Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues
are they doing?” Cornell of Cayaboré whispered to his barbarian
companion Gabe. Both were lying low on the cusp of a hill, looking down
its flank, thorny bushes hiding the men from the sight of the group of
people in the valley below.
people were Tonomai, olive-skinned men in wide clothes that flared in the
wind. Some women were among them, priestesses to the One God, recognizable
by the red robes with gold embroidery and the silver tiaras on their
heads. The men were warriors, wearing scimitars and light leather armor
over their sand-colored shirts and blue half-skirts.
in all, Cornell counted twenty-six warriors ringed irregularly around the
four priestesses. Two more fighters were standing close to the clerics,
watching them closely. The commanders, Cornell supposed, judging by the
ornately decorated shoulder pads they wore. Next to them stood a circular
stone altar, about three feet high and four in diameter, with something
that looked strangely like shackles on the flat top.
guessing,” Gabe muttered and pointed to the outer side of the ring where
a tent stood, “ritual sacrifice.”
fifth priestess now emerged from the tent, dragging a tiny, spindly
creature behind her. The manling was about three feet tall, its ockre hair
pointing into every direction, and its bright eyes wide with amazement and
fear. Its hands were tied with straps of leather, but that precaution
seemed not to be necessary – wounds bled at the ankles of the creature,
cuts that made walking so difficult the priestess practically carried it.
alreu,” Cornell nodded grimly. He quickly looked behind him, down the
other side of the hill where Flink was watching the horses. The manling of
their own party didn’t look too happy as he was apparently telling the
mare Cornell rode. He’d be a lot less happy if he knew what was going on
in the valley – worse, he’d be running straight into the pile of
Tonomai to save his racemate.
fifth priestess heaved the alreu onto the altar. The other four clerics
gathered around the stone, clasping each other’s hands to form a ring.
The priestess in the center calmly attached the shackles to the manling.
warriors, five clerics,” Cornell said. “What do you think?”
drew his large axe of dwarven make from his back. “Bwyell and
me’ll take the warriors, you the priestesses.”
Cayaborean drew a face, but before he could say anything, a female voice
issued from the large buckler on his left arm, “I will help, shield
bearer. My edge is sharper than a sword, it shall cut through the Tonomai
if you throw me.”
a try,” Cornell grunted and nodded to Gabe. “Let’s go.”
priestess at the altar brandished a dagger, one foot long, its ivory
handle carved exquisitely with minute details depicting scenes of
religious worship. All eyes of the Tonomai were on her as she raised the
dagger, cried, “Lord, hear me, oh One True God! Take this offering, and
words were cut off rather rudely when a spinning disk of elfwood flew
right through her throat. The cleric’s eyes bulged over, life retained
for the briefest of moment before her head tumbled off her body which
followed a scant moment later. The elfwood shield bounced off the altar,
an inch away from the screaming alreu sacrifice, impossibly still at full
speed as it rushed one of the warrior commanders and sliced through his
chest before he had a chance to understand what was happening.
to go, Halla!” a male voice sounded from the shield while it skewered
another warrior on its way back to Cornell.
Cayaborean and Gabe were running down the hill, their weapons at the
ready. The shield headed for Cornell who easily snatched it from the air,
his left arm gliding through the holding straps instantaneously.
shield bearer,” the female shield voice said, “let us begin the
needed have said no more for already the two warriors were meeting the
first Tonomai. Cornell struck down one surprised enemy, while Gabe happily
shouted a warcry and let his axe hew one Tonomai’s head off. The look of
surprise was still imprinted in the man’s eyes, as the skull spun off
into the sandy ground.
a Tonomai screamed unnecessarily.
next foe had already drawn his scimitar, blocked the blow, while his
neighbors to both sides hurled their own blades against the Cayaborean.
Cornell smashed his shield sideways into the first blade, the elfwood’s
edge cleaving the scimitar in twine, while the warrior’s sword parried
the second Tonomai’s attack. It barely trembled under the blow, a
magical sword that Sylasa had given him two months earlier.
kicked forward, swiped the legs out from under his original opponent. The
first neighboring Tonomai cursed, seeing his sword broken. On the other
side, the Tonomai slashed with renewed fury – only to find the grinning
Cayaborean duck and stab his sword right into his foe’s chest. “Worked
for an elf, works for you,” he spat. Then Cornell leaped backwards as
more of the warriors were pouring his way.
froze in shock when he saw the air suddenly solidify around the Tonomai he
had just been fighting. A block of diamond encased them, sparkling,
resplendent and deadly.
clerics!” the male voice shouted from the shield. “It’s one of their
outta here,” another voice from the shield announced.
