Enjoy the final release of the week. My examinations will be coming to an end around the middle of November, so the erratic release schedules should no longer be the case.



Editor's note:  Hidden in this chapter is a reference to a comic series by my two favourite comic artists.  Let's see who can find the reference and name the series!

Here're two hints to help you on your way:

1:  Both artists are French.

2:  The comic series plays out in an ancient village.

 

Tarkel's efforts were extremely effective. Word spread that very night that Viscount Timba had received the King's approval to reward Snowshame.

The soldiers made merry all night. The garrison forces and the royal defense army's exclusion made them very jealous; the night was a rowdy one.

The following day was even more hectic. Barrel after barrel of ale was moved from the taverns all over the capital. Jarred baked potatoes and sliced beef, mutton and pork were brought to the campsite. Tarkel also had Chelwar, Drei and the rest hire some cooks and purchase all sorts of fruit and decorations to prepare for the festivities.

More than 700 men joined the army in less than a day after word got out. At the thought that the army would be at full strength in just five days at this rate, Lud III couldn't help but smile.

Viscount Timba was also overjoyed that he managed to siphon 5000 gold Fordes out of his brother-in-law's pocket. Despite that, all he gave Tarkel for three days' worth of food and drink was 1000 gold Fordes.

Tarkel did not disappoint him either and only spent small amounts to bribe the warehouse managers around the western warehouse sector for part of the necessary supplies. He instructed the chefs to whip the stored grain into bread and other pastries and purchased lots of salted fish. All the preparations were completed about an hour before sunset. The atmosphere around the army camp was one of merriment and jubilance.

As the main sponsor of the event, Viscount Timba came over to have a look. He toasted the soldiers and promised that anyone who managed to distinguish themselves in the upcoming battle would be heavily rewarded. He also announced that military regulations would soon be enforced. However, the latter part of the viscount's announcement had largely slipped out of the soldiers' minds as they stared wide-eyed at the servings of smoked meat, fresh fruit, crunchy vegetables, steamed fish, baked potatoes and a filling cup of ale, as well as the mountain of dried rations like bread and other pastries.

As the viscount approached, Tarkel had the impression that he thought the food wasn't enough and prepared to explain, but, to his surprise...

"This feast is far too much for the likes of them! Why would you bother serving them fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish? Isn't it simply a waste to prepare that much bread and dried food? Heck, we could've decreased the portion of meat by half... As for the baked potatoes, they should have been mashed and mixed with some water. That way, one serving can be made into three... If my house's butler were to be put in charge of this, he would've been able to save another 500 gold Fordes. Sheesh, spending this much on these brutes is nothing but a waste."

The angry viscount had shown Tarkel yet another side of slaver nobles. He couldn't help but chuckle.

Hmph, he thinks that 20 thousand people's worth of food costs that little? I had to add 400 gold Fordes from the funds the house gave me to prepare this feast! Oh well, since this will be their final meal, they deserve at least this much...

The gates closed as evening came, but a few soldiers from the other forces managed to sneak inside, not that Tarkel minded. He had prepared enough foodstuffs and alcohol to accommodate a few seeking death. An hour or two before midnight the came slowly fell silent. The soldiers, satiated, fell into a drunken stupor, which quickly turned into a dead slumber. There weren't even enough soldiers to organize patrols. In the whole capital, not a single alert soul could be found.

In this silent darkness, the slaves emerged from their hiding places. Els opened the rear gates and, under Lorist's guidance, the slave fighters launched the boundless massacre.

Blood seeped into the ground and ran streams into the underground tunnels and ducts. The place had fallen from heaven to hell in less than an hour. Just sixty minutes earlier the camp was a paradise, now it was purgatory. But, unlike the scene might suggest to the casual observer, those that died did so with smiles on their faces.

Vomit soon replaced the blood on the ground and washed it from the gutters. Even the slaves who had sworn to reclaim their debt in blood began to hesitate. Killing helpless unarmed sheep was hard on the soul. Many even vomited when the true nature of their actions struck them.

