Chapter 049: Taken

Why do people insist on lighting fires, when spending the night in the wilderness?

Isn’t that dangerous? Wouldn’t it reveal one’s position to whatever threats might be out there? Wouldn’t it be much better to dig a hole between the roots of a tree and hide there silently, stealthily, until the sun comes up?

Also, it’s fire.

Which is hot. And thus, bad.

The two elves are huddling in front of the flames.

As for me, I sit a bit further away from the warmth and light.

The only sounds are that of the night, along with the crackle of the firewood. I don’t have much to say. Neither does the little elf – she hasn’t even said an actual word ever since I’ve met her; maybe she’s mute or something – and now, she’s even sleeping. As for the mother elf, after she sang a few songs to calm her daughter and lull her to sleep, she also closed her eyes and kept her silence. I’d almost think she’s sleeping as well, but the rhythm of her breathing and the rate of her heartbeat tell me she’s not.

I don’t intend to break the silence, however. There are things to talk about, certainly, but I still haven’t cleared up what exactly I should do, now.

After I killed all our potential pursuers and we escaped from Kohln, these two followed me, right up until now. After a while, once night started falling, the elf woman asked me if we could stop for a rest, since she was worried about her daughter’s condition. The two of them also seemed too tired to continue – the little girl had to walk on her own after a while, when her mother no longer had the strength to carry her. I was a bit reluctant, at first, since there is little point in me stopping. It’s not like I get tired, and I have no need to eat or sleep. There is basically no reason for me to waste around 8 hours waiting for the two of them to replenish their energy reserves. But in the end, I did stop and decided to wait for them.

Because…

Well, I’m not exactly sure why…

It’s just, these two might get eaten by wild animals, or they might meet a demon on the road to wherever they’re going, and die.

I wouldn’t really care, but once again, they’re elves.

Nerys’s species.

Maybe Nerys would want me to help them at least a little?

I read it in a book, that to some extent, most people feel subconscious concern for the survival of other individuals from the same species as them. Some kind of animalistic instinct to preserve and perpetuate the species. I’m not sure if that’s true – I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a thing myself, but that may simply be because demons and apostles don’t count as the same species as me – but I know that elves are already pretty rare. If Nerys cares about the survival of her species, she might not approve of me leaving these two to their deaths like this.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I intend to go waste my time looking for random elves so that I can offer my help in resolving all their troubles. I’ve got more important things to do. From my perspective, even if all the elves in the world had to die so that I could find Nerys safely, I wouldn’t hesitate for even an instant.

But I suppose that I did help the two of them already, when I got them out of the magic formations that restrained them, then when I protected them as we escaped the city, so I might as well see it through to the end. And anyway, it’s not exactly a strain on my own objectives to accompany the mother and daughter elves for a while.

Although that depends on where they’re going.

Right, that should be the first thing to confirm.

Well, then.

[…Where do you intend to go?]

Since the little girl is sleeping, I transmit my words only to the adult elf herself. Apparently, she really wasn’t sleeping, because her eyes open immediately, and I can’t find any signs of blurriness inside them. They’re alert and bright.

“I don’t know,” she says. She glances down at the sleeping form of her daughter in her arms. “We have nowhere to go.”

[…Then why are you following me?]

That’s a bit contradictory, isn’t it?

If they’re following after me like this, they obviously have somewhere to go. Namely, the same place I’m going.

A bitter smile appears on the woman’s lips. “We are following you because… I don’t know what else we should do. D–Does our company displease you? Please, we just… I… I just need…”

The woman’s voice slowly trails off, as if even she has no idea what she wants to say to me. Considering how indecisive she is, it’s probably true that she just doesn’t know what to do.

Hmm…

But still, that shouldn’t happen. Just off the top of my head, I could imagine several objectives that she should aim for. Like, find a good place for her and her daughter to live. Kill the people who hurt them.

And, um…

What else…

Well, that’s already pretty good. That should be enough to give them direction and purpose.

