Charok wandered about the villa following his two children as they skipped about the courtyard, smiling as he watched them at play. Their journey together had turned out far more difficult than he could ever have imagined, and he dreaded to imagine what it would have been like if Rain and the other youngsters had remained behind, to continue fighting in the tournament. Despite his travels with Baatar, Charok had not truly realized just how much the world at large looked down upon the People. In his mind, they were the elites, to be feared and respected, but the truth was that despite their strength, Baatar and Akanai were simply two among a countless number of powerful warriors. It was a mind-opening experience, making him feel small in the scheme of things.
He had thought himself strong, but the experience had shown him that he was too prideful, too conceited, in himself and in his people. Still, the journey had ended well at least, with no lives lost. He bore no hatred for the Society, only disdain for their lack of honor. While the weak were prey to the strong, for them to send assassins to hunt down children, such behavior was not becoming of an organization that held such power. Had the Society openly assaulted them, they would at least have his respect but instead, they worked in the shadows, clandestine and hidden, showing the world one facet of themselves, only to hide who they truly were.
His children were safe now within the City of Shen Huo. The Magistrate had personally welcomed them, publicly in front of a large crowd. Although the nuances of politics escaped him, Charok knew it had cost the Magistrate something, to side with the People against the Society, and he was quite grateful. While it was not for him that the Magistrate stepped in, Charok would repay the man as best he could. He would also repay the Society for their crimes, a matter of balancing the scales, for to let things lie would mean he had no self-pride.
His precious children made noises of delight as they came across Mei Lin, sitting beneath a plum tree by the pond. The little miss had been in a sour mood, having been left behind, but there was no helping it. He watched as Mei Lin smiled sadly, playing with the twins for a short time, before Elia came to take them away for lessons, letters and numbers to keep them busy. Sitting down beside the pouting little miss, he said nothing, simply making himself available should she wish to speak. After a few minutes, Mei Lin handed him the letter she had received from Rain. A single sheet of paper, on which was scrawled in poorly written script, “Doing well. Marching is boring. Nothing of interest to report. Hope you are well. Best regards, Falling Rain.”
It took all his willpower not to laugh. Rain was many things, but a poet was not one of them. “Do not be angry at him for this, Rain has… issues with communication. He doesn’t like to spend much time conversing, a man of few words and long silences.”
“He treats me like a child.” The little miss was teary eyed, yanking at the grass, pulling it up one blade at a time. “I want him to see me as a woman, so I tried snuggling up with him, sitting in his lap, wearing my best clothes and doing my hair prettily, but he barely noticed, just sighing whenever I was around.” The single blades of grass turned to clumps as her frustrations mounted. “He used to be so sweet and kind, hugging me all the time, making sure I wasn’t too tired or working too hard, carrying me around, and making me snacks. He would help me study, with memorizing and math, and just always be there for me. Now, he just sees me as a bother, and just dismisses all my attempts to get close to him.” A small sob escaped her lips. “He’s just writing to me because I made him promise. I think he’s starting to hate me. ”
Patting her on the back as tears spilled down her cheeks, Charok let the girl cry and sob. She loved Rain in her silly little way, having followed him about ever since he arrived, like a little child and her older brother. Rain had taken well to the relationship, spoiling her with sweets and attentions, a young boy just happy to be loved. Everyone had expected their bond to blossom into love, and for the two of them to marry, but Rain was strangely adamant not to be betrothed to the girl, despite all explanations that they would not truly be married until of age.
Rain had grown into a gloomy young man, and Mei Lin brought much cheer into his life. Killing took a great toll on him, and she had kept him grounded, someone who looked after him. It worried Charok how quickly Rain seemed to be losing himself in battle, threatening to have people eaten alive, staring death in the eyes in an attempt to acclimate himself to it, desperately pushing himself to become stronger. He was repeating the same mistakes once again, desperate for strength, his fear and anger driving him forward.
When Mei Lin had calmed enough, Charok finally spoke. “I see it differently. Rain had gotten used to seeing you as his younger sister, but lately, he has been conflicted. He’s trying to push you away, because he wishes to hold onto that memory, of a friendship between children.”
