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|Chapter 3 of deathlade||
Hsoj kicked the empty wooden bowl in disgust and cursed foully. All they had had to eat that night had been bread and raw meat, and it had just begun to snow. He remembered Lucas’s words.
“No fire this night, it is far too dangerous,” he said mockingly, screwing up his face in an expression of mock sternness, then he turned to Lucas. “We never should have stopped here!” he spat.
“You would rather us be chased down and killed?” Lucas shot back, “By ones who would see that as our fleeing from them, and therefore discern us as a potential threat or enemy?”
“’Tis called communication!” Hsoj growled vehemently.
“Fool, they do not speak our language!” Lucas yelled back.
“Hsoj shot him a haughty glance, but could not find a reply. He went to sit next to Erin, who was taking her cold meal stoically. Her wounds from the sorrow of the loss of her father were now calloused, he realized, though she would carry them forever. It seemed ironic to him that she would only be healed when she died and met him in the Ether-Realm.
“How are you coming along?” he asked her quietly.
“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked playfully.
“What’s this?” Hsoj asked in mock amazement. “The brightest in our class of three cannot comprehend simple meaning?”
She gave him a playful shove and they both burst into hysterics. “I should think you know what I mean, Hsoj!” They fell over so that they were lying down facing each other. “You know so much in those deep gray pools. Your eyes…” she touched a hand to his face.
“I think we should be… more than just good friends,” said Hsoj tentatively. He leaned over to kiss her, and she let him, embraced him, kissed back. “I love you”
They were broken up when Lucas suddenly but silently jumped to his feet. He drew his bow and bid the others to draw swords as well. He crouched on the balls of his feet and drew an arrow taught on his yew bow.
“What is it?” whispered Hsoj nervously. “What do your ears detect that ours do not?”
“The nomads and wild men near us,” Lucas said assuredly, listening intently. “They carry weapons, but seem to be afraid to attack us, though their band number about seventy or eighty.” An air of confidence pervaded Lucas’s next statement. “They mean us no harm.”
Then they were surrounded by a sea of spears. They were obviously crafted by a find blacksmith, especially for barbarians, and made for hunting or fishing. The barbarians themselves were tall and muscular, with scraggly black or brown hair and long beards, the most honored being the longest. This party was entirely men and wore thick fur coats. The front line was entirely spearmen, but the rest bore huge axes, warhammers, and greatswords. The small party was impressed with the strategy.
“Igh carso mena?” asked the largest barbarian, obviously the leader. His voice resonated fear, but kept a strong tone.
“Is there one among your number who knows our speech?” asked Hsoj. “That of Mortal Men?”
“Aye!” he heard one shout from the back. He wrestled through the sea of his brethren and stood face to face with Hsoj. He must have been almost six feet tall and had blonde hair, a seemingly unusual trait for this band. He wore buffalo hides in many layers over himself and bore a hammer with the word Hakenburen inscribed on it.
The barbarian placed the hammer at his feet and faced them. “I invoke the right of peaceful negotiation, parley. Lay down you weapons to prove you mean us no harm. I am Hesendar. I know your language so that we do not invoke war with your kind by merely attacking rather than negotiating.
The band sheathed their weapons and, somewhat reluctantly, unbuckled their belts and let them fall to the ground, Hsoj smirking at Lucas victoriously as he did so. “I am Hsoj. This is Erin, Lucas, and Jacob. We are following the trail of a murderer of innocents, and mean you no harm. We come in peace to these plains already battle weary and beleaguered after an attack by Orcs in the forest,” he gestured to the foreboding expanse of trees. “Will you grant us passage?”
Hesendar turned to converse with his chief after shouting a command for the spears to be lowered. When he was done, the chieftain smiled and opened his arms wide in a gesture of friendship. “Seik!” he shouted to the tribe. They all cheered loudly or wiped their sweaty brows in relief, some both.
“Kanno Eeina has declared you as a friend of our tribe forever more,” Hesendar told them cheerily. “Oh, ‘kanno’ means chieftain. He is a man of great power, and if you anger him, he will grind your skull into salt and feed it to the dogs.”
Hsoj gulped visibly.
“But enough of that talk!” Hesendar roared, patting Hsoj squarely on the back so forcefully that the adolescent nearly fell over, “Tonight you shall see how hospitable we of the Llendair tribe can truly be!” He led them off, filling their minds with images of malt beer and juicy meat over a roaring fire.
The journey to the barbarian camp took them five miles closer to the city of Vaultite. This they were thankful for, but even more thankful were they for the hospitality of the Llendair tribe. Their tents were neatly rowed, no doubt serving as roomy homes. Outside most of the tents were blazing fires with small families huddled around them to keep warm and eat.
Most of the congregation that had escorted them there broke up and drifted to their own respective tents. Dogs barked from many, but were quickly hushed. Hesendar and Kanno Eeina stayed with them. They led them to the largest deerskin tent.
“What does Hakenburen mean?” Lucas inquired of Hesendar’s warhammer. “I would like to know some measure of your language, that I might communicate with your people.”
“The magic imbued in this hammer invokes battle rage and adrenalin bursts in my fellow warriors and strikes fear into the hearts of my enemies. Haken means fire. Buren means stoker. This,” he patted the hammer, lovingly almost, “is Hakenburen the fire-stoker. And it has served me through many perils.”
“Karranoe,” Kanno Eeina said impassively, holding his arms out wide when they reached a huge tent. It must have been at least ten feet tall and twenty feet long. “E Hasho na Tempralo.”
“The Hall of Tempralo, our God,” Hesendar explained. “It is where we hold meetings and such. Those with no tents of their own must quarter here until they make or are quartered in their own tent. It is also a sort of, how would you say, church, to our gods, the main one being Tempralo, God of Battle.” You will receive, as a gift, your own tents, which are made so they can be folded up and carried along with you on your travels. They are large and roomy, and should serve you well.”
“You know much of the Common Speech,” Lucas remarked. “How?”
“I… do not wish to relive those memories. They are buried deep within the dark recesses of my cluttered mind.”
“Why?” Lucas asked rhetorically. Half of him wanted to know of Hesendar’s dark past, but the other half told him to leave the obviously tormented man to his grief and despair.
“Oh well!” Hesendar said, throwing up his arms. “Today is a day of celebration! Let us eat and drink in the great Hall of Tempralo!”
“They walked through the huge flaps of the Hall and were greeted by a roar of applause and welcomes. Heavy wooden beams supported the deerskin, and off of each one hung a lantern to illuminate the huge meeting hall.
Large wooden tables with seats spanning their width lined the hall. Every seat was filled, and those that weren’t sitting took their bison and beer standing. At the head of the hall was a magnificent oaken throne embossed with gold-plated carvings of great battle scenes and signs of Tempralo and his thunderous hammer Heekenbraga. Kanno Eeina made his way up the cluttered hall to this and sat in it. He pointed a large muscled arm at the three friends. “Koon seik Erin, Lucas, Hsoj, kend Jacob!” he declared and everyone cheered. Men and women approached them with offers of food, beer, and other pleasantries.
“Your hospitality is overwhelming,” Hsoj remarked. “We could not have asked for anything more than safe passage through these lands, and you have given us so much more than that. Thank you my friend. I am sure our stay here will be quite a pleasant and enjoyable one.”
“I am sure it will be!” said Hesendar heartily. “Sit now, eat drink! Do not waste time conversing politely with your formalities. You are safe now, and in good hands, well capable of feeding, housing and protecting you! And very hospitable I might add. You will fine that our cooks have prepared the finest venison, pork, and other meat and food that you have ever had the privilege to experience.”
Little did the innocent men and women know what price their hospitality would cost them.
The party retired to their tents after a few hours. Respectfully, they had not drunk too much ale and beer, so as not to find themselves with a buzzing head when they woke up. They were awakened the next day, however, not by their own will, but by sounds of battle.
Lucas, Jacob, and Hsoj were all in the same tent. Hsoj awoke first, and then nudged the others out of a pleasant sleep. “There’s something going on out there,” Hsoj told them both. “And it sounds very much like fighting.”
“I hear it too,” said Jacob.
