Monday, June 29, 2009

Berserker Part 23

Deep in the darkest forgotten cellar, that had more akin to a crypt than a place to keep wine, was a circle. Unlike most other circles which were steeped in the blood of thousands and held the unknowable eldritch power of the void, there was no indication of anything wrong. No gold plated pentagrams, no skeletons chained to the wall, no red marks on the ground that could be mistaken for wine in a poor light. Not even the most adept wizard, if one were still alive, would be able to notice anything out of the ordinary except that whenever dust fell from the ceilings above, it had an unerring tendency to fall away from the circle, as if all the little dust motes were fighting with all their might against the drop, horrified for their tiny little lives. And recently, a slight phosphorescent rot visible out of the corner of the eye. Was it just the imagination or was it slightly brighter than the day before?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Berserker Part 22

Millienya found Seryan on the ground, back propped up against the wagon’s axle. Tyrel was kneeling next to him, unsure of what to do. She elbowed him aside and set to work, looking for blood, checking for broken bones. Tyrel pointed at the man’s left arm, a long cut had been scored from the side of his elbow to his wrist.

Millienya inspected the wound. “It’s too shallow to do this to him”, she said in puzzlement.
“Well, there’s nothing else that could do this”, Tyrel responded.

A soot stained Aniston walked over, carrying a blood gummed dagger. He handed it to Millienya.

“Smell”, he commanded.

She tentatively took a whiff, then tossed it to the ground in disgust.

“Poisoned”, she said. Now that she considered it she could see that the wound had become necrotic and veins along Seryans arm had turned a disconcerting purple.

“Will he die?”, asked Tyrel. A tinge of fear and anxiety had crept into his voice and demeanor.

“What do you care?”, challenged Lars, walking up to them.

“If he dies I won’t get paid!”, he cried, earning dirty looks all around. Lars was about to yell at him but Millienya quickly interrupted.

“For whatever reason, the poison hasn’t killed him outright.”, she stated. So either it’s slow acting or just watered down. If we can get him to an apothecary in time, there’s a good chance he’ll survive”.

“Well great!”, said Tyrel, throwing his hands up. “We’re in the middle of nowhere, lets just bury him now and save time!”

“Not exactly nowhere”, Anistons said as he stood up wincing when his knees cracked.

“What do you mean”, Millienya asked, impatience barely contained.

“There’s a tow---”. Aniston trailed off as he saw Jarn trudging toward them, a limp bundle in his arms. The grouped parted silently before him, he carefully laid the dead child alongside the dying man. They all stared down at the wretched little travesty of life with lowered heads and haggard expressions, reminded of the value of life and the suddenness in which it ends.

“We’ve already lost one”, murmured Karnar with tears brimming in his pain-maddened eyes. The group all came to the same at once.

“Where’s this town you were talking about?”, whispered Millienya

“Two days’ ride south I think”, said Aniston as he regained his composure.

Lars and Jarn both stepped forward to pick up Seryan’s limp form, balking slightly at the sight of the other, but deciding Seryan to be more important. Jarn picked him up by the shoulders and Lars took the legs. They hadn’t moved but half a step before Aniston’s sword came swooping down behind Jarn, making him drop his friend and roll forward. The ancient blade passed through a hairy hand clutching a dagger protruding from beneath the wagon. Their was a now-familiar howl of pain. Jarn quickly grasped the stump of the injured arm, hauling on it until he had disgorged the malnourished, misshapen form of a Gnoll.

Jarn recognized it as the one he had hit on the head, it completely slipped his mind that it was still alive.

“How did you know it was there?”, Jarn asked in bewilderment.

“I heard it crawling around under there since you got back”, replied the old man, wiping his blade in disgust. “It was probably going to hamstring you and I couldn’t get a decent stroke until it reached out for you”.

Jarn shuddered at the cold, dead tone in Aniston’s voice. He used to hear the blacksmith talk about the proper way to make steel in the same voice.

Tyrel stepped forward with knife in hand, ready to slit the cur’s throat. His hand was stayed from the murderous deed by Aniston. Tyrel glared at the old man with greed in his eyes.

“The leathers and jewelry that thing is wearing could be valuable”, he complained. When looked at, the gnolls wore furs and leathers over their own. And they had little pieces of gold and silver woven into their fur.

“Even if we can get Seryan to the apothecary in time, we need some idea of what kind of poison was used”, Aniston explained. “Are you willing to give up your pay for protecting him for a few second-hand clothes a beggar wouldn’t accept?”

The group broke up, each getting ready to leave as soon as possible. They got Seryan and their prisoner safely stored and secured, buried the poor dead child and what remains of the inhabitants of the lead wagon. The mules and horses had to be rounded up, they had broken their reigns when the cannons went off. The cannons were moved out of the rode and destroyed with the aid of a few well-placed hammerblows. With this done they continued forward hurriedly, anxious to be free of the constricting trees as soon as possible.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Berserker Part 21

Fleek awoke with a pounding headache, cursing himself for being pushed into the first wave of attack. He had struggled with the man thing until it had knocked his head against one of their transports, it was a surprise that he was alive. It must’ve been because nothing could kill something as beautiful as a Gnoll, Fleek thought with pride, puffing up his chest and wincing at the bruises it aggravated.

He surveyed his surroundings, still under a wagon, and the air was heavy with the comforting scent of his packbrothers an blood. They must’ve won the battle and were busy looting the corpses. They would be left as sign not to cross the newly forged Dog Nation boundaries.

He carefully flipped himself onto his belly and wriggled toward the sound of others.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Berserker Part 20

Millienya perched in the boughs of an ancient oak, sending feathered dart after dart into any Gnoll she could see skulking at the skirts of the path. She smiled in satisfaction at a job well done. With her sudden attack from above and the unshakable defenses on the ground, the gnolls had lost heart and had become disorganized. They argued amongst each other, growling and yipping in their tongue. Ignoring the cajoling of their peers, they retreated farther into the woods, disappearing as if they were inconsistent as fog.

“Get down here”, a familiar voice cried from the trunk of her tree. She looked down to see Lars, cleaning his sabers. They had been put to use judging by the gnolls that surrounded the tree, as always he displayed some redeeming value in putting up with his stubbornness.

“What is it?”, she asked. It had taken a while to get up the tree and she wasn’t about to abandon her perch on account of something trivial.

“Seryan’s hurt”, came the reply.

Millienya hooked her bow around a small branch and just dropped, letting the bowstring slow her decent. When she got to the ground Lars wordlessly pointed to the left flank of the wagon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Berserker Part 19

Jarn was pulled from his revelry by an incessant low growling and strange shlurping sound. He peered around the corner of a wagon to behold a scene that seared itself into the back of his skull and would be the subject of many nightmares to come. A small boy, Jarn recognized as one of Gerda’s helpers was lying on the ground, in a pool of his own fluids. His eyes gazed blankly down at his abdomen, where a greasy little leach of a Gnoll was firmly entrenched. Up to its eyeballs in the child’s intestines, gulping and chewing ravenously. The boy looked up at Jarn, dull recognition in his glazed eyes.

