The Chronicles of Estiah

Chapter 8 : Brother

"This is for Elissa's brother." The angelic voice never sounded this fake to Nikkum.

He felt not pain, but hatred through this dagger, a sad and yet true hatred. The time before the dagger finally vanished lasted an eternity to him. It was not an act of betrayal, as he brought Elissa along fully knowing that she wanted to avenge her brother. Had he done the right thing? Maybe. Too many things were going on in Nikkum's head, the dizziness from blood loss only made it harder to think. Salvation was a convenient excuse of the weak to escape reality, and redemption was a fake word of the sinner to avoid living in regret. The stab lacked physical strength, but it pierced through Nikkum's soul. Death had never been this close before, his heart was still beating but his mind was lost. The overwhelming emptiness took over Nikkum, and the submission made him unable to stand up.

Elissa collapsed on the ground, unconscious. Being able to release Charms requires years of training and spiritual maturity. The burden was just too much for the twelve-year-old girl's mind. Still she pushed her body beyond its limit, and managed it once.

A gentle forest breeze caressed these tormented souls, the cruel nature showing also its compassionate side. Although it was still daytime, the sky shifted into a gloomy mood. Sunlight quietly flowed away from the two immobilized mortals, one paralyzed by his mind, the other forsaken by her body. The scene remained the same for longer than anyone would guess.

"Finally woke up?" Nikkum asked as he saw Elissa struggle to open her eyes. The night had already fallen.

She tried to scream but no sound came out. She attempted to retreat but her body didn't obey her.

She clearly remembered what she had done to Nikkum, and she distinctly recalled his terrible words when she stood in front of him in the hostel last time. An angered monster took no pity on innocence; her end would not be as beautiful as she had hoped. A part of her was saying that she would be going to meet her brother soon at the other side of the world; this gave her some joy inside but her frail body was shaking uncontrollably and violently.

Nikkum's wounds had closed up already, even cells from his perfectly trained body renewed much faster than ordinary people. But one of them was still hurting intensively, the disintegrated dagger felt like it were still there, burning and throbbing.

To Elissa's surprise, the murdering aura that usually flowed out from Nikkum was quietly shut in. With hands crossed under his chin, Nikkum was simply staring at the little girl, astonishingly calm. Elissa turned her head away. She could look into Nikkum's eyes when he was furious and life-threatening, but at this very moment she was terrified to meet his gaze. There was no campfire, no moon, no light; Elissa was merely imagining Nikkum's face with undepictable animosity and calamity. Monsters never changed, monsters unconditionally bit back when wounded, such was the monster's nature. She wanted this suffocating scene to end, with her death or not. But she lacked the courage to speak up, or rather, her throat didn't make any sound. The very moment before death was perhaps difficult for anyone, ignoring when this moment would end was definitely much worse. Her mind was tremendously weaker than the moment when she pushed the dagger in Nikkum, now she was merely a harmless small animal trembling in front of its predator.

"I am heading to Zeal tomorrow, follow me if you wish." Nikkum apparently changed his plan of stopping by Eversweep, he seemed unwilling to drive away the poor girl anymore. He turned around and lay down firmly with his eyes closed. His back was right in front of Elissa, as if it was asking to be stabbed again.

Out of fright, Elissa burst into tears. She didn't cry while seeing her brother's head being smashed into a dough of blood, nor while being held as hostage by the cursed bandits, even less while climbing on Nikkum's back when they were surrounded by the atrocious dark creatures. But now she was completely unable to stop this bitter liquid flowing out of her eyes. The cry was mute, to not awake the slumbering beast next to her.
Thus, their journey resumed again the next day, one stomping before, the other cowering behind.

The road to Zeal was an arduous pilgrimage for Elissa. In these long days, Nikkum hardly talked or looked at her. Only their maddened souls who had once lost faith and prayers were tying them together, both suffering anguish from their past and their dear.

Zeal was a magnificent city, destroyed by the past, and restored to its splendor. Magi from all lands gathered and offered their genuine talents. This marvelous floating city was beyond every story-teller's vast imagination, and its beauty could not be described by the poet's charming words. Zealians loved to tell the travelers that one of their eyes was always gazing upon new hopes while the other was looking back to the ancient glories.

The main part of Zeal was covered by outstanding gardens and hanging buildings. To provide passengers with easy access, a great number of teleporting portals were set up. These transport tools quickly disoriented and confused newcomers, whereas the inhabitants praised them as the best creation ever. The countless varieties of tree and plant painted Zeal into a city of life and hope, splendid in appearance, grand in its nature. And the smiles on the Zealians' faces eased even the most exhausted journeyers, making them forget about the lurking Shadow Beings on the ground. Zeal had been floating since the Shadow Wars; despite the continuous flow of merchants and visitors, the magical stones it was built on never showed sign of wear.

However, Nikkum was not in awe before this wonder of humanity in Estiah, he stood before the main gate of the city that he just came through. This huge teleportation device linked Zeal with the ground, countless people came through it every day. Two giant stone statues of guardians next to it made humans around look like ants, such was the grandeur of Zeal.