It was no feat to kill a drunken opponent. It was far too easy. A single, gentle, horizontal wave was enough to bring them eternal peace. Despite the ease and efficiency of the dispatch, or perhaps because of it, a few dozen such dispatches softened even the hardest hands.

These were humans, not livestock. What had been a devil that all the slaves reviled and hated in common, in its drunken slumber, had become a helpless infant.

"This is no battle... It's cold-blooded murder," one of the slave fighters lamented as he dropped his sword, "I'd rather face them in battle than claim their lives without making a single sound..."

"You only think that because you consider yourself a warrior," Lorist said in a clear, low voice as he appeared before the slave, "You are wrong. Those drunk unconscious fools are no innocents. They are beasts with hands steeped in blood and sin. The weight of the souls of innocent women and children they killed, or doomed to a fate worse than death, crush whatever innocence they might have had left. Think, how many times have they snuck into villages to kill, plunder, pillage and rape? How many of your loved ones have they deprived of their freedom? In their eyes, you are not humans like they are. They only see you as sheep. You are nothing but livestock to them, tools to fatten their wallets!

"Think about your loved ones who died by their hands; your comrades forced to fight each other for their entertainment. Are you still able to hold any mercy for them in the face of their crimes? Wield your blade, warrior. It is your responsibility to fight alongside your comrades. Those sleeping on the ground are nothing more than savage beasts. For each you kill, at least one innocent soul will be spared torture..."

The man hung his head, picked up his sword, and continued the slaughter.

"You, at the front, move faster!" cried an urgent-sounding voice from behind, unsatisfied with the hesitance and relatively low efficiency of the slaves in front. More than a hundred Norton soldiers, wearing the equipment of the royal defense army, marched forward. They didn't wear helmets, only expressionless faces as they slaughtered those at their feet industriously.

A cloud hid the silver moon, the goddess unable to stomach the sight laid bare beneath. The blood moon beside her, however, glowed lustily.

Even an hour of slaughter was only enough to finalise the slumber of a third of the camp. It was no wonder Charade had rushed those at the front. He had been put in charge of just over 2000 youths. They were emptying the stores at the back of the camp and scouring the eternally slumbering for equipment. He was most worried about the enemy coming to realize what was happening before he had taken what he needed.

The 2000 youths were the result of his efforts on the day before. Their residential area was situated right behind the dueling grounds where the family members of more than 600 slaves lived. It was built right in front of the northern wall, which was garrisoned but a full regiment. From their vantage point, they could observe all the movements of the slaves within their residential area.

Even so, Charade sent a few trustworthy gold-ranked slaves to bring back all the slaves they could. They managed to bring about 3000 people to the dueling ground via the underground waterway.

Lorist zoomed about the campsite and waved his longsword with great ease. Starlight glinted off his blade as he took the lives of hundreds in moments.

Unlike the slaves, Lorist felt no strain nor guilt for killing these drunks. To him, it was like one of the video games from his past life. The drunks were inconsequential NPCs. Unbeknownst to him, however, his eyes gradually turned blood red. He radiated the unmistakably acrid smell of blood. It disturbed the already unnerved around him. All he could sense, however, was that his vision gained a slightly crimson tint.

Lorist came to a standstill. His consciousness flowed across the slaughterfield however he wished. It did not take him long to sweep across the entire campsite. He quickly found 200-odd men yet to fall asleep. They sat at a circular arrangement of tables and benches, preparing to roast a wild boar on the spit beside a bonfire in the middle. A few soldiers were in a hut off to the left. They rubbed their backs, preparing to sleep. To the right, a few cooks were making some food for themselves. Off in the distance, Lorist could also sense a pair of slaves who had secretly snuck off with some bones that still had a few strips of meat attached.

Wierd, why do I feel so similar to how I felt when I killed the 300 or so men back on the ship? It feels as if everything my consciousness can touch is within a piece of space that I have complete control over... I can even predict how every person is going to move. I wasn't in control of my body back then, but now I am?

