Sunday, November 22, 2015

Tormas and Valesa

The rain had poured on the city of Serpinon for three days. The hall of the Hunter’s Moon was dimly lit, but not so dimly that Tormas, standing at the back of the room in shadow, couldn’t make out the beads of sweat forming on the forehead of the man who sat across the table from Tormas’ young apprentice. It was obvious to him from the start that the man, Galabin was his name, was attempting to deceive them, but in this instance, from this man, the lie told would be as informative to him as the truth. One cannot lie to a former war mage of Serpinon without giving away some detail in the falsehood which will be seized upon and examined, and eventually have a motive or implication wrung from it that is true. But then the man did not know with whom he was dealing.

“Or did he?” Tormas thought.

“There have been many heated discussions among the High Order of late,” Galabin was saying, “and…and there is growing dissent among the ranks of mages. At least six are said to be missing. It is possible they abandoned their post. But some are now saying that they are all dead.” The man’s eyes fixed on Valesa for a moment and his vision narrowed, but he could not bear her gaze and quickly returned his eyes to the untouched drink on the table before him. “This is becoming dangerous. Too dangerous, for the price. I have taken many risks, and as the risks increase so does the cost of my information.”

“I will pay your price. As I have done in the past.” Valesa said, reaching inside her cloak and lifting out a purse heavy with gold. Galabin reached for it, and Valesa quickly pulled it back. “If your words continue to prove true.” Galabin shifted uncomfortably where he sat. He was more nervous than he had been in previous meetings, Tormas noted. Valesa continued. “In a week’s time Serpinon will celebrate the lordship of Visigorn. Before the ceremony in Madamor, Visigorn is to commune with the Dark Prophet Diaus Eridom and three of the High Order. I want to know who the three are.”

The sweat beaded faster on Galabin’s forehead. He looked around the nearly empty hall as if expecting an ally to answer Valesa for him. He turned back to her. “If you are able to learn this without my help, than why is it you can’t also learn the names of the three without my help?”Galabin asked.

“That is none of your concern. Can you tell me the names or not?” Valesa replied.

Tormas caught a glint in Galabin’s eyes as he spoke and realized they were being betrayed.

“The three are beyond us both. But you are right. It is no longer my concern.” Galabin stood up from the table and as he did the door to the hall burst open and soldiers of Serpinon poured into the hall of the Hunter’s Moon.

Valesa’s glare followed his eyes as he stood, even as the raucous of heavy boots scraping the floor drew in around her. “You have made a grave mistake.” she said coldly.

Valesa remained sitting, her eyes fixed with hatred on Galabin. Several of the soldiers drew swords and held them at her neck. “Don’t move.” One of the men whispered. “Don’t even breath.”

Tormas had melted into the shadows and wasn’t noticed by any of the entering soldiers. He would have to work quickly and carefully.

The captain of the men made his way through the group to the table where Valesa sat. “Bind her hands and her eyes. If she speaks, remove her tongue.”

Two men moved to comply with the order, doing so slowly as if they were unsure like men cornering a wild animal. They moved in closer and as they did Valesa closed her eyes and pulled her cloak tightly around her. The men paused and looked back at their captain, even more uncertain than before. At that moment, a sharp hiss filled the room and then a blast of thunder and a blinding light exploded just above Valesa’s head, knocking all of the soldiers around her to the ground.

“Get out of here!” Tormas shouted over the groans of dying men. Valesa, still seated, stood and ran through the Hunter’s Moon and out the front door, jumping broken chairs and tables and smashing pieces of broken glass under foot as she went. Tormas followed closely behind, exiting the hall just as the roof of the building collapsed.

“And with that single gesture, we are found out.” Tormas said, looking back at the rubble pile that was the Hunter’s moon.

“The beer there was terrible anyway.” replied Valesa.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Vorgos: Part II

A long moment passed as Kadan watched, his focus resting on the closest sentry, an armed and armored corpse which contained the living death, standing fifty paces distant. The soldier was large, but there was no indication of what race he had been in life. Kadan’s fear began to falter and was slowly replaced by a different emotion, that of rage. How he hated them and wanted to see them all destroyed and burned at his feet. The urge to run from cover and throw himself into battle against them, futile though it would be, began to well within him. His fingers began to itch for the releasing of an arrow and for the unsheathing of his blades. He stared into the darkness that was beneath the undead soldier’s helm, imagining the half rotted face that must be there, the vacant eyes of death. His muscles tightened and he felt the urge to bound forward into that one, to cut the limbs from that living corpse and crush the possession out of its skull.

