When Amber first opened the book The Sword of Wrath, she didn’t sense anything weird.
She picked it from a stall at the second-hand goods market held on campus. The book was not thick; it did not indicate who the author was; bound by a string, it had a cover like a dusty antique. The story was set on a fictional continent called Acadia. According to the mythology of the book, Acadia was filled with common humans, talking animals, mythical creatures, immortals and demons.
Like most hero-legend stories, it described how a poor boy climbed to the top of the pyramid of power, while women went wild for his romantic and inspiring image, competing for his attention. The summary read:
The main character is a half-demon, half-human youngster called Karl Jenkins. Accepted neither by humans nor demons, he suffered a bitter childhood. Abandoned by his father, he and his mother, a human woman named Estee, became homeless from trying to escape the villagers’ persecution. He was adopted by a poor lady named Nerissa after Estee died of a disease due to poverty. But his foster mother was accidentally killed in an exorcism rite held by a Guardian family, the Gallaghers. Later Karl had a chance to study under one of the seven famous Guardian families as an exorcist apprentice. However, his Master, Constance Henning, who knew no sympathy nor pity, showed no tenderness and abused him over the years before discovering his real identity as a half-demon on Karl’s 18th birthday. In order to escape his master, he was forced to jump off the Infinite Abyss, where he transformed into a pure demon and discovered the Sword of Wrath.
Karl suffered various difficulties and finally managed to escape from the Infinite Abyss with the Sword of Wrath. His personality changed drastically after being betrayed and oppressed cruelly by the humans. He obtained incredible power from the Sword of Wrath and successfully took over the thrones from various demon dukes and unified the entire demonic realm. With the help of demon armies, he became a cold tyrant. He took revenge on those who had been cruel to him during his early days, and ultimately ruled the mainland of Acadia.
“Buy the book if you want to read the whole thing. We don’t provide books for free reading.”
A voice interrupted Amber, and she lifted her eyes. She saw Gina glaring at her. Unconsciously, she had been really concentrating on reading the book and had almost finished two chapters.
“This is Jeremy’s book,” said Amber, looking at Jeremy sitting beside Gina. “This is his stall.”
“We’re partners,” said Gina.
The students were asked to organize a market fair, and Gina had borrowed Jeremy’s stall to sell her unwanted stuff. Amber and Gina had been at odds with each since the first day they met. In Amber’s eyes, Gina was the typical “mean girl,” and she was sometimes angry that Jeremy, her friend since childhood, liked Gina.
Whatever she did, Gina would find faults or make things difficult for her.
“OK, I will buy it.”
“If you want to buy this book, you’ve got to buy my hat. These items are sold in a set,” said Gina.
Amber frowned and looked at Jeremy, and then back at Gina. “I don’t want your hat, it’s ugly.”
“It has to be sold in a set, right, Jeremy?” Gina stood up and looked at Jeremy.
“Um...” Jeremy looked rather vexed and scratched his head.
“Are we friends? I will say it once more: I want to buy this book alone, not with any other garbage.” Amber raised her voice.
“My hat is not garbage!” said Gina. “Just look at what you’re wearing!”
“What’s wrong with my dress?” snapped Amber, as she glared at Jeremy. “I don’t care, I’m taking the book alone. If you listen to her, our friendship is over.”
Amber snatched the book and dropped a few coins on the desk. As she turned to leave, the pages of the book suddenly came loose and several of them dropped to the ground. Amber squatted down to pick up the pages and found one was under the wheelchair of a teenager.
Amber lifted her face, and to her surprise, the teenager in the wheelchair was Gore.
With a pale and solemn face, the boy had the same hazel eyes as Amber’s, meeting her eyes in a languid manner.
“Gore...” Amber glanced at his legs. She hadn’t seen him since she’d last heard of his injury in a car accident. He refused all calls from her and her mother Janice, didn’t even give them a chance to care for him.
“How’s your leg...”
“Hop it,” said Gore while turning the wheels on his chair.
Amber wanted to grab him, but Gore glared at her and snarled, “Go away!”
People on the campus were staring, so Amber let go of his arm. Without saying anything, Gore left Amber behind.
Jeremy gave Gina an embarrassed smile. Gina stuck out her tongue at him and showed him a broken string in her hand with a sly smile.
“You tore my book?” asked Jeremy, surprised to see Gina had actually cut the binding string of the book.
“Just let her read an incomplete book.” Gina winked. Jeremy noticed there was a missing page under the desk. He picked it up, but Gina snatched it away.
