Monday, May 25, 2009

Berserker Part 4

Millienya had been traveling long and hard. She was originally from the Klav region and the fact that it wasn’t constantly snowing here was still a little disorienting, she had never left her homeland up until now. She was forced from her village by attackers from the Iceflows to the north, large misshapen beasts seemingly composed of snow, sleet, and frost. They came in all shapes and sizes, moving south like a sentient avalanche, destroying everything in their wake. No human could even be near them to fight, the intense cold radiating from them froze any would-be attacker solid.

She and her brother, Lars, had volunteered to undertake the long trek to Kastontel, in the Gath region, to plead with king Terkin for assistance. Their clan had maintained a steady trade agreement with the city state, and it was hoped that Terkin would think it wise to protect his investments.

It seemed that everywhere she went, towns, villages, and even walled cities were under attack by something or other. Many others were on quests similar to hers. They tended to hire out as mercenaries for trade caravans such as she was doing at the moment. She had signed on at Pelse in Kormusleiv and started walking. Aside from her and Lars, three other men were hired in Pelse as well as a young wanderer they encountered while crossing the tedious Goblin mountains into Jeriscar.

There was an old man that tended to keep to himself. Despite his age he still carried himself with an air of confidence. Because of the ornate longsword and poignard on his belt people whispered that he was once a knight, but Millienya guessed that he was a poser, that the old man had scavenged the weapons from a lifeless battlefield somewhere in the war torn world.

Then there was the pair that seemed inseparable. One claimed to be a noble, by the look of his fine chain mail coat and how friendly and knowledgeable he was about social etiquette, Millienya would believe it. His companion on the other hand, she doubted could even spell “cat” let alone “etiquette”. He was a big, one-eyed, bruiser she would expect to see trying to rob the caravan, not protecting it. The noble claimed he was a bodyguard and vouched for his trustworthiness, but she still kept an eye on him.

The newcomer she didn’t really see too much of, he usually was too dispirited to talk. Millienya thought that maybe he was in mourning for someone, so she kept her distance.

The caravan was currently making its way out of the swamps which were at the feet of the mountains. They were all very happy to be done with trudging through the knee high murk, braving snakes and leaches to make sure the way was clear for the main body of the caravan. It was disorienting being back in the sun, the trees and overhanging growth of the swamps and bayous completely blotted out the sun, forcing them to carry lanterns and torches the entire time. Millienya was still scratching new bites from the insects they attracted.

The swamps gave way to seemingly endless hills and valleys, not large enough to inconvenience the wagons, but people on foot were not so lucky. Just she, Lars, and the newcomer were on guard. Everyone else was napping on the wagons. Lars, who was ahead scouting, crested a hill ahead of them, took one look, and immediately spun around, running for the wagons.

“Guards! Arm yourselves!”, Millienya shouted. “The scout’s got wind of something!” She grabbed the crossbow the quartermaster had issued her, and sprinted for Lars. Covering the ground between them in seconds, she spun around and ran alongside him. “What is it?”, she asked, a note of hysteria in her voice.

“Village”, he panted “On fire....Must’ve been attacked....Attackers might there”. He reached the wagon and fell to his knees wheezing. The hills really take a lot out of you. The rest of the guard had awoken, taken up their crossbows, and clustered around Millienya and Lars, who then relayed what had been found.

“Best investigate”, stated the old man with the ornate sword. “There could be someone in need of help”. As always, he sounded like some hero from an epic tale.

“Or someone who don’t mind letting go of valuables,” muttered the one eyed bruiser. Even his voiced leered with anticipation. It was disgusting to hear, and Millienya knew that he would do it too. She had seen him loot the corpses of a few orcs that had attacked the caravan a few weeks ago when he thought no one was looking.

The group crept up to the hill and looked for the village. Sure enough, there it was. A tiny village, with houses all pointing inward toward the town square. From that square a huge pillar of smoke emerged. The town wasn’t on fire, but it definitely looked dead. No livestock could be seen, nobody was visible, and carrion birds circled overhead.

“Wait”, whispered the noble, startling Millienya out of her thoughts. “If the village was attacked and its denizens slaughtered, why were the houses not destroyed by the invaders?” He had a point. If a group intends to completely decimate another, one would logically set the homes afire during the raid to cause confusion and panic, as well as to be sure that no one was hiding.

“Could they want to take the village for their own?”, suggested the old man.

“Possibly”, countered the noble. “But why is no living thing visible then? Surely the livestock would’ve been taken by the invaders back from whence they came? Who’s keeping that fire as well?”

“I think the livestock was taken by invaders”, Lars interjected in heavily accented and broken Common. “They split into two groups, one stays here, the other goes back home. Fire is a signal to home of victory.” Millienya smiled at his statement. It was so very like him to take two different ideas, mold them together in any fashion, and claim the results as his own. Funny that it often made sense.

“Fine, fine”, said the old man, the impromptu leader of the band. “We go in silence, assuming Lars is correct. If wrong, we come out none the worse for wear. If his guess bares fruit we will be prepared for the worst.” With that said, he checked his weapons and strode off to meet the enemy.

His leadership skills never ceased to amaze Millienya. Normally Lars would have challenged anyone to fight simply for considering that he might be wrong. He had been hotheaded all his life, which would probably be a lot shorter if she wasn’t always there to keep his temper in check. Now, he followed the old man like a puppy. So did everyone else, for that matter.

The group quickly made their way down the hills, approaching the town. The fire seemed to grow as they came closer, only then did they understand the magnitude of it. The air had the stench of death and decay. Even from a distance they could see that what they had mistaken as a signal fire, was really a funeral pyre. One larger than any other they had ever seen. It looked like the ground had split open and the inferno of the underworld had found a way out.

Just then someone walked out of the hut closest to Millienya. It was possibly the largest man she’d ever seen. He stood nearly seven feet tall, her head wouldn’t even come up to his chest. Despite his size, he looked very skinny, as if he hadn’t eaten in days. His torn clothes were of a thick wool common to these parts and were covered in dried blood and crusted gore. He had peculiar twin burn marks on the backs of his hands, they looked very fresh and were blistered and weeping. He didn’t seem to pay it any attention. What caught Millienya’s gaze were the large, wicked looking axes he hung on his belt, and the sword as big as she was that he swung over his shoulder nearly frightened the life out of her. He turned and began walking down the road, directly toward their position.

The group hastily flattened themselves against the huts, out of the giant’s sight. Millienya looked over to see what the old man had decided to do. He motioned with his crossbow to the noble and his guard to move around from behind, and then pointed to the rest and gestured with his crossbow. It was clear what he wanted, they were going to ambush the man and kill him if necessary.

No comments: