“Serriph?! What kind of weak-ass name is that?”
The bandit laughs, holding the massive, curved blade at his side. There’s not a scratch on him. His leather outfit is completely unscathed, save for the traces of mud on his boots.
“Shoulda’ stayed home, Serriph.” He mocks me, twirling the blade in my direction with ease.
I pick myself up from the ground, coughing as my side cramps up. I’m hurt. A few ribs probably broken. There is a bloody, metal taste in my mouth. I’m lucky he hasn’t stabbed me yet, but the beating I took was painful enough.
I realize both my hands are empty, and my eyes quickly dart about looking for my most valuable possession.
“Lookin’ for somethin’?” I can almost hear him smiling. I look up, and the bastard is nodding toward his left.
Lying against a tree is my silver-blue dagger, Mistform.
Save for his occasional laugh, the forest is eerily silent. Since our battle started, I haven’t heard the chirp of insects, the songs of birds, nor the distant calls of animals. Maybe the animals were wise enough to flee, but I’m not. I started this fight, and I’m going to finish it. At the moment, though, all I can think about is how this bandit is going to kill me. But he’s just walking back and forth, dragging the huge scimitar along the ground and taunting me. Arrogant bastard.
At least it buys me a few seconds.
I try to tighten my defense, but every step is painful. My light, steel armor feels heavier than it ever has. I want to pull it off, throw it on the ground. But, whether I like it or not, it’s protecting me.
“Stupid kid.“ His smile lowers a bit, “What the hell did I ever do to you?”
“The hell kind of question is that!?” The words force their way out of me.
He looks surprised, both his eyes and smile widening.
“You murderer! You coward! You kill just to raise your fasste!” My face feels hot, and I can feel my nails digging into my palms. “Fasseteer trash. You deserve to die!”
Now, his smile is gone. His knuckles turn stark white as his grip tightens on the scimitar.
“What’d you say, boy?” He points the blade at me. “You say you’re gonna kill me? Don’t make me laugh!”
“Laugh?” I lower my head. I can feel tears welling up in my eyes. “I’m sure you laughed when you killed them.”
“What? Killed who? I’ve killed dozens of people, boy!” He says it so proudly. I want to vomit.
“You know damn well what I’m talking about!” I yell.
Birds that had been keeping quiet in the canopy above suddenly burst from their cover. A few squawked their curses before the forest fell silent once more.
The bandit stepped toward me. “Well, if you won’t tell me, I guess I’ll just jog my memory.”
He began counting on his fingers, weapon resting on his leather shoulder pad.
“There’s Fuchsia, that small town to the West of here. We burnt it down real good.” He licked his lips. “The women there were gorgeous!
Then there was Surren, that horrid desert town on the other side of the Labyrinth of Valleys. We didn’t find shit there.”
The man spits on the ground. My skin crawls at his words. Every syllable makes my stomach turn. Sweat runs down my cheek as my whole body trembles.
“Oh, and can’t forget Kyre!”
I nearly fall to my knees when he says it.
“That pretty little village buried in snow. That didn’t keep it from burning to cinders! And the people - so many to kill. So much fassence to-“
“Shut your mouth!” I scream.
“Ah, I see. So you’re from Kyre?” He laughs that stupid laugh once more. “Guess you got nowhere to go now, do ya?!”
I charge him, the needle in my pocket tight in my fist. I flick its protective cap off with my thumb. I don’t want to hear another word.
I am going to kill him.
“Shut your mou-!”
I don’t see it, but I feel something hard on my stomach. It hurts. My feet fly out from under me as I’m sent flying through the air.
My vision goes black for a moment as I slam into something hard. Something rough. I cough hard, laying my head on the rough bark of a tree behind me. Slowly, my breath returns, and I peer ahead to lock eyes with the bandit again.
Just seconds ago, I had been inches from him, ready to stab him with that needle. Now, he’s several meters ahead of me, and I’m lying against a tree racked with pain. He must’ve punched me. I didn’t expect him to have this much power.
I caught word of a bandit who resided in the Atoll Forest while on the road. Travelers said someone had been robbing caravans during the night. Said he looked like a Fasseteer. Said he wore the insignia of Bones and Ash.
That’s when I knew I had found one, that I had crossed paths with another one of my targets. He was definitely one of the bandits that had destroyed my home.
Kyre. . .
“Nice try, boy.” He turns away from me. As he parts the hair covering his neck, I can see a symbol. It’s his Fasste.
And it reads 37 Gamma.
No wonder I’m sitting under this tree nearly paralyzed. He’s at least 37 times stronger than I am. I’m lucky I’m not dead yet. Especially considering I was born with the lowest recorded Fasste – A measly one Gamma.
I cough again. Blood flies from my mouth, and my ribs ache. I’m injured badly. This fight needs to end. Someone needs to die.
“Look, boy, I don’t feel like killin’ today. Just go home.” He lowers his sword. The tip hits the ground, slicing through it as if it were paper. “I’ll be takin’ that knife with me, though.”
No, he can’t take Mistform. Even if he leaves me here, alive but injured, I’ll be helpless without it. And like hell am I letting him live another day. I can’t let him hurt anyone anymore.
“Y-you better kill me.” I barely manage to say, but he hears it.
“Huh? And why’s that?”
“Cause’, if you don’t, “ I wipe my mouth of blood and force a smile on my face, “I’ll hunt you down and kill you.”
He frowns. “Well, I can’t have you annoying me anymore than you are now. Sorry kid. Guess you die today.”
The weight of his blade is palpable as he lets it fall from his shoulder and onto the ground. Dirt is tossed into the air, forming a small cloud around his feet.
In an instant, he races toward me. Before I know it, I am raised in the air by the collar of my shirt. I keep my arms limp. The pain is overwhelming, my bones shuffling into excruciating positions. It is difficult to breathe.
“I’ll make an exception for ya’. I’ll kill you quick. You’re a stubborn kid, and you remind me a bit of myself.”
Like him? Never have I heard something so wrong, so dreadful. My eyes widen in sheer indignation, and I thrust my hand out of my pocket with the last ounce of strength in me.
The moment it enters him, his expression changes. His eyes are as large as the moons, and his mouth opens in a gape. He gasps for air until his grip on me relents.
I fall back to the trunk of the tree hard. It stings, but I’m happy.
The bandit is on the ground now, grabbing at his throat as the poison from the needle forces it to close. I watch, but the happiness leaves me. In its place, a familiar emotion returns. My eyes flood over, and the tears quickly cover my cheeks. The feeling in my throat as I try to hold it back hurts. I cannot understand why the pain remains, even though I am one step closer to my goal.
This was the third, and most difficult, Fasseteer I’ve killed. All had the same Ash and Bones symbol on them, but the one on the ground before me had been the only one I hadn’t gotten the drop on. And I almost died for it.
He has stopped moving, and a familiar glow surrounds him. A steadily strengthening white glow. Then, the wisps of fassence ascend from his body and illuminate the air. The forest, though in twilight, glows white with their radiance. They begin to come toward me, and, as they do, I can’t help but hope that part of this fassence once belonged to my father, my mother, or maybe my brother.
“This is for you.” I can only whisper as my vision fades to white.