Friday 31 October 2014

Scent: Part 7

Gertie seated Reven at a table in the middle of the common room before disappearing into the kitchen to get his food. Reven’s stomach grumbled at the prospect of food and he took his mind off his hunger by looking around the room. The table of men that were seated by the fire were now playing a game of cards. A pile of copper and silver coins sat in the middle of the table and they shred sidelong glances at each other hardly sharing a word as they concentrated on the game. The four of them all had long hair that was pulled back into ponytails and they each wore a sword at their side. Reven had no doubt looking at them that they would know how to use those swords too. The leather jerkins they wore all looked like they had seen some action judging by the scratches and patched up puncture holes. Reven continued looking round. There was a man eating a plate of meat and cheese who was accompanied by two companions. They didn’t speak. The man who ate was dressed like a gentleman, his suit was a deep purple and cut very close to his slim body. His fingers were adorned with gold rings and he wore a black neckerchief that was peeking through his bright white shirt. His companions didn’t eat or drink or even speak. Reven imagined them to be guards of some sort as again they didn’t look to be the sorts you would mess with. They were armed and dark leather armour covered their bodies. One of them caught Reven looking and he glared at him making him a little uncomfortable. Reven moved his eyes away from the table and continued scanning around the room. A couple of men propped up the bar, staring into their beer and already looking like they were deep in their cups. At the far end of the room; the opposite end to the fireplace sat a man and a woman. They were at a corner table and had chosen to extinguish the lantern. They were only lit from a sconce on the wall and Reven hadn’t noticed them at all when he first walked in. They were both staring at him from beneath the cowls of their cloaks and their features were completely indistinguishable in the gloom that surrounded their table. A chill ran down Reven’s spine and yet again he turned his gaze away from the inn’s patrons and fixed them on the table before him. He didn’t like this place much. Of the few patrons that were here most of them seemed to be quite surly. He stole a glance across to the couple in the corner and they were still looking at him whilst exchanging words in hushed tones. 

Gertie appeared through the kitchen door with a cheery smile on her face. She laid a bowl of hot stew before Reven and a chunk of bread. As she went to the bar to fetch him a drink he ripped a piece of bread off and dipped it into the stew before stuffing into his mouth hungrily. Gertie returned and took a seat at the table with him. She put a cup of water before him and set a goblet of wine on the table in front of her. “So” she said taking a sip of wine, “how is it that a young boy finds himself alone at The Warhorse?” Reven continued eating as he told the tale of the attack on Rosholt, his escape and how he and Fang had come to be at the inn. Gertie listened in silence gasping and nodding at appropriate moments in his story. She had heard from a merchant earlier in the day that there was trouble at Rosholt but she hadn’t imagined the horror that was revealed to her through Reven’s story. After Reven wiped the last of his stew from the bowl with his final piece of bread he opened up his purse to see what he had in the way of money. Almost as soon as he had placed it on the table Gertie pushed it away. “It’s alright, keep your money, you’re our guest tonight”, “Thank you Miss” came Reven’s reply. He started to put the purse back on to his belt and then stopped and put it back on the table. Gertie flashed another smile and him and went to push the purse away, “Not for me Miss. Fang’s hungry and he’s all I’ve got”. Gertie chuckled and rose from her seat, “I’ll see what scraps we have out back and take them out to him”, “Thank you again Miss” Reven smiled appreciatively.

Gertie disappeared off into the kitchen and Reven moved over to the window so he could watch her go out to Fang. It had started raining and Fang looked like he was asleep but Reven found it hard to see clearly. He pressed his face against the glass but still couldn’t see clearly. He pulled his jacket up over his head and moved outside looking for Gertie. As he moved toward the stables he could here Gertie’s voice from the back of the building. He couldn’t make out her words but could tell she wasn’t happy. The rain was coming down hard and Reven splashed through puddles as he made his way to the back of the tavern to find out what was wrong with Gertie. As he rounded the corner at the back of the inn he could see Gertie was pressed against a wall by one of the men that had been playing cards in the inn. One of his companions stood leering at them, egging the man on as he pinned her wrists to the wall with one hand and fumbled to pull her corset free with the other. Both men were laughing and the man who had her pinned was trying to kiss her as he continued to pull at her clothes. Gertie was trying to wriggle free and shouting for them to get off but they weren’t listening. Reven rushed forward, angling toward the man that had immobilised Gertie. Reven’s splashing feet got his friends attention and he lashed out with a boot before Reven got near. Reven was sent sprawling on the floor landing heavily. “What you got there Jack?” asked the man who had Gertie. “Little spy, think he might want a go after you Roche”, both men boomed with laughter. “Get off her” Reven snapped as he pushed himself to his feet. “Think you should leave now boy before you make me do something I may regret” Jack slipped a dagger out a sheath on his belt and toyed with the point to emphasise his words. Reven reached to his side and pulled the short sword he’d been carrying free and held it in front of him in a two handed grip. At that moment Jack and Roche’s other two companions appeared around the same corner that Reven had come round. Drawing their own swords they moved up to stand at Reven’s side, opposite to where Roche still held Gertie. “Leave him be” shouted Gertie, Roche slapped her hard across the face, blooding her lip. “Shut up whore” Roche growled, “Get rid of him” he motioned to the other men and as one they advanced on Reven. Jack smiled evilly as he came at Reven, he didn’t notice the soft padding footfalls behind him until Fang bite into his ankle, tearing free a chunk of flesh. Jack cried and fell forward. It happened so quickly that Reven didn’t have time to react, Jacks body slammed into him and they both fell to the floor. Reven took Jacks full weight as they landed, his body was limp. As Reven looked up he could see a foot of steel sticking out of Jacks back. Time seemed to slow as events unfolded. Roche shoved Gertie to the floor and turned drawing his blade. Fang continued to savage Jack and Reven pushed the body off him rolling to his left with the dead man. Roche had moved toward him and was raising his sword to strike when a look of abject terror crossed his face. Reven completed his roll and looked back toward Roche’s companions to see what the man was looking at. As Roche screamed Reven saw that his companions were in pieces; literally. One of the bodies was falling to the floor headless, spouting blood high into the air. The other man was missing his left leg just above the knee and was toppling to the side. Reven stared agog, the man that had been seated in the gloom with the woman was stooping down to finish off the toppling man. His cowl was still up obscuring his face as his double bladed axe flashed through the toppled man’s throat sending a crimson arc splattering against the wall of the inn. Reven tried to move away from him but found that Roche was bent over next to him. When Reven had rolled the body of Jack off of him and rolled with it he had unwittingly skewered Roche’s foot with the sword that was still sticking out of the dead man’s back pinning him in place. Roche pulled the short sword free of his foot and its dead host with a scream. His face was contorted in anger and he raised his arm to strike down at Reven but as he did so a silver blade point slid through the front of his jerkin were his heart would have been. Roche fell to the ground in a crumpled heap to reveal the hooded man’s companion. She wiped her blade on Roche’s dead body before returning it to its scabbard. The man and woman both stood over Reven, Fang sat at Reven’s feet staring at the ground submissively. Reven’s heart was beating so fast he thought it was going to burst out of his chest. Reven scrambled backwards until his back hit the wall. The man slowly dropped into a crouch and looked into Reven’s eyes. The woman moved forward and pulled his shirt aside revealing the scar on his shoulder. She looked back at the man and nodded. The man placed a hand on Fangs head and stroked him gently never taking his eyes off Reven. “You died today” said the man grinning as he pulled a long curved dagger from his back and held it to Fangs throat.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Scent: Part 6

When Reven awoke the sun was high in the sky. Fang snoozed next to him, the remnants of the leg of meat weren’t too far away. The pup must have been hungry as he had cracked the bones and cleaned out the marrow. Reven rose to his feet and found that he felt refreshed despite only having what must have been a few hours’ sleep. He was starving and his stomach growled even more than it did before he slept. He brushed some leaves off of his trousers and straightened his belt before setting off. Fang woke and trotted next to Reven as he made his way through the wood. The trees weren’t as dense as they were when he first entered Freemarch Forest and he made much better time as he travelled. Fang roamed here and there as they walked, sniffing this and that. He seemed to enjoy his freedom which made Reven happy. The knowledge that he had saved this pup made him feel good; a good deed that he was proud of. They stopped briefly at a stream and thirstily gulped the cool water into their mouths. After a few more miles of travel the forest thinned out some more and they came upon a road that stretched off through the forest to Reven’s left and right. The sun was already starting to disappear below the treeline and Reven had to make a decision. He looked long and hard in both directions and there appeared to be no discernible benefit to travelling either way. Fang had already trotted off to Reven’s right to investigate clump of grass in the road and this made the decision for him. He made his way south along the road as the evening crept on. Clouds had started gathering overhead and Reven wanted desperately to get out of the forest. The thought of another night with the trees and the inhabitants of the forest didn’t thrill him, especially if it was going to rain.

After travelling down the road for a while Reven could see light coming from up ahead and as he neared he made out a squat structure sitting a way back from the road. He headed toward the building and as he drew closer he realised he was looking at an inn. A sign in front of the inn swayed lazily in the gentle evening breeze. The words ‘The Warhorse Inn’ were written on it in elongated white writing that sat above a picture of a barded horse. Reven could see a warm glow in the windows and could see smoke rising from its chimney. There were stables set off to one side that had several horses in and a horseless carriage that was drawn up to the side of the wooden stables. The inn was three stories high and made of solid stone blocks that made it look more like a miniature castle. The windows all featured metal shutters that were thrown wide to allow the light to spill out on to the gravel path that led to the inns entrance. Reven called Fang to him and they walked that path that led to the inns door. Reven pushed it wide and was greeted with the smell of cooking meat and spilt beer. A giant fireplace dominated one end of the common room and within a fire blazed away merrily. The wooden bar stretched half way across the room and had mostly empty stools in front of it. The rest of the room was filled with tables of varying sizes that again were mostly unoccupied. Sconces on the walls offered candlelight as did small candle lanterns that were placed on the tables. Behind the bar was a man with a belly so round it looked like he had a giant bowl stuck up his top. His face was ruddy and his head was bald save for a swathe of hair that chased round the side of his heads. He wore a dirty waistcoat not done up all the way over what once would have been a white shirt. He wore a heavily stained apron around his waist which he was wiping his hands with as he stepped around the bar and approached Reven and Fang. “He can’t come in here boy” said the man as he raised an accusing finger at Fang. “But he’s my dog sir”, Reven responded “We’ve travelled all the...”, “I’ll not bandy words with a child” the barman raised his voice as he interrupted “either the dog stays outside or you both stay outside”. The man stood now with his hands on his hips glaring at Reven. A woman that had been wiping a table pushed past the fat man and stood right in front of Fang. “Don’t pay any attention to Old Bill child, he’s a miserable git at the best of times”, this drew some sniggers from some men seated round a table by the fire and Reven felt his face flush as he realised how many eyes were on him. “We’ll set your friend up by the stable, he’ll be safe there. You’ll be wanting something to eat I suppose”, the woman said with a kindly smile. She wasn’t old and despite looking a little bedraggled would have been considered pretty by most. Reven couldn’t help but stare at her chest as her bosoms swelled out the top of her tight bodice. “Yes…Yes please miss” Reven responded. Her smile widened and she stood a little straighter breaking Reven’s eye contact with her chest. “You can pay? You have coin?”, Reven reached to his belt and pulled free the small bag of coins he had taken from the dead man at the war hound stables in Rosholt. “Your too soft Gertie” mumbled Old Bill who had been watching the exchange. Gertie waved and hand in the air dismissively and lead Reven and Fang out the door and over to the wooden stables. There was a lean-to that had some fire wood chopped in it but also had enough room for Fang to sprawl out. Reven patted the floor under the lean-to and Fang sat under the slanted wooden roof. Gertie had gathered up a bucket and was sinking it into a trough, filling it with water. Reven patted Fangs head as Gertie put the bucket down before following her back into the inn.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Scent: Part 5

Reven and the pup continued on through the forest for the remainder of the night. Despite the strange noises and the cloying darkness their journey was uneventful with the exception of a few trips and falls over roots and fallen branches. Now the sun was rising and sending streams of beautiful sunlight through the forest branches. The forest seemed to transform as the sun’s rays bathed it in golden light. In the dark of the night Reven imagined death surrounding him, hiding behind every tree and creeping through the bushes and branches waiting to pounce. The oppressive weight of the imagined danger had stretched his young nerves to breaking point but the tension was easing out of him as the sun warmed his back. The pup was running around as if seeing the world for the first time which in a way was true. All he had known was the damp, dark cellar and he now celebrated his freedom by running with reckless abandon around the forest. Reven couldn’t help but smile at his companion’s joy as he watched the pup tear through the forest stopping occasionally to sniff at plants or pee on a tree.

Reven needed to rest, to sleep. His legs ached from the night’s exertions and he felt more tired than he had ever done. Even though the forest looked a much more welcoming place in the daylight he didn’t want to sleep out in the open. He decided to take a short rest, finding a tree and slumping down next to it. The pup raised his head from the piece of ground he was sniffing and looked at Reven, inclining his head, with a quizzical look on his face. Reven looked back at him and smiled holding his arms wide, “let’s have a look you dog” he called. The pup didn’t hesitate, he bounded toward Reven skidding on the leaf litter on the floor of the forest and crashing into Reven. He immediately proceeded to lick Reven’s face and wagged his tail so hard that his back feet shifted side to side with the motion. Reven couldn’t help but giggle as he tried to hold the pup at arm’s length. “Sit, sit” Reven said and was amazed that the hound responded instantly sitting and staring at him with his tongue lolling from the side of his mouth. This was the first time Reven had been able to have a good look at his furry companion. The pup was covered in short, dark grey hair. Even though he was obviously young and still carried some of his puppy fat there were contours of corded muscle showing through his short glossy coat. His feet looked too big for his legs and Reven was reminded that when fully grown this dog would be as tall at the shoulder as a grown man. Reven’s eyes rested on the hounds face and two things struck him. Firstly the dog had piercing blue eyes that matched Reven’s own. They sparkled like sapphires in the sunlight and were almost hypnotic. The dog shied away from the stare, uncomfortable. “Sorry boy” Reven reached out and ruffled the hair on his head. He moved his hand down the fur around the dog’s mouth that was darker than the rest of his coat. It was matted with something dark along his jowls up to his nose. Reven worked the short fur through his thumb and finger and flakes of crimson fell away. Reven used both hands to remove as much of the dried blood as possible. He didn’t even need to think about its source. The fur clad attackers of Rosholt had provided his new friend with the meal he so desperately needed. There were no wild animals, just this animal. Reven felt no remorse for the men that had served as the hound’s meal. They deserved all they got for destroying the city, for killing the only family he knew and for driving him away from his home. Anger swelled inside him and felt his face flush with heat as hot blood coursed through his veins. As if in response to Reven’s rage the pup went on guard, a low growl rumbled forth as he stalked around looking for a threat. Reven bit back a curse and leaned back heavily on the tree letting the anger seep away as tiredness edged its way back in. The hound came and joined him flopping heavily onto the thighs of Reven’s out stretched legs. Reven again found himself smiling at the dog as it nuzzled its head under his arm, making itself comfortable. “What should we call you?” he wondered aloud. The hound brought his head up in response and licked Reven’s cheek. “We can’t call you tongue!” Reven exclaimed as he patted the dog’s side with wry smile on his face. The hound sunk his head down again trying to wriggle its head under Reven’s arm. As he did so one of his jowls pulled back revealing the doubled up rows of razor sharp teeth nestled in its mouth. Unlike a normal dog, war hounds had two sets of teeth in their mouths. The outer set was much like that of a normal dog but these beasts had a second set of razor like teeth that sat just inside of the outer set. It added to their ferocity in battle and was one of the many reasons they were so feared. As he stared blankly at the teeth it struck him. Looking at the huge canine it became obvious, “Fang”. The hound again raised his head, panting gently whilst fixing Reven with a look that was something close to fondness. Fang dropped his head down again, this time nuzzling inside of Reven’s massive jacket and then as quick as lightning jumped to his feet and yanked. Reven breathed a gasp of pain as something jabbed him in the ribs and the dog pulled back again revealing the battered leg of trampled meat that Reven had been carrying since Rosholt. Fang trotted away and then settled on the ground ripping off hunks of uncooked flesh from the less than appetising leg. “Oi, I….” Reven faltered in his objection as Fang ripped into the meat realising that he wouldn’t have eaten it anyway. He settled back onto the rough bark of the tree and shut his eyes trying to ignore the rumbling in his stomach. He knew he had to keep moving but he just needed a quick rest. Fang continued gnawing at the bone as Reven’s head drooped, full of sleep.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Scent: Part Four

Reven’s eyes snapped open. Darkness surrounded him. He pushed himself up, onto his feet and moved slowly forward, arms outstretched. He was walking on hay that was ankle deep. He heard heavy breathing, it seemed to come from all around him. He moved faster and his hands made contact with a wall. It was moist, the bricks damp to the touch; the breathing continued. “Hello” he called, “Who’s there?”, no answer came. He turned and pushed his back against the wall. He scanned left and right trying to make out the shape of the room but the darkness was all encompassing. A shuffle in the hay brought his head round. He whimpered as he saw red eyes staring at him from the darkness. He withered under their baleful glare, the strength draining from his body. He sunk down onto one knee, unable to keep his head up it fell forward, his chin coming to rest on his chest. He felt heat radiating from the being before him as it drew closer. He felt and armoured hand close about his shoulder as he kneeled there in supplication, unable to move. The being dug its thumb in easily parting the flesh of Reven’s shoulder. He desperately wanted to cry out but he was unable to. The waves of heat emanating from the thing grew in intensity making Reven feel sick. He could taste vomit in his mouth, and feel sweat dripping down his back. The being spoke, its voice a low rumble like a distant rock fall, “You are our vessel, carry our burden and despair”. The things grip loosened and he fell to the floor convulsing and at last found his voice, screaming uncontrollably as burning pain racked his body.
Reven’s eyes snapped open. He lay on the ground near the city wall, it was night time but the moon was full and its luminescence was enough to see by. He felt groggy, his brow was beaded with sweat and there was a dull ache in his side. The nightmare still raced through his mind as he remembered the fight by the wall. The fur clad raiders and their struggle with the big man Bran. All was still now. He reached to his side and the memory of the sword flashing towards him sprung into his mind. He thought it had hit him, he was sure it was going to. He could feel a hole in his shirt but no break in his skin. He sat up and inspected further. He could feel dried, crusted blood but couldn’t find a mark on him. He shrugged, relived that he’d has some luck at last. Rising to his feet he took in his surroundings. Even though the moonlight was weak he could still the burn on the ground from the lantern oil. The bodies of his would be attackers still lay motionless on the floor but something didn’t seem right about them. Reven moved closer to one that lay on its side facing away from him. He placed his boot on the dead man’s shoulder and rolled him over. Reven gagged when he saw that the man’s stomach had been torn open and his face was a ragged red mess. Moonlight glinted off of the gore that covered the body. Reven slammed his hand over his mouth and backed away almost tripping over a second body, this one belonging to the last man Bran had slain. He was similarly disfigured with much of his flesh missing and bone visible. Reven reeled away, his eyes searching the nearby treeline. Wild animals must have been attracted by the scent of death. Again he counted his luck at not being dragged off into the forest to be a meal for some beast. As his mind raced he realised that his make shift backpack was hanging loosely from his back. He still had the mangled leg of meat he had taken from the city but the hound was gone. Reven was lucky not to have been dragged off into the forest but obviously the pup hadn’t shared in that luck. Reven’s attempt to save the poor animal had led the thing straight to its death. He sighed as he untied the jacket from his back and then proceeded to put it on to keep out the nights chill. He tucked the leg of meat into the side of the jacket resigning himself to the fact it would need a wash before he could cook it, no matter how much his growling stomach protested.
He needed to get going. He didn’t want to be around when the animals came back to finish their meal. He knew this meant going into the very same forest from which the animals must have come but he needed to get away from the city. He fastened the jacket at its front and rolled up the sleeves so he had use of his hands. He looked around one last time in the hope that there was something worth taking but there was nothing. He moved into the forest immediately tripping on something concealed in the grass. He stumbled as he recovered himself and turned to see a short sword glinting at him from the grass. He reached down and lifted the blade. It was heavy but his old Ma had always said it’s better to have something and not need it than to need something and not have it. He needed her now, sadness crept up on him but he pushed it aside. There would be time to grieve later. He examined the weapon and noticed that there was something smeared up the blade. He wiped it on the grass before slipping it into his belt. He was tempted to go and check the bodies for a scabbard but thought better of it, not wanting to look on those ghastly half-eaten faces again. He didn’t know where he was going or what direction he should take but he knew that somewhere in these woods was Bran and his companions and he knew that he would feel infinitely safer travelling at the big man’s side than negotiating the forest alone.
Only five minutes into the forest and Reven could already hear furtive movements all around him. The forest was alive with activity. Insects buzzed by angrily and birds called out in shrill voices. There were other things in these woods too. He could hear them rustling in the bushes and the trees overhead. It was difficult to see anything as the branches of the trees overhead obscured much of the weak light offered by the moon. Reven was sorely tempted to turn back and await the coming of the dawn but pressed on anyway. He could hardly see where he was going and there was no discernible path to follow so he trudged on in what felt like the right direction. As he pushed on he could hear something larger moving at speed behind him. The crack of twigs on the floor and the snappy rustle of the bushes told him whatever it was it was moving at speed and heading straight for him. Reven started to run, desperately looking around for somewhere to hide. Unfortunately whilst looking around he wasn’t looking at the floor and tripped on the root of a tree falling onto his hands. He scrambled to his feet again but knew that it was too late. He spun on the spot trying to draw the sword from his belt but the hilt had been obscured by the oversized jacket he was wearing and it prevented him from drawing it free. The sound of bounding feet made him raise his head just as a black shadow raced out of the darkness and sprang at him. He threw his hands up in front of his face in a vain effort to ward the creature off but the momentum of its leap sent Reven flying. He landed on his back, the thing on top of him. It was all teeth and fur and he desperately tried to push it off. One of his hands slipped off the creature as he shoved and allowed it to fall in between his arms. Its muzzle bashed him in the face as it fell and Reven craned his neck away from the beast’s mouth trying to avoid its inevitable bite. He screwed his eyes shut prayed for mercy. But no bite came, in fact no attack at all came. The thing just lay on him panting. Reven grabbed around the things neck and rolled to the side trying to gain an advantage. As he did so his attackers face became visible in the moon light and Reven froze, staring unbelieving into the creatures face. The war hound pup stared back up at him with a comically dumb look on his face. The pups tongue hung limply from his mouth and Reven could feel the rhythmic beat of the hound’s tail on his leg. He couldn’t help but laugh as relief flooded through him. His laughter seemed to spur the pup on and it found its feet and started wagging its tail even more furiously as it licked at Reven’s face. This made Reven laugh even harder and in a heartbeat his fear of death had been replaced with pure unbridled elation.

Scent Artwork

Friday 17 October 2014

Scent: Part 3

Reven found that he wasn’t the only one trying to escape the city. As he made his way around the great wall that surrounded Rosholt he could see piles of furniture and wood had been stacked against the wall. Ladders had been precariously balanced on top of them that reached up to the battlements. The flight of the residents had obviously been hurried and desperate and they had used these piles as a means of escape from the madness within the city. He made his way to the bottom of the pile and started climbing. The pup at his back had ceased wriggling and even though Reven would have liked to have checked to see if his passenger was still alive the thought of self-preservation pushed him on. He clambered over tables, chairs, cupboards and doors to reach the tallest of the ladders. The ladder had been wedged inside an upturned cupboard to hold it steady and Reven made his way up, trying his hardest not to unbalance the ladder as he did so. He paused for a moment near the top of his climb looked out over Rosholt and bit back the tears that wanted to stream down his face. Soaking up the last of the horrific scenes below him he took the last few rungs of the ladder to the battlements. As he pulled himself over the edge he was amazed at his own courage. He had until this point lived an unremarkable life and had enjoyed his youth. He had lived 11 winters and it had been a fairly sheltered life up to this point. He stood on the battlements and looked over the wall into The Freemarch Forest that lay beyond. He had only ever left the city once before; for a fishing trip with his adopted father and brothers. It had been a great time and he enjoyed seeing the outside world but looking out over the forest filled Reven with dread. It stretched on for as far as the eye could see and it almost made him want to turn back and hide. These thoughts quickly vanished when he heard sounds coming from below. He peeked over the edge beck into the city and saw a rabble of fur clad men scrambling up wooden pile toward the ladders. Reven didn’t even think. He rocked the ladder he had climbed back and forth and let if fall into the neighbouring ladder. They both clattered to the ground and their fall was met with angry shouts and curses from below. Reven didn’t wait around to hear them. He raced to the other side of the battlements and grasped a rope that had been hung over the edge. He lowered himself down hand over hand as quickly as he could. The extra weight of the pup made it a difficult descent and left his hands and arms trembling with the effort. He dropped the last few feet to the ground where the walls met the forest.
A few of the refugees from the city sat gathered under the branches of the trees. Reven panted, exhausted from his efforts. He shouted a warning to the nearest group of people, “Men are coming……over the wall”. His shout was met by blank stares by most, a tall bear of a man stood and moved towards him, “Where boy? How many?” he asked in a deep booming voice. A woman seated under a tree called out to the man, “Leave it Bran, and let us move on”. The man ignored her, gesturing with his hand for the boy to speak up. “They climb the ladders….I pushed them away from the wall but…” Reven’s response was cut short as an arrow arced down and landed with a thump at Bran’s feet. Looking up he could see the fur clad men edging themselves one by one over the wall and down the rope. The big man reacted immediately, snatching the lantern that was tied at Reven’s waist he moved to the bottom of the rope and turned the flame up high on the lantern, opening the shutter. The flame licked at the bottom of the rope but wasn’t burning quick enough. Bran pulled the plug on the oil reserve at the bottom of the lamp and flicked oil up the rope. The flames chased the oil back to the lantern forcing Bran to drop it with a curse, smashing it on the ground. Tiny flames licked the front of his clothes and he beat at them furiously as the oil on the floor caught light with a great whooshing sound. The rope burned better now but some of the men that were descending were down far enough to try a leap. Three of the fur clad attackers made it to the ground, the third landing awkwardly, his ankle giving way as he hit the ground. Reven cried out as Bran unslung an axe from his back and moved forward with menace. The people under the trees starting gathering their meagre possessions and disappearing, with haste deeper into the forest.
Reven could see the attackers more clearly now. They all sported long unkempt hair and their faces had been smeared with what looked to be blue paste. They were wild and drew their weapons advancing. The men came on, swinging wildly with short swords as but Bran wasn’t deterred and swung at the first attacker knocking his sword aside. With his return stroke he cleaved into the next assailant, removing one of his arms just above the elbow. The man screamed in agony and clasped his bloody stump as the first attacker returned to the fray. He stabbed at the axe man only to see his blade parried. Bran reversed his grip on the haft of the axe and brought the flat edge of blade down the man’s head which split like a melon with the force. As the combat raged on Reven moved away from the fight to the other side of the subsiding flames. Bran had finished off the one armed man and was moving onto the third attacker who was backing away from him with a limp, still nursing his damaged ankle. Just as the big man hefted his axe high above him to strike a body fell from above crushing his assailant to the ground. It was followed by a second falling man that landed with a crunch in front of Reven. It appeared the fire on the rope had done its work and these two had not been quick enough in climbing back up to escape it. The second man that fell had died instantly, his head sat at a peculiar angle on his neck. The other two fur clad crazies rolled on the floor moaning. Bran and his axe made short work of the first man, easily parting his head with his shoulders. The second man lay on his back trying to wriggle away from that deadly axe. He held his sword up as if it would ward Bran off. The big man came on undeterred, he knocked the sword out of the man’s hand contemptuously and buried the blade of his axe in the man chest. The sword spiralled off only stopping once it had buried a foot of its length in Reven’s gut. Reven looked down disbelieving, eyes wide. He gingerly clasped the blade in his hands, then his knees went weak and he toppled to the side like a felled tree. As he hit the ground the recumbent form of the war hound pup slid out of the makeshift knapsack and tumbled limply, coming to rest over Reven’s head like a bizarre crown. Bran rushed over and knelt beside the boy. The colour had already drained from his face and blood had started to pool at his side. With a sigh Bran rose, “I’m sorry child, fighting is a man’s work. You should never have been here. May Sothayn guide your soul”. Bran pulled the short sword fee and tossed it aside. He positioned Reven on his back and folded his arms across his chest before disappearing into the woods.

Monday 13 October 2014

Scent: Part 2

Reven awoke in agony. His left shoulder flared with pain. He reached up and felt for the source of his discomfort and could feel slick blood that covered his chest and arm. He could feel he had a hole in his shoulder at the join and that the blood was sticky. He could see nothing but the dull outline of the gate, the darkness beyond it was not as all-encompassing as that of the darkness of the room he now found himself in. He was lying on straw, he could feel that much. The room stank and the air was heavy with moisture. He tried pushing himself up and pained surged through his damaged joint. His head ached from the blow that he received when he fell, not that he could remember much of the fall. A sound behind him snapped his head round. Suddenly he was acutely aware that he wasn’t alone. Whatever is was it moved towards him, the sound of its movements gave the impression of something huge and he could hear the thing start to sniff the air. Reven tried to pull himself away from the sound as fear gripped him sending an icy chill racing through his veins. The sound grew closer until the he could feel the heat of the things breath in his face, it pinned him to the ground using one of its feet; Reven felt claws dig in as he was forced flat. The thing sniffed again, it was like having bellows blown in his face. Reven thought that his life was over when a peculiar thing happened. Instead of feeling teeth sinking into his flesh to rip him to pieces he felt a rough fleshy tongue run across the wound on his shoulder. The animal continued to lick his wound and finished off by running its huge tongue up Reven’s cheek a few times for good measure. Confusion warred with fear in Reven’s mind until a sound from above brought both his head and the beasts round to focus on the gateway. He could hear shouting from above and see the glow of torchlight fill the curved hall beyond the gateway. The beast that towered over Reven moved toward the gate furtively. Against the light he could now make out the true epic proportions of the animal and immediately knew where he was and what he was sharing the room with. These were not stables but kennels. The animal that had just shown him such tenderness was in fact a born and bred killer; a war hound, a creature related to and similar in appearance in many ways to normal dogs. Similar in all but its size. They were as big as cart horses with teeth the size of daggers, and adorned with thick slabs of muscle. Bred to be taken to war as either mounts for noblemen or for use as an alternative to cavalry, they were fearsome opponents and rightly feared by the sane. The beast stalked closer to the gate as the light and sound from above grew. The war hound placed itself in darkness next to the gateway and waited. Reven moved away from the light now spilling into the room noting that the pain in his shoulder had eased greatly. Finding his feet he moved to the opposite side of the gate to that of the hound.
“Hold up lads, somebodies down here”, a gruff voice came from just beyond the gate and was followed by a flaming torch that spiralled in through the gateway and landed in the middle of the room, immediately setting some of the hay ablaze. “Get out of there you wretches, come and face justice”, the man’s voice sounded even nearer than before. A head appeared through the gateway, “Come out, come out, wherever you a…..” a snap from the hound’s jaws took the man’s head off in one clean bite before he could finish his sentence. The headless body fell to the floor spouting a crimson fountain as it did so. Reven was transfixed, he had never seen anything so horrifying yet so completely irresistible in his short life. The war hound bolted through the open gate and barrelled into more men that were coming down the hallway. Reven was frozen to the spot. The beast charged through the men and up around the corner and an ear shattering sound of splintering wood told him that it had made good its escape. The men picked themselves and raced after the hound. The flames from the torch that had been cast into the room were creeping across the floor, spitting and dancing as they went. Reven knew he had to move. He looked down at the corpse of the headless man at his feet and noticed a pouch at his belt. He untied the bindings holding it in place and attached it to his own belt. He also unsheathed the dagger at the man’s side and slid it into his boot. The site of the neck that was still oozing a trickle of blood onto the floor made him feel queasy. He looked around the room again and was surprised to see movement in the corner. He glanced at the ever glowing flames in the middle of the room then made his way to the corner where the movement had caught his eye. He was greeted with a site that filled him with sadness. A group of small bodies littered the corner. The war hound that had briefly shared this room had obviously recently become a mother. For some reason she hadn’t been able to keep them alive. As he looked closer he saw that they lay huddled together, all motionless except for one. Reven knelt down and pulled the pup from under the bodies of its siblings. It wasn’t an easy feat as the pup was almost the same size as he was. As smoke started billowing across the room Reven dragged the heavy pup across to the gateway. It moved feebly in response to his actions and its breathing was laboured. Again he turned his attention the decapitated corpse and started to relieve the dead man of his jacket. He sat the hound against the wall and pushed him back so he sat upright. Reven slipped the jacket down the hounds back until it came to the top of its hind legs. He then sat in front of the pup and tied the bottom of the jacket around his waist. The jacket was made for a man so could easily fit a boy and what was for all intents and purposes a large dog in it without too much of a struggle. Reven tied the arms of the jacket around his neck and lent forward taking the pups weight on his back. He got to his feet and unsteadily made his way up the sloping hallway. He made his way out of the huge hole that had been made in the side of the kennel by the mother hounds escape. Smoke was rising freely from the building now and looking around he could see that it wasn’t the only building in this part of the city that had been put to the torch. He could see no sign of the larger war hound or its pursuers. He decided to start moving to the edge of the city hoping to try and find some way of escaping the madness.
It was late and Reven had no idea how long he had lain unconscious in the War Hounds kennel. He also noticed as he walked that he felt no pain from his shoulder and upon inspection was amazed to see that the wound had scabbed over already. The burden of the pup also didn’t seem to bother him as much as it should have done. He marched on into the cloying darkness, away from the fires and toward what he hoped would be freedom from this city of death.
He scavenged what he could as he travelled. It looked like looters and already been busy in this part of the city, taking advantage of the insanity that gripped the frighten city after the arrival of the besiegers. He managed to gather up some bits of stale bread and a filthy leg of some animal from a butchers. It had been trampled all over and obviously in their haste the looters hadn’t considered it worthy loot. He recovered a lantern from a house that had the door busted in and turned the flame low so as to save its light. As he neared the city wall he looked back to see if he could make out the keep. He couldn’t, all he saw was a pall of smoke that had a slight orange glow to it, lit by the fires that raged through the homes and businesses that once made up the mighty city of Rosholt.

Friday 10 October 2014

Scent: Part 1

Reven ran through the door of the inn to be greeted by an explosion of splinters and flame. One of the fiery projectiles that had been hurled by a trebuchet outside the city walls had crashed through the roof of the inn and landed squarely on the bar reducing it to little more than kindling. Reven was only a child and scared, old enough to understand what was going on but not old enough to know why. He regained his feet unsteadily, picking splinters out of his arm as he did so. The common room of the inn had fast filled with flames fuelled by the projectiles deadly flammable contents. Reven moved through the inn leaping through the fire as he went. His eyes were streaming, the heat and smoke stung them, his heart pounded in his chest, his legs ached and his head swam. He staggered through the smoke heading out the back of the inn and into the street. People were running past him heading toward the keep in the centre of town. Chaos reigned as more and more of the besiegers projectiles rained down. The screams of the injured and dying mingled with the roar of the ever spreading fires to create a nightmarish cacophony. Reven looked at the tall walls of the keep in the distance and saw liquid fire running down its sides where the projectiles hit. He quickly decided he would head away from the keep, away from where the attackers were focusing their attention. Another explosion sounded to his left, sending shrapnel from the destroyed building spraying into the street. An elderly woman slumped to the floor with a piece of wood the length of a forearm through her neck. Reven stared in horror as an ever growing pool of crimson surrounded the woman’s head and shoulders. It was too much, the insanity of his situation gave him renewed strength and he sprinted away in the opposite direction of the keep. This was better, after a few short minutes of running the fires receded behind him and the sound of screaming died away to almost nothing. It looked as if this part of the city was near empty. In his desperation Reven starting trying doors to houses hoping to find shelter. He pushed against door after door to no avail. At the end of the street he saw what looked to be a stable of sorts. He heard a roar go up from the besiegers; so loud that it would have made a god quiver. It was followed by a ground shaking crash. Reven was no expert but assumed the walls to the city had finally been breached, brought down by the relentless barrage that was set against them.
He sprinted toward the stable and vaulted over a fence landing on the soft hay that covered the floor. He made his way over to the door that led into the stable complex proper. He slid the latch aside and made his way in. Weak light crept in through the small windows at the top of the walls. More hay covered the floor and the place stank of excrement. The light wasn’t great but Reven could see well enough to note that the floor sloped away and down around a bend. It struck him as strange that there were no stalls to keep the horses in. As he paused to take in his surroundings a wave of exhaustion washed over him and he decided that this place was as good as any to hide out for a while. He made sure the door was shut behind him and headed down the slope. It grew darker as he made his way round the bend. Almost as soon as he started down the slope he noticed a metal gate set into the wall. The door had a metal bar hung through metal loops on its front which acted as its lock. The original lock sat behind this bar and from the rust on it Reven assumed it didn’t work. He tugged at the bar trying to draw it out of the rings but its weight was more than his arms could manage and after several futile attempts he slumped to the floor next to the gate too tired to do anymore. As he sat there he thought of the events of the past few hours. The horror he had felt as he had seen his home destroyed by a wayward projectile. The people inside may not have been his blood but they had taken him in and cared for him as if he was one of their own. They were his family, they were all he knew, all he remembered and he loved them. Tears welled in his eyes as the realisation dawned on him that he would not see them again but his sadness was soon replaced with anger. Who were these attackers? Why had they come to this city? Why did they want to see it burn? He surged to his feet hatred burning through his veins. He marched back up the ramp and looked closer at his surroundings. He saw a shovel in the corner. He picked it up and returned to the gate. He battered at the bar holding the door shut with the shovel, his anger lending him renewed strength. His hits were wild but one of them landed on the bottom of the bar loosening it. Seeing this Reven threw the shovel aside and tugged at the bar again. This time it came free, he tugged with such force that it sent him sprawling backwards. His head struck the floor as the metal bar clattered across the floor. Briefly stars danced before Reven’s eyes. The last thing he saw before losing consciousness was the gate swinging inwards and a set of burning red eyes staring out of the pitch black.

Thursday 9 October 2014

Gleaming Blood

Blood trickled down the shaft of the arrow and on to the arrow head that was gleaming so cheerfully in the light of the fires. The child would love to wrench it free, yet fear and pain kept it, and him, firmly in place. He was slumped forward over the remains of a table whimpering, calling out to his mother to save him, the rest of the arrow protruding from his back where it had struck him. His calls went unanswered, barely audible as the fires around him grew hotter and fiercer. They drew closer with each passing moment, belching thick smoke that blurred his vision and shortened his breath. His heart raced, pumping the blood from his wounds out onto the floor. The sticky puddle of crimson it was creating slowly creeping toward his feet. He was helpless and he was dying. The arrow had come close to completing its mission, it was loosed with the intention to kill and it had almost done so. The boy had no idea what was going on. Too innocent to understand hatred, too young to be staring death in the face, too fragile not to break under the weight of war.

The soldiers had descended quickly; the small village of Ortholt was ill prepared for such a ferocious advance. They were murderers all, clad in thick armour, wielding instruments of death, killing indiscriminately. Man, woman or child; all would fall, none would live. Ironic that the arrow lodged in the child’s back had been one of the few fired in defence, woefully missing its target yet still managing to find a suitably fleshy host. The soldiers moved fast, burning everything as they went, destroying everything as they went. It was over quickly, the sounds of battle had been fleeting as there was little resistance. A few villagers had hidden away but the fury of the fire and the ferocity of the attackers had taken its toll. The soldiers had left; the survivors were desperately searching for loved ones, for any life, clinging to a hope.

A young woman, no more than twenty years of age was hunting for her parents in the debris, she had been travelling back from the market when the attack had started, she had heard the battle, she could see the flames but she could not will her horses to travel any faster, the last part of the journey to Ortholt is a long winding descent from the hills above. At all times she could see the horror unfolding before her but she could do nothing to assist. By the time she had reached the outskirts of Ortholt the war party was leaving from the opposite side of the village. She remained stealthy shortly after their departure as she had had no wish to be counted amongst the dead. Her parent’s house was empty and burning, she searched frantically, calling out their names in the hope that she would get a response. She wished they had fled, yet seeing the carnage around her feared the worst. As she ran down the main street her attention was caught by a terrible sight. Bodies strewn all over the steps of the town hall, it looked as if the villagers had tried to make a stand there. It was the biggest building in town. Maybe people were still alive inside, alive and hiding.

She rushed up the first few steps only to stumble on a lifeless outstretched arm. Falling forward she steadied herself on the steps in front of her, scrambling up the stairs on all fours. Straightening herself up as she reached the top of the steps she came to a halt once more. The entrance hall to the building was thick with smoke; the back end of the town hall was on fire. She pulled her dress up to cover her mouth in a vain attempt to stop her from choking. She pressed on, moving into the building, the mingled stench of burning wood and flesh was stinging her nostrils. She began calling out again as she made her way through the main hall. She had never seen such carnage, it was impossible for her to believe that the twisted forms that appeared out of the smoke were once her neighbours and friends. She tried to push it from her mind but the more she searched the less lightly she thought it that she would find her parents alive. The building was starting to groan and shift, the fire would soon consume it totally. She was searching through the back rooms when she came across them, slumped together in a corner, her mother and father. Her mother had both her arms wrapped around her father whilst he had one of his arms around his wife’s shoulders; in his other hand he clutched a bow. It looked as if they had been the victims of the same fatal blow as a deep ridge had been cut across both their torsos. It appeared that they had fallen back in unison to die in each other’s arms. She knelt in front of them, gently patting and caressing their faces in some pathetic attempt to rouse them from their slumber. Only a god could wake the dead though. Leaning into them now she whispered of her love for them and assured them everything would be alright. They didn’t care though, they were together and beyond emotion.

The fire rampaged behind her and the building finally started to succumb to its fate. She heard the ceiling beams crashing to the floor in the room behind her; it shook her out of her grief long enough for her to collect herself. She started pulling at her parents arms in the hope that she could drag them to safety, but she was weak from the smoke and it seemed they were not keen to leave one and others embrace. She pulled with all her might only to find herself on her back empty handed. Again she tried but to no avail, this time only managing to pull one of her father’s rings free from his fingers. She cried out in frustration, following her cry was another, weaker but still a cry. She got to her feet and turned to look for the cries origin, she could see nothing. She went back to her parents, kneeling by them once more and kissing their cheeks, she assured them she would return for them.

As she moved out of the room and into the next she found her way barred with broken furniture. She stopped to try and see a way round, behind her she could hear more beams falling and something heavier give way as if the very ceilings themselves were starting to fall. She lashed out at the makeshift furniture barrier; kicking it hard with her foot. It gave way with a yelp. She scrambled over a table, only realising when she was on the other side that the yelp had originated from a young boy who was now trapped under it. She pulled him free with ease, the arrow that had skewered his body had snapped so that the tip now dangled down against his small limp body. The room was surrounded by fire; she could spy a window on one side. She picked up a stray table leg and used it to put the window through, all the time trying not to let the fire catch her clothes. She scooped up the now unconscious child and rushed to the window. She hadn’t realised how far from the ground they were, she would have to drop the boy out as there was no chance that they could both get through together. She did this; feeding his legs through the window first then holding his hands whilst she twisted him so as to avoid any more damage to the arrow and wound. As she loosened her grip and he fell landing feet first but dropping to the floor lifeless. She followed him out landing almost on top of him, and then dragged him away from the building as it groaned, struggling to hold itself up. When she was at a safe distance her thoughts turned to her parents once more. She wanted to go back in but she could see the building shifting, she took a step closer only to see the roof disappear and plummet into the building. The walls bowed under this collapse and promptly started following suit. Her parents would share the fate of many Ortholt inhabitants that day and be unceremoniously cremated. She cried; tears rolled down her face making streaks on her smoke stained cheeks; she was delusional, thinking she had failed them.

As the building fell in on itself and flashes of hot air rushed at her she pulled the boy further to safety. A few of the other survivors had made their way towards the young woman. There were only a handful of them. Together they all moved away from the village as the fires consumed it. The young woman’s attentions were once again back on the little boy, she tore off his tunic to better explore his wound. As she felt around it with her fingers he opened his eyes and greeted her with a look of sheer agony. She stared at him briefly then pulled him close and said “We died today; on this day, we died”.

          Reven stood, leaning against the deep-set window frame looking out onto the courtyard. It had been raining for almost two weeks now. “It’s as grey and dull outside as it is in here”, he exclaimed, turning to look at Manarco who was busy picking dirt from under his finger nails. His comment was met with a wry smile. They had been stationed at Fort Augress for nearly a month without seeing any action. Reven’s unit had been commanded to bolster the garrison already stationed there but he thought it to be a waste of his men’s fighting prowess. The war between King Uthgar and the upstart Lord Viscerrias had stretched on for over 20 years. The loss of life had been great and at long last it looked as if the King was finally getting the upper hand. The war had started as many do in a quest for power, or to put a finer point on it, Viscerrias’s quest for Uthgar’s power. Since Uthgar’s ascension to the throne he had many critics. This fact alone seemed to be enough to weaken his standing with the people; a King that would allow criticism of his actions must either be weak or a fool. Many of the Lords and Ladies who had once aligned themselves with Uthgar swiftly defected when Viscerrias had declared his intentions to take the throne form the King. The Kingdom was divided, the loyalists rallying in the south of Erath, whilst the rebels settled in the north. Many lives had been lost and all life in Erath had been tainted by the war.

Reven himself had lost his parents and very nearly his own life at the tender age of six. If Brieny hadn’t saved him he would have shared his mother’s fate and burned in the fires of Ortholt. His father had been killed in battle and he had very little recollection of him. In fact he could barely remember his mother, or even his youth in Ortholt before the attack. Brieny, with a few other survivors had taken him to the monastery at Greenfield where the monks had used their arcane ways to bring him back from the brink of death. He couldn’t recall any of this; Brieny often talked of it though. He still bore the scar from where the arrow had pierced his back and punched through his chest. He kept the arrowhead as a memento on a chain round his neck. This scar though paled in comparison to the scars the monks gave him. They had to carve runes into his very flesh to keep him alive. He bore them proudly and had little choice as they covered the vast majority of his body. The medical act of rune-writing on flesh had been outlawed decades before as the recipient would usually lose their mind but under the circumstances on that fateful day the monks had little recourse. And aside from that fact, Reven had no ill effects from the runes. He was of sound body and mind, gifted in the art of war. He had in fact gained some small measure of fame for coming through so many battles unscathed. He had left the monastery at the age of thirteen to join the Kings army. Several years later he heard that the Greenfield monastery had been raised to the ground and the monks slaughtered by Viscerrias’s renegades. He’d known that his saviour Brieny had left shortly after him but he couldn’t help but feel sad at the thought of all those good men lying dead at the hands of Viscerrias’s scum.

Army life suited Reven though. He had worked his way through the ranks steadily and worked hard to understand the arts of combat and tactics. He had held the title of captain for a little over a year and his company had gained infamy amongst the enemy for their lightning attacks and devastating charges. They had been branded ‘The Elite’ by their peers, well known for their ferocity in battle and their unwavering support of the King. They had tested their mettle many times and had never been found wanting. But now they were stuck here in Fort Augress waiting for the enemy to make their move. Reven was sure that they would see battle whilst at the fort. It was the northern most outpost of the King’s Army and as such was usually under constant attack from Lord Viscerrias’s forces. Reven had a feeling that once the rain ceased the fighting would begin. Something needed to happen soon, he had just over sixty men under his command and every one of them was starting to get salty. They lived for battle and glorious victory and it had been so long since the sounds of thunderous battle rang in their ears. Manarco was Reven’s second in command; they had fought many battles together and shared an unspoken respect. And now they sat guarding this decaying fort from non-existent enemies. It seemed unbelievable to them that in this world so full of horrors that they had not had to ready for battle once. No marauding host of orcs, no rabble of ogres, what was the world coming to!

Manarco could take no more, “How do you fancy a walk?” he asked, “Let us not sit here stewing our brains in ale. Let us embrace this foul weather and wander”. Reven turned to him smiling, “How you remain so upbeat in the face of such dire boredom is beyond me. Come then, let us go. Maybe we will come across some foul beast worthy of our swords”. The last part of the sentence said with a hint of sarcasm that Manarco seemed to enjoy. They both made their way down the stairs, checking the straps on their armour as they went. Even though it had been so quiet at the fort they would be foolish to venture out unprepared. Reven bristled with weapons, two swords; one hung on each hip, he wore a brace of knives across his chest and one tucked in each boot. A shield was slung across his back, obscuring from view his bow and quiver, the companies’ emblem of the screaming fanged skull emblazoned across it. He looked ready for battle and rarely removed all of his weapons, constantly feeling ill at ease in this time of war. Manarco, by contrast, was relatively lightly armed. He carried one huge two handed sword that he sheathed across his back and a dagger he wore at his side. He had named the sword Arkanus after the god of war.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Start 4

The boy bled from a multitude of wounds. An arrows broken shaft jutted from his chest, the tip buried deep within him. His arms were broken, one of them so badly that the bones stuck out through his skin. His young body was covered in gashes and bruises. Maybe he had been trampled by horses, dragged along by one or just used for sport by some of the raiders. Werteld couldn’t really tell and if honest he didn’t really care. When he looked at the boys broken form all he could see was gold coins.

Werteld’s chief, Eeblin the Grey, had led the bandit raiding party into the small hamlet of Ortholt to attack the merchant caravan that rested there for the night. The slaughter had been glorious and taken the merchants and the residents of the tiny settlement by complete surprise. There was some minor resistance from the merchant’s small contingent of guards but they had all been put to the sword quick enough with hardly a loss counted amongst the raiders. Werteld had been tasked with rounding up the remnants of the hamlets residence whilst Eeblin had some men readied the merchant’s wagons for departure. The boy lay in front of the other 6 that had been rounded up. There were two women who could be used as pleasure girls, an old man that appeared to have no immediate use and the rest were children who would be sold into slavery. The battered form of the boy lay unmoving before them. Werteld would have him delivered to the mage Berinsthor. He had been looking for fresh cadavers to practice his foul magic’s on and by the time this boy reached him Werteld had no doubt he would be dead. Dead but fresh. “You, old man. Come forward”, Werteld pointed at the ground in front of him to emphasise his point. The old man limped forward. He had dried blood on one side of his face and looked worse for wear. “What is your name?” Werteld enquired. “Jacobi Erst my lord”, the old mans voice quivered as he responded. “What is your trade Jacobi Erst? Do you have any skills that may help my band of brothers and I?”. “I was a carpenter of some repute in my day, unfortunately my hands aren’t as steady as they used to be so it has been a while since I have put chisel to wood” Jacobi held his hands up to demonstrate his point. They shook badly, their vibration was constant. Werteld walk around the old man with a hand on his chin as if contemplating something. As he reached Jacobi’s back he unsheathed a dagger and ran the cool steel so deep through the old man’s throat that he hit spine. Jacobi Erst died without a sound but with plenty of mess. He fell to the floor in a heap as his lifeblood pooled dark red on the floor in front of him. Werteld knelt down and wiped his blade clean before returning it to the scabbard at his side. He rose and turned to his captives. “You five, follow that ugly bastard with the big bushy beard over there” and indicated for the woman and children to move with a point of his finger. He shouted orders at his bearded companion he turned and looked at the boy. “You’ll go to old Berinsthor”, he grinned at his declaration, flashing heavily stained teeth as he did so. He nudged the boy with his boot but was greeted with no acknowledgement from the child’s recumbent form. “The boss wouldn’t like it if he knew, so don’t say a word”, Werteld chuckled to himself at his quip as he dragged the boy away by the foot. He would load him onto his horse and offload him before nightfall.

The rain beat down hard as Werteld made his way up the winding path to Berinsthors tower. It was called Crag Spire and sat atop a cliff on a piece of land that jutted out into The Lonely Sea. The winding path was not travelled often, the mage was not one for socialising. Werteld had made this trip several times before with newly deceased victims of his bandit brother’s attacks. It was turning out to be quite lucrative and would remain so as long as nobody found out. The sale of cadavers was punishable by death even in these dire times. Necromancy was rife and not something the ruling power wanted to encourage. He looked up at the spire and a chill passed through him. Crag Spire was a twisted evil looking place and the fading evening light lent it an even darker aspect. Werteld would be in and out as quick as he could be. He dismounted from his horse at the foot of the stairs that led up to the huge double doors at the towers entrance. He pulled the boy from the back of his mount. He had wrapped him in a blanket and bound it with rope to hide the boy’s broken form from prying eyes. The blanket had been soaked through with blood in several places and Werteld wondered how such a small body could contain so much of the stuff. He hoisted the body over his shoulder and made the short climb up to the doors. Before Werteld had reached the last step the heavy doors started swinging inwards. They made no sound as they moved and there was nobody on the other side of them to greet him. Berinsthor loved his little tricks. Werteld moved inside the tower. A familiar sight to Werteld, the room was lit by several braziers that burned with a soft glow. There was a door at either side of the one of which he knew the wizard would be behind. He shrugged the boys body off of his shoulder and dumped him unceremoniously on the floor. Werteld knelt down and untied his package pulling the rope free and unfurling the blanket to reveal the mages prize. A viewing slit in the door on Werteld’s right slid open. The eye’s that gazed out fixed on Werteld and then dropped to the boy on the floor

Start 3

Rivulets of blood ran between the stones from the gaping wound in the man’s head as he slumped lifeless against the towers wall. He had been a rebel under the charge of Lord Karramar, the latest man to try for the throne. This dead man had been more than just a rebel. He was the first man that Reven had killed. The fighting had been fierce and Reven and his unit were fresh into the ranks of the Black Guard. Only days had passed since he had joint this company of fighting men and already he was in the thick of it. No real training had been provided as he and his new companions had spent the last two days marching to break the siege of Osmir Keep. There was no respite. As soon as they had arrived they had been formed up into units and given their orders. Reven’s unit numbered about forty, all fresh faced recruits. Sergeant Ledyn had given them simple orders. Reven’s unit were to approach the rebels left flank and do as much damage as possible. They would be a vanguard for more seasoned units, soaking up punishment whilst the real soldiers made their tactical advances. If they lived, they were to return to the plain black banner that the leather faced sergeant had placed into the ground. The sergeant had explained that the banner was plain because none of Reven’s unit was worthy to fight in one of the named companies. He sneered at them as he explained this, his leathery face wrinkling as a half-smile crept across it. Reven had an instant dislike of the man and looking at those around him he thought he was not the only one who felt this way. Sergeant Ledyn had chosen the biggest recruit to lead them, a boy named Danil. He looked to be about the same age as Reven, no more than sixteen, but his was much larger. His arms were a thick as Reven’s thighs and he towered over the rest of the unit. He wore his black hair in a top knot and wore the same simple black leather armour as the rest of the unit. Reven looked at his companions, they were more or less all boys. The ages must of ranged anywhere from ten years of age up to seventeen or eighteen. They were all armed the same with short blades and shields and most had the same unmistakable look of fear in their eyes.

The fighting around the keep had already started. The Black Guard were not the only loyalist troops answering the call for aid but it did look as if they were one of the last forces to arrive. The enemies left flank had already seen fighting in and around a watch tower and some out buildings. Reven’s unit approached the battle at a run and stopped short before entering the fray. Despite Danil’s size he looked visibly shaken by the sights and sounds of the battle in front of him. Reven couldn’t blame him. Two forces were in amongst each other, caught in close fighting, the shadow of the tower looming over them. There appeared to be no order to the fighting. It was brutal and bloody and the clash of weapon and shield was almost deafening. The boy next to Reven whimpered as he emptied his bladder, leaving a pool of piss at his feet. Reven took a side step away from the lad and readied himself. Danil straightened and turned to his new unit, he looked as if he wanted to say something inspiring but the words seemed to stick in his throat. Looking at his fellows it appeared as if half of them were ready to run. This apprehension would be short lived. At their backs came some of the Black Guard troops, they were a way off but it was enough. This stirred the unit into action as they ran to enter the fray. Reven howled as he launched himself forward, adrenaline flooding his system. His call was echoed by some of his comrades as they rushed onward. Some of Karramar’s rebels turned to face this new threat. They hurled abuse at the approaching boys, taunting them as they raised their weapons to repel the assault. As Reven approached the boy at his side raced passed him. He screamed as he drew his arm back to strike out with his sword but his scream was cut short as his head was removed from his neck without ceremony. The head landed squarely in front of Reven and he couldn’t help treading on it as he sped forward. He slipped and lurched to the side, having to use his hands to stop him going all the way over. One of the rebel soldiers stepped forward and struck down with a two handed axe. More by luck than by design the blow struck Reven’s shield and brought his tumble to an abrupt end as the force of the blow knocked him the rest of the way to the floor. His arm when numb as the impact drove the shield back on top of him. Reven scrabbled to move away from the next blow and half rolled out of its way this time more prepared he hoisted the shield up with his still numb left arm. The axe came straight through this time, shearing away the bottom half of the shield, barely missing Reven’s forearm. The shield fell away completely as the wrist straps were rendered useless. Reven’s attacker stamped down on his leg as if to hold him in place while he pulled his axe free from the ground where it had ended its descent. The ease at which it passed through the shield even seemed to surprise the rebel. Reven didn’t need his leg, he swung the sword he still gripped in his hand at the man’s arm with all the strength he could muster. It smashed into the rebels arm at the elbow. The blade wasn’t keen enough to slice through the leather jerkin that protected his opponent but Reven’s ears were met with a gratifying crunch and an accompanying scream. The rebel stepped back cradling his broken arm with his other hand. His guard down he didn’t notice the sword that was being swung at his face by one of Reven’s cohort. The blade caught him straight on the chin, smashing his jaw to pieces and leaving a bloody rent in what used to be his face, he fell down dead without uttering a sound. Danil looked down at Reven and nodded, his bloodied sword dripping gore as he took off in a hunt for a new enemy. Reven came to his feet, looking about as he did so. Only seconds had passed and many of his comrade’s bodies already littered the ground, broken and bleeding. Reven shook the last of the numbness out of his arm and moved into the fray.

This is where he met the first man he would kill. Reven moved into the battle looking for an opponent. He had followed Danil into the press, hoping that he might stay alive longer by being at the big lad’s side. He lunged in with his sword at the first of Karramar’s men he met. The man was already in combat with another of the Black Guard recruits. As the man parried Reven’s thrust the other boy swung at his leg. The rebel couldn’t parry both attacks at once and was brought down onto one knee, Reven kicked at his face and the man reeled backwards, his arms coming up instinctively to protect his already broken nose. The other recruit wasted no time capitalising on the opportunity and stabbed his sword in to the rebel’s chest, ending his pain. Reven moved on, he could see some of the black leather clad recruits doing battle at the base of the tower and he moved to aid them. Despite even numbers these boys were well outmatched by the rebel soldiers and it was telling. One boy cowered behind his shield, another was wrestling desperately with a rebel, both vying for control of the same sword. The third recruit had already lost his battle as Reven approached. His assailant was removing his sword from the recruit’s guts. He turned in time to see Reven’s approach and raised his sword and shield in defence. They circled each other briefly before the man struck. Time seemed to slow as the rebel’s sword arced toward Reven. His sword in a two handed grip he moved his sword to counter, batting his adversaries blow aside with ease and then striking out with his own. The blow landed on the rebels shield but with enough force to stagger him a little, Reven followed up with another swing but again the shield was there. The rebel swung low with his sword, forcing Reven to hop back. He tried to follow up by bashing Reven with his shield but Reven saw it coming and using his left hand grabbed the shield and pulled his opponent toward him spinning as he did so. The momentum carried the rebel past him and sent him circling back first into the wall of the tower. The rebels head cracked against the wall and Reven continued to let his body spin put all the force of the movement behind his sword. The blade bit home just above the man’s eye, tearing a deep gash that only ended when the sword struck the stone wall. Blood sprayed up the wall along with pieces of brain matter and the man slumped down, his arm twitching as he did so. He tilted to the left and that’s where he stayed. Blood gushed from the wound, running down the wall and pooling on the floor. Reven had never known that a head contained so much blood. He stood staring at the man for a moment as the battle continued to rage around him. He stared at the man’s face and knew he would always remember it.

He moved on, emboldened by his first kill, taking his fight to whoever would face him. The rebel struggling with the Black Guard recruit was next. Reven buried his sword into the man’s side ending the struggle. So it went, the battle was short lived. When the Black Guard soldiers joined the fray after the recruits they had butchered the rebels, outmanning and overmatching them at every turn. The left flank was won and soon

Start 2

The entrance to the cave looked like the maw of some legendary monster, shrouded in gloom with broken rocks scattered around its cavernous opening. Reven thought these rocks resembled teeth and wondered if that was the intention; to present a more fearsome visage to any would be attackers. Gazing around he noted that there was a recently extinguished fire that sat just outside the caves mouth. Wisp’s of smoke still rose from the embers indicating that the fire had not long been done with. Bones and scraps were strewn about the place, discarded with abandon, the remnants of the bandits evening meal. Reven hoped they had enjoyed it. If everything went according to plan it would be the last meal these robbing bastards would ever have.

The bandits are what had drawn him here after all. They had been holed up this cave for a short time using it as a base of operations from which they struck out at merchant wagons and travellers that were on the road to Blackcliff. They hadn’t been here long and as yet hadn’t done enough to fully rouse the attention of the Blackcliff Guard or ‘Black Guard’ as they were more commonly known. Reven had sat and listened with interest to the victims of these attacks as they had made their way into Blackcliff. Sitting by the fire in The Lonely Bard, they were only too happy to regale anyone that would listen with their tales of misfortune. The Guard had gone out and made preliminary searches of the scenes of the attacks but had not progressed their investigations any further. They were already stretched to thinly and too undermanned to worry about a few bandits running loose in the countryside. It was a sorry state of affairs but it did work out to Reven’s advantage. He would clear the cave of this nest of bandits and their spoils would become his. Justice would be served upon them and their ill-gotten gains would be put to good use by keeping Reven in the lifestyle he was accustomed to.

Reven gave his weapons one last look over to ensure everything was in order. It was ritual of his before going on the hunt. He unhooked his bow from his shoulder, running his hand over the finely carved wood as he did so. Whilst he was an accomplished sword fighter he liked the simplicity of the bow. He liked the thrill of a stealthy kill. Something about the fact that his opponents would never see death coming excited him. The wood of the bow was nearly completely black. There were silver runes inlaid into the wood at different points but he had no understanding of what they meant. The bow had no magical properties that he knew of so he assumed the runes had never been magical or had long since lost their charge. He didn’t care. The bow had served him well since he had discovered it and had reaped havoc amongst his foes. In fact most of Reven’s weapons and armaments had come to him as loot or by lucky chance. The sword he wore across his back was won in a bet. It was a no frills weapon, 3 feet of steel mounted on an iron hilt. The black leather grip was finished with a round pommel that was decorated with a snarling dogs head. Reven always looked kindly on this part of the blade. He had an affection for animals; found them to be more trustworthy than people for the most part. Beyond the curved blade he wore at his side and the quiver full of arrows at his back he didn’t carry anything else. He had an array of pouches on his belt that were lefty empty. The hope being that they would be full by the time he passed back this way. He wore a dull iron breast plate over a thin chain mail shirt that was worn over a simple black under shirt. His trousers were made of leather, again they were black as suited a man in his profession. His outfit was finished off with well-worn leather boots. In truth he could do with some proper armour. Some new pieces that were made to fit properly instead of the rag tag collection he wore now would be a real benefit. The knowledge of this was not enough though, it was an expensive business kitting yourself out with new gear. Maybe after this little adventure he would treat himself to a fresh pair of boots. He looked himself over one more time and checked his grip on his bow. It was time for action.

He moved stealthily toward the cave mouth and peered in. The bandits had been kind enough to leave some torches burning along the sides of the cave and no lookout. Reven moved in nocking an arrow, making his way up a tunnel into the cave. The tunnel spiralled off in several directions but Reven chose to stick to the path that was illuminated by the torches. Here and there they had burnt themselves out leaving an expanse of darkness that he would occasionally have to fumble through. He put his back to the wall of tunnel as he heard sounds up ahead. He crouched and stuck close to the wall as he moved toward the sound. As he got nearer he could make out muffled voices. He tightened his grip on his bow and drew back the string a little, readying himself for conflict. As he moved up there was a recess in the tunnel wall that he slipped into so that he could better hear what the bandits were discussing without fear of a surprise discovery. “Come on Bron!” a gruff male voice shouted. “You’ve been in there for an age. Every time you’re on watch you spend half the time in the shitter”. This outburst was followed by loud banging on wood and accompanied by a woman’s laughter. “Bron’s scared of the dark is all, he shits himself!” the woman’s shrill laughter rang out again this time accompanied by the man’s harsh chortle. Reven used the entertainment Bron’s bowels has provided as an opportunity to move up the tunnel. As the source of the voices came into view he crouched against the wall surveying the scene.

The shrill woman was sitting on a pile of firewood, her back to him. In front of her at the back of the cave was an entrance to another tunnel that led further away into the cave system. The woman was dressed in simple brown leathers with furs thrown over her shoulders to stave off the cold. To the left of the cave a similarly dressed man with long matted black hair was standing in front of an up-ended table top which looked to be serving as a makeshift privy door. A hand axe hung from his belt and a dagger was tucked into the back of his leather trousers. In the centre of the cave stood a battered old table that had some bottles and goblets on it along with some weapons. A pair of swords, a well-used battle axe that looked as if it might break if swung too hard and a crossbow. The man banged on the makeshift door again and then turned. He didn’t see Reven immediately, he took a few steps toward the woman before he noticed the glint of Reven’s arrow head which was about half a second before Reven loosed the arrow at his target. The man’s face ran through several expressions before Reven’s arrow buried itself deep in his left eye. First slack jawed surprise, then brief anger followed a by a fleeting look of serenity as his life came to an abrupt end. The man’s head snapped back in response to Reven’s attack, falling lifelessly to the floor with a thump. The woman leapt up with a start, struck dumb by what she had just witnessed. She spun and cursed as she saw Reven’s approach but was too slow to cause a direct threat. Reven had unsheathed another arrow even as the man was falling into his eternal sleep. He loosed it at the woman and it struck her in the side as she turned. She wailed as the shaft buried itself deep into her guts. Her scream was loud enough to wake the dead. Now it was Reven that cursed, a poor shot that has ruined his stealthy insurrection. The woman had somehow carried on moving and had made it to the table shouting for aid. Reven heard movement to his left that came in response to her calls. He drew back on his bow once more and this time the arrow flew true striking the woman so powerfully in the chest that it almost passed through her. She collapsed backwards onto the table scattering bottles as she fell. Several of them smashed as she flailed her arms in her death flight. The up-ended table top exploded as Bron entered the fray. He was a huge man, his bright orange beard tumbling down his front and his heavily tattooed face gave him a fearsome look. He wielded a warhammer the size of a child and rushed into the cave bellowing a war cry as he drank in the scene before him. He came quickly at Reven, battle lust already blazing in his eyes, fuelled by the deaths of his companions. Reven took Bron’s measure, dropping his bow he drew the sword that he wore across his back and moved toward his opponent. Bron swung the Warhammer with such force that if it had connected it would have turned Reven’s head to mush. Luckily it didn’t connect as Reven ducked deftly beneath the blow and rose quicker still, sinking the point of his sword into Bron’s stomach, using his own momentum and that of Bron’s to force his blade up until its tip protruded from the back of Bron’s neck. Bron was still coming forward as he died, his weight throwing Reven off balance resulting in both men sprawling on the floor.

Reven scrambled to his feet expecting more assailants to appear from the tunnel-way at the rear of the cave. He looked over to the tunnel as he tried to roll Bron onto his front so that he could retrieve his sword. As he struggled rolling the big man over, he realised that there were no hurried steps making their way to the cave. No screams of anger or oaths being sworn. In fact there was nothing. All he could hear was his own breath and the gentle babble of an underground stream coming from where Bron had been taking care of his ‘business’. Reven remained alert but set about pulling his sword free from its lifeless host. It came away with a sucking sound, blood ran freely from its tip. Reven wiped the blade clean on Bron’s beard before returning it to its scabbard. Reven was an opportunist by nature and as such he would never pass up a chance at easy coin. There was nothing easier than relieving a dead man of his valuables so he set about looking through the pouches that sat along the font of Bron’s belt. He moved onto the woman and finally on to his first male victim emptying pockets and purses as he went. They didn’t carry much in the way of valuables but he would collect up the weapons on his way out if he didn’t find more worthy loot further into the cave. He doubted he would need to though. Merchants were known for having heavy purses and unless these bandits had managed to spend all the coin they had robbed he should come across their stash as he moved further into their lair.

Reven recovered the arrows he could from the fallen bodies and moved toward the back of the cave. The tunnel that led away from him was narrower than the last and led downwards. The walls were moist and patches of moss sprung up here and there. He had to arm himself with a torch to combat the creeping darkness of the passageway. It would give away his position in the darkness but was a necessity if he wanted to continue his foray into the bandit’s lair. He held the torch low to the ground and a bit behind him so that he didn’t impair his sight too much. He wanted his eyes to grow accustom to the gloom so that he could spy any would be assailants. He continued through the tunnel for another few minutes. He could understand now why there was no aid for the bandit’s stricken comrades. There could have been a hundred of them screaming and shouting and nobody this far in would have been able to hear a thing. Reven rounded a curve in the tunnel and thought he could see a faint light ahead. He threw his torch back up the tunnel so it would not forewarn his prey of his arrival. He would be able to recover it if he had to make a hasty retreat. From the reports of the travellers there were no more than seven or eight bandits involved in the attacks. Reven was hoping he could pick the rest of the bandits off at a distance with his bow. He was a fair swordsman but odds of four or five to one would be a stretch for even the most gifted of warriors. The bow was safer. He moved down and could see a torch burning at the end of the tunnel. It looked as if the tunnel made a sharp right turn just before its end. There was more light spilling from this right turn and he could now hear feint voices. As he moved toward the turn he noticed that there were rags on the floor of the tunnel spilling out from a nook he couldn’t see from his previous position. He moved up warily, his nerves stretched to breaking. He didn’t like blind corners and from the sound of the voices they were not far into the next chamber that lay just around this corner. He drew an arrow and held his bow at the ready. He moved closer, his back against the wall. As he came to the corner he peered over his right shoulder to see what he could see. He slowly dropped to a crouch and surveyed the scene. This cave was larger than the last and was littered on one side with bed rolls. A fire burned in the middle, the smoke from which disappeared into cracks and crevices in the ceiling.

Start 1

The sun streaming through the trees glinted off the arrows head as it sailed through the air. It punched straight through the back of a soldier’s leather jerkin and jutted out of his chest, snapping as he crumpled to the ground with barely a sound. His sword dropped into the long grass a few feet away from where he fell. The grass cushioned its fall. Reven looked at Jorkir with a new found sense of respect. It seemed as if he had timed his shot to perfection knowing that…