The Chronicles of Estiah

Chapter 7: Wound

As Nikkum slowly walked away, the three bandits became uneasy and irritated about the situation. The usual begging father and crying mother were nowhere to be seen. Unsure if Nikkum called their bluff, they decided to give him a third chance, "We will release her as soon as you put all of your gold on the ground! Or we really are going to hurt her!"

"Don't waste my time." Nikkum was cold as ever, without even looking back.

These lowlifes had their pride as bandits; they could not tolerate their prey walking away like this. "We are going to break one of her arms! Don't cry later, sweet daddy!"

Nikkum ignored them completely; even answering was a waste of breath on these filthy fellows.

All of the sudden, Elissa unleashed a painful and miserable scream, a scream that made the eerie forest even more frightening. The bandits had to live up to their names, they needed to do something bad and low. To their surprise, Nikkum still showed no concern. Maybe they really were unrelated? But the girl had been following Nikkum since his bag of gold caught those bandits' eyes. These men were totally lost, unsure what to do next.

"Useless kid!" one of them pushed Elissa on the ground, "You, big guy there, stop! You need to save someone in danger, not run away! I'm going to teach you how to fight like a man!"

Now this was becoming fun, receiving morality lessons from bandits that failed in their miserable plan of taking the weak as hostage. The three men discarded the little girl as she was no longer of any use, and prepared to take on Nikkum by force. Faces distorted by humiliation, fists tightened by anger, feet hurried by greed, the bandits surged at Nikkum's back. This no longer was simple robbery, they had to uphold the bandits' code of honor, and prove that they would not let anyone make a fool of them without paying the price.

And yet, before their minds could reach their charms and release them, a huge axe traced a horizontal half circle around Nikkum at lightning's speed. Even though the only thing felt by the thugs was the sweet breeze aroused by the axe, the three bodies became six halves. Naturally, they could not break the silence that had returned, as they were dead even before seeing the same axe that had killed Elissa's brother.

"Of course she won't see tomorrow's sun. It's going to rain." Nikkum sometimes allowed himself a touch of humor, even though he usually failed to realize it.

Somehow he knew leaving a little girl with some dismembered men in a remote forest at night was not something to do, even though he could have watched her die earlier without emotion. He took a look at Elissa on the ground, and after being sure that her arms were still on her body, he said, "Get up, you are not going to follow me by laying there."

Nikkum was right; the next day was indeed rainy. Elissa could not see the sun but she was still behind him. Her left arm had been hurt, and she was using her right arm to carry the last packs of food, with the purple gem strongly seized in her palm. Nikkum didn't show any pity on her, how could he? He had been in much worse situations many times before; the scars all over his body were obviously not false ones. And in his own words, as long as the body was still in one piece, it was all right. However, Nikkum slowed down his pace a lot. It was because of the rain, he told himself.

As the night fell, the rain only poured more heavily. Luckily for those two, they found a small cave to hide from the rain. While they sat next to the campfire, Nikkum peeked quickly at Elissa's left arm. Not as bad he previously thought, but it might take several days to recover, plus this rain could make things more complicated. It was not like Nikkum felt sorry for her, she was more like a pet, once getting attached, he would feel something missing if it disappeared in some way.

"And a dangerous pet." Nikkum murmured to himself.

The little girl was staring at him again, in spite of the injury and the fatigue. However, since she was in a warm place, her face looked much better than earlier.

"Why can't you just go home already?" Nikkum became quickly uneasy when someone stared at him.

"Brother was Elissa's only home."

Nikkum remained silent, frustrated for asking a stupid question, and even more frustrated at the young girl's reply. After some minutes of reflection, he looked decided on something.

"Get some sleep already, I'm not going to run off in this heavy rain." after saying this to Elissa, he kept the second part to himself, "Zeal is still far, we can make a stop at Eversweep in two days."

Elissa's body was certainly at its physical limit, it was failing her despite her unyielding determination. After being sure that Nikkum would not leave during her rest, she closed her eyes. Her little hand was still grasping on her brother's gem, as if she was holding onto her own life. The gem kept her going, alongside the ruthless killer.

Nikkum was not tired at all, he hardly made any distance today since he walked so slowly. The campfire's light made his shadow grow much bigger than his actual size, similar to the darkness in his heart. He had been called the monster, the demon, the grim reaper; he took these titles with satisfaction, with pride. For anyone knowing him (and still alive), he was feared as the spokesman of death, since he had visited the world of ghosts many times on the verge of death. The idea of being associated with Elissa annoyed him in many ways. He convinced himself he needed to get rid of her before he reached Zeal, leaving her in a city like Eversweep was not a bad plan, she would be able to forget about the revenge and start a new life once she found a kind couple willing to adopt her. But the more he thought about the innocent face sleeping next to him, the more he became disgusted with himself. Why should he think about her future? If he had to save all the orphans in Estiah, he would tire himself to death only by counting them. The world was still in misery, the recovery of humanity took an eternity after the last war against the Shadow beings. While a few rich and noble enjoyed leisure in their comfortable seats, many children such as Elissa died every day from hunger. And yet, this was not Nikkum's business. He killed people for gold in cold blood. He didn't directly rob them, but he was not so different from the bandits earlier after all. Same people struggling in the same world for the same goal: to survive.

