Categories
Fantasy

Iotha of Lynken

This is set about 500 years Before Juxta, Magi

Iotha’s dad looked him in the eyes.  “I’ve taught you the blade and bow.  Everything your grandpa taught me.  Tomorrow at dawn, the trials.  Sleep.”

The man and boy could have been twins if not for one was grown, both skin dark as night, brown eyes, thin but muscular.

Yeah, Iotha would sleep.  The fire still burned in the center of their campsite.  The boy sat cross-legged and stared into the twisting and turning flames.  Thoughts strangely calm.  He curled up on the ground and arranged his blanket above him perfectly.  He dreamed of this day a thousand times.

In the end, he slept.  Dad shook him awake just before dawn.  They ate a feast of fresh apples and jerky.

“Do you need luck, boy?”  Dad asked.

“No, papa.”

Crowds were forming up in a field of short grass.  Iotha took his place in line with the other boys.  The spectator stands filled to the brim.  The king and queen sat at the topmost level.  The queen wore a purple dress.  The king’s ranger leathers were worn, but fit snug, like all the rangers running around herding boys into lines.  A jewel encrusted crown made of gold sat on the king’s head.  It looked heavy to Iotha.

Boys chose wooden swords from barrels.  Every boy in line gripped it in a tight fist.  Iotha looked his opponent in the eyes.  He was thin and wiry, with long blond hair and crisp blue eyes.

The horns sounded.  Iotha advanced with a bit of caution in his step.  He used a one-handed grip on the sword.

Iotha raised his left hand up and made squeezing motions with it.  The other boy looked up at the hand.  Wham!  Iotha threw his right fist wrapped in the sword hilt at the boy’s nose.

The boy fell and stayed down.  The men around Iotha cheered.  Presumably for him, but who knew?

The ranger sergeant called for the healer.  An aged man came running with a blaze of blue fire in a walnut-sized sapphire gem connected to a gnarled wood staff.  This new man with gray hair and a white cloak knelt to the downed boy and said some intricate chant.

“He lives,” the old man said.

“Did I win?”  Iotha asked.

Some ranger shoved a wooden chip in his hand no more than a half inch long with two lines carved in it.  Iotha had his answer.  He needed two more like this one, and they would call him ranger.  It went in his belt pouch and bet it was tied tight.

The adult rangers once again herded the boys into rows five across.  The smallest boys were at the front.  Iotha stood in the middle.  Once again, the horns bellowed.  Iotha pushed against the ground with everything he had.

Boys shoved him, and Iotha did a bit of shoving.

After a mile running, he crossed the line close enough to the front.  A second wooden chit was handed to him, and it too was put away.

The horse race lined up next.  Iotha climbed onto his mount and something seemed wrong.  He knew in his heart, a lazy horse.  Still they tried.  No chit was put into Iotha’s hand.

Dad howled from the stands.  “Finish it!”

Bows and quivers were passed out to every boy.  Over one hundred posts lined the field with a hanging wooden disc.

The glorious horns sounded.  Every boy let fly their arrow.  Every boy hit their mark.

Rangers had them back up ten paces.

A few boys missed, but on their honor, a gust of wind filled the field along with the horns.

They moved another ten paces.  Iotha hit the disc.  All that mattered to him.  It reached a point where less than half the boys were in line.  That was it.  Yet, they continued.  In the end, Iotha stood in a row of only five boys.  They all missed.  The distance proved too great.

A third piece of wood landed in Iotha’s hand.  He had three.  Practiced all his life, he was in.  A warm glow filled his insides and bled out into every extremity.

The king shouted loud.  “Say goodbye to your families.  Find your sergeants.”

Iotha embraced his father in a great hug.  Both squeezed each other tight.  No words were said.  No words needed to be said.  Only regret was Mom was in the ground instead of there, but according to The One True God she watched from above.

Iotha found his sergeant, a giant of a man called Floyd.  He had a deep brown complexion.  The first thing he showed Iotha was proper saluting, but definitely not the last thing Floyd would teach.  They rode with a troop of almost two hundred on horseback to a walled fort. A place called Raleg, founded over five hundred years ago.

Heck, Lynken was supposedly only around about the same age, even though people lived in these parts since the dawn of it all.  Since Iotha was now one of Lynken’s cadets, he desired to know a little history.

The most important thing quickly implanted in Iotha’s mind was the fact that Cadets couldn’t get booze of any kind.  None.  He cried himself to sleep the entire four years in Raleg.

Floyd lined up the group of cadets from Iotha’s trial.  An officer approached, and the cadets in perfect unison saluted.  The officer returned the salute but never said his name.

He spoke in a loud voice that carried.  “I’m going to teach you the Codex.  It’s a secret of the rangers that everyone must master.  Do what I do.”

Iotha had acquired a rusty, old, thick sword with no edge at all.  All the cadets had one similar.  The officer held his sword up high, then made a downward motion with it, while stepping forward.

None of the cadets moved.

“Do it!”  Floyd shouted.

The cadets moved.  The officer repeated the motion-step.  Over and over across a field.  Glory be, after lunch they did their left hand.  Iotha knew for sure, if they’d continued past nightfall, his arms would fall off.

A boy next to Iotha whispered to him.  “Years of this.  Years.”

“Dad never mentioned it.  Not one word of it.  My name is Iotha.”

“Mine neither, I’m Jose.”  He had a deeper tan on him than most of the other boys, and straight black hair.

Jose’s squad garrisoned in the same barracks as Iotha.  They had seen each other before, but never introduced themselves.  Potentially, Iotha’s first friend in the rangers.

Cadet life grew monotonous to say the least.  Chopping firewood.  Some days helping out in the fields.  Planting, weeding, and harvesting.  Skills every boy already had.  The Codex seemed the key to it all.  Special forms and motions for countering multiple opponents.  Making the enemy pay in blood and limbs for every ranger that falls.

Jose was a good friend, to a big degree because he had two older brothers in the rangers and every so often, Jose would have a flask of this or that to share.  They often spoke of women.  Jose acted like he was a great conqueror and could bed almost any unattached woman he chose.

Seasons turned as seasons turn.  Iotha was assigned to a full-time squad, with Jose and Floyd in the lead.  Both young men now carried a real blade at their side plus a bow and quiver.  They rode horses, and were well-versed in taking care of them.  Access to booze.  A silver piece a month in pay.  The good life.  How the king could afford the amounts of booze they drank was a puzzle, but maybe it was the chief output of Lynken.

The king assigned them to border patrol on the eastern edge of Lynken.  Across that border was Tercia, a land of ogres, peasants, and a necro mausoleum on every street corner.  Some questioned if the peasants who farmed were actually animated dead.

Bands of ogres bled sometimes into Lynken to maraud.  The patrol had a fifty mile or so of expanse they were responsible for.  They spread themselves maybe a little too thin sometimes, looking for trails.  Twenty-four in the squad in total, but patrolled in three-man troops.

A few hundred yards ahead, tracks in mud.  Iotha sounded it out.

“Be wary,” Floyd said.

Iotha and Jose nocked arrows.  Floyd hopped off his horse and drew his blade.  He stared deeply into the tracks for a few moments.  “At least thirty, but no more than fifty.  Two wagons.  Tracks heading into Lynken.  Iotha head north, gather the men.  Jose head south.”

Iotha kicked his horse into a solid gallop.  Within an hour, he and nine other men headed south towards where Floyd waited.

They arrived the same time Jose and the others arrived.  No sign of Floyd.  But a lot of blood on the ground, what the earthen ground of Lynken hadn’t sucked up, and a couple of limbs.  A leg and an arm.  Not human.  Ogre.

The other sergeant, Allen, pointed at the tracks.  “Headed back into Tercia.”  Allen rubbed his chin.  “Either they captured him, or they took his body to feed their necromancer dark arts.”

“We ride!”  Iotha shouted.  Twenty-three men howled.

They headed into Terica following the trail.  The terrain slowly changed and devolved.  Where in Lynken, small copses of trees were common, and various ground covers battled it out for territory.  In Tercia, it turned rockier and dryer.  At best, a short grass or weeds grew, but many times the ground was no better than barren gravel.

Iotha rode in the lead.  He saw them first, but the others saw too.  Iotha drew his blade in a quick flash, and the other rangers charged barely behind him.  The ogres were tall, bulky figures with thick arms and legs.  Their skin shone a deep tan, and hair grew in seemingly random, coarse, black patches.

The first ogre fell to Iotha’s blade across his throat.  Blood jetted at least three feet.  The second, his blade pierced through the eyeball and Iotha flipped the weapon upward through the top of the creature’s skull sending brains splattering.

In this time, half the ogres readied slings, and fist sized rocks started flying like messengers from god.  Iotha cut down a third ogre with a stab to its heart.  Truth is they were all males, but to a human they were an it.

Three fist sized projectiles hit Iotha in the same instant.  One to his throat, another on his chin, and the third just above his left eye.  Darkness engulfed him, and the ground knocked the breath out of him like a cruel stepbrother.

He rose above himself and watched the battle below.  The ogres fled.  A tall man, taller than a tree stood in the distance.  He wore bloodstained plate armor with a blade strapped to his back, and a second hung from a belt on his waist.  His arms and legs were thick.

An image flashed in Iotha’s mind of the three chits in his belt pouch.  Two cuts on it.  One of the chits disappeared, and Iotha jumped awake.

He rode in the back of a wagon, in between two other men.  One was Floyd, dead as nails.  The other had a torn undershirt wrapped around his head.

Jose drove the wagon.  He shouted.  “Iotha is awake!  He lives!”

Iotha let out a throaty roar of a laugh.  “I don’t die that easy!”

Jose leaned back and quietly whispered.  “We couldn’t even find a pulse on you, my friend.”

“I live and breathe.”

Iotha had a crazy urge to check on the chits in his pouch.  Two left, either a trick of his friends, or a trick of gods.  If they planned to bury him, they’d bury him with the chits, so not his squad.

Iotha hopped out of the wagon and back on his horse.  They made tracks to a nearby temple of The One True God in a small town.  The priest said prayers over Floyd.  The ranger squad gave the wagons and loot collected off the ogre party to the temple.

Men took turns digging the grave.  Dug it deep.

The town sported a small pub, and most everybody had a few drinks.  They quickly made Iotha tired and sleepy.  He limited himself and slept in a barn.

The next day he felt himself again.  Allen, the sergeant, tasked him with returning to Raleg and reporting on the fight.  Allen gave him a sealed letter to carry.

The trip to Raleg passed quickly as traveling alone was akin to traveling like the wind.  A lieutenant read the letter and went on a massive rant about planting seeds to start a new war.

“They crossed into Lynken, and they had our man,” Iotha whispered under his breath.

The lieutenant turned beet red.  “Pick up your squad’s pay, and you can take a gallon wineskin for the road.”

Iotha acquired both, but he made sure they filled the wineskin with a potent liquor and not wine.  He saved the whole thing until he made it back to his squad, and they grinned like idiots and passed it around.

Patrolling the border was a task to dull the mind and senses.  The same stretch of miles every day.  Iotha counted months as the seasons moved.  How Jose kept finding kegs seemed a mystery to all.

A rogue scout approached their main camp one day.  They knew him as Malik.  He bore a parchment for Allen.

He read it and cleared his throat.  “They need us more on the southern border.  For some reason we’ve seen giant spiders outside the Wastes.”

“Giant spiders, oh my!”  Iotha said.

“The small ones are six feet tall.”

“Oh.  My.”

They acquired wagons and covered a wider area when they hit the right spot on the border.  One could see a distinct line between Lynken and the Southern Waste.  The ground itself turned to nothing but sand along the edge.

They rode in pairs, Jose and Iotha together, camped under the stars right next to the Waste.  The spiders were not known to be nocturnal.  Their eight eyes needed light to hunt.

