A Wish for Hope
It did not please me that Brullusk had taken my horse. My Aunt Debbish had contacted me to join her on a visit of her parents, my paternal grandparents. She had some plans for my Grandfather Terish, and felt my presence would help get him in the right mood for what she wanted to do. I did love my Grandfather Terish, and got along very well with my Aunt Debbish. More than willing to be part of whatever scheme she had devised, I went to Davelda, but in stopping at the horse handlers Brullusk took Petty from me saying she had become too old for the life I lived.
I did not gain my horse when she was young. Petty, or Petunia as she was called, was just one of the animals in my father’s stables. I was leaving after a visit home, and really cannot remember why I grabbed her. Honestly, she might have just been the one the stable master brought to me without any real decision by me at all. I ended up going up against monsters, then a group of thieves using magic. By the time I was ready to take another break to visit someone, I had formed a connection with the horse I gained. Petty had accepted what I called her, responded to my commands, and proven herself as the horse for me. While I was sorry to learn that I would no longer have Petty with me, I considered what she had done for me in choosing a young horse to act as my steed.
Aunt Debbish found me selecting a new mount. We spoke about various things as we looked over the animals, and she even rode those of my final selection to give her own opinion of which one I should choose. I finally picked a stallion that showed promise of having the spirit I felt was now required for the journeys I was called to make. It however needed some further training, so I went with Aunt Debbish riding Petty with the understanding it would be my last time to have the horse as my mount.
I had a good visit. With Aunt Debbish being Grandfather Terish’s middle child, and me being his only adventurous granddaughter, we could do things that he would not allow from anyone else. Grandmother Straekin ended up rolling on the floor with laughter, and I could not help but grin with the memories of what was done with Grandfather Terish. He treated it all as the harmless fun it was intended, and I ended the visit glad my Aunt Debbish had invited me.
Returning Petty to Brullusk, he asked, “You want a loaner horse, Princess Jelnaya?”
“No,” I answered. “I think I will spend time hunting. It might not actually fall into the activity of fighting, but there are skills used in hunting that it would not hurt for me to work on.”
“Don’t get Fergush mad at you, Princess Jelnaya.”
I paused to listen to a voice I usually heard providing comment, especially when I was talking about him, but found myself having to say, “He has been rather quiet lately. Still, sometimes this life I lead is not that stressful. Let me know when my next horse is ready, Brullusk.”
Fergush stayed quiet as I moved through worlds seeing what game I could spot and practicing my ability to stealthily get in range to make a kill. I did make some comments to my deity. There were certain rites to his worship, and I made certain to follow them. Fergush was my god, and I accepted at times he had other matters, although I made certain to hold to my part of our relationship.
Just as I told everyone, I did not usually eat the meat of the animals I killed. To be honest, I was not hunting for food. If I was hungry, I had a bow that usually struck whatever I could see. With my other weapons I regularly proved just how deadly I was with them. I was good with my daggers, but they usually only got used when I sparred with others. I challenged myself to get close enough to an animal to kill it with whatever I could find. It was not as satisfying to make a fatal attack with a stick or a rock, but the fact I proved just how deadly I could be even without special weapons gave me a sense of pleasure. When I did find myself with a supply of meat, I did as I told everyone and went to a community where I could trade the raw flesh for some cooked delicacies.
It was as I was savoring a rather thick soup that I heard Fergush say, “Don’t argue with me, Jelnaya.”
“What?” I said rather surprised by the statement. “I’m your champion, Fergush. If you want me to do something, I will do it.”
“In an hour a portal will open. Be prepared. Step through and slaughter, Jelnaya. It is my command. Just to assure you any comfort, you have the authorization from Samayer.”
“It’s her temple. Don’t argue, Jelnaya.”
I looked at the bowl before me as I said, “Thank you for the hour, Fergush. I will be ready.”
Being without a horse, I needed to manage my gear. Most of my belongings I left with Brullusk to be brought along with my next horse. Besides a couple of simple gowns, I had my crystal armor. While hunting I had been using a set of black leather, but now I put on the suit I depended on for protecting me in the middle of really dangerous settings. There was nothing I could do to manage my bright red and yellow hair that had grown a little longer than I preferred, but I did set on my head the major item of enchanted jewelry that helped keep the strands from my face while also protecting me from energy attacks. I said certain prayers while assuring my gear would not interfere with me gaining my weapons, then stood ready to move through the portal Fergush said he would open.
I remembered the words from my god when I stepped into a sanctuary facing a youth dressed as an acolyte of Samayer. I killed him. Fergush told me not to argue. He also said that I had the authorization from Samayer. I killed more, but when I paused to choose between routes I recognized that I had killed people. Not soldiers, but people. I guess my god recognized my concern for what I had done, as he told me that all was well.