“That’s not any better…”
Smiling, he continued. “He is pushing you away because he sees you in a different light, as a lovely, young woman. If not, there would be no change in how he treats you. Rain already loves you, he just needs to come to terms with that. I believe that given time, he will accept you.” Perhaps the separation would speed that along, when allowing Rain to realize what he was taking for granted. Besides, it was not set in stone that they should marry, heartbreaking though the thought may be.
“But how long do I need to wait? I don’t want to lose him.” Her tears were drying as she sat, her chin on her knees, still plucking away at the grass.
“I cannot answer this little Lin, nor can anyone else, not even Rain himself. Only time will tell.”
The two of them sat together beneath the plum tree, separately worrying about their loved ones, unable to do anything but wait, and pray that they all return, safe of body and sound of mind.
Adujan watched the hamlet burn, growing into a magnificent funeral pyre, blinking away her tears. Those poor people. Those poor children. She prayed for them, knowing those souls were now in the embrace of the Mother, never to be hurt again.
As she watched, Sumila frantically called to Rain, trying to get him to leave the blazing inferno. After setting the last few buildings on fire, he finally exited the area, hopping onto his mount. “The fire will bring Defiled down on us. I’m going to go greet them. You all stay here, coordinate with Alsantset when she arrives.” Rain bounded off, and without thinking, Adujan moved after him, ignoring Sumila’s cries of protest.
Adujan could not remain here, standing idle whilst the Defiled roamed free. She needed to move, to hunt down those responsible, to make sure it would not happen again. The souls would rest easier, once she sent those responsible into the burning maw of the Father. She rode side by side with Rain, spear and shield in hand, neither of them saying a word, focused on the hunt ahead, moving ever northward at top speed, searching for signs of movement.
Less than 15 minutes had passed when she spotted the telltale signs of Defiled. They had no forest craft, unable to move without disturbing the area, their very presence affecting the creatures, flights of birds and scurrying animals denoting their passing. She moved up a small dirt hill that would be within their path, her form hidden in the crook of several trees, with room for Rain as well.
He ignored her signal, continuing forward, motioning for her to wait and she did. Their hurried flight from the society had removed her dislike for him, her jealousy turning to respect once she had seen his true nature, their shared troubles laying the foundation for mutual trust. She had once thought him to be spoiled and passionless, but she had been wrong. He was fierce and determined, and had worked harder than any but Alsantset herself, killing and fighting, volunteering for the most dangerous positions, tirelessly working to keep everyone alive. Even after they were safe, he practiced to the point of bleeding, before healing so that he could practice some more. His resolve was praiseworthy.
Soon, she heard the clicking of talons on hard dirt, and her trust was rewarded. Yells and shouts rang out as Rain descended upon them, the very forest coming alive with noise. She counted slowly, and by the count of ten, she heard Rain riding towards her as the Defiled chased him down, intent on killing him. The fools, if Rain truly needed to flee he would disappear into the shadows of the forest. Even in broad daylight, there were a multitude of dark and hidden areas within these dense woodlands.
Rain rode directly beneath her vantage point, breaking the line of sight with his pursuers, and immediately turned to meet them. Perfectly guiding the enemy to her, she waited until she heard the crash of battle before launching Shana forward, diving into the thick of things, dropping down upon her enemies, crushing one beneath her as she descended. A small hunting party, they carried several slabs of badly butchered meat, deer and rabbits, still dripping with blood. Whirling her weapons about in cold fury, she laid into her enemies, each strike rewarded with the satisfying crunch of flesh and bone.
It was over too soon, four Defiled laid strewn about her dead and dying, their stench enough to make her gag. Rain stood beside her, both of them barely out of breath. He dismounted and grabbed one of the still living, dragging the wounded Defiled up. “Who led the attack on the surrounding area? I want a name.”
Adujan stabbed a still thrashing Garo, the spike driving deep into its brain. “Not many of them speak Common, they have their own shit language. Just fucking kill them all and be done with it, so we can search for the next group.” Her thirst for retribution had yet to be sated, and if she remained still for too long, she would be inconsolable, the sights of the hamlet burned into her eyes.
