Book 3 Chapter 35

“There it is!” came the shout of an accented voice, ringing from between the trees. “Warriors to the front! Quickly, now, boys! Don’t tarry!”

Shadows of the night stretched and bowed around KoGuRai, heavy with the feeling of many people hidden in the forest trees. His senses were blurry. It was difficult to remain aware, everything hazy and drowned out by the dull ache that pained his chest and abdomen. The place where TsuYa’s fiery scythe left its scathing blow.

Even a Marked Champion could bleed to death. This was something he was learning, very quickly. Especially now that he was far away from the Inner Realms, far away from Master Zeromus’ influence and sustenance. He was in the Outterlands, and on his own in terms of survival.

The large-built, red-haired men of this strange land did not waste time organizing their defenses. That was something else he was learning, very quickly.

Ingrates. And to think I even left their sniveling little friend alive.

It was earlier that day when KoGuRai found the first sign of establishment in the heavy forest – a road. Eventually, travelling along the road rewarded him with what he figured was a merchant cart. The situation being as it was, he wasn’t going to pass up any opportunity.

The Champion only attacked the red-haired traveler out of need to fill his ravenous hunger. At this point, he was hindered by his inability to hunt, due to the gaping wound he bore. Though he robbed the traveler’s cart of anything edible, he sent the man off with nothing more intentional than a few clawmarks over his backside.

It’s not my fault the fool nearly acid-burned himself to death trying to attack me.

Things weren’t always pleasant for others when they came in contact with the acidic Marked blood. In KoGuRai’s experience, they had to learn from their mistakes. Rarely did they take his verbal warnings seriously, so he gave up offering them caution.

Now the lynch mob is here. No doubt, to flush out the “monster” in the forest.

As if on cue, a shout rang out. The men rushed down into the shadowy forest, bearing blades and torches of red flames held high. That he was spotted, he was certain. How he was going to survive through this, he wasn’t so certain.

KoGuRai gathered up his strength, clasping his naginata between his blood-slicked hands. His senses, blurry as they were, could tell him that he was fairly outnumbered for the poor physical state he was in.

No matter how much he tried to wrap the slice through his mid-section, nothing he did mended the wound. Everything – cloth, leaves, and any other sort of natural bandaging material — eventually eroded, ate away by the burning nature of his black blood. He didn’t have time to sit idle and keep pressure on the wound to close it. His options were to keep moving, or die of starvation.

If it wasn’t for the wound, this fight would be nothing.

All he had to fall back on was intimidation, the natural Marked Fear that he knew he could drive into the hearts of others. He hoped that enough of the attackers would run and allow him to escape.

As the first of the warriors came at him, the Champion rose up to full height, dropping away the robes to expose the wicked black-steel armor and Marked spikes that decorated his form. Huge black wings unfurled from his shoulders, traced with crackling red energies. Dead, black eyes focused on the mob, highlighted only by the red flickers of the torches.

KoGuRai’s head reeled back, his body braced for the pain he knew that would come. He let loose a mind-shattering SCREECH. Instantly, the men closest to him buckled under the impact, floundering as if struck by some great, invisible force. Some of the warriors dropped right there, dazed. Some scrambled back, gripped by cold fear at the sight of the Marked Champion. A few broke the ranks and fled into the writhing tree shadows.

Seeing that his tactic to split the crowd worked, KoGuRai sprang forward. Even with the hindrance of the bleeding gash, he knew that his enhanced strength and speed put him head and shoulders above any common village militia man.

You fools come out here to challenge me… to hunt me… to destroy me. You’ve made a fatal mistake thinking you can face me so easily.

The air parted as the scream of KoGuRai’s blade ripped through the chest of the man closest to him. The point burst from the man’s back, sending a sticky red spray in every direction, painting the forest floor red.

There was a mournful moan from the frightened onlookers and sharp barking commands from the one that thought he was in command. No one was following orders at this point. Terror was unleashed on the red-haired men of the Outterlands.

Nothing more than a blur of shadow and blood, KoGuRai spun into the group of men with a dance of deadly chaos. Blade and haft, metal and wood, both ends of his weapon were equally fatal in the hands of one with his strength. He tore through the ranks, leaving men devoid of weapons, limbs and life.

No mercy. No bias.

The pain of his wound became so distant, so far away. The taste of blood was slick and salty on his lips. His animal hunger became so overpowering. Soon the battle was more than just survival for him, it became an act of morbid pleasure. A sickly thrill, driven on by the Chaos that rushed through his form. Each swing of his blade seemed to give him new, invigorating power.

No words were left in his mind. There was nothing but the sense of pleasure and pain. Nothing but the blurred faces, stricken with sweet horror as he bore down on them.

Then something large struck him from behind, sending him reeling in surprise, something that was far stronger than the men of the Outterlands. The Champion whirled around only to be met with a second blow from a lithe, plume-tipped tail. KoGuRai slammed back into the bristly trunk of a nearby tree, caught unaware. A sharp pain from his open wound shot through him, dragging him back to his senses as he crumpled to his knees.

Ugh! What is that creature?

More of the creatures came, filling his ears with a high-pitched keen that grated his teeth. KoGuRai couldn’t make out details of the peculiar, looming shapes as they bounded through the wavery firelight. He could only tell that they were large, covered in fur and seemed to be used as mounts for the red-haired men.

The sound of hissing surrounded him as the riders closed in. Sharp commands barked. Before KoGuRai could gather his wits to fight back, he found himself restrained. His weapon was ripped from his hands. His wrists were lashed and bound in strange-runed cuffs. Instantly, he could feel his strength sapped from his body.

There was the long piercing scream from one warrior as he got too near the flow of burning black blood that oozed from the Champion’s chest. The red-haired men were more cautious in handling him after that.

Exausted. Drained. Outnumbered. Overpowered. Bleeding freely.

KoGuRai couldn’t summon the strength to resist as the red-haired men dragged him through the shadows of the forests towards the red lights of what seemed to be a village below.