129 Old Acquaintances
Now that she had a plan, the first thing Zoey did was contact Athena and Nito to inform them of the situation.
"So both of the corrupted creatures that the goddess requested that we look for have been taken care of... but you think that the beast tide that has been plaguing Frenach for the past several hundred years may be related to the corrupted?" Nito asked once he heard the story.
"That's right," replied Zoey. "The boy, Max, he is able to sense the minds of the beasts in a way, and says that they are somehow being subjected to a large amount of pain that is driving them mad and causing this whole mess."
"It makes sense if you think about it," came Athena's voice. "I doubt that anyone ever considered that the beasts are not doing this of their own will. If someone is causing this beast wave purposefully, then we should try and stop them regardless if it is related to the corrupted or not."
"That being said, this whole prophecy and seeing the future stuff seems... a little suspect," Nito mused. "Can we trust what this boy says? I have never even heard of an ability to see the future before."
"I have," Athena said. "My ancestors the Amazorii had legends that speak of seers that tell the future. None have been seen in hundreds of years, but they were once revered as oracles to my people. If this boy claims that his mother could see the future, then there may be some truth to it."
"What about this Asurai clan? What do they had to do with any of this?" Nito questioned.
"The only way to know is to find them," Zoey said. "They are not in Brumau, and all their information has been destroyed as far as I can find. The only thing I know so far is that about a year ago they contested for control of the town and failed. The current leader of Brumau, the Barron also seems to have a vendetta against them and is the reason there is no information on them."
"Well, knowing you hun, you will find them soon enough. Just be careful OK?" Athena cautioned.
"What she said," affirmed Nito.
"You got it, I'll let you know if anything comes up."
Zoey disconnected her comm-link and returned her attention to her surroundings. Max had been patiently waiting for her while not showing a hint of impatience at all. As she spent more time with him Zoey was noticing that for a young boy he had none of the mannerisms or childishness that kids that age ought to have. His circumstances had been harsh, extremely harsh, and as a result his personality had been drastically changed.
But from time to time, Zoey could still see the curiosity of youth in his eyes. Maybe if she did what she could to help him he could regain some of what he had lost. For now, Zoey would do what she could.
It was about time for them to leave the inn, and Max had undergone a significant change since they had arrived. Now that he was cleaned up and had fresh clothing, he had been transformed into a handsome young man, no longer the filth-splattered alley-runner he had been before.
Zoey had also made him some nice boots, gloves, and a collared jacket to wear, all designed to be similar to what the youth of Gaia had worn, yet not too out of place here on Darren. Fully dressed he had a rather dashing appearance, leaving Zoey proud of her work. Max also appreciated her gifts and had thanked her with a slight blush, which Zoey found rather cute!
Now that they were ready, they left the Pleasant Streams inn, and stepped back onto the streets of Brumau just as evening was setting in.
But it seemed that someone had it out for the two of them. Less than five minutes after they left the inn, their path was blocked by two strangers. Actually, they were not strangers. Zoey recognized them as the ones that she had seen bully Max that one time on the road to the Bulwark.
"Look what we have here! It's our pal, Shitstain! Looks like you got cleaned up! And what's this? You even made a friend!"
The loudmouth who spoke first was the armored man carrying the sword and shield on his back. Zoey did not care for his tone or the sneer on his face. The big fellow with the two-handed blade on his back didn't react or speak, he just stood there.
"You know, no matter how much you polish a turd, in the end it's still just shit," sneered the man.
Zoey narrowed her eyes behind her mask. Max had yet to show a reaction to this oaf. Zoey sensed that there was some history between them though... If he continued to get in their way, Zoey was not above cutting him down to size.
"Tell you what, you take off those nice clothes you got and give them to me, and I'll leave you alone. Actually, I'll also take your girlfriend too. I can show her a better time than you ever could."
That last threat finally got a response from Max. He stepped protectively in front of Zoey, eyes glinting dangerously as he stared the man right in the eyes.
Zoey's guess had been right, there was a history between these two, but she barely knew the half of it. In the year since his mother's death Max had been akin to a walking corpse, showing little reaction to anything around him. The man currently standing in their path had for the longest time taken out his anger and frustration on Max anytime they had crossed paths. During that year, Max had never once showed defiance or fought back, he had only suffered in silence as the man had inflicted numerus injustices on him.
Zoey did not know of this, but when Max showed defiance for the first time, stepping in front of Zoey and actually staring the bully in the eye, it quite nearly drove the man mad.
He leaned back and roared with laughter, then straightened to his full height as he glared down at Max.
"Look at that, the little shit grew a spine huh? So what, you got a girlfriend and grew some balls? You think a turd like you can stand up to me, a hero that works his ass of defending the town??"
The oaf was getting louder and more belligerent. Zoey had been a little surprised when Max had stepped in front of her, but grateful nonetheless. She was aware of what he was capable of, and this loudmouth was nothing compared to the beasts she had witnessed Max take down with his bare hands.
Apparently the lack of reaction from Zoey's mask and Max's defiance was a little too much for the oaf, because the next thing he did was suddenly strike at Max with his fist. Zoey had somewhat expected this outcome. When bullies have their control challenged they would almost always lash out in reaction.
The instant the man moved to strike Max, Zoey had already activated her Dark Star Vision. This was so she could see what would happen and keep an eye on the man's companion in case he stepped in. She had no intention of doing anything unless Max ended up in actual danger which was unlikely.
The oaf was not a small man, and Zoey guessed that he was about Rank 3 in strength which was not inconsiderable. However, Max didn't even flinch as the man's fist smashed into his face. For a moment, the man's eyes widened in shock, then Max grabbed the hand that had punched him and gave it a brutal twist. A bloodcurdling scream rang out as the man staggered back, clutching his hand that was now facing the wrong direction.
Zoey winced when she saw the impossible angle that the hand was now at. Typical of Max's style he had only retaliated after being attacked and had done so with finality.
That hand would not be punching anyone again anytime soon.