Friday, October 30, 2009

I've Been Published

We interupt this short story for a surprisingly appropriate announcement: the first story I ever sold has finally been published. It's been almost six months since I received the acceptance letter, and was beginning to wonder if I would ever see it. The folks at Mindflights Magazine finally got back to me and explained they wanted to use my story "Shinkyo Bridge" for their Halloween Special, which went live today.

In case you're wondering, it's appropriate that I make mention of this because it was the precursor to "A Mother's Love" that I've been showcasing this last week. It follows around Miyamoto Musashi as well, but in this case it simply puts forth an old legend surrounding one of the oldest standing bridges in Japan.

It occurred to me once I finished writing "Shinkyo Bridge" that there was still alot to be done with this character. He had tons of adventures still ahead, so I started thinking I would do a book of short stories following him. As if my tendency, that idea changed quite a bit by the time I started putting pen to paper. I'd researched the life of Miyamoto Musashi, identified important times of his life, and figured out a plot and six sub-plots which I could make into a book, incorporating ghosts, the supernatural, Japanese religion, and belief. Hopefully I'll have the time someday to actually write more than just the first story.

Anyway, check out "Shinkyo Bridge" here.

I hope this is just the beginning, and that my next publication will end up on paper. Thanks for reading, all.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Berserker Part 61

“Open the gates!”, Marhault screamed to his men, his sharp eyes making out human figures amid the ash and smoke that obscured the fields. He had made a grevious error and prayed desperately that he was the only person to pay for it.

With bolstering cries the men ran to the gates, grunting and swearing as they removed the heavy logs bracing the gates shut. Finally managing to wrestle them aside, two more teams of men hauled desperately on thick ropes attached to the doors. Their muscles strained and veins bulged beneath their skin as they dug into the churned earth and pulled with all their combined might. With a horrible shrieking of unoiled hinges the gates ponderously swung wide open to reveal a rabble of smoke-stained men and women determinedly forcing jelly-like muscles to carry them through the flaming gauntlet.

While the leading members of the group gained entry to the walled haven, this was not so for all of them. Just as their goal was upon them and relief was in sight, the smoking hell behind them belched forth more horrors.

The remaining orcs and goblins streaked to the slow moving humans, the clothes on their backs smoking and angry red burns raised on their pebbly skin lent their flat slapping feat wings. Quickly catching up to the lagging members of the group the frenzied goblins swarmed over them and pulled yet more struggling victims to the ground where they were swiftly dispatched.

Seeing the travesty before him, Marhault screamed his men into line the wall. The
archers quickly nocked arrows and took aim, their eyes blurred by tears from the stinging smoke. Hearing the order to loose, they sent their darts winging forth to stick five of the enemy to the ground like pincushions, most of the shots going wide to miss the still vulnerable men and women. yet the fallen’s places were taken by more Goblins and orcs surging toward the open gate, no longer caring about the fleeing humans and only thinking of saving their own hides.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Berserker Part 60

Fleek struggled to his feet. Free at last! Joyously he danced away from the accursed wagon, only to dropped to his feet a few seconds later in growling anger. The harness the humans had put on him still chained him to the overturned wagon.

Seeing the approaching Goblins and Orcs he cried out to them for help. They all passed him at a dead run, not even bothering to glance at the shackled Gnoll. Curious to see what would make them ignore an ally in distress, he looked up to see what they had been fleeing from.

He whimpered upon beholding the raging inferno sweeping through the fields. The fire growing and strengthening as it fed greedily on the dry hay, gouts of flame shooting high into the air, blocking out the sun.

Was it his imagination or was it coming closer?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Berserker Part 59

Millienya had already rounded up all the surviving members of the caravan when Lars finally reached her. Maybe forty refugees had survived. They had started out with easily twice that number, the sickly sweet smell of cooking flesh filling the air leaving no doubt in the minds of those assembled their as to what terrible fate befell the rest. Realizing the origin of the stench a few of the more emotional or less dazed adults retched uncontrollably. Somehow Kyle had managed to avoid the explosion that rocked the lead wagon and was participating in the sick display.

With the wagons either on fire or tipped over they all would be forced to travel by foot, abandoning their possessions in exchange for their lives. They had trudged perhaps a qaurter of the way back to the city in the smoke when a stragglerin the group fell to the ground. A goblin ripping avidly at his back, pulling up great strips of clothe and eventually skin before his cries attracted the attention of the rest. The goblin was swiftly cut down and friends kindly helped the wounded man to his feet.

Millienya could see in the distance the remaining few Orcs and Goblins charging forth to escape the flames. With the enemy’s mode of retreat cut off they desperately ran after the refugees, just as intent on escaping the flames as any creature. She was not the only one to have spotted their plight, a number of grim faced veterans turned around and planted themselves firmly to face the oncoming monsters.

Continuing onward the tide of frantic creatures crashed against the thin wall of resistance the stubborn fighters provided. For the time it took the greenskins to dispatch the valiant men, the refugees had gained a few hundred more strides. At the very cusp of the city walls, where the large ditches dug around the city created a chasm which the fire could not cross, the group ran desperately, breaking coughing and choking through the thick cover of smoke to a small window of fresh light provided by the ditch.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Berserker Part 58

Jarn saw the the comet whistle its way to the ground and explode, ending the lives of dozens and sending the world into panicked confusion. Silva shrieked in terror as the wagon they had occupied moments before caught fire, the oil treated canvas sizzled and popped with strikingly blue flame.

Their path back to the city blocked by the flaming wagon, Jarn grabbed hold of Silva’s wrist and plunged into the tall grasses. Regaining his bearings in the closely packed foliage, he set out back toward the city. After a few strides he wondered how the orcs could’ve possibly navigated in the thick plant life. At his great height his head just poked above the stuff, allowing him to keep an eye on his goal. Silva, however, was lost in the confines of the greenery and required that Jarn constantly stomp down a path in the stiff grass for her to follow in his wake.

After a few moments Jarn noticed the distinct odor of burning grass. Looking around, he saw that a great amount of the catapults’ payload had landed in the grass. The extremely flammable substances contained within those clay urns combined with the very dry grass which had yet to be scythed for cattle-feed created a flashfire.

Seeing the great fingers of flame racing across the ground sent a jolt of fear through him. Gripping Silva’s arm firmly he broke into a run. Crashing through the cursedly dense growth while pulling along a full grown woman despite her protests and carrying an extra twelve stone he could only manage a fast trot.

They were within five hundred strides of the city walls when the raging fire caught up to them. Jarn felt the increasing heat for some time before Silva cried out, the hem of her skirt had begun to smolder. She continued to run, knowing full well the extent of the danger they were in.

Flames arced out from either side of the fleeing three, passing them and arcing inward as if conciously trapping them. Meeting a wall of flame they were forced to angle to the right and began threading through a hellish maze of searing flame and shimmering heat.

Finally they came to a dead end. The two concious persons’ eyes tearing for the utter futility of their endeavor rather than because of the thick acrid smoke or choking ash raining down on them.

Jarn, saw that the wall before them was not more than a foot thick, bracing himself for the imminent searing agony he charged forth. Never reaching the wall, instead the ground dropped out from under them and they tumbled into darkness with Silva at his side and poor Selenne on his shoulder. The image that Jarn carried with him into the blackness was a scene of utter Stygian horror. A world dancing in flame, twisting and contorting as waves of heat distorted the world while ash and embers rained down to the blasted earth below.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Berserker Part 57

Lars continued his swordwork, wondering briefly if his heart would pop before his arms fell off. It seemed he had been fighting for hours his only moment of respite was during the magic display. He wasn’t sure who or what committed such a feat but as long as it kept killing goblins he wasn’t going to waste time and energy worrying about it.
Seeing a large orc in the rear shaking a club covered with porcupine quills at him he snarled in return, baring his teeth. But inwardly lars groaned, knowing they would be the death of him if something didn’t happen soon. The excessive numbers had been overwhelming at first, but now only a score of the goblins remained and maybe three dozen orcs all told. He would’ve given his side a fighting chance under normal conditions but the defenders had taken casualties as well, losing almost half of their original number. Also the footing had become treacherous, Lars had seen a number of men’s feet or ankles siezed by enemies they thought had been vanquished but still clung to life. Not being able to get free from the death-grip they were stuck were they were and quickly cut down by the rest of the enemy that still stood.
And like him all the rest of their group were worn, every thrust sent burning agony through their arms, every blocked attack felt as if their fingers would be wrenched from their sockets.
Tiredly managing to parry the clumsy thrust of a goblin, his other blade reflexively snaked forth, skewering it. As he withdrew his blade the orc that had been eyeing him decided to make good his threat. Charging Lars from his left, the arm which still grasped an outhrust saber.
With deceptive speed the orc brought its club down in a blurring arc. Lars, wishing to keep his arm, abandoned his left sword and dove rolling hard to his right, the huge club missing his head by inches and pounding heavily into the dirt. He came out of the roll and sprung to his feet before the Orc had recovered from its overlunge. Forcing his screaming muscles to respond, he in turn charged the Orc bringing his blade down at the thing’s neck.
To Lars’ dismay, his blow was stopped short by the leather wrapped haft of his opponents club. Lars was astonished at it’s sheer strength, despite his opponent being down on one knee holding his weapon high overhead it didn’t budge. It was like trying to move a mountain.
Coming easily to its feet the Orc pressed forth inexorably forcing Lars’ sword back face to face the Orc grinned horribly at Lars. With malice kin its eyes it jerked its head up, intent on using its sharp tusks to its adavantage in such close combat fighting.
Surprised by its move, Lars stumbled back and tripped over the corpse of a goblin. Like a hulking angel of death the Orc strode haughtily to the prone figure. It stopped with its club half raised for the killing blow, looking around curiously for the source of the high pitched whistling that had become more shrill for the past few moments.
Finally looking up it saw the flaming meteor hurtling straight toward it from the heavens. It barely had time to register that it was in danger before the missile struck a few feet behind the Orc. Upon striking it burst into hundreds of burning shards, sending sheets of flame in all directions.
The object’s placement was both useful and horribly damaging. Having dropped almost in the center of the fighting, both friend and foe alike were awash in fiery agony. Hair sizzling, lungs crisping from superheated air, the poor torches ran crazzily about seaching for an end to the pain.
The horses,which had been barely under control during the fighting, bolted madly. Spooked by the flames they no longer heeded the shouts or reins of their masters as they ran in all directions, breaking tack, dragging wagons, and flinging out terrified passengers.
The Orc that had stood so triumphant before Lars in it’s imminent kill saved his life, taking the brunt of the fiery blast and shielding Lars from harm. Rolling aside to avoid the flaming carcass from hitting him as it fell, Lars took the time to utter a few small prayers to the spirits of his ancestors that had most assuredly save him from death.
Stumbling to his feet, Lars looked around dazed from the sudden change of events. He saw that the fireball was not alone, having at least a dozen of its kind rocketing from the distant city. Momentarily he fancied that the men at the battlements saw him in peril and took action. Shaking himself to his sense he realized the utter stupidity of such a thought. The only other possible reason for their catapulting surfaced unpleasantly from the persistant fog his head seemed wreathed in. They were being sacrified in exchange for the deaths of the invading Orcs and Goblins.
Lars ran as quickly as the laws of physics would allow him, looking for his sister. She would know what to do.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Berserker Part 56

Millienya smiled to herself, after seeing the display of mystical power, the enemy had lost heart in their attack. Goblins ceased flying through the air, they most likely refused such a risky manuever after witnessing a friend exploding. Orcs still lurked around the edge of the grasses, becoming more daring by the moment. They realized that if the goblins were scattered to the winds then the human defenders would turn to the Orcs next.

With this in mind a few had slunk from the grasses to aid their diminutive comrades. Finally in daylight they all took on an olive green coloring.

The tallest standing only five and a half feet high they seemed like no large threat. However they compensated by being almost three feet wide at the shoulders with muscular arms and a barrel chest that tapered down to a thin waist and short skinny legs.

Unlike their cousins they possessed thick manes of black hair braided in all manner of styles. Below their heavy sloping brows were widely set red eyes with a flat nondescript nose in between. All these combined with a thick protruding lower jaw which sprouted two massive tusks gave the feral creatures a truly wicked visage.

They wore plain cloth or badly cured hides draped over them and tied at the waist for makeshift clothes. A few wore tightfitting shirts or leggings they had apparently taken from former battles. Additional armor was not necessary due to their inhuman ability to absorb damage. Pain just forced them into greater savagery. Millienya had seen an Orc with one arm and half of its face in bloody ruin rampage through four attackers before being spitted by spears.

Thankfully they were just as susceptible to Millienya’s poisons as any other living thing. She busily sent arrow after arrow into Orcs pressing the milling Goblins toward the defender, neither too keen on being the next victim to sorcerous powers .

She only hoped she could deplete their numbers sufficiently before the full number of the Orcs abandoned cover in the long grasses lest they be totally overun. Working with such a speed that coherent thought about the task was too slow, Millienya redoubled her efforts to aid the defenders, her hands seeming to work by reflex alone as the battle raged.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Berserker Part 55

Marhault and his aid had been keeping watch over the eastern gate after determining that the gnolls’ projectile attack done no real harm to the structure. He was sorry to say that this was not so for the soldiers manning the wall, over ten were dead and another ten wounded. Arrows and spears sought them out with uncanny accuracy, making shots that he daresay would’ve been difficult even for his skilled hands. The loss of his men both rankled and interested him, the idea that he might soon meat another who was as fine an archer as he excited him. As a result he had ordered more than ninety percent of the troops on gaurd to keep their heads down and not to return fire until further notice.

Going over the plans in his head as he surveyed the crippled caravan he heard a sharp crack and whoosh from behind. The few catapults he had managed to manufacture before the enemy arrives would prove usefull, letting the gnolls know that not even in the forests were they safe from Halfway’s retaliation.

He turned in time to see the first of the rocks they had fall short by fifty yards. The crews manning the flingers would need practice. Marhault suspected they would have plenty of opportunities soon.

Shouts of wonder and superstitious signs from his men dragged his eyes back to the eastern gates, where a figure was being propelled upward on pillars of blue flame.

“Black magic”, his aid gasped to the distracted nods of others.

Suddenly the figure was ripped apart, the energies that earthed in its body shrieked and crackled across the sky triumphantly.

“That’s magic alright”, Marhault agreed. His kind were much more familiar with such practices than humans, who deemed magic to be evil and something to keep away from. While he knew better than they, and that magic was a natural force which is shaped by the user depending on its purpose. He also knew that wielding such power can twist even the most kind and humble soul into a grandiose monstrosity. Thus Marhault made it a point to keep as far away from anything arcane as possible.

“The enemy must have powerful sorcerers”, a man said, judging by the pyrotechnic display. Marhault rolled his eyes, rumor mongerers such as he were the most dangerous foe in situations such as this. He had better put a stop to it quickly.

“Sergeant?”, he called to his aid. Who drew himself to attention upon hearing his rank.


“Do we have any pitch?”


“Good, then have a sizeable measure loaded into the catapults and set the eastern fields ablaze. We must destroy those magicians before they can reach the walls”.

“But sir”, the sergeant asked in shock, “there are soldiers, women, and children out there. Would you have them die?”

“Sadly with sorcerers of such power fighting against us, our men would have no hope of survival, let alone the civilians. They’ll be dead before long. Now carry out your orders”.

The sergeant wordlessly saluted and hopped down the wall to obey.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Berserker Part 53

Jarn’s cry of warning died as the scene before him changed dramatically, at one moment Selenne was pinned helplessly in Death’s path, her hands raised to protect her and crying out mixed pleas for mercy and half forgotten scraps of prayers. The next moment her upraised hands shot forth solid beams of warm blue light. As these shafts hit the goblin, he jerked as if bodily struck. The girl’s teeth gritted in fierce determination and her arms trembling in pain she continued her assault. The goblin forced back and upward, twitching and chattering uncontrollably as the light surged through it, sparking off its teeth and turning its knife into a charred lump attached to its burning arm. Finally, its little body could take no more, at a height of no less than twenty feet it detonated in a crackling explosion of wild untamed power and energy.

Not a sound could be heard throughout the interuppted battle, wether it was because of the surprised participants or deafening explosion Jarn didn’t know. The silence finally broken by Selenne, sighing quietly she gently folded up and passed out once more.

Jarn regained enough of his wits to untangle himself from the boxes and help free Silva, who immediately stumbled to her child and tried to shake her awake. Finding she did not respond, she became more frantic.

Kneeling down beside Selenne he held his hand above her mouth, reassured to feel her breath. He gently pulled Silva away fom her daughter, forcing the woman to meet his focused eyes with her teary ones.

“She lives”, he told her.

“Then why will she not awake?”, Silva asked hesitantly

“She is tired and needs sleep”, Jarn replied. “Let’s get her out of here”.

Jarn looked hard at the woman, relieved to find her jaw had stopped quivering and was set firmly. She was coping with the situation well enough.

After helping Silva climb through the rip in the wagon’s canavas, he turned away and retrieved his axes from the woodwork, slung his sword over his shoulder and carefully swung Selenne over the other. Briefly surprised to find that she seemed to weigh less than the massive weapon he hefted, he followed the lady out.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Berserker Part 53

Selenne was bare inches from its green features, its skin looking like it had been streched tightly over its spindly little bones. Big red eyes rolling in its large oversized skull. That skull seeming to weigh far too much for the thin stick of a neck which it lolled about wildly on.

Seeing its pinned victim, the goblin happily shrieked right in her face, in the seconds she stared in blank horror she had taken in every minute detail of the loathesome creature. Hairless scalp, warted chin, rusty knife held by its side, and the overwhelming stench of rotting meat and decaying dentistry coming from its open mouth.

Grinning wickedly as it raised a knife that would add lockjaw as another one of the terrors of warfare, time slowed to Selenne almost stopping completely. Looking around in confusion she saw that her perception of the world was altered as well, in place of the normal colors she was accustomed to were shades from a totally different spectrum. As if she was looking through the normal colors to see their innards and real meanings behind the distraction of the pigment. And while they were strange and eerily different, she was able to distinguish them as they reminded her of the tints of the normal world.

The creature in front of her was filled with an ugly pulsing red-brown cloud that sent shivvers down her spine. Jarn, frozen in a desperate cry of anguish for her was filled with an infinite black nexus swirling with bluegreens and redblues, entranced by the wyrd beauty of it she did her best to ignore the aching sensation building up behind her eyes until she was sure her head would split open.

With the curse of a practical mind that her father had laid upon her, she realized that now would be an opportune time to remove herself from danger. Fate seemed to feel otherwise as she noticed the knife in the goblin’s hand had finally reached the apex of its upswing. Time was returning to the unnatural place she had briefly inhabited. Drawn by the movement of the knife, she looked past it to the open sky above. The air was filled with a thick electrified mist that flowed in and around everything.

The last thing she could remember of the beautful world as the knife descended was the mist suddenly rushing to envelope her in embrace.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Berserker Part 52

Jarn started into wakefulness, briefly thinking he was back in his home village during its destruction, doomed to relive that fateful day time and again until his death had been avenged.

As he tried to get up he became aware of his cramped surroundings, boxes and barrels dangling precariously around them. His eyes came to rest on the prone bodies of Selenne and her mother, unconscious and half buried by crates and barrels.

Crawling forward to help them up, the wagon was yet again jolted, struck heavily by something unknown and disloged several objects. A box fell flat on his back and knocking the wind from him, his axe plummeted to the ground, burying itself scant inches from its owner’s ear.

