|Curse of the Unborn
Author: Storyteller of Darkness PM
For twenty years the planet has been at peace. Death has seen fit to shatter that peace, and Destruction is only far too happy to help. Unnatural creatures and people who refuse to die when they should are the enemy soldiers. Who will live? Who will die? Sometimes, even the plans Fate sets in motion go wrong.Rated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural/Adventure - Kratos A. & Ratatosk - Chapters: 25 - Words: 179,262 - Reviews: 62 - Favs: 9 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 12-26-12 - Published: 08-18-10 - id: 6251371
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N is a little lacking in enthusiasm this chapter. I'm too in the mood of the chapter to write one like I normally do. Fair warning, a certain mercenary is in his emo-corner this chapter. I actually almost started crying as I wrote this. It's my most emotional chapter yet, in my own opinion. Though it's a large change of pace from last chapter.
This is a very emotional chapter, with deep connections to a character's past. The next arc of this story will be short, like Luin, but it won't be nearly as confusing. It's… filler, I guess is the best word. It has absolutely nothing to do with the over-arching plot, but it builds upon my characters.
Response to Anonymous Reviews:
Regret of Gods: I'm glad you like it. :) Thanks for explaining what you meant by "FLYING MINT BUNNYS" because that left me slightly confused. It's kind of funny you described my story as "godly awesome" (thanks for the compliment, by the way) since the main villain is a Fragment of a god.
Chapter 22: The Greatest Punishment
The village of Stantol was always a quaint, quiet place. There was never anything too dangerous happening. It was small enough that everyone knew everyone else, but large enough that one could get lost if they didn't know where they were going. Everyone was always lively in the village. Children were often seen playing on the streets. It was a peaceful town.
At least, that's how it used to be.
Now, windows were closed, doors were locked tight, and children were forbidden from going outside. It was always that way whenever he came into town. When he first showed up, they were all excited for his arrival. They had been terrorized by a dragon and he came to slay the beast. To their surprise, he managed to do it. The town was always in his debt. But that was before they saw him for what he was.
He was a monster.
They knew it from the start. He said as much himself. But they refused to believe it. He was their hero, and they saved him from the edge of death. They did this in spite of his warning that they would regret it. It would have been better for everyone if he was left on death's door so he could knock and take that final step through it.
Every time he visited, trouble followed. But they didn't know it followed him, they just knew he dealt with it. He continued to grow in their eyes, and he finally began to think there was more to him than the monster in his mind. In particular, one woman aided him greatly. She was the only one able to tame the monster that he could never stop.
One day, he finally became one of them. He was married into the family of the town with the woman that had saved his life. He continued to travel, and she went with him. She gave him purpose in life beyond the blood and death that had followed him everywhere. She gave him control over his untamable monster.
But it was not meant to be. What was beautiful love, vibrantly blooming before them, hid beneath it the hideous thorns of tragedy. The monster within the man grew restless. It was tired of the woman sending it back into the recesses of the man's mind. It began to struggle against the bonds the man placed upon it.
One day, it rebelled. It waited for the man to grow complacent, for him to lower his guard. Then it seized control, and it wouldn't allow itself to be thrown to the side again. It was a dark day in Stantol.
Right now, the perpetrator was sitting in the cemetery, in the section where all of the victims were buried. He heaved a sigh and stared carefully at his hand. He flexed and examined it closely, as if it wasn't really his. For all he knew, it wasn't.
The monster within him shifted and growled. He ignored it, knowing that if he gave it attention then it would only grow stronger more quickly. It was hungry, he knew. It was always hungry. Hungry to taste the coppery flavor of blood; Hungry to feel the metallic scent fill its nostrils; Hungry to cut; Hungry to kill.
He took his attention from his hand and looked down at the grave before him. He knew the epitaph written upon the stone by heart: Krystle Caston, she died as she lived: concerned for others and putting them first. She will be forever missed. Carved just below it, crudely and barely decipherable, as if the writer couldn't stop shaking, was a simple message.
"I'm sorry. I won't ask you to forgive me, because I know that if I did, you would. I don't deserve to be forgiven. I'll never deserve to be forgiven," he read aloud. Tears fell from his eyes as he looked around at the other graves. He knew the names written on each one. The names of the people he had killed. The names of the people he had murdered.
