Chapter 26: I’m Still Alive
A bleary-eyed Zenapharr sat motionless in his chair, staring into the crystal clear mirror in front of him. It would be easy to think that he was admiring the impeccable craftsmanship of the metal frame that adorned the mirror, or to say he was meditating. Yet, he was doing neither.
Instead he simply stared at himself the mirror, but in reality he was more seeing through his own reflection. His senses were all but completely dulled, sensing but not comprehending. The world around him—the clamor of voices outside, the smell of sweet perfumes used to lavish the guest room, the cold chill of the early morning air—all of it was a million miles away. Even the cool, sharp metal of the false Masamune blade that Zenapharr held didn’t seem to really be there in his mind. A trickle of blood ran along his fingers from holding the blade too tightly.
The somberness of the room was broken at the wooden door opening, to which Zenapharr did not bother addressing. Chancellor Sabring stepped in, carefully studying the zombified half-elf that sat before him.
“Zenapharr, I see that Sade has left without your company.” With the absence of the assassin’’s answer, Sabring sat down on the bed near the mirror.
“I’m sorry that we couldn’t spare anyone to help…if it was up to me I’d send some soldiers your way but…you know how the King is. In a way, it’s a punishment for brinigng the Rainmaker here.” This was followed by more silence.
“Why do you not join your friend and help him? Have you foregone your mission for finding Director Krane?” After a long pause, Zenapharr turned his head slightly.
“You know the reasons for me not joining Sade. I don’t feel the same anymore. I feel…defeated. Sade was right…all my cards were stacked on my abilities I gained through the Injection process. I’ve never been a great swordsman…everything extraordinary about me came from a syringe. And all those things are gone now.”
“Is that so? Well, I think you right yet quite wrong at the same time.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, yes your superhuman strength and agility and all that is gone but…this procedure seemed to only enhance things that you already have. You must have some natural ability with the sword, or else you’d be better at other things.”
“Yes, true but even if Sade were to be attacked…how do I know I can protect him? Or Alice? Why participate in a mission if it is a fool’s errand? Failure would ensure our own demise.”
“How will you ever know if you don’t try? The point of doing anything isn’t to be perfect. The purpose behind the action is to try. If you don’t try, you’re only ensuring failure. Do you think that while running a kingdom we never make mistakes? ”
“Precisely. We learn as we go, and do the best that we can. Mistakes do not hold if you learn to be better from it. Zenapharr I’ve heard from Sade and Alice about how you were before. You’ve changed from a cold, nearly unfeeling soul to someone who truly cares. This mission is not a spur-of the-moment impulse like your random killings, nor is it an objective mission you’re trying to accomplish only to fulfill orders. You’re trying to take down Krane to ensure the safety of others.”
“I am merely getting revenge.”
“Are you, though? You wouldn’t bring others to your cause if it was a journey of selfish revenge. Revenge is selfish, but avenging is more than that. It’s a cause bigger than yourself, something that can affect others. The most that you know is that Krane is hurting others and you can prevent that by bringing him to justice.”
“I wasn’t going to bring him to justice or to the authorities. My plan was to run him through with my blade, which is now broken.”
“That brings me to my next thought. It was more than your sword that was broken, Zenapharr. It was your will.”
“I wouldn’t think so. I just simply became enlightened to the fact that I’m not meant to do this. My abilities….”
“I don’t want to hear any more self-indulging about your powers lost! Many men, elf, and other races have accomplished much without magic or superhuman abilities! Do you know how I figured out your sword is not the Masamune?”
“By looking up information on what the sword looks like?”
“Not really. I found out by reading up on the Masamune legend, and saw that the Masamune is not a sword at all.”
“So it is something else?”
“No, it never existed! There is no physical Masamune weapon.”
“So, its all legend then?”
