Otherwordly Reincarnation: The Hag Son
Otherworldly Reincarnation: The Hag Son
Part 1: Anacrusis
"...you put up a noble fight, wherever it is you crawled from."
I muttered, quietly, pulling an arrow out of the corpse of yet another Ferhel. The third one, now, since the departure of Jaga. Which made four in total overall, since that first one. And the same conditions applied. It was bitten, wounded, heavily bleeding, crawling in this general direction... too close to the hut.
Something wasn't right. I'd never known Ferhels to come this close to the hut without reason, and now, in the past couple of months, there were four? And all of them, wounded by a Bog Bear? This had never happened before. Something wasn't right. A bleeding Ferhel shouldn't be able to escape a Bog Bear, especially so frequently.
The only explanation would be that a Bog Bear, possibly the very same Bog Bear, wounded all these Ferhels, and let them escape.
But... from what I knew, Bog Bears only hunted for food. It made no sense to me, that they would attack, leave their prey on the verge of death, and then just... leave. It was unlike them.
I grabbed the dead Ferhel by the leg and started to drag it back towards the hut, touched by uncertainty. This was getting dangerous. The Bog Bear that was doing this must've been a fearsome thing. If it frightened injured Ferhels enough into travelling here, into Margretka's territory, then how long before even the uninjured monsters started doing the same?
As I dragged the thing along, I opened up my [Status] to have a look.
Name - Boy (Bram Engels)
Title(s) - [Hero] [Hag Son] [Child of the Hunt]
Age - 5
Sex - Male
Lvl - 4
HP - 68/68
MP - 20/20
Atck - 10
Dex - 51
Def - 19
MRes - 41
Class - Leviathan Alchemist
Blessing - None
Skills - [Hero Skill - Soldier of Fortune LV1], [Identification LV2], [Archery LV2], [Alchemy LV4] [Poison Resistance LV2]
After slaying the last Ferhel, prior to this one, I'd gained another level. What I noticed thus far was that my dexterity, or 'Dex' as the stats put it, was getting the most out of these level-ups, and my attack, or 'Atck' was sort of the weakest, never gaining very much at all. I still didn't quite know what affected whether my 'Dex' or 'Def' levelled higher and better than all my other stats. What I was doing that made 'Dex' so strong.
I had several theories, but my primary one was my class, 'Leviathan Alchemist'. I didn't know what it was, whether it was a rare class, or what. I didn't know anything. I suspected I'd need to come in contact with other humans first, before I could figure the [Status] screens out. Before then, I just had to deal with it, roll with the hand I was dealt.
My [Alchemy] skill had also gained another level from making many more remedies, and so did my [Poison Resistance], from testing those remedies.
My [Identification] surprised me when it levelled up. All I did was identify a herb I'd found under a particularly gnawed tree. The herb didn't even turn out useful, it was too stale and rotted to be of any use! All that told me was that [Identification] would eventually level up as long as I used it here and there, on literally anything.
...didn't change a lot, though. Now, when Identifying a monster with that skill, I got one extra piece of information, and that piece of information was 'sex'. As though I needed to know the gender of a monster! Ugh, useless...
Besides that, nothing new to speak of. I was a little disappointed that my [Archery] skill hadn't levelled yet. I shot and killed three more Ferhels since that first one, how many more did I have to shoot to raise [Archery]?!
I rushed back into the hut, as soon as I arrived back in the large, muddy clearing. Margretka had her back turned to me, flipping through the pages of a book in the soft light of a candle. I held up the dead Ferhel by the leg.
"Mother Margretka, we have a problem-"
"More dead Ferhels?" She interrupted. I blinked, and nodded.
"Yes... with wounds just like the last few. This happened too many times to be a coincidence!"
"It is no coincidence, boy..." The hag said, slowly turning a page in her book. "I noticed after you brought the second dead one in. Now, my suspicions are confirmed. Four dead Ferhels in my territory -the most avoided territory in the Slough- all with gaping, bleeding wounds from a Bog Bear's assault. You'd have to be a fool to cite it as coincidental."
"...is it..." I began, looking from the carcass in my hand, to her, uncertainly. "Is it mating season, for the Bog Bears? Are they being overly defensive of their young-?"
"How do you know about 'mating season'?!" The hag asked turning to me and narrowing her single eye. I went pale, and stuttered.
"Erm- I... well, I looked into one of your books, and they... passively mentioned something like that, I suppose-" I lied. A lie she saw straight through. She seemed to wave it off, with a grumble, as she turned back to her book.