Lorist squatted, stood straight up, stretched his hands and waist, lowered his head, tilted his body, and even stretched all his fingers high up into the air. He made sure that he could move however he wished.

It must have been the dire situation I was in back then that forced me into this red world. Right now, however, it only took the death of a few drunks to get me back here. I didn't even really exert myself... How did this happen? Why am I still conscious and feeling more refreshed than ever?

Unable to figure out more about his current state, Lorist put it to the back of his mind.

Since I'm already in this blood-red world, I might as well make the most of it.

With but a slight leap, Lorist's form vanished into thin air. When he reappeared, he was already at the frontmost bonfire in the camp. He twisted his body. Countless flashes appeared all around him, like ethereal blades they reaped the lives of everyone near him. The two hundred soldiers may not have been asleep like their brothers were, but they fell just as soundlessly. The one closest to the fire dropped the cup of ale he had been holding. It fell, mouth fire-wards, and spilled its contents on the coals. The liquid boiled away in moments and the fumed burst into a ball of light momentarily.

The ten or so cooks nearby raised their heads to look. But the moment their vision landed on the corpses, their expressions paled. Just as they were about to cry out in terror, a silhouette materialized in front of them. Their last sensation was cold and metallic. It slipped into the mouth and burst out of the back of the neck at the base of the skulls.

With the cooks crumbling like the bread they had baked earlier in the day, Lorist recalled the two slaves. Moments later his form materialized next to the stove. He raised his head and saw the two slaves gnawing at the bones. Their shoulders bore the brands that made them property.

The flat of his blade tapped the slaves' heads. If he wanted to spare them, they would have to sleep for a while. If they were given a chance to glance at the hell that had opened up outside, their sanity might not survive, and Lorist couldn't have the two emptying their lungs noisily.

The slaughter finally ended two hours on the other side of midnight. The world through Lorist's eyes regained its normal hue. But, although he didn't feel that he'd need to sleep for several days like the last time, his face was still pale.

Blademaster Shuss came to Lorist. His face rivaled Lorist's.

"Tired?" asked Lorist.

"I don't feel physically tired, but I don't feel any joy at the sight before us. I don't understand why, but after killing so many of those slavers I hated, I don't feel any rush of relief or satisfaction. In fact, I almost feel sick of killing those poor sods..." pondered he.

Lorist laughed with a raspy voice.

"True. A thousand have killed 20 thousand. This result would be nothing short of amazing if this were a battle. And we didn't even part with a single soul... We only feel like this victory is unearned because the enemy didn't even have the chance to try and put up any resistance. We are warriors, not slaughterers, it's only right that we find such killing distasteful. Why don't you bring the slave fighters back first? The massacre tonight was no doubt a huge shock. They'll need the time to recover."

Lorist pointed at the slaves around him as he spoke. They were lamenting their actions. Some stood empty-eyed and stared into the distance, some at the corpses on the ground. Other sat on the ground - they buried their heads in their arms in failed attempts to hide the tears they were shedding.

Shuss looked to the Norton soldiers behind him.

"Milord, your household troops are truly the cream of the crop," he awed, "They're incredibly well-trained and resolute. It's like the slaughter just now never happened."

"They believe their actions just," Lorist appreciated, "Killing these lowlives is like killing magic beasts. Actually, it isn't any different. Just like the magic beasts, they invaded our territories, trampled our homes, and disturbed the peaceful lives we were leading. They know they can only protect those they care for by killing as many of them as possible. The people of House Norton don't mourn for the enemy. It's their honor to die by our blades. Besides, the only good enemy is a dead enemy."

"'The only good enemy is a dead enemy,' huh? Well said!" praised Shuss.

"Come, let's go check out the back," Lorist instructed tranquilly, "Charade must have finished moving everything by now. Oh, you two over there, come here. There are two slaves near the stove there. Bring them to the dueling grounds for now."

"Yes, milord," replied the two guards nearby.