AOH – Chapter 77

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CHAPTER 77: HOLY LAND ENCOUNTER

AZRAEL MOURNSTAR

The sand blows with the help of the wind, but luckily the veil on his face prevent the sand from entering his eyes. He still remembered it vividly.

He was in the front with Elkar leading, while behind him was the 8 Kings. The sky at the time was blue, calm and serene.

Looking to the horizon, as he glance at the back of his armies, reveals a wall of brown air stretching up high.

At that time he knows this instinctively that is not a smoke. A dust storm.

It was his first time seeing a dust storm. The Negevian tribe that lives at the desert knows how to hide from this particular natural occurrence but for the Arakathian, it is something new for us.

It is like a 4 story building rushing to us.

‘RUN!’ I yelled as the armies behind scattered, the cavalry sprints trampling the infantry running from this storm.

Azrael use his hand to protect his face and eyes from the sand. Seeing the storm gaining on his army and him, he cast magic to protect Elkar and sprint while the other 8 Kings followed.

The Fairies use magic, so does the Elf, the Kobolds skilled horseman overtakes the other Kings and ride in front.

The Orcs on the other hand use their stamina and strength to try to endure this storm. The sky turns to a brown dusk and anyone that is unfortunate enough, get swallowed by the storm.

The breathing of the armies becomes labored with the dirty air attacking their lungs. How many of his army screamed for help.

The rear division got swallowed up, engulfed in the dust clouds.  After half an hour the worst of the dust pass.

About 7568 troops died, their bodies lost in the desert, the air remain choked with dust and hazy.

For that day, we tasted dust all day. The Elves is lucky in that they can cast magic and creating a protective barrier among themselves.

For the Dwarves their eyes sting and water, while the fairies giggling at the Dwarves appearance.

The Orcs face which in any normal days is scary enough, but after the sand storm the grimy streaks on their faces only add to the ferocity of their face.

‘I need to bath after this’ he said to himself. The coating of the dry grit covers his clothes, skins and fills the nose.

For some, there is nothing odd with the occurrence but for him it was like the universe is hinting on him of something sinister.

He could not shake that feeling.

They are approaching the Holy City but just before they enter they are attacked with sand storm? Dread fills him.

Thankfully they found shelter in one of the caves in a low hill nearby or else they will lose a lot more soldiers during the sandstorm.

After the sand storm subsided they continued their journey. And now…a few days after that.

They have arrived at the Blessed Land for a couple of days now. Holy City of Aralam. One of the Holy City in this small island.

‘The Blessed Land’ he marvel, forgetting the arduous journey that they have undertaken to reach here

The cruel sun beat down, its one malevolent eye unblinking from the heavens, torturing him with its fiery heat.

‘Hot’ he said while taking another gulp from the flask.

He is sweating all over his body. He is sweating because of the heat. The sand is hot, and he reckons that it can roast eggs.

There are hardly any shades large enough for his massive armies to take shelter so they built tent but no tent is higher than The God Hill near Dome of Salvation.

He is strolling outside looking at the Holy City Aralam. Each of his steps into the sand stunk into the searing sand.

The air is thick and hazy, each breath is laborious.

The uniqueness of the Holy Land is that it is geo-theological. There is no land here that is fertile for agriculture other than near the Eternal Well.

Even the land is not that large.

There is no strategic value other than it connects to the Human Continents and that it was the place of administration for the First Generation in the past.

To many, this is the land which faces the entrance of the spiritual world, that sphere of existence that lies beyond the physical world known to us through our senses.

This is the key to the land’s unique status with regard to prophecy and prayer. It is also forbidden to spill blood here for whatever reason.

Even Levitia spare demon blood during his rest here. And he is known to be merciless against demons. Of course his act was well received in that time

It was a different time. Even the scholars in the Capital despise the acts of the Demon Lord back then.

Fortunately the Treaty was sign or maybe in this era, it is the demon race, that is enslaved by humanity.

This is also where he signs the Treaty with the Demon Lords. Thus the importance it holds is incalculable among the heart of many, both humans and demon.

Azrael keeps walking, marveling the city while complaining about the heat in his mind.

There is maze of mud houses, and stalls crowded the market place and dark-skinned children play. Mostly escape slaves.

Ariundus is heavily reliant on their slave trade, which they sell to Vorthy and Asteros but not to Davarus and Arakath.

The Treaty in Aralam states that no child of Arakath or Davarus can enslave one or the other, buy slaves or engage in the trade that involves selling anything that has a soul to another.

It also states that if they were captured and brought to become a slave, then it is their highest obligation to release himself or herself from the chains that bind them.

Of course that doesn’t mean it is follow very strictly after more than 900 years.

For example Principality of Freya, a nation which engages in slave trade, with the other continent.

They are frowned upon by the Church but they can’t do anything considering they have a large slave army and their trade is more bountiful then Acro or any other trader’s family.

After all the slave trade is profitable.

However there are a few laws that need to be observed here, a Holy Law, that helps escape slaves to thrive as a community here.

The provision, word of God, that states no soul will spill blood in the Holy Land serve escaped slave very fondly.

The former slaves greet him with dazzling smiles, hoping the disguised King will buy their wares. They tried to persuade Azrael but Azrael turn them down gracefully.

Their stalls are covered with magnificently bright cloth.

They sell browned fish, hard bread, shimmering jewels, shining metals, crisp, pristine linen, and juicy figs.

A dancer, veil in her face, dressed in a gauzy white tunic, twirls in the streets and the crowd tosses golden coins to her.

Azrael toss a few coins, hoping that the dancer could buy a few bread for her to eat.

‘Life’ he said, pondering the meaning.

This is also the city where Levitia is bind before he was stabbed with Redflash, an Enochian steel now disappeared.

No one knows who it belongs to.

What is known is that he was stabbed by that steel and died, his body disappeared and the Church of Light hails him as the Blood of Light, which meant God has sent him as a Saviour for the Human Race and people flocked to convert to Lucellian faith.

Azrael could see the caravans filled with people.

The caravans of pilgrims fill the blessed Land. They were all praying around the God Hill chanting Hymns.

Former slaves, rich, poor, all equal here. Then he returns to his realities. He sighed contemplating his situation.

He has tried to persuade the other races to abandon this endeavor but they insist on fighting. War and killing.

Blood and sacrifice.

He knows what that brings. He never fought in a war but he knows that it is nothing good. He loves his Arianna but he also knows that war isn’t the answer.

He has summoned each of the Kings to his tent in the Blessed Land; none have any intention of going back.

The Orc King, the Faeries King, Oberon, The Elder Council Alyn Shirr, Merman representatives Dorr Vine, One Giant from the many tribes of the giants, Slathor son of Balthor, the King of Giants of the Arathor tribe.

The merman could not offer their armies but they supply the elves with precious herb only they have.

‘Lord Mila’ he sighed again, a deep and long sighs. Mila is his father in law, not yet but he will be. Because of that the problem he faces now is quite complicated.

The war is supported by both faction and even his father in law is supporting this war. He is angry.

He believed that Arianna is killed.

Blinded by his emotion and his thirst for revenge, he encouraged his banner man and the other noble families. But somehow Azrael feel something is out of place here.

But he also wondered maybe he don’t want to believe the story. He believes that Arianna is not killed.

Maybe she is hidden, kidnapped or something along that line. He could…don’t know what he would do, if Arianna is killed.

‘I don’t.’ he muttered under his breath, willing himself to believe it

I know there is some sinister force in my castle that tries to create this war. For what purpose I don’t know. He mused

But one thing is certain, that Aleister Crow one of the Heavenly Noble Protector is one of them. This Azrael have no doubt.

He has always been the proponent to destroy the Human Race and every time he will end his speech with

‘Davarus must be destroyed under our foot’

The Heavenly Noble Protector includes House Devonhurst , House Crow, House Vor, and House Arathorne.

There is no proof but if he found any proof he would execute them under treason. But he also knows that the populace is generally favorable towards the war.

They believe that we can defeat the humans.

They are also the matter of hatred between both race, the Human and the Demon Race.

And he never underestimated the stupidity of the mass populace when in a group. It is the special skill of both factions, to incite such stupidity

Their special skill consists in knowing what passions can be most easily aroused, and how to prevent them, when aroused, from being harmful to themself and their associates.

