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Saturday, June 24, 2006

3.1.4.4. Face the Past Embrace the Future


Early the next day, Robert, Christopher and Carolyn begin their travel to Varestine. They encounter several monsters along the way. Although equipped with , a fine-looking long sword, Chris makes himself a poor companion, and the battle always ends up with Robert taking the front, Carolyn at the rear for magic support, and Christopher between them, supplying them with potions and guards their provisions. Robert still doesn’t teach Christopher any sword skills yet – only telling him to get a firm one-hand grip on his sword and his wooden shield and continually corrects his handling. This irritates Chris greatly, being a slow learner and impatient.

They pass the new Arkvale village along the way. The village, built not far from the ruins of the old one looks more like a refugee camp or a thieves’ den – completely the contrary than the beautiful old village Robert used to know. Then they visit the graveyard of the old village’s folks. Their graves have no names on them, only crosses to hang anything they wore or bring at the time of their death. Then Robert recognizes his father’s armor on his family grave, with a full-slab tombstone with the names of Robert’s father, mother and sister engraved on it because the late Duke Walthorn knew them: Emmerich, Klarisse, and Jeanna Chandler. Chris and Carolyn go to visit other graves and put flowers on them.

Robert approaches the grave, pulling his father’s kiliji out from the scabbard, and kneels, thrusting it into the ground. Robert prays for a while, and then talks...

‘Father, mother, Jeanna, I’m back. I know the orcs have separated us forever, but I don’t want to waste my life taking revenge upon them. I decided to dedicate my life to protect the people and the country I love. With your sword, father, I will make you proud.’

Then Robert kisses his ring, saying, ‘Wish me luck, and wish me well, I will always keep you all in my heart.’

Robert gets up and searches for Laetitia’s grave – in vain. But suddenly he sees a grave with an orc’s throwing axe hangs on a cross. He remembers at once – the throwing axe that killed Laetitia. He approaches it, and assuming that it is indeed her grave, he kneels and says,

‘Tisha… How I wished to be dead and be with you again in heaven, but I was spared. It was my greatest regret in my entire lifetime that I failed to protect you. But as I have found my purpose, I will never cease to protect the weak and oppressed until the day I die – to repay my debt to you. May you find rest in Vadis’ hands.

Robert stands there for a little while longer. He is deep in his thoughts. Then he calls Chris and Carolyn and they set off to Varestine. As they arrive at Varestine, Robert’s party go directly to the hunters’ guild to trade hunted monsters’ proofs and valuables with money, and sign up for the job to hunt the Lumien Trolls. The clerk examines Robert, Chris and Carolyn closely, then her expression changes and she says,

‘Sorry, this job is already taken. You can wait for the results first or take another job.’

Robert has already expected this kind of response – underestimation – and gives a ready answer.

‘Ah, but we have already received a recommendation letter from the guild in Rand and confirmation from this guild that we are among the hunting parties eligible for this job – and the only one. Please read this letter first, miss.’

The clerk takes the piece of parchment from Robert’s hand and cross-checks it with the records in the back office, and comes back to Robert with a smile on her face.

‘Our apologies, sir. It seems that your party indeed claimed the job. A guild master’s recommendation is always good and guaranteed. Here’s the map to Lumien Forest and the ‘X’ marks here pinpoint the recent sightings of the trolls with notes of the time, date and their movements. Well, good luck and stay alive.’

‘Good luck and stay alive’ – This is the common greeting from the guild clerks continent wide to wish the hunters well and successful. But the clerk said it in such a tone as though she is doubtful that Robert’s party will succeed and come back alive. But Robert ignores that and goes away with the party. Chris complaints,

‘Grrr… the clerks here are never polite. They think they’re important, although their job is a mere administrative thing with low pay. Someday I’ll show ‘em a thing or two… hmph!’

Robert shakes his head and smacks his lips aside on hearing this.

Then they set out to downtown to prepare the weaponry and provisions for the hunt. Robert buys a crossbow and an ample supply of bolts at the weapon shop, and Christopher a small, light black iron shield with a white raven figure engraved at front. Christopher also equips himself with a simple breastplate to resist sharper blows from the enemies. While Carolyn takes her time at the enchanted weapons blacksmith to repair her Thunderclap Staff, a lightning elemental staff with a silvery magnetic orb-like force field floating in between when it’s activated.

