Chapter 8:

The Old Blood

I became the Recordkeeper of the Second Holy War.

Edythe's gaze wandered across the forest's canopy. Amidst the gaps between the trees' foliage, she could, from time to time, see the blitzing shape. The necromancer smiled, and went back to studying the map. For now, the young one could indulge in some exploration.

"Is he going to take long," Gyeongsun inquired as he extinguished the campfire they had used.

"As long as he needs to," chimed Murdock. He'd been setting up their supplies and making an inventory for the journey to come.

And just as if on cue, a black bolt jolted down from the skies and crashed against the ear with a tremor-inducing thud. Batu. The demon stood majestic in front of them, his wings spread and his eyes burning with fiery determination. Batu was truly a sight to behold. He also was , at the tender age of seventeen years old, barely a kid.

"It is marvelous," stated the so-called Demon Lord. "It never ceases to amaze me the sheer amount of life that teems on these lands."

Edythe frowned in confusion just before she recognized the root cause."You were born in the Blightlands, right?" When Batu shook his head in affirmation, Edythe couldn't help but smile. It was a sad smile, for she knew too well that nightmarish hellscape. "That place is inimical to all life; that some of your kin still manage to survive there speaks volumes about the strength of your blessing."

At the mention of the word blessing, Batu bared his fangs in unease. "Do not use that word, Edythe Khan."

Edythe was about to argue with him, but her retort died on her throat the moment a boar was hurled unceremoniously against the nearby ground, which caused a thunderous crash. Tracing back its trajectory, Edythe saw Valder approach, his bare fists dripping with blood "She relinquished her position as Khan before fleeing, kid," he explained with a cool smile and disgust filled glare.

Edythe and Valder had never been on talking terms. In her eyes, Valder was a brutal fanatic. Conversely, Edythe had next to no doubt that the elf saw her as a worthless unbeliever that resorted to craven magic.

Batu was not satisfied with that specific argument, and he decided to be pigheaded. "I am the Hagur Khan, or demon lord as you insist on calling me, I can reinstate her as Khan of the Black Banner," Batu turned to Edythe, his eyes reflecting his hopes. "It would be a reminder to those that could flock to our cause: we don't just fight for the demons."

A resigned sigh escaped from Edythe’s breast. Back during the days of the Reckoning, before the Crusaders' first appearance, the surviving demon tribes had organized their ranks into Banners or, as the Crusaders called them, Hordes. As the conquests proceeded apace, the vanquished (surviving) nations were absorbed into these banners. Naturally, this meant non-demons, like her, eventually assumed positions of leadership, like that of Khan, or Lord, of a Banner.

Edythe felt awkward at such a proposition.“That is for me to accept, my lord; please understand that I had my motives to abandon the war," her heart almost broke a smidge when he saw the boy deflate. He looked positively disappointed.

But can you wield the scythe again? Can you reap the fields of battle once more. The war had broken her, that much she knew.

"But regardless," Valder clearly had some barbs left to throw. "I think you should insist at a later date; the Weathervane Khan can always be trusted to be untrustworthy and fickle," the man had a truly nauseating grin.

Edythe restrained herself, burrowing her fingernails against the flesh of her palms. He clearly wanted to get a raise out of her. Edythe would rather die than give him that pleasure. Instead, she chose to return to her duties. Seeing that she’d not take the bait, Valder chose to shrug and proceeded to skin the animal. A strained peace reigned across their camp as they kept preparing for their journey southwards. Nevertheless, Edythe’s brain became obsessed with one question, one fact regarding the odious elf and the young demon.

Once her curiosity fully gnawed at her patience, Edythe finally confronted Valder, away from the rest of their companions. The elf had been awfully accommodating, as he willingly followed her without a single argument. He was clearly amused by the current situation.

“What are you up to,” Edythe narrowed her eyes as she closed the gap between them. Past experiences had taught her to treat Valder without an ounce of trust, but he at least would tell the truth in this matter. He’d clearly get a kick out of her reaction. "He is clearly too young to truly muster the remaining might of the Banners on his own. Who is pulling the strings?"

Valder snorted, as if the answer was extremely obvious.“Kader, who else?”

Edythe's hands curled into fists."Kader Khan," the name echoed inside Edythe's mind. Kader had been a brilliant alchemist and smith, a pioneer amongst the sages of Naffad, the long since destroyed city that had rightfully earned the sobriquet "Gate to the Future." Naffad was no more, though, and the bright idealist had died and turned into a man hellbent on revenge.

