A big shoutout to my latest donor Matosch! Thank you for the support!
Author’s Note: A milestone has been met in my life, Savage Divinity has received its first ever piece of FANART! WOOOOOOO! Drawn by JessicaMark, it is a lovely drawing of the little bunny-girl Mei Lin, and I wanted to share it with everyone.
Seeing the brash young man standing on stage, unconcerned as he boldly challenged the Society, Du Min Gyu struggled to hold back his elated laughter, not wanting to ruin Rain’s moment in the sun. A little inaccurate to say on this overcast and dismal morning, the bleak atmosphere underscored the grave situation unfolding before him, a young man fighting for not only his own life, but for the lives of all his companions. This must have been the Rain that had driven Kai to folly, a flippant smile and insolent attitude, mercilessly stomping over his opponent’s pride. It seemed like a completely different person from the meek youngster who had greeted him politely only two months ago, offering his mount to an aged stranger.
Rain played his part perfectly as the vanguard, drawing the ire of his enemies with his brutality, igniting their fury, preying upon their fear, and disrupting their Balance. Displaying outstanding judgment, he raised the morale of his faction with his spectacular performance, stepping bravely into the charging leap and slipping beneath the blow with minimal motion, a decision most accomplished warriors would hesitate to make. A skillful counterattack using the opponent’s momentum allowed him to end the match in a single strike, and what followed was a ruthless performance, returning the disrespect given to him word for word and granting a dog’s death to his opponent. Top marks with no criticism to offer other than he should have waited a moment longer, so his enemies could listen to their chosen champion plead for mercy.
A round of applause broke the tranquility, shocking the audience out of their mute disbelief, Adujan’s rabbit-eared friend enthusiastically clapping by her lonesome as she stood next to his student. “Yay Rainy!” Her sweet, childish tone gave rise to scattering of praise that escalated into cheering as the Bekhai enthusiastically celebrated their first victory. Rain turned towards the rabbit-girl and grinned boyishly, appearing like any other young man his age for a brief moment. Soon after, Rain returned to glaring fiendishly at Jia Yang, whose ugly expression was mirrored by almost every face on his side. A shame, Min Gyu had hoped to be the source of Jia Yang’s distress, while quashing all rumours of his frail health spread by that puffed up Society degenerate. Unfortunately, the Justicars meddling prevented him from taking direct action, but Rain was doing a phenomenal job on stage.
As the cheers died down and the Society deliberated on their choice of champion, Du Min Gyu absently stroked his beard while thinking things through. The entire affair with the Justicars left a bad taste in his mouth, overstepping their bounds in a time-honoured tradition of combat, but he could see how they had arrived at their decision. With Healer Taduk and the Senior Captain Alsantset standing between them, he would not risk being overheard, so he silently Sent a compliment to Akanai. “A magnificent performance and a superb choice of vanguard. How many matches do you plan on having him fight?” His own student would need to take the stage at some point to raise her own reputation.
The insufferable woman had the gall to ignore him, her stony gaze affixed to the stage. Unwilling to throw away face to ask again, he spoke aloud to his student, reprimanding her friend and by extension, Akanai. “When your turn arrives, do not take foolish and unnecessary risks like he does. If his judgment was even slightly off, he would be dead and we would be fighting our way out of this mess at this very moment. The rash bravery of the young and brainless.” To expect Du Min Gyu to simply hand over this talented and treasured student to be executed was sheer lunacy. If needed, there were favours he could call upon to spare her the noose once he returned to the Central Province, and if not, then he would teach her while living in the wilds if need be.
“You’re assuming I’ll get a turn to act, Teacher Du.” Her voice was full of pride as she looked fondly at the stage, unable to tear her eyes away as she cuddled Rain’s pet wildcat. How was Akanai able to secure wild animals so easily? There were rumours abound of the Bekhai and their ability to control creatures, perhaps his student would enlighten him sometime. “You heard him, he intends to kill them all.”
“That would be arrogant, unless this second fight ends as quickly as the first, it would be best to choose another champion for the third match. Rain can’t possibly be the only competent fighter available to her.” There was his student of course, and she had spoken at great lengths of Akanai’s daughter’s strength. The strapping young wolf-boy also seemed competent, walking about with confidence and grace despite the too-large weapon strapped to his back.
