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Assault on the Demon Wood

The forest, raised in days of old
By vile might and sin untold
Abode of shade and wolf and litch
Servants all to the crimson witch

Did cage the fathers of our own
Through shattered heart and will and bone
Till word of dissent was never spoken
Lest wills be crushed and bodies broken

But fate gave hope to timely flight
And many fled by starry light
Then learned to hunt and war and sing
Begetting rider and shaman and champion and king

And one begat above them all
Did answer retributions call
And hated so the one who trod
Upon the face of brutish god

Seeking justice for ancient sin
Weapon in hand and vengeance within
Bringer of fortune and champion of good
The god king Gragoor marched on the demon wood

The brute king Gragoor's eyes contained a look of intense satisfaction as his subordinates strapped the last pieces of his leather and bone armour to his massive scaled body, his usual demeanour of intensity and violence lost as he revelled in the knowledge that he would soon realize his greatest ambition. He strained against the pressure as his servants tightly cinched and tied the bonds around his hardened forearms, thighs, calves, biceps, and chest.

The last tie in place, Gragoor's servants hastily retreated from the tent, never turning their backs to him, their eyes never leaving the hard packed dirt floor.

 Gragoor looked down at himself; admiring the armour he had spent a lifetime creating, every stitch and bone containing a story that would chill the blood of the women and young. He was more than satisfied it would give him the perceived majesty and authority it would require to bend the people to his will and guarantee the respect of his warriors.

As Gragoor contemplated his future his seventh son Iruk entered the tent carrying his father's helmet in his dark green, four fingered hands. As he approached Gragoor, he dropped to his knees and presented the helmet to his inhuman father. After taking the ghastly tribute to his triumphs and placing it on his head, Gragoor removed a bone dagger from his belt and handed it to his son.

For a moment, Iruk hesitated and that was enough to bring Gragoor down from his previously euphoric state. He struck his son with the back of his armoured hand, hard enough to send Iruk's much narrower frame tumbling across the room.
In an instant Gragoor was on him. Both scaled hands around Iruk's neck, Gragoor lifted his son's feet off the ground and slammed him into the main support post of the tent.

"You display such weakness in my presence", he said, as he leaned to within an inch of Iruk's face and shook with fury. "I should take the required blood from your throat"

He threw Iruk to the floor, as his son writhed in pain Gragoor picked up his fallen dagger, knelt over Iruk, and placed it to his throat.

"Tell me Iruk, what reason do I have to not end you here, your weakness makes only your blood of use to me" Gragoor again so close to his son that flecks of spittle landed on the face of his cowering offspring.

Disgusted, Gragoor stood. Lifting Iruk by one of his arms, he pressed the dagger to his son's exposed, scaled forearm and pulled it away quickly, creating a deep gash.

Iruk whimpered in pain, which earned a further look of revulsion from his father. As the blood poured out Gragoor rubbed it over his armoured hands and wrists until they were completely red. The deed done, Gragoor dropped Iruk's arm and planted a firm kick in his son's ribs, hard enough to make him role over.

"I can smell your fear coward, when I return you will further regret your uselessness".

With that, Gragoor turned on his heel, and walked from the tent angrily.

Gragoor's fury was still making him shake as his grey eyes adjusted to the light outside, but his appearance was met by the thunderous cheers of eleven hundred of his hulking, seven foot, brute warriors and this caused his spirits to rise. His gaze swept over his army, garbed for battle with the blood of their children reddening their hands and his satisfaction began to return.

The grand shaman approached Gragoor to give him the blessing of the gods by wiping the blood of sacrifice on his forehead, which he accepted piously, to the approval of his men.

In truth, Gragoor had little use for the gods. The support of the shamans helped him to retain his divine status among his people and because of this, he was forced to bow and scrape before them. But soon - soon he would realize his ambitions and solidify his godhood forever. With the people firmly in hand, Gragoor could declare all other gods false and hang the shamans from the walls of Yuri Nai. The thought broke the tension and brought the full flame of satisfaction back to Gragoor's eyes.

After imbuing Gragoor, the Grand Shaman returned to his acolytes as the brute king walked to his massive Farlahorse and mounted it. From his position, almost seven feet above the ground Gragoor could better see the hoard which he had spent most of his life building. He could feel that they were ready, there was fire and greed in their eyes as they cheered, and that was all he needed. He lifted up his hand to call for silence.

"Brothers!" he called, zeal in his voice, "Today is a day of destiny"¦, today is a day of vengeance"¦, today is the day when the red demon that tortured our ancestors and destroyed our people feels the agony of the hammer and blade!"

The noise of the crowd was deafening and Gragoor revelled in it. When the clamour subsided, he continued.

"Today we plunder the riches of Shainoa and free our still enslaved brethren"¦, today we break the backs of the long eared demons and burn their forest to the ground!"

"What we do today we do for our ancestors, what we do today we do for our people, what we do today we do for Diaspora!"

Gragoor paused again, because the noise of the crowd made it impossible for him to be heard. He smiled, which was almost unheard of, but in the throes of the moment, no one noticed or cared.

"What we do today will be remembered and sung of by our descendants forever!, what we do today will bring us not only riche and glory"¦, but IMMORTALITY!"

Gragoor reined his Farlahorse in the general direction of the Demon Wood.

"Someone bring me my sword"

Marilus woke, and for a few hazy moments did not realize the significance of the day, but coherence flooded into him and he was on his feet instantly. Hurriedly he slipped on his soft tunic, trousers, sandals, and the crimson cloak that represented the Hunter caste to which he belonged, before pulling his hair back and tying it with the small vine given to him by the Gardener caste. Hastily he turned to walk out the door before remembering to attach the catalyst and large red Qi stone, the most important part of his outfit, to his long pointed ears.

"Yoron come" he called through his catalyst telepathically and moments later, his massive scaled brute Guardian emerged from the small Qi formed hut he slept in adjacent to Marilus's large one, already clothed and ready to start the day.

Marilus, rubbing sleep from his eyes, walked past Yoron, who fallowed silently, waiting for Marilus to issue a command, and began his short journey to report to Sid, the head of the Hunter caste.

As was Marilus's habit he talked to Yoron through the catalyst, and even though Yoron could not respond and Marilus was sure he could only understand fragments Yoron did not seem to mind so Marilus confided in his silent companion.

"Today is the day Yoron" Marilus said, with cheer in his mental voice "Sid's finally going to let us go out on patrol, do you realize I haven't been out of the city since long before being initiated into the Hunters, and even then it was only because I disobeyed my Caretaker and it was only for a half a day, but from now on we'll be able to spend every day in the forest, won't that be great"

Marilus stopped and looked at his massive companion.

"You know I don't understand why the Mother doesn't allow the young to go into the forest, it's beautiful and mysterious, and as far as I could tell there is no danger, but of course the Mother knows what is best for us so I'm sure there must be a reason."

As Marilus silently rambled he and Yoron slowly made their way through rows of hunter living areas the Gardeners had long ago formed from the still living flesh of the massive grey, nearly silver, trees that covered almost all of the city and forest, until emerging onto the Mothersway, a road that would lead into the centre of the city and their destination.

"Good morning young Hunter", Marilus was greeted silently by Wallik, the head of his small Hunter group, all communication taking place through their catalysts. "May I accompany you to the Hunters Hall?"

Marilus smiled, happy to see his superior and friend on this significant day, before the formalities of Hunter tradition forbade them from speaking casually, "By all means, I could use the companionship; Yoron is a good listener but not much of a conversationalist. By the way, where is Maren?"

As Wallik made his way towards Marilus, his similar crimson cloak flowing behind him, his face grew serious, "Marilus you should really stop talking to your Guardian, if the Servants catch you again you could be severely punished this time, and please do not refer to him or my Guardian by name when you're not at home, I don't want to be demoted for having a dissenter in my Hunter group."

"Pardon Elder, it will not happen again." Marilus apologized, his eyes on the floor.

Seeing Marilus's reaction Wallik's expression changed to one of sympathy.

"Do not worry Younger, I understand everyone needs someone to talk to from time to time, just be more careful!" Wallik drew in a breath and let it out slowly, "My Guardian has gone to the palace to fetch me a fresh Qi stone, and he will meet us at the Hunter's Hall. So today Sid lets you go out on patrol you must be pretty excited."

Marilus's eyes brightened

"Absolutely, getting to finally see the forest and fulfil my duty to the Mother, I can barely contain myself."

"Well the forest doesn't disappoint, it is a beautiful and magical place. "

Wallik gestured towards Yoron, "So are you going to bring your Guardian to the Crystal floor this evening, I think he has a legitimate chance of beating Alcester's Guardian, two more matches and he could achieve grey rank."

Wallik, Marilus, and Yoron began to make their way up the Mothersway, past the other caste's living quarters, and towards the centre of the city.

Continued ...

Pages: One - Two - Three - Four

© S. Michael Pitt 2009



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