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”.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Berserker Part 32

Kyle led the first of the wagons to the horse stables. Found after much blind searching, the people in the town seemed frozen to the spot, too scared even to give directions. Thankfully the stablehands must not have heard the news of their arrival, thus they went to secure unhitch the horses and take them into their care without a second glance.

Kyle jumped down from his perch and stretched happily, as did many others. A short portly man came out from behind the stables, pitchfork still in hand, by the smell it wasn’t hay he had been shoveling. He walked over to Kyle.

“How many wagon do ye have?”, he inquired.

“Not as many as we started with”, Kyle quiped miserably.

Obviously put off by this, the man assumed a more aggressive surly posture. “A large wagon train might find themselves with a few extra expenses.”, he boldly threatened.

“We’ll just find another stable then”, Kyle countered with feigned indifference. Inwardly he comitted murder countless times upon this obese, bullheaded, nitwit who stood between them and rest. It wasn’t that Kyle was afraid of the man, his pitchfork, or his smell, but the qaurtermaster, Terris was so tightfisted that he would probably make Kyle pay for the stables out of his own meager salary if the prices were too steep.

“Good luck”, the man countered with a cheesy smile. “The next stable large enough to house this caravan is a hundred leagues east of here”.

The stable owner had Kyle cornered, happily surveying the wrangler’s sad and beaten features. However, he had overlooked the man still sitting despondantly at the head wagon...until he got up that is. Jarn didn’t stand up so much as unfold from a fetal position full of self pity to a towering inferno of purpose.

Hopping down lightly from the wagon he strode over the cobbled streets growing larger in the stableowner’s eyes with each step. Till he stood in front of the narrow-minded little criminal, the man’s face level with Jarn’s stomache. His lower lip trembled as Jarn bent double to look into his eyes.

The man remembered once seeing how a horse was broken, the stallion was tethered, screaming and kicking mindlessly. As time went by the thing foamed at the mouth and its eyes bulged insanely. The giant standing before him had these same eyes. But he’s not frothing at the mouth, the man thought, he’s frothing at the mind.

“We have traveled more than five times that distance”, Jarn spoke in a low cold voice. “lost friends and family along the way, discovered a vangaurd of monsters that mankind gladly thought to be extinct, and a man in the wagon behind me is dying as we speak simply because you want to look a big man”. Finishing his chilling monologue, Jarn snatched the pitchfork from the man’s nerveless fingers with blinding speed and slammed it into the ground. Driving the rusted tines of the tool through four inches of solid cobblestone, just a gnats whisker from the stable master’s toes.

They stood there, one man trembling in fear, the other in rage, and the pitchfork because of a a slight breeze. Taking a deep breathe Jarn regained a little more civility, taking a step back he cleared his throat. “Now, how much to house these wagons?”, he asked, his voice sweet as arsenic.

After a few moments of unintelligable stammering, the man managed to speak. “Um, no charge milord. Happy to be of service”. The man hastily waddled past Jarn, suddenly very intent on doing his job.

Kyle was filled with a mix of awe at the man’s bladder control and joy at keeping his pay. He carefully approached Jarn, he seemed to have calmed down more. Nervously smiling, “I am in your debt”, he said. “If you hadn’t talked to him I would be in real debt”. Tittering nervously he caught hold of a passing stablehand. “Where can we go for a celebratory drink?”, he inquired.

“That would be the Inn of the Castaway, its down two blocks that way”, he stated, pointing down the street.

“Would you like to come?”, Kyle asked Jarn.

“S’been a while since I had a drink”, Jarn mused. “I could do with one”.

“Excellent”, Kyle said in delight. “Let’s fetch the others then.

They found the others gathering their things from the sleep wagon, from their observations of the stablemaster, none of them trusted him with their goods. Kyle grabbed his purse from his bedroll and Jarn equipped his axes and sword.

“Anyone up for a drink or two?”, Kyle asked them

Millienya looked up from her possessions. “Tyrel, Aniston, and I are taking Seryan to the apothecary-

“But the rest of us are free”, interjected Lars with the speed of a man who knew that a cool drink would disappear into the tall grass if he wesn’t quick.

“What do we do with the gnoll?”, inquired Aniston absently twirling his flowing moustache.