Weeks passed.  Up ahead, one of the spiders, a big one, stepped on Lynken soil, directly in front of them.  Jose and Iotha drew blades and charged.  The beast appeared hairy as hell and looked as if it carried offspring on its back belly.

It stood eight feet tall at least with pincers on the front of its face.  Each leg had three joints to it if you counted the shoulder joint where they attached to the upper body.  The plan?  Charge it, pierce it through the brain.  Done deal.

“Arrroooo!”  Iotha howled.

The spider had other ideas.  The damn hellspawn.  She leaned back on her hind legs and used her front four legs as spears to meet their charge, stabbing through both horses.

The rangers leaped off to the side and landed on their feet.  They advanced.  They mostly hacked away at those front four limbs, while the limbs tried to pierce them.

Jose cut clean through a leg on his side, and gross black ichor spurted out on his hand.  He screamed as if it burned.

Iotha closed in for the kill, but as his blade sliced a great hole in the creature’s skull, the spider’s leg punched a wound clean through Iotha on his upper right chest.  A blow one would expect to be mortal.

He fell backwards and lay there twitching.  He drifted above the scene.  Jose was below trying to stomp out as many baby spiders as he could.  Iotha’s life blood pooled on the ground.

A man stood in the distance wearing bloodstained plate armor.  He held a double-sided axe in his hands, and a sword across his back.  His hair and beard were blood red, but whether natural or bloodstained, Iotha didn’t know.

The two chits in Iotha’s pocket appeared in his vision.  One disappeared, and he drifted down to his body.

The sound of a shovel digging made him stir awake.  “Hoy!”  Iotha said.

Jose turned to look and turned white as a ghost.  “I’m digging your grave man, and you’re alive?  You could have stopped me sooner!”

Iotha chuckled a bit but he still had pain in his chest.  “I need a healer.”

Jose moved like lightning.  Iotha lay there staring up at the sky focusing on the fluffy clouds and breathing.  Yes, quite nice to breathe.

Jose returned later with a young man carrying a bent staff from some hardwood tree.  This new man, clearly a druid, wore a simple light green robe and sandals.  A rune marked wineskin was slung over one shoulder.  He examined the front and back of the wound on Iotha.  He spoke a low chant.

“You should be dead.  The flesh has sealed itself up well, but your ribs are still broken,” the druid said.  “I’ll address those.”

A second chant soon followed, and the druid groaned either from exhaustion or pleasure, Iotha never knew.  What Iotha did know is his breathing became easier and more effective.

The druid frowned.  “No alcohol for at least ten years.”

“What?”  Iotha asked.

Jose laughed bright and happy.

“None for you too,” the druid said.  “It’s all mine!”

Iotha growled like a starving wolf.

“Seriously,” the druid said, “The wineskin is druid’s wine, heavily diluted, you need it.”

“Clearly I need it, all that grave digging,” Jose said.

The druid took a drink and handed it to Iotha.  He drank too and a blessed taste of apples and honey.  They passed the skin around.

The druid stumbled home.  Jose hunted up a rabbit for their dinner and started a fire.

Iotha looked in his belt pouch, other than a few coins, only one trial chit remained.  “I’m retiring after this.  I feel my time is up.”

“Twice I’ve said prayers to the One True God over your corpse,” Jose said.  “I understand, my friend.”

A handful of acres was part of Iotha’s retirement, but he had to take it along the frontier with Tercia or the Southern Waste with the mean giant spiders.

He chose the southern frontier.  His neighbors helped him build a house with everything he needed.  He found a woman to marry who loved his scars and wanted at least three wagonfuls of children.  The boys among them Iotha trained as his father trained him.  The way of things in Lynken.  Men training their sons.

The sons joined the rangers everyone.  The daughters married.  Iotha grew to the ripe age of 53.  His wife perished from some plague.

News came of an invader from the south, threatening Lynken’s longest standing ally, Weslan, to the west.  A ranger rode into town looking for volunteers.  Iotha stepped forward.

The ranger sergeant said, “No man over 50.”

“On my honor, I’m 49,” Iotha said.

“Okay.”

A thousand-man army of rangers rode like hell itself danced on their heels.

Weslan was a land of Magi, but the horde from the southern wastes was over ten thousand strong.  Hold the line while the Magi rained fire and lightning was the order of the day.

Men drew lots for which ones would be in the frontmost line, for every man wanted a place, and the line would be too thin.

Iotha considered himself lucky to draw that lot.  More damn giant spiders, but these had riders on top of them, and metal covered their legs.  The horde of enemies approached on foot, each carrying a sword.  Iotha cut down their ranks at least a half dozen times, while magi rained lightning all around and threw balls of fire.

A curved blade cut into Iotha’s gut in the end.

He drifted up above the battle.

The familiar man with blades and a bloodstained plate armor stood in the distance and waved, come hither.

The End

Categories
Fantasy

The Vanguard

I kicked my heels into the horse to keep up with the others, and for the first time since the start of this ordeal, I thought to myself, I’m too young to die. The horse galloped forward, and in the distance, the edge of a great field of tall grass lined the horizon.

The tops of black helmets rose up in the distance climbing up the slope of the other end of the field like a line of obsidian specks. A line of black as far as the eye could see dotted the edge of the horizon. I rode at the front of the vanguard, so far in the front, that I was only two places from High Lord Kirl who led the charge. Kirl drew his blade, and I instinctively drew mine in a flash with the rest of the vanguard. I remembered back to the stories the elders told around the fire about The Throng: stories of hellspawn and demons.

As the distance closed between us, The Throng’s long pikes and shields glimmered in the morning sun. They wore pitch black plated armor from head to toe. A great volley of arrows flew up from the rear ranks of the enemy. Kirl raised his sword high. He grimaced with concentration and shouted out a word from our cryptic ancient tongue. The swarm of thousands of arrows changed paths as they descended, landing harmlessly to the left and right of us.

Galloping at full speed, we closed the distance to The Throng in a flash. The enemy pointed their pikes down at us and met our charge. A pike caught me in the gut, and I jumped upwards careening high over the first line of footmen. It hurt, but it didn’t pierce my chainmail. The smith promised me it would be good for two or three solid blows then no better than common steel.

