Blood and Lies (pt. 20)

Part Twenty in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)
Part Fifteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 15)
Part Sixteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 16)
Part Seventeen: Blood and Lies (pt. 17)
Part Eighteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 18)
Part Nineteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 19)


The sun rises and the people soon follow the next day. The heavy drinkers grumble through their pain and weariness as the villager begin work to prepare the party in the evening. Jack had returned very early in the morning, emerging from his home with Aubrey and Pan late into the afternoon. With Zsófia’s blessing Vahkragg dragged Telfor into the clearing to take off the rust the weeks recovering had left on his combat senses, despite the grey soldier’s hungover protests. The children crowded to watch as the giant drove his companion into the dirt time and again, the pain from their cheers worse than the bruises Vahkragg gifted him. Rubin reappeared in the company of one of the larger families of the village, to help with setting up the tables and chairs.
The food preparation has been going since the previous day for a number of the dishes. The appearance is relatively minimal, a long semi-circle of tables around the town square covered with more unique meals than seemed possible with the limited selection of forest meat and home grown produce. At the centre of the tables an enormous bonfire stands to heat and light the village into the night. Placed very specifically at the edge of the fires reach shrines honouring the hunters who had been lost on this expedition are placed at the edge of light to allow the dead to join the celebration with their loved ones one last time. A ward he had learned from Oliver before they’d arrived in the village performed by Rubin keeps tormentous presence of insects at bay.
As the party began the group separated by the company they kept among the villages. Vahkragg found a seat at the edge of the fire by himself, eventually being joined by Telfor and Jacob. Pan had grown friendly with Jack and Aubrey, spending the evening in the company of the couple and their friends drinking and smiling. From his place at the edge of the of the celebration, Telfor occasionally spotted Rubin among the crowd, being dragged around by excited children or talking reservedly with parents. The sorcerer had been well loved by the locals, being so distinctly foreign he was of endless interest to the children. His willingness to explain the fundamentals of magic and the sciences had also earned him the fondness of parents who held hope their children may one day be able to enter the University.
The sun eventually set and celebrants thinned, children taken to bed and some early risers disappearing as the food thins in favour of more drinks. Still recovering from his previous drinking, Telfor feels no desire to do more than nurse one drink and enjoy the company of the small group that had formed around them.

“Where are you all from originally,” the conversation turning its focus to the outsiders is met with interest by the villagers.

“We’re from all over,” Telfor grins, raising his cup to point at Vahkragg choosing to quickly gloss over the giant’s history, “You know the desert plains east past Tassholm? That’s where this brute was from before he took the king’s coin.”

Continuing quickly to prevent any curious questions he gestures vaguely across the crowd, “Rubin is even further east, from the Empire of Karsh originally. His home was lost in the plague but he was among the survivors the church rescued and brought back to the capital. He was too young to remember much of that and being raised at the Weatherford University, he considers that to be his true home.”

“The Bulwark was Pan’s home, that’s why he’s got all that fur, for surviving in the cold. Vahkragg and I met him there through the army, he was years our junior but he’d been discharged due to his condition and I could see he needed to get out of that place, so I brought him with us when we left.”

“Verumalleus was originally from Verwich, she joined the temple and was taken to the capital to become a crusader before being assigned to Pike’s Reach. She’d known Rubin from before, and suggested us to him for his Journeyman training.”

“I’m from Pike’s Reach, not far to the north west of here. That’s where we’re based these days, where I met Veru and how we got the job that took us this far south. We’re far enough at the edge of the Earldom that our work is mostly travel heavy rather than conflict heavy, which is why I chose it. I’ve got a daughter who needs a living daddy after all”

None of the villagers had ever been beyond the village for any reason other than hunting and very rarely for trading with Tassholm or Verwich. The evening passed answering questions about the world and trading stories. The community here was one that Telfor had developed an affection for quite quickly, there was none of the judgement that he’d come to expect from people in the kingdom. They were welcoming and generous as long as you were willing to lift a hand to help out, perhaps one day he would bring his family here.
The celebration winds eventually down, with their journey beginning again the following day Telfor made sure to tell all of his companions to get some sleep and be ready to leave early the next morning. Bidding the villagers a good night Telfor and Vahkragg returned to Jacob’s home to turn in. The time they had spent here had been pleasant, and the time to recover from Veru’s death had been vital. However they had been gone far too long, they were weeks overdue to report back from their mission to the capital and the horde of undead they had encountered were still a danger they didn’t know the source of. While far too small to be a true threat to any of the major cities, it’s existence alone raised too many questions. With luck the coming week’s journey to the capital would go better than the events so far.


Like Sonata in RedBlood and Lies will be entering a brief hiatus before restarting with the next leg of the story. At this stage they’ll likely be returning at the start of November, so pencil that into your calendar. If you missed either series you can catch up on the story with the first parts of both here and here, respectively.

In the meantime I’ll be continuing my one shots until the end of September. In October I’ll be starting my “Short Scary Story – Halloween Horror Challenge”, posting one horror story a day in honour of the season. In the other slot I’ll be revisiting a short story I previously uploaded called Rainbow with a series expanding on that story.

Hope you enjoy it,
– Zairron

Blood and Lies (pt. 19)

Part Nineteen in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)
Part Fifteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 15)
Part Sixteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 16)
Part Seventeen: Blood and Lies (pt. 17)
Part Eighteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 18)


The week passes smoothly, the bounty hunters and the villagers enjoying their time together sharing their knowledge and skills with each other. The wounded recover quickly and in a few short weeks they are preparing to leave the village and continue their journey. Late in the afternoon while Zsófia is inspecting their wounds, Luke’s voice broadcasts a message to throughout the village, “They’re back! The hunters are home!”

“I’m sorry, I have to go meet them. I’ll check your wounds after,” Zsófia rises quickly from her chair and with an apologetic bow dashes from the house. With her departure Vahkragg shrugs his shirt back into place and the pair follow her outside.
The village is alive with people, almost two hundred people have crowded in the centre of the square. Children reunite with their parents who in turn honour the elders who welcome them home. After weeks of the village feeling empty, the sudden density of people is a surprising shift. The hunters carry the spoils of their hunt, stacks of furs, tusks and meat representing a vast treasure trove for a community such as this.
Within the centre of the crowd Pan is being introduced by Jacob to a pair of hunters, who seem to be Luke’s parents. The elderly farmer’s wife notices the pair stood by the edge and waves them over.

“Jack, Aubrey,” she says to the hunters, “This is Telfor and Vahkragg, along with Pan they helped slay the Anathema we were telling you about”

Jack puts his son down and turns to greet the pair of them. Telfor can see the couple are both very fit, though still quite young. He takes the hand Jack offers as greeting, the hand calloused and strong though differently to Jacob’s or his own.
The hunter’s demeanour is warm and welcome, his voice booms with a practised volume as he greets them, “We are in yer debt, strangers. Without ye we I dinnae want t’think what may’ve been.”

“It was nothing,” Telfor’s dismisses gruffly, “I have a daughter of my own.”

“Then you understand why it weren’t nothin’,” Aubrey interrupts firmly, her hand on her son’s shoulder holding him close to her, “We don’t have much currency, but I want t’ repay ye f’r helping us.”

Telfor shrugs noncommittally, he always felt uncomfortable accepting payment without a contract but he wasn’t so well off that he could refuse. For the moment however the conversation moves away from business, as Jack says, “I have to go now, Zsófia will want me for the sacrifice.”

The hunter pats his son on the head and hugs his mother before heading back through the crowd towards the clearing in the direction Zsófia had headed before. The crowd seems to be slowly dispersing as families and couples leave for their homes and some privacy. Aubrey leads the group back towards Jacob’s home, insisting the three visitors join them.
The seven of them are seated around the table, Aria provides refreshments for the table this time including an unusual and potent alcoholic beverage unlike any Telfor had tried back in the kingdom. Leading the conversation effortlessly Aubrey establishes herself as a supremely confident and charismatic woman. She draws the story of the fight with the Anathema from them, praising their valour and praising Verumalleus’ sacrifice in particular. She keeps them talking about their fond memories with the crusader, skillfully maintaining the positive mood.

“I wish I could have met her, she sounds like my kind of woman,” she concludes with a smile to Pan who looks away into the distance. For a moment Telfor wonders if she had been flirting with the Revenant, but decides it best not to think to hard on. At least Pan seemed to be being helped thinking of Verumalleus positively.

The sacrifice keeps Jack and Zsófia away for of the rest of the day, Aubrey explains that the reason the hunt takes so long is the need to capture the razorback alive. Almost half of the month long expedition involves tracking, pursuing and funnelling the monster into trap. When a child is born or elder dies, one of the domesticated pigs is a worthy sacrifice but during the birth and death of the year, known in the kingdom as the solstices, the Wild God grows hungry and demands a meal. The razorback is trapped in a pit out in the forest, far enough from the village so it wouldn’t be a threat if it passed the pit on the first funnel.
When Jack and Zsófia returns the next night, Aubrey explains, there would be a huge party to celebrate the Wild God’s satiety. “I think everyone will enjoy having some outsiders to show off for as well.”

They drink well into the night, Vahkragg the only one remaining sober despite drinking as much as anyone else. Aria is the first to leave for bed, with Luke being made to turn soon after by his mother in spite of his protests. Vahkragg loses interest in the conversation and turns in closer to midnight. Telfor feels a pleasant lethargy from the drink to his thoughts. Trading war stories with Jacob’s hunting stories brings him back to his youth. As the older men begin to slow Aubrey takes Pan to continue drinking with other young folk, if he’d been a bit younger or more sober Telfor might have gone with them. He had noticed Aubrey’s flirting had started to be reciprocated by Pan and he was concerned it may lead to something.
In the end his legs disagreed with his mind’s suggestion to follow them, and so forced to leave it in the hands of fate the grey soldier bids his older drinking buddy a good night and carefully makes his way to bed. As he struggles with the complicated process of laying down his groggy mind pointlessly wonders as to where Rubin had been. Closing his eyes, as well into the bedroll as he can manage the pessimistic part of his brain thinks, “I should enjoy my rest, I’ll deal with whatever mess they’ve been making tomorrow.”

Blood and Lies (pt. 18)

Part Eighteen in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)
Part Fifteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 15)
Part Sixteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 16)
Part Seventeen: Blood and Lies (pt. 17)


Verumalleus’ funeral is held later the same day. With Telfor and Vahkragg awake and able to stand they insist, before the body can further decay. The ceremony is attended by all the people of the village, honouring the sacrifice she made to defend them. Zsófia presides over the funeral first showing knowledge of the traditional sacraments to Atyx, cremating the body on a pyre that will burn until twilight. As the sun sets and the hour of passage begins Pan and Telfor speak to her memory over the embers of the dying flame. Telling of her bravery and compassion so the gods may be reminded of her virtues and bless her judgement.
Afterwards Zsófia takes those who knew Veru aside, privately instructing them in the rites of the Wild God. To allow her soul safe passage from His forest without becoming Anathema they sacrificing a pig, given by the villagers, as payment. The rite is short and bloody, Vahkragg and Telfor holding the pig in place so Pan can slit its throat with a bone knife. Growing suddenly dark and towering Zsófia becomes a vessel for The Wild God as the blood spurts from the wound, opening her mouth impossibly wide the blood is sucked through the air into the maw that becomes of her mouth.
The last of the blood drains from the pig, and the Wild God departs Zsófia. The priestess collapses shuddering to her knees, vomiting dark clots of blood onto the dirt. Rubin was nowhere to be seen.

***

Midnight rises and the waxing moon shines its light upon the ashen remnants of the funeral pyre. While the village sleeps, Rubin stands in solemn introspection alone by where Verumalleus has been cremated. Since the confrontation with Zsófia he has avoided the others waiting for a private moment to pay his respects.

“I’m sorry I was here for your funeral, There was something I needed to do.” he explains quietly to the empty night, “I messed up. I never expected I’d have to do this without you. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to without your guidance. God’s I hope I made the right choice. I’ll see this through to the end, rest well and leave the rest to us.”

The air crackles with power. Placing a palm on the earth the fire had burned, the electricity in the air is drawn into him and dissipates into the ground. He stands and bows his head one last time before turning to walk away. In the spot he had touched the soil a tiny shoot of green breaks free of the soil.

***

“Since ye’ll be stayin’ a mite longer ‘an expected, ye’ll be gettin’ ter meet me son an’ t’other hunters,” Jacob tells Pan while they are working the field. Vahkragg and Telfor are helping Aria with less less physically strenuous activities, while Rubin shares knowledge with the children and entertaining them with magic. The village fields are small so there is plenty of time for talking while they work, which Jacob is happy to take advantage of, “Aria an’ me ‘ave just the one child. Jack. Luke, who you met before, is our grandson. Jack’s a good boy, better now he has Aubrey to keep him in line.”

Pan wipes sweat from his brow, blisters from the hoe already forming in his palm. No soft city dweller, the revenant is a little surprised by how tiring the farm work feels while the much older Jacob hardly seems to notice the work.
Listening to the old man talking about his home had taught Pan a fair amount about life this far out into the kingdom. Hunting villages like this one are rare in the kingdom these days, agricultural advances have largely made the practice obsolete except for niche markets like fur and bone. The magic of the black forest prevents the villagers from ever being able to clear enough land to safely rely on farming for their needs. At the same time the magic of the forest spawns monsters enough to threaten the villages safety without regular hunts. The culture of the village as a result is very tight knit, men and women join their first hunts as soon as they were judged capable and would regularly travel out until their age slowed them enough to endanger the group. Hunters succumbed to the dangers of the forest, enough that there was a cultural acceptance of death as simply a part of life and the purpose of funerals was to celebrate life rather than mourn passing.
Life here was unusual to Pan who had spent most of his life within the civilised lands of the kingdom, but it was not unpleasant. The old man’s pride in describing his home and family helped with the sorrow he felt.

“What about you, boy? Ye’ got a fam’ly waitin’ fer ye’ back home?”

“No, I’ve never had the time to start one,” Pan answers, the kind genuine interest from the old man into his history feels a novelty compared to the hard questions he’s used to regarding his condition, “Served in the northern bulwark for most of my youth, til I died in duty. I was one of the ones who got back up with his mind intact. There’s not a lot of procedure for people like me so they quietly discharged me and I took up with Telfor and Vahkragg’s offer to turn merc so I could get away from that place. Since then it’s been hard to find a girl willing to look past that, especially when we’re on the road so often.”

“Ah’m sorry t’hear tha’ lad,” Jacob answers conveying offence had not his intention with the softness of his words, switching back to his positive banter he continues, “Still, hard worker like you, Ah’m sure ye’ won’ be lookin’ too long when y’set yer mind to et. Lass might even catch yer eye here once the hunters are home.”

Pan laughs, remembering Veru’s smile and quietly dismissing the old man’s encouragement.


Whoops! Just realised I totally forgot about Jacob’s accent at some point in the previous stories, rookie mistake.

Also the Sonata in Red series will be having a brief intermission, I feel like it’s reached a nice cliff-hanger and I want to let it hang for a short period and use the time to shake things up a little with some quick explorative short stories.

-Zairron

Blood and Lies (pt. 17)

Part Seventeen in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)
Part Fifteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 15)
Part Sixteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 16)


Oliver’s thoughts are vague as he following the scholar as he storms out of the house. He cannot say what it is he hopes to achieve by following him, simply that he feels that it is the right thing for him to do. They pass the line of houses and are well into the clearing towards the forest before Rubin finally stops. Oliver waits at a respectful distance, quietly watching as the scholar seems to deflate as the anger that had been driving him seems to disperse.
Letting out a loud sigh, Rubin sits heavily on the grass staring out towards the forest. Still uncertain Oliver remains distant until his friend beckons him to join him. The pair sit together in the space between the village and forest, silently watching and listening to nature around them.

“Do you think I was wrong to hate her?” Rubin’s question surprises Oliver, they’d enjoyed each others company discussing magic theory but this was the first personal issue they’d spoken of.

“I don’t think you were wrong. Your home, your family, it must be difficult to see her and to see how and see everyone accepting her with what she represents to you,” Oliver states slowly, trying to be diplomatic with the unfamiliar topic, “Zsófia seemed like she understood and respected that. Do you think you were wrong?”

Rubin looks up at Oliver searchingly, “I don’t know.”

The awkward silence extends between them. Oliver watches Rubin carefully through the corner of his eyes, the scholar seeming deep in thought with his head rested on his knees. The sorcerer thinks back on his own life, his master’s magical tradition was seen by many as the same as a practitioner of black magic. The hermit sage tradition predated the kingdom and had been replaced by the universities and churches, now they were distrusted and often the first blamed whenever any magical crimes occurred. He empathised with Zsófia in that manner, but even more with the curse of her birth deciding her life for her.
He knew he couldn’t tell Rubin about the truth of why he had been given to the hermit as a child. The secret of the affair between the Earl and the Princess could never come out, but the feeling of kinship for Zsófia made him want to help his friend understand.

“I never knew my parents,” Oliver’s voice surprise him more than they do Rubin, he hadn’t decided what he would say and a lifetime of secrets had taught him to always consider his words, “I was given to my master as a baby to be raised in his tradition.”

With Rubin’s gaze upon him Oliver continues to speak, hoping he will realise what he was going to say soon, “He was the closest thing I ever had to a father and when I was hardly more than a boy, he was arrested for practising black magic. It wasn’t true, but everyone knows us hermits are wicked so they took him anyway. He made me hide so they wouldn’t know I was there. He never came back. When you and your companions came to arrest me, I hated you. To me you were the same people who took him from me.”

Oliver’s momentum peters out, uncertain of his point. He hopes his friend would understand what he’d meant.

***

Back in the village, Vahkragg wakes feeling the same bedroll as last time beneath him. The heat of fever has taken him, likely due to his previous overexertion. He senses he is not alone this time, the presence of someone else awake with him. Opening his eyes slowly, the young looking woman who had been sleeping before now is seated beside him. Soaking a cloth in a bowl of water she doesn’t notice him waking until she turns back to face him and jumps in place when met with his alert gaze.

“You’re awake,” she exhales to calm herself, placing the soothing cloth on his forehead. He appreciates the cooling sensation, but his memory is clear this time. From Rubin’s words, he supposed this woman must be the necromancer he had spoken of. Vahkragg slowly sits despite the woman’s voice telling him, “You shouldn’t get up, you need to rest.”

“You are the necromancer,” his deep voice phrases it like a question though it obviously isn’t. He reads her eyes seeing her try to hide hurt behind an attempt of authority.

“I’m Zsófia. I saved your life.”

“With necromancy.” The giant’s words carry no accusation, a simple statement of fact inviting her reaction. She blushes, looking down at her hands clenched on her lap. Vahkragg senses she resents the fact, but doesn’t deny it.

She fights back tears, trying to sound braver than she is she answers in a hard voice, “I’m sorry. If I’d known how hurt everyone would be I wouldn’t have.”

“Thank you,” Vahkragg states, stunning her from her tears. “Why do you practice necromancy when it shames you?”

“I- I don’t, not the way you think,” she answers, “My power comes from The Wild God’s tradition, I never asked for this responsibility but it’s my duty.”

“Are you ashamed to do your duty, then?”

“I- no, I mean, I’m proud of the good I can do for my people.” She says, Vahkragg can sense the uncertainty in her runs deep. A deep fissure in her resolve. He simply nods, laying back down and closing his eyes, considering the danger she may represent in the future.

***

After carrying Vahkragg back into the house with Jacob’s return to the field and Zsófia tending to the giant, Pan and Telfor are left alone for the first time since everything had started.
Telfor keeps his head down, watching his tea intently with his attention focused on the revenant. Breaking the silence he asks, “How are you holding up?”

“I’m alright,” obviously a lie, not one he would generally force but he’s going to need Pan’s trust before long and the longer he waits the harder this conversation will become.

“I know you loved her,” he says, “and I suspect you blame me for her death.”

Pan is silent.

“You’re right, her life was my responsibility. I pushed her to fatigue herself during our flight and forced her to protect me in the fight. If not for my mistakes she would still be here, if you hate me because of that I understand. But until we make it back to Pike’s Reach, I need to know I can trust you, I am still responsible for the rest of your lives and I do not intend for Veru’s sacrifice to go to waste.”

Pan nod’s silently. He’s suffering, Telfor thinks, he can’t decide where to direct his anger and it’s turning inwards. I’ll need to keep an eye on him.

 

Blood and Lies (pt. 15)

Part Fifteen in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)


“I assume you are all familiar with the history of rise of House Karilas,” Jacob begins slowly, having moved inside the conversation to his home. Seated at the dining table Telfor, Rubin and Pan are served each a cup of tea. Removing the threat Rubin’s university given duty posed to Zsófia allowed her and Aria to tend Vahkragg’s injuries in peace.
The old man holds the trio’s interest firmly with the force of his words. Each needing his explanation for their own reasons. He reads from their silent comprehension that they each have at least a passing knowledge of the story of William Karilas the Holy. The legends of how he conquered the disparate tribes and establishing the Kingdom and the ordering of the gods are common knowledge for even the youngest children. With their acknowledgement Jacob continues, “Our people have been removed from the greater part of the church’s influence. Here the old gods still hold still hold power.”

Telfor watches Rubin’s reaction through the corner of his eye. The scholar’s upbringing had been a product of the kingdom. His worldview still needs to be shaped by experiencing the broader world.
As an anointed crusader Verumalleus had been a positive moderating influence on the young scholar’s zeal. Deeply versed in the teachings of the church with empathy gained through years of experience working with people far from the centres of power, she was able to challenge his black and white notions of the world. As simple soldiers, none of the others could hold Rubin’s respect on an intellectual level.
Seeming deep in thought to Telfor’s eyes, the soldier feels his concern for the younger man’s future actions alleviated very slightly.

“I understand that you must see Zsófia’s magic as a profane thing,” the old man directs the words mostly to Rubin, “We recognise the divinity and virtue of the pantheon and worship them as faithfully as any of the folk in Pike’s Reach, but the gods cannot be everywhere at once. In the corners of the world where civilisation has less of a presence, the gods that were cast out by the pantheon rule in the pantheon’s shadows.
The Anathema is part of this, it is an avatar of The Wild God that is created by sins against him. Zsófia is a priestess of The Wild God, the power you saw that allowed her to treat the poison of the Anathema is His power. While her power would be considered necromancy by the kingdom, it is necessary for our survival here. She does not pursue the power to violate the natural order or profane the dead, but to protect the living.”

The old man’s speech is as one pleading for the life of a loved one. In Telfor’s eyes, the question of arresting Zsófia is a simple one, as he already owed his life and Vahkragg’s to her.
Beside him Pan and Rubin’s expressions are less easily read. The revenant seems by Telfor’s knowledge of him to have grown more suspicious since hearing the truth, while Rubin seems to remain deep in thought.
Jacob watches the three of them closely for any response. With nothing given by the others Telfor chooses to speak, “I owe Zsófia my life. Vahkragg’s as well. I will keep her secret.”

“What sins specifically summon the Anathema,” Pan asks quietly.

“I’m not the most knowledgeable on The Wild God’s rules,” Jacob admits, “As I said, we only follow the pantheon as in the kingdom proper. Zsófia can tell you more when she has helped your friend, if the power hasn’t drained her again. I know that he demands sacrifices, that is the true purpose of the hunt our young men and women are on now. There are offerings that must be made when one is born or dies, Zsófia guides the families through the specifics.”

“How does the village get a priest?” Rubin asks next.

“The tradition is passed down from parent to child. Zsófia’s family have always been The Wild God’s servants here, her father before her and his father before him.”

“What if Zsófia died or left the village without having taught a child?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” Jacob’s voice gives no indication to his thoughts on that admittance.

Pan’s suspicion seems to have diminished again in Telfor’s eyes, while Rubin’s light red cheeks have turned a darker shade with his internal struggle continuing as he struggles with the implications.

“How do you know The Wild God creates the Anathema from your sins?” he at last asks, putting the thought to words giving him the confidence to continue, “How do you know it isn’t a naturally occurring beast or that the offerings aren’t what gives the god the power to create it? Beyond the words of a single family of necromancers, what proof do you have?”

Telfor and Pan look back at Jacob, the question seems to stump the old man who hesitates before answering, “She can neutralise the Anathema’s poison when no other treatment can and the Anathema don’t come when we make the offerings.”

“I assume from Zsófia’s pressence that you have been keeping up with your offerings, and yet an Anathema did come.” Rubin crows, “And when it came, it was not The Wild God who protected you, but Atyx.”

The smugness in Rubin’s voice gives a cruel twist to the flippant reminder of Verumalleus’ sacrifice. He can see Pan feels the same way, only ignoring the comment because of a desire for the answer.
Jacob’s mouth opens and closes several times as he struggles for an answer. The pause even longer before his answer this time, and the words are delivered more slowly, “That is true, we have kept up our sacrifices. It is also true that our salvation was paid for by your companion’s noble sacrifice, Atyx bless her soul. I guess I cannot offer you definitive proof, the Anathema has always come in the past when we have failed to make the sacrifice. This is the first time in almost a hundred years that one has came.”

“How do you know it came from a missed sacrifice when it was almost a hundred years ago?” Telfor interrupts Rubin to ask.

“My grandfather told me the story when I was a lad, a storms interrupted the hunt and we couldn’t make a sacrifice in time. He said that many men died, more would have without Zsófia’s grandfather tending to the poisoned.”

“At the university there are toxicologists who could create an antidote from a sample of the poison,” Rubin responds, then seeming to realise something continues, “Can you be sure Zsófia’s family haven’t simply done the same and abused this knowledge for status privilege?”

“I would never do that!” Zsófia cries, having just entered in time to hear Rubin’s accusation. She storms towards the scholar looking pale and weak, but with a powerful fury in her eyes. The scholar rises rapidly from his chair, to meet her charge as she continues to shout, “Do you think I enjoy letting that bastard use my body to enter the world? Can you even imagine how painful it is to be the crucible for the might of a god?!”

Blood and Lies (pt. 14)

Part Fourteen in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)


“-idiot. What did you think would happen?” the angry shouts shoot pain through Telfor’s head. Pan’s voice furiously piercing the wall between them. Blinking to clear the fog of sleep from his eyes, he immediately recognises the unstable tone in Pan’s voice. When the revenant had learned of his resurrection, his voice had held the same quality.

“Not that the pair of you would assault me in defence of a necromancer!” Rubin’s voice cracks with intensity, a tone that was not familiar to Telfor and coming from the scholar caused him concern.
Convinced of the significance of this conflict, Telfor forces himself to rise despite the constant low level pain that makes up his body. He rolls onto his side and lifts himself up on stiff, aching limbs. The house is empty but for him he senses on his way out the door. Rounding the corner of the house approaching the sounds of arguing as quickly as he can manage, he winces as he jostles the hole in his shoulder.
Outside the sun has just barely started to brighten the horizon. Between the house and the stable-like structure Pan has Rubin shoved against the wall of the house, his blade drawn and threatening. Sprawled in the dirt is Vahkragg. Jacob, Aria and a simply dressed young woman are knelt down by him, hurriedly checking a sickly looking wound across his back. Wasting no time assessing the situation, Telfor growls with menace to the fighting companions.

“On god’s bloated corpse, there had better be a damned good reason for this behaviour or so help me…”

Their shouting immediately ceases as they notice him storming shakily towards them. Reacting to his approach Rubin attempts to shrug off Pan’s grip and is slammed cruelly against the wall in response. Keeping one eye and his blade fixed firmly on the scholar Pan says with venom directed towards Rubin, “Telfor, this goddamned moron released the prisoner to try and use the null magic bracelet to kidnap the woman who’s magic saved yours and Vahkragg’s life.”

“Because she is genuinely a necromancer. Oliver is merely a suspect and he would still be here if you and Vahkragg hadn’t tried to kill him!” Rubin fires back at the larger man.

Sensing the weakness in his body and the lack of responsiveness in his sword arm, Telfor can tell he doesn’t have the ability to separate the two physically. With Pan’s recent aggression towards him and the rage that has already overcome him, Telfor approaches the situation warily. The absence of Verumalleus during this argument is worrying, she would never have allowed this kind of group breakdown if she was around. He doesn’t want to consider why she isn’t here.

“Alright you two, it’s time to cool off. Pan, I need you to put away the knife and back up. Alright?” in a low and steady voice he says, trying to calmly talk down the conflict.

“I don’t think so, Tel.” Pan’s reply is stony and defiant, “This bastard’ll turn to mist and run for it the moment I let him go.”

Telfor raises an arm in a placating gesture, “Rubin’s not going anywhere, he’s contractually bound to me by the university. Right now, we’re in a bad way and fighting amongst ourselves is the last thing we need.”

Pan doesn’t lower his arm or take his eyes from Rubin for a long time. Deliberation drawn plainly on his face, a twitch in his expression marks the start of a shift. The hand holding the knife begins to tremble slightly and his face twists strangely like fighting back tears. Finally he lowers the blade half an inch and taking his eyes off Rubin showing them shining with tears he say, “She’s dead, Tel.”

He drops the knife on the ground, releasing Rubin who hurries over to stand behind Telfor. Stepping forward towards Pan who slumps noticeably, diminished with speaking those words, Telfor catches him on his shoulder propping him up. Pan’s revelation is a painful one for Telfor to swallow, he’d known Verumalleus for the longest out of any of them and had considered her a good friend. He’d known that Pan loved her, and had suspected her fate from her absence and Pan’s aggression towards Rubin. Right now he needed to be the strong one, to keep the group from imploding.
Patting Pan on the back with his good arm, Telfor speaks as kindly as his rough voice will allow, “Veru wasn’t scared of death, Pan. She’s been a loyal servant of Atyx for her whole life, if anyone is gone to a better place it’ll be her. She’ll be watching over us now and she’ll be wanting you to be strong.”

Pan nods at those words, the hatred and blame he’d built towards Telfor for her death turning to shame. Telfor was right, she’d be disappointed to see him acting like this. His temper often got the better of him when faced with insults to himself or his friends, but Veru never let him wallow in it like this.
Lifting himself from Telfor’s shoulder and stepping away to dry the tears from his cheek he takes his knife from the ground and returns it to it’s sheath. Bowing his head and without looking at Rubin he says, “I’ll forgive you for letting Oliver go. I’m sorry I drew a knife on you. Let’s work together to get him back.”

Behind Telfor, Rubin nods silently. Whether accepting the apology or simply wishing to avoid more violence, even he’s uncertain. The sun now fully above the horizon shines a glaring light upon the villagers tending Vahkragg. They have successfully stopped his convulsions, the young girl sends Aria running off across the village. She remains by the giant’s side, pointedly avoiding looking towards the people who had just prior been loudly arguing her fate.
The worst of the fighting over and the immediate danger having passed for Vahkragg, Jacob stands and approaches Telfor.

“Now you’re all here and awake, I think it would be best if we all went inside and I explained everything to you.”

Blood and Lies (pt. 12)

Part twelve in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)


“Where have you two been?” Pan’s tone is dark when the two practitioners of magic return from their conversation beyond the edge of the village. Rubin answers with a serious expression, his eyes shifting conspiratorially to Oliver who returns the look with a practised aloofness.

“I’m sorry, I would have brought you with us but you were unresponsive,” Rubin answers quietly with a heavy quality to his words. The scout shifts cautiously at the severity in those words, looking around for villagers who might overhear as well as insight into what’s going on.

“What’s the matter?”

The scholar lowers his voice even further, leaning in so not to be overheard, “The Anathema claws were coated in a potentially fatal paralysing toxin. Telfor and Vahkragg are barely alive due to the ministrations of a necromancer the villagers have kept hidden called Zsófia. Oliver and I were discussing our course of action, he has agreed to help us capture her in exchange for our testimony in defence of his character at his trial.”

Pan narrows his eyes at the callousness of the suggestion, “You’re telling me our companions are only alive because the villagers trusted us with their secret and you want to betray that trust by arresting her?”

“It is the law, Pan. We are employed to enforce that law.”

“No, Telfor is employed to enforce bring specific people to be judged by the law. We are employed by Telfor for our expertise. Right now our only job is to bring him to the capital,” he responds bluntly, gesturing to Oliver with a reversed thumb, “Until I get different orders from Telfor, that’s the only thing I am employed to do.”

The scholar glares silently back at Pan, flustered annoyance seemingly choking his attempts at a response. This dogmatic straightforwardness was the reason Pan had opposed Telfor’s decision to bring the university journeyman with them. Mercenary work is only profitable when you are willing to be flexible and the Weatherford indoctrination is anything but.
The blind hatred for practitioners of black magic proscribed by the university gives no room for nuance and the law and the church support them in their zealotry. As a Revenant, Pan is uniquely positioned to recognise the danger these beliefs pose to some of the ordinary folk. He hid his condition as best he could to avoid dealing with people’s reactions, and while he existed in a legal grey area as a victim of natural necromatic resurrection his kind are treated cruelly in areas where the kingdom’s bureaucracy holds greater influence.
Necromancers who served remote communities as pagan priests are not unheard of. While they are denounced as dangerous corrupting influences by the Kingdom, Pan is wise enough to the ways of the world to see both sides.

“Regardless, of what you decide,” the sorcerer’s voice penetrating the tense silence between the two bounty hunters, “We should inspect the condition of your companions as well as the magic she used on them.”

Inside the house, Jacob and Aria have started cooking dinner for their guests. They are nervously watching over Zsófia and the others while they are resting. Jacob keeps his trowel close to hand, hoping he won’t need to use it. With the strong men and women of the village still out on their hunt, he was the only one there to protect Zsófia if the bounty hunters try to arrest her. He had recognised the Revenant amongst their number and hoped that meant they would be more sympathetic.
He was replacing the grey skinned soldier’s bandages when he heard the door rattling and open. The Revenant leads the other two as they enter, hopefully a good sign. Grabbing his trowel to help him lift his old bones from the ground, Jacob politely positions himself between the patients and the visitors as he greets them. The bounty hunters’ eyes passed him to look at their companions and Zsófia, however Jacob noticed their prisoner who stood at the back of the group was watching the other two with a concealed intensity the older man saw through.

“It’s good to see you’re up an moving, lad,” Jacob says to Pan warmly, placing a friendly hand on the Revenant’s shoulder “I’m so sorry for your loss, I wish there had been more I could have done. Your other two companions are very weak, but they should recover thanks to Zsófia.”

Pan nods, staring at Telfor’s pale face. His emotions still conflicted towards the grey soldier. Seeing him laying there, alive, but also clearly injured and pained rekindled his anger as well as the shame that comes from thinking that way.
Turning back to face the elderly man, Pan says, “Until our companions are well enough to travel we may need to rely on your hospitality. Would you be willing to let us stay with you for now, we are willing to contribute to work that needs doing and we have some coin we can offer.”

“Of course you are welcome to stay, and you help around the village would be greatly appreciated, those of us still here aren’t as young as we once were.” Jacob smiles a welcoming grin, squeezing the hand on the revenant’s shoulder before removing it with a parting pat. The old mans expression changes to a more serious expression before he continues, “But I need to ask what your intentions are regarding Zsófia. We know what the university and the law say you have to do, but she is a good woman and our village needs her. If you want to hurt her or arrest her, we won’t let you.”

The old man didn’t beat around the bush, Pan has to respect him for that. He glances back at Rubin, who is exactly as subtle as he could have expected from his sheltered education. He could almost taste the magical energy surrounding the scholar, he similarly noticed that Oliver at least seemed to share his concern at Rubin’s demeanour. When Pan turns his attention back to Jacob, his answer is directed as much towards Rubin as the old villager, “I understand that without her bravery in revealing her secret to save their lives, our friends would almost certainly have died. As far as I’m concerned, we haven’t see anything that requires us to take any action on. Don’t you agree, Rubin?”

The scholar grits his teeth, in a display of annoyance before releasing the magic he had gathered around himself. He nods mechanically at the scouts declaration, “Of course.”

Blood and Lies (pt. 8)

Sorry for this one coming up a little late, the flu assaulted me and slowed me down.

Part eight in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)


A dreadful keening wail strikes through the clearing with unmistakable malice. The villagers react to the sound is sudden and terrified. The older children take the younger ones and flee to the cover of the large home, while the old men and women hurriedly run to their homes in search of weapons.

“The Anathema! It will not leave until we are all dead and devoured!” Jacob’s terrified voice trembles, his white knuckles gripping his trowel tightly. Verumalleus rushes forward, positioning herself between the village and the beast.

“Stay inside and protect the children, we will slay this monster!” Verumalleus cries out to the villagers. Lifting her hammer to the sky the crusader radiates with a holy light that shines out and covers her companions. Bolstering their strength and resolve with the power of her god, she raises a rallying cry, ““Vengeful Atyx, grant us the strength to punish your foes, spilling the blood in the name of your fury. Sanctus Tenebris.”

Emerging from the tree line, the same six-limbed monstrosity as they had witnessed devouring the stag earlier approaches, bellowing, towards the village. The clearing separates them from the beast by several hundred yards. At first it moves slowly, seeming to examine those who stand against it with a strange intelligence. Suddenly it shifts into a barrelling charge.
Vahkragg, Telfor and Verumalleus spread out and brace themselves to meet its charge. It targets the crusader first, directing its charge towards her. Rearing back on his hind legs, the anathema kicks two thunderous hooves into the shield, the force of the blow sending Verumalleus flying backwards bodily rolling across the earth, her shield arm hanging broken and weak by her side as she twists and utilising her momentum springs herself back to her feet.
Telfor and Vahkragg charge the monsters flank as it bellows victory of its charge. The eastern nomad’s brings the hammer side of his pole-axe down on the thick armoured flesh delivering a blow that transforms its victory cry to a wail of pain. The monster flails its arm in response to the attack, it’s scything talons catching Telfor’s shield and driving him from his feet, the barbed in of the talons piercing the armoured breastplate he wore and inflicting a shallow wound to the veterans chest.
A quarrel sprouts from the beasts upper chest, welling blackened blood from the wound. Another pained screech cracks the sky as the revenant scout reloads the heavy crossbow as quickly as possible.