It was as if another cannon had barked, Jarn was thrown forward on an explosive wave of rage and hate, shouting screaming and shrieking with the unholy energy of a demon at the abomination. This should not exist, this cannot exist, this doesn’t exist, YOU DO NOT EXIST! If the power of Jarn’s mind was enough to kill, that bloody little worm would’ve promptly detonated. Seeing as it didn’t Jarn just had to do the best he could. The Gnoll didn’t even have a chance to look around before it was dragged up off the boy by a grip which could’ve crushed rock. It’s slavering features were brought level with a face that would’ve made the Four Devils of Torment soil themselves. Jarn’s eyes were two smoldering pits of hate, his nostrils were flared, pumping air in and out like a bellows, the rest of his features were obscured by a slurry of blood and muck. Dying his skin a fitting hot red, it was a surprise the sweat on his face wasn’t boiling away.

Jarn tried vainly to say something coherent to the miserable little thing, but the words couldn’t be shaped around the banshee’s scream which welled up from within and seemed to go on for an eternity. The Gnoll, shaken and deafened, began to feel a distinct pressure on its arms where it was held firmly, whining in anticipation of the pain to come. The pressure increased to an unbearable level, Jarn could hear tendons creaking and groaning in the scrawny flea-bitten thing’s body. In a virulent spray of red, it’s arms were yanked from their moorings. The Gnoll fell to the ground to die in keening agony, its arms several feet away. Jarn gently picked up the stricken boy and carried him around the wagons. In the death the child took a cherubic quality, as if he was just sleeping and a the mearist coaxing would arouse him. After aimlessly stumbling around, he finally returned to the place where he had fought alongside Seryan and Tyrel.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Berserker Part 18

Karnar and Aniston were hard pressed to stay alive too. They had been forced back by a group of six large gnolls. Millienya was unable to help them because the bough upon which she stood was blocking her field of vision and to take a blind shot would risk hitting a friend. So far they were able to keep their attackers at bay by the superior reach of Aniston’s longsword and Karnar’s whirling pick, who created a tightening circle of steel around his targets. But just as one was about to make a killing stroke, another Gnoll would catch their attention and the men would have to backpedal in order to avoid the next furry flurry.

Aniston spared a glance to his left, seeing the smoldering bodies of the cannon dogs he was struck by a flash of inspiration.

“Can you hold them back?”, he asked. “When I shout, get as far back from them as possible”.

Not bothering to wait for a nod or grunt of approval he ran, clattering and clanking to the one remaining cannon, trying to get a feel for operating the foreign thing. When he got a close look he realized what a wonder it was that they hurt anything except the user. The metal was rusted and pitted with age, looking brittle as glass. But since he saw no alternative, he got behind the thing and sighted along the barrel. He saw that Karnar had simply barreled into the group with his shield held in front of him like a battering ram, now that he was examining it, he saw that there was a hole in the center from where a retractable spike was now protruding and considerably gaining the attention of the Gnoll he hit.

He desperately looked around the cannon for the firing mechanism. Spotting a soot blackened hole near the back, he yelled for Karnar to get clear. Praying to any gods listening, snatched a burning twig from the explosion and put it to the hole.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Berserker Part 17

Just as soon as the first of the Gnoll raiders burst forth from the woods, they were driven to the ground by a hail of crossbow bolts. The guards quickly dropped their bows, drew their weapons, and engaged the enemy.

Acting too fast for Jarn to ready his axes, a Gnoll was in front of him, a rusty knife held poised in a surprisingly handlike paw. Before Jarn was sent to his ancestors, a spike swooped out of nowhere and buried itself in the dogthing’s chest. Jarn looked up to see Karnar grinning like a maniac with the spiked warpick in one hand and a small round shield in the other. He moved over to help Aniston, who was currently fending off the wild attacks of two gnolls as a third lay dead at his feet.

Aniston moved with an almost balletic grace and skill, every footstep was sure and measured, as was every thrust and slash of his beautiful two handed longsword. Jarn was so entranced by the dipping and weaving tip of the blade that he almost didn’t notice the enraged gnolls charging him.

With a speed born of terror, he skipped to one side as the gnolls attacked. He successfully avoided the bull rush of two, but the third monster compensated for Jarn’s evasion and still cannoned into the boy. Hitting the dirt, the gnoll’s momentum sending them skidding halfway under a wagon. They writhed in the dirt, trading punches, too close to use weapons. Jarn had the distinct disadvantage of not having a long snout full of teeth, which his assailant used, snapping and lunging at Jarn’s throat. He was able to keep the angry creature at bay by lying on his back and propping his feet against its chest. With a great kick that propelled the Gnoll’s body upward, its head smashed against the undercarriage of the wagon, knocking it unconscious.

Jarn scrambled out under the wagon to help the other flank, Aniston and Karnar most assuredly had their side under control. He was greeted by the sight of Seryan and Tyrel facing an inhuman onslaught of sheer manic strength. While Seryan was skilled in the use of his rapier and swordbreaker, the wall of furred bodies that presented itself was too much to deal with. As Jarn watched, four gnolls broke from the pack and attacked with assorted blades and clubs flailing. Seryan quickly pressed his back up to a wagon for extra security, he whirled aside to avoid a downward swung club, catching another blade in his multi-pronged swordbreaker. With a quick flick of the wrist, he had disarmed his opponent, stabbed the creature and moved on to the next. As he turned, the integrity of his chainmail armor was tested by a raking knife across his midsection, luckily it held and the knife’s owner received a few moments of Seryan’s attention in return.

There were still two gnolls at hand, and unlike the others, these two knew how to work together. One would lunge forward while the other would try to draw Seryan’s attention, he was being effectively pecked to death. Before Jarn could rush to the man’s aid, a large figure arose from behind one of the gnolls. Tyrel, using his bullhide whip to garrote one of the two. The strangled gasping of the dying monstrosity caused its companion to look over, giving Seryan the opportunity to bring the other to a pointed end. As the two gnolls fell, Jarn got his first real look at Tyrel since the fight began. He was covered in blood, whether it was his or someone else’s was unknown. With his whip he also had a short, thick bladed sword in the other hand. His leather bandolier of throwing knives were missing a few, Jarn looked around to see them buried in the throats of various corpses.

Jarn jogged over to stand between the bloody creature and the mail encrusted man. Seryan acknowledged his presence with a grim smile. The sight of the running blood, soaking the ground was strangely calming to Jarn, he felt his pulse and breathing slow. He looked up to a fresh batch of gnolls that had just emerged from the cool shade of the trees and became an instrument of death. Not like the burning rage of his previous battle, but this one was akin to it. While still fighting with inhuman ability, he was fully aware of his body and if it was in the path of any oncoming weapons. It was as if his mind was detached from its body so feelings of fear, panic, and fatigue were unknown.

As the gnolls sighted the three, Jarn charged, he heard a scream full of rage and pain. He was dully surprised to hear it was his own. He closed the ground between himself and the enemy with deceptive speed for one so big, raising his axes, everything around him seemed to slow as he acted with blinding speed. He dove into the gnolls. The first he came to grips with hadn’t registered that he was within striking distance yet, his axe passed through the things temple as the other passed through its neck in the opposite direction. Once the novelty of his assault wore off, he fell into a basic routine. Anyone coming within range of the terrible axes in his hands were instantly pulverized. Just like chopping wood. He would knock aside the swing of a sword with almost painful ease and with his other axe, lop off the arm which bore it. In this methodically gruesome manner, he killed at least five or six before the gnolls fell back. The sudden appearance of a counterattack had disoriented them and sent them back into the relative safety of the woods.

Jarn’s nagging worry of Millienya’s safety was soon abolished. Though the gnolls were far back enough to avoid Jarn, they hadn’t seen her in the trees yet with a bow and a full quiver. As she sent arrow after arrow into the milling and confused throng, Jarn was aware that her shots must’ve been poisoned. A light flesh wound was still enough to kill within a few seconds of hitting its mark, sending her victims into horrific convulsions. Her interjection gave the three time to stand back and assess the situation. Jarn was darkly pleased by the look of amazement and slight horror on the faces of the other two.

They checked each other for wounds. Seryan had a nasty gash alongside his arm, which should have been Jarn’s if he hadn’t jumped in the way, that would need attention to. Aside from bruising and a few other minor cuts, the three fighters were in surprisingly good condition.

With Millienya’s aid, the upsurge of Gnoll activity on the caravan’s left flank seemed to be quelled. Jarn left the two men where they were to do a quick sweep for other raiders or injured camp followers. He ran to the rear of the caravan, taking care to check on the people hiding in the wagons. When he reached the cook wagon he heard a rustling. He snuck past the canvas sides and peeked in from the rear to see a few gnolls scavenging through their provisions. It was too tight in there to swing an axe, so Jarn did the only thing he could think of. He held up his axe at arm’s length, sighting down its haft, with a quick fling the heavy metal treekilling mallet embedded itself in the back off one. Alerted by the dying howl of its comrade, the other Gnoll spun around to face its attacker. Jarn was relieved to see Gerda arise like an avenging fury from a cubby hole somewhere in the wagon’s cramped confines, pull a filleting knife from a drawer cabinet and slit the creature’s throat from behind.

“Look what they did to my kitchen!”, she complained. “I’ll never get the smell out, not if I scrub for a year!”

Jarn looked at her incredulously. “Aren’t you glad you’re alive?”, he asked.

She shook her head and grinned. “When you get to be my age hon”, she said. “You soon find there’s no use in getting worked up over every little thing that happens”.

“But weren’t you just complaining about the kitchen?”, he asked.

“Well”, she said. “While you won’t be found wanting for a fight while traveling dangerous roads, a good meal is another story entirely”. She busied herself with replacing anything that the gnolls knocked down from what would normally be her meticulously neat and clean shelves. “Now help me with these pups”, she asked Jarn.

Jarn was only able to leave after he promised that he would help get rid of the bodies and scrub the wagon down after everything was finished. He went in dumbstruck silence. How could someone get past the fact that they had almost been killed so easily? Jarn knew that he had been heartily sick after his affair with the goblins. Why is it called heartily sick? Its not as if I felt very good afterward or even during. It’s funny how the mind wanders in such situations. Must be how the head copes while the body gets on with the business of staying alive.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Berserker Part 16

Jarn and Karnar had seen the explosions and Aniston hit the dirt more than once, Jarn tried to run to him but stopped after realizing that with the power of those things, helping the old man to run a little farther wouldn’t matter much. They quickly took cover behind the wheels of the wagons, between the punctuating roars, he could hear the sobbing of the caravan members who were all now huddling in the wagons. Safe from the individual Gnolls, but not their weapons.
The third explosion was odd, causing them all to look up and they realized that they might have a chance at surviving this fight. They got up and gathered Aniston from the dirt.

“What are those things?”, asked karnar.

“I remember them from when I was little”, said Aniston. “I think they’re called cannons”.

“Well can they bark again?”, Karnar asked, referring to their decoration.

“I don’t think so”, responded Aniston unsteadily. “I think they take time between attacks”.

“Lets not be around when that happens”, said Jarn.

“But then they’ll just chase us”, countered Aniston. “Let’s finish them!”.

Any other words were stopped by a shriek from Millienya. They all looked up to see her in a large tree branch almost overhead.

“There are more forming on our flanks!”, she shouted down to them.

“Can you see how many?”, Aniston called up.

“thirty to forty is my guess!”, she responded.

“Right!”, Aniston said as rubbed his hands together. He shouted warnings to the other guards as the first of the enemy could be seen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Berserker Part 15

Bertrawr fumed, pacing back and forth, his fur flat against his body, a sure sign of agitation. Idiots! Morons! The Storm Canis can’t fail! Those must not be Storm Canis then, they can’t be! They’re impostors, someone in the Dog Nation is trying to make a fool out of me! Bertrawr stopped, being a packleader means not showing any weakness. There are always too many others looking for promotion, and emptying the shoes of their occupant is a widely accepted way of doing so. There was nothing for it now but to continue as planned.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Berserker Part 14

They had slowed their pace considerably since Jarn’s warning, and the miles and miles of endless dense forest didn’t help much either, especially with no one willing to widen the trail. As they kept going, Aniston fancied the trees grew thicker and closer together, deliberately blocking out more and more sunlight, closing in around them. All he could see above were the branches and leaves of the majestic oaks that now seemed to hold extreme danger in their shadow, all he could see in any direction were their trunks.

They were just rounding a corner when the noise began. They weren’t really howls, not by the standards of any self respecting wolf. They sounded more like a dog trying to act ferocious, attempting to turn a whining yip into something that would freeze the marrow in their preys’ bones. It seemed that the ululating came from behind every damned tree and branch that could be seen. The caravan stopped immediately and the wagonmaster fought to calm the horses. Every man, woman, and child held their breath, searching for some sign of movement in the surrounding wood.

A sudden bright flash of light pulled their attention as if by a winch to a spot some hundred yards ahead of the wagon. It was a torch being held by something in ragged robes, its lone light was soon joined by three others. A dozen or so creatures like the first were now visible scurrying around small but immensely heavy looking contraptions set in the shadows of the concealing oaks.

Aniston stared at the iron contrivances, too stupefied to say or do anything. They were all poorly made metal pots which someone had made an attempt to paint a dogs mouth around the hole, they looked very deep and heavy. They had been bolted to a square metal platform with handles for carrying. They looked very familiar to Aniston but for the life of him he couldn’t remember what they were for or where he had seen them. He was so enraptured by them, he didn’t even notice when the howling stopped. One of the dirty gnolls placed its torch against a metal pot, his eyes widened as it came to him. He leapt from the wagon seat just as an eye searing flash and a deafening boom erupted. He realized that they were part of a story that his father had told him once, years ago. They were supposed to hold some sort of power, they shot huge balls of metal or stone so fast that they couldn’t be seen, completely decimating anything it hit. What had the old man called it, a can-something?

The wagon he had been sitting on a split-second before was ripped apart in an explosion of wood and metal. The driver simply disappeared in a spray of red, the poor man didn’t even have time to scream. Aniston got to his feat and ran towards the rear of the wagon train minus one. This is it, any second now the rest of those things will tear us all apart before we realize we’re dead. He continued onward, and once again hit the ground as another metal device discharged. But this time there was no death, fiery it was but no death occurred, a tree beside him was blown apart in a rain of boiling sap. It was apparent that, although powerful, they were not all that accurate or easily aimed. Well that’s two, there are two more. That’s one more than it will take to kill us. Aniston didn’t bother getting up to run, he was older than he let on and he accepted his fate.

This time there was not the same boom. A strange squealing noise occurred very quickly before a giant gout of fire leapt into the sky. Something was wrong with the device, it had been plugged and instead of shooting, it had exploded. Incinerating most of the nearby ragged gnolls and setting the oily and matted fur of the rest ablaze. There was a fourth weapon, but they were all too panicked to use it, instead they flapped their arms around like idiots and rolled about on the ground, trying to put the flames out.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Berserker Part 13

The Storm Canis were in position and the first of the wagons had just rounded the bend in the trail. For some reason the Furless ones’ pace had slowed down, but the pack was far too worked up to care. Bertrawr gave the sign to begin the attack. It would give away his position as well as most of his pack, but since the Storm Canis did not follow the same rules of battle, they would be a great surprise. He howled.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Berserker Part 12

Jarn tore through the brush, hopping over fallen logs and treacherous dips in the trail. Moving as if a demon from the deepest pits of some unnamable underworld were in hot pursuit. Breath ripping in and out of his lungs, heart racing, panic lending his feet wings, he closed the distance to the lead wagon in record time. He barely avoided crashing into one of the guards by slamming into the ground before the surprised man’s feet. Jarn looked up into the wide brown eyes of the old man who carried the longsword, his name he had heard was Aniston though he had never really talked much with him. He got up to his knees with the aid Aniston’s aid, and tried to speak, only coughing and choking, Jarn had covered at least half a mile in a few moments, his lungs refused to spare the tiniest bit of air for any other use.

Aniston slapped him on the back and waited until Jarn could catch his breath before he questioned the scared boy.

“What’s wrong lad?”, he asked as kindly as possible.

“Monsters... up ahead”, Jarn replied between gasps for air, his head down, concentrating on slowing his breath. “They look like dogs but stand on two legs”. Jarn hadn’t noticed them until one managed to get up behind him, it was a little shorter than him with shaggy fur and a long, dog-like snout. It wore what looked like very poorly cured animal skins and leathers patched together, what Jarn saw that panicked him most was the others of its kind that were quietly moving through the underbrush. With great self control he had kept on chopping wood like nothing had been noticed, the thing behind him backed away and joined its companions. He continued acting oblivious to anyone’s presence for a few more moments just to be sure none were still around and then ran as fast as he could, it was all he could do to remember to keep from dropping his ax to get back more quickly.

“Gnolls?”, Aniston said. “Can’t be, they all disappeared before I was even born, but with the way things are going these days, it’s likely enough. Come on, lets go warn the others.”

As they marched to the rear of the wagon train, Aniston yelled out warnings and orders to everyone he passed, rattling off instructions without cease and addressing every single person by name. What would normally have caused panic, confusion, and people working at cross purposes if issued by any other man they found themselves obeying automatically, there was something in his voice that was used to having orders carried out.

They reached the guardsmen’s wagons quickly to find everyone in the middle of buckling on any spare or heavy armor they might find too cumbersome to wear constantly. Seryan donned a chain mail coat and hood, while the brother and sister team put even more leathers on. Jarn grabbed his other ax and strapped his father’s sword to his back as Aniston quickly relayed the story to the rest of the group.

“I want everyone to guard the flanks”, he said. ‘From what Jarn told me, they’re probably looking to make a quick ambush, which means they won’t try a full frontal assault. Millienya, I want you to find a good spot to work from”.

“Yeah, yeah”, mumbled the bruiser Tyrel, strapping on a bandolier of wicked looking throwing knives.

“Something wrong?”, Aniston challenged with his hand on his sword.

“No”, Tyrel replied in a drawl which was the closest he could get to intelligent sounding. “I just always get so sleepy whenever you open your mouth. Strange coincidence eh?”

“Hah, bloody, hah”, Karnar stepped in. “Let’s just hurry up, I don’t think those things will wait for you to finish this talk”.

They grabbed their crossbows and assorted personal weapons, Millienya switched her crossbow for an ornate shortbow that looked as if it were carved from bone and strung with sinew. They split up to take their positions. Aniston hustled up front to ride with the driver of the first wagon. The inseparable Seryan and Tyrel moved to cover the caravan’s left flank.

Before Jarn could choose who to pair off with, Karnar slapped him on the back. “You’re with me”, he said as he gave Jarn a grin, which was somehow not very reassuring.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Berserker Part 11

The scouts had all confirmed the size of the caravan and whatever valuables it were estimated to contain. It was a miracle that the little gnolls with their snorting, loud noses weren’t spotted. One of the newer scouts boasted that he got right up behind one of the big Furless ones that was out ahead of the wagons, hacking at the brush like a maniac and making enough noise for any Gnoll worth his salts to notice from up to a mile. They were all sure that he was lying, but it was normal for a young pup trying to one-up his betters.

Pack leader Bertrawr growled to himself with anticipation, he and his band of warriors hadn’t been lucky enough to find any decent looking pickings in the better part of a month. A number of fights had broken out recently and he had heard some disturbing rumors of a strong push by some of the more freethinking of the group to choose another leader. So this diversion was as much a welcome thing to Bertawr’s underlings as it was him.