"While I'm curious as to the means with which you've procured such a guess, I'll say it isn't a foolish assumption. True, that female Bog Bears will attack anything and everything that gets too close to them, after they've given birth to their young, but... no, now is not the season at which they 'do that'. And never before have Ferhels come crawling into my territory, so fearful, during those seasons. This is something else..." She raised her head, and closed her book. "I may have to Scry..."
She turned and walked past me, out of the hut. I hesitated, before dropping the dead Ferhel on the table to cut up later, and followed her out. "Cry...?" I asked. "I thought you said tears were for the weak and hopeless-!"
"Not cry, boy!" She hissed, wandering, traipsing through the mud. "Scry! It is an ancient magic that some think to be lost. I myself haven't used it in a long while. It's mentally draining, and dangerous if performed wrong."
"What does it do...? Why is it dangerous...?"
"It's a peeping spell. A 'looksee' spell, a- whatever you wish to call it! A surveillance spell that casts my internal eye over whatever I wish to cast it over, and feel the magic of the place, place my vision anywhere within range of my power!"
"...that sounds... amazing!" I gasped out. "And... then, it's dangerous because-?"
"Because there are ancient, malignant things sleeping under this bog, boy," She told me. "Things older than me. Older than the world can remember, forgotten by humans as long-lost myths. If my mind wanders during the spell, if I let my vision pass over them even briefly out of eager curiosity, I may find myself looking at them. And with creatures like these, they just might look back."
She stopped, a few feet off from the hut, and looked around slowly. After a moment, she sat herself down in the mud, placing both clawed metal hands on her knees. I suppose this was central enough for her, and the performance of this... suddenly horrifying-sounding spell.
"Such old magic, as Scrying, is considered forbidden for these very reasons. Were these beings to be awoken by my prying eye, Jaga's damn 'upcoming war' would be against a whole different class of enemy. A much worse one. They say the gaze of the Ancient Ones could turn any mortal man against his brothers, twist him to slay his father and sleep with his mother. When a mortal is struck by insanity, humans call it the condition of being 'touched by the Ancients'."
She spoke on.
"Of course, my mind is far more sound and hard than that of any mortal's, but if I'm not careful, I could still awaken something vile..."
I stood there, for a moment, thinking this over. There was some light worry in her voice. That was the first time I'd heard such a thing out of her. She was uncertain of her abilities to pull this 'Scrying' spell off successfully. And it was no wonder why, failure sounded... well, it sounded like the scariest thing I could imagine, at the moment.
I approached her, slowly, and... with a bit of hesitation, took her larger, sharper hand in mine. Her head practically snapped towards me in surprised, as I began petting her hand.
"You're the most careful person I know," I told her. "I mean... granted, I only know two people right now... but no matter who I meet in future, you'll always be wiser and more careful than all of them. I have no doubts about your skill! If anyone can do something like this and not let their curiosity get to them for even a second..."
She seemed to get the point. She left her hand in mine, for a couple seconds more, before pulling it back, and hesitantly... patting me on the head with it. My eyes nearly popped out of my head. A display of affection like this... It wasn't in her nature.
"...you're..." She began, only to stop. She shook her head, pulled her hand away, and took a breath. "Yes, I know. Thank you."
...I smiled a little, despite myself. That was the first time she'd ever hesitated on my account. I quickly wiped the smile away, when she looked at me again and narrowed her eye.
"Don't get all proud of yourself, boy!"
"Yes, Mother Margretka!"
"And straighten your back, you look like an ape."
"Yes, Mother Margretka."
"And stop with the 'Mother Margretka!" She growled, turning away, and pausing. "...it's too long. Just 'Mother' is fine."
"...yes, mother." I covered my mouth with a hand a little bit, to hide my smile. A warmer one, this time. 'Mother'. Never thought I'd... only be calling her 'mother'.
'Mother Margretka' was a title, whereas 'Mother' was a relationship.
It had only at that moment really hit me hard... she was frightening, but... she was a tough 'mother'. As I stepped back, and watched her bend down, to draw an array of symbols around her, that thought bounced around in my head, over and over.
This hag was all I really had. This hag was my 'mother'.
The symbols she drew into the ground had me staring. They were various, all different. None with the same curves, or flows. I'd seen her cast all sorts of magic before, but never before had I seen her draw these elaborate symbol-circles for them. I looked down into my open hands, pondering if I too could pull off some magic. I mean, I had the 'MP' in my [Status] screen. It was low, but I could still probably-!
"Huh?" I asked, looking up from my hands.
