Iros patted my back as I huffed and puffed through the waning adrenaline that still coursed its way through my veins. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I released Bloody Melody from my fingers, and the weapon burst into a dull yellow light and dissipated. Already forgotten.
"You did very well, my lord. Now, drink this if you would, please." He added as he uncorked a small red vial. "A health potion can relieve you of your wounds."
Numbly, I took the vial and sank its contents into my gullet. It tasted both sour and bitter, like cough syrup, but he was right... The forest fire of pain in my chest and leg were gone within a matter of moments. Allowing me to stand upright once more, surveying the scene of destruction I had wrought.
With a final whack of reassurance against my back, Iros leaned down to the corpses and inspected my handiwork closely.
"Yes, that weapon is indeed quite mighty. If your other weapons are equally as deadly, then you will do well in this world." He arose abruptly, patting his hands against his robes. "Now, let us away from here, My Lord. And don forget to take a moment to loot them. I suspect we may be able to craft you new gear from these pelts.
I nodded absently as I knelt down over the corpse before me. Another opaque blue window blinked to life, showing several items within its window.
Horned Owl-Wolf pelt x2
Horned Owl-Wolf teeth x6
09 silver, 6 copper
"Inventory" I stated as I began going from body to body claiming my spoils. Each body held much of the same, more pelts and teeth. By the end I had a whopping 46 silver and 91 copper. Whatever that meant...
As I wrapped up I noticed another blinking light in the corner of my vision. Mentally I opened it, to be greeted by my status window.
you have leveled up!
You are now level 4!
You have *18* unspent ability points!
You have *3* skill points!
"My lord, come along now." Iros called out from the other side of the dense thicket of trees that still separated us from the grassy plains where we were camped out.
"You know Iros, you don have to keep calling me my lord every time. You can just call me Ken, like everyone else." I said, mocking the way he said my lord more than was probably necessary as I stepped and leaped over various protruding roots.
As I emerged from the thicket, I found a scowling Iros. "I am afraid I cannot do that, My lord Kenneth." He said with an extra emphasis of his own. "I owe my Lady -your mother- much, not the least of which is a blood debt. I will not go into details on this, but she is owed reverence for her past actions, and as you are her son, this honor is passed down to you as well." He spoke plainly, as if these were facts that I should have known, despite my appearance in this world less than a day ago.
I tried to think of what to say in reply, but Iros merely turned his obscenely cold shoulder and walked off without another word. I suspected there was something going on under the surface there, but decided not to dwell on it.
After tonight, it would only get worse after all... As I had already made up my mind...
As we reached the camp, we found my mother not only awake, but pacing furiously. Her temper flaring. She was still short, only 5 ft 3 at most. but all her imposing plate and leather armor gave her quite the imposing figure.
"Where have you been- and why are you covered in blood?!" She burst as she practically sprinted to me, checking me over thoroughly for any remaining cuts or scratches. There were none.
Abruptly I hugged her tightly, deciding there would be no better time than the present. I had resolved myself during my fight with the wolves... My mother deserved to know.
"Mom. There is something I have to tell you... I know it might hurt, but... I love you too much to lie to you." My eyes flashed to Iros, whos placid expression seemed to bleed into that of Fury as they connected. Unable to maintain his angry gaze, I turned my eyes downward into the campfires flames.
"Hey, Im supposed to be mad at YOU right now! You can go saying things like this yet, I have to give you a good earful first!" My mom protested playfully as she firmly hugged me back, her superior strength forcing the air from my lungs.
Wriggling free of her embrace, I grabbed her by both biceps, pulling her back and looked her seriously in the eyes. "Listen... Iros, he uh... He mentioned that tomorrow you are planning to replicate the summoning thing... To bring dad here..." She seemed stunned by my assertive and subsequent diffident behavior, but nodded along confusedly as I spoke.
I took a deep breath, my heart racing even more than it had when I had fought with the horned owl-wolves. Now Im starting to get why warriors prefer fighting to talking... I thought critically.
