Hatchlet and the Soulbearer's Honor

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Review Chain

Another story in the world of Pathos, following the characters Hatchlet, a human child raised by harpies, and Bronweld, a powerful wizard suddenly forced to take her in and teach her as his new student. While currently written to be a collection of short stories that can be read in any order, I recommend reading this one first: https://www.booksie.com/659340-hatchlet-and-the-land-of-kulvar.
This story follows a visit to a fighting pit, meeting a warrior on a journey, and an exploration into honor and grief.

Hatchlet pushes through the crowd, ducking and swerving around the boisterous onlookers of the arena.

Lagging behind her, Bronweld simply walks forward, not having to struggle at all for people to move out of his way; few people chance becoming a wizard’s obstacle.

“Slow down, will you?”, he shouts over the tide of voices. “You’re guaranteed a good spot with me, no need to rush.”

But she rushes anyway, not wanting to miss a second of the action. Not paying attention to her surroundings, she almost crashes into a man in the front row, only narrowly avoiding him as he dodges at the last second.

“Oi!”, he says. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Hatchlet jumps and up and down by the rail and replies, “Getting a good seat!”

“Oh, smart ass are you? I have half a mind to-”

“To do what, you scrawny rat shit?”, a woman next to Hatchlet says. Her eyepatch adorns her battle scarred face, and she reaches her tattooed hands for a set of wicked daggers at her waist.

Four other similarly adorned ruffians also look to the man, each one reaching for their own assortment of weapons.

The formerly angered man suddenly finds himself much less offended and scurries to another row.

“Thank you for that.” Bronweld says behind Hatchlet, casually deactivating a bolt of energy building within his staff.

“No trouble at all!” Eyepatch says with a grin. “Ain’t no one threatenin’ kids at the fighting pits!”

Hatchlet, not noticing any of this exchange, is completely enthralled by the rabble rousing performance below.

Within the rocky field of the arena, battle is well underway. No weapons of any kind in sight, the dozens of barbarians and bruisers pummel each other with a variety of martial arts and brawling.

One fighter slams another into a wall before kneeing them hard in the gut and sending them sprawling. Another fighter lifts his foe and tries to throw them towards the audience, but tumbles in surprise as a third fighter jumps on his back and begins to gang up on him with his would-be catapult.

With each hit punch, missed kick, and lost tooth, Hatchlet squeals in excitement.

“Go for the- ah! Hit him right in th- woah! That’s right! Look out!”

As the fight drags on, less and less fighters remain standing. But one challenger particularly catches Hatchlet’s eye.

“Who’s that?”, she asks no one in particular.

“That-” Eyepatch responds, deciding she is someone of particularity. “Is Vee-rah. Newcomer to these parts, but I seen her at some of the qualifiers. Real nasty bitch of a brawler!”

Bronweld coughs. “...Language, please.”

Eyepatch nods. “Right, apologies: I saw her at the qualifiers. Really bent them bastards on their asses, I’ll tell you what!”

Hatchlet focuses on Vee-rah with interest.

She is well built, wearing a sleeveless furred shawl and breast plate that enunciate the broadness of her shoulders and pure muscle packed into her arms.

Vee-rah rams into another fighter, knocks him off his feet, and slams her elbow into his nose with a definitive crunch. As she stands atop her quarry, she wipes the blood off her arm and onto her forehead, greasing her short but still wild hair.

Hatchlet blushes a bit as she realizes she was looking a bit too closely at Vee-rah’s back.

Unlike the other fighters in the pit, she has a sort of purpose about her. While the other fighters tend to taunt each other and make a show for the audience, Vee-rah moves from each duel to the next without relent, never once making a game of her opponents. Brutal, yes, but uncannily calculated with each move.

Eventually, the fight reaches its main event, with two fighters left yet to fall.

On one side of the arena, a massive man with a bull-horned mask turns to the crowd and pounds his chest in rhythm.

