn't helping his psyche at all. The chill creeping into his flesh, for what he was to do next, kept his eyes wide open and his brain overclocked. All the pieces were in place, yet he was feeling anxious, for some reason.
He sat up slow, careful not to make the floorboards of the wagon creak. Sleeping on the wagon seat to his right, snoring like a bear, was Hugo. He wouldn't be waking up soon. The one sleeping on his left, Gren, on the other hand, appeared to also be sleeping, with his back facing Frey.
He crept out of the wagon and looked around. Krul stood ways behind him, back leaning against a slave coach. The disgusting grin on his face looked almost carved, perpetual. Frey will be tearing the smile off his ugly face, very soon.
"I've been waiting." Krul's sly tone carried over the wind.
Frey approached him, hands tucked in his pockets. "Well I'm sorry, I didn't want to wake up Gren and Hugo."
"We won't be found out kid. You're too nervous for your own good. They won't be waking up, not with the booze I made them drink." Krul tapped his back. "Now come, fun awaits."
He led Frey deeper into the forest, passing by the two bandits that were tied to a massive tree. One of them was sleeping, while the other, the one whom Frey started to think his best friend, only pretended to be. He wasn't even trying to fake his sleep, as he gave Frey a wink as he passed. Krul didn't notice at all, or he simply didn't care enough to think any of it.
"So, do you have enough money for my stuff?" Krul asked, twigs and dead leaves crunching under his boot as he walked two steps ahead of Frey.
"I wouldn't know. You haven't told me yet how much your slaves cost." Frey answered.
"Fair enough. Well, we can worry about the transaction later. Right now, let's just focus on getting our fun, eh?"
A woman's scream rang out ahead. Frey halted, grabbing ahold of his sword, while Krul walked on without a care, only shaking his head.
"What an imbecile, that Dotan. He's been insatiable ever since I let him in my business. A little too rough on my pets, and very fond of children, if you know what I mean. He's quite troublesome."
Frey knew what he meant, and he tasted the bile rising up from his stomach.
"What is it?" not a second after Krul turned around did Frey's hand clamp on his shoulder.
"I don't buy broken things." Frey said, voice grave cold, eyes gleaming with killing intent.
"But of course." Krul nodded. "That was just Dotan teasing her a bit. I have prohibited him from breaking anything, be it bones or minds."
"As long as we're on the same page." Frey let go of Krul. He didn't anticipate any of Krul's soldiers participating in this under-the-table deal. Selling slaves without their superior's knowledge and permission, surely Krul knew the risk if he got found out. Yet he still recruited an accomplice who can turn on him anytime. Krul is a risk-taker, and that might just work against Frey.
He had to hurry.
They reached a minor clearing, secluded from the rest of the forest by walls of tall foliage. Beams of the moon above bathed the clearing a shining silver, without tree branches and leaves obstructing them.
There, in the middle of the clearing, stood a slave. She was skinny, with the humble height of a highschooler. Her platinum hair was cut short just until her shoulders, contrary to the long, flat bangs hanging a paper's breadth above her dull, sleepy eyes. A dozen long cuts covered both her arms, most already closed and healing, some fresh and would bleed with a press. Frey didn't dare think what the girl went through, in the hands of Krul's men. Slowly fire built up inside him, unnoticed. She'll be free from Krul soon, Frey swore to himself.
Beside her was a scrawny soldier in steel vest and leather pants, holding the end of the chain hooked to the slave's cuffs. Must be the one named Dotan. He didn't matter to Frey at all. Why, he would die soon anyway.
He stepped forward into the clearing, attracting the eyes of both the slave and the soldier.
"Is she the one?" Frey looked over his shoulder, back at Krul.
"You asked and I delivered." Krul puffed his chest and trotted beside him like a peacock. "She may look childish, but she's the governor's daughter. You said you want a toy that's fun to train, well, she's what you're looking for. I mean, who wouldn't want to break a proud noble lady? Make them kneel, do every unspeakable thing there is to them, and they can't do anything but obey... I've had fun with her, myself." The swine of a man beside him cackled. Frey clenched his fists, rage filling up his head, mixing with the hot blood coursing through him.
