Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues
sun’s light crept onto the land slowly, encumbered by masses of dark
clouds that had gathered in the sky overnight. A grayish mist seemed to
shorten the sight, alter the landscape to be less of the pleasing hilly
area the party had been crossing the day before. Now it was overcast by
long shadows, the trees and bushes twisted into baleful echoes of
Tonomai warriors had set up tents in a half circle around the place where
the demon stood, towering over both the small army of rogues and Flink.
Neither Cornell nor Gabe were anywhere in sight, only their horses –
still laden with their gear – were corralled with the Tonomai horses.
two warriors had come over here with the rest, walking like marionettes
pulled by an overly hasty puppeteer. Flink had been running circles around
them, trying to elicit any response – without success. After reaching
the place they had stood like wax-faced statues while the camp was set up.
Then Thennisgar had looked at them deeply, and both walked off in opposite
Flink was sitting despondently on a rock, toying listlessly with a few
items from his knapsack. “Does the game start soon?” he asked.
observed how the Tonomai arranged a set of three round mirrors before it,
each a foot in diameter, on a steel stand about as tall as Flink himself
was. “Soon,” the demon said and nodded its followers
away. It raised its right lower arm, waved in complicated motions across
each of the mirrors – and images appeared on them, the central one
showing the very place where they stood, the other two displaying places
as twisted and wasted as this was. And Flink suddenly perked up when he
noticed Cornell in one mirror and Gabe in the other, still as statues –
but he could see them! “Good,” the demon commented, “the
mirrors are still properly aligned. Solid magical engineering should
always be able to survive centuries.”
they that old?” Flink asked, curiously watching each of the outer
mirrors in turn, trying to discern where his friends were, exactly.
Millenia they have lasted on this world, manling. Ever since I first
walked this ground. Fortunately for the Tonomai they have brought them
demon grinned mercilessly. “Do not worry about them. The game is
about to begin.”
talons scratched a symbol into the empty air. Life flared in the waxen
statues of Cornell and Gabe on the mirrors, angry, wrathful stares. “I
will kill you, savage!” Cornell cried, hastily drew his sword, arranged
his shield and set off through the hilly landscape. Gabe yelled the name
of his tribe, set out as well.
stared emptily, his jaw dropping. “But… Thennisgar, they are friends!
Why would they try to – kill each other? This is not fun.”
demon scratched its thorny jaw carefully. “You’re right,”
it conceded after a moment. “There’s no motivation for
this fight. It’s just silly and boring … Well, we can’t have that,
now can we, little friend?”
upper hands gestured slightly, tiny symbols that seemed to be drawn into
the air and fly off through the mirrors. None of the warriors stopped
running – if anything their efforts became more intense, more driven.
the demon nodded happily to itself. “Now there’s
everything we need!”
friends!” Flink yelled, turned to the demon and hammered his fists
against the scaly legs. “This isn’t a game! Stop it, this isn’t fun!
showed no reaction at all.
alreu stopped hammering after a while, wiped the first tears from his face
– then he suddenly darted away, racing through the hills. One of the
Tonomai ran forward to catch him, but froze when he saw the demon’s
satisfied smile and holding gesture. “Oh, yes,”
it said, “I forgot about the comic relief. That was still
are you hiding, damn barbarian?!” Cornell shouted as he ran up a hill
for better vision. Thorny bushes clawed at his legs. He ignored their tiny
pricks, focused on his one great task.
is an illusion!” Halla Valfrey said urgently from her vantage point on
Cornell’s left arm. “The demon made you believe that –“
only demon is the savage that murdered my sister!”
bearer!” Halla yelled. “Your sister is at home in Cayaboré! She is
muttered, “We’re gonna be splashed by the imbecile barbarian, I just
know it, I just know it…”
bearer, listen to me!” Halla insisted, but Cornell only scanned the
nightmarish surroundings for a sign of Gabe. The mists were everywhere,
barely hiding the next hills, twisting them into sights straight from the
abyss. “Gabe is your friend! You fought together, and –“
then he betrayed me,” Cornell answered coldly. “I left him alone with
my sister. Trusted him. I should have known that savages can never be
trusted. He raped my sister and murdered her in cold blood. Is that the
way of a friend, shield maiden?!”
didn’t answer, and Cornell triumphantly raised his sword. “This is for
you, murderer!” he cried, just having caught sight of the fur-garbed
barbarian heading his way.
three hundred yards away, rushing through a heavily overgrown valley, Gabe
stopped. His blue eyes flared, and bwyell shot up over his head.