A noise shattered Kadan’s uncontrolled thoughts and he realized Drayden was clasping him by the shoulder. “Kadan, be mindful of their dark vision.” The voice sounded strange to his ears, and for a moment he was confused as if he had just been awakened from a dream and was not yet fully conscious, but the effect quickly left him and he turned to see Sero watching him, a slight but knowing smile touching his lips.

“For a moment I thought they could see us. I saw them starring right at us!” Kadan said with an edge of panic in his voice.

“If they had seen us, we would be dead.” Drayden said and looked back toward the road, releasing his grip on Kadan’s shoulder.

“They are watching us.” Sero said suddenly. “Three of them are staring at us now.”

Drayden narrowed his eyes and looked closely at the nearest sentries. One had his head turned toward them and Drayden could feel his gaze. He met the gaze but the sentry remained still, unmoved by the knowledge of their presence while behind him a force enumerable continued their march equally apathetic.  

Drayden wondered at that and for a moment all three were mesmerized by the sight of the enemy passing in front of them. “Get your wits. A scythe commander must be close by!” Drayden said, guessing the cause of their continued stupefaction. “Let’s move back to the forest before one of them decides to send some of those rottens over here!” These words seemed to bring Sero and Kadan out of their daze with a start, and the three men moved low and slow towards the edge of the wood, watching as the sentries disappeared into the darkness behind them.

As they reached the edge of the woods, sounds of chaos broke out behind them on the road. Guttural shouts and the snorting and stomping of the massive draft animals filled the air, along with the noise of soldiers moving into position. The commotion was then followed by a woman’s scream. This last froze them in their tracks and they turned swiftly around but could see nothing beyond the embankment of earth they had just come from. Drayden and Sero nocked arrows and readied themselves to see Arisen moving in the darkness. There was silence, and then an explosion of light filled the night sky and shook the ground around them. For an instant they could see two cloaked figures standing at the origin of the blast near the center of the road. At their feet nearly a half scythe Arisen lay prone, leveled by the power of the blast.

They were all momentarily blind and stunned. “Run!” said Sero, and the three bolted into the edge of the wood.

“Return and rally the pack.” Drayden said to Kadan. “Sero and I will lead them toward the river. Tell the men we make for the Felnath. Go!” Drayden said this last with a shove to Kadan’s back. Kadan took several steps forward then turned to find Drayden and Sero already lost to the darkness. He turned back to the woods and started to run north towards the rest of the pack with all the speed he had.

Drayden and Sero ran west, skirting the edge of the forest for a short distance before spotting a breakaway company of Arisen close behind them leaving the road and advancing toward the forest.

The two Vorgos melded into an outcropping of pines and watched as the company of Arisen moved passed where they were hidden, waiting until the last undead in the group had entered the edge of the wood. “They have lost us already.” said Sero. “We should head off the pack then move in together to attack from the rear.”

“No,” replied Drayden, “It’s not us they are after. That explosion on the road was …someone else was there on the far side of the road! They must have headed into the Ghostwood. Look!” He pointed to a double set of barely visible tracks left behind in a patch of soft sand exposed beneath the roots of a wind felled pine. One set was unusually small, like those of a child, and the other set was that of a narrow boot, not like the wide, heavy boots worn by the Arisen.

Sero studied the tracks for a moment, confusion contorting his face. There are no other Vorgos patrols around and we left the pack behind on the mountain. And that light!” said Sero.

“I don’t know. No Vorgos would leave tracks like that, and one set is to small. Clumsy.” said Drayden. “Whoever it is they have entered our lands and if they were careless enough to leave behind those tracks we should have no problem finding them, but first we should remind those rottens why they should come all or else they should stick to the road.”

“What if they have a scythe commander with them? Or even a Goust!” said Sero nervously. “That would explain that light.”

“Let’s pray they don’t. It looks like it is only a search party, maybe twenty strong. Nothing we can’t handle if the pack finds us.” said Drayden.

They darted deeper into the wood while behind them on the road the Arisen army had resumed the march east as if nothing had happened in the short moments before. They easily followed the path left by the Arisen. Trees and limbs slashed with scythe swords and plants smashed under heavy boots marked the way clearly, and their sharp eyes were quick to find evidence of the Arisen’s quarry as well.

They took to a hidden path that traversed the foothills in a northwest direction, this lending speed to their travel and crossing the Arisen’s haphazard path several times. Soon they heard the sound of breaking limbs and the slash of swords. Several of the Arisen had broken off from the main company and were spread out, each one hacking at the underbrush. Drayden and Sero paused only long enough to take in their surroundings. In the next instant Drayden had his blades in his hands and was upon the first one. With two strokes he cut the undead warrior's head from his body and it toppled to the ground, never having seen his attacker. Sero’s bow sang and two arrows pierced two other Arisen who fell to the ground while clawing at the broken shafts which burned the deathly pale flesh of their targets black. Drayden was quickly upon them beheading the writhing corpses. A few more Arisen appeared and joined those remaining and together they charged forward at the two Vorgos. Sero flew two arrows, catching one of the Arisen in the face through an opening in his helm, the second deflected harmlessly off a quickly raised shield. Sero’s blades appeared in his hands and he dove away just in time to avoid the hulking mass of two of the soldiers, who stumbled and fell after the black clad visage they had lunged for transformed into empty space. Sero was on his feet again and was upon them in an instant cutting the head from the shoulders of the one with the arrow buried in its face. The other, still on the ground swung out his sword and caught Sero at the wrists with the back of the blade, knocking Sero’s blades clear of his hands. Sero rolled to the side while stripping the decapitated one’s sword from its hand and stood just as the Arisen pushed itself up off the ground. Sero brought the scythe sword down with a single ghastly blow to the back of the undead soldier’s neck, leaving its head attached by only a few sinews of decaying flesh.
 
Drayden met the charge of a second pair and left a blade protruding from the throat of one before being slammed sideways into the trunk of a young aspen which snapped from the force. He leapt up just as the scythe sword of the second stabbed the ground where he had landed and he swung his blade horizontally but met only the armor of the Arisen’s forearm. The undead soldier shifted to one side and brought his shield around knocking Drayden into the path of the other Arisen’s stabbing blade, Drayden’s own blade still protruding from his neck. Drayden took a half step to the side and the point of the soldier’s scythe sword missed but its edge grazed his leather armor at the ribs, and as the thrust took the Arisen a step past him, Drayden reached out and gripped the hilt of his protruding blade and pulled it around in a half circle, halfway tearing the soldier’s head from his neck, which fell to one side of the body before the body collapsed to the ground limply.

“More will come this way. We have to get ahead of them.” Drayden said.

“I nearly lost my hands just now.” said Sero, sheathing his short swords and rubbing his wrists. “A turn of a blade and I would have lost them. Sometimes it’s better to have luck on your side than skill!”

Drayden touched his ribs where the scythe sword had grazed him and felt the wetness of blood. “Better to have both.” Drayden said.

A crash of steel and splintering wood brought a larger group of Arisen into view ahead. Drayden and Sero had arrows nocked in an instant and the twang of their bows brought two to their knees. The rest charged after them, plowing through the dense underbrush with their shields raised. “Move!” Drayden said and they fled deeper into the forest, readying arrows as they ran.

They made their way back to the hidden path, choosing speed over following their quarries tracks directly, knowing that unless the cloaked figures were indeed some lost patrol of Vorgos, they would likely follow the game trails that led eventually to the Felnath on the narrow routes that cut through the woods to the river. They ran swiftly, unhindered by the night, hearing the movement of Arisen all around them. A dark shadow crossed before them on the path ahead and Drayden came to a stop. “Something crossed the path. Head to the left.” Drayden said and they cut off the hidden path and moved through the close growing trees until they came to a different hidden path. They followed this and it led them north toward the mountain and came to an end at the base of a cliff. This they followed around to the west until it ended at a scree field which flowed down the side of a short ridge and ended in a broken tangle of uprooted tree trunks.

“There!” said Drayden, spotting the opening to a path at the other side of the scree between two pines. He took one step forward and Sero caught him by the arm.

“Look.” Sero said. Something moved near the opening but was gone as quickly as it had come. “There is something sinister at work here. There is no way whatever crossed our path back there should they have made it to the other side of the scree already.”
“Maybe it was another pack after all.” said Drayden.

