I am very pleased to offer you the next chapter of the upcoming novel: Radiant Heroes: A Fantastic Youth. If you haven’t read chapter 1, you can do so here. Please like, share, and subscribe; I appreciate and love all of your support.

 

With love,

M.C. Grimm

http://www.mcgrimm.blog

 

 

 

{Radiant Heroes: A Fantastic Youth by M.C. Grimm

Chapter 2: Man and Monster

 

“There would be no feats of bravery without bouts of madness.” The Chill of Death – A Tribute to Crowlastte

 

Lee held the picture close as his tears wet the pastels. He held it so tight that they left a smear onto his robes. Before long, he sobbed himself to exhaustion and fell asleep curled up atop his covers. He wasn’t aware how long he was asleep, but the faint creak of the door woke him to dazedly observe his father moving across the floor and to his own bed on the far side of the room. Lee watched for a moment as his father folded down the sheets and strangely hesitated. He had turned to glimpse over at Lee and shook his head dejectedly, and deliberately slow. Knowing his father would give him disapproval even while he was fast asleep gave him the most wrenching feeling in his gut. He closed his eyes, feeling a twisting ache in his chest, and fell back asleep.

It must have been around 3am when a thunderous banging began. The front door had nearly been pounded off the hinges as an articulate voice carried through, “Hello, Cleric Cheng! We are in need of your help, please let us in. We apologize for the late hour, but please.”

Lavi had already leapt to his feet and was quickly dressing himself in robes. “Boy, get your clothes on.”

Lee instinctively got up, still dressed in his smeared robes from the day prior. For the first time he had made it to the door before his father and slid the lock open, “Lavi’s Clinic, what is your emergency?”

Outside the door stood three figures that were very patient given the typical urgency that would knock in the middle of the night. The first was a tall human with green eyes and well manicured blonde hair. He wore a very elaborate blue and orange trimmed mages gown and stood with a poised smile that radiated his charisma and confidence. The second man was in tattered black robes with pasty skin, messy white hair across his face, and painted with very ornate tattoos – the marks of a kai. Every visible inch of him was marked with scars showing; what Lee could decipher, as a very deliberate procedure or even torture. The third figure was hanging limply over the scarred ones shoulder. His legs were twisting weakly as he attempted to reposition his feet to stand without success. He was partially shrouded in a dark cloak, but Lee could see lizard-like skin that was a flushed green color.

Lee had frozen for a moment before stepping aside to allow them into the procedural room. Lavi was already prepped and in front of a cot, pulling up a cart of routine tigertail and cotton wheat ointments. “Good evening gentlemen, I am Lavi Cheng and you have already met my son, Lee. What ails you?”

The smiling man led them over to the cot and heaved his reptilian friend up. He never lost his smirk and his hair stayed perfectly in place as if held by magic. “We are terribly sorry to disturb you at this late hour, but our friend is in need of your skills. I am Tholden Moonstorm, this is Stein, and our friend there is Grekk. He is the one in need of your skills and we have coin for your treatment – with extra for your discretion.”

Lavi removed the reptilians cloak and then scanned him up and down. He waved his hands over him, emitting a soft green glow which was slowly drawn to his chest. The lizard squirmed forcing Tholden and Stein to quickly grab a hold of his shoulders and pin him to the table. Lavi then tore open the shirt to show the flush scales of his chest, covered by a series of claw marks from his collar to his abdomen. Upon Lavi’s closer inspection, the wounds appeared as if they were originally much deeper, but had partially mended. The dried blood still on his scales shows that this had happened very recently and could not possibly have healed naturally. “How did you treat his wounds?”

“We had attempted to give him a healing potion,” replied Tholden, “but he kept vomiting it up.”

“Interesting – very interesting.” Lavi continued searching over Grekk, leaning closer to peer into the wounds. “And what attacked him?”

“This is the part that requires your discretion.” Tholden reached into his pocket and placed a small coin purse on the table. “Fifty gold pieces sound fair?”

Lavi nodded quickly and gestured to Lee to take the purse. Lee eagerly took it from Tholden and, clumsily, tipped it allowing a few coins to fall out and clang against the wooden floor.

“Pick them up, boy.” Lavi scolded. “I am getting very tired of your mistakes.” He turned back to his patients who were looking on uncomfortably. “My apologies for the boy, he is not the most competent assistant.”