“For honor and glory,” he shouted, then the glare in his eyes turned
to furnace-like heat. “For Caeryl! Die, despoiler!”
fight…” Halla whispered as the two combatants ran towards each other,
their weapons drawn and bloodlust pounding in their heads.
never heard any of the words from the shield, all his attention torn
towards the figure of Gabe advancing towards him. His mind was filled with
thoughts of vengeance, only a bare minimum, the basest of instincts
pondering how best to approach the fight. Gabe was a skilled fighter, he
knew that, but the hulking savage relied too much on his strength and the
swings of his axe. Stay quick, stay agile, block the blows with your
sword. It’s magical, remember that. Try to cut off bwyell’s
of the warriors noticed a small person running across the hills towards
them, a knapsack bouncing wildly on its back. Neither heard the person
shouting their names, pleading them to stop, tears welling up in its eyes,
flowing across its cheeks and smothering half the words.
suddenly cried, “Shield bearer! Throw me! As you did with the Tonomai, I
will take out the barbarian!”
grin flashed across Cornell’s face. “Come to your senses, after
all?” he muttered, beaming a victorious glare towards the barbarian as
he swung his left arm backwards to gain force.
Halla’s voice calmly stated when Cornell powered his arm forward with
all the strength his muscles could provide. The shield easily flew from
the straps, spun through the air towards the barbarian. Cornell hollered,
“Take that, murderous bastard!”
final word was smothered by disappointed anger as the shield veered off
its course. Rather than head towards Gabe’s head, it flung itself at a
nearly right angle towards the alreu approaching them. “Catch me!”
Halla yelled. “Flink!”
jumped furiously after his buckler. “Traitor!” he cried, slashing the
air uselessly. “I will hack you to pieces!”
with bwyell first, despoiler!” Gabe cried, almost upon the
at the latest moment did Cornell regain enough presence of mind to block
the ferocious assault of the axe. “Die,” he coldly said and rammed his
knee into the barbarian.
leaped backwards, licked his lips and grinned. “You first.”
alreu never would remember much more than the words suddenly burning
through his terror and tears. He must have managed to stop just in time,
reach up his hands to grasp the holding straps on the inside of the
buckler. How else would he have been flung more than twenty feet across
the ground, until the shield half embedded itself into a grotesque rock?
unfolded himself, suppressed the urge to rub the painful spots on his
body, and looked over to his friends. Cornell and Gabe were smashing their
weapons against each other, hurling insults, parrying each move and
dancing about. If it hadn’t been so much in earnest, it might have been
a magnificent spectacle. A dance of death, elegantly performed by two
masters of the arts.
it was, all it did was increase the flow of tears running over the
alreu’s cheeks. “Nooooo, this is all wrong…” he cried. “It’s
supposed to be just a game, they mustn’t… Cornell! Gabe! Don’t
won’t listen,” Halla said. “If you want to help them, the only way
is to kill the demon.”
wiped tears from his face, so meaningless a gesture with the unimpeded
flow. “I don’t… kill,” he muttered helplessly.
coughed. “You did not seem to have any problems against the other heads
of the holnesh.”
Halla yelled. “Flink, two good men are about to slaughter each other.
Two friends! You’re their only hope!”
alreu spun about, faced the buckler. “I don’t kill alreus!”
Madness burned in his eyes, a sight that would have caused Gabe or Cornell
to halt, even fully grasped in the demon’s hypnosis.
fell silent for a moment, equally stunned, then she said, “Flink, it’s
a demon, not an alreu.”