Irredeemable, isn't he? Unforgivable. Loathsome. A voice whispered. It was cold and layered, like many people talking to him in sync. It was all he could hear, drowning even Krul's sadistic laugh with its echoes. It was all inside in his head, yet, it felt real, as if it was a real person talking to him.
Can you even call something so vile a human?
His right arm began to throb. It wasn't painful, but it was there, the feeling of something tugging at his veins. His arm guard. He almost forgot its existence, being hidden under the sleeve of his coat for so long. But why? He never used it ever since Shin told him not to, yet...
The throbbing intensified. It then felt as though his nerves were convulsing underneath his skin. The voice was laughing. His head was getting filled with the voice's laugh. Krul was saying something as they walked closer to the slave, but he could hear none of it. Everything felt cold, the surrounding completely dark. All he could see was Krul. The disgusting thing beside him, walking as though it was human. Frey must've been smiling then, as Krul's grin grew wider as he talked, stretching until his ears. The laughter in his head stopped.
Now, what do you do with a scum like him?
Something snapped at the back of his mind. Frey wrapped his fingers around the handle of his sword. Krul didn't notice, as he was too busy laughing on his own sick delusion.
"Hey Krul." Frey stopped in his tracks, leaving Krul walking forward on his own.
Frey glanced at the slave, then at Dotan standing by her side. They were at least a dozen meter away, too far to notice such a small movement. Before they do, it would be too late.
"It's about to get really noisy in here. You sure Hugo and the company won't be bothered?"
"What a sick man... So you're going to make her scream after all?"
"I'm not talking about her."
Krul froze midway through his turn. He groped for the steel broadsword hanging on his waist.
Frey drew his sword, a second faster than Krul could get ahold of his sword's handle. Frey swung forth, swirling black smoke trailing behind his blade.
Krul vaulted back in pure instinct. He drew his broadsword, shaken by the fact that his client just tried to kill him. The smile on his face was no longer there, replaced by a trembling scowl of pure hatred.
"That's good. That's good." eerie laughter filled the air, the same laugh echoing in Frey's mind. "That's the face."
Was he the one laughing? Frey wasn't sure. But he felt good. So good, he wanted to kill the thing in front of him so badly. Flay it. Tear off its limbs.
Make it a worthy sacrifice.
The katana fell out of his grasp, dropping harmlessly on the ground beside him.
Red flashed before him as intense pain shot through his head. Frey fell to his knees. He clawed at his temples, face warped in pain, eyes bulging from their sockets.
We have waited for too long, imprisoned in cold nothingness. This pain is the crest of our suffering. You have touched us, and now you too share the burden of our punishment.
The pain in his head subsided.
Dotan, Krul, as well as the slave were staring at him, eyes wide, jaw dropping. Quickly he rolled up the sleeve of his right arm, beneath which his arm guard laid.
The gem at the core of the arm guard shone with a Turquoise radiance, shifting like smoke, flickering, dancing in sync with the tone of the voice inside his head.
Hate them. Loath them more. Spawn of Karias. And then...
Krul came at him, broadsword raised overhead. Frey, in such a defenseless position, braced himself, raising his arm guard as defense. Krul brought his sword down upon Frey, a complacent smirk carved across his pudgy face.
A shockwave of green and blue light erupted from the sapphire of the arm guard, blinding and with a deafening boom, the instant the edge of Krul's sword touched the arm guard's silver surface. The explosion catapulted Krul across the clearing, screaming and flailing his limbs. He cruised the air two good meters off the ground, falling fast toward the ground. Krul crashed three feet in front of Dotan and the slave, landing on his behind with a nasty thud.
Dotan rushed to Krul's aid, dragging him away safely. Krul was unconscious, his right arm bent in an unnatural angle. The arm guard's glow faded.
