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Thread: [RP story] End of the dusty trail – life and death of Jansensen, Gunderman fighter

  1. #1

    Default [RP story] End of the dusty trail – life and death of Jansensen, Gunderman fighter

    Hi guys.

    This is the ending to my main char’s story. Sort of a destiny while I still play out the intervening time in game.

    I have also reposted some of my char’s stories from the old forums, as they will be lost forever pretty soon.

    The stories are posted backwards with the end first and then goes to the beginning at the end.


    P.S. Please post comments, if you wish.

    Summoning the darkness

    The Gunderman half-breed who was called Jansensen straightened and examined the occult circle he had chalked onto the floor of the filthy rented room on Tarantia’s wharfs. He would not have to stay even the full hour he had paid for.

    He sighed and thought how close he had been to redemption at one stage in the recent past. He thought of his comrades, the brave few who waded through rivers of blood and still kept their vision and drive.

    But he knew himself. When among them he could believe that he could be a good person, an honourable and worthy companion. Yet, when he was alone, his thoughts turned back to darkness, to oblivion. Ah, the sweet nepenthe he sought: freedom from responsibility.

    This ritual would cut his very soul from his walking corpse and replace it with a dark soul from ancient Acheron.

    It would give him immortality, of a sort, and power. Not him, as such. His brief spark of a soul would be snuffed out. But what continued to walk in his body would wield the power every warrior sought: freedom from death. A soldier could usually only fight until his last strength; this ritual would enable the night-weird to draw on nigh-limitless sources of cosmic power. And all it would cost was his dark, twisted and wounded soul.

    A bargain, he thought.

    He cursed the tears welling up in his eyes, cursed himself, cursed the universe. How could he betray his comrades who had invested so much trust, time and effort in him? But they could not see the darkness inside him.

    He smiled and sniffed through his tears. Now, at least, the darkness inside would no longer be him. It would be another being, a twisted monster from the outer dark. He still felt that its soul would be less black than his tarnished, miserable and skulking one. At least the terrible acts that it commits will not be his doing any longer.

    He pulled out the black Stygian dagger he used to draw life and power from living and dead creatures, and gashed his arm with it. He dripped the dark-red blood in a uniform pattern around the circle, muttering ancient and foul names of things that would have been gods had they been even remotely rational, instead of coldly alien and terrible.

    He felt the magic of the dagger draw his life out, felt himself weaken but knew that the life energy had nowhere to go. This was a key part of the ritual, the summoning of the darkness into an empty and receptive vessel.

    He chanted the names of a host of lesser demons and gods, building up to those beyond even the realms of the gods proper.

    From out of his eyes, his nose and mouth, a darkly glowing cloud was drawn, wine-red and flecked with specks of pure darkness. It roiled in front of his streaming eyes. He could barely see it and was unsure if it was because of the cloud emerging from his tear ducts, or the tears themselves, obscuring his vision.

    He had gone to such lengths to save that part of his soul stolen by just such a ritual. Now there would be no redemption, no matter how much he fought because the first ritual was forced upon him; this one would be voluntary and eternal.

    Would they know it was not I walking in this sack of flesh? Would they see that it is not I? Would they forgive me? Would they be merciful and kill me?

    He stood holding a burning match to light the final candle that would precipitate the ritual, held it until it began scorching his fingers, held it until it burned out. Then he stood in the dark, on the verge of summoning even darker darkness into his soul…. He stood like a statue, his life slowly leaching from him and dripping onto the floor to merge with the other rubbish and filth of humanity.
    Last edited by ArcaneScientius; 13th March 2013 at 14:11. Reason: minor edit to add story timeline
    In balance with this life, this death
    -- Hand of Ibis RiP
    Magic is seeing what happens when you hit someone really hard, and when they disappear in a red spray, that's magic.
    -- Jansensen, Gunderman fighter {max taps - RiP}
    CQB Ranger

  2. #2

    Default Ju Jia Paikang

    (I love this playfield. Beautiful and varied, as well as bloody difficult for anyone without Khitai blues and a number of AAs.)

    Jan dashed through the knee-high seawater, stumbling away from the crazed assailant who had ambushed him in a hut in Ju Jia village. He had fallen over the pier the hut was built on into the sea and, gasping for air and in shock, he had grabbed onto the blue-green, rotten hand of a corpse tied to a pillar of the pier. He had immediately snatched his hand back, but the slimy feeling still clung to him and he shuddered again in revulsion. He had seen many gruesome things in his time as a soldier, but a seawater-ripened corpse of an elderly lady was a shock to his system, especially in the midst of the almost idyllic setting of the sea-washed bay of Ju Jia.

    He stumbled in the water and fell into the wreckage of a fishing boat mixed with the remnants of a merchant ship sticking out of the soft sands, both bearing the oddly straight lines of ships built in Khitai, and hid in the wreckage’s moist depths, fighting the vomit rising like waves in his throat. He sat as quietly as he could, shivering slightly despite the tropical weather. Eventually, he heard the muted sounds of a foot moving stealthily through the water - the foot of the one who hunted him.

    He heard another call to the unseen lurker who called back in answer, discarding stealth. The lilting language that the people of Khitai spoke sometimes confused him still, but he believed that the caller had said something about the village.

    Jan was becoming furious as the bile dropped back down his throat. He vomited swiftly into the water swirling around his waist, wiped his mouth and felt much better, allowing his rage to rise to new heights.

    The village elder could not know yet what he had discovered. She had merely asked him to seek out her missing villagers. He had stumbled onto a bleak truth of the impoverished village.

    Jan cautiously poked his head out of the wreckage and looked around warily, expecting the crackle of magic or the venomous hiss of a speeding arrow. He heard the water slowly washing against the wreck and the distant shore. He experienced a strange wrenching of his mind as he moved from inside the cramped, wet confines of the wreck into the vast blue dome that was the limitless sky and sandy atolls of the Paikang coast. The dazzlingly bright day evaporated his feeling of doom; the scudding clouds and wheeling gulls banished the darkness from his soul.

    But he understood that it was an illusion. An image of the deceased woman under the pier returned to him and he sought out the likely direction the strange Khitan who had ambushed and then stalked him would have taken. He felt again the hackles rise on his neck as he remembered the encounter in the gloomy little hut, and understood that the Khitan was probably a cultists or magician who used powders and powers to dull the senses of victims and trigger a monstrous fear that clouds judgement before he struck. Jan was determined not to be caught unawares again. He would see how well the cultist fought when he did not have time to use his powders.

    He looked over the shallow waters towards the towering sandstone and limestone cliffs that dot the shallow bay like broken teeth in an old man’s gums - worn away by time and use. That was the most likely direction the Khitan would have taken, Jan decided.

    Fear washed from him as mud does from a shoe, and his mind became his own again. His stride carried him swiftly towards the cliffs.

    “Magic,” he thought. Blood and bones, but he hated the feeling of another bending his mind.

    Jan saw that a number of shipwrecks were clustered around the cliffs and decided that the bay must have been deeper in the past, but shallow enough to stave in unwary ships’ hulls.

    He suddenly stopped as he saw a movement near the cliffs. He turned and entered the long shadow of a cliff looming in the afternoon sunshine, using the shade to approach the jumbled mass of wreckage at the base of the cliff, preventing any glint of light from his harness betraying him. He began to methodically study the cliffs. He saw smoke rising from the wrecks around their bases, and saw, faintly in the glare of the afternoon, people moving like ants across the sandy beaches.

    Jan was looking at a rude village built in the wrecks of the ships. He marvelled, but wondered how they fed themselves without fields and livestock. He walked slowly towards the nearest cliff through the shallow water.

    As he approached the nearest cliff, still hidden by its lengthening shadow, he spied a man squatting on the small beach at its base who seemed engaged with something he held in his hands. Jan stalked closer, holding his sword to prevent it from rattling. He crouched down and looked over the sandbank at the dishevelled man. Jan could smell a stench wafting from the man and picked out matted hair held back by all manner of leather cords and festooned with copper pieces woven into the tresses. He noted particularly the well-worn short sword that hung at the man’s side and the dagger strapped to his forearm.

    Jan saw an object the man held flash in the fading sunlight, and the man hooted and chuckled greedily as he inspected the object. Jan softly, ever so softly, tread closer to the crouching man, using the rhythm of the waves and the cries of gulls to mask the steps taken. He stood now looking over the man’s back, and saw to the man’s left a heap of shiny objects, coins, chains, gems, polished metal ornaments and there, where it had rolled off, a finger with a ring still on it; the object he had seen flashing in the light.

    Jan gripped his scabbard and gently pulled his blade from its sheath as a pair of squabbling gulls passed over the cliff, his shadow streaming off to his left. The dirty bandit hesitated as he made to lay another coin on the pile. He saw an extra shadow behind him, but before he could make a move, Jan had plunged his sword through the man’s back, pinning his crouching frame to the soft sands below him.

    Gulls cawed and the man sighed and sagged onto his knees, blood streaming down the blade, quickly drunk by the thirsty sand.

    “A bandit camp,” thought Jan. That explained the lack of fields, as plunder was the lifeblood of such communities, not industry. An apt hiding place for the degenerate cultists targeting Ju Jia village.

    Jan stuffed most of the man’s small hoard into his money belt, leaving the bulky items to be claimed by the sea. He then made his way into the soft shadow of the cliff, the evening star beginning to blaze above the crimson horizon.

