Will Battles: Chapter 37
The child enters the Custody in infancy. She is an orphan; abandoned by her father at conception and her mother dead in childbirth. The Custody will now teach her valuable skills that will be of use to whatever Master pays for her services when she comes of age.
She is taught basic fighting techniques, although the only one she shows any promise in is archery. She learns to survive in the wilderness and use her natural Pulse. Her survival skills are admirable; her pulse is less so. It is not that she has no power, she simply has no control.
Finally, she learns to speak Manicoti. The Custody and its many branches have been taking control of Manitcoti territory, and it will be of use to wealthy Masters to have an interpreter when they work among the new vassal states.
She goes through her training. She is beaten if she does not obey. But when she comes of age, she finds her own way of rebelling. She does not speak. No matter what, she will not be a mouthpiece for her Masters.
But she listens. And she learns.
The guards sat on the ground, talking to each other in chummy tones.
“Could you move over a bit, perhaps?” Horick asked, trying to match his tone to theirs. They good naturedly scooted aside, allowing him to stride into the dark tunnel. It opened into a chamber lit only by a few flickering lanterns. Ahead, he saw a staircase. He felt a surge of hope. Perhaps he wouldn’t need the woman after all. Perhaps he could find what he was looking for right now.
Aniah continued her vigil behind the silent enemy, waiting with tense muscles for the moment of attack. Karrin strode ahead, her back to the enemy, completely unconcerned. That meant it was Aniah’s duty to protect the fool girl. You’d think a Mind Scythe, of all people, would understand the danger of the Delani.
At that moment, the Delani paused, her gaze snapping to the left. Aniah had a knife pulled in an instant, her Will readied. Karrin seemed to sense something was wrong as she stilled, then glanced over her shoulder. Her brow creased as she looked at the creature, who stared unblinkingly into the trees.
“What is it?” Karrin asked.
The Delani simply pointed. Karrin, frowning, followed her finger into the dense foliage. Aniah didn’t take her eyes off her foe. She doubted she would be able to see anything anyway, as it was growing dark.
“I don’t see anything,” Karrin said, voice hushed.
The Delani pointed to her own ears, then back into the trees. Listen, that gesture seemed to say.
Despite herself, Aniah did, straining to hear anything. At first, she heard only the regular sounds of the forest, wind in trees, small creatures rustling in the underbrush. But then…
“Voices,” Karrin whispered. Yes, those were voices. Very distant, almost indiscernible. Aniah never would have picked them out on her own. Karrin’s face slowly split into a smile. “That has to be the other Mind Scythe!”
“Or a trap,” Aniah spat. The Delani turned and looked at her flatly. Everyone else said that the creature was unreadable, but Aniah was pretty sure she could see the hatred burning through its eyes every time it looked at Aniah.
Karrin snorted. “Right. Or that. Well, let’s go.”
Aniah sniffed. Well, fine. At least if they all got killed, Aniah could say it wasn’t her fault.
Horick examined the blood on the floor, the empty chair, the door made of iron bars. It was open, but the lock hadn’t been broken. No forced entry, then. He bent down, examining the floor. Some of the blood was fresh, some of it several days old.
This was not what he had come for. He sought the hiding place of a treasure, not the palace’s secret torture chamber. It seemed Highness Arellia was worse than her people thought. They called her unfeeling, but this scene indicated a monstrous sort of cruelty.
Horick moved softly past the room, wary. It was possible that there was no one else down here, but very unlikely. After all, the entrance had been guarded.
It didn’t take him long to find another door. This one was solid wood with only a small slit that he could peek through. Inside, he could vaguely make out the limp forms of what he assumed were human bodies. He couldn’t tell if they were dead or alive. A soft moan indicated that at least some of them were still living, but the smell was enough to convince him that some definitely weren’t.
He had no way to get into the room, so he continued on. He was nearing the end of the dark tunnel when he came to another room. This one also had a door of iron bars. One figure was inside, sitting on a wooden slab that looked like it could be a bed or a very short table. He approached cautiously, but the figure didn’t move. In the vaguely lit tunnel, he could make out that it was a woman, middle-aged, he thought, with long dark hair that was matted and tangled. She made no effort to brush the wayward strands out of her eyes. Her head and shoulders were bowed, her hands limp in her lap. She was as still as a statue except for the faint movement of her chest that indicated breath. A strange manacle was affixed around her neck, a jewel of some sort standing out starkly in the center.
He stepped closer again, but she still didn’t respond. He could see now that she was wearing the remnants of a fine dress. It was torn and bloodied, along with every piece of exposed skin. Could this be…but no. Too old. And too…lifeless. Even if she was breathing.
Suddenly, the woman’s head snapped up, and her vacant eyes focused on Horick. Her expression didn’t change, she simply stared.
“Who are you?” Horick asked.
She licked her lips. “Arellia of Manicot.” Her voice was barely a rasp, and she spoke with absolutely no emotion.
