Savage Divinity – Chapter 425
Wooo more art! For some reason, these got caught in my Spam folder so they’re a little delayed. If you’ve sent stuff in before and I didn’t post, my most sincere apologies. I don’t even get much junk mail on the email I use for this stuff, so I don’t know why it the filter thought it was spam.
Anywho, today, we have two pieces of art from two different artists, but they’re both of the same character.
First up, Pedro from Brazil has provided a rat-esque impression of Jorani, who kinda looks like Splinter if he were more badass
Next, we have a piece from TheEpicLotfi titled: Jorani almost got redpilled by Spectres. Behold!
Two very different takes on the same character, and I loves em both. Again if you’ve sent something to my email and have been ignored, please send it again and I’ll start checking my junk folder when I remember. That, or post it comments, on discord, whatever you feel like, any and all contributions would be much appreciated. Seeing how my readers envision the characters I’ve written is one of the best things about writing SD, and I hope to see many more in the (near) future :D.
Enjoy the chapter guys, and take care.
“Three loincloths are sitting in a tea house. What do they talk about?…Nothing, they’re stuck up assholes.”
It took a moment for the punchline to register, but once it did, Jorani cackled with surprised amusement. His drunken crew were only a heartbeat behind and soon they were all chortling at the bossman’s joke, crude and tawdry just like they liked em. Jinoe in particular seemed delighted by the one-liner, which was a relief considering his recent fascination with gallows humour. It’d been amusing at first, but after the third time Jinoe snuck a decapitated head into someone’s bedroll, Jorani wondered if it was time he stepped in.
He didn’t, mostly because it was fucking hilarious, but still… he thought about it.
When his laughter died down, Jinoe said, “My turn, my turn. What’s the bossman got in common with a pussy?”
The tension thickened and silence palpable as the crowd shut their mouths and shifted in discomfort. Glancing at the still smiling bossman, Jorani wondered if Jinoe had survived Sinuji only to end up hanging from a nearby tree branch, but the bossman had skin thicker than SuiHua’s new walls and a dirtier mind than the lowest-born scoundrel among them. “One slip of the tongue,” he answered, grinning like a wolf, “And you’re in deep shit.”
A pause, then the crowd howled with laughter, Jinoe loudest of all. Giddy with relief, Jorani refilled the bossman’s winecup with a grateful nod. Noticing Jorani didn’t have a cup of his own, the bossman raised an eyebrow in silent question, but Jorani merely shook his head. Drowning your sorrows was a slippery slope he’d only just climbed up from and he wasn’t in no hurry to slide back down again.
If only he could’ve shared the lesson with Awdar…
Shivering despite the afternoon heat, the drug-deprived scout sat in the middle of the crowd, where they could all keep an eye on him. With pale skin and sunken eyes, handsome Awdar appeared half-dead and miserable as he hugged a bucket to his chest, oblivious to the mirth and cheer around him. They’d never been the best of friends, but Jorani sympathized with the man, an old comrade from the Freebooters who made it all the way here. Awdar had earned a gash on his brow and a gap in his teeth when the bossman came to burn his drugs, but there was no more anger left in the lanky raider and it hurt Jorani to see him like this. They had all indulged in Pearl Dust, Tiger Balm, Sludge, or other such street tonics at one point or another, but Awdar had gotten hooked on Dream Smoke, a higher class of drug much stronger than he was accustomed to. Despite throwing the dried leaves into a campfire on an open field, the smoke had still made Jorani a little numb and woozy, leaving him to wonder what it’d feel like to grind and snort it like Awdar had been doing.
Then again, upon seeing him vomit another belly full of water, Jorani was pretty sure nothing would be worth this.
Unable to ignore Awdar’s watery spewing, the crowd’s mood soured as they were none too happy to see their comrade’s torment. The front lines had been hard on all of them and few blamed Awdar for turning to his vices. Hell, most thought a hit of Dream Smoke before battle made him an even tougher son of a bitch than normal, an unstoppable warrior who knew no fear and felt no pain. Even without it he was one of the toughest bastards in Jorani’s crew, coming in third after Ral and Erkin, which was surprising considering his hunched posture and gangly frame. Was Dream Smoke really so terrible to make all this suffering worth it?