    He knew that he was methodical; slow even, one could say. But his journeys as a soldier have taught him that information and knowledge were almost as critical as swords for victory. In fact, if one could outwit one’s opponents and prevent them from fighting, that would demonstrate an acme of skill far surpassing the skill of most generals. However, for his own purposes, he knew that he lacked the talent and wit to outwit his enemies, and rather studied the bandit village in the hopes of emerging alive after killing the cultist.

    Killing the cultist was now a given. He could no more leave an enemy alive behind his back than he could undo his own sordid history of pillage and murder. It had become a habit borne out of experience, a habit for survival.
    Last edited by ArcaneScientius; 15th March 2013 at 10:50. Reason: corrected beeches to beaches, of to off
    In balance with this life, this death
    -- Hand of Ibis RiP
    Magic is seeing what happens when you hit someone really hard, and when they disappear in a red spray, that's magic.
    -- Jansensen, Gunderman fighter {max taps - RiP}
    CQB Ranger

  3. #3

    Default Pra-Eun and the Scarlet Circle

    (Hi guys. I have not had RotGS for long, or rather I had it and my Internet was not operational, so my imagination is only now being fired by the stories. Ah, well….)

    Wizards! Bah!, I thought as I stomped a corrupted human’s head into the obsidian shards lying on the ground. These self same corrupted have a peculiar effect on wizards as well, I mused, considering that the Scarlet Circle, the de facto wizardly enforcers of the Eternal Throne’s increasingly crazy commands, had a large outpost near where these monstrous, corrupted people congregate; the Crater of Madness.

    The red-robed thaumaturges populated a hillside of this damned crater in Kara Korum. I wondered if the Circle had managed to familiarise itself sufficiently with the crater’s powers to avoid or even command these cannibalistic ghouls, for a touch from the corrupted renders a person light-headed and unable to speak as the jaws lock, which is a problem for wizards. An out-of-breath soldier who charges must deal with these feelings.

    But, casting philosophy to the wind, I started to climb the black-blasted mountains surrounding the otherworldly crater towards this sanctuary of Pra-Eun, master sorcerer and second in command only to the Emperor himself.

    These mages had been invaluable during the Frenzy when the crater had spawned an ocean of monsters, more even than it does to this day, and they had burned the monsters from the earth, much as the Legion does to the corrupted humans found around the crater’s fringes, who are drawn to the crater like maggot larvae to an open wound. What horrible forms they will assume after pupation I could not imagine, gagging as I looked at a corrupted human’s green teeth scattered on the ground next to its evil-smelling corpse. The corruption seems to twist their very souls, moulding the flesh in the image of the madness growing inside.

    The Last Legion’s commanders, like true soldiers, do not philosophise about the cause of the corruption illness and merely kill all enemies necessary to defend their lands and the throne of an emperor who has turned his back on honest fighting men to cavort with witches and wizards instead.

    I, who have a deeper background in magic than most soldiers, have learned to pay attention to wizardly intrigues, if only as a way to avoid them at all costs.

    A number of Scarlet agents have died on my blade. I was following orders from the Legion, merely considering myself as a soldier and fighter much as in any other army. Yet Khitanis live with intrigue, seem to drink it in with their mother’s milk; and she probably schemed with a neighbour’s wife to act as nursemaid to her babe.

    In any event, this meant that the Legion, while maintaining the hallmarks of a regular army, had begun to dabble more aggressively in the politics of the realm, owing to the power vacuum left by the detachment of the Emperor from events in his lands.

    This is where I found myself: caught between the intrigues of wizards and those of my superiors. A tough life it is being a soldier, I sighed and chuckled.

    Not a single soldier was spared to help me. I was given hasty, whispered instructions to save the family of the general in command of the Legion in Kara Korum. They had been abducted by these Scarlet mages as a lever on the general, in the hopes of forcing him and his forces in the region to obey their commands. Perhaps the Circle does fear the corrupted as the Legion, in turn, fears becoming corrupted, I thought, identifying a number of Scarlet wizards standing watch on the slopes above.

    Moving behind a shoulder of rock, I pulled my crossbow from my back where it hung below my shield and peered around the edge at the wizards. I gauged the distance to the nearest sentries, chatting while keeping a firm hold on their weapons and a wary eye on the slopes below.

    I was not a great shot but could hit a big target at 200 metres repeatedly. I have never been drafted into the arbalest divisions in the armies I have hired my sword to. But I hefted the crossbow, let out my breath and shot an arcing shot down the slope. The bolt sank deeply into a corrupted legionnaire’s thigh and the beast yowled and came charging up the slope in a frothing frenzy, its rotten siblings following suit.

    Above me the wizards let fly ear-searing oaths as they saw the corrupted war party approach, and I felt my hair stand on end as I watched their magics build in their hands. The former legionnaire, a frightful flap of skin hanging from his face, was blasted into an oily smoke by the searing light summoned by the mages. But the corrupted had appeared after the Frenzy, they were not as vulnerable to wizardly fire and lightnings and the other corrupted in the mob merely scattered and spread out as they sighted the Scarlet wizards.

    A strange sighing-singing sound, almost a keening groan, issued from the corrupted humans’ mouths and their jaws champed spasmodically as they advanced on the sentries.

    I looked on as one sentry drew a massive sword from off his back with a feverish prayer to all the 999 999 gods in this crazy country. The other raised his staff in invocation and spread his arms as he called a blast of fire onto the approaching monsters.

    I targeted the wizard calling down fire but my haste sent the bolt through the back of a corrupted as it engaged the sword-wielding adept. It coughed and twitched its left shoulder, its mad attention focused solely on the wide-eyed mage in front of it. This mage almost cut the corrupted in half with his flaming double-edge sword, and I did not have time to rewind my arbalest.

    Dropping the steel-armed crossbow, I pulled my shield from my back and called a Stygian blessing upon myself, one that was supposed to reduce the effects of magics on the invoker.

    I rushed in the lee of the almost-obliterated corrupted warband and managed to get within twenty metres of the mages before the one higher up, his staff dropped to the ground as his fingers wove magics, spotted me and called out to his companion.

    I kicked a corrupted human in front of me towards the spell-weaving wizard and turned to face the large mage wielding a blade. He grinned and, knowing that he had the longer reach, stepped back as I advanced. He twisted as he readied a blow meant to knock me to the ground, calling on a dozen demons to aid his blow, but I was more experienced in mêlée fighting than he was and I stepped forward and slashed through his cheek with my sword tip, blessedly preventing his spells.

    He gagged on blood and his arms bulged as he sought to wrestle with his suddenly heavy sword. Wizards and swordplay do not mix, I thought, as I spitted the impotent sword-singer’s heart and turned a dark grin on his companion.

    This type of wizard I knew; cold, calculating and dangerous as a snake. He did not grin in return, merely stepping over the smoking remains of the corrupted that had snapped broken, rotten teeth at him before being blasted into oblivion.

    His fists glowed as he summoned fiery orbs into his palms and levelled them at me. I ducked into the protection of my shield and felt a spitting ball of fire strike the surface. Yet, these are no mean wizards, their powers of destruction are far beyond those of normal hedge wizards and I felt my shield soak up the heat and begin to glow.

    I bellowed and released the shield, pulling my scorched arm from the straps. Black, charred, crispy flesh seemed to grin at me and I caught up my amulet of Asura hanging from my neck, steadying my mind to accept my now-inevitable death.

    The mage, still not showing any emotion, took careful aim with the remaining ball of demon’s-fire and I felt my sword tip dip as I gave up the struggle. I made peace with the world and my place, yea even my death, as part of the cosmos.

    I felt time slow as I watched the luridly glowing fireball in the mage’s opening hand.

    I have felt like this only once, when Hadrathus had confronted me on the nameless road near the Border Kingdoms and I had ceased to think and merely existed. He had had the power to kill me then, but had not. I have always pondered why. I closed my eyes, seeking meditation.

    If our deaths were inevitable, why would we be given cognisance or consciousness in this life? Would we not be better off as beasts living and dying without blame or power? Why have the gods given us reason and the potential for good or evil? I say good or evil because these can only exist as conscious acts and are meaningless if committed by a self-unaware creature.

    Yet, even with consciousness, we cannot prevent our deaths and we are so bound by the illusion of reality that we function effectively as a part of its deterministic weavings, impartial and powerless, fate-bound for an early grave.

    Why then, o gods!, have we been given the power to know how powerless we are? Must we endlessly return to fix problems our souls are not meant to solve? Are we caught in this rat-wheel of reincarnation for all eternity? Why?

    My eyes opened and I looked at the molten ball of power and energy the mage extended towards me. I saw my death approach.

    A phrase entered my mind as a potential answer to the silence of the gods: Asha. Hope.

    With this one word I became calm again. We are given power because we can achieve good things, or squander our power in doing evil, both only achievable because we are self-aware. We can equal the gods in our deeds, both good and bad. Karma, actions. It also speaks of responsibility, individual responsibility, my responsibility. The cause of the cycle of cause and effect is my intentions.

    I felt suddenly the world lift a weight from me and I saw the wizard’s fire only as the consequence of his and others’ actions. But they were not my actions.

    I felt a magic build inside of me, different from the Stygian thaumaturgy I learnt on my mother’s knees; it was light and sentient. I felt the power of the mage’s spell evaporate in its presence flowing from within me.

    Actions… the word repeats itself. Evil really does triumph if good men do nothing, I think, and I strike the gaping mage, tearing a terrible gash into his chest. I deserve no pity. I have brought my suffering on myself. So did he. I think of the family of the general. Actions are our decisions, and we must embrace the shadows within, to allow our light to shine. No one is blameless, but much can be forgiven because we are sentient, fallible and flawed.

    Inspired by Milton’s on his blindness, Ursula LeGuin’s a Wizard of Earthsea, T.S. Eliot’s the Wasteland and a nod to Sir Terry Pratchett’s works.
    Also inspired by looking down a gun barrel without knowing what the person behind the trigger will decide.
    In balance with this life, this death
    -- Hand of Ibis RiP
    Magic is seeing what happens when you hit someone really hard, and when they disappear in a red spray, that's magic.
    -- Jansensen, Gunderman fighter {max taps - RiP}
    CQB Ranger

  4. #4

    Default Potions

    I drink the thumbnail-sized solution of herbs and spices and feel the potent mixture immediately infuse me with energy. I almost vibrate as the powerful stimulant courses through my veins and I feel my fatigue drain out of me. I square my shoulders and look up at the gigantic Kang Zai, a blasphemous monster made of mouldy bones and earth, that had chased me halfway across the two-mile valley. Realising that I cannot outrun it, I turned with the resolve to die while dealing blows rather than fleeing like a rabbit.

    It roars at me at a mere five metres distance and I feel the cold, clammy breath strike my face. It smells of mouldering decay. I grin and raise my shield.

    Almost immediately I am smashed from my feet as it hammers my shield, denting it beyond repair. The metal tears from the wood as I raise it again and the rivets pathetically struggle to hold the shivered remnants together.

    I drop the now useless shield and clasp my talisman to Asura, the formless god of illusory reality and truth, certain that I will return my spirit to the cosmos very soon.

    The Kang Zai follows me like a hound does a rabbit and I spring aside as its fist comes thundering down next to me. I slash at its limb, but merely strike sparks from the stones embedded in its flesh, part of the twigs, earth, leaves and muck that constitutes the creature.

    I jump backwards, my amber eyes blazing with surprise, and the monster follows, relentless as the face of god.

    This blasphemous thought twitches my lips into a smile as I look up at the hulking brute before me, knowing that neither my armour nor my weapons have thus far proven effective.

    The creature grabs at me with both paws and I jump onto its arm. However, it manages to grab my left arm and I immediately feel it snap the bones in my forearm as if they were kindling.

    I gasp in pain and smash my hilt cestus-like against a malformed thumb, shattering the digit and releasing my crippled limb.

    However, the blow seems to affect it naught and it raises me towards its dank, smelly mouth. I did not know that these beasts were anthropophagic, but then again I have only ever heard of these monsters in wild pub tales and my recollection may be hazy.

    A cry of desperation escapes my mouth and my vision blurs as I foresee my death drawing closer. I jump dog-like at its face and hook my crippled limb about its neck by the crook of my arm. It grabs my legs and tries to pull me off, and it snaps its teeth in my face.

    I, a ball of spitting fury and pain incarnate, smash my hilt against its face, its mouth and its eyebrows, in a frenzy of rage and pain.

    Bits drop off the monster as I smash its face and it drags off my boots in its earnest attempts to dislodge me.

    I curse a foul Stygian curse and reverse my sword and drive it deep into the mushy depths of the monster’s eye.

    It roars and spins around, no longer attempting to eat me. I hang on, grim as a war hound. My arm screams at me as I haul myself towards the monster, pull my sword from its head and again plunge the tip into those sticky, filthy depths.

    As if in answer to my feverish prayers, the monster quivers and pitches headlong to the ground, as dead as its smell should indicate.

    I roll clear and release my sword, clutching my ruined arm with the other. It feels as if fire has been injected into the limb and I can see that it is visibly swelling.

    I dash the sweat and, dare I admit it, tears from my eyes, fumbling at my belt.

    Here I locate the finger-sized potion given to me by the finest potion master in Khemi, a thaumaturge of some renown.

    I bite down on the glass tube, crushing the vial and sucking down the juices. The glass cuts my lips and tongue, but that pain is insignificant compared to what happens next.

    I cry out, and bite my lip to stop from yelling and betraying my vulnerability to other monsters in the area.

    Blood drips from my lip as my teeth cut into it as I attempt to manage the raging fire that is my broken left arm.

    The limb seems to swell to three times its size and I can feel the bones shift as the powerful but unmerciful magic works. I feel my flesh knitting together and I feel the bones scrape past each other and settle in place.

    The fire subsides along with the swelling and I, unashamed tears dripping from my chin, test the now limber and painless limb.

    Is such powerful magic worth it? Any warrior will acquiesce, but the pain may test the greatest of men.

    I shudder and draw myself up, cleaning and then sheathing my sword.

    I stumble away from the path, tiredness draining my body of energy; more from the memory of pain than from pain itself.

    I survived but what other horrors does this land of beauty and death hold for an adventurer such as I? Will I meet its challenges?

    I think of the other potions in my belt and shudder, dreading the time when I will need to consume them again.

    (Hi. I have thought about potions and thought about how much ppl can drink at once. In Skyrim there are massive potions, maybe two litres each, and I keep thinking that no one can drink that much in battle. However, potions do not have to be big to be effective. Hence I usually think of potions as being bite-sized, or as large as a finger digit. Thoughts or comments?)
    In balance with this life, this death
    -- Hand of Ibis RiP
    Magic is seeing what happens when you hit someone really hard, and when they disappear in a red spray, that's magic.
    -- Jansensen, Gunderman fighter {max taps - RiP}
    CQB Ranger

  5. #5

    Default Stygian RP-PvP impression

    (My internet is not working, so I have taken to writing stories to make up for not being able to play.)

    The inside of the Serpent’s Head Inn was dusky, and not just from the lack of light, though the thick stone walls removed the desert heat from the air. All around gyrated women in split skirts dangling from belly girdles, lengths of silk held immodestly in front of bare breasts, or behind smooth rumps, giving throat-tightening glimpses of the pleasures they offered for a price.

    The barmaids were more modestly dressed, and darted between groups of customers in the smoke-filled arches lining the walls.

    Business was good in Akhet, the turtle, sole port of Stygia’s trade with the western world, for those who managed to avoid the sacred serpents crawling through its streets, hunting for a fitting “sacrifice for Set”; invariably the young and the weak.

    Earlier the soldier had been cornered by a huge venomous serpent, and had been forced to kick sand over its twitching cylindrical corpse before walking into the Head. He prayed that the serpent remained undiscovered for a few hours more at least. Even locals whose children and loved ones have disappeared down the snakes’ gullets would turn on a foreigner who had killed one of the crawling Sons of Set.

    He had made himself comfortable at an empty table, seemingly enjoying the lilting music, the bare, naked ladies and the drink and fine smokeables.

    He reclined on his pillows, propped up on his elbow, and lazily ate dried fruits and nuts, his wine jug kept cool in a basin of water.

    A prostitute came to stand at his table, her long leg exposed to the hip as she displayed her wares to him.

    He pretended to look her over, and fondled her rump and felt how smooth her legs were, as if he were checking a horse. He noted that she was dusky, but not as dusky as most of the other whores. She may be a half-blood, with a noble father and a peasant mother who are often the targets of nobles’ short-lived affections. Thus came forth the artisan class of Stygia.

    She tossed her dark foam of hair in indignation, but stood while he assessed her wares.

    At last, he fell back onto his pillows, seeming to have decided against the whore’s services.

    Swiftly, she straddled him, her silken skirts pushed up to her hips, and as he lifted his angry eyes they lit upon a short, but very sharp, dagger she held in front of his neck, unseen to the other clientele in the Head behind her supple back.

    “I believe you are mistaken, my lord. I come at a very reasonable price for a taste of heaven,” she said, but her eyes spoke in less honeyed tones.

    The soldier cleared his throat and said, rather loudly, that he had rented a private parlour upstairs for them to enjoy their time together.

    The dagger magically disappeared in her scanty garments, where the soldier had not believed a knife could be concealed.

    She grasped his right arm, he was not comfortable with his sword-arm being held and felt an icy tingle run up his spine, tightly in both her hands, her shapely breasts pushed against him as he led her upstairs; just another patron spending his money on earthly wiles.

    The parlour door slammed behind him and seemed to echo into the nighted-gulfs between the stars.

    She turned swiftly and a glowing ball appeared in her hand. He knew she held death in her hand, a fire hot enough to blast sand to glass and burst a head like a ripe melon.

    He turned on her, eyes narrowed to slits, a growl building in his throat as he clenched his fists to buffet her from her feet. She stepped smartly back, but also held up an open spare hand and said: “I seek only to speak, soldier. You are known to me, though I am not known to you.”

    “Would you like me to get to know you better?” he asked her bluffly.

    Her eyes lit to a raging fire at his disrespectful words, but she merely snorted and said: “I am no whore, Aquilonian. I am a wizard from Luxor, though my skirts fooled a fool like you.”

    He grinned at her words, hooked his thumbs behind his sword belt and said: “Speak then, sister. You have bought my interest.”

    “A dead sacred serpent lies outside in the dusty alley. I found blood and scales mixed in the sand where you cleaned your sword. Also, I smelled the acrid scent of serpent blood, something well known to an adept in Stygia. Are you a fool? Some of the sacred serpents are more than they seem.”

    The soldier shrugged, the fatalism of his philosophies being summed up in this one motion.

    The wizard looked hard at him and then said: “I may have a job for someone like you….”

    The soldier grinned as she detailed her plans. He grinned more when she mentioned how much he would get paid.

