5. Final Straw
“Arkiok?” Hakrios said. No one answered. He stepped into the cave. The fire had died down, and the white logs glowed with spots of orange. Next to the fire, Arkiok lay in the fetal position, turned away from him.
Hakrios sat down. Not near Arkiok, but at the spot where he saw Arkiok.
“Thanks for giving me space,” Arkiok said.
Hakrios did not reply. He reached within the folds of his robes and pulled out a satchel. The front of it was embroidered with four symbols representing the four kingdoms. He reached into the satchel and pulled out a miniature guitar-like instrument. “Voket shaza!” he exclaimed, like an announcer at an arena. He gesticulated as he spoke like an overdramatic actor.
Hearing this, Arkiok turned around just in time to see the instrument blow up to its full size. It had a similar frame and size to that of a cello, except that the body of the instrument was a steel box. There were also three strings, instead of four.
“Is that… a Storm-powered kitten?” Arkiok asked.
“A Storm-powered guitar. You like it? I got it from some traveling merchants. It has thousands of different sound settings. We’ll stick to the default acoustic guitar sound, though. Oh, and check out the autographs! Signed by a revolutionary music band from the DSR called The Fat Cats.”
“Cool,” Arkiok said, turning up a corner of his lips slightly.
“Yes! And now, voket shika a vis!” Hakrios exclaimed in the same manner. The instrument shrank down enough so that he was able to pick it up and hold it with both hands. He began to adjust the knobs at the top of the guitar. Occasionally, he would quickly strum the strings or pluck one before returning back to knob-adjusting. After a few seconds, the guitar was tuned, and he nodded once.
The two heard footsteps in the cave. Arkiok looked and saw Batoraj and Ziarus running towards them.
“Arkiok! You’re supposed to be---uh, what’s going on?” Batoraj asked. She flicked her gaze between Arkiok, still in the fetal position, Hakrios, and the guitar. Ziarus just stood by her unmoving, unsure of what to make of the situation.
“Glad you could join us, Batoraj!” Hakrios exclaimed cheerily. “We were just about to sing a song together without you!”
“Wait, we were?” Arkiok said, sitting up.
“Let’s hear your beautiful voices! Ready?”
Batoraj, Ziarus, and Arkiok blankly stared at him.
“Alright, then! Let’s go!”
He began to riff on the strings like he’d just had fifty cups of coffee downed at once. Then he began to sing at the top of his imaginary lungs like a dying horse. Ziarus and Batoraj mashed their ears with their palms. Arkiok licked the inside of cheek and felt his lips tug themselves into a grin. This were the words Hakrios sang:
“For a new life and new places I am searching far and wide,
But it won’t be fun to do alone; please stay here by my side.”
It was at this point that Arkiok burst into crazed laughter.
“We’ll meet lots of friends and go wild or relax and love the day,
And I know that you wanna have fun too;
We can fly around the planet and have lots of booze,
So let’s go and start a new life!”
Ziarus and Batoraj uncovered their ears and breathed sighs of relief. Arkiok, on the other hand, was rolling on the floor in tears. It wasn’t the song that was funny, but Hakrios’s horrendous voice.
Seeing that Arkiok was much happier now, Hakrios firmly pressed the top of the steel box, and the guitar returned to its original size. He put the guitar in his satchel and stood up.
“Arkiok,” Hakrios said gently. The satyr turned, regaining his composure surprisingly quickly.
“The real reason I came here is because Kataka has presented you with a wonderful offer,” he told Arkiok, before raising up a fist in front of his own face. With his other hand, he pointed to the fist.
“Behold! Your very own…” Hakrios paused and shook his fist “...hero’s journey!”
Ziarus shuffled over to Arkiok’s side. He leaned towards his ear and whispered, “Is he always like this?”
“Sometimes!” Kataka shouted with pride. “Now, Arkiok! Your quest, should you choose to accept it, shall be full of wonder and great danger!” He pranced about the cave, slowly spreading his arms, before suddenly bringing his hands to his chest and making claws out of his fingers. “You will endure the depths of man’s fears, and the summits of achievement!” He raised his hands to the sky. “Your friend Ziarus---”
“Acquaintance,” said both Ziarus and Arkiok at once. They briefly looked at each other, then scratched their heads and turned away. Throughout this awkward interaction, Hakrios kept talking.
“---has already begun his journey. Now I ask, will you join him?” Hakrios asked Arkiok. He marched up to Arkiok with exaggerated strides and offered him his hand.
Arkiok wasn’t sure of what to think of his grandfather anymore. Then again, it wasn’t like he had any idea of what to think of him in the first place. He then asked Hakrios as he stood up:
“So what’s this ‘quest’ Kataka wants me to go on? I mean, what’re we actually doing?”
“Your friend Ziarus needs to return to the makahest inventor so that he can resume his duty of protecting him. Ziarus himself believes it would be a great dishonor to neglect that duty,” Hakrios replied.
Arkiok looked at Ziarus. Ziarus nodded.
“Alright,” Arkiok said. “I’ll go with him, then.”
“How exciting!” Hakrios exclaimed, clapping his hands together. “We are going to have a smashing time! Let us go without another moment to lose!”
Hakrios took the lead out of the cave, followed by Ziarus, and then Arkiok. Arkiok realized Batoraj wasn’t with them, and turned his head back. He saw Batoraj just beginning to walk to catch up with them.
“Batoraj. You alright?” Arkiok asked.
“Yeah. Just recovering a bit from the whole performance,” she said. She blinked and shook her head slowly. “Your grandad’s a real character.”
“You’ll get used to him,” Arkiok said.
Kagaran’s mouth tendrils activated every pain receptor in the bandit leader’s body. The bandit leader felt like he was being continuously torn apart. Impressively, however, he was hardly making any sounds. Only his sweat-drenched skin and labored breaths bore testament to his incredible agony.
Seeing that his resolve was still holding up after five minutes, Kagaran withdrew from the bandit leader’s nerves.
Thinking Kagaran had given up, he tried to laugh, but Kagaran’s tendrils kept his mouth open. As a result, it was more of a muffled gurgle, followed by choking. After some coughing, the bandit was able to clear enough of his own spittle from his trachea.
Then the bandit leader felt a tingle within the back of his skull. His vision suddenly went dark.
“Sister? No. No. No!” the bandit leader yelled.
While the bandit leader began to ramble and scream like a child, Kagaran reached within his own skull and detached the tendrils from himself. He pulled out the tendril ends and tied them to the snath of his scythe. He sat down criss-crossed and placed a hand on each knee. Then he bowed his head, and began to meditate. He thought of the faces of those he’d lost to war, and those he’d found by the same token. He thought of whether his first life had truly been well spent. His life. He imagined himself hanging over the edge of a cliff, clinging to life by the tips of his fingers.
“Peace be unto me, for sleep is an instant, and my waking life is eternal,” he thought. He let go of the metaphorical ledge, and began to float in the sky.
Kagaran hardly registered or acknowledged Harkida’s footsteps as he walked in. Harkida, on the other hand, definitely registered the screams and seizures of the bandit leader juxtaposed with the still nature of Kagaran on the floor. Harkida was undead, so it wasn’t as awful a sight for him as one who was unfamiliar with the power of the Voice.
Harkida sat down in front of the bandit leader some distance away. He decided he would wait until Kagaran had finished meditating to break the news to Kagaran. He deserved a moment of peace today, Harkida thought. Harkida jittered his phalanges on the ground idly, feeling weirdly bored with nothing to do and disturbed by the bandit leader’s screaming at the same time.
Harkida decided he would listen and see if the bandit leader was spewing forth anything remotely meaningful.
For the first two minutes of listening, it was the same nonsensical screaming and rambling. After, however, the bandit’s broken gibberish evolved into hints of a haunting past.
“Please, I’ll pay…”
“No, take me…”
“Please, one more chance…”
“I’ll work! Please! Let my family go!”
“They won’t survive!”
Harkida hissed and shook his head. “I can’t begin to imagine the nightmare that you see. Alas, such are the consequences of defying the law,” he thought.
“Let me… go. Let me go let me go let me go let me go let me---”
The bandit leader repeated this until the tendrils suddenly withdrew from his mouth.
Kagaran finished meditating and stood up. He looked over the quivering, slobbering bandit leader with disgust.
“It was a distraction,” the bandit leader said, panting.
“You can still talk. Impressive,” Kagaran said. “Now, what was a distraction?”
“It was the attack meant for your fort. The anarchists and us bandits have teamed up,” the bandit leader said. “Please, believe me. Just, no more. One way or the other, let me go.”
Kagaran began to circle around the bandit leader, his skull towards him. Then Kagaran went behind him and patted his shoulder twice.
“Very good,” Kagaran said. Then he swung his scythe. The bandit leader’s head flew off and landed near the other bandits, who were sitting silently, eyes wide.
Kagaran looked over the bandits. “Those of you who didn’t look, you may turn now.”
Slowly, those few turned. They saw the head. They began to whisper amongst each other:
“Blood and sand…”
“Yeah, you’re not the only one with eyes…”
Then they turned and saw those who’d looked on, and breathed out, relieved that they hadn’t looked.
Harkida looked at Kagaran and leaned towards him. Sure, impromptu execution of captives in the Kimarion military was a common occurrence, but Harkida felt that this one in particular seemed too emotionally-driven.
Harkida reached forward to put a hand on Kagaran’s shoulder. Suddenly, Kagaran screeched like a demon. He began to mutilate the headless corpse with his scythe.
You mindless, lawless sheep slaughtered them all. Kaeris. Gerena. Pawal. Rangi.
There is no mercy for animals.
“Kagaran! What’s the big idea?!” Harkida yelled, as he struggled to pull him back from the corpse. Kagaran kept slashing.
Harkida sent out a message to the other undead. By the time soldiers had arrived and taken Kagaran out of the cave, the bandit leader’s body was completely unrecognizable.
Outside, Arkiok and the others were walking past the cave when they heard Kagaran howling. All but Hakrios began to walk a little faster. Hakrios simply looked up and outstretched his arms toward the sun.
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