Chapter 06: Phantom HuntA Chapter by Tomislav Petricevic
The First Arcane Division roams the land in search of a living phantom of a man, Arcana. Dead or alive, he must be caught.
I was riding my horse slowly, not caring in which direction he would take me. Disappointment infused with anger was deep inside my heart, but also a feeling of satisfaction at the same time. Is it even possible to have those kind of emotions linked together? I do not know, but I certainly felt that way. Alone and confused; everyone's fool, eager to do what I was told, absent any questions. The sun was blinding me with its warmth, a gentle breeze that was blowing filled my lung with fresh air, a sound of birds singing echoed in my ears gently. And yet I was sorrowful, even with all that beauty around me. And he was the reason.
Again, Arcana managed to bring out the worst in me, to unleash some of that rage that has been gathering for two years. Two full years of his absence, and yet I couldn't move on and just let it go. Everyone already forgot the man he was; now they just know him as Arcana the fearsome, Arcana the dreadful one, Arcana the magic wielder. Perhaps it was for the best, because the animal he is now could never be compared to the friend I once admired. I suppose it's true when they say all good things come to an end...and this end was a bitter one, to put it lightly.
Three soldiers were traveling alongside me, each riding their own horse. They were all my men, ready for the hunt on Arcana, but in vain. Their shining plate armors and all those sharply- edged swords didn't help them catch the man, for he was a living ghost. And I let go the only opportunity that showed itself to us through these two years...perhaps I didn't want him to be captured? His life in exile leaves him with nothing but misery and despair...so why should he be granted the mercy of a clean death? But still, to slay your own blood like that...aaaaaarrghh, even I don't know what to think anymore! My mind feels so clouded between the feeling of an old friend and a cold blooded nemesis. And how dares he question his father? Isn't it enough he brought shame to his family by committing the murder? King Craen is said to be one of the best rulers in the history of Darhatan. That man didn't deserve to be plagued by his own kin like that. And yet our world spits into his face so violently; that is the true injustice we all suffer from. Every time life starts looking good for the people of this kingdom, something always happens to make sure all hope is crushed.
Of course, our hope still hasn't been crushed just because of Arcana, but the good reign of king Craen was slowly falling apart...no one was brave enough to admit it, but this kingdom fell deeper into the void by every passing day. The king wasn't able to rule the kingdom as he once was; with no living heir, the man was desperate because he knew his family would cease to exist. We gave his beloved Adray a proper funeral, and the king's face that day was something I'll have carved into my memory for eternity. Sadness and deep love for his departed son, along with a small hint of relief, because he knew Adray was resting with his mother in the afterlife. When you see an image like that one, you just know that some things in life are...wrong.
Grave silence was surrounding us as we were traveling, besides the sounds of the surroundings, of course. Plain open road with no hint of any settlements, or even anything besides grass and Silverstone. The river followed us the whole way, making sure we had fresh water whenever we wanted to quench our thirst. Neither of us knew how long our journey would last; our orders were to gather with another Arcane Division.
Arcane Divisions were orders of highly regarded soldiers with only one task- hunting down Arcana. The king gave us permission to use any means necessary for the search, as long as our actions didn't break the principal codes of honor. Merciful as he always has been, the good king Craen also told us to bring Arcana alive to him if we could. Bringing him dead was also an acceptable option, but not the preferable one. I was the captain of the First Arcane Division, because the king thought my knowledge of Arcana would be of grave importance on the task. My men were all familiar faces from Leadris, men I trained with and knew a lot about, so there weren't any tensions between any of us. We went along pretty well, and the jokes we made in our free time ensured some fun that also made us homesick.
Darsul, on the other hand, was the exact opposite of us. He was the leader of the Second Arcane Division and one of the king's most loyal men. Obedient and calm, he did his tasks without asking any unnecessary questions or giving too much thought about the requirements of it. Ruthless personality could be seen in his cold eyes that made a person freeze to death, along with his face that made no improvement to his overall look. Darsul was a man you didn't want to meet in some dark alley at night. I myself was never afraid of his appearance; my only concern was his personality. King Craen was the only one who could control his temper, and if the king's sight was to be turned away from him...problems would arise. His soldiers were no better than him- he handpicked them himself.
The people of Darhatan were grateful for their service, but they knew what kind of trouble they could cause. True soldiers needed to be loyal to the code of honor and have some sympathy for the common folk, not just deal with them by the will of their blades and force. Delicate matters needed delicate hands to deal with them...I started laughing at myself, because my thoughts evoked some events from the past- ladies were surely delicate beings, and my beliefs made sure they noticed me. And that is the same reason Darsul and his goons had no success in that area. Which lady wanted a man who looked at her like he was going to punch her in the face any moment? Except for the ones who were paid to do it, of course.
I raised my hand and ordered everyone to stop. We were traveling for a long time, and I could already see the exhausting looks on their faces. Our horses also needed some water; the poor animals carried us all the way from Shining Crown Inn with little to no rest, and I didn't want them to die because of our stupidity. After all, who knew how long it would take us to meet the Second Arcane Division?
