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Prelude - Part II

by Michael Mayr 4 months ago in Horror · updated 4 months ago
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Memories and Musings

Skarrigg rode and brooded – which he often did. He brooded and…he remembered…he remembered the time after he avenged his sister. He stalked through the caves killing any of his former tribesfolk that he came across…most of the male ogres were already dead, killed by the unnamed group of invaders, but Skarrigg cut down any female ogre he came across. After all, he had suffered more from their cruelties than almost any male.

He remembered the endless march in the cold, always east to the fabled lands. There to the ancient Tower of the Wode Masters…to which the sword pulled him relentlessly…

But tonight he mostly remembered the harsh lessons learned at the hands of his teacher, Wode Master Malgrim, a great hobgoblin swordsmen. He was old, yet strong as a bear and as fast as a wolf, his gray-green hide was battle-scarred from a thousand wars – the worst was the left side of his face, burned by the arcane fire of a simpering elven mage before Wode Master Malgrim had ended him. His eyes burned a strong hateful orange, like hot coals. He was as much a philosopher as a warrior, and his lessons in both had shaped Skarrigg.

“There is an unremembered cretin, he was of your mother’s race, who once claimed that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. Obviously this coward had never faced an enemy in battle.” He lectured Skarrigg as he went through the endless drills and forms with a sharp, slightly curved practice blade. “For what greater glory can a warrior claim then battle? And what better weapon for a warrior than the sacred sword? The tool of strike or thrust, the tool of parry and riposte? Oh many other implements of battle do indeed exist. The war-club? The mace? A simple log…fancy? Yes. But a log nonetheless. The flail? A weapon originally crafted to harvest grain. None have the artistry of the sword.”

On another night years later as they sparred, Skarrigg was hard pressed by the ancient hobgoblin: “What does it mean to be a warrior? To devote yourself utterly to a set of moral principles? Bah! Leave morality to priests. To seek a stillness of your mind? No. A warrior must embrace his passions. No, to be a warrior, a great warrior, a TRUE warrior, one must master the way of the sword.” Wode Master Malgrim taught him as they parried and struck furiously.

And Skarrigg remembered the last night they trained: “Remember my student, that peace is a lie. There is only hatred. Through hatred you shall gain power. Through power you shall achieve your destiny. Therefore with hatred are all things possible. Soon my student, very soon, you will leave the tower of the Wode Masters to continue your quest – oh you look surprised? Yes your quest is known to us. That is the reason you were allowed into the temple of the Wode masters to begin with.” Wode Master Malgrim said to him.

“You…you know about the sword?” Skarrigg was indeed surprised.

This caused Wode Master Malgrim to nearly pause. “The sword? Of course I know the Way of the Sword you great simpleton! What do you think I have been teaching you these past years?” He sputtered.

“No Master. I meant my sword. The one I had when I came here to you.” Skarrigg humbly answered.

“That sword? You mean that fine battle blade you brought with you? Of course I have examined it many times. Truly it is a fine weapon and will serve you well.” Wode Master Malgrim replied.

“Serve me? …I thought I had imagined it.” Skarrigg said to himself as much to his master. Skarrigg did not notice the confused look on Wode Master Malgrim’s face.

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The following morning Skarrigg made his final preparations. Prior to leaving, he retrieved the great cleaving blade – the blade with which he had murdered his hated sire. The moment he hefted it the soft, sinuous voice echoed in his mind: ah, the boy I led to this place has become a man…and not just a man but a warrior. Have the Wode Masters taught you the way of the sword my child?

“Yes. I have mastered the way of the sword. I have mastered you.” Skarrigg spoke out loud.

What? Oh, no my son. You have not mastered ME, I can assure you of that. But enough frivolity for now. We must travel far, because we have four of the red stones left to retrieve. And they are getting no closer.

“How will we find them? We have no clue where to look after all.” Skarrigg stated.

Oh but my son, we do. We have the first two and the others cry to be with their siblings. The closer we get the louder they will cry.

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Over the dark and lonely years Skarrigg had located two more of the stones. The first was hidden in an ancient ruin deep in the mountains. A fortress of such antiquity that the very stones had begun to wear under the weight of the ages seemingly returning to their unworked state.

“What is this place?” Skarrigg wondered out loud.

What WAS this place my child would be a more apt question. And to answer it: this was once the fortress of an order of knights. An order founded and sponsored by the legendary Xin himself. The voice informed him.

“Xin? Who is that? And why is he so legendary?” Skarrigg asked.

Xin was a great magi from fabled Azlant. He was exiled from that empire and founded his own kingdom Thassilon, the ruins of which dot this land. He also sponsored several orders of knighthood. This one was called the Knights of the Nine Crimson Stones.

“Crimson stones? Like the ones we are seeking?” Skarrigg replied.

Yes, my child! Exactly the ones we are seeking. The order spread throughout Thassilon and Azlant and they were dedicated to collecting the nine stones.

“Why?” Skarrigg inquired.

Why does it matter? The order was destroyed more than ten-thousand years ago. Who knows their reasoning? We should be content that one of the gems is here. The voice responded with finality.

Skarrigg finally found a place to make an entry. The tunnels were lightless and filled with the hoary oppressiveness of time.

“I wonder when was the last time anyone had walked these halls. If halls these are.” Skarrigg asked aloud.

You mean anyone living? Millennium ago. Not living? Not long ago at all. And yes these were halls. They were bored through the stone of this mountain with magic. Not an easy thing to do. The voice answered him.

“Not living?” Skarrigg asked, stopping suddenly.

Yes Skarrigg. The ‘undead’ are no longer alive. Personally I never understood why people called them ‘undead’. I mean aren't they more ‘unalive’? Oh well. We have more pressing issues to deal with. The voice replied matter-of-factly.

When Skarrigg remained standing still staring at the sword the voice prodded him. What are you doing Skarrigg? Are you frightened? You know how to battle the undead. I know you do. The wode-masters trained you to do so.

“How do you know this?” Skarrigg asked, suddenly suspicious.

I watched your training of course my son. The voice told him.

“But...you weren't with me. You were locked in the vault!” Skarrigg said with a start.

Oh Skarrigg, Skarrigg, Skarrigg. First of all: the stone will not walk to you, you must walk to it. So MOVE. Secondly: I have been with you since the day we met. Who knows? Maybe even before that? The voice said slyly.

Skarrigg continued walking through the darkened tunnels. His ogrish heritage enhanced his vision and he needed no source of light save the moonlight which shined through what Skarrigg at first thought were cracks in the ceiling. Skarrigg noticed that some were regular, not cracks at all. “Holes? These are holes.” He mused out loud.

Yes. Like I told you earlier the mages that crafted these tunnels used magic to create them and these holes were for ventilation. They copied this technique from the sons of Durin. The voice answered.

“Sons of Durin?” Skarrigg asked.

Dwarves. That's what the stunty little bastards used to call themselves.

Skarrigg was about to reply when he thought he heard something. He looked down the hall and there they were a group of figures. All were skeletal and clad in ancient armor. Some bore two-handed axes, others exotic pole arms. One sported a broken greatsword.

Skarrigg did indeed feel a rush of fear. Fear of the unnatural. But then his mind drifted back to his lessons...

“The spine is the key to any bipedal or quadrupedal creature living or dead, it is the column of life. Shatter the spine and you shatter the opponent. To demonstrate this we have crafted a special test for you”. Wode Master Malgrim announced in his gruff voice. He then clapped his hands together and the double doors on either side of the training arena opened. Stepping out or groups of walking skeletons small wooden Shields and their left hands and swords in their right.

Skarrigg felt a cold shiver of fear run down his spine as his guts twisted with dread. The dead walk! He screamed to himself. Just then Wode Master Malgrim clapped his hands again and shouted. It began and the skeletons charged towards him. Using his training sword he deflected the first incoming attack and struck back, shattering the hand and wrist of the incoming skeleton he felt the sting of a whip on his back and heard Wode Master Malgrim’s shout: ”the spine you fool! That is what I'm trying to teach you, aim for the column of life boy!”

Skarrigg parried a second swing and shattered the skeleton’s spine. It tumbled down but to his horror it's upper half still slowly crawled towards him however it was far less of a threat than it was a moment ago and he shattered it skull with a heavy foot just in time to parry the next attack by a group of three skeletons running directly at him, this time he took his master’s advice and avoided the shield of the first skeleton to strike low at its midsection shattering the spine with his backswing, and beheaded the creature as it finally knew true death. “That's it boy, that's it, the column of life. Like I said it works against any bipedal foe living or dead.” Malgrim laughed.

Skarrigg’s mind snapped back to the moment, while he had battled many undead skeletons during his time at the Tower of the Wode Masters, however these moved differently, despite their obvious age they moved with a grace and determination the others lacked he said as much out loud The voice answered him back: The ones you battled at the tower were automata with no souls, no intelligence, following basic commands, these are much more. They will still have much of their personality from their time amongst the living, beware they will be filled with many tricks my son.

The first skeletal warrior reached Skarrigg, its bearded axe held high for a killing strike. However, millennia of age had slowed even its undead form. Skarrigg hissed a word in an archaic tongue and the sword exploded in a burst of steam as fire merged with ice. At the same time he side-stepped to the left and struck out with a two-handed blow to the right severing both skeletal hands just past the wrist. Skarrigg then executed a spinning turn and attacked once again to his right which caught the now-handless skeletal warrior where its lower back met its pelvis. The ancient plate armor crumbled as the enchanted sword tore through it leaving the skeletal warrior severed in half.

Skarrigg then turned just in time to parry on incoming blow from another skeletal warrior’s halberd-like polearm. The undead warrior struck twice more and on the last strike the axe-head of its weapon shattered on the obsidian-hued steel of Skarrigg’s blade. However without missing a beat the skeletal warrior spun the weapon and clocked Skarrigg in the right side of his face with a stunning blow.