From within the protective walls of the villages largest home, Oliver struggles futilely with the magic suppressing bracelet affixed to his wrist. Without his magic he was as helpless as the children, he raged. If only that fool soldier had left the key, his magic could be used to defend the people here. Now if they fail, he would die here despite all the sorcery he had cultivated over the years.

Outside as the battle rages, a mystical chill forms in the air. Icicles form on exposed metal and breath mists. Rubin’s arcane chanting that had quietly permeated the battlefield swells as his incantation reaches its climax. A vortex of frozen air erupts around the creature, coalescing cruelly upon its joints. Some intrinsic quality of the monster resists the full brunt of the curse, but it slows noticeably.
Vahkragg buries his axe into the side of the beast, the wound vomiting forth gouts of vile black blood as he rips the blade back. Diving to the side narrowly he avoids a fatal wound from the beasts deadly claws, a deep gash across his back throbs painfully sapping his strength.
More quarrels continue to sprout from the beasts chest, tormenting it and staining its fur dark with rivers of blackened blood.
Losing his sword as it is torn from his grip after being buried between the folds of the creatures flesh Telfor, unarmed, can only distract the monster from behind his shield giving Verumalleus room to shatter the bones in one of its front legs driving it to a knee.

With the Anathema’s mobility restricted, it seems only a matter of time before the group succeeds in slaying it when suddenly Vahkragg’s knees buckle beneath him and he collapses in the dirt.
With a shout Telfor rushes to him, dragging him from the monsters reach while Verumalleus draws its attention. Spots of darkness appear in Telfor’s vision and he feels his body growing weak. A moment of dazed confusion overcomes him and dropping Vahkragg just barely beyond the Anathema’s reach, he collapses beside him.
Quarrels and magical blasts assault the beast while Verumalleus narrowly avoids its claws again and again. The limits of her stamina is approaching and she can feel her body responding slower to her instructions to dodge.

Pushed to the brink, Verumalleus calls on the black fire of Atyx, its holy fury filling her veins and radiating dark brilliance from her eyes. The world craws the a snails pace, driven by divine power she ducks beneath the wicked talons, leaping up the beasts chest and with a cry in a voice that grinds reality like scraping bone and rending metal, she drives her hammer into the Anathema’s chest.
Fury spent, the world comes roaring back to pace moving faster than she can react. Verumalleus coughs a glob of blood, an all consuming ache tearing at her guts. Looking down, the last she sees is the claw protruding from her chest before the world fades into darkness.

Blood and Lies (pt. 7)

Part seven in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)


By the back door of Jacob’s home looking out across the clearing at the forest, the farmer and the bounty hunter smoke. The older man seems sorry for the answer he has given, but resolute in it. The soldier understood the importance of privacy and the value of a secret so when he asked, it was politely and without rancour. “Mind if I ask, why it is that you can’t tell me?”

“I don’t mind,” the other man replied, exhaling smoke in a long even breath. He lowered the hand that held the cigarette to rest by his side seeming to lose interest in it. He looked thoughtfully out into nothingness until it seemed he didn’t intend to continue. A pained expression crosses his expression externalising an internal struggle for the words. “They’re secret matters. They ain’t hurtin’ secrets, they are simply ours.”

“I understand,” Telfor nods, accepting the old mans reassurance and allowing the subject to be dropped. Meanwhile in the village centre, Rubin is seated before a rapt audience of local children answering questions about magic and his appearance. Pan and Oliver had retired to join the adults and Verumalleus discussing current news in the kingdom at large.

“My family comes from a land far in the east, where I am from nearly everyone looks like I do!” The children seem suspicious of the scholars assertion, a land where everyone had red skin, horns and a tail, seems too much like one of the fairy stories. Agreeing between themselves that it must be something that happens to wizards.

“What’re ye doin’ here in t’ forest?” asks another boy. One of the older children, this lad seems to carry an almost adult curiosity to him. Rubin admired an inquisitive mind and hoped to inspire these children to cultivate that curiosity.

“I am a journeyman from The Weatherford University in the capital,” Rubin answered, “When an apprentice completes their theoretical education, we are expected to travel the kingdom for at least a year gaining practical experience.”

“Could I go to the university?” a young girl of the smaller race of deep wood folk asked from where she had climbed onto his lap, staring at him with a wide eyed look of wonder.

“Of course,” Rubin beamed down at her, ruffling her hair. “The university accepts students from all across the kingdom, as well as abroad. The Weatherford University teaches all manners of knowledge. From magic to mathematics to meteorology!”

“What’s meteorology?”

“Meteorology, is the study of the phenomena that govern the weather. A student of meteorology can predict a coming storm or a drought early enough for people to prepare”

“Does the university teach Necromancy?” one of the younger children asks, struggling with the complex word. Rubin casts her a curious and slightly concerned look at the odd question.

“Not as a field of study, though a number of fields require an understanding of its implications. Why do you ask, child?”

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a Necromancer!”

“But child, Necromancy is dark magic,” Rubin replies slowly, surprised by the children’s unexpected indifference to the declaration. One or two other children had even argued that they would be the Necromancer. “It’s practice is illegal in the kingdom.”

“That’s stupid, no-one would ever stay dead without ’em!”

Inside the large home where the adults had gathered, Verumalleus is busy sharing all the recent news in the kingdom. The folk of this village rarely brave the journey into the forest except for the monthly trips when the whole active population of the village will go into the forest to take down a razorback, one of the monstrous boars that populate the area.
The village folk were surprised to hear of how suddenly the kings health had declined and the discussion carried on for a while sharing opinions over whether the young prince was prepared for the responsibility of ruling the kingdom. The wedding between the prince and Duke Evans’ daughter, Eleanor quickly overtook the interest of the room. Seeming uninterested in the conversation Oliver’s sudden query if the Earl of Argon’s Rest had attended the wedding surprised Verumalleus.

“He wasn’t,” Pan answered during the crusader’s hesitation.

