It was regrettable, but I pulled Reia along with me out of the Town of Enrain without delay. It would have been disastrous if she had come in to contact with government officials. If she refused to aid them, she could be imprisoned, or worse. I wasn’t about to allow that to happen and so we dashed out of the town and headed as swiftly as we could towards the Serandal forest.
“Okay, I think we are far enough away from the town, will you tell me what’s going on now?”
I had been in such a hurry to leave the town that I had yet to tell Reia why we were in such a rush, and she was growing impatient.
“When you were checking your status, Orban told me that government officials were looking for you. They wanted you to lead them to your village.” I said while flushed.
“Why would people from the castle want to find my village?” She asked with a perplexed expression.
“Orban said they would try to force your tribe to fight for the kingdom in their war.”
“What?!? Are they crazy? The Foxkin would never fight for them!”
She seemed very certain of that. There was no way the Foxkin would ever agree to fight in the kingdom’s war. That meant that there could only be trouble if the kingdom tried to force the issue.
“That’s exactly why we need to get to the village as quickly as possible. I doubt they will be able to find the location easily, so we should have enough time to warn your father.”
“Even if we do warn him, what can we do? My father will never agree to fight for them and we are too few to take on the entire kingdom.”
“We will have to come up with something. I don’t know much about the king, but I haven’t heard good things so far. They will not take no for an answer and that means we will most likely have to fight.”
“No…..” Reia was clearly troubled.
If the kingdom didn’t back down, there would most likely be a fight and people would die. I let Reia think about it in silence. She needed some time to process everything. We were already a good distance away from the town and we still had a good way to go until we would arrive at the village. There were rarely ever travelers heading this way and so we were the only ones on the path leading to the forest.
I glanced over at Reia and remembered she had mentioned she wanted to tell me something.
“Reia, back at the guild you said you had something you needed to talk to me about?” I didn’t mean to disturb her from her thoughts, but if it was important then I figured now was a good time to address it.
She seemed somewhat distracted, well that was a given with circumstances the way they were.
“When I checked my status using the divination crystal, I noticed something strange. Well a couple of things.”
That caught my interest, although I couldn’t fathom what could be so important about it.
“First, I leveled up and the strange thing is, instead of one attribute point which is what you gain after leveling, I had two attribute points. Also, my health increased way more than I was expecting it to, more than any other time I leveled up. Another thing, under special abilities, a new ability was listed there, ‘Mark of the Void.’ Do you know anything about this?”
I didn’t really know whether the first two things she said was really that big of a deal, since I didn’t level up like everyone else, but the last thing really caught my attention.
“‘Mark of the Void’? That must be the mark on your body that connects us.”
It had to be. We were now linked together by some strange connection and a mark appeared on her body. I think it was safe to assume that was the case.
“Yeah, I think so too. The description said that the Mark of the Void connects the soul of the one with the mark, with the soul of the one who has the ‘Blessings of the Void.’ It also says that the one who possesses the ‘Blessings of the Void’ may bestow their power upon one who has the ‘Mark of the Void.’ Do you think it is connected with the additional attribute points and health I received?”
If I recalled correctly, when I saved Reia’s life, I also was able to connect with her using the power I consumed from the dungeon. I made the same connection with Allein, and at that time, I also felt my body being drained of its power.
When monsters were killed, I was able to absorb the strange black mist from them, and somehow that made me stronger. I was also able to consume the black mist which was in the dungeon, and it seemed to be energy from the dungeon. When I used that attack that killed the Lizard King, it used up a considerable amount of the dungeon’s energy. Was I somehow transferring the power that I absorbed to those who I linked with in a similar manner?
This was something I needed to find out for sure, if I could somehow absorb that black mist from monsters and even dungeons to power myself up indefinitely, as well as power up those I connected with, how strong would we all become?
After our discussion, it wasn’t long before we reunited with Nes and Allein at the outskirts of the forest. They were apparently flying around waiting for us to arrive. Since Allein and I had a connection through the ‘Mark of the Void’ we could sense the general direction of each other as well as the distance. We would always be able to find each other, it was the same with Reia.
After meeting, we explained to them the situation and they were quite angry when they heard. They had already met with Reia’s father briefly to inform him that we had conquered the dungeon and so they knew we had returned to Enrain, but he wouldn’t be expecting us to visit the village so soon. I was feeling anxious and so we hurried as quickly as we could in order to arrive at the village as soon as possible.
