Home to the Index

Go home

Join our Forum!

Sign our Guestbook!

Check out our Download section!

Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

Take a look at the links we like!

Send a mail to our staff!


Read the stories of Gushémal!

Read Travellers' Tales from the world of Gushémal!

Learn how to play the Gushémal Role-Playing Game!


Home Index of Cornell: The Resurrected Hero

Home Index of Tales of Strange Adventures

"Call of the Dragon, Pt I" Cornell #1

"Call of the Dragon, Pt II" Cornell #2

"Ruins and Hopes"

"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3

"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4

"Childhood of a Fighter"

"The Pledge" Cornell #5

"The Rock of Discontent"

"A Tale of the Gods"

"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6

 

 


  by Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues

  Section 1 / Section 2

 

Two days later Cornell was still seething over the high price he had had to pay Zhivahad for the new horse. One hundred gold pieces! One hundred! Back home in Cayaboré he could have bought a battlehardened charger for the same price, including a good chain armor on the horse. And what had he gotten here? A miserable, emaciated mare that would drop dead from heatstroke if someone were to put real armor on it.

Very well, he had to admit that the mare put on good speed in the desert. It easily kept up with Gabe’s dappled stallion, a fine horse that looked to be of Tonomai stock, and the yellowish pony that served as Flink’s mount. The pony was least burdened of all the horses, for the alreu rode without a saddle or any luggage save the knapsack on his back. Though he obviously enjoyed being bounced up and down constantly, he just as clearly had not fully learned how to ride. His hold on the beast’s back was precarious enough that he might slip off any second. Somehow he had managed to hang on this far, yet that piece of luck couldn’t last much longer, Cornell was sure.

“Gotta be around here somewhere,” Gabe called from his horse, ranging a little ahead of the group. His shaggy mane flew in the air, trailing his head as wildly as did the mane of his stallion.

He had a point. The dunes were occasionally dotted with lichen, as well as the sandpurple topping sand heaps. While the latter might as well be found in the very center of the Elfadil, the former was proof they were getting closer to the desert’s edge, closer to natural water sources. Bowler plants gathered in a longer stretch of even sand, their membraned blueish tops pointed at the sun.

There was even a distant scent of water in Cornell’s nose. A river sprang from a minor mountain chain south of the Elfadil, growing stronger and stronger until it became the mighty Cheselain. On the other hand, maybe he was just deluding himself. The Cheselain’s waters should be quite too far off.

Gabe suddenly reined in his horse and held up his hand. “What’s the matter?” Flink eagerly called out, leaping up to stand on his horse for a better view of what was ahead. “I can’t see anything good, Gabe!” he promptly shouted disappointedly. “Shouldn’t there be some monsters, or something?”

Neither the barbarian nor the warrior paid the alreu’s chagrin any heed while Cornell joined his friend at the top. Ahead of them, the dunes stopped flowing as freely as they had before. Like the waves of a sea rolling onto the shore, they evened out, lapping softly at what once had been a good sized building surrounded by a plaza of marble. The marble was cracked, had lost its sheen a long time ago to the grind of sand washing over it. The building had also suffered. It was indeed dome-shaped, with a blocky rectangular base of mansized stones. Little damage had been done to the base, except for paint having been scratched off. Gaps tore through the dome, though, gashes of stones that were smashed from their positions, exposing the inside of the building.

Familiar unease tingled Cornell’s spine. Whatever this place had once been, it certainly had not been built for the desert. It looked like a temple or a palace – a minor one, given its size – that would have better suited a Tonomai city. Obrosvek, for instance. Had there once been a town here, one that the desert claimed centuries ago?

“No sign of the caravans,” Gabe muttered. “Should be scattered all around here.”

Cornell nodded, frowning. “Maybe the patrol was wrong, and it was bandits who took the caravans. Buried the wagons, took the loot off with them.”

“Thieving bastards.” The barbarian looked grimly at the dome, not at all aware that he had been planning to steal the loot himself. “Could be they shoved the goods into the building, be they monsters or thieves.” Fire returned to his eyes. “Let’s take a look, shan’t we?”

Cornell shrugged. “We’ve come this far…” He didn’t like to admit it, but a share of the blonde man’s fire was burning in his heart as well. Life on the edge of poverty was fine for monks or seeker elves. The Cayaborean was neither. Besides, after Zhivahad’s lightening of his purse, he really could use a few more gold coins.

Slowly they picked up their pace again, both fighters carefully scanning the plaza and the building for any sign of foes appearing. Flink, of course, only focused on the dome, curiosity burning in his bulging eyes. When they reached the entrance of the blocky base, a square metal door, he was frustrated yet again. No creatures had shown their ugly hides, and the alreu wondered why he had suffered through the boring last two days. Well, maybe the inside of the dome would offer something interesting, he thought to himself and bounced off the pony, racing to the large door to inspect it for an opening. It was clearly too heavy for his slim body, yet…

“Flink!” Cornell shouted in exasperation when the alreu suddenly vanished through a tiny crack at the door’s hinges. He didn’t bother to look at Gabe, slid down his steed and paused barely long enough to hobble the horse to a pole near the entrance, unsheathe his sword and head for the metal plates.

Moments later Gabe was by his side, his waraxe bwyell solidly fused to the barbarian’s paws. “Push,” Cornell muttered who had already put his weight against the door. To no avail, thus far, but when Gabe added the strength of his thick sinews, it gradually creaked open. Both men tightened the grip on their weapons, then they bounded into the dome – and stopped.

“Yahoooo!”

Flink cried out happily as he slid down a pile of silk drapes, arranged against a crumbled pillar in the reversed bowl interior. The warriors stared incredulously around, not least at the alreu who did a series of joyous flic-flacs amidst rows of half-broken crates before he started to climb back on top of the drapes.

Fragments of the roof lay all about the floor which probably was a mosaic, as well as could be judged through the layers of dust and debris. More than that, there was a plentitude of other objects that had nothing to do with the defragmentation of the dome. Wooden crates, some opened and their contents spilled negligently: jewels, gold, other valuables; weapons and armor, arranged artfully on the remainders of pillars to look as if their owners had placed them there, waiting to pick them up again. Which seemed rather unlikely, considering the bones and skulls scattered across the entire circular floor. Many were smashed to splinters, white chips dotting the brownish-yellowish ground.

“Well,” Gabe sighed and managed to sound at the same time frustrated as pleased, “looks like we’ve found the treasure. Let’s gather as much as we can load on the horses. Flink!”

The bellow reached the alreu just as he had reached the ground a third time since the two men’s arrival. “Isn’t this marvelous?!” he yelled, stroking one of the silk drapes. “Softer than my mother’s seidenkissen!”

“Stop that,” Gabe muttered irritatedly. “Gather as much treasure as you can and get it to the horses.”

The alreu’s eyes lit up. “Sure!” he cried, then started scanning the ground for the most sparkling and pretty objects he could find. Gabe mumbled something incoherently while he stepped across to a pile of jewels.

While the two of them started gathering their loot, Cornell held back and indifferently pushed the nearest handful of coins into his beltpouch. There was a smell in the hall, more than just ancient dust and sand mixed with bone. Mouldy was the closest he could describe it – and a half open dome in the desert was not a place where mould could flourish.

He couldn’t tell where the smell came from, not from the entrance. Slowly he wandered forward, through one of the meandering paths between the mounds of treasure chaotically strewn around. Closer to the center, there was an especially large pile, made up mostly of cloth like the silk piles Flink had so enjoyed a bit earlier.

Yes, the smell was stronger here, Cornell thought and tightened the grip on his sword. He could use a shield about now, but… there was one right in front of him, at the base of the central mound. Larger than a buckler, it looked to be made of dark, polished elfwood, stronger than steel, the hardest material one could find on Gushémal. The boss at its center was metal, bronze apparently, decoration more than anything else – and as far as decoration went, it had suffered all that one could expect from the soft metal. Scratched and dented, the inscriptions once chiseled into the surface were unreadable today. It didn’t diminish the value of the shield, that after all came from the elfwood.

The shield was ancient. More than a millenium had passed, the sages of Cayaboré told, since bronze was used for weapons. And it was beautiful. The sheen of the polished wood reflected in Cornell’s eyes, drawing him on, tempting him to pick the shield up and strap it to his arm.

“Hey, sir, those are mine!” The tiny figure of the alreu darted past him toward the pile of silk, toppled the shield in its haste as it started to climb the mound for another slide.

Cornell blinked, disconcerted. He’d been looking for the source of the mouldy smell, hadn’t he? Now this pile was where it probably came from. “Flink,” he hollered, “can you smell something?”

His first answer was a roll of silk clashing down to the ground, then he saw the alreu leaping to a more secure position on the mound, holding on to a horn that looked like the wicked lance of a shaggy unicorn. One more trophy the caravans had carried, Cornell thought and readied himself to yell again – when the horn began to rise.