There was a brief silence before Tholden spoke again, “Yes, well. As I was saying, what had attacked him was a vetaless. We did manage to catch up to one of them, but only then did we learn what it even was. You see we were sent on a quest from General Dart of the Empire to track down a creature that had been terrorizing the nearby areas. You may have heard of us, I had recently conquered a hydra at Sundale. They are constructing a monument in their town square in my – our honor. Have you heard the tales?”

“No, I had not. I have heard of these attacks however,” Lavi asserted. “They were up in Premier and the Northern Villas. Did you manage to kill it?”

Stein reluctantly muttered, “Not yet.”

Tholden continued, “No, we were forced to flee. Even with all of my great strength and wisdom, I was not ready for something like this. We were not ready for the corrupted no less the vetala itself. After Grekk was mauled, I knew we had to re-think our plan of attack. And find him help of course.”

“Of course.” Lavi quickly stated keeping his focus on the patient. He kept waving his hands back and forth. There was a soft green glow from his magic essence, radiating down over Grekk with a warm energy that seemed to flicker and periodically spark. After a few minutes, beads of sweat were dropping from Lavi’s forehead. “This is proving to be a most powerful corruption. I fear the vetala you encounter may prove to be more than you are prepared for. Yes, I fear we may be dealing with a vetala lord.” Lavi turned towards Lee, “Boy, bring me whatever phoenix dust we have.”

Tholden stepped out of the way as Lee rushed past. “Wait, you think that the creature we have come for is a vetala lord? What does the mean exactly? All I know of vetala is that they turn lesser humans and creatures into their corrupted and that they burn from radiant magic. They are also shape shifters, so more than likely his monstrous form won’t look anything like his public face.”

“A vetala lord or Alpha is an ancient being, it is no longer a simple creature of darkness. Assume it has consumed the life of countless mortals and has taken their power into its own. Stories would say that they no longer possess the dead, but corrupt the living to obey as their minions and vessels. The curse of a vetala lord would be unbreakable, and his power would be most terrifying. I do not envy your group.” He concentrated for a moment and then continued, “I suppose it could be described as being similar to a djinn or a vampire, if one was to speak more plainly.”

Tholden tapped his feet eagerly, “So severe the head or pierce the heart?”

“Similar as vetala – or vetaless are, they aren’t the same as those other creatures. No, they are much more formidable, if you believe the stories. I’ve heard you could kill them more conventionally, they are normally possessing cadavers.” Lavi peered over their stale faces. “Cadavers are corpses. Regardless, to kill a lord would mean it has reached its most frightening form – that would be where the stories have met a gruesome end.”

“How certain of you are this?” Tholden asked.

Lavi scoffed, “I studied the curse to treat it, so killing the creature wasn’t my concern.”

Lee ran back into the room, catching Tholden without a grin for the first time. He quickly moved towards Lavi when he had bumped the surgical cart and toppled the tigertail petals to the floor. He looked up at the furious eyes of his father.

“I’m sor-” his voice was cut short by the landing of an open palm on his cheek.

“Enough of your stupidity, you worthless child!” Lavi was now beaming red with frustration and already dripping with sweat. He took a deep breath and turned to face his clients, but found Stein standing more closely than before.

“Do not touch him again.” Stein said sternly..

“With all due respect, I will discipline my son as I see fit.” Lavi maneuvered past the statuesque Stein and continued preparing several vials or elixir.

“My humblest apologies for my friend here, he is quite partial to children.” Tholden spoke with a lively tone that was filled with anxiety. He quickly changed the subject, “What is it you are mixing there?”

Lavi had arranged nine of the vials on the cart beside him. “It is shadowbane, also known as lights kiss or sun wisp. It will protect you and your friends from becoming infected should you be slashed or biten by the creatures.”

“I see,” Tholden investigated a vial of the liquid. “Remarkable. What will it do for Grekk?”

“He has not yet fed on human blood, correct?” Lavi questioned.

“Not at all.” Tholden answered.

“This will cure him so long as the infection was not from a vetala lord.” He replied.

Tholden hesitated to probe deeper, “And if it was?”

Lavi continued working and answered confidently, “If that’s the case, then there is no cure and he will become corrupted. I would then be obligated to put him to rest.”

Lee jumped forward, forgetting the lesson imparted from the pink handprint on his cheek, “We can’t kill him! We swore to save lives and do no harm to the injured and sick.”

“I am well aware of what oath I have taken boy, but we can’t allow infection to spread further through the city. We also must consider the rest of the population; your mind is still too small to understand this.”