Our group finally arrived at the Foxkin tribe village in the evening. They had just finished eating their communal meal. They ate together as a village on a regular basis, cooking over a huge campfire. They grilled up meat from the different animals the hunters had hunted, as well as serving up various roots and vegetables which had been gathered by the women of the tribe. The tribe were really, just like one large family, I envied that. Of course, they even treated me as part of their family too.
“Fayde! Reia! I wasn’t expecting you so soon! It is good to see you.”
Reia’s father, the Chief, met with us at the entrance of the village, he always did when we came.
“You both look exhausted, what happened?”
“Chief, we have something important to discuss, let’s head over to your hut.”
I didn’t think an attack was imminent or anything, but that didn’t mean I thought we should dawdle.
“Something important you say?!? Hoho.”
For some reason there was a twinkle in his eye when he said that. What could you be possibly thinking about Chief?
“Then come, quickly!”
He was quite jovial this evening. I think he was misunderstanding something though.
When we got ourselves situated on cushions, Native American style, the Chief was the first to speak, “Alright, so what is so urgent?”
“Chief, this is a serious matter.”
The Chief could hear the seriousness in my voice and he was no longer expressing a merry demeanor.
“The Kingdom of La’gun will soon go to war with the Kingdom of Jaspel. We were informed by the Guild that government officials were attempting to locate Reia in order to make contact with your village. Orban believes they intend to force your tribe to fight for them in the war.”
The Chief’s expression rapidly grew worse as I spoke.
“Are you certain of this?”
There was not even a trace of his former joy in his voice.
“Orban was certain. That’s why we came here as quickly as we could. I didn’t even have time to collect our rewards for clearing out the dungeon.”
“They must certainly know we would refuse…” He said with a thoughtful expression.
“I doubt they would come here with the intention of allowing that to happen. I’m worried that they will attempt to force you to comply, by force.”
“Must we fight…..”
The Chief seemed somewhat dejected. He knew that if they fought the kingdom and refused their request to join in the war, they would no longer have a home here. This was clearly a plot by the kingdom and they knew that it would be difficult for the Foxkin to refuse. That could only mean they intended to finally get rid of them.
“Chief, there’s no way you can win against the kingdom, there are just too few of you.”
I was sure he knew that, but what else could I say?
“I know this already, but we have our pride too. If it’s to be our time, then so be it.” He seemed to have found his determination as he spoke.
“Is there no where else you can go? Aren’t there many tribes living on the Plains of Sorrow?”
Reia put her hand on my shoulder, she was sitting next to me while we faced her father and shook her head.
“Fayde, there is no where we can go. We were exiled from the Plains of Sorrow by my uncle. That’s why we came here in the first place… “
She looked as if she might cry and I could feel her pain. They had already lost their home once and now they were about to lose it for a second time. What can I do in this situation? I just don’t know…..
“Fayde.. I want you to understand. Our people, all Demihumans, have suffered tremendously at the hands of Humans. We have been enslaved, killed, discriminated against and we are treated as monsters without any semblance of Human decency. I am tired of running, we all are. If we are to die, then it let it be at a place of our choosing.”
The Chief’s words were filled with sorrow and I could only feel that he had already given up. It wasn’t as if I couldn’t understand their feelings. I had seen it first hand, the treatment of the Demihumans.But I also knew that this would be a pointless fight, and in the end, nothing would change for the Demihumans, except that the Foxkin would no longer be alive.
“Chief, I understand, I do, but what will you accomplish by dying? Nothing. You won’t accomplish anything, and what about Reia?”
After I said that, the Chief looked at me long and hard without saying a word.
“What about her? What would you have us do Fayde?” He finally said after looking at me for what felt like an eternity.
There was nothing I could say. I had talked big, but what could I do? I could fight alongside them, but would that make much of a difference?
“All is not lost. There is something that could be done.” Allein suddenly spoke, and everyone looked at her questioningly.
“And what might that be?” Said the Chief quietly.
“You may have been exiled from your clan, but isn’t there a tradition of challenging for the right to rule as Khan?”
Allein was brimming with confidence as she said that, but her words only caused Reia and her father to sigh in disappointment.
“Allein, what you say is true, but…..”
Reia attempted to reply, but she couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence with her father present.
“It’s fine Reia. You don’t have to mind an old man such as me.” Her father could only shrug as he reassured his daughter.
“Allein, that is no longer an option for me, you see, it was originally because I lost to my brother that we were exiled. I do not have the strength to defy him.”
We all hung our heads as we listened to the Chief, and Reia especially looked pained. The Chief looked at his daughter affectionately and gave a bitter smile.