Looking up at him with a charming smile, his student shrugged easily, worried despite her confident words as she gently leaned back against him, taking comfort in the physical contact. Only recently had he learned the grief and misery that came with being a father figure to a beautiful ‘daughter’, having warned all of his guards and soldiers to steer clear of the flirtatious young woman. How she had wormed her way into his heart was a mystery, with the simple gesture of reliance enough to put a smile on his face. He felt the hand of the Mother in their meeting, the loss of a Disciple driving him to do something he would never have considered, accepting a half-beast girl as a student. He considered himself fortunate to have met her, as without her, he would still be puffing away at that damnable pipe, complaining of aches and pains with a fogged mind. Instead, he was healthy and spry as ever, feeling strong enough to take on the world.
After a slight delay to remove the first corpse, a massive warrior stomped his way onto the stage, covered head to toe in plated armor, dark grey and foreboding. A formidable half-beast, and after a cursory check with his chi, Min Gyu laughed aloud and clapped slowly, drawing the eye of everyone present. “Wonderful, wonderful, it turns out the Society is nothing but dog farts and empty boasting. Where are the ‘heroes of tomorrow’ for us to ‘bear witness’ to? I expected this to be a match of young talents but instead you fight with purse strings, sending slaves to wear away at your competitors.” Truthfully, there was nothing wrong with the tactic but a little shame went a long way. Even in a hard-fought match, there was little glory to be gained in defeating a slave, no matter how talented.
Ignoring the laughs and derision, Jia Yang spoke over them, his voice thunderous and commanding. “A slave is more than enough to deal with these savages you’ve grown so fond of.” A contemptuous sneer crossed his face, his tone disparaging. “It pains me to see a former Hero of the Empire bought so cheaply, brought low by his base desires and flaunting his dalliances in public. Disgraceful.”
The meaning was lost on Min Gyu until he saw his student lower her head in shame, moving away from him as she whispered an apology beneath her breath. His face heated in anger, not at the insinuation that he was having relations with his student but that they would dare to look down upon her, a youngster so talented they should be grateful to stand in her presence. The laughter instantly quieted, drowned by the howling winds and snapping banners as he summoned the Divine Wind, ready to crush the insolent fool like the bug he was. Sensing his error, the blood drained from Jia Yang’s face as he was confronted with true power.
“Lieutenant General Du Min Gyu! Cease and desist or I will be forced to eject you from the premises.” The Justicar’s voice held a hint of urgency, likely realizing the situation was rapidly escalating out of his control.
Letting out a long breath, Min Gyu let the torrential winds die down, the calm settling over the crowd like a heavy blanket, his display of power awing them into grudging submission. “Hmph, the Mother smiles upon fools and babes. Fortunate for your Society that I am restricted from acting, else I would offer challenge for your insult.” Patting Adujan on the shoulder, he pushed her forward a step to display her. “For today, my student will have to rely on her own strength to exact retribution and repay your insult.” His words said, he Sent her a message. “Worry not about what others say child, you lean on me as much as you like. That is what Teachers are for, to ease the burdens of the student.”
Seeming to find his courage once again, Jia Yang faked a smile, the concern still clear in his eyes. “Hmph, your ‘student’ won’t have a chance to fight, my bristleboar slave will take care of that runt and end this farce.”
A disgruntled groan emitted from Senior Captain Alsantset and he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. What was the cause of her distress? Before he could ask, the Justicar announced the start of the match and his attentions returned to the stage, waiting eagerly in anticipation, hoping for a second spectacular demonstration of Rain’s skill.
Holding her breath as she watched her little brother, Alsantset prayed to the Mother to give Rain the peace of mind required to maintain Balance in the face of adversity. Facing a bristleboar for the first time since finding his freedom, Rain stood rigid and motionless before his opponent even though the match had begun. “Do nothing foolish little brother,” she whispered beneath her breath, unwilling to Send a message to him lest it be misconstrued as interfering. “Kill your opponent and be done with it.”
