Metanoia: change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion.
The events in this short story are all set is the world of Martas. Barring any copyright issues that may occur in the names of the Deities and other aspects where WOTC is clearly my inspiration, the world is all my creation and takes place in the same worldline as those in the story: Turpitude.
Path of the Mountain Warrior
Sweet mountain, I climb up your broken path.
to call upon the shrine of the ancient Mystra – goddess of the enlightened ones and those who wish to learn.
Sweet mountain, I climb up your staggered steps reaching for the sky. Hoping to hold onto grasp upon you strength, with my soul, and leave this old world behind.
Sweet mountain, you are the pillars
from the earth into the sky.
The icy air turned my breath to mist as I sung the sacred hymn of my forefathers. Each and every one of them had made their pilgrimage to the top of Mount Tosk when they entered came of age. Doing so would give them strength and solidarity of soul. I was just shy of a decade so I had to take a different path – the path of the Cleric. I knew I had little chance of mastering Ki and becoming a Mountain Warrior but nevertheless, I would do whatever I could to get close enough to them to learn their ways and achieve inner peace. To do so, I embarked on this pilgrimage atop the Frostfire Mountains to sip at the waters said to be made from the tears of our revered Lady Mystra. The path before me grew ever colder as I left the last patches of grass behind me. I steeled myself for whatever lay ahead. Humming the tune of the Mountain Warrior I ventured forth into the blinding lights before me.
The visibility from this middle tier of the mountain was horrid. You could barely see the steps below your feet as you stumbled up the ancient path into the heavens in the hopes that being physically closer to a god would allow them to hear you more clearly. All there was to see was a cold and lifeless white that glimmered with a white intensity when the sun broke through the pale mists and beamed down onto the lifeless plain. It was a painful journey for Bran but through sheer force of will, he carried on through day and night to arrive at the temple, exhausted and suffering severe frostbite. The peak of the mountain seemed to erupt out of the fog and mist in a vain glory. When standing in front of that shrine’s altar, you could look out for aeons and still not see the land. You were so high up that not even the birds would interrupt your view of the endless ocean of clouds that laid themselves out before you like a blanket of white lily petals. The shrine invited one in with its warm atmosphere. Definitely magical in nature, the winds could not penetrate your clothes to kiss your skin and the frost was held at bay. The grey marble pillars curved up to a bowl that held the revered fluid that our hero came to taste as the pinnacle of his pilgrimage.
I knew…that…I could…make it. I…still…will…push on! I must! His bloodshot amber eyes burned with a daring intensity of one too stubborn for their own good. picking himself off of the temple floor and lifting his malnourished body off the ground, he persisted in making progress ever forward to the pool of divine magic said to cleanse the soul from all ailments.
What Bran didn’t know, what no-one who drinks that holy water tells him, is that in doing so, you devote your life to the goddess who blesses you first. As this was Mystra’s temple she was always the first. Absolute loyalty to her was all she asked for. Not that much when one considers how infrequent her summons are. But any who reject her, well…there is a reason that that very shrine water is called the lifeblood. And it is those very waters that Bran currently sips with his frozen palms cupped together. The water instantly starts to refresh him. The life essence of all those who had rejected Mystra’s divine favour flowed into his soul, purging him of all instances of ill-health. Most of which he incurred on his journey up here.His determination had paid off. His relentless endurance to never give in allowed for him to achieve his goal. Now that he had reached the shrine and tasted its holy waters, did Bran have the courage and determination to abide by Mystra’s law, or will his life end up healing the wounds of the next unfortunate traveller to sing that despicable song.
Grand Cleric Anastasia
“My old bones ached to see young Windrider venture off on his pilgrimage. He is so much like his father was. That stubborn determination to achieve whatever he sets out to do. I wish I could tell him. I wish I could let him know about his father and the great deeds that he has done for us. Alas, until he has completed the initiation, I cannot tell him a thing.
Grand Cleric Anastasia stepped softly through the prayer chambers where her followers called out to their maker in hushed voices. They all still mourned after the casualties of the war which they had yet to win. It was almost inevitable, their victory. The chantry had ten hundred templars ready to lay down their lives for those they loved. The enemies numbered no more than ten, but their hatred for the holy city great and their power even greater. With a single blow, the savages could cause an entire street to crumble to dust. The only reason why the Grand Cleric believed in their victory was because she had calculated the precise number of men need to take down a single one of the Reavers and they had just enough to take down them all. It was not a matter of skill or divine intervention. It was just a matter of who had more soldiers at their disposal.
What made matters worse, was that the enemy knew that he would loose, yet he still puts his men to battle each and every night. He didn’t want the gold from our coffers or the land from under the feet of these poor people. He just wanted to see them suffer, making him the worst kind of villain that there was. It is this kind of scene that tempts me to break the oath of the Watcher, but I know that that is something I can never do. My name is Hanariel. I am the guardian angel of Arcanist, Bran Windrider. Last time we spoke, Bran had fallen unconscious at the temple to Mystra. Fear not, for he is alright. I gave him what help my oath permitted, then swiftly departed in case there was a pair of prying eyes watching over me like I was watching over him.