“Leave him with the stablemaster”, Tyrel said with a leer and chuckle.

“No, Dolt!”, Millienya admonished. “We have to take it with us to identify the poison”.

“Fair enough”, Aniston replied. He turned to adress the group anxious to leave. “We’ll meet back here tommorrow morning then”.

“Yes mother”, Lars shot back as they walked away.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Berserker Part 32

The guards hadn’t kept the caravan waiting in as soon as it was established that there would be burning, pillaging, or raping. Probably nothing to steal around here anyway, Tyrel thought sadly. While most people were staring blankly, sleepily, or stupidly, the captain of the guard looked disturbingly intelligent at them. As if he was mentally taking down everything to the smallest detail. I’ll have to watch that one.

Moving past various storage bins, grain silos, meat lockers, and warehouses, it struck Tyrel as being strangely quiet, the shock affect of their arrival should’ve worn off by now, giving way to hushed murmuring and flying rumors as to the newcomers’ identities, purpose, eligibility, and financial status. But no, just silence, like the desperate quiet of a mouse as the predatorial shadow of an owl swoops by.

Suddenly he realized it, all eyes were locked on the gnoll. Tyrel wasn’t normally someone to laugh at something that didn’t end up with a person be hung upside and horsewhipped, but the peoples’ looks of horror at the little gnoll on his leash had him splitting his sides. It was hardly larger than the dogs on the street barking at them as they worked their way through the gate, but they acted as if it were evil incarnate. Aside from that, it’s “leash” was treated leather suitable for tethering a pair of wild horses.

Their horror was something familiar to him, he had seen it often enough on the faces of those not willing to be parted with any trinkets or spare coins they could’ve lived without. but recently he had seen it on the young but haggard features of that boy, Jarn. They hadn’t talked much during their traveling, but the boy didn’t seem to enjoy talking and Tyrel didn’t care enough to pursue it. But it was worrying, ever since that gnoll started its gibbering, Jarn had been in a black mood. Not even the amusing scenery they were traversing could pull him out of it.

They had passed the industrial district, giving way to countless houses, all with the same whitewash finish, gardens, yards, and above all, boring atmosphere. If I fell asleep here I wouldn’t wake up, there is no reason to. The thought of sleep brought him back his injured charge, Seryan, lying near death in the supply wagon. They must find an apothecary, quickly.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Berserker Part 31

Marhault and his men had done well in training the militia, while their fighting skills were as basic as trying to put the pointed weapon in the other person, their archery was better than he had expected. The city’s mandate that all men of fighting age must own, maintain, and practice with a bow once a week had paid off. While none could match Marhault’s skill, some of them had matched his own men, not an easy feat. During drills, he had spotted the man who’d tried to lay him out on the floor, he was training alongside his men with no qualms. That was good, it showed the exercises they went thru which were designed to insure they followed the chain of command and kept their heads in combat had worked.

Then there had been a meeting held in the town square, the mayor had gotten up and made a speach that didn’t say anything but fooled everyone into thinking that their lives would go on as normal. Must be a knack Marhault mused to himself. Then he had gotten up and told everybody what would happen. Autumn was coming thankfully closer, so most of the crops had been harvested and stored. That just meant that they needed to fill every container they could find with fresh water. Many’s the time a siege was won from thirst or hunger. The only other precaution they could take was to build extra fortifications; lines of spiked pits before the walls, traps in the high grass, and maybe catapults for counterttack if there’s time.

With the men in training, they had been moved to the barracks at the outskirts of town and were currently sleeping after a rigourous day. Leaving a mercenary skeleton crew to watch the walls. Marhault stalked the walls too, trying to get a feel for the place. He had been surprised when he saw the wall’s specifications, it was three feet thick and fifteen feet high, comprised of alternating layers of brick and iron for added hardiness.

Yawning, he was just about to turn in when movement caught his eye on the west wall. Quickly running over he peered into the gloom of the night, his sharp elven eyes could just barely make out movement. He called for his men, sending runners to rouse the militia. At Marhault’s behest they each set an arrow afire and let fly...yes... with the added light of the arrows he could definately make out wagons of some kind. Having made contact, a rider came forth to speak.

“We are a caravan from Pelse, and beg entrance!”, the old man said, sitting imovably atop his nag.

“A scout of ours died bringing news of an approaching army”, Marhault responded. “Could it be that you have something to do with this army?”

“Yes!”, the old man replied. Something in the man’s voice reached down into Marhault’s brain and awakened his curiosity. Hearing this created both tensening nerves and bowstrings of those in earshot. Professing to belonging to an advancing army of hostiles was not conducive to a long life. But if it were an army, why would they sacrifice any chance at surprise and openly admit intentions of laying seige to Halfway

“Yes?”, Marhault asked with interest. “You intend to attack our city?” He was becoming increasingly aware of the rhythmic thumping of the ground behind him, suggesting a large number of men approaching. Militia maybe? It would be about the right time for them to have cleared their bunks and marched wallward.

“No”, the aged one said. “But I know who would most likely be coming to take this city, and have fought them before and thus am affiliated with them. They are gnolls.”

“Gnolls?”, Marhault smirked, “The last gnoll army was defeated and scattered to the winds over a century ago during the last insurrection of the Cursed. No gnoll has been seen in decades”. Inwardly Marhault trembled, knowing only too well what horrors the deep places that still belonged to the inhuman and feral old world held. As an elf, albeight an outcast half-breed, he was privy to certain knowledge. The insurrection which he refferred to had been instigated and carried out by the humans, and that in Marhault’s opinion, was in itself one step away from failure and defeat. Carolinus, the prophet of Aureliana, the Hunter of The Slain, had preached to the multitudes of a vision inspired by the Goddess. He called with froth on his lips and a belly full of fire for a cleansing of the world, that all “subhuman” creatures be systematically exterminated so that the ill humors they cast upon the land may be destroyed.

He led an army of volunteers across the landscape in random search of the “Cursed”, as they are called in the Book of Aureliana, subsequently robbing anyone they came across for the Glory of Aureliana. The campaign against the gnolls had been the army’s only success. The gnolls were scattered and ran, but very little of either side left the battle field that bloody day.

“Only if that twere so”, replied the old man, suddenly looking very tired. “Could it be that no gnoll has been seen because no man has lived long enough to tell the tale?” With that he waved to the caravan, another horsed figure detached from the shadows with a chained person in tow.

As the chained figure came closer it ceased to be a person, now a short, furry creature. Definitely a gnoll. The woman keeping it looked at the men on the wall with a toothy malicious grin. Better to look at her than the insane red eyes of the rabid sepulchral beast.

“Believe him now?!”, she crowed up to the flabbergasted group.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Berserker Part 30

The caravan moved onward with renewed vigor now that respite was in sight. Men and women breathed a little easier, children laughed a little louder. Even the gnoll, Fleek, was overjoyed to see the town, dropping down to all fours to gain more traction in pulling his yoke.

As their sullen mood lifted, so did the canopy of trees. They had traversed the Bretolian forest and now looked forward to the comforts of civilization. Even Tyrel’s heart lifted at the prospect of helping the stricken Seryan.

They followed the heavily wagon rutted trail out of the forest and onto the sprawling plains, coming closer they fully understood the scope of the area, what grass they thought would be knee-high came up even to Jarn’s chest. Listening to the rustling of the long grasses in the wind, they continued forward blindly following the upward sloping trail in the near dark.

A salvo of flaming arrows swooped forth from the top of the walled city, burying a few scant yards from the first of the wagon horses, making them rear screaming in the sudden light.

“Stop!”, boomed a resounding voice afterward. The group walked over to the light, allowing it to show themselves to the town.

“We seek shelter!”, returned Aniston in the same manner.

“Then come closer and we shall talk!”, shouted the voice.

Kyle had already unhitched a wagon horse for the old man to ride. Aniston mounted in one swift movement and rode forth well into arrow range at a regal trot.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Berserker Part 29

Jarn awoke in a muggily hot creaking box, he muzzily looked over to see the sweating pale form of Seryan against the weak light coming through the wagon’s canvas walls. The poor man tossed and turned, groaning and wincing in his sleep. The long cut on his left arm had been well bandaged, but was now stained black with old blood and could no longer hold back the unmistakable odor of putrefying flesh. A smell that Jarn had become regrettably familiar with in the previous weeks and months. Outside he heard the laughing and yells of children at play. Strange, such a differing combination. The joy of those who were coming into the world and pained sounds of those leaving it.

He sat up, not sure anymore if the creaking was from the wagon or his joints due to the crates he had laid on. Stretching out, he lurched around boxed wares and other items which would undoubtedly be sold for far too much in some distant bazaar. Upon reaching the front of the wagon, Kyle, who was at the reins, gave Jarn room to sit, smiling amiably.

“Glad to see you up and about”, Kyle said.

“I don’t know what happened back there”, Jarn lied.

“Are you sound now?”, he asked anxiously.

“Yes, how did you solve the wagon problem”, Jarn said, doing his best to change the subject.

“We didn’t”, Kyle responded with the caution of a men testing thin ice.

“What do you mean?”, Jarn asked, still too foggy to work things out for himself.

“We had to leave another wagon behind”, said Kyle.

“Oh”. In his mind, Jarn was slowly going over the story Millienya had told. Was he the reason all of his people had been attacked? Would he be doomed to constantly face one monstrosity hell bent on destruction after another?

“Thankfully, we’re low enough on food that we didn’t really it much”, Kyle continued, braced for impact.


Kyle recoiled in surprise, over the time they’d been together, Jarn was never one to take bad news well. Especially when it came to eating.

They continued on in monotonous silence, watching light clouds slowly cross the sky.

“How long was I gone?”, Jarn asked dully

“Half the day is my best guess”, came the reply.

“Oh...What about the Gnoll?”, he asked shivering slightly. If all the things that are best left to themselves have dreams such as that one, then we are in serious trouble.

Kyle coughed in embarrassment, “Well, about an hour later it awoke fighting and yelling that it must go. Strangest thing, after a while it started yelling at us to go faster. Tyrel walked over and told it to shut up or help pull the wagons.”, Kyle stopped because he was chuckling too hard to continue. “It volunteered.... to pull the.. wagons, so... it is” By the end he was howling with laughter slapping his leg and even bringing a slight smile to Jarn’s lips.

“How did it do?”, Jarn asked, trying to break his own foul mood.

“Well enough, well enough”, Kyle hooted. “We found that the horses are spooked by it, so we tethered it to the first yoke. Works the horses up a treat.” Despite the humor in this, a few moments later, Jarn was reimursed in his own depressive mind.

Thus they rode. Dully registering the ground as it came and went, the slowly thinning trees, and the sun making its daily lap of the sky. If they had not been in such somber moods then perhaps they would’ve seen the beautiful world around them. A wet blanket of white wrapped its tendrils around the earth, creeping along the ground with an unearthly intelligence, cloaking the world in silence. What would normally have been just another musty half-day caused by the dome of plant life over them was shattered by inumberable shafts of light from heaven, piercing the deep fog, creating the perfect moment. Too bad the worlds or man and those of reality don’t often collide.

Hours passed, as the sun neared it’s bed, the caravans rounded a curve in the trail. Jarn stirred from his sullen revelry. In front of him was a wide rolling plain, covered with wild grass sweeping in the wind and a few errant acres that man had beaten into submission, forcing crops out of it year after year.

“I can see smoke”, he reported to Kyle. Pointing straight ahead, to a spot almost on the horizon. Nearly muted by the blazing red and purple collage that heralded the sultry coolness of the night, sat the walled town of Halfway.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Berserker Part 28

Marhault walked down the muddy main street, the overcast sky matching his mood, breathing a sigh of frustration at the state of what he had to work with. Bunch of surly farmers and cowardly merchants, without us they would be food for the worms! He slowly headed toward the outskirts of the walled town to a stable that the mayor had hastily refurbished as barracks for his men. Deliberately paying no notice to the hushed whispers, pointing fingers, and nervous glances of the townsfolk going about their business. If there was one thing he had learned after years of command, it was not to show weakness, under any circumstance. Yet deep down he was shaking with worry.

He cursed himself for hiring his men out as mercenaries, but because of the slim pickings as highwaymen in the years previous, they had been forced to find legitimate work. Still, the pay was good and they were sleeping in beds for the first time in months. What had him worried was that his men were beginning to suspect that he was different from them, he had managed to keep the charade up for some time, but when the men became more comfortable around him, they noticed the pale, equine set of his face, his surprisingly light voice, the slight point to his ears, and the fact that the senior members of his elite band were going gray, yet they barely had the down of youth on their faces when Marhault first met them. It used to be that elves could walk among humans without worry of superstitious ridicule, but that was not so in such turbulent times. So, like many of the elder races, they faded into the foreground, waiting for a time when they would be safe from prosecution. A bastard half-breed like Marhault was just lucky enough to pass for human provided he kept his hair covering his ears.

At times like this he longed for the deep quiet of the forests that had given birth to his race, and was most likely where they had gone. But the human side of him knew that he could never go back. The world was getting even more violent, turning away from the peaceful ways of his kind, likely the pestilence that corrupts Gaia will only continue to fester and decay. Let’s not forget I wasn’t accepted as on of theirs to begin with, he thought sourly. Despite living in trees and fields, they were probably still the same aristocratic, racist, snobs they always were.

His depressed, worried musings came to an end as he sighted the long barns housing his thirty-some men. He made sure to knock before he entered the side door. Too many sleepless nights spent trying to make out a killer in the shadows or straining to hear the howl of gnolls and grunting chatter of orcs and goblins on the stirring breeze had taken their toll on his men’s nerves. It was not safe to attempt sneaking up on such competent killers. Even with announcing his presence, the men he walked in on had hands on their weapons.

Seeing that it was nothing worth eating or killing, they went back to their card games, conversations, and sleep. In the company of his men he relaxed somewhat, having spent many years with every member of their troop, his rigid self-discipline was not necessary for show. He wearily made his way to his cot, going over the preparations which he would have to make in his mind. Sitting down on the heavenly soft mattress, his second-in-command, a grizzled old man of at least a hundred skirmishes came up to him.

“Howd the men look?”, he asked in a rattling growl.

“Not the best”, Marhault replied. “But if they were good then we wouldn’t be living it up in here”. At this the old man laughed, long and hard.

“Too true”, the man chuckled.

“They’re meeting at the West gate soon”, Marhault said. “Most are nervous, some are pompous”.

“Good”, the old man said, smiling devilishly. “Means we gotta scare it outta ‘em”.

“Right”, Meryl replied. “So I want you and the men there long before them, spic and span too”. Half of the room that was surreptitiously listening to the conversation gave inward groans. The old man relayed the order and in five minutes the barn was emptied with quick military precision, except for Marhault. Who kicked off his boots and laid down on his dusty bed that smelled slightly of mushrooms. Momentarily happy just to have an hour to kill in relatively comfortable lodgings, he went to sleep with the ability of a tried-and-true mudslogger, totally oblivious to his worries. Rank had it privileges.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Happy Birthday to me.

Well folks, today I turn 25.
Dear God, I'm old.
I always thought that my astrological sign being Cancer was rather prophetic. Turned out I was right. I gotta go in for a CT Scan and tests tomorrow and the day. We'll see if the cancer has come back or not then.
Busy playing with toys and talking with my brother. Haven't seen him in almost a month.
More of the story later.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Berserker Part 27

Selenne awoke to shouts of confusion and panic. She quickly dressed in a plain woolen smock and scampered downstairs. Surprised to see the common room thronged with worried townsfolk, normally only a few travelers would have been there so early in the day.

She slipped through the group with practiced ease to find her father trying to draw from the taps and light the cookfires at once. His eyes, looking upon her, lit up with gladness for her able hands.

“What is happening?”, she asked after sliding behind the counter and setting to work with the stove. After taking time to scan the crowd she saw that every table was surrounded by chairs and people were still packed up against the walls. She could see by their eyes and tense movement that they were strung more tightly than any bowstring. Speaking of which, many men were carrying bows and knives.

“The militia is being called to arms”, he said in low urgent tones. “Messenger came in the night straight through the Bretolian forest as if his arse were on fire.” This remark earned him a dark look from Silva. For someone who worked in a rural area for years she never got used to rough language

“Well”, she asked with impatience born of youth. “What did he have to say?”

Apparently their conversation was heard by a man sitting at the bar, he leered at her, exposing rotten teeth. “Hard to tell miss”, he said with humor. “Him bein dade before he had a chance ta talk”. Hargram jerked the man’s drink out from under his nose with meaningful glare. The man possessively jerked it back with an apologetic expression.

“The man had been shot”, Hargram supplied. “Just a scratch really, but whoever let fly poisoned their arrows”. Selenne felt a worm of fear niggling through her gut as she heard his chilling words. She had heard many tales by the fire from her father such as this, but this was the only one that sounded the least bit grounded in reality.

Selenne contemplated this as she worked, bringing drinks and food. A few moments later the door to the inn flew open, a tall slender body framed itself against the blazing gold of the morning light. The man strode into the room with a militant reassurance, guaranteeing the attention of everyone in the room. As the door closed behind him Selenne could finally make out his features. He was a well muscled man, at first glance maybe in his twenties, but his eyes with their leaf green color told another tale, one of great experience. His hair was moss brown, flowing down to his shoulders, hid much of his face. He was clothed in earthy greens and browns, with a camouflage cloak to keep of the morning chill.

The ironwood longbow in his hands was a rare beauty compared to the dusty, poorly made ones that most of the militia owned. He thumped it against the floorboards to stop the last of the nervous conversation flying around.

“I”, he stated in a clear fluting voice. “Am Marhault Elsdragon. The mayor of this town has retained the services of my men and I to command in its defense.”

With this statement a ripple of murmurs ran through the crowd. A heavyset, balding man stood up indignantly. “Wait a minute!”, he cried. “I am the commander of the militia and these men are under my control!”

Marhault seemed to grow in stature as he marched over to the offending man. His head came up to the heavy man’s shoulders, yet he stood their undaunted, glaring up with eyes flashing dangerously. “Is that so?”, he asked, a declaration of war in his voice and manner. “That would explain why all your men are standing around in a bar, hiding from the unknown like children!”

At this indignation the middle-aged man puffed up like a balloon, his face reddening. Spluttering with anger he threw a meaty fist at the younger man’s head, such a blow would most assuredly knock someone across the room... if it landed, which was not the case.

One minute the newcomer was placed unmoving in front of the bigger man, the next he ducked under the punch almost before it had been thrown. He then planted a broad shoulder into the man’s sagging belly and stood up. Tossing the squalling man over his head and behind him to land on a number of his comrades, dropping them like ninepins.

He surveyed the rest of the shocked men with a calm civility. “Every able bodied man is to be at the West Gate in an hour, with all weapons and armor ready for inspection.” With that said he turned and walked out, his cloak fluttering behind him.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Berserker Part 26

Kyle was drawn by strange noises wafting from the front wagon taking him away from his work, hitching up what horses they had left to the wagons. He was not looking forward to telling everybody that they would need to abandon a wagon unless they wanted to stay where they were. He found Lars, Jarn, and Tyrel standing around the Gnoll. It had been tied to the axle of the front wagon and was thrashing violently. It arched its back and screeched, eyes closed and jaws foaming, babbling mindlessly.

He overhead snatches of the conversation as he walked up. “How long has this been going on?”, asked Lars.

“Started just as soon as it fell asleep”, said Lars”.

“Are you sure you didn’t give it the odd nudge or kick?”, asked Jarn.

“No, I thought we might be able to use it in pulling the wagons”, Tyrel confessed with a sheepish grin.

“I remember my father used to sleep walk”, Kyle said. “Maybe this is sort of like that”. They all gave this some thought.

“Then how do you fix it?”, Jarn asked after a while.

“Isn’t there something about not waking someone sleepwalking or their legs will fall off?”, Kyle asked tentatively. They all stared at him for a moment, taking in what could have possibly been one of the dumbest things any of them had or will ever hear. Then, like so many things that don’t make sense or fit into someone’s perception of the world, it was ignored.

“Then we just leave it to yell and scream?”, asked Tyrel.

“I think so”, Lars replied.

Tyrel glared at Lars. “Bloody hell!”, he shouted. “I just finished my watch not an hour ago while it was raving on about its master, and I want to sleep!”.

“What about its master?”, Kyle asked in an attempt to diffuse the situation. The thing was completely asleep and paid no mind to outer stimulus, constantly contorting in seizure.

“Lot of nonsense really”, Lars interjected. “Kept saying that it must get back to its pack and chanting, um what was it? Lurach and Bellet?”.

Jarn gasped, surprising the rest of the group. His face white as bone. “Do you mean Beleth?”, he asked between short breathes.

“That’s it”, Lars said smiling. “It’s a good thing you figured that out or I would’ve gone nuts trying to think of it all day”.

“Are you alright?”, Kyle asked concertedly.

“Maybe”, Jarn responded. “Do you know anything about this Beleth?”

“I think it’s from that old prophecy of the end of all things”, said Kyle. “Rumor says the story is millennia old”.

“What’s a millennia?”, asked Tyrel. His brow furrowed in thought.

“Isn’t it some sort of bug?”, Lars asked

“It’s a thousand years”, said Millienya in disgust, apparently having heard his question as she joined them. Surreptitiously she placed herself out of reach of the contorting creature and directly between Jarn and Lars.

“Well what about the story?”, asked Jarn impatiently.

“Oh it’s a tale of terrible death and destruction to come”, said Millienya. She took up the well known pose of all students who memorize and recite by rote, with hands behind her back and face forward. She cleared her throat and began to speak loudly and clear as a bell.

“The Four demons of torment, Dommiel, Leraje, Zepar and Beleth. It is said that a long time ago the four demons walked upon Gaia, letting the myriad hells of the world beyond merge into this one. Man was hunted for sport. But one night, a great warrior had a dream. In it, a spirit, the mother of all creation, told him what must be done to banish the demons from this world. Leraje the demon of fear and insanity, Zepar demon of rage and bloodlust, and Dommiel demon of plague and rot were invincible, but Beleth was not. It was he who had the power to keep the portal between worlds open. Without him, the others would go back from whence they came. The spirit told the warrior that Beleth could not be killed with any mortal weapon, thus his own weapon was imbued with the power necessary to vanquish the monster. After a long and arduous battle Beleth was killed, with his final words he claimed that through the body and soul of the warrior’s kin, would he be returned to life. After his death, Zepar, the strongest of the three remaining found that he could not destroy the blessed weapon, but he did place a curse upon it so that any of the warrior’s line who carried the weapon would have an insatiable lust for blood, combat, and death, through this the bearers of the weapon would be warped by the dark powers, eventually becoming their thrall.”

Silence held court over the congregation, some in puzzlement and some in fear. For many long moments they stood there, looking at each other, not sure of what to say. Jarn, his face white as a sheet and his trembling legs no longer able to support him sat down heavily upon the earthen ground. Millienya and Kyle knelt down to check on him.

Tyrel, paying no heed to the stunned boy looked at Millienya, “Where did you learn all that?”, he asked with suspicion. “I have not heard of such a story before”.

Millienya looked up from the near catatonic boy, frowning. “I am the chieftain’s daughter”, she replied. “We pay attention to history so the same mistakes are not made”.

“Where did these demons come from, if you’re so smart?”, Tyrel challenged.

“Simple”, she shrugged her shouders as if the answer were so obvious. “The world of magic, the Empyrean. It shadows our own world and through it all things can possibly be brought into being. But it was believed that the demons were the culmination of the evils and sin in this world.”

Kyle produced a small flask from a pocket and gave Jarn a draught to settle his nerves. After a few minutes some color had returned to his features. “Millienya”, he asked with an air of urgency. “How does the warrior’s kin bring Beleth back?”

She stammered for a few minutes, trying to correctly remember the old tale. “No one knows entirely”, she said finally. “But the skalds of my home believe that the kinsman must be sacrificed upon a dark alter”.

“That’s why I was spared”, Jarn murmured, then passed out.

“What was that about?”, asked Tyrel.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Berserker Part 25

Jarn awoke to the sweet, sweet smell of griddle cakes. Something Gerda didn’t make often, she claimed they were below her skills as a cook. Little did she know they were quite possibly the only food in her repertoire that tasted better after being cooked. So today was an exception. Physically he was drained and beaten, but his head was spinning with the thrill of victory, cut only by the peril in which Seryan lay.

He quickly got out of his bedroll and dressed for breakfast. As Gerda handed him his plate, he heard a strangled whining coming from around one of the wagons.

“What’s going on over there?”, he asked, gesturing toward the front of the lead wagon.

“Oh, the boy’s are having a little bit of fun with that runt you captured”. she replied, smiling in approval. “Serves ‘em right too. They totally destroyed my kitchen, this was all I could scrape together”.

“I think these are great”, Jarn replied, digging in with gusto.

“Flatter all you like young man, that still won’t get you out of helping me clean the kitchen up”, she returned with a smirk. Jarn groaned, having forgotten how much she liked tormenting people.

“I suppose you’ll have me pulling the wagons too”, he quipped.

“You might just have to”, she replied seriously. “Turns out some of the mules were killed in the attack yesterday”.

“What will we do then?”

“I don’t know”, she replied.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Berserker part 24

Bertrawr knelt in front of the chieftains of the Dog nation, his head lowered in respect for the ancients. The heads of the different tribes sat at a semicircular table, all facing him. Their grayed fur given a ghostly aura by the raging quiet fire behind them, he could feel sawn planks underfoot and felt no breeze and saw no moonlight, so they must have been in one of the luxurious longhouses in which the chieftains congregated. He couldn’t be sure for he dare not look up. The punishment for insolence would be grave. Bertrawr fairly vibrated with excitement and nervousness, he had never come anywhere close to the heart of the Dog nation, having been born and bred in what the humans called the Bretolian Forest.

“You have been chosen to be the leader of a great army”, One of the chieftains said in leaden tones.

“But don’t go putting airs that you’re worth any more than you already were”, seconded a peevish voice.

“Arise”, said the first voice. Bertrawr did so, only then seeing what the fire was doing behind them. A single tendril of flame linked itself to each chieftain. One of them noticed his scared expression.

“Do not be afraid”, said a soothing third. “This is our master, he is allowing us to communicate to you over a great distance.”

“What about this army?”, asked Bertrawr.

“Our glorious lord, Dommiel, The One Who Comes By Night, Leaving But Husks, has chosen you to lead his holy campaign.”, came the response. Bertrawr instinctively dropped to all fours when he heard the name of the gnoll’s patron deity spoken.

“You and all of your kin will be branded as belonging to him”, the voice continued. As he spoke a crest formed itself in the smoke of the great fire, a crescent moon being devoured by the head of a giant wolf.

“You will be supplied by His Grace, to assure you do not fail”. A large bow thunked into the wood before him.

“And finally, you shall be assisted by our lord’s contemporaries, Leraje and Zepar, as well as their servants”. The smoke changed again to show thousands of goblins and orcs marching side-by-side, the orcs under a crest showing crossed swords, the goblins under a fist clenching the world.

“For all these gifts and power, we ask but one thing”, the voice said, becoming more animated as it spoke. “You may conquer the world or shatter it, do as you wish, but their is one person you must spare”. The smoke changed once again to show the hated Jarn, sleeping peacefully, He recognized the man-thing from the failed raid.

“Get him to the circle of summoning!”, the Gnoll shrieked. “The fiery blood running through his veins will allow for the coming of a power even greater than that of your master”. The voice became more frenzied and Bertrawr found himself engulfed in the white hot arms of the flames. He awoke yowling in fear, seeing only the comforting trees around him. It had all been a dream. But if that was so then why was there a huge black bow beside him, and the final words of the chieftain ringing in his head?

Bertrawr abruptly sat up, grabbing his newly found bow, it felt warm and not quite solid in his hands. When he looked at it he saw the surface was comprised of some otherworldly hellmetal, writhing and forming disturbing scenes of carnage, brutality, and torture as he watched it. He put it down in disgust, after a few moments picked it back up again, unable to bear the incessant feeling of despair that had swallowed him. Strangely enough, the despair and pain disappeared.

As he stood up, he felt the wind blow against his fur, creating a stinging sensation on his arm. He peered at it, finding a circular brand on his singed flesh, showing a wolf’s head eating a crescent moon.

He had enough proof, it was no dream. He quickly gathered together his pitiful looking troops and pointed them in a southerly direction, moving faster than anyone thought possible and without rest. After all, Beleth was coming.