Flink didn’t notice at first, too glad he was not to have fallen a rather uncomfortable route to the ground. He dangled on the horn, turned himself around to peer at Cornell and smiled as he saw the Cayaborean storm up the silken mound with his sword drawn. “I go first, sir!” he yelled imperatively, relishing the prospect of the next slide.

Then warm, musty air rushed at his back, and he twisted around for a glance. Wolflike fangs glistened a foot away from his face, behind them a maw of absolute darkness. “Phew, what a breath,” he complained, then angled for a better look at the fangs, completely ignorant of the danger.

“Flink!” Gabe roared twenty yards off, when he saw the central mound suddenly disintegrate, silk and jewels and coins exploding in a colorful rain, brushing off Cornell like a fly – and in its place, a giant creature rose, with a squat, doglike torso resting on six broad, long legs. Thin, yellowish fur covered the body, changing to dark bare skin at the neck – no, necks.

Seven wolfheads, each as large as a pony reared up from the squat body, attached to long, sinuous necks. Each head bore a long, slightly curved horn at its forehead, between two vicious, slitted eyes and above a wide maw rich in teeth.

Gabe wasted about half a second being shocked and gaping at the appearance, then his waraxe flew through the air, aiming for the head to whose horn Flink clung. Bwyell spun about itself once, twice, then its halfmoon blade dug into the side of the head, ten inches beside the right eye. A scream issued from the wolfmaw, the head shook in pain – and Flink let go, whooping wildly during his fall.

On the ground, Cornell had been half buried by silk. He’d just made it out of the soft trap when the alreu landed on his back, pressing the air from his lungs. “This is great, sir! Now that’s what I call a real monster!”

Angrily Cornell shoved the alreu out of his way, rolled on his back, raised his sword – just in time to see a row of teeth aiming for him. He twisted aside, rammed the blade upward, straight into the creature’s jaw – as furry, booted feet jumped mercilessly close over him. “Ryelneyd!”

Gabe recovered bwyell in mid-air, using the stuck war axe to swing himself onto the back of the head, straddling the bucking skull with his legs. Bwyell hammered down, drawing a deep gash into the head, blood spurting out. The creature roared – and another head darted around, aiming for the barbarian.

Fifteen feet below, Cornell ripped a dagger from his belt, let it fly at the attacking head. He didn’t have the chance to see whether his aim was true, as a third head snapped at him, forcing him to roll out of the way, straight into Flink. The alreu toppled on him, a mess of more arms and legs than he should have possessed.

“Fresh food! The large one belongs to Beavral!” a voice roared, foreign and twisted.

A second, similarly distorted, joined, crying, “Kill me! Kill me, please!”

“My eye! My eye!”

“Shut up and eat him, Phindar!”

“Why won’t you kill me? Please! Please kill me!”

There was a chorus of voices echoing in the hall, voices that came straight from the maws of the creature, each head speaking in a different tone, each snapping wildly about.

Cornell stared. There was Gabe, still on top of one head, whirling his war axe about to keep other heads away, three of them performing a macabre dance about him. The head he was sitting on was thrashing wildly, dark blood covering its skin, its motions growing weaker by the second. The eye of one of them had a dagger impaled – Cornell’s! And the heads were shouting.

“I didn’t know monsters could speak,” Flink marveled calmly. “Do you have any idea where they learned meantongue, sir?”

“Dammit, that thing’s killing us! Can you fight?” Cornell snapped at him.

The words took the alreu aback. “Fight? Why? Do I have to?”

“Yes!”

Flink shrugged, pulled the backpack around and started to search its contents. Cornell would have loved to squeeze the manling’s neck right about now. Unfortunately, other necks – and the attached heads – called for his attention, as two of the remaining three shot down at him.

The warrior rolled aside, slashing his blade blindly topward. No resistance met the sword, no score, only…

“Yes, that’s it! Kill me!”

“Shut up, Nev, bloody Cayaborean coward!”

“Shut up yourself, Beavral. Here, warrior, slay me!”

Cornell came back to his feet, sweat covering his forehead, his breath still coming easily. One of the heads darted forward – Cornell ducked, cut at the jaw, rammed his left elbow into the neck. Then he leaped aside – or tried to, as the second head smashed into his ribs. The Cayaborean warrior suddenly found himself flying through the air, pain exploding in his side.

