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06-14-2011   #47 (permalink)
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Default Chapter 20: Burdened

(Does anyone else hear the "NeiR" soundtrack whenever they read my stories? Strangely, with the right song, it makes everything more... surreal.)

Chapter 20: Burdened

Heku and the others began to journey outside of the village of Außenwelt to the nearby fort of Einfall. They ventured into the forests neighboring Außenwelt to reach the fort. Heku, Cerise, and the others once ventured into the forest three years ago in search for a madman's mansion hidden within the dense, mist-covered trees.
Almost an hour in their journey, the four stumbled upon the ruins of the mansion. It had since been abandoned after Heku and the others killed its owner, Count Larme. The calm wind seemed to gesture Heku into the open, ivy-ridden mansion.
The four stopped their walk when they entered the clearing surrounding it. All of them took a brief moment to think of their past endeavors. A sense of nostalgia and a feeling that something -a sign or even an unseen clue, might hide within the ruined doors of Count Larme's mansion.
"I'm going inside." Heku said suddenly. "I won't be long."
"Be back soon; we still have a lot to journey through if we want to reach Einfall before nightfall." Kalech replied.
Heku walked into the ruins of the mansion. Rays of light entered through the broken stained-glass windows on the walls in front of him, yet it seemed to give the mansion an eerie atmosphere. Heku drew his sword in advance; the place still frightened him, even if it had been devoid of any human life for the past three years.
A door under a gigantic stained-glass window loomed in front of Heku. It had been opened, revealing a courtyard. A shine of metal caused by the sunlight glimmered in Heku's eyes. He ran towards it, and stumbled upon a poignant spectacle from three years past: Heku stumbled upon the grave of Count Larme. The once silver sword that Count Larme wielded against Heku and Erina had been transfigured into a mere shell of its once former glory. Rust now covered the blade due to the constant torment from the rain and snow that entered from the roofless courtyard.
Heku knelt in respect. Even though he loathed Count Larme and how he threw him into an inescapable odyssey, he still believed that his death should not have occurred. Even to this day, Heku thought that Count Larme had done nothing wrong. Heku still remembered the events that led to his unfortunate death. Three years ago, Count Larme tried to create a Lumisian attack against the Vesisade-controlled Außenwelt. However, Heku and Erina, with the assistance of the Vesisian military, suppressed the revolt. In the end, Heku and Erina confronted Count Larme. Despite Heku's pleas for peace, Count Larme drew a sword against them. Count Larme died by Erina's sword and Heku's words.
Heku glanced to his right. He noticed that Erina appeared beside him, kneeling.
"Strange. I imagined that you would spit on his grave." Heku commented.
"'Even the loathed deserve a grave.'" Erina replied, quoting Heku's words from three years past. She stood up. She look down at Heku, and asked, "You used to be so peaceful, so serene, so gentile. What happened to you that made you lose that?"
"I became a god." He said. "What made you become so questioning?"
"I was forced to kill to find an exit out of this Hell."
Heku stood up. He gazed at the sky above him, laughing wryly. His eyes seemed emotionless while he looked up, almost like he addressed Vaughn when he asked, "Why keep us your prisoner- your little plaything? Is a god nothing more than a killing machine?"
Heku waited for an answer. For several moments Heku waited, but no one, not even Erina, answered him.
"Kalech's waiting." Erina finally stated, walking out of the courtyard.
She turned around.
"Draw your sword."
"What?" She exclaimed. Erina noticed that Heku already brandished his blade. A sullen look appeared on his face, almost like he regretting this moment.
"The last time we met-"
"I've forgotten about that!"
"No, it's not that." Heku tried to explain. "I just need to know something."
"Then just talk like a civilized human!"
"Have you ever noticed that our resolve to complete a task becomes so immensely strong when we fight?"
They fell silent for several moments. Heku felt he was on the verge of tears, but could not cry, or even experience the feeling of sadness. Erina simply stood, frozen in a mix of confusion and the understanding that all of her actions had been dictated by her primitive instinct of survival. She tried to answer Heku's biting question, yet she could not speak. No answer, no excuse could suffice. For one moment, she felt all of Heku's endured pain.
"Let's have one fair duel without magic, just like old times. That way, I know if my resolve, no, obsession with returning to normal is strong enough to support my way out of this twisted maze."
