Tales of Strange Adventures

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Home Index of Tales of Strange Adventures

"Call of the Dragon, Part I"

"Call of the Dragon, Part II"

"Ruins and Hopes"

"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3

"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4

"Childhood of a Fighter"

"The Pledge" Cornell #5

"The Rock of Discontent"

From here on, downloads will only be listed at the Downloads page!

"A Tale of the Gods"

"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6

"Life's Values"

"Tangled Elves"

"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"

 

  by Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues

SECTION 1 / SECTION 2 / SECTION 3


 The skeletons from the hall were trying their best to clamber up onto the staircase. Ha’el and Markesh, on the other hand, did their best to keep them back. Blades clanged onto blades, and for the moment the assault of the undead was stopped.

But the skeletons didn’t tire, Koyson recognized. Markesh was already slowing down, so that Ha’el had to pick up the slack. At least there wasn’t that much slack, for the novice’s gladius was a short, stabbing sword – hardly a match in this fight for the half-elf’s longsword sweeping swathes into the undead rows.

“Gotta get outta here,” the dwarf muttered, casting a glance up the staircase. It spiraled up one more story, led onto a short balustrade. A round opening led into rooms beyond – there probably had been a gate, too, but it had rotted away completely.

“A splendid idea,” Willett agreed and hurried up the stairs, followed by the dwarf who called for the others to retreat.

The wizard had just reached the top of the stairs – when five skeletons spilled out of the doorway and started hewing at him with halbards. They wore the tattered remains of dresses, but their one-time feminity did not slow the ferocious assault of their undead selves.

Koyson dived for Willett’s legs, snagged them, and both went tumbling down the stairs – but well out of the halbards’ reach.

Coming to a stop at Vobul’s feet – the furrag proved to be an excellent barrier on the staircase – Koyson bounded up instantly, the axe in both his hands and already swinging at the skeletons hastening down the stairs. The blade cut through the first two easily, the bones crumbling all around them, and the dwarf raced up two more stairs to assail the next one.

That one had probably been a noblewoman, judging by the gold necklace still around her neck. Her halbard slammed against the dwarf’s axe with a force almost equal to Koyson’s superhuman strength. He grinned in sudden exhilaration, jammed the halbard aside and and jabbed his head at the exposed torso. The skeleton crashed back against the stairs, raising her halbard immediately to block Koyson’s next blow.

The remaining two skeletons had reached them by now, their halbards aiming for the dwarf’s head. Koyson dropped down the stairs for a moment – the halbards didn’t smash into each other, but missed, kept going – and crashed into their opposite number’s bones.

Bones exploded under the force, the halbards clattered to the stones.

The noblewoman’s skeleton swung her halbard at Koyson. He blocked it, holding the axe with one hand, used the other to grab the bony arm and tear at it with all his strength. The bone splintered all too easily, the weapon bounding off to the ground below. But the skeleton wasn’t finished yet, as her remaining arm fired at Koyson, its fingers closing around his throat with crushing force.

He slammed his axe back, smashed the handle through the skeleton’s spine. It disintegrated yet the hand still choked his throat. Koyson dropped the axe, grabbed the unattached bones around his neck and pried them loose as quickly as he could. “Up yer shaft, lady!” he cried as soon as he had pressed some air into his lungs.

“There are more coming!” Willett yelled, and Koyson saw with dismay some seven skeletons hurrying out onto the balustrade, wearing intact armor – warriors, not inexperienced fighters.

And he was still too out of breath to fight with full strength, so – “Willett, yer magic! Cut’em apples down!”

Koyson didn’t know if the wizard had heard – or understood -, and he fought to fetch his axe from the stairs. His hands weren’t working right, or his vision was still too blurred, or his feeling of time was skewered, but it seemed like an eternity for him to grasp the handle, close his fingers around it, bring it up to face the skeletons.

He started up the stairs just when he felt that same breeze of air swoosh over his head, barely missing his hair. The armored skeletons had just started down the stairs – when their heads suddenly disattached from their bodies, the skulls hanging in the air for a brief moment while the rest of the bodies moved further down. Then the skulls dropped to the ground, and the skeletons, battered by an invisible force, exploded, raining their bony fragments all over the dwarf.

“Yeah, that’s using magic!”

Wielding magic,” Willett corrected calmly, “that is the proper description.”

“Whatever ye say,” Koyson yelled, turned to the wizard and smacked his hand against Willett’s hip. “Now use it on’em skeletons down there. Cut’em down, an’ let’s get the blazes outta here!”