“Let me explain. The legend of the Masamune talks of the twin blacksmith brothers: Masamune and Murasame. They were both legendary at perfecting blades, and Murasame being the more braggard of the two, wanted to have a contest to see who could make the best sword. So they made their weapons, and put them through various tests. After being in equal match to all other tests, they decided to finalize the test by plunging their swords into a river to see how finely sharp the blade was. The Murasame blade was put into the river, and anything in the river that grazed the blade, be it rock, leaf, fish, boat…the blade was so sharp that barely touching it would slice it.
“Masamune then took his turn, and placed his sword into the riverbank. To the surprise of the judges, the blade did not pierce everything it touched. Only objects such as leaves or wood did it cut. Any living creature that touched the blade was not harmed, and so Murasame was sure that his sword would now win. After much deliberation, the judges declared that Masamune was the greatest swordsmith. This was much to Murasame’s dismay, as he did not understand how he lost. After all, his blade was sharper in regard to the test. The explanation of why drove Murasame to great anger and he was forever against his brother from that time on. Do you remember why, Zenapharr?”
“I believe it was because Masamune’s blade did not hurt everything, and that it had a respect for life?”
“That’s correct. The Masamune blade showed discernment, not ruthlessly hurting anything in its way. In that discernment came many characteristics such as mercy, grace, and wisdom. This is the main focal point of the legend. And so people think this sword really exists, but from much study I’ve found that it does not.”
“So it’s all fairy tales, then.”
“Not so much. The point of the story is that the most important thing we have in life is not power itself, but the power of discernment. We always have a choice. Our choices shape our life. Many people look at life and say that their life chose them, which in ways is true, but only half true. Your choices continue to shape your life on a day to day basic, which means that there is always the chance to change your course. It is our will that gives us our power. Taking the hard road of sacrifice versus the easy road of self-servitude.”
“I had never thought of the legend that way before.”
“Nor had I until I stepped back and reflected on how this legend applies to me. As a Chancellor all I do is help the King by giving advice. Some days I give advice that does not appeal to me but would for everyone else. Other days I selfishly suggest things that would make life easier for me. When I realize I’ve made a mistake, I take solace in knowing that I’ll have another choice presented to me so that I can choose right again.”
“Yes, that is true. But me…I’m no hero, Chancellor. I never have been. I’m still wanted for all the innocent people I’ve killed.”
“Well if you’re not going to turn yourself in and run away, do something with your time to atone for those crimes while you’re alive. Use your choices to help someone who needs it, like for a good friend. No one is claiming to be a saint. As far as I’m concerned, we’re mostly in the middle somewhere anyway.”
The words hung in the air as Zenapharr glanced down at the blade, beginning to come back down to reality. He examined his blood-stained hands, and it reminded him much of the blood he had shed himself. At first he felt shame for his crimes, but there was resolve in it. It seemed hypocritical to spill more blood to redeem himself, but this was different. He was doing this for someone other than himself. And then a strange thought occurred to him.
“I’m still alive,” he thought.
He was a murder…a cold-blooded killer who was seemingly dead at the NOSRAD facility. Yet through reasons he still did not yet understand, he was miraculously brought back to life. There could be no other reason to believe he was still alive other than that he was meant to fight, to continue doing what he was doing. Death wouldn’t even allow him to fail.
“Forge it,” Zenapharr commanded and stood up.
“What?” Sabring cocked his head to the side a bit at the words.
“I want you to have the sword forged.”
“But after all this, surely you understand that…”
“I know. I just need a sword, and this is a good one. I don’t believe in the sword, yet the sword believes in me, because I am a swordsman and that is what I do.”
“…I will have my best blacksmith on it.”
“Thank you, and please make haste. I have a bad feeling that I may have sent my best friend to an ill fate.”
* * *
Deep within the tunnels below Kala’est, within a room forged by the hands of goblins, sat a row of five large metal boxes. A stove was placed beside each box, only to be lit if there were prisoners inside. No one stood sentry at them now, for there was only but one prisoner and the doors could only be opened from the outside. The Box, as they were called, were designed and spaced with the stove just right so that the temperature was near unbearable but would not kill the prisoner.
Sade was experiencing this firsthand, his body feeling blistered and sweating profusely inside. He could not recall how long he had been inside the box, for he woke up with no watch, weapon, or anything of use. At first, he thought he was dreaming because of the delirious feeling from the heat. Soon after pounding the walls with his fist he found that he was very much awake.
After screaming and crying for help and seeing that none would come, he simply sat in the corner, focusing only on the things that made him feel good. This didn’t last long as his skin had begun to heat up and the only thought he could muster was what he would do to this Goblin King if he got his hands on him. But, this rage would also fade as he tired, and only turned into sorrow. There was no one coming, and he was going to be baked alive in this hot box.
Not much further away, a group of four goblins were rifling through Sade’s belongings. One ran his fingers along Sade’s sword and swung the blade to test it’s feel.
“Watch what you’re doing!” Another goblin hissed as the blade narrowly missed him.
“I know what I’m doing!” The other growled back.
“Do whatever you like with that, this one’s mine,” a third goblin said as he inspected the revolver. He kept holding it to the light, delighted in the way the light gleamed off of it. The other goblin kept practicing swings with the sword.
“You’re swinging it all wrong anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let me show you.”
The goblin took the sword from the other’s hands, and began to swing.
“See? You do it like….this!” He suddenly turned and stabbed the other goblin through the stomach, letting him fall to the floor. “That’ll be the last time you swing a blade near me!” Then he spat on the dying goblin that spasmed on the floor.
“How do you use this thing?” The third goblin pondered as he pointed the muzzle of the gun at his head. “Is it this thing?” In a boom that sent the two remaining goblins scrambling, the revolver went off and blasted a hole in the creatures’ head. After carefully approaching it, the two goblins studied the smoking revolver on the ground.
“Did you see that?! It’s a killing machine!”
“I want it!”
“I want it too!”
“Over my dead body!” The one with Sade’s sword brandished it to the other one. They growled at each other for a moment, waiting for the other to make a move. Finally, the unarmed goblin snatched up the revolver, but not before the other plunged the sword into his chest. Dropping his sword, he picked up the revolver and sniffed it. He understood why the other was so fascinated with it. It smelled oily and metallic, like the smell of machinery.
“My killing machine,” he said to himself with a smirk.
The injured goblin clutched his bleeding chest and crawled towards the one with the revolver.
“Now I get to try,” the armed goblin stated as he took aim.
“Don’t…” the other pleaded.
“He’s right, please don’t. That’s a perfectly good way to waste a bullet,” a voice called from behind him. The armed goblin turned to find Zenapharr standing behind him with a katana blade an inch from his neck.
“Elven filth! How did you get in here?”
“Now, that’s not very nice. Besides I’m only half elf, if we’re being technical here. Speaking of being technical…”
The goblin waited for Zenapharr to finish his sentence, but instead the assassin swung hard to the right and sliced the goblin’s head clean off. A look of satisfaction gleamed in the swordsman’s eye and he looked down to the injured goblin.
“…THAT’s how you swing a sword. Don’t you just hate when amateurs try to give advice?”
“You’re quite welcome. If you could kindly point me in the direction of my friend Sade, I could give you a hand there.”
“He’s down the stairs, in the last box with furnace on.”
“Thank you, good goblin sir. Now, let me give you a hand with that.”
Zenapharr moved beside the goblin, knelt down, grabbed the sides of the goblin’s head and quickly twisted it with an audible snap.
“Oh no….clumsy me.”
He gathered all of Sade’s supplies and deftly moved down the stairs to the open room of torture boxes. Right away he spotted the used furnace and switched it off. With a lift of a lever and pull of a handle, he opened the door to find his weary and blistered friend barely conscious. The immense heat inside the box flowed outward, and it astounded Zenapharr to think he may have been in there for hours.