Where the impact hindered Jarn it aided Selenne and her mother, rousing them from their insentient state to muzzy wakefullness. As Selenne looked around at her surroundings groggily as if for the first time -looking very much like Jarn suspected he had but a few scant minutes before- a great rending noise filled the overturned wagon. There, right behind her Jarn could see a line being cut into the thick canvas. It was yanked aside to reveal the leering and triumphant face of a goblin.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Berserker Part 51

Millienya perched motionless as a statue and just as well composed, her bow tracking the slightest jostled grass. From her elevated height on the wagon she had seen a large portion of the goblin forces disappear back into the long grass and was just waiting for them to reemerge.

It had been some minutes since things had quieted and her senses had keened to the point where her own heartbeat was a racket which she distractedly wished she could stop.

When a few errant shadows passed over her she thought nothing of it. It could be the rainy season there for all she knew about the weather patterns south of her homeland. It wasn’t until she felt a feignt whining screech, slowly rising in pitch in volume. Finally it ended with a whump and a crash, a slightly tipsy little goblin sitting right next to her.

The little thing gained its bearings faster than she did, drawing a small rusted dagger it made a swipe at her throat. Just missing by the scantest of measurements she fell backward and rolled off the wagon, arrow still knocked and ready. When the little goblin followed she hit her target in midair, the force of the arrow carrying the spitted greenskin backward.

As Millienya waited for her heart to slow down from a high whine to a purr, she saw another goblin rise from the grasses, creating a similar noise such as she had heard. Literally propelled some ten yards into the air, it arced to land right in the circle. Apparently the orcs had found another mode of attack, by hurling their featherweight brethren up and over their defenses to wreak havoc from within.

Astounded by the impossible sight she froze where she stood, watching as the goblin was accompanied by half a dozen more from the grasses. One impacting right in the lead wagon, what came next she couldn’t even begin to desribe or understand.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Berserker Part 50

Lars fought alongside other swordsmen at the front line, howling like a wolf as he slashed with his sabers at any that dared scuttle near. Millienya was off somewhere, leaving him to the manual labor of helping hold back the goblin tide as women and children cowered in fear, the wagon drivers trying vainly to turn their carts around to the safety of the city.

Considering the likely outcomes of the fight, he was rather enjoying himself. The militia were well trained in working together and numerous so as to avoid any real sense of urgency. While one would reach forth to spit a squirming goblin on his blade, the other would cover his companion’s vulnerable side. This became the basic mode of fighting as the battle continued, the long spears and polearms had become too cumbersome in the shoulder-to-shoulder defensive semicircle they had formed at the head of the caravan.

While throwing themselves bodily at their human enemies, the goblins really didn’t know how to follow up their initial lunge, leaving them totally defenseless and easy pickings for the grim combatants. It had only been the surprise and confusion provided from the tipped wagons that gave the goblins any advantage air of a warrior. With that gone many of the militia were reminded of their children in the midst of a temper tantrum. Some of the more sentimental of the group were even reluctant to defend themselves. Until they were knocked silly because of carelessness.

All this combined with the lack of any organization to block their route of retreat made Lars feel that they were engaging in a game rather than a life and death struggle. Which was really an overstatement when Lars got to thinking about it, only four men had been critically wounded and there were no deaths that he was aware of.

After a few moments he noticed the cries of the panicked caravan members behind him becoming louder. Taking a step back, he let a man with scars patchworking his face and armor take his place on the front line.

In the relative safety of his position he risked a quick glance behind him to see what was wrong. What he saw sent a jolt of liquid fire through his veins. Another wagon clawed open, goblins swarming over fallen women and children, bone and muscle disapearing down their glistening maws. Stalking ever closer to the contracing nucleus of terrified refugees hunkering against the remaining wagons.

Shouting for the second line of men to break and follow he charged the goblins, his sabers raised in anticipation of chopping death strokes, his long firm strides eating up the distance. In the noise and swirling disorientation of the fight, Lars’ charge was not heard or seen until he had already laid waste to four of their number.

Turning around in expectation to find one outraged fighter whose attack would be quickly put to an end, they found themselves meeting a whole line of armed and wratheful relatives of the slaughtered innocents. They too had seen what Lars had witnessed and raced just a few steps behind him, cries choking their dust-dried throats and death in their tear filled eyes.

With a roar of painfilled-sorrow the men impacted with the goblins, audibly crunching armor and shattering bone on both sides. Yet they continued on, atoning to the dead for their inability to protect them and sending their stricken souls winging peacefully into the next world through the pain they were inflicting as well as enduring.

As Lars was jostled aside by the avenging sons of Halfway, he could do nothing but stand in open amazement at feats these men committed out of love. Love for those who had passed on or just barely inhabited the mortal coil. Miraculously ignoring gaping wounds, broken limbs, even intestines spilling out beneath tunics to gouge eyes, choke throats, and mangle bodies.

It was not long before the goblins lay stacked on the dirt like cordwood. Sadly so were a number of the defenders, laying next to their deceased loved ones or held close by the crying live ones. One body struck Lars as being familiar. He approached the man curiously, wondering where he had seen that short but thick frame. Even in death the flint-like eyes did not cloud over, but remained sharp and calculatingly soulful. Thankfully recollection came knocking, of course, how could he forget? It was the owner of the inn where they first got mixed up in the whole mess.

Only once he was on his way around the wagons with the remainder of his group did he remember the serving maid he had been flirting with, worriedly he quickened his pace and scanned the faces of those huddling together in the wagons. He couldn’t bring himself to search the blood dusted ground for her there, such grief would only distract him and most likely get him killed as well.

Pulling himself from the mindnumbing revelry that comes after combat, he steeled himself for another grisly scene of overrun guards and slaughtered innocents. Only to find a group of rather surprised rear-gaurdsmen.

The mercenary sergeant of the group quickly recovered and came forth. “What’s been going on?”, he demanded, dying to know what had been happening.

“The enemy broke through our lines”, Lars relayed, scanning the grasses alertly. “They were repelled but at great cost. Strangely we cannot find the breach point”.

“There haven’t been any sir”, the sergeant said. ‘We’ve got squads of ten each spaced twenty yards apart, surrounding the wagons, with at least two experienced men per unit. Plus two extra sqauds in reserve”.

“Then how did they get in?” Lars demanded in exasperation. “They didn’t fly did they?”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Berserker Part 49

Bertrwar howled with joy as he let fly yet another feathered dart, not bothering to see if it reached its target. His new bow was a marvel, he hardly had to aim to hit his mark, arrows seeming to guide themselves. The arrows, they were strange. Every normal arrow he nocked altered subtley, as if something creeped along from the string. First the feathers would go a crimson red, then little blue and red pulsing veins would appear along the wooden shaft, and finally the metal head would become pitted with rust and slime.

It appeared that such strange otherworldly gifts were not uncommon within their army, the upper echelons of the gnolls, orcs, and goblins all carried such blessed weapons, never letting them out of sight or out of hand if possible.

Upon meeting the other two races in the depths of the Bretolian forest not more than a week ago, it was apparent that the gnolls were the most intelligent of the bunch. Despite some grumblings from all groups, Bertrawr was made field tactician and general of the horde after his superior suddenly died of lead poisoning. When questions arose about the possibility of foul play, they were taken aside and quietly informed that a knife in the back was lead poisoning, and it was catching if they weren’t careful.

He smiled at the memory of the longfang, long since blind with cataracts and bent double with arthritis. Hobbling about with his grey streaked fur coming out in tufts. His idea of a battle was two enemy lines charging against each other. It was an honorable form of warfare, true, but most gnolls nowadays prefered to be alive and cunning as opposed to dead and honorable.

With his position of power secure, Bertrawr led his army east, having decided to follow that damnable caravan that had cost him his Storm Canis. Replacements for which would take weeks to arrive from the Dog Nation capital.

The caravan must’ve had a fair turn of speed, outdistancing the slow army easily, they were probably halfway across the continent by then. Frustrated by them, he consoled himself with the fact that they would be nothing more than a drop in the ocean of souls which would be taken in offering to their masters.

To get things underway, he decided that the quiet little hamlet they came upon looked easy for the takings, giving him a chance to exercise his tactical as well as combat skills.

Obviously the most superb and valuable of their troops, Bertrawr decided that the gnolls should aid their comrades in the siege from a distance. Dividing the wall defenses between two fronts, he would soften their forces with a peppering barrage of arrows and ballistae fire while their more dumb companions would attack from the more obvious front entrance. Doing so would mean many deaths for the orc and goblin troops, but that was a sacrifice that Bertrawr was willing to make.

Once the eastern gates were open, the gnolls would break from cover and enter through the western gates that the orcs would have hopefully opened by then. With his battle plans set all he had left was to review the wild mob he called his troops, something that no person easily depressed should be allowed to do.

He had done his best, appointing several drill instructors he could count on to train the unruly orcs and goblins. Admittedly they were fierce fighters to start with, but not smart ones, needlessly expending energy before and during combat. So the gnolls had attempted to teach the greenskins to wait for the moment to strike.

With the energetic little goblins this had been a complete failure, they simply were too dumb to understand instruction. In exasperation one of the gnolls came up with idea to use that boundless energy much like a club, hence the whirling battering attack that the little goblins would be executing at that very moment.

The orcs had been more of a success, their ferocious fighting technique made them nearly unstoppable in close combat, but they had a nasty selfish behavior. Bertrawr had watched them in mock battle, one orc would strike down another of his own comrades in order to take the fallen’s kill.

Normally the extremely independent warriors would reject the very thought, but with the arrival of their masters they had come to understand that their would be heads, limbs, trophies, and glory for all. Thus lessons in teamwork were taken well. With this newfound teamwork, the orcs had been equipped with sturdy ropes for scaling the city walls.

Bertrawr felt a flash of pride at the thought that he had come up with the brilliant idea. It had come to him when a goblin had climbed to the top of a huge oak tree while they were traveling. For what reason, he had no idea, most likely a bet. But the goblin fell from his precarious perch easily fifty feet in the air to the hard ground beneath. After a few moments the goblin got up, dazed but seemingly unharmed.

At that point he had realized that he could utilitze the enourmous upper arm strength of the orcs and the resilient hides of the goblins for the benefit of the army.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I've been Published

Well, folks. It seems things are going alright for me at the moment. I've just finished writing a rough draft of my first book with the basic storyline for the sequal and the premise of the third worked out. Now I've just got to wait for a few people to get back to me with their interpretations and opinions so I can do some retooling and see about getting it published. There's bound to be some changes and a few re-writes in the works, so I'm trying not to get my hopes too high, but it's down to fine detail at this point, the story itself is already set. So it might be another month or two before I get the final manuscript ready to send out.

Of course I've got a lot of ground work to cover in the meantime. I've got to research all the different publishing houses that might be interested in this particular genre and list them all based on which ones are likely to pay me the most (I gots bills to pay, after all). Then there's the query letter to write. As it introduces the work to prospective publishers it's just as important as the book itself.

Today's been a pretty good day, all around. I got my short story, "Small Details" published at Alienskin Magazine and they just posted the new issue. Check it out.

On a similar note, I just got a letter back from one Dan Abnett. For those who haven't read his work, he's the king of military science fiction and all-around action, combining good ole-fashioned mayhem with colorful characters, incredible scenery, and some of the longest and most intriguing storylines I've ever read. He writes in a style that's both succinct and incredibly evocative, using a vocabulary that's just as expansive as that of the late, great H.P. Lovecraft with none of the bombacity. I found his blog not too long ago and was pleasantly surprised to discover that he presented an email address for fans and anyone who had questions.

I sent a hello to him to ask about his methodology, figuring that someone who had such incredibly detailed storylines (the kind that can cover a dozen different books and still stay gripping) couldn't possibly come up with it all on the fly. That was a few months ago, and I really didn't expect a reply in the first place.

Turns out his server's email was messed up and it just took him a really long time to cover the backlog of messages. It was a handwritten letter that answered a few of my questions and directed me to some more in-depth information about how he puts together his stories. I'm still a little star-struck at having received a reply and encouragement in my work from someone I idolize.

In order to keep this feeling for as long as possible I don't think I'll be getting out of bed tomorrow; something's bound to happen to even out this sense of elation. Night all.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Berserker Part 48

Marhault watched in impotent rage from the walls as the ambush was sprung on the caravan. He was going to have the grasses cleared to provide an open killing field, but he didn’t think that they would’ve been able to organize an evacuation effort so soon, thus he had let it slide. Then that northerner woman came to beg on her friends’ behalf. With her beautiful blue eyes and silver tongue, normally he would’ve had such men killed and comandeered the caravan anyway. He had actually let her leave whenever it suited her! He kicked himself for his weakness time and again.

“Should we help them?”, inquired his second, gesturing at the distant group with his bow.

“I wish we could”, Marhault returned. “But they’re not in arrow range”.

“What about our catapults sir?”, the grizzled old man asked anxiously. “Or perhaps we could bolster them with a few more men?”

Marhault turned his smoldering anger on the man who normally passed for his best friend. “Do you truly believe that you could fire a hunk of stone at a distance of at least a mile, while accurately hitting the enemy that stand just a few feet away from our own?”, he asked acidly

“Then we could send in more men, sir”, the man insisted.

“True”, Marhault conceded, his anger quickly cooling into something closer to a depressive gloom. “But I doubt that is the full size of the army that the scout mentioned. Also he said there were Gnolls and I see none in that mass”.

“Its a mile distant sir”, the old man said skeptically. “How can you tell from here?”.

“Trust me”, he responded wearily. “If we open our gates or abandon our posts, we will be overun as well”. As he spoke a page ran up to them, his face red with exertion.

“My Lord!”, he puffed. “The eastern wall is under attack, men are falling in droves by poison arrows!”

Sighing deeply, he adressed his friend. “See?”

Berserker Part 47

Millienya cursed in Klavistan, her home language. A good language to curse in, full of hard syllables that really get across the point even if the exact words aren’t understood. She should’ve expected some trick from the crafty little goblins.

Upon charging, they had thrown themselves bodily into the defenders, whirling and twisting their bony bodies around in insane frenzy, using centrifical force and the heavy objects on their clothing to turn them into living morningstars. Their rags straining away from their bodies, rock and metal whistled around them, bludgeoning repeatedly anyone they came into contact with.

As long as their energy held out, getting in close for knife work was near impossible. The long gash across her knuckles was proof of the effective defensive properties of their attire. But a number of the militia with pikes and spears had formed a makeshift wall to hold them at bay. Even then they constantly attempted leaping past their wall, occasionally getting behind the long weapons only to be slashed in half by a second line of vigilant swordsmen.

The goblins holding ropes had used the confusion caused by their counterparts to slip over to a few of the wagons and tie them to the carts. After making sure the knots were secure they tugged on the rope a few times and suddenly the rope was taught, the wagons being pulled inexorably over by creatures in the grass. This effectively immoblised the wagons ahead of those that had fallen, what with having nowhere to turn.

She guessed that an attack this coordinated, one would expect to find a few orcs too. They were much larger and slightly more intelligent than their greenskinned cousins. Like their cousins they also possessed a basic cowardice which would explain their choosing to stay in the long grass and attack from a distance.

Even as she watched, the lead wagon with Kyle still holding desperately to the reins, toppled. Seeing the waving grasses caused by the taughtened ropes she had an idea. Drawing her bow she broke from the front line and climbed up to the second wagon in line, which was still upright, though just barely.

Sighting down the length of the rope, she let fly. Smiling with gratification as she heard a low piteous moan rise up from the grass, the wagon thumped back to the ground on all four wheels.

Not only did the single wagon right itself, but others did as well. Realizing they were in danger, the orcs had apparently stopped their attack and abandonned their grapnels.

This gave her some breathing room to formulate an effective defensive strategy. She hoped vainly that Marhault would see their plight and send reinforcements.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Berserker Part 46

Selenne awoke in alarm as the large boy from the bar climbed up into the rear of the wagon, his weight forcing the wagon down further by an inch. He appeared to be looking for something, opening crates and barrels haphazardly. As the chattering noise grew louder and more urgent, the boy’s searching grew more frantic.

“What are you looking for?”, she asked politely.

His head jerked upward as if noticing them for the first time. Blushing slightly upon spotting her he bent his head back down quickly. “My weapons ma’am, we may be under attack”

Upon hearing this, Silva, who had been dozing lightly despite the noise- if she had learned to block out Hargram’s snoring, than someone shouting wasn’t any more difficult- snapped wide awake.

“Attack?”, she nearly screeched. “By who?”

“I don’t know ma’am”, he responded. “But you’ll find out very soon unless I find my axes”

“Axes?”, Selennes responded. “I know where they are”. Reaching under her seat she barely managed to pull out one of his weapons. Jarn was so happy to see them he kissed her on the cheek in his relief. Realizing what he had done and seeing the shocked look on the face of the girl’s mother he quickly took his weapons and made to go. Still, the memory of her soft skin sent thrills through his spine.

Before he could leave, however, he felt the wagon jolt and slowly tip to one side. Reaching a fifty degree angle the wagon tumbled over, its occupants crying out in surprise and fear.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Berserker Part 45

Millienya, hearing the shrieks and shouts, drew two daggers from a back sheathe, one long and one short. Her shouts to Kyle to try to turn the caravan around were drowned by the rising chattering and gibbering eminating from the grasses around them.

Thanks to the hoarse bawling and shouts of the mercenaries carrying over the sea of noise, the militia men formed up to protect the front and flanks of the caravan. Moments later a horde of monsters burst thrashing from the grasses all around them. The more experienced fighters there recognized them as goblins, and in far greater numbers than anyone knowing the neurotic little creatures thought possible. Normally they argued, tricked, and fought each other so much that a large band would be no more than forty. But more than twice that number were visible in the throng and a great many more than that had yet to break from cover.

All clad in rags, they three to four feet tall, skin a deep olive green, baring the likeness of a small emaciated child. Unlike children, two small tusks protruded from the lower lips of each. Instead of carrying weapons, they had curiously attached little bits of metal and rock all over their clothes. Oddly, some of them held the ends of rope lengths winding back into the grass.

Blinking against the bright sun, they shrieked and capered madly. Finally after much posturing and threats, one was pushed from behind. Its involuntary step forward was all the leadership they needed, spurring the rest of them in to meet the human defenders in combat.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Berserker Part 44

Karnar watched Jarn walk off, doing his best to imitate the boy’s calm posture. He worked his way around to the left flank of the wagons, softly whispering their predicament to the militiamen as passed them. The mercenaries aknowledged him with barely perceptable nods of the head and clenching hands on sword pommels. Older militia men took the information in much the same manner, some looking sick or worried, but reigning their panic in by willpower.

Karnar had to give them credit, he knew many who would not be able to handle a similar situation. Unfortunately, he met one more. A thin sallow young lad, trembling as if the weight of the short sword in his belt was all he could bare. He looked at Karnar with big wavering eyes, he wondered how this runt had ever been assigned to escort the train in absolute bewilderment. He looked as if the slightest breeze would knock him to the ground.

Karnar still tried his best. He smiled and draped an arm amiably over his shoulder, earning a nervous smile from the boy. Still smiiling he whispered conspiratorially into his cocked ear. “I’m not trying to alarm you, so just keep calm and pretend nothing is amiss. But we are being watched”. Karnar’s efforts to calm the boy were for naught. Hearing that they were watched, he began whipping his head in all directions in an attempt to locate their spies.

Clapping him closer to his chest, Karnar continued desperately. “Just stay quiet, listen to your superiors, and remember what you were taught! You’ll get through this!”. The boy’s rising panic was too great to hold back, he shoved Karnar away and clumsily drew his blade. Still searching the tall grasses for hidden assailants, he shouted loudly for help.

That went well, Karnar thought cynically.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Berserker Part 43

The group tromped along a few yards ahead of the wagons. The focal point of a V shape movement that was formed by twenty to thirty other men, mixed militia and mercenaries assigned to accompany the caravan for the first day. Just until they were safely out of the city’s site.

Aniston had regained his ice-like composure and marched along, back straight and head up. Lars often wondered how he could see where he was going like that. But Millienya had been especially quiet upon receiving the unfortunate news concerning Seryan. Knowing her and her motherly attention to the rest, Lars thought she was probably blaming herself.

Aside from Kyle, who was at the head of the wagon train again, he was the only one in a relatively observant mood. Which was why he noticed the persistant whining coming from the gnoll hitched to the lead wagon. Ever since it had realized that it would come to no harm and was cared for relatively well, it had behaved itself. Not snapping at people, howling, or attempting to chew its own leg off to escape. Becoming a sort of mascot for the group, it was tolerated as long as it continued to work pulling the wagons. Kyle had even made a shoulder harness to fit, allowing the thing better traction.

Stopping, Lars got the others’ attention. “What’s wrong with the gnoll?” , he asked.

It now had stopped trying to pull the wagon and had its nose in the air, sniffing wildly and clawing at its harness.

“Maybe it has fleas”, Aniston dismissed.

“Then what about the tall grass?”, Lars persisted.

“What about it?”, Millienya asked, scanning the grass for anything unusual.

“Its waving”, he said.

“Grass does that all the time”, Aniston explained. “The air pushes it around like surf on a beach”.

Lars dropped the bomb. “Do you feel any wind?”

“Oh”, Aniston realized.

“Everyone pass the word”, Millienya hissed urgently, feeling unseen eyes on her. “No fast movements, act like nothing’s wrong.”

“Where are my weapons?”, Jarn asked quietly

“The gnoll’s wagon”

“Right”, he said, doing his best to stroll nonchalantly to the cart.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Berserker Part 42

Selenne sat crammed into a wagon, her mother sitting at her side. Hargram decided he would walk alongside the carts to provide the ladies more room inside. Selenne really didn’t think it was a choice, he had long been afraid of close spaces after being so accustomed to the open air and sea and would’ve preferred to pull the wagon rather than be forced to ride in it.

What was pulling the wagon gave her something of a shock, beside the horses grunted a large dogman that had come to be known as a gnoll, it glared up at her from its work scrabbling for purchase along the cobbled streets, scaring her into hastily pulling her head back and slamming it painfully into a rib for the canvas covering overhead.

Despite her aches and pains she was excited to be moving, having spent all the years she could remember behind the walls of the city she was anxious to see the rest of the world. Kastontel, she had heard was one of the largest cities in all the known world.

As they neared the eastern gates, she felt a sudden pang of worry. What if she never saw her home again? Would she ever hear the voices of the people bidding them farewell from the streets and walls? Would she ever see that boy from the barfight again?

Snuggling closer to her mother she tried to put such thoughts out of her mind and relax. It would be a long journey and she had already been up before dawn readying herself. She quickly fell asleep to the ponderous rocking motion of the cart as it slowly made its way out to the grasslands of western Gath

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Berserker Part 41

The heavy door to the apothecary’s shop flew open before Jarn could reach for the handle. Out stumbled Aniston, his face pasty and pale. Lars and Jarn helped him steady himself, leaning back against the shops’ exterior.

“What’s wrong?”, Lars asked urgently.

“Of all my life, that was the loathesome and dirtying experience I’ve ever had”, he gasped out, wiping his sweaty brow with a handkerchief.

Strung tight as a bow, the two burst into the room, prepared to see some twisted and depraved torture of the worst kind being acted out upon their friends.

If only it had been that straightforward. The apothecary was nowhere to be seen, but by the smoke drifting from the upper floor, the wierdroot had gotten him.

Near the back of the shop, Tyrel sat on a stool in front of Seryan’s table with his head down. Seryan lay on the table, pale, only then did they notice the steady dripping noise in the deep silence of the room. They came closer, trying to get Tyrel’s attention. But he was deep in his own realm, his head and hands clenching Seryan’s arm with fierce sorrow and pain. Such a scene would not be so disturbing if the arm Tyrel held was attached to something. It wasn’t.

The poor man’s left arm had been cut off just above the elbow. His wound was bound tightly with white linen and the stench of burned flesh indicated the stump had been cauterized. The blood slowly congealing on the table was dripping down in a steady trickle.

Fighting the bile threatening to choke his gorge, Jarn managed to place his hand lightly on Tyrel’s shoulder, trying to pull him out of his downward spiral. Tyrel looked up startled at the touch. Seeing his friends he tried to smile, his face a sickly green.

“What happened?”, Jarn asked gently, trying to humor the grieving man.

“The antidotes worked”, Tyrel responded through tear filled eyes. “But his arm was too far gone to help, it was infected and had to be taken. He called it an amputation”, jerking his thumb upward toward the smoke filled stairway.

“Will it work?”, Lars asked. “The apothecary thinks so, but that’s what he said about the antidote, and look what happened here”, waving the ghastly appendage at them without thinking, they were forced back a step by the horror of the thing.

“Could you put the arm down Tyrel?”, Lars asked as kindly as possible.

He looked at the arm as if he was seeing it for the first time. The he threw it disgustedly into a bucket of water on the floor in which a bloody saw bobbed.

“Did Aniston tell you why he came?”, Jarn asked

“No”, Tyrel replied, whiping his eyes. “He walked in just as we started. The apothecary’s painkilling potion worked but not well enough, so we had Aniston hold him down. He never told me anything before he had to leave.”

“Well, I don’t know how to tell you this”, Jarn continued. “But we have to leave in an hour’s time”.

“Why so quickly?”, Tyrel inquired. Jarn and Lars relayed the story in depth, using their bruises as bragging rights. At the finish Tyrel looked a little more like himself, their story had helped to take the plight of his friend of his mind.

“Well, he’s in no condition to travel”, Tyrel stated.

“But this city may come under attack”, Lars argued.

“If what you’ve told me is true, the army will make itself known long before any attacks occur. And if things get reall rough we can sneak out. Besides, I look forward to scouting out that tavern you mentioned”, Tyrel finished, even managing a smile.

“Right then”, Jarn said, preparing to leave. “We’ll see you in a week’s time maybe?”


Monday, July 27, 2009

Berserker part 40

They awoke from their cots the stablemaster had been kind enough to provide, to the sound of civilization. By this Jarn could hear the stamp of feet, cry of children, and loud yelling of adults no more mature than their smaller counterparts. The three had been greeted by Karnar as they reached the stable the previous night, acting very much like a dog who has broken a priceless heirloom and hopes that by being cheerful and happy, then no punishment would be exacted upon him. This had not worked given that, the three men had spent much of the day hanging by their wrists. Strangely enough it was mild Kyle that suggested Karnar should insert his head into the rear end of the nearest horse. Exercising his powers of perception, Karnar thought it best that he bedded down elsewhere, not that he was welcome in the tavern anymore. Thus there were only three men sitting up and wincing at sore muscles and bruises going from the initial black and blue to shades of unsightly brown and nauseating green.

Millienya peeked into their little alcove- usually a stall for sick horses but better than nothing- as they were cleaning themselves from a basin of water that one of the stableboys had left.

“We’ll be clearing out in an hour so you had better get ready”, she chided.

“Yeah, yeah”, Lars grumbled. “We’ll just end up back here anyway”.

Still weary and aching they stumbled out into the morning light, with hands shielding their faces. A lot had changed while they were getting some well-deserved sleep. A number of wagons had been added to the train and Kyle noted happily that their mixed teams of mules and horses had been sorted out.

“The extra wagons are with us only until the civilians are safe”, Millienya supplied by way of explanation. “The extra horses, on the other hand, are ours to use as we see fit”.

Kyle, having met the stablemaster, found such a generous donation more than a little surprising.

Millienya walked through the throng of bustling crowd that was on the verge of hysteria to the front of the lead wagon, where the pitchfork that Jarn had forced through the cobbles still stood. “Thanks to Jarn’s... social skills”, she said with a smile, plucking the instrument for emphasis, sending it vibrating. “We have been treated more than fairly by most everybody here. Even the town blacksmith couldn’t pry it loose.” Lars chuckled wryly at the thought of such consternation among his captors.

“Imagine that”, he grinned. “The world’s largest tuning fork”. He thought it was funny, but Jarn was still in some gloomy mood of his and Kyle was busy examining the carts.

It was true what Millienya had said, the wagons looked amazing. Like new. Splinters, blemishes, and mudsplatters covering the wood had been swept into oblivion. The tattered remains ones canvas top had been replaced. Axles and wheels had been checked and oiled. Harness had been mended in places and greased to reduce chafing. Someone had even made the attempt to polish the iron shodding the wagon wheels!

Admirations aside, the wagons barely looked large enough to harbor the huge number of people who were queuing up to stow away their goods. Jarn, Lars, and Millienya quickly found their hands full, Kyle having left to see to the wellbeing of his animals.

It seemed that although the people arriving knew how to behave in a high stress situation, they hadn’t counted on the finite carrying capacity of the wagons. A person who was considered to have packed lightly in the crowd would have had two large bags or sacks, while those who had more possessions were even carrying furniture. While Millienya tried to explain this predicament, the utter sense of selfishness from some of the people made such level-headed thinking impossible. Finally Lars had the bright idea to create a baggage check line. Millienya, Lars, and Jarn would inspect everyone’s belongings to assure that no one was taking up to much valuable room.

