Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Short Isekai March 26 2024 part 2

PART 2The salt enhanced every flavor. Wren opportunistically gathered familiar herbs reminiscent of basil, oregano, thyme, and long peppers, blending them into the tiny wooden flask he had acquired from the slaver. He found edible roots, their smells and appearances triggering his appetite. Occasionally, he encountered odd clusters of three or four plants that didn't seem naturally placed, including a type of edible stalk, a fruity vine, and clusters of edible seeds. Wren would thoughtfully rearrange the leftover seeds in areas he believed conducive to their growth in the forest. Within a few days, he repaired the bow—a fine self-bow with an unusual pattern in the wood grain and a thick handle nearly as robust as a staff when straightened. He unstrung it and dried it in a smokeless fire pit. Next, he sharpened the falchion and hammered out the nicks in the blade to achieve a smooth edge. He then remade his short stone spear, replacing its head with the iron spear, resulting in a weapon as tall as he was, rather than its original length, which was three hands taller than Wren. He replaced his stone axe with the metal one, featuring a small axe blade the size of his hand affixed to a heavy haft adorned with patina-covered copper rings and bands. Upon returning to the slavers’ camp, Wren slowly deciphered their movements. His newfound bloodlust unveiled a different perspective, making him aware of previously overlooked clues, such as the definitive arrangement of seats and positions in the camp, more telling than mere step counting. He observed the impressions of beds and the locations where the slaves relieved themselves, noting the slavers' negligence in allowing the slaves to sleep near their waste. He pondered whether this indicated a decline in discipline and morale and whether it would lead to the slaves being positioned further from the camp or if the slavers would exert the effort to guard them and establish proper latrines. Disturbingly, he detected the presence of blood mixed with semen, his sharpened senses picking up on the grim details. He could track them, a skill honed by observing the shadows and deducing the time of day to infer cardinal directions. Wren distinguished the smells, separating the animal, filth, rot, and mold of the forest from the humans' scent and his own. Closing his eyes, his mind visualized the terrain's flow, the wind, and the weather patterns. He appreciated, in a way that only age could afford, how the stormy weather would aid his pursuit. Their onagers and pack goats would struggle with the uncertain footing as they moved northwest. A thought nagged at him: why was he overwhelmed by the notion of human waste and disease emanating from that direction? Was there a city or imperial capital nearby, a place where slaves turned into coin? They hadn’t bothered to retrieve the molding and wet leather cuirass of their fallen comrades. Wren pondered the psychology of his quarry, now that he had experienced killing them. His thoughts often returned to his edge alignment, frustrated by his inability to cut cleanly. He practiced his swings whenever possible, recalling stick fighting where edge control didn’t matter, and old fencing concepts that taught him about center and lines, tensing and then relaxing his muscles, itching to strike a small sapling. He resisted the urge to leave a trail, needing to adapt to his new, lighter, and stronger body's perceptions. The hand axe, throwable and now secured behind his waist, had a makeshift cover made from leftover boiled leather to prevent accidental injury. Practicing with the bow staff was impossible as he neared the slavers. It took only three days to catch up, moving swiftly and hunting en route. He secured the bow staff and arrows to his largest drawstring bag, lamenting the lack of time to snipe with the bow—such an attack required more preparation and practice. His arsenal of spear, axe, falchion, and buckler would suffice, especially after figuring out how to sling the buckler on his left shoulder for two-handed spear use. The ambidexterity of his new body fascinated him; he could easily switch the axe haft to his left hand and the falchion to his right, storing the falchion at his waist while moving through the brush. The spear, however, was cumbersome, constantly occupying his hands and risking leaving marks unless he carefully rested it on a tree or rock. As Wren neared the slavers, their scent grew distinct from the last two cold camps. He detected illness among them; three slavers were sick, and some showed signs of dysentery. Noticing one slave's tracks had vanished without finding a body, he surmised the individual was still too valuable and likely carried by an overburdened pack-goat. Observing discarded items like clay and wooden flasks and leaf packings, he realized they deemed these utensils unworthy of saving. Wren wondered, "Do they think I’m hunting them? Or are their relationships so transactional that they don’t care if the others die?" Wren pondered