The Cat and the Spear
The punch sent Lady Yingquan staggering back into a nearby tree.
I immediately rose to my feet and dashed next to Lady Yingquan, confirming that She was unhurt. Then I prostrated myself.
“Lady Yingquan, please, please forgive my sister for her disrespect! Please take my life in apology, please don’t hurt her!”
“…Ah. I forgot that you were like that, Eury.”
Ely’s voice spoke up from behind me as she calmly walked up to us. Lady Yingquan glared at her, picking Herself up from her entangled position.
“You know, I think you could learn a thing or two from her, Ely. What kind of person punches their patron goddess?”
“I don’t recall ever accepting you as a patron.”
“That’s because you didn’t. But I vouched for you anyway, so that makes me your patron.”
“Vouched for me in what sense?”
“Recommended you for demigodhood, of course.”
“Please don’t do such things without consulting the individual concerned.”
“Well, the petition got lost in bureaucracy, but you should still try showing me a little respect.”
“O Great Goddess, Lady of the Harvest, Protector of the Land, Revered Maiden and Hallowed Arbiter, please forgive your humble servant for her unspeakable transgression.”
“Okay, that’s creepy, never mind. Normally speaking is fine.”
Ely reached out her hand and helped Lady Yingquan up to her feet, then the two of them hugged.
“I haven’t forgiven you for taking my memory, but I’ll at least thank you for letting me see my sister again.”
“It’s not like I wanted to do it! It’s red tape and legal nonsense, you know how it works.”
“Just because I understand it doesn’t mean I’m okay with it.”
Ely and Lady Yingquan seperated from their hug and both glanced at me. I was still prostrate on the ground, quivering in awe.
“Y’know, Eury, you don’t have to treat this joke of a goddess so nicely. Just be yourself.”
“Now, I think calling me a joke is bit too much, don’t you think?”
“Whatever. Hurry up and tell her that it’s okay to treat you like dirt.”
“Hey! I’ll have you know-”
“Tell her or I’ll start to list out the contents of your room.”
“It’s okay to treat me like dirt so please get up, Eurydice. Please. Hurry.”
At Lady Yingquan’s urging, I stood up, but kept my head bowed low. I was curious what Her Grace was so flustered about, but I felt like harbouring such thoughts would be disrespectful, so I forcefully shoved it out of my head.
“Anyway, before we were rudely interrupted by this failure of a goddess, you were just going to share your life in this world, Eury?”
Lady Yingquan didn’t even blink at Ely’s casual insult. Did they perhaps have the kind of close relationship where insulting each other was a form of intimacy? I couldn’t ever imagine having such a close friendship with Lady Yingquan, but somehow I felt like Ely was more than capable of it. I cleared my throat to refocus my mind.
“Right, if you’ll excuse me for speaking casually, Lady Yingquan…”
I proceeded to explain the circumstances into which I had been reborn in this world.
I spoke about how I had awoken in this world as a weapon, a construct. I described my early years on the battlefield, recounted whatever information I had stored about the circumstances surrounding the war – the great Divine War. I talked about how I had spent the first quarter of my life dormant, aware but unthinking. I described my moment of awakening exactly as I remembered it – that moment when I first came to describe myself as an “I”, the sudden moment of evolution at the base of that deep, deep lake, when I suddenly became able to conceive of myself as an individual.
I talked about being released from my watery grave by the otherworldly hero. I talked about how I had passed through numerous hands over the centuries, passed from owner to owner, having my name recorded in the annals and myths of a dozen cultures. I recounted how I had grown tired of abandonment and assumed human form, reminiscing fondly about my century in various human jobs, recalling with nostalgic happiness the faces and antics of my human compatriots. I spoke a little about how I had visited their funerals once they had passed, but kept that segment short, out of respect for my friends.
Talking about my friends and my adventurers naturally led to me bringing up Kyrin – the last individual to wield me, prior to Ely, and one of my closest friends. In those times, more than a century ago, the elves and the catkin had lived on the other side of the Wall – in fact, back then, there had been no Wall. Elves and catkin had lived alongside humans throughout the Mercynth Empire. Not as equals, no. The Mercynth Empire of the day was a human supremacist one. Elves and catkin were seen as inferior, as vile. They were not allowed to own property, or businesses, or to file appeals against humans. Many of them lived in bondage. Almost all of them lived in abject poverty, or otherwise got by on the grace of some generous human benefactor. They might have left the country for a more friendly one, but the country’s isolationist political stance meant that getting a place on a ship was almost impossible. Oppressed at home, unable to leave, many of the elves and catkin fell into despair. More than a few attempted to flee into the forest and the desert, but alone and without supplies, all who tried this perished. Many were killed by bandits at the border, often assisted by the guards patrolling it.
There was only one safe way for a member of the nonhuman races to escape their situation – by becoming an adventurer of at least Silver rank, the Adventurer’s Guild would, due to an ongoing agreement with the Empire, guarantee them passage aboard ships travelling between countries. For many, this prospect seemed like salvation. A chance to leave the country was what they dreamed of. Unfortunately, attaining a Silver rank was far easier said than done. Adventuring was a dangerous profession, and Silver rank was only conferred to elite adventurers, with less than five percent of all adventurers at any time possessing the rank. For the common adventurer, it was an impossible dream.
But the nature of the nonhumans’ desperation was that they tried to do it, anyway. Underfed and untrained, countless nonhuman youths took up the mantle of Adventurer, only to get killed or give up within the month. Very few of them gave up. And the number of nonhumans from the Mercynth Empire who managed to actually attain a Silver Rank could be counted on both hands. Those that succeeded never returned, making their living in other countries, never looking back. All but one did so – Kyrin being, to my knowledge, the sole exception.
I met Kyrin in an adventuring party back in Jin-Asalys. From the moment I met him, I knew that there was something different about him. He carried an air of idealism, tempered by responsibility. Everything he did, every action he took, was for the sake of fulfilling his lifelong ambition: to grant his people liberty from their oppressors. He travelled the world as a Silver-ranked adventurer, joining up with parties and taking on dangerous requests, trying to gain battle experience while recruiting possible collaborators to help with his revolution. When I met him, he had been doing this for seven years, with no allies to show for it. Nobody was daring enough to meddle in matters of state and revolution, especially when it was for the sake of a country that few had heard of.
When our party disbanded, I went with Kyrin. I had nothing to lose, and besides, I was bored. I told Kyrin of my true nature as a weapon – though I didn’t tell him about my origins. The two of us returned to Mercynth, where Kyrin immediately began to rally the nonhumans. Discreetly, at first. Individual visits, bribes to keep the guards quiet. Those he spoke to then informed their acquaintances. News of Kyrin’s proposal spread throughout the nonhuman community. When the scale of the movement made it impossible to escape notice, Kyrin organised rallies in small communities and secluded areas. The signal to move was, amusingly, the official proclamation by the Empire that marked Kyrin as a seditious traitor. The moment this missive was issued, the nonhuman communities all got up and left their towns and cities, heading toward the Forest under Kyrin’s leadership.
At first, the Empire was slow to respond to the sudden mass exodus. To many in the court, the chance to be rid of the “subhuman eyesore” that was the nonhumans held nothing but advantages. Many were willing to let the nonhumans leave, and to be rid of the problems they presented. However, this attitude only lasted for about a month. At that point, amid a collapsing economy and crippling recession, they realised exactly how much they had relied on the nonhumans as a source of cheap labour. A declaration was hastily issued to forbid the nonhumans from leaving, but by that point in time, all the nonhumans had got up and banded together into a single large convoy, protected by Kyrin and myself. The Empire sent its armies after us, to stop and imprison us, but we fought them off every time. To this day, I still remember vividly how Kyrin and I stood back to back and held off thirty thousand soldiers over two days, as we bought time for the convoy to reach the edge of the Forest, where the Empire was too afraid to enter.
Once we were safely in the Forest, the nonhumans began to build Kirtvel, and I erected a barrier that would keep us all safe. In the presence of all the nonhumans in Kirtvel, Kyrin promised me that, as long as I kept the city safe, I would have the respect of all within its walls, so that I would never be abandoned again. It was the first time in my life that one of my users had shown concern for my own worries, and that moved me enough to agree. Unfortunately, Kyrin himself died soon after of illness, but not before entrusting me with the task of making sure that Kirtvel survived, a task I diligently performed for over a century.
By the time Kirtvel was completed, the Mercynth Empire had erected the Wall, more to keep its citizens in than to keep anything out, and had systematically erased any records that nonhumans had ever lived within the Empire. It became illegal to mention nonhumans or their exodus, and over the next century, the people slowly forgot, and bought the official narrative of a human-only Empire. Kirtvel and the Empire continued to grow and evolve alongside each other, never involving themselves with the other, staying to the confines of their own respective borders. This uneasy coexistence continued, uninterrupted. Breaches across the Wall, from either side, were infrequent and swiftly dealt with. That is, until Ely herself managed to get over the Wall and make her way to Kirtvel – the first person to do so.
By the time my story had thus caught up with the present, the sun had long gone down, bathing the clearing in the darkness of night. Lady Yingquan, perhaps realising that my story was over, looked around and started. She snapped Her fingers, and a swirl of cherry blossoms appeared around her, glowing brightly enough to illuminate us in a beautiful, ethereal pink glow. Her Grace and Ely both stared at me, thoughtful looks on their faces. Ely broke the silence first.
“…You’ve been through quite the journey, haven’t you? With the amount of fighting you’ve done, are you sure you haven’t surpassed me?”
I shook my head while smiling.
“No, that’s not possible. You’re the unattainable peak that I hope to reach for. All of my fights were skewed in my favour because of my enhanced physical prowess. I couldn’t have done nearly as much if I had been facing opponents of similar physical ability. Besides, you’ve already shown that you can beat me in a fight, haven’t you?”
Ely returned the smile.
“Well, I did have the advantage of knowing the attack, but I’m not going to refuse your praise. I’ll just have to make sure that I’m worthy of it.”