"It... It won work, mom" I uttered finally, my will giving out at the end as I held back a sob.
"What do you mean, sweetheart?" She questioned with growing concern. "How could you-"
"Because hes dead, mom. He passed away five years ago...." I answered with all my remaining strength.
I imagined the sound of shattering glass as her expression froze, stunned. I had just ruined her plan to have her family back together again. But it was better than just letting her go on thinking she could do something that she could not.
Seconds droned on before she finally spoke. "H-h-how..." Was all she managed to say.
"Cancer... It was- it was hard, for a long time. But when he passed, the hospice agency let him go in your room. So in a way, we were all together when it happened..." I stated, my confidence waning more and more by the second.
Her hands rose to her mouth as she struggled to speak, her mouth agape and her eyes filling with water as they threatened to burst like a dam. I pulled her back into me and said something I never imagined I would get to say, not in a thousand years.
"He wanted me to say... To tell you... If you ever woke up- that is. That he didn regret anything. That he would do it all again if he could."
She cried then. Loud and wailing, it was the sort of cry that I supposed a person only gave when they were truly and sincerely broken. When something hurt so completely and fully that their brain just shuts down, unable to process the grief.
Hours passed as I just held my mother, her weeping, sobbing, and incoherent words finally rambling off until she fell asleep in my arms, then I followed close behind, my own fatigue catching up quickly.
I awoke in the morning alone. Or rather, my mother no longer slept beside me. Instead I found a large woolen blanket wrapped lovingly around me. The campfire was dead now, its embers long since turned to ashes, the soot dusting up into the air along with the breeze.
Sitting up I looked around to find my mothers sleeping bag wrapped up tidily, but still sitting in the grass. Across from that was Iros, he was just finishing wrapping up his own bag and depositing it into a large leather backpack.
He immediately noticed my gaze and wordlessly nodded to something behind me. Turning around, I saw my mother, standing some hundred or so yards away. Harsh winds licked at her clothes, making her silhouette seem much larger and imposing than it was normally. It seemed like the cover of a grand book, the way her hair flung out sideways, and the tails of her tunic wafted and waved under her armor, a single massive stone slab just before her and a large forested mountain beyond that...
I could somewhat imagine the grief she was feeling... If only just barely. Id had to deal with the grief of losing my dad, leaving me to take care of my mother and all of her medical bills alone... Not to mention the left over debt from his treatment.
But how could that compare? She had been here, having adventures, making friends... I shook the thoughts from my head, this was her grief to face. Id already faced mine....
Rising up from the ground, I tugged the blanket closer as the cold winds struggled to steal my precious heat. I approached her from behind, trying to be quiet. the closer I got, the more I was able to see this stone slab. And what it really was.
In Loving Memory
Loving husband and father
You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten.
Cut into the large headstone were two massive swords, which slid into the rock like butter. While I could not see the blades themselves, the handles were beautiful and crafted masterfully. The first crisscrossed sword hilt, which was blue and gold with intricate and robust engravings of thorns encasing it, while the second was orange and black, with delicate ,almost feminine roses and petals dancing about its guard.
"I had these made for us... Randy, you know, he always thought swords were so cool... So, when I finished getting all the summoning reagents... I figured he would love it if we had a pair that were crafted from the same ore. It seems so silly now...." Her voice quivered heavily as she spoke.
"Yeah. He would have loved it. Probably would have made some lame superhero pose and made a comment like y the power of greyskull!" We both chuckled then, and she exhaled a long and exhaustive breath.
"He wouldn want me to be sad... Not for long anyway... So lets get out of here." She said simply as she turned on her heels and walked back to camp, leaving me to stare at the headstone she had made for him.
Walking forward I placed a fist on the stone. "Don worry, pops. I told her, and Ill take it from here, so just make sure you are watching, because we are going to take this world for everything its got!"
With that, I turned and followed my mom back to camp, knowing I meant every word of it. I was going to bet big, and bet often! No one got a second chance like this... Today was the start of the rest of my life!