“Yes, that’s right. It was a surprise as he had been quite close to the Prince, most people expected him to at least one of the groomsmen, if not the Prince’s best man.”

Oliver nods thoughtfully at the answer before seemingly disengaging from the conversation again. The conversation turned to the new toll implemented by the guild of the road when a great pained bellow tears through the village. The elderly villagers and their guests surge to their feet and out of the house.
Bursting through the tree line into the clearing, a monstrous boar with great bone horns lining its spine comes charging towards the village. Sitting peacefully at the village’s edge Vahkragg is the first to see the boars approach. Lifting his pole-axe, the plains hunter positions himself between the boar’s charge and the village. Intently calculating the enormous beasts momentum, at the last moment Vahkragg deftly side-steps the boar carrying his axe through the movement burying it deeply into the monsters side, sending it ploughing into the dirt.

His companions are armed and by his side in moments, the children and elderly villagers looking on in awe before suddenly bursting into cheers of praise for the large man. Telfor slaps Vahkragg on the back, “God’s blood, Vahkragg. You killed that monster in a single blow!”

Vahkragg grip tightens on his axe and he glares out into the forest where the boar came from. The only one to have seen the mortal wound the boar already carried on its other side, he raises his voice over the cheers, “Get back inside! A greater threat follows!”

Blood and Lies (pt. 6)

Part six in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)


The village was built facing inwards without an obvious intended route of entrance, clearly indicating the people did not regularly leave the village in any particular direction. The houses were widely spaced, separated by what could be called either large gardens or small farms. Judging from the size of the village, he anticipated less than a hundred people lived here. The sound of activity carried past the wooden homes, people working and speaking encouraging. Telfor passed the first knot of houses, finding a quaint village square at their centre. The first local to notice him is a young boy who couldn’t have been older than eight years. With fair skin and dark hair, the boys sharp ears mirror the sharpness in his piercing brown eyes as they inspect the burly soldier who had just appeared in his home.

“Mamma! Mamma!” the boy shouts, drawing the attention of a elderly man tending a small farm plot as well as a larger group of children who could have been the young boys play companions. Telfor raises his hands to show he is unarmed to the old man who has stood and cautiously approached. The group of children have no such caution and immediately rush the startled soldier screaming and shouting in an indecipherable cacophony of childish enthusiasm.
A piercing whistle surprises the children into silence. Their attention suddenly captured by the old man, he gestures towards one of the houses with a flick of his neck and clicks his tongue. The children seem to recognise this as an order to go inside, turning and reluctantly walk away from Telfor with a chorus of farewells and pleas to play with them later. Looking back up at the old man Telfor notices a number of similarly aged men and women appearing from inside the homes and around corners to cast curious glances at him and bring their children inside. The old man approaches Telfor, cleaning his dirty hands on his clothes before offering one for the soldier to shake.

“Welcome stranger, names Jacob Brown,” The mans smooth voice and angular features matched those of a majority of the children who had crowded him. Wood folk were almost always lean and angular, and generally stood at either roughly three to four or five to six feet. Based on the children, and buildings Telfor presumed this village was a mixture with the majority being the taller.

“Telfor Davies,” he replies, accepting the hand firmly, “My companions and I are agents of the law, we were transporting a prisoner along the road to Capital when we were driven into the forest by a horde of undead and became lost. If we may, we would greatly appreciate hospitality for the night and directions towards the road. We can pay.”

Jacob nods understandingly, taking the news of undead with unnerving calm, answering in a soothing voice, “Ye’d best collect yer companions an’ bring ‘am in, the forest innae kind te’ strangers.”

The rest of the group is quickly brought into the village and welcomed by the children who are released from their homes after they’d been greeted by Jacob and determined to be friendly. A good number of adults also approach with friendly curiosity, though none seem to be below the age of fifty. Jacob introduces his wife Aria Brown, a matronly woman who’s angular characteristics almost seems strange when contrasted with her staid plumpness.
Curiosity quickly overcomes the polite reserve of the elderly village folk and the party are separated and interrogated for gossip and news from the kingdom.
Rubin and Pan quickly win over the children with tricks of magic and sleight of hand, while Verumalleus is dragged into one of the larger homes with a large group of women for tea and gossip. Vahkragg, almost three feet taller than the largest villager is given a respectable amount of space.

During the excitement Telfor engages Jacob in conversation in hope of having some questions of his own answered, “Thank you for agreeing to take us in for the night.”

“Think nothin’ of it, wouldn’t ha’ been right t’make y’ chance th’ forest ano’er nigh'”

“I can’t help but notice that none of your village seem to be between young and old,” Telfor’s bluntness rings in his head, seeming more suave before he’d spoken aloud.

“Aye, they be huntin’ in th’ forest for now, mos’ like ye’ll be gone afore they return, shame, if’n th’ hunt went well there’d be a high revelin’ to be had, especially with guests who come so rare.”

“Unfortunately we are already days behind schedule and must report the horde we encountered in case it somehow has managed to avoid detection. If you happened to have a map, I’d certainly appreciate the chance to look over it with you. To get a local’s perspective on how we came to get here.”

Jacob is obliging, leading Telfor back to his home. While Jacob rummages through a storage room, Aria pours them tea and listens to the details of their journey. Expressing far more concern at the description of the monster they had encountered the day before than at the description of the undead horde. Before Telfor manages to inquire about their reaction, Jacob produces a dusty old map with an exclamation of triumph rolling it out across the table after the tea is removed.
The map is several generations old. Thanks to the chaotic nature of the world maps are often considered obsolete when more than ten years old. Settlements are lost to monsters and reestablished elsewhere so commonly that this map is completely useless for any settlements beyond Verwich or Capital. It does however mark the road, which is constant, as well as other landmarks. With Jacob’s aid, Telfor is able to figure out the rough path of their flight from the undead, a guess of the direction the horde was travelling and of most importance to the locals, where they had spotted the monster.
Reminded of their strange reactions by this specific interest Telfor asks the couple, “Tell me, why is it that you don’t seem frightened by the horde that could be coming this way but seem so concerned by the beast?”

The couple exchange a meaningful glance at the question. Aria clears the table and busies herself with cleaning, and Jacob pulls a small tin from his jacket. Opening the tin he draws a smoke and offers one to Telfor who accepts, noting the couples hesitation at answering the question. Jacob leads Telfor out around the back door from the house before lighting the smokes.

“Ahm afraid t’ answer t’ both o’ yer questions, I cannae tell ye t’em.”

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