“As do I,” added Lucas. “Let us see what is transpiring.”
They rushed outside to find Erin out of her tent as well, obviously also awakened by the disturbing sounds. But another sight greeted them as well, one that horrified them beyond all description.
A lone man stood among a pile of about twenty barbarian bodies. He wore black robes and bore two swords, one glowing green, the other, it’s sister blade, purple. His hood was up, hiding his face, but black hair stuck out from under it. Four tents were ablaze, and the entire barbarian tribe, with Hesendar at the head, was standing in front of him, weapons ready.
“Terrane,” Lucas whispered.
“Why do you believe us to foster those that you are seeking?” Hesendar cried to the man.
“Natural selection,” the man said coolly, obviously unaffected by the insurmountable odds that he faced. “Natural Selection.”
Out of a tent to the side burst Kanno Eeina. He looked every inch the figure of heroism, bearing a great axe in one hand and a warhammer in the other. He had donned traditional tribal war armor, and the gold glinted in the light, as if touched by something holy. He roared to Tempralo in a voice that shook the very ground those present stood upon and rushed over to the man who was massacring his tribe.
“Erosh kinta poron! Nachka!”
“He says-” Hesendar began but was cut off by the black-robed man.
“I know what he says, I know the language of your filthy people, and all other peoples for that matter! Kash nik tenra igh sackoso.”
Kanno Eeina brought his hammer down in a swipe that would have made the man’s head flatter than the hammer’s head. The cut was surprisingly agile, but the man nearly ducked to the side and brought the purple sword straight up into the hammer. Everyone present watched in amazement as the head fell off of the hammer, cleanly severed. It had been one of their finest weapons.
Kanno Eeina twirled the haft over his head and brought it down heavily on the ducking man’s back. This time it connected, and the man collapsed to the ground, flat on his stomach. The chieftain brought his great axe down to split the man in half, but he rolled to the side and the axe was embedded in the ground.
With a mighty heave, Kanno Eeina brought the axe up out of the snow-covered ground. He brought the broken haft of his warhammer up just in time to block a swipe of the greenish sword. The man shouted the words “Sonaro! Geralatar!” and was gone. Kanno Eeina fell to the ground, darkness spreading out on his body from the stomach, like moss on an old wall. When he was completely enveloped in the darkness, he turned to the others- and attacked them.
For a few minutes they all stood helplessly and were swatted down, refusing to attack their beloved chieftain. Then Hsoj shouted, “You must kill him! He may be your chieftain, or at least may have been once, but now he is merely a pawn for that evil man! Trust me you do not want that to be the fate of this heroic man!” He then muttered a lament to himself. “No one wants that fate of anyone else.”
The nomads burst into action all at once. The berserk behemoth soon fell, a pincushion with three-dozen arrows piercing his form. The barbarians turned away, trembling with rage.
“Who was that man and why should I not kill you for bringing him upon us?” Hesendar asked them. They noticed that he still had Hakenburen drawn.
“That,” Lucas told him assuredly, “Was Terrane. Though of that truth, even, I foster doubts in my mind. When I fought Terrane, he healed his wounds and those that this man bore were inflicted the sure cut of a blade, not the Hawk that I summoned using Poktenar.” Poktenar was a barbarian word that translated roughly as “Imagination Magic,” and, therefore, Imagicine.
“And this man was searching for us,” Jacob added. “Terrane was running.”
“Well he certainly seemed to be searching for you with the powers of the Seventh Hell backing him!” Hesendar roared, enraged. He charged upon Jacob, who promptly dodged the first clumsy hammer swipe by pivoting to his left and planting a foot firmly on the large man’s back. Hesendar, already off-balance, collapsed.
The barbarian turned so that he was lying on his back, thouroughly humiliated. “I am sorry, my friend. I should not have attacked you,” he said apologetically. “I fear that I was oscillating between killing you or asking you to leave. I too quickly chose the former, and, so it seems, wrong, choice.”
“You are forgiven, Hesendar,” Jacob said, offering a hand of assistance. “You were bred by a people considered violent by a quite violent world. I place no blame upon you or your tribe.”