He ducked for the landing, rolled out, came to his knees. Already he had to raise his sword again, both heads rushing at him again. “Will you finally kill me?!” the left one cried – and its jaws raced down towards Cornell’s leg.

Cornell dropped backwards again, trying to roll over his back onto his feet. His side detonated in pain again, aided by the fangs of the right head cutting skin, barely missing a real bite. Cornell collapsed, immediately scrambling forward, clawing out of the way of the heads.

Instead of an attack he heard an inhuman scream, followed by a crashing sound and a whining voice yelling, “Why him? Beavral liked this! Kill me, manling!”

“I’m trying, just a minute,” Flink muttered. “Hey, let me reload!”

Breath laboring into his lungs, Cornell raised his head and saw the alreu hopping out of the way of the remaining head, cradling a strange contraption in his arms. Close by, another head lay on the ground, its top bloodied and frayed and – boiling? The Cayaborean had little time to wonder. The second head was still after Flink. Miraculously the alreu stayed out of the way of the snapping jaws, and the head – Nev? – still cried out to be killed.

“Then hold still!” Flink complained.

Cornell swallowed, grabbed his sword tighter, pushed his arms down to get up – and slipped on something round beneath him. The shield! Not one to argue with fortune, the warrior strapped it on.

As he got on his feet, he felt almost fresh again, the pain in his side dulled by adrenaline. “Here, I’ll kill you,” he yelled.

The head spun around, cried happily and charged the warrior with its fangs.

Cornell blocked the jaws with the shield, stabbed around it and met resistance. The head recoiled, yelling in pain and glee. Once more, it charged down, but this time it came sidewise. To throw me again! Different tactics, he decided, and ran towards the approaching head, leaping at the very last second to fly over the head. His sword stabbed down, while his shield – sliced through the horn.

The Cayaborean turned in midair, yet before his feet touched the ground again, a final roar issued from the head, then it fell down. The horn! Cornell didn’t understand why the horn could be so important, but he was happy to use any advantage he could find.

“Oh, and I was just ready to kill him,” Flink mumbled, standing a few feet behind the Cayaborean.

Cornell glanced backwards and saw that the alreu had his contraption pointed forward. It had a tubular point, almost like a blowgun, the rest completely alien to Cornell’s eyes. “Kill one of the others!” he yelled.

“Sure!” The alreu’s eyes lit up. He raised the contraption, aimed it at one of the remaining heads of the monster, then he pulled a trigger, and a blue ball was propelled from the tube. Cornell’s gaze followed it as best as he could, the ball arcing up towards the four heads still in the air. None of the heads noticed the missile, not until it splashed down on one of them and burst. Blue liquid poured out – and smoke rose from the skin. The creature yelled, thrashed about wildly.

To no avail.

Cornell was dumbfounded as he saw the head suddenly drop like a dead weight, the acid eating through the skull, boiling it.

The remaining three heads, fortunately, were equally stunned. And that gave Cornell a moment to look for Gabe. He must have killed the head he was riding, counting the surviving skulls. Perhaps closest to… one of the heads was a still figure on the ground, garbed in fur that was splashed deep red with blood. A muscle twitched in Cornell’s neck.

“Flink, reload and fire as soon as you’re ready,” he said calmly. Hefting his shield closer, he ran forward and cried the name of Gabe’s tribe, “Ryelneyd!”

With that he launched himself at the first head darting to meet him, smashed the shield into the fangs, stabbed his sword in the side and swung himself upward, copying Gabe’s maneuver. His seat was a lot more precarious than he had expected, the creature’s skin slick and moist. There was no way for him to recapture his sword, too much did he need it as a foothold. Only his shield remained, and that he had to smash instantly at the next head. Holding it slanted, the shield cut through the fangs like butter, and the head recoiled in surprise.

“Behind you!”

The head beneath him bucked upward. Cornell lost his seat, found himself flying once more – and behind him the third head was racing forward. His best bet, he knew and slashed with the shield for the horn while reaching for it.

The razor’s edge of the shield cut off a piece of the horn, Cornell’s right hand grabbed the rest, held on tight. The head plummeted beneath him. Cornell stayed on, the fall softened by the skull.

Blood pumping wildly in his veins, the warrior looked up. Two remaining. One was trying to shake Cornell’s sword loose, the other was coming for him. “Flink!” Cornell hollered. “Shoot it!”

No response.

And no more time.

