“Bali! Don’t!” I screamed in her direction. “Get the fucking loot and come over here!”
Figures shot past me. Cairo, Timuk, and Vaunt with their weapons raised and skills activated. They ran past Bardath and the lama who seemed the most taken aback by the turn things were taking.
“Don’t let them go, you idiots!” Everything was heading for the worst and Maru was still struggling, cursing me to let her go. “For fuck’s sake… Lima, gather your men! Lima?”
I looked behind me and saw her in the exact same position I had last seen her. Crying silently as she held Viki’s now cold body.
“Deadeye. It is truly a blessing that I met the two delvers of the Red Cross the very day they would come to this specific dungeon…”
Balrosh’s low voice was strangely calm. Calm enough that it made even Maru suddenly stop her feeble attempts to push me off. I assumed he was using an enchantment similar to the fight club’s announcer, because his words resounded loudly through the clearing despite his mild tone.
“… I do not care about your origin, or why you came to this shard…”
“Bardath, Hammer! Go get the fuckin’ trinket from the horse!” I yelled. Coming back to their senses, they both looked at me, before dashing to where the mount had been slain.
“… I also could not care less about why Genoneva wants you,” Balrosh continued.
Bali and the three hunters had almost reached him. I was racking my brain for something I could do, but couldn’t find anything. Using the Djin’s Eye could cause a short distraction, but it would affect everybody. Not just the warriors.
I heard Ikun Omi’s teasing chuckle.
Should I get there and fight? I asked myself. Despite the leg? Despite me not knowing how strong the four of them are?
“What matters is that claiming your lives will allow us to avenge a man’s death.”
What the fuck is he talking about?
“You moron… He- he is bluffing,” I heard Maru say with ragged breath.
Had I killed somebody close to him? The only time someone on his side had died in my presence had been in Bunker’s theater, when Genoneva had… ordered a man to kill himself. An older beastkin who… did bear a strong resemblance with Balrosh.
Cold sweat ran down my spine as the realization set in. Bali was now only a few meters from him, walking with all the confidence in the world.
They really are here for me.
I finally understood the uneasiness I felt when looking in Balrosh eye’s. Those were the eyes of a man ready to set the world on fire.
The four warriors didn’t mind losing their lives, or causing Genoneva’s blessing to destroy Bunker and kill everyone in it.
That was exactly what they were after. No one was off-limits.
“Bali!” I screamed. “They are-”
It happened too fast for anyone to do anything.
Bali’s head exploded in a burst of crimson, and everything behind her was sprayed in blood. Instead of her disintegrated skull was now Balrosh’s fist. It took a few seconds for her body to fall.
The violence of the impact stopped all the hunters dead in their tracks. Maybe they had been close enough for some of the blood to land on them.
“Ba-Bali? NO. No, no, no! NOOOO! BALI!”
Maru’s heart-rending screams broke the silence, full of disbelief and anguish. She had no strength left to move, all of her stamina having been taken from her, but she still tried to crawl forward, crying and calling for her friend to stand.
“He was my brother and these men’s leader,” I heard Balrosh say, his enchanted voice covering Maru’s. “He was bewitched and made to take his own life by the heartless flower.”
The three warriors at his side moved for the first time. Like Balrosh, they were wrapped in their aura and didn’t carry any weapon. One of them dashed toward Cairo, Vaunt and Timuk, while the two others went Bardath and the Lama’s direction.
I have to help them.
I didn’t have much mana left, but with the Sun Barrel a bullet at the right time could create an opening for the kids. Slightly modifying the size of my spell so that Maru would still be under its effect, I stood, ignored the pain from my leg and went to pick up my rifle. I mounted the barrel and took aim, only to see that the three hunters were running away from their opponent.
“Don’t show your back! Fighting is our only chance!”
But it was too late, Bali’s death had replaced their rage with pure fear and despair.
“They’re going to kill us! Hel-”
Cairo tripped on something and fell. His fall caused Timuk to stop and look back with concern, but the warrior was already crushing his friend’s head with repeated stomps of his boot. Screaming, Timuk attacked the killer but he was too slow, even with his aura. Much slower and weaker than when he had been facing monsters in the forest. The warrior effortlessly dodged his fist, kicked him in the stomach and let him fall gasping for air. Then he finished him in the same way he had killed Cairo. By stomping his head until it was nothing but a pulp of flesh, bones, and brain matter.
Vaunt had stopped running. He was on his knees, staring down as he was waiting for his death.
I wanted to help him, but I couldn’t. Bardath and the Lama had been intercepted before they could reach the warhorse, but they hadn’t given up.
I will use my last bullet to save one of th-
“Now you know why you have to die. We cannot kill Genoneva, but the old warriors of the Red Cross can,” Balrosh said. “Thanks to your deaths she will have to pay. Thanks to your deaths, they will kill her. My brother died because he wanted to bring you to Genoneva’s feet… I will see him again on the other side, bringing both your heads to his.”
And with those words, Balrosh finally walked away from the tree line.
“Maru!” I heard a strained voice say. “You need to use it! Now!”
It was the lama. He was wounded all over, facing the two warriors by himself. Bardath was laying not far from him, his own greatsword stabbed through his chest.
“You’re all dead,” Maru said under her breath. “The Red Cross will skin you all alive.”