There had been words from other champions of Fergush that there would be missions like this. He did not deny it, but simply told me to study the histories. I had, and found each occasion for wiping out a community to result from a major act of heresy or total apostasy. Working for a deity, I accepted the corruption resulting from people seeking other answers. Up to now I had been dealing with the sources of evil with them responsible for the death of the people. Those I had to kill had committed themselves to a life of malignancy to such an extent that I felt the horror to be in letting them live. This was the first time I had a mission to simply eradicate a community, but did so hoping all understood I acted under the authorization of those who should be obeyed.
My real concern in stepping from the temple was that I had not truly represented my god. He was known as He-Who-Fights, and I really had not fought. I killed. The only thing that had me feel some peace was that his wife was She-Who-Survives, and if she did not feel the grace of acting then it was not my god at fault.
I felt the need to explain myself to the army that rode up, but my body tensed back up when I heard Fergush say, “Kill them.”
Taking on armed soldiers was not an easy task, but it was something I was learning to do even before allowing my god to claim me. I had a grandfather and a great-uncle who had the reputations of being sources of death. My Grandfather Terish ruled a kingdom where the soldiers did not see war. He fought those threatening the security of his land all by himself. Great-uncle Ferrigote assured his relationship with Fergush by conquering a world. I knew the standards I would be compared to when I began preparing myself for the life I wanted, and rushed to the mass of soldiers understanding that I needed to again prove myself as having learned certain lessons.
There was some comfort in actually facing some battles. Fergush was He-Who-Fights, and it brought me joy to find some opponents that caused me to actually face combat. I dropped each challenger feeling that the others should have realized that they were truly facing a Champion of Fergush, so should give up any thought of continuing to resist me. The battles continued however until the entire host had their blood soaking into the ground.
Over my panting, I heard my deity command, “Through the town, Jelnaya. Anyone in armor, and anyone else along your route, kill them.”
Honestly, this part was not so bad. I had just slaughtered a large number of soldiers. I felt anyone who was still around was too stupid to live. The normal thing would be to advance to the stupefied gazes of those who had watched, or cheers from those who had prayed for one such as me to arrive, and assure the recognition of the deity that sponsored me. In this situation I felt the message was clear that some battles were not for entertainment or positive promotion of a way of life. Those in armor who thought they could challenge me, or simply did not realize the risk of appearing a part of the host I had just eradicated, were killed, Any who felt they could get close to me, thinking I was in a mood to receive congratulations, just needed to be proven how wrong they were. One soldier I advanced upon had his eyes go wide with fright, then began stripping while begging for mercy. Wondering just how bad these people were, I stopped as the man wailed.
“I AM SORRY!” He began cutting a few purses on his person and I saw coins spray about as he said, “They paid me! They paid me! I AM SORRY!”
I had to say, “Fergush, you are not He-Who-Slaughters.”
It brought me some peace to hear, “You are right, Jelnaya. Get the man’s name and remember it. I expect you to check back up on him.”
Obediently I asked, “What is your name?”
The man dropped to a pleading position on the ground as he answered, “Moridrell. I usually patrol around the western border, but they paid me to come here.”
“Moridrell, I am warning you that I will return. There is more to this.”
“Yes, Honored Jelnaya. I will be sacrificing. I promise. What I and my family eats will be in recognition of the gods.”
Since I had just wiped out those in a temple to Samayer, I felt the need to say, “To Fergush. Something had Samayer call to her husband, and he called to me. Samayer is probably past caring, so you better be seeking to gain the compassion of her husband.”
“Yes, Honored Jelnaya. Yes, Honored Jelnaya.”
Seeing others watching with smiles on their faces, I turned to kill them. It was strange how few ran. There were some who did have me test my skills with daggers. Having just spent days killing creatures with rocks and sticks, I did not consider sending a blade into their spines to be a challenge. I pulled the small weapons from backs while looking to see who wanted to die next. Most however simply met their end as if expecting Samayer to have them survive. Seeing even more watching instead of fleeing someone who was causing carnage, I moved on through the town killing people as I went.
Again I felt the relief of allowing those with authority to take over matters. Something as horrific as what I did needed to be resolved. There were surely good, innocent people who needed comforted. I again tensed my body hearing an even higher authority than any mortal figure command me to continue to kill.
Another standard I knew of this life was to keep active. A body did become fatigued, even one granted immortality like my own, but it could be forced to stay moving. It did hurt. The muscles screamed with pain, but I had learned to ignore the agony. Honestly, I even had the knowledge of discounting the feeling of ecstasy that came as the pain seemed to ease. Fighting required precision and not just movement. While being active, I knew my life was being threatened, so I focused through the feelings of my body to perform as if I had been fully rested.
Again I had faced those who truly managed to give me a challenge. Those periods were enjoyed even more as I felt the complaints of my body. Something about proving oneself superior even over physical limitations brought about a wondrous joy. Of course, I still needed to be aware of my situation, but once only corpses surrounded me I took a moment to smile at my victories.
I did not argue, but only worked to bring more air into my body as Fergush commanded, “Follow the path to the right, Jelnaya. Again, anyone in armor or anyone simply along the way you will need to kill.”
It does not really get better.