"Now." Frey stood up, grabbing his blade. Dotan drew his sword and charged at him. Frey stepped forward and put all his strength into a fierce slash. Dotan blocked with his broadsword, thinking it would save him.
Their swords met each other. Half of Dotan's steel fell onto the ground, impaling the soil.
Dumbstruck, Dotan was wide open. Frey shoved a heel deep into his abdomen, the impact sending him staggering a few steps backward, before crashing sprawled on the forest floor. Frey approached Dotan at a leisurely pace, katana in one hand, a steel knife in another. The soldier crawled away from Frey's piercing glare, desperation in his eyes, tremor in his knees.
"He thinks he can escape. How cute."
Whether it was the voice he was hearing in his head, or his own thoughts, Frey already couldn't tell. Were they even different, to begin with?
Regardless, he knew what he had to do. He could see it in front of him, the work he must finish. Frey flipped the knife in his hand, holding it in a backhand grip. He glanced at the slave... the girl, their eyes meeting for a moment. At that moment he could see her feelings and longing, staring beneath her cold sapphire eyes. And then he saw again the wounds adorning her thin arms, the bruises on her bare thighs, almost camouflaged by the dirt sticking to her pale skin.
He won't be killing a man today. He would merely be sending monsters to hell.
Frey pinned Dotan's thigh with his knife. The scum howled in agony as steel gorged on his flesh, reaping blood out of his veins. Frey didn't feel guilt. The thing in front of him was a monster who torture women and children to indulge itself. If anything, it excited him to see it suffer. Frey reached inside his coat and pulled out another knife, shoving it deep into Dotan's other thigh.
"Having fun, aren't we?" Frey grabbed Dotan by the collar and pulled him close. Beads of sweat clung onto the young soldier's forehead. His nostrils were spilling snot while tears streamed down his cheeks.
"I-I was just following Krul's orders. I never really wanted to hurt them." Dotan's eyes shook as he explained himself between stutters and sobs. His breath reeked of alcohol, Frey wasn't exactly pleased by it.
"Wrong." Frey pushed the knife deeper into him. "Do you ever call swines by name? No, because they don't have one."
Dotan grunted as more tears burst from his eyes. "Please! I'll do anything! Don't kill me!"
"... Then die."
Black steel dug through Doran's chest, immersed in dancing, swirling smoke as it went through his metal plate like a specter through a wall. The tip of the blade shot out of his back, painted unholy crimson.
Dotan died eyes wide open, mouth agape, horror in his face as the last of his tears fell. Frey didn't feel anything. No remorse, no guilt, no pleasure. Dead. If he was feeling anything at all, it would have been the heavy gaze of the man who, since before the battle began, had been watching him from beyond the shadowed green.
"How long are you gonna stand there, Gren?"
Behind him, emerging from the shrubs with a rustle, was the soldier who was supposedly sleeping soundly back in the wagon with Hugo.
"You... You killed him..." Gren's already frail voice trembled even more.
Earlier that night, Hugo and Krul's team set up camp by the roadside. Frey made the fire, with Ardey and Horan gathering firewood. Gren and Hugo hunted and foraged for the food, while Krul's team took care of the drinks.
They presented the whole camp with wine and beer, and a vile drink that tasted like champagne but burned holes through his throat. Krul personally handed each of them a cup, good old camaraderie as pretext, but Frey knew that aside from him and Krul, and now apparently Dotan, all of the others were being handed "special" drinks for sweet dreams.
Everyone not involved with the transaction was fated to spend the whole night above the clouds. However, one of these men was so bad with liquor, that he excused himself from the campfire storytelling to puke out all the booze he had drunk on the foot of a tree.
It was no other than the man standing behind him.
Frey pulled his sword out of Dotan, the sensation of steel grinding through flesh running through the shaft, crawling straight into his skin. He let go of the dead man's collar, letting the body fall to the ground. Frey got up from his knees and stood up, shook Dotan's blood off his katana, then looked over his shoulder, eyeing Gren.
"Traitor. I knew it. You're a Kazilian, aren't you? I should've known, scum. I tried to tell Hugo, but it seems you got a strong hold on him." Gren drew his sword and took a stance.
Frey let out a dry laugh. "That's quite the assumption. But really, it doesn't take a traitor to do what I did. By how intense your gaze was watching us behind that bush, I can tell.
"If you weren't so afraid of getting the noose for treason, you would've killed him yourself. Am I wrong?"
"Shut up! You dare imply that I would kill a fellow knight? I'm not like you." Gren barked and lashed at him, but didn't take a step forward, nor pointed his sword at Frey.
"So then, you're telling me you are fine with letting a monster who tortures women and children, just for the fun of it, roam free?"
Gren averted his gaze, grinding his teeth.
"You want to keep up that noble templar act? Fine. I'll indulge you." Frey turned around and took a step closer to Gren. "I can see that slavery is a legitimate market around here, but I heard from Krul himself that these slaves are the kingdom's property. Hell, he even told me the slavemasters of Redel brand them before selling, as proof of ownership.
"Yet, Krul agreed to sell her to me," Frey pointed at the girl, who looked over at them with the expression of a mannequin. "even before she got branded. And for a lower price, too. Now isn't that stealing from the king?"
"You're right, Gren. You're not like me." he turned his back on Gren and walked up to the slave girl. She didn't try to run, nor begged for freedom. She just stood there, watching Frey get close. She didn't squeak a word, nor moved a muscle; Statues would've been annoyed at her for stealing their jobs.
"You're not like me. You're straight-laced. I'm crooked. But I am stronger, because I bow to no king."
He stopped three feet shy from the girl. "Hold out your arms." Frey told her, raising his blade.
The girl did so without protest, extending her arms forth, pulling them apart from each other for as far as the chain of the cuffs let her.
"And because of that, I get to choose which way I go." Black smoke belched out of his sword, swirling and dancing, engulfing the blade in an intangible haze. He swung down, severing the chains that bound the girl's hands together. He crouched and did the same with the shackles on her ankles.
"Thank you." said the girl as she stared at her hands and feet, no longer chained.
"Go." Frey answered.
She bent her back and bowed to him, before turning heel. He watched her short, thin frame grow smaller with each step she took, until she disappeared completely into the shadow of the forest.
Will she survive in the forest? He didn't know. It didn't have anything to do with him.
"Don't talk to me so casually, scum."
"You want to free the slaves as much as I do, don't you?"
"Nonsense. What makes you think that?"
"You had all the time in the world to alert Hugo and the others of me. Yet you didn't."
"I am not helping you. There is no way you can explain this to Hugo, much less a whole slave pack disappearing."
"You don't have to worry, I already planned for that." Frey sheathed his blade.
"I'll tell you. But before that..." he pointed at the unconscious Krul, laying on the ground a few feet away. "Tie him up."
A few minutes later, Frey was treading through the dark forest. Gren followed close, dragging a tied, fat man behind him with a dissatisfied scowl.
"Just how long are you going to make me carry him?" Gren grunted as he pulled Krul out through a shrub.
"Not long. Oh look, we're here."
In front of the was a large tree with a thick trunk and with vines hanging from its branches. On the foot of the tree were the two bandits from earlier, their hands both tied around the base of the trunk. Both of them had their eyes closed, but Frey knew only one of them was really sleeping. The other, well...
"It's the bandits" Gren gaped at him, figuring out what's exactly on his mind. "Oy oy, what are you planning? Don't tell me you're..."
"Good job figuring that out."
Gren's hand gripped his shoulder. "Is this a joke? No matter how you cut it, they're,"
"They're what? Criminals?" Frey retorted. The grip on his shoulder slackened. He walked up to the bandit, the one he considered an "acquaintance" of him, and spoke.
"Stop playing dead. Let's make a deal."
The bald bandit, eyes still closed, chuckled at his words.
"Really, I thought you'd never ask."