“No, killing would be too kind, too merciful. They can be used as bait.” Rain disemboweled the man with a single slash, dropping him to the ground and moving towards the only other survivor to do the same. Their screams were the first human sounds she had heard from a Defiled, as Rain jammed broken branches into the wounds, prompting a fresh bout of cries. She moved forward to end them, but Rain held her back with a hand. “No, we want them to continue screaming, something for the others to focus on.” Rain looked grim, lacking his normal smile. No surprise there, anyone who could smile after doing that, or seeing that hamlet was mad beyond fucking reason, and Rain was only reasonably mad.
He stood and mounted back up, riding off into the foliage, and she turned to leave as well, the screams echoing behind her. It left a bad taste in her mouth, this course of action objectionable, but after a minute of riding she discovered it was already working. Defiled warriors were approaching, the forest heralding their arrival. She watched for instructions, and Rain obliged with a few quick hand signals. ‘Kill, leave one alive.’ A simple plan, but simple was fine with her. Riding immediately towards their enemies, she moved as quickly as she could without giving away her presence.
Rain took a different approach, abandoning stealth and charging at full speed, the sounds of combat beginning before she could arrive. Charging forward, she burst onto the scene, a half-minute behind, only to find there was little for her to do. Spearing an injured Garo, she looked at the scene of carnage, as Rain stood over four dead Defiled and their mounts. Blood pumped from his side, a vicious injury, and she watched as the stream of blood continued to flow from his side as he stood still with his eyes closed. The idiot was too worked up to heal himself, his emotions in a jumble, and would soon bleed out if he kept trying.
“Use medicine you fucking halfwit.” Rain glared at her before rummaging through his pack, pulling out various containers of pastes and herbs. She listened as he removed his armor, waiting for him to finish while she kept an eye on the last remaining Defiled who stood pinned to a tree, Rain’s spear jutting from her gut. The prisoner squirmed, each movement causing her great pain, but not a single sound exited her mouth. The Defiled were less than human, a real person would have been screaming in agony. There was no need to pity her. It. Stop looking at it. Tearing her eyes away, she turned to scan the forest, but there were no signs of other Defiled hunting parties.
It was only a few minutes before Rain finished tending his injuries and his focus turned to the surviving Defiled. He slapped the spear, the shaking eliciting a pained grunt. “I need you to scream, let your friends know that you’re here.” He struck the spear again, to the same effect, their prisoner doing all she could to hold the spear steady. “No? Well then, I guess there’s no choice.” Gathering a few small, skinny branches, Rain began sharpening them with his sword.
“No.” The words were spoken before she could think.
Giving her a pointed look, he said, “Adujan, why don’t you go keep watch somewhere else.” She glared back at him, unrelenting. Shrugging, he turned to the woman before Adujan stopped him, moving Shana to block his way. “I said no, Rain, no fucking torture. This is not who you are and not what we fucking do. Just kill them, you don’t need to hate them as well.” She quickly stabbed their prisoner in the throat, the dying woman’s eyes almost looking grateful. She turned back and stared at Rain, challenging him, trying to stop herself from shivering. “Your hatred is wasted on them and will eat away at you.”
His dark glare bore into her, his anger on full display. “Fine. No torture, but if one is already screaming, no mercy either. The noise will help, draw more of them towards us. Next time, if you don’t have the stomach for it, then fucking stay out of the way.” She flinched at his harsh tone, but stood her ground.
He collected his weapons and mounted up, riding off into the forest once again. Quickly, she followed, knowing he would charge in headlong, regardless if she were close behind. Rain had been enraged, and there was little mercy left in him it seemed. She worried at his words, mostly because he implied there would be other times, times where he would resort to torture.
He moved recklessly through the forest, and every second Adujan worried he was giving away their position, however after killing two more groups, slaughtering them to a man, she realized they did not need to move so carefully, their Enemy almost oblivious to what was around them, too used to relying on their sight. Even though Rain moved carelessly enough be spotted by a Sentinel, they were stealthy enough for the task at hand. Rain was clever, taking measured risks, knowing their enemies limits and working around them. She was too timid to not see that, and could learn some things from Rain.
Their battles were a hectic mess, but their teamwork grew as they continued to fight, catching each small group unaware, never more than six Defiled to a party. Their tactics evolved as the day wore on, killing several enemies from afar before charging in, each time winning without serious retaliation. He would lead the way, drawing their attacks and taking injuries, while she guarded his flank and killed with ease. She lost count of the number of times she needed to save his life, and the number of times he saved hers. After every battle, he would tend to his wounds with medicine as she kept watch, largely untouched thanks to him. When he was done, the two of them would resume their hunt, a pair of avenging shadows within the forest. There was no pleasure, no joy, only stony satisfaction, knowing each Defiled they killed would never harm another, ever again.