“Don’t give her this.” She randomly folded the page and dropped it in her bag.
“Don’t be like this—she’s a nice girl,” said Jeremy as he started packing up things to go home.
“Nice girl? Then why does she have such an awkward relationship with her brother?” sneered Gina. “You saw how Gore responded to her. It seems not much better than my relationship with her.”
“It’s quite complicated,” sighed Jeremy, “and I know it troubles her. Their relationship has been this cold for years. I never saw them talking to each other on campus.”
Gore turned his head after he went a few meters, to ensure that Amber didn’t follow him. He noticed there was a piece of paper stuck in between his wheels. He picked it up and realized that it was a page from a book.
It looked like it was from the book Amber bought just now. He was brushing the dust from the page when three teenagers walked toward him.
“Hey, Gore!” one of them shouted at him with a malicious smile. Gore grew nervous and stuffed the page into his pocket.
“Hey, how’s your day, lame duck?” said one of the boys.
Gore tried to turn his wheelchair and go away, but was stopped by the other boy.
“Trying to run away, huh? How about telling the teacher again about how we were bullying you?”
“Too bad, he always wakes up on the wrong side of the bed.”
“How about getting out of your chair? Going for a walk will help you to shake off the lethargy.” Another boy giggled and punched Gore, and he fell off the wheelchair. A boy stepped onto his palm and ground his boot into it.
Gore, lying beside his wheelchair, just stayed silent and took it, as if he was too spiritless even to resist. After pushing Gore around and torturing him for almost half an hour, Gore’s attitude somehow infuriated the boys further.
“I have a suggestion,” said one of the boys, raising an eyebrow. “To make him beg for forgiveness.”
They put Gore back into the wheelchair and pushed it into the depth of the woods behind the school.
After walking for around ten minutes, Gore realized that the boys were bringing him toward the lake behind the school. They stopped and stood on a rise overlooking the lake.
“This will be interesting, what do you think?” asked a boy behind Gore, his hand holding the wheelchair handles.
Gore gave a snort of contempt without turning his head.
“You don’t believe I will let go of the handle?”
With a sudden jerk, the boy shoved Gore’s wheelchair hard and sent him down the slope, toward the lake below.
They heckled and jeered behind him. Gore tried to stop his wheelchair several times, but it failed and kept sliding. Suddenly, he gave up trying and relaxed.
Why bother? Wasn’t he absolutely frustrated with his own life?
Instead of stopping, he rotated his wheelchair toward the lake.
“Hey, you can’t stop your wheelchair?” shouted one of the boys behind him. They were no longer laughing.
“Should we go and pull him back?” asked another boy. “Is he going to drown himself?”
“Just wait and see first—that loser doesn’t have the guts.”
It was getting dark. Gore stared at the black water of the lake, where it was as still as a cold winter’s night in a graveyard, wondering if all the torture could end if he continued to rotate the wheels of his chair toward it.
The feeling of being betrayed, and an outcast... The only way he could still have control over his own life was to end it.
To break free.
Before the cold lake water actually passed over the top of his head, Gore heard the boys yelling on shore, but then he was seized by a sudden and tremendous fright as something seemed to drag at his legs, hauling him down.
He was out of his depth.
The sudden shock, maybe partly from the chill of the water, caused him to involuntarily breach the water surface to gasp. However, the same process repeated itself until he was battered and winded.
Intense pain bloomed at the top of his chest, spreading downwards and inwards. Ears ringing, Gore felt as if he saw something glowing in the darkness under the water—something coming from his pocket?
A sense of loneliness and isolation overwhelmed him, and somehow he felt as if he was gently sinking to rest on the softest bed. As colorful light shot into his eyes, he thought maybe death had come to take him faster, right here, alone and forgotten.
“Hi, Mom, I’m back.”
Amber decided not to tell Janice that she met Gore and he ignored her at school today.
This would be Amber’s last year in high school, and she’d reunited with Gore when he transferred to her school six months ago. She was delighted, but soon disappointed as she found Gore held a deep grudge against her. Since she got his cell phone number from his ninth grade classmates, he’d only picked up Janice’s call once. Gradually, she told Janice less and less about the various encounters with Gore at school, partly because they never talked, and also because she believed it would only upset Janice.
Based on the campus gossip, Amber learned that Gore injured his legs a month ago when he tried to run away from his home. Janice visited him once in the hospital, but it seemed to be an unpleasant experience. Since then, they never talked about Gore at home.