I fled to the base of the Frostfire Mountains were the red brick city of love – Valentinovich – lay peacefully by the frozen lake. There was little difference in the atmosphere between the top of the mountain where my charge lay dying, and its base, where the stench of death filled the stagnant air. The whole city had been brought to a standstill from those ten men who stood just a head higher than the average man. The tongue of man called them Reavers. Tribal lore sometimes refers to them as a Windigo but these abominations are so much worse. Beings that were once men, after countless consumption of the raw flesh of their brethren, become something beyond human. Something close to us immortals. Normally, there is little wrong with ascension. But when man tries to claim it for himself without leaving their old cage behind through death, we find corruption on the grandest of scales. Still, there was little reason for beings such as myself to worry as so long as the Reavers remained corporeal, there was no manner in which they could harm us.
Anastasia, after hearing the confessions of her devoted, moved on to a place of solitude, where she could rest her fragile mind and body and await the inevitable. It was odd, how many people confessed when they thought they were not going to see the light of a new day. I was no stranger to the streams of donations which the Chantry happily accepted, yet why these people wished to part with the secrets they had kept for so long baffled me. Looking back to the Grand Cleric as she picked up her pace. From a controlled stroll to a fast walk and now a hastened march, she steamed on towards her isolated chamber at the end of the passage.
“I must check my calculations. I must verify my theory with Brother Wayne. Check with Bjorn to see if any of the Templars need new arms or armour. Secure the villagers in the bunkers underneath the chantry.”
Her thoughts were flustered, furied and rageful, yet calm. A woman who knew exactly where she stood in life and exactly what she needed to. Being the sole person in charge of 15 000 civilians is no easy duty. It was no surprise that the one who sat in the highest seat of authority had so little time to herself. This was meant to be her time off, yet she worked far harder and faster than any clerk I had ever seen in all my lives.
There was a knock at the door. “Sister Arlya, so glad you could make it. You must take this note to the carrier pigeons and send it forth to the top of the mountain. I would do it myself but I cannot spare the time to walk across the square. Make haste my child. Blessings of the Maker upon you.”
This wasn’t right. I don’t remember her plan entailing anything about a carrier pigeon. I had to take a look. I was honour bound to do so. I tried to slip into the mind of the old woman, but her mental prowess forbade me entry. The younger woman, Arlya, she too had a great mental fortitude that I could not break. The only way to take a look at the letter was to tackle the pigeon. But…that involved birds. I hated birds. I just couldn’t stand the feathered mongrels. I’d have to intercept the bird using some other animal. Take him down that way. If this was some whimsical act of human emotion then the higher ups would definitely want to know about it.
I’d rather not speak f how I got through to that avian terror. It was…not one of my better moments. What can tell you, is that only four words were written on that modest piece of parchment: “Come home, my son.”
The Human Condition
“There are a few things natural to the human condition. Growth, connections and faith are just the three that I am most familiar with. Our desire to grow is the reason why our cities rise and fall in endless cycles. Our wish for connection brings us towards others. And our craving for faith, to have something that we can fall back on, to have something that we can have an unwavering belief in allows for us to be strong in the face of danger. Some men believe in a primordial creator that still guides them to this day. Some men believe in the power of the weave. Others will call upon the belief in science. Me, I believe in myself. Not one of us can deny that we are the product of divine intervention. The gods were bored so they created our lives to play with. Who can blame them? We still owe them everything, that is why I serve them. I want to say that that is another aspect of human culture that is natural to the condition of man, but I look at the destruction wrought before me and I am led to severe doubts on man being intrinsically good.
It was as I was leaving the Cathedral of Grand Cleric Anastasia that I felt the life-force of my charge start to stabilize. Bran had awoken. I broke out my white and red feathered wings and charged up the mountainside until I reached him. There was something off. Something different. In my time surveying the nearby lands something about him had changed when it shouldn’t have. I was only due for my next report at the end of the month, 19 days would be more than enough time to run a detailed analysis of what I should have observed. Dismissing my responsibilities once again I turned my attention to the view that lay before me.
I looked out at my city. The place sure had changed. I knew my pilgrimage had taken me longer than I planned but I had not thought that we would have been put to war in that short space of time. I was glad that I was not there. If I was sent out by the Church then I had the Revered Mother’s permitted to not attend the battle. All I had to do was feign ignorance and I’d be fine. I strolled over to a ledge, below the cloudline, on the mountain face. The winds were weaker here so I did not need to strain my eyes so much to watch the battle. Resting my staff down next to my left, I put my pack on my right and let my feet dangle off the edge of the rock.