Cornell stared as the remaining Tonomai suddenly halted their attack. The
raised scimitars seemed to be frozen in the air as the warriors looked
wildly about as if they could no longer see their opponent.
see me, can’t hurt me,” the second shield voice said proudly, followed
quickly by the female voice of Halla Valfrey, “Shield bearer, Nev made
us invisible! The coward thinks he’ll get away like that! Use it, fast,
one to pass up a chance, Cornell ran forward and sliced at the next best
Tonomai. The fighter clearly did not see the blow coming, made no
defensive move – his leather armor was pierced like butter when the
blade descended into the flesh beneath. The others cried in alarm – but
Cornell cast a glance towards the priestesses and saw one of them raising
her hands in his direction.
also saw that another of the clerics was standing next to the alreu, with
the high priestess’s dagger in her hands, ready to continue the ritual.
came first, so Cornell dived sideways – just in time to avoid the
diamond block that formed right behind him, encasing both the Tonomai he
had just killed and a hapless fighter next to him.
Demon!” a Tonomai cried – and was cut down by Gabe’s axe.
all right, Cornell?!” the barbarian shouted into the thin air.
next to him, the Cayaborean muttered, “I’m fine, get on with it!”
Gabe did as asked, rushing headlong into the next Tonomai warriors.
Cornell eyed the altar – three of the clerics formed a makeshift circle,
the fourth was ready to kill their alreu sacrifice. Blue light gleamed
around them, flickering discharges dancing around the fourth priestess.
ran towards the altar, barrelling one Tonomai warrior aside with the
shield – then ducked automatically when he saw one of the clerics look
his way. Not a second too soo, as a flash of lightning burned right over
Halla cried from the shield. “The clerics can see us!”
the other priestesses in the ring saw Cornell rushing them, dissolved the
ring in moments and raised their hands to cast their spells. The
Cayaborean threw himself to the ground, cursed, and rolled aside while
discharges of magic heated up the air right over him. “Halla, can you
will,” the female voice said calmly.
Cornell raised his upper body just enough that he could swing the shield.
It flew easily from his arm, spun madly about, flying on an apparently
erratical course as it cut down the first priestess, bounced crazily from
the stone altar to assail the other Tonomai commander. The women were
distracted – understandably -, which allowed Cornell to rush up from the
ground and stab his sword at another of the priestesses. She yelped in
baffled pain, fell, and the Cayaborean held out his arm just in time for
the shield to slip its straps on again.
two priestesses remaining.
was Cornell’s thoughts as he was about to leap forward. At that very
moment one of the priestesses let go another spell. Fiery air tore into
the Cayaborean’s side, searing through his right arm. The sword fell
from his hand, he dropped to his knees, and instinctively he tried to
clasp his damaged arm with his left. But the shield was still attached to
it, the elfwood contacting immediately the injured part.
didn’t know what happened. One moment flames of pain rushed up through
his arm, the next he felt strength returned, his whole body as healthy as
if he hadn’t gone into battle at all.
surprised as he was, the priestesses were stunned when they saw their
opponent simply rise, pick up his blade and renew his attack. Both fell
quickly, unable to release another spell.
stood over their bodies, a frown deeply carved into his face.
much for the Tonomai,” the first male shield voice spat. “Running like
hares, they are.”
they were, Cornell saw. Some fifteen warriors had survived the carnage,
fled down the valley. A few yards from the Cayaborean, Gabe stood, bwyell
raised high over his head. “What are you doing?” he shouted after the
Tonomai. “The fight isn’t over yet, by Keshmire. Come back here!”
let them,” Cornell said and walked over to the altar. The shackled alreu
stared at him in a mixture of fright and curiosity. “It’s all
right,” Cornell said, “nobody’s going to hurt you now.”
bin frei?” the alreu
asked in his people’s language.
–“ Cornell started, then realized that the creature might not
understand his words.
needn’t have worried for a tiny voice piped from behind, “Ihr seid
gerettet, werter Freund! Es gibt keine
Gefahr mehr!” Flink,
their own alreu, hurried to the altar, climbed on top of the stone and
began unclasping the shackles. Not without glancing accusingly at Cornell,
“Well, sir, why didn’t you tell me there was going to be a fight? Very
impolite, sir, now, really!”
remember next time,” Cornell said.
very much hope so, sir. And the same goes to you, Gabe!” Flink pointed a
finger at the approaching barbarian. “I’ll know better than to stay
with the horses when you say you just want to look over a hill! My
goodness, all this experience wasted because you didn’t tell me!”
Gabe said, more to silence the alreu than out of real contrition.
“What’s the little one’s name, anyway?”
cocked his head, glanced back at the second alreu. “Werter
Freund, mögt Ihr mir mitteilen, wie Euer Name lautet?“
heiße –“, the
manling began to answer, then reconsidered. In halting meantongue he said,
“My name is Geschwind, from Kleineheimat at the coast. I thank you
worthy krieger for saving my life.”
to be of service,” Cornell grinned. In the distance a trumpet sounded.
The Cayaborean frowned. “Sounds like there are more Tonomai around.
We’d better get our horses and leave.”
and Flink shared the latter’s pony as the party continued its ride. The
two were talking animatedly in their language, while neither minded the
pony’s bridle very much. Instead the horse had decided to follow the
steeds of the two warriors, which worked out to the same end.
being followed,” Gabe announced, paying scant attention to the road, his
eyes instead swerving every few moments across the hilly area around them.
seen them,” Cornell nodded, pointing a finger to the southeast.
“Glints of metal, about a mile away. I saw them between the hills.
They’re riding parallel to us. Question is, why don’t they attack?”
shrugged. “The Tonomai have learned to fear bwyell, as well they
we have been carving them up fiercely.” Cornell shook his head,
glanced down towards the shield. “What other powers do you have stored
in there, Halla?”
had found the elfwood buckler in a deserted temple on the edge of the
Elfadil Desert, fighting a holnesh – a multi-headed creature each of
whose heads maintained the soul of a sapient being it had consumed. The
souls could speak, but their actions were controlled by the monster. Some
of them Cornell had freed with the aid of the shield – now, though,
those were caught in the elfwood. There was Phindar, a merchant and
Decalleigh priest; Nev, a cowardly accountant, from Cayaboré of all
places. And also Halla Valfrey, the so-called shield maiden. Supposedly
the buckler had belonged to her a long time ago – she had probably spent
decades in the holnesh, rather than the year-and-a-half that the other two
had been trapped there.
answered, “For each soul alive in the elfwood, it provides a power akin
to the soul. Thus Nev has managed to render you invisible, and Phindar has
healed your arm when it was burned by the spell. I am capable of
controlling the flight of the shield to some extent. That is all we can
assist your duty with, shield bearer.”
very nice,” Gabe laughed. “Hey, Cornell, if you tire of that
buckler, I could use it.”
Halla shouted, the shield quivering with the force of her voice. “It is
the shield bearer who carries us.”
added, “Don’t try to dissuade her, Halla’s pretty stubborn.”
rode on for a while. Now and then they caught sight of more glints of
metal around them. A scouting party, Cornell decided. No more than four
Tonomai. More than that had survived, and there had been the trumpet calls
in the distance. A host of Tonomai warriors might be in the area. About to
ambush them? Or wait for them at the nearest city?
we should skirt Obrosvek,” he said. “The people there might already
have been informed by magiscribe, so we could be facing an
unpleasant reception there.”
not!” Gabe shouted. “Look, we got all the loot from the temple with
us! I want good clean money so we can ride faster. Or are you afraid of
the Tonomai, with that shield?!”
worry about it,” Phindar agreed. “The Tonomai do not know the secret
grumbled, “Which only leaves that army of Tonomai to worry about.”
to mention that they are rogues without any outside help. The authorities
of Tonomat have forbidden any demon summoning fifteen years ago.”
Cornell, Gabe and Halla yelled in unison.