Borrowing a water-skin to wet a clean handkerchief, the bossman crouched down and wiped Awdar’s face, with as much gentle care as he gave his pets. “You’re probably cursing me out right about now,” he said, holding the water-skin to Awdar’s lips so he could drink. “I don’t blame you. This doesn’t look pleasant, but it is necessary.”
Speaking for the first time since they’d burned his drugs, Awdar gazed at the bossman with tear-filled eyes. “Boss… please… I need it… dying…”
“You’re not dying.” Tearing a small piece off a plain steamed bun, the bossman popped it into Awdar’s mouth. “You just feel like you are. That’s what Dream Smoke does. It tricks your body into thinking you need it to survive, like you need to breathe or sleep.”
“Can’t do this…” Awdar’s pitiful moan drilled a hole through Jorani’s chest, and he dug his feet in just to keep from walking away. Expensive though it might be, Dream Smoke was readily available in SuiHua to anyone with enough coin, and Jorani had enough to spare. This was too much, he’d seen people who were actually dying suffer less than Awdar.
“You can and you will.” Wholly without remorse, the bossman continued stuffing bits of bun and pouring water into Awdar’s mouth. “It’s not interfering with your duties yet, but this addiction will make you worthless. I need a soldier, not a junkie.”
“Fuck you!” His misery turned to fury, Awdar sprayed a mouthful of soggy bun into the bossman’s face, his angular face ugly with rage. “Fuck you and fuck yer fight! Burn in the Father’s Maw, ye shit-eatin’ midget. I’ll rip yer head off and shit down your throat if ye like it so much. I’ll…”
Unperturbed by Awdar’s tantrum, the bossman calmly wiped his face and picked soggy bits of bread out of the handkerchief before shoving it and his fist into Awdar’s mouth. “Now listen here.” There was no anger in the bossman’s voice, only cold honesty. “If you can’t handle the battlefield, then that’s fine. This life is not for everyone and there’s no shame in walking away. You say the word and I’ll have you on the first ship heading north with papers for passage back to Sanshu, Shen Huo, or wherever else you want to go.” Leaning in to stare Awdar in the eyes, the bossman added, “After you kick this habit. I’ll not watch a man kill himself, not while he’s still a part of my retinue. You want to poison yourself, then do it where I won’t see it.”
From their dark looks and muted exchanges, Jorani could see his crew didn’t like the sound of this and feared the bossman was making a big mistake. Remembering how reasonable he was the last time Jorani spoke up, he cleared his throat and said, “Bossman, not fer nothing, but don’t ye think this is goin’ too far? We all seen Awdar’s had a bit of a problem, but he ain’t ever let it get in the way of proper business.”
“Yet.” Giving up on trying to feed Awdar, the bossman stood up and gestured at the poor, gagging bastard, his stomach so empty there was nothing left to throw up. “He’s managed without incident so far, but if we wait until it becomes a problem, then it’s already too late. What happens if he takes too much during break time and is still loaded on sentry duty? Or if he burns through his stash half-way through our next patrol? What happens when his drug-addled brain can’t differentiate between his own thoughts and the Father’s whispered lies?” Shaking his head, the bossman sighed and said, “I understand the need to unwind, but keep within reason. Balance isn’t just about meditation and Chi, but something you should seek out in all aspects of life. Drink, smoke, snort, or whatever, but do it in moderation. I can’t set hard limits because I don’t know where those limits lie, but do you really think Awdar is okay like this? How long’s it been since we burned his drugs and made him flush his system clean?
Checking his jewel-encrusted pocket-watch, Jorani found the answer surprising. “Round four hours.”