He growled a string of unpronounceable syllables to a slightly smaller Gnoll who was the closest thing to a fighter of lesser rank among the primitive military which evolved over years of hard and practical testing. His best Longfangs would hold back until the Storm Canis had softened them up enough to provide little resistance. It was Bertrawr’s pride and joy to have the highly elite Storm Canis with him, only the most famous of the skirmisher units were assigned a group of the highly technological Storm Canis. They had to be sent directly by the chieftains of the Dog Nation. Most of the border fighters were only equipped with a bunch of fresh pups and some veteran Longfangs.

Once the rest of his dogs had formed up, he took his ritual place in the center of the formation. It was a common tradition to do so, it being logically the most secure place of the entire unit, so he was safe to think clearly and issue orders to his troops that were superior to the panicked and frenzied of the enemy. He received the “all clear” sign from his aid and waited.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Berserker Part 10

Jarn swiftly adapted to the life of a traveler, his clan had not had much belief in possessions, though it strongly urged being self sufficient, and this was something he was good at. In the morning he would awake earlier than the others and had learned after a few experiments that being in the front of the breakfast line didn’t necessarily mean that you would get the largest portions. Gerda had a network of cook aids, spies, and informants which allowed her to know at any time where someone was and how much work they had been doing. She was of the old school philosophy that the more work a person did, the more they deserved to eat. So Jarn would volunteer every morning to go out and cut firewood for her, he would return later with a cord of wood and, with a smile of gratitude and wink of approval from Gerda, would be given two-to-three times larger helpings than anyone else. With most people this would seem like gluttony, but because of Jarn’s impromptu starvation, massive size, and the fact that he worked harder than most anyone had ever seen kept him hungry too.

After breaking his fast, Jarn would load up his things into the guards’ wagon and go to see Terris, where he would then be given instructions for the day. At first they had tried to teach him how to use a crossbow. Things worked out very well and he could hit a target just as good as any of the others, but when he accidentally pulled the string back too hard when reloading one and ripped the crossbow in half, Terris had a fit and tossed him over to Kyle. Kyle was the caravan’s wrangler, he took care of the wagons and the animals that pulled them. Tragedy befell once again when a particularly nasty mule with an amazing sense of anatomy kicked Jarn as he was tying it up to the wagon with it’s team. The poor animal must’ve had at least three broken ribs from the punch Jarn sent it’s way.

Everyone was about to give up when Gerda commented on his ability with an ax. The idea of Jarn clearing and widening the trail, far ahead of them, where he could do no harm, was very appealing. So he would spend most of the day trudging ahead of the wagons with his war ax. Having accidentally broken through the wooden haft of one of the communal axes, he decided that the solid iron haft of one of his own beautifully carved masterpieces to be more sturdy and reliable than the dandy little things that the rest seemed content to use.

The scrub and pine which he was sweeping away was becoming less common. It was replaced by yew and other types of warmer climate trees. They were slowly working their way south. By the time Jarn would get to thinking about their destination and his strength would begin to flag, Kyle would call a stop to the procession and they would break for lunch.

One of the innumerable children Gerda had working for her would bring Jarn water and utensils for washing, she was a stickler for cleanliness and knew that he would work hard and stink bad enough to make the food gag by then. Lunch was normally salted pork with any number of pickled vegetables, hardly great fare but enough to keep a person going. Jarn would normally forgo the niceties of eating with the others and go back out to the clearing he had carved just hours ago. It gave him time to think and rest without being interrogated by the other, ever curious travelers. His only regret was not being able to see Millienya, she was in his thoughts more and more often. With her fine hair, blonde as cornsilk, and her radiant sky blue eyes.

After lunch, while he mindlessly chopped away at any offending plant matter in reach, a few camp followers or an occasional guard would visit him every so often to take away the fallen wood or bring refreshments. Sometimes he would get into a conversation with Seryan or Karnar as he worked, but the never once saw Lars though, somehow Millienya had managed to keep her word and Jarn did not have to worry about awaking with a knife stuck in him.

From these talks he learned a number of things. Seryan was from the distant city of Doneliss, a large city-state in southern Bretolia, which was the caravan’s destination as well as his. His father was a merchant that traded with a number of distant tribes in Kormusleiv. He had been sent in his father’s place to hammer out a new trade agreement with a tribe which had split off from another larger group. He was curiously reluctant to relinquish the details of his escapades. Jarn soon found out from Karnar that the reason he was so far from home and extremely quiet is that there had been a death in his family. His beloved wife and Jarn’s cousin-in-law, Katherine, had died while giving birth to their first child. What’s worse is that the child didn’t survive either. Karnar mourned for months, hardly sleeping or eating. Then one day he simply picked up his few belongings and left, he didn’t care where he went or how he got there. All he knew was that he couldn’t stand to live with Katherine’s death, so he ran away. A few days into his traveling he happened upon the camping caravan and joined them for lack of anything better to do.

Jarn didn’t move a muscle for the entire time Karnar spoke. It was absolutely awful about what happened. Jarn had known Katherine too and she was always in good health and full of life. Although he racked his brain, Jarn couldn’t think of a single thing to say that might possibly ease Karnar’s sorrow. All he could do was nod his head and go back to work.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Berserker Part 9

Among the cool intermittent plains and forests which dotted the mainland lies a small town. Named Halfway by some joker from times past, probably due to the fact that it’s one of the bordertowns which dot the countryside, between two different regions. It was a common thing to trick tax collectors by saying that they paid taxes to the other region’s ruler, no country was on well enough terms to question another about such matters, which neatly allowed the inhabitants to ignore the entire subject and continue making a modest living.

Halfway was exactly between the heavily forested, trading region of Bretolia and the near endless farming plains of Gath, which provided business for a little of the former and much of the latter. The town itself was surrounded by small walls on all four sides and most men were expected to attend militia drills and keep up archery practice whenever the fields allowed. In many cases this had saved the little town from roving bands of things passing through the Bretolian forests.

At this time of night, anyone who wasn’t in bed was at the Sign of The Castaway, the proprietor family had settled there after working on trading ships for so long the sight of blue made them sick. So they pulled up stakes, taking their newborn daughter with them, and moved inland, where they established a nice little inn, one of just a few two story buildings in town. The inn was a marvel of Hargram the owner’s craftsmanship, with not a single splinter or rough spot in the place. Made of the richest mahogany through and through, with beautiful trellised walls and frosted windows. It was more than sixteen years old, but the old wood structure still shone like new due to Silva’s, Hargram’s wife, constant scrutiny and care.