Phindar muttered, and one could just picture him blinking. “You didn’t
know the ritual was about calling a demon? Sorry, I thought that was
obvious. Why, the ritual ring of clerics and the dagger should have given
it away. After all, the Tonomai don’t generally use intelligent
sacrifices. Even though one could debate whether alreu are –“
cut him off abruptly, “What else do you know about the ritual? Could
they repeat it?”
the clerics are all dead. Unless there are others, and they find another
sacrifice… Not likely, no.”
Cornell huffed in relief. And then another thought hit him, “Phindar,
you called them rogues. Any more information you got stored up?”
shield quivered for a moment silently, then the merchant’s voice
returned, “Just rumors, and all of them are a bit outdated. I have
been away for a little bit, y’know, with the holnesh and all
that. But back when I ran caravans along here, there was a group of people
– might call them revolutionaries, if you want – who were pretty angry
about Tonomat shrinking all the time. Look, a couple of centuries ago it
seemed as if the empire was about to swallow up all of Gushémal, extend
the rule of the One God all over the world. And what happened since? They
not only lost most of the Arrufat Peninsula, their holdings this side of
Shane’s Sea have been growing smaller all the time. Why, even Leahcim
fell to an assault of holy warriors under the direct command of the Divine
Speaker a hundred and thirty years ago! Leahcim is a holy city of their
religion, y’know? Didn’t do much to improve morale around here.
these rogues, they decided that their government doesn’t know squat
about fighting. Probably right, they are. The rulers have grown fat and
complacent, none of that religious zeal of the early days remaining.
Rogues got it in spades, trust me. What’s my guess is that they were
trying to summon a demon to lead their army. Something like that,
frowned. “And we stopped that ritual. If you’re right, Phindar, these
rogues should be all over us, not watching calmly from afar.”
made a spitting sound. “Sorry, son, mind-reading is none of my
strengths. I’m a Decalleigh priest, I heal, that’s all.”
excuse me,” a tiny voice asked from behind, so timid that it took
Cornell a moment to recognize Flink. “If you can heal, would you please
look after Geschwind? I think he’s taken ill or something.”
face was pale, his eyes looked misted over, unable to focus on anything
around him. Geschwind was trembling, incoherent words escaping his lips.
Some were meantongue, most of them in the alreu’s own language.
had found a glade to rest, only a short ride from where Flink had first
informed them. Palm trees surrounded a small pond. Cornell had scooped up
some of the water to splash it onto the alreu, but it had proved little
help. At least the horses enjoyed the opportunity to get a drink of water,
and some shade to hide from the sun.
had climbed one of the trees to keep a look-out for the Tonomai. It was
amazing how easily a man of nearly seven feet managed to reach the top –
and almost frightening to imagine standing below him if he should fall
you heal him, dear priest, can you heal him?!” Flink cried, standing in
front of Cornell and talking to the shield as if it was a real person.
can give it a try,” Phindar said gently, conjuring up the vision of a
kindly old priest with a grey beard. “Shield bearer, please put the
shield on the alreu. When in contact, I can seek out what disease has
befallen our little friend.”
softly pushed Flink aside, knelt down by the side of Geschwind and did as
he was asked.
very instant the shield touched the ailing alreu, Geschwind’s eyes
suddenly flew open, darted maniacally about; his upper body tried to rear
up against the buckler on his chest, his arms flailing. Foam
bubbled up between his lips, a cry issued, “Schreit ‘Verheerung’
und lasst frei die Hunde des Krieges!”
me off! Get me off! Get me off!” the shield yelled, along with three
other voices howling in sudden pain.
Cornell tore the buckler away, saw in amazement how Geschwind dropped
back, his eyes fell shut and all signs of the sudden movement vanished.
raced to the side of Geschwind, cautiously stroked his feverish brow,
shaking his head desperately. “What is wrong with you, dear friend? Why
do you say these mad things? There are no dogs of war!”
doomed! Oh, sweet Maidoyú, are we doomed!” the coward Nev cried from
the shield, and Cornell felt a slight tug on every hair of his body.
us visible again, Nev,” Halla said firmly. “The pain is gone, there is
danger?! Didn’t you just feel that?! Like boiling oil, that’s what it
cried in exasperation, “What happened?! Phindar?!”
shield fell silent for a moment, and when it spoke it was the calm,
resolute voice of Halla Valfrey instead of the cleric, “He doesn’t
answer, shield bearer. I can feel he is still with us in the shield, but
there is no response. The disease of the alreu must have been too strong
right,” Nev commented acidly, and Cornell hated himself for agreeing.
