Untitled Sword & Sorcery Short Story
Draft: 1st Draft, no edits
by: Patrick Hester
© 2011 All Rights Reserved
The Witch King, bored, called upon the demi-god Utesh, for inspiration. A hundred bodies littered the ground below the sheer cliff wall of the castle, their life’s blood still warm in the throne rooms summoning pool. The Horned One appeared, spirit using the blood to give it form, lend it ground in the human world. Not until His bloody muzzle stood above the Witch King’s own horned helm, did Utesh speak words of forming in the black tongue causing two acolytes in attendance to fall dead to the floor upon the hearing.
The blood gone cold, the spirit of Utesh gone, the Witch King called for more cattle from the city. This night, he would set loose a monster.
# # #
Divorak, bored, heard strange tales of a new, interesting challenge on every tongue. Sure it was some sort of deception, he set his sister, Jlian, to finding the truth of it. Feeling the eyes of the fifth village of locals in just six days running over his broad shoulders, Divorak pulled sword and breaker from their scabbards on his saddle and began working out the kinks the long ride had set into his muscles.
The sword he held in his left hand, wide, flat blade as long as his arm. He preferred the breaker in his right hand, its blade half the length of the sword, twice as thick with notches cut into one side where it can catch an opponents sword. Slowly, at first, he swung sword and breaker, slicing through the air before him, imagining some foe dodging this way or that.
Time got away from him. It wasn’t until sweat flowed from his brow and soaked through the padding of his leather vambraces did he notice Jlian waiting for him. As always, she was covered from head to toe in dark robes, only her blue eyes and pale skin visible above the stiff-mask covering the lower half of her face. An acolyte of the goddess Lo Shan Wei, her talents lay in the arcane arts and as such, took a toll on her body that not even Divorak truly understood, a toll she worked hard to conceal beneath those robes.
“Well?” he asked, grabbing a bucket and tossing it into the trough.
“A score and more voices, all tell the same tales,” she said softly.
Undoing the knot on the leather scrap holding his long, pale hair back, he nodded, then took the bucket and upended it over his head, the cool water causing his skin to prickle. Jlian has many talents, including the ability to see into the heart of a man and know whether he spoke the truth or not. It was for this reason that he allowed her to broker all agreements on his behalf. She could tell with the first words spoken, whether or not the man before them would pay as promised or seek to deceive and withhold payment for work honestly done. If she said the tales were true, they were true.
“So,” she echoed.
“An arena built for sport? A monster champion? A hundred gold crowns to anyone willing to fight the beast? Sounds impossible.”
“Ah,” she replied just loud enough for he alone to hear the word. “Fight and win.” Her voice held Power, much of it as he had seen for himself on more than one occasion, so she was forced to whisper most of the time lest some pour soul find themself beset by her unwilling tongue. “There is no reward for those who are killed.”
“And plenty of those if the tales be true,” he muttered. Another bucket of water and his stomach reminded him they had not eaten since break of day. The sun was now dipping towards night so he announced they would take meal at the inn and she followed. An hour later, he picked at his teeth with the bare bones of the chicken they’d shared, he, as always, eating the larger share for Jlian had little appetite anymore. When the bar wench he favored brought him another ale, he told his sister he intended to make for the arena.
“You decided that two weeks ago,” she whispered, her own cup still three quarters full of ale from when they’d sat down.
“Perhaps,” he agreed.
“It won’t be easy,” she continued in hushed tones. “They say this beast was let loose upon the land three winter’s back. It spent little time acquiring a taste for human flesh. It was only when its sport learned to run, hide, stay where it could not reach them, did the Witch King build the arena and offer the reward. Now fools from every station of life willingly walk for weeks for the honor of being slain by it. And for what? The promise of gold?”
Divorak belched loudly, hoping the wench heard it. She seemed promising for a companion through morning. “You said the gold was real.”
Jlian tsked. “Enough eyes have seen it resting on a pedestal in the arena that I know it to be there, but that doesn’t mean you will walk away with it anymore than those other fools whose blood now soaks the ground beneath the Witch King’s boots.”
The wench seemed to be trying to look at him without letting him know she was looking at him. Promising, indeed. Smiling, he looked at his sister and met her gaze, something few people managed anymore. “If I did not know better, sister, I would say you sound concerned for me.”