The ground shook and I saw Balrosh running in my direction, hundreds of meters from where he was before I glanced away. Before I could react, he jumped again and his leap took him to the middle of the clearing, making the ground shake once more. I could now clearly see that his aura was silver.
The only other instances of colored aura I had seen, instead of it looking like a transparent veil, were Ardos’ blue and Maboru’s red sword.
I headed back to Maru, picked her up in my arms and limped to Lima.
“There is no time,” I told her. “I know it hurts, but we need to go. Now!”
She slowly raised her puffy eyes and shook her head in disbelief. “Go where?” she said. “They are all dead. The trinket is on the other side of the meadow, you’re wounded and I can’t fight warriors. We can’t leave.”
I felt the ground shake once more. Closer this time.
“Stand,” I said. “leave your glaive on the ground, and stand.”
“I’m sorry Ed-”
The tears came back to her eyes, but she did as told. I transferred Maru to her arms. She had lost consciousness, probably due to exhaustion.
“Run,” I said. “To the forest. Don’t look back.”
“Night is falling,” she sobbed. “No path.”
The ground shook again.
“Just go,” I said, cupping her face with my hands. “Dying later in there is better than dying now.”
She gave me a nod, took a deep breath then took off, with me hopping behind her as fast as I could after putting her glaive in my inventory and activating Kinetic Charge.
“You would choose to run away instead of dying with honor?” Barlosh chuckled. “Children masquerading as warriors, that is all you were.”
I was getting faster thanks to the skill, but my wound made the increase much less notable than normal. I glanced back and saw that the sprinting bull had reduced the initial distance between us to almost nothing. Another one of his monstrous jumps would bring me at arm’s length.
My eyes met his and, as if he had been reading my thoughts, the aura protecting him flared and he bent his knees. Right as he kicked the ground and propelled himself toward me, I summoned my rifle and discharged my remaining mana right at him. The rifle exploded again, but the impact was strong enough to send Barlosh crashing backward.
The Kinetic Charge ended, as I did not have enough mana to fuel it, but the scraps I had left were enough for the rifle to start rebuilding itself again. I hoped for a second that the warrior had been knocked out, but his hulking figure stood right back up, massaging his chest. The tree line seemed so far away.
“You have interesting tricks, human,” he said. “Now die.”
He took a step forward, and there was a sudden flash. The next instant, Barlosh was looking at himself with confusion, his movements altered. They didn’t seem sluggish, more like the movements of a character from a slowed down video.
The rooting mine. He stepped on it.
I summoned Ikun Omi and took a step in his direction, but noticed his comrades were already converging on my position. Even if I managed to kill him, I wouldn’t be able to escape them.
And Lima was waiting for me, right by the trees.
I turned around and started limping as fast as I could. Maru’s bandage hadn’t been able to hold up and blood was already seeping through it. I reached the tree line before the warriors could claim my life, and we dove deeper into the cursed forest.
The clearing quickly disappeared behind us, hidden by the trees, and for a while, we walked between them in silence, looking for white flowers invisible to regular eyes.
The day was still as beautiful as ever. The sun was shining. The birds were still singing. The world would still turn despite what had happened in this forest today. As if to prove that fact, the light was weakening and the shadows were getting longer. Night would soon fall in Yaga’s Garden.
At some point, I stopped hearing Lima’s footsteps behind me and turned around. She was still there. Crying.
I opened my mouth to speak, no words came out.
How could I tell her of a future in which she would hurt less, when Bali’s death had basically doomed us all? There was nothing anyone would be able to do against the Red Cross seeking retribution. As soon as the news would get out, it would be over.
They can only seek vengeance if they learn what really happened.
“Lima,” I said. “It’s going to be okay.”
Her eyes fell on me, hard and accusing.
You don’t have to say it. I know that my mere presence is why they died.
“We’re lost in Yaga’s Garden,” she said, not even trying to stop her tears. “We’re going to die, and you’re telling me that it’s going to be okay? There has to be a limit to your arrogance, Edward.”
“We won’t die,” I said. “You won’t die. They will. We will kill these warriors and leave this dungeon.”
She started laughing. “And how do you propose we do that? Do you have another conveniently hidden skill, uh? Something that could have saved my pack from being slaughtered like BEASTS AS WE WATCHED?”
She was shaking. It could have been due to her body getting rid of the adrenaline, but it probably was mostly because of barely contained anger.
“We will kill the third knight,” I said as calmly as I could. “We will use his loot to make you able to use your skills on warriors. We will use the well to heal our wounds. Then we will find these bastards and kill them.”
“… You must be mocking me.”
“I am not. And I want you to understand that it is not your fault in any way. You did not watch them die. There is nothing you could have done, and I’m sure that they would have rather-”
“Don’t you DARE tell me what they would have wanted!” she yelled, before staring right into my eyes with all the disappointment one could muster. “… You didn’t even know their names.”
She stormed past me before I could reply anything. After a pause, I followed her so that she wouldn’t get too far.
Bardath. Bali. Cairo. Kinua. Timuk. Vaunt. Viki… and the hammer-wielding Lama. I never got to ask his name.
I glanced at the stretching shadows and sighed. It felt like all my years were catching up to me.
I should have known better.
One moment they had been there, and the next they had been gone.