There are many things I regret, and there are many things I don’t. Among the things I regret, there’s one that I wish to reverse at any cost. I’d even die for it, if that were an option. If I’d been smarter back then, I wouldn’t be in this cruel situation. But, since I’m a soldier, I’m all about muscles. I don’t use my head enough, to be honest.
The thing is, I have a daughter who’s sixteen years old, and she is sick. As odd as it sounds, I’m basically nineteen years old, that is, if you look at my physique. I’ve seen many winters in my life. I’m far older than that.
How do I look? Don’t ask me. I haven’t looked at a mirror ever before, and I never remember to take a look at my reflection on water surfaces. Well, since I had a wife at one point, I guess I can declare that I’m not ugly, if nothing else. Obviously, I’m rather muscular, otherwise I wouldn’t survive on battlefields.
“Water…” I hear my daughter’s plea.
She is resting on her bed right now, and I’m sitting at a table in our humble home. Her name is Riana, and if I can’t cure her, she’ll die before she reaches adulthood. If curing her required normal medicines, I’d have stolen them long ago, or bought if they were affordable.
The truth is that she is suffering a disease called Eternal Rot. While it sounds like a horrible disease that malforms the host, that isn’t exactly the case. Eternal Rot is an incurable curse that causes us perennial humans to become ephemeral, that is, Riana will simply die a natural death, much like how old people die of age.
“Here,” I hand Riana a glass of water.
She can’t do any chores in that state. She can only fight the impending death. It’s all my fault. If only I hadn’t been so foolish! I’d trade my immortality and my life for her recovery, but even such price isn’t enough. I’d have to defeat the Divine One, the god of our world, and then force it to lift the curse. To be honest, I’m not sure if even the Divine One can lift the curse.
I can’t leave Riana’s side, which means I can’t work, so we’re running low on rations. Thankfully, the government is supporting us. I’ve performed exceptionally in many battles, you see. The King owes me this much.
Our house is located in a town near the border where many battles have been fought. It’s a cozy home, made of logs for the most part.
“Dad,” Riana calls me, “I want to go out.”
I move Riana’s blanket aside, and then I kneel next to her bed. She clings onto my back, and so I carry her outside. It’s a warm day in the summer. Our house isn’t in the downtown. Therefore, it’s somewhat quiet here. There’s a field nearby, and that’s where Riana often wants to go, including today.
But before we can go there, three riders approach us. They’re clearly some government officials, for they’re wearing fancy clothes only nobles can afford. One of them has scrolls in his bag, so much that I’m surprised they haven’t fallen off on the way. Also, the horses are all brown.
“Sir Kerad,” the one with the scrolls speaks, “I have an urgent message for you. It is from the King himself.”
“Riana, can you sit for a moment?”
I leave Riana to sit on a barrel a few yards away while I talk to the messengers. I wonder what the King wants of me.
“Go on,” I urge.
“Sir Kerad, there is an expedition that requires your skill.”
“I can’t leave my daughter’s side. You know that.”
“Indeed, and that is why the King will see to her treatment while you are away from home.”
“And what will I gain?”
“According to a report,” the messenger reads aloud, “the scholars have found a place where anything is possible. It is not certain, but that is what they have speculated. In your case, Sir Kerad, you may have a chance to cure the Eternal Rot.”
“What is this expedition?”
“Do you remember what happened two months ago?” I’m asked such a question.
“The town in East disappeared, and a strange rift appeared,” I answer.
“Exactly. The rift has been studied, and it seems it is a portal.”
“A portal?” I’m sold already, but that word worries me.
“Yes, a portal. A group of soldiers explored the other side, and they found a whole new world. Scholars have found peculiar things to study, and even now, they are making new discoveries.”
“And what are the threats?” If they need me, there’s got to be something out there that wants the scholars dead.
“That, my friend, is still a mystery.”
“No one has seen an enemy in the New World and lived to tell the tale. However, scouts have found some of our scholars dead.”
“Can we discuss this later? As long as you promise that Riana is looked after, I am ready to venture the New World.”
“I will come to see you tomorrow in the morning, Sir Kerad. I will also bring the maid who will look after your daughter. Be prepared by then.”
