The Next One
A flash of qi erupted in the sky the moment Lykan slew the dhampyr queen. Of course, at the time Brenna and her young ward had no way of knowing that the monster who had infested the lands was a dhampyr queen. All that was known for certain was that the boy’s body froze up every time he took a step towards the village.
Over the past few months Brenna had developed her Qi Sight well enough to see faint traces of qi in the land. She could see the way the land of the village had been eroded away like a cancerous wound. Oddly enough it was the lack of qi that caused her mind to come alive with concerns. The first was the way the land seemed all but diseased and rotting without qi.
Had the land been so corrupted by qi over the years that we now need qi to keep our planet healthy? Did this mean that the Titans were ultimately instruments for good?
After some time of quiet contemplation, Brenna soon discarded the last question. While qi might ultimately be a good thing, what the Titans wanted with their planet was something entirely different and something that was not fully known at this time. As such, all Brenna could do was go about trying to work with Lykan to save the planet from a Titan invading force.
That of course left the question about how dependent the land was on qi. The fact that the land now seemed to be truly dependent on qi was apparent. Also apparent was the way the land and people who had been exposed to qi suddenly seemed to be rotting from the inside once all qi was removed. This was a horrifying thing to realize, as it meant that like it or not, qi was at the root of the very planet. That even if Lykan and Brenna managed to shut down every dungeon, they wouldn’t prevent the world from changing. No, the only thing that would happen was they would prevent an invasion.
So many melancholic thoughts filled Brenna, that she almost missed the moment Lykan appeared before them. He was covered in dark blood that seemed more like black slime than anything. He had the same determined expression on his face that he always had when he came back from a mission. Seeing that look of resolve caused Brenna’s heart to flutter slightly.
“Y,you kil..killed them?” The boy stammered.
Brenna looked at the boy with surprise as he had just been staring anxiously off into the distance for so long. Hollow vacant eyes appearing into the vastness of space itself.
Lykan nodded, “yes, it was some type of bat creature that suctioned itself to the mayor and his wife’s head.” Lykan said, pulling out a broken ball with wings and sharp teeth.
On closer inspection, this one seemed to move, slightly.
“Lykan, that is still alive.” Brenna shouted, almost squirming out of the way.
Lykan just nodded calmly, then held up a kitchen knife for the boy.
“Yes, it is. Boy, what is your name?” Lykan asked, turning his intense gaze upon the boy who seemed to tremble slightly from the glare.
“Marsh…” The boy stammered out and trailed off. Fortunately, the boy was dehydrated, or else he would have likely soiled himself right there on the spot.
Lykan nodded to himself. “I don’t think I need to tell you this, but this world is tough. Far tougher than it has any right to be. That said, I can offer you a chance to excel. The only problem is, do you want to get strong, or do you want the world to continue being out of your control?”
Hearing that, the boy’s eyes steeled with resolve as he held Lykan’s gaze. “I want to get strong.”
With that, Lykan again nodded to himself. Then he held out the kitchen knife hilt first to the boy. “Good. Take this knife and stab this monster. This is one of the two monsters that were controlling your mayor. This creature, along with its partner killed off every other person in this village and likely would have killed you as well if they found you before we did.”
Hearing this, Brenna felt her heartbeat loudly within her chest.
Looking now, she realized this was this was the same choice he had given her, when they first met.
The knife trembled slightly as he held it out. Clearly the boy was still weary from his condition, and a little hesitant to strike Lykan by mistake.
“What if I miss.”
“Then strike till you hit it.”
“What if I hurt you?”
“Then you will have used enough force to make a true change on these lands. Strike it and take your first step towards your own personal freedom.”
“AHH!” The boy screamed as he stabbed the blade forward, only for the blade to slide easily off the tough hie of the bat. The blade only came to a stop when it landed on Lykan’s wrist. Lykan for his part just stared at the boy and said one word.
This time the boy tried again, only to have his attack once again rebuffed by the toughened skin of the beast.
For thirty times the boy tried, lunging, thrusting with his hips. By the end he had over a dozen small wounds and gouges on the beast. Somewhere during the exchange, the beast awoke, but was quickly subdued by Lykan’s firm grasp.
Wings flapped and fluttered, but the boy stabbed forward. Even when Marsh received minor scratches from the beast’s waving appendages. Rather than stopping the boy, the pain just caused the boy to try harder. Finally, Lykan Placed the creature on the ground, stretching it out so Marsh could jump on the creature. Stabbing the knife deeply, then trying to jump on the blade.
The tip of the kitchen knife broke off, but the boy was undaunted. A strange killing intent rolled off the boy, as he cut over and over into the beast.
Then finally, the last vestiges of qi left the monster’s body, and the boy was enveloped in a golden hue. After which time he collapsed into a panting husk.
Seeing that, Lykan nodded to himself then decapitated the dhampyr to ensure it was dead.
With the boy knocked out, Brenna went immediately to tending him, giving the boy her sleeping mat to wrap up in.
“Is that it from the village?” Brenna asked.
Lykan only nodded. “Yes, everything has been so tainted, that even the qi that still resides there should be questioned. I broke and shattered most of the qi crystals that were created. But it will take time for this land to recover. Might be best if we move on to the next village.”
“What of survivors? I saw a few people roaming around.” Brenna asked.
At that Lykan just shook his head. “No, the people that survived were well beyond my understanding. They had their qi pulled from their body in such a way that corrupted the meridians. Even putting back in fresh qi would only cause complications.”
“So what? We are just going to leave them to die?”
Hearing that Lykan only shrugged, a look of pain filling his face.