Though the line was long and wound its way down the street and around a corner, some semblance of order was established. As the tense morning continued, the group noticed that the owners of the bags that Jarn inspected put up much less of a fight whenever he deemed something to be too large or deadweight. It might’ve been a strange coincidence or a spark from the Lars’ rather slow synapses that the line ended right beside the pitchfork, illiciting much whispered comments and nervous glances. Apparently the stablemaster’s having a big gut depended on his having a big mouth too.

Finally having checked and loaded the refugees’ possessions, they made ready to roll.

“Is their anything else before we leave?”, Lars asked the other two.

“Yes, I sent Aniston to get get Seryan and Tyrel before you two awoke. Go see what is keeping him”.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Berserker Part 39

It may interest any historians of the major wars across Gaia to know that on the night before the refugee evacuations of the walled city of Halfway, the sentries were nothing but unskilled militia, their superiors having bunked off for a quick smoke that turned into a four hour card game. And much like any soldiers on nightwatch for the first time, they fell asleep at their posts. So they had not seen the flitting shadows below the tree line to the west, or the waving tall grasses to the east. but then again it may be of no interest at all.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Berserker Part 38

“What happened?”, Jarn asked disoriented as they walked down to the stables in the bright midday sun. “I thought Karnar never got to you”.

Millienya laughed, after a night of toil and worry, it seemed they were through the worst.
“We found him in the stables”, she said. “Knocked cold in a pile of hay, we never saw him until a horse bit him inadvertently while it was eating”. This brought a weary smile to Jarn’s face, now he would have some defense if Kanar ever tried to tell the sheep story again.

“How did you get us out of prison?”, Kyle asked as he dodged a horsedrawn cart in the bustling streets. “He was going to hang us!”

“Who cares how”, laughed Lars, dancing down the streets as gaily as his aches and pains would allow. “We’re free!”

“Um, not quite”, Millienya said meekly, bringing a stop to all thoughts of merriment.
“What do you mean, not quite?”, Kyle asked hesitantly.

“He would’ve killed you otherwise!”, Millienya protested. “It was the best deal I could arrange!”

“What do you mean, not quite?”, Kyle repeated.

“We’ve agreed to let them use the caravan to evacuate as many innocents as they can, leaving tomorrow morning.”, Millienya responded, testing the ice.

“That’s not so bad”, Lars said, relaxing.

“Once the caravan has transported the townspeople to safety, you three are then to report back here to help defend the city”, she continued

“WHAT!?”, Lars shrieked, alarming a number of nervous passerbys.

“You said he was going to hang you”, she protested. “The only way I could talk him out of it was when I mentioned your skills as fighters.Isn’t this better than death?”

“Not by much”, Lars continued in a rage.

“What about me?”, Kyle qauvered, “I’m not a fighter”.

“But your are the wagonmaster, and as such it is your duty to head the caravan”, she replied.

“Oh, so he gets to go scott free and we’re left here to face some horrible attack?”, Lars continued indignantly.

“Quit your bellyaching Lars, Karnar will be with you as well”, she snapped back, his overbearing nature finally wearing her patience thin. “Just think for once wooden-head.”

“What”, Lars asked, completely familiar to his mental inferiority to his sister. He had gotten so used to such things that it became an advantage, whereas most people would take time to mentally assess a situation, hostile or otherwise, he simply reacted. This lack of mental hesitation was often the difference between life and death for such hard-bitten fighters, and he learned early on that the skullsweat should be left for those who started with more resources than those such as he.

“Do you even think that Gnolls would attack this city?”, she coaxed him

“I don’t know”, Lars said uncertainly

“I certainly don’t think they will”, she said. “What would they have to gain from it that they wouldn’t get simply by blocking their trade routes? Nothing. The only evidence which even points out that gnolls are in the area is the arrow with fur fletchings that killed the scout. Maybe in his deleriem the scout exaggerated, if they used the same poison on him as they used on Seryan he would be incoherent.”

“So what does all this mean?”, Lars asked.

“It means, brother of mine, that its highly likely no such army exists and if it did, they would only waste men and time pointlessly by taking this city”.

“So we’ll just be here with nothing to do until they let us go?”, Lars reasoned.


“Then it doesn’t seem so bad”, Lars said. “There’s somebody here I’d like to get more acquainted with”.

“How will they get back to us then?”, Kyle asked.

Our next stop will be in the city of Kastontel”, Millienya said. “It’s the capital of Gath and we are scheduled to receive more goods and passengers, as well as drop off the refugees. You should be able to reach it a week after we do if you hurry”.

Jarn, who had been unusually silent and brooding during their conversation finally spoke.“I’ve only got one question”, he said as they walked down the street.

“What would that be?”

“Why a slaughterhouse?”

Millienya continued on in thoughtful silence for some time, finally arriving to a conclusion.“Well, all the meat has been cured, salted, and stored. It was a solid brick building, and seemed like a fitting place at the time”. She didn’t bother to mention how intimidating such a place would seem to someone chained up, they experienced that first-hand.

“Oh, right”

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Berserker Part 37

Jarn awoke painfully. His face swelled with bruises to the point where he could hardly open his eyes, body battered to a mottled black and blue. His nose crusted with dried blood, he tried very hard to keep from sneezing in the dust. Beside him were Kyle and Lars, both still unconscious and looking no better than he felt. Lars looked as if his nose would be crooked for the rest of his life. Maybe Selenne would like him then. Jarn tried muzzily to rub the sleep out of his eyes but found his hands were bound above his head, chained to the wall. Looking around he found himself in a large dank room, it was rank with the smell of dust, dirt, and offal.

Looking around by the dim light provided from the large streaked windows set at regular intervals across the front wall, they found the room contained a dirt floor stained with the blood of countless slain animals. Checking their restraints confirmed his suspicions, oversized cattle shackles, they were imprisoned within a slaughterhouse.

Jarn drifted in and out of conciousness for what could’ve been hours or minutes, with the heavy glazed windows it was impossible to tell the time. It was surprisingly quiet in their jail, but Jarn had never been in a house made of brick before. It was cool, but whenever Lars or Kyle groaned or mumbled in their stupor the noise would be amplified, seeming to come from all directions at once.

For once Jarn finally felt alone, Karnar had apparently failed and there was no one else to help or even care about what would happen to them. With Lars and Kyle gone he was bereft of even the simple pleasures of conversation, left to his thoughts.

It was strange, ever since his village had been destroyed he was filled with a great need for revenge. It was some awesome force, like the cannons that he had seen. A power which exists in potential and just needs to be tapped into or harnessed to be used for one’s purposes. And like the cannon, he felt this need was much greater than he and in turn used him for its own unfathomable purposes.

Having been swept up by this he didn’t think about his past or his future, but just of the moment at hand and how it would lead him to his ultimate goal of vengeance. The power he had known left him and he was empty and alone in the world again, uncaring of what happened to the mass of flesh and bone that’s known as a man. He could no longer support his own weight, instead hanging by his manacles, no longer heading the rusted metal biting into his wrists.

A shaft of light blinded him, squinting he looked up blankly. The door to the slaughterhouse opened to reveal a tall, lanky figure. Jarn’s hope that it might be Aniston was shattered as he walked into the gloom of the chamber, this man’s hair was a mossy brown, not his friend’s salt and pepper locks. He strode over to the three with a business-like air.

Seeing the unconscious state of two of the men, he checked for breathing. Finding they were fine- to Jarn’s surprised relief, he hadn’t realized how worried he was about the health of his friends- he applied light taps on their faces with readily increasing pressure to the point where they were stinging slaps until they were fully awake. Taking a few steps back he widened his stance to a comfortable shoulder width and adressed the three.

“Because of your resistance in my men’s attempt to recruit you as active members of the militia you have been arrested”, he said.

“But your men attacked us!”, Lars protested hysterically.

“Really?”, he said, his voice rife with mockery. “Can you prove it? Because I have twenty men with proof that you attacked them.”

“What proof?”, Lars asked.

The man pulled a small note from his belt, only too happy to comply. Making a show of going through the list, he cleared his throat and continued.

“Nineteen bloody noses, seven broken, seventeen black eyes, twenty five cracked ribs, six clean breaks, three broken arms, four broken toes, and one wrenched knee”, he finished. “As well as numerous cuts and bruises.”

“We’re bruised too”, Lars pointed out. Wrinkling his nose and wincing as it began bleeding again.

“True, but in order for three men to have caused so much damage you would’ve had to attack first! Besides, many of these men will not be able to defend the city when it comes under attack now!”

“How do you know it will come under attack?”, inquired Kyle.

“I have dealt with gnolls before”, he responded haughtily, expecting them to cringe at the name of the creatures.

“How could you have”, kyle asked. “None have been encountered until just a few weeks ago?”

“That is not your business and don’t try to change the subject.”, he snapped back, quickly recovering from their lack of emotion at his mention of the creatures. “For these transgressions you will be hung in a summary execution tommorrow morning and your bodies will be put on display to show others the consequences of such behavior.”

Lars and Kyle whimpered at this, Jarn just staring at the man.

“However”, He said as the two men’s hearts began beating again at this. “Some acquaintances of yours have spoke out on your behalf and it turns out you and they will be more useful alive than dead.”

He reached for his belt again, this time retrieving the keys to their shackles, which he used somewhat reluctantly. Letting them rub their chaffed wrists, and massage life back into sore muscles.

The light pouring through the open front door was once again eclipsed as another figure appeared. This one more discernadly feminine in nature. To the group’s joy Millienya ran to meet them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Berserker Part 36

Karnar ran and ran as fast as he could, slipping and falling on the cobbles, but never letting up. He retraced their path through the town, sliding through the turns and intersections without pause. He ran until every breathe was a fiery eternity and every step was an explosion of pain that knew no bounds.

What had been a half hour walk turned into a five minute mad dash. As he turned a bend he briefly beheld the dark looming comfort of the stables. In his elation at the impending end of his mission he forgot to watch his footing, stubbing his toe on a loose stone, sending him skidding facefirst into a fresh bale of hay, his built up momentum covering all but his limp feet in the roughage.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Berserker Part 35

After a few bites of Silva’s great cooking the group was complimenting her continuously.