“Sade…you’re still alive...”
“Just get me out of here.”
Zenapharr helped his friend stand up and get out of the box, Sade wincing and shuddering from the burns in the process.
“I’ll carry the satchel, just take your sword and gun. We need to still get that Emerald, or this is all for nothing.”
“I understand. Let’s just make it quick.”
“Is there any other way?”
Moving from shadow to shadow and taking various loops around any goblins, they made their way through and back to the treasury room. They were shocked to see that there were no guards on watch, which made them even more suspicious.
“I already killed guards from earlier, perhaps they haven’t replaced them,” Sade suggested, and they figured it was just as well. “Let’s move.” Sade walked over and took the emerald stone, taking note of how light it was despite its size. The light all but mesmerized Zenapharr.
“It’s quite beautiful…” he began to reach out to it without realizing it.
“No!” Sade batted his hand away. “You’re part human, but you’re also part elf. There’s no telling what the enchantment will do to you, even if you’re half human. It will only work for those who are a full-blooded human. Now let’s get moving.”
They made their way out with no blemish, and were about to celebrate their victory as they took the last steps from the formed caves back into the ruins.
“I thought you’d never come…” Sade whispered as his strength was still fading. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet.”
They stopped at this, as they saw the large, grotesque Grungle standing in the doorway that would give them exit.
“Thought you could make off with the Stone of Centy, did you? Always thought that was the reason. Why else would someone dare brave a coven of goblins. I’ve got a better idea for the both of you. They’re here now!”
With a clamor, goblins appeared from all sides of the open area brandishing various crude weapons. Zenapharr’s eyes began to change to red and he reached for his katana.
“Trying to play the hero, are we? Saving your dear friend from the bad ’ole goblins?”
“I am no hero. I am simply one who is about to cleave you in two. And your underlings can feast on your flesh. I can see there’s plenty to go around. Could feed them for weeks.”
“Why you little….do your worst little half-blood.”
“Stop…I have a plan,” Sade whispered.
“Whispering sweet nothings in your friend’s ear. Haha! Give up the stone, human filth.”
“Give me the satchel.”
“Just give it to me.”
Zenapharr handed the satchel to Sade, who stepped towards the Goblin King. The goblins scoffed as stumbled some from his weariness, yet the agent was able to keep his balance well enough. As he got closer, the Goblin King held out a spiked mace in front of him.
“Give it over, nice and easy.”
“Of course. You should get what you deserve.”
Sade reached out his arm with the satchel, and Grungle reached out his hand to take the bag. Just as the fat goblin’s hand grasped the satchel, Sade took the stone out from his pocket with his other hand and pressed it into the creature’s arm. The horrified look on the goblin’s face hinted that he knew what would happen next.
In scream of pain and anguish, a steam began to pour out from the Goblin King’s body. Boils suddenly erupted all over him, and he dropped to the floor. Zenapharr and the other goblins could only stop and stare in mute anticipation. The screams uttered from the cursed goblin’s mouth were a testament to the horrible agony rippling through his body. The once-green goblin skin began to turn blue, and Sade soon felt an icy coldness wafting from it.
Through his shouting and yelling, Zenapharr and Sade could only make out the words “burns” and “freezes.” Soon, the other goblins rushed away down the steps either out of fear or from the agony of watching their leader suffer.
Sade placed the enchanted stone inside the satchel for safe-keeping, slinging the satchel now over his own shoulder. The burns on his skin came alive again to the touch of the straps, but he was able to bear it as he watched his captor suffer and writhe on the floor.
“Let’s go,” Sade said in reflection as Zenapharr approached.
“I’ll second that,” Zenapharr replied.
As they began exiting the ruins, Zenapharr stopped and turned to Sade.
“Should I put him out of his misery?”
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
They walked a bit further on, and they could still hear the cries of the goblin’s agony at the horrible enchantment.
“Thanks for not letting me touch that stone.”