“I will be prepared.”
The messengers ride away, the sound of hooves hitting the pavement of the streets resounding in the air. I end up staring at them until they’re out of sight.
“Dad, are you going somewhere?”
It stings my heart to say it. “Yes, to find a cure for you.”
“Don’t worry, they’ll send someone to look after you. And if they won’t, I won’t go.”
“That’s not the issue. What if you die?”
“I won’t,” I assure.
“You might be immortal, but if your head is cut off, you will die!”
“I won’t lose my head.”
Riana is too weak to keep arguing, and I know that. I let her cling onto my back once again. Finally, we can go to the fields.
“Promise me you’ll come back.”
“I’ll definitely come back.”
The noise of traffic doesn’t reach the field, but we can see the town from here. I still don’t know why Riana wants to come here so often, but I guess I can’t complain. This place is practically next to our home.
Well, I have to admit, the flowers around us are indeed gorgeous. Most of them are white, pure. I don’t understand why we haven’t got any ticks from this place, though. The grass reaches my knees, so it should be an ideal place for ticks. Well, I’m glad they don’t like this place.
I let Riana get off my back, for she always wants to stand here on her own feet. Really, I’d like to know what makes her come here so often. I tried asking her once, and she did answer, but it didn’t make any sense. She said, “Euz nig tiri, aram.”
I asked some language experts, but they had no idea as to what language it is. Maybe she’s just teasing me? I do hope that’s the case, for I’d be troubled if my daughter could speak a language no one else seems to understand.
I guess I’ll try asking about it again. “Riana, what does it mean? The euz thing.”
“Why do you ask?”
“Why can’t I know?”
Riana sighs. “Fine. I’ll tell you.”
“Euz nig tiri, aram.”
And there she goes again…
“The thing about it is that I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know what it means. It just comes to my head whenever I visit this place.”
“And I spent so much time trying to get the meaning…”
“If you learn its meaning, tell me.”
So it was as simple as that? Really, I should’ve pressured her earlier to spit it out. But still, it’s a bit strange. Why’d she utter it every time she comes here? Is it some symptom? I hope it’s nothing serious.
Riana doesn’t usually want to stay here for long, so we head back home a while later. I lay her on her bed and pull the blanket over her. Then I start preparing dinner. I’m not the best cook out there, so Riana tends to complain about my cooking, and each time I apologize and promise to make better food. She’s praised me a few times for actually getting better at it.
I hope she’ll be fine while I’m gone.
So, the morning comes, and I wake up first. Riana is still sleeping soundly. Her dark hair is spread on the sheets. She’d be so much more beautiful if she wasn’t sick. I end up staring at her for a while before I start doing chores.
What good am I? I’m a soldier who ruined his daughter’s life by becoming immortal. I was nineteen years old when I killed the dragon and ate its heart to ascend from perennial to eternal. I was greedy. I was a fool.
Only after eating the heart, I slept with my wife, and that’s how Riana inherited the curse. If I’d eaten the heart after that night, she wouldn’t have got Eternal Rot. I’m such an idiot. And I didn’t just curse Riana, I also caused my wife’s death. She, too, was infected by Eternal Rot.
If I could somehow sacrifice my life to save Riana, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it. I’d plunge myself into the darkest hole on earth to save her. In fact, that’s why I’m joining the expedition. It’s unlikely, but we might find a cure to the disease in the New World.
Once I’ve prepared breakfast for us, the messenger from yesterday returns. He knocks the door, and I open it for him. I’ve known the man for years, so I let him inside.
“Diana!?” I yelp.
The messenger did promise to bring a maid, but I didn’t expect to see a familiar face.
“Hello, Kerad,” Diana greets.
She’s twenty-five years old, if memory serves me, and she used to be a field medic back in the days. She’s tended to my wounds on quite a few occasions.
“How did you end up as a maid?”
“I put maid’s clothes on and petitioned to be accepted into government service.”
“To get a chance to see you again.”
Right, I forgot. This lady’s been one-sidedly in love with me. Of course she’d do something like that to get here. But really, I might be older than her, but I still look like a young man! Is she attracted to young boys or what? Tch, that woman will die virgin. I’ve told her I can’t remarry. I’ll only end up killing her, but she doesn’t care. Well, I’m ready to throw my life for Riana’s sake, so I guess I’m as crazy. Love drives people nuts.
“I believe you can trust Miss Diana,” the messenger says.
“You can!” Diana declares, smiling.
“Do you even know Riana’s condition?”
“She’s sick,” Diana answers with a bit of hesitation.
“Eternal Rot,” I say. “She can barely walk a few yards at a time.”
“Yeah, that’s what I heard.”
“So you understand that you’ll have to live in this house for the time I’m gone?” I make it extra clear that Riana must be looked after, or I’m not going. “You know me, don’t you? I can tell immediately if Riana isn’t doing well, even if we’re worlds apart. And if I get that feeling, I’ll return at once.”
“I, I’ll do my utmost best to ensure that Miss Riana will be well!” Diana assures.
The messenger seems pleased. “So it’s settled Diana will be looking after Riana. Now, Kerad, please take a moment to read this.” He hands me a scroll.
I sit down to read the scroll. Sunlight is coming in from the windows, and I put the paper in the light. It’s morning, so it’s somewhat dark without the sunlight.
“Everything looks good to me.”
“The terms were made in your favor. We really need you for the expedition, after all.”
“I can’t promise anything, but I’ll fulfill my duty.”
“Splendid. We shall leave as soon as you are ready.”
I don’t have much to do to be prepared. The government will give me all the equipment I’ll need. The only thing I have to do before departing is to say goodbyes to Riana. She’s still sleeping.
“Riana,” I wake her up.
“I’m going now.”
“Ah,” Riana sits up with my help, “please, don’t die out there. I need you.”
“I’ll definitely see you again. Diana will look after you while I’m gone.”
“Euz nig tiri, aram. Please don’t forget it. You might find out what it means. Anything’s possible in the New World, right?”
“I won’t forget it. Not this time.” I vow.
“Thanks, and goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” I hug her as I say it.
I leave her side, and Diana comes to greet Riana. They know each other, so it should be fine. I take nothing with me but my clothes. Two horses wait for us outside. I guess Diana must’ve ridden the other on her way here.
If only I knew the danger I’m going to face…
Into the Unknown
Kerad is led to a fortress where he can get the equipment he needs. The government is doing everything it can to help Kerad. Indeed, Kerad is a very important person. Not only is he immortal, he is also a feared soldier. He’s killed hundreds, if not even thousands.
However, even Kerad wouldn’t have survived the war without mana, the essence of magic. While hurling fireballs and icicles isn’t what he can do, Kerad excels at physically enhancing himself. That is how he defeated a dragon more than a decade ago.
There’s a reason why he can’t cast spells of destruction. While he boasts of a big mana gland, his mana is turquoise, which means he can only physically enhance himself. If he had red or blue mana, he could cast fire or water.
Scholars have been studying mana glands for eons, but they have yet to discover what defines one’s color of mana. Furthermore, sentimentality can cause a change in one’s mana gland, that is, a very angry mage can be thrice as dangerous.
Kerad’s mana is categorized as rare, though not so useful. Turquoise mana has been looked down upon for a long time for an obvious reason. However, Kerad proved that even the turquoise mana can be powerful, as long as it’s utilized efficiently. In fact, Kerad was the first person to slay a dragon, which only promotes the turquoise mana even further.
“Have a look at these. Tell me what you need, and I will have the equipment transported to the rift.”
Kerad nods to the messenger. He is in an underground storage room beneath the fortress whereto he’s been led. The place has an odor of mold and oil. There are weapons of all sorts, armor for any purpose and utility tools.
“I’ll take a light mana armor and four mana swords. Also, one steel dagger and a backpack for general supplies.”
“As you wish.”
Usually, a soldier is given only one mana weapon. They are very durable, so if one maintains their blade, it’ll last a long time, but in Kerad’s case, they tend to break after little use. It’s all because of his intense mana output. Therefore, he needs at least two weapons, especially when fighting an unknown foe. Four is to guarantee he won’t run out of weapons.
“The rift is thirty miles from here. We will recruit a few more soldiers here and depart tomorrow. I will see to your lodging, Sir Kerad.”
The immortal man grunts. “I was expecting to see the rift today.”
“I am sorry but we must prepare for the next expedition. We have already lost too many men in the New World.”
“Then I recommend you recruit mercenaries from the Tholar Peak. They’re far better soldiers than the young ones here.”
“We already did,” the messenger remarks. “These young ones will be tasked with the protection of the rift, and we will recruit a hundred to do it. The mercenaries will come with you.”
By the time it’s evening, Kerad has had a meal and a room has been appointed for him. He’ll be sleeping in a local tavern near the fortress. They already traveled ten miles today. Kerad’s room is eleven square yards, the bed taking most of the space. He doesn’t complain, however. He’s slept in far worse places during the war.
Euz nig tiri, aram, Kerad repeats in his mind.
He wakes up early in the morning, heading back to the fortress, which is a short distance away from the town. It was once a brigade, but now its purpose is to store military equipment.
The guards ask no questions from Kerad. They let him in, showing their respect to the dragonslayer. Even if they tried to block his way, he’d get in nonetheless, either through or over the wall. Piercing a dragon’s scale is harder than crushing stone, after all.
“Ah, Sir Kerad! We are ready to depart in no time. I was on my way to come to pick you up.”
“Which one is my horse?” Kerad asks, looking at saddled steeds in the courtyard.
“Pick the one you like.”
Kerad does just that. He mounts one of the steeds. The other recruits are mounting as well, and thus they’re ready to leave. The New World awaits them.
The journey goes smoothly. The roads they travel on are well maintained, and the weather is warm, windless. They have one cart with them, loaded with equipment and supply. The other recruits are soldiers by profession. Therefore, they have armors and weapons with them, unlike Kerad, the retired veteran.
The kingdom’s geographical location is such that there are some winters with very little snow, and summers are often hot. The trees are deciduous for the most part, oak and birch being the most common ones.
After the long thirty miles, the recruits arrive at the rift, where a town used to be. The locals, the houses, even the ground disappeared, leaving a pit in the scene. In the middle of it, there’s a turquoise anomaly in the air. It reminds a rip, much like a torn hole in a paper. Only the frame of the rift is turquoise, as the center is a portal wherein the New World can be seen clearly. There seems to be a settlement on the other side, as people come and go. Also, there are dozens of tents erected around the pit, guards standing near the rift.
“There it is. Once we have briefed you, a scholar will come to pick you up. He will lead the expedition.”
“We’re going today?” Kerad asks.
“Yes and no. You’ll rest on the other side before heading out. So yes, you enter the New World today.”
There’s a large tent in the middle of the camp. Kerad and the recruits are taken there to be briefed. A mercenary who’s been in the New World will do the briefing. The recruits sit on stools, facing a board, next to which a scarred veteran stands. The mercenary has a leather vest and muddy boots, a mana sword, which looks much like a steel one, and general clothes under leather armor. He looks fierce to say the least.
Kerad stands instead of sitting. The mercenary glares at him for a moment, scorning him for acting so arrogant, but the mercenary decides to shut up, knowing it’s the rumored dragonslayer. Also, Kerad looks young, adding to the air of arrogance.
“I’m no teacher,” the mercenary begins, “and therefore I will be blunt. Something’s killing our men out there, and we don’t know what it is. However, we’ve encountered some hazards you must be aware of, lest you might end up dead. For example, any water you might find in the New World that isn’t from your canteen is dangerous. One scholar lost his life after touching turquoise water, and it happened rather fast.”
“Your mission,” the mercenary raises his voice, “is to ensure the safety of the scholars. If you can save a scholar from certain death by sacrificing your life, you take the shot! If you die, your family will be paid extra, and if you don’t fulfill your duty, you’ll be executed. Have I made myself clear?”
The recruits nod.
“Now, move out!”
“Excuse me,” a tall man at the back speaks up, a scholar, “shouldn’t you explain the dangers in-depth?”
“They’ll learn on the way,” the mercenary claims, “for they’re soldiers doing soldiering.”
“Fine, if you say so. Now, follow me, soldiers.”
The tall man is wearing robes, a bag on his back. His long hair and behavior make him look like a professor, and he might be one, for his age is around fifty. If nothing else, he is an intellectual person.
“My name is Pheran,” the scholar introduces on the way to the rift. “I’m the second in command around here. You’ll be coming with me tomorrow. Our destination will be a ridge four miles from our base in the New World. We will return after that.”
Kerad asks, “Can we find a cure to any disease in the New World?”
“Maybe,” Pheran gives his answer. “We have already discovered many things.”
Kerad isn’t satisfied, but there’s nothing he can do about it. It’s unreasonable to demand a cure to Eternal Rot right off the bat.
Pheran stops in front of the rift. “Alright, before we cross to the other side, you must know that the gravity is slightly different in the New World. Also, the thickness of the portal is zero, meaning that there’s no space in the between of the two destinations. It’s the same as entering a house. Now, let’s explore the New World!”
Just as Pheran has stated, stepping through the rift is the same as entering a house. However, the gravity surprises even Kerad. He feels like his body had become heavier, and therefore he and the recruits have to take a moment to get used to the stronger gravity. Obviously, it’ll take days to get used to it, but a few minutes is enough for them to walk properly.
There are just as many tents in the New World as there are in the Old World. The camp area around the rift is even and rocky. However, the nature is anything but organic. It isn’t known whether the whole world is like it, or if it’s just that particular region, but the camp is located in a very strange environment where not a single form of life has been discovered. Massive rocks are everywhere, stone that doesn’t look natural in any way. They’re angular, cubic, some even triangular or pyramidical, gray in color and smooth in texture. It’s unlikely they’ve formed by natural means. The most impressive part is that the largest ones cover a square mile.
“If you find something suspicious, don’t touch it. It’ll likely kill you,” Pheran warns.
A group of people is setting up even more tents at the edge of the camp. Pheran is taking the recruits there. It’s a buzz everywhere else, for scholars are working day and night. The faster they discover countermeasures to the hazards of the New World, the better.
“Help those gentlemen erect the tents. You’ll sleep in them.” Pheran turns to Kerad. “Sir Kerad, come with me.”
The veteran who looks young nods. He isn’t talkative around people he doesn’t know.
“I’ll have you meet the mercenaries you might’ve heard of already.”
One of the tents is clearly different. Its color is darker, and it has a sigil painted on its side. Also, the size is by far the biggest. There’s no mistaking it, it’s a military tent, and the sigil gives away the faction. Kerad was told there would be mercenaries from Tholar Peak, and that surely is the case, but he wasn’t told there are some from Ghulair Pass too. His reputation with the mercenaries of Ghulair is rather poor.
Pheran is leading Kerad right into the military tent, four guards, who stand at the entrance, salute and let Pheran and Kerad get in. No one sleeps in there, for the purpose of the tent is to store military resources. Also, officers hold strategy meetings in there, which is why there are tables. There isn’t much space to move around, the stuff and the pillars taking most of the room.
“My, my,” an officer utters, “the dragonslayer has joined the fray!”
Kerad grunts, ignoring the man. Pheran, however, speaks to the officer, which makes it hard to ignore him.
“Treyner, Sir Kerad will be working with you from now on.”
“Oh? To what do I owe this pleasure?”
Kerad comments with an ounce of irritation spelled on his face, “Ain’t for your pleasure, it’s for mine.”
“Ah,” the officer is just as annoyed, “so you’ve come to kill more of my men, eh?”
Pheran pales, for he’s surmised the rest of the context. It may not have been the greatest idea to recruit Kerad and the mercenary before him. Treyner, the officer, is a veteran who’s seen many wars. If Kerad weren’t immortal, they’d be peers in terms of power.
“I might spare a few for the sake of this mission,” Kerad intimidates.
“As if I’d let you,” Treyner threatens while clenching the hilt of his mana sword.
“Uh, please don’t fight in here. We are in the New World, remember? Enemies or not, you’ve been both recruited for this mission, and therefore, you’ll have to cooperate, like it or not.”