“I would not have you throw your life away on an impossible task.”
“Ah, but only the impossible ones are worth doing,” he replied, grinning now and counting out several coins from his purse. “I am going to go fuck that wench. Tomorrow I leave for the arena. Will you be joining me?”
“I will,” she said softly. With a nod, Divorak stood and made his way across the room where the wench waited with a smile. He did not notice the dangerous spark in his sister’s eyes.
# # #
The arena was more impressive than either sibling expected to see. Built outside the towering walls of the Witch King’s black stone city, it stood nearly as tall as those walls which Divorak judged to be ten times his own height and more. Round as his shield, it held rows upon rows of stone seats each higher than the last, enough for thousands of people to view the combatants below them. On a dais above the blood-soaked ground sat a throne large enough for three men. In it sat the Witch King himself, tall as a giant, covered in smoldering armor and horned helm. Red eyes blazed from within, lighting upon Jlian as soon as she entered beside her brother.
Knowing her own power no match for his, she paused, then prostrated herself before him. Divorak had seen this before and though he did not like it, understood that hers was a world different from his in most every way so he said nothing and simply waited. When the Witch King’s helm dipped ever so slightly in her direction, Jlian stood again and they were free to move to their seats with the other challengers along the bottom row. He was surprised to see so many, nearly two score of varying size and shapes. Only three or four looked to have any sort of skill, the rest obviously fools seeking release from their pitiful lives.
“He stares,” Jlian whispered. How Divorak heard her above the crowd he did not know, probably some magic of hers.
“Your beauty no doubt entices,” he quipped. He tried never to tread on topics of the arcane, preferring solid ground beneath his feet rather than wispy promises from spiritual patrons known best for their fickle natures.
“Would that it were so,” she replied. He shook his head at that. Women were difficult enough to understand, but that comment would tie his brain in knots for months if he allowed it. Instead, he took his seat and scanned the battleground below him.
The sands in these parts were not naturally red, so he assumed the color below came from the massive amounts of blood spilled by the beast champion. A large door sat in the shadow of the dais, presumably where the beast entered. Stairs lead from the challengers section down into a shadowed passage. Leaning out over the edge of the ring, he saw the gate where it must come out. Near the beasts door sat a pedestal, its column a carved relief of a prostrated human bearing the flat surface as a burden on his pitiful shoulders. Upon it rested a large leather satchel.
“The gold crowns,” whispered his sister. He grunted in reply.
The Witch King raised his hand and the assembled spectators fell silent.
“Once again,” his voice boomed throughout the arena. “We come together to see if the strength of man can persevere against The Beast!” At this, the crowd went wild with their cheering. Divorak frowned. Did these people not remember that this beast once terrorized them? Now they cheer to see it slaughter men? “The Prize!” cried the Witch King, and on the pedestal, the leather satchel vanished. Atop it, gold coins were stacked in a perfect pyramid. This hushed the crowd again.
Standing, the Witch King looked at the challengers. “Who among you dares to enter the ring?” Far to his left, a man jumped to his feet. He was covered in chain-mail, carried a large, two handed sword and wore a shiny helm upon his head. “I do!” he shouted. Divorak mourned for the man even before he took his first step down into the tunnel. All that armor would only weigh him down, keep him from being mobile. Jlian touched his arm, hissing, “The door opens.”
# # #
The creature that walked out onto the battlefield was unlike anything Divorak had seen before, and he had traveled the breadth and length of the land a dozen times over. Twice as tall as any man, it ducked beneath the arch and met the roar of the crowd with a spike toothed grin. Green and gray scales covered its skin running to a paler yellow on its underbelly. Its face was long, nose stretching out perhaps a hand from where its serpent eyes gleamed in the sun. Though it walked on two legs, those legs ended in clawed toes matching the clawed fingers on its elongated hands with a long, spiked tail trailing the dust behind it. As if that were not enough to make it different from all other things he had ever seen, when it paused to screech for the crowd, a pair of leathery wings sprang from its back, stretching out to either side and beating frantically at the wind causing red dust and sand to whip out into the cheering masses.
“Demon,” Jlian whispered.
“Aye,” Divorak agreed. He did not say out loud, however, what kind? He’d fought many in his short time on this earth and none looked as imposing or dangerous as this. He had no doubts it could use those wings not only to fly, but to batter a man with wind and sand, mayhaps to even cause his feet to fly from beneath his legs. Those claws looked sharp as daggers and twice as strong, those teeth perfect for rending flesh from bone.
Again a cheer went up from the crowd, heralding the arrival of the armored fool.
“Come, warrior, the prize is yours if only you can best my champion,” came the Witch King’s voice above the din.
The first match did not last long. The beast stood still as the man rushed in and spun, swinging his massive two-handed sword in a deadly arc only to find it turned by tough, scaly skin. The ring of the strike sounded like a bell throughout the arena. The man stood there for a moment, stunned, before the beast slapped him with a single clawed hand. Spiraling head over heels, he flew across the arena, landing in a roll that continued until he slammed into the far wall. The crowd went mad as he tried to push himself to his feet again. The beast waited patiently as he staggered back, limply picked up his sword, and pushed forward. Faster than Divorak’s eyes could track, the beast’s tail snapped and the man’s helm flew from its perch and rolled along the ground. Again the crowd went mad. Divorak looked from helm to man only to realize that the helm had not flown away empty, for a headless body now twitched before the beast, blood cascading down from the open wound.
“Next?” asked the Witch King.
# # #
“You are mad, brother,” hissed Jlian.
Perhaps, he thought. His original plan, such as it was, had been to wait until all the other challengers had gone into the arena and had their battles with the beast. In this way, he’d hoped that they would, at the least, have tired the creature out and carved the way for him to finish it off. Unfortunately, his plan hinged on these battles to last hours, not a single hour. He doubted the creature had even broken a sweat, if such a thing sweated at all.
As he scanned the empty challenger section, he wondered if he should’ve come up with a back-up plan. Just in case.
“Can you offer support?” he asked. It would not be the first time they’d cooperated in battle, another advantage of his sister’s arcane talents.
“No,” she replied. “Not with him watching. He’d know immediately.”
“Pity,” he sighed. A little extra strength or speed would’ve been useful, but he knew better than to push. If she feared the Witch King, nothing he said would convince her to help him cheat.
“You can still walk away.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” he asked, truly bewildered by the suggestion.
“Next?” bellowed the Witch King as the last challenger fell, his body neatly sliced in two halves right down the middle. As gruesome a sight as that was, the crowd seemed lustier in their shouts than ever before. Divorak had to admit, it was a neat trick. He’d tried something similar once, but his sword, though passing neatly through the skull, had gotten caught around the jawline.
Standing, he passed over his breaker and shield to his sister’s care. He’d decided long ago that neither would do him much good against the beast. He also doffed his shirt, which he felt would slow him down.
Pointing his chin at the Witch King, he asked, “Will he pay?”
Shaking her head slightly, his sister replied, “No.”
“Bastard,” he grunted, taking the steps down into the tunnel. The air here was thick and hot, more so than he suspected. Two goblins waited there, one guarding the gate and the other working the wheel. As it pulled the rungs, the wheel spun and the gate moved slowly up. Divorak stepped past and into the light of the arena, the crowd’s roar like thunder in his ears.
Kneeling, he took a handful of red dirt and rubbed it between his hands, then another that he rubbed into the hilt of his sword, a third went down the length of the blade. The crowd seemed puzzled by this and he was in no mood to explain. Swinging the sword before him once, twice then a third time, he stopped and waited. The crowd roared, the beast screeched, then moved forward.
Its tail whipped out like it had so many other times in the last hour. Divorak dove right, the tail snapping through where he’d stood a moment before and slamming into the metal gate, the sound ringing through the arena. The beast screamed in pain, coiling its tail back, wings closing in and forming a barrier as if to protect the damaged flesh. It was the first pain the creature had felt this day and the sting of it was clearly shocking. Even the crowd had fallen to a dull murmur, unused to seeing the creature in any sort of pain.
Divorak wasted no time, coming to his feet and dashing forward, but he did not take the creature head on, instead angling to the side, slashing his sword along one of its leathery wings. Again, it shrieked in pain and twisted away from him. The arena had gone deathly silent but he tried to ignore all but the creature as it retreated again, trying to turn so its damaged wing faced away from him. In doing so, it gave him an opportunity to slice the other wing. This time, the shriek was so loud he nearly closed his eyes at the sound of it. Leaping into the air, the beast desperately beat its wings, trying to hover above him or carry it across the arena and away from him, but he’d cut both and they did not carry the creature as it intended, instead causing it to crash down awkwardly. Scrambling on all fours like a lizard, it folded its wings in and dashed across the sand.
Divorak spun, sword arcing high and came down on the tip of its tail just above where it’d struck the iron gate. The flesh there was softer and his sword cut easily, removing tip from tail. Blackish blood sputtered from the wound and the beast cried out, leaping forward and twisting all at the same time. Its momentum carried it forward, slamming it into the far wall. It lay on the ground there, dazed and shocked. Divorak sprinted forward, sword held low beside him.
He made straight for the head, brought his sword up and plunged it into the soft flesh of the beast’s left eye. It opened a moment before the sword penetrated. The beast reared up, a mournful sound escaping its lips. Divorak struggled to keep his hands on the hilt of his sword as it thrashed back and forth. He had only a moment to wish he’d driven the sword deeper before the blade loosed itself from the eye socket and he was cartwheeling through the air. Something solid stopped him suddenly and he plummeted to the ground where sand filled his open mouth and eyes.
Spitting sand and blood from his mouth, he shook his head, then tried to rub the sand from his eyes. It was painful and slow, the grains of sand scratching and digging in deeper the more he rubbed. Through blurred vision, he could see a mass he believed to be the creature spinning wildly on the other side of the arena. It seemed to be covering its wounded eye with its long fingers while its tail whipped about randomly as if to keep him away.
The mournful noise it was making had become deeper, louder. He almost felt pity for it. Almost. Pushing back to his feet, he took a deep breath and felt a sharp pain in his side. Gingerly touching the flesh there, he decided something inside was probably broken. He would need to end this sooner rather than later.
Looking at the blurry creature, he had to admit – he’d done much better than all the rest. Now he just had to finish it.
Inching along the edge of the arena, he kept to the creatures left side, not easy the way it was thrashing about. It had also taken to pounding its tail into the sand, kicking up dust all around it and sending tremors through the ground beneath his feet. That tail was still deadly, even without the spikes. If it came down on him it would surely crush him, so he had to avoid it, stay out of its reach until the last moment. He also couldn’t let it calm down or start thinking straight – it was in pain, suffering perhaps for the first time in its short little life. It didn’t know how to respond, what to do, so it was merely reacting, unlike the calculating predator he’d watched kill two score men as if they were no threat at all. He surely did not want that beast to return.
His mind was tracking that tail now, recognizing how it twisted opposite the way it was about to strike. When he saw that it was about to strike opposite him, he waited only until it began to arc up before dashing forward. He’d already dismissed the thought of trying to off-balance it somehow, perhaps slamming into its knee, knowing that, as large as he was, his mass was nothing compared to the beast. He doubted such an attack would do anything besides further break what was already broken inside his own body. No, instead, he knew his attack on the soft flesh must continue. It was the only vulnerable spots on this creature he could exploit.
So instead of leaning into his mad dash as he approached the creatures flank, he leapt up, foot landing on the exposed thigh like a step, thrusting him higher, sword held like a dagger. He flew up, the beast turning at his touch, clawed hands slashing for him while his sword found its mark, the soft, fleshy area to the side of its face where the ear slits were. Hot lighting scored his chest but the sword sank further and further, fueled by his momentum. Soon he was falling forward, the beast beneath him, his own hands slipping from the hilt of his sword as they disappeared in a cloud of dust, dirt and blood.
# # #
Jlian fought the urge to gasp as she waited for the dust to settle. Opposite her, the Witch King sat silent on his throne. She was certain it was her imagination playing tricks, that his red eyes were not, in fact, glowing brighter than they had when she first looked upon him.
