Chapter 1 can be found here.
Chapter 2 can be found here.
Chapter 3 can be found here.
Chapter 4 can be found here.
Kron was able, by the time the earth had turned this portion of itself into darkness, to have walked a good long distance, not completely making up for his forced delay but helping to expend most of the agitation that it had produced. The afternoon had been cloudless and the night, undoubtedly, would continue to be. The road here was deserted, he having passed no others for several hours. He took some pleasure from his correct estimation of the psyche of those to the east of Raqhun.
He was in a heavily wooded area where the ground was covered with a thick padding of leaves and moss, an ideal bedding for the night. Usually preferring to camp a good distance off the road, he decided instead to stay in the trees near to it. There was ample cover here, and he allowed himself to feel safe in his apparent solitude. He searched among the trees until he found a suitable place, then removed a blanket from his pack. He prepared his bed, ate a piece of bread, and took some water. He placed the pack under his head and promptly fell asleep.
After some lapse of time, which had been sufficient to allow him to achieve a deep slumber, he opened his eyes suddenly and saw the moon, brightly ominous as it threw rays from the hidden sun back to him, illuminating all about him in the cool silver light. He did not know why he had awakened, only that it had happened abruptly. He listened, thinking that perhaps he had heard something while asleep. No wind rushed through the trees; no stream was nearby to crowd the air with churning, bubbling sounds. The forest was still and motionless, yet seemed pregnant as he lay there breathing slowly, expecting something but not knowing what, grasping his knife tightly at his side.
Cautiously he inched his blanket down below his waist, freeing his weapon. The cool air quickly penetrated his robe and he shivered silently against it. He looked away from the moon, realizing that it might affect his night vision, and he focused instead on the few stars he could recognize. The heaven’s multitude was almost completely shrouded by the lunar glare, leaving him little with which to occupy himself. He wondered how much longer he would have to wait, either for a noise or for a continuation of stillness sufficient in length to allow him to fall asleep again.
A twig then snapped, somewhere to the right of where he lay, not very far into the trees. His heart pounded violently, feeling to him as if its noise would give him away. He now knew why he had opened his eyes, and for an instant realized that the knowledge of imminent danger was more desirable than that suspended world between suspicion and verification. He lay still but tightened his fingers around the leather handle of the knife. He did not wish to allow the source of the sound the knowledge that he was awake, for to have done so would have given away his only advantage. He expected nothing but sudden violence, and he was determined to meet it with as much. He turned his eyes beneath his half-closed lids, looking in the direction of the broken stick as far as he could without moving his head, and waited to catch some motion from within the trees.
A discrete dark shadow swayed between others motionless and less defined. Kron could see no more than that, but the shadow of danger is often more frightening than its source. Kron waited in silence, his fingers wrapped tightly around his knife’s handle and his eyes fixed on the anomalous shadow across the way. Waiting thus, Kron emptied his mind of emotion and extraneous thoughts just as his mentors had taught him. He was perfectly still and supremely focused.
After a measureless period of time, a small, concentrated flash of moonlight blinked at Kron from within the darkness, revealing an unsheathed weapon. Another twig snapped, and a lunging, nearly naked form was disgorged by the forest, a figure flailing wildly, with one arm raised and holding the spot of moonlight. The attacker pounced on Kron, whose leg had raised quickly to ward off the blow, and whose own knife greeted the body that was no longer a shadow or a form, but a sinister mass of bone and flesh, hair and teeth, oaths and grunts. The knife slid easily into the bulbous soft belly. A wail burst into Kron’s ears, but quickly dissipated into a murmur.
The attacker collapsed on Kron, gurgling and spitting as his fluids gushed forth upon Kron’s robe. Kron pushed the body off and away from himself, pulling his knife out of the hole with the return motion. He sat up and felt the warm liquid soaking through to his skin. He smelled something vile yet familiar; that awful scent that he had walked away from the day before, thinking then that he had left it behind forever.
Dalamud lay on the ground, not yet dead. He was on his back, naked save for his loincloth. Blood ran freely from the wound in his belly. His eyes were wide open and he seemed to be looking for something or someone. His right hand moved slowly back and forth through the soil. Finally, he lifted his arm and pointed in the direction of Kron.
“Dalamud, is it not?” Kron said.
“It is I,” Dalamud said. “You know it is I.”
“Yes, that I know.”
“You have killed me.”
“That I know also.”
“You would not have done so, had I killed you.”
“You mistook me for easy prey.”
“I should have killed you sooner.”
“Your skill would not have been better earlier.”
“Damn you.” Dalamud coughed and spit blood.
“You will be missed by your fellow pilgrims,” Kron said.
“They are fools.”
“What? Greev’s devotees? And are you not one of them?”
“While I rot here, worms will eat my flesh. My bones will fall into a heap. Dogs will carry them off in every direction. I had nothing in my life and there will be nothing left after. No god can change that.” Dalamud wheezed and spit up blood. His eyes rolled back in his head. His breathing was halting and sporadic. He regained consciousness and mustered strength for one last utterance. “All is dark. Greev is dead. I am dead.”
Kron knew his nemesis was vanquished. The earth’s carpet had absorbed the blood that had flowed from Dalamud’s gaping wound. Kron stood, looking back into the forest, wondering if there were others hiding in the shadows. He saw no movement and heard no noise, and decided that the trees held no further surprises for him. The blood on him grew cold, making him shiver. His heartbeat gradually slowed and his breathing slackened.
Assaults like this were common along the road, the thieves removing their outer garments before attacking their prey to protect their own clothing from bloodstains. Kron realized he could not wear his own stained robe on the road and expect to continue his journey uninterrupted. The front of it was soaked in scarlet, his attacker’s posthumous defilement of him. But it was not the last. In desperation and, indeed, with no alternative available to him, he walked to the trees where the attack was launched and found the putrid rags left behind. Kron put them on himself. Returning to his campsite, he draped his own robe over Dalamud the Impetuous, a needless but fitting conclusion, in Kron’s mind, to the nocturnal violence. Kron took the gurgling in Dalamud’s throat as acknowledgment of the gesture. Back to the road he walked, the coarseness of the stinking garments chafing his skin. Kron wondered at the persistence of Dalamud. But his wonder lasted only a few moments. The night had much yet to offer, and sleep was out of the question. Kron stepped carefully along the trail, listening for water sounds, hoping to find a place to wash the stench from his new attire. He was grateful for the clear night and the large, nearly full moon. The moonlight bathed the road and forest, giving him some portion of comfort.
The events of the past day ordered themselves in his mind as he left the corpse behind him. In their order and their import he found a certain value, a measure of consequence that was undeniable. He rolled them forward and backward in his thoughts, keeping a total concentration on them. He could think succinctly and without strain, and he arrived at the truth, the balance of the actions and reactions that brought him to this particular place on the road at this moment. He had been doomed to wear this garment when Dalamud had selected him out of all the others in the multitude to follow. Chance had taken him to that point, but greed and wits had carried him to this.
He looked into the trees at the side of the road, wondering if any of them contained gods.