Rain was so difficult to understand, his calm, gentle demeanor in normal day life, yet he turned into a raging monstrosity during battle. Different from the calm Charok, or the laughing Huushal, or even the determined Sumila, Rain always seemed sinister when he fought, covered in blood, grinning as he killed or injured his opponents. She disliked this side of him, preferred the sweet man who cooed at the pups, and played silly games with the twins. To make matters worse, there was no grin today, only an intense glare, almost mad with rage, a different person all together.
Adujan knew it was because he mourned for the loss of life, that he was angered by what he had seen, and it was heartbreaking. The sheer intensity of his emotions however, made her wary of him, especially with Zabu in the midst of courting Shana. Roosequins mated for life, and by allowing their quins to mate was a tacit agreement to court one another. She wasn’t a fool, knew that Rain was unaware, that it was nothing but a camaraderie they shared, but still she said nothing, clinging to a faint hope.
He had been quite gentle and sweet with her, taking care of her injuries, and watching him cuddle with Mei Lin every day had incited feelings of jealousy in her. But now, seeing how unstable he was, she wasn’t even sure she wanted a romance with him. Even if she did want to marry him, Rain definitely had no romantic feelings for her, outright laughing at her attempts of seduction. At least Huushal and Fung had gone wide-eyed and simple-minded, barely able to close their jaws, as had several others she had tested her wiles upon. That had done wonders for her self-esteem. Shaking her head, she refocused on the bloody work at hand. This was no time to be dreaming of love and relationships.
They fought and hunted, leaving screaming Defiled and Garos in their wake, Rain becoming more unhinged after every battle, his rage and fury continuing to mount as he fought, his blood thirst growing by the hour. They wasted no time, moving at a frantic pace, Adujan tiring as the day wore on, yet Rain remained tenacious and untiring. She could not remember how many groups they had assaulted, only that it was more than ten. Her opponent was proving difficult, the last of his party, cleaving about him with a great saber, expertly guiding his mount. She circled the Defiled, splitting from Rain so that they could attack from both directions.
With a powerful charge, the Defiled came for her, cleaving down with his weapon. Her shield intercepted the attack, the power sending Shana sprawling to the ground as the saber bite into Yan’s shoulder. A small matter, Rain had taken worse. Gritting her teeth, she twisted her shield, locking the saber in place. Scant moments later, Rain crushed the man’s skull with his sword, the head bursting apart and coating her in gore. Zabu finished off the Garo, and they were once again victorious.
She grimaced as Rain approached to check her injury. “I was fucking careless. How bad is it?” The weapon had struck bone, and sliced through to the other side, her blood streaming from the injury.
He pulled aside her armor for a better look, eliciting a pained grunt from her. “It’s not too bad, but our hunt is at an end unless you can heal it. Can you?”
“Fuck no. I need to calm down and concentrate to do that, Rain. It takes safety, and time for that.” Can she heal, this fucking asshole. He couldn’t even do it, and he was learning to be a healer. “What are you waiting for, an invitation? Stitch me up.”
“Tch, come here.” Helping her to a log, they sat down as Rain prepared to treat her injury. He cut the straps and lifted the heavy armor off of her, tore the sleeve from her shirt, and set to stitching her wound shut, the gash large and pulsing with blood. If this was not too bad, she’d hate to see what he called bad. He probably laughed when he lost his arm, the crazy bastard. The day’s events had drained her, physically and emotionally, and with nothing to drive her on, she could do nothing to stop her tears, silently crying for the poor children, praying that the Mother had better things in store for them.
Rain slathered her wound with some cream, before bandaging and placing her arm into a sling, all without saying a word. She appreciated his silence as he helped her onto Shana and led them away, moving quickly back towards the still smoking remains of the hamlet. Her tears continued to fall as she prayed for Rain, watching his face and knowing her advice had been ignored, that he would need to be carefully observed for the next while. His eyes still burned with anger as he ruminated on his hatred, but it was a waste of emotion.
You do not hate a rabid dog, you simply put it down.
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