The names of the ones the monster slew with glee in its black heart.
He heard footsteps approach him. He knew who it was. It was her father. The elderly man with the long beard stopped behind him, leaning heavily upon his cane. "So I see you've come to visit us again this year. Still astounds me that you always manage to arrive and leave on the same days year after year," he said, looking down upon the man.
"I'm sorry for all the trouble I cause the village when I come," he answered. "I just… can't bring myself to not visit at least once every year; to visit her… on the anniversary of her death." The tears grew stronger and he stifled a sob. "The anniversary of her death… and the death of our newborn child."
Next to the grave was a small white crucifix impaled in the ground. A tattered old teddy bear rested beneath the cross. It was clear it had seen much abuse from the weather. The old man sighed and reached down to pick it up. "So I suppose you brought another gift for the baby girl, hm?" he asked.
"Why do you bother to talk to me, year after year, Hank?" the man asked, fighting back tears. "I'm the reason your daughter is dead."
"Because, Robert," Hank began, "You're also the reason she was so happy." He smiled softly as he gazed at the old bear, his eyes looking somewhere else. "I'll never forget the look of joy on her face when she came home with that ring on her finger. Or her eyes when she told me that she was pregnant." The old man sighed longingly and looked at the dejected youngster beside him. "You took her away from me, that much is true. But… she loved you. She would never have wanted me to hate you, no matter what you did. I won't stomp on her memory by shunning you."
"Why do you forgive me?" Robert sobbed, no longer holding back his tears. "It would be so much easier if you hated me! I should be dead for what I did! Why did you speak up at that trial and save me?" He punched the ground angrily, shouting his frustration. "Why?" he whispered, sorrow and pain lacing his voice.
Hank looked down sadly at the berserker. "If your roles were reversed that day, and you were killed by her, would you want your family to hate her?" he asked simply. "She wouldn't want me to hate you. She was always forgiving everything. She was a good girl." The sky above thundered, and rain began to fall. Hank looked one last time to Robert. "I'm going back inside. You should too, since you're not wearing that fancy armor of yours. Go back to the inn and rest up. You shouldn't let yourself catch your death out here."
"I don't have a room at the inn," Robert told him bitterly. "Why pay for something I won't use?"
Hank just sighed and walked away. "Those who go looking for Death never find him, boy. If you want to die so badly, just run away from him. He prefers to chase his prey."
Robert failed to respond. He gently reached into the pack beside him and pulled out a locket. He opened it and sadly gazed at the picture inside. A picture of beautiful woman with brown hair rested inside. She was still fresh in her years of youth and was smiling broadly, cradling her pregnant belly. Beside her was Robert, his arm over her shoulder, looking like he was the happiest man in the world.
A drop of water fell onto the glass protecting the picture, and Robert absently wiped it away. He didn't even bother telling himself it was the rain. He knew it wasn't. He gently placed it before the cross.
"Here's a picture of your mother and fa-… of your mother and me," he sniffed, choking back his sobs. "I know you weren't alive for very long, so I thought you would like it if there was a reminder of what she looked like." Robert's heart ached so badly. He put a hand to his chest, his loose shirt already soaked through by the rain. He could feel his heart beating against his chest, but that was the only sign that it wasn't broken into pieces.
Robert closed his eyes and let himself mourn once more. "I-I know that I don't d-deserve to be called a-a… father," he managed to stutter through his tears. "But… but I still want to say it. You were my child, but I'm the one that… that killed you! I'm so sorry. You were never even given a name. I-" Robert choked, unable to continue. For a moment, all that could be heard were his choking sobs. "I'm so sorry," He eventually managed. "Don't forgive me. I'll never ask you to forgive me. Because if I did, then that would mean that I would have to forgive myself."
Robert didn't know how long he sat out there in the rain, kneeling before the graves of his loved ones. Hours, minutes, seconds; all measurements of time had no meaning to him. He stared forlornly at the stone, replaying the day over and over in his head.
It took a few moments before he realized that the rain had stopped. He looked up to see that rain still fell, but he was no longer feeling its cold touch. Slowly, he realized that someone was standing over him with an umbrella. It was a girl he didn't recognize. She certainly wasn't from Stantol. Behind her was a man and woman, hiding beneath their umbrellas. They were probably the girl's parents. The man approached him, smiled, and reached out his hand. "It's not the best weather to be out visiting graves," he said. "Why don't you head home or to the inn?"
"Home is in Asgard," Robert answered, looking away. "And this town doesn't take kindly to my presence. If I were to sleep in that inn, the innkeeper would never be able to rest easy."
"Why's that?" he asked, curiously tilting his blonde head to the side. His green eyes were piercing, and Robert felt like he was being interrogated, even though the other man never could have known how painful that question was.
Robert managed to give him a wry grin, twisted with self-hatred. He answered, "Because I'm a monster."
The girl laughed. "You don't look much like a monster to me," she said. "And I know monsters, believe me."
Robert said nothing for a moment. "Not all monsters are beasts."
None of them had any response for that, but the woman walked over and looked at the graves. "Were they close to you?" she asked.
"Yes. They were the whole reason I lived."
"How did they die?"
Robert flinched. "That is a sensitive question."
They waited for a moment, but Robert said nothing more. The man frowned and looked towards the woman. She shrugged and walked over beside him. The man looked back to Robert, and, with concern in his voice, told him, "You really shouldn't stay out here. I doubt they would want you to kill yourself because you didn't want to take shelter from the storm."
Robert balled his hand into a fist. "If only it were so easy for me to die," he breathed. "I can't count how many times I've cheated death. If all it took was a little rain to kill me, I would die a second time from the shame."
The girl put her hand on her hip and frowned, giving Robert a stern look. "Look, I don't care how depressed you are about the deaths of these people, but you shouldn't take it out on those around you. We're just concerned for you."
"Is it concern for a stranger?" he demanded. "Or is it stroking your own ego? You try to pull a man out of a pit, but that man doesn't want to leave the pit. Is it better for you to force him out of it, or leave him there?"
"If the man stays in the pit indefinitely, he'll die," she answered quickly. "I'm not saying I'm going to force him out of it, but it would be best for him and those who care for him if he did come out."
Robert gave a dark laugh. "She gave the same answer," he told her. "But I'll tell you the same thing I told her: what if everyone else wants him to stay in the pit as well?"
The woman put her hand on the girl's shoulder as she opened her mouth to respond. "Emerald, you won't convince him of anything. Sometimes, it's best to just leave someone be."
The man nodded in agreement, and held the umbrella in his hand out to Robert. "At least take an umbrella. Even if the world is against you, that's not a reason for you to just let yourself die. I'm sure everything will work out in the end."
Robert laughed, but took the offered protection from the rain. "The end was a long time ago. They've been dead for five years now."
The trio was puzzled by this, but Robert ignored their continued questions. After a few moments of trying to get him to explain, they left. Robert let the umbrella fall once they were out of sight. The rain hid his tears, and he inexplicably felt like the sky was crying with him. After all, he could never properly mourn the loss of the wife and child he had killed himself.
He vacantly thought back to that time, at the trial where he was to be sentenced to death.
It was the final testimony. Robert made no pleas for mercy or innocence. He knew he was guilty, just like everyone else. He could hardly even understand why there was a trial. Finally, before the jury could leave to discuss the verdict, Hank stood up and addressed them.
"Everyone, I feel this man should be allowed to live."
Everyone in the court was floored. As cries of outrage and shock filled the room, the judge called for order. Once everyone calmed, the judge looked to Hank and asked, "What makes you say that."
Hank shrugged. "Can we blame a man for something he himself fought against? I know for sure that as he struck down my daughter, he was fighting that berserk side of him with everything he had. Also, we must remember that this man saved the village countless times. We owe him a debt, and now, it may be our time to repay that."
Robert smiled ironically at the memory. "You don't talk to me because I'm forgiven. You never truly forgave me," he whispered, almost to himself. "That's why you let me live."
"Thank you," Emil said as he accepted the key to their room. The innkeeper nodded before frowning. He seemed uncertain about something.
"By any chance, did you see the man in the graveyard on the way here?" he asked them.