“If I had a son, then perhaps this plan might have worked…. My beloved Reia is my oldest child and heir, but she is unwed and can’t become Khan, even if she were to defeat my brother. Our only choice is to fight.”
I looked over at Reia and I could see a bit of hopelessness mixed with regret. She must have really been struggling with her father’s words and I could imagine it must be a great burden on her.
“Chief, then isn’t the solution to this problem quite simple?” Said Allein.
“I don’t know what you mean Allein…” Replied Reia’s father.
“You said that your daughter is unwed and so she can’t challenge for the position of Khan, however, what if she were to be wed….. or at least engaged?”
It took a moment for it to sink in, but Reia suddenly jumped out of her seat. The Chief laughed watching Reia’s reaction despite the serious circumstances. Even Allein seemed amused by her reaction, but Nes and I remained quiet. It was still sinking in for me, the issue of Reia getting married. Allein was right, it could solve the issue, of course it was really just kicking things down the road. She would still have to eventually fight her uncle and win if they wanted to be allowed back on the Plains of Sorrow.
No, the worse part of it for me, was simply the issue of Reia being married. Just thinking about her marrying someone made my chest feel tight and I suddenly felt quite a bit of anxiety. It only made logical sense for her to agree to do this, it would save her tribe. But was it something that I could accept?
“Hahaha, you bring up an interesting points, but…..” Reia’s father looked over at his daughter as he spoke, “will she agree to it? Hmmmm.”
Even Allein looked at Reia with expectant eyes as if she assumed Reia would consent to their plan.
“But… wait, there isn’t anyone…..” Reia’s words were jumbled and as she shied away from us, her cheeks became flushed.
“Are you sure there isn’t someone that you have feelings for?” Her father asked with a cunning glint in his eye.
“What are you talking about father, there isn’t anyone…”
She adamantly denied her father, but he didn’t fail to see the momentary look she gave me as she hesitated.
“Perhaps we should leave them alone…” Said Allein, but I didn’t realized who she meant until Allein, the Chief and Nes suddenly stood to leave.
I was about to say something, but then I realized what Allein had meant and I kept silent as the three left to the tent. That seemed suspiciously rehearsed, did they plan this ahead of time? I wondered to myself. I was a little surprised by it, especially since Allein had gone along with it. Didn’t she think of me as hers? I just can’t understand that girl. Her brother too…. What is it that they want?
Only Reia and I remained in the tent and there was a slight uncomfortable atmosphere between us. She had yet to sit down and still stood awkwardly. Now that I really started thinking about it, what the hell are they thinking? Was that just now Reia’s father giving me his blessing? I suddenly became very nervous, despite the fact that I was already a grown man.
“Reia…. Why don’t you sit down…”
I shifted my position and motioned for Reia to sit. She didn’t react immediately and I could only imagine what must have been going through her head at this time. Since I was older, I knew I had to take the lead here. This was something that we needed to discuss anyway, might as well as do it now.
She finally reacted to my words and slowly sat down facing me. She looked much like a frightened animal and her eyes were clouded over. I couldn’t be sure what exactly she was so afraid of, was it because of me? Was there something she was afraid of? I knew she had feelings for me.
“Your father did something quite cunning…… but… their plan isn’t a bad one. It may really be the only way to get out of this situation…”
I attempted to lay out a logical argument for our circumstances without bringing my emotions into it. My emotions were still in turmoil. I never thought I would ever get this flustered again. It reminded me of the time when I asked my ex-wife to marry me.
She finally spoke, even if it was just to say my name.
She was shaking. I had never seen her like this.
“Why are you afraid?”
My words were gentle. I thought if I spoke any louder that I would scare her away for good. It was clear that she was vulnerable at this moment, much like a fragile leaf being thrown astray by a violent wind.
She looked at me with quivering eyes and steadied herself.
“I…. I’m afraid…. that you won’t accept me, that you’ll leave me… that I’ll lose you…”
I patiently waited as she spoke. I already knew what she would say, but I let her finish. It was no mystery to me that her insecurities were an enormous hurdle that had chained her, much like a caged bird. All I could do, was show her that her fears were an illusion created by her own mind.
I pulled her close to me and embraced her in my arms. She could no longer hold back the tears and I calmly rubbed her back to comfort her.
“Reia, I love you.”
That was the first time I said those words to her. She pulled back from me and looked me straight in my eyes as her tears continued to fall.
“Even though we’re different….”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“You won’t leave me…”
And then she smiled. It was just like a rainbow after the storm. It filled my heart much like the warmth of the sun.