“I am sure this will explain things, yes?” The old elf creased an eyebrow with a knowing grin.

Edithe's index finger pressed against her lower lip."That explains plenty of things, yes"

The priest seized the opportunity. "Yes indeed,though I will be honest with you: Kader wants vengeance for his slaughtered kin, the kid," Valder snorted with disdain when he referred to Batu. "He wants justice for his people... I want war. There's no strings, reaper: we are all benefitting from the current arrangement.”

Edythe snorted with well earned derision. She snarled at the elf, silently calling out his bald faced lie. "There is a kid and two old snakes; of course there are strings, I know the two of you well enough."

Valder's smile somehow became cooler. But this time, rather than try to rile her up, the old priest settled for a simple shrug. "We are going in circles. Worry not for my presence or the strings I may pull on the brat, we will soon be parting ways." Edythe was clearly about to ask, but he chose to take the lead. "Kader wants me to act as a decoy and keep any Crusaders off of your trail."

“And you agreed willingly to play bait,” Edythe wasn’t buying that explanation for a second. He clearly had an ulterior plan. “What are you truly aiming for with this whole charade?”

At that, Valder turned. After a second of contemplation, he chuckled."The same as always: I want to restore the rightful order of things," his words were filled with desire and bloodlust.

Edythe knew full well that it couldn't be a peaceful order. It would be an abomination, and the world would be better off with his failure. Of course, such things were best left unsaid.


As soon as dawn broke Valder saw off the puppet and the profligates. The two parties exchanged curt farewells, and it was a miracle that Valder didn't retch. The welp they called Demon Lord nauseated him, and the fact he had to spend the last night with him and that witch Edythe around made his skin crawl with distaste. He was Kader's problem, fortunately. Just as the Reaper and the other clowns were.

Inside his mind's eye, Valder's own plan unfolded; his land’s clans would bow to a single king, an honest follower of the True Gods, and march once more to reclaim their rightful place in the world. There was still much to do, though. And he couldn’t worry with Kader’s woes. "I've got my own problems to deal with."

Firstly, he had to uphold his side of the bargain. He needed Kader’s resources for the time being. If at least to infiltrate Clermont and return to Vvarfel. “Time to get to work, then.”

Hjalfarr was a warrior god, a hunting god. His favoured believers were given mighty boons and became peerless champions. But for their priests, like Valder, Hjalfarr had set another role. They were to bring war, to quicken the hunt.

Valder set on all fours. With a blood curdling snarl, his body began to change. Clothe and skin tore apart as the muscle tissue grew and bulged alongside the sinew, creating a towering, inhuman build. Bones jutted outward while he rose and let out a triumphant roar. As antler horns crowned the skull that now covered his face, he arched his head downwards and gazed at the mighty claws. It was an exhilarating experience. He felt a mighty vigour take over him. This. This was power.

He alone wouldn’t cause enough of a distraction. He needed an army, or a sufficient replacement. He sniffed, smelling an army barely a mile ahead. Valder loped forth, gouging the soil out of each step and cutting the wind at his blinding path. And less than a minute afterwards, he found it. The deer looked at him. The poor beast remained frozen, incapable to budge an inch. It knew it was futile.

"Death is unavoidable," Valder’s index finger began to caress his palm. He inspected the tip of the nail, briefly wagging the finger around. "But today won't be your last."

Valder shut down his eyes, and buried down the nail against the flesh of his palm, burrowing deep and carving a bloody path. The pang of pain elicited a pleased, short gasp. Almost immediately, thick, black droplets trickled from his gouged palm and into the forest's floor.

This is what elven blood should look like. Red hued blood was but the taint caused by the new gods of this realm. His black blood was but one of the few remnants of the rightful order of things. Back when the Valgrond reigned supreme and Hjalfarr, his patron deity, was the undisputed lord of that pantheon.

"Drink," Valder's command was obeyed without hesitation. The animal licked the nascent pools of blood, earning Valder's approval. “Raise with the pain, fellow children,”

Immediately after Valder's whisper, the poor animal whimpered, its cry soon morphing into a nerve shattering shriek. Its flesh bulged and sank, it contracted and expanded amidst a cacophony of crunches. It had been too long since he had seen such a beautiful scene.

Valder was pleased by the end result. It was a misbegotten creature, unfit for his Gods’ blessing, but gorgeous in its own way. By his own estimate, it would be dead within the week, its flesh consumed by such a gift. It would serve its purpose with wonderful efficiency. "Now, let's find the rest of your playmates.”