"Your potential doesn't lay in magic. You can pull off some basic spells perhaps, if you practice enough, but to cast something of this power would take you years of training and levelling." she explained.
"Then... what are my talents...? What can I do besides use a bow...?"
"You are an Alchemist of Leviathan, boy. Your skills and powers are not meant to be simple, not meant to be easy. They revolve around knowledge as much as anything else. You'll learn, in due time. You're bound for more than just tossing spells around. Although, if ever you do find yourself needing to cast ancient magics such as this..." She straightened up, and began to spin around, in the centre of the circle. "...then I can only pity the direction the fates have torn you in."
She spun three times, then stopped, raising both arms high, and took a deep breath... as she lowered her arms, some sort of blue energy seemed to emanate from them, and like that, she went all stiff.
She didn't move, not an inch, as the energy sprung from her hands and seemed to envelop her, briefly... then disappeared entirely, in a flash.
I didn't dare say a word now, out of fear that I might distract her. Minutes passed, maybe ten, before she took a heavy breath, lowered her head, and stepped back out of the circle, clutching her chin and shaking her head. "No, no no, this is no good... this is bad..."
"...mother?!" I quickly ran up to her. "What happened?! Is it... is it alright? Did you... accidentally look at the-?"
"No, boy. The Ancient Ones still sleep. I concentrated enough not to look at them. This is to do with the Bog Bear. I sensed a presence in the swamp that ought not be... Oh, I need a seat..."
I led her back to the hut. As soon as she stepped in, she made way for her chair, and sat down in it, rubbing her temple with a claw.
"No good, no good..." She repeated. With a frown, I looked around for her blanket, before returning and draping it over her lap. "...this is not something I can send you out to handle, it is far more sinister... I'll have to wait, regain my energy again..."
I stepped back, watching her babble for a few minutes. It wasn't natural, she seemed really worried. Was what she'd seen really so terrible? I couldn't guess.
"I don't understand, mother, what's happened-?"
"Don't speak!" She hissed, gripping the armrests of her seat suddenly. I nearly jumped back, in surprise. "Don't speak, boy, don't... don't..."
...this had to be a result of the Scrying spell, I assumed. She did mention it was forbidden, ancient magic... there had to be reasons for that beyond just 'Ancient Ones beneath the bogs'. Forbidden magics sounded dangerous on so many levels. I didn't know what to say to her, babbling and horrified as she was.
The solemn words of an old friend of mine had, at that moment, resounded through my head... sweet, exalted. Words of wisdom, they were. They were "!wO !?siht evresed ot od I did tahW !em gnittih potS !esaelp ,on ,marB".
I didn't know what that meant.
But they resounded within me in the most incredible of ways.
Although... somehow, I felt they didn't apply here.
I reached back and rubbed the tip of my bow, subtly. Margretka didn't notice. I had that, I had my quiver full of arrows. It was just a Bog Bear, was it not? I hadn't killed anything of the sort before, but I'm sure if I climbed a tree, I'd be able to handle it.
I took a single, small step back, and as soon as I did, Margretka raised a hand. "Stop right there. You're not going."
I stopped where I was. She raised her head, and looked me right in the reddening face, taking a steady breath.
"I apologise, I could not quite believe it for a moment. That's no excuse for you to defy me, boy. Sit down, on the floor, I'll tell you what I saw. Then perhaps, you'll hesitate to so much as leave this hut."
"I'd throw that into doubt!" I grumbled, thumbing my bow still as I sat down and crossed my legs. The hag took a deep breath, before leaning forwards, looking at me seriously.
"I would not, were I you. The problem is not so simple as 'a rabid Bog Bear is hunting for sport'. It is far more complicated."
"Like... how?" I asked.
"By means of plague." She said, shortly and stiffly. I felt my mouth clamp shut. "A plague which... I thought long gone, buried under years of absence. For it to return like this..." She shook her head. "It is strange. I know this plague well. 'The Fracture', it was called, in my youth."
Her youth?! How long had this plague been gone, then?!
Margretka noticed the astonishment in my expression, and gave me a dangerous look. I lowered my head and cleared my throat.
"So... this... Bog Bear was infected by a plague that's meant to have disappeared... a thousand years ago?"
The look grew worse.
"A hundred?!" I asked, now panicking.
"...six hundred..." She said, with a sigh. "A thousand, a bloody thousand was your first guess!? No no, nevermind that. Yes, It's returned. And it's different. See, in my time, The Fracture only infected Humans, and Undines..."
