During dinner he saw the lad wincing in pain as he struggled with his food.
“Hurts doesn’t it?” He asked, not unkindly.
The lad didn’t reply. He was much too strong, he would never admit that he was in pain.
“This is good pain,” he said, “You have tested your body to the extreme, it has screamed and protested in reply, but it has refused to break down. This pain will only make you stronger.”
The lad pondered on this long and hard. Without meaning to the master had given him an invaluable lesson. Pain would only make him stronger. Each time his muscle tire, it became stronger. Each bone that he broke, mended itself, becoming harder. His training was his metamorphosis and when he came out of the temple for the first time, he looked into a mirror, for mirrors were forbidden inside the temple. Seen as instruments of extreme vanity. He could hardly recognize himself. He had left the boy he had been far, far behind. He was a man grown. No, he was much more than a man. An instrument of divine justice. He had endured so much for someone so young and as a result his soul had grown beyond years. His body had hardened as had his will.
Nothing surprised him anymore. Not the deceit of men, nor their cruelty. Not the kindness of a stranger. He had seen man in all his colors. He was not surprised by anyone sneaking up on him. Years of training had sharpened his senses. For him the world was monotone, and it was so slow. People were so slow, clumsy. It drove him crazy how slow everything was. He could see a fly flapping its tiny wing, count each flap if he wanted to, pluck it out of air anytime he wanted, it drove him crazy. The master had warned him about that.
When the guards found him roaming around the hill land alone. They questioned him. The area was notoriously famous for highway men among other more sinister things. He was too bored to answer. All he could concentrate on was how slowly the guardsmen spoke. How clumsily his jaws moved. The thumping in his throat that was the guard’s jugular and how easy it would be to rip it out.
When they arrested him, he didn’t resist. He was much too tired for that. He was thrown inside a cage without food or water. He didn’t complain. It was as if he had lost all interest in living. He could easily escape this cell. Simply bend the iron bars and walk out. It was the prison inside his mind which he couldn’t escape. The dreariness of the world tormented him to no end. Sometimes the passing guard in the camp would kick him in order to provoke a response. They never got the satisfaction. Lifting even a finger seemed too much of a hassle for the lad.
Stories began to circle in the make-shift camp. They believed the lad was possessed by a powerful evil spirit. That the possession had left him catatonic. Man has always been afraid of things he doesn’t understand and some of the soldiers wanted the lad dead. His presence around the camp started to scare them, the hill lands were famous for stories of horrors and monstrosity as they were for highway men.
The general however would not allow the lad to be killed. The witch in the camp said she sensed a great demonic presence around the camp. If the lad was indeed the one possessed it meant the sprit had failed to take over his body completely and was essentially trapped. Killing the man would leave the spirit unopposed in the body.
So the lad remained unharmed, though not completely. It’s in the nature of man to not leave another in peace.
The dark shadow looming around the camp finally arrived. It was the stable boy who had been raped by countless men in the camp. The general had allowed this to go on, night after night. Trying hard to keep his men’s spirit high on this witch-hunt in a dammed wasteland. One night as the stable boy laid helpless, crying, a spirit came to him. The spirt talked to him in such melodious tones, promising to make all the hurt go away. All he had to do was let it in. Whether it was his naivety or a willing desire to lose all sense of individuality, we’ll never know. The boy took on the spirits offer.
He proved to be a host of some promise. He was of able body and his soul had borne so much pain. That night the spirit celebrated by killing all the animals in the stable.
The next morning the camp was frantic. The unnerving fog that had settled on the men broke into full blown panic. No one knew who had slaughtered the horses but they knew what it meant. They were trapped here.
Even the general, a man of nerves of steel, a champion of a hundred battles was not left unaffected. His father was a hunter and before he had joined the royal army, he had went on many hunting trips with his father as a boy. He was seasoned enough to recognize that they had come these hill as hunters but had been reduced to prey.
The first human causality arrived the next day. The man was famous for being cruel. Men had seen him last night trying to drag the stable boy inside his tent. Questions were asked of the stable boy, however no one truly believed he could overcome a man that strong.
The spirit soon grew tired of the little games. It was in the dead of night that it began to slaughter men aplenty. As the camp started to rouse, they thought they were under attack by bandits. The spirit now fully gelled with its host however was much more formidable. Seasoned warrior fell against it like milk boys.
The lad saw the carnage unfold from his cage. The spirit moved like he had never seen before. It wasn’t slow and fragile like the world around him. This excited him to no end. He stepped out of his cage, bending the steel like it was air. All around him were bodies and screams of men. In the middle of the chaos stood the stable boy, a mad gleam in his eyes. Killing men with swords and armors with his bare hands.
The lad decided on meeting it on level ground without a weapon though there were plenty lying around.
The stable boy smiled as the lad approached him.
“Al Dunne,” the spirit spoke through the stable boy with a school boyish glee.
The lad didn’t know who Al Dunne was, he however felt a deep connection to the name. Like a small voice coming across from a ship long marooned on the ocean of time. Untouched by the fabric of life for countless centuries. He felt he recognized the mad gleam in the stable boy’s eyes too. So much so, he could give it a name.
“Baal,” he said. Even though he didn’t know where it came from or what it meant, it made his blood chill.
When the two came to blows, it was a sight to be seen. They moved around like a whirlwind and all those who laid eyes on it were reminded of the grim fact of their mortality and powerlessness in face of secrets that universe kept, guarding it close to its chest.
Swipes were exchanged, curses were uttered. The sun went down and up came the stars. They however showed no signs of slowing down. Finally the lad got a hold of the neck of the stable boy and tore out his jugular. It was a sight of extreme morbidity, as it was of a strange serene beauty. The perpetual triumph of death over life. It was something poets would write about and warriors would hope to emulate.
The lad then proceeded to tore open the boy’s chest, he took his dead heart and ate it. The only way to kill the spirit along with the host. The men watched the sight, some retched. Others didn’t blink, too mesmerized by the novelty of the situation.
When he was finished the lad looked at the men who were watching him intently. He read their body language, ready to lash out at signs of violence that he had become accustomed to. Suddenly they parted to make way for the general and his witch, who was an ominous presence on her own.
As she saw the scene in front of her, she smiled.
“My Lord,” she addressed the general, “before you is the first man to vanquish a demon in a hundred years.”