THE PATH TO SALVATION
Once it should have been a city filled with life, gloriously standing within the jungle and embraced by the luxuriant vegetation, with stone-paved roads moving away in a radial pattern, just a few tens of miles away from the coast.
Now it was only a large area of scattered, moss-covered ruins, slowly strangled by the growing trees… except for one spot, defiantly standing.
The Kroxigor once named Kadai was working hard, alone under the blazing sun. A building was already repaired and fortified and it would have served as shelter, waiting for the city walls to be raised again.
Now it was the time for the temple. It was a lesser one but still it was a large construction, a mighty task for a lone kroxigor… and yet every day it was growing a little higher.
There was no rest for the kroxigor as he polished the scattered blocks and moved them with no regards for himself. An injury would have been almost welcome. A different kind of pain, something to keep away the constant void that burned and frozen inside. Anything to make it go away.
The kroxigor moved another block through the square, passing nearby a small clearing with no grass inside it, only scorched soil.
The place where Kadai killed his friends.
The red daemons came upon the city with fury, overcoming the outer defenses and putting to fire even the stone walls. Kadai and his brothers were fighting a desperate battle but none of them was retreating, as their combat prowess was pushed by the presence of their precious friends, the little ones. So cute and frail yet so courageous for just being there. No harm should come to them.
The war drums nearby the main temple were drumming a song of hope, but here there was only blood and killing and the need to protect the little ones.
Kadai was cut off from the main group, facing a huge winged daemon wreathed in living flames. Parry, feint, smash… the pungent smell of boiled blood filled Kadai’s nostrils, his own blood flowing through the deep cuts in the hardened scales and instantly evaporating on the hot armor.
The big daemons was laughing. Kadai was the leader of his spawning, yet he wasn’t able to land a single blow.
He could hear the roars of his brothers and the incitements of the little ones. So few cries, dwindling away in number.
“Must protect the little ones. Need my brothers’ help.”
Kadai launched his attacks with no regard for his safety, forcing the daemon to just defend itself and gradually pushing it toward the main battle.
When his rage was fading away and the smile was returning on the daemon’s face, Kadai saw what was happening to the rest of his spawning.
Many lesser daemons were dead, one of them strangled by the last of his brothers.
The little ones… sweet Old Ones. Only four of them were standing and they were running toward him, chirping their will to help.
Kadai knew it was wrong and tried to warn them “NO! run away, little ones! RUN!”.
He must gave them the time to flee, before the daemon could finish him off.
But the brave little ones didn’t care, and they threw their javelins… one of them took the daemon in the neck.
What Kadai was not able to do, the javelin did. Just a puncture, but it hurt the daemon, which growled toward that annoying enemy. Lowering its guard for a single moment.
Kadai took that second, and landed a blow with his weapon in the daemon’s chest. Pushed by the full force of desperation, the jade beak pierced the flesh and broke the ribs, reaching the heart.
The daemon for a moment looked surprised, then it exploded freeing its inner fire in a blast of fiery shrapnels.
The explosion knocked over Kadai and before fading out he saw the little ones, burning and screaming. Looking at him and crying for help.
“I’ve killed them”.
When Kadai woke up, he hid. It was easy, as the battle was won but the losses were too many.
Kadai remained hidden and spied the burial rite for the skinks and his brothers, as the shame was too great and he could simply not show up.
The last thing he saw was the remnants of the saurus regiments that were marching away from the city, toward a strongest settlement. The last thing he heard was the sweet chirping of the little ones, fading away. He stood hidden, alone. The pain inside was something new and terrifying, it clinged on his heart, squeezing with cruel claws and no rest was able to sooth it.
“Cannot go. I’ve killed them. Will forgive me? Want to hear the laugh of little ones. It will cure me. Can do nothing with no little ones. I wanna them.”.
He stood there for days, until an idea came to his mind. It was so beautiful and shiny, and there was so much hope wrapped to it. A new purpose. The Idea.
“I will rebuild the city. The little ones on the flying lizards will see it. The little ones will come back. The pain will go away. And this will be home again”.
So it began.
First some cleaning, then a small house, then a bigger building and now the lesser temple. Each day a little more higher. Every day a pain. Every day a dream of home. The Idea, so warm and tender.
This day was no different from the previous ones… then a distant rustle took Kadai’s attention.
“Not animals. Not snakes. Not little ones. Not brothers. Intruders.”
Kadai took the armor which was resting under the sun. The bronze plate, emblazoned with the symbols of the Old One Xokha, was pleasantly warm. The head of the maul recalled a bird: a golden globe adorned with feathers, rubies for the eyes and a jade beak.
He moved toward the voices until he found a place to hide, behind a ruined wall.
“Dumb warmbloods. Too much noise. Just wait. Almost here… almost… here!”
Kadai emerged from his cover and struck the first enemy, laying him dead.
It was a small group of warmbloods, all of them covered with colored clothes and feathers, as if they were mimicking some parrots. Eyes opened wide, they started screaming and turned on their back, fleeing as fast as they could and even dropping some of their useless tools. One of them pointed a sort of staff toward Kadai and there was a small thunder with a blast of smoke. When the smoke cleared, also this last warmblood was running away.
Kadai was satisfied. No time to spare in pursuing, there was much work to do.
He turned back to the buildings and passed through the burned clearing, looking with sadness at the big pile of stones that buried the little ones and his brothers.
Then, on the side, he saw the smaller pile.
And on the top of it, a piece of bronze armor carved with a half-melted symbol of Xokha, and a broken maul with a chipped jade beak.
He remembered the daemons fleeing after the killing of one of their leaders, the acolytes of the temple that aided the wounded, and finally the funeral… his body buried with the full homages due to the slayer of a Greater Daemon, before the leaving of the survivors from the city.
Kadai looked at his ghostly hands and then to the city: a mass of crumbled debris with no buildings, only scattered stones, bushes and growing trees.
But it lasted only a moment.
“It’s a trick of the sun”.
Kadai closed his eyes.
“That’s not true. I’ve killed the little ones”.
And when Kadai opened his eyes, all was normal again.
There was the clearing, the big pile of stones, the buildings and the growing temple. Such a beautiful view. So full of hope.
“The little ones will come back. And this will be home again”.