Phantom Host

Lynch: Strangest In All Lands

The city streets were swarming with busy marchers.

Lynch could see the city square up ahead. It sat on a raised fragment of land and was visible from the rest of the city. Karin walked closely beside him. The signs of distress were visible on her face, in the motion of her walk. Her anxious eyes saw nothing but the city square in the distance, and the frame of her maestro. She frequently glanced at him in a way as if she was searching for something.

But there was much more to take notice of. Lynch observed, comparing the now ruined city with the city hed found after arriving in the valley. It was beautiful and snuggly hidden within lush greenery. The city itself was small, shaped like a round cookie with its edges nibbled away by vermin and sloped from the center to the edges which allowed for a better sewerage system and helped avoid flooding in the streets from heavy rainfalls. Single-story houses were sparsely populating the outer areas of the city. The buildings began cramming together in the inner regions, roads were becoming narrower and narrower, and single-story buildings were being replaced with two or even three-story buildings as Lynch and his companions moved closer to the city square. The architecture was old, the style was similar to the era of Tyrant Laux. The roads were paved with hand-carved stone blocks. It puzzled Lynch. He didn notice any equids, horse-like creatures, in the city to justify the construction of such heavy-duty roads. Was it simply a whim of luxury?

It was evident that the city was crafted with care and enormous wealth which showed in the intricate designs of spiraling flora patterns on the face of its structures and its bright trapped lamps providing unending illumination to its streets and its houses. Valas band had been searching for this city for over a year now. The empire first became aware of its existence over twenty years ago, but its location eluded them ceaselessly until it was unearthed by Crodix. Now the fact that this was the place where Tyrant Grippens family and relatives had fled upon defeat was as plain as day. The source of the enormous wealth required to build this city was clear as well. Itd appear that Tyrant Grippen was more than happy to exhaust his vault in the creation of a sanctuary that guaranteed the preservation of his bloodline.

For the longest time, everyone feared that Grippens wish was bound to remain fulfilled indefinitely. And that wouldve been the case had the boy named Crodix not come along with the gift to extract the thoughts from a mans mind in the most elegant way imaginable.

In the end, none of Grippens wealth and preparation saved this city from the wreaking hand of the marchers. If this city was makeup on a maidens face that was the land, then the makeup had been smeared. The citys serene beauty had been ruined and filled with ugly death.

Lynch and his companions were on one of the wider streets that led directly to the center. It mustve been the main street, and the battle seemed to have raged most intensely here. The majority of the buildings lined beside the path had simply vanished, leaving curious scars upon the land. The few buildings that survived, were damaged and looked brutally beaten in perplexing ways.

They had to be careful to not fall into the craters and holes that filled the street they walked on. They had to be extra careful not to step on bone shards and meat pieces of the killed. The tiny pieces were unavoidable and made crunching noises beneath the iron soles of their boots. Dead townspeople, still recognizable ones, were being sorted and packed into ivory-colored sealing bags and loaded into carts. They will be sent to the temporary analysis camp installed near the entrance of the city. There the bodies will be examined to decide which ones to burn and which ones to send to Iaena for further study.

Lynch noticed Karin doing well with him walking through the genocide. She had been forced to watch gloomy things since childhood. Things that changed her, stripped her of a childs innocence. On the other hand, Ash looked pale. The boy could burn people well, but was green at war, not yet used to the aftermath.

Mark was behind everyone. He walked as slowly as he could to match pace with them. Being taller than everyone else by a few feet, he knew that people found it unpleasant walking with him side by side or with him leading the way. They would have to jog just to keep up.

It grew difficult for Lynch to ignore the glances from Karin any longer.

”What seems to be troubling you, Karin? ” Lynch asked. ”You know that you can always tell me whats on your mind. ”

Karin looked relieved to have finally been addressed.

”Im thinking about what I should do after this, maestro, ” Karin said. ”I- Ive never given it any thought before. ”

”But now you are? ”

”Yes. ” Karin paused and looked up at Lynch. ”All my life, ever since the day you rescued me, all Ive ever dreamt of becoming was a marcher like you. ”

An automatic laugh escaped Karin. ”I still recall the first time you showed me how to spend the gloom inside of me. It was the greatest day of my life! And since then, all Ive known is how to fight wielding that gloom and be a marcher. I know nothing else, maestro! Whatll I do if a day comes when I can be what I am anymore? ”

Lynch saw the bleak truth in the girls words. They stabbed him like a knife. How easily the child uttered the words that one might bury and cement over in the depths of their minds to avoid having to confront them.

