Assault on the Demon Wood
"No, Yoro. I mean my Guardian is still a little weak from the bout the day before yesterday, I think I should give him at least two more days until his next match, I mean"¦ he won't become champion by getting himself injured."
"Champion", Wallik laughed. "That's a little ambitious don't you think, you'll have to beat my Guardian if you want to make it past silver rank and I just don't think your Guardian's small frame can do the job, no offence."
"Small framed huh, well I guess we'll see eventually", he said as he looked over at Yoron who stood a full three heads taller than Marilus and Wallik and at least a head taller than most other Brute Guardians.
As Marilus finished speaking, the small party crested the last hill before entering the centre of the city and gazed down at the Great Square. It glowed with the silver of the trees and the almost magical aura that seemed to surround it whenever the sun was out and Marilus just stared at it for a moment. He had seen it a thousand times, but it still required a moment to take in every time he walked this road.
To the left of the square stood the halls of the Overseer and Caretaker caste and to the right that of the Hunter and Gardener caste, all crafted from the still living grey trees of the Mother's forest and elegant, shining tributes to the glory and power of their beloved matron. Along the far edge ran the magnificent White River and beyond that the Mother's Palace, more beautiful than anything Marilus had ever seen, with its four identical green towers, crafted from a material of which he had no knowledge and reaching so high into the heavens that Marilus got dizzy looking at them.
"Are you nervous", Wallik asked.
Marilus tore his eyes from the towers "No, just excited, I'd better hurry, I don't want to be late for my first patrol", Marilus said.
"Come Guardian", he said after shifting his gaze and the focus of his catalyst to Yoron and beginning to jog down into the square, almost tripping on his crimson cloak. "We can't be late."
As he emerged from the forest and onto the grassy plane that surrounded the Demon Wood, Bolkus shuddered, he had been taught his entire childhood to never venture this close to the vile forest and that instinct burned in his veins now, if he had not been under the protection of the Brute God Gragoor he would never even have considered it.
But now everything had changed, Gragoor would protect him from the power of the Red Demon as he had promised, and Bolkus would become a warrior of legend, a rich warrior of legend. The stories said that the long eared devils kept a pile of treasure that reached the heavens and Bolkus wanted a piece of that treasure.
"Axes forward", Bolkus's commander bellowed as he waved his bone spear above his head.
Bolkus licked his large canines as he hefted his massive woodsman's axe, set it on his shoulder and began sprinting towards the front of his group with greed in his eyes.
Soon he would be rich, rich, RICH. After this was over he could put a blade through the throat of his brother Balkas and take beautiful Yema for himself and no one could say anything about it because he was a warrior of legend, a rich one.
Bolkus was among the first to sink his axe into the flesh of one of the grey trees that surrounded and protected the demon wood like the stone cliffs near Bolkus's home. He could already feel the blood rage building up inside him and he focused all of it on the obstacle that prevented him from reaching his treasure.
Several more axemen joined him in his quest to destroy the hulking behemoth and before the sun had moved very far in the sky Bolkus got satisfaction.
A hole in the forest's defences created, the brute army began pouring in and Bolkus rejoined his commander inside the forest.
Gragoor was right, Bolkus thought to himself, there was nothing magical or evil about the trees, they were just trees, they looked like trees and they fell like trees, and there was nothing magical about this forest either, it would burn to the ground just like any other forest.
Bolkus traded his two handed woodsman's axe for a torch and much more manoeuvrable hand axe and could barely contain his excitement as his commander gave the order to move out. Fuelled by blood rage Bolkus once more sprinted to the front of his group as they made their way into the terrifying forest that, to Bolkus, was becoming less and less terrifying.
Bolkus's blood rage subsided quickly as it became apparent that the forest was extremely vast and no enemies ventured this close to its edge, but after the sun had moved much further in the sky and he had progressed further in Bolkus began to smell them, they smelled like brutes, only sweeter, almost sickeningly so and Bolkus's blood rage became intense once more.
Before he knew it he came upon a pair of them. They were pale, slim, and short to brute eyes, and there ears were so long they almost extended past the tops of their heads.
They were accompanied by two brutes in strange clothing, one so large Bolkus was worried for a moment, but the fear and confusion in the eyes and scent of his slender prey brought a fanged smile to Bolkus's face as he sunk his axe into the flesh between the neck and shoulder of one of the terrified demons.
Then came fire, hotter and more intense than the belly of the underworld, and in the blink of an eye Bolkus knew no more.