The wizard looked at him with a strange air of exhaustion and desperation. “I… can’t. There’s not enough magic left in me to do that.”

“What?!”

Willett stooped over, leaned his arms on his knees. “I’m empty. I can’t cast any more spells!”

Koyson gaped. The wizard’s magic had seemed so wonderful just a moment earlier, but now… Without any magic, they were down to blades once more. And the skeletons… Who knew how many more were within the fortress, aside from the bloody hordes down in the hall?

Now there was only… “Vobul, for the dweorgh’s sake, start usin’ yer strength! We’re gonna die if ye don’t bloody bowl’em fornicatin’ skeletons over!”

The furrag was standing halfway down the stairs, apparently unconcerned by Ha’el and Markesh fighting off the undead at the bottom or Koyson and Willett panting above him. But it took the dwarf only a moment to see that he was concentrated on something down the hall, something beside the obvious assault battering down on the two youngsters.

“Vobul!”

Finally the furrag acknowledged Koyson’s call, turned around and looked at him with his red, maniacal eyes. “Not all the skeletons have been raised,” he announced calmly. “Only those who apparently were the defenders of this place. The Tonomai dead are still down.”

“So bloody what?!” Koyson yelled. “They’re still gonna kill us!”

Vobul frowned. “Apparently they were ensorceled to defend the castle from further Tonomai attacks. Or any other heathen attacks. If we could tell them that we believe in the defenders’ gods as well, perhaps that would stop the spell.”

“Ye’re daft!” Koyson shouted. “These are just bloody skeletons out to –“ The dwarf’s anger suddenly vanished as he noticed that the furrag was right. Quite a number of skeletons were still on the floor, unmoving, and most of them had been carrying scimitars in their lifetimes.

Five hundred years ago, during the invasion of the Tonomai, when the entire Arrufat peninsula was conquered in a few years, when their single god’s banner was raised everywhere – the sign of the true gods was what kept the defenders’ spirits intact, what identified the armies as the ones on the good side.

But how in the names of all the four dweorgh could they raise such a sign?! Vobul had his own gods, and dwarves had rejected their gods at the beginning of time – which left only the three young people, one of whom was a wizard, one of whom was a half-elf, and one was…

“Markesh!” Koyson yelled, pushing past the furrag and dragging the novice bodily away from Ha’el’s side. The novice’s eyes were confused, all the cracks on his face that the ratpeople had left behind bleeding once more, but Koyson didn’t care. “Ye’ve gotta bless this place! Make it sacred ground, do ye understand?!”

“But…” Markesh stuttered. “I’m just a novice, not a full priest, I can’t cast any…”

“Call out to yer god, yer great Darawk! Ask him t’grant ye this blessin’!”

“It’s impossible!”

“Just do it!” Koyson’s yell echoed through the hall, but the dwarf had already turned around, hastened down the stairs to swing his axe against the skeletons who were trying to break through Ha’el’s desperate defense. One pulverized under his swing, another two rocked back, trying to adapt to the sudden appearance of another defender.

Koyson left them little time. He hewed at one of them, caught its sword and swung it far into the air. The skeleton stared at it emptily, as if in confusion, and then the axe’s top smashed its skull to dust.

More were coming, consuming all of Koyson’s attention as he weaved his blade about, forming a web of blurry, glittering motions that cut through blades and bones – and all too much empty air. But he kept on, feeling his own strength accelerated by the energy of battle, drawing on all the force of his tough dwarven ancestors. I’m not gonna bloody die in this place! his mind yelled desperately, kept going all the time.

Out of the rims of his eyes he saw that the one skeleton with the markings of the Falken family was coming closer, roughly pushing the other skeletons out of the way. By now it had drawn a sword of its own, glowing furiously, just like the helmet on its head. Magic, he knew, and a part down within Koyson knew that this one skeleton would be the one to best the dwarf. His axe was solid steel, forged from the best metal of Mt. Eringard, so precious that his brethren sold it up to bloody Chazevo, halfway across the continent.

One blow from the magical sword would turn it into scrap metal, and the next would cleave the dwarf apart.

Understanding that his fate was so close only enfuriated Koyson, and with renewed strength he hit at the next skeleton. With such force he hit that his blow not only pulverized that skeleton but severed the next one’s spine as well. “Let’s do it!” he yelled at the Falken skeleton, whirled his axe about to carve a path to his ultimate opponent.

It seemed as if a smile lit on the undead Falken’s skull, understanding what the dwarf was doing, and the skeleton became all the rougher pushing the other warriors out of its way, closing in on Koyson and the great battle that would ensue.

