Author Topic: The Storm of Lakenheim  (Read 9960 times)

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Wyndfal

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #45 on: April 11, 2013, 05:31:35 PM »
I hurried to the cornered man to save him again. Together, we slew those beasts and flung them back to the fire. They took flames instantly and burned like two silver stars against a blazing crimson galaxy. But then the red wall seemed to blacken a bit as a shadow crept beyond it. It was faint at first, but grew darker and darker until it passed through the fire ring and revealed what he really was. It was him, the grotesque bat-winged wolf, black as the abyss, fearsome as darkness, final as fate. He was standing on two legs, towering above all but the giant man who wielded that huge axe. From his nostrils two grey puffs were steaming out, his fangs bare like a hundred diamond daggers, white as death. His black wings were spread out to add to his size and terror, batting the fire to enrage the flames, closing the wall behind him. This was the end, the last opponent we had to face, the leader who had lost too many pawns to stand aside, the master who had come to fight beside his last minions. Half a hundred wolves and fifteen wounded hunters. It was all that remained of the whole lot of us.

My companion shrank back at his sight, but I stayed to gaze at him once more, just like we did back then on that silent night. I had changed a lot since that night. I had seen a lot, done a lot, killed a lot. And I had remembered the old terrible dream. The memory of that night came back to me slowly, how we had stood still staring eye to eye, neither going for fang or blade, a strange silence unfamiliar to us both. Neither of us had made a move to attack, and the air itself had been anything but hostile. Why, I had started to feel my serious doubts about this whole pointless war since that night. I never wanted to be part of this battle. I was simply a hunter with a great hunger for glory. Perhaps it was my excessive lust for that which brought this doom upon me, and the rest of my clan.

Upon his dark arrival, every fang and blade stopped to bite and cut, every eye resting on the black shadow of death as he took his slow, ominous steps to enter the battle which was already unfair. I heard my brother mutter things I could not understand, yet somehow I knew they were curses. All fifteen hunters stood alert, each ready to face the worst of deaths, yet none dared advance to deal the blows. The fire ring danced its flames, its shadows long and shifting, its deep dark fingers like unyielding jail bars. As the great grotesque moved forth, all yielded back… all but three. It seemed they never knew how to yield, and it was all we needed at that moment: unbending, heroic souls. The big man, the steel woman and the pale warrior marched out to strike at the heart of battle. They looked splendid as they swaggered, each tall and brave and graceful, their long shadows growing with every tread. And suddenly, they seemed to have grown ten times bigger, undefeatable heroes from the ancient times, their counts long lost in time. As they moved away, their hairs flowed in the night wind, blowing dark dust before their feet. They must have looked even more splendid with their cloaks on, if they had not been burned to burn the red wolves. I glimpsed an angry flash of light on the woman’s sword, a red gleam on the big man’s giant axe, and a white blur that suggested the pale man’s sword had been drawn. The black grotesque roared like an ancient beast, the three warriors answered with their own, and the battle was renewed.

Barehanded, I rushed to the nearest phantom trying to look as fearsome and strong as those three. But even my burning blood did not seem to scare them like it did before, and I noticed my speed was gradually failing, and I started to become madly aware of an excruciating amount of pain coming from almost every part of my body, especially my wounded thigh, arms, legs and shoulders. The worst was my left missing eye. Its empty socket was throbbing like a dying heart, making me wince every time it thumped to stop from crying. And then I remembered what was happening. My bloodlust was burning out, and with that, my strength. Those battered, broken, wounded muscles were failing me when I needed them the most, right when I had rushed to my enemy. And then I remembered again, to my horror, that I was holding no blade in my hands. I did not know if I should laugh or cry. Was this all a cruel jape? My running was broken off when I could no longer bear the pain, and I fell headfirst to the ground, the dirt rubbing to my broken face.

The phantom lost not a single moment to use this to his benefit. The instant I hit the ground, the wolf was on me, with fangs bare and saliva dripping from his tongue dangling from his hungry mouth. But before he could have a taste of my bleeding flesh, a brother’s blade came to my rescue. As my companion swung his sword at the retreating phantom, I was enormously glad to know I recognized his face. It was the same old face with that teasing smile he seldom forgot to wear on his lips, with a big curved nose spotted with dried blood, and eyes that never ceased to look lightly even when everything was dark. Boster. He had come to save me when I could not.

“I hate to tell you this, Jugal, but you really need a bath.” When he widened his smile, I could see one of his teeth was half broken.

As hard as it was to trade wits with him in the heart of that chaos and all that pain, I tried my best to equal him. “Same goes for you, Boster, though I would go easy on my nose. The last thing I need is a muscular lump jotting from my face.”

He always laughed when I teased him about his nose, so he did the same again. But his smile faded as we were surrounded by more phantoms. “Get up. There’s still more to kill.” He held the point of his blade to the wolves.

No, this is not good. I can’t fight without being a burden to him. “Boster! I can’t fight anymore. I’ve lost too much blood.” The words were hard to say out loud, but I said them at last.

He sighed and shook his head. “Useless as always, are we? Then keep a watchful eye on this, or should I say your only eye?” That was one of his cruelest japes.

As he went to face three phantoms on his own, I lay there unmoving, the easiest prey a beast could ever get his hands on, watching with my sad eye how the last part of the battle was being fought. Boster started spinning his blade in a flurry of deadly blows, trying to keep the phantoms back as much as he could. He was soon joined by Yermen, his stag helmet missing along with two of his fingers. They were my real friends, come to protect me from a gruesome death. They danced around and swung their swords at every direction, missing most blows and landing only a glancing few. Several dreadful minutes of endless clashes passed before they managed to slay one of them, after which they drove away the other two to change the battle ground, as much away from me as they could.

As they moved away, I turned to see how the Shadow Wolves were faring with the black grotesque. The monster was charging to them, erupting like a volcano. Egven Rockarm rushed forth with his axe, whirling it around him before he made a final deadly swing. The monster danced out of the way and took to the air like a shaft loosed by a ballista. His escape was soon cut short when Welsa Steelwitch hurried to Egven and did a high jump, spinning in midair and landing on his massive hands, which he held as a foothold, hurling her high to the sky, a human catapult launching a light, pointed pebble. She cleaved the sky and reached the winged wolf, lashing out both her toothed whips in her hands as she thrashed them at the monster. Both took him, one coiling around his leg, the other piercing his wing. It was enough to make him growl like a mad fiend and lose his balance in the air. He started spinning and rotating to shake Welsa off himself, but instead he helped her climb his back. I had seen Welsa ride a Gurrluk before, and it was not something pleasant to watch. She was always fierce with her foes, but she turned to a real fiend when she took on big ones. A sword in each hand, whips lashing in the wind, she fell on the flying wolf like a death rain, her battle screams echoing across the fiery field of battle, a long vicious call dreadful to hear by friend and foe alike. The winged wolf went half mad by her screams and full terrified by her deadly blades, left only with one choice: to land the ground and fight three instead of one. He made a sound that could be the closest thing to a whimper and made for the deadlier ground before Welsa’s blades touched his back. The wolf landed on his four nimble legs while Welsa took another spinning jump to fall beside her two brothers.

“LOOK OUT, JUGAL!”

The call came from somewhere in the chaos. I turned and saw to my horror a deeply injured phantom limping towards me, a wounded beast seeking a low prey. He could not have picked a better one. It was still a pain to stand on my feet, let alone to walk away from the wolf. That left me only to drag myself along the ground with my hands, an effort not without its own pains, especially with my arms and hands in that shape. And, shambling as the wolf was, I still ended up the slower. Soon, he would be on me, helpless and defenseless, with the last drops of my life draining.