“Which shows Awdar’s problem is a lot worse than any of us knew. The signs are easy to hide so long as he keeps feeding the addiction, but once he stops, this happens.” Crouching once again, the bossman looked Awdar in the eyes and said, “I know this is difficult and you think I’m being unfair in singling you out. You’re not the only one with a habit, not by a long shot, but you’re the only one I’ve noticed spiraling out of control.” Raising his voice to address the onlooking crowd, he continued, “Things haven’t been easy, but we’ll get through this together, no matter the consequence. I meant what I said. I am proud to fight alongside you all, but there is no shame in stepping away. Mother knows I wish I could, but I can’t. If any of you feel like you can’t or don’t want to keep fighting, then come to me and I’ll send you home with a smile. Even the Death Corps,” Bossman added, giving a pointed look at his elite, Imperial Bodyguards before his expression turned dark. “But be warned. Whatever your vice, keep it under control, because if you fuck up and get someone else killed, I’ll hang you myself. Understood?”
Everyone in ear-shot answered in unison as the bossman stalked away, and Jorani thanked his lucky star that he’d only been hooked on the drink. Taking a seat next to Awdar, he took over feeding the poor bastard while Ronga switched out the soiled vomit bucket for a clean one. Patting the lanky raider on the back, Jorani breathed deep through his mouth and said, “You remember how we met the bossman? How he took down the Freebooters with a wagon of poisoned wine?”
“Y-yea.” Awdar snarled and said, “Shit so much I thought my innards were gonna slide out.”
“You think that was worse, or is this?”
The question earned Jorani a feeble chuckle, though Awdar immediately vomited after. While chewing on a piece of bun, the sickly raider shook his head and said, “Fuckin’ hell Jorani. Back then, I was a hot-shit killer and you was just a scrawny scavenger. Look at us now. Didn’t know it then, but yer a tough bastard.”
“You ferget about my demotion? Was drunk as a lordling in a whore house fer a week straight when I first found out we were headed for the front lines.”
“How’d ye get over it then?”
Awdar’s haunted gaze made Jorani wish he had a better answer, but all he could do was shrug and say, “Bossman sat me down, set me right, and gave me the same choice he gave you. Almost took him up on it too. Figured I’d head back and get hired on to guard the bossman’s caravans or something.”
“So why’d you stay?”
Jorani shrugged again, because he really didn’t have a good answer, or at least he thought he didn’t. “Most commanders would’ve hung me and moved on, but he said he wanted me fighting at his side. Me, plain old Jorani, standing shoulder to shoulder with Falling Rain, and he’s the one who’s proud. Crazy right? Cept he means it, which makes me want to live up to his expectations and be worthy of his pride.” Another shrug. “But you gotta decide what’s best fer you. Ain’t a bad life working fer the bossman. Plenty of our old friends are still back north, guarding caravans and warehouses and whatnot. Or maybe you try yer hand at farmin’ or something, I dunno. Do know this though.” With all the gravity he could muster, Jorani said, “Ye ain’t half as pretty as ye think ye are, so ye certainly won’t make nuff to eat if ye’re set on turnin’ tricks.”
Awdar threw up again before responding with a groan. “Ah, fuck you. Quit makin’ me laugh. Fucking hurts.” After a long pause, he whispered, “I couldn’t sleep, ye know? That’s why I turned to Dream Smoke. Every time I closed my eyes, I’d see them there in the darkness. Those I killed, those who almost killed me, haunting me. Not just Defiled but others too. The farmers and fisher-folk, the merchants and wagon drivers, anyone and everyone I put to rest. They’d be there, staring and accusing, tryin’ to drag me down into the Father’s Maw with em. I ain’t a good man and ain’t ever tried to be, but all this fightin’… You think She won’t want me?”