Lynch swallowed and contemplated before saying, ”Karin, its important to have value. Moral rules of sorts that youd always want to abide by. A belief that is precious to you. That belief will sustain you through difficult times. When everything else is breaking down around you, the belief you hold in your heart will help you avoid breaking down with it. Simply picking up a new hobby will not be the answer then, will never be a strong enough glue that can hold you together and guide you through storm. You need a belief that will shape your actions in the dreariest of times, and even give meaning to your life. ”

Lynch looked down into Karins eyes. ”Karin, do you have such a belief in your heart? ”

Karin was transfixed as she listened to him, though she didn fully comprehend what her maestro was teaching her. She was looking at him as he spoke, and she failed to notice the hole in the road to keep her foot from slipping into it.

She yelped, but Lynch caught her arm just in time to prevent the fall. Half of her lower right foot got buried in a narrow hole on the stony road. Falling with her foot still stuck in it wouldve caused her bones to snap like twigs.

Ash burst into laughter from behind, pointing at her all the while.

Karin pulled out her leg slowly while holding onto Lynch. Her face was flushed. Once she got it out, she looked up at Lynch gratefully.

”Thank you, maestro. ”

Karin bowed. Then turned and shouted, ”I almost broke my leg! Why are you laughing, Ash? ”

Ash stopped laughing immediately, then replied with a frown, ”Because you
e clumsy? And its funny as hell? ”

Ash burst out with laughter again.

Karin grunted angrily, muttering, ”Damn smidgin of Ash! One day Ill make him kneel before me and beg for mercy if its the last thing I do! ”

Once they resumed progressing towards the city square, Karin begged, ”Maestro! Please teach me the gloom awareness! Please! ”

”Gloom awareness? ” Lynch asked, taken aback. ”But its too advanced for you. ”

”I don care! I want to learn it! Will you please teach it to me? ” Karin persisted.

Lynch rubbed his heavily stubbled chin thoughtfully. ”So, you wish to jump ahead without going through the proper steps? ”

”Yes! ”

”Listen carefully, Karin, ” Lynch began explaining, ”The basics of Gloom awareness is to change how a person acts. Peoples deep-rooted habits make them act as they do. And if you
e going to change how a person has always acted, then you
e going to need to apply extreme shock to their system. You must break their core workings, and build them anew.

”Gloom awareness helps one to operate even without their sense of sight, and provides a heightened sense of balance among other things. Are you aware of the amount of danger this training process poses to even those who are considered geniuses and have followed proper steps? Jumping ahead like this could be injurious to both your body and soul. ”

”Even so, I really want to take the next step, maestro! ” Karin carried on unreasonably. ”Please, I believe Im ready! ”

Lynch studied her curiously. Why was she being so irrational? Was this born of rivalry? Or was this a… female thing?

If its the latter, itll forever remain out of the reach of his understanding.

”Hmm, alright then, ” Lynch said. ”I suppose well try Gloom awareness in our next training session. ”

Karin grinned brightly and bowed again. ”I am forever grateful, maestro! ”

It took another ten minutes of walk before they reached their destination. It was a large city square surrounded by multiple storied administrative buildings. There had been lots of stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables and other goodies in the square. Lynch saw them set up when he first came through here with the first wave. All had been cleared out now to allow for the setting up of an organized jungle of torture stands and execution platforms.

Valas commanding tent was set up on the western side of the city square, the way the general interrogation structures were set up to face. She was the conductor of the square choir, directing, and soaking in the agonized weeping and screaming.

Lynch strictly avoided the interrogation scene and went round the square to reach the marshals tent. Karins eyes glided over indifferently at the tortured as if the generated sound from the square wasn thundering to her ear, but was mere background noise. The same was true for Lynch and Mark as well, though theyve been around for nearly a century.

Lynch felt Ashs eyes glued to his back as the boy followed him. He was always so pleased to have been a part of the world of the grown-ups, to possess the right to join them in their dealings, but the regret was now glaring in his face.

Karin stayed outside while Mark roared as the rest of them entered the huge tent of the marshal, ”Hey, Vala! Look who I brought along with me! ”

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