While we waited I had time to practice a new trick. Partial transformation was now possible for some reason, as I discovered in the capital. Maybe I needed the right emotions or just enough power, or maybe the shock of seeing Eleanor and subduing the rage I felt was the key. Regardless, I now had a new trick in my repertoire.
After we spent a week thinking of possible scenarios for our future, we set off towards the Val territory. It would take us at most five days getting there by air. We were cautious to not get seen by any patrols or guard stations. Strangely, now there were no sightings of bandits down below. People must have really believed that I was the cause of all the bad things in the world. At least some good came out of all of this.
As we traveled, we made a few stops so I could get a look at some other cities. The situation everywhere was the same. Every town was prospering somewhat, citizens walking around with happy faces, merchants selling their goods and earning money. Just as if nothing happened. It would be surprising to see this under the foolish king, but now that Eleanor was practically running the kingdom, it was only natural things would go well.
People actually talked about me, how I was a devil wanting to kill and plunder and rape and burn the world to cinders. It’s funny how ridiculous the rumors about me were. People compared me to the evil tyrants of the past and to Devils and evil gods. A bunch of sheep.
When we got closer to the great forest, we noticed increased patrols around the border, as if they were waiting for something, which was stupid since there was no longer a war to fight. When we flew above the forest a commotion could be seen, people running around with spears and swords. It would all be useless, we were heading to the centre of the territory, the people at the border would take weeks to reach us.
Near the place we intended to land, there already were some guards, alert and ready to fight. Before we landed, I made sure to warn the trio that would be waiting for me.
“If anything goes wrong and I get restrained, don’t try to fight, fly away and get to safety.”
As we lend, we get surrounded by guards, pointing weapons at us. Dragons are a rare sight, especially mounted and docile. They rarely take care not no burn foolish mortals who approach them.
As I jump off Flaer’s back, I still have sharp ends pointed at me, which is both preposterous and ridiculous. They can’t harm me with steel if I don’t want them to and treating a fellow Val man like this is forbidden. If one draws blood of another Val, he is to be severely punished.
“What is the meaning of this? I am Zern of the Val tribes, bonded to the princesses of Val’Kira, Val’Hoona, and Val’Morn tribes. You will lower your weapons.”
The men surrounding me hear my words, some of them recognize me, but they still disregard my words. This wouldn’t normally happen no matter what.
“I came here to speak to the elders about the peace with monster races, I carry words of one Regios the Dragon, leader of the monster territory, who wishes to sign a peace treaty with us.”
“You see men? This is the fiend we cast out months ago. It returns to us, demanding our surrender to the monsters, to whom he clearly swore allegiance. He has a dragon and a troll in tow, as well as one of his Bloodborn, the traitors.”
The coarse deep voice speaking out is very well known to me. It was around me when I was born and it spoke to me for some months with before my future was decided by the elders. It belonged Legiros, my father.
“I, the Warlord of the Val tribes order you to seize that man. He and his companions want nothing more then to bring chaos to us and to enslave us. Frez, he was your former apprentice and your companion, prove you loyalty to the Great Matriarch Eleanor and subdue the Fiend.”
Frez and a few others come forward from behind my father. They are reluctant to do anything, nor do they want to. I can see the heavy gaze of Frez, he clearly doesn’t want to do anything against me, but he has no say in the matter, the word of the Warlord is the law.
“I am sorry, I have no choice.”
He raises his sword and points at me. He knows he can’t harm me, but this goes against the usual customs of the tribe. It seems my father wants me to lash out at somebody, to give him a reason to execute me later. I don’t clearly understand his hatred towards me, but what can you expect of a man consumed by the greed for power. He is like the king in that regard.
For some time we stare at each other, unwilling to make the first move.
“What is the meaning of this? Lower your weapons this instant!”
A familiar voice, belonging to one elder Karmak rings out, practically repeating my previous words. The man stands to the side, as well as elders Katara and Baewulf, whom I know personally and some other older man and women.
“Legiros, what are you doing. Zern is not some evil fiend you claim him to be. He is a hero of our people and he came back from an important mission. Stop this farce.”
The man in charge sighs.
“Is this an order elder Karmak? Does your group supports your decision and gives you authority?”
Elder Katara speaks up.
“Yes, we all believe this is a ridiculous situation. Zern is not to be treated with such hostility, he has important news to give us.”
My father sighs again, loudly as if he made a hard decision.
“Very well… Men, arrest the elders and the fiend. They are to be restricted and confined until a decision by Eleanor the Prime Matriarch is made regarding them.”
“What? How dare you treat the elders of the Val tribe like this?”
“I have the authority, given to me by Great Matriarch Eleanor, the future queen of the kingdom of Kernun, to arrest any supporter of the Fiend, even the elders. You clearly showed your allegiance to the abomination, so I have no choice but to arrest you until further notice.”
This whole situation is preposterous. Leah was right, I shouldn’t have come here, the elders are now in a tight spot because of me.
“Elders, I am sorry to put you in this situation, I shouldn’t have come.”
“Don’t worry young master Zern. You only revealed the true face of the current leaders. Now flee. There is nothing for you here.”
I turn around and start walking to Flaer. There is nothing to be done here, I have no authority and no power, I barely constitute a Val man right now. Any minor law broken and I am going to be executed. The Fiend can’t be allowed to have any say right now.