Skarrigg stumbled back a step. His undead opponent wielded the headless weapon like a quarterstaff and held it like an expert. The skeleton warrior then advanced on Skarrigg, but Skarrigg did the unexpected - instead of trying to avoid or parry the attack, he stepped INTO it. Grabbing the haft of his enemy’s weapon with his left hand he pulled the undead warrior toward him and head butted it with great force. Skarrigg was not as tall or massive as a full-blooded ogre, but his frame was packed with slabs of rock-hard muscle - and his time at the tower, along with the training and diet that he received there had sharpened that strength. Thick ogre-blooded skull smashed into the skeletal warrior’s face crushing bone and time-weakened metal alike, upper jaw, nasal cavities and eye sockets were crushed and pushed back into the abominations skull effectively “blinding” it. Still holding the haft in his left hand Skarrigg pushed the blinded skeleton into his next oncoming opponent.

Watch out! Screamed the voice as Skarrigg looked left and another axe-wielding skeletal warrior lunged at him. Using the shaft Skarrigg stabbed out with his left hand. His aim struck true, going through the abomination’s right eye socket. Skarrigg yanked hard, left and down. His foe was pulled off balance and Skarrigg finished it with a quick brutal chop and its skull bounced off the floor and rolled as its body fell the opposite direction.

More! The voice warned.

Skarrigg turned to face the remaining undead. Another armed with a bearded-axe, two more with ranseurs and the last with the broken sword. The axe-wielder flanked to the left and the swordsman to the right. The two armed with ranseurs came up the center about two paces apart.

Act first my son. Seize the initiative. The voice suggested. Skarrigg charged left toward the axe-wielder, the axe-man ran to meet him as did the two with the ranseurs. Both ranseur armed skeletal warriors stabbed at him desperately. Skarrigg was able to parry the one on the left, but the one on the right slipped through his defenses and scored a shallow yet painful wound upon his right shoulder. Skarrigg hissed but concentrated on the axe-wielder throwing the shaft from the destroyed halberdier's weapon straight at the skeletal warrior’s face. Though caught by surprise the ax-man was still able to parry the shaft, but that distracted it enough for Skarrigg to roll low, bowling into the abomination across both of its legs and shattering both. Before the other skeletal warriors arrived he rolled with the now maimed undead warrior and used it as a shield to protect himself from the incoming stabs.

The warrior on his left had trouble pulling his weapon from its fellow’s prostrate form. Skarrigg struck out at the warrior to his right - the one that had stabbed him - shattering its weapon and severing its left arm. The undead stepped back still holding the shaft of its weapon and began to rain blows upon Skarrigg! Protect your head and face Skarrigg! The voice screamed.

Skarrigg rolled left and the one-handed skeleton followed. The other ranseur wielder stepped on its fallen brother with its left foot and pulled its ranseur out - this was a mistake as it took its attention of a Skarrigg for one split second and he struck out and severed the undead warrior’s leg just over it’s right ankle causing it to fall toward Skarrigg who did another wild swing, catching it in the right side of its face shearing its skull in twain.

In the meantime the one-armed skeleton continued to pummel him. Skarrigg was finally able to regain his feet and covered in bruises and welts screamed: “You bony bastard!” and crushed the skeletal warrior’s skull with a great overhead chop as he stomped down on the mostly destroyed axe-men’s skull.

Careful my son! The voice cautioned as rounded to face his last undead assailant.

This skeletal warrior moved differently. It had hung back as the others rushed forward, assessing Skarrigg and his techniques. Satisfied it raised its broken battleblade and saluted Skarrigg. Then the duel was on. A dance of blow and parry, strike and counterstrike. After nearly a minute the two duelists parted and Skarrigg was panting hard. He was sorely pressed by this undead foe. This was a mighty champion of the Crimson Knights in life my child. Be careful! Before Skarrigg could respond the “crimson knight” was at him again. And again he was hard pressed. Getting desperate Skarrigg advanced upon his foe with a series of great two-handed chops. The crimson-knight met each one with a two-handed parry and then started a counter attack. Then suddenly the undead warrior’s already weakened and broken blade unexpectedly shattered. The undead crimson knight stopped and looked down - almost sadly - with its empty sockets at the remnants of its once mighty sword and then dropped it to the floor. The crimson knight then raised its arms to its sides, palms up, awaiting its ending.

Skarrigg stared at his foe for a second and with a quick horizontal blow ended its undead existence. The now headless crimson knight fell forward to its knees and then finally forward on to the floor.

“Now we must find the stone,” Skarrigg said, still staring at his fallen foe.

We already have my child. The voice answered.

“What do you mean? Where?” Skarrigg asked, a tone of surprise in his voice.

In the pommel of his sword Skarrigg, it is hollow and I can hear her singing. She wants to be with her sisters. The voice said to him in an almost bemused voice.

“Her? Sisters?” Skarrigg asked.

Merely figures of speech my child, nothing more. The voice deflected.

Skarrigg...Skarrigg? After you find the stone, take the armor from this crimson knight. The voice instructed.

Skarrigg looked upon his fallen foe once again. “But I cannot wear this mail.”

Oh my child. Trust me, this armor changes for each wearer. The voice told him. It will look nothing like this when you don it.

Skarrigg donned the armor, in what was the plate armor he wore now. And the voice was right, it had fit and it had changed when he wore it. And they went together to find more stones. For now only three remain.

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Horror

About the author

Michael Mayr

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