The ten Reavers were led by an archpriest. He wore heavy plated armour with grey and red robes draped over his whole get-up. He actually looked kinda ridiculous. This tiny man in massive armour with wizards’ robes? It just didn’t work for his figure. His motions were flustered and his casting hindered by that bulky armour. If he weren’t so afraid of the Templars then he would stand a much better chance against them.
Turning my attention to the battle as a whole, I watched as the waves of purple and silver Templars surged up against the moss covered rocks that were the green- and orange-garbed Reavers that blew away ten men at a time with each swipe of their fist. It was a beautifully picturesque scene. Like the bodies of man were recreating the beauty of a savage ocean.
The tide was turning, the rocks were holding their ground better than the steel ocean had predicted. There was a cry from one of the three men able to hold their ground against the Reavers. It was Grand Marshal Erik, the Exalted. A great beam of light burst forth from the Cathedral I would have to return to. It shone on all of the Templars and gave them renewed vigour. That was that faith thing I was speaking of earlier. Even if the clerics who were too fearful to join the battle could only heal them from afar, if the foot soldiers believed that they had their power backing them up then they could worry less about the loss of their own lives. I mock those clerics and that false prophet of the Reavers, yet I should not judge. I guess that is another feature natural to the human condition since it is the reason I await the end of that battle, cowardice.
photo credit: St Isaacs Cathedral Savior on the Spilled Blood mosaic museum St Petersburg Russia via photopin (license)
The Rift: Gates of the Golden City
He calls himself a coward because he is watching the death of his comrades being needlessly slaughtered right before his eyes. But I know better than that. At this current point in time. He is worse than the coward. He stays out of the battle not only from fear but from lack of care for the lives of his comrades. The coward is merely not brave enough to face that which torments him. But Bran, he watches his comrades because he enjoys watching others fight in his place. He revels in watching Lady Death feast on the souls of the departed. Perhaps I have tracked the growth of this mortal for a bit too long, as I sit here on the ledge next to him, allowing the wind to pass through my incorporeal form. It’s like when you sip at a drink that is slightly t hot but tastes so god that you allow it to pinch at your cheeks that little bit longer, and when you swallow, you feel the heat of the drink warming your throat as it passes down and then, when it reaches the innermost regions of your stomach, your belly tingles from its warmth.
That is what it meant to be an angel. Our forms were not solid. Only in the minds of men and mer alike did we exist in physical form. we resided in a dimension just beyond this one. Think of it like this. Have you ever watched an artist perform their craft? She can create lines by simply adding ink to a page. These lines exist in only one dimension. Yet, even you with your vision so limited can see them. Those things that exist in one dimension can also exist in all subsequent dimensions, and they can easily change from first so second when the artist sketches height to its width. Such as first became second, second can become third by pulling the object out of the page and giving it depth. Here is when the common misconception comes in. One might think that they are like the artists creation pulled off of the page, but then one would certainly be very wrong indeed. The mortal artist manifests immortal art that only withers because it is on a medium plagued by time and this is where we arrive in the fourth dimension, also known as the dimension of man. All dimensions prior to that of man are solely the realm of art. As for the dimensions after man, not even my order is able to answer that one. What we can tell you, is that we exist in the realm just beyond. The realm of life and death. The realm of love and loss. The realm of pain, and emotion. We exist, but only as souls that watch over the world of man. We are of the fifth dimension, named the realm of angels and demons.
It is not entirely as simple as that. There are bound to be details that I did not have clearance for. We, angels, watch over the souls of our brethren as they are tethered to the dimension of man. My charge is the man beside me. He cannot see me. But I can see him. I can touch him. Not that he would feel it. But as the soul tethered to him is almost the same as I, I can run my fingers through his soul or use them to pierce his. My mission is to watch, and observe this young soul as it ventures through the corporeal world and lead him home when his frame gives in like that of all the warriors before us.
War in the domain of man is a tougher time for my world than it is for those at war. All that pain, all that suffering, all that death. All of it shakes my world. That is why we live in a barren dimension filled with nothing but lost souls and the Golden City. Each and every moment of emotion in the material world shakes my world. We, souls, are manifestations of mixed emotion. We call ourselves angels and demons to distinguish ourselves from those bound to the material world. We can appear in any shape or form we please. I, like most, prefer my human form as I would have liked to be seen. A fine, fair skinned maiden with flowing white hair down to her waist. Majestic white feathered wings sprouting from my back so that I could soar into the skies and taste the clouds.
Abandoning my charge once again, I soared down the mountain to the gates of death. The black souls of the Reavers tearing a rift in the gap between worlds. I, along with the Guardians of all my fellow angelic protectors, had to grab each blue haze as they were shot into the material world and then pulled into the rift. Not all of us chose to wear the facade of angels. Many appeared as animals in all shapes and sizes with any number of variations, ranging from skin tone to texture. Yet no soul that remained uncorrupted could change the number of heads or limbs. None of us knew why but only if one slipped into the rift, or chose the path of a demon, would one be able to choose a form of something we had never seen in the material world.
