Book 2, Chapter 74

Ritual(2)

Once the singing came to a close, the head started to tremble. The clot on the neck broke apart, blood flowing freely once more to rise up the altar and converge at the hammer beside the sculpture’s leg. It eventually permeated into the statue itself, giving it a life of its own. Richard faintly felt a strong consciousness awakening within.

The statue’s eyes turned a blood red, its gaze seemingly sweeping across everyone in this ancestral hall. When it looked upon Richard, the eyes abruptly grew exuberant. Richard felt a disturbance in his mind like a thunderclap, as if thousands of ferocious lions were roaring at the same time. He was jolted in an instant, his vision going black as he nearly lost consciousness.

However, a few strong minds immediately entered his own mindscape to help fight off this imposing will. They managed to eliminate the invader immediately, freeing his mind. The orc ancestor could not stand up to the combined might of Waterflower, the broodmother, and his slaves.

Unexpectedly, the broodmother’s strength of will surpassed that of even Waterflower herself. Zendrall— who had buried his head in research— was also made aware of the battle, and joined in to assist. However his oath was much weaker than a true contract, and the fuzzy connection didn’t let him transmit too much of his power. If not for that, his strong spiritual force as exhibited in that swamp battle would have dealt a heavy blow to the invading consciousness.

The spiritual battle ended in a flash, and Stormhammer and the remaining orcs suddenly felt great pain in their brains as they collapsed to the ground. By the time they recovered from the shock, they discovered that the wolf head had dried up to look like a dessicated corpse. The statue had stopped glowing, and the lingering energy from the ritual had disappeared.

Stormhammer dizzily pressed into his head, staring blankly in the direction of the altar. The fall had left him throbbing with pain all over his injured body, so intense that his face distorted. He looked at his men as they did at him, but none were able to figure out what had actually happened. They ended up concluding that the sacrifice had summoned the presence of their ancestors, but they were too weak to accept that might.

The elders and warriors regained their composure quickly, while Stormhammer himself limped his way towards Richard. The half-orc gazed solemnly into his eyes, “Majestic mage from afar, your assistance has allowed me to kill the Fleeting Shadow, and in doing so avenged the fallen warriors of our tribe. You have seen our rituals, and from henceforth shall be considered a friend of the bloodstone orcs for eternity. We may not be strong, but if the need ever rises you can trust us to lay our lives down for our friends!”

As he said that, Stormhammer reached out with both arms to give Richard a hug, completing the ceremony. Feeling that powerful embrace and looking at the withered face and injured body, Richard felt an inexplicable sensation in his heart. Had he made a rune similar to Gangdor’s, Stormhammer would not have had to use Flowsand’s scrolls to win. He would not have reached the end of his life so quickly.

And yet right now, the half-orc proved to be a true warrior, a qualified leader and trustworthy friend.

However, he suddenly remembered Flowsand’s words earlier in the day, that the resources he’d been given had obviously been acquired from somewhere else. There was a considerable amount of blood behind each item, and Camp Bloodstone itself was not known for its hospitality to commoners. Many deaths had occurred under Stormhammer’s charge.

Several strange feelings mixed together, leaving Richard at a loss as to how he should judge the bloodstone orcs. He ended up just sighing silently in his heart, remembering his own identity as an invader.

The Bloodstained Lands were chaotic and cruel, but they still held a child-like purity. It was hard to tell right from wrong.

Before leaving the ancestral hall, Richard looked at the sculpture once more. The consciousness should have been dealt a heavy blow, returning to the depths of the statue to recuperate. He’d felt a strong hint of divinity within that consciousness, the only reason it could contain the remaining will of Bloodstone.

This was Richard’s first experience with the power of ancestral worship.

He now understood why the broodmother would want these idols; it wanted to suck out this divine power from within. However, for now at least, he did not want to touch the bloodstone tribe’s altar.

‘In any case, as far as I can see there are countless tribes in the Bloodstained Lands and beyond that practise ancestral worship. I just need to slowly seek them out and I’ll be able to find many. As for Bloodstone… I can just wait for Stormhammer to die and figure things out then. He won’t be living much longer anyway.’ Such was the way the young mage consoled himself, rationalising the situation…

The ritual was followed by a tribal celebration. Several bonfires were burnt in the semi-circular arena, and barbecued meat and shoddy liquor handed out. The orcs surrounding the bonfires danced their war dance to the beat of the drum, stopping every now and then with a stomp of their feet as they raised their chests and bellowed a warcry out into the sky. This was a tradition passed down from ancient times, an oath to their ancestors that they would protect their homeland. Once tired of the dancing the orcs would sit down, eating meat and drinking alcohol to replenish themselves before they joined their brethren once more.

The banquet that night played host to a number of special guests. Apart from Richard were the two trolls as well, having prepared a big pot of fragrant meat soup for the occasion. The standard of the soup alone qualified Medium Rare and Tiramisu to call themselves gourmets, but till date this was the only dish Richard had seen them cook. It seemed like this was the only thing they knew.

The only thing Richard couldn’t stand in the midst of all this merriment was the alcohol. He was forced to drink three full bowls with Stormhammer, each bowl sized for orcs. He also had a bowl each with the orcish elders and then one with each famous warrior of the tribe.

By the time it all ended, Richard had to be carried away on Medium Rare’s back. He wasn’t completely drunk, but the churning of his stomach made him feel weak and it felt like his brain was on fire. All prudence and apprehension vanished in this daze, but the drinks had netted him a considerable reward. He came out with thirty half-orc warriors, not twenty. Unfortunately, the ten additions were only ordinary soldiers and not elites.

Medium Rare had a steady gait and his back was wide and flat, but Richard still vomited twice on the way back to their inn. Throwing up made him feel a little better, the cool wind of the late night freshening up his mind. However, the alcohol still burning in his blood made his consciousness foggy.

As they travelled, Richard started thinking about the next day. There was not much reason for them to continue on in Bloodstone now, and the insignificant stream or even the entire camp weren’t his true goals. They weren’t even good enough to be considered a start.

Besides, he was an invader after all. Camp Bloodstone wasn’t far from the human kingdoms, and if Neian decided to send an army into the Bloodstained Lands his current forces would be in significant danger. Essien’s strength and the fearlessness of the paladins even in the face of death had left a lasting impression in his mind. Had that been a direct battle, the victory would have been bitter. Since he’d already reaped his rewards from Bloodstone, it was time to go even deeper.

By the time he decided on their path, Richard found that they were at the entrance of the inn. He finally mustered up the strength to walk on his own, and thus waved the trolls away to get some rest. Sleep was more important to trolls than humans— their power grew depending on how well they slept.

His already-empty stomach started to churn again, making him feel like throwing up. He dashed across the hall and opened the back door, preparing to find a corner to relieve himself in.

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: Styles

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA