Part V

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

16.

Two riders raced through the night on horses commandeered from a nearby plantation, hoof-beats and the laborious breathing of their horses the only sounds. Stars illumined their path, infinite points of light breaking through the pitch that enveloped the world. One of the riders broke the silence, his voice tinged with apprehension:

“What are we to do when we get there Orren? You said you have dealt with the like before, you have a plan?”

“I have dealt with a child of the serpent before, yes.”

“Only once?”

“Yes, once.”

“On your own?”

“No. I was but one shield in my contubernium. We were tasked with cleansing a sacrificial chamber used by the red priests of Xarzhin. Not all survived the horror that waited for us below the ziggurat of bone.”

“…We’re going to die, aren’t we?”

“It’s a possibility, yes. That is not part of my plan, however.”

“That’s encouraging.”

A break in the mountain range they had been following came into view. A dense and unnatural fog poured from the valley. Silence returned as the two men rode to their fates.

17.

They reached their destination as the first rays of the morning light began to glow on the horizon. The horses would go no nearer than several yards from the mouth of the cave. Fearful cries and bulging eyes full of terror signaled to their riders that their service had come to an end.

“We walk from here.” Orren said as he dismounted, armaments in hand.

“My posterior has grown tired of riding anyway.” Berek said with a grin, a grin that gave only the slightest hint of trepidation.

The cave was black like tar, as though all light from the outside was swallowed in it’s inky void. Orren pulled the rune stones from his pouch at the mouth of the cave, they were already glowing much brighter than they had during their encounter with the flayer. He looked at Berek and nodded, then stepped into the darkness. Berek watched for a moment as the light of the stones slowly bobbed and fluttered like a firefly at dusk in Orren’s hands.

“You coming?” the voice of Orren called from the cave.

Berek spit, then unsheathed his sword. He looked back once more in the direction they had come and saw the arc of the sun rise above the land. He nodded and raised his sword at the bringer of the new morning.

“May we meet again.” He said aloud, then turned to begin his descent.

18.

Their way down was winding and steep, their movements slow out of necessity. There was but a single path in the cave, as though burrowed out by some kind of enormous worm. The air was damp…and cold. The deeper they went into the bowels of the earth the colder it became. Vapor could be seen mixing with the omnipresent fog in the glow of the stones when they breathed.

“I’d heard that it was warmer in the belly of the earth, not colder.” Berek whispered, his voice echoing in the dark.

Orren stopped. Then he turned and spoke: “The serpent takes pleasure in the perversion of creation and its laws. Some things that I have past seen, things we will assuredly see this day…they are not meant for our comprehension. There are things ancient in our world; ancient and horrible, conceived before our ancestors first walked. To ponder them is to invite madness. My mind and being is anchored to the Sorra. I trust that alone. Do you have something or someone that might serve to call you back from the precipice of insanity should you find yourself there?”

Berek stood silent for a moment, then grinned in the blue light,“I have the steel in my hand. That is all the aid I require.”

“May it be enough.” replied Orren. He turned, and the two men resumed their descent.

They walked for what seemed like hours, though they had no way of tracking time. Hunger and thirst appeared. Berek began to wonder at their situation, perhaps it would be best to turn around, flee this land. There were kingdoms far to the east that he could sell his martial services to. There are worse fates, like starving to death while shivering in a dark hell like this. 

“Ahead…light.” Orren whispered without looking back.

A faint green glow could be seen ahead, almost imperceptible. Orren put the glowing stones back in their pouch, replacing them in his hand with pike and shield. They moved silently in the dark, the light growing brighter with each step. It was not long until they reached the source of the light and the end of their tunnel.

At the mouth of the tunnel was a kind of torch lashed to a pole with crimson and purple strips of fabric. The torch did not burn, but was covered in a substance that gave off it’s own unnatural light. The torch marked the entrance to an enormous cavern that stretched farther than the eye could see. Below a roof of teeth like stalactites lay an enormous body of water. The water was completely covered with a thin sheet of ice that ended a few yards out from the shore where gentle waves gently lapped. Orren and Berek stood struck with awe as they gazed upon the subterranean sea.

This must stretch the entire length of my homeland.” Berek whispered. Orren offered no reply. His attention had been drawn to that which stood a ways down the shore: a tent made of crimson and purple cloth flanked by two more torches and surrounded by bones. Tiny bones. Human bones.   

 

-Kaiju

Part V

The Emperor of Sand is Here

A new Mastodon album came out today. It is about sand, and emperors, and emperors of sand. It is also excellent. Apparently if you pre-ordered the vinyl version you also got a free coloring book. Hopefully they make it available to those of us without vinyl proclivities.

 

I have been sparse on this blog lately because everyone in my family decided to take turns getting sick over the last few weeks. PC Bushi got married, and there were many monsters to slay in…urr… Monster Hunter. I am tired. Orren and Berek will return soon. I just haven’t had the energy to devote the time needed to finish their current quest. They will face the beast soon.

-Kaiju

 

The Emperor of Sand is Here

Trying to Write Part 4

Part I, Part II, Part III

11.

Nothing but mud and bones grew in the garden. It was an open air courtyard in the center of the keep surrounded by sheer stone walls, un-interrupted by windows or design of any kind. Single door was the only way in or out.  Crows swollen from feasting on corpses left to rot peered down from the their perches at the tops of the walls at their next meal chained to the lone wooden pillar in the garden. He yet breathed with head hung low dripping from the cold rain that beat against his body, mouth speaking words that only he could hear:

Weave and Spin

Hammer and Forge

My life your work

Crafted and shaped

Instrument of your hand

To live is to serve

Until upon your Mountain

I am born again

He finished his prayer and hung silently listening to the rhythm of the rain dancing on stone in the dark. The door to his prison opened and man stepped through, lantern in hand. He wore the armor of the guards, dual short swords hung at his sides. Orren raised his head to greet his new visitor.

“You must be the flayer. I’d tell you not to waste your time, that I have no knowledge that could aid you, but I doubt you’d listen. I imagine with a name like the flayer you probably enjoy your work too much to be dissuaded.”

“Keep quiet” he replied. “I am no flayer. That degenerate fetishizes his knives too much to be caught dead with them in the rain. I have come simply to ask you a question.”

“And what might that be?”

“Was it truth you spoke in the great hall? Have you power to vanquish the one that dwells beneath the mountains?” the man said.

“The power is not my own, but I am it’s conduit. Darkness flees at the name of my master. With who am I speaking?” Orren replied, confusion in his voice. Then he recognized the man as one of that stood guard upon dais of the master’s throne

“Does it matter who comes to free you?” The man said as he pulled a set of keys from his cloak. A moment later Orren was loose.

Orren rubbed his wrists and stood. “I suppose it does not, but should we die this night I’d like to know the name of the man for whom I will advocate at the gates of my Lord’s feasting hall.”

The man handed Orren one of the swords that hung at his side and spoke:

“Much blood will be shed this night, may it not be our own. My name is Berek. Follow me”

12.

Berek extinguished his lantern as soon as they entered the corridor that led to the garden and they raced along the damp stone, extinguishing every torch they passed that lit their way.

“I sent the guard on duty away on an important task, an important task that does not exist. He will realize my deception soon and alarms will be raised. We have little time.”

Berek navigated the labyrinth that made up the halls of keep without hesitation. Even had Orren freed himself of his bonds he would have been hopelessly trapped here in the winding hallways, a structure designed to confuse and disorient. They came to an abrupt halt by the a large wooden door flanked on either side by torches. Berek extinguished both of them, then he knocked.

“‘Berek, captain of Lord Zathen’s guard requires entrance. Official orders.” He shouted.

There was a rustling from within, the sliding of a deadbolt, and the door swung open. Orren stood in the shadows to the side of the doorway, sword in hand.

“Who is in charge here?” Berek barked, surveying the room before him. Swords and battle axes hung on walls next to shields and mail, they were nothing if not well armed. Three men sat at a round table playing cards, faces full of shock at seeing their captain unexpectedly.

“I…I am” said one of the men as he jumped up from his seat, spilling ale on the cards laid out on the table. “Forgive me, I did not know that you were coming.”

Berek frowned. “We will discuss playing cards on duty at another time. I’ve come to retrieve the armor and weapons confiscated from the prisoner. Our Lord wishes to study them.”

The guard squinted. “I was commanded not to release these arms to anyone, not unless the Master himself comes down here to retrieve them.”

“I catch you neglectful of your duty and now you are also calling me a liar? Perhaps you would like to see the flayer when he is done with our visitor?” Berek said moving his hand to the hilt of his sword.

“I mean no offense captain, but he will have my head without his direct order. My head is much more useful attached to my body.”

“That’s not what your wife told me” one of the men from the table interjected, causing the other guards to roar with drunken laughter. The head of the guard made an obscene gesture and threw his mug of ale at the offender, then turned back to Berek.

“I will go myself up to the throne and verify the orders. You can wait here with the other guards.” he smiled and started for the door. Before he could take two steps Berek drew his sword and removed head from shoulders in one swift movement. There was a moment of calm as the headless body crumpled to the floor. The blood streaked faces of the remaining two card players stared at their captain in disbelief, the head of the third player rolled with an almost comical wobble to their feet.

“Should have just given me what I came for.” Berek sighed.

Shock turned to rage on the faces of the living guards and swords were drawn. Berek was surrounded for a brief moment before Orren appeared in the doorway and ran his sword straight through the chest of the unfortunate fellow at the door. He kicked the now limp body off of his blade. It was now an even fight but not a fair one for drink had slowed the movements of the remaining guards. A few clashes of steel, screams of agony, and the fight was finished.

Berek walked over to the headless body and searched through the pockets. A moment later he produced a ring of keys and tossed them to Orren. He pointed to a chest in the back corner of the room.

“Put on your armor. More will be here soon and they aren’t likely to be drunk, just angry.”

13.

With armor donned and weapons in hand, Orren and Berek stepped out once more into the dark corridor. Berek had traded his short sword for a large double bladed axe. “We might have to hack our way out of here, this will help” he had said with a grin. Orren’s travelling bag was also recovered. His runic stones were all accounted for, but the flask was emptied of its contents. He would have to find a fresh water source when they escaped this wretched place.

They raced through the endless inky black, extinguishing all light as they passed. Darkness swallowed their path, there was no going back. Noises that no human could, or should, make could be heard behind some of the barred doors as they passed, they pressed on. Neither man spoke a word. Then Berek stopped suddenly. He remained silent for a moment then turned and spoke:

“Ahead is an entranceway to the keep. I thought it known only to myself and the master. Someone else has opened the door. I thought we had more time.”

Orren grinned. “The time for skulking in the shadows has ended it seems. Let us go to meet our fates beneath the light of the stars, the eyes of our ancestors.” Orren walked past Berek and out into the night. Berek hesitated for a moment in the black hall. He muttered to himself as he drew his sword and followed the foreigner out into the night, “At least it stopped raining.”

14.

They came out to a stretch of flat ground flanked by tall trees.  Across the clearing directly in the path of Orren and Berek stood was tall tussock grass swaying in the night breeze. Beyond that were the mountains. They were free.   

“Let’s go before we are seen” Berek said. The began their way across the clearing when Orren stopped. He reached down to the pouch that hung at his side a flipped open the flap. The four stones were aglow, pulsating slowly, blue light emanating from the bag.

“We are not alone.” Orren said with grim look upon his face.

“Indeed we are not. There in the grass.” Berek pointed the tip of his sword at the swaying tallgrass. A lone figure stood where the blade pointed, dressed in a long shredded shawl like that of a beggar. It stepped into the moonlight that illuminated the clearing and threw off the shawl. Orren’s grip tightening around his pike and he felt his jaw clench.

“Rather we’d have run into the entire barracks than him.” Berek said, spitting. Orren believed him.

Before them stood a man grinning madly wearing naught but a small cloth to cover his loins. He was lean and pale, almost sickly looking if not for the tight muscles that rippled beneath his skin, or at least what once was skin. His body was covered from head to toe in ancient script from the infernal language; words from the deepest of frozen hells, spoken only by the many tongued abominations that dwell there. Dark prophecies, blasphemies, horrific tales from the abyss had been carved into his flesh. His skin was but a monstrous scar, a walking testament of primeval malice.

In his hand was a dagger, a black blade attached to a gnarled wood handle. Orren could see it clearly in the moonlight, but no light reflected off of it. The blade was alive. He could feel its presence, and it could sense him.

“She was promised blood, she was.” The scarred man hissed. “I get to keep the skin but she takes the blood, your blood” He pointed at Orren. “Don’t put up too much of a fight and maybe we’ll kill you quick. Maybe. She always gets what she wants. It’s been too long since I’ve had to hunt my own prey.” He grinned, mouth full of teeth filed into razor-like points.

15.

“The blade…” Orren said. “I have seen its like before. It is not of man.”

“I’ve seen it before too, and I’d prefer to not be skinned by it. We have the advantage. Hurry before he calls for aid!” Berek shouted as he advanced quickly towards the scarred man.

Berek moved like a charging bull, an avalanche of steel and fury. He swung his blade at his foe but cut only the air. His opponent was quick, quicker than any human should be. His movements were almost arachnid in nature; limbs outstretched and dashing angularly from one point to the next. Before Berek could turn the abomination was behind him, a moment later and the stygian blade was brought across the armored shoulder before it. Metal and flesh split open like the seam of grainsack had been cut. Blood appeared for a moment…and then stopped. The wound was immediately blackened, as though a searing heat had cauterized it.

The ghoul jumped back a few steps before his now kneeling victim and held out the dagger. Not a trace of blood or flesh could be seen on it.

“Ohhhhh she likes you. Lots of fight. We will enjoy draining the life from you one cut at a time.”

He began to step forward with blade outstretched when the hook of Orren’s pike caught him from behind, hooking his right side. Orren pulled with all his strength, spinning the antagonist around to face him. A sound like metal scraping stone could be heard. The flayer glared at Orren, then reached down and unhooked the pike from his side. No mark from the blow could be seen. Any other man would have lost his innards from the force with which Orren had struck.

“She has remade me in her image. I am darkness incarnate. You can no more strike me down than you can the shadows that haunt your dreams. And you do dream don’t you? I’ve seen them. We’ve seen them.” He said ,curling his lips into a sneer. Then he charged, swinging his dagger. Orren was able to lift his shield in time and the black blade bounced off the woven strands, staggering its wielder. The flayer regained his footing and stared at the armored man across from him. His eyes narrowed and the grin he wore until now was no more. Uncertainty was now in his eyes, uncertainty and rage.

Orren slowly advanced. With shield raised he absorbed blow after blow from the demon blade, pushing that tattooed man back further and further. Orren left no opening for him, corralling him with pike and shield, always at his front. The flayer cursed and spit like a feral cat, blows harmlessly bouncing off the holy shield, ever retreating. They were now almost to where Berek kneeled. He was conscious, but his face was covered in sweat and pain. His eyes met Orren’s for a moment, and then he smiled. Berek grabbed his sword and lunged towards the legs of the assailant. At first glance it appeared to Orren that Berek had missed, the blade entering the space between the torturer’s legs. Then he jutted the handle of the blade forward, disrupting the cursed man’s balance.

Orren saw his opening and lept forward, bowling the flayer over onto his back. He landed atop the foe and pinned the evil weapon beneath the shield. The demon’s free hand raked across Orren’s face. Blood poured down and stung his eyes, yet he remained firm in his positioning. With his pike Orren slashed at the flailing limb, but he could only fend off strikes. No lasting damage could be done to anywhere the text of damnation was written. Berek saw the struggle and crawled over to aid. He managed to pin the other hand of the ghoul and for a moment all was quiet. Then the flayer began to laugh, a cackle straight from the bowels of the demon serpent itself.

“You going to hold me here forever? Why don’t you tell me a story while we wait? HMMM? Tell me of your family foreigner. How are they doing? Would you like me to tell you?” The flayer howled with evil glee, teeth glinting in the moonlight.

Teeth….teeth. There is no writing on the teeth.

Orren lifted his pike and with the butt of the handle began to slam it on the open jaw of  his captive. Teeth splintered and broke beneath the onslaught, howls of laughter turned to howls of pain and the sound of gargled blood. Then Orren reached down into the pouch at his side and pulled out one of the stones, still pulsating with light, and shoved it into the bloody maw of the flayer. The flayer began to choke and tried to spit, but orren held his mouth shut with his knee and his nostrils closed with his mailed fist. He swallowed and the stone was gone.

The flayer’s eyes opened wide and his face became twisted with agony. He opened his mouth and coughed up smoke and black tar like substance.

“We should probably get clear” Orren said to Berek. He stood up quickly and dragged his companion away . As soon as they released the hands of their captive he sprang to his feet, both hands raised to his throat, dagger lying in the grass beside him.

“WHAT DID YOU PUT IN ME?!? WHAT DID YOU DO!?” he screamed through coughs of smoke. “GET IT OUT!”

He shrieked in pain and began to claw at his stomach to no avail. Then he saw the dagger in the grass. He picked it up and plunged it into his abdomen up to the hilt, then dragged it clean across the width of his body. Black liquid poured out as he shoved a hand inside the gaping wound. He dug through his bowels as Orren and Berek looked on in horror, and then produced the small stone, still glowing.

“I’ve got it…I’ve…got it.” He said in a voice barely above a whisper. He looked at the two men before him and smiled, then crumpled to the ground.

Berek and Orren sat in silence for a moment staring at the carnage before them. The words carved into the flesh of the now dead man began fade before their eyes, and then disappeared. The black knife was gone.

“Did you know that making him eat that rock would do…that?” Berek asked, still staring at the corpse in front of him.

Orren shook his head “No…but…I knew he wouldn’t like it very much.” He walked over to the dead man and pried the stone from his crooked fingers. He wiped some black gunk off of it in the grass and placed it back in his pouch. They were no longer glowing.

“We should go. Can you walk?” Orren looked at Berek.

Berek stood slowly, wincing in pain. Then he smiled, “I’ve had worse.”

Trying to Write Part 4

Trying to Write Part 3

Part I

Part II

7.

“Take Alna and as many supplies as you can carry. She has never failed me, and will protect you on your journey. Head East and do not look back. Should I live, I will find you. You have my word.”

Nothing more was said. Orren watched Sara, Alna, and the child until they were  but a dot on the horizon. Two of the horses left owner-less from the day’s melee he sent in different directions. Maybe he could obscure the path of those fleeing, buy them some time. Others would come for sure now. The last horse he mounted started off North, following the path the soldiers had created. Alone again.

He passed fields of grain and vineyards overflowing with grapes. The occasional plantation house marked the landscape. These were no simple farmhouses like Sara had occupied, these were more akin to the mansions in the ancient cities of the far west: fountains, gardens, ornate stone work and windows of painted glass. He passed a few workers in the fields. They fled when they saw him, saying nothing.

Those in the martial orders of Sorrakam were required to wed, and if able, to be fruitful. The bonds formed between the warrior and his bride were indissoluble, sanctified in waters from the summit. The Sorra was present in their unity, imbuing it with power. From this they drew strength: it gave them reason to fight, to live, to die.

Save heresy, there was no crime more severe in Sorrakam than to purposely violate this bond. Sometimes one is taken before old age of natural causes, and while the pain of those left is still acute they can find solace in knowing that The Sorra had need of them. Their suffering has ended. But to have one’s lifebond shattered purposely? Little comfort is left them save for rage, rage hotter than the holy forges at the depth of the mountain, rage that will consume a man and all those around him.
A heavy rain began to fall as the landscape grew dense with houses and storefronts. Eyes peered from behind shuttered windows, unsure as to the purpose of the stranger trudging through the mud and stinging rain. The streets were empty. Doubtful that he would find anyone to welcome him here. They feared him perhaps, or they feared whatever consequences might be brought upon anyone who dared aid him. A people grown accustomed to the sacrifice of their own children are a broken people, easily kept in line.

He continued through the town until a sharp peak came into view through the grey. An enormous keep stood before him. It’s full size was obscured by the clouds, but it was massive, and ancient. It did not bear any architectural similarity to the houses in the town surrounding it, nor to any culture he knew of. Torches burned despite the rain on either side of a great portcullis. A crimson banner with purple trim hung above the gate. He stood before the closed gate and shouted:

“I am Orren, Shieldbearer of the Holy Order of Sorrakam. I seek the master of this keep. I wish only to talk.”

He stood motionless in the rain, face lit by the flickering torches. Without warning the gate was raised and score of armored soldiers rushed out and surrounded him. Orren steadied his horse but made no move for his weapons. He slowly dismounted and raised his arms to either sided.

“I wish not for violence here.” He said, “My name is…”

A soldier struck Orren in the back of his head with the handle of his sword sending him face-first into the mud. He looked up just in time to see the second blow, then all went black.

9.

Where are you?

A voice surrounded him in the darkness, her voice. He could see her face; pale white, eyes closed as though asleep. Her black hair floated weightlessly, like they were submerged in a great black sea. She looked the same age as the day he first saw her. He reached out and took her hand. The flesh withered and turned to ash, falling through his fingers. He opened his mouth to scream into the abyss but no sound came. He was alone in the darkness, a darkness that he could sense, that sensed him.

10.

A cold bucket of water roused Orren from his nightmare.

“On your feet” a gruff voice shouted at him from above.

He came-to on a hard stone floor of what must have been a prison cell. Two soldiers lifted him up and shoved him out into the corridor. His hands and feet were shackled. He was naked but for the thin cloth garments he wore under his armor, his weapons nowhere to be seen. He was at the mercy of his handlers and so said nothing. They led him up torchlit stairs and through corridors of gray stone. The storm could still be heard outside unleashing its fury upon what was now his prison.

It was not long before they came to a great hall lined by two large feasting tables. They were empty but for a few candelabra evenly spaced to light the gloom. Chairs were all neatly tucked into the table, did not look as though they had been utilized in quite some time. A fine red carpet ran through the center of the room to a raised seat upon which sat a solitary entity. Two guards stood on either side of the seat of honor, polearms in hands, staring blankly past Orren and his jailers.

The figure that sat before Orren wore only a large hooded robe of crimson and purple. Below the hood peered out two eyes, sunken behind flesh of unnatural hue; it was grey-white, like the skin of a drowned man left to rot in the sea. The being removed the hood and revealed a head completely hairless. The face was slender with a sharp chin, thin purple lips over perfect white teeth. Man or woman he could not tell by appearance alone. The face wore no expression, then it spoke.

“Was…bold of you to ride up to my gate on a stolen horse. Nothing so interesting has happened in my lands for quite some time. I would inquire as to its rider and his companions but the fact that you are here and they are not tells me all I need to know. You wore the armor of a foreigner. Is it customary in your land to flaunt your crimes at the home of those you’ve wronged?”

One of the jailors shoved Orren forward, “Answer him.”

Orren spoke:

“I came not to flaunt my actions, indeed I wish that I did not have to slay the men I did but they left me no choice. Their request could not be granted.”

“Their request? You mean returning that which did not belong to you? I’m not sure you comprehend what you’ve done.” the entity spoke, betraying no emotion in its voice.

Orren replied: “I know that this land is in the grip of a darkness that has no place in this world. I felt it in the valley, heard its whispers in my dreams, saw what it demands of your people. I came here to offer my aid in banishing this evil. This would not be the first time I have faced its like.”

When he finished his words the guard to the right of the throne broke his stare and looked down at him. The guard wore a curious expression on his face for a brief moment before returning to his stone-like gaze, then the robed figure began to laugh.

“You really haven’t a clue what you’re dealing with here do you? Why would we want assistance in removing our benefactor?” The corpse like figure laughed again, a cruel laugh soaked in venom.

“We have all that we could want! A bountiful harvest every season, surplus enough to foster trade with the nations to the east. Our people are never hungry, our soldiers armed with fine weapons, our power and influence growing every day. And at what price? An unnamed child left on the valley floor every now and again.”

“The deceivers make no agreements for the benefit of anyone but themselves and their kind. The price is always much greater.” Orren said.

“So I should let my people return to a life in which famine and poverty are more than just whispers from the past? Tell me, how is the life of one child too much to pay to avoid the death of a score of children that would result should our farms fail to produce?” There was coldness in the being’s voice now.

“There are fates worse than death.” Orren replied.

The being lifted its hood again, hiding its face in shadow. “I know, and soon you shall know too. Take him to the garden, have the flayer extract any information he possesses regarding the child and then leave him for the birds.”

-Kaiju

Trying to Write Part 3

Matsuri

Drove down into the city today to take the girls to the annual New Years Japanese festival. Was nice to have a respite from the endless political fighting that has consumed the world like a dark god consumes his thralls when they are no longer useful. 

We got there in time to watch the taiko drummers and the dragon who scared my children. My kids are also apparently terrified of mochi, and how it is made. The wooden mochi smashing mallet was met with tears. We did have some good traditional festival food though. I always forget how much I like takoyaki. 
I feel a bit envious of the way the Japanese have preserved their culture after coming here to the US. Would have been nice if some of my ancestors kept a few more of their traditions intact. All I do is buy pierogi every once in a while and pretend I’m Polish. 

I’m going to start trying to contribute to the blog more regularly, and am going to start taking on some of the pulp-reading burden (if you can call it that) from PC, consider this post my attempt at getting back into non fiction posting. 
-Kaiju

Matsuri

Trying to Write Part 2

Part I is here. Work in progress.

4.

They sat in silence while she warmed some milk in a pot suspended over the flames of the hearth. The infant was placed not far from the fire, wrapped in dry brown woven blankets. The woman had removed the silk that covered the child and thrown it in the fire as soon as they entered. She had muttered a curse under her breath while watching it burn.

“You found her in the valley, didn’t you?” she said without looking up from the fire. “You don’t have to answer. The cloth she came wrapped in tells me all I need to know. I’m not sure you realize what you’ve done.” Fear was in her voice.

“I saved a child from death by exposure and starvation. Would you have done different?” He asked.

“She was not left there by accident. They will come for her. They are probably already on their way.” She poured some of the warm milk into a small bowl.

“Who is on their way?” Orren asked, his hands moving instinctively towards his weapons

“The ones who put her there. The servants of those who rule. She was a gift to ensure a bountiful harvest and protection from invaders. The first child born each season is always marked for the god under the mountain. It has always been this way, will always be this way. Those who resist are killed.” She began feeding the child slowly from the milk in the bowl, then she looked at Orren. Shadows danced across his face, his eyes fixed on the flames.

“I’ve seen the look in your eyes before. It was the same look my husband had when they came to take our daughter away. He knew how the world worked, but it was always someone else’s child left to the darkness. He could not bear to watch his own flesh and blood taken away, and so he died with sword in hand. They hung his body on the gate of their keep.” She turned away.

“Yet you helped us. Why?” he asked, studying the woman in front of him. She was tall and thin, olive skin with dark hair wrapped in a cloth. She wore the simple clothes of a peasant, well worn from work. Her eyes were a deep green, they reminded him of stones from the east. He had seen stones like that before. They used to shimmer in the moonlight when she wore them in her hair.

“When I opened that door I…I meant to kill you and take the child back to the valley. Then I saw her face. The soul I thought dead stirred in me again. To turn her and you away would be to forfeit the last of my heart. Death will be the price for this, and I will gladly pay it.” She finished feeding the milk to the baby and took her up in her arms.

“My name is Sara” she said without taking her gaze off the child.

“I am Orren” he said before drifting off to sleep to the sound of a gently hummed lullaby.

He dreamed of frozen flames and the darkness that lives.

5.

Orren awoke to commotion outside the front door. Sounded like armored men on horses; 2, maybe 3.

“The master of this house must present himself immediately. We will enter with force if you do not comply.”

Sara was standing at the door, fear in her eyes. “Stay here and make no sound. I will try and get them to leave. The child sleeps now, but if she wakes I fear all is lost.” She said before opening the door and stepping outside.

He could hear the conversation outside.

“Have you seen any strangers recently? Your farm is closest to the valley, thought someone may have passed by” A stern voice said

“No. No one has been by here in a long time.”

“You won’t mind us searching your house then.”

He heard the men dismount.

Orren sat for a moment in the morning light collecting his thoughts, he could see the child from across the room. The blankets she was wrapped in moved with each tiny breath. He took the flask of water from his side and knelt at on the wooden floor, laying his shield and pike in front of him. The shortened ritual would have to do this day, hopefully it was only men that he faced. When he had finished he collected his weapons, opened the door and stepped out into the light.

6.

Three horses and three armored riders with crimson cloaks stood several meters from the edge of the front garden. Sara was standing not far from the door. All eyes were upon the new participant in the conversation. Sara’s mouth hung open and her face became pale. Fear mixed with rage in her eyes.

“I thought I’d save you the trouble of a search and just present myself. I am the stranger you are looking for. I have what you are searching for too.” Orren said in a steady voice. He stepped in front of Sara. She retreated to the house shutting the door behind her.
“We don’t have to do this. You can just ride on, forget you ever saw us.” Orren said, resting his pike at his side. The men across from him gripped their weapons and scowled.

“You have that which does not belong to you. Return it and we will grant you a quick death. The woman shall be brou…”

Orren flicked his wrist, extending his pike forward, the bladed hook now behind the knee of the man speaking. With another flick of his wrist he retracted the pike, bringing with it half a leg. Blood poured from the stump of the man’s leg and he collapsed to the ground, screaming in agony.

The soldiers to the right and left of the now crippled man stood gaping. Orren lifted his shield and lept at the attacker to his left. The shield absorbed the swing of a sword before the man was bowled over. Before he hit the ground the pike was thrust beneath chin and the man breathed no more. Orren turned with shield raised to block a strike from the last attacker but none came. The last man had mounted his horse and was riding away. They would bring more men next time, more than he could handle.

Suddenly he felt a rush of air above his head. The fleeing rider slumped in his saddle and fell over backwards into the mud. The tip of an arrow could be seen protruding from the throat of the now dead rider. Sara stood in the doorway motionless, bow still raised. They looked at each other, saying nothing. The baby began to cry.

-Kaiju

Trying to Write Part 2

Trying to write

My co-bloggers were complaining that I haven’t been writing anything and was just trolling people on Twitter. They were correct.  I was also attempting to write some fiction. I haven’t finished it. What I have so far is below, work in progress. 

She was in the same chair she sat in every night, rocking gently. Her night-black hair flowed down over her slender shoulder, reflecting the light from the candle flickering in the corner. She was beautiful, just as he remembered. A baby lay across her lap sleeping, partially covered by her hair. Her almond eyes were dark and full of mystery, but they radiated love as she looked upon her child. A warm gust from the open window behind her blew her hair across his face and he began to fidget and whimper. She brought him to her breast and began to sing gently:

These words I weave,
For you my love,
A shield so strong
Blessed by the Light

Safe in your dreams
Until morning comes
When you shall awake
And greet the new sun

The infant was quiet now, breathing in rhythm with the rocking of the chair. She lifter her head and saw him. She smiled and opened her mouth to speak.

***
Orren woke with the rising of the sun. He had made camp near a small grouping of trees clumped next to a stream. They were the only trees as far the eye could see in the green ocean that surrounded him. He gently laid down the shield from under which he slept and sat up. No sounds. No signs of life, just his horse, Alna, and the creaking of his armor. And his thoughts. Always his thoughts. Alna was sipping softly from the stream. She looked up briefly, grunted acknowledgement that her master was awake, and went back to drinking.

This was not the first time he had dreamt of them. He doubted it would be the last, no matter how far he went.
Do not let your thoughts linger on that which you cannot control.
Today he would continue his journey in the direction of the rising sun, the same as he had done the day before, and the day before that, his back always to the wall and the massive gates that separated the wildlands from the place of his birth.

The four stones he had placed around his camp remained unmolested in their original locations. The grass beyond the barrier of the stones was trampled and torn. They only came at night. He knelt next to each stone, whispered a short prayer and sprinkled a bit of water onto each from the ornate flask at his side before picking them up. He wrapped them in a cloth and placed them in the small bag that hung at his side.

The flask would be empty soon. He could always make more. He knew the ritual and his faculties had not diminished despite the distance from the Mountain. He carried out the rest of the morning rites as he had every day since his initiation. A few drops of water from the flask were sprinkled upon his thin metallic armor, helm, and telescopic pike. The words were chanted.

He then moved on to his shield. The shield was woven by the cloistered monks of Allar from a thousand strips of metal, each piece inscribed with words from the high language spoken only at the summit of Sorrakam. The shield was given to him on the day of his anointing. It had been made specifically for him; his name spoken during the blessing ritual carried out as each piece was hammered into place. It was irreplaceable, especially now. He placed the shield upon the grass directly in the sunlight, a few drops of water were sprinkled on each side. Orren knelt down beside it and sat in silence for several minutes. The water evaporated in the sun and he stood up. Time to move on.

2.

His food had almost run out when he reached the base of the mountain range at the other edge of the green sea. He had heard stories of what was beyond. Few ever crossed the mountains, let alone the sea. It was outside the jurisdiction of Sorrakam. Alna snorted and shook her head. There was unease about this place and she could sense it. Dark things dwelt here. She eventually obeyed and began carrying her rider up the narrow path that lead through a valley between two of the mountains.

The jagged peaks watched menacingly over him as he passed through their shadows. The air was cold and damp. Sometimes a wind would blow and carry with it the smell of decay. He kept his pike at hand and his shield across his lap as they made their way. This place was death. He could feel it, could taste it in the back of his throat. Blood and acid. It was then that he heard it, faint at first, just a murmur in the wind. He thought it a spectre or other malevolent entity playing with his spiritual senses. He continued on and the sound become louder, and began to take on human characteristics. The noise was coming from against the far western wall of the valley. He turned Alna and began moving swiftly towards it. If it was a human making that noise, they were surely in need of help. If it was something…else, then best he deal with it.

When he had almost reached the valley wall he dismounted from Alna. He unlocked his pike, held his shield close, and approached. After no more than a few steps he came upon the source of the noise. A bundle of cloth was resting on the cold stone of the valley floor, noise emanating from it. The cloth was a fine silk, colored crimson and purple. A few more paces beyond the bundle the mouth of a cave gaped. The cave was darkness; no light seemed to breached its entrance. He knelt down next to the bundle of cloth and unwrapped it. Inside the cloth was an infant, naked, eyes closed, weeping piteously. The babe’s cheeks were red from crying, but did not seem to be otherwise harmed. Alna approached from behind and leaned over the child. She nuzzled the baby gently and snorted. Orren took out his flask and poured a few drops over the infant. The baby continued to cry and flail her hands and feet as infants are wont to do. He secured his pike and shield on Alna’s saddle and gently picked up the child. Upon being picked up her crying ceased. Orren wrapped her in the cloth for warmth. Until he found a suitable place to have the child cared for she was his ward. Oaths must be upheld. He mounted his horse with the little girl in his lap and continued on through the valley.

3.

It was almost a day’s ride out of the valley. He did not stop except to water his horse and feed the child some paste he had made from his provisions. She would not live much longer without proper food and warmth. The valley opened into a great expanse of dense icy fog. Everything was damp and cold, the sun was but a gray saucer outlined in the haze. Night came and went. He rode on. The baby would cry sometimes when a cold wind blew into her wrappings, but she was growing increasingly silent and still. He whispered to her:

“I did not bring you here just to die in this never ending twilight, but if it be our fates then know that you were not uncared for. They will be waiting at the gates for you.”

He had no sooner finished his words when a light cut through the fog. A farmstead was ahead – some kind of livestock farmer. Alna saw the light and immediately rushed forward with new found strength. They reached the gate of the main house on the land and Orren leapt from Alna, babe in arms. She had begun to turn pale. Her breathing was faint. He slammed his fist against the door and yelled out,

“I have with me a child that needs warmth and food! I know not the traditions of this foreign land, but should you provide us aid I will be forever in your debt. Please…!”

Before Orren could continue the door swung open. A woman stood in the door, arrow notched and pointed directly at her visitor’s heart.

“Let me see the child.”

Orren shifted the child’s bundling to show her face. The woman slowly lowered her bow, and then she wept. Tears fell from her eyes and her shoulders shuddered deep sobs.

Orren stood in the lighted doorway, baby in arms, only darkness and death behind him.

“If you wish me to go, I…”

“No. Come inside. Please. Get her out of the cold.”

They entered, and she locked the door behind them.

 

 

-Kaiju

Trying to write