The Cayaborean loosened the straps of the shield, pushed them into his hand – then threw the shield towards the head. It spun in the air, the bronze boss blinking. The head stopped for a moment, confused by the sight. The jaws gaped open as if the creature was wondering about the meaning. Before it could decipher the truth, the shield’s edge hit its aim, spinning through the horn as easily as if it wasn’t there.

“That’s it! You’re doing it, shield bearer!”

Not Flink’s voice, Cornell suddenly realized, and it was the same voice – female! – that had warned him before of the third head. But that only left…

The single surviving skull scraped its side against the wall. The blade stuck too tightly, magically protected against being broken off, even by the head’s enormous strength, and the skull shook itself in frustration. “Bah! What’s the use?” it muttered before it turned towards Cornell.

The Cayaborean was helpless. No weapons left, no protection, just agility. Of which there was little left, after pushing his body to the edge and beyond.

“You don’t have much time, shield bearer,” the head told him, its voice definitely female, and so human the very sounds cut into Cornell’s marrow. “I cannot hold down the monster’s hunger very long. Get the shield and cut off my horn.”

It was still speaking as the head lowered itself to the ground, turning the horn into easy reach from the ground. Cornell obeyed the wishes quickly, not even wondering about the strange scene. The elfwood shield had lodged itself into a pillar, cutting through half the stone’s width. It took the warrior some effort to pull it free, but free it came.

“Hurry, shield bearer,” the head’s voice spurned him on, and Cornell hastened to the creature. The head was quivering by now, the jaws snapping blindly, interrupting the voice every other word. “The… monster…”

Cornell slashed his shield through the horn.

The head sighed, then lay still, as did the squat body behind it.

The fight was over.

And Cornell felt as if he would keel over in a second. But he couldn’t. Not yet. He wasn’t sure what happened to his companions. He forced air into his lungs, walked around the head and looked to the spot where he had seen the fallen Gabe.

Who was sitting up and waving weakly at Cornell.

Flink grinned. “Sir, that was marvelous! As I was just saying to Gabe here, and you know, I really thought he was dead when I saw him, because of all the blood, but it was just the monster’s and not his own. At least not much, I mean, and I bandaged his wound because that is what my mother told me to do when people are… What’s wrong, sir?” The mirth vanished suddenly from the alreu’s voice, replaced by curiosity.

Cornell was laughing heartily, no matter how his ribs hurt. The world had suddenly turned out to be a very bright place after all. Everything was all right.

At least until a voice said, in all too familiar tones, “I’m still alive! Blast it, I wanted to be killed! Can’t this stupid warrior get anything right?!”

“Nev, you bloody idiot, keep your trap shut! Do you want to go on killing people?”

Both voices were familiar, although they had lost the slurring tones of the monster. Now where could they be coming from, Cornell wondered, feeling his mind cloud up.

“Why should I?!” Nev kept on complaining. “You’re that famous great shield maiden Halla Valfrey, so you’re supposed to like this. But I’m not! I’m just a simple accountant and –“

A third voice cut in, the one that had screamed about its eye before, “And I used to be the merchant who hired you, Nev, before the monster gobbled up the two of us. So I’m ordering you to like this!”

“Listen to Phindar,” the female voice said again, and two words leaped into Cornell’s consciousness. “Shield maiden”, Nev had said… Were the voices coming from his shield?! “The years inside the monster are over! The four of us are in the shield now, and we have a chance to get our lives back, with the help of the shield bearer! What’s your name, by the way, honored shield bearer?”

Yes! The voices were in his shield! Now that he paid attention to it, he could even feel a slight quiver run through the elfwood with every word of the voices. And the bronze boss… It had been dented before, yet now it gleamed in perfection, the runes as readable as if a smith had chiseled them in only a few minutes earlier.

“Shield bearer! I am speaking to you!” the female shouted to get his attention before continuing in humble, though insistent tones, “I wish to know your name. I am Halla Valfrey, shield maiden of Keroull. Pray tell, what are you called?”

“Er,” Cornell stuttered.

“His name’s Cornell!” Flink shouted from a few feet away, clearly unconcerned with talking to a shield. “Gabe told me he’s from Cayaboré, I don’t know his last name, but how did you get into that shield? And what is it with the monster? Did you –“

Obviously, Cornell decided finally, shutting out the voice of the alreu, this was a dream. And if it was a dream, he should be asleep. For an instant, he stopped, wondering about the logic of this thought. Good enough, he found and fell forward, already unconscious before he hit the ground.

  

T H E   E N D