    He loved working against the dark theocracy of Stygia, even for the different factions vying in it, but he loved it more when it profited him at the same time.

    Below the music continued to wind up and down like a desert serpent to a fakir’s fife, but suddenly a cool breeze had sprung up from out of the north; blowing through the ancient streets….
    In balance with this life, this death
    -- Hand of Ibis RiP
    Magic is seeing what happens when you hit someone really hard, and when they disappear in a red spray, that's magic.
    -- Jansensen, Gunderman fighter {max taps - RiP}
    CQB Ranger

  6. #6

    Default Glutted lust for vengeance (PG16 V)

    I gaze up at the weeping sky. Grey light barely filters through the canopy of clouds, like an old tent roof, fit only for goats and the elderly.

    I feel weary, as if I cannot remain standing, the weight of the world oppresses me.

    What could make humans behave like this? Was this the inevitable outcome of the fury of fighting? A red dawn filled with crows and flies?

    Many of the Aquilonian settlers beyond Thunder River were murdered, raped and their corpses mutilated until not even parts of a body could be distinguished.

    Picts! Dogs! I growl under my breath feeling the red mist rise before my eyes. I grip my blood-soaked weapon and grind my teeth.

    The burnt-out shell of farmsteads, livelihoods and lives, lost to the tsunami of humanity sweeping out of the Pictish kingdoms.

    I hurl my notched sword away from me; let my shield fall with a startling clang in the fetid silence. I sink to my knees and remove my helm.

    The good that comes from fighting! Ha! I laugh at the grim jest. Much is spoken about fighting for what is good, keeping the candle of civilisation alive, but we are mere beasts; our spilled entrails and rust-scented blood proves it.

    We cannot contain the raging monsters inside us, nor can we transcend our physical forms, I think, caught in a black pit of despair.

    I gaze at the form of a woman in front of me, clutching a child to her breast. The sword had gone clean between her shoulders, piercing both her and her infant’s hearts together like beads on a string of indifference.

    So much suffering, so much death. I feel overwhelmed by the images sifting through my mind. Blood-mad Pictish fighters howling like the damned, feathers in their hair and flint axes in their hands. I see again my sword tear through a brave from below his ribs to his other shoulder and the spray of gristle, the snap of bones and the smell of wobbly organs. I see again the archer trying to pierce my shielded defences. I see again standing over him, beating my sword again and again on his head until a bloody ruin alone was left of his torso.

    I feel again my anger, my hate, my triumph! I see once more, a final time, the shaman of the village begging for mercy, cringing as my sword descends.

    I see again the children and women, running frantically from my dripping figure, blood splashed and malevolent, like a demon from the outer dark.

    I see finally… my sword piercing the mother and babe, hear her indrawn breath cut short in a final hiccough.

    So much for victory. So much for liberty. But equality is here to stay… we are all cut under the same sword, pressed from the same mould to be torn apart by beasts in men’s clothes in a frenzied, bloody holocaust as brothers die with knives in each others’ hearts.

    I need redemption. I need release. But it cannot be found in this world.

    I see that fighting always ends in the victors weeping.

    The grey, unfeeling sky yawns and spits forth a ray of sun that makes me cringe as if I belong in the dark.

    Flet victus, victor interiit, as the ancients would say.

    Qui desiderat pacem praeparet bellum, and all, yet never has fas est et ab hoste doceri (it is right to learn, even from the enemy) been more true.

    We have learnt to hate like them.

    (from Jan’s mercenary days before he met the Asurans)

    {Inspired by real-world events.}
    In balance with this life, this death
    -- Hand of Ibis RiP
    Magic is seeing what happens when you hit someone really hard, and when they disappear in a red spray, that's magic.
    -- Jansensen, Gunderman fighter {max taps - RiP}
    CQB Ranger

  7. #7

    Default Cimmerian mountain path

    I lie here in this snowdrift. My warm blood is freezing slowly in the snow around me. My shield is long gone and my sword is stuck in a Vanir raider about 500 metres up the slope behind me. I wonder if I should raise my head to breathe air or just lie here and let the cold leech the life out of me.

    An arrow whistles and punches into the snow near me. Another follows it quickly and plunges into the drift I am buried in. Let me quickly relate the past few minutes to you.

    I am an Aquilonian and never would you find me in this god-forsaken, or at least god-ignored, wasteland that is called Cimmeria, but I had to visit a good friend of mine to whom I further owed a favour. I say “friend” and “favour” but I mean a cantankerous “wizard” to whom I owe a “debt” which is enforced by a geas, blood-oath and other horrible bargains.

    How can there be a wizard in this land that normally kills esoteric things on sight and without thought? Well, this wizard is not living in Cimmeria, per se, but lives in the southern mountains that skirt the Border Kingdom, far from the barbarian tribes. I was only making my way to his lair, which is unapproachable through the sea of war that consumes the contested lands of the Border Kingdom.

    So on my way there, as I walked a mountain path that was probably only used by goats and Cimmerians, I encountered a Vanir raiding party that had swung far south to circumnavigate the battleground of the north so that it could raid and plunder the southern Cimmerian tribes. On this path, on which my one shoulder always scraped the cliff on one side and my foot continuously slipped into a gorge on the other, I met these bloodthirsty reavers.

    I actually bumped into the leader as I was wearily rounding another bend on the accursed goat-trail. I was very tired, not having slept since coming into the mountains the day before and not trusting my meagre survival skills to keep me alive in the mountains if I halted. He shoved me roughly and yelled as he pulled a great axe from a loop on his belt.

    I started up and, turning, jumped a step to avoid the whistling death that struck a chunk out of the granite path behind me. I then ran for dear life. However, not being raised in a country that has more upwards than sideways, I caromed off of the wall and rolled a few metres down the slope onto a ledge. There was no time to climb back up into the teeth of that furious warband and only a thousand metres of slopes and precipitous rocks lay below me.

    The Vanir yelled and jumped recklessly down to slay me. I had pulled my shield off of my back and had drawn my sword when the first of the red-haired devils came at me, swinging his axe in a wide arc. I raised my shield to deflect it and the axman, obviously accomplished at wielding his weapon, rolled his right shoulder and veered the weapon to swing up at me. I leapt backwards, my heels brushing snow off the edge of the narrow ledge, and immediately struck back with my sword.

    The grin on the Vanir’s face change to chagrin as my lightning-fast strike made naught of his up-swung axe and sank deep into his neck. But even in defeat these red-haired men are deadly as adders and the dropping axe slammed into my shield, flinging me out over the edge. His companions, only a few metres behind him, roared with appreciation as I turned over in midair, my arms wind-milling and my legs stiff from fright, to look down into the suddenly gaping valley.

    As I gathered speed, my shield caught the wind and spun me around until I looked up at the receding ledge filled with figures. I swung my right arm around, close to my body, and caught the rim of my shield, tucking my left shoulder into it. Peering over the rim I saw a big, white patch, seeming to be a lot more solid than the rest of what was otherwise a very white and ghostly landscape, fast approaching.

    I struck the drift hard and lost my grip on my shield’s edge but kept my body tucked into it as much as I could. I heard something click in my left shoulder from the impact and the fall knocked my breath out of me. White spots danced before my eyes and my whole body pulsed with pain. But my speed and the angle of the slope carried me over the drift’s lip and I plunged downwards again, my shield rasping over the snow below me.

    I gripped the edge of my shield again when my left arm refused to exert any force and I felt that I was sliding over the terrain. My legs and fur-lined boots dragged a wake in the powder behind me. I gasped but grinned as I thought that I might actually survive my fall down a mountain.

    As soon as I had thought this, my shield skidded and scraped over a patch of what I now believe to have been ice. On this smooth surface I was turned around to look up the hill again, but this time from on top of my shield. I had time only to feel my heart sinking in dread before my feet struck a rock buried in the snow.

    I somersaulted backwards and was flung into the air. My shield struck my brow, split the skin, drew freely flowing blood and then flew off my arm. I experienced a whirling kaleidoscope of earth, snow and sky before I landed on my neck and shoulders, rolled backwards onto my feet, pirouetted drunkenly on the edge of a drift and then fell firmly into its soft, cool embrace.

    So, here I lie. My head aches and I am nauseous from the punishment I endured. I am reasonably sure that my left shoulder is either broken or dislocated while my right foot is very painful and I feel what I think is a bone sticking out of the ankle. My enemies are standing above me, unable to reach me but firing arrows half-heartedly to see if I twitch when struck and I am breathing shallowly to keep my body motionless but also alive.

    I hear their awful guffaws and mocking bellows echoing down the mountain. One of their archers, also obviously experienced, is arching his arrows to sail down the cliff and sink into the snow around me. One of the arrows strikes my armour on my back and sinks a hair’s breadth into my flesh. I hear a jovial cheering from the Vanir. I barely twitch and remain still before hearing a few curses drift down and I assume that they are clambering back up to the path.

    I raise my head to suck in air. The warm throbbing in my head subsides as I draw fresh air into my bruised body. I pluck the arrow from my armour and roll onto my back. As I stare up at the sky surrounded by a frame of mountains, I realise that I have decided something. Firstly, the Cimmerians are incredibly brave and perhaps a touch foolish to live here but, secondly, that they are right to kill all wizards on sight.

    I begin to drag myself away, towards the bottom of the slope, towards warmth, flora and flat earth. I decide that I will not go through the mountains again without a guide or, at least, until I have killed more Vanir. But, more importantly, I will fulfil my geas to the wizard and will wade through a river of blood in the Border Kingdom to get to his lair to do so. All this only to reach him, finish my task and then kill him.