“My thanks for your forgiveness, Jacob. You do understand, however, that you can no longer stay with us with such a man following you, whoever he may be, especially if you know not who he is. I am very sorry, my friends but I must ask you to leave. I will, however, grant you an escort across the plains. That escort will be me. But I shan’t cross the Jorhén to Vaultite. My loathe for civilized humans does not end because of my friendship with you.”
“Hesendar, why do you so loathe civilized humans?” Hsoj asked on their first day out.
“I already told you, I do not wish to relive those memories! By blood, I am one of your people!” He let out a heavy sigh. “Dokaw Maldoran… is my father. But by heart, I am of the Llendair tribe.”
They all gasped audibly at the same time. “You mean Dokaw Maldoran, hero of the War of the Necromancers?” Lucas asked. The famous ranger Dokaw Maldoran had been the one to slay the Necromancers’ King, Koronfa. However, the wounds he suffered from the battle eventually took him.
“I am Dokaw’s son, but there is yet more to my extensive, though cast aside, title.” He brushed back his hair to reveal sharply pointed ears. “I am a half-elf. I know of the Guardians. I know of your father, Erin. He then was around the age I am now, being thirty and seven years of age. My tale begins thirty years ago, in the year 1297 of the Fourth Age, twenty years before it’s end.
“At the time my father left for the Crusade, I was a lad of only seven. I lived as a provider fairly well in a hidden cottage in the Miénäshen Forest. One day, though, a band of slavers and bandits came to the house. They killed my baby brother and put a sack over my head to blind me, though knocking me out anyway.
“I was sold to one of the six wealthy families in Vaultite. I spent twenty years there, treated as a dog or some other animal. I was lucky when I got bread rather than crust, luckier than I got more than the bloodhounds. I was beaten if I cried, complained, or asked for more food, or just for the pleasure and amusement of the one holding the switch, their most usual excuse being ‘incompetence.’” Hesendar stood, turned, and lifted his shirt.
His back was covered in scars from the lash of a whip or switch. They ran deep, and were so deep and red that they looked as though they were fresh. He let the garment fall back into place and sat back down to continue his tale and his meal.
“I fostered so much hate for that manor and it’s people that it permeated my every thought. For twenty years I hated them. At the end of those twenty, I was twisted by it, consumed by rage. That was the year the wars ended and this age began, coincidentally.
“I was helping with the youngest lord of the family as he trained with the use of the blade. It was my job to set up the dummies and to give him whichever weapon he asked of me from the extensive weapon rack on the back wall. So, when he asked for two rapiers, I took two, gave him one, and turned the other one into his stomach. I then proceeded to kill everyone in the family- even the children. You have heard of the Scourging?”
“Yes,” Lucas replied. “Ten years ago, the very year you are talking about. Every slave owning house in Vaultite was slaughtered and the slaves set free in one night.”
Hesendar nodded sagely. “Most believe that abolitionists, like the Kornsiks, committed this heinous act,” he continued. “They didn’t. I did, with only that rapier. I killed them all by myself. I enjoyed it when my sword entered the children’s heart. I bathed in the glory of hearing the helpless people scream, beg for mercy. I would be so cruel. The deaths would be slow and I would twist the rapier so that it pained them more. So twisted was I, I enjoyed it.
“Looking back, I hated it. I killed those people…those helpless people. Those children… why? Why did I do it? Forgive me, Father! Forgive me, everyone, please!” He began to break out in tears. He put his head in his hands, and cried himself to sleep.
Hesendar awoke and found his long hair matted to is face from the wetness of his own tears. Jacob and Erin were huddled around a fire that Lucas had no doubt created with the use of his ‘special abilities.’ They looked over to find the half-elf awake and invited him to join them around the warmth of the fire. Hsoj and Lucas were conspicuously absent from the already packed and cleaned up camp. An empty pot was lying by the fire ready for some break feast to cook.
“No break feast yet?” Hesendar stated, more than asked, the obvious. Jacob and Erin shook their heads. “Look I’m sorry if I… overreacted or caused a bit of an uproar last night.”
“It’s quite alright,” said Erin with a chuckle. “You only caused a dull roar.”
“Where are Hsoj and Lucas?” Hesendar asked questioningly.