On the same side is Vee-rah, and she pounces forward before the bull can turn away from his fans. She smashes her fist into his chin with an uppercut and ducks out of the way when he tries to swipe at her.

The bull-man recomposes himself, shaking away his pain, and whistles to someone in the crowd. A moment later, as Vee-rah closes in the distance between them during the distraction, he reaches out and catches a large object tossed to him from above:

A warhammer.

Vee-rah tries to shift her momentum to back off and wait for another opening, but bull-man swings in a wide arc and catches her in the ribs, sending her careening into the wall.

Immediately, much of the crowd erupts into anger.

Hatchlet turns to the crowd with a look of confusion. “What’s happening?”

“No weapons allowed!”, Eyepatch responds, failing to lob a glob of spit on bull-man.

“Oh… Bronnie, can I swear?”

Bronweld opens his mouth to say no, but gives up. “Fine-”

“Fuck him up!”

As bull-man charges towards her, Vee-rah picks herself back up and closes her eyes. A sort of stillness surrounds her, like the sudden change of pressure before an approaching storm.

Bullman leaps and spins his hammer in a torrent of strength, carrying all the momentum into a single downward strike towards his unmoving opponent.

The roaring audience goes silent as the blow strikes its target, the sheer force of the attack shattering a small crater underneath both challengers.

But both remain standing.

Murmurs of wonder and awe pass along the crowd, and it takes a moment for them to see:

A floating brilliant light-blue greatsword, wedged between the hammer’s face and Vee-rah’s face, preventing either from a gruesome greeting.

Bull-man stands there stunned, mouth agape beneath his half mask.

Seizing the opportunity, Vee-rah grabs her magical blade’s pommel with one hand and pushes the back of the blade with the other, and slams the flat side of the blade forward, knocking bull-man off balance.

To catch himself, he releases his grip on his hammer, but before he can regain his footing, he spins to see a calloused fist streaking towards his face.

And at that moment, the winner was obvious.

The crowd, moments ago holding their breath, explodes into cheers. Hatchlet herself tries to jump off the railing to congratulate the winner, but Bronweld catches her just in time.

However, as they expect a show of victory, the crowd finds themselves disappointed as Vee-rah simply kneels for a moment, waves her hand to make her blade evaporate into mist, and walks away.

After the fight ends, the crowd begins to leave, and Hatchlet says goodbye to Eyepatch, the apprentice and her guardian begin to leave as well.

“That was so cool”, Hatchlet says. “What magic was that? Is there sword summoning 101 in the tower somewhere?”

“Technically it is a combination of transmutation and conjuration, but I’d argue Soulsmithing is its own classification.”

“Soulsmithing?”

“It's a bit difficult to explain, but-”

“Wait! Is that her?” Hatchlet points ahead, and, indeed, Vee-rah stands by an outer stall of the arena.

“Hatchlet, don’t-”

But she was already running towards her. As she gets closer, she hears raised voices, as Vee-rah and the man behind the booth are in an escalating argument.

“Enough of this nonsense! I won, he lost, so pay up!”, Vee-rah growls.

“Look,” the man responds. “You used a weapon, so you forfeited. That means I don’t pay you shit.”

“But the bull-guy pulled one out first!”, Hatchlet protests on approach.

“Exactly!” Veerah says. “I only responded in kind. Why am I being punished for the actions of another challenger?”

“I don’t care about the semantics, I’m not paying you-”

“What is going on?” Bronweld says, now towering behind Hatchlet.

“The guy won’t pay her!”

Bronweld turns his gaze to the man behind the booth, his presence looming through the glass and into his soul. “Is this true? You are breaking your word?”

The man stammers, “Well, no, because she used a weapon and-”

“Are you aware of the consequences of breaking a pact in my field of work?”

“I’ve… heard stories-”

“Death. Inescapable death.”

Mere minutes later, Vee-rah walks away from the booth with her winnings in hand.

“I did not need your help, wizard.” Vee-rah says. “...But I do thank you for it.”

“I’m sure the matter would’ve been settled without me… but I preferred the less direct method. Didn’t want my student asking to stay for your second show.”

“Regardless, I must repay you. It would not be honorable, or wise, to leave an unpaid debt with a wizard.”

Hatchlet stares up at Vee-rah with an intensity so potent, it vibrates her excitement to other dimensions of existence.

Bronweld notices the frequency his student is emitting and he sighs. “I do not need repayment, Soulbearer, but perhaps a spot of food is in order? My apprentice, I fear, will not let us leave without making your acquaintance.”

So they stop at a local tavern and order some food. Bustling and rowdy, thick with the smell of steaming food and the lingering scent of strong drinks, the tavern’s atmosphere is near similar, but not quite as bloody, as the fighting arena they had just left.

“How did you learn to fight like that!” Hatchlet says while scarfing a chicken leg.

“My mother taught me the basics. The rest was years of practice.”

“And the cool sword thing?”

Bronweld interjects, “Hatchlet, do not press her about such things-”

“It is alright, wizard. She is curious, and rightly so.” She raises her hand, and a thin blue mist rises from her fingertips, coalescing into a small, light-blue dagger.

Hatchlet peers at it with interest. “That's not the same one as before, is it?”

“It is, I merely condensed it.” She holds the blade firmly, almost reverently, as she continues.

“I am a Soulbearer, a warrior bound by honor and birthright to protect, and use if challenged, a blade passed down from generation to generation-”

Hatchlet reaches out to touch the blade, but Bronweld grips her shoulder and shakes his head. “Oh, sorry. I have to ask first, don’t I? Can I hold it?”

Vee-rah’s smile fades briefly before regaining her composure. “No, I’m afraid not. I am not allowed to let anyone hold it, unless they are family... or unless they kill me in combat.”

“Woah. Why is it so important? Is it really hard to make or something?”, Hatchlet asks.

“Because it is a Soulblade, crafted only by Soulsmiths… and there are few of either left.”

“Why-”

Bronweld interjects once more, “Perhaps ask her about her travels, Hatchlet, and try another line of conversation-”, but he groans as a gurgle bellows from his stomach. “And let me just relieve myself real quick-”

After Bronweld stomps off to find the restroom, Hatchlet continues bombarding Vee-rah with questions.

“What are you going to spend your winnings on? I bet you got a lot!”

“The prize is sizable, yes, but not the most I’ve ever had. As for its transference, I will give up much of it to some beggars, I think, and pocket the rest.”

“That’s nice, but there must be something interesting you have your eyes on.”

Vee-rah sighs. “There is… but I fear money will not get me any closer to obtaining it.”

“No? Is it that expensive?”

“It’s priceless, but not to the one who currently owns it.” She holds her Soulblade close, almost cradling it as she says this.

Hatchlet notices this, but doesn’t understand it. “Well, tell me what it is! I bet Bronnie could help you with it… if we really push him anyway.”

Vee-rah’s eyes dart up. “Bronnie… as in Bronweld?”

“Yeah!”

“As in one of the only archwizards in existence, Bronweld? The Stormforger?”

“Yep.” Hatchlet responds nonchalantly. “I haven’t seen him do anything crazy, though…” She leans into a conspiratorial whisper, “I think a lot of what people say about him is exaggerating.”

“Then he may be able to help me, with his connections!”

“Yeah, probably. So what are we looking for?”

“My… my family’s Soulblade.” She takes pain in saying this, like she was confessing a grave sin.

Hatchlet cocks her head. “I thought that was your family’s Soulblade?”

“No, it is only a piece. It was forged after I… lost the original. Due to my own failure and weakness.” Her grip trembles slightly on her blade, but she holds fast. “I am on a journey, of sorts, to find the one that currently owns it. I believe I have tracked its current whereabouts to an auction… one I am unable to attend without recommendation-”

“Oh, is that all?” Bronweld says as he returns.

