Background for Mercenary : Child of Fate
A shrine of the blessing, laid in the northern suburbs of Montenegro Castle, rumored to be a sacred ground. Far from farms, which were merely wheat fields, streams of rivers and lonesome mountains. On one of these farms, was Iowa. Iowa was only 19 when she and her mother settled there. The young men and women who came with her swiftly left, leaving behind Iowa, who worked as a shepherd for a duration of 2 years…………A shrine of the blessing, laid in the northern suburbs of Montenegro Castle, rumored to be a sacred ground. Far from farms, which were merely wheat fields, streams of rivers and lonesome mountains. On one of these farms, was Iowa. Iowa was only 19 when she and her mother settled there. The young men and women who came with her swiftly left, leaving behind Iowa, who worked as a shepherd for a duration of 2 years. The carefree sheep belonged to the farmers, who lived without a care for the world. In contrast, Iowa was a nameless nobody, often kept to herself. During the times when she had breaks, she would be seen in a daze, leaning against an archaic red brick wall, fantasizing about being someone much bigger.
Iowa originated from a theatre within a bustling city. The sight of dashing men and beautiful women was not an uncommon sight to her. Every night, she witnessed their graceful acts of life and death, love and betrayal. Iowa yearned for that colorful world.
When Iowa left the farm, she was determined to be an actor. First, Iowa auditioned at the drama house. Unbeknownst to her, she was disqualified in the preliminary round. Next, she proceeded to the dance house. Attempting to mimic a swallow, Iowa spun three rounds. After which, she quickly turned beet-red, as those were the most embarrassing three rounds in her life. Afterwards, she tried for the opera house. With her rugged voice honed from shepherding, waves of discordance bellowed within the four walls. If the judge didn’t begged for her to stop, it would have been a disaster. Lastly, she tried at the theatre. She performed as a shepherd, which allowed her to pass. The comments from the director was that she was very into her role, as it was in actual fact, a part that she has been playing for the last 2 years.
For the next 5 years, she stood behind the scenes, raising and lowering the dusty red curtains. Underneath the dust and dirt, her fantasies were buried. It was not soon after that her mother had passed away. Before long, Iowa had lost a place where she could call home.
There were countless young men and women like Iowa in the troupe. Jealousy runs through their veins, and acts of sabotage was a common sight. Iowa took on a role as a female warrior, a tedious role without limelight. She had to learn how to lunge, sweep, stab and back throw before perishing together with an enemy down a cliff. Iowa practiced long and hard, down to the very last minute. On the day of the show, her face was smeared with dirt, as if she had just returned from the arduous battlefield. She screamed till her voice gone hoarse, and performed outstandingly. It drew the jealous whispers of other actors who condemned her for acting too real.
After the performance ended, the crowd applauded and flowers were thrown. Not to her, but to the pair who acted as the prince and princess. Iowa remained in the shadowed corner of the stage and silently gave the audience a bow. She was alike to many. Even if Iowa tries harder, she will never be outstanding. Always average.
Days and years continue to go by, and from the dark lands came the legends of heroes. It was from the Far East, where tales were sang about the victories of their battles against the Dark Lord. But, their valiant tales remained uncared for, for the common folk favored simple and soothing comedies. Iowa could not act in minor roles like a weak woman nor a street side shrew. She merely waited for a once-a-month epic drama.
Those who joined with her, always resemble as being much smarter and sensible. And as such getting the more eye-catching roles, making them more famous. In these circumstances, even if Iowa performed to her best, she also remains ridiculed by the main stars. Iowa, did not give up, and remains fixated to being the top. She yearns for a day where she can pull off an unparalleled performance, winning the audience’s adoration. But to a minor figure like Iowa, waiting is the only thing she could do.
It was cold and lonely autumn. Fog enveloped the four corners of their view. Iowa could only ride a small gray horse, following behind the prop carriage. The other actors were in the caravan singing and dancing, drinking and making merry. With a piercing roar, a group of savages approached from over the mountains.
When the fog had finally dispersed and no longer obscured everyone’s vision, they discovered that they were not savages. It was instead, a rebel gang comprised of dissident soldiers out to plunder. They had long preyed on rich and affluent troupes, as well as the famous actresses. Every robber was only occupied with grabbing their own spoils, without caring about their prey’s begs for mercy. They had no compassion for the weak, nor did they spare the meek. They only cared to satiate their lust and their whims and wants.
The arrogance of the actors who occupied with self-preservation had been reduced to nothingness by the violence. In front of the bandits, they dare not hold their heads up high, they could only choke on their own pride. Iowa’s pretty face remained covered under a mask, with her thick limbs resembling those of a man.
