Afrita Hanim

Chapter 46: Of blessings and burdens


“Are you well now, Nuala?” Dawn wanted to know.
“I am all right. In fact, I feel surprisingly well for someone who was bitten by a venomous spider, I should say.” Nuala stated.
“I healed you when I peeled you out of the webbing. How did the demons catch you? And were there more Kharlins with you? There are still several cocooned captives in the cave where I found you. I couldn’t free all at once.” Dawn was curious how Nuala had ended up here, and a bit anxious because her last meeting with the Kharlins in the village hadn’t exactly ended well.

“I was on my way to another tribe of my people. They had recently lost half of their tribe to these demons and had to abandon their village, and I was asked to come and help. I am a priestess of the great Vixen. She has seen fit to bless me with a few skills that are helpful in such situations. Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. Me and my companions were surprised by the spiders and taken captive.” Nuala said.

“Uh, I know some of the Kharlins of that tribe.” Dawn said, tentatively. “I’m in their bad books, to be honest.”
“Is that so?” Nuala asked, raising a brow.
Dawn sighed. “This whole mess with the demons started with me, I’m afraid. When I first stumbled over these caves and the city ruins, I encountered the demons, too. I couldn’t fight such formidable foes, but when I found a pile of their eggs, I burned them, and that stirred them up and made them more aggressive.”
“Hmm. But they were here and active before?”
“Yes. In fact, my first time here I freed a Kharlin, too. His name is Kharma and we escaped from the caves together. But when we returned to his village, all his people had been abducted by the demons.”

Little by little, Dawn told the old woman her whole story. That she had fled a marriage arranged by her parents and everything that followed after. It didn’t occur to her to leave anything out. The quiet presence of the older woman somehow inspired her trust. Nuala was a good listener and very patient. After Dawn had told her everything, she asked a few questions for clarification.

“It seems to me, that you are indeed responsible, at least in part, for the increased activity of the demons.” She told Dawn finally.
“Of course, you didn’t expect that your actions would have such consequences. You thought they were beasts, aggressive and maybe cunning, but not intelligent. You couldn’t know that these demons are different. Your actions were at worst thoughtless, not malicious. You freed another Kharlin and me and did your best to help the abducted villagers. In that, you did what you could to make amends. And you are still very young, a child by the measures of your people.”

“I truly didn’t want to hurt anyone.” Dawn said.
“That may be true, but your actions hurt that Kharlin village all the same. Intentions are not all you have to take into account.” Nuala smiled at her sadly.
“I would say that you still owe something to this village. Maybe you can aid them in some further way to discharge your debt.”
“But how could I do that?” asked Dawn. “They want nothing to do with me.”
“Maybe I can help you there.” Nuala cocked her head and seemed lost in thought for a moment.
“That would be very kind. It’s not a very good feeling to be at odds with them.” Dawn told her.
“I will do my best. Provided we both manage to get out of here, of course” Nuala said.

“I should go and see if I can liberate another captive. Ankou will keep you company and watch out for the demons. Do you know, I have always wondered why these beasts analyzed as demons and not as spiders. They look like spiders to me.” Said Dawn.
“They look like spiders, yes. But these are not natural beasts. They were born in an union of blood and magic and brought to life with the death of another living being. It is an unholy alliance. What else but demons would you call them?” Nuala said earnestly.

“You seem to know a lot about these monsters.” Dawn said in bewilderment.
“My goddess has given me the ability to see truth in all things. That is not an easy thing to bear, let me tell you. But when confronted with these monsters, I can see their truth. Just as I see yours.“
“You say that as if it were a bad thing.” Dawn wondered.
“It can be. You have to be strong, to endure some truths. Just think, if you could see through any lie people told you and themselves. It is not very comfortable.” Nuala sighed. “It took me a lot of time to make my peace with the ability. Sometimes, it can feel like a curse. But it is a well-known fact, that to be god-touched does not make for an easy life.”

“What does that mean, god-touched?” asked Dawn, frowning.
“Most people get their blessing from the gods by touching their figurines and praying to them. In answer, they will see a choice of paths before them and select their path from these choices. But in some cases, the gods take an interest in some individual and get involved directly, appearing before them in person or in their dreams and talking to them. We call those individuals god-touched. In my case, the great Vixen appeared in my dreams shortly before my coming of age, and asked me if I was prepared to carry the burden of being the tribe’s priestess. I remember being so proud to be chosen by her directly.” Nuala smiled wistfully. “It never occurred to me to say no. But it was indeed a burden she placed on me.”