“How was your day at school?” Janice poked her head out of the small kitchen. “I bought an old book from Jeremy at the fair at school,” said Amber. “You won’t believe how sheepish he becomes around Gina.”
In fact, Amber bought this book partly because she couldn’t bear the sight of Jeremy being so obedient to Gina. The book just looked like any ordinary revenge story, nothing special.
She spotted the fresh flowers in the bottle on the table.
“Nice flowers,” said Amber.
“Mr. Hauser brought them.” Janice smiled.
Amber grinned. “He’s still contacting you?”
Mr. Hauser was Amber’s math teacher from primary school. He had been single since his wife’s death.
“He invited me for dinner several times,” said Janice.
“He’s a nice guy,” said Amber. “Why don’t you try him out?”
Janice shook her head, said, “Maybe later, I’m just not ready for a new relationship yet.”
“Come on,” said Amber. “You have been divorced long enough. I really think you should hang out more with different guys.”
“No worries, I know what I’m doing.” Janice smiled and waved at Amber to get her to drop this topic.
Janice was still attractive and graceful despite her age. Amber believed she could start a new relationship very soon.
Amber went upstairs to her room and lay on the bed.
She thought about her early days when she still lived under one roof with Janice, Gore and her stepfather, Raymond Walter.
She, in fact, missed the days she’d spent with Gore. They had once been really close.
Amber lay in the bed but had a hard time falling asleep. She got up and took out the book.
She had read a portion of it before she went to bed. Now she continued reading from a scene after the hero jumped down the Infinite Abyss.
After Karl’s foster mother died, in order to get a shelter for himself, he joined the Hennings, one of the major Guardian families of Acadia, to study magic. Becoming an apprentice of the Hennings, at least he would have free shelter and food.
To be a Guardian of Acadia was a special occupation in the book. They were sorcerers who turned into half-immortals as their magic power enhanced to a certain level, and were granted supernatural power by the Patrons, who were the godlike immortals from Sanctuary. The Guardians had special status in Acadia and were under the management of the Guardians’ Council. They worked as the agents between humans and Patrons, protected the folks of the local communities, and taught their human followers magic and exorcism to fight against the demons.
In Acadia, the Guardians’ powers were inherited in familial lines, and the selection of Guardians relied solely on family origin. This showed that they were indeed the gods’ choice.
The selection of apprentices was strict. However, Karl still managed to enter the Hennings, founded by the Master Guardian Abner Henning, and apprenticed under Abner’s daughter Constance. Constance Henning had been jealous of her sister, Carolina Henning, and the two competed for the Hennings’ inheritance.
Constance Henning’s character and personality could be seen clearly:
Abner sat on the chair, looking at Constance with fury.
“Constance, do you know what you have done wrong?” asked Abner with anger. “You are responsible for the areas under your jurisdiction, but you didn’t help out during the recent chaos created by the demons. The Hennings’ reputation will be greatly damaged if the Guardians’ Council finds out. If you do not want to guard these areas, I will hand them over to Carolina!”
“I have been busy,” said Constance indifferently. “I arrived there a bit late.”
“You didn’t arrive late, you simply didn’t bother with them! Constance, I don’t mind you sometimes taking treasures from the folks as a form of remuneration, but the Hennings don’t only work for riches. You can’t ignore the poor because they don’t pay you!” said Abner.
Constance’s face darkened. She wondered who told her father about all these things.
“And there’s another thing that I want to ask you,” said Abner. “Did you put the poison in Carolina’s magical instrument? Do you know she almost got injured because of that?”
“There’s nothing I can do if you think it’s me. Moreover, she’s so excellent in her magic skills, with Elroy as her follower, she can handle all kinds of situations without the magical instrument.”
“Foolish!” Abner was furious. “She’s your sister! How can you do such an evil thing?”
“Father, how about you? Haven’t you been biased? I’m the elder daughter of the Hennings, but the Echo was given to Carolina! I can be in danger too! Why do you never worry that I may get killed during missions?” yelled Constance, and turned to leave angrily.
Abner sighed in his seat.
“Constance didn’t necessarily do that,” said Carolina. “You don’t have to blame her for this now.”
“You don’t need to defend her,” said Abner. “The reputation of our family has been negatively affected over these years because of her. The other families have complained to the Guardians’ Council many times that we have weak management over our areas, and suggested that they take over more areas from us.” Abner’s face was livid. “Her personality just never changes as she grows up—she’s selfish and aggressive.”
Carolina kept silent.