I left Bran because he was the most stubborn fool that I had ever met refused to greet death no matter what she offered. These Guardians that had no limbs to them often battled to help their charge if they were on Rift’s Edge. Sometimes they even fell in themselves, and there was no redemption for anyone who faded into that darkness. With my wings, I could grab all those who had no form and appeared as a coloured haze. The colour representing what kind of person you were. Bran bore a white soul stained black but tainted red. And that is where I was heading as well. I no longer bore the beauty of my youth. The tips of my feathers were stained red as fresh blood and the tip of my hair is turning charcoal black. Diving into the Rift, I grabbed as many light hued souls I could and carried them back to their Guard. The battle went on right up until sundown. All that time I was focussed on saving the souls of the fallen Templars. Giving them the chance to get past the gates. I hated seeing the faces of the Guardian after they had lost their charge. The order was not kind to those that failed in their duty. Deliberately pushing them into the rift. Exile was not pretty for an angel.
None of us really knew where those holes ended up. The beings landed on sludgy, grey ground after about a minute in free fall. The rift closed shortly after. Once you hit that floor, there was no returning. We didn’t even know if it was a place worse off than our own. But the screams that could be heard after the eye of the rift had shut were of those in true agony. We tried to save them. My order is constantly planning expeditions into the world beyond us to try to find out what is there. What causes the screaming, and why can we still hear it even after the rift is no longer open?
Image Credit: Bloody River by Aydan Yildiz. via freeimages.com (license)
Blood in the Streets
Grand Marshal Erik
Wiping the thick black blood of the third Reaver off of my blade I watched my comrades spit on the body of the once-human beast. I could tolerate no disrespect on my battlefield. The ranks of the dead would welcome these skilled warriors. But they deserved no place amongst the Templars. They were tough to put down but they were not as resilient as the Reavers and I had killed two of those already. I called up to Torm in the skies above the battlefield. Answering my plea with a great red pillar of light, he stripped the soldiers of the power that they used to disrespect our enemy.
Our code was righteous and honourable and only permitted injustices to those who showed you no respect on the battlefield. The Reavers, although gut-wrenchingly awful, had my respect as true warriors. The fought bravely against odds they could never hope to win against. Never faltering, always pushing forward. Their only flaw was that they worked in tangent with one commander. They were not soldiers. They were warriors. As the rest of my men pushed forward, the Reavers started to fight more recklessly. They became easier to hit the more their comrades fell, but each one became harder to kill every time another was returned to the earth.
Victory was hard come by. They lost ten and we lost well over ten hundred in each division. More than two-thirds of our forces had been crushed by these abominations. Ten thousand soldiers marched into battle this morning. If we are lucky, we will have the death toll by weeks end. I stood before the gates to the chantry, praying to the gods above and below to watch over all those who gave their lives for their beliefs today. Thanking the maker, the clerics, my soldiers and the city whose walls withstood the siege I set my men to the taverns where they could make merry and relieve themselves of the stress of the battle. I went forth to Grand Cleric Anastasia who welcomed me as I fell into her arms as soon as we were out of sight.
“My child,” her voice is old and croaky, like a rough stone smoothed by the waters in a river, but only partially. “The maker was watching over you and all of your soldiers. He saw what they did and permitted their banishment from the material realm. You feel sorrow, and you feel remorse. That, my child, is only natural. The maker still smiles upon you for doing your cruel duties as commander, but doing it humanely. This facade of yours is growing too heavy for you to bear alone. You must find wife and make child. The kingdom would rejoice at your love.” I wiped away the streams from my cheeks. I was silent for about a minute more before I could muster up a response. A single tear remained about to break forth of my eye while I spoke. My voice, wavering. Fragile, as if about to shatter. “I shall heed your words Grand Cleric. I thank you again for your time, and your advice.” Getting up and placing my helm back on, I resume the facade of the Grand Marshall, “I trust the usual tithe shall suffice?” We were used to this routine often enough by now. I was commander of all the forces in this region and a master swordsman, but I despised unnecessary killing. We had to defeat the Reavers r else they would have defeated us and all we love. We had to go into battle knowing that more of us would not be returning home in order to give those who were skilled or lucky enough to make it out the chance to live the life they wanted as best they possibly could. I had to defeat those comrades, my friends, because that is what my code of honour says that I must do. Like them, in order to not be spited in the afterlife I had to give them a merciful death and send them to the realm beyond myself.
I kept telling myself this as I walked through the bloodstained streets of my dear city. The moon illuminating the rows of the dead as the city guard tirelessly spoke to potential relates and tried to identify the bodies. I walked on home, passing lines of clerics carrying red sticks of lit incense, handing out prayer books to those mourning the dead. Marshall’s quarters were in the Kings Court. I slowed my pace to a stroll whenever I heard the footsteps of another. Slave or noble, I had to keep up appearances when in this suit. Throwing open the door I hastily doffed my armour and stripped bare. I wanted to nothing to do with that armour anymore. I pulled out the drawer I hid under my bed and grabbed my oldest, most worn out clothes. I was far more comfortable in the clothes of a beggar than I was in the armour of Grand Marshall. Sneaking past out of the military wing, I slipped into the kitchen where I felt at peace with my former slaves. “Eriko!” It was the voice of the head chef of this wing, Asal. “Where are you going?” She speaks fast, her voice, unlike mine, was definitely not from ’round here.
I was a native of this golden city. Born and raised on the streets that were not soaked in the blood of the departed. I first learnt to wield a great sword after I found one left in the tavern I used to prey on. It made for a good weapon to blend into the crowds with. Nobody suspects the largest guy to be the thief. I had the most average face and voice. Everything about me just screamed ‘average’ and with a rusty greatsword on my back and mixed armour, I looked like any old mercenary that wasn’t worth the hire. Asal, was a most definite foreigner with subtle and refined features to her elegant, fallow face. Sold into slavery at a young age, she changed hands many times, each of them abusing her in their own way. She bore physical scars from at least seven of her previous ‘owners’ but the mental damage sowed from them all. I stole one of her pies and gave her a kiss, grabbing the mop as a left the palace. Someone had to clean up the blood from the streets, and it might as well be me.
Image credit: Killing Floor via freeimages (license)
We all have our own methods for self-satisfaction. Some donated coin to charities because it made them feel warm and fuzzy inside. Others pursued the arts and unleashed their creativity into their medium. I preferred the simpler things of this world. I simply enjoyed revelling in the magic that was life itself. We, creatures of divine intervention, were still so fickle. Our lives could be snuffed out of existence in the blink of an eye and there was just something about that which made this my favourite pastime.
Don’t get me wrong. I considered the act of battle to be an art in its own right. Crucial to this art is the act of dying for what one believes in. That’s what I find beautiful. The soldiers in the field before me were being pushed back into their city by the Reavers. The two tides rose and fell as each commander tried a new tactic and then had it countered by the other. The art of war was not just a scene of beauty but also a battle of the mind. A war could not be won by simply outmanoeuvring the enemy, but add the manoeuvres of Hannibal to the martial prowess of von Manstein and you get a truly magnificent battle. This general, Grand Marshal Erik, he needed to move his men more. He seemed too reluctant to let them give their lives for their emblem. He was holding his true grace back. He was holding his entire army back because of his personal fears. I felt like a sculptor who had just ripped the white satin cloth off of their new piece to an eager-eyed audience only to have the cloth stuck to the face of the majestic work of art. I would not tolerate this.
The wind blew down from the mountain, it’s cold touch signalled snow. It didn’t feel imminent but I decided to head down the mountain nonetheless. Perhaps I could get a better view of the battle from up close. Maybe I’d stumble into the commander and have a word with him abut his performance here today. I knew I couldn’t approach this like I usually did. I skipped across the river, allowing the sound of water rushing through rocks to ease my soul. The serenity of the mountaintop on a calm afternoon like this, and the guttural war cries of men struggling to parry away Lady Death, were what I found the most enjoyable aspects of humanity. The one allowed on to make peace with his life and inevitable death, the other allowed one to fight with all his might for what he believed in and realise his or her reasons for living.
I walked slowly down the rest of the tattered mountain path and sat on the grass 200 metres away from the nearest soldier. I watched as the leader of the Templars sliced through his own comrades after they disgraced their code of ‘honour’. I watched his heavy blade cleave through them like a hot knife through butter. With armour that weak it was no wonder the Reavers laid such a heavy blow to their forces.
Night consumed the land but the harsh light of the full moon illuminated the corpses of the dead. The storm had still not arrived but the threat of it remained looming above our heads. It was as if the world wanted to remind everyone that with the coming rain, all the blood will be washed away and, in time, so will the memory of this occasion be washed from the minds of men and mer alike. Art is fleeting and evocative. It must be appreciated when it exists in its majesty. And just like so many artists before these, it is their death of them that makes their art ever more beautiful.
Image Credit: Found via google, from here
The official record says that I checked into town a week after that dreaded battle, but I was there for the whole thing. I saw was there when the frail bodied Grand Cleric called down an Avatar of Torm to bless the troops. I was there when, inspired by that same holy aura, half of our men died before we had felled but one of those abominations. I fought in that battle with all me might, aiding the Grand Marshal in his defeat of just under half of the Reavers. I killed two of them meself but let the other soldiers claim the kill. If I took the compensation from these guys then me name would become too well known.
I remained on the battlefield long after the war had been won. I watched as the Grand Marshal gave a special burial to those whose life his blade ended. I had to play the role of a deceased soldier otherwise I would be forced back into the town on their terms. When the battle was clearly ours, I reclipped me bow and whipped out me daggers. Lettin’ my untied helmet fall off of me head as let out the fiercest Dwarvish battle cry that me mother taught me. Racin’ across the gap behind the front lines, I joined the same area of combat as the commander. This was shortly after he killed his men and the rest of his soldiers were keeping a safe distance away from him. They left him alone, fighting two of those Beasts at once. I gave myself a quick moment. I had to understand all the movements and possible outcomes that my intended actions would bring. This would be me greatest performance but also the most dangerous thing I had ever done. I was frozen in me place. Couldn’t move me feet at all until the hulking beast slammed his fist into the ground next to me. Lookin’ up, I could see the commander had just taken a blow for me. If he hadn’t slingshotted his greatsword into the beasts arm I would be fluffier than ale foam. I couldn’t let this man continue to fit on his own like this.
I’m I Dwarf ya see. So I can handle daggers an’ still look damn good doing so. But when the only weapon that a bulky human, clad in full silver plate, has out is a dagger even piddlier than mine, it just looks ridiculous. I chuckled as the fight seemed so much more like a brawl with me brothers than it did before we were teamed up. Grabbing both daggers in me mouth and charging in, I tore the greatsword out of the Reaver’s arm which was about the size of me torso. I gave it one good swing at the head but it parried with it’s black, curved horns. Putting all of my might into this next blow I swung straight down, deliberately lodging the sword into the horn of the ducked beast. If me calculations were right then in three more seconds this Reaver would turn to face the other. I just had to pray that the commander could keep the other one busy during this time.
I swear those were the longest three seconds of me life. I could feel the hot breath emanating out of the beast’s nostrils as it glared me down. The creatures were unusually hot. I’d encountered ice wraiths and efreets before but never had I encountered a creature whose blood boiled naturally. To think that these creatures were once actually human…
Sure enough, the Reaver’s head was raised up on that three-second mark. I had underestimated the sheer might of the creature. I was hanging onto the end of the greatsword as it lifted its head up. I expected it was about 1.75 Gs of upwards force. The next few moments were critical.
Half a second before the Reaver is at its full height, let go of the sword and lean back. Allowing my momentum to carry me up, arch my back backwards and release daggers from jaw. One second. Two seconds. Grab daggers, twist and plunge my blades into the eye sockets of the fiend.
I felt amazing after successfully taking yet down yet another Reaver. The thrill of battle is not something that mere words can convey to ya but knowing that you are fighting Death’s attempts to hold ya is. Well. There is nothing that can make ya feel more alive! My only question was, “How the hell do I get back to the ground now?”
Grand Marshal Erik, The Exalted
I felt pathetic. I had just been completely shown up by one of my subordinates. This tiny Dwarven fury raged his way in here, froze just like any amateur, but then gracefully manoeuvred through the air and pierced the brain of the blackened monstrosities before me after flying through the air and performing a backflip. He wore the same colours as me yet I had no recollection of this freckled fury in any of the battalions that I had direct control over. I could not focus on this, though. I watched the warrior who had just earned my respect ride the beast to the ground. Bffff. The dust settled and the battle quietened, allowing this red haired dwarf a moment of victory. I saw my opportunity. While the Reaver processed what just happened I had to seize this opportunity to reclaim my weapon.
I couldn’t see a damn thing! There was dust everywhere and I was struggling to breathe. Coughin’ an’ spluttering I stumbled out of that dust cloud only to see the commander running into it. I guess we were playing tag team. Me brothers and I would do that too. Two of them would charge at me, one would tap me shoulder and the other moved to flank me. The third readied himself for an attack. This was far easier, only one enemy to focus on. I could ignore the brother behind me. He normally would wait for me, but occasionally he charged in as well. This was one of those times. He charged at me and I charged right back at him. We looked each other dead in the eye and I would slide across the wooden floor and through his legs. Clear shot. This time, I had me daggers out so I slashed below the belt. Nothing. These creatures bore the faces of men but they were clearly devoid of certain parts. I guess they will remain a mystery for some time longer.
Grand Marshal Erik, The Exalted
I felt the opening made for me and charged in. Greatsword out, pressing forward. Individually, we had taken down half of these already. 6 more and then the little ones should all flee. They were so weak that we needn’t pay any attention to them. This one was one of the few that carried weapons. Clearly a privilege among the Reavers. I had no idea how to parry a mace that was larger in size than myself so I focussed on dodging. I shot a glance over at my new partner and he seemed hesitant again.
What was he doing? Ugh. He was waiting for me wasn’t he. Damned commander. I rose to me feet and attacked the beast from behind. I had to ‘die’ n this battlefield. I was not yet ready to enter the city with them. The commander had just looked me dead in me eyes. This made things harder for the future. If I ever met him again then he might recognise me. Meh, humans always say all dwarves look alike so I guess one of me brothers fought in this battle too.
I attacked from behind, slashing at his heels. I didn’t want this guy to fall on me but if he kicked me away then I could use that as me ‘death’ and escape. By the end of it, it was not just me blades that were covered in bile but the thick juice had glooped itself all over me armour. It was actually incredible, their blood was so thick and sticky that it covered the average weapon. The more you made them bleed, the harder they became to kill. Unless you had a constant supply of weapons you would just end up beating the guy with a club!
Me father forged these blades himself and he’d roll in his grave if he knew what I’d just put them through. I ended up taking not just one kick, but two. The second one flew me across the field and out of sight of the commander. He’d have to finish that one off. I’d killed three Reavers. That was three more than I expected. The next few days, I’d sort out me papers and then spread the word of Bartharm Ironfist – Reaper of the Reavers.
Agony in the Garden
Image Credit: Bellini Giovanni Agony in the Garden
Grand Cleric Anastasia
He rocked on his knees, twice per line. Back and forth and back and forth. Reciting the most ironic prayer. Calling out for the guardian angel that watched over him dearly. I wanted my child back, but not like this.
“Angel of the Maker, my guardian dear,
to whom the Maker’s love commits me here,
ever this day be at my side,
to light and guard, to rule and guide.”
I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Angel of the Maker, my guardian dear,
to whom the Maker’s love commits me here,
ever this day be at my side,
to light and guard, to rule and guide.”
I had to give in.
Angel of the Maker, my guardian dear,
to whom the Maker’s love commits me here,
ever this day be at my side,
to light and guard, to rule and guide.”
I had to submit.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to give in. I had to submit. Had to submit. I had to.
He was….crying. I couldn’t make sense of any of this. Bran Windrider who did nothing while two armies ravaged against each other. Bran Windrider who summited a mountain to drink the tears of a goddess for his own satisfaction. Bran Windrider was not a man that I had ever seen reduced to a saddened state in all my 18 years of watching over him. I know that I had just returned to my old duties but I could scarcely believe the change that had happened in my absence.
After my order had called me back in for the routine check I was held back a day due to an irregularity in my ardour. They held me behind their walls for five months before they dismissed me. All it ended up being was a filing error, some stupid clerk put the wrong paper into my file. I was fine. There was nothing wrong with me. Nothing. Too much of nothing was wrong with me. I saw the results with my own two eyes and I am in the optimal condition for those of my like. No psychic fluctuations or alpha-beta wave crossovers. No inconsistencies in my ethereality. Not even any encephalic scarring from past lives or withdrawal from my occupation in the realm of the ‘living’. Nothing was wrong with me and yet I just felt off.
Nevertheless, I continued on. Despite my insides crawling with doubt, I crossed over the boundary line from my world into his and returned. Bran Windrider. What makes you cry so?
Grand Cleric Anastasia
“The boy sleeps now. He is restless but it is only because of the premonitions he must be getting. You were good to bring him to me Madam Ironfist. How do you know Preacher Windrider?”
“I don’t your royalness. I was passing by here when he collapsed in front of me. I just didn’t want it to look like I was the one who knocked him out so I used me dwarven might and brought him in for ya.”
“The deed is noble despite its motif. You have enough reason to think a little better of yourself Ironfist.” I looked down to the pale-faced Bran and said, “You ought to visit your friends a little more too.”
The pale grey clouds loomed overhead as I looked into what I could sense was going to be my future. I was being knighted for a deed which I could not see myself committing. I was not that noble a person to go into the fray and fight for the survival of others. I fought for myself. That is how it had always been. That is how it should remain. What could cause a change in my person that was so great that I abandoned my entire history to do engage in futile acts this selfless?
I watched as the queen in her purple, gold and white regalia bestowed upon me a crown on the upper platform of the royal tower. The storm clouds grew ever stronger and the crowd, ever more joyous. Filthy plebeians, they looked to me as a leader. Commander of the Grey? No way. I must have seen this as the perfect plot to enhance my own status. That’s what it had to be. Yet, I could feel that it was not quite right. I was missing something. Something that I have now that I did not have then. Everything seemed regular apart from my lack of a smirk. As I turned to face the crowd I noticed that I winked to a particular woman who I felt as if I already knew. She was of pale complexion and draped in a bright red dress. She was the proudest in the crowd of thousands that applauded me as I felt nothing inside.
I have spent my entire life knowing that I was missing something, as it turns out, it was compassion. Yet, at least now I had emotions. I was not some lifeless creature rotten on the inside that manipulated those around them and felt nothing for it. I had seen into the future of my life and seen what I would become, but who was that white-haired woman standing next to me?
When A Good Man Goes to War
“Demons run when a good man goes to war
Night will fall and drown the sun
When a good man goes to war
Friendship dies and true love lies
Night will fall and the dark will rise
When a good man goes to war
Demons run, but count the cost
The battle’s won, but the child is lost”
― Steven Moffat
Our race only numbered in the hundreds and all of us had banded together in these three neighbouring valleys in the Frostfire Ridge. Our race was under threat and all we had to eat were the stout folk and the tough hide of orcs. Each party wishing for us to consume the other. It’s a horrible existence, this life that we have been forced into living. Many of us just stay alive because it would be unhonourable to end our own lives. So we trudge on. We fight on. We have very little to look forward to in life but our friendships are dear to us and we shall fight for them. Brothers and sisters in arms, we persevere with our nomadic lifestyle for their sake. The code of the Reaver was born out of the minds of the ancients. We have existed for longer than all but the humans. For like all others, we were first moulded from their like. Now, thanks to the descendants of those very apes, my tribe is the only one left. Far too often have we had rebels like General Grabbox feeding false prophecy to the populous and charging into battle.
It’s been three years since our narrow defeat at Velentinovich. We know that nobody liked to be eaten but that is the way of our ancestors and our culture does not permit it. We tried feeding on more ‘humane’ sources of food but our biology does permit it. The gods have willed for us to feast on the flesh of the enlightened and so that is the wretched existence we are cursed into. We have tried speaking to them in the past but all attempts at diplomacy have failed due to their inability to use reason when thinking of our kind. We would never expect them to let us feast upon their dead lightly. But the alternative is so much worse that we had assumed them to be creatures more rational than their leaders proved to be.
Three years ago we still had 37 of our tribes roaming the Martayan landscape. General Grabbox was the leader of our tribe but when I realised that he was using false prophecy to spur a suicidal attack on the nearby city of Valentinovich I challenge him as Leader and for the first time since the descent of the gods, a Shaman held the throne. I was quick to send out scouts and warn any other tribe of the false prophecy, some sided with the truth and others, with Grabbox. Tribal feuds never lasted long in Reaver society. Two days after civil war was declared amongst us, General Grabbox lay his assault on Valentinovih using the titanous warriors from the Axis Powers. The humans banded together and defeated our most revered warriors through sheer numbers. The rest of the plane revolted and the suddenly Axis and Ally were thrust together to defend themselves. The battles were swift and the culling ensued.
Here I stand, three years later, on the same fields outside of Valentinovich were the fuel to slaughter our kind came after our defeat. Here I stand on the rock where I challenged, defeated, and took leadership from Grabbox. Here I stand. Alone. Confused. Desperate. Waiting for a sign from the gods that I should try and save my people. But a quick death would be best for us all. The winds were against us. The streams around us had dried. The earth shook in time with the march of our opposition. They were not our enemy, but we were theirs. Fire burned in their hearts to eradicate our kind and I would not allow my tribe to fight back. They all knew of the fate that awaited them come sundown. My argument for submitting was that when the next race came about that would be pressured into a corner like we were. Some of the opposition may look to our sacrifice and say no. Not again.
I hiked back up the mountain passage and gathered all of our tribe into the dried up lake. Now that the sun was kissing the horizon the sweltering heat had died down. Gathering into one large circle we bent down on our knees and prayed. We prayed that our sacrifice would be in vain. For if it were not, it would mean that the world has come to a halt and all progression has stopped. If the world would still oppose a minority with such force as it did us come one hundred – no, one thousand years, then people could use our sacrifice as a reason to oppose the slaughter.
Galloping horses followed the cries of men. The time was nigh. Our time was done. I uttered the final prayer of our people. Summarising in it, all the reasons why we chose not to fight. Reciting, repeating, we stood up. Faced our opposer. And accepted our departure from the plane. Nothing good happens when a good man goes to war. I heard my name called out from close behind me. I felt a tug on my arm and, all of a sudden, everything had changed.
Before me, stood a human man, the one that who slew Grabbox. With him, was a female Dwarf, dual wielding daggers, an Elf of uncertain origin, and another human draped in black and grey. Their leader, Erik, tried to haul me away from the fate that awaited us. But I refused to leave my people. It was enough to know that there were others who cared for us enough to try and save us. Smiling at him, I slipped a piece of parchment into his hand. I pushed him away and turned back to my people. “All is not lost!”I directed it more to my people than to the one who would save us all. We were united. We had been given hope. And we knew that we were doing the right thing. The hordes of enemies mounted the hills and charged down at us. The battle was completely one sided. Not a single one of us resisted and we could already feel the effect of our sacrifice in the hearts of our opposition. I felt the touch of cold steel puncture my skin followed by the warm rush of blood out of the fresh wound. I walked on, deeper into the enemy. Another sword, some arrows, a spear. I fell. Not just to the vibrating earth but from the plane itself. I felt my soul slip through the barrier between worlds and was greeted by an all too familiar face. “Greetings, father.” She said as her red hair swayed in the breeze. I had little energy left in even my spirit and I managed to get just her name. Hanariel.