“Annihilate every man you see, as well as those who would resist”, ordered the leader of the bandits. His underlings acted accordingly, almost as if they were afraid of provoking him.
A looming figure stood over Iowa. A hulking mass of muscle, his cold glare looked down on her, and his gaze alone would have been enough to terrify anyone else in the troupe. But not Iowa.
“I am not a man.”
With a roar, Iowa thrust her body forward and pierced him through his heart with a blade she had concealed within her sleeve. The continued practice and repetition of this exact movement countless times was enough to allow Iowa to stab an armored man who was easily twice her size right through his chest. The man slumped to his knees, his right hand clutching his wound, and fell over. The pain alone prevented him from moving at all. Within seconds, he died.
The stark contrast of the man’s blood on the olive fields caught the attention of every other bandit. All of them stopped in their tracks, discarding whatever loot they had grabbed in their hands, all curious to find out who this tiny person who was to be able to kill a man of such stature.
Iowa got off her knees. Clutching her blade in her right hand, she started to approach the bandits. With every second, her steps got bigger. Then, she stopped. She raised her left hand and slowly removed her mask, revealing to the gang her identity as not a man, nor a warrior of any sort, but a woman.
She cast an intimidating glance at each of the bandits and smirked. She brandished her blade. With an inspiring roar, she charged towards the rest of the bandits. One against fifty, she had no clue where she had suddenly attained such courage from. She thought to herself, if she took an arrow from each of them, she might as well die as a hedgehog.
The bandits turned their heads to look at each other, and all burst out in arrogant glee at Iowa’s laughable attempt at fighting back, and the thought of how puny of a challenge it would be to strike her down. A bandit walked forward towards Iowa, holding his head up high. He cleared his throat with the intention of making a mockery of her, but before he could utter a single word, Iowa swung her blade sideways, slicing the man’s head clean off his body.
Not allowing the gang any time to react, Iowa charged straight towards another bandit, prompting him to raise his shield in retaliation. Yet to no avail. Before he could finish bolstering his defensive stance, Iowa had managed to get within the boundaries of his shield and thrust her blade into his temple. The man dropped dead, with a thud his shield slumped over his now desecrated face. It was then, the bandits finally came to realize the threat Iowa posed to them. With an ear-piercing ring, the bandits unsheathed their swords, anticipating battle.
Almost as if it was by the god’s grace, she managed to slay five other bandits, either by a forward thrust, sending her blade piercing right through their hearts, or with a crescent sweep, slicing through the necks of her enemies. Iowa checked her dressing. She found out that she had fifteen more wounds, yet she did not feel them. The adrenaline of battle has completely dulled her perception of pain. Her once chilly arms were now embraced by the comfort and warmth of her own blood.
The word could be heard loud and clear. A man clad in black robes approached from the distance. It was the same man who had ordered the deaths of the men in Iowa’s troupe. It was the bandit leader. He raised his hands and extended his palms from his sleeves. He tilted his head down to see eight of his men dead. He grinned and began clapping.
“You have exceeded our expectations”, he chimed on.
“In all my days as a marauder I haven’t found myself so surprised before. You have certainly surpassed all my expectations”
“Am I supposed to feel thankful?” Iowa sarcastically questioned as she assumed a defensive stance she had practiced.
“I certainly hope not, because thanks to your resistance, I have decided that I will not grant you the benefit of a quick death. No. After me and my boys capture you, we are going to dice you alive. We are going to cut your pathetic excuse of a body into pieces, each piece for every one of my men you have slain today.”
The cold was harsh and the soil they stood on was bloody. The sounds of gale winds was thunderous as it sent the autumn leaves sailing through the air. The gusts howled once more and suddenly, the winds split, and an arrow came piercing through the frigid zephyr, planting itself in the eye of the bandit leader, killing him before he knew what had hit him, and sent his corpse flying backwards, rolling down the hill.
A horn bellowed from the distance, and on its command, a hail of arrows with almost perfect precision rained down on the bandits. The arrows all found their marks and planted themselves inside the skulls of the bandits, killing most of them. Their lifeless bodies hit the ground, staining the fields with crimson tides of blood more and more every moment. The survivors scrambled for cover, quickly holing up behind their shields, or under the lifeless bodies of the dead.
From the distance, a group of men dressed as beggars, clad in torn leather cuirasses and brandishing wooden weapons approached. At the head of their formation stood a stalwart one-eyed man, bravely wielding a rusty blade, their leader.