“BOSTER! YERMEN! HELP ME!” Those last two words had never been spoken by me before, my pride too deep and dense to let me even consider calling for aid, be it a friend or a stranger. Not now. Not tonight. Not when I was beginning to hope I could see the end of the battle, and maybe live a little longer after that too. That was too precious to lose to any amount of arrogance.

The bloody phantom was getting closer, a mere fifteen yards from his prey. I could look for a weapon, however blunted, but that would seldom save me from a hungry beast. I had to shout out louder.

“SOMEBODY! HELP! I’M WOUNDED!” I cried out with the utmost of my lungs’ might, shattering every last shard of pride with that while I prayed to every forgotten god to send me a savior.

The savior arrived just before the end. I knew someone would, even if it were too late. I just wouldn’t dream it would be her… Terrese. The girl I loved, the girl who once loved me back, the girl who left me for another, the girl who came back to save me when no one else did. I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. Instead I put an end to my pride by pleading to her. “Save me. Please.” I hoped there would be no need to drop to her knees for that, though I was not sure if I wouldn’t be so ready to do a lot more than that.

She never said a word, nor wasted any time. As she walked past me to finish the wolf, her auburn hair flowing over her shoulders, just like it always did when she trod. She was as arrogant as I was, fueled by years of sulking, yet even that had not stopped her from saving her battle mate. Would I be so swift to decide at such times? Best I not dwell on that at the moment.

I heard a cold song of steel on flesh, followed by a feeble moan behind me. But she never came back. I was ready to thank her despite my heart, yet that had to wait for another time. For a moment I wished none of that sad affair had ever happened, ten long years before. Would we still be friends if I had not done that?

Safe for the moment, I looked about the battlefield to keep track of the Shadow Wolves. It was not hard to find them. Their battle was the most engaging I had ever seen. Three on one, every blow a certain death. When Egven swung his axe, the earth shattered beneath the blow. No living creature could ever hope to sustain such devastating damage and return the favor, not even the Gurrluks, as this night had proven it. The big man rained down crushing death upon the winged wolf, driving him back and away, laughing and roaring to break his foe. Desperate, the wolf fumed and tired to go head to head with Egven. That seemed to amuse him to no end, letting his axe fall to the ground to fight with bare hands. They raced to each other like two flooding rivers rushing to meet a trident, and when they clashed, the earth shook. Egven’s fist landed on the monster’s chest and sent him yards way, rolling in the dirt. He lurched to his feet to find Welsa at him with whips and swords. As he dodged her blows and looked for an opening, he found Rhaya on his other side, a ghost in flesh with lightning for speed. He evaded a lash of whip and avoided a silver cut, hurling a paw of long claws at the pale man and growling when he missed. Then came a flurry of rapid of blows and evasions too fast for my weary eye to follow. Rhaya thrust and Welsa swung, the wolf moving out of the way while building for a counterattack. Once he nearly managed to scratch Rhaya’s forehead, but had to recoil instantly to avoid getting impaled. Welsa was less tactical than Rhaya and more ferocious than Egven. She rushed her attacks most of the time and gave her foe little time to counter, demanding her foe to apply tactics to match her ferocity. The winged wolf escaped the fangs of her first whip and dance around the second, attacking from her hindquarters. He was interrupted by Egven with another heavy punch. Soon, Rhaya was facing him once more. The wolf evaded Rhaya’s blows and slowly tried to lead him away from his companions, hoping to take on his foe alone. For a time, they exchanged blow after blow, sword and claw, dark blurs trailing their motions. The dance went on and on until Rhaya was reunited with his fellow wolves, and then the battle went downhill. The beast evaded Egven’s first punch, but fell for the second, grunting in blind pain as he fell. I found myself feeling a sort of pity for the poor beast, being punched like that, surrounded by the deadliest hunters alive. He rose to avoid Welsa’s feint sword thrust before her whip coiled around his neck, bursting rivulets of black blood where the teeth clutched his flesh. Welsa gave the whip a wild pull and brought the wolf to its knees, falling on his head. Rolling away from his foes, he lurched to his feet one last time, leaping high in the air out of their reach to descend on them from above. It was Rhaya who countered his charge by bounding to the air and swinging The End in a swift deadly arc that opened a large gash along the wolf’s belly, a black stream of life painting his trail. When the black beast hit the ground, he made a grunt that was half a moan. Any possible attempts to get back on his feet were rendered impossible as the three Shadow Wolves arrived to stand over him, putting a decisive end to his courage.

What I felt when I saw that was the sweetest thing one could ever give me in all my life. It was promising as life, unbound and unbroken by terrors and perils. It was the sweet taste of victory, an impossible prospect until just a moment before. We had spent our last few weeks brooding over how we might all end up in the bellies of a thousand wolves. But we were saved from that nightmare. We were saved by three valiant heroes who had learned to conquer fear and death all their lives. We owed it to them that night. We owed them our lives. We owed them our victory.

Wyndfal

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #46 on: April 11, 2013, 05:32:33 PM »
When the winged wolf tumbled to the ground, his phantoms shook with fear as their leader fell to his unbreakable foes. Taking no further chances, the phantoms had no choice but to run for their silver lives beyond the wall of fire. They were graciously given that chance, burning as they passed the flames, their howls and whimpers echoing across the broken town. When the last phantom lost his life to the flames, Sulkron (or what remained of it) boomed with a joyous call of victory. Man and woman, boy and girl, old and young, we all shouted as a united clan, too merry to be proud, too drunk to remember our pains. Even I managed to stand on my feet and hurry to my friends. We hugged and laughed and shouted with joy, heroes and warriors each. No sooner had I let go of their embrace than I sank in the arms of a girl. At first I thought it was Terrese, a vain, foolish hope, but when she let go, I saw my sister’s face drowned in a stream of joyous tears as we looked at each other after a thousand years.

Following our calls of victory, the door of the longhall was burst open to allow a horde of refugees come to join the jubilant company. Children came first, three by four, laughing like angels, jumping to the first pair of arms they reached. Older men and women came next, leaning on cranes or against the walls of the building to stand. Then came my mother, young and fair as ever, her smile the widest I had ever seen in my life. Her observant eyes found her children among the crowd at once, hurrying to give us her warm motherly embrace. Yella was the first to jump to her embrace, as she always did when we were younger. When my mother turned to hug me, the look I saw in her eyes reflected how terrible I must have looked with those wounds covering all my body, especially my missing eye which had started to throb again. I tried to give her my most reassuring smile and comfort her while she stood gazing at me for a long moment, wearing a blend of confused and terrified look which was foreign to her face. I felt the need to calm her down by any soothing words I could.

“M-mother, it’s alright… I’m just a bit-”

I never knew she was that strong until she gave me that crushing hug that threatened to shatter every bone I had left. Still, it was the best cure I could ever hope for. There was absolutely nothing else in the world I would ever trade with that embrace.

The center of the broken field of battle was a world of jollity oblivious of the nightmarish hour of wolves it had just survived. Every living hunter danced and laughed and shouted out of pure ecstasy of a life preserved, a blissful turn of an otherwise final page for Sulkron history.

At the corner of the field bordered by the wall of fire were standing the Shadow Wolves over their final prey. The winged wolf had been defeated, but not slain. As I shuffled my slow journey to the black grotesque, I saw the silver glint of The End as Rhaya held its point to the monster’s chest, ready to drive it right through his black heart. This time, the beast knew better than to resist the irresistible, succumbing to his dark, silver fate as he whimpered something that to me sounded almost like a prayer. His voice was oddly soft when he did that, not at all likely to rise from such a grotesque mouth. That struck a cord within me played upon only an hour before, when I saw the dark dream after more than a decade. I found myself reminiscing about the first grey howler I slaughtered while Ulmer stood there helpless and howling for a drop of mercy he was not going to get for the wolf. With every blow I had dealt the wounded howler, I had felt my own heart thump and bleed inside me, and I knew it was terribly wrong. Yet I had did that, brutally so, trying to conceal the guilt behind the impenetrable veil of indifferent years. And I had almost succeeded, until this very night.

After twelve long years, it had come to this old dilemma again, me standing over a wounded wolf whose life depended on the swing of a single blade. It was like I had to make my choice right there, before it was too late. It had to be the wolf or the blade. Ironically, I had seen neither the howler nor the winged wolf hurt anyone. The former had let Ulmer go unharmed, the latter unable to land a single scratch on any of his three opponents. It seemed rather plain, yet should I really do it? What would they think of that, what would they say, when I plead for the life of the leader of the wolves, whose cunning alone in the battle plans had landed a devastating blow to Sulkron. Had it not been for his schemes, the battle would have ended with much less casualties. And here I was, standing over the fallen grotesque, uncertain about his imminent fate.

As Rhaya lifted his sword hand to plunged The End through his prey’s heart, the wolf let out a final whimper and closed his golden eyes.

“STOP!” And The End halted in the night air, glinting silver and red.

When Rhaya turned around to face the boy who had disrupted his killing, his azure eyes flashed with impatience. “What is it?”

I gulped down my pain and fear to make my uncanny defense. Welsa and Egven were watching me with sullen eyes. It was going to be a hard one, but I had a debt to pay. “D-don’t kill him.” That would be a start.

If it had been Boster, he would have undoubtedly laughed at my face and made an eternal jape out of it. Not these folks. I could feel three pairs of unbelieving eyes glaring at me. Egven echoed their disbelief with a hoarse grunt. “The little brat means to mock his seniors.”

He was going to be the hardest to convince. “N-no, no. I never meant to do that. Listen, I only want to say-”

“What in the devil has gotten into you, boy? Is it the first time you’ve seen a wolf bleed?”

“No, but-”

“Even your sister has a more solid heart than you. I should never have squandered my time on training you. Watch and learn how the little cub loses its head, or turn away if your guts are missing.”

This was getting out of my hand. I had to more than just talking. I gathered up all my strength to put myself between them and the wolf. It hurt like hell, but I didn’t care. “You still haven’t listened to what I had to say.” Rhaya had no choice but to lower his blade, or impale us both. Behind me, I could hear the rapid breaths of the frightened wolf. Best not do anything stupid, beast. Not when I am willing to do what I never dreamed I would.

I tried my best to ignore Egven’s rage and Welsa’s piercing glare, and stare into Rhaya’s mysterious eyes. It was strange how a man with his legendary reputation had let himself be troubled by a mere novice, but I had no time to dwell on that.

“Say what you will quick. I’m losing patience.”

Now I need to be careful. The next thing I say might change the whole thing, or ruin it all. “I’m asking you to spare the wolf. I know what you might think, that he is the source of all this destruction, that he’s the one who’s been leading them the whole night. It’s true, but… he never laid a single wound on anyone tonight. He was fighting you the whole time, he barely had time to breath.” That’s it. Praise them, and they will all be yours.

Rhaya was uncertain. “Even if what you say is true, why should anyone have to spare such a wild beast? You saw what he is capable of. It’s too dangerous to keep such a fiend close alive.”

“I can keep him myself. You won’t have to worry about anything.”

This time it was Egven who replied. “Ha! And what is it you’re planning to do with such a hideous creature?”

“I can train him. A beast like him can be of great use to anyone who can tame him.” But in truth, I only wanted to keep him safe, for his sake and that of a lost friend. And a bleeding heart that was mine.

“Nonsense! No one makes a tame beast out of these little devils! You might as well-”

“Egven. Let him speak.” Welsa? So even you can be reasonable at times? I could see a glint of curiosity in her wild eyes.