“This beats gerda’s stew easily”, Lars boasted. After a moment of silence. “Only don’t tell her I said that”.

“Please give the chef my compliments miss”, Karnar added.

“Selenne”, she supplied. “My mother is the cook”.

“Really?” Lars asked in amazement. “I would’ve thought only you could’ve prepared something as angelic as this”. Selenne smiled in pleasure at Lars’ shameless flattery, nearly outmatched by the sour grins of disgust from the three other diners.

Upon her absence they continued eating in tranquility, so humbled by the godly woman’s cooking that they ceased ribbing each other of Selenne. By the time they had filled their bellies many men had become unbelievably given to drink, with still the same noise and laughter but with a tense atmosphere. The giddy teatotalers had already been weeded out and the sullen hard drinking pubgoers were left to hone their craft. For a small honest little town like the
travelers had seen there was a uncommonly large number of men staying out so late.

One such beer stained person had decided that he had imbibed enough for the evening. On his way to the door he tripped over his own feet, landing before the group who were sitting back after the satisftying meal. Before the travelers could do anything to help the man to his feet, he had sat up and was glaring at them.

“Too good to even help ush up then eh?”, he slurred full of surliness. “I figerd youd be too scared to join ush and dont acyu.. accush.. blame yoou for it, but thatsh shust cruel!”

Kyle tried to lend a hand to the drunk, but he slapped it away, to full of himself to allow being helped. By then they were much to aware of all the eyes in the room staring at them, full of malice and besotted anger.

Trying to calm them, kyle put on a compasionate face and asked the man what he meant by joining them. He was only too happy to comply.

“Dontcha know? Sa huge army coming thish way!”, he shouted at them in amazement at their denseness. “A shcout brought news a few daysh ago, all buncha monshters come together and marchin.”

Sensing he had a crowd now, the reprobait tried to steady himself and continued on in a more complaisant voice. “The mayor hired ssome new mershenar...merk... fighters to help. Their bosh drafted all men from shixteen to fifty for the milisha”. At his sobering words the crowd grew more restive, many others eyeing the travelers menacingly.

“But we just got here!”, Kyle protested .

“Don’t matter shon”, the drunk returned, staring at them all with the inkling of an idea.

“What if we refuse to join?”, Karnar asked in a quiet voice as he stared into his beer.

“Then we’ll make yer”, he responded with a certain relish. In his addled little brain a synapse fired. “Comon then, letsh go”.

“NO”, Jarn stated simply.

“I might get a raise for bringing you in then”, he said moving forward to attack, and along with him half the room.

The unsteady punch that the man threw at Jarn was easily deflected across his forearm, who in turn responded by kicking the man’s legs out from underneath him while still sitting, dropping the man quickly. The other three travelers had already unlimbered themselves for the ensuing brawl. Although they soon were to face twenty-some men in combat, they kept their composure, for the outcome of this fight was not kill but to subdue. Lars even looked happy. A hungry looks in his eyes and a feral grin on his lips.

The would-be recruiters created a rough semi-circle around the group, effectively cutting off all routes of retreat or escape. Not waiting for the militia men to come any closer the comrades-in-arms leapt forth as one.

Jarn and Lars came in swinging at either side of the semi-circle of flesh. Lars began howling like a mad wolf, taking one of his opponents off his guard. He quickly jabbed one man in the throat, and savagely brought his knee up to connect with his victim’s nose as he doubled over in pain. Seeing his friend go down in a spray of blood, another man snatched a tankard from a nearby table and ran bellowing at the stranger with his makeshift cudgel held high in anticipation of a knock-down blow. Lars openly laughed at the man’s utterly stupid mistake, he simply planted one foot in his solar plexus when the man came into range and sent him flying back in the other direction, crushing a table and chairs upon landing.

Karnar, who had grown up playing all types of games; push fall, tig, king of the hill, and had spent years wrestling with his friends decided that such rough and tumble play would be approptriate. With three running steps he had gone from floor to chair to table and finally flung himself into the center of the fray, stunning four others in his fall.

Getting to his knees, he then pushed off with his feet and planted his shoulders into the gut of one man who had not fallen and drove him all the way across the room to exit via the window. Feeling hands grip ahold of his shoulders he instinctively sprung up and kicked off the wall to fall horizontally, sending the whole of his considerable bulk to land sqaurely on the poor man underneath. Upon landing he heard the distinct crack of ribs and a whoosh of air driven from a human body.

Karnar allowed himself a genuine smile, such were the types of games he had learned as a child. Apparently a little too harsh for his new friends, but that was only to be expected from weak inlanders such as these. He got up eagerly to look for more playmates.

Jarn, upon charging his mark, stood within the man’s reach with shoulder’s sqaured and fists balled. Jigging up and down a little, he struck his opponent in the chest and stomache with quick, precise punches. Although the man was sent reeling for a few moments, Jarn did not capitalize on this and let him recover! Not sure what to make of this, Jarn’s opponent mimiked the stance of manly agression and faked a blow such as Jarn had landed, lashing out with his boot instead, catching Jarn painfully in the shin.

Surprised, Jarn reflexively backhanded the man, audibly breaking his nose and sending it and the man askew. Unlike his previous attack, this one had some lasting effect in that the force of the blow slammed him against the wall, knocking him unconcious.

As the next man approached Jarn once again sqaured up to him, but before he could throw a punch, a balled pair of hands slammed against the man’s neck from behind. The man toppled like an oak, going from vertical to horizontal in one perfect geometric swoop, revealing an enraged Lars as the assailant. He looked like the wolf whose call he imitated. His shirt was ripped, his nose was broken and bleeding, his eyes wild, his breathing fast and furious.

“What the hell are you doing boxing?!”, he shrieked wildly over the shouts and crashes of the rolling brawl.

“Boxing has rules, these people won’t follow them! There are no set rules! Now stop that and actually try to hurt them!”.

Given previous encounters, such advice would’ve either been ignored or instigated a massive conflict. Seeing as such a conflict was already underway and from Jarn knew from first hand experience that his fighting was lacking he decided to heed Lars’ angry words, leaping into the fray kicking and punching at head , groin, throat, and knees.

Unlike his comrades, Kyle was but a simple muleskinner and lacked the experience and fighting prowess of his three counterparts, but not the courage. Being diminutive in relation to the others, he chose to even the odds slightly. He did this by taking up a chair in both hands and swinging for all he was worth, quickly breaking to pieces over the head of the first person who dared come near, flooring him for the remainder of the evening. Holding nothing but two wooden splinters, he quickly retreated to the safety of the table, hurling plates, candlesticks, dinnerware, and mugs with abandon.

Some minutes later Kyle found he was not alone, the three others diving behind their table for a brief reprieve. All of them were tired, out of ideas, and didn’t want to kill any of these men. This was not helped by Kyle’s sharp eyes spotting that some of the men they had subdued were beginning to stir.

As the militia regrouped, Kyle had an idea. “Why doesn’t one of us go for help?”

“Good”, Jarn gasped out. “Who?”

“I’ll go”, Karnar said, “I just need running room”.

“Right, GO!”

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Berserker Part 34

The quartet languidly traveled through the wide streets of Halfway, enjoying the unfamiliar feel of the cobbles under their feet and closely spaced buildings around them. All the respectable citizens of the town were sitting down to dinner at home, leaving the streets near deserted. But occaisonally someone would pass them and not even bat an eye at the sight of four armed men from different parts of the world. Either they were sure they could defend themselves should anything occur or such display of weapons was common. In either case they were much too trusting for their own good.

As they turned down the street the stableboy had pointed at, they saw a large two-story building from which came the only sound besides the too-loud noises of their own footsteps, a sound which was so very precious in this world. Laughter, and lots of it. With their goal in sight, those loud footsteps increased to a staccato tapping, bringing them to the great door of the inn. Not a word was said among the group, they just stood their, as a groom might stand at the entrance to his wedding chamber.

Their blissful excitement was interupted by the call of nature, specifically calling to the militiaman who clumsily opened the door and staggered out into the night in search of relief. They were dazed by the cheery atmosphere of the place, compared to the desolation of the street. The entire room was filled with a warm light provided by chandeliers and fireplaces. It was not quite filled with men of all ages, talking, drinking, playing cards, etc. The room’s hustle and bustle momentarily faltered as the occupants turned to see the newcomers. Some went right on with their own business, most tried surreptitiously to point the group out to friends, adding to whatever rumors might be flying around about the strange caravan coming in the night with blasphemous creatures in tow.

Jarn, head held high, daring anyone to challenge his right to be there, led the way to a table beside one of the large frosted windows on the front of the Inn. Seated in unexpectedly comfortable chairs they surveyed the room. Everyone was careful to keep their eyes averted from the travelers, politely talking amongst each other and enjoying the troubadours’ rendition of “Top of The World, Hope I Don’t Fall”, a lighthearted little ditty that Kyle recognized.

As for the men present, they appeared to be militia for their bragging about how well they had fared in training and on the archery range. This was conducive to the well-fed look of farmers or merchants that they exhibited. Their garb was also what one would expect of a laborer; clothe shirt and leggings, hard worn boot, and overalls. But scattered among them were a few harder men, wearing tougher wearing leathers instead of cloth, eyes sunken in their sockets darting back and forth to any particularly loud noise or fast movement. They must’ve been chaperones for the more boisterous farmers for they only took small sips of their drafts, just enough to wet the throat but not to inebriate.

Kyle was gracious enough to order the first round of drinks for the evening. He waved a hand at the barmaid who arrived promptly and with a tired smile.

“What will you gentlemen be wanting this fine evening?” Karnar, Jarn and Kyle promptly chose beer, but Lars wasn’t so quick in his selection. There was something charming about the young lady that distracted him. He couldn’t place it. She wore a subdued blue dress with white apron over it, her hair flowing in dark locks down her back.