When they walk in front of Jeland Citadel in Varestine, Christopher and Carolyn can’t help admiring the greatness of the citadel that protected the city for ages. As Robert is native in this region and as he has served The Walthorns that rule Varestine, Carolyn asks Robert.

‘Robert, you said you served Lord Walthorn before. Why don’t we visit the castle and greet your ex-lord and wish him well?’

Robert answers coolly, ‘That would be impossible. I’m not welcome in there anymore. If I ever set foot there again, they will imprison me at the spot for trespassing.’

Chris reacts carelessly by saying, ‘How come you’re not welcome in this castle anymore? What crime did you commit?’

Robert glares at Christopher. Chris backs away, terrified. Carolyn notices this and says,

‘That’s his “friendliest” way to say “mind your own business!”’

Chiel chuckles amusingly. Christopher glares at Chiel angrily because he is embarrassed. Chiel yelps in fright, and hides behind Carolyn and blows raspberries at Chris.

They set to Lumien Forest by foot early the next day, and they arrive at the forest entrance by night. They don’t dare to stop. They keep walking towards the riverside to avoid a surprise attack by the trolls. They arrive at the Dale River bank at dawn the next day.

Christopher walks feebly; his eyes are half-open. He obviously doesn’t used to have a sleepless night before, and is obviously off-guard – a sitting duck for any monster passing by…

Speaking of which, several pairs of eyes are watching from the bushes in the dark, damp forest. They look for unwary travelers and as they have found one, they immediately prepare themselves to strike.

As Chris yawns, three green-skinned goblins wearing nothing but loincloth suddenly lunge behind him, and one of them draws its dagger to slit Chris’ throat. But before the dagger reaches Chris’ skin a crossbow bolt is already nested through the goblin’s head, right between its eyes. The goblin lets out a loud shriek then dies at once. Chris is startled and turns around. The two other goblins are also shocked – but they already set their own targets and charge forward.

‘Voltarus!’ Carolyn casts a Lightning Bolt spell with her magical trident Esthagar towards one goblin and zaps it dead, totally burnt to crisp. Christopher defends himself from the second goblin’s mace with great difficulty, and suffers a hard blow on his breastplate. But Robert doesn’t move to help him. He only stands in front of Chris, ready with his crossbow and shouts,

‘C’mon, Chris! You can beat him! This peasant goblin is a piece of cake. Do it if you want further training!’

Carolyn looks worried and says, ‘Shouldn’t we help him, Rob?’

Robert doesn’t answer. Then Chiel the Micha who flies to watch for enemies shrieks as an alert. It sees things moving fast towards Robert’s party from the forest, at quite a distance. Robert who hears this immediately aims his crossbow to another direction, saying…

‘More enemies are coming this way! Finish that one quickly, Chris!’

Christopher fights harder, deflects every blow with his sword and shield. Chris swings his long sword Wyrthal haphazardly in panic, hoping that one of his blows might hit – in vain. Suddenly Robert yells with a very, very loud voice, “HEEEAAAH!” The goblin is shocked and reacts by turning his head to see the assailant. Chris sees this opportunity, and swings his sword, cutting through the goblin’s neck. The goblin totters sideways, and falls into the river, lifeless. Soon blood starts flowing out and turns the river red.

Christopher is panting. He never fought this hard before. He kneels to take a rest, but Robert scolds him, ‘On your guard! More enemies are coming, and they now run faster because they smell blood!’

Chris gets up, scowling, but gets himself ready with his Wyrthal Sword and shield anyway. Just then, they hear roars from the forest and three huge, greenish and ugly forest trolls come crashing, charging towards them.

Chris yells ‘Here comes the main course!’ and starts to panic. But Robert stares at the trolls calmly and shoots a bolt right into a troll’s eye. Chris comments again.

‘Bull’s Eye! Oops, I mean, Troll’s Eye!’

But Chris’ face turns pale in a sudden. The other two trolls attack him simultaneously. Carolyn thinks. Man, even trolls hate loudmouths too! In that critical moment, Robert draws his kiliji and launches his lethal Ten Point Chain Slash at the two trolls, making them release their crude clubs, causing them to stop and regenerate their wounds. Christopher gathers up his courage, holds his sword with two hands, climbs one troll’s bended knee, and leaps. But the troll grabs Christopher in mid-air and squeezes him tightly in his massive hand, giving him such a pressure. If Christopher doesn’t wear his breastplate, his body would surely break apart. The troll can’t launch his massive, deadly punch at Chris due to the regeneration of its wounds.