Then, moments before the blades would meet, Markesh’s voice sounded. “Great Darawk, great seeker of knowledge, magnificent protector of the mind, please hear thine lowly supporter. Mine mind is small, mine will is weak, yet I seek thine help. Thou art the one whose understanding surpasses that of any mortal, thou art the one whom I am craving to aid, whose comprehension I seek to expand. Grant me the strength, grant me the power to make this place another abode of thine splendor. Let wisdom expand and bless these halls!”

A wave of light shot out from the novice, rippling and blinding as it passed through the bodies of the party, of the skeletons, the walls, encompassing everything. Brightness lit the hall, so strong that Koyson dropped his axe, raised his hands to protect his eyes.

It still flashed through his fingers, highlighting his bones like slim, dark lines.

“Sweet Maidoyú!” Ha’el exclaimed.

Markesh whispered, too low to be heard over the noise. But there was no noise left. “I don’t… believe it.”

Koyson lowered his hands from his eyes. It took him so incredibly long to adjust his eyes to the dim twilight that once more had conquered the hall, but then… All the skeletons had fallen down, laying as still on the ground as if they never had risen from their deaths, peaceful, markers of a battle waged centuries ago.

All save for the skeleton of the Falken family.

It was still standing, its eyeholes glimmering in faint red. “Thank you, honored sage,” a voice from the grave issued, hallowing from far away, in quiet relief. “So long it has been. Decades, probably. We have held the castle for so long, three years against the heathens. Three years since Han left for Ibrollene. But we had to stay. There were those people, the refugees, dependant on us… they who stayed despite the heathens. How long has it been, please, tell me!”

So surreal it was that Koyson was surprised to find his own voice speak out, “It has been five centuries since the Tonomai invasion. They conquered all of the peninsula, turned it into part of the Tonomai Empire. But the refugees stayed and they founded their own village which remains to this time. Today, the Tonomai have been driven back to the outermost coasts of Arrufat, and the old, the true gods rule over most of the peninsula once more. Your fight has not been f’r naught.”

The skeleton stared at him for a while, focussing its gleaming, red eyeholes. “That is good. Thank you, Sir Caidwarf, for telling me. You are honest and brave, you are a true son of Arrufat. Please, forgive the spell that my lordpriest, Namuras, cast over the defenders of my castle. It was to hold back the invaders, to save the refugees.” It paused for a moment, put its magic sword’s tip to the ground and leaned on it. “I am Carawlk Falken, nephew of the lord of the house. All that we own – that we owned in the past -, it is yours to command, Sir Caidwarf, but, please, would you tell me your name that I may take it into the world beyond and tell the gods of your glory?”

Koyson nodded, not even fully aware of the meaning of the Falken skeleton’s words. “I am Lionheart Koyson Seabourne, Slayer of Dragons and Trolls, Heir of the Kingdom of Tevenshire, Lord Protector of Verishnat, son of Koy Banson Seabourne, the Lancelord of Albinavia, the first knight of King Owain Ddaintgwynn the Bear who is the One King of the land, whose knights saved the island from the Sassenach fright.”

The glow in the skeleton’s eyes intensified, and Koyson would have sworn it smiled. “Yes, Sir Koyson, it is good that one of your might is the one to liberate our castle. I will gladly tell my ancestors of you, and I will tell the gods that here is one who is worthy of their attention.”

With that, the glow vanished – and the skeleton fell to the ground, as unremarkable as all the others strewn around it. Tonomai invaders, following the call of their bloodthirsty One God. Arrufatian defenders, who fought to protect those who could not protect themselves. Defenders who had given their lives to the fight, and who had sold their souls to fight on even after their deaths.

“Rest now,” Koyson whispered, “ye have earned yer rest.”


 

The sunlight seemed strangely bright when they left the castle. Trebonshire Forest’s trees were so calm, so green, an ocean of calmness stretching to the very horizon. Odd, after what they had experienced. Koyson sat down on a rocky outcropping, holding the magical helmet and sword of Carawlk Falken in his hands, contemplating them silently. The man who had given more than just his life in defense of this patch of ground had given rise to an odd legend. The people of Clearspring must have remembered the name of Carawlk, but over the decades and centuries it was changed into Darawk, and the legend of a lost Academy of the God of Knowledge had been born. “What would ye have said t’that, eh?” he muttered towards the blade, remembering the relieved voice of the skeleton Carawlk.

Behind the dwarf, Vobul came out of the gate carrying a large bag full of jewels and valuables they had found within.