I approached Silverstone while some of the men just decided to lie down on the ground. My water bottle was dry far too long; filling it up with fresh water made the leather on it come to life. The river's flow peacefully collided with the stones on the bank, gently kissing their cold surface and leaving them wet afterwards. Grass was bending down on the wind as if it was trying to be blown away into the river, just so it could feel the grace of its refreshing touch. My wrath for Arcana calmed down. The tranquility of that moment made me realize what was my true cause- to protect this world from anything that would seek to harm it. Arcana certainly started a wheel that would disturb the beautiful nature of Darhatan, one that would make it bleed, and that was not an option I would look past so easily.
How could we have been so blind? Our honor, our service, our dedication...we do not do these things because of people who live here, no, it all comes back to the world. We say we protect it so that our children could have a decent existence, a life worth living- but is it truly that way? Our children will turn to dust one day, just like we will before them. That is a repetitive patter, one that cannot be changed. The only thing that is truly neverending is the world. We are its servants just as much as we are its masters, and all of our deeds to assure a better life for our kin are actually being done in order to preserve the nature, to leave some beautiful sights like these untainted by the corruption that spreads across human minds.
I closed my eyes and dived my head into the water, cleansing my mind of all the dishonorable thoughts that may have gathered up until that moment. I stopped breathing and relaxed, letting the river soak my hair with its rejuvenating presence. My head was deep inside the water for as long as I could hold it without starting to choke. When I finally pulled it out, I almost felt bad for not being able to stay there forever. Wishes of water pulling me into its depths crossed my mind, but I remembered the tasks that required my presence on this world. Squeezing and shaking my hair helped dry it a bit, and I let the rest of the job to the sunlight.
I was still looking at the water. There was something in Silverstone, something so relaxing, so peaceful...it just screamed to bring out a person's deepest thoughts. I gathered some more water in my hands and drank until my stomach was full. I felt like I was going to burst and spray everyone with water and blood, so I followed their example and just laid down. My mind was slowly drifting between the realm of dreams and this world as I was listening to the sound of Silverstone's flow.
* * *
“We should probably move, captain.” I opened my eyes and got instantly blinded by the sunlight. At least it was still day, but I wasn't aware how long I had been sleeping. I covered my eyes with my hand and rubbed them a bit, just enough to fully regain consciousness. A hand was stretched towards me, so I took it and lifted myself up. Odane, one of my soldiers was standing in front of me, all set up for the trip.
He was my favorite “man” in the division, most likely because his personality highly resembled my own. Passionate and dedicated to the cause, he was the most eager person to realize I picked him for my division. I knew him for about year and a half, so I was fully aware of his capabilities in combat when I made the decision. Some say he was the youngest recruit to join the Leadris soldiers and train under their supervision- the boy couldn't be older than seventeen now, so who knows how young he was when he first picked up a sword? But, despite his boldness, he almost always turned off his mind during a fight, and I have been telling him every day that it'll cost him his head one day. A good warrior cannot afford not to use his brain; after all, battling another man isn't the same as trying to kill a wild animal. Animals are driven by lust for blood, but men...they should be smarter, and yet Odane never listened. Some of us even started joking with him by calling him “Bloodseeker”, and he would laugh along with us.
The only time he listened is when I would tell him we'd take a break from training and go to the nearest tavern. The lucky b*****d got every woman he wanted, anytime he wanted her. We even challenged him once to seduce and sleep with as much women as he can in about one hour. Tankards of ale were being poured cheerfully when he came back and announced that he slept with no more than five women. Five! That's more than most Leadris men can say for their lifetime, and he did it in an hour. And that just gave him even more respect among the soldiers and even king's personal guard. Everyone started approaching him for advice with women, but he honestly said that even he doesn't know what draws them to him. He looked just like anyone else- short brown hair, dark brown eyes, and a gentle happy look on his face. His youth could be seen the moment you look upon him, and being short and thin certainly didn't help him change that. Small hairs on his face that started slowly growing couldn't be called a proper beard, so he looked utterly ridiculous. We all laughed at him because of it, so he was forced to shave it every time even a single hair appeared.
“Athos, Esskal! It is time for us to carry on!” I started laughing at myself for yelling it out too loud; they were standing just about a dozen steps away from me. Athos started preparing his horse for riding, not saying a word. Esskal nodded as a sign of confirmation and started gathering the supplies of water. After drinking some more out of Silverstone, I also started preparing my own horse; the poor animal looked so sad for knowing we were going to be on the road once again. When we were finally done, our journey continued in silence as usual.
Athos was a man of few words, and sometimes it seemed like he didn't know how to speak at all. No one knew much about him, and he certainly didn't take any measures to correct that. His origins were also unknown, as he just appeared with a wish to join the soldiers. Barely even saying anything, it was hard collecting some basic information for him to be able to join properly. Good king Craen himself watched the Athos' demonstration of skills- apparently, he was already experienced in fighting with daggers, knives, and who knows what else kind of stealth- based weapons. The king was stunned by his combat, if that could even be called combat; it looked like some kind of a death dance. He was extremely nimble for a person taller than me, and his blows cut with a mastered precision. Fighting four men at once proved to be a poor challenge for him, as all of them ended up with their clothes torn, but bodies intact. The fight ended when the soldiers had nothing on them than underwear. We all had a good laugh, and even the king was cheered up by the entertainment Athos prepared. And on that day, the code by which we recruit men was broken for the first time in Leadris' history, because it usually didn't allow soldiers to continue the training in anything but the art of swordsmanship; and Athos continued on with his trusted daggers and knives. The king himself granted him the permission and even signed some royal documents to verify that.