Geschwind!” he yelled. “I don’t care what he looks like! I know
that’s Geschwind, and I’m not going to kill an alreu! Not…”
them, only a few hundred yards away, Cornell scored a hit, slicing up
Gabe’s left arm with his sword. The barbarian bellowed, segued his
injury with a strike of his own that nearly tore the Cayaborean’s blade
from his hands.
Halla said slowly, “do you wish your friends to die?”
alreu stared at the shield angrily. His face distorted, seeming far less
of the curious, innocent creature everyone saw. Something different,
something entirely unlike alreus crept into his face. Having made his
decision Flink grabbed the shield’s straps, carefully staying away from
the razor-sharp edge.
Thennisgar commented with a smile. The central mirror now showed Flink
picking up the shield, while the outer two mirrors displayed two differing
angles of the battle between Cornell and Gabe. “There seems to be a bit more excitement to my little friend
than I had thought.”
sire,” a Tonomai warrior asked, carefully standing in front of the
demon. His exquisite shoulder pads denoted him a commander of some sort
– not that Thennisgar cared. “Would you not be interested in hearing
about the current state of the nation? We have to make plans on how to
subjugate Tonomat to our rightful course. The One God’s faith needs to
be carried back into the heathen worlds!”
Tonomai commander nodded earnestly, feeling the saliva in his mouth drying
up as he forced his eyes to stay focused on the scaly head far above him.
“It is what we called you for, sire. You are to lead our armies, to
conquer the worlds for the One God – praised be the One Without A Name!
That is your purpose, not to watch these infidels.”
nodded slowly. Then its lower right hand swiped out, the talons severing
the commander’s head neatly from its body. The talons grasped the head,
fed them to the demon’s maw. “Sorry, my boy,” Thennisgar addressed the decapitated body, “I have my
own plans. Does anyone else disagree?”
of the Tonomai spoke up. That wasn’t really a surprise, considering that
their blood had just run cold and not few of them were wondering about the
wisdom of their leaders in summoning a demon.
didn’t care. It plopped down onto its legs, watched the mirrors with
obvious joy while it tore off pieces of the commander’s body and
devoured them negligently. “This is really getting good now.”
listen to me!” Halla yelled. “I have to tell you how to fight the
alreu ignored the shield he was carrying on his back, both arms firmly
clasped to the straps. His feet were pounding over the sandy hills,
evading the bushes with ease, his eyes still filled with tears – and
muttered, “Great to be ignored all day, right, Halla? Wonderful choice
you made with this damn creature. We’re still gonna die.”
was brushing past them, hot, spiced with the scents of the Cheselain
river. Flink’s heart was burning, as fiery as the air.
scrambled up one hill, down its flank, up another – so fast that one
might have thought he should have long been lost. But then the camp
suddenly appeared in sight, with Thennisgar looking expectantly towards
hell!” Nev shrieked. “All those years in the godsdamn holnesh, and now
gobbled up by a demon!”
up!” Halla’s voice was calm, yet it carried an air of danger.
alreu suddenly scampered to a stop, eye-to-eye with Thennisgar. The demon
was smiling, just rising from its tiny repaste. Beyond, the Tonomai
warriors had gathered, wondering whether they should bother to attack the
know.” His voice was strangely calm, devoid of any of the nervous
skittishness it usually had. “I know how to do this.”
Thennisgar shouted. Its voice carried so easily across the distance
between them, the demon might as well have whispered. “You’re
playing the game, too! This is marvelous!”
breathed heavily. His hands again swiped tears off his brow – this time
uselessly for none were on his face, only drops of sweat. “Marvelous,”
he repeated, anguish choking his words. “Forgive me, my dear
moment later he started running again. One of the Tonomai warriors walked
forward, scimitar drawn, to cut down the creature before it ever got close
to the demon. Thennisgar laughed, waved its hand lightly – and a ball of
fire engulfed the Tonomai, reduced him to ashes in mere seconds. His
fellows instantly withdrew a couple of yards from the demon, some three or
four already running for their horses and the easy escape.
Thennisgar grinned. “None of my friends will believe this
tale! Come on, manling, fight me!”
hundred yards separated the alreu from the demon. Eighty. Seventy. At
about fifty yards, Flink grunted under his breath, “Halla, take
the shield obeyed. One second Flink had been on the ground, his feet
stomping madly, his hands holding the buckler over his head – the next
second, his feet found no earth to stomp, and his hands fought madly to
stay clasped to the straps.
and alreu sailed over the ground, gaining height with every passing
second. The landscape washed by Flink’s sight, and he couldn’t help
but letting go an excited cry, “Whoooooooo-eyyyyyy!”
frowned, watching the approaching shield. “Sorry, manling, but I
regenerate from every wound.”
The demon readied its paws to grasp Flink when he and
the shield would hit. After all, even if the buckler’s sharp edge would
cut through Thennisgar’s chest, the demon could still fight.
shield didn’t just hit the chest. Flink had actually aimed at something,
and Halla steered the elfwood disc’s flight right.
edge burrowed into the chain holding the haematite pendant around
Thennisgar’s chest. Links of the chain went flying, the steel scattered
into tiny pieces, as the frown in the demon’s face deepened. Shield and
alreu connected with the massive ten-foot-frame. Flink bounced off the
scaly hide, lost his hold onto the straps and fell to the ground. The
buckler continued its flight, sliced through the chain, through the body,
out into the open air.
haematite pendant fell to the floor.
shield turned in mid-air. Elfwood glinting in the misty air, it spun back
towards Flink, quickly losing height and skittering to a halt near the
stared. The glow in its eyes diminished. “This is…
shiver ran through the demon. It screamed in pain, for the merest of a
second. Then the shiver stopped, and the demon fell forward. The heavy
body crashed into the ground, sent a cloud of sandy ground billowing up,
hiding it from sight.
did it!” Halla shouted.
Gods’ day off, or what’s this?” Nev commented drily.
rubbed his eyes furiously, trying to see what was happening. The cloud
collapsed. There must be the demon’s corpse, dead and –
there was to be seen was the diminutive figure of an alreu, a gaping wound
in his chest, bleeding profusely with the final pumps of the heart. The
eyes stared emptily into the sky, but a smile of relief gleamed on his
Flink breathed. “No… Not… again…”
in Keshmire’s name…?” Gabe shouted consternatedly as his axe was
about to ram into Cornell’s unprotected side. At the very last moment he
twisted his arm aside, burying bwyell into the ground. Sand flew
up, merrily scattering over the Cayaborean’s bloody face.
sister…?” Cornell muttered, all rage vanished from his mind in an
slowly retrieved his axe, staring with a furrowed brow at his friend. “I
thought you had raped and murdered my wife!” he exclaimed.
the ground, blade twisted from his hand, Cornell sat up, rubbed his
forehead. “A minute ago I was convinced that’s what you had done to my
sister.” A thought hit him, and the fire of rage was lit anew in his
eyes. “The demon! In all the Gods’ names, by the Great Dragon Ruling
Cayaboré – Gabe, the demon made us hate each other!”
the barbarian grunted, unconsciously testing bwyell’s edge for
any damage. “Let’s hate and kill him.”
thoughts exactly,” Cornell agreed, retrieved his sword – and panted as
he got to his feet. A gash in his right leg opened again, spurting blood.
“Just as soon as I can bandage this.”
muttered in agreement, tore a strip from the shirt he wore under his fur
jacket and proceeded to assist his friend. His own wounds in his arm acted
up only a few instants later, so that his shirt turned into yet another
hand was about to touch Geschwind’s pasty face, trying to close his
gaping eyes. An inch from the dry, cold skin his hand shied away, darted
back to his side. “What have I done? Oh, ihr Götter,
not over yet,” Halla Valfrey cautioned. “The Tonomai.”