    The Cimmerians have the right idea…. Mostly.
    In balance with this life, this death
    -- Hand of Ibis RiP
    Magic is seeing what happens when you hit someone really hard, and when they disappear in a red spray, that's magic.
    -- Jansensen, Gunderman fighter {max taps - RiP}
    CQB Ranger

  8. #8

    Default Zelata journal of Jansensen

    I gazed across the wooded landscape rising in gentle undulations to mountains in the distance. The track before me led through an open valley between two of the hills and brown grasses mottled the ground between the thorny acacia trees.

    I, a well-built, medium-height Aquilonian soldier with dark, Stygian influences, rolled my yellow-brown eyes over my armour and armaments, not really checking them but more reassuring myself that I was indeed armed and armoured. I have felt the power of some monsters and thus I made sure that I was not heading into battle half-naked, like other heroes I will not mention.

    It was strange that I have been warned of wolf-like gorgons in this area, capable of tearing a man apart. I say strange because the calm countryside turned this into a lie. But, with dusk settling, I felt that perhaps this might have some truth to it because I heard no birds in the branches or the noises of small mammals in the underbrush.

    I was on my way to the huntress in the region, a wily ranger who can scout without being seen, something I have no luck with. She must know the truth of the rumours I heard in Tesso. The Tesso captain had seemed gruff and cheerful, but his attitude also seemed a bit forced, as if he thought that his confidence affects the villagers, which I guess is too true. The villagers have heard the weird calls sounding in the night but curse the witchwoman of the wild lands, Zelata.

    But this seems incongruous; a panicky reaction to the obviously real threat. The reality of the threat was obvious but the perpetrators unknown. For this reason, I was sent to discover the identity of the threat in the region that had claimed many lives. Some corpses were found chewed and mauled; of others only the gnawed bones remained; but with yet others a sticky, oily goo was found over their bodies and their limbs had been crushed.

    The captain laid bare to me that he believed that there were multiple problems in the area and that I should not discount the slavers and bandits of the region. It was a true mystery, but one which I meant to solve with steel.

    The dusk deepened and the evening stars began to display their lights on the Ecliptic. I briefly gazed up at the planets in cogitation when a slight noise brought me sharply back to earth. I lowered my hand to my sword hilt, confident that my shield hung over my exposed back. But the hair on the nape of my neck prickled and I felt sure my short hair was lifting my helmet slightly as the strands tried to stand up in stark terror.

    A stealthy pad of a foot sounded behind me and, surmising that no friend would step so, I spun, drew my curved sword and slashed in the same motion. But, as my father had taught me while training for our rural militia, never strike without aiming first. My bent arm had not yet travelled past my face when a hairy monster bared glinting teeth and leapt at me, pushing my right arm towards me. The point of my sword changed direction, from whistling through the air to tearing a deep, ragged furrow in my flesh below my left ear and jaw.

    I cursed as I felt warm blood pour from the wound and just barely ducked my head into my right shoulder before feeling the beast’s fangs slide off of my helmet. Not trusting my precarious position, I grabbed the monster’s right shoulder with my free hand, placed my booted feet on its abdomen and, after smashing my helmet against its muzzle, leapt backwards to fall onto my shield.

    I lay there, stunned, winded by the handle that pressed into my ribs, and thought briefly about how damned strong the monsters were that habitually try to kill me. However, this thought only flickered through my head as I forced myself to stand up and face the large, grey-haired walking wolf which was even now whimpering, snapping its muzzle and licking splintered teeth. It snarled savagely and again leapt at me - deformed, taloned paws raised to tear me apart.

    But I am no mean person to back down when my obvious defeat rears its head in a fight, even twice or more times. I mocked to my left and then dove right, under its arms and cut its left arm above its elbow to the bone as I ducked under it. Red blood ran down my tulwar and I felt it drip onto my thigh as I turned around, almost within the monster’s embrace - just in time for me to be smashed from my feet by a hurtling right paw that struck my chest like a catapult stone strikes a wall.

    I was thrown far by the impact and rolled twice before coming to my knees, dazed but still gripping my saif. The wolf-like beast was on me even before I had cleared my head, its left arm held low and dripping dark drops in the deep dusk. It struck at me and I managed to raise my left arm to prevent its claws from tearing my face open but I felt them rip along my arm and snag on my bracer. Immediately I felt the strength go out of the arm as a wave of pain flooded through my shoulder and into me. I gasped but slashed quickly at the beast’s face to drive it back. It gave back with a bound and I, cursing and forcing my numbed arm to motion, slipped it wetly through my shield and drew this off my back.

    Thus armoured, and with my rage boiling up like a wild animal’s in response to my pain, I gave a short, sharp shout to lend focus to my fury, much like the militia drills in which we use chants and yells to execute manoeuvres, and charged with my shield held up before me. The monster answered with a deep bellow and charged at me. It bounded high, straight for my face but I ducked and raised my shield into its chest and, bearing the beast over my head, slashed along its underbelly.

    The keen edge of my sword cut a clean line into the beast, from breast to loins, and this started to weep blood and entrails. It fell heavily on its back and stood up with an effort, wheezing and coughing to get its wind back. But the eyes never stopped glaring at me. I faced a bestial ferocity that more than matched my more cultured anger. I was a trained soldier but here was a beast that thought of nothing beyond slaughter.

    I lowered my sword and shield, with blood running freely from my neck and over my fingers, and stood with my arms at my sides. The bleeding, snuffling monster looked at me with a malevolent glow in its bloodshot yellow eyes. It dipped its head, as if in submission, but then suddenly charged and roared like thunder as it came towards me.

    However, for all my apparent benevolence and supposed mercy, I have not lived through a great number of fights by surrendering before they were over. I whipped my shield up over my head, stepped in with my right leg and pivoted between the talons, turning my sword over and past my right shoulder and using the monster’s momentum to bury the tip in its heart, next to the earlier, shallower cut. The monster shuddered as my steel found its mark, gave a deep, coughing sigh and then went limp in mid-stride, bearing me backwards to the ground.

    I lay like this for a second, breathing the fetid stink of the twitching animal on me, before I rolled it off with a groan. I then rolled onto my knees and let my shield slip off of my wounded arm. The sticky blood pulling at the ragged edges of the wound caused me to wince.

    I felt delicate, much like I always do after a battle with a monster, and staggered upright. I shook the blood off of my sword and sheathed it one-handed. My other hand was clenched in pain and blood still flowed from under my ear.

    But I was not done with the monster and my flowing blood would make my task easier. I stepped over the carcass and drew a small, black dagger from my girdle. This was stolen from a Stygian hedge wizard who had worked on the Barachans. I had pretended to be a member of a ship’s crew that he had hired to guard him and he had peremptorily ordered me to take some of his sorcerous objects to his new lair. I had then promptly walked away with the loot in my arms.

    But, owing to my Stygian mother’s teachings, I know what power the dagger held. It is used to steal life. Quite simply, one has only to drive it slowly into a victim’s heart while standing over them during the deed to gain their life energy. Some Stygian sorceresses use this to keep their beauty alive, while men use it heal wounds, extend life and as a grim source of vigour to renew debauches. It would not work on dead creatures but there is life enough in freshly killed victims to heal.

    I stood over the dead beast, muttered a cryptic incantation and then dipped the tip of the knife into the flowing blood of my wounded arm before sinking it into the beast’s muscular flesh. The creature’s spilled blood started to glow luridly and sullenly, as if only my arcane mutterings could evoke such a blasphemy, as indeed they were. Suddenly, rising from the blood on the corpse, a wine-red, flickering glow whirled and stretched. The purple-red mist was flecked with black spots that spun and danced in unholy rapture. The profane cloud roiled between us and I gaped my mouth to suck in the monster’s residual life force.

    As soon as I opened my mouth the cloud streamed in, but some of the vapours tenderly stroked my arm and swarmed up my neck, and I felt it prickling as it healed me, the darkness entering my flesh. The last of the beast’s vitality poured into me and I straightened, wiping my mouth out of habit. Dried blood flaked off of my newly healed arm as I flexed the suddenly limber limb.

    Above me on the slopes I saw the movements of more creatures that moved like wolves but walked like men. I grinned humourlessly and picked up my shield.
    In balance with this life, this death
    -- Hand of Ibis RiP
    Magic is seeing what happens when you hit someone really hard, and when they disappear in a red spray, that's magic.
    -- Jansensen, Gunderman fighter {max taps - RiP}
    CQB Ranger

  9. #9

    Default Bat demon dies

    Anjing, the raven-haired Khitani sorceress, and Jansensen, the suicidally cheerful Gunderman fighter, made their way back to the rough port o’ call of Tortage, selling the treasure and scraps of gold that they had found in the abode of the Dark Ones and coloured beads and exotic feathers they had taken from the Pictish village. A long trek filled with the corpses of Picts, demoniacal tall beings known as Dark Ones and countless miles of steaming, tropical jungles lay behind them.

    Jan was ecstatic and kept wiping the blood off items he was trying to sell to improve the prices offered for them. The pirates of Tortage do not mind blood being spilled in the acquisition of items, but prefer not to have the blood on the items, just in case the seller is trying to hide some defect under the crimson coat.

    Anjing demurely conversed with a seller of potions and, even though she was extremely polite compared to the loud-mouthed Gunderman, she seemed to command better deals than he managed for all his enthusiasm.