But when I suggest those goals to the elf woman as alternatives to just following blindly after me, she doesn’t seem particularly enthusiastic. Her smile only grows more bitter. “I know that, but how exactly are we supposed to accomplish these? If I had the ability to hunt down the mercenaries who destroyed our lives, they wouldn’t have been able to hurt us in the first place. And as for finding a place to live, hahaha, well, I expect that’ll prove difficult.”

[…Why?]

The elf looks at me strangely. “Because I have absolutely no doubt that quite a lot of people witnessed our escape from Kohln, and our… your… slaughter of the city’s troops and the city lord. After causing such a scene, bounties will be put on our heads throughout the human kingdoms. At least the two of us, maybe even Silica, if anyone noticed her in my arms. Elves aren’t common anywhere in the world, let alone in human territories. It won’t be difficult for anyone to recognize us, no matter where we go.” Tears start to leak out of the her eyes as she continues speaking. “We did manage to escape from slavery, and for that I can only offer you my deepest gratitude, but in the end, the only thing that awaits us is to be hunted, captured, and executed.” Her shoulders shake as she tries to restrain her sobs so that she won’t wake her daughter. She shakes her head. “I don’t know where I can find such a place. A place where we can live.”

Well, that all sounds very complicated.

First, what’s a ‘bounty’?

No, wait. I remember hearing the word when I applied to get my identification card in Aldenfell. Jasper listed it among the ways for mercenaries to make money.

Hmm…

Yes, I think I can guess what it means.

And such a thing will be issued against me?

That’s quite bothersome.

I thought the only pursuers I had to worry about were those inside the city, but if I understand this ‘bounty’ thing correctly, it means that even completely unrelated people might come after me. What if some super powerful god decides to hunt me down? That could really be trouble. Maybe I should have tried to restrain myself a little bit. Or maybe I should have tried to kill absolutely everyone, so that no one could say I was in Kohln in the first place.

…Should I hurry back and exterminate the entire city?

No, it’s probably too late already.

Damn it.

Hmm…

Actually…

Couldn’t I use this to my advantage?

This ‘bounty’ might bring trouble to me, certainly, but if word of it spreads far enough, Nerys might also hear of my existence. I once considered the notion of causing trouble somewhere visible to attract the attention of the apostles’ armies, in case I was ever hungry and unable to choose a more reasonable alternative. I should have realized then that I can also attract Nerys the same way!

I just need to create so much chaos and destruction that everyone in the world knows about me.

Then Nerys will come to me.

However, there are also some serious drawbacks to this plan.

If I really cause some world-scale catastrophe, the kind of reprisal I’d have to suffer likely wouldn’t be weak. I’m pretty strong, but fighting the combined forces of an entire plane by myself might be a bit too difficult, even for me.

Even worse, it might put Nerys in danger, once she actually finds me.

Hmm…

Damn it. I think I got excited a bit too fast. The more I think about it, the more this plan seems impractical. It has a high possibility of helping me find Nerys, but what would come afterward would be dangerous for the both of us.

In the end, Nerys staying alive is more important than my finding her.

At least, if I do decide to ever go through with this plan, I need to be ready for the worst case – that is to say, slaughtering everyone on Caldera to ensure Nerys’s safety.

Right. Better be prepared, just in case.

[…Try to come up with a plan to kill everyone on Caldera.]

<…>

[…What’s wrong?]

<Insane.>

[…Why?]

<Godrealm.>

[…You think the gods there would come here and try to stop me?]

<Not try. Kill you. Easily.>

[…What about you?]

<Same.>

I see. Still, if they only kill me, as long as Nerys herself is safe, it might still be worth it. I’ll need to think about it more deeply. Well, it’s unlikely things will end up bad enough that I need to commit any form of genocide, anyway.

“Miss Akasha?”

The elf woman – what’s her name, actually? – calls me and brings me out of my musings. When I raise my head, I see that she’s dried her tears and seems to have composed herself.

[…What’s your name?]

“Huh? Oh, my name is Mira. My daughter is Silica.”

Hmm. Right. I allowed my thoughts to drift off a little, but let’s try and get back to the subject at hand. We were talking about finding these two elves a place to live.

[…Ideas?]

A disembodied sigh flows through my mind before Sanae’s response comes.

<Springfields.>

Hmm?

Could the two elves live in the Springfields’ house? It’s true that Lilly would probably welcome them, since they have pointy ears she might want to toy with, but would the rest of them accept the two majin so easily? I noticed there were only humans in their house, when I visited.

[…What about the bounty? Won’t it be a problem?]

<No.>

[…Why are you so sure?]

<Duke.>

[…I don’t understand.]

<Idiot.>

[…]

Solaire is a duke. This, I know. But what does that have to do with the bounty? Can a duke ignore the bounty? I don’t really know what a duke actually is, in concrete terms, so I can’t really tell, but that might be possible.

In that case, maybe the two of them really could live there.

Now, how should I explain that to Mira in as few words as possible?

It takes nearly 20 days for our little group to approach the city where the Springfields live. I didn’t intend to come back here so quickly – or ever, in point of fact – but it’s not particularly far, so a small detour like this won’t cause any harm.

Mira seems a bit nervous at the idea of meeting a duke, for some reason, so she hasn’t talked much, these past few days.

As for Silica, well, she still hasn’t said a single word ever since we escaped Kohln. Mira is worried about that, too, I think. She told me it might be due to some sort of psychological trauma Silica suffered after what happened to their family. And from the events in Kohln.

I’m not sure what the humans did to her, but it must have been pretty bad, if it went so far as taking her voice away.

I sympathize a little bit, since I also lost mine a long time ago – although a mantis’s scythe to the throat is a bit more straightforward than something nebulous like ‘trauma’ – so I hope she gets better soon.

<Not humans. You.>

[…What?]

<Your fault.>

[…I didn’t do anything to her.]

Images appear in my mind of what happened at that time. I see myself killing human soldiers in a variety of ways, jets of blood spurting here and there. With this outside point of view, I can notice a few things I could have done better, instances where my performance was a tad lacking compared to what it should have been.

Is that meant to make me reflect on my mistakes?

I don’t think my skill in combat is so poor that it’d traumatize a child, though. It isn’t perfect, but it’s still much better than anyone else I’ve seen so far.

<…>

The moment my thoughts reach this point, the images stop, and a heavy silence falls in my mind. Soon, a gush of frustration wells up from the link to Sanae’s mind.

[…What’s wrong?]

<You.>

[…Me?]

<Brain-damaged. Retarded. Moron.>

[…You exaggerate. The damage to my brain is very minor.]

It shouldn’t have any great effect on my mental faculties. At least, I haven’t noticed any.

Well, no matter.

If Silica’s current state is indeed my fault, somehow, then she should get better once I separate from them. And if it doesn’t get better, well, there’s nothing I can do about it, is there? It’s not like I possess any sort of healing magic, after all.

When we’re still an hour away from the city, a particular smell, carried to me by the wind, tickles my nose.

Burnt wood.

Along with burnt flesh.

Coming from the right direction, too.

Did something happen?

Mira and Silica, walking hand in hand behind me, don’t seem to have noticed anything. When I turn back toward them, Silica flinches and quickly lowers her gaze to avoid making eye contact with me – maybe Sanae’s right about the effect I have on her, after all.

I point toward a distant grove, a bit off the road. The trees there are thick and close enough together to hide whoever would take refuge inside.

[…Hide over there.]

Silica twitches again when I transmit my words to her mind, but her mother reacts more stoically. “Miss Akasha? What’s going on? Did something happen?”

[…I don’t know. I’ll go check first. Wait for me in here.]

“Understood. Please, be careful.”

The two elves go their own way, while I head toward the city on my own. Without having to restrain my speed, I quickly reach it.

Plumes of black smoke rise toward the sky, although the fires that caused them have already been put out. A part of the city wall has been forcefully breached. Trails of destruction can also be seen here and there in the city, along with enormous trees and vines – results of Finram’s magic, most likely – growing from the ground between the stone buildings. Most of those plants look burned and corroded, their bark peppered with small black holes. In the center of the city, the Springfields’ house has half-collapsed. A whole part of the mansion has turned to rubble, and even the rest is scarred. It seems like whoever attacked the city concentrated their assault there.

…I wonder if I should consider myself lucky to have avoided the attack.

Although it makes me doubt my plan – no, Sanae’s plan; if the plan fails, it’s definitely Sanae’s fault – to bring the two elves here. They were looking for a place to live in peace, but the Springfields’ house apparently isn’t quite as peaceful as it had first appeared.

Since I’ve learned about this ‘bounty’ system, I decide to be smart about this and opt for stealth. There are more guards patrolling the streets than I remember, and they all sport grim faces, but this doesn’t present any challenge to me.

I soon reach my goal.

I vault over the high fence surrounding the Springfields’ house, then openly walk toward its front door, crossing the vast gardens, circling around the uprooted trees and burned craters that dot the ground. There are bloodstains, too, here and there, but no bodies over them. The corpses have already been cleaned up.

My presence seems to have been noticed, as when I approach the front doors, which stand cracked and crooked on their hinges, Finram bursts through them and rushes in my direction, glaring at me, gritting his teeth in obvious anger. There are bloodied bandages wrapped around various parts of his body. His qi roils chaotically within him, as if he’s about to lose control of it.

When I see him like this, my own body tenses, and the blood-qi in my dantian seethes, ready to be unleashed. I settle my weight on the earth beneath my feet and center my balance. I’m not sure what happened here, but I already spared this guy’s life once. That’s already one time too many. Now, I will kill him without fail at the first sign of actual aggression.

Sanae’s excitement and bloodthirst streams through the soul link at the prospect of combat. She won’t get a turn, though. Finram at his best was already weaker than Jodene. Injured and flustered and enraged and sloppy as he is now, he won’t stand a chance against me. I’ll end him in one strike.

“Finram, wait!”

A shout rings out from behind him, and two swords of brilliant light stab into the ground right in front of him, cutting off his advance toward me. On the house’s doorstep stand Rieshia and Ophelia, who respectively called for Finram and cast magic to stop him. They too are injured to varying degrees.

“Akasha doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with this!” Rieshia continues. “Don’t do anything impulsive!”

[…?]

What’s this, now?

Does Finram suspect me of being involved in whatever happened here?

That’s ridiculous.

If it had been me, no one here would be alive.

“Impulsive?!” Finram roars, spittle flying toward me – which I draw on my 300 years of life-and-death combat experience to dodge. “They came here looking for her! They fucking said so! And you still tell me she’s got nothing to do with it?!”

Huh? Looking for me?

[…Who was?]

“Devils! An army of fucking devils came knocking, asking for your ‘return’!” Finram shouts, gesticulating and stomping on the ground to vent his anger. “And when they realized you weren’t there, they took Lilly instead!”

28 comments

  1. Sorry for the late chapter!
    There’ll be another one, this weekend.

    Next chapter, the real main character appears and demonstrates his very particular set of skills. His name is… Niam Leeson!

    1. Thanks for the chapter…

      Quick question: what do you plan on doing with the series ‘taint’ after akasha finds nyres and kills the people who stuck her in the tower?

      Also here are some ideas…

      If it all goes well and akasha listens to the devils who -in a perfect world- worship her like a godess -which i suppose she is- then not only would akasha get lilly back but also a powerful fighting force that would do literally anything for her. She could possibly even use the devils to find nerys. just simply making them spread something along the lines of: elf thats 300 yers old, used to live on a pink blossem covered hill in the human territory and is called nyres. Not many people that fit that description and i think that that would certainly get nerys attention. if she investigated where this info had spred from she should be able to get a god idea of were exactly akasha was at some point or another. Then from there just follow the trail of destruction

      Anyway these are just ideas, and if you dont feel comfortable with adding any to your books then don’t.

      1. lols

        I think Lilly must have proclaimed that she is Akasha best friend sometime during the encounter, which is why they capture her instead of the the others.

        I’m really looking forward to the meeting since I think the Devils will either worship her as the origin Devil or hate her for starting this whole mess (even though it isn’t her fault).

          1. As far as I remember it was mentioned that they are rather impulsive, in the aggressive way, but never was it mentioned that they can’t be rational if they really want to be, which I think they would want to be if they are talking to Akasha, seeing as they went as far as to even band together and attack the Springfields just to meet her for whatever reason.