The hairs on his neck stood up, a chill ran down his spine. Something was
going on with the alreu, something that was more than an ordinary disease.
We’re moving on!” he called, then heaved Geschwind carefully onto his
own horse. The mare whined unhappily at having to leave the nice shady
place so quickly – and Flink tugged urgently at Cornell’s pants.
“Sir, can’t we try something else? Poor Geschwind, we need to help
him, there has to be something we can do, a potion, a salve, a tea,
something! There’s always something that can cure illness, that was my
mother always said. – Oh, actually it was more like ‘One day I won’t
know how to cure everything that you carry in here’, but that doesn’t
translate too well, so –“
Cayaborean dropped his hand heavily on Flink’s shoulder. “We’ll be
hurrying to get to Obrosvek. There might be a priest who knows what’s
going on here. All right?”
think a Tonomai knows how to cure my dear friend?!” the alreu shouted
gladly. “Let’s ride, quickly!” He screamed the last words as he
already bounded on top of his pony, resumed his traditionally precarious
hold and slapped his steed to start walking.
hope they can cure him,” Cornell muttered and glanced at the shivering
tiny form draped over the horse before him. “Or else…”
land rushed by at a maddening speed as the party strained their horses to
gallop for hours. The hills around them grew taller, rockier – the first
outriders of the Alquibrian Mountains, around which the Cheselain river
flowed. The river’s water provided enough sustenance for more lively
plants to grow, more than the thorny bushes that had been steady
companions in the days before. Groves of trees grew in secluded spots,
grass formed a green carpet that the hooves of the horses rushed over.
nightfall approached, Cornell realized they could not go on much longer.
His own mare – the ridiculously thin creature a sandman had sold him in
the desert – was covered by foamy sweat. She still managed to gallop at
the speed he demanded of her, but she might keel over any minute, he
Geschwind looked as if he might join the horse moments later. The alreu
was mumbling constantly, shivering as if he were freezing to death, his
face so pale it seemed blue.
Cayaborean scanned the surroundings carefully for a possible campsite. He
was sure the Tonomai were still after them, though he hadn’t caught
sight of them again. If they had given up on shadowing the party on a
parallel course, all they’d have to do was follow the tracks they were
of course, that they would continue pursuing the party at night. But
Cornell guessed that they were quite fanatical – people like that rarely
let themselves be distracted by minor details such as darkness or killing
of the places he saw looked ideal, none easy to defend, none that offered
a good line of sight. Eventually he raised his hand exasperatedly and
called the others to halt. “We’ve got to camp down,” he explained.
sir!” Flink cried. “We need to bring Geschwind to Obrosvek, that’s
what you said!”
stood in his saddle, using his extended height to look around. “That
looks decent over there,” he said and pointed towards a grove of trees
which grew before the rockface of a hill. The hill wasn’t very high, but
it might provide some limited cover. The other sides sloped up gently, at
varying angles. No defense there, Cornell thought, but if they camped
between the trees, that might do the trick. Better than camping in the
open, anyway, he decided gloomily.
slept badly that night. The blankets he had piled on himself – as he
usually did, whether the climate was warm or cold – didn’t seem to be
able to hold off the cold. And Geschwind, lying a foot aside from him,
kept tossing and turning, murmuring every now and then something as
fiercely mad as the line about the dogs of war. Flink was worried about
the other alreu. Nightmares haunted his dreams, memories of his past
intertwined with his present-day companions – nothing to ensure a good
night’s sleep, to be sure.
screams woke him up, and the alreu jumped right out from under his
blankets. “Back for more?!” Gabe cried. “Get a taste of bwyell,
fools!” – “Quit screaming and start fighting!” Cornell’s voice
answered a little further, overlaid by the noise of blades clanging
on each other, warcries from the Tonomai, grunts and yells of agony.
it’s dark!” Flink complained, squinting at the scene around him. All
he could see were shadows, barely lit by the waning moon above.
“Couldn’t you have waited till morning, so I could see what’s going
worry,” Geschwind said slowly, his words slurred by the unaccustomed
meantongue. “You will see enough, little one.”
up again?!” Flink yelled and flung himself down towards the other alreu.