    The sorceress then stood and gave Jan a piercing stare, which drew him away from his avarice and brought sombre thoughts into his mind. He sold the last piece of broken gold jewellery to the armourer’s wife and turned to look at the foreign beauty gazing intensely at him.

    “You spoke about a Bat Demon, Jan. Should we not rather aim to confront it rather than roister in the slums of this town?” she asked quietly.

    Jan, knowing that his words only brought him troubles, nodded silently, tightened his belt and led the mage to the portcullis in the town’s wall. As the gate rose on old, but well oiled, ratchets, he gazed across the paradise-like beauty of the island of Tortage.

    However, for all its tropical beauty and white sand beaches, the place was filled to the brim with ruffians, scoundrels and thieves, of which he counted himself among their number. But his small knowledge of magic, taught to him by his Stygian mother, did scream to him that the ruins that popped out of the undergrowth were ancient and sinister indeed. He thought he heard a whisper on the wind, that was almost, but not quite, echoed by the inhabitants of the archipelago of islands: Acheron, that black civilisation of magicians that had ruled for millennia and sacrificed whole nations to the whims of the gods.

    He shivered, but remembered that beside him was a mage from the Far East, to whom magic and wonder were even more intimately familiar than to the dusky Stygians of the South. She looked at him from the calm, brown pools of her eyes, seeming to see through his flesh and into his mind. He was not certain that mages could indeed do this, but quickly turned onto the path towards the distant ruins of a lost city.

    Jan, his armour protecting his vital areas, marched ahead and presently they encountered an old and broken gate that had ground to a halt centuries ago, half-open and half-lowered, so that they ducked under it into a green and lush vale, which bore the unmistakable ruins of an ancient city.

    Blood and rage

    Staring in wonder was a quick way to die on Tortage, because, with a wild ululation, a bunch of feathered Picts, bones in their noses and a sign of a bat painted in white on their breasts and faces, burst from cover and stormed the pair.

    Jan ducked into the cover of his shield and heard arrows strike its metallic surface and ricochet away. He blocked the low, left-handed hack from a brave with his sword and immediately pulled the blade up the man’s torso, spilling his entrails and snapping his breastbone. The warrior gave a chocking cry and fell sideways trying to clutch his slimy organs.

    Jan ran and smashed another fighter from his feet with his shield and stabbed him as he rolled on the ground. An arrow flew and struck his exposed shoulder causing him to bellow in pain and almost drop his weapon.

    But as the archer shouted his triumph and raced forward to place a shot with care, he was caught up in something on the ground. He looked down and saw his comrade, the first to die with his entrails spilled, clutch at his leg and drag himself upright. His expression was vapid and pale from loss of blood, yet he caught the dismayed archer’s arm in one hand and broke it with a snapping sound, never displaying the smallest iota of emotion. He, the archer’s dagger lodged in his ribs, then throttled his erstwhile comrade and finally sighed as unnatural life left him. Both fell to the earth, one holding the other’s neck almost gently.

    Jan looked over the arrow in his shoulder to see the dark haired mage seeming to meditate, her eyes lidded and her attitude one of trance. Her eyes suddenly sprang open and she raised her hands, palms up, in a gesture of invocation that caused the corpses around them to groan and stand up.

    Jan’s hairs were standing up, but he was passingly familiar with magic, and dragged the arrow out of its wound. Blood poured down his arm and he placed a small vial, about the size of a finger digit, inside his mouth and bit down on it. He felt the magic juices of the potion course through his system and felt his arm ache as it knit itself together. He silently thanked the potion mistress of Tortage for her marvellous mixtures.

    Anjing, her undead slaves clustered about her, drew herself up and motioned for Jan to advance.

    In stealth and silence the pair coasted along the path, quickly slaying any Pictish scouts they encountered. Near the bottom of the vale, near a gigantic old port that must have opened into the inner city, the pair encountered a huge and pale Pict.
    Anjing said that she smelled a demon’s touch on the hulking figure. Jan did not care but knew that he had to strike fast and hard to survive the fury of the monstrous man.

    Anjing, smiling gently, chided him and summoned her familiars to her.

    “Watch, and wait. Kill him as he comes past,” she told Jan and calmly moved into the bushes.

    Jan fumed at her tone, but knew that she possessed a thousand times his intellect. All he had was a lust for fighting. He crouched in a thicket just in time to see the mage’s familiars, corpses of the very braves they slew earlier, march towards the huge Pict. He at first only glanced at them, but then sniffed and drew a massive club from his belt. He shouted something in a guttural tongue, but no response was forthcoming from the marchers, slightly swaying as if to a different beat.

    Suddenly, the massive, pale man charged towards the group. The walking corpses had drawn level with Jan. With a rushing sound, a wave of occult energy struck the giant, making him stagger in his gait. As he turned to assess this new threat from the bushes, the familiars leapt onto him. He batted them off as if he were clubbing children but roared at their tenacity and unholy strength.
    Jan crouched and then, fuelling the fires of his battle-zeal, cried out in a Stygian curse and ran at the giant.

    The giant turned heavily as he heard the approach of the crazed soldier, but was burdened by the Khitan’s undead crawling over him. He raised his club, lifting a biting corpse on the arm, but Jansensen was on him before he could bring the club down.
    One of the undead Picts almost fell from the giant’s arm, dragging it backwards. Jan saw his opening and leapt inside the giant’s reach, his other arm struggling under the weight of dead flesh. Jan stepped on the giant’s right knee and, jumping, hacked his sword into the creature’s upper arm. He rammed his shoulder onto the back of his curved blade, his momentum severing the giant’s limb.

    The demonic Pict staggered backwards trying to reach its gushing limb with its other arm, but the zombies merely started to tear at the open wound with their teeth and the monstrous man cried out in rage and pain.

    Jan moved toward the front of the beast, believing the creature to be nearing death. Yet the monster tossed aside the remaining corpses and grabbed Jan about the middle with one hand, dragging him inexorably towards a maw gaping with filed teeth. Jan reversed his grip on his sword and, as he neared the discoloured mouth, smashed his shield into the huge, pale Pict’s face and plunged his sword to the hilt in its shoulder. It trembled as the death stroke struck home, and then roared, flinging Jan away in its death throes.

    Jan stood up trembling with excitement, anger and adrenaline. He saw that the monster’s feet were stuck in deep sand over which crackled arcane lightning. He knew that Anjing had been focused on subduing the giant to give her creatures, and incidentally Jan as well, a chance to bring it down.
    She smiled a bit tiredly, but took a sip from her water bottle and straightened, her gaze level and sure.

    No quarter

    Quietly the pair passed through the ancient port and gazed upon a Pictish village built on the ruins of the forgotten city. The Khitani sorceress then drew a hand from her robes and opened it to reveal a sparkling powder upon which she blew. It puffed out into a cloud and then sifted suddenly to the ground.

    “A number of those Picts born of demonic union reside in the village. It would be wise for us to avoid it,” she said, as if the puff of sand had been revelatory.

    Jan gazed at the village, judging it relative to the towering mountain on the far side where a path, cut with massive stone stairs, wound up to a pinnacle, which must have been where the wizards of old performed their most grisly human sacrifices.

    Anjing still had her eyes closed in meditation and, as if she had been questing in spirit, suddenly spoke: “The demon that you see as a bat resides at the top of that ancient temple complex. There we must go to battle it. The old seeress, Nadini, is right. I sense that it is not only your soul, but those of countless others that have given rise to this beast of lust and power and vengeance.”

    She came out of her trance and shook her head.

    “The magic used is ancient, almost forgotten, calling on old gods and demons long and best forgotten.”

    Jan marvelled at her acuity, from such a seemingly insignificant spell for her to feel the mystical forces shaping the universe so, but then wondered if her insight was similar to that of a sibling into the actions of a brother, and wondered again if mages understood the gravity of their seemingly endless tampering, and increasing familiarity, with cosmic forces.

    “We must pass the village, mistress. We cannot reach the steps to the temple otherwise,” he said.

    She nodded but then both paused as a harsh cry sounded from the valley. The pair saw a phalanx of soldiers rush up to the stockade of the Pictish village, cutting down the gate guards.

    “It must be Strom’s orders!” shouted Jan. “He must be seeking a magic device to defeat Mithrelle! Come on!”

    He shouted and ran between bushes towards the stockade on the far side of the village, avoiding the motley armoured pirates and the cursing, howling Picts.

    Here he quickly boosted Anjing over the barricade, despite her protestations, and followed swiftly.

    Once over, the two hugged silent huts and kept away from the fracas taking place near the gates. The pirates were holding their fighting formation but began to be swamped by the sheer number of Picts descending on them.

    The large, pale Picts, partly descended from demons, the sorceress had said, came running into the fray and howls erupted as they engaged the pirates. But pirates are fierce men by nature and from their centre a mighty shout, a battle cry, rang and all the men in the formation gave a loud shout that echoed through the valley, redoubling their efforts to eradicate the Picts.

    Jan, who threw a swift soldier’s eye over the battle, saw that the pirates were doomed, as every minute more Picts rushed from different parts of the valley. But he cared not a spit for pirates under the black-hearted dog’s command. The Red Hand. Ha! They broke the honour among thieves more easily than most, little though there is to be had.

    He and Anjing passed through the gate of a second stockade, the sharpened wood seeming to feebly attempt to mimic the once-greatness of the ruined city’s double walls, and came upon an enclave of Picts wearing feathers of bright hue and painted in strange colours.

    Anjing hissed that these were the shamen and lent power to the howling mob of Picts outside. Jan was reluctant to help the pirates but felt that killing the shamen of the village was well worth it, especially as he and the mage may have to pass this way to return to Tortage.

    The Khitan’s hair stood on end as she summoned her dark might and struck down three shamen as they stood around an altar. Jan, by now seeming to follow the sorceress’s actions without thought, charged into the fray, severing a shaman’s leg as he passed. He came to a large, skull-faced shaman who stood with a sacrificial knife over the altar upon which a dark stain was slowly drying.

    He struck at Jan, but the Gunderman merely chopped off his wrist and spitted him on his sword. He then smashed his shield into another shaman’s head, hearing his skull crack, and turned to see the Khitan freeze a witch-Pict in his tracks. Literally.

    They spared not a glance for the ruins of the occult circle of Picts, but pressed on, hastening towards stairs cut into the living rock.

    Jansensen and Anjing climbed the stairs, narrowly avoiding a Pict that ran past with a group of bat monsters trailing after him. He wore a white feather in his hair and the bat symbol was painted in black on his chest rather than white.

    Acheron's touch

    A strange difference was apparent in the Picts living in the ruins of the temple complex rising up the mountain. They became increasingly pale, unlike their swarthy cousins from the wilderness and their eyes grew weird, as if they gazed into another dimension. More magic also became apparent in their actions, as Anjing had to work harder to prevent magical forces from crushing them out of existence. Luckily, Jan managed to slay these Picts while their eyes fastened on the mage almost to the exclusion of all else.
    They seemed to see her more clearly from a distance than they saw the dark and compact figure of the soldier right in front of them.

    Finally, after the pair had stealthily crept up the stairs, killing only those who could not be avoided, did they stand at the top part of the temple, with only a group of Pictish warriors and witches blocking their path to where they saw a grim and brooding bulk squat on a ledge running out into a commanding view of the whole valley.

    Jan spoke naught, his heart in his mouth and his sanity shaken by the amount of dark magic he had witnessed this day. It almost felt like a habit when he charged once again alongside shuffling corpses to attack the living Picts blocking their path. He targeted the witches first, knowing from the burnt ends of his hair on his head that they were most deadly in attack and should be prevented from doing so as soon as possible.

    His vision became a blur of red as he sang his sword song through the group, cutting down warriors in feathered headdresses and witches without any clothes at all, their red blood merging with the red mist that had descended on his vision.

    Jan came to standing over the hacked and tattered corpse of a Pictish witch and he turned to face the mage to whom he owed his life and also the deaths of many of his enemies. Jan grinned horribly through the mask that the blood of Picts had made on his visage.

    “Let us end this,” he said.

    She, curt as ever, nodded and motioned him to proceed.

    Let us end this

    Jansensen, the dark, malevolent and cheerful fighter, stepped towards the black shape barking weird calls over the valley, seemingly intent on the fighting far below.

    As his foot touched the ledge, the demon turned. Jan could now, for the first time, gather perspective on its size. He now understood what he had seen when he had gazed up at the ledge from below; it was not a shadow or stone on the ledge, it was this massive creature.

    It shrieked at him and charged. He, with a deep gulp of air and courage, and charged right at the advancing mountain of flesh.

    The Bat Demon struck him with a claw and he was smashed from his feet and rolled along the ledge, his shield skittering away from his hand. He groaned and stood up, but saw that the monster had stepped into the sorceress’s magic trap, its legs caught in an occult net.

    Jan dashed and scooped his shield up and again charged, out of breath, at the demon. It struck at him but he ducked and slashed its wrist as it drew its claw back. It shrieked an ear-splitting cry and then the corpses of the Khitan mage grabbed its legs and started to climb onto its back. It cried out mightily and shook itself, dislodging most of the crawling corpses. It slowly, ever so slowly, raised one of its legs, from which sparks crackled.
    Jan heard Anjing give a sob as the monster managed to break her hold over it through sheer strength, but she was far too wise for this to be her only tactic. She always had a back up plan or two hidden away in her pretty head.
    She released her spell on the monster and muttering arcane incantations, brought her hands down in a gesture of finality, causing a blast of frozen air to envelope the monster. It cried out and Jan saw that its wings cracked and split as they froze. But its bulk saved it from fatally losing heat to the boreal cold. It struck out towards Jan, who blocked its advance to the mage, on whom it turned malevolent and glowing eyes.

    The soldier dared not for a second consider doubt, to think of anything besides a path to victory would be suicide, he knew. He stood calmly, flexing his hands in his weapon and shield, loosening his shoulders.
    As the Bat Demon stood above him, he leapt up and slashed its bulldog-like muzzle. Its cries of pain sounded like a thousand souls moaning, but there was also a note of hope from the screams, as if the souls also sought release.

    The demon screamed and kicked out at him, but he rolled with the kick and sprang up as it placed the foot down and roared as he jumped and struck his sword into its skeletal ribcage.

    The monster quivered and a weird cry, descending from ranges above human hearing, echoed across the whole valley. It collapsed, its wing thumping Jan to the ground as it fell still.

    Jan lay in the darkness under the wing of the horror until zombie hands hauled him from under it and placed him on his feet.

    “And so a part of your soul is saved, Jan. I can feel its presence filling what had been a hole before,” said Anjing the Khitani sorceress, calm as ever.

    The pair gazed in awe and wonder across the lush valley, their trials forgotten in their relief.

    Jan sat down on the ledge, leaving his sword on the ground and rubbed his eyes. The journey back to the pit that is Tortage would be difficult, but the loss of their god would have disheartened the Picts at least. They would probably disperse to follow their remaining shamen until these can conjure up another god for them to follow.
    Yet somehow even the petty depravity of Tortage would seem friendly and light-hearted compared to the bloody battle that they had fought to kill a nameless monster on a ledge far from the thrones of the world.

    Would people know what they had done? Would people care? Or are heroes only worshipped and never rewarded?

    Jan grinned and began to think of ways he could get a reward or, failing that, how he could steal one.
    Last edited by ArcaneScientius; 13th March 2013 at 14:24. Reason: added title
    In balance with this life, this death
    -- Hand of Ibis RiP
    Magic is seeing what happens when you hit someone really hard, and when they disappear in a red spray, that's magic.
    -- Jansensen, Gunderman fighter {max taps - RiP}
    CQB Ranger

  10. #10

    Default Tortage meetings

    Anjing, Khitani sorceress

    Long, dark hair from which sparks flash when she brushes it; Anjing is a sorceress of formidable intellect and superfluous honour. She hails from the distant lands of Khitai but I met her in Tortage on a waning, late-summer’s day.

    I, who had escaped from this devil-haunted island before, had returned to the jungles to kill a demonic manifestation of my spirit in the form of a monstrous bat. I did this, not because the bat was evil, but because it was a challenge - a purposeful test of my fighting skill, and I would free part of my tarnished soul as a bonus. And I was seeking my revenge on the Dark Ones who, in the depths of their lair, had fallen on me and driven me howling from their den.

    In the midst of these bloody thoughts, I ran into the stately beauty of Anjing on the streets of Tortage. I faltered in my tracks when her eyes met mine. Those dark and tranquil orbs held a strange calmness out of place with the rough surroundings. Her face did not betray any thought as she calmly sized me up; to the very last centimetre, it seemed to me, with but one glance. Those penetrating eyes saw, I felt, not the armoured and grim-faced figure but saw my true being - the eternal whistling boy with pebbles in his pockets and not two tin coins to rub together.

    She politely nodded at my slack-jawed stare and I, not being able to think of anything to say, greeted her and remarked that her homelands must be very far away. She smiled politely at my idiocy and replied that, indeed, her homelands were very far away. She then gently pointed out that my homelands must also lie distant from these hot, fierce lands.

    I digested this and a goofy grin grew on my face at her easy wit. Then, with my eyes smiling impishly, I asked her if she would not join with me to kill the bat demon.

    She considered this sombrely and one could feel her thoughts stretching into unimaginable distances and vastnesses to seek an answer. Nothing is considered insignificant or meaningless because the smallest pebble can trigger a landslide, and in her meticulousness I met a person who can measure even the smallest of pebbles and use it to trigger a colossal landslide. In but a few moments she had considered a whole gamut of competing ideas and morals and options to form the simplest of answers.

    “It is a noble deed to wish to destroy such evil,” she said, showing that her thoughts went beyond my comprehension and considered the needs of others.

    I gaped as this new thought entered my head. Was I really going to destroy an evil? Is that what I do?

    Somewhere inside of me the boy with his pebbles took over the reins to my mouth and, for the first time since I stepped onto the island, I spoke the truth.

    “I am a bit of a scoundrel,” I confessed suddenly to the slender and stately magician. “I am loyal to my comrades but greedy. Not for money, but greedy for fighting. Pirates and thieves are my drinking fellows. At least, until they try to kill me,” I added with a smirk.

    She smiled enigmatically, her deep humour bubbling out of her, and replied: “Yet you must have some good in you to admit that.”

    I grinned widely at this jab - albeit it very true - and, for once, felt no anger.

    I hooked my thumbs behind my swordbelt and eased my tense shoulders.

    “Right. You seem amicable enough and more than capable,” I said, warily eying her morbid and deadly slaves standing around her. They were the corpses of looters and Picts that now protected her whom they had sought to kill in life. “Will you help me?”

    She laughed, muttered something about unsubtle and dim-witted Hyborians, and volubly assented to the quest but added: “I first have business with the Dark Ones.”

    I immediately latched onto these words and images of dark, tall and merciless beings like shadows filled my vision.

    “Do you have time to help me?” I heard her ask after she saw my gaze glaze with recollection.

    “I was defeated by them and seek my revenge,” I said coldly. She looked at me, cocked her head and told me to lead on.

    I briskly trotted off under the Rum ‘n Rumble. I felt eerily light-headed and the patch between my shoulder blades itched, in anticipation of a dagger thrust. But my worry was unfounded.

    After leading her to the rowboat at a fair clip, I leapt in and started to tug on the oars while she was still settling the folds of her robes. We shot across the crystal waters and the boat soon ground onto the white, sandy atoll.

    Another of my duties in this beautiful wasteland was to kill a great number of Picts. I have hunted these dog-faced baboons before and have zero love for them, especially the ones who have delved in the Acheronian ruins in the area and turned to dark and cannibalistic rituals under the guidance of their deluded witchdoctors.

    I forgot all about my mysterious companion as I launched myself from out of the bushes at a large group of the savages resting in the afternoon sun on the beach. My sword whistled and slew the first with a crushing blow to the shoulder that sheared deep into his body. I blocked a descending club blow with my shield and booted the now broken body off of my curved, Stygian blade.

    The savages swarmed around me and I gave a deep, fierce laugh as I fended them off with my darting shield and sweeping weapon. Suddenly one of the savages next to me was blasted with a cold that took my breath away and he froze before my eyes. His corpse shattered as it struck the sand and I had time only to leap back from a stabbing spear before seeing the whole group of the painted dogs die before my eyes, rotting and melting into dark pools on the white sand.

    I sheathed my sword and looked over with a healthy measure of respect and admiration at my grinning companion. I saw a slumbering anger subside in her eyes, until they again reflected the world serenely.

    “Wow,” I exclaimed with my usual eloquence, “I am glad you are on my side.”

    Her cheeks twitched as she controlled her grin and met my amber eyes with her own oak-brown ones. “You fight well yourself,” she complimented me.

    I preened and saluted her in the manner of Gunderland, my homelands - a chest strike followed by a closed-fisted salute - mimicking the lowering of a pole-arm into guard position. And on that piece of sand, with Picts in the distance and crocodiles sunning themselves with their mouths open, I spoke to her about my life and how I had ended up like I did, a violent, dark but cheerful fighter.

    She digested the fact that my mother had been taken from her homeland by my father who had been a soldier in an invading army. The army was driven back but not before conquered areas were looted, and the loot often included slaves. Anjing, visibly angry for the first time in my memories of her, fiercely asked how my father had managed to survive the constant poisonings from my mother.

    I was stunned. I have never thought about it like that. My mother had always seemed to hold herself aloof and cold towards my father. She was a good, if stern, mother to me but she fought a non-stop war-of-attrition, for her theft from her homeland, against my father who tried to treat her as well as a retired Gunderman soldier could on his smallholding in the country. He was not without fault, for his temper was short and quick to burst and he liked the idea of authority.

    “My mother found solace in the fact that she had a child to raise,” I said slowly, carefully considering each of the words.

    “Your mother was happy to have a healthy child, I think,” Anjing said, her thoughts dark, mysterious and deep.

    Personally, I think that my mother loved my father underneath her frosty aggression and he her under his thunderhead-like brows because, when they stood side-by-side while working or cooking, their voices would be reasonable, peaceful and purposeful. I remember those brief times as blissful, as if I had a normal family.

    But when there was no more common purpose my mother consciously tried to keep my father at a distance because of their past. And then his temper would leap up and they would fight again. I wonder if the fighting was a hangover from their earlier days when there had been only anger and desire between them and the fighting had with time become the custom of two people who actually loved each other. It is often the curse of people to only realise something profound once the chance for redemption is gone. I guess one will understand when the other is dead.

    But, no word of this I spoke to her then. I kept my peace because there was too much to the story to waste time on while the monsters that had wronged me breathed and it was too complex a tangle of emotions to unravel yet. So, leaving it until our next meeting, I neglected to finish the story and to ask her about her past in return.

    With one of the raw spots in my life touched, I frowned until my brows ached and sought out the path towards the den of the Dark Ones, speaking nought.

    Anjing seemed a bit subdued after our talk, but did not mention it again, for which I was grateful. She pushed past me, leaped down a hill with remarkable agility and led the way up a set of broken stairs. At the top we spied two sentries of the tall, ebony-skinned creatures that men call Dark Ones.

    I drew my curved khopesh and charged at the two strange creatures standing in silence but nonetheless talking in some fashion. Yet, before my sword landed, one of the two staggered as a blast of powerful magic rocked it on its feet. The two ignored me and charged at my companion who was standing in an attitude of anticipation, weaving dark magics between her slender fingers. Her slaves leapt to her defence and even willingly sacrificed themselves to the curved talons of the tall and rangy Dark Ones to spare her from harm.

    I cut down one tall being from behind and the other Anjing destroyed with a curt cry and a blast of ethereal energy. I grinned with pleasure and shook the blood off of my sword. I can hold no grudge when the fighting is this good.

    At the entrance to the cave, the dead slaves of the Khitan tore two dark guards to bits and I leapt and repeatedly slashed another until its mangled form fell over in a welter of splintered ribs and hot, sticky blood.

    We silently made our way through the grotto. Our confidence grew as we consistently managed to overpower the Dark Ones that we encountered in the high, arched tunnel.

    Yet my heart began to beat harder in my breast and my lips thinned as I pressed them together in angst and dread. I recall this exact sequence happening when I previously came seeking treasure in this place, until I had been ambushed and overwhelmed by a large number of these monsters.

    Warily I stepped into the circular chamber that held a pool of water. Not the jade-green liquid that transformed men into petrified bone, thankfully, but more normal seawater pushing up through the sands and coral. I had managed to save the whore Hortensia from this very place last time but my greed for treasure deeper into the den had been my folly then.

    But this time I am here for revenge, I thought to myself. This time I will either triumph or die, I swore, thinking of the dark-haired sorceress at my side.

    My religious training in Tarantia under the priests of Asura had taught me to attain calm enough to meditate, to let go of my wild rages and strange moods and to find purpose in fighting and killing my enemies. Asura teaches that no people must be pitied for they bring their suffering from a previous life and the best we can hope for is redemption and death.

    I spoke this quietly, almost as a mantra, while stealing myself for the inevitable confrontation. I was stepping softly, my gaze fixed on the deepest, darkest part of the cave. But I felt my blood-rage firing up, eating away at my calmness, until I burned with inner fire.

    “I will go first to draw his ire,” I spoke gratingly to my comrade, my normally friendly nature subsumed in my bloodlust.

    With these words, I drew my weapon and ran down the dimly lit passage, towards the dark corner where I had met my match previously. But this time I was ready. This time I was not looking at the carvings on the walls and searching for treasure. This time I was here for blood.

    A full dozen of the ebon devils ran out of what I guessed to be a court for their leader, the very tall dark being wearing a high, onyx crown. He had been the one that defeated me with his bare hands before. I would die willingly as long as he plunged screaming into hell before me.

    I smashed into the group with my shield set against my shoulder and scattered a number of them with the impact. I turned my attention full on the leader, aching with fury. He grinned, showing white teeth, and slammed his fist against my shield so hard that my ears sang. I staggered back and the demons crowded around me.

    Suddenly, a command of force and power rang through the busy corridor like the tolling of a Khitan temple bell. Through my blurred, red vision I saw walking corpses leap onto the dark beings and tear at them with inhuman strength. A burst of power ripped through the air past me to carve a path through the massed monsters.

    I shook my head to clear it and, raising my sword on high, gave a war cry and leapt back into the fray. Now the confidence of the dark ones was wilting. The sheer violence of the battle shook them and, while they remained silent, they began to fall.

    Cut with a dozen wounds, and bleeding profusely if not fatally, the leader bashed me and the undead slaves aside with a long arm corded with round muscles. After turning eyes filled with malice and cunning on Anjing, he gave a spiteful cry and dashed towards her.

    My heart stopped. The air turned to treacle. I turned away from the monsters I was engaged with, their claws scraping along my hard-leather armour, and ran towards the woman who thought so deeply and fought so fiercely. An incoherent cry of rage boiled from my throat and, upon reaching the bleeding monster, I slashed with such force that my sword cut through his back, spine and ribs and clanged against the wall, painting it with blood.

    The wily magician impatiently put a stray strand of hair behind an ear and, stepping past me, brought her hands down sharply. I heard a crack as the air grew so cold around a monster that its arm broke off in mid-swing and it disintegrated as its momentum twisted it to icy pieces. I struck a last, loathsome creature with my shield and lopped its eerily symmetrical head from its body.

    In the sudden silence I stood with my shoulders heaving, my whole length plashed with blood and my sword trailing in my hand. I turned away from the deep recesses of the erstwhile den of the demons to see the Khitani mistress standing calmly while paging through a book.

    I stared in dazed astonishment, fighting for breath. A book?

    “Damn. Sorry,” she said. “We may have to do that again. My quest did not update.”

    I grinned hugely through the muck and sweat on my face.


    Welcome to the Age of Conan, the brutal, boisterous and beautiful game. This will be fun….
    In balance with this life, this death
    -- Hand of Ibis RiP
    Magic is seeing what happens when you hit someone really hard, and when they disappear in a red spray, that's magic.
    -- Jansensen, Gunderman fighter {max taps - RiP}
    CQB Ranger

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