Nikkum knew that mindless wandering in a city as vast as Zeal would not help him to find what he was looking for. Patiently waiting in front of the gate was probably the best thing to do, since it was the only main connection to the land. Some fuss among the travelers suddenly grabbed his attention, a Hierarch with many guards and followers passed before him. Nikkum recognized the flicking emblem on the Hierarch's mantle, which could not have been mistaken. He never expected to find what he had been looking for so fast.

"You wicked geezer there, look at me!" Nikkum showed no respect to his senior, and yelled at him with his roaring voice.

"Halt!" the well trained guards reacted to Nikkum's outrage instantly, "How dare you disgrace the name of Abedgar the Venerable?"

The Hierarch turned to Nikkum, his face full of surprise. He was in his late fifties, a man of virtue and dignity. As he looked around and found no one older than him, he had to presume that red-eyed barbarian was calling out to him.

"Do you recognize this savage, my venerable sir?" the highly disciplined guards needed an order before they were allowed to nullify the insane man's danger.

"Not really." Then Abedgar looked in Nikkum's direction, "Pardon me, Sir... have we met before?"

A man of few words, Nikkum dashed toward the sacred man, with his favorite shearing axe in hand. The guards simultaneously released their weapons and clashed with the monster. The sound of colliding weapons made people around scream and flee. If Abedgar's guards were pettily skilled, he would have not been able to entrust his undoubtable faith to his gods any more during the prayers of evening, his head would have been rolling on the pavement at this very moment. Nikkum wasn't focusing on taking out the guards, in an important city like Zeal, he would only be outnumbered quickly if he wasted too much time. He had to reach the Hierarch at any cost. But these inflexible fellows were fulfilling their job at their best, each move reflected years of hardship during training. Abedgar knew this perfectly, his facial expression was the same as before, his confident and slightly mocking smile made Nikkum grit his teeth. He did not have to move, his men were going to teach the way of a true believer to this ignorant fool by breaking some of his limbs.

As additional city guards heard the noise and gathered around, Nikkum was completely surrounded by a bunch of people ready to die to protect their beloved and revered Hierarch. The mindlessly aggressive animal found itself enclosed by defenders, howling, fretting. And nothing good came out of getting irritated. After cutting off a guard's leg, Nikkum was in more of a pinch. The poor guard's painful screech only attracted more spectators and helpers. The Hierarch was nowhere to be seen now, probably bored from this unrefined fight.

"Surrender yourself! Or your sister is going to die!" One of Abedgar's followers grabbed Elissa out of desperation.

For a brief moment, Nikkum didn't believe his ears. The faithful devotees to the Old Gods resorted to the same tactic as the despicable bandits. How low could they be to protect a man perceived through only public opinions! It was only a deception, it was only a bluff, the men seeking for the Holiness were not capable of hurting an innocent girl, Nikkum repeated this to himself and slammed his axe toward the opponent before him.

"Brother!" A hopeless and impossible sound stunned Nikkum.

That was the miserable soul's last word.

A giant sword pieced through her small chest, breaking her yet grown heart into pieces. The light and crystalline fragments of the disintegrating sword mixed up with the innocent's blood, taken by the wind. The little girl's fragile body lost its sparkles of life after one single strike, and then a purple gem fell out from her pale hand.

The sound of the gem's impact with the pavement drew Nikkum's spirit back from that unknown world, where Elissa's pain touched deep in his heart, in his memory. Recalling the same scene in the hostel, Nikkum knew the blood was real this time. He had watched the same scene before, a small lifeless body in front of him, twice. The flashbacks in his head were driving him insane, while his weapons went on a rampage.

A beast might become much more devastating when confined, especially after being enraged by pain. Elissa's murderer didn't see Nikkum strike until he felt the sharp edge of a huge axe slice into his skull, then the higher part flew away without letting him wonder what color his brain was. Three unfortunate bystanders next to him faced no better doom, their heads unquestionably had to say farewell to their old associate necks. A hungry lion is acting wild out of despair, but a lion that lost its child will only let its enemies taste nature's most twisted exasperation. Screams, chaos and death dominated this little part of the so glorious Zeal. So many dare devils attempted to overpower Nikkum, so many dismembered corpses were left behind. He dodged no more, every cut on his body was met with an execution. And yet, despite how many wounds he received, Elissa was no longer able to follow him again. The flourishing and attractive streets of Zeal were nothing but a slaughter house, with a frenzied beast going wild.

"Ease the sinner with your rage. Appease the judged with your hatred. Relieve the damned with your destruction. Come forth, Great Dedicator of Fire, drain your might on my soul, end this madness, this endeavor: Blazing Phoenix!"

The incantation created a blinding wave of fire, hurling toward the mass of guards behind Nikkum. The extreme heat carbonized the first row instantly and sent the others flying away before they could even cry out. The few remaining mortals around uttered a hysteric sound, and fled in every direction.

Nikkum suffered from the concussion of the spell as well, that slowed him down to some extent. He shook his head violently to clear his vision blurred by blood. Before him stood a young man in a worn black cloak, carrying Elissa's corpse.

"Saar, that's what they used to call me."