the circumstances of their capture. How had the slavers found them? Why were they there, and what was their purpose in taking us? Were they expecting us those months ago? The details were hazy. Whatever had transpired, it was unexpected for the slavers; they lingered, searching for something. He questioned the logic of spending two months on a mission just for slaves—slaves like him, with distinct elfin features. Were they deemed valuable enough to warrant such an expenditure? And why were the men considered less valuable than the women? These idle thoughts were interrupted as night descended, and Wren began to eat salt-cured dried rodent meat, flattened into improvised jerky. He sensed their presence, deducing it from the sounds of insects and the pungent smell of human waste as the slavers took their evening break. Wren detected the aroma of their fires and noted the eerie silence of insects downwind from the smoke. Positioned north of their camp, with the wind blowing from the south, he observed their need for light, their cookfires casting a revealing glow. He observed the slavers taking turns on one of the slaves, venting their frustrations. The commander had seemingly abandoned any pretense of discipline, indulging in the service of a slave. Wren's eyes caught sight of her, a figure of defeat and resilience, her beauty marred by bruises, her intense grey eyes capturing the moonlight, reflecting a deep heartbreak. From his vantage point in the tree canopy, nearly half a minute's run away, he watched. He wondered if, in her despair, she could sense his presence as he observed another ill slave being removed from the pack goats and shackled in iron chains alongside the others. Counting the enemy, Wren noted 20 slavers, three clad in leather cuirass, and one donning a sleeveless mail shirt with leather pauldrons. There were eight slaves in total; previously, he remembered, there had been more, with slavers outnumbering them twofold. His mind flashed back to their bindings and the sigils glowing in the darkness upon his arrival in this world. The buckler, bow staff, larger satchel, and quiver would be cumbersome in the impending confrontation. He watched the leader converse with the enslaved woman, wishing he could discern their words, yet knowing his priority was to identify a vulnerability. His heart twisted with disgust and pity at the sight of their mistreatment, particularly when the woman, attempting to console the other slaves with a gentle touch, was violently reprimanded. The slavers appeared to derive some perverse satisfaction from her compelled interactions. One, armored, took a wooden rod and struck her on the thighs. While her bruises were not visible, her agonizing cries pierced the night. Edging closer, Wren could finally grasp their conversation. Astonishingly, he understood their language. The commander's harsh discipline continued as he demanded she use her healing abilities for his men, berating her for wasting her powers on the slaves. Through her tears, she pleaded, "We are more valuable unbroken." The commander’s laugh echoed cruelly as he retorted, "You’re right, but still heal my men. Or teach one of the bitches to use their blood magic to heal them. There should be enough seed in them to heal twice as much." As Wren observed the brutal abuse of the women, the terror and helplessness that had initially overwhelmed him upon arrival—and the subsequent rage of seeing the men slaughtered—merged into a formidable tide of hate and anger. The sight of an elfin woman, enduring her agony with a heart-wrenching cry, crystallized his fear into something dark, terrifying, and furious with bloodlust. His heart pounded fiercely, and his breathing deepened, as if he were sprinting at full speed, yet he remained still, every sensory detail magnified. The night seemed to brighten, the moon and stars overly vivid, and every detail around him became excruciatingly clear, making the slavers’ movements appear painstakingly slow. With stealth born of this heightened awareness, Wren noted each silent step he took on the uneven ground, the surrounding darkness illuminated by the intense campfires, draining the world of color. Having abandoned his pack, and now without his spear and axe, he advanced, seizing a long knife from a nearby slaver. In a desaturated world, he moved with lethal precision, his spear slashing through the neck of one slaver, then retracting to deliver a deep, fatal cut to another, who had been deceived by the presence of his comrade. Alerted by the cries of the wounded pack animals, the slavers’ attention was drawn away, allowing Wren, already circling to their flank, to remain unseen. The men, their night vision compromised by their own torches, were blind to his approach. Wren capitalized on this advantage, his superior night vision enabling him to navigate the shadowed terrain with ease. He launched his axe, striking a guard on the flank, the weapon embedding deep into bone. Swiftly drawing the stolen long knife, Wren executed a series of rapid strikes, aiming to collapse lungs and silence cries, moving through the shadows like a wraith. Amid the flickering chaos of the firelight, Wren danced through the ranks of the slavers, his exceptional night vision dissecting the battlefield. He exploited the blind sides of the regular humans, their eyes ruined by the bright torches and fires. He targeted their legs, shins, and knees, then charged through the camp, evading predictable, low swings, and leaping over them with a flip, slashing at eyes and faces mid-air. Landing, he felt the earth buckle under him, yet remained agile, swiftly cutting down the next line of slavers. His falchion cleaved through hamstrings and calves, predicting their movements, and as they recoiled in pain, Wren struck decisively at their necks. The knife, although missing its intended mark, gouged deeply into a shoulder, while his falchion, more familiar in his grasp, opened a lethal wound on the side of another neck. Amidst the turmoil, a slave seized a moment of defiance, snapping her head back to shatter the teeth of the slaver behind her. Turning to face her assailant, she found his front teeth missing, likely embedded in her skull, and in a surge of desperation born from enduring months of abuse, she wrapped her chained hands around his neck and sank her teeth into his carotid artery. The ensuing chaos spurred the other slaves into action, fighting back fiercely. However, two of them fell under the slavers’ brutal counterattack—one’s face was crushed with a hammer, another stabbed as they attempted to rise and scream. Wren’s breathing deepened, drawing in the acrid mix of smoke, blood, and filth permeating the camp. Deciding it was time to end this, he dashed towards the source of a commanding voice, his powerful strides tearing through the earth, hurling clods of soil with each step. Within moments, he was bearing down on the commander, who had adopted a high overhead guard. The commander, confident in his reach and experience, swung his sword down in a swift arc, believing his skill superior to that of the perceived escaped slave. However, Wren had anticipated this very move, observing the shadow of the descending blade, poised to cleave his skull. Wren had baited the commander into overconfidence, hurling his long knife and falchion directly at the commander’s face. The experienced leader managed a barely sufficient parry of the knife, then, in a desperate move, redirected his entire momentum to block the falchion. Exploiting this, Wren launched his foot forward, meeting the commander’s face while flipping upside down, his entire weight enforcing a scissor lock around the man’s head. This unexpected assault knocked the larger commander backward, allowing Wren to seize and wrench one of his arms, using his aerial momentum to disrupt the commander's balance and control. Locked in a scissor grip, Wren tightened his legs around the commander's neck, applying a deadly choke, while using his arms and body torque to fracture the other arm. As the commander, overwhelmed, dropped his sword to support his faltering neck, time seemed to slow for Wren. Amidst his rage, a part of him coldly calculated, observing the commander’s struggle, applying precise leverage to snap the bone. With the commander unable to guard his neck, Wren executed a swift, torso-driven movement, amplifying his leg's force to fatally twist the commander’s neck. Seizing the sword and long knife, Wren executed a feint with the sword, skillfully tossing it to the nearby slave while simultaneously dodging a riposte from an attacking slaver. He exploited the opening as the slaver’s cuirass lifted during a high guard maneuver, plunging the knife into the exposed waist area. The woman barely caught the sword, her initial shock giving way to a grim realization. As another slaver launched an attack at her, Wren relentlessly stabbed him in the kidneys, ensuring both incapacitation and excruciating pain. The slave, wielding her new weapon, struck the guard’s face with unrefined, yet effective, force, resulting in a gruesome wound. As Wren’s perception of time normalized, he took in the full extent of the woman’s suffering—her bruises, her haunting gray eyes. In this moment of clarity, he noted that ten guards were still combat-ready, albeit disorganized. With several forceful swings of a spatha, he decapitated the commander, raising the severed head to challenge the remaining slavers, “Do you still have fight in you?” Their resolve faltered, and in their desperation, they attempted to take hostages. Wren, with precise aim, hurled the spatha at a slaver adjacent to a hostage-taker, ensuring the woman remained unharmed. The sight of the sword embedded in his comrade’s face distracted another slaver long enough for a woman to bludgeon him to death with a hammer. Wren, his voice strained, announced, “Now there’s eight.” Fear and the reality of their plight set in, prompting some to flee, while others collapsed from their injuries. In this chaos, Wren, conserving his strength, allowed the women to exact the vengeance they had long been denied.

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