It threw my mind into gear with the pulse of adrenalin raging through my heart. I’m going to die, I thought to myself. I plunged my sword into the chest of the closest of my enemies, and in a flash, the high points of his life echoed through my psyche. His first true best friend, his first experience with a woman, and his training with The Throng. It rushed through me, and I pulled my sword free.

The sword drank up the thin glaze of blood and gleamed clean and shiny in the sun. An enemy tried swinging at me, and my blade moved out of instinct parrying the pike. I pushed the blade through the faceplate of the other soldier, again, another life flashed before my eyes. My anger flared like a tiny burning chunk of charcoal in my chest. These people were the same as we are–why do they attack us?

In a heartbeat, I thought back to my own life. Three months ago, it changed on a new year’s morning with my youngest sister jumping on my bed shouting, “The call-to-arms! The call-to-arms!”

I growled at her. “Get out of here.” Thinking, could it be true so early in the year and just three years after the last invasion?

I rolled over in bed and went back to sleep. I wasn’t about to give up my warm bed over the cries of a six-year-old. Then a few minutes later, a firm knock reverberated on my door, which I knew to be my dad.

“Yes?” I asked.

“They’ve called the conscription, Son. Get up and get breakfast.”

I crawled out of bed, ran my fingers through my hair, and headed to the kitchen for breakfast. I made my decision as I jumped down the last three steps of the stairs. I would fight. Mom set a plate down on the table and poured me a cup of milk.

“They’re expecting everybody to report today, Memnock,” Dad said. “You don’t need to take anything with you. Just go down to the town center after breakfast.”

“He shouldn’t have to go,” Mom said. “There are rules. We already lost one son. He doesn’t have to go.”

Dad glared. “I faced The Throng three times, Woman! It’s not a death sentence.”

Mom reached up and touched her eye like to rub back a tear. “I miss Jericho.”

“We all do. There won’t be many this time what with the last conscription being just three years back. He’s needed. We’ll still have Jacob.”

I spoke quietly between bites, “I’m going to fight.”

Mom and dad simply nodded. I finished the last of my food and went to my room, what used to be mine and my big brother’s room. I wanted to at least be wearing my best pants and shirt. I donned my coat and headed to the front door. My little brother eyed me and looked down at his feet.

I ruffled the little bugger’s hair. “Don’t worry, Jacob. We’ll break their line. We’ll send them running back to the ocean.”

Jacob twisted his head out of my reach obviously preferring not to have his hair ruffled. “I want to fight!”

I thought silently to myself, if I fail you might just get your wish. “You’re too young, little brother.”

“I’m too young for everything but chores!”

I laughed and reached for his head a second time. He dodged out of the way and ran. I headed downstairs.

My mom, dad, and little sister waited at the door for me. I nodded to them. “Well, I’m off.”

Mom tried to smile. “Just remember, you don’t have to do this. You can change your mind.”

Dad sniped, “He’s not going to change his mind.”

I smiled. “Goodbye.”

I made it to town and some soldiers directed me to the army’s training field. When I made it there, a soldier told me to stand in line. One by one young men would step into a tent, then step back out of the tent through a separate opening wearing a blue bandanna on their arm. When I got to the front of the line, I kept hearing someone cry out right after a person stepped into the tent. It came to be my turn, and I stepped into the twilight. A shirtless, veteran fighter, with rippled muscles and scars, sat behind a low burning fire of embers. He looked me in the eye. Then he whipped his hand out from behind his back and threw something at my face. I caught it. I cursed. It hurt my hand, a chunk of iron, and it would have hit me right in the face!

“What’s your name?” The fighter asked.

I almost threw the iron pellet back at him. “Memnock.”

He wrote down my name in a book, glanced at me again. “Your brother was Jericho?”

“Yes.”

“You look like him, and just like Jericho, you’ve made it into the vanguard. I’m putting you with Lord Patrick.” He stepped forward and tied a red bandana on my left arm and pointed towards a flap in the tent. “That way.”

“What do I do?”

“Find Lord Patrick and tell him you caught the iron.”

I stepped through that tent flap into the troop compound. I went from person to person asking about Lord Patrick until I finally found him with a group of well-dressed men wearing purple tunics with gold borders. I told him I caught the iron pellet. He grabbed me by the shoulder and grinned like a starving carnivore that just grilled a thick steak. I simply stared back at him.

“Most young men hear about the test, and make a conscious choice. If they want to be in the vanguard, they try and dodge the iron. If they don’t want the glory, they let the pellet hit them.” He shook his head. “They just close their eyes and hope not to lose a tooth.”

“I never heard of anything like it. What’s it mean to catch the iron?”

“Boy, it means either you got very lucky, but you’re actually inept, and you’ll be one of the first to die, or it means you were born to fight in the vanguard. You’ll ride by my side, and I’ll be right next to High Lord Kirl.”

I smiled, hoping for the latter. Lord Patrick turned to face the other lords and seemed to ignore me.

“What should I do?” I asked.

Patrick pointed to a pile of rusty old swords. “Take one of those swords, go to one of those trees in the field over there, and hit it.”

“Then what?”

“Hit it again. Until you can’t hit it anymore.”

I nodded. I went over to a stack of swords and picked out one of the less rusty ones. The edge of the blade looked dull and here and there it had nicks in it. I tested the balance. It clearly weighed heavy towards the point and seemed far heavier than it needed to be. I walked back over to Lord Patrick and cleared my throat. “Excuse me, my lord, will I carry this sword into battle?”

Patrick shook his head. “You surely won’t be fighting a tree when the time comes either. We’ll forge a blade for you to use.”

The next day, in the chow tent, I gave up trying to count how many young men had a fresh bruise on their face from the test of the iron.

A few weeks later, I was summoned to the armory tent. I stepped inside, and Lord Patrick waited. He handed me a sword in its scabbard. “There’s your fury blade, Memnock. Take it!”

I took the sword and drew it. I hefted its weight and smiled. The balance was perfect and the edge razor sharp. Suddenly it purred in my hand like a young kitten almost. I looked to Lord Patrick. “It’s alive?”

“Yes, forged with dragon’s blood, attuned to you. It has your name on the hilt.”

I looked and indeed carved on the hilt was the word, Memnock. I smiled and sheathed the sword. Months passed as the army trained and trained. On the eve of the battle, I met Kirl for the first time. He had piercing hazel eyes and a tightly trimmed beard. He stood next to a boiling cauldron of red liquid. Patrick waited for me. An ancient hag poured some of the liquid into a silver cup and held it out to me.

“Drink it, Memnock,” Lord Patrick said.

I took a sip. “Eww, what is it supposed to taste like?”

“Dragon’s blood,” Kirl said. “Drink it. It’ll prepare you for the battle tomorrow.”

I drank it down. It burned in my stomach. It tasted of ash, soot, copper, and salt. Setting the cup down, I looked to the lords.

“In the battle tomorrow,” Kirl said. “You’ll be at Lord Patrick’s right, if he should fall, form up with me.”

I pondered the situation. “What if you fall, Lord Kirl?”

Patrick laughed with some passion. “If he falls, Memnock, all is lost.”

“My boy,” Kirl said. “If I fall in combat, you can consider yourself in charge. Advance. The plan is a simple one. We need to punch through the body of The Throng and reach their command pavilion, hopefully killing some or all of their generals. In the past, if we’ve reached their command pavilion, they’ll order a retreat. We’ll have to give chase. Understood?”

I nodded. Both lords seemed to ignore me at that point–I looked to Lord Patrick. “What should I do?”

“Most men try to sleep, some know they can’t and just stay up, play dice, and watch fires burn.”

I knew that meant I could do whatever I wanted, a rare luxury in military life. “Thank you, my lord.”

As I walked towards my tent, my thoughts drifted. The earth below my feet seemed to get swampy and mushy. It felt odd, but I felt strangely at ease. I wanted to get plenty of sleep so I went into my tent and lay down on my mat. I drifted off into endless colored dreams. I dreamed of so many things it felt like an afterlife’s worth. Dreams of harvest time played over and over in my mind intermixed with dreams of my family, and then there were the dreams of women, dozens of dreams of women. I woke to the sound of thundering drums. The first time they’d played the drums since the start of my conscription. They thumped so loud, and my head felt so strange that it felt like they vibrated through the very Earth. I donned my chainmail and strapped on my blade. I stepped out of the tent, and a beautiful vixen of a maiden ran towards me carrying another silver cup of red, frothy liquid.

“Memnock!” She shouted out.

My first thought was that I dreamed, but that I should play along. “Over here.”

She stepped towards me and held out the silver cup. “From High Lord Kirl.”

I took the cup and drank it down. The sheer acid taste of it burned my throat and woke me to the reality that this wasn’t a dream.

* * *

As the battle raged around me, I struck down opponent after opponent, trying to fight my way back to the rest of the vanguard. With each enemy I struck down, I seemed to breathe in their life force and grow stronger. My blade stayed clean and sharp the entire time, then I noticed it started to cast off white light and move faster than I could possibly swing it myself. That’s when a behemoth of a man struck down Lord Patrick with one swift blow to the neck sending his head flying off.

He stood a hand and a half taller than me and almost twice as wide with black hair and pale blue eyes. His arms and legs rippled with muscle. Unlike the other enemy warriors, he wore no armor save for a horned helm and leather protecting his groin. His axe blade glistened red with blood in the stark morning light. Blood of my fallen brothers.

I charged him aiming with all my strength for the point on his neck where it attached to the shoulder. He flashed his teeth at me. Then he moved the axe with a swiftness I couldn’t believe and our blades stuck together. We both jerked back at the same time pulling the blades free. He examined the edge of his axe peering intently at the new dent. My blade didn’t lose its edge. I redoubled my effort striking over and over at his face and neck. For every strike I made, the axe flashed.

He flipped his grip on the axe, and I saw it out of the corner of my eye aimed for my neck. I ducked straight under it, and an exposed kneecap presented itself as a golden opportunity. I lashed out with my sword slicing an inch deep cut right through his leg. My enemy screeched in pain and dropped his guard. I didn’t have time to revel in it. I spun around, lopping his head off.

In a circle around me, the fighting had stopped and both sides watched. Then I heard a low roar from my side of the line. A great splattering of lightning crashed down around Kirl. The word ‘Rally!’ sounded louder than thunder from him. I ran like the wind through the tall grass and over the bodies to where Kirl stood.

I reached the high lord first. The Throng surrounded us, but more of the vanguard approached. I looked to Kirl. “Why do they attack us? They’re no different from us.”

“It’s because we use magic, Lord Memnock. Don’t you feel the power flowing through you?”

I paled at the thought. Why not use magic? Magic strengthens the farmer’s plow. Magic seals the grain silo. Magic heals wounds. I took note though. Arcane energy flowed through me like never before.

The vanguard finally formed up around us. Kirl howled. “Advance! Advance!”

My guts pulled me forward into the hornet’s nest of enemy swords and pikes. In the distance, with just a few more ranks of enemies in the way, the honor guard flags of the enemy war generals rustled in the wind.

Copyright, Geoffrey C Porter

Categories
Fantasy

October

The full moon above twisted the shadows into shapes of demons and specters. I clutched at Jessica’s hand as we walked through the woods looking for refuge. October is upon us, echoed through my mind, and the beasts and goblins reigned like tyrants this year. First, they overran the big cities conquering humans in a blood rite unseen for countless centuries. What awakened the monsters this October? They advanced through population centers like hordes of flesh crazed maniacs. The metropolises stood devoid of human life soon enough, and the devilish masses started crowding into small towns in the night across the weeks before Halloween. Only in the tiniest of remote rural locations did humans still walk the earth.

We were in the process of fleeing from their dark carcasses that seemed to bleed pieces of reality. We needed to find a house and quick. The moon lit the trail a bit, and I whispered to Jessica, “Let’s run…”

So, we ran. A light in the distance sparked in the blur of a slick grey fog. A simple house fleshed itself out in our vision the closer we ran. I saw the hell hound on the porch, and I knew the wicked creatures were ahead of us…

Jessica pulled on my hand, and the canine with jagged contours of solid obsidian wrapped tightly across a skeletal form looked up at us. Well, at me, right in the eyes. It made a deep guttural growl that sounded more like gravel grinding on gravel than a dog’s growl.

I said in the most hushed of tones, “The dog!”

“He’s on a chain! Come on!”

We ran up to the door and knocked. A humanoid shape answered with hewn rock arms and legs and a fat, plump belly. The entity of deep cut edges laughed a throaty crackle. The abomination’s clothes were a shifting, turning array of colors in paisley patterns. The thing’s adornments made me stare at the mind-numbing shapes as they morphed between dreams.

It shouted in a broken, choppy voice, “Look, honey, trick or treaters! And they’re dressed as little humans!”

A second granite like figure stepped down the hallway with a kaleidoscope of colors weaving out tales in the fabric of her dress at a lightning pace.

Jessica and I held out our bags.

The female rock thing said, “Did they say ‘Trick or Treat’ yet?”

“No. Wait, maybe they did… Get the candy.”

The female promptly returned and dropped two full sized candy bars into each of our bags.

We ran.

We pulled to a stop, and Jessica started eating a treat.

“We can’t keep doing this,” I said. “It’s been almost a week!”

“Do you have a better plan? No, these creatures think every day is Halloween, we have the perfect costumes, and we have to eat!”

“I don’t even like candy!”

“Damn you, Lucas, and your diabetes! I give you all the fruit we get, don’t I?”

“We got apples once in six days, and they were covered in caramel!”

“Come on, we can get three more houses in before dawn.”

* * *

Part II

We slept the day away under a willow tree by a rolling stream. Hunger ate away at my insides and my hand shook. I reached in my bag, pulled out a bag of disgusting gourmet chocolate treats with a crunchy candy shell, and ate just enough to quiet my stomach and calm my nerves.

Darkness fell on us as the sun set, and we were off. We hit house after house that night. With the rising sun, we collapsed in a ditch by the side of the road.

I slept for a while, but the grip of hunger woke me, and I ate gummi candies until the shakes began to subside.

A voice shouted, “You kids! Are you alright?”

I looked. A man in an army uniform, with a machine gun at his side, crouched at the edge of our ditch with one knee bent. His hands were on his knees, and he was smiling wide.

The most primal of thoughts raced through my mind. This man might have food!

I nudged Jessica. She rubbed at her eyes and looked around.

“Are you kids alright?” The soldier man asked.

“We’re ok,” Jessica said.

“We need food!” I said.

The soldier laughed. “Come along with me, and we’ll get some food in you.”

Jessica and I ran at the soldier and hugged his legs tight.

The man patted our heads. “Come on. Hop in my jeep.”

We climbed into the back of his jeep, and he started driving.

“You kids are lucky to be alive,” he said. “We’ve been pushing the rock monsters back, but they’re heavy in this region.”

We nodded. We rode maybe a mile, maybe two. The encampment didn’t have a wall or even barbed wire around it, just a cluster of tents and vehicles in a field of hay.

“My name is Myers. If you need anything, look for me,” the man said.

He showed us to a tent, and we stepped inside. It had a big rectangular table in the center with four chairs around it.

“I think we have roast beef or turkey sandwiches today. What do you guys want?”

“Roast beef!” I said.

“Turkey!” Jessica exclaimed.

Myers took off in a run. Jessica and I smiled and in perfect unison started rubbing our hands together like the gleeful man plotting his escape from a tyrannical situation.

Myers returned with clear plastic packages. At first, I didn’t notice anything strange then I more closely examined the package he set in front of me. It looked like food, but there was something strange about it. It had rough contours and looked like it had been made of rock pieces mortared together. I couldn’t wait. I took a bite. Imagine biting into a gravel with mortar and sand sandwich. Rocks. Sand. Mortar. Jessica and I spit our bites out back into the plastic containers.

“What’s wrong?” Myers asked.

I noticed it finally. Myers was all straight lines and painted solids, not like a real person. Jessica stood up, and I followed her lead.

“Umm, we left something back by the side of the road,” Jessica said. “We’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“Oh, no, you can’t leave,” Myers said.

Jessica yelled, “Hiya!” jumping into the air and throwing her foot at Myers head. He sort of crumpled into a ball of lines and solid colors.

Jessica and I ran to the flap in the tent and took a look around. The coast was clear, and we walked calmly away from their camp.

“You kicked Myers in the head!” I exclaimed.

“Yeah.”

“How?”

She stopped walking and turned to stare at me. She reached out with her finger and poked me in the chest. “I’ve been telling you for years that I study Kung-Fu.”

“Yeah, but I…”

“You never listen to me.”

“I didn’t think they’d teach you how to kick somebody in the head,” I said.

“What do you think you learn at Kung-Fu?” She asked.

“I never thought about it. I thought it was maybe like dance class.”

“Come on, we’ve got to find our candy bags. Let’s run.” She pulled at my hand.

“No! We’ve got to find real food!”

She sighed.

“We have to find real food, or I’m gonna die, Jessica.”

She nodded.

“What are we going to do?” I asked.

She looked at me. She spoke softly, in her little I’m perfect we’ll do as I bid way, “First, we’ve got to get our bags. We have to eat something. Then, I have a plan.”

We walked and walked looking for our bags. Finally, just after dusk, we spotted them.

We ate a little bit then we started looking for a house. We knocked on the door.

The rock monsters gave us candy, as expected. But we didn’t run.

Jessica used her, please I’m cute voice, “My friend missed dinner. Is there any way you could spare a roast beef sandwich for him?”

The male rock monster looked to his female companion. Both creatures began to rub their chins.