Her brother was a troublesome man, moreso than most knew. Life would be considerably less exciting were he to settle down. Still, his performance today – he had out done himself. Never had she seen such a thing. It would be fitting for the dust to clear and she to find both the beast and her dear brother locked in death’s embrace arm in arm. She would not put it past him to do such a thing to her, though he would argue that she is no victim to his heroics.
Looking around the arena, the crowd’s mood had drastically changed. Used to slaughter, a real fight had never occurred to them. Many sat stock still, mouths agape, eyes wide, but more paid little or no attention to the battle, instead staring to the Witch King, awaiting his reaction.
Jlian worried about that as well.
A groan reached her ears and she looked down. Her brother was staggering away from the beast, its body still twitching, his sword planted firmly in its skull. She shook her head, amazed. No wonder she’d been tasked with his care all those years ago. He truly was destined for great things.
“I have killed your beast,” he wheezed, hand pressing against his side. Frowning, she wondered what sort of damage had been done there. “There it lies,” he waved a hand. “The prize is mine.”
Everyone waited. Jlian found herself going through various spells she might incant and rejecting them, one by one, as far too weak. Nothing in her arsenal would prove effective against someone of the Witch King’s power. Still, she could destroy his arena, perhaps cause damage to his city. She would have only one chance, so she chose to target the city, quickly weeding away anything that would take too long to cast. Once the With King began his incantation, she would have mere seconds to cast her own before he was free to counter her again.
“So you have.” The Witch King’s voice filled the arena. “The prize is yours.”
Where the pyramid of gold rested on the pedestal, the leather satchel returned. Divorak stepped up, one eye on the Witch King, the other on the satchel, and lifted it from its perch. Looking inside, he smiled up at the dais, retrieved his sword and returned to Jlian.
# # #
Jlian Spoke the Word of Healing, and Divorak found it much easier to breath.
“What about the arm?” he asked. It felt broken, but not badly. He could still move the fingers of his right hand, though they were numb.
“Later,” she whispered. “I need to rest.” To punctuate this, Jlian curled up next to the fire, closed her eyes and began to snore.
Divorak counted to three before asking the night, “Why did you let us live?”
The Witch King, looking no taller than any other man, stepped from the darkness and took the log opposite him. “Because you expected me to kill you,” he answered, voice hushed. It was odd to him that this creature would speak so like his sister, careful not to use his Voice.
“She did not sense you,” he said, pointing his chin at his sleeping sister.
“She did not.”
“Come for your gold back, then?” Divorak asked, casting a furtive glance at his sister while shaking the satchel, the gold inside clinking mutely. She appeared to be dead asleep. Healing did that to her. He tried to will her eyes to open but it did not work. Sighing, he replaced the satchel on the ground before him and stared across the fire at their new guest.
The Witch King sat silent. As that silence drew on, Divorak wondered if perhaps both magic users were now asleep. Still, the Witch King’s eyes burned red, fixed upon him, unblinking. For his part, Divorak was tired and more than content to wait until the King found his voice again. It took some time.
“You may keep it,” he said at last.
Divorak decided not to say the first thing that came into his head. Instead, he thought on it, inclined his head and said, “Thank you.”
“Do not thank me, Divorak of Ghul,” hissed the King. Divorak blinked at the naming of his home village. “I said you may keep the gold. You may also lose it, this very night.”
“So,” he grimaced. “I knew you would come to fight me.”
The Witch King did another thing that Divorak did not expect, he laughed. It was a merry thing, full of mirth, the sound of which should never have come from such a creature. Slapping hand to knee, the Witch King, amused, leaned back upon his log. “I should pay another hundred crowns for that alone. I cannot remember the last time I laughed so. You are a rare man, Divorak of Ghul. Pity.”
“Pity?” Divorak asked.
“Aye. For, though you slew my beast in fair combat, you failed to slay her children.” A sudden, high pitched screech rent through the air, quickly followed by another and another. Divorak jumped to his feet, head twisting back and forth, trying to pinpoint where they were. He thought perhaps a mile away, southeast of where they now sat.
“Why do you grin?” the Witch King asked.
Divorak, picking up his sword, realized that he was, in fact, grinning like a fool. This time he did not hesitate to say the first thing that came into his head and was glad for it, because the Witch King seemed taken aback.
“Because. This should be fun!”