He barely could make out his race-mate in the twilight, only saw that
Geschwind was obviously sitting up, and his eyes… Well, now wasn’t
that strange? His eyes weren’t supposed to glow, were they? Flink was
pretty sure none of the people back home at Tieferbau ever looked like
that, but on the other hand, different folks always had different manners,
hadn’t they? “Everything’s going to be all right, isn’t it, dear
friend? Helfen wir meinen Freunden jetzt?“
coughed. Had he gotten up? Flink wondered. He seemed quite a bit taller
than he had a moment ago. “No,” the second alreu said, his voice
dropping more into basso profundo with every syllable. “None will
help your friends.”
they’re fighting! Dear friend, the evil men have returned, and –“
kleiner Mann!” Geschwind
said, his voice cutting through the night like thunder.
Flink fell silent – and realized that there was no more noise of
fighting. He turned his head and saw amazedly how Cornell and Gabe stood
silently among the Tonomai warriors. His friends still had their weapons
raised, but they weren’t moving. Not one bit! But the Tonomai, they were
falling to their knees, looking towards Flink and Geschwind, starting a
low chant that quickly rose in crescendo.
can I see it all so clearly?” Flink wondered.
I wish light,” the
voice next to him said. Suddenly he wasn’t quite so sure it was
Geschwind’s voice – after all, an alreu wasn’t supposed to speak as
if he were ten feet tall, and his mouth were made of some thorny, rocky
substance. On the other hand, Flink thought, that was a pretty apt
description of what Geschwind now looked like. Not counting the black
interlocking scales, the long talons on each of the four hands, the
papery-thin wings folded onto his back. And that marvelous pendant he wore
on a chain! Made of gold or platinum or some such metal, an octagonal,
dark haematite jewel set at the center, lustrously reflecting light.
you feel fear now, manling?”
Geschwind said, focusing his green-glowing eyes onto the alreu, the sharp,
barbed thorns around his mouth quivering.
had been Geschwind tossed its head back, let go a wave of laughter that
felt as if a hurricane was approaching.
you should be afraid,” the calm voice of Halla Valfrey said from the
shield on Cornell’s arm. “That is a demon who has possessed your
friend. From the Arye Abyss, I believe.”
creature’s laughter ended abruptly, its glowing eyes racing down to
glance at the buckler. “Be glad that you are encased in elfwood,
or I would consume your soul right away.”
Flink looked from the shield to the demon. “But… you’re Geschwind,
am Thennisgar,” the
creature announced, raising one of its arms. “The one you know is
no more, little man. Thennisgar has taken his place. And Thennisgar shall
Tonomai chant grew into a sudden frenzy, the warriors jumped up, raised
their weapons and started dancing madly. Not a pretty sight, Flink
decided and cocked his head. A little more rhythm, a lot more
practice, and they might have something. Someone should help them with
coughed. “Does the mighty warrior know that these Tonomai are rogues
without any influence on the nation?”
does not matter. Thennisgar will shatter all enemies. All will bow their
heads to Thennisgar – or they won’t have any heads left. Which brings
me to the matter of you and these two fools.”
The demon stepped forward, pushing Flink aside with surprising gentleness,
and stood before Gabe and Cornell to observe them intently.
don’t hurt them, Thane – Thenn –“ Flink cried, choking on the
difficult name. “Please stay good, please!”
demon’s head jerked around, slowly, like an avalanche building up speed.
The eyes glowed in the night, despite the strange, sourceless light as
visible as two green fires. “Stay good?” Thennisgar
repeated, measuring the words carefully. Its lips twisted into a grin. “I
will not hurt any of them, little man, if you say so. Instead, let us play
a game. How would you like that?”
I love games,” Flink said and hopped towards the demon who had to
angle its head impossibly to observe the tiny alreu. “But, you know,
Gabe doesn’t really, and Cornell… I don’t know why, but he’s never
happy with any of the games I suggest. What are you thinking of?”
very amusing. Now… where should we stage it? There has to be a challenge
to it, some excitement, something to please the masses.”
Thennisgar chuckled. “Or just the two of us, manling. Ahh, I have
it. Just two miles from here, to the east. And in the morning, our game
frowned at his two friends. “Are you sure they’ll like it?”
not,” Halla assured, seconded by Nev’s fearful voice shouting pleas of
will. Very much so,”
the demon said and smiled.