Although I didn't know much about his personality, other than being calm but deadly, his look reminded me of Arcana. He had long black hair, but instead of hanging straight down on his shoulders, his hair was sticking out in various directions, forming some kind of small spikes. It didn't even shine on the sun; it seemed like it was sucking all of the rays and devouring them in its depths. Black eyes matched the color of his hair, and his eyebrows were always mildly narrowed, giving him a serious, but not too much threatening, look. But you know what they say, looks can be deceiving...and that was most likely to be true about this one. His face seemed so polished, as if it hasn't been touched by anything at all, not even a drop of rain. Even his armor was different, if that could be called armor at all. Soldiers usually wore the same sets of armor, were it plate or leather, but of course, he was an exception. When we asked him why doesn't he want to wear our armor, he just mumbled something about it being too heavy for him to move swiftly and left us there standing like a bunch of fools. Instead he wore his own armor, full black leather that looked very thin, not that any of us actually touched it. It was attached with numerous belts that had knives and other small weapons clinging around while he was walking. He also had a waist belt with two sharp and carefully polished daggers that seemed ready to be pulled out any moment. Black boots he wore were decorated with small steel loops that were pierced through them, giving them a not-so-ordinary look.
His recruitment in the First Arcane Division was the strangest one; I approached him while he was sharpening his daggers and gave him the paper which needed his signature in order for him to be an official member of the division. I also brought him a feather and some ink, expecting his decision to be made immediately, whether he accepted the deal or not. With his look occupied with the daggers, he didn't even bother to lift his head up and look at me, or the papers. Not wanting to push the answer out of him, I just left, already counting the deal would be off. So my surprise was great when I came back from the training the day after and found the signed papers lying on my bed, inside the barracks. What was going through his mind during all that time I did not know, nor did I want to ask. We just continued on like nothing out of the ordinary happened, and he probably didn't even consider his approach as something different from other people.
On the other hand, I also recruited a man who was the complete opposite of Athos- Esskal. Being thirty eight years old, he was the oldest one of us, and probably the craziest one. A person would say that experience and maturity come with age, but that man proved the statement wrong many times. Getting drunk at a tavern was a usual part of his day, but ale didn't seem to crush his ability to put up a good fight. If anything, it just gave him more power. And power he surely had, because he was a boulder of a man; as tall as Athos, but greatly heavier than him, probably even heavier than both me and Athos together. Speed wasn't his best friend, but his large fists compensated for the difference. Although he was forced to use a sword and train with it, he usually left it on his horse while he was outside of Leadris, because he always loved a good challenge. When strangers asked him what was his weapon of choice, his usual response was: “My enemies' weapon.” That just made them confused even more, so he had to explain that he fights with his fists, eventually disarming the opponent and killing him with his own weapon. Most of them didn't believe his stories, but I knew they were true because I saw one of them with my own eyes.
We were at a tavern, relaxing after a hard day of training. Although the man seemed rough, with his large bald head and a thick layer of beard covering his face, along with large ears and a big scar across his wide nose, he was actually a pleasant companion; buy him a tankard of good ale, and he'd be your best friend for the day. And there we were, sitting and laughing at Esskal's amusing stories, when one of the Leadris soldiers started loudly cursing everything we believed in- he said he wished to see the king dead and to see the useless soldier order disbanded. Esskal immediately stood up, and both me and Odane quickly grabbed him, in order to prevent any kind of trouble. Odane warned the man not to talk such treason or he'd lose his life one day, but the man told him to shut up and go to the kitchen for being nothing more than a woman, like all of us soldier weaklings. He said he was a true servant of the kingdom, unlike the rest of us. Odane and I both loosened the grip of Esskal, and he came charging at the man with all his might. A few moments later, Esskal's hands, as thick as massive trees, crushed the man's skull. The wooden floor was soaked with blood, and pieces of the man's brain were scattered across it. The soldiers that were with the man ran away. Esskal came back to our table and continued drinking like nothing happened, covered in blood all the way to his elbows.
In that one moment, I realized he was the man for my task, and he gladly accepted my offer.
One way or another, the First Arcane Division was a strange group of people who seemed so different from each other, and yet one cause connected us all- to stop a great threat to the kingdom, one named Arcana. Devotion to the quest was unquestionable, as each of them wanted to end it properly as much as I did, and the thought of abandoning the search was simply unacceptable. It was only the matter of time before Arcana would fall into our hands, dead or alive.
© 2012 Tomislav Petricevic
Slavonski Brod, Slavonija, Croatia
AboutHello! My name is Tomislav, I'm seventeen, and I'm from Croatia. Compared to other people on this site, I am nothing special. Here you have actors, musicians, singers, sportspersons, and who knows wh.. more..