In the agony of death, Chris looks around for help. Robert is busy attacking a troll beside him with quick blows and speedy skills, while also evading the troll’s slow blows. Carolyn is at Chris’ front, sending bolts after bolts of lightning towards the troll with a bolt in one eye, but like Robert, she doesn’t get an upper hand either.

Chris’ condition is desperate, and as the pressure becomes more unbearable as the troll regains his strength, Chris prays silently, “Oh Vadis the Almighty; please save me!”

It was a prayer from a desperate heart that only depends on its last hope – Vadis’ will. But it seems that Vadis has a plan for this ‘hopeless’ fellow, Christopher. Suddenly Chiel the Micha who flies above them reacts to the prayer. Its body and eyes are glowing brightly, and a golden, shining circle that looks like an energy ring appears above its head. It turns its gaze on Chris. Then suddenly a new strength is surging into Chris. The holy power from Chiel generates ceaselessly inside Chris, and Chris feels that he is about to explode if he doesn’t do something to release the energy.

‘EEEEEYAAAAGHHH!!!!’

Chris tries to free himself from the troll’s grip, holds his sword high and thrusts it into the troll’s cranium. The grip loosens at once, and the troll crashes on the ground, dead. Christopher also falls, following the troll to the ground, and lays unconscious. The excess holy energy is gone, and a part of it resides in Christopher’s body, making him stronger so he can generate holy energy by himself from now on. Chiel’s reaction also ends, and it flies casually as though nothing has happened.

Meanwhile, Robert and Carolyn are still fighting their opponents. Robert releases another Ten Point Chain Slash towards the troll, and the troll falls – died from too many mortal wounds, leaving Robert with a bruise on his left cheek.

Carolyn still can’t overcome hers. Every time she only casts and runs, as she needs time to say the mantra and do some energy charge before releasing the spell. This gives time to the troll to regenerate. Carolyn is about to cast another bolt, but the troll has already raised its club aside to strike Carolyn – there’s no escape. Carolyn only stares at the troll in terror. But the troll’s attack stops as a bolt penetrates into its brain between its two eyes. It stands there still, its club falls from its hand, and he falls dead on the ground. Its wound regenerates, but what’s the use of it if the brain is already dead. Carolyn is recovered from her shock at once, and looks back. Robert used his crossbow again to put another bolt in the one-eyed troll with his Bull’s Eye shot. Carolyn stares at him admiringly, then says,

‘Thank you, Robert. You saved my life.’

‘Don’t mention it. That’s what a party for – watching each other’s back.’

‘Speaking of a party – where’s the other party member? Chris?’

Robert looks around, and then finds Christopher.

‘There he is!’

He walks towards Christopher who is still lying unconscious with a rather worried face.

Ah, I failed to protect him. But… this troll is dead. He must’ve killed him. Maybe there’s indeed something special in him that I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just check on him whether he is alive or dead.

Robert puts a finger on Christopher’s nostrils, and speaks in a surprised tone.

‘He’s still alive! This is a miracle!’

‘Ah, really? Oh, Chris! But… but did he actually KILL that troll?’

‘Of course, Carol. Look, his sword is still stuck on its head. It takes a real pro to deal that kind of blow at that troll.’

‘Maybe it was only a fool’s luck. He’s always like that.’

‘Yes. A fool’s luck. But this fool is too lucky. Well, I’ll train him harder to make sure he won’t run out of luck.’

‘Robert, you agreed at last. He will thank you for that.’

‘Oh well, just to show you if I ever stuck in a hunting party, I’ll stick with it until the end. It’s called “commitment”.’

‘Thanks. Now let’s collect the proofs and valuables so no other party or spy might claim them as their own.’

They move Christopher aside. Carolyn tries to bring Christopher into consciousness by pouring water from the river at him. Robert examines the carcasses to extract the proofs and valuables. As he examines the goblin he shot, he finds another wound on its stomach – a stab wound with a sword – and then he smiles.

Hmm. That confirms my hunch, says Robert in his mind.

End of Chapter Four

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