I raised a brow at her. 'Undines'? She noticed my look, and explained: "...Like Jaga. That's her species."
"I was curious about that!"
"Yes, her race is similar to that of humans, only they are far more magically charged and capable. Only one of the many reasons the Empire still fears to tread in their territory."
"The Dark Country...?"
"Aye..." She nodded. "That's where The Fracture is thought to have begun, where it broke out. Although, there's evidence to suggest otherwise. Humans just love to blame the Undines for all their misfortunes. Although it's true that their country also suffered. Back then, there was frequent trade between the two mountain regions. So whether humans caught The Fracture from imported goods alone, or whether humans were the real cause, it doesn't matter. All suffered it in equal measure. It is a vile disease, makes the infected grow gradually and gradually more aggressive with each passing day, until they hit a breaking point and their brains shut down entirely."
"Oh... Gosh..." I mumbled, a little frightened now. This sounded like... zombies. It couldn't have been good. "Are they by chance... I mean... Did those infected bite others? Scratch at them?"
Margretka gave me a strange look, and shook her head. "No! It didn't do any such thing, just made them want to pick up a weapon and start swinging it at the closest person. We couldn't figure out how it spread, but it certainly wasn't through bites! Spread through foods and infected water, best I could tell. Yet even then, it had unnatural elements that don't follow any natural laws."
"Doesn't follow any natural laws..." I repeated. That reminded me of something Susanne once told me... the moment all natural laws break was in the moment of divine interference. Magic was a sort of divine interference, only possible to be harnessed by mortals. In which case... "Could it have been a magic-made disease?"
Margretka grew a little smile, and chuckled lightly. "You noticed. Very impressive. Yes, it was no natural-born disease. It was crafted by a mage. Nearly a hundred and fifty years after the disease went away, the great philosopher and scientist Calorus Iffigii theorised that it was created by the late King of a little country called Ferris. It doesn't exist anymore, this country, but at the time of the original outbreak of the disease, it was the smallest in the world."
"I think I heard you mention it..." I said, listening intently. "Didn't you say it used to be an Empire that 'rose and fell'?"
"Yes, it was indeed. The eighth 'Great Empire' in all of history. But 600 years ago, it was a measly, forgettable little country. One year after the disease disappeared was when Ferris began its ascent into an Empire, conquering country after country and claiming them all as its vassals. It started, of course, with the countries still recovering from the disease - the countries with their economies in shambles and their military funds expunged, with focus put into reassembling their countries. None expected an attack from Ferris, at so perfect a time."
"So... the King of Ferris... made this 'Fracture' disease back then so he could dominate the world...?"
"No, it's just a theory," She shook her head. "It's just the most sense-making theory we've got on the matter. Another theory involves a whole other story about how it was invented so that a wise but desperate, magic-wielding hermit could threaten some small village chief with it lest he didn't hand over his daughter's hand in marriage. The one thing that's known for sure is that it's created with magic, that it's likely long forgotten by many a soul, and that it definitely should not infect bloody Bog Bears."
"You saw it with your own eyes, by Scrying? How do you know it was The Fracture, and not some other disease...?"
"This isn't the type of thing your forget, dear boy, no... it's so distinct. Red, glowing cracks appear along your skin, as though you'd been taken by a Hellish demon. The eyes in particular, tell it all: A thousand mile gaze, a soul locked away behind a broken mentality. I saw it all in the Bog Bear, in its hideaway up North. It was a male from what I could tell... they're much larger than the females. As I happened upon it, it was... resting, atop the corpse of something bigger than itself."
"Could you tell what it was...?"
"I could not. There are plenty of monsters in the Slough of Flatdown bigger than a Bog Bear. I told you about the Swamp Dragon, did I not?"
"I... don't think so... wait, there's a Swamp Dragon?!"
"Technically there are two, but one of them hasn't moved in a century so I'm not too sure, there might be one."
"Oh my-! Why didn't I know about this?! I go outside every day! What if one of them happened to fly over my head and surprise me?!"
"Oh calm down, boy. They don't fly, they wait under the mud with their huge, open jaws, then when anything happens to walk along-"
"Okay okay, I think I get it!" I stopped her, shuddering at the thought. It sounded so sudden a way to go! I didn't like that one bit. "So... maybe this is a different version of The Fracture? A modified version of the disease, if you would!"
"That's the only explanation that comes to my mind," She agreed. "But then for that, one would need the original disease. You cannot modify a blade without the blade in your possession, and that same logic applies to plagues!"