“Please?” I whimpered.

The male smiled a wide toothy grin of razor teeth.

“We don’t have any roast beef,” the female said.

“But we grilled bratwurst an hour ago. We have some left,” the male said.

Jessica looked at me.

I drooled. “Bratwurst would be great.”

“Mustard? Ketchup? Pickle relish? Fresh onions?” The female asked.

I smiled. “Mustard and onions!”

The female wandered into the kitchen.

The male said, in a choppy, haggard voice, “My name is Johnathon. My wife is Bethany.”

“I’m Jessica.”

“Lucas.”

The woman returned carrying a flat, crystal, square plate hosting not one, but two bratwursts in buns. I grabbed the plate and sat on the floor with the plate resting on my knees.

Jessica kneeled down and tried to grab one of the brats.

I twisted out of her reach. “Get your own.”

Jessica looked up at the rock monster pair. Bethany cackled, with a high-pitched voice, “There’s another one in the kitchen, deary. What do you want on it?”

Jessica whispered, “Mustard and relish, please.”

I feasted.

Bethany returned carrying two of the crystal plates. The first carried a brat, which she held out to Jessica. She took the plate and sat down on the floor. Bethany held the second plate out to us, and it had two forks and four heaping bowls on it, coleslaw, baked beans, potato salad, and macaroni salad.

“Leftover from dinner,” Bethany said and set the plate on the floor between me and Jessica.

The two rock monsters left us alone in the hallway, and we stuffed ourselves like pigs.

At the end of the food, I said, “I feel much better.”

“Me, too.”

Jessica lay back on the floor, and stretched her legs out. The food was starting to work on me, and I felt a bit groggy.

“I’m tired,” Jessica said. “We’ve been running and walking nonstop for ages.”

“Me, too,” I said.

I lay down on my back and stared up at the ceiling.

“I’m going to close my eyes for a few minutes,” Jessica said. “Wake me up in a little while.”

“Ok.”

My eyes closed soon enough. I woke to the rays of the sun and looked around. I lay in a bed, a bunk bed, and I could tell from the pace of her snoring that Jessica was in the bed above me.

I nudged her mattress.

She groaned.

“Wake up, Jessica,” I said.

She poked her head over the side of the bed and looked at me.

“You didn’t wake me,” she complained.

“Yeah, yeah. What are we going to do?”

She blinked her eyes a few times. “You know what? I bet they’re cooking food again.”

“This is our chance to escape! We’ve got to get out of here!”

“We’re getting breakfast first!”

I sighed.

We heard a knock on the door. Johnathon opened the door. “I hope the beds were alright… Bethany has breakfast on.”

We followed Johnathon downstairs. Bethany hummed a wicked tune while she stirred up a small feast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, and toast with jelly.

Jessica and I ate our fill. Bethany moved to clear the dishes.

“Bethany, let us get the dishes for you,” Jessica said.

Bethany smiled. “So polite.”

“It’ll be our pleasure,” I said.

Jessica and I started clearing the tables. Jessica washed, and I dried.

“Are you kids going to take off your costumes?” Bethany asked.

Jessica grabbed my hand with a fiercer grip than I would have imagined possible. In fact, she may have broken a bone or two in my hand.

“RUN!” She shouted.

I ran. We both ran.

Copyright, Geoffrey C Porter

Categories
Fantasy

Bane Warrior

The Soul Harvester had been at work for at least three weeks, and the body count kept rising. Some friends in the department kept me posted on the situation. I waited for the fateful call from Barrister that they set the bounty. When I get the call, I go to work. The bounty would be big. This Harvester had taken down three cops already. He tore them to pieces. I assumed the Harvester was a male, good odds.

My name is Derek Sawyer, and I used to be a cop. Now I’m known as a Bane Warrior. For all dark magic there is a bane, some are simple, some require a magic spell. There are banes for light magic as well, but the Order does a much better job of keeping those banes secret. The Red Hand, an organized crime syndicate, ancient as recorded history, claims to have dark magic that has no banes. I had yet to see any of it, and the Red Hand sent assassins to take me out twice.

The phone rang, and I smiled. The caller ID showed the prosecutor’s office. That will be my bounty, I thought greedily. I pushed the answer button on the phone. “Barrister?”

“No. Assistant D.A. Brown. There’s a Harvester.”

“Yes, I read the paper, Mr. Brown.”

“We’ve set a bounty. How soon can you bring him in?”

“What’s the bounty?” I asked.

“Fifty grand, alive. How soon?”

Fifty grand would keep me in booze and cigarettes for another year, not that I drank. “I need access to a fresh crime scene, half hour or forty-five minutes within the kill. He’s been hitting mostly public places? Seems to like bars on the south-side?”

“That wasn’t released to the papers.”

“I do more than read the paper, Brown. Why fifty? Usually they’re twenty-five.”

“He took down one of our Bane Warriors this morning. Wasn’t much left of the detective–scraped up as much as we could to bury.”

“Who was it?”

“Jericho.”

“Damn, the fifty grand is for the harvester alive. How much if I kill him?”

“None if you kill him, Sawyer.”

I take some pride in bringing them in alive, but Jericho was my friend. Still, I won’t know until the very end if I need to kill.

Brown interrupted my silence. “It says in your file you spent six years with the Order, and most people that stay that long never leave. Why did you, Sawyer?”

“The Order refuses to take sides. I like to stand and fight.” On that note, I pushed the end call button on the phone and started to mentally prepare a list of all the banes I’d need to lug around. Jericho had been one of the best. I needed to pack the heavy guns. I had a rather expensive custom coat with extra pockets and loops for various rods. Most magic users had something to carry their components with, either a coat, or a satchel with lots of pockets.

Once I had everything stashed in my coat, I locked up the office and headed to my car. I would tell you about the car, but likely you would be jealous. I had a hangout on the south side, a sushi-bar-coffee-house. They had lost their liquor license years ago, but they catered to smokers, and I could drink coffee and snack on wasabi piled high on sushi. I didn’t speed on my way there, no need to. I took a parking spot right in front of the joint and walked inside, taking my usual booth by the door.