“Trying to find us food,” Jacob said sarcastically. “I’ll be damned if they come back with more than a few oak leaves.”
“Hesendar… we have been meaning to speak with you about something. Something important,” Erin put in hesitantly.
“And what would this important something be?”
“After your story last night, we, that is to say me, Jacob, Lucas, and Hsoj, had a long talk. We have decided we want you to travel with us. Not just to Vaultite. Until we kill Terrane.”
“I already told you, I will have nothing to do with the affairs of civilized folk!”
“Yes, I know, and that is why we ask. Could you not face the demons of your past? You may have had a moment of weakness, but if you still hold true to your virtues and principles, then you can make it. You can be someone, slay the demons, walk in the footsteps of your father and throw down the evil cloud that hangs over our most beloved land.”
“Must you force me on this? I do not wish to face the horror of society again. But…you are my friends, my allies. I will help you. For you. For Atlantea. For my father.”
“Dammit, Hsoj how do we get ourselves into this sort of thing?” Lucas yelled above the goblin battle cries.
“I don’t know but we must be pretty unlucky, or pretty popular!” They had found the little patch of forest and entered with hopes of a venison break feast. Instead, they had been attacked by a goblin tribe. Hsoj could not tell how many there were, except a lot. For every one he cut down, another three took it’s place.
Lucas fired off several shots into the rabble. Several goblins fell dead in the rabble. He was forced to draw his blade as the goblin’s pushed closer. A spear impaled his shoulder, and he went under, breaking the spear off and hacking at the mass taking him down even as he fell.
“NO!” Hsoj turned to his fallen comrade. “Back to the Abyss with you, you monstrous things!” You shall know pain greater than the Hell you shall face in death!” His sword was now alight with magical energy. The powers of the Trinity Gods themselves seemed to back his thrusts as he hit the mass like a tornado, his blade twisting deftly from goblin to goblin, chest to chest, throat to throat. Hacked limbs, heads, and bodies flew from his glowing blade, the blood staining its impetuous surface, but then flying off in the whirlwind. He had to save Lucas.
A life hung in the balance, one thing Hsoj could not forfeit. He hacked his way through the swarming mass of goblinoids, black blood splashing on his face and leather armor. Finally, Lucas was in front of him, sprawled spread-eagle on the ground and bleeding profusely from several wounds.
He picked up Lucas’s blade and felt Lucas impart his own magical energy into Hsoj’s body. He brought both swords to bear, Lucas’s soaring to life and lining itself with fire. He let out a roar of defiance one final time to let the beasts know that he would die fighting.
The goblins looked around at each other, fear suddenly etched in their ugly features. They all began screeching and scrambling off into the forest, tripping over each other and shoving friends to the ground to get away.
“Well, that was easy,” Hsoj remarked. He looped Lucas’s sheath onto his own belt and sheathed both swords. He then hefted the unconscious Lucas onto his back and began hurrying back to camp. “I can clean my blade later.”
“Just then, another roar resounded. It was cat-like and sounded very much like a panther on the hunt. “Riaran!” Hsoj yelled, trying to make the others, possibly half a mile away, hear him. “Hellcats!”
Hesendar grabbed Hakenburen and leapt to his feet in a rush. The other two looked at him puzzlingly, questioning the alertness of the small behemoth. He held his hand out to them in a quieting gesture. Then he crouched low on the balls of his feet, whispering to them to answer their inquiring stares.
“There is a fell voice on the air… it is like a cast-aside soul, mourning it’s own death from the bowels of the Seventh Hell itself. Draw your blades and ready your Imagicine. I believe Lucas and Hsoj are coming back, but are being followed.”
“By what?” Erin asked in a hushed voice. Hsoj answered he question for her.
“Hellcats!” he yelled, appearing in the distance with a bloodied Lucas slung over his shoulders. “Make for the Jorh¾n! They are gaining! Run!”
Snow crunched heavily under Hosj’s boots as he set a frenzied pace to reach them. They ran out to meet him as he was halfway to the camp. Three Hellcats appeared in the distance.