 Drayden slung his bow and drew his blades from the sheaths at the small of his back. They sprang across the talus, deftly navigating across the tops of the razor like rocks. They reached the other side and Drayden peered into darkness. Hands reached out and grabbed him by the shoulders and he drew back his blades to strike. “Drayden!” said a voice and Drayden recognized Kadan’s face.

“Someone with that ugly of a mug should be more careful who he grabs in the dark.” Sero said, closely behind Drayden. Drayden’s eyes moved downward and Kadan’s followed. The points of Drayden’s blades were stayed a fingernail’s width from Kadan’s guts. Kadan’s face went pale and he quickly stepped back. The rest of the Vorgos stepped out of the shadows behind Kadan.

“I see you found the pack.” Drayden said. “A company of Arisen broke off from the army now marching on the road. There are at least ten not far behind us.”

“We know,” Travos said, “There is another group of ‘em just a little further west. When Kadan found us we followed a path directly here. We were about to follow ‘em when you showed up. Must have been right in front of ya.”

“Let’s take care of the group behind us first.” Drayden said. “Move up where we can take advantage of this scree.”

The pack moved a short distance up the mountain side, keeping the talus to the right and stayed hidden within the trees. Soon a group of Arisen emerged from the other side of the scree field where Drayden and Sero had moments before appeared. The Vorgos watched as they slowly started to pick their way across the treacherous avalanche of rock, waiting until the moment the undead soldiers had traversed half way across the talus before moving out from the trees and firing several volleys of arrows down upon them. Many of the arrows were deflected by the thick armor and shields of the Arisen, who were more heavily armored than the parties of Raiders who usually ventured into Banor Aden. The Vorgos soon ceased firing arrows and picked up and hurled the talus at their feet with great effect, smashing and crippling the soldiers, knocking several off their feet and sending them tumbling down the field to be broken and impaled on the rocks at the bottom. The rest were immobilized and easily dispatched where they had fallen.

“What are their kinds?” asked Travos.

“Looks like Reavers mostly. A couple Slayers. Very old ones probably.” Drayden said. He bent to wipe the gore off his blades on the befouled tabard of a slain undead. “On the road we saw a blast of light. Maybe a few Gaust with them? Me and Sero already slew a few back there but we didn’t stop to take a look.”

“Casters! So that’s what that flash of light was. We saw it from the ridge, bright as lightning. But why did they leave the road and go into the woods?”

“They are after someone, or something. We found tracks back near the road heading north. Likely as not they will follow one of the old game trails out that way and it will lead them straight to the river.” said Drayden.

“Whoever it is, let’s get ‘em before the rottens do. They can leave a damn vile mess of things and they’ll carry ‘em off before we can figure out who it was.” Said Travos. “But if they pass out of Helyen and go into the Ghostwood and the rottens follow ‘em in there then for sure they’ll have a scythe commander with ‘em. It would take their master’s sword at their back to drive ‘em in there. They fear the Adona more than the enchantments of the Kynar or anything else we can do to ‘em.” Said Travos.

“Then let’s aim to change that.” said Sero. “Kadan, you best be especially careful if we go in there. She likes young initiates best.”

Kadan’s eyes went wide with fear.

“Break into your rize,” Drayden said, “Sero you take the left flank and Travos you take the right. Stay uphill where you can.”

At Drayden’s command the company split into the three-five man units which made up the packs component units, with Sero and Travos each serving as the captains of their units and Drayden leading the third. Drayden traded out his rize’s runner, a man named Kale, for Kadan who was Travos’ runner. The rizes separated and took positions relative to one another, keeping a hundred yards distance between them. The men of each rize were likewise spread out, side-by-side maintaining several yards between each man.
Drayden held a moment to give Kadan a few words of instruction on which position to keep in the line.

“When we move, you move along side us, but keep your eyes on the forest ahead as much as you can.” Drayden said. “Try to maintain your position relative the man next to you in the formation.

“Why are we spread out like this?” the initiate whispered.

 “You can move with barely a noticeable track left behind you, right?” Kadan agreed. “But bend a stalk, a leaf, or a branch fifteen times and a blind man can discern your path. It’s easier to hide your movements from the Arisen behind you when fourteen others aren’t stepping in your same tracks.” Drayden said.

“Why not just use the hidden paths?” asked Kadan.

“A path won’t help us track quarry, unless they happen to cross a path. They are hidden from the eyes of the Enemy, so they will never follow one intentionally, and if they happen upon a path, they wouldn’t see it for what it is and it would soon be lost to them. The Hidden Paths let us move about Banor Aden when we know where we want to go. But in battle we know not what path the Enemy will choose or where it will lead. So we hunt.”

Kadan nodded, though not fully grasping the depth of experience that was contained in Drayden’s words. His knowledge of stalking and tracking was informed only by his experiences hunting deer in the Clan Lands and playing games of hide and seek in the forest as a child. He had never had to think of the movement of anyone but himself, and never before had he felt himself the hunter and the deer.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Of Prophecy

Like a rumor it will come, amidst tidings of war. Alliances will falter and enemies will multiply. What price is there to be paid?

His coming will be a black omen for the world. For in those times darkness long held back will be loosed, and with it death and war. For in those days the rulers of the earth will be caught in the tempest coming from the East but they will not perceive that they are caught. And though a sign and a herald shall bear witness to the coming dark just as the Evening Star shines before the fall of night, they will instead cast blinded eyes longingly upon the desecrated ground and in so doing act as a portent of the sinister power that will come into that place.

Look not to the West for salvation for the Darkness comes as a tribulation for them. Nor to the South, for there reside the unbelievers who because they were deceived did not stand with their brothers in judgment. Neither to the North for from there will come not a savior but a warning, and not one drop of blood of the Undying will be spilled for the sake of the West.
But when you see such signs, look, for from the East will come forth the Forsaken. They are a sword forged by the hand of the Lord of Lies.

He has been long at its making and in his hottest forge did it take shape. The dross has been purged and by his hammer the weakness has been driven out. In the River of Death it has been quenched and time itself has honed its edge.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Varis Gorm


Varis Gorm was a character I created for an alternate story line that takes place several years before the events in The Vorgos: Part I on a large continent directly south of Gamoth called Kosakothos. This part of the story follows the exiled mage Tormas on his adventures throughout that land. Varis Gorm was the high priest of one of the more powerful cults that inhabited Kosakothos after the fall of the Great Kingdoms. Varis Gorm's bloodlust and wickedness was overshadowed only by the power he held over his followers.

Sketch was done by my younger brother. Please see his gallery here.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Vorgos: Part I

It was evening. On the southern slopes of Banor Aden a company of thirteen soldiers lay prone in the waning daylight upon an escarpment of black and barren rock. From that vantage, which overlooked the thickly forested Woods of Helyen and the ancient Blood Road beyond, they spied with keen eyes a great caravan of wagons pulled by massive and grotesque beasts, and soldiers in marching formation on the road. The thirteen men had lain still for an hour, watching and waiting for the return of two members of their party who had been sent to spy more closely on the road.

The leader of the group, a man named Drayden, watched intently from the edge of the escarpment, scanning the forest below for any movement. The woods stretched north from high upon the brow of the mountains behind them down south past the foothills and several miles more to the ancient Blood Road, which snaked its way from east to west along the southern edge of the woods and divided the Woods of Helyen from the forest of Felatra away to the south.

“They should be close to the road by now,” Drayden thought as he watched the unending train issuing out of the coming night in the east. Of the two men whom Drayden had sent ahead, one was an initiate named Kaydan. He was young and eager to learn, and though he was still in the early stages of his training to become a guardian of the mountain, a Vorgos of the Kynarken, he showed great skill with both bow and blade.

Along with the initiate went his mentor, and Drayden’s second-in-command, the man named Sero. Sero was a surly and seasoned veteran of the Vorgos, equal in age to Drayden, though more cunning and quick to anger. He had taken Kadan in his charge, though not willingly at first, and Drayden thought now what an excellent choice he had been as mentor. Sero was very skilled in stealthful travel, and this exercise would prove a suitable test of Kadan’s abilities.
    
Another hour soon passed and the red sun fused with the horizon and disappeared below it. The thirteen men waited, still motionless, still silent and the darkness in the east slowly seeped out over the entire valley, leaving a blanket of stars in its wake. It was autumn, and the chill winds from the north had began to blow crisp and cold, but the fell air which had slowly crept into the forest from the west since spring and had gathered upon the western slopes of Banor Aden over the course of summer, remained unchecked by the change of season, and now tendrils of the foul smoke passed the banks of the Felnath and wisps slowly drifted into the Woods of Helyen.

Drayden slowly pulled the fur lined hood of his cloak lower on his brow to dispel the brisk cold. He adjusted the covering worn about his nose and mouth to better arrest the smell of death and sulfur which had infused the air. “They should have been back by now,” he thought. In the distance, the sinuous road disappeared into darkness, but time and again points of light would appear on the eastern horizon and move slowly into the west along its path, like a floated candle carried on a stream.

An ominous feeling fell upon him, but before he could take it for a sign an almost undetectable rustle of the underbrush came from behind the group of men. Drayden turned to see the shadows of Sero and the initiate Kadan returning at last. Sero moved silently through the prone men and crawled to Drayden’s position at the edge of the escarpment to deliver his report. Sero bore his typical grim expression.

“That down there is a whole mess of Arisen, dozens of scythes, possibly more, for they march at least ten abreast. We didn’t get close enough to say for sure, I didn’t want to take an initiate that close to the road alone. There are sentinels watching the woods. But if the crows and the wolves are any indication, there are more Arisen marching on the road than I have ever seen with my own eyes.” Sero said.

The road had its beginnings in the distant east, far beyond the wicked land of Wormoth, to the numerous lands and places which remained wholly unknown to them. From there the road ran west, splitting at the river Felnath, one branch continuing west through the dark land of Mar to the sea; the other branch turning south and going past the ruins of their ancestral city of Kynar to the evil lands beyond. For Banor Aden was an island of stone and Vorg Volow, the Secret City, was its heart, and on all sides it was surrounded by dark lands and evil cities filled with enemies.

“What do you make of it?” Drayden asked.

“No army that big has ever set foot on Banor Aden. Not since The Taking. If it was raiders, they would have marched into the mountains from the east. And if they had done so, we’d already have been done for and our mangled corpses would be on the way to Draggeran as we speak. And that in itself is strange; why are they coming back out of the east?” 

He shot Drayden a knowing look.

“The deer have been moving deeper into the mountains the past two days. We should have investigated this sooner. Let’s take the men and move closer. I want to have a look at these sentries you speak of.”

Drayden crawled back away from the edge and stood up, followed by Sero and the rest of the company. “Blades and bows at the ready. We make for the road.” He said.

A quiet shuffle followed as the fifteen men of the company strung their bows and pulled back their cloaks to reveal the hilts of short double edged swords, quivers filled with grey fletched arrows, and dark, well worn armor of overlapping segments of leather, boiled hard and closely fitted together.

With a word from Drayden they left the escarpment, moving in near complete silence down a hidden path discernible only to the trained eyes of the Vorgos, and following this they quickly dropped on to the pine and aspen covered foothills below. When the path turned west they continued until a point where the path was cut by a small stream. Here Drayden directed them off path through the forest.

They broke the single file line they had used on the path and spread out into a hunting formation. Guided by starlight and keen eyes, they moved as quickly as the thick undergrowth and dense forest would allow, moving from tree, to tree, to tree, a few men moving from the rear and scouting quickly ahead while those now at the back of the pack paused momentarily, arrows nocked and at the ready, watching and listening to the forest all around them for signs of enemy scouts, before running ahead to repeat the cycle in a continuous rhythm like that of the movement of a viper; wary of predators though themselves in search of prey.

Drayden directed his men with single monosyllabic words, more alike to the words of birds than of men, and the pack responded instantly, halting at one call, pivoting left at another, and right at another. They moved swiftly though silently, the darkness of the woods proving no hindrance to them. They paused more often as they drew closer to the ancient road, which ran in a sinuous line and divided the forest into Felatra on the south from the Woods of Helyen on the north, which was, beyond the western banks of the Felnath was called Ghostwood by the Arisen, on account of the phantom that dwelt there.

At a word from Drayden the company paused and waited motionless. Long minutes passed as they listened for signs that the Arisen had entered the woods, but they heard only the rustle of branches, fallen leaves stirred up by the restless wind, and the distant howls of wolves made curious by the noise and the smell of rotted flesh originating at the road.

They continued the descent to the valley floor, their senses more heightened with each step forward. Drayden signaled again for the company to halt and the men remained where they stood, each scanning the surrounding forest. A low rumble more felt than heard emanated from the direction of the road and shook the forest all around them. Drayden signaled and Sero appeared from out of the darkness by his side.

“Let’s take the initiate and move to the edge of the woods for a better look. The rest of the pack stays here, at the ready, full defense.” Drayden said.

Sero nodded and disappeared behind him into the night, reappearing a moment later with the youth Kadan. At Sero’s call the men moved into a wide circle with their backs to the center and then all were motionless, melting into the darkness and the forest like shadows.

“You should have learned by now that there is a pattern to the Woods of Helyen.” Drayden whispered to Kadan. “When there are no Hidden Paths, as is the case near the borders of our lands, you must recognize this pattern. The trees will only grow so close to one another, and like kinds will have like neighbors. Where there are different kinds the space between will be greater. Learn this and use it as you move. It will help you.” Kadan nodded.

Drayden, Sero, and Kadan moved south, leaving behind the rest of the pack behind. The foothills continued to drop in elevation over a short distance and soon they came to an old stream bed. This they followed as it led at a westerly angle toward the road. The din of noise from the road grew steadily louder. They left the stream bed behind as they approached the edge of the woods, which ended abruptly at a wide field which shouldered the road on both sides for miles in either direction. Here the three men stopped and waited. The creak of wagon wheels and the marching of heavy boots became discernible, as well as the clink of steel armor.

“This should test your mettle.” Sero said over his shoulder to Kadan before he bounded forward and disappeared into the field beyond the wood’s edge.

Drayden turned to Kadan and noticed a faint tremor in the initiate’s hands. “Grip the hilts of the blades at your back. It will help steel your nerves.” Kadan did as Drayden instructed and the fear welling within him was soon eased as if it passed out of him with each breath, forgotten in the surety of his grip and in the knowledge of death imbued into each of the sharply honed blades. “The first time you face the Arisen in battle, be wary of looking into their eyes. There is something of the living person there, and some will reach out to you, in a manner of speaking. Some will say nothing but you will still feel their vision. Some will speak to a dark place inside of you but you will not understand the words. But others will speak words you will know; these are the most dangerous to you. They are the Slayers, the fallen of the Kynarken. Remember what I’ve told you.”

Kadan said nothing, only nodded that he understood. He noted though, over the noise of the marching army, the somberness in Drayden’s voice as he spoke.

Kadan had suffered his Great Loss only recently, with the mysterious death of his father, a Vorgos whose pack served on the western borders of Banor Aden. With his father’s death, Kadan had become eligible to become an initiate, and he had yet to slay any of the undead with his own blades and complete the final rite necessary for his own recognition as one of the Vorgos.

They slowly emerged from the trees into the field, which was overgrown with tall grasses and shrubs, long denuded of trees by ancient travelers in search of firewood, and later by the Arisen to prevent the Vorgos’ attacking the road from cover. Staying low they moved the direction Sero gone and soon, through the brush, they could make out his form kneeling close behind a mound of earth that was topped with patches of tall grass which stood a stonecast from the edge of the road. Drayden crept forward ever slower closely followed by Kadan and the two inched their way to a hidden vantage point beside Sero. The position offered a wide view of the road both east and west. As they peered out over the mound, each of them was frozen with horror, dumbstruck by the evil sight which bitterly greeted them.
 
A winding line of covered wagons pulled by enormous lumbering beasts alike to the bison of the southern plains though larger and darker and with large white tusks protruding from their jaws, was conveyed on both sides by column upon column of heavily armored Arisen soldiers. The line stretched out of view in both directions and moved steadily west towards the land of Mar. Arisen sentries stood motionless along both sides of the road, each standing at attention facing outward toward the fields that bordered its edge and the woods beyond.

A long moment seemed to pass as they watched. Drayden counted the wagons and number of scythes of Arisen on the road, but soon found it impossible as the never ending train moved past, wagons one after another and columns of soldiers six abreast on both sides. The vast army continued to materialize out of the dark horizon in the east and vanish like ghosts into the night in the west. Drayden ceased counting and began determining the rate at which they passed.

“What’s your count, Sero?” Drayden asked, half afraid to confirm his own numbers.

“Maybe three, three and a half thousand an hour. If this continues through the night we’ll be neck deep in rottens by morning.

Kadan heard what was said and shook his head, turning away from the sight . But soon he was peering out once again from the cover the their hiding place.

“I’ve neither seen nor heard of so many on the move at one time. And I too find it very strange indeed that they are heading west toward Mar? For what purpose? They’ve already marched on every land within two thousand miles of Maranin.” Drayden said gravely.