A tired old Japanese lady came up to me. “Coffee? California rolls?”

“Yes, both please.”

She nodded and wandered off. I set my cell phone on the table and waited for my coffee and rolls. I wasn’t big on raw fish most of the time, so I went for the California rolls. I just liked having something to pile wasabi and soy sauce on and eat. After a while the old Japanese lady brought me eight rolls and hazelnut coffee, and I proceeded to snack. I lit up a cigarette and tried to relax. This Soul Harvester would be a tough takedown. An hour passed, and another, the sun set in its usual, casual way.

As I went to open a fresh pack of cigarettes, my phone rang. I snaked it up. “Where?”

“Joe’s Pub, on Wayne, you know the place?”

“I’ll be right there.”

I disconnected and threw a twenty down on the table and darted out to my car. Sixteen blocks or so, made in record time. When I had a bounty, I had a license to speed from the city. I hopped out of the car and sprinted into Joe’s Pub; the police at the door waved me on through. They had cleared the bar of civilians. A police Sergeant, named Dawson, saw me and said, “In the men’s room.”

I turned towards the wall with the restrooms and went in. An overweight, white male lay sprawled on the floor in a pool of blood with his throat cut, but with a smile on his face. He had been in bliss. He had been charmed before the Harvester finished him off. I looked around, detectives filled the room, collecting and looking for evidence. I cleared my throat, then, “Leave, all of you.”

I needed a bead on the killer’s aura and having a half dozen humans in the room with me would mean trying to sort them all out. The room emptied, and I started to chant TrueSight, a simple spell for auras and the like. A blue and green mist-like aura filled the room, odd I thought as Soul Harvesters are almost always red and black aura. This guy had once been with the Order. I pulled an inch diameter pearl out of my left pocket and focused on the aura. In my mind’s eye, I could see the killer walking casually down the street about eight blocks away carrying a large bag. I walked out of the bathroom and nodded to the waiting detectives.

I stepped out of the bar and hopped in my car. I punched the accelerator down heading towards the Harvester. After a few blocks, I pulled up next to him and growled. “Hey, you there!”

He turned. A short, pudgy, pale-skinned magic-user, he pointed at himself with his right index finger, as if asking, “Me?”

“Yeah, you.” I slammed the car in park and jumped out of it. The killer looked around himself as if checking to see if he was surrounded.

He smiled. “Watch the pretty lights…”

Just then a spiral of flashing lights emanated from the magic-user’s eyes, a simple charm spell. I am highly immune to charms. I raised my right hand, palm outward, as if to say, “Talk to the hand,” and projected blackness into his eyes.

The killer realized his charm wasn’t going to work, and he turned and bolted down an alleyway. I ran after, shouting, “You don’t want to make me run!”

I am a fast runner. I know how to push my muscles with the aid of magical strength, and I soon caught up to the killer and grabbed him from behind. He howled. He turned and faced me tossing four rocks to the ground and starting a chant. I reached inside my coat and pulled out a silver rod with a rubber grip and started focusing magical energy.

As the Harvester chanted, the rocks grew into humanoid shapes—Rock Demons. They snarled and hissed as they took shape and charged me. I aimed at the left-most one and whacked it on the leg with the silver rod. It created a resonating frequency vibration shattering the Rock Demon. I focused great strength into my hit and swung backhanded at the right one catching it on the head. The head and shoulders shattered, and the body crumbled. A third one came at me in the center, and I brought the rod down on his right shoulder, rending it into two big pieces.

The fourth Demon loomed taller than me and had a look of sheer determination on its gnarled face. I focused my magic and aimed for its knee, but it didn’t shatter. The Demon smiled and reached out for me. I pulled in arcane power from around me and aimed for the midsection, two quick shots, “Whack! Whack!” And the beast turned to pebbles and jagged stones. Simple matter of the second hit the rod still had a resonating frequency, and hitting with a vibrating object creates a significantly stronger vibration.

The Harvester took off in a run again. This time I chased after him and pushed him down to the ground. “You’re coming with me.”

He rolled over and pulled something out of his pocket, a cigarette lighter. He struck fire with it and started a chant to summon a Lava Demon. I snaked my hand into one of my pockets and pulled out a vial of simple water, pulled the plug, and poured it on the ground while simultaneously calling out, “Jacqueline!”

The water from the vial stopped in midair and fine mists started swishing past me from all around towards the water. Jacqueline is a friendly Elemental I knew from when she was still human. She started to take shape as a humanoid statue of water while the Lava Demon rose to its whole height of lava and fire.

Jacqueline smiled. “He’s mine!”

She walked closer to the Demon and put her water hands out in front of her and projected a water stream from them at the Demon. Jacqueline sucked in all the water from the air for blocks around, and it became like a strong wind. The water threw up debris of stone and steam off the Lava Demon. I started to approach the Harvester with one intent, getting close enough to cast a Frost spell on him. Then I could get the choker on him and bind his hands.

The Harvester drew a ninja sword and hissed. “Come and get me, Bane Warrior.”

“Come along quietly, and maybe I can talk them into a life sentence.”

The Harvester charged me, and I pulled a bit of pulverized salt out of my pocket and blew it in his direction while imagining a snowflake and focusing on cold. The Harvester stopped dead in his tracks. I walked up to him and connected a collar to his throat, so he couldn’t incant any more spells. Then I bound his hands behind his back. I looked to Jacqueline and the Lava Demon. Jacqueline had clearly won, and she stood there grinning.

I pulled out my cell-phone and rang headquarters, letting them know I had the Harvester.

Jacqueline walked up to me and put one of her water hands on my cheek. “Still doing good deeds for a living, eh, Derek?”

“This one took out Jericho.”

“And you let him live?”

“I wouldn’t get paid if I killed him.”

“When are you going to find the one who murdered me?” She asked.

“It was the Red Hand, you know that, and I can’t fight an army.”

“You could, Derek, you could.”

Copyright, Geoffrey C Porter