Hunting Heathens

“You shouldn’t be here.”  The words came from behind me, and I froze upon hearing them.  How had I, nervous as I was, not heard anyone approach me?  Fear rose in my chest. If Thul’s minions had found me, then he had found the others, and everything was lost.

“This is Bloodblade territory, and you, my friend, are not a member.”  My assailant pressed his knife firmly into my back.  “The way I see it,” he said, “you have two options. You can hand over some gold for temporary membership, or I can gut you here and now.”

Well, that was a relief. He wasn’t one of Thul’s, and that meant that the knife digging into my back was mortal iron.

“I’m not going to take the first option, so if you would like to gut me, by all means, feel free.”  I turned to face him and he panicked, thrusting the knife deep into my side. The blade slipped through layers of skin and muscle.

“What are you?” he asked. I suppose he was right to ask, but the question surprised me at the time; I had forgotten how mortals reacted to my kind.

“What do you think I am?”

His expression changed from one of fear to one of terror as my flesh, quickly knitting itself back together, expelled his knife from my body. It clattered to the cobblestones, and he stumbled back. Without giving an answer, the would-be thief turned tail and ran.

I put a hand to my side and felt around for a wound. My fingers passed over smooth skin. Normally I would never have checked, but nerves were getting the better of me. Keeping my wits about me, I continued on towards the tavern.

The Brass Bear was a squat, ugly building smashed in between a brothel and a butcher’s, yet I hurried towards it like it was the Gate of Heaven. I kept my head in a swivel as I approached the door. The encounter with the thief had rattled me; not because he had posed a real threat, but because he had been able to sneak up on me. I reached the door without incident.

The taproom was quiet. The patrons had finished their drunken shouting and fallen into an inebriated slumber. The only unimpaired eyes were in the far corner, and they were on me as soon as I stepped into the room. Six pairs, all full of fear and worry and anger.

“There you are, Althis,” Caliun said. The goddess gestured impatiently for me to sit. “We were worried something had happened to you.”

“Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“So there was something?” Opin asked. He was nervous and twitchy, as he had been since we had been expelled from Heaven. “Thul’s minions? Are they here? Do they know about us?”

I raised a hand to cut him off. “We’re safe here. It was only a thief from one of the local gangs.”

Opin sighed, but didn’t really relax.

“Did he recognize you?” Caliun asked.

I shook my head.

“Then we should be safe.”

“And we can begin to plan our revenge on the being who cast us from Heaven.” The new speaker was Davir, the largest and angriest among us. “Thul must suffer for what he did to us.”

“He will,” Caliun said.  “I have something in mind.”

Whatever she had in mind I never got to hear, because as she leaned in to tell us the tavern door burst open and ten men in black armor stormed in. After a quick scan of the drinker patrons, they approached our table.

“I heard quite the tall tale from a member of a local gang,” said the leader of the group. “He told me that he just met a man who could walk away from a knife in the gut. Have you seen anyone like that?”

Caliun opened her mouth to deny it, but Opin’s reaction was faster. He squeaked and shot a look at me, terrified.

The armored man noted the reaction. “That’s what I thought,” he said, and plunged his sword in Calium’s breast.

I sat there, stunned as Caliun fell to the floor. I was dimly aware of Davir exploding with anger around me, and the other three gods and goddesses leaping into action. All I could focus on was the sword buried to the hilt in Caliun. How was it still there?  Why wasn’t she healing?  Then I noticed the dark metal it had been forged from. Thul had given his men godsteel.

“Get up Althis.”  Davir pulled me to my feet. “Leave Caliun. We have to go.”

The tavern was leveled around us. The floor was littered with dead bodies and the ceiling was nowhere in sight. Eyes locked on Caliun’s body, I allowed Davir to drag me away.

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The Titan

My first real attempt at a poem.  I tried to play around with the internal rhyming, and had some fun doing it.  Let me know what you think!

The titan ignites bright lights in the night and

Starts wars and fights everything in his sight then

What catches his eye?

Ten knights who hold high ten swords forged from diamond.

 

Shouts fill the great silence as they the beast frightens.

They duck his rope’s flight as they hope to smite him.