She looked at Dawn, her golden eyes piercing. “You are god-touched yourself, Dawn.”
Dawn nodded slowly. “I got my path from the trickster directly, yes. You could have knocked me over with a feather when his figurine suddenly started to move and speak.”
“He gifted you with powerful abilities.” Nuala told her. “But just as in my case, together with them he has placed a burden on you.”

“I don’t know anything about that.” Dawn replied, frowning.
“In any case, I need to go. There are still other captives in the adjacent cave.” With these words Dawn activated Shadow Play and left Nuala. Ankou stayed behind to watch over the old woman.

She looked out for roaming demons outside, but couldn’t see any. Arriving at the cave with the captives, she took one of the cocoons without bothering to see who it was and returned to the cave with Nuala and Ankou. When she freed the captive, it was another Kharlin. She cast healing twice on him, but he showed no inclination of waking up. Rather than waiting for a reaction, Dawn left him with Nuala and started back to fetch another one. It felt rather repetitive, but when she was on her way back to Nuala with another cocoon, her luck finally ran out.

Several spiderlings were on their way out of the demon’s lair to the passage that led up into the city. They speedily came up to Dawn from behind. She tried to evade them by pressing herself to the rock wall, and several of them passed her by without stopping. But one of them ran directly into her, seemed irritated for a moment because it had run into an obstacle where it had only seen empty space, and then promptly started to attack her position. Three of its brethren that were following recognized that there was something strange going on, and came to its aid.

Dawn let the captive fall unceremoniously to the ground, sidled away along the rock wall and got her sword out of storage. She swung it in a half circle around herself to obtain some breathing space. With her back to the wall, she did her best to stay out of the spiderling’s reach, desperately hoping that the others that had already passed her wouldn’t notice the battle and come back to attack her, too.

She was hard pressed to evade four of them as it was. Her sword took one of it directly in the face, the little demon dropped down on its stomach and didn’t move again. The only problem with that was the fact Dawn’s sword had gotten stuck in the corpse and she couldn’t get it out. Already, she was resigning herself to loosing the fight and ending up as a captive herself, when Ankou appeared next to her, and took another demon out of the fight with a decisive neck bite. Now, two spiderlings battled against Ankou and her, a more balanced fight. Dawn finally managed to free her sword and defended herself against the remaining demon, while Ankou easily finished off his own opponent. At last, she managed to hit it fatally and the battle was over.

Dawn breathed heavily, wildly looking around, fearing a tide of adult demons coming her way, but the surroundings were quiet. Apart from Ankou sneezing softly and looking absolutely disgusted. Apparently spider-demon didn’t taste good.

Dawn was shaking and picked up the cocooned captive again with jittery hands. That had been far too close. How many of these spiderlings were there? Could the Queen produce unlimited eggs?

When Ankou and Dawn got back to Nuala, the second Kharlin she had freed showed signs of life and was violently sick on the ground. Dawn wrinkled her nose at the smell, and once more cast Nurture on him. He had a deep black fur and noticeable deep green eyes.

She let the webbed captive fall to the ground and sat down heavily, feeling despondent and hopeless now. She wouldn’t be able to get all the captives out on her own. Already, she had been luckier than she had any right to expect. She would have to cut her losses, take the captives she had freed and try to smuggle them out of the city. Originally, she had only wanted to see where the demons entered the city. Now she had entered it herself and started to free their prey. Sooner or later the vanished cocoons would attract the attention of the spiders, even if she was lucky enough not to stumble in the way of one directly. She had been reckless enough. Time for a prudent retreat.

But she hadn’t the smallest idea how to convince the Kharlins that this was the best course of action.

A note from Afrita Hanim

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About the author

Afrita Hanim

  • Germany

Bio: Hello everyone.
This is my first time writing a story. I'm still learning as I go along, so there may be some hiccups down the road. I am a voracious reader myself and especially adore science fiction and fantasy. Recently I have discovered the genre of LITRPG for myself and it fascinates me.
Please feel free to comment. I'd love to hear from you.

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