Into the Wild – Chapter 28
Chapter 28 – Devon
Lok wasn’t taking any chances as he moved Mat and Devon from their cell. He’d sent a dozen guards, all with weapons drawn. Devon was sure this overreaction was compliments of the Druid leader’s recently acquired hatred of Mat, fostered during their imprisonment. To distract himself, Devon studied the guards. They all seemed content; most even looked pleased with their grim duties, but there was the one. He walked beside Devon, so the easiest to study. Though he was all business and on two occasions used his halberd to move his charge along, there was still something in his eyes. The way he kept glancing at the two of them. How, when the others would offer a jab or make a joke about their impending doom, this other guard always seemed to join the merriment just a beat too slow.
Again they found themselves in a large clearing encircled by a marble colonnade. Like the ones before it was open to the sky and filled with fragrant flowering vines climbing up tall columns. The difference was the size; this one was massive. Remembering what Talvar had said, Devon looked up to find a full bright moon vying for attention amongst the swirling clouds of the nebulaed sky.
When they arrived in the center of the clearing, Devon noticed the crowds. It seemed the whole town had turned up for this miscarriage of justice. He knew he and Mat had already been found guilty, and their sentence determined. They were to be executed. But none of that seemed to matter to the villagers. It appeared this was little more than a picnic to them—a chance to come together, chat, and catch up with friends. There was wine, food, and an almost party atmosphere. Devon turned to whisper something to Mat but stopped when he saw his friend’s eyes narrow in anger. Following them, he discovered Lok sitting smugly on a raised dais. Shaking free of his guards, Mat strolled forward no longer able to contain his hatred. “Sitting on a throne, really? What do we call you, Sir Loin? Maybe Grand Master Moo?” he barked as the crowd fell silent.
“Restrain him,” barked the leader even as his friend stepped back without a fight. But it appeared that wasn’t good enough for the overzealous guard who grabbed Mat by the shoulders and tried to force him to his knees violently but failed. With a jolt, the guard ripped his hands away and started to cough. With the next gasp, the spasms began and quickly grew more severe. His skin now glistened with sweat, first clear and then red like blood. Mat took a casual step backward, his face a mask of indifference. The guard, fighting to get air into his lungs, bent forward, putting his hands on his knees and then collapsed the ground. Devon’s eyes shifted from his friend to the guard as he went rigid, the only movement, the compacted gulps of his lips still trying to find that elusive breath. Again, he failed as with one great last spasm; his body relaxed down into death. The now still figure was covered in blood and ruptured boils. Mat had used his necromancer skills. They were free to cast. Looking back to the crowd, he noticed the party atmosphere had also suffered a fatal blow.
Devon’s attention snapped back to the leader as he watched alarm briefly wash across his face. Lok motioned to a group in the back of the clearing. With a push, he flung himself from the chair and marched down the steps. “Seize him, use gloves, and don’t touch the flesh. Strip him to the waist and suspend him from the rack. It’s time he learns respect.” Devon saw hesitance in the guards until their leader added, “Don’t worry, he won’t be doing that again.”
“What do you mean, I respect you, I’ve been asking for steak all week,” hissed Mat as he turned and without fight walked to where Lok had indicated. “Do your worst. You and your village’s path is already determined.”
“Bring me my lash,” barked Lok.
Devon’s eyes went wide as the druid stepped over the body of his guard, ignoring it like what had happened was just another day. He found he was now grimly curious, why had Mat agreed so easily? When they reached the rack, a guard with two masterful slices cut his friend’s tunic free of his body and discarded it on the ground, never once touching his friend. Mat stood silently in only his tights and boots. When their eyes met, Devon had his answer. Mat was now the Morningstar he idolized from those books back home. Pure wrath.
The guards shoved him forwards, catching him off guard and slamming his face onto the worn wooden surface as the assembled crowd again started to murmur. It took Devon’s mind a few seconds to fill in the blanks. There was something about the wood. The rack wasn’t stained by time but with blood. How often did they do this? Devon looked back to find Lok smiling a crooked smile as a servant handed him a vicious looking flog, many of the strands tipped with bits of bone.
Devon shook his head with disappointment as he watched the hundreds of innocents as they began cheering as their leader all but strutted towards his prey. But were they innocents? They were here in support of this charade. No, Devon decided; these were not innocents.
Mat was shackled face down, his hands and feet locked in iron cuffs at each corner of the weathered board. His body stretched tight. They’d spent so little time on this world. Their first real adventure and now this. Was it them or just the nature of this place? Devon felt the rush of sadness sweep through him. Today they would either kill Mat or if his friend’s plan, whatever it was, came to fruition, he was sure many of these men, women, and children would probably never see the dawn. Did Mat have that kind of power? He looked down at the corpse at his feet. Devon found himself lost in confusion for a second. So profound was the question his mind asked that he stumbled and almost fell from the impact of the choice he knew he’d have to make. Would he help? Could he participate in the murder of any of these people? He was surprised to discover it didn’t take him long to find his answer. That in itself added a new weight to the day. Whatever his friend had planned, he would be there by his side. But for now, Devon lied to himself and tried to believe it was only a plan to escape and not one of retribution.
Lok, with such arrogance, strolled across the clearing, and with no ceremony, delivered the first thwack. Mat bucked, but made not a sound, as deep lines opened across his exposed back. Devon felt his anger flare as he saw the red blossom from the gashes, pool briefly in little beads, and then begin their journey down his back. Now his resolve was complete as well.
His eyes shifted to Mat; buy there, he found no emotion. As the second thwack came, he watched his friend start but stifle a cry as the pain finally registered on his face. In quick succession, the next three strikes all but tore his friends back to ribbons but still not a sound. When finally Lok was satisfied, he let the flog drop to the ground and turned and walked away. Casting a glance to Devon, he added, “Now maybe he’ll show me the respect I deserve.”
With iron resolve, he matched the glare and whispered as the druid passed, “You have no idea what we will do to you.” With a wave of his hand, Lok ordered Mat released as he climbed the steps, retaking his throne.
When the guards released the shackles, Mat almost collapsed to the ground but stopped himself through a sheer force of will. He took a deep breath, and with slow determination, pushed himself to standing. His back straight. His face expressionless, he reached down and brushed dirt from the front of his blood-stained tights. The only reaction to the beating he showed was when the guards grabbed him under the arms and led him back to the center of the clearing. There had been a brief cringe.
“I…,” started Devon, but with a staccato movement, Mat shook his head.
“Look, everyone, our murderous visitor doesn’t seem as eager to disrespect us anymore,” announced Lok loudly with a laugh. Devon tried to cast a spell but found they were blocked again. “As you can see, this is the reason we limit our guests. Already many have died. Why? Because the outside world hates us, belittles us, and wants to subjugate us to their will. But no, we will not allow it. Here we make the rules. We create the laws, and those who come into our home with their outside views will find themselves most unwelcome,” bellowed Lok.
Mat was staring straight ahead, his face a mask of cold rage as blood continued to flow slowly down his back. He was trying to hide his pain, but Devon could see it there behind his eyes.
“Now these two arrive, and from the start, they saw us as less and treated us…treated you…as puppets to their whims. They claim to be from a cult that hides in the shadows, sending trash like this to scout us out while pretending to follow our customs. But no, that isn’t why there’re here, they’ve come to impose their beliefs upon simple folk such as you and me. Well, now we will send them a message. We will not bow. We’re our own people, and here we live by our rules, not theirs. So let us celebrate tonight as we sacrifice these two on the altars of our freedom. Then with pride, we will hang their bodes at the entrance to our home so they can announce to all who might wish to test us, that our resolve is firm.”
As Lok finished his tirade, the crowd went wild, their cheers and hoots so loud as to be almost deafening. Devon let out a bark as something struck him in the back of the head. Turning, he found a rock lying on the ground behind him as he heard a child in the crowd yell, “Look, mommy, I’m helping punish the bad men.”
Devon turned when he heard a growl from beside him. He looked over in time to watch Mat’s eyes focus on the child’s parents, “he will die first as you watch.”
“Listen to this, to their barbarity,” announced Lok as he again started down from his throne. Turning, Devon noticed a hint of a smile cross his friend’s face. Mat’s eyes were no longer showing pain but instead a deep distant focus. It was beginning. Lok was in no hurry as he casually strolled into the center of the clearing. It was then, with lightning speed, Mat brought his fingers to his lips and, with a loud whistle, barked “Now.” He pulled Devon down as they both dropped flat upon the sandy ground. Hearing a noise, he looked up in time to see a black shape appear from the darkness with a piercing shriek. He watched as the black mass sailed across the clearing, blocking out the stars, as it dived down towards them. In a collective gasp, the crowd squealed in horror as Darth’s massive nails ripped into the leader’s shoulders, lifting him high off the ground and off across the forest.
Stillness ruled as everyone listened as Lok’s screams faded into the darkness. For what seemed like an eternity, time hung in the air like a musty cloud until first one, and then the other guards started to recover from the shock. All turning their attention towards him and Mat.
As they rushed forward, weapons drawn, Devon tried a spell again. This time it worked as a shield went up around them. He was not sure how long it would hold; he could feel it eating his energy. “Do something.”
“Anytime now,” mumbled Mat flat on his stomach.
“What,” asked Devon, short of breath.
“Wait for it,” said Mat as first one cry and then more rang out through the village. Each was growing more frantic and terrified. “There it is. Stay still for a second. We need them to react before you lower the shield.”
“React to what?”
“You kept asking about my plan, well here it is.”
“Will I like it?”
“Sorta assumed that. I can’t keep this shield up forever, you know,” added Devon as he felt his heart sink. This wasn’t going to be a simple escape; he could see it in his friend’s eyes. He chided himself for not listening and watching Mat more. How powerful was he? Devon knew they’d been placed here with high-level abilities. They were far more skilled than most native-born sorcerers or warriors could’ve achieved unless they dedicated themselves to their craft exclusively. But what could a rogue, or more importantly, a necromancer do when their skills are housed inside a pissed off Asian man with a vindictive streak.
Devon was shaken from his thoughts when he heard Mat say, “Our packs and stuff are in a shed to our right, that’s where we need to get and now.”
“How?” asked Devon about the time another scream rose from across the clearing. This time closer. Whatever Mat had dreamed up was behind them, it was making him crazy not able to see what was happening. His only gauge was the crowd’s reactions. This time collectively, they all froze in shock, but only for a moment before everything exploded into chaos. People were screaming and running everywhere as weapons were drawn, and spells began flying overhead.
“Like that, our diversion has arrived right on time. Come and keep your head down,” barked Mat. Devon let the shield drop as together they got to their feet, forgotten by the guards who had rushed away. He followed Mat across the clearing and into a small shed. There, in a pile, was their gear. “How did you know it was here?”
“I’ll teach you later, some of our gear is what we called back home, soul bound. We can trace it. Get your stuff together. It’s time for us to get the fuck out of dodge.”
“We’re in a shack, how exactly…” started Devon until he saw Mat grab the portable door from his bag and toss it on the ground.
“Like this,” he answered as he reached down and pulled open the square slab of wood, revealing nothing but blackness below. “Come. Quickly,” he added and then jumped into the void.
Snatching his gear, Devon quickly followed his friend into the blackness as the unseen horrors outside continued to unfold. Instantly the sounds of the village vanished, and he found himself standing in their old cave. As Mat turned to kick the door closed another body fell through the opening.