It’s large common room was full of bulky, heavily built farmers who’ve come to talk with friends, exchange gossip, and relax from the day’s work. Old men huddled around the fire, smoking and complaining about how nothing , not even fire was as good as they had in the old days. A pretty little girl, almost out of her teens, walked through the crowd, delivering mugs of beer and plates of food. She had creamy white skin, and stood a little over five feet. The most striking thing about her was her hair, black as a raven’s wing. She looked nothing like her parents. Her father, Hargram, who was busy filling glasses, was a man of average height with a look of wiry strength about his extremely dark, grizzled features, his only concession was his glittering blue eyes set deep into his skull, giving him a hooded, knowing sense. Her mother, Silva, was likewise short and heavily tanned with more normal blonde hair. They had both come from some island far off from the mainland and the inn had been made most famous by the secret of distilling rum which Hargram had brought with him.

As the girl passed a table on her way back to the kitchen, she was grabbed by the waist and pulled down face-to-face with someone she never saw before. He was dressed in stained and tattered, poorly stitched clothes, obviously some lowlife passing through and looking for a fight.

“Hi, there”, he said. The smell of alcohol nearly blew her over and she could see his eyes were clouded from too much of Hargram’s Finest. “Give us a kiss”.

She tried to pull away but wasn’t strong enough. Another man came up from behind the stranger and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Could you let Selenne go about her work?”, he asked calmly. His eyes were two chips of ice around a face that radiated disapproval.

“What’s she tyoo?” the man slurred, oblivious to the man’s anger.

“She’s my daughter, now get out or I’ll make you”, came a reply with snake speed.

“You’ll make me what?” the befuddled stranger said while still holding on to Selenne.

Most of the room had quieted down, Hargram was not a normally violent man, but he was extremely touchy when it came to his daughter. The silence buzzed with the single thought; this should be good.

“Leave”, Hargram said steadily, trying to help along the man’s slow witted brain. he had seen this man’s kind before. Cruel, small-minded men who were down on their luck and decide to spread the misery around.

“Why should I leave when I have done nothing wrong?!”, he screamed, tossing Selenne away and drawing a long knife, brandishing the cheap blade in the air.

Half the room backed up and the rest closed in, some wanting to help Hargram and the rest anxiously awaiting the ensuing climax.

The man lunged forward sloppily, giving Hargram plenty of time to sidestep the man. As the drunk regained his balance, Hargram pulled a cosh from his belt and smacked the leather bound length of iron against the back of the man’s head, dropping him with little more than a moan. This was drowned out by the groans of the spectators. They were disappointed for two simple reasons. While they expected a larger fight, it was a rule of Hargram’s that the minute a fight broke out within his establishment, it would close immediately for the rest of the night.

As Hargram walked over to help up Selenne, the drinkers and talkers took turns kicking the unconscious stranger on their way to the door, muttering about foreigners ruining things for the rest of them and complaining about having to go home to their families earlier than necessary.

Selenne said she would be fine, but her assailant wouldn’t. Almost every male in town resided in that inn, at one kick per person, the stranger would be mighty bruised by morning. Hargram was a smart enough man that he didn’t need to be violent.

The three worked in silence with a precision born of years of routine, locking the heavy oak door, taking up dirty glasses, cleaning tables, stopping up the beer kegs, and sweeping the floor before they blew out all the lamps and went upstairs to their rooms.

As Selenne dozed off, she reflected on her life and its direction. It wasn’t that difficult of a job and that day had been the one day in a long time when she had been assailed. Even strangers got word that to mess around with Selenne would mean to be black and blue for a month. Basically it was a peaceful life, basically.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Berserker Part 8

Lars met Jarn ahead of the groggy caravan. Gerda had the idea that they could make their travel easier by cutting trees that were alongside the trail down for firewood, thus widening the trail as they went. It wasn’t really a bad idea, but then again she wasn’t the one who had to lug huge logs off the path. It made Lars especially irritable because it had been Lars’ turn for the menial task three times in a row. That sophisticated young dandy in chain mail complained of a pulled muscle. Back in Klav people had done such tasks while suffering from the ice rot and not complained! So when Jarn picked a squat old ash tree to start on, Lars didn’t act with particular tact or a sense of self preservation.

“Hey, big oaf!”, he yelled as Jarn was about to dig into the tree. Jarn stopped, startled from the sudden noise. “Got rocks in your head, or just empty space up there?!”, Lars continued, bringing himself to stand directly in front of the man and having to look up to see his surprised features.

“Ash is a man-hating tree!”, he yelled up the taller man’s nose. “Look in those branches”, he indicated the upper regions of the ash’s expansive foliage. “See anything?”

Jarn followed Lar’s upward pointing finger to a large branch with holding a great deal of slowly decaying plant matter that numerous autumns had deposited from taller trees. Now it looked to have the density of a brick and contain the remains of smaller trees and numerous mummified squirrel and bird corpses.

“What should I be seeing?”. He unconsciously changed his stance to a more aggressive form, accentuating his height to discourage violence.

“Ash branches give way without a warning crack”, Lars responded in a slow voice Jarn recognized as being used on children and the mentally impaired. “Do you really want the load of rubbish crashing down on your head? I doubt that even your thick skull could take a knock like that!”

“Besides, Ash give off terrible smelling smoke”, he added, backing off a little.

Jarn took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. He seemed to unfold after that thorough tongue lashing. Still, at least it was just a verbal lashing. He turned away from tree and Lars, and quietly counted out fifteen paces under his breath. He turned around yet again and let the head of the felling ax drop to be perpendicular with the ground. In one swift move Jarn whipped the ax over his head and brought it back down with a yell. He let the ax go at just the right moment, it pinwheeled until burying itself deep in the bark of the offending ash tree and a fingerlength from Lars’ ear.

“I”, Jarn simply stated, “happen to like the way ash smells”.

Lars just stood there with the ax quivering next to him, not knowing whether to scream in rage, fear, or soil himself.

Jarn caught his eye and pointed upward with a knowing grin. Just as Lars regained the coordination to look up, the bough with generations of the putrefying remnants of life, both plant and animal, broke. To credit Lars, this happened with absolutely no noise. Luckily, he managed to stumble aside before the heavy load came crashing to the ground.

He regained his breath to immediately get rid of it again by screaming, “You could have killed me! What were you thinking?!” Lars was shaking with rage and shock over almost dying.

Jarn remained still with a smirk of satisfaction on his face, “If you’re such the expert on trees then you should know not to stand so close”, he said.

Lars glanced up and down the trail to see if anyone was watching. Finding none, he threw himself at Jarn with a scream, trying to knock the other man over and kill him quickly. Jarn was caught completely unaware and was sent skidding on his back into the middle of the dirt trail. Lars kept up the attack by running up to where Jarn lay and attempting to bring his boot down on the other man’s face. Jarn managed to grab hold of the leg which was not raised in the air and twist it, toppling Lars. Jarn quickly got back up and ran over to the aforementioned ash tree. He then grabbed at the ax embedded in the tree, pulling desperately. But to no avail, Lars had managed to rise but was limping, he must’ve twisted his leg in the fall. He moved carefully over to the tree opposite from Jarn, where the other ax had been set down. He picked it up and hefted it, giving Jarn a calculating look, wondering if he could take the taller man with the advantage of an ax and disadvantage of a limp.