His first match had been beautifully won, but his actions were excessive, his delight in prolonging his opponent’s death going overboard in her eyes. Papa said nothing on the matter, standing silently next to Akanai, their expressions carefully neutral. While travelling with the Banner, she had seen all manner of gruesome and terrible deeds performed, but she took comfort knowing they were carried out by Defiled and bandits, outcasts of civilized culture. To watch her precious little brother do something so vicious while grinning sadistically was heart wrenching, and the damage it caused to his reputation was significant. She cared little what the world thought of him, but for respected Sentinels to shrink back before his actions was a cause for concern.
Now, with hatred etched clearly on his face, Rain waited as his opponent carefully approached him. Stepping with the right foot and sliding the left, the heavily armoured slave moved slowly, his greatsword held defensively before him, ready to drag out the match and test Rain’s skill. A black-iron helmet covered his face, his armor plain and unadorned, his eyes narrowed in focus, warily watching Rain as he approached, both combatants readily ignoring the cheers and taunts.
Less than 10 meters separated the two when Rain spoke, a hushed silence settling over the crowd as they struggled to hear his soft-spoken words. “Couldn’t tell you were a piggy, what with your big helmet. All you little piggies are ugly as fuck, with your flappy jowls and bulbous noses, no wonder your master makes you hide your face.” Moving away at an angle, Rain strode about the stage in measured steps, the distance between the two of them closing as the bristleboar turned his body to face Rain, the closed-faced helmet restricting his peripheral vision. Swinging his arms back and forth, Rain stretched as he paced about, a hateful sneer marring his handsome face. “It’s been years since I killed a piggy and I’ve been itching to kill another ever since. They say you never forget your first, but I always thought I was too merciful, letting him die too easily.” Pointing his sword, he gave a grim smile, his eyes promising pain and violence. “I won’t make the same mistake twice. You can only blame yourself for being born a piggy.”
As he charged forward to exchange blows, Alsantset scolded herself for acting rashly all those years ago, for insisting Rain take vengeance into his own hands. She had thought to give him power over his tormentors, to have his hatred spent and left to die with his captors on that fateful day. It was clear now it had festered deep within him, ingrained into his very being. War had brought out the worst in him, her sweet, mild-mannered little brother turned into a vengeful, gleeful killer. All his frustrations were brought to bear on his enemies, and in his eyes, it was evident the Society and bristleboars rated no better than the Defiled.
It was a difficult path to walk as a warrior, to see the worst in the world and not allow it to change you, and Rain had seen so much, she should have expected this. His indifference about his past and endearing attitude had fooled her into believing he was without scars, but they were buried deep and the past few months of adversity had brought them to the surface. She cursed herself for not taking actions to help him, too relieved that he had not been Defiled and too busy with her duties and personal problems to accord him attention he so desperately required.
Well no more. After this matter with the Society was settled, she would bring him home and have him take a leave of absence from the Sentinels, perhaps even permanently. His talents in healing were astounding, let him focus there and leave the fighting for those better suited to it. He was happy at home, spending his days with the twins and quin pups, diligently training on his own, and she should have let him be. Instead she had forced him out into the world to display his skills in warfare, ignoring his temperament and wishes, too wrapped up in her own desires to listen.
A deafening clash startled her from her thoughts and she focused on the fight at hand. To bring him home, he would first need to survive the day, not only defeating his opponent’s, but avoiding Akanai’s ire as well. The Chief Provost had shared her plan with them all, to have Rain face off against the Society’s most dangerous youngster Zian, but that plan was no longer viable after Rain stepped onto the stage, too eager to balance the scales against their foe. Perhaps it would have been best to share the plan with Rain as well, but she could not fault Akanai for keeping silent. Rain had a tendency to dwell on his worries.
Frowning at the sight, worry began to gnaw at her stomach, the fight playing out poorly. Rain was too brash, throwing himself at the bristleboar with reckless abandon while his opponent focused on nothing but defense, the greatsword moving ever so slightly to block each one of Rain’s furious attacks. Bombarding his opponent with attacks, Rain was tiring himself out needlessly, anger blinding him to reason with no sign of the calm young man who had sparred masterfully with Gerel only a few hours ago. Each swing was chaotic and without purpose other than to inflict pain, his inability to connect giving rise to more fury. Every few strikes, the greatsword would dart out, forcing Rain to leap back from the longer weapon, incapable of breaking past the bristleboar’s formidable guard.
After ten minutes of reckless flailing, the bristleboar stood firm, although not unharmed, a gash to the arm where Rain’s sword found purchase and favouring his left foot, her little brother cleverly feinting high to strike low with his shield’s edge. Unfortunately, Rain’s efforts were in vain as he stood back, his chest heaving with exertion and his weapons barely held up, the smile replaced with a grim subjection. Exhausted by his foolhardy expenditure of energy, his opponent was still fresh while Rain was nearly spent. Upon seeing Rain’s slumped shoulders and despairing visage, the bristleboar finally moved to attack, his massive weapon swinging in a downward arc to crush Rain into a pulp. Alsantset’s breath caught in her throat, her heart hammering away in her chest as she prayed for his survival.
The heavy blade parted through the stone as if it were mere water, the shrill shriek of metal and stone paining her sensitive ears. How the weapon had missed escaped her, Rain’s thin and overworked arms seeming like wet noodles in comparison to the bristleboar’s bulging biceps. He wound up for another two-handed strike, carving a channel through the stage as he swung it about in a figure eight, building momentum in a deadly whirlwind of steel and power. Focusing intently, she watched as Rain’s shield raised to meet it, expecting him to crumble under the power behind the strike. The heavy greatsword slid off the curved surface of his new weapon, embedding itself into the stage once again, the stone chips flying about, one piercing through his leather trousers and into his meaty calf.
Seeing that his cleaving blows were ineffective, the bristleboar brought his weapon back, holding the hilt high above his shoulder with his right hand, the blade balanced on his left, before driving it forward in a powerful thrust. Rain’s shield was once again in place to meet it, stepping sideways to avoid the force behind it, parrying the weapon beautifully. Finally, it seemed Rain had regained his focus, perhaps able to turn this around.
“Good!” She started at the sound of Papa’s voice, excitement and pride instilled in the single word, and she scolded herself yet again. Rain needed her support now more than ever, his life on the line. Raising her voice, she shouted wordlessly, cheering him on from the sidelines, Lin, Yan, and Mila joining in. She could see the effect almost instantly, his posture straightening up from their encouragement, but he was immediately struck again, the deflected thrust turning into a sideways slash, crashing directly into his shield. Staggering him to one side, Rain fought to keep his footing while the greatsword looped around for another blow.
Her eyes locked onto the weapon as it was raised high into the air, scything downwards towards her little brother, Rain’s shield raising once more to meet it. The blade swung low, avoiding the shield entirely, a diagonal slash cutting clean through his right calf and into the stone stage, severing foot from leg. The shock and pain were plain to see on his youthful face as he crashed into the stage, his weapons still clutched in both hands, blood streaming from the stump. A scream sounded, echoing through the field for an eternity, a keening wail of disbelief and despair. It was some time before she realized the scream was hers, as if she could reject the scene before her, change reality to suit her purpose. She charged forward to rescue him, moving barely a single centimeter before crashing into a solid barrier, her legs flying forward from under her as she was lifted backwards. Fighting ferociously, a second arm wrapped around her as she flailed about, desperate to save her little brother from his impending death.
“Let it be child, let it be.” Her Papa trembled as he hugged her close, his voice dripping with hatred and grief, his chest quivering. “We cannot help him, but we will avenge him if need be. The Society will fall in death and fire, drowning in pain and blood, this I swear.”
Her anguish overwhelming her, her strength fled as she collapsed into her Papa’s arms, seeking comfort which could not be found. She tried to force herself to watch Rain’s dying moments, the hateful bristleboar raising his weapon once more for a powerful thrust, keeping his distance from the prone Rain, leaving nothing to chance. Tears streamed down her face, obscuring her vision, and she closed her eyes, unable to bear the pain any longer.
Die well little brother. May you find peace within the arms of the Mother.
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