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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

 

The 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 themselves.

The 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.

The 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 directions.

Now Flink was sitting despondently on a rock, toying listlessly with a few items from his knapsack. “Does the game start soon?” he asked.

Thennisgar 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.”

“Are they that old?” Flink asked, curiously watching each of the outer mirrors in turn, trying to discern where his friends were, exactly.

“Centuries? Millenia they have lasted on this world, manling. Ever since I first walked this ground. Fortunately for the Tonomai they have brought them along.”

“Why fortunately?”

The demon grinned mercilessly. “Do not worry about them. The game is about to begin.”

Its 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.

Flink stared emptily, his jaw dropping. “But… Thennisgar, they are friends! Why would they try to – kill each other? This is not fun.”

The 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?”

Its 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.

“Motivation,”  the demon nodded happily to itself. “Now there’s everything we need!”

“My 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! Please!”

Thennisgar showed no reaction at all.

The 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 missing.”

 

 

“Where 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.

“This is an illusion!” Halla Valfrey said urgently from her vantage point on Cornell’s left arm. “The demon made you believe that –“

“The only demon is the savage that murdered my sister!”

“Shield bearer!” Halla yelled. “Your sister is at home in Cayaboré! She is safe!”

Nev muttered, “We’re gonna be splashed by the imbecile barbarian, I just know it, I just know it…”

“Shield 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 –“

“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?!”

She 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.

Some 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!”

“Don’t fight…” Halla whispered as the two combatants ran towards each other, their weapons drawn and bloodlust pounding in their heads.

Cornell 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 handle!

Neither 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.

Halla suddenly cried, “Shield bearer! Throw me! As you did with the Tonomai, I will take out the barbarian!”

A 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.

“Yes,” 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!”

The 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!”

Cornell jumped furiously after his buckler. “Traitor!” he cried, slashing the air uselessly. “I will hack you to pieces!”

“Deal with bwyell first, despoiler!” Gabe cried, almost upon the Cayaborean.

Only 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.

Gabe leaped backwards, licked his lips and grinned. “You first.”

 

 

“Catch me! Flink!”

The 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?

Flink 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.

As 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 fight!”

“They won’t listen,” Halla said. “If you want to help them, the only way is to kill the demon.”

Flink wiped tears from his face, so meaningless a gesture with the unimpeded flow. “I don’t… kill,” he muttered helplessly.

Halla coughed. “You did not seem to have any problems against the other heads of the holnesh.”

“That was… different….”

“How?!” Halla yelled. “Flink, two good men are about to slaughter each other. Two friends! You’re their only hope!”

The 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.

Halla fell silent for a moment, equally stunned, then she said, “Flink, it’s a demon, not an alreu.”

“It’s 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…”

Behind 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.

“Flink,” Halla said slowly, “do you wish your friends to die?”

The 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.

 

 

“How curious,” 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.”

“Uhhh, 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!”

“Really?”

The 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.”

Thennisgar 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?”

None 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.

Thennisgar 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.”

 

 

“Flink, listen to me!” Halla yelled. “I have to tell you how to fight the demon!”

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 resolve.

Nev muttered, “Great to be ignored all day, right, Halla? Wonderful choice you made with this damn creature. We’re still gonna die.”

Air was brushing past them, hot, spiced with the scents of the Cheselain river. Flink’s heart was burning, as fiery as the air.

He 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 them.

“Bloody hell!” Nev shrieked. “All those years in the godsdamn holnesh, and now gobbled up by a demon!”

“Shut up!” Halla’s voice was calm, yet it carried an air of danger. “Flink! Listen!”

The 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 little creature.

“Flink?” Halla asked.

“I know.” His voice was strangely calm, devoid of any of the nervous skittishness it usually had. “I know how to do this.”

“My little friend!”  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!”

Flink 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 Geschwind.”

A 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.

“That’s it!”  Thennisgar grinned. “None of my friends will believe this tale! Come on, manling, fight me!”

A hundred yards separated the alreu from the demon. Eighty. Seventy. At about fifty yards, Flink grunted under his breath, “Halla, take flight!”

And 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.

Shield 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!”

Thennisgar 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.

The shield didn’t just hit the chest. Flink had actually aimed at something, and Halla steered the elfwood disc’s flight right.

The 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.

The haematite pendant fell to the floor.

The 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 alreu.

Thennisgar stared. The glow in its eyes diminished. “This is… impossible…”

A 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.

“You did it!” Halla shouted.

“The Gods’ day off, or what’s this?” Nev commented drily.

Flink rubbed his eyes furiously, trying to see what was happening. The cloud collapsed. There must be the demon’s corpse, dead and –

All 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 lips.

“Geschwind…” Flink breathed. “No… Not… again…”

 

 

“What 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.

“My… sister…?” Cornell muttered, all rage vanished from his mind in an instant.

Gabe slowly retrieved his axe, staring with a furrowed brow at his friend. “I thought you had raped and murdered my wife!” he exclaimed.

On 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!”

“Oh,” the barbarian grunted, unconsciously testing bwyell’s edge for any damage. “Let’s hate and kill him.”

“My 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.”

Gabe 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 tourniquet.

 

 

Flink’s 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, vergebt mir!”

“It’s not over yet,” Halla Valfrey cautioned. “The Tonomai.”

Uncaring 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.

There 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…

The 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.”

Scimitars dropped in dismay, clattered onto the ground. Fear grasped the faces of all the Tonomai, and the proud warriors started running, never looking back.

If 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?”

The buckler, a minute distance from the alreu, quivered. Little more happened for a moment until Halla’s voice sounded, “Ana? Ana, was that you?”

And 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!”

“Was I just… tall?!” Flink whispered.

Phindar chuckled. “No, that was just an illusion. Dear Ana in here made you look like a noble warrior, that’s what she does.”

“Ana?”

“What?” 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!”

No response came.

Flink 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.

But 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 this!”

It 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.

 

 

“Am 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!”

Gabe 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?

“Anyone still with me?” Cornell asked the empty air.

“Well, 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 –“

“Oh, 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!

The 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.

“Vergebt 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.”

“What was that?” Cornell muttered.

“Nothing.” 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?”

Cornell cursed. “I sure hope not! Gabe, are you coming, or have you forgotten any more gemstones?”

After 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 area.

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.

 

T H E    E N D