Lee pleaded, “No father, we would have to find another way. We can read through the lore and maybe find some past history on th-”

“Enough.” Lavi landed a backhand across Lee’s other cheek. “I do not need to explain everything to you. Shut your mouth, watch and learn, or you will find yourself out in the streets while I take on a new apprentice with some respect.”

Lavi again turned to continue working, but Stein was now standing only a foot away. His eyes were fixed onto Lavi’s. He was radiating a powerful essence that seemed to heat up the room while distorting the air around him. The cloak on his back began to sway as if caught in the wind, “I told you not to touch him again.”

“And I told you, I will discipline him as I see fit. Mind your tongue when you speak to me, I am a Master Cleric.” Lavi said with contempt. “You will show me some respect.”

Stein had observed that Lavi held no remorse for the abuse he had made Lee suffer. In a calculated rage, his pupils dilated and his lip curled to the corner of his mouth. He had slid back his right foot and positioned his empty hands as if he was grasping something – something heavy. Suddenly, as if the very light of the room itself had warped in a flicker of blackness, a long gleaming shaft appeared in his hands. It reflected only a sinister darkness around it and resembled that of a scythe. At the head was a long crooked, crescent blade that had shown as an obsidian metal. It erupted into flame, casting a bright burst of light through the room. The heat was intense to everyone near him, but Stein didn’t seem to notice it.

“What are you doing, Stein?” Tholden didn’t move an inch. “Let’s not doing anything hasty here.”

Stein ignored Tholden, “Let me show you the same respect that you have given to him.”

In a flash, Stein had taken a single step forward. He arched the flaming blade with his movement and cut into Lavi with a deep slash – from his neck to his navel. Blood erupted from his throat and splattered over Stein’s unflinching-face. The crimson speckled his white hair and sprayed across the room like rain. Lavi stumbled forward in attempts to regain his footing, but was frantic. He bumped into the table and rolled over Grekk to collapse on the floor. His blood was spraying from his neck and though he attempted to cover it and heal it, he was frenzied and already beginning to lose consciousness.

From the table there were two deep, audible sniffs. Tholden’s slowly looked towards Grekk. His eyes had shot open, glossy and bloodshot. With inhuman speed, he twisted to a perched position on the bed, breathing and snarling like a crazed beast. His mouth was hanging open exposing bone white fangs. He leapt towards Lavi, dodging Tholden’s grasp, and buried his teeth with tearing and crunching noises. With his bite locked on Lavi’s neck, Grekk’s claws dug at the gash in his chest and ravaged into him.

Stein looked on with a mad grin, allowing his scythe to dissipate.

Tholden grabbed onto Grekk and began to wrestle him off of Lavi. With great difficulty, he pulled him off and pinned him to the floor. Grekk continued biting and chomping at Tholden. “Stein, I could use a hand.”

“You have him.” Stein replied. He turned slowly and started towards Lee.

Lavi was now slumped in a corner, his chest cavity torn open to expose his ribs and a shredded artery. There was a chunk torn out of his neck and burns over his cloths from the flame of the scythe. Lee was staring at him in horror, frozen in fear. Tears began streaming down his face and he became hysterical, “Why, why did you kill my father?”

Stein crouched down, eye to eye with Lee, calming him with only the chill and charm of his stare. He spoke deliberately, “Lee, your father was – a monster. That’s why he was so violent and abusive.”

Lee wiped his tears away and looked back at Stein confused. “What? He wasn’t a monster, he was my father. He was human. What are you talking about?”

“A man can be a monster, Lee. Monsters hurt people and your father is supposed to look out for you. Does he do that or does he hurt you?”

“He hurts me.” Lee sobbed again. “But he does it because I make a lot of mistakes and he wants me to do better.”

“You are young, you’re supposed to make mistakes.” Stein shook his head, “No, Lee. He was a man who became a monster. Not through disease or magic, but bad choices. You never deserved to be treated that way and you never have to be again. You are free of him – before he could turn you into him. Or do you think how he treated you was right? What are you Lee, a man or a monster? What do you want to be?”

He began to sob, “I don’t know what I am yet.”

Grekk rolled over and lost consciousness. The scuffle with Tholden and Lavi had taken its toll on him.

Tholden stepped off him and moved towards them. He crouched next to Stein, “Nonsense, you advocated not to kill Grekk. You stood up to your father and were willing to find another way to cure him. That makes you more of a man than most – if I say so myself.”

Lee rubbed his eyes, “I just don’t want anyone to die.”

Stein nodded in agreement. “I understand how you feel. We can still use your help if you want to come with us. We don’t have anyone with your healing skills.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Tholden interrupted.