Amber wouldn’t say this book was well-written because most supporting characters seemed to easily lose their IQ in front of the hero. Most of them lacked depth and complexity, especially the hero’s mentor, Constance Henning. She was a shallow villain, narrow-minded and greedy. Highly irritable, she constantly abused her apprentices, and especially directed her cruelty against Karl after a few incidents. Years of studying with the Hennings had become a nightmare for Karl.
Constance abused the hero over every trivial matter, and the development of her plotline took up a quarter of the book. Her personality played a key part in the hero’s pathetic childhood, and his finding of the crucial weapon that changed his life ever after: the Sword of Wrath.
After being severely reprimanded by Abner, Constance immediately approached all her apprentices, asking them who told Carolina and her father about her accepting bribes from the people. The book read:
“Who’s the informant? Who is fabricating rumors about my taking bribes?” asked Constance coldly, her face pale from fury, scanning the array of apprentices standing in front of her on the square. “That’s a bold move. Who’s the daring one? Step out now.”
All the apprentices stayed silent.
Whoever the informant was, he or she was not fabricating rumors, but Constance insisted this was a false accusation and demanded the informant be punished.
“Who approached my father and told him that I have been remiss in my duty? And even worse, he learned this from Carolina’s mouth! Now that she spoke ill of me in front of my father, how will my father think of me!?” Constance strode about in front of them. “If the informant doesn’t confess, all of you will be punished! You will kneel down here until the next morning, and no meals for next day! Chad, you don’t need to be punished, but you need to supervise the others being punished. Ask someone to do it with you in turns.”
“Yes, Master!” answered Chad.
Karl stepped out alone. “My apologies...Master, the situation was urgent, the demons were raging in the village. We were no challenge for them, so we let out the fireworks signal and waited for a long time, but the support team never came. It was then Master Carolina passed by, so I sought her help in a hurry.”
“So you think that’s my fault? Not coming to your rescue in time?” Constance looked down at Karl.
“No! I didn’t mean that! And I never said anything about you taking the bribes...”
Constance suddenly placed her palm on Karl’s chest. Accompanied by a dazzling flash, a magic blast of light released from her hand, throwing Karl to the ground.
Constance was no doubt a typical character detested by everyone in the book, and she led directly to the gradual changes in Karl’s personality.
Growing up in a mentally unhealthy environment, the hardships and sufferings at the Hennings had planted the seeds of hate in Karl long ago. Foreshadowing the changes in Karl’s personality, his dark side was fully brought out after the Trevor Event. He became a revengeful, distorted and double-faced fiend.
As the plot developed, all Karl’s enemies suffered tragic deaths, and he tortured them before killing them. As he improved at camouflage and manipulating people’s minds, Karl killed other demon inheritors of the throne and took over the demonic realm. Still not satisfied, he started slaughtering the guardians to silence all the voices that opposed him. He ruled all of Acadia, and even the immortals could do nothing about him.
Unconsciously, Amber had almost flipped through the entire book, but she found a few pages missing as the page number jumped from 100 to 124. However, these missing pages didn’t affect the overall story, and Amber could see it ended badly. Except for the hero, most of the characters didn’t have a good ending, especially Karl’s mentor—Constance Henning, whom Karl burnt alive.
The next moment, Constance felt a scorching, sharp pain engulfing her.
The fire soon spread to her whole body. The unbearable pain was killing her.
She staggered backward and tripped after a few steps, rolling to the ground. Her skin and hair were burning, and a foul smell filled her nostrils. She heard herself screaming, but was soon unable to make a sound as the mucous membranes of her throat were sticking to each other.
This might be the worst possible way to die. In pain and dehydrated, she felt her muscles unable to move due to the great damage—she was no different from a desiccated corpse now.
This man in front of her refused to grant her a quick and easy death.
All this while, Karl stood there watching her coldly as she wriggled on the ground in pain. He was going to burn her alive.
Constance couldn’t breathe.
The day was breaking. Amber had finally distracted herself from the negative emotions of meeting Gore. Feeling a little sleepy, she put down the book.
The story ended with many clues and mysteries unsolved. The murderer of several tragic figures was still unknown, and the girls who were supposed to have some relationship with the hero were never heard of again as the plot developed. Many intriguing characters were never described in further detail. Amber somehow regretted reading such a novel, for it was not a pleasant reading experience with so many holes in a story.
Suddenly she felt very sleepy and closed her eyes.
With the window of her bedroom opened, the night breeze flipped the pages of the book lying in Amber’s bed. The words in the book started to shimmer.