Nikkum needed something to soothe his mind, so he examined this little cave with care. The rocks were reflecting the flickering campfire; the small lights looking like spirits dancing on the wall giving off an ambiance of mystery and wonder. Nikkum was not someone who was able to enjoy the small tricks of nature, he was mostly thinking how to fight in this narrow place. It was out of question to bring out his usual weapons and he would even prefer fighting barehanded than using "pitiful weapons". The exit would hardly allow his over-sized body to pass, and some of his techniques requiring wide movements would be quite impossible to perform. His look swept through every corner, and then stopped on Elissa once again.

In truth, Nikkum had never had a good look at her before, his attention focused always on the strongest opponents, not on some little harmless girl. The rain had washed off the dirt on her, her rosy face was angelic, as any child of her age. She only had a gray mantle on her, worn by the long usage. Her feet were bare, with bruises all over. She really worked hard to keep up with an adult's walking pace. Had she been born in a decent family, she would now be sleeping in a warm bed with her caring mother singing a beautiful lullaby beside her. But what was a decent family? Nikkum could not imagine it, he never had one. Upon the light of campfire, Nikkum's eyes were shining with monstrosity beside an uncorrupted little angel, and yet she was not his prey. The little cave appeared to be the maw of a giant beast, keeping Nikkum and Elissa imprisoned, ready to be swallowed.

Nikkum felt suffocated, he disliked small places; he was not at ease when he was unable to move freely. In addition, he was disturbed by the girl's presence, his breathing became harder, his heart was thumping faster, his mind was running wild. The night was difficult. He sat there, but he was not resting.

When the first ray of dawn reached inside the cave, Nikkum's patience was reaching its limit. The rain had stopped. He wanted to leave this cursed place as soon as possible. He stood up to stretch his body a bit, then he felt a little hand grasping his clothes. Certainly, Elissa could not let him leave even in her sleep.

"I said I was not going to run away." Nikkum complained to the sleeping face.

He had to take some fresh air. As he tended his left hand to the cave exit to pull himself out, a pain ran through his arm. Blood was flooding out of his hand, something had scratched it badly. Instinctively, Nikkum backed into the cave. A black and twisted monster face appeared at the entrance, eclipsing the light of dawn.

A Shadow Being!

Nikkum had fought Shadow Beings before, difficult fights but he had always emerged victorious. The wounds over his body were mainly their kind presents before they died. Now he had to start a fight with an environmental disadvantage and an injury on his hand. Then, to make things worse, Nikkum heard a loud, deep, bestial cry.

A Demon Lord was near too!

The Demon Lords were not very dangerous themselves, however since they are the host of consciousness of lower beings, their presence meant quite possibly many other Shadow Beings were surrounding them. Maybe the little cave was at Nikkum's advantage after all. Even being a skilled and experienced fighter, Nikkum was unable to say for sure that he could get away alive from the attack of a horde of Shadow Beings.

Elissa was awake now, not knowing what situation she was in. She seemed to be saying prayers to her gem, but her brother would not rise from the dead to protect her.

"I think I am more skilled than your girlish brother." Nikkum was somehow annoyed to see that Elissa didn't even turn to him for help, despite how mighty he appeared to be.

But deep in his mind, he was relieved that there was only one entrance so he would not be distracted during the fight if by one chance in millions he had to think to protect the little girl. The Shadow Beings were roaming outside of the cave. These beasts were quite intelligent when a Demon Lord was around, and would probably not charge in one by one. Nikkum was still ready to tear off the head of anything entering first.

Unsure about what to do, the Shadow Beings were still hesitating to enter. Not knowing how many enemies were outside, Nikkum was hesitating to come out. The uncompromising situation persisted for about half an hour. Nikkum was strangely patient, he might appear to be reckless and violent, but in the real fights he knew the one who lost their temper first was going to lose. That was what a good warrior should be: confident, steady, unemotional. But that was not all, with his skills he would have rushed out and created a chaotic situation to get away. By estimation of the number of the Shadow Beings outside, he was not going to win this. Something was keeping him inside, something was making him stubborn.

Yet another Demon Lord's roar, this time it was much further away. Nikkum was not out of luck yet, the Demon Lord seemed to move away slowly, Nikkum was not its main aim. He moved some steps back to Elissa, with his eyes still fixed on the enemies at the entrance.

"We're going to run for it." He kept his voice low enough to not alert the others. Then he grabbed Elissa's arm.

But the little girl let off a painful cry that made the Shadow Beings more excited about the situation. Nikkum took Elissa's injured arm.

"Oh sorry." he apologized without thinking. No man ever remembered the last time Nikkum had apologized, including himself. He always laughed at his opponents' corpse, and his pride made him incapable to say the word "sorry". He had totally forgotten the wound on his hand, and without asking the little girl's consent, he put her on his back.

A warrior should never trust his back to anyone, especially to someone wanting him dead.

As Nikkum got ready for a run, he approached the exit slowly. The Shadow Beings were emitting an aura of death, even more than Nikkum. Their sharp claws, their horny teeth, their glowing eyes, every part of these Shadow Beings wanted to tear Nikkum into pieces. But Nikkum showed no fear, killing was his second nature, he was not going to die in a place like this, not before fulfilling his distant promise. Once at position, Nikkum focused his mind, he was trying to release something. The Shadow Beings were much more anxious than before, their instincts were telling them that their prey was preparing to strike.

Then the whole cave was illuminated by a red light, Nikkum had a huge spear in his hand, and struck it through the foremost two creatures. His inhuman power pushed even the most dangerous creatures in Estiah back. The exit opened up. Carrying the little weight on his back, he rushed out of the cave.

There were more than ten Shadow Beings awaiting him outside. Nikkum had never fought this many at once before. Running away from a lost battle was something he must to do to survive, especially when he was carrying another life on his back. He let go of the spear implanted in the still struggling creatures and released one weapon after another. He didn't have any armor, he didn't need them, his opponents died before they could lay an attack on him. Despite being robust, the Shadow Beings were amazingly agile. Nikkum's swings hardly scratched them, but he didn't yearn for a kill anyway, he was looking to open a path. He rushed between the trees, he was just as much an animal as these creatures, he could not lose in speed. The Shadow Beings were not good at giving up either, they chased like any animals longing for their prey. The Demon Lord's roars sounded so far now, Nikkum didn't know how long he should still run, and Elissa was astonishingly silent on his back, not letting out a single sound before these fearsome beasts.

Unfortunately, the Shadow Beings were catching up little by little. Nikkum somehow knew deep inside that he was not able to run away, these creatures were as stubborn as him. He suddenly stopped his feet and swung his axe toward the nearest creature. It was taken out by surprise, one Shadow Being down. Nikkum counted with a low voice all the creatures that caught up. Still seven remaining. He put Elissa on the ground, needing both hands to fight off a situation as critical as this. The Shadow Beings were not looking at the little girl, not much meat probably, and they knew that they could finish her in peace anyway once they took down her guardian.

"I am fighting for myself." Nikkum definitely didn't want the girl to misunderstand the situation.

As soon as he finished his sentence, the first beast charged him. Two axes in his hands, Nikkum swung these heavy weapons effortlessly. His action was precise, firm and sudden. As the two weapons cut through the beast's body, it vaporized into black smoke. The Shadow Beings did not leave corpses. In spite of being flawless in his kill, two other creatures jumped and thrust their claws through Nikkum's back. Before they had a chance to impale him again, Nikkum's axes cut them in half too. The wound was not deep enough to reach his vital organs, so Nikkum was still standing, with blood pouring out of his body. That smell is what stimulated him the most, be it his enemy's or his. He was not a vampire, enjoying blood, but the red color kept him hyped and focused. Only four monsters to kill, if he could trade one hole on his back against a kill, he would happily accept. These creatures were learning at an amazing speed, they would not make the same mistake twice. They were roaming around, looking for a fatal opening. The warrior was on his perfect guard, he was not going to let them have the least piece of him. The tension was building up, the next move from either side was going to conclude this battle. Elissa stayed close to Nikkum, but she was an intruder in this fight to the death.

A Shadow Being in front made the first move, an ascent so high that it compelled Nikkum to lift his head, while three others hasted almost simultaneously toward the lower part of his body, they were aiming at his legs. A basic tactics they used, but how efficient to slaughter a single man! All their movements were driven by invisible strings, as if a mastermind controlled their limbs in a deadly way.

Nikkum could not possibly overlook their naive plan after being in countless confrontations against grouped enemies, a simple dodge was not good enough, a kill was a must. Indescribably brave, he tilted his head slightly to the right to receive the hovering creature's claws with his well-built shoulder, an attack that would be fatal otherwise. Dual-wielding another set of destructive axes, he performed a crossing swing as though cutting with giant scissors, the three insatiable creatures belonged no longer to this world. At the same moment, the one on his shoulder managed to impose another direct stab on Nikkum's back, but this time well aimed and full forced.

Nikkum coughed up some blood, the damage from the last strike was deadly. His shoulder started to go numb, and his left arm was refusing his command.

"Thankfully my right arm has not abandoned me yet." He pulled the Shadow Being out from his shoulder and slammed it on the ground, only to pierce it in the same second with a claymore.

The gruesome battle had ended. Nikkum fell to his knees, even a man with his build could not stand any longer after receiving this kind of damage. His body might have worn out, but his mind was still racing. There was no sign of additional enemies, his heart pounded even more dreadfully at safety, his hands were shaking with excitement, it had indeed been a long time since the last battle of this extent.

He barely had any time to enjoy the taste of victory, when a faint purple light flashed behind him. He felt a cold and metallic object inserted into one of the wounds made by the earlier pursuers on his back.
A small dagger stabbed him from the hands of an innocent.