Hesendar stopped Hsoj, Jacob, and Erin. “Make your way to the Jorh¾n without me. I’ll hold the bastards off.”
“But…” Jacob protested.
“Let me stay and fight with you!” Jacob pleaded. “I cannot help in any way if I go with them. I am not quite strong enough to carry Lucas, I don’t know the way, and I do not know anything of healing. But I can fight!”
“Ah, but you are a stubborn one! Are you prepared to die to give your best friends a chance of escape, a chance to survive?” Jacob nodded his head solemnly. “Well, that, more than strength, wisdom, courage, or integrity, is the mark of a true hero. They shall sing songs about us after this night, deep from the throats of even the most drunken men! Hesendar the Half-elf Savage and Jacob the Guardian’s Last Stand it shall be called!”
Then Hsoj and Erin were on horses, riding to the silvery ribbon, miles away, that was the Jorhén, with Lucas propped up on his horse and Hsoj leading it. What food they could salvage in a few minutes was stored in saddlebags, and they were off, riding into the reds, purples, yellows, and oranges of the sunrise.
Hesendar and Jacob turned, and they stared death in the face. Jacob drew his blade. It slid with such ease from the sheath on his belt, you would have thought it had been made to fit his hand. He brought the shortsword up in front of his face, then brought it to bear. He watched, unspeaking, unmoving as the first Riaran charged at him, it’s great maw open wide. The thing must have been seven feet long and five feet tall. It’s snow white fur was wild and unkempt. It’s beady red eyes mirrored bloodthirst and uncaring, un-wanting hatred.
At the last second, just as the Hellcat was about to rip Jacob’s chest out, he brought the sword straight out in front of him. The beast could not stop in time and impaled himself on the sword. It cut deep, going down its throat, the razor edge cutting the flesh from the inside until it was to the hilt in the huge maw. Jacob withdrew his blade and the Hellcat fell, spasming wildly and spewing blood from it’s mouth. It tried to regain its balance, but slipped on its own crimson blood, falling. Jacob bashed his hilt into its head, and the broken body shook a few more times and was still.
Hesendar was taking two of the four left at once. For the moment, Jacob felt as a spectator of the battle rather than a participant. His eyes remained glued to the scene as he swung Hakenburen with such ease, and in both hands, bringing it down upon the first beast, crushing it’s spine and ending the demonic creature’s life of terrorism.
The force Hesendar put into the blow, though, put him off balance, and the second monster took the opportunity to rip a gash in the half-elf’s side. Jacob watched in awe as Hesendar turned to face the beast, pouring his lifeblood in rivers onto the plains. He could watch no longer however, for the other two Hellcats, unlike him, were not content merely watching the struggle between the beast and the barbarian. They lunged, one toward Jacob, the other Hesendar.
“Damnable hell-spawn!” Jacob growled as he brought his sword to bear. The Hellcat lunged, and he dodged to the side of it, risking a swift cut across its haunches as he did so. The momentum of the Riaran’s charge drove it face-first into the snow, and Jacob took it’s preoccupation of getting it’s head out of the ground to make a move towards the one headed for Hesendar’s back. He leaped onto the oblivious monster’s back, landing tentatively on his feet and getting whipped be the thing’s tail on the shin for his efforts.
With amazing grace and agility, Jacob rushed along up it’s back towards its head. The Riaran, now realizing there was another party atop it, began to buck and heave wildly, trying to throw the boy off. Jacob finally reached the eight-foot long monster’s neck and sat down as if astride a horse. He began to hack at the Hellcat’s head, digging deep, the flashes of silver and white and red catching with the hue of the sunrise. The Riaran howled in pain and agony, a cry that resounded throughout the morning. Jacob was sure it could be heard in Valetinian.
Finally, Jacob could see the bloody skull of the beast. Hesendar turned, having dispatched his foe, and slammed his hammer into the exposed skull. The entire head seemed to cave in and implode, spilling all over the snowy plains. Jacob fell on his hands and knees off of what was left of the neck and wretched several times as the final beast turned and fled.
|Deathblade Chapter 1: Murderous Urges||Deathblade Chapter 2: The Guardian|
|Deathblade Prologue||Deathblade Glossary|