"Yes, we did," Marta responded. "We tried to convince him to take shelter from the rain, but he was being very stubborn."
The innkeeper looked relieved. "I hope he catches his death out there," he said. "That man is nothing but a disaster waiting to happen. People like him are better off dead."
Emerald was enraged. "How can you say that about someone?" she screamed. "He's a person just like everyone else! What could he have possibly done that makes you shun him like that? Isn't it bad enough that he's out there trying to catch his death? Can't you people show him some pity?"
"The only pity is that he's still alive," the innkeeper answered, just as angrily. It was clear he held some kind of grudge. "He should have died at that trial five years ago. I don't know why Hank spared his life, but he should at least have received some punishment for what he did."
"What did he do?" Emil asked.
The innkeeper turned to the man and gave him a hard stare. "Five years ago, we were attacked by a group of bandits. He was here that day, with his wife, the mayor's daughter, Krystle. Krystle was giving birth, and Robert, the man out there, went to deal with the bandits and protect us like he had done so many times before. But he went berserk and he ended up massacring thirty villagers, among them were my father and sister and Robert's own wife and newborn child."
Emil, Marta, and Emerald were all shocked. The innkeeper continued. "If you want the full story, ask Hank, the mayor. He'll be more than happy to explain everything and it's best that he does it. But fair warning: stay away from that Robert Caston. He's nothing more than a monster that walks like a man." With that said, the innkeeper left the family to their own devices. They went up to their room and began to settle in.
After a moment, Emil spoke up. "Why don't we go ask the mayor about Robert? I'm kind of curious to hear the story."
Marta nodded in agreement. "Me too," she admitted. "But don't forget, we need to tell Lloyd and Colette where we are so they don't go to Luin and miss us."
Tenebrae appeared next to her. "I would be glad to inform them of your current whereabouts. Of course, it may take a while to find them," he offered.
Emil nodded. "Thanks a lot, Tenebrae." The Centurion vanished once more. "We should probably rest for now. It's almost sunset and the rain doesn't look like it will let up any time soon."
The rain continued throughout the night. Robert did not mind. He never fell asleep, but that didn't bother him. The downpour faded near dawn. Carefully, he examined the blade of the kodachi he now carried along with the Clockwork Scythe. It was a katana-like short sword. As he gazed upon it, he noted how the sharpened edge seemed to glow in the dawn's light. It was so tempting to his eyes.
He shook his head and sheathed the weapon. Like he had told Gregory, suicide would do nothing for him. Absently, he noted the trio from the night before heading towards Hank's house. No doubt they heard of what he had done. A grim smile adorned his face. Now they would realize that he truly was a monster. And they undoubtedly would want him to die as well. It was the least that he deserved.
Emerald cast a look at the man in the graveyard. She frowned curiously when she saw him smiling, but she did her best to ignore it. However, the berserker kept his jaded eyes upon them with that grim smile below until they went into the mayor's house.
Inside, an old man with a long beard looked up when they entered. "Oh, you must be the travelers that came in last night." The elder climbed to his feet and hobbled over to them, his cane supportimg most of his weight. "My name is Hank, I'm the mayor of Stantol." He shook all of their hands. "Something I can help you with?"
Emil nodded. "Yes. Would you mind telling us what happened five years ago?"
Hank seemed puzzled. "Well, no, not really. But I do find it odd that you've come to me about it. After all, I'm not the only one that was there."
Marta put her hand on her hip and leaned to one side. "We're not entirely sure why you need to tell us either," she said. "The innkeeper said it was most fitting for you to tell us."
"We ran into... Robert? Is that is name?" Emerald asked.
Hank sighed with understanding in his voice. "Ah, I see now. You met the infamous Robert the Berserker last night. You talked to him and you wanted to know more about him." Hank turned and started to limp away, signaling the trio to follow him. He led them into his common room with a dying fire. He sat in an armchair and told the others to take a seat as well.
"After he finally managed to get you to leave him alone, the innkeeper asked you if you saw him. Jared probably had one of his fits and told you to see me." The old man sighed again. "Jared really knows how to hold a grudge, though I suppose it's partially my fault."
Emil cocked his head to the side at this. "What do you mean?" he asked.