“There are plenty of ancient legends about men and women who could tame the wildest of wolves. The accounts of the wolf riders of Horrinvale are well known to anyone.”

That seemed to sway them a bit. They kept silent for a while, each brooding over the offer. It was Rhaya who spoke again. “The beast might turn against us, later if not now.”

“We have the Shadow Wolves to protect us.”

“We may not always be here.”

“We can hold him in chains.” Though I won’t like that any more than he will.

“A chain can be broken.”

“Then kill him if he does.” I hope it will never come to that.

“What if it harms others? Can you answer for that as well? Can you take blame for their wounds?”

“I have wounds of my own.” My left eye socket throbbed in harmony.

He seemed to have nothing to say to that. My wounds were too many and horrible to deny. In the end, they turned out to play the biggest role. Sullenly, Rhaya slid the silver blade in its scabbard. His final words were as short as they were stern. “You’ll do well to keep to your word.” They left me with my new friend, both bleeding, both dying. We spent a moment of peace in the arms of each other, weary and broken. His black furs were soft and warm.

As the last of the refugees sprouted out from the warm solace of the longhall, I caught a glimpse of a young girl with golden hair shying her way out of the crowd, her blue and yellow dress fluttering in the wind as she ran away from the mass and disappeared behind one of the other buildings. It was then that I remembered who she was, with astonishment. She was the girl who had travelled all the way from Pleck to Sulkron with a herd of twenty sheep, along with her irritable friend. I had forgotten about that girl entirely, and was shocked when I came to the abrupt realization that, during the whole night of war, I had not seen the stranger boy at all. Does it mean he is…?

Knowing the wolf was safe for the moment, I left him to lick his wounds and followed the girl, limping on legs that could bear my weight not much longer. Under the shadow of the eastern wall of Sulkron, there were only a handful of buildings left intact. The girl must be hiding in one of them. As I shuffled against the wall to a lonely shack, I noticed a faint trail of dried blood leading inside. My suspicions were further roused when I thought I heard a muffled voice coming from the hut. I was almost out of my strength when I arrived at the door, peering inside to look for a blonde head. She was not hard to find, even in the dim darkness of the shack, kneeling over the corner motionless as if she were carved of ancient stone. I waddled through the doorway and leaned against the wall to have a better look… and then I saw.

Huddled against the corner of the old shack, sprawled in a puddle of desiccated blood, a young man with brown hair was lying frozen like a lifeless corpse, his eyes closed wearily, and something was stuck in his right shoulder. I was horrified to guess what it was, and when I got closer to look, it turned out to be just what I feared.

There was an arrow thrust deep in his right shoulder, almost to the feathery end. The poor man had lost a lot of blood from the looks of his pale face. But I don’t understand. What does it mean? Does it really mean what I think? That he was shot… by one of us? But why? How could something like that ever happen? It was not like anyone hated the man or anything. True, he hated us, just like the girl did, but that would never explain something like this. And everyone knows it is the worst of crimes for a man to slay his guest in his own hall.

Looming over the fallen man, the girl with golden hair was all but frozen still, never lifting her eyes from him, making no sound. She needed some warmth and comfort. I touched her shoulder as gently as my hunter hands ever could. She did not respond. She did not shake. She did not even turn back to look. It was strange. I knew she was not fond of me or any other member of my clan. I knew she hated this town as much as we hated the Hawlern Mountains. All this I knew. Yet, for all her aversion, she did not flinch. She did not shiver. It seemed to me she could not feel anything at all.

Many had lost their kin in the battle tonight. Brothers, sisters, parents, or more distant relatives, it made no matter. Everyone seemed to have lost one or two, but there were always others to fill the hole. And we were a single clan, sworn to defend each other in times of peril. But this girl was different. She only had one friend here, and she had lost him. There was no crueler jape in the world.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2013, 06:28:35 PM by Wyndfal »