Luckily, Awdar moved on to another topic before Jorani could put together a coherent answer. He stayed with Awdar for another hour, but the man only got progressively worse. Resting his head on the edge of his bucket, he sobbed and mewled incoherently as the withdrawal pangs intensified, though Jorani thought he heard the poor bastard begging for death more than once. The mood grew heavy as Awdar went on about his flaws and faults, about the people he’d killed and punishments he deserved, his nightmares given voice in his time of suffering. Something wasn’t right, but Jorani couldn’t say what, just a sense of wrongness about the proceedings, an unsettling discomfort which had nothing to do with Awdar’s sobbing or the stench of his vomit. Jorani’s skin crawled as the world darkened around him, as if the poor bastard’s litany of sins had been given form and blanketed the area in a shroud of gloom and despair. The feeling got so bad, he sent Ral to get the bossman just to be safe, but oddly enough, Awdar quieted down seconds before the bossman reached his side. Placing a steaming pot down in front of him, the bossman checked Awdar’s pulse and pupils before turning to Jorani. “I’m gonna go get Teacher and ask him to take a look, but I think Awdar’s okay. If he wakes up, try to feed him and lift his spirits.”
Without waiting for an answer, the bossman darted away, so Jorani lifted the pot lid to see what was inside. Winter-melon chicken soup, not done as fancily as the restaurants back in Nan Ping, but it certainly smelled better, its pleasant aroma overpowering the sour stench of Awdar’s puke bucket. Stomach growling with hunger, Jorani figured there was no way the sickly raider would ever finish the entire pot, so he poured himself a bowl to enjoy.
“What’s that?” Waking at the worst time possible, Awdar lifted his head and smacked his dried lips, eyes locked on the bowl of fragrant soup. “Smells good.”
Swallowing his disappointment, Jorani helped Awdar sit up straight and held the bowl to his mouth. “Sure does. You in luck, because this is fresh cooked soup made by the bossman himself. Drink up. The Medical Saint will be comin’ by to check on ye soon enough, so try not to throw up on him, yea?”
After slurping down half a bowl, Awdar sat back and sighed. “Delicious soup and a Healer? Me own mum never treated me half this good.”
Resisting the urge to finish the bowl, Jorani chuckled and said, “I hear ye. Way I see it, ain’t no one know what’s gonna happen after ye die, but I know fer a fact the bossman’ll treat us right, dead or alive. Better than we deserve, if I’m bein’ honest.”
“Suppose yer right.” Nodding his head, Awdar looked much recovered after half a bowl of soup, leaving Jorani to wonder what in the hell went into making it. “Can’t be lettin’ him down, now can I?”
“Sure, but soldierin’ on ain’t the way to make him proud.” Patting his friend on the back, Jorani said, “You do what’s right fer you and show him you were worth the effort. Don’t matter if it’s as a soldier, guard, farmer, or even a whore, you live yer life happy and that’s how ye’ll pay him back.”
“You happy Jor? Bein’ a soldier?”
“Sure am. Happier once I get me a taste of this soup.”
And the strange thing was, Jorani wasn’t lying. Despite all the fighting, killing, and almost dying, he really was happy. As a soldier, he served a purpose in fighting off the Defiled, and not only was he getting stronger with each passing day, he had the bossman’s trust and command of his squad back. He hadn’t seen the old bastard since their meeting in Nan Ping, Daxian kept to himself, and nowadays, Jorani was closer with his lovely little sisters than ever. Time was, playing house would’ve had Jorani running for the hills, but there was something nice about sitting down for a meal with Sorya and Anrhi without trying to get into their dresses. Not to say he’d stopped trying entirely, but it was nice to have a family again and know there were people waiting for his safe return.
And maybe, just maybe, his little sisters would help Jorani find a proper wife. His options were looking slim now that he knew Kimi and Siyar were a thing. Ciro only had eyes for Ravil and A-Gui was crazy if she thought Jorani was going to fight Wang Bao for her affection, which left precious few single and age appropriate women in the retinue. Maybe he ought to expand his horizons and see if Sai Chou wanted a drink or five. She couldn’t be too much older, maybe early thirties, early forties at the most, but it was hard to tell underneath all the dirt and blood. Still, she seemed like an earnest woman, albeit one far too devoted to turtles for his tastes, but if he wanted a woman to protect him, then Sai Chou was undoubtedly the strongest in the retinue, an axe-wielding, Aura Capable, Expert waiting for Jorani to sweep her off her feet.
Right after Awdar stopped throwing up. Such were the sacrifices a scout leader must make, putting the health and safety of his crew before his own happiness.
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