He obviously thought he could as he made his way toward Jarn. Jarn frantically scoured the ground for anything he could find, coming up with a study looking stick. He widened his stance and gave himself room to maneuver as Lars came closer, suddenly braking into a run! It had been a ruse, Lars was fine! Jarn charged forward to meet him and warcry on his lips that was swiftly echoed by his assailant. They were but a few yards apart as two arrows came whistling toward them, slamming home in the haft of Lars’ ax and the head of Jarn’s stick.

“Knock that off you two!”, shrieked a voice that they were both familiar with.

“S’right”, agreed a gruff man. “Where the hell is breakfast?”

The two would-be combatants turned to see half the camp was watching their fight. At the head of the crowd was Millienya and Tyrel, the self-proclaimed bodyguard of Seryan’s. Both were in the process of reloading their crossbows.

“Lars!”, Millienya yelled. “You finish cutting the wood and leave Jarn be!”

“He tried to murder me”, Lars protested in dismay.

“By the look of it you almost killed him too, so you’re level”, she countered. “You deserve whatever he did”.

Jarn put down his pitiful looking stick and walked slowly back to camp, while Lars stomped deeper into the woods, muttering to himself and cursing in a language Jarn didn’t understand. The camp watched him go with a mixed sense of anger and hunger, it was already mid-morning and very few of them had eaten because they couldn’t get a fire going. When they go to find out what the hold-up was, they find him tussling with the newcomer and ignoring their rumbling bellies!

“Are you hurt?”, Millienya asked in concern for Jarn.

“I’ll be fine, I just need to be wary of Lars, nothing more”, responded Jarn sullenly

The crowd dispersed with grumbling mouths and bellies as they got about their chores of packing up their things, taking care of the pack mules and horses, and a few small children collecting sticks in hope of cooking breakfast a little faster. Only Jarn and Millienya remained.

Why does Lars have to fight with anyone he ever meets? It’s not as if everyone else in the world is out to get him, well at least not until they talk to him.

“I apologize for him”, she said. “He just doesn’t get along with other people”.

“Really?”, Jarn said in mock surprise. “I thought he was being coy....If he doesn’t get along well with people, who does get along with?”

“Damned if I know”, she said theatrically throwing her hands up in surrender.

Jarn began walking back to the camp to load up his bedroll and other things into the guards’ wagon. Since Karnar vouched for him, people thought he must be a guard too.

“Jarn, wait”, Millienya said. “Don’t worry about watching Lars, I’ll keep him civil”.

“You have my thanks”, Jarn said, warming up to her a little. Jarn smiled to himself, liking the idea that someone else was looking out for him. And then there was the embarrassed smile he always received when facing her, it gave one pause to think about it’s implications. Jarn might just have an admirer.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Berserker part 7

It was a beautiful morning, the sun was up and the birds were no longer singing, having been shot by Lars, who had been awake long before the rest, and were on their way to the spit. He walked through the camp, most of its inhabitants were just waking up. Gerda, the cook, would be happy to see the fresh game that he was carrying. He passed the clerks’ sparse and conservative wagon, as well as the normal congregation of camp followers and workers waiting for their wages.
“I told ya not ta hunt wi’ that crossbow!” growled a harsh voice behind him. “It’s too expensive to risk you losin’ or breaking on some damn fool jaunt o’ yourn!” Lars turned slowly with his hands raised in mock fear. It was Terris the quartermaster, also known as the Terror, and the rightful owner of all the bows that the guards carried. He was a short, stocky man, who was no stranger to hard work, and was very protective of what he issued, but kept them in excellent condition.
“Sorry”, Lars said. “Gerda said to find some fresh meat, we’re running low.”
“I’ll have ta talk ta her then”, Tarris responded, gruffly forgiving him for the minor infraction. Lars smiled to himself as he walked off, all he had to do now was make sure that the pheasants were cooked before Terris would get around to complaining with Gerda and finding she never said anything about needing meat. A little of Gerda’s heavenly fare was usually enough to appease him.
A few dozen more paces brought him to the ghost of a cookfire that the companions had all bedded down around. Millienya and Gerda were chatting and Jarn was still curled up on his bedroll. He had heard Jarn talking and screaming during the night, but with all that boy had been through, Lars was surprised he could sleep at all.
Gerda took the pheasants with a grateful look and began plucking and gutting them. “You had better go get some firewood unless you want to eat these raw”, she said as her scarred hands prepared the birds with blinding speed and dexterity.
“Aw!, I did it yesterday!”, Lars whined.
“Well take that sleeping giant with you”, Gerda said, jerking a thumb toward Jarn. “Looks like he could rip a tree out of the ground by himself. He has nothing to do around here anyway”.
Lars walked over to Jarn’s pallet and lovingly placed his boot in the sleeper’s ear. It didn’t even phase the boy, before Lars knew what was happening, he was on the ground with a massive set of hands around his throat. Only then did Jarn’s eyes snap open, signaling his waking. He looked down at Lars’ startled features, recognizing the man. Jarn quickly released his grip and slunk away, ashamed, embarrassed, and hastily wiping the beginnings of tears from his eyes.
Lars got to his feet. “What the hell was that about!?” he demanded. He made to follow Jarn but Millienya acted quickly and stopped him with a hand to the shoulder.
“I’ll go see what’s wrong”, she said.
“Alright”, Lars replied, “But tell him never to touch me again”.
Millienya quickly turned around to hide the smirk from her brother’s observant eyes. If he “touched” Lars again, Jarn would probably pop the man’s head off. She then followed Jarn to the rear of the caravan, he was rummaging through the workmen’s wagon when she caught up to him.
“Will you be sound?”, she tentatively inquired.
“Yeah”, he replied over his shoulder, still looking through the wagon.
“Is there something you need to talk abo-
“Where are the choppers?”, he interrupted, spinning around with a sense of urgency.
She pointed to the very rear of the wagon where the axes and saws were. He grabbed two of each and pushed his way past her.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Berserker Part 6

The group was asleep long before he decided it was safe to sneak from the clearing where they had chosen to camp. It was a clear, cool summer night. The greater and lesser moons chased each other through the sky as the stars twinkled above and the air was filled with the sounds of all the nocturnal animals awaking.

The smoldering embers of the cooking fire gave just enough light to see a rippling in the air, as a pebble is thrown into a pond. As his eyes lingered on the shimmering he could feel heat on the nape of his neck, he turned around and was nearly blinded by the flaring embers. They had risen off the ground and were swooping towards him! He threw himself to the ground and the hot coals soared over him and interposed themselves over the shimmering in the air, melding together to form a smoking and sputtering doorway. Inside was darkness, not the absence of light, but the essence of darkness. A sort of anti-light. The man quickly shielded his eyes, to look into that doorway was to brave blindness. Where it led could be found on no map or atlas, for it was a tear in the boundaries of this world. He ran through the doorway, making sure not to burn himself.

