The rise I stood on was the highest point in this entire region. From it I could see much further into the rolling grasslands than I had thought possible. Insects buzzed and hovered around the few discreet flowers which grew hidden at the bottom of the blades of grass. Flocks of birds danced in complicated patterns, never daring to fly too high from the ground. Often landing en masse in larger patches of bushes.
Faint chirps from the birds winged their way to me. With no breeze, the air was still and the grass silent.
For a moment, everything stilled and went silent. With the early spring air as cold as the grave. It seemed everything was falling into place. It felt as if the world was holding its breath, waiting to welcome to me, enthusing what I was about to do. Maybe I was right, maybe the spirits out here were waiting for the birth of something.
Or maybe it was my imagination.
Either way, I felt as if there was a heavy expectation in the air. That small, pale morning sun shone down upon me those discreet flowers, promising them an opportunity for the birth of new life. But before birth, there needed to be death, destruction, and entropy.
I knew, more than observed, that those whom I was hunting were about to top a rise on their way back to Fastidious House. Then they topped their rise.
They were wary, as they stopped almost instantly.
There were six two-legged clawed beasts. They were bulky, but not very tall. About the height of a pony or a short donkey. They had long tails and short necks which were held upright. Instead of scales, as I once had expected, they had a soft down. Down which was used to pack mattresses and pillows. Their faces were long and scaly, like a predator. But they were omnivores and only occasionally could they feed on the occasional dead Tier Three.
Two of beasts had bodies laying across their back.
I was happy to see that even outnumbered, out armed, and out armoured, my Brother still did not despair. And that he was able to bring two of them down.
The other four were all wearing full mail armour and a chest plate, had a long kite shield, and were armed with swords and spears. These were likely Tier Seven soldiers, the elite house guards. Only a few people within the House had the authority to command them.
I hadn’t moved in the past couple of hours, and I didn’t move now. I just stood there watching them down across the distance between the two rises. The four guards bunched together, still a top of their mounts, and were discussing something.
When they had decided the almost-black smog of death, which had once been coating them, lightly crept around them. None of them noticed the creep of death as it brought them closer to me, and closer to their death.
Even with their encroaching deaths, I stayed still and firm. Not even changing my facial expression. With a squeeze of their knees, they made the mounts move forward. The four beasts moved in a straight line, parting the grass as a boat would part waters. One of the beasts was blanketed in the dark fog of death. The two beasts carrying the bodies didn’t move, beyond pawing the ground slightly, staying where they had been left.
As the mounted soldiers got closer, the straight line split into 2, each group heading off towards the sides, forming a pincer movement. They were well-trained, I could see that much. There was a rigidity about their movements, a rigidity that I had noticed from new recruits, especially comparing them to their trained fellows.
I had never faced down cavalry before. There wasn’t even any cavalry for me to observe at Outer Heart. Until a moment ago, I wasn’t even sure that there had ever been calvary within the Heartlands.
As they got closer, I expected them to speed up, to get ready to charge me. But the beasts kept the same speed with their strutting trot. Was there a reason they used cavalry? And if so, why did they not use them out at Outer Heart?
Finally, after waiting for so long patiently in the same position, I drew my knife. The soldier who was on top of the beast who was due to die laughed and did his best to speed his beast up.
I watched the beast do some strange hopping motion, but its movement was restricted by the weight of the soldier on top. Ah, so that’s why they don’t charge; they physically cannot.
In impatience, the soldier tried to get the beast to go faster. Somehow, I knew this one was wearing the ring, which was the key to Fastidious House. For a moment I thought about taking it easy on him, but decided against it.
If he was foolish enough to listen to someone who wasn’t the head of the House and kill my Brother for the sake of that ring, then he deserved to die.
That decision came in time as the beast’s legs gave way, throwing the soldier off the back of the beast.
Mail armour was good against slashing and cutting, but damn useless against impact damage. It wasn’t too bad against penetration. The chest plate was better against that.
However, armour could only ever protect someone where it covered. While the mail covered their head with a coif. It still didn’t protect the face. Not that I blamed them for this. Throughout history, fully enclosed helmets were few and far between back on Earth. And the one historical reenactment I’d remember seeing from a kid, they mentioned that though it protected the wearer there were flaws with it all the same.
As the trajectory of the solider reached towards the ground, my thoughts went from idle musing to combat.
I moved from the spot, charging towards the falling soldier.
With my empty hand, I pushed him down, shortening his fall.
Without overthinking, I stabbed my knife into the back of his neck.
My knife slid through the mail, his vertebrae, and deeper into his neck puncturing his artery, killing him instantly.
It was a shock seeing how easily my knife slid through the mail cleanly.
Demi-God of Death Threshold Reached
Hidden Traits Renamed to Domain Traits
Three Additional Domain Traits Available
Domain Trait 4 Unlocked: Vengeance is Mine
A harsh nudge in my shoulder woke me from reviewing and trying to comprehend the system notes.
I looked up at a soldier who did their best to stab me with their spear.
His face was ashen and pallid.
Those eyes were wide but not seeing.
His spear was frozen half-way between us.
The tip of the spear, though, was dancing in the grip of his shaking hand.
More wonderful than the finest perfume was his smell of his fear.
I grabbed his shaking spear and pulled it towards me. He was yanked off the beast, towards me. Then, with a simple stab through his chest plate, mail, and ribs, I punctured his heart.
As he bled out, I turned to face the other two soldiers.
They were staring at me, too.
One was whimpering.
The other was pleading to the goddess to save him.
I stood up and stretched as if I was releasing tight muscles in my back. Not that I had any tight muscles. My body felt more alive that I could ever remember it being before.
‘You two are going to die.’ I said. ‘Please don’t get any strange ideas about that.’
Even closing the gap between us didn’t break the soldiers out of their fear-induced freeze.
‘You two have two options, one I could give you a clean death. Like those two. Or I could let you suffer before you die. If you give no response, I’ll take it as if you’re being stubborn and so you’ll suffer.’
‘Sanctuary of Peace will protect us from heathens such as you Three Trait.’ The whimpering-prayer solider said.
‘Oh, you honestly think I’m a Three Trait, do you? Whomever gave you that impression? Because it was my Brother who openly claimed that I was a Nine Trait—even though he was wrong there.’
‘Goddess watch over us now in the moment of our death.’ The soldier said.
I sighed, ‘you know that goddess of yours is a right pain. She brought me over to this world and then instead of allowing me to openly live here, she threatened me and then forced me to live as a slave.’
It felt good to get that off my chest.
But it looked like neither of those whom I told my truth got it. Their fear was now tainted by confusion.
‘She made a few mistakes, you know, first was ripping me from my world before I was ready to depart. Second was to talk down upon me, forcing me to live by her dictator terms. And, finally, thirdly, she took away my Tier Nine birthright. Yes, this body was a Tier Nine, but she forced it to become a Tier Three.’
‘The goddess is merciful. She would not do anything like that.’ The second soldier stammered out.
‘Merciful? Maybe to Tier Seven and Tier Nine. And only in as far as she gives you such limited freedoms.’
‘Our lives are hers. It is for her we live. It was because of her we survived, and have flourished.’ The two soldiers were jumping between them in this conversation. So I gave up trying to figure out who was talking.
‘That is your traits talking. I know this because, well, I’ve come to an understanding of the nature of traits recently.’
‘Heretic,’ one of them screamed.
‘Research on, and knowledge about traits, is something that is held sacrosanct by the Elders of the Temple.’
‘And neither of you think it is odd that for something that is so central to your being that no one is allowed to know about it. Or is allowed any freedom in choosing their traits?’
‘It was uncaring freedom that brought about the Calamity. And when those infected with thoughts of freedom made trouble within the newly formed Heartland, their selfishness almost destroyed this last bastion of civilisation. So they repented of their ways and followed the teachings of the goddess.’
What simple, Sunday School teachings, they were sprouting. It was tiring; I really had no idea just how hard dealing with fanatical extremists were.
‘You never gave me the answer to the question as to who sent you, but, in your own way, you’ve been helpful. And I cannot waste any more time with you two. So I will reclaim the key which my first victim was wearing. And as for how I knew he was wearing it under his mail gloves, I honestly don’t know.
‘And as for one final gift for you to mull over in your last seconds, the goddess may watch over you at the moment of your death. But she cannot stop it, do you know why?’ I gave them both a quick quizzical look. ‘The reason is simple, it is because: I. am. the. God of Death .’
Divine Title Claimed
From the outside it may seem like vM is plain and boring. From the inside, though, he is anything but: he is an inquisitive explorer who constantly hunts for ways to burst out of the constraining confines of the ordinary world we find ourselves in. To fulfil this longing he creates vast and wondrous worlds full of adventure where the burning brilliance of heroes stands strong and bright against the almost all-consuming darkness of the world.
Those vast worlds of adventure are not his only siren call: he is a loving father and husband (even if he is accused of being a bit too silly at times).