Erina tried to talk her way out of fighting, but all of her attempts to stop Heku all flew up in vain. All of her excuses met the same answer: "What will fleeing from this problem result in? You and I know well that our resolves equal to nothing. The only to personify our endeavors results in strength.
She reluctantly unsheathed her sword. Heku walked to one edge of the overgrown, green courtyard. He emptily gazed back at Erina.
He charged at Erina. He threw a myriad of slashes at her, yet she deflected all of them swiftly. His fighting style, to Erina, seemed to degrade. His attacks did not seem artful; they appeared wild, uncontrollable, unpredictable. With every strike, Erina noticed that Heku put the entire strength of his body in conjunction with the sword's movement. Under normal circumstances, Heku would be so mindful of his form, using a specific stance with precise and carefully calculated timing. Now, his attacks appeared brutal and unrelenting, even if he was dueling his closest friend.
"Enough!" Erina roared, slashing Heku in the left arm before he had the chance to attack.
Heku jumped back and ruthlessly charged at her again, like a crazed animal. His attacks became more violent, but less ornate. His movements had been reduced from a graceful flurry of attacks into a mindless, random barrage of ineffectual slashes.
Is this the strength of his goals? Erina thought. By that time, she noticed that Heku had gone insane with his lust for normalcy. Every pint of spilt blood, every shriek of an innocent man dying nibbled at Heku's sanity. By then, he had no sanity. It was as he feared: The gods finally managed to twist, mutilate, and warp Heku's thoughts to the point that he became their slave that would not fight back.
Erina stopped parrying Heku's attacks. Heku immediately followed. The two dropped their swords in exhaustion.
Erina threw a punch at Heku's chest, causing him to crash down to the ground. He did not bother to get up, yet Erina forcibly pulled him from the ground.
"Look at yourself! You've turned into a savage monster with your 'goal!' What you're trying to chase after is completely unattainable, and the gods toy with you so that you lose their sanity and become their puppet!" She roared. "Can't you see that already?! You'll end up just like Count Larme; he went insane after the Vesisians did God-knows-what on him! When we fought him, he BEGGED for his life, and we killed him! Do you know why? Because he was the one responsible for our involvement! Because he was the one sending men to their deaths in a vain attempt to absolve his powers! Because-"
"Because!... Because…" Heku tried to argue with her, but everything she said was true.
Erina threw him to the floor.
"Kalech's waiting." Erina said, walking out of the courtyard.
"Erina." Heku said. He stood tall, yet he felt completely weak. He slowly walked to his sword and sheathed it, asking emptily, "What keeps you able to retain your sanity after all we - you've been though?"
"Not questioning the unstoppable." She remarked coldly. "Now hurry up."
Heku reluctantly left with Erina. The two felt completely hollow; their remembering of their past actions filled their minds with innumerable regrets, along with the feeling of hate they possessed why they recalled their once optimistic outlook on life.
The two exited the ruined mansion. They looked sullen, exhausted, devoid of life. Nevertheless, they said that they could continue to Einfall.
They travelled along the green, snow-touched forests for an hour more. By then, the waning, bright moon loomed high in the air. The sounds of the woodland creatures dwindled, only replaced by the sounds of the group trudging through the snow. The darkness and solitude reminded Heku of the entire month in Lumisian captivity. No windows, no exit, no life. Just the sibilant sound of his own breath and the feeling of a biting cold. He smiled slightly in peace. For once he felt at peace, despite all of his inner turmoil ready to rip apart his mind.
This tranquility had been an out-of-reach dream for Heku for so many years. For one fleeting moment, he acquired it. He felt human again, if for a brief moment. The serene landscape calm gave Heku a miniscule resolve to end the war. Once the war ended and Frostig united into one nation, Heku would soon find himself experiencing the restitution he relentlessly fought for. He would enjoy a normal life, completely devoid of any otherworldly powers.
The four suddenly came across a small aura of lights. Einfall lay ahead of the lights. Vesisians constantly patrolled the surrounding area; Außenwelt and the forest acted like a no-man's land, where small skirmishes took place almost weekly.
A patrolman spotted Kalech. He called out to other soldiers, and a small squad of four closed in on them. Once they could easily identify Kalech and the others, the soldiers lowered their rifles.
"Names?" The soldier asked. He sounded young -around the early twenties. His voice also sounded somewhat startled, but he tried to mask it with a loud voice.
"Kalech Stormont. You should know the other three."
"I see." The young patrolman replied. "Then, come in. The General has a lot to tell you."