When the hail of steel finally subsided, the beggars charged forward, cutting down every bandit they came in their way. More brawlers than soldiers, their fierce charge terrified even the most undaunted bandits, and before the leader of the beggars had cut down the tenth person, the surviving bandits had already scattered like the bones of dead bodies torn from one another by wolves after the battle.
“They’re escaping”, Iowa yelled as she prepared to give chase.
“Let them run”, said the one-eyed beggar, as he polished his bloody dull blade with his palms before sheathing it.
“The events that just unfolded were nothing more than the parts of an unbreakable cycle. They wanted something, we didn’t let them have it. Revenge will be sought on us, whether we kill them or not. Let them run. Let them flee back to their camp. Let them tell the rest of their fold the defeat they faced today. Perhaps they might live to reflect on their actions.”
The one-eyed leader introduced himself as the Earl of Red River Castle, but spared Iowa of the false pleasantries as he was well aware that the Red River had long since dried up, and no one would have heard any news of its castle in a long time.
The man went on to introduce his compatriots as the Shining Army. While their feats paled in comparison to the tales sung of legendary warriors, the light of heroes still shone down upon them as they stood and fought for a noble cause. This army was an extension of his very being, as well as his pride.
“Come join our forces, young lady”, invited the leader.
“We could use a fine warrior such as yourself. As you can see, we are well armed. We can provide you with all the food and weapons you need. We have spears, bows, arrows and blades aplenty! And of course, there will be great bounty if you succeed in defeating our enemies!”
“Bounty, huh. I thought your pack were more peacekeepers than sellswords…” Iowa panted as she leaned onto her horse. The leader blurted a sarcastic smirk as he rolled his eye.
“Brand us whatever title you wish, even the noblest of men must earn their keep in gold. These men and women are all my brother and sisters, and as the head of this family, the responsibility falls to me to provide them with their means to food and shelter. I exercise no pretense and false acts of nobility. Honest work is honest work, and that’s all I care about.”
He continued, “Lass, today I give you the opportunity to test your mettle and see where you stand amongst the fine warriors of this land”
Iowa was still conflicted
“You aspire to be a star in the theatrics and drama, now I offer you the chance to master the star in the drama of life! Join our forces and strengthen your resolve. Use your skills to fight and protect the men and women around you, and before long your tale will have spread far and wide. The world will be your audience. Everyone will know your name. You will be the star you always aspired to be. Come join us, and your dreams will be at hand!”
“Join our ranks, Iowa, and we will become a hero…”
It was then, Iowa was certain of her destiny…
Long ago, only a single force of warriors were noble enough to be granted the titles of heroes. These warriors were called the Guardians. In the long times to come, the name would be made known to all. But still, despite their great fame, the Guardians act alone, choosing not to allow the common men to influence their ranks, instead using the riches donated by the people to extend their reaches rather than for political means. And henceforth the Shining Army was born. The frontline of the Guardians, armed to the teeth…
Slaying a demon is nothing compared to fighting a bandit. Great demonic beasts on all fours overwhelmed the army at their flanks while winged dragons emanating dark pressure beckoned the apocalypse. One by one, terrified warriors fled. Only Iowa remained. Her senses of fear overwhelmed her desire for victory. She who had carved a bloody road from a sea of slaughter, remembered what the Earl of Red River had said to her on that fateful day. That false acts of nobility and justice mean nothing.
The tips of her spear had been ground to a smooth edge. Her quiver was empty, her comrades fell. This shepherdess turned warrior thought of found herself worried about surviving the battle for the very first time in her life. The hordes approached. She was outnumbered. Her breath grew shorter and shorter with every moment. Then it happened. A lightning-fast strike swept across her vision as Iowa closed her eyes, let out a deafening screech as she screamed in fright and succumbed to her fate.
Her eyelids were wet, with tears and blood. But not her blood, for it was cold. She opened her eyes and heaved at the sight of the scene in front of her. The demons approaching her had all been slain. From close by, she heard a comforting voice. A glimmer of hope when all seemed to be lose.
It echoed, “Never lose hope, comrades, for we stand with you. This is the oath of a Guardian!”
And through her teary vision, she saw a figure glimmering with light appear before her. Standing face to face with the Guardians, Iowa reminisces that fateful day when she made that decision. She had become inseparable from her bow, and it was the only thing she felt could bring her warmth and stability.
She would often be battered with questions about her lack of talent or social standing, in which she would always reply saying, “I don’t know what you are talking about, but it’s probably of little importance to me. All I know is I have my bow and my arrows. I will aim wherever I want, and I certainly will not miss. And my aim is to protect the world.”
Like many others, she had no destiny, only a fate that lead her into the darkness, where peril and danger awaits.
But Iowa did not care...
For Iowa, was a Mercenary...