Not wanting to let me escape so easily, my father charges at the elder Karmak, with his sword drown, and stops it just short of piercing the heart.
“Fiend, stop your retreat. If you go now, I will kill every supporter you have. Their blood will be on your hands!”
I turn around and look at him, my hateful expression visible to everybody. As I slowly walk towards him, I undergo a partial transformation, changing my legs and arms, elongating them and making myself taller. My boots rip, unable to contain my wolf-like appendages.
I approach slowly, some of the guards still pointing spear at me. I don’t stop and walk right into the sharp ends of the weapons, their holders struggling to stay in place as my flesh presses against the metal. They manage to hold their positions, but the metal starts bending slightly, until the shafts of the spears break, sending splinters in every direction. Men, astounded by what’s happening take few steps back and let me pass.
I walk right up to my father, who is visibly more pale than he was before. I put my hand on the sharp edge of the sword and clasp it into a tight fist. The steel creaks under pressure, blade ruined and unusable now. I rip the remainder of the blade out of his hand and with just my fingers I fold it in two once and then once more. Putting my arm to the side, I let the chunk of steel drop, hitting the ground with a metal clunk. Looking right into the eyes of a man I once treated with respect I speak slowly and deliberately, so he and everybody around us could hear me clearly.
“The only reason you are still alive is because we both are men of the Val tribe. You break the law, you spill a single drop of blood of another Val man, I will end you. Remember this now, if you want to live, you should not fight the Fiend. If you continue on this course, I won’t think about you being my father. I will not hesitate to put you or any of your man down.”
I turn my head, looking at every man present, trying to lock my eyes with theirs. It’s an easy feat as I tower over everybody present with about two and a half meters height with my half-transformed form. My gaze sends shivers down the spines of the most men, some even falling to escape the scorn I project towards them. Good, they know I am serious.
“Now I will leave and you won’t stop me.” I turn towards the elders, surrounded by guards. “I am once again sorry, I have to leave you. This can’t be resolved without bloodshed, and it surely won’t be mine. I don’t want the Val men, who didn’t do anything wrong but follow their leaders, no matter how despicable, to get hurt. Until we meet again.”
I then turn towards Flaer, walk to her and with a single jump I get onto her back, which is a few meters above the ground. In complete silence we take off and fly away. We don’t have anywhere in particular to go, so I tell Flaer to find a relatively safe spot to rest, once we leave the forest.
Until then I think about what happened.
I honestly can’t say I ever thought of my father as evil or despicable before this day. He was harsh and he was hard to please, but that’s just the way he was.
He seemed happy when I was born. I was his first child and a son no less. Until the elders told him of our circumstances, he was set on training me and turning me into a proper warrior, to honor his legacy and be the head of the family. Only after he knew of my imminent demise, he gave up on me and left me to my own devices.
Before he came into our tribe, he was an adventurer. It is on one of his little trips that he met my uncle, who was looking for a man for his sister. This was how new blood usually was brought into the tribe. My father, seeking all the power he could gain readily agreed to the proposition. Once he came to the tribe, he went through his Rite and became the guardian of Val’Morn and of my mother. The only changes he recieved were harder nails and skin, and slight boost to the healing.
He was an excellent warrior, many people respected him. But he was too bent on gaining power and set on becoming the strongest and most respected. He is very much like the human king in that respect. Thank god I affected Eleanor enough to change her from becoming like that. Well, at least I thought I did.
He would often be ruthless with other men, sometimes sacrificing others for his own benefit. Not literally though. He would blame others for his own faults and take the credit for other’s effort. In his career advancement toward a Val general many heads rolled. Again, not literally.
He was too foreign for the tribe to understand the kinship and closeness we had. It is only because of Frez that I got to experience it. In more ways than one, Frez was more of a father then Legiros ever was.
Once he learnt that I won’t live past ten, he turned his attention towards his career. He wanted more and more power and influence.
He tried to get another son, but to my knowledge, I only have two more sisters, Zerania and Kerrigan. That must have really pissed my father off. I came to visit them and mother from time to time, but once I passed my trial, father forbade me from seeing them.
It was weird, I thought that once I gain the power and become a guardian of the tribe, he would open up to me. But it seemed that his jealousy and his pride took over any fatherly feelings he might have felt. His eyes showed nothing other then contempt and hate for me. Perhaps it was because I survived when I shouldn’t have, or may be his pride was hurt because it was Frez who trained me. He had his chance and he just let it go.
Since then there was only hostility between us. I never understood why. But I let the distance between us grow, not wanting to deal with any of the feelings he harbored for me. When I succeeded the second and the third rite, he was furious inside, his eyes showed the fire burning within. He hoped I would die and prove him to be better, whatever that would mean. He clearly despised me at that point. Maybe he just hated me for being more powerful than him? But why would he, I was his flesh and blood, he wanted me to succeed his legacy, wouldn’t I have to be powerful for that?
But now, he had an opportunity and he seized it. He became the Warlord of the Val tribe and he he is second to only Eleanor. Only I stand in his way now.
The fear can surely twist the minds of people. Even my own father wants to get rid of me. A truly strange feeling.
Now we don’t have anything to do, we might as well train. When we find a safe place, I will begin my training for the three people with me. I am not Meriden or Leah, but I still have skills I can part on them. We still have a few hours before landing anywhere and I feel really tired. Nothing wrong with getting some shut-eye.