And since, they are divided into rival groups; they aim at similarly dividing the nation, unless they have the good fortune to unite it in war against some other nation.

And here it is an imaginary threat the common folk can rally to.

A cause they all can believe and stand behind.

They are easily incited by the selfish and nobles that have their own selfish agenda. I doubt the Faction is really doing this for the land in Davarus.

Arakath when compared to Davarus is smaller in size but still, there are still many lands here.

The Elves, The Fairest Folk, have enough forest, the Kobolds, great horseman have enough grassy plains to ride their horse, the Orcs, The Hardened Blood, have enough land to occupy.

The Fairies, The Fable Creature, has lived in their fabled forest and is not disturbed under the law, the Dwarves live under a complicated series of cave under the ground which makes it very economically suited to save land.

The merman lives in lakes and water and the dragons soar the skies and the people know enough not to go to any are that has their sightings.

And Demon Lords, blood of Angels, have enough power and authority and land that doing this, inciting this war is hardly profitable.

And not to mention risky in every way possible. There is no need for more land and risk for war.

So, clearly now, when all possibilities and their justification for war is examined under scrutiny, Azrael comes under the conclusion that, these two factions, they have other intention, other objective on why they want to wage this war.

But what?

That is the question. If he have Mikael, he mused surely Mikael could at least give him some ideas.

Maybe he should summon him. But he doesn’t know where Mikael is right now. And it doesn’t help that Lord Mila kept supporting Aleister.

 Lord Mila effort in flaming old wounds and hatred towards the human race can be hear in his speech, can be heard in the barrack, promising, believing that they are doing this to avenge their fallen princess, his fallen princess, Azrael mused.

But unless he saw her cold, dead body in front of his own eyes, he will not make rash judgment, not when all the facts don’t match. There is something afoot here.

Mila is blinded.

Any sane man could see that he is hurting by the news and he want to laid waste to the human continent to avenge his daughter.

Everyone knows how he love his daughter. With ferocious love.

After the tragedy that befalls his wife and her cheating that ultimately lead to her death, Arianna is his salvation.

He cared for her because she has the same qualities that his late wife had. Beautiful, graceful. And if he lost her too….

Surely this is not something that Arianna would want me to be doing? She always hated war. Peace is a virtue she once told him.

And then the King, exhausted, walk to return to his private tent, no progress is made today.

******************************************************************************

AZRAEL MOURNSATR

I return to my tent that night feeling defeated, exhausted. There is no one in my tent. Some book to keep me company and some dishes to stave off hunger and tomorrow I have to try again.

Try and try and maybe they will listen. If only the factions don’t meddle too much then maybe I can make headway in persuading the other King.

Then suddenly wind rustle around my tent.

There is movement, I concluded. The sound stopped and silence dawns. The silence lingered in the air, thick and heavy.

My eyes try to see.

Sound of slow footsteps, so stealth I almost could not hear it, if I did not concentrate my hearing.

Quickly I unsheathe my dagger and point it at the sound. In the Holy Land you may not kill. But it didn’t said anything about hurting.

‘Who’s there?’ I asked.

For a moment there is only silence but I know there is someone out there. Assassins? Spy? I was about to try to capture whoever it is but then a voice startled me

‘I come in peace’ the voice said, he said his voice is calm and the tone reassuring.

‘Please, let me enter’ he said.

I know I should have been suspicious, should yell for the guards but somehow I let him in.

‘Come inside.’ The man opens the curtains of the tent and I look at him.

The man wear a veil around his face, his skin color is white, not a slave, since there is no collar on his neck, and there is a dagger in his hips but he doesn’t seem like he is about to use it.

Elven design I mused

The front and shoulders of the cloak is undoubtedly is elven design. The cloak is black and blue in the inner part of the cloak.

Bold embroidery. It can be ties at his neck and lined in a contrasting color. But he is no elves. That make me believe he stole that cloak.

His hair is black, his eyes are blue and he moved gracefully like a noble.

‘Do you know who I am?’ I said.

‘Demon King’ he said not at all fazed.

‘Who are you?’ I asked.

‘Please, Your Grace. I am not the enemy. Let me sit before you interrogate me with question.’ I am surprised with his calmness even when I am pointing a dagger at him.

Feeling stupid I sheathe back the dagger and we sit on the ground.

There is no chair in my tent. This is the Blessed Land, desert, sand in the morning and when you want to drink, only wells around here that provide water here.

Then he takes off his veil that covers the lower part of his face. His face is considered beautiful but his smile looks like he is hiding secret.

‘Let me introduce myself Your Grace. I am Silas Perigord, one of the vassals of the Vermont. I came here bearing grave and terrible news.’ he said.

I am alarmed by this revelation and he could see it.

‘Ouch, your grace. Don’t look at me like that. I came here with great pains, hiding from your army, and mind you that is no easy task, stealthily enter your camp, and sneak myself around your tent. It is not easy, difficult and harrowing experiences for a diplomat like me.’

‘Why do you come here?’ I said my tone slightly hard.

He then got up, took one of the goblet in the tent, pour some water and sit back down on the cushion, gulping the water while his eyes dart all over the tent.

And for a while the sound in the tent is only the sound of him gulping the water, slowly but calmly. It was like he makes himself quite at home.

‘First, I have a story to tell you. Your Grace.’

‘A story?’

‘Yes a story. My lord, amiable and good he is, relay to me this story and he told me to tell it to you and ponder his meaning’ His line of explanation baffles me.

‘Can I tell you the story?’ he said. I nodded.

‘Ehem’ he coughed a little bit.

‘Long ago, as many story began’ he began his story

‘There is this one King. A wise, strong and lovable King. The common folk worship the ground he walked, the nobles would follow him to any battles as this story will attest. One day he met a woman and it was love at first sight for both of them. The girl is beautiful and he was handsome, so he takes her as his bride. A very beautiful bride, every noble, every bard, every minstrel praise her beauty. The most beautiful woman in the world people called her bride. But as you know Your Grace, beauties life is rarely easy for one da-’

And suddenly I think he is talking about me.

‘You-‘ I said getting up from my seat and pointing my finger at him.

‘Please your grace. Do not interrupt my stories.’ He said calmly at my sudden outburst. I relented and let him continue his story.

“CONTINUE” I said my tone slightly harsh but I became curious of his story

‘One day, when the King is occupied in his castle, holding his court like usual, her bride is kidnapped, under the guise of midnight, for the dark beckons. And no one but Night, with tears on her dark face, watches in dark places.”

I nodded.

“But dawn is coming” I reply. After all Darkness Fall is one of the Gospels of the Dark Book.

He just smiles.

“She is kidnapped by a rival noble who is infatuated with the beautiful bride. After all, in old stories rarely beauties are not kidnapped. The King at first believes his bride is just hiding from him because to enhance his love for her but too much time passed. The King began to worry about his bride. So he sent some of his spymaster to search for his bride. Then suddenly he was informed by his spymaster that his bride has been killed by the noble.’

I stand up. Did he know I asked myself? I pointed my dagger at his neck.

‘You! Tell me! Do you know something about my fiancé?’ He grinned, no fear in his eyes.

‘I have not finish the story didn’t I, Your Grace? Be calm and let hear the story until its conclusion. It is my task after all to relay you the story until its conclusion.’

There was this intense silence as I decide to lower the dagger. I calm myself and sit myself back down.

‘Fine, continue the story.’

‘He then, in his anger, order that war be declared. He was furious. The one person that gives his life meaning is taken away from him. One can only imagine the pit of despair, the hours and hours, days and weeks of lamentations, the suffering that the noble have inflicted him, the burden of existence weighing on him. So with all his might, and anger, furious, furious anger, he came to the noble land and burns and pillage, and wreaks vengeance upon his land. Then he pursues the noble’s family, the noble’s people, and anything the nobles have, he destroyed, he burns, he slaughters. Blood flowed like rivers; land scorched leaving only ashes, cities turns to desert as he plowed his way to satisfy his anger. Until one day, he stops. And he looks on the wreckage on his wake. It is now he who kills. It is he who gives suffering. And he looks himself in the mirror and he can no longer see the man he used to be. Vengeance changed him. The killings make a mark upon his soul. And whether he can admit it or not he knows he is not the same that he used to be. He knows he have gone too far to turn back.’

‘What are you trying to say?’ I ask him.

‘Ah……..your grace, but the story is not over’. He said.

‘Finish it then’

‘He despair on his current condition but he justify himself now, using his vengeance. “For her” he said. “For her” he convinced himself. Years go by as he conquered every land in the area, killing and pillaging until one day one woman came to his castle. The wise King, the kind and lovable King, who is no longer wise, and no longer kind and lovable, looks and realizes the woman is his bride. He found her. But she has lost her husband for she look at the King and all she sees is a monster. And so ends the story, when his bride sees the destruction that her lover has wrought under her name. And the girl died stricken of grief leaving the King alone and sad’

And then he said no more.

‘What is that supposed to mean?’ I said.

‘I don’t know. This is the story my lord say to convey to you.’ Then he gives me a letter.

‘Open it, Your Grace’ he ask.

I open it. Only a few words were written

THE DRAGON

There is someone lying to you. Your fiancé is alive. Ask Silas. He will tell you all you need to know.

I looked at the letter and I look back at Silas. And then I remembered the story. Is that what I would be? What I could be? I asked myself.

Is he conveying this to show me what path could I choose? Then I quickly ask him to tell me what he knows.

“Gladly” he replies. He tells me all that he knows; that my fiancé is being held in Vern that she is still alive.

That the young lord beyond the sea is trying to mediate her return unharmed by the Emperor. That he would appreciate that if I could help him.

‘A grave mistake is almost levied upon the innocent!’ I exclaimed to myself.

I hold my head as I ponder the big news that is relayed unto me.

‘Almost started a war’ I said to myself. Then Silas tell me of the young lord warning and hope.

That he wanted to create a peaceful relation with Arakath and hearing that the action of the Emperor in Vern, he is disgusted by such acts that he would help me, and if need to, exact revenge to the Empire.

But he also informs that no armies of the Demon race will pass the wall without his permission.

That if we mount an attack at the wall, he will see it as a declaration of war, and he would retaliate.

He would gather every single King, every single man in the continent he could employ, and employs devastating strategies and I will rue the day that I ever came to Davarus.

‘You can leave. Tell him I would accept the young lord help and I will persuade the other factions and the Kings in my court to return back. Tell him if he needs any help, financially or military I would be happy to assist. ’

I said to Silas as I wanted to think about this. It is also safer if I accept the help of the young lord.

He knows the region and he is respected and revered. Maybe he could persuade the Emperor to release her.

Of course, I’m furious at the Emperor but for now Arianna safety takes priority. Who knows if I march to the Human Continent the Emperor would kill Arianna.

I couldn’t risk that.

Knowing that her blood is on my hand. One day I will give what the Emperor deserve but for now, I am happy knowing, certainly that she is still alive.

And I need to make sure she stay that way.  Silas shakes his head.

‘No, your Grace.’ He said.

‘The Vermont’s sent me here to help you.’

‘Help me in what?’

‘Someone is trying to start a war in your administration. This much is clear to me after I spy on your nobles. There is something foul in your court. As long as they exist rift will be created. Maybe not now. But someday. Years or month from now, even if we successfully save the Princess new issues will be created, issues that inevitably lead humans and demon race to the battlefield of war. We must cut the root of the problem for peace to be everlasting. My lord, Arial, does not like to go to war, whatever his reputation might suggest. He would like to establish trade relations with the dark lands, a peaceful relation of non-aggression, but he doubt it will ever happen if they are obstacles in your administration. This is a grave matter for it involves not only your peace but our peace. Someone is trying to start a great war between humanity and the 8 races. And they are highly influential and they may even have spies in your closest circle Your Grace. And this is a matter of concern for Vermont family who live along the wall. He offers me to help you. If you want to deny this help then I will return and spoke of your intention. If you believe peace…..peace can be achieved between human and demons, then accept my help. Let me be your eyes and ear. And I guarantee this. I guarantee that I will catch this rat and I will swallow them like the rats they are’

I stared at him, and he looks at me and he waited. With a whisper, with many thoughts in my head I utter yes.

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