Ha’el stepped upfront, turning back to take a good look at the castle. “I don’t understand it. We haven’t found the magiscribe, but I feel so… satisfied.”

The other youngsters joined her, their faces holding no more understanding than hers.

“We have put these people back to rest,” Willett said. “They gave their all to save our ancestors, and now they know it was all worth it. That, perhaps, is more important.”

Markesh cleared his throat. It was a choked noise, mixed with tears running down across his cheeks. “I am a priest now. Darawk heard me, and it was through his grace that we allowed these warriors to find their ways to the afterlife. It is…” He stopped, checked himself and looked at his friends. “I feel so good now, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Ha’el said slowly.

Moments passed that stretched into minutes and perhaps hours as the three friends looked at each other, sharing a communion beyond their mortal understanding. It was then that they were bonded to each other in a way that would hold all their lives. What bonds they had known before, the twin birth, the half-elf’s frienship, it all withered away, and they knew that for all the time they would be together – just like the defenders of the castle, just like Carawlk and his companions.

“So,” Markesh said after a while, a smile still pasted on his face, “what do we do now? We have nothing to bring home to Clearspring.”

“No, we haven’t”, Ha’el grinned and then waved her hand about, encompassing Trebonshire Forest and the world beyond. “But there is so much out there. We will find something to help our village. We will help our families, and our friends, and we will bring happiness to them.”

Willett smirked. “Maybe they’ll even forgive us for running away.”

“Yes, perhaps,” Ha’el nodded, then cast a glance at the dwarf and the furrag. “Forgive us for lying to you. No, forgive me, please. The village elders never knew what we were doing, nor did our parents. Everyone was afraid of leaving the village, of facing the dangers out here. Clearspring is wasting so many opportunities, and we wanted to make our people proud and rich. Not for us, but for them. The opportunities had to be taken, and so we left for here, to make it happen for them.”

She stopped, waiting for any accusations. When none came, she sighed and said, “I didn’t trust you. I am sorry, Sir Dwarf, Sir Furrag.”

Koyson grinned. “Mighty big o’ye, gal. Ye’re a good one, too.”

Standing beside the dwarf, one paw on Koyson’s shoulder, Vobul solemnly nodded. “We never believed your story, little ones. The village elders would have had to be very,” he twisted his snout into a smile, glancing at Koyson, “daft to send you on this mission. But you have the hearts for this journey.”

“Ye will find what ye’re seekin’,” the dwarf muttered and raised the sword and helmet in his hands. “An’ this oughta help ye from dyin’ along the way.”

The eyes of the young people widened, and even more so when Vobul took the sword and offered it to Ha’el. She frowned for a moment, staring at the steel glazing with embedded magic. Then a smile flashed over her lips, and she took the blade.

Markesh smiled at her happily. “It looks good on you, Ellie.”

“It actually does,” Willett grumbled – and found himself shortcut when the magical helmet landed on his head.

“If you are unconscious,” Vobul said, “your magic will do your friends no good. So you had better keep your head safe.”

“Bloody –“ Willett cursed. Then he checked the seat of the helmet on his head and found it was so light that it didn’t bother him at all. “Well, I’ll be… I mean, thank you.”

Markesh chuckled. “Now this is a new one to me. Willett, you actually said ‘Thank you’!”

“Oh, shut up, will you… priest?”

“If you say so, wizard,” Markesh answered, unable to wipe the grin from his face.

Ha’el cleared her throat, the magical sword still in her hands. “Why don’t we start now? There’s a lot of space to cover, and I… I feel like starting right now.”

“Right!” the twin-born boys agreed in unison, startled by this almost as much as the half-elf was.

They quickly said their good-byes to the dwarf and the furrag, apologetic at hurrying but in no way encumbered by it. Within moments they had stowed away all their belongings, including their newly acquired ones, and had vanished down the hill.

The two travellers watched their descent and kept staring after them wistfully for a while, before Koyson slowly clambered to his feet. “Well, now,” he said with a pat on the bag on Vobul’s back, “this seems to have been a worthwhile day, hasn’t it? Let’s go to the next town and find out how much we can get for this little find here, what do ye say?”

“I say,” Vobul rumbled, “that I’m hungry.”

“Oh, very well,” Koyson laughed. “Let’s get a pig down there, first. If ye left any alive, ye big boar-eatin’ monster!”

The furrag licked his lips. “I must have left one or two at least. Maybe there’ll even be some parts left for you to burn, dwarf.”

“Hopefully! Let’s go!”

 

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