He floated through the void, on fire and frozen, dead and alive, his body was dissolved. Yet his thoughts remained. He thought of his lungs and there they were, he thought of his heart and there it was. Piece by piece he was reassembled, kneeling in front of a large stone table.

It looked as if this table was the very first ever created, covered with arcane symbols and patterns which glowed with an eerie inner fire and hurt the eyes when viewed, it was a proto-table. Of the gargantuan seats surrounding the table, only 3 were occupied. One was dressed in the skins of creatures that the world was thankful to have never known, a bow of black iron and a quiver close at hand. The other was cloaked and cowled, only his pale, gnarled hands were visible. His body shook and jumped like a man in the throes of a terminal illness. The third was sitting at the head of the table in a throne carved out of ebony, the semblance’s of screaming demons were carved into its surface and seemed to writhe when looked upon. His body was swathed in blood red armor, its surface had a glistening organic quality, seeming to sweat in the stifling air. Not even his eyes were visible through the slits in his helmet.

Lit candelabras surrounding the table burned brightly, but only served to further alienate the 3 from anything that could be considered normal. The room they occupied was absolutely cavernous. It was so large that the lights didn’t even illuminate the walls or ceiling. He fervently hoped that there were walls and a ceiling, that could surely be the only explanation for the oppressive gloom that weighted the air.

He took a few steps toward the foot of the table, after this didn’t make any real change in his distance from them, he realized how large the figures actually were. They seemed to have been constructed at a size one fifth larger than normal, and the furniture was equally cut to their proportions. It took him a few more moments to get to within easy speaking distance.

“What have you to report?”, demanded the armored being. Strange, he could’ve sworn that he never saw the knight move and his ears never heard a thing, but he knew the figure’s question. The being’s voice bypassing the ears and sending the question straight to his mind, there seemed to be a hollow, echoing quality to the words.

He forced himself to speak “The Bloodthorns have been stopped short of their goal, my lord”. His words came out thin and quiet, as if the oppressive weight of the air was trying to crush them. “They were destroyed in Jeriscar”.

A shrieking cackle was received in response. He looked over to see that it was the sound of the figure clad in skins laughing. It looked to the cowled being and said in a voice that altered pitch with nearly every word to the point where it could’ve broken glass at times, “I told you that those greenskinned runts would do no good Dommiel!” It was clear that this one had thrown itself into the pit of insanity and had dwelt happily in its bottom for some time. Thankfully, it spoke aloud rather than in that unholy mindspeech that was used before.

The cowled creature known as Dommiel just chuckled to himself and waved a clawlike hand in the air. The darkness was driven further away by the apparition which sprang forth there. It took the shape of a very large man, rail thin and tired looking, but with a fire of determination in his eyes. The prostating figure at the foot of the table gasped in recognition as he saw that it was Jarn.

Dommiel replied in a voice that was choked with the secretions and pustules of a thousand plagues, “I had hopes that they wouldn’t make it. It would’ve meant that my scrying led me astray. Seeing as it didn’t, let’s not trouble ourselves with such matters”.

“Who is he?”, intoned the suit of armor with the same hollow voice.

“I was just getting to that Zepar”, Dommiel said, bridling at having been interrupted. “This boy has a fire which drew me from leagues away, he will serve as the perfect vessel”.

A few moments of stunned silence followed this shocking news. The worshipper shifted uncomfortably, inadvertently regaining the attention of the three seated demons. “You will protect this boy with your life to make sure that he reaches the ancient place” , Zepar said. There was no arguing with his words, it wasn’t an order or question, it was a simple statement of fact.

We Now Return You To Your Regularly Scheduled Rant

Well folks, its been a real tough week, with lots of ups and downs; more downs than ups I'm sad to say. To start things off right, I'll say that I've gotten my first paid story published. It'll be posted on Mindflights Magazine sometime within the next few months. I don't know exactly when. It's a modified version of my story "Shinkyo Bridge" that they bought.

I should probably give a little back-story as I've been trying to get something published with them for a while now. They are a "Christian Oriented" magazine that does lots of science fiction and fantasy stuff. I first wrote for them a story detailing the events of a monastery on the English borderlands successfully repelling an attack by marauding Icelandic vikings around 1050 AD. It was a true story, I might add, and heralded the breaking of the viking stranglehold on northern Europe as they were converted to Christianity over time. It was engaging, full of action, and had a very pro-Christian message. They rejected it immediately, citing they didn't understand a lot of the terms I was using regarding the church, Christianity, and prayer.

These people are a friggin Pro-Christian magazine and they don't know what a miter is! Anyway, just to piss them off. I sent them Shinkyo Bridge, a story following around a Zen Buddhist samurai who fights off demons. And these people want to print it! I'm still rolling on the floor over that one.

Now on to the bad news. I've been having some serious computer problems as of late, meaning my updates may be erratic. I received a mini-laptop not too long ago; an ASUS eee pc model 900 HA. It works well for portable word-processing and internet surfing, which is great for typing without having to coop myself up in my room all day.

Only a month old and yesterday it went kabloowie. Apparently it lost a file from its own operating system and can't boot up until I insert the boot disc. Problem, the thing doesn't come with a frigging disc drive! Why they give me a boot disc with no disc drive I will never know.

Anyway I've sent it off to the manufacturer to get fixed. I can live without it for a few weeks, but the thing that really has me incensed is that I had about half a dozen unfinished short stories and the beginnings of a novel on the hard-drive, and didn't have time to make back-ups. I'm down on my knees praying that it will return with those files intact. In the meantime I'm rewriting what I can remember, but I know its not nearly as complete or well-written as what I already had.

As if that weren't enough, my tower is ailing as well. It's got a virus called Vundo, which embeds itself in the Windows operating system and multiples. Unfortunately Microsoft makes it real difficult to mess with the OS, though the virus seems to be having no trouble with it. So now I'm stuck swapping phone calls and emails with the tech support people in India. It'll be another week before the stupid thing is gone, and not before I've had to chew out a few people who say that they can't help me any further. I had to do this about 8 months ago for the same damn virus, meaning that my virus protection software isn't doing the job. I'll be speaking with their customer service reps and ask why I should be bothering to pay them if their software isn't worth the box it came in when this is all over.

Have you noticed that the call center people in India have been trying really hard to cover their accents as of late? They used to speak quite plainly, but now they give me an American sounding name and speak with a really bad southern accent to try to give the impression they're not Indian. Guess they're catching flak over taking American jobs, can't say I blame them.