Horick stared at her. This was the great Highness Arellia? What was she doing here, looking like a prisoner of war?
And then it all made sense. The vacant state of the city, the burned buildings, the bodies. Someone had attacked and managed to take Arellia captive. But how? Her Will was supposedly strong enough to knock out dozens of people out once. Of course, people were prone to exaggerate.
“I will make you a deal,” Horick said, refocusing on his own task. “I will free you in return for information.”
Arellia remained as vacant as ever. Not cold and uncaring, as the stories led him to believe, just…empty. “What information?”
“Anything I want to know,” Horick said gruffly.
She seemed to be struggling to think. “No,” she finally muttered. “This is a trap. You are one of them.”
“Them?” he asked. “They people who attacked the city, you mean?”
“How did they do it?” he asked. “This city is supposed to be practically impregnable.”
Her hand went to her neck in an almost unconscious gesture, her fingers brushing the smooth jewel. “It blocks me from using Will,” she said, eyes staring blankly out at nothing.
Horick leaned closer. What? It seemed his brother had been busy.
“How?” he demanded. She shook her head once. “Come here.” She obeyed without question, standing and striding towards him. Although she looked frail, she still walked like a queen.
He reached through the bars and touched the jewel. Connected with it. Yes, there was a power in it. But it wasn’t like Will power or Pulse. It was something more complex, almost like…
He let out a sound that was almost a growl. Brother, if you weren’t already Damned…
Horick stared at the melted lock and the empty cell, feeling as if he had been emptied out as well. After using Connection, he’d gotten the Highness to disclose the location of her secret treasure.
It seemed someone else had gotten here first. Had it been his brother? If so, Arellia would most certainly already be dead. He slammed an open palm against the door, trying to vent his frustration. Everything was so confusing and muddled. His brother’s plan was, as always, convoluted. He had created a weapon to use again the Highness in order to incapacitate her, probably hoping to interrogate her. But the means he would have needed to use to create said weapon…he must’ve been planning this for years. Many, many years.
If only Horick had been able to convince the others to let him come earlier. If he’d made it even a couple weeks earlier, before this attack, then he might already be back home.
But it couldn’t be that easy. He smiled wryly. What did he expect from Damnation, after all?
They arrived to chaos. Arrows, spears, swords, and fireballs were being launched and swung about. Voices screamed, people died.
Jistan snapped into action, drawing a sword and flying into the fray. Joree hesitated.
“Mom, take Eshi and get back into the woods,” he said.
“You come too,” she insisted. “You’re still injured.”
“Just get out of here!” he cried, exasperated. “Protect the kid!”
His mom looked torn, but she did as he said, pulling Eshi, whose face had grown ashen, back to what he hoped was relative safety.
He skirted the edge of the battle, trying to get a feel for what was going on. It seemed as though the Delani had engaged in a full on attack of the human camp. The Manicoti were in disarray, unarmored soldiers ripping themselves out of collapsed tents with swords in hand, captains shouting for their squads to form up. In the midst of it all, tall, willowy figures with radiant skin swept among them, raining down death.
And then there was Jistan. Joree watched with something akin to awe as Jistan singlehandedly carved a path through the attacking foes. Wherever he went, the Manicoti fell in line behind him, rallying to him and taking advantage of the opening he created. It wasn’t just the power of his sword, although he was quite talented. More than that, it was his Will. Delani cried out and fell to their knees, clutching their skulls. Shots of Pulse were sent in wild directions, aim thrown off by Jistan’s mind strikes. Joree could feel the immense power radiating from the younger boy, could watch the strikes shoot out in dozens of directions at once. He had more than power; he had finesse.
And he still needed help. Joree shook himself. Now was not the time to gawk. He crept forward, trying to determine if there was anything he could do. Maybe he could find a wounded soldier still able to use Will, and convince him to let Joree borrow his power for a bit? That seemed overly complicated and time consuming. But his hand to hand combat would be less than impressive with his injured leg. Besides, it wasn’t as if he had any formal battle training.
As it turned out, he didn’t have long to ponder that particular question. He barely had time to cry out and roll to the side as a ball of flame catapulted towards his head. He felt the heat as it passed, singeing his ear and hair. He spotted the oncoming Delani, a tall creature with long, silvery hair. Female, maybe, but it was hard to tell with the thick clothing obscuring the already non-curvy form.
A hand raised, and he could sense the power building behind it. Unlike Will, though, this was not something he was immune to. Nor was it something he could steal. It was already a stolen form of energy, something that he knew from experience and instinct that he couldn’t access.
In despair, he tried to scramble to his feet. He wasn’t going to be fast enough. Even if he avoided this next strike, he had no way to defend himself. Eventually, he would be caught and killed.
He briefly considered trying to suction Will power from the air, but discarded the thought just as quickly. He wouldn’t risk someone else’s life to save his own.
He tried to run, and a blast of air hit him in the shoulder, sending him spinning before again toppling to the hard ground. The air was knocked painfully from his lungs and he instinctively tried to gasp in a breath that didn’t come. Through blurry vision, he saw his attacker advancing, both hands raised.
This was it, then. He prayed to Arkadia’s Halls that his mom and Eshi would escape.
Power was building at the Delani’s palm, targeting him. He wasn’t recovered enough to avoid it. He was going to die.
A primal, instinctual part of him rejected that. It reached out for something, anything that he could use to defend himself. It caught hold of the first thing it found.
The Delani itself. Joree suddenly felt it, the energy coursing through its body. Not stolen energy, but direct, potent force. In a surreal moment, Joree realized it felt almost the same as Will. He couldn’t immediately work out the difference, and he didn’t have time. That instinctive part of him snatched at the energy and started to syphon it away.
The Delani faltered, stumbled, then fell to its knees. Joree felt a surge of power enter him, rage through his body. The Delani fell still, so Joree sent his torrent of energy towards a different pair of enemies a short distance away.
The immense blast of energy blew them out of Joree’s sight. He blinked in shock. He had never done anything like that before.
Then he remembered his initial foe. He scrambled towards the collapsed body. Up close, he could tell it was female. And very, very dead. The skin looked sallow and sagging, the muscles deflated. Her eyes stared sightlessly upward. Joree shivered involuntarily. It was as if he’d sucked the life out of her. But how was that possible? He didn’t know, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t a power anyone should have.
But right now, he didn’t have time to think about it. He stood, examining the field of death and chaos. Tentatively, he reached out. Yes, every body, Delani or human, had a source of energy running through them. The humans had an extra source-their Will. It was tied to them, but not the same as their life force. Taking their Will wouldn’t kill them, but if he sucked out that other energy, they would suffer the same fate as the Delani that Joree had faced.
Joree hesitated for a moment, feeling a little sick. But in the end, was it any different from stabbing someone with a sword or blasting them with a fireball? It was kill or be killed, and the Delani were clearly the attackers in this altercation.
He reached out to a Delani who was about to cut down a wounded soldier. In moments, the creature was lying limply on the ground. He sent the excess energy into a group of Delani that had gathered and seemed intent on overwhelming Jistan and his band of rallied troops.
He didn’t stop. He aimed his attacks at the Delani who were actively killing and made an effort to protect the human wounded and medics. As he continued his grisly work, he slowly grew more accustomed to it. He discovered he could leave the Delani incapacitated without killing them. He could then use only a part of the energy he suctioned away, making his attacks cover more ground.
He barely registered it when the Delani started retreating into the trees. He just stared after them, unblinking, eyes dry and vision blurry. He had fallen to his knees at some point, although he didn’t remember when.
Then he noticed something else. The sun was nearing the opposite horizon. They had been fighting for at least four hours. How could it have been that long? At that same time, it felt like an eternity. As if he had never done anything else but watch and cause death.
It took a while-Joree didn’t know how long-for Jistan to find him. The boy was covered in blood that wasn’t his own and seemed uninjured.
“Joree,” he said softly. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Joree muttered. “Think so.”
“Captain!” a nearby soldier, a short, wiry woman with her hair tied up in tight braids, called out. A man tromped up to her, a sling tied around his left arm.
“What is it?” he asked gruffly. Joree stood slowly, already knowing what they were looking at.
“The Delani,” the woman said. “It looks…”
“What in the Flames…” the captain muttered.
Joree and Jistan both moved towards the captain, who was kneeling to inspect the body.
“They are everywhere,” the woman continued. “All of them, looking emaciated. Like they’ve been starving.”
Something about that caught Joree’s attention. He studied the fallen Delani, mind coming awake slightly.
He’d taken energy from the Delani, and it-he-had died. Now the body looked malnourished.
Calories, he realized. I took calories from them.
“Flames,” Jistan whispered. He looked from the dead enemy to Joree and back again. “This was you, wasn’t it?” he asked.
“What makes you say that?” Joree asked.
“Because when weird, impossible things happen, it’s always you.”
Joree let out a noise that was somewhere between a laugh and a snort. “That seems unfair. Especially seeing as you single-handedly cut a path through the enemy that allowed the Manicoti army to form an effective attack.”
Jistan actually smiled at that, even blushing a little.
“That was you?” the captain said, looking up. Joree hadn’t realized he’d been listening.
“Ummm…” Jistan seemed reticent to admit to his own achievement.
“It was him, alright,” Joree said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Looks like you owe him a great debt.” He put a hand to his chin in a mock-thoughtful way. “I wonder what we might need from you…?”
Jistan rolled his eyes. “Captain, I need to have a word with you. And any other Mind Scythe Unit Captains you can gather on short notice.”
About the Creator
Hey all! I am a recent graduate from BYU in Provo with a masters in PE. I have a passion for the outdoors, physical activity, sports, and health, but I also love writing! I love my husband, parents, and all eleven of my siblings!
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