Hank smiled sadly. "I suppose I should start at the beginning. About twelve years ago, we were being preyed upon by a powerful dragon. Now, we are a simple farming village, so we couldn't hope to stop the beast on our own. So, we gathered funds and put out a request for some mercenaries to take care of it for us.
"A month or two passed by and we received no response. Crops were burned, homes were lost, and livestock were killed while we waited, but fortunately, nobody was harmed. When we were just about to give up hope for help ever coming, Robert showed up: a lad of no more than fifteen years and carrying a scythe as big as he was."
Hank chuckled. "Imagine our surprise when he told us he had come to kill the dragon. While most of us were uncertain about one boy not even out of his teens fighting a dragon alone, we were desperate. We sent him off to the dragon's lair and started preparing to send his body back.
"The next day, the dragon came back with a vengeance. It seemed all the boy had managed to do was anger the beast. We were about to start abandoning our homes and fleeing, but the monster let out a mighty bellow that we had never heard before. It seemed to be in pain. The dragon's body fell into the middle of the village square, where it let out a final moan.
"The beast was still for a time. Then, a small sword burst from the beast's belly, the hand clutching it covered in blood and ichor. The young mercenary crawled out, covered in burns from the stomach acid and barely clinging to life. He gave us what was probably meant to be a reassuring smile, told us that the job was completed, and then promptly passed out."
"How did you manage to patch him up?" Marta asked. "It sounds like he was on the verge of death."
"He was, miss," Hank answered. "You see, Krystle, my daughter, was the town healer. She was present when all this happened and she rushed out to do what she could for the lad. Fortunately, she was excellent at her job. She managed to save him, though it was touch and go for two weeks and it took another two for him to be well enough to move.
"Krystle was at the man's side nearly constantly during his stay. She always made sure he was comfortable, made sure he had enough blankets, made sure he was well fed. She practically doted on Robert, and no one in the village could blame her. We all held the boy up on a pedestal for slaying that dragon.
"While he was recovering, we took the liberty of skinning the dragon and making leather from its hide. We gave that to Robert in addition to his pay. He made it into armor and that's where he gets his nickname of 'Dragonhide Caston'."
"What happened to it?" Emil asked. "He wasn't wearing any armor when we saw him last night."
Hank shook his head. "He still has it; he just doesn't wear it around here. I don't quite know why." Hank waved his hand at them, "But that's beside the point. What really matters, is the next few years.
"Robert came back to visit plenty of times. I suspect it was mostly to see Krystle more than any of us. We didn't mind. He dealt with any trouble we couldn't handle. After five or so years, my daughter and he got married. Two years after that – five years and nine months ago from this day – my daughter became pregnant with their daughter."
Emerald lowered her head sadly. "But but bandits attacked and Robert went crazy, right?"
Hank nodded. "Robert is a unique kind of warrior: a berserker. If his blood gets up, it becomes hard for him to control himself. Sometimes, he will lose it completely. Krystle had the ability to calm that wild side of him. She was the maiden that tamed the savage beast. But one day, that beast would not let itself be tamed."
Hank was silent for a moment. "A group of bandits calling themselves the Shadow Knives invaded the town one day. It was the day that Robert and Krystle's daughter was going to be born. Robert went out to defend the town, killing almost the entire group before they fled."
"But he wouldn't be calmed that time," Marta noted. "He turned his blade on the villagers."
Hank nodded solemnly. "Krystle had just finished giving birth when he stormed into the room, covered in blood and raving like a madman. Krystle tried to calm him, but he merely cut her down. The baby followed quickly along with everyone else in the room. He went out and started to kill people. He only stopped when he was knocked unconscious by a rock a small child threw at him."
"So that's what he meant," Emerald realized.
Hank raised an eyebrow at that. "Pardon?"
"When we talked to Robert, he called himself a monster," she explained.
"Sadly enough, that assessment is not inaccurate."
"But it's obvious enough he regrets his actions," Emil cried. "He's been living with that burden for five years now. The way he acts about it seems like it happened last week!"
Hank smiled sadly. "I know. It is his curse: to slaughter with glee and mourn his actions when he comes to his senses."
Marta looked at the man in wonder. "You pity him," she accused gently. "That's why you spared him at that trial five years ago."
"Because I pity him?" Hank spat. His smile turned into a smirk. "I spared him because that's what Krystle would have wanted. But even more so, I spared him because that's the worst punishment I could deliver."
Everyone was confused. Hank stood up and gazed into the dying embers in his fireplace. "At the start of the trial, I had every intention to encourage the death sentence. But as I watched him, I realized that that's what he wanted as well. He was seeking some form of penance to atone for his crime. He wanted to be punished. By punishing him, I would bring him peace."
Hank turned around and eyed them each darkly. "I realized that by denying him that penance, I would be giving him the greatest punishment he would receive. His conscience would tear away at the back of his mind for the rest of his life, knowing that he killed the ones he loved most and he was not punished for it. But I allow him and everyone else to believe that I spared him from pity or for my late daughter because it only works as long as he doesn't realize what his true punishment is."
Everyone was silent. They had not expected such a cruel action from such a kindly old man. Hank returned to his seat. "Robert has an anecdote he likes to use. I think it's about a man being in a pit and you wanting him out of the pit. Well, imagine that pit is his grave. If a man wishes to stay in his grave, what crueler fate could you give than to pull him out and force him to dig the graves of others?"
"That's…" Emil trailed, struggling to find a word for the elder's brand of justice.
"Horrible," Marta finished, her face agape in shock.
"How can you sleep at night knowing you did something like that?" Emerald demanded.
Hank's face became stern. "Do you have something you love more than anything? How would you feel if that something was cruelly torn away from you by someone you trusted?" Emerald was silent. Hank tapped his cane on the ground. He answered for her, "You would want that person to suffer as much as they could. My daughter was that thing for me."
Everyone was silent for a moment. Emil broke it solemnly, "Thank you for telling us these things."
Hank gave them a warm look. "No problem at all."
Emil stood, and Marta and Emerald followed. "I suppose we'll be going now. We're hoping to meet some friends of ours here, so we might be staying awhile."
"Hopefully you'll be here once Robert leaves," Hank told them. "The town is much livelier when he's gone."
Suddenly, a villager burst through the door, shouting "Mayor Hank!"
"What is it?"
"Darlak has returned!"
"The leader of that Shadow Knives group?"
"Yes. He's got the whole town out, screaming his head off about something."
"This is bad. He was one of the few survivors. He must be back for revenge."
Emil looked at his family and they nodded, knowing what he was going to ask. He looked over and cleared his throat. "We'll come too. We can help out if something happens."
Hank nodded. "That would be much obliged, sir. Thank you for your help."
Robert heard the man's shouts from the graveyard. Robert frowned darkly. He never did like Darlak. He reached for his weapon but froze, remembering what happened last time.
While he was lost in thought, Darlak continued to shout, the screams getting louder over time. Robert sighed. "For such a small man, he sure has a big voice," he noted. He glanced towards Krystle's grave. "I suppose you would want me to stop him from hurting others, wouldn't you?"
Robert sighed sadly. "I suppose I will do it, though I'm scared to try. Please, watch over me and keep me from going mad again. After all, I doubt you would want even someone like him to die."
The berserker ended his one-sided conversation and reached for his pack. He wouldn't be able to go out there dressed as he was.
What is Best?
What is best for this man before us?
He mourns the loss he brought to himself.
What punishment for this man would be just?
His crime is greater than we have seen before.
Would it be best to lock him away?
Never again to see the light of day?
Would it be best to take his life
In exchange for the ones he stole?
He lives in misery,
Their blood upon his hands.
He mourns them constantly.
His tears, they have no end.
The weight of their deaths is on his shoulders,
Pulling him down so he's lost in their depths.
He regrets his action and comes here before us
So that we may exact upon him our justice.
I know now what his punishment should be.
It would be best for us to let this man go free.
Sometimes, the greatest punishment is no punishment at all. Sometimes it is worse for the person to slowly tear themselves apart bit by bit over their lives knowing that they were let go. Death can be mercy, prison can be solace, and punishment can be comfort. It is rare, but it can happen. In these cases, what can be seen as mercy by the judge can be seen as damnation by the perpetrator.
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