“Yeah, that was my plan—for as long as the contract is valid,” Kerad assures.
“The moment the contract is invalid, I’ll have his head,” Treyner adds.
Pheran sighs, feeling inclined to send both of them back to the Old World. “As long as you won’t fight each other while you’re in the New World, I’m happy.”
There are other officers in the tent as well, and most of them belong to Treyner’s faction, Ghulair Pass Mercenaries. Therefore, they’re glaring daggers at Kerad, who’s killed hundreds of their men.
“Treyner, can you brief Sir Kerad about the situation?”
“If I must,” he replies.
“Likely won’t be accurate information,” Kerad insults.
“Then I guess you’ll do just fine without it, eh?”
Pheran really can’t handle them. A young-looking old man and a wrinkled old man are beyond his expertise. The thing is that he’ll have to risk his life while trusting their cooperation. The thought of it makes him nervous.
Kerad exits the tent, leaving Pheran behind. Treyner grunts in displeasure. The scholar hurries after Kerad, who walks rather fast.
“Sir Kerad, please, you must accept Treyner as your ally, at least for this expedition.”
“Did I say I wouldn’t?”
“N-no, but you don’t seem to like it.”
“I don’t, but I’ll work with him. However, if he gets on my nerves, I’ll make sure no one can ever find his remains.”
“Uh, why do you hate him so much?”
Kerad glances at him, giving such glare Pheran gulps. He won’t ask it ever again, not from Kerad or Treyner. They might kill him if he does. For someone so young-looking, Kerad is truly intimidating.
His hair is short and dark, naturally spiky, and his eyes are menacing, usually half closed, brown in color. During his years of soldiering, he’s earned a few mana scars and a couple of physical ones too. Mana scars are much like fancy tattoos, irregularly shaped stains that glow with the color of one’s mana, stigmata he’ll carry for the rest of his life.
“Say, Sir Kerad,” Pheran asks out of curiosity, “have you noticed anything familiar in this New World?”
“There’s a pond nearby you might’ve seen at one point. It’s behind one of those cubic obstacles.”
“The water is turquoise.”
“Don’t you get it? It might have something to do with the turquoise mana. It’s one of the reasons why you’re best suited for this expedition.”
“I came here to find a cure for Eternal Rot. Everything else is meaningless.”
“Eternal Rot, huh? Is someone affected by Eternal Rot?”
“Not your business.”
Kerad’s wife and daughter are the only people who’ve been affected by Eternal Rot. It’s been known for a long time that such curse exists, for the Divine One warned the people about the curse of immortality when the first humans came to be. Therefore, Pheran is very curious about the subject, but he won’t pressure Kerad to tell him more. He might snap at him if he does.
“The others are still erecting the tents. Help them out, and pick yours as you do. We’re going tomorrow, so be sure to rest well.”
“I want my equipment in my tent.”
Pheran leads Kerad back to the rift, where the cart has been left. Peasants are unloading the stuff, moving them into a storage tent, which is heavily guarded. By the time Pheran and Kerad get to the cart, Kerad’s equipment has been moved already. The guards recognize Pheran right away, so they don’t stop them from entering the storage space. It’s full of crates and sacks.
Once they find Kerad’s equipment, Kerad wears the armor at once. As it’s a mana armor, it’s made of thin plates of mithril. It doesn’t cover his body from all angles. Its purpose isn’t to protect from physical damage, after all. Mithril is the only material that reacts appropriately with mana, allowing the wearer to maintain a mana barrier for longer periods. Obviously, the more there’s mithril, the better it is, but a light armor is more than enough.
Kerad attaches two sheaths to his belt, one for a mana sword, one for a dagger. He then wears three more sheaths on his back. Before he grabs the swords, he enchants them so that only he can wield them. If he didn’t, someone else could manipulate his weapons at will. The process is rather simple; Kerad imbues the swords with his mana by holding his palm above the blades. He does the same to his armor.
© 2019 COPYRIGHT Patrik Mielonen
This is a work of fiction. Everything is author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual locales, events, or people, either dead or living, is purely coincidental.