Stein shot Tholden a stern look to answer his question.

“You mean, help you stop monsters? Or help save people?” Lee asked.

“Save people, stop monsters, and if you’re with us – I can keep you safe.” Stein said softly.

Lee’s gaze fell to the floor. He then stared at the smeared pastels on his robes and tears swelled up in his eyes, “I haven’t felt safe in so long. I want to help people. I can help.”

Stein grasped him on both shoulders and focused his attention. “You will be okay. I will keep you safe and no one will treat you like he did ever again. Do you want to come with us?”

“I want to help,” Lee replied. “Yes, there is nothing left for me here.”

Stein smiled, “Then go pack your things and we’ll head back to camp.”

Tholden waited until Lee had left the room. He turned to Stein, “Are you sure we should be bringing him along? We are going after a possible vetala lord and traveling with an infected reptilian. It’s not really the safest environment for him.”

“He’s more capable than his father.” Stein responded. “I can see that in his eyes. I will take care of him.”

“Grekk needs him I suppose – and who knows what else we might encounter. You sure know how to recruit, Stein-baby.” Tholden gave him a quick jab in the arm.

“Don’t.” He warned. “It’s not like that.”

Tholden wore a look of confusion. “Wait, you don’t mean – you killed his father for beating him? That’s it?”

“I killed him so that Lee wouldn’t have to live his life as an abused servant.”

“What do you care?” Tholden was silent, but received no answer. “Never mind, you are one scary man, Stein. Now that I think about it, we shouldn’t leave this building standing. No one should find the cleric like that.”

“Whatever you think.” Stein said shortly.

“Of course,” Tholden scoffed. “You would rather kill every last guard in town than show some discretion. I’ll take care of it.”

In only a few minutes, Lee had run back out carrying only two small duffle bags hanging off the end of a wooden staff. “I have some of our stock and all the clothes I own. I’m ready.”

“Good, I hope you have everything you need. Should we give this shadowbane to Grekk now?” Tholden asked, picking up all nine vials.

“Oh, yes of course. We should all drink some. For Grekk, it will take a little while since he is already infected.” Lee said.

They each forced down the elixir, gathered whatever herbs they could carry and went out into the darkness of Mantis Lane. Standing in front of the clerical office, Lee looked back to his old sigils, now dusty and smeared on the glass. He took one last admiring look at the grand wooden door. For some reason, it now seemed – smaller.

“I’m ready, Stein.” He said with hesitation.

“Good.” Stein knelt down to be eye level with Lee. “I know this is a lot to take in. I was treated terribly by my father too.”

“You were?” Lee asked.

“In the most terrible ways you could ever imagine.” He paused as if re-living horrific thoughts. “There is a darkness that lives inside some people. Lavi, your father, was filled with it but you – Lee, you are filled with light. If I didn’t do what I did, someday that light would have been snuffed out and you would be just as your father was. I couldn’t let that happen. This group you are going to be a part of, they are ones who keep light alive. They are ones who find hope in the obscurity and let the light inside you burn as bright as the sun itself.”

“Did they save you from losing your light?” Lee asked innocently.

“They are still working on it.” He answered.

Lee smiled, “Well, I can help too.”

Stein began to walk down the street, supporting Grekk over his shoulder. Lee chased closely behind him, his duffle bags swaying on the end of his staff. He had at once taken to asking Stein all about his scars, tattoos and the impressive nature of his scythe. To his surprise, none of his questions were met with irritation or frustration, only a welcome tone that was direct and informative. Lee hadn’t felt so at ease since before his mother left.

They were approaching what appeared to be stables in the south district when he heard a commotion coming from where they had come. It seemed to be right about where Mantis Lane would be. He could see thick black smoke bellowing up into the air. When he turned to investigate, he realized he must have been so caught up in his conversation with Stein that he didn’t notice exactly when Tholden disappeared.

He turned towards Stein with a quick jerk to ask, and was met with a soft hand on his shoulder and a warm smile, “It will be ok, you’re safe now.”

Lee wasn’t sure why he trusted Stein or Tholden as much as he did, but he felt safe for the first time in a long time. Everything that happened was horrific, and Lee couldn’t help but blame himself. There were so many times when he wished something would happen to Lavi. He never imagined something so gruesome, but anything that would set him free from the life he was trapped in. Was this his dreadful wish coming true? He continued south, lost as much in guilt as in thought. For the time, he believed he was more of a monster than anything else.

}

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