Iruk shook with fear as he peered from the forest, across the grassy plane at the last of the brute army as they made their way into the demon wood. His thoughts tormented him as he dwelled on the idiocy of his current actions.
I am a writer of songs, not a warrior, what stupidity has consumed me, but what else can I do? He thought to himself. My father will kill me when he returns; this is the only way to retain my honour.
Slowly Iruk dropped his pack on the ground, opened it and began to prepare for the upcoming battle. No blood available Iruk reopened the wound his father had recently given him as he continued to look towards the hole in the wall of trees that surrounded the petrifying forest.
A very long while after the army was completely out of site Iruk gathered enough courage to emerge, clad in the armour of his dead elder brother, which was slightly too large for him, carrying one of his father's discarded swords, and with his own blood reddening his hands.
Tentatively Iruk made his way towards the forest; he could smell that the brute solders were already miles away so he was in no danger of discovery, which allowed him to relax somewhat. But as he approached the hole in the forest wall he could smell the scent of smoke.
Have they started burning already? He thought to himself.
Something didn't seem right and a cold sweat broke out along his spine.
Slowly and cautiously Iruk made his way into the forest. For more than an hour Iruk travelled deeper and deeper onto the forest, fallowing the obvious signs of the passing army.
No obstacles encountered, Iruk began to feel a little more confident, until he smelled something that shook him deeply.
The scent of burning did not smell like the burning of wood, which he had smelled many times while accompanying his father on his many violent crusades, this smell was different, more like the burning of flesh, brute flesh.
Suddenly realization dawned on Iruk and he began sprinting into the forest, desperate to disprove his terrible suspicions, but as he ventured further in the scent became stronger and more difficult to deny.
As Iruk made his way through a copse of trees and into a small clearing all hope came crashing down around him as he discovered the charred body of one of his father's personal body guards. The body was so indistinguishable he would not have been able to tell were it not for the iron collars they wore.
Panic seized Iruk and he fell to his knees. All hope was lost with the destruction of the army; even if he were to escape, Yuri Nai would be in ashes by winter, without the protection of the warriors his fathers enemies would set out to plunder the city as soon as they received word. What was he going to do?
Iruk's keen ears picked up distant sounds of battle and his spirits rose. It wasn't too late; if he could gather the remaining warriors and retreat from the forest he may be able to save enough to defend the city. The fire of hope in his eyes, Iruk made his way towards the fighting.
Sid wasn't worried until he saw the smoke; in his two hundred years as head of the Hunter caste nothing had come into the forest, except for the occasional small tainted creature. So when several Hunter groups didn't come back at once he simply assumed it was a coincidence. Hunter groups checked in late all the time, needless to say this wasn't the first time this had happened. Then he saw the smoke through the large window in his office.
Youngers! He thought to himself as he walked to the door of his office and looked around the great hall for a runner.
Always playing around with their Qi, he brooded. They need to understand the Qi is ether a weapon or a tool, never a toy, and now one of them has lit the damn forest on fire. It was probably Marilus, that younger is always pushing the parameters of the Mother's laws, I knew it was too early to send him out on patrol.
"Wallik, go see what's going on, if Marilus is responsible for this tell him it's the Servants that will punish him this time, I've run out of patience."
Sid communicated with enough mental force behind it to make Wallik jump from his seat next to the door of the training room, signal an overenthusiastic consent, and hastily make his way through the high arched gates leading to the square.
Sid turned to return to his desk but reconsidered and again stuck his head out of the door to his office.
"Buris", he called to his second, a short stocky vassin who always seemed to wear a frown, "go to the Gardeners Hall and tell Antalin we may have a fire on our hands, and tell him I've sent a runner to find out how severe, and send someone to inform the Mother, and send in my Guardian on your way out."
Fool younger, what has he done this time, if I get demoted for this I'll wring his mischievous little neck. Wallik thought as he made his way towards the smoke rising from deep in the forest. I knew I should have gone with him his first time out.
Suddenly Wallik heard something that made his heart jump. A sound he had only heard once before, from the mouth of one of his Elders, who, having ventured to close to the edge of the forest, was being punished by the Mother. The Elder had broken all vassin's usual, almost continuous silence to emit a high pitched wail that chilled Wallik's blood, what he heard now was more terrifying.
Previous - Continued ...
Pages: One - Two - Three - Four
© S. Michael Pitt 2009