Trial of Blood, Part 1
Hector pulled himself up out of the water. He was on the beach, as he had expected. He pushed ahead, weighed down by his heavy clothes. He wanted to get through this as quickly as possible. He had memories of what he’d done in here before, though he couldn’t recall all of it. It had faded, both from time and from the magic of the tower, but it was not completely gone.
He pushed up the beach to where the survivors were mingling. As he approached he pointed to one, before they even had time to give him his objectives. “You,” he pointed. “Tend to wounds. You,” he pointed to another. “Gather up wood. You, search for supplies. There is something in the forest so gather up sticks, rods, dowels, for spears.” Then, he stalked off.
Last time it had taken him days to figure this all out. He felt he’d almost failed. Now, he knew exactly what to do, had purpose.
A few meters away from where the others were camped he found, half buried in the sand, close to the water, a blade. He took it out and examined it. A bit dull, perhaps rusted on one end, but useable.
He went back to the group. A few had already gathered up some sticks he could use for spears. They had also found the small chest, which he opened and removed the knife. He used it to carve some spears and then hardened their points in the newly made fire. The man who had been injured had been seen to, his wound wrapped inexpertly but that would do.
When the spears were ready he passed them out. “Follow me,” he called to his group. “There is a troll in the trees.”
He found his way through the jungle to the game trail. He remembered this very clearly, because of how it had startled him the first time. This time he was ready. When the brush started to rustle he was already in position.
The troll sprang from the brush but Hector was able to sidestep easily. He brought his blade down face and cut the troll right in half. It fell to the red dirt, squirting out orange blood, and did not rise again.
He pushed further into the undergrowth. The village was not far away. Hector didn’t even look back to see if the others were behind him.
It wasn’t too long before he came into the clearing where the trolls had made camp. He could see them, milling around. One of them was looking for rocks to use for weapons. It would bend over and pick up a rock, consider it for a moment, and then either put it back on the ground or take it over to a pile. That one was the closest. Two others sat by the empty fire pit. They seemed to be arguing about something, though he couldn’t hear what. There were two others sleeping in their tents.
Hector knelt and found a stone. He tossed it across the clearing so that it skittered through the brush on the far side of the glade. When the trolls turned to look Hector rushed from the shadows of the jungle.
The first troll was dead before he had even turned all the way around. Hector had gone for the one picking up the rocks first, the only one that had quick access to weapons. He rushed at the two that had been arguing on the log. He was hardly looking at them, but was instead looking past them, to their fellows who were now rousing from their sleep.
The trolls stood their ground, ready to face his charge, one prepared to go high, the other low. They only had hands and teeth, and planned to use them. Hector never let them. He went low, meeting the troll there and kicking him in the face. In his crouch he was able to come up hard and drive the blade through the neck of the troll that had jumped at him.
A quick slash downward finished the other troll. Hector held is blade out toward the other two. They were far part, one to the right, one to the left. They were slow and scared but still shifty. Hector gripped his sword. C’mon, c’mon, he thought. If they went for a weapon he’d have to finish them off, if not he’d have his fellows capture them. That would end the scenario, but he wanted to lead them, to inspire them, protect them. That was he did last time, hadn’t he? He could remember the scenes, but not his actions, not exactly.
The one on the right dove for a rock but Hector was already moving. He slashed down at the creature in a wild arc. The troll just touched one of the rocks when its hand was cut from the wrist by Hector’s sword. He twisted and brought he sword around again and put the troll down. He turned to the other but it was already fleeing. Hector felt a sort of click and found himself dissolving into bright white light. He’d finished the first part of his trials.
He awoke again in a plain room, much like the first room with the crystal. Though, instead of the crystal, there was Veil, the Reader. He walked to her table and watched as she laid out four cards into four rows. The figure was impossible to read, the face all in shadows, nothing visible and no reactions. Only her long, thin, pale fingers could be seen, moving deftly as they shuffled through the cards.
“Swear which oath, Son of Elsewhere?” She asked. Hector’s hand shot out and flipped a card.
“Vigilance,” he said, but when he flipped the card that was not what the card showed. Instead, it showed a bloody sword dripping into an ocean of red.
“Vengeance,” the figure said. “Forge which bond?” She turned the cards over slowly, flipping each in turn, but Hector couldn’t focus. That wasn’t right. He should have picked Vigilance, it’s what he’d chosen last time, he was sure. He couldn’t quite remember it with his mind, but as he sat there, that was the answer he knew. He rubbed his eyes.
“I…” he put his finger on a card slowly, unsure. “Justice.” But the card was not the Justice card. Hector squeezed his fist as he looked. It showed an image of a soldier, running at the front of a charge, his sword held high, his men pressing behind him. “The Leader.” Hector felt his hands start to shake. That didn’t seem right, either.
“Follow which path?” Hector didn’t hesitate this time. He touched a card without even looking at it, whichever one he thought felt right. He wanted them dead, that woman, that man, Lerren, the King himself. They had tried to kill him, and only by some miracle had he survived.
The card he touched showed a ruined clock tower, crumbling into nothing above a desolate city, all cast in black, the red sky burning above them. “Destruction.” It was true, it was what he desired. He’d always loved to fight, to win. He would destroy them for that they’d done to him. He didn’t need to be the Champion of Eidolon or the High Gladiator of Prince Reynar.
“Embody which ideal?” He had wanted to find the same path he’d walked on his first judgment, so that he could return to Nemea and the Juggernaut class. Now he wondered if that should be his goal. Everyone would remember Orephius the Champion, but would anyone know Hector? He reached out his hand, again letting fate and chance decide.
The final card showed a king in a black silver crown, standing above his charges. “Power.” He said, swore it like an oath.
“Very good, Son of Elsewhere,” Veil said and vanished into smoke. He found himself falling backwards in the bright, white light that moved him from room to room.
When the world stabilized again Hector found himself in an arena, the sun burning bright above him, the crowd a dull roar of voices he couldn’t understand. He was wearing leather armor, studded with metal. It was light, except for on his right side – his sword hand – which had thicker armor on his leg, arm, and shoulder.
Hector turned around, looking for his opponent. The sandy, dusty ground shifted strangely beneath his feet. That would be a problem, make it hard to get a good stance, secure footing. Almost instinctively he reached for Terror and found something there. Not his old weapon – that had surely been lost, but rather a new axe. It was crude and unornamented, but sharp and heavy.
As he drew his blade a hush fell over the crowd. At first, he thought it was because he had drawn a weapon, until he noticed that the gate on the far side of the arena had been thrown open. From that long hallway came his first opponent.
It was an imposing figure, dressed in heavy, silver plate armor. On his back, there was a huge and dangerous looking axe. The figure stalked into the area with a long flowing red cape and a helmet that bore the face of a snarling lion.
Orephius, he thought, just as that version of himself, the hero that he had been before he’d been betrayed, that he’d left behind, charged.