“Is that… all?” Vee-rah repeats.

“I apologize for eavesdropping, but my heart near stopped when I first heard you on the way back.” He settles back into his seat. “For a moment, I thought you were going to ask me to go on a quest with you.”

“Ah. Does that happen often-”

“Quests happen everywhere! And everyone wants the ‘wise wizard’ to guide them. It's my hell, being asked for a quest. And when I suddenly realized I was in a tavern, I was ready to curse myself out!” He ponders for a moment. “Quests always find some innocuous reason to start in taverns, don’t they? Like a parasite, quests fester here until they can latch onto some warmongering prince with an inferiority complex…”

Hatchlet and Vee-rah both stare at him in silence.

“Ahem… but perhaps I’m rambling about the past. Which auction is it? Something renowned, I hope?”

“It's in the Crownless Courts.”

“I see, another event of the Gathering, is it? What would you need as proof?”

After discussing the ensignia needed and the paperwork involved for a while, the three eventually leave the tavern and begin to part ways.

“Thank you, wizard. It would seem I now owe you much greater debt.”

“Consider it a gift. Of all people, we wizards know how annoying unset debts can be.”

Hatchlet reaches out meekly for a hug. “It was nice to meet you…”

Vee-rah laughs, picks up Hatchlet, and wraps her arms around her with a warrior’s hug. “I’m glad to have met you as well, Hatchlet.”

As Hatchlet and Bronweld walk away, Hatchlet still blushing from being in those strong arms and trying to recover from the moment, she turns to Bronweld and asks him another question.

“Why were you so prickly before?”

Bronweld releases a short chuckle. “I’m afraid you need to be more specific. I’m told I’m always quite… ‘prickly’.”

“I mean when I asked about the sword. You kept trying to stop me. I thought being a wizard was all about learning things, especially about people because-”

“‘Learning culture is how to learn magic’. Using my own quotes against me… well done.”

Hatchlet still waits expectantly.

“Well, I just thought it would be a sensitive topic for her. For what happened to many of her people… and what Soulblades are made from.”

“What do you mean?”

“If you had to guess, why do you think it is called a ‘Soul’-blade?”

Hatchlet stops in the path, realization striking her. “...It’s made from the dead, isn’t it?”

“The blades were most coveted, in the past. Warriors in ages long past would offer their ashes to the Soulsmiths, who would, in turn, give the reforged remains to their loved ones. As families grow, and wither, more ashes would be reworked into the same blade. In a sense, Soulblades aren’t just gravestones; they are entire cemeteries.”

“But if she has a new blade, and lost the other…”

“Then that implies the original was her ancestral blade, made from the ashes of her ancestors. While a second blade would imply that- Hatchlet! Come back!”

But she was already running towards her. Vee-rah wasn’t very far away, it had only been a few minutes since their parting, but it still takes Hatchlet a while to catch up. When she does see her, heading towards an empty road leading out of town, with a sunset overhead, Hatchlet asks her one final question:

“Who was it?”

Vee-rah stops in place.

Hatchlet stares at her back, silhouetted against the descending light above.

“...When I was younger,” Veerah begins. “My mother died of an illness. Bloodrot, it’s called. Very painful way to go. But she was strong. She didn’t show the pain. Not to her children, at least.”

She turns around. “I didn’t have much family left. Only a little brother, barely two when she died. And I was barely six. No one but me to provide for us, with no money, no home, no possessions of any kind. Except…”

She summons her Soulblade, the blue mist solidifying like frost into the ethereal steel. “There aren’t many of us left, the Soulbearers. The few remaining Soulsmith’s aren’t as easy to find, or as easy to bargain with, as the past. Not the one I found, at the very least. But that makes them valuable. And though I knew, as young as I was, that nothing was more disgraceful to my family’s code than relinquishing our blades…”

She gazes up from the blade and into Hatchlet’s eyes with an expression ripe with regret. “But I was so hungry.”