 

The titan ties ten knights then,

And when his great might starts the cord to tighten,

From great height he asks, “Are you ready to die men?”

The Rock-Eaters

When Idorsus finally woke, he found himself less free than he had been in dreaming. The Winged Whale had shattered upon impact with the craggy island, and broken timbers from the splintered ship pressed him body painfully against the uneven stone. He could only move his head.

“Kovin!” he yelled, hoping his first mate was in a better position than he was. If that was the case, and the whole crew had survived, the violent storm may have been a gift. The pirates were hunting the Winged Whale, which now decorated the highest crags of this small island. Assuming no pirates came to search for bodies (and Idorsus was more than willing to assume that), Idorsus would be assumed dead.

So, the only thing between him and freedom were these damned timbers. The planks may have been liftable had Idorsus had a good rest and a good drink, but it had been days since he’d had either, and the storm had sapped his strength.

“Genne!” he yelled. Kovin hadn’t answered, but maybe Genne would. She had been in a safer position that Kovin, who had been vulnerable at the wheel. Had she survived?

Still no answer.

“Durgrum! Twin one! Twin two!” No responses. Idorsus wondered if the twins would have responded if he had ever bothered to learn their names, but decided it didn’t matter.  More likely than not, they were dead. On the bright side, he was spared the awkward conversation where he explained that he didn’t know who was who.

But maybe they were still alive. Idorsus had no way of knowing how big the island was. There was a chance, though a small one, that he had been flung to the top of the crag with the ship, and his crew was even now searching for him.

In either situation, Idorsus decided that he needed to free himself. If help was coming, it would come slowly, and he hated waiting. He began to move his limbs as much as he could, hoping to upset the logs enough for him to slip free.

As Idorsus was trying to wiggle his right arm from beneath a heavy plank, he heard a faint sizzling, followed by a staccato sharp clicking. He stopped moving so as to silence the creaking of the wood, and cocked his ear. Without other noise, he could pinpoint the location of the sound. It was coming from behind him and to the right.

He craned his neck, turning as far as he could. At first, all he could see was the rain-slick grey stones and the brightening sky beyond. Then a small movement drew his gaze, and he could make out a creature the size of a melon not ten feet from his head.

The creature was the same grey as the stone, which is how it had escaped Idorsus’s gaze. And it’s skin didn’t only have color in common with the rocks; it was thick and rough, and seemed to be as hard as the rigid ground that it walked and Idorsus was being crushed against.  The creature was sturdy, with four chubby legs that ended in sharp, spade-like feet. It had a beak that scraped at the ground as Idorsus watched.

That’s where the sizzling and clicking came from. As Idorsus lay pinned, the creature spat a stream of acid onto the stone. The rocks began to melt and soften under the effect of the green liquid, and when it reached a desired state, the creature leaned in and bit off the chunk of rock. Its beak clicked together as it chewed.

The small creature fascinated Idorsus, and he was beginning to be very happy that the storm had tossed them from the sea. Not only had they lost the hunting pirates, but he had discovered this strange animal.

Idorsus whistled at it, then began to clack his teeth together in a poor imitation of the creatures chewing sound. The rock-eater glanced up from its meal. When Idorsus continued his clacking, it began to waddle over.

The rock-eater stopped by Idorsus’s shoulder and plopped back onto its hindquarters.

“Hey little guy,” Idorsus said.

In response, the rock-eater spit a stream of acid dangerously close to Idorsus’s head. It landed on the stone and began to eat away at it.

“Now, now. If you want to spit, please do it on the wood.”

The rock-eater ignored him, following his spit with its beak and taking small bites from the rock. It chewed noisily in his ear.

Somehow over the cacophony of chewing, Idorsus heard heavy footsteps. He looked past the little creature and saw another rock-eater emerge from what he had assumed to be a natural cave, but he now realized had been created with the creatures’ acidic spit.

The second rock-eater was massive. It was still sturdy and thick, but where the little one had fat, the adult had corded muscles. It’s spade-like feet were wickedly sharp, and its beak like a cutlass. At the sight of the little rock-eater by Idorsus, the mother let out a bird-like shriek and spit a torrent of acid.

The acid splashed over the broken planks, and the mother thundered across the stone to get between Idorsus and her baby.  As she backed away with her baby between her legs, Idorsus could feel the load on him lessening as the acid age through the wood.

He moved his arm as soon as he was able, throwing free the beam that had been holding it down. Then he threw free the dissolving wood and scrambled to his feet, clenching his teeth as some of the acid dripped onto his shoulder.

“Idorsus!” From nowhere, Durgrum leapt in front of Idorsus. The huge sailor had somehow kept hold of his warhammer during the shipwreck, and he now held it high. “Get behind me,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.”

“No,” I said, putting a hand on the haft of Durgrum’s hammer and pulling it down. “Leave her be.”

The mother hadn’t spit again, and had made move but to retreat with her young.

Durgrum resisted for a moment, early still threatened, but lowered his hammer and retreated with me.

“Where are the others?” I asked as we picked our way down the crag.

“We split up to look for you.”

I sighed in relief. “So you’re all okay.”

Durgrum nodded. “And ready to get the hell out of here.”

 

This is Part 5.

Click here for Part One//Part Two//Part Three//Part Four

My Palms Are Sweaty

My palms, slick with sweat, slipped on the leather hilt of my knife.  I went to wipe them on the black cotton of my tunic, and as I passed the knife to my left hand, it slid free and clattered to the cobblestones.  The striking of metal was a shout in the silent streets of Armoede.

Bending over to pick up my weapon, I noticed that my hands were shaking badly.  I scooped the blade from the street and tucked it into my belt, not trusting myself to hold it firmly.

The moon, which had been clouded over earlier, had emerged, cast a ghostly light over the run down houses and poorly cobbled streets.  By its brightness I picked my way through winding alleys.  Alden had agreed to meet me when the moon reached its peak, and it had already begun its descent.  I needed to hurry, but could only force my legs to move slowly.

My heart beat like a war drum, and I shivered in the warm night.

When I finally reached Alden, he was turning back and forth in the alley we had chosen to meet in, flicking his eyes from side to side in nervous glances.

“Great Ano!” he cried when he saw me.  “I was starting to worry.”  He grimaced at the sweat straining my clothes.  “Why are you so sweaty?” he asked.

“I had to run,” I said.  If the drum in my chest had been beating a steady march, it now called for a charge.  It beat so loudly I feared Alden would hear it.

“Shit,” he said, “I know I told you to hurry, but you could have just walked quickly.”

“What did you want to talk about?” I asked.

Alden’s face clouded over.  “The Treasury is putting pressure on me,” he said.  “I don’t know how long I can last before I give them what they want.”

“You know you can’t do that,” I said.  “If you get caught moving assassins for them, it’ll be your head on a stake above Aumont.”

“And if I don’t do it my head will end up in the sewer.  One of their bruisers was in my house last night.  My house!  He slammed me against the wall and threatened to strangle me then and there.  I’m not safe anywhere.”

“They won’t actually hurt you,” I said.  “If anything happens to you, they have to spend time and effort to scare the shit out of the next harbormaster.  Their bruisers are only there to scare you.”  I prayed that Alden would see sense, so I could avoid carrying out my plan.

“Well, they’ve done a damn good job.  I’m scared out of my mind.  I see assassins around every corner.  I can’t resist much longer.”

“You have to!”

“I can’t!”  Alden collapsed into tears.  “What am I going to do?” he asked.

Tears on my face mirrored those streaking down Alden’s.  “It sounds like you’ve already decided.”

For a few moments, only his terrified crying broke the silent night.  Then, he steeled himself.  “I guess I have,” he said.  “I know it isn’t right, but I have to do what they say.”

My heart stopped its frenzied beating and simply fell from my chest.  “I was afraid you would say that.”

“You have to understand.  Lord Jaspin might catch me, but the Treasury will kill me.”

“I understand.”  I pulled Alden into a hug.

“And you’ll forgive me.”

Fighting against the shaking of my hands, I pulled the knife from my belt and slammed it three times into his back.  “No,” I said.  “That I cannot do.”