    1. There was a line mentioning that Akasha’s trip to and from Kohln took about a month in all, in my first draft, but it was cut during editing. I’ll remember to put a mention of this in the next chapter.
      Thanks for warning me.

  2. Typos/grammar:
    Wouldn’t it reveal one’s positions
    position

    maybe even Silica herself if anyone noticed her
    “herself” seems wrong here

    the kind of reprisal I’d have to suffer likely wouldn’t be poor
    “poor” seems like a weird word to use here, “weak”?

  3. I think I’ve figured out *WHAT* Sanae is, if not who…The who I have suspicions about, but I’d rather not share them at this time. As for the *what*….

    The Planar Tower was originally Miraslov’s. The God-Emperor merely stole and repurposed it. I believe Sanae is meant as Miraslov’s Fail-Safe. In case something truly catastrophic kicked off in his Tower. I mean, let’s remember he regularly invited *Gods* over to play “How many Floors can you survive?”…Surely he had some thought for that kind of sport/situation leading to something he might want a way to keep an eye on, or perhaps intervene during. A sentient adamantium spider strong enough to easily kill God-Beasts (and likely low-rank Gods even easier) is a helluva sanction. Especially one that can sneak around as small as a regular spider, and grow to the size of a mid-rank Godbeast when necessary.

    This is far-fetched…But the individual who dumped Akasha in the Tower “Ie: Mr. “I’m sorry to do this, child.” May have even placed Sanae for Akasha’s benefit, if he correctly deduced ahead of time what exposure to Demon-Taint would do to her. Or to act as her ultimate jailer if Akasha devolved completely, or as a restrainst-mechanism concealed as a friend and ally (If she devolved partially, as indeed she did.)

    Sanae *lied* to Akasha about being nothing more than a Godbeast born on the Spider-Armies Level of the Tower. How do we know? How would a Godbeast Spider native to the Planar Tower have a relatively deep understanding of human/majin civilization, how healthy humans/majin react (Sanae’s understanding of the source of Silica’s trauma)…and, most damning….

    Sanae’s knowledge of the Godrealm, and that the entities there could easily kill her and Akasha both. The people of Caldera and all the gathered convicts of the Planar Prison are ignorant of the God-Realm’s existence. Except for the Adkins family (God Emperor and Son being members), and possibly Yulan/Nerys.

    So, how does a Spider Godbeast supposedly born in Miraslov’s Tower know about the Godrealm and its inhabitants? Unless said Spider was NOT, in point of fact born in the Tower…or if only either Sanae’s *body* was born in the Tower.

    Phineas found a way to survive when his body failed. Do we believe he’s the most clever God of all time to find themselves with a failing body, stuck in the Tower?

  4. So how long will it take for critical thought/ conscious understanding of human emotions to come back into play?

    I had been hoping that, seeing as she has been observing human interaction for quite a now she’d have some form of progress(or at least more than is currently displayed).

    I just find myself being more annoyed by the character/how the story progresses by said flaw.

    I still love the story, and I’m not saying that to start a fight/put-down on you as an author, more trying to understand if it will be fixed or not. Or at the very end when she meets her system is lets the genie out of the subconscious bottle that is her human emotions(do pass Go, do collect $200).

    1. *Or at the very end when she meets her sister, and that lets the genie out of the subconscious bottle that is her human emotions(do pass Go, do collect $200).

      *I just find myself being more and more annoyed by the character/story by said flaw remaining stagnant.

    2. Sanae shares your opinion. She too is frustrated by Akasha’s manifest lack of progress.

      However, I believe I’m justified in taking it slow on that point.
      While I’m certainly not an expert on the subject, I don’t think psychological damage heals as quickly as you might expect. Please keep in mind that Akasha is a child who’s spent several centuries on a brutal battlefield where the only value that mattered was her ability to employ violence against everything around herself. At this point, I don’t think her condition can even be described as PTSD anymore. In point of fact, if this were a real-world situation, I wouldn’t be too surprised if someone like her ended up never recovering at all and spending the rest of her life a twitchy, paranoid, traumatized mess.