“Could you choose for me?”, he asked shyly after much hemming and hawing. Seeing the dumbstruck look on his face, the others tried very hard to keep from laughing at his expense. But, as luck would have it, she was gone and away with only an undignified snort from Jarn to dampen the mood, not that they would’ve noticed with him watching her every movement and her smiling coyly.

They sat there in the sweet smelling pipe smoke, amid the quick piping notes of the troubadours’ instruments, grinning like maniacs at their smitten aqauntance. Even Karnar, who would normally have difficulty facing such a subject, felt a nastalgic chuckle welling up inside of him.

“So”, Jarn said carefully, giddy with amusement. “She looks like a nice enough girl”.

“Aye, she is”, he replied distractedly, not taking his eyes off her as she worked the taps behind the bar.

“Care to pull your tongue off the floor before she steps on it?”, Kyle asked causing laughter all around. Which they hushed quickly as she returned with their beer in large ceramic mugs.

Taking his graciously and with a charming smile, Jarn decided to see how much he could coax out of Kyle’s purse. “I thank you most dearly miss, would you be so good as to tell us what that heveanly smell is coming from the kitchen?”. The barmaid blushed red as an apple upon hearing his affectionate praise of her, apparrently the drunken grunts of aknowledgment from the usual clientele did not suit her conversational tastes.

“We’ve got fresh bread, beef stew, and roast venison with spiced potatoes”, she replied, speaking mainly to Jarn. That was it! Jarn knew what was drawing his attention, she had a genuine smile, one that reached all the way to her gray-green eyes. That smile held nothing back, no secrets, no remorse, no guilt, she was absolutely delighted by their presence. This made her all the more attractive, but unlike Lars, he tried very hard to keep from staring.

With all the hormones in the air, Karnar decided to fill the ear burning silence. “The stew and bread sounds good”, he said. “If there are no objections then we shall all have some”. Seeing none from any of the travelers she threaded her way through the crowd to the kitchen.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Berserker Part 33

A single bell rang forlornly as Millienya pushed open the door to what she hoped would be the apothecary’s shop. They had found it easily enough, with a sign of a mortar and pestle above the old and discreet structure, tucked back into a dark corner of the market district, where mundane customers and those whose comings and goings was best not known to the public would gain easy access. She led their little procession into the dark confines of the shop. Looking around she saw numerous shelves and tables, packed with dusty flasks and jars of herbs, medicines, pickled animals, and parts that are less ably recognized. Their rank odors waged war with the stuffiness and dust motes which could be seen twinkling in the air by candlelight.

With Tyrel and Aniston carefully threading the pallet upon which Seryan lay twitching through the narrow walkways between shelves, Millienya held the terrified gnoll tightly, preventing it from bolting on the spot. The strange sights and smells of the room had it worried.

As the pallet reached a likely looking table, they heard thumping footsteps and muttering from a stairway to the second floor behind the desk of the shop. Apparently the shopkeeper couldn’t secure better living quarters than this dusty old ruin.

He came into view, hastily pulling on a threadbare robe and shuffling in tattered slippers. A short, lanky old man that a kind person might call spry. He peered at them over a pair of spectacles hanging onto the tip of his nose, concientiously smoothing down a few wisps of grey hair on his balding head.

The apothecary stumbled forward, slightly disoriented by their latenight intrusion. “Um.. What can I do for you young lady?”, he asked Millienya, taking in her tired state and weapons he decided it best not to mention the hour.

“Our friend was stabbed by a poisoned blade”, she replied. “Can you help us?”.

“Let’s see the patient then”, he said approaching Seryan laid out on a table. He pulled open his eyelids, listened to his chest, felt his forehead, all the while muttering to himself. He tried to remove the wraps on his left arm, but the apothecary’s gnarled shaking hands weren’t up to the task. Finally Tyrel drew his knife and carefully slit them open. What they found beneath brought a gasp from the lips of even the addled old man. The wound had not closed but gotten larger, with glistening pustules forming all the way to his inner elbow. The skin of his entire arm had gone a sickly green, and darkened to putrid black along the cut. The stench wafting up from the wound was abhorrent, like an old slaughterhouse in the heat of a summer day.

The Apothecary took Millienya over to a corner of the room to talk in private. “He will be dead in another day by my guess”, he said, the sour smell of weirdroot washing over Millienya as he spoke. It was a common enough ingredient in painkilling medicines, but was a powerful narcotic when taken alone. Those who chew too much of the intoxicating stuff slowly lose their grasp on the real world and their sanity.

“He suffers from a high fever and the cut is diseased unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”, he continued.

“Is there nothing we can do?”, Millienya asked desperately.

“Well, I could create an antidote if I knew what poison was used”, he mused. “But I think it likely that he’ll lose the arm even then”. Millienya brightened at the fact that they might be able to save his life.

“We managed to capture one of the monsters that hurt him”, she explained. “We might be able to discover the ingredients”. At her gesture Aniston yanked the gnoll out from under Seryan’s table and casually tossed the creature squalling in front of Millienya, illiciting another surprised gasp from the old man.

“Can it even speak?”, the apothecary asked in wonder.

“Surprisingly yes”, Millienya responded, hauling the gnoll to its feet. She shot a quick glance over to Tyrel who had been waiting for her signal. Barely surpressing a grin he stomped over to them, acting as monstrous and terrible as he possibly could. He came eye to snout with the quivering Fleek.

“What poison did you use?”, he asked frowning ferociously, his overhanging brow threatening to cover his eyes.

“N...Not tell”, Fleek bravely squeeked up at the much larger man.

“We shall have to do something about that then”, Tyrel grabbed a jar from the shelf next to him. “Marjoram”, he read with terrible deliberation. “Do you know what this does to you?”, he asked waving the container at the gnoll, who was too terrified even to shake his head.

“It turns you innards into outards”, Aniston lied as Millienya clamped her hand over the apothecary’s mouth. Just in case he was a few steps behind their intentions.

“But that’s just when you eat a little bit”, Tyrel supplied with a smile. “I wonder what would happen if someone ate the whole jar’s worth?”

“I don’t know but I would hope that it would done outside and away from children... Messy”, Ansiton added with a carefully timed laugh and grim smile.

“Let’s find out”, Millienya finished brightly

Faster than a lightning strike, Tyrel’s free hand flashed out and grabbed Fleek by his furry neck. With Aniston’s help he was able to pry open the gnolls jaws.

“toh, e ell e ell!”, the gnoll choked out just as Tyrel made to pour the contents of the container down its throat. Letting its jaws free the gnoll shrank back into a corner of the room.

“Me tell, me tell!”, it repeated more eloquently.

“Then do so”, hurried the apothecary, who was fast becoming anxious to get these intrusive folks out of his shop.

“Is elder bark, manure, Bog Myrtle roots, fern seeds, and nightshade all mixed up”.
“I know that one”, the apothecary proclaimed proudly. “Me grandfather taught me that when I was little! Works a treat on snakebites too”. As he spoke the apothecary bustled around the shop, setting a kettle on and pulling down jars and flasks from the shelves without even a glance at the labels.

He whispered a strange litany as he worked them through a mortar and pestle. “L’see, hand’s glory.... cowslip.......cyanide, whoops not that.... harebell...”. Finally after much grinding, mixing, and muttering the man had finished. Scooping a fraction of the finished work into a cup of hot water he presented it to the group with a flourish, spilling a portion of the contents on the splintered wooden planks of the floor.

“One cup of this every day for a week should do the trick”.

Millienya took the proffered cup and helped Seryan drink it down, not able to help but notice the grimace of distaste on the man’s face as he swallowed the brew. They all stared intently for any sign of change in the patient. After a few moments Aniston broke the silence.

“Nothing has happened sir”, he observed.

The apothecary broke out in high tittering laughter. “Goodness no!”, he said. “It won’t take effect immediately in a case this bad! Huh, this isn’t magic”.

“We’ll just leave him here until his health improves”, Millienya told the old man, whipping away the grin on his face.

“He can’t stay here!”, he protested pointing to Seryan. “Having a body lying out tends to slow my business”.

Aniston had had about enough of this rude old codger. He puffed his chest out. “Sir”, he said imperiously. “As an apothecary it is your duty to take responsibility for your work and until this man is cured he will not be moved from that spot”.

Standing there, the opponents’ nostrils flared and stared at one another in a silence crackling with mental conflict. While the old man’s blood shot, wild eyes were considered frightening, nothing else of him was. His robe hung on his bony frame like a death shroud, an item which was currently only too worrying to the man. While Aniston’s eyes were hard unwavering chips of ice. His body was held with a proud bearing belying his years, the frame still wide and rigid with muscle.

“Very well”, the apothecary said hanging his head in defeat. “He should show signs of recovery by the day after tomorrow, I will keep him under close watch until then”.

“But you said it would take a week to cure him!”, interupted Tyrel.

“That is just to make sure the poison is completely out of his body”, the man explained. “But he should be able to walk before then”. Hearing this double talk set Tyrel on gaurd, Either there is a poison or there isn’t, he thought. So if there was you would know.

“Right then”, he said loudly. “He was entrusted into my care as well, so I will stay too”.

“Where will you sleep?”, the apothecary asked sarcastically. “The floor?”

“Would you prefer we left the gnoll then?”, Millienya suggested.

“Ah, in that case this fine young man may stay on to ... to gaurd my shop from would-be theives”, the apothecary carefully said as if he was reading from an invisible script. Tyrel smiled and patted the old man on the back, completely oblivious to the relief of having evaded disaster on the apothecary’s face.

“Well, that’s settled”, said Millienya. “We won’t trespass on anymore of your time good sir”. She and Aniston retrieved the gnoll and made their way to the door.

“This wouldn’t be a good time to discuss my fee, would it?”, The apothecary tentatively asked. Three faces set in stone turned on him. “No, thought not”.