Chapter 29 can be read below the cut.
Veitlen stood in front of Rahka. The glass barrier still separated them; he hadn’t bothered to push it aside. He rubbed his hands together and let out a breath. “Come on a hunt with me,” he said.
Rahka sat cross-legged on the ground with an open book in his lap. He looked fairly confused. “What? Why?” he asked.
Veitlen leaned forward and pressed his hands against the glass. “You were really good at hunting demons, right? We’d be just fine if we went out on our own.”
“Veitlen, that was eighteen years ago. I haven’t killed a demon in eighteen years,” said Rahka.
“But it’s not hard! You know that! And there’s plenty of magic around the area I was thinking about. We’ll be safe,” said Veitlen.
Rahka sighed and rubbed his forehead. “I told you not to use dark magic, and what do you do? Ask me to use dark magic. What a disappointment you are,” he said.
“Look, man. I’ve actually learned how to control dark magic so that it doesn’t cause problems. I don’t need your judgment,” Veitlen said, trying to keep most of the irritability out of his voice.
“Why do you want me to go with you on a hunt? What makes you think I have an interest in that sort of thing anymore?” Rahka asked.
“I want to talk to you about something,” said Veitlen.
Rahka looked fairly taken aback. “You want to go into demon territory to talk to me about something? You’re talking to me right now.”
“I don’t think it’ll make sense unless we’re in the forest,” said Veitlen.
Rahka scratched his chin. “Mind telling me what you want to talk about?” he asked.
“No,” said Veitlen.
“Course not,” Rahka grumbled. “You know I haven’t left this prison since I came here, right?”
“I know. It’s pathetic,” said Veitlen.
“Are you just going to insult me now?” Rahka asked.
“If it’s what I need to do, then I’ll do it,” said Veitlen.
“I can see you pestering me forever about this, so fine,” said Rahka. “I’ll join you once.”
“Great!” said Veitlen happily. “The next day I have off work is this Thursday. Prepare yourself!”
“Sure,” said Rahka. He didn’t look too pleased. “There’s something I want you to get for me first. I used to have a sword. I think Chanda’s in possession of it now. If I’m going into demon territory, then I want to have it with me.”
There wasn’t anyone at the Avatar’s Palace when Veitlen got there. He still kept as quiet as he could, not wanting to alert anyone to his presence. Rahka had told him where he believed the sword was being kept – a storage closet. Why anyone would keep a sword in a closet instead of an armory was completely beyond him.
He wandered through several rooms, opening doors at random to see what he would find. The last door he opened led to a larger closet. The adjoining room was only illuminated by the curtains drawn aside slightly on one window, so the closet was entirely dark. Various objects were silhouetted – just barely – against the wall.
Veitlen fumbled for a light switch and found it. The sudden light hurt his eyes enough that he automatically shut them. When he opened them again, he saw multiple weapons in the closet, primarily spears and swords.
One sword in the corner – Rahka’s zhanmadao – was much longer than the others. Veitlen grabbed the sheath awkwardly in both hands and carefully brought it out of the closet. The sword itself was taller than him. The blade had to be just as or slightly taller than Lillin.
Veitlen closed the closet door behind him and turned around to see Nymue standing there, looking confused. “What is that?” she asked.
“Hi,” said Veitlen. He raised a hand to his lips. “Shh. I wasn’t ever here. You saw nothing.”
“Right,” said Nymue. She didn’t look convinced, and side-eyed him as he left the room.
Veitlen did his best to keep the sword balanced over his shoulders as he walked toward the prison. He got weird looks and stares from most people who passed him, but no one said anything to him. He assumed they thought it was some kind of Avatar thing.
“I got it!” said Veitlen as he walked through the doorway to Rahka’s room. He held the sword out in front of him, trying and failing to keep it from wobbling.
“That’s it, all right,” said Rahka. He stood up and pushed the glass aside. “You can hand it over now.”
“Wait,” said Veitlen. He planted the sword against the ground. “Why is it so big? I’ve never seen a sword this big before. It’s taller than most people.”
“Yeah, I know. Now give it to me,” said Rahka.
“Did you actually use this to kill demons?” Veitlen asked. He kept holding onto the sword.
“Yeah. Veitlen, give it to me,” said Rahka. He reached out and grabbed the scabbard.
Veitlen let go of the sword and raised his eyebrows. “Seriously? Why would you choose to use something so ridiculous?” he asked.
“I found it and at the time, I thought it was cool,” said Rahka. He stood up and grasped the hilt of the sword. “Towards the end, I just found it annoying. Now…”
Rahka pulled the scabbard off with his left hand and held the sword above his head. He looked at it for a moment and then started swinging it around. Veitlen backed up automatically.
“Is it safe to do that?” Veitlen asked warily.
“Yep. I remember everything,” said Rahka. He sheathed the sword, then looked at Veitlen and grinned. “I’ll see you on Thursday, Veitlen!”
Veitlen had done his best to find a truck that would be roomy enough to fit Rahka, but the man still looked uncomfortable in the passenger seat. He’d had to put his zhanmadao in the cargo bed, and had not stopped worrying whether or not it would fall out.
He stopped the truck a few kilometers northwest of Senna. “This is the place,” he said.
Rahka got out of the truck, stretched exaggeratedly, and grabbed his sword from the truck bed. “Where in the Northern District are we?” he asked.
“Not that far from my hometown. Lots of demons around here,” said Veitlen.
Rahka balanced his sword over his shoulders and looked around. “You really expect to walk around and find some?” he said.