Flink looked up and saw the rogue warriors slowly approaching. Some were
lagging behind, wondering how a simple alreu could have possibly destroyed
a powerful demon; most of the others had decided to vent their frustrated
rage on so easy a target.
wasn’t much left in Flink to disagree. He had murdered another fellow
alreu. Oh, yes, in the process he had destroyed a demon, but…
first row of Tonomai was close enough to swing their scimitars, when
abruptly the alreu rose – and rose and rose! Flink seemed to be eight
feet tall, his tiny frame swelled to muscular size, his face bearing all
the signs of nobility, when a voice left his mouth and said, “Begone,
foolish ones. This is my order.”
dropped in dismay, clattered onto the ground. Fear grasped the faces of
all the Tonomai, and the proud warriors started running, never looking
they had done so, it might have given them a change of mind, for Flink –
back at his ordinary three feet of size – looked in wonderment down at
himself. “Did I… did I just say that?”
buckler, a minute distance from the alreu, quivered. Little more happened
for a moment until Halla’s voice sounded, “Ana? Ana, was that you?”
another voice, so long absent, chimed in when Phindar sighed in relief.
The Decalleigh priest said, “Looks that way, Halla, doesn’t it? Oh,
sweet Vanquisher of Disease, it feels good to be back! My, I’d never
have thought that an alreu could defeat a demon. By the
Gods, Flink, you’re one of the heroes!”
I just… tall?!” Flink whispered.
chuckled. “No, that was just an illusion. Dear Ana in here made you look
like a noble warrior, that’s what she does.”
Phindar exclaimed. “You’ve forgotten that there were four heads
of the holnesh your friend the shield-bearer cut off? Ana’s a bit shy,
but she’s in here, too. Oh, come on, girl, talk to our hero!”
stared emptily at the shield for a long while, then his eyes raised and
focused on the far edge of the hills where two men came running – if the
lumbering pace their wounded bodies allowed could be called running.
Flink smiled, utter happiness replacing all dire thoughts in his mind. The
alreu was on his feet in a second, rushing towards the two men
immediately. “Sirs! Gabe, Cornell! Have I got a story to tell you! I
killed a demon! Single-handedly! Except that my friends in the shield
helped, but they were great, really wonderful! You’ve got to listen to
would forever remain a mystery how any creature could talk so much while
running at full speed. Obviously, it has never been a problem for any
alreu in history, particularly not Flink.
I stuck with this horse forever?” Cornell muttered as he mounted the
mare he had bought in the Elfadil Desert. The creature seemed little
troubled by its encounter with a demon, and – surprisingly – all the
saddle bags were unlooted. But it was still that emaciated, ignoble horse
that Cornell detested seriously. “Couldn’t the Tonomai have stolen
this one? Theirs are a fair sight better!”
was too busy prying the last jewels off the scimitars the Tonomai had
dropped to answer. In his mind, far too few of the silly warriors had
sprung for jewel enhancements of their swords. Most had simple wooden
handles, worth next to nothing. Hadn’t those idiots any regard
for the good guys who vanquished them and wanted to profiteer from that?
still with me?” Cornell asked the empty air.
now,” Phindar said from the shield, “this was quite a good show, lads.
If you don’t mind my saying so, that reminds me of the time my caravan
stumbled across that lair of bandits down in the Hierkana Badlands. Pretty
bad area, that, and those bandits –“
shut up, will you?” Cornell muttered. “Flink, get back on your horse,
and let’s get going. I really, really want to get to a decent
town and get a bath!”
alreu didn’t answer. He was standing over the tomb where they had buried
Geschwind’s mangled body, a tiny mound of ground that would quickly be
claimed by the wind and the plants. One of the tentpoles was rammed into
the ground, scratched into it the name of the fallen alreu – a single
reminder that would hardly last very long.
mir, teuerster Freund,” Flink whispered. “Ich
schwor einen Eid, daß es nie wieder geschieht. Ich habe versagt, und Ihr
musstet den Preis zahlen. Bitte vergebt mir.”
was that?” Cornell muttered.
Flink shook his head, casting the evil thoughts from his mind, then walked
over to his pony. “I’m ready to ride! Are we going to see some more
monsters along the way?”
cursed. “I sure hope not! Gabe, are you coming, or have you forgotten
any more gemstones?”
the barbarian had finally stripped all the blades of their valuables and
loaded the latter into his saddlebags, he mounted and the party left the
tents of the Tonomai remained, as well as the three mirrors that
Thennisgar had set up, and the lonely tomb of an alreu who had lost his
life in a battle he had not even known about.
H E E N D