      Fortunately, in the written world, there is this glorious thing called character development to help her on her way.
      But yeah, though you might feel it’s going too slow, I don’t intend to rush through this. We’ve got plenty of chapters left for things to change.

  5. I would’ve thought Akasha might be asking questions by now. Up until now, Sanae’s knowledge could be explained away as “extraordinarily good sense” or “highly observant as part of a highly developed survival instinct.”

    Knowledge of the organization of Gods not native to any plane Sanae’s supposed to have ever been to? Tsk tsk Akasha. Your survival instincts are slipping. That’s how you lost your voice, making assumptions. Haven’t learned much, have ya, ya poor traumatized thing 😛

  6. As for the rest of you not-Liv people:
    Any thoughts about Sanae’s *incredibly* convenient meet-up with Akasha, JUST when the Tower was getting to be too much for her. The Spider-Godbeast that just *happened* to a) Be necessary for Akasha to survive the Sulfur Frog and thus escape the Tower, but b) *Only* after Akasha had taken enough permanent damage from said Frog to 1) Make her more dependent on Sanae physically, and 2) Sanae’s last-minute saving of her life making Akasha more dependent on Sanae emotionally and psychologically…All while Sanae’s saving her life served to dispel any lingering doubts Akasha might’ve had about Sanae’s loyalties.

    You know what they say about coincidences that pile up in rapid succession? They aren’t coincidences at all.

    Now, let’s talk about Sanae’s conduct ever since the escape. Notice Sanae conspicuously *not doing anything* while Akasha fought the leader of the Planar Prison community and her chief lieutenant. Notice still more of Sanae doing nothing until the final moments of the Fuschia City battle, when Sanae could be reasonably confident Orsino was too far out of range to witness Sanae shot-blocking his parting lightning blast.

    Methinks Sanae is playing for Team Not-Akasha…which also happens to be Team Not God-Emperor/Adkins Family. How do we know she’s not an Adkins Family plant? They want Akasha dead…if Sanae was theirs, she could simply explode Akasha’s skull by growing while sitting in her eye socket.

    Also…if Sanae was an Adkins Family Plant, she wouldn’t have allowed her spider-minions to finish off AKA-12. Mr. Lizard-Demon Warrior. Smart bookies say she’s Miraslov’s or an as yet unnamed third faction’s.

    1. Well, on the subject of Sanae rarely involving herself in a fight, and only doing so when she thinks she can do it without being seen:

      This is something that she and Akasha have agreed to strive for, because Sanae is a wonderful trump card and the best trump cards are the ones your enemies don’t know about. I forget which chapter but this has been brought up by them.

      There’s also the fact that Sanae is far less efficient with blood qi, and is running low since she intervened with godfrog. An interesting point not mentioned is how large her reserves were when Akasha first found her – it might have been quite low then too, and she was waiting for someone to carry her out the tower in order to avoid expending them (though of course, that raises questions about why she didn’t just go super tiny and walk out)

      Finally, the pair recognise that Sanae is stronger than Akasha and so naturally both will prefer Akasha does as much of the fighting as possible in order for her to gain more experience. I say that Sanae naturally wants Akasha to get stronger – this is because I believe Sanae is acting with Akasha’s interests in mind. If Sanae was really some devious puppet master, I don’t think she would be trying to get Akasha to behave a little less psychopathically before meeting Nerys, or indeed helping her find Nerys at all.

      As for Sanae’s origins and allegiances… Perhaps an old god dabbled too much with demonic experiments, inadvertently turning theirself into one. Demons are not well liked by inhabitants of the Godrealm, from what Adkins has let on, and Sanae certainly believes that she would not be able to survive for long if she caught the attention of them. Thus, she hides away in the tower. Perhaps she expected something like it, perhaps it was a happy accident for her, but Akasha appears – a new god with demonic influence, another of her kind – and so her new plan is to team up with I suppose an eventual end goal being to gain sufficient power to live unafraid of the godrealm.

      Well, I’m speculating wildly by this point.

  7. I found Sanae’s attitude very reassuring in this chapter. If she, arguably a far older demon than Akasha, managed to retain her senses and generally act sane, there’s hope yet for our resident wolf-girl.

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