“Yeah,” said Veitlen. He summoned his sabre into his hand and pointed across the road at the trees. “We’re gonna go in there.”
“Got something planned, do you?” said Rahka.
“You’ll see when we get there,” said Veitlen. He led Rahka into a small clearing. This area of the forest was rather quiet – no birdsong, and no small animals running around. That was typical of areas with a heavy demon presence.
Veitlen walked into the center of the clearing and took a deep breath. “Are you planning on conducting some kind of summoning ritual?” Rahka asked, looking around. “Because-”
“COME ON OUT, DEMONS! IT’S ME, VEITLEN!” Veitlen yelled.
“What the fuck is wrong with you? What the fuck are you doing!?” Rahka demanded. He unsheathed his sword. “Are you trying to get us both killed? Is that why you brought us here?”
“Calm down,” said Veitlen. “I just wanna talk with some of them.”
“Why would a demon do what you ask them to?” asked Rahka. “Have you been doing this often? Do they know who you are?”
“Just shut up. You’ll see when they get here,” said Veitlen.
The first demon crawled out of the trees moments later. It was followed by three others. They babbled amongst themselves for a minute before surrounding Rahka and Veitlen, far enough away that Veitlen wouldn’t be able to hit any of them with his sword.
“Which of you is the one who can speak Rennukat? I need you to translate for the others,” said Veitlen.
“It’s me,” said the first demon.
“Alrighty then! You can clearly see I’ve brought another witch with me. Can you finally, actually, seriously tell me what we have in common?” Veitlen asked.
The demons conversed with each other for a few minutes. Then the Rennukat-speaking demon turned back to Veitlen. “You both have the same presence,” it said.
“I figured,” said Veitlen. “Can you elaborate, please?”
“What you are is obvious when we look at you,” said the demon. “It is why we are drawn to you.”
“But why?” Veitlen asked.
Rahka sighed. Then he did something that Veitlen had never expected would happen: he addressed the demon in its own language. Veitlen stared at Rahka, his mouth hanging open in shock. “Why the fuck didn’t you ever tell me you spoke Demon!?” he demanded.
“It’s not ‘Demon’, you dumbass,” said Rahka. “They’re speaking the language that was spoken in this area 500 years ago.”
“How do you even know how to speak a language like that?” Veitlen asked, confused.
“I had a lot of time to learn. You know, from all the books I have,” said Rahka. He planted his sword scabbard against the ground. “Answer me, demon. How can you tell we’re witches just from looking at us?”
“You are radiant,” said the demon.
“Ah,” said Rahka.
Veitlen was still confused. “What do they mean by that?” he asked.
“You’ll understand if you take the time to read some scripture,” said Rahka. He pointed his sword at one of the demons. “Why aren’t you attacking us? You’re demons. You’re compelled to kill us.”
Veitlen raised his hands and gestured for Rahka to lower his sword. “Wait, wait! I made a deal with them,” he said.
Rahka gave Veitlen the most bewildered and angry expression he’d ever seen. “You did what!?” he exclaimed.
“Lower your sword and I’ll explain,” said Veitlen.
Rahka reluctantly sheathed his sword, still glaring at Veitlen. “You better not have lost your mind,” he said. “Explain yourself.”
“A little while ago, I thought that I might be able to talk to the demons and reason with them. It took a while, but I found a group. This group,” said Veitlen.
“And?” said Rahka.
Veitlen grinned. “I assumed it would make my job easier if I could get the demons to accept that they have to be killed,” he said. “They already know they can’t die on their own, so I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult-”
“So you plan on trying to talk all of the millions of demons in the world into accepting their own death by your hand?” said Rahka.
“Stop! Stop interrupting me!” Veitlen hissed. “I told these demons to convince any others they run into that I have a good idea. They’ll trust their friends more than any random human.”
Rahka looked at the demons for a few moments, then back at Veitlen and raised an eyebrow. “And has that worked?” he asked.
“I don’t know yet! That’s why I’m here. To ask them,” said Veitlen. He turned toward the demons and gestured at them. “Did you do what I told you to do?”
“Yes,” said the Rennukat-speaking demon.
Veitlen’s shoulders slumped and he sighed in relief. “Good to hear. Now, I’m sure you won’t mind if I-”
“Wait,” said Rahka. He looked incredibly skeptical. “Why would you just believe what they’re saying?”
“What did I just say about interrupting me!?” Veitlen said irritably. “At this particular moment, it doesn’t actually matter if they listened to me or not. I still have to kill them.”
“How long have you been doing this?” Rahka asked. He rubbed his forehead with his sleeve.
All the demons had agreed to be killed, and none of them had put up a fight. Rahka had remained wary the whole time, and had only started looking comfortable once all the demons were dead. He definitely wasn’t happy about having to bury the demons, either.
“A couple of weeks,” said Veitlen. “Some of them attacked me at first. But now…they’re all complying.”
“And you’re sure you want to do this for the rest of your life?” Rahka asked.
“Yep,” said Veitlen. He jabbed his shovel into the ground and leaned against it. “Two years ago, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Now I do. I don’t want to give this up until I die.”
Rahka narrowed his eyes at Veitlen, but he didn’t look skeptical or disapproving. They worked in silence until the demons were buried and it was time to say the prayers. Veitlen looked at Rahka expectantly, who shrugged.
“I haven’t done this in a long time,” he said.
“Just give it your best shot,” said Veitlen.
Rahka shook his head and smiled. “Alright then,” he said. “May you learn from your mistakes in hell, be reborn through the earth and live a better life, over and over again, until you eventually and finally reach liberation.”