“There has been talk among some of the other patrols, Vorgos of the West Range where Kadan’s father served, that the altars in Draggeran have been burning day and night for months, and that it is the cause of the foul smoke on the woods. Maybe this isn’t the only train destined for the city. We have no way of knowing what moves on the Coast Road.” Sero said. Kadan’s eyes grew ever wider with apprehension.

Kadan licked the dryness from his lips. “How many Arisen does each of those wagons carry you think?”

“It’s not Arisen they carry, it’s dead bodies. Bodies that will soon be transformation and become Arisen.” Drayden answered. Both Sero and Kadan stared at him.

“Before we came out here you asked how it is our enemies could continue to amass armies if the Vorgos have Banor Aden so well guarded that the raiders are no longer as successful as they were during the Taking. Those loaded wagons are your answer. Those bodies, they come from the front lines of a different war, far away in the east, from the lands that Norak hasn’t completely conquered yet.”

“Then it seems the war must be going well,” replied Kadan. “As if the stench of Maranin wasn’t bad enough already, they fortify their ranks with foreign dead.”

“All their dead are foreign. There are no peoples or natives of Mar. It is a land of the dead. There may be some living men who reside in Draggeran, in the fortress of Remith, and there in the temples of the Black Lord where it is said the dead cannot serve, but in Maranin and all other cities of that land there is only the Arisen. Whenever there is a battle, a war, a plague, in any of the lands that the black god rules or makes war against, the bodies, all of them, make their way to Mar to be transformed from the dead into the undead, to reinforce the ranks of Arisen.” Drayden said. “The death rites of the Vorgos, the cutting off of the head and the burning of the hands and feet, this is the reason, so that even in death we cannot be made to serve the enemy.”

“And just as we have the rites that free us from slavery in undeath, the men of Drakor and Halik, those races who serve the Black Lord, they have rites that  prepare their dead for passage to Mar where it is said they are passed before the altars in Draggeran, and raised” added Sero. With this thought, they ceased speaking further.
    

Instead, the three men watched nervously from the embankment of earth in silence. Kadan found himself fixated on the sentries which stood ten paces apart along the length of the road. Several of those nearest seemed to have their heads tilted toward them, focused on their position, their dark vision penetrating the veil of night despite the dead eyes hidden in the shadow beneath their helms. The sentries remained motionless however, standing stiffly behind their tall rectangular shields emblazoned with the device of Mar. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On Writing

The previous two posts I’ve made are portions of a story I’ve spent the last decade or so constructing in my spare time. Having anguished over what exactly to do with it all (a large jumbled collection of non-linear chapters, quotes, back story, character profiles, encyclopedic style entries, drawings, maps, ect.) it was suggested by several acquaintances of  mine that I test its mettle in the merciless no holds barred arena that is the internet . To what end this will lead and whether or not this was sage advice will eventually become apparent, I hope, but in the meantime I will post portions of my creation in whatever order I find interesting. Everything I post will be in rough form, so there will be some noticeable inconsistencies which will remain until I find the time to edit what I’ve previously written, which currently takes a backseat to writing new elements of the story, among other things.

I would like for this to serve as a sort of fast-motion version of the process that has transpired since I began writing. It has been a labor of both love and hate, and my feelings about it change with the season. I am not a writer by trade or otherwise, and I have many other interests. Nevertheless, I’ve felt the overwhelming need at times, and ever more frequently of late, to tell this story and eventually see it to its end.

Though I have a title in mind for this work, it may yet evolve into something different than I’ve envisioned so I will withhold naming it until some future point.

Also, if you have any comments or questions or would like to offer any other input please do so in the comments below and I will be happy to respond.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Shadows of War

Since the dawn of man in this world, there has been a shadow cast over the lives of all men. Whether valiant or cowardly, godly or ungodly, good or evil, this shadow covers us all. It is our history and it is our future. It is the cornerstone of all our plans, and it is the destroyer of those plans. We are born on its borders, live our lives under its threat, and die haunted by it. It is as certain in life as death, and is an instrument that death itself often chooses. It is inescapable, and ever present. It is futile for even great nations to resist it, for resistance ensures that it will arise from within, and will bring it more swiftly and more surely than any other action. This shadow...is war. Embrace it for it is inevitable. Learn from it because it is a great teacher. Fear it, for it is callous to the weak and by it the mighty grow strong. It is where those destined for greatness find glory, and where those destined for the grave find death waiting.  -Tormas, Fallen Mage of Serpinon