She continues, “After that, I used the money to grant us passage further north, where I remember my mother said we had some distant family, one with their own Soulblade. But when we arrived, and I asked them to take us in… they asked me where our blade was.”

Vee-rah doesn’t continue for a moment, so Hatchlet asks, “And then what-”

“They slapped me. Told me that someone as dishonorable as I deserved to die on the streets. I begged them to take my brother, for he had done no wrong. And they did. They took him as their own.”

She laughs weakly. “But then he got Bloodrot, too. It might be hereditary. Who knows… maybe I’ll be just like my mother; undefeated in battle, but brought low by our own blood.”

Hatchlet grabs something hidden beneath her shirt, clutching it tightly in her grasp, but not revealing it.

Vee-rah continues once more, “They wouldn’t add his ashes to their own Soulblade, so I, an eight year old living off scraps in the street, was given the task to find a Soulsmith. To ‘redeem’ myself, they said. I think they expected me to die. But I disappointed them for a second time; I found one. Normally, as long as you have the ashes, the soul can be given to the blade, no matter where it is, even if the Soulsmith has never seen it. I’m sure you wizards understand how that works, right?”

Hatchlet doesn’t respond, sensing an answer wasn’t wanted.

“But the Soulsmith, she told me giving up the blade meant my brother couldn’t join it normally. That I ‘severed’ our ancestors from us. That if I wanted my brother’s soul to find peace, I had to reunite him with the original by hand.”

She sighs and dismisses the soul of her brother, its edge returning to mist. “I’m sorry, I know that was a lot… but I sense we have something similar, don’t we?”

Hatchlet steps forward and reveals her necklace. An elaborate set of threads tied into a single loop drilled into a long, hooked talon. “Remember when I said I was raised by Harpies, you know during all that paper talk?”

“Yes.”

“Well, my mother died. Barely a couple years ago, actually. And this is one of her talons. Sometimes, when I’m feeling really stressed, or scared, I’ll let it run through my hair… like she used to do for me.”

She closes her eyes and presses the talon to her forehead, feeling the chipped grooves against her skin. “Do you know what Harpy funerals are like?”

Sensing she wanted an answer, Vee-rah responds, “No, I don’t.”

“We see death as a cycle, not an end. When we die, the things we leave behind leave a trace of who we were. And our bodies are no different. But we find it disrespectful to let nature take our bodies when we die, as though no one cared enough about them. So when a Harpy dies…”

She opens her eyes, her pupils as piercing as a hawk’s. “We eat them.”

Vee-rah blinks. And blinks again. “What?”

“We eat them.”

“So you…”

“When I was younger, she told me she wanted to be made into something easy, something that used as much of her as possible, and that the most of us could share. So when the Matriarch asked me what to make of my mother, I told her to make a stew.”

Vee-rah doesn’t know how to respond, so she doesn’t.

Hatchlet continues, “It wasn’t my first funeral either. When I was much, much younger, I ate from a roast celebrating a friend of my mother. I don’t remember her, not with how young I was, but I remember the taste. I remember at the time thinking, ‘Why’s everyone so sad? It tastes so good!’. But at my mother’s funeral I understood. I understood when I shakily took a bowl, drank some of the sweetest, most savory stew I’ve ever had in my life, and burst into tears.”

Vee-rah places her hand on Hatchlet’s shoulder and says, “I suppose that is the same then, in a sense. Making something from those who’ve passed to remember them.”

“Yeah. People are all pretty different… but I think death is the same everywhere.”

After they talk for a little while longer, bonding over their shared experiences, and vastly different cultures, the two part once more.

One continues on her journey of redemption, regret, and discovering what honor really means.

The other returns to a frustrated wizard and asks if tomorrow they can make stew for dinner.

 


Submitted: September 30, 2021

© Copyright 2021 G.P.Sharp. All rights reserved.

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