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Chapter II: Crippled Fate and Dark Blood Part III

The terrain was uncomfortable at best and cruel at worst.

Tiyan, however, hoped it would cause as much trouble to the pursuers as it did to him. As a hunter, he repeatedly faced adversities that were beyond the abilities of most people in his town. Even if his hands were bleeding from tearing through the sharp leaves that grew in the snow like blades as if mocking him, even if the day was gleaming with ice and the forest fauna would surely smell his scent soon – he would not give up. There’s always hope.

Stumbling over a stone, the boy grabbed the first thing that could cushion the fall. Leaf. Again. Razor sharp.

He couldn’t stop. Not now, not when Praetor’s emissary was leading the chase.

When he first saw the envoy, clad in black and silver, he knew when they find out who uses magic in the valley, it will be his last day without pain. The emissary looked kind and jovial for townsmen on the streets, but not for him, not for a person with magic, which was recognizing a familiar, dark soul. He knew that Praetor never used the service of people who didn’t like causing suffering.

A sharp roar rang in his ears, straight from the depths of the forest that surrounded him. Not even bothering to guess what it might be, Tiyan mustered all the strength at his disposal and, taking a slight right turn, resumed the arduous climb up the steep slope.

They almost found him in his house, where he was packing up. He put the most vital hunting equipment on, took food and water, in case the land lacked streams, and kissed frightened Lessa goodbye, even without explaining, he dashed from the building, aiming at the vast forest nearby.

He felt like a coward. But he knew that he endangered his whole family and the inquisitor came here for him and only for him. Better to be a coward than a reason for the death of Lessa and their father. And his grandmother. Maybe the townsmen will condemn him, but he will be alive, maybe even ready for revenge on the one that caused all this mess.

The fae who infested his dreams. It was he who alienated him in his own town, it was him who bit through his mind with visions, led him astray during the hunt, blinded him on reality. Why does he even care? Why did he latch to him like some parasite, drinking from his soul? Perhaps that was some kind of cruel game, a game Kilyans liked to play with humans. Like with toys on a string.

If yes, he will find a way to escape this influence, but for that, he needs to be alive.

Coward.

Traitor.

No. A young man, persecuted by flawed law. Law that was unlawfully going after him for something he never wanted to happen.

The animal that roared nearby was closer. Tiyan heard the rustling and stomping; it was something big, perhaps another boar or even a bear. He had no chance with a bear now. His limbs were numb and his heart raced into his chest, beating like a ritual drum.

He hoped that whatever this animal is, will leave him in peace and allow the laborious wade through the overgrowth.

He heard the chase, the horses snorted and hit the ground with their hooves, closer and closer. He was a fool, he chose the most difficult path, hoping that they wouldn’t dare go the same trail with horses. The horses though seemed unaffected by the sloping terrain.

Tiyan fell again, face in the snow. He spat the earth and white, furious, his hunting equipment suddenly becoming a nuisance. He took too many weapons, and they delayed him. How he suddenly became so stupid, so slow. His life depended on that and he slacked like a beginner. He was here many times, he knew this valley.

At the same moment he was spitting snow, the huge bear rose before him. Tiyan instinctively reached for a pistol, ready to defend. His hand shook already like in fever, but he aimed well. At the exact moment though, the bear kicked it with his enormous paw and the gun landed in the muddy snow.

Only now, Tiyan saw that the bear was not normal. The colony of fungi bit through the skin on his back and his left eye was red, like a hunter’s moon. The wild animal roared. It was not the roar of a bear, but a wild whizzing sound, produced not by an alive beast, but by the horns of the underworld.

“Curse it!” Tiyan wanted to reach for his pistol, then, realizing that it was too far, pulled the forbidden iron from the sheath behind his belt, but the bear jumped in the same moment. Tiyan was about to throw himself on the beast, in last resort, but the animal barked like a wounded dog and screamed deafeningly, and a dozen spikes pierced him through the back and pulled – hard and mercilessly.

Tiyan observed with horror how the shadow chains and spikes eat the bear, leaving blood and guts on the ground.

The sight was terrible, but nothing prepared him for what he saw later. The inquisitor was approaching, and his face was a pulp made of shadows, darkness, and ink. The spikes were floating around him, ready to attack again, making him look like some kind of nightmare-made monster.

Tiyan’s magic that rotted in his bones and veins, moved restlessly, wanting to swallow the power that was approaching, bathe in it and absorb it. The young hunter, panicked because of these feelings, managed to take hold of a dagger, though it seemed futile, facing this kind of nightmarish terror.

Black magic! his mind screamed. He is after you because you are cursed, but he uses an even worse abomination.

Tiyan pressed his teeth ready to defend, the inquisitor halted and the spike hit the boy in the chest, delving deep, deeper, almost brushing against the heart.

The hunter wanted to do something, anything, but another dozen of spikes surrounded him and bound him with ropes made of ink.

He had no chance against these black spells. So he lost.

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Forest is where I belong. My gods live there.