"...did you see anything else infected, by chance? Was it just the Bog Bear?"
"Just the Bog Bear. But it's only a matter of time now. It might drink from a water source, and in doing so, spread the disease to that. From there, anything that drinks from the same source stands a chance of infection. I'm not sure of course, whether that's accurate. The way the disease spread back in the past made no sense either! We still also have to consider where the Bog Bear got the disease from to begin with. But there's no other way to be sure. The Bog Bear has to die. And I will take care of it when my powers return to me..."
I hesitated, as she said this. Looking at her now, it was clear that she wouldn't be able to stand without wobbling anytime soon. I bit my lip, thinking this through, before going over to where we kept all the teas and beginning to make her a cup.
"And how long might that take?!"
"Scrying is a draining spell, boy. I told you, after that, I'm nearly powerless!"
"But then..." After I put the water above the fire, and had the leaves in the cup, I pressed a thumb against my bow again. She caught the movement with her eye, and instantly released a growl.
"You are not to leave this hut. I forbid it! This is unlike anything you have ever faced. The only monsters you've killed thus far were this beast's massacred leftovers!"
"You told me yourself that the best way to develop is to gradually kill stronger and stronger monsters!" I yelled, turning back to her. "Don't you think I've killed enough Ferhels yet?!"
"I might," She asserted. "...if you'd have killed a moving one first! You are useless against this beast. Useless! You hear me?! Get that through your head, you'll die otherwise, of your own daft stupidity!"
"It's dangerous to let it wander any longer, you said so yourself!"
"That does not mean I'll let you be a victim of its chaos. It may come too close to my territory on its own, but if it does, it'll be met with intense fury. The fury of a Bog Hag. You don't even know the half of such fury, boy!"
"...it can't be left to wander. If this disease spreads..."
"Then it spreads. So be it, if that is the way of things. As long as it doesn't come here, then it isn't much of our business. The world has dealt with The Fracture before, it will be better prepared this time. Many may die, but if that is the way of things, I cannot change it. I will slay it to keep it from us, but for that, I need to regain my power."
"...I see. In that case, I'll stay..." I took the water and poured the tea, bringing the cup over to her, with a drawn-out sigh. "...I just... wish there was more I could do. I want to help, Mother. It's just..."
"In your nature. Yes, I suppose so..." She accepted the tea, taking a short sip and shaking her head. "Well, we can't have that. It is a dangerous beast. You know not just how dangerous. Of course an arrow would still kill it, it is no less mortal even with such a disease hanging off its being. But it is a moving, visceral creature that tears and casts out the flesh. There is nothing for you to... to..."
Her eye slowly widened, and her hand twitched, dropping the tea from her hand. It fell with a clatter, as she began to twitch and shiver all over, staring at me in disbelief. That was quick... quicker than I thought. It didn't make me any happier about doing it, but... it was done.
"I'm sorry Mother, I really am!" I insisted, as I grabbed the blanket and tucked it firmly around her, my face apologetic as can be. She drank the tea without hesitation or suspicion, perhaps out of tiredness and desperation to make me understand. And I understood just fine. This was a beast with which you could not take risks. And yet, I took one. One risk. Hoping, praying to Leviathan that she would not detect the faint trace of unboiled Limbo Leaf in the tea. "You can punish me however you want when I come back. You can take away my hands, o-or my feet! I just..."
I stepped back from her form - trapped in a twitching, paralysed fury. There was a deep-rooted anger in her eye the likes of which I hadn't ever seen before. I took my bow off my back, only to see that anger dissolve into desperation.
"I will come back alive, I promise! With that thing's head! After all, I'm..." I hesitated. I was about to say 'I'm a hero'. But she didn't like that notion, did she? Instead, I smiled a little. "...I'm happy here. And I want to stay happy here, with you. If this disease spreads to other beasts, you won't be able to fight them all off alone. Let me do my part now, and I promise to never disobey again!"
The desperation never left her eyes. There was something there, among the cloudy disdain. A broken heart. Maybe. She was a Bog Hag after all, how much love could she really feel for me, deep down? I didn't doubt she cared for me, but...
I don't know.
I took a breath, and turned away. The longer I looked into her single eye, the stronger I would be forcing myself to stay. I barged out through the door, bow in hand, quiver at my side, and no general sense of where I was to go just yet.
But, I couldn't quite hold back the smile. There and back, I'd impress her, even if I had to upset her first. I couldn't possibly fail, after all... I was a 'Hero'.
'You've earned the title [Yhm'tru]'
To be Continued...