Seeing his face, and his expression caused Brenna’s heart to break. With his minimal movement, such a gesture would appear that Lykan was uncaring. But Brenna now knew him well enough to realize she had gone too far.
“Sorry.” Brenna said, going to him and holding him tightly. “I realize you would do everything you could for them. It is just so frustrating to leave this place like this.” With that she gestured to the area around them. It looked like the very haunted setting of a ghost story one would tell a particularly naughty child.
Seeing the tense look on Lykan’s face and the way he still couldn’t relax, Brenna decided it was time to make the next decision.
“We should get going.”
Hearing that Lykan nodded. He reached down to pick up the boy, but Brenna waved a hand and took the boy up instead. With that the two began walking in the direction of the next town. Following the trade routes that were clearly visible once the two got a few hundred feet away from the outer perimeter of the dying fields.
The two traveled in amicable silence. Lykan walking with his staff being used more as a dense walking stick, more than anything. Brenna for her part looked equally odd, with her double headed battle axe strapped to her back, while she carried the boy in her arms.
Finally once they were far enough away from the dead city that even the ghosts of the inhabitants could no longer hear them, Brenna asked a question that had been bothering her for quite some time.
“We should talk about what exactly you intend to do with the boy?”
Hearing that Lykan nodded.
“At the very least we should make it so he can survive on his own if no other villages will take him in.” He said, “though I think we should bring him up regardless.”
Brenna was aware of Lykan’s unique childhood and how a chance encounter by slaying a dragon made him who he was today. He had already repeated one such test of this on her. Now it was clear that he intended to do the same thing with the boy she was now carrying.
“How powerful should we make him?”
This was another important question, if the boy was set with a perfect body now, before he had fully matured then his body could stay this way forever. Also, there was something to be said about leaving behind a potentially traumatized demi-god on the world. Thinking of that, Brenna shuddered as she did not want to leave such a monster running loose.
“Not too powerful. Maybe a few dragons or other monsters we find along the way.” Lykan said.
Dragons or other monsters. Brenna mused to herself. From anyone else such words would sound like they were bragging, but from Lykan it was clear he was just setting these as examples of creatures he was certain he could take. After seeing his battle with the Leviathan, she was certain he was correct. Most monsters that had made it to the surface of the planet were no longer a concern for Lykan and it clearly showed, in the way he spoke about the world. Such an outlook could not be healthy, though given his life and what he had experienced, Brenna couldn’t find fault in his logic. Instead, she just nodded.
“So only monsters we find along the way, nothing more?” Brenna asked to clarify.
Hearing that, Lykan nodded. “He might also need another weapon, that kitchen knife didn’t hold up so well.”
With that Brenna laughed. Of all the ways her life had gone, never did she imagine she would be trying to empower children with kitchen cutlery tools. The whole idea just seemed rather absurd.
“What?” Lykan asked.
When Brenna got around to explaining her thoughts, even Lykan had to laugh.
In the end, only one dragon was observed during their travel. The beast itself was flying majestically in the sky. Under normal circumstances such a beast likely would have been allowed to go along unmolested, as it was not doing anything wrong. Still Lykan had made a promise to the boy, at least mentally.
By this point the boy would walk for long stretches of the journey but would often need to be carried by Brenna after a few hours.
The boy watched as Lykan took off into the air like a bullet. Then watched as he went to intercept the dragon. There was a brief exchange, as the dragon roared out its annoyance at the pesky human who dared to intercept its flight. Then one quick strike to the head later and the dragon began falling to the ground unconscious.
That was when Lykan raced down, grabbed the beast by its tail and began carrying it towards the two.
Seeing the sight Brenna just shook her head in annoyance. Marsh for his part looked completely dumbfounded by the whole display.
“Here it is, your last kill before we drop you off at the next village.” Lykan said.
Looking at the dark purple scaled creature, the boy looked first to the beast, then to Lykan. “How am I supposed to kill that?” He asked incredulously.
Shaking his head, Lykan pointed to Brenna. Well not to Brenna, but the axe on her back.
Brenna quickly realizing his intent, pulled out her axe and handed it to the boy. Even with his increased strength from the previous dhampyr kill, the axe was too much for his small arms and frame to carry easily. Seeing this, Brenna helped. First hoisting the axe high over the boy’s head, then helping him line up his strike. Then once she was certain he would be fine, she let go of the boy’s arms, giving a slight forward tap.
The mithril axe aided by gravity easily sliced through the thick neck of the monster.
Brenna noted that she had been given partial credit for the kill. This was to be expected, but now she understood some of what Lykan had gone through when he first started her out as being his partner.
Brenna watched as a faint golden hue once again covered the boy. At the same time, she got a message from the gods as well. One that let her know she was still at the pinnacle of perfection, at least as far as the gods could bestow upon her for doing good deeds.
The boy stared at his hands for a moment. Then handed over the mithril axe. The axe that had been too heavy to wield a moment ago suddenly felt light in his hands. Only after he handed over the great weapon to Brenna, did he realize how much his small body had changed.
Seeing the change, he looked at his hands as if they would somehow change color and shape before his eyes.
“You now have enough advantages that you should be able to make quite a name for yourself. It is terrible what happened to you, but know that from this moment on, you have the ability to change your own fate. Know that Brenna and I will stop by to check up on you from time to time. Do not abuse your strength, or we will not react kindly to you when we next return.” Lykan said.
Marsh just stared at Lykan with confusion for a moment but seeing the serious expression on Lykan’s face he instantly composed himself.
“No, I won’t. You have my word on that.” Marsh said.
Hearing that Lykan nodded in confirmation. Then with that the group made their way further down the road to the next village.