[Flashback] The Bone Hunter (Act II)

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Encompassing a vast wilderness filled with flora and fauna of immense proportions, the Northern Reaches include all the Talderian Forest north of the Suvan and stretch into the vast permanent tundra and ice fields outside Avanthal.

[Flashback] The Bone Hunter (Act II)

Postby Ulric on December 3rd, 2011, 3:49 pm

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61st of Winter, 504 AV

The day was clear, a vastly azure sky, broken by stray wisps of cloud, partly confused by the tangle of splaying, creaking branches. Everywhere, the drifts were unruly, claws of ice clasping the branches. The trunks were gray, densely clutching ranks of slender, flaky birches, bushy firs and spruces, and somber pines, lost in the jut of rocky menhirs. These sprawled over the abrupt ridges, the perilous gorges. They were in turn dwarfed by the bleakly milky peaks. To every side, they forked as a huge, consuming serpent, the whisper of an unspoken menace. The fangs of winter gnawed at their bones, rending through layers of fur, leather, and wool, the hush broken by the mocking cacophony of crows, a distant howl of wolves.

And yet, they endured.

Ulric clasped the bow, broad shoulders tense, nerves scraping as he reached for the quiver hanging at his hip. He knelt just under a crest, powder swept away from jagged rocks, eyes darkly smoldering. They were down there. The deer, just a meager few. Their coats nearly melting into the trunks as they clustered at the frozen creek, breaking the icy cover so they lap at the turgid waters. “Gently,” hushed Einar, the words a swirling cloud of vapor. “We fire together.” Ulric gave a nod. Though it won’t do any good, he thought bleakly, reached for a barbed shaft. It was clumsy in his fingers, so he jerked off his gloves, took hold again. The fletching was gray, adhered by a foul glue, and tapered at the end.

Not crooked, though. At least the pinch of his thumb and forefinger was steady. He brought the shaft up to the taut string, drawing slowly back, as he’d been taught so recently. He stared down the ridge, trying to focus on the buck, the tan patch between neck and shoulder. The splayed barbs would cast over it for an instant, and then sway, tracing a madly wavering design over the trunks. Does slowing my pulse even matter? He couldn’t see a disparity. That was partly because his vision was blurring. He tersely closed his eyes, let the string go slack, and drew it back to the crook of his shoulder. There wasn’t any grace, just a raw, confused creak of the bow. He clasped it clumsily, kept trying to twist it over so the barbs lay on top of the yellow leather grip. Don’t, he snarled, for he was sure it would turn ineptly in his fingers, chafing the skin from his knuckles.

“Ready?” Einar said lowly. Ulric just gave a grunt. Let’s get this over with, he cursed. They crept up further over the rocky crest. The antlered head leapt up, and even from afar he could discern the prick of its ears, the fear in frantic eyes. That wasn’t a good sign. “Now!” Einar let fly, yet Ulric, not quite so deft, held on a bit longer. The barbs swayed madly, such that he just let the shaft thrum through the trunks, sinking into a drink far, far away from the buck. Shyke.

Ulric reached for his quiver, fumbling for another shaft. Though the puny herd bounded away, he saw the buck stagger, the other man’s shaft poking from the base of a long, tawny neck. Then it tumbled. Einar fired again, shaving a shred of bark from a trunk. Then their prey faded away.

“Come on,” Einar grunted, jerking over the rocks. Ulric lowered his bow, the barbed shaft scraping back into his quiver. By now, his red, cracked fingers were badly numb. He chafed them together, reached for his gloves.

Far off, there was the quork of a raven, a mournful, somber clarion. Do you ever wonder? Ulric bent his head, scraping the patchy beard against his shoulder, and began pick his way down the slope. He was careful to reach for the trunks, for boulders, anything to offset the treacherous drifts, the sheer plunge of the slope as it tapered to a gorge. Do you ever dream? Do you ever make out shapes in the flames? The contours of forlorn faces, limned by fiery wrinkles, a cacophony of coins, a jumble of bones, skewering our doubts with undying, yet bereft portents. They don’t bid with us, you see. They vanish swiftly, for there is more to our torment than raw, bloody hunks of flesh, the reek of your feathers. There are chains. They flay at our backs, forged by despair, to an elegy of unabashed, fiendish laughter.

Below, they found the buck splayed over a drift, legs tangled. How undignified, Ulric thought, watching as Einar drew the curved edge of a knife under that vaguely pulsating throat. Heaving a sigh, he saw the beast jerk one more, the flanks rising and falling with a grim finality, its eyes clouded by a dull sheen. The fur was stiff and dark, spread over a puddle of crimson. He knelt, tracing a finger through the powder, entranced by the stark contrast, the whorls fading, covered over. And then, after the scourge of a lash, it is done.

“You let your elbow drop,” Einar grunted, carving at the fold of fur under the scant neck, so he could jerk out his shaft.

Bones grated.

“So?” Ulric forced his way through a path of raking briars, holding the bow over his head so it wouldn’t get caught. He found his own arrow, cursing when he saw the shaft had broken.

“Don’t.”

“Fair enough,” he growled, breaking the barbed head off so he could thrust it under his furs. Every scrap of metal was precious. There wasn’t any more to be had, at least until the thaw. And if the frost sunders our swords, he thought dourly, we’ll be ravening with tooth and nail, just as the beasts we’ve become.

“Not much meat on him.” Einar stood back to regard the buck. Ulric joined him presently. Every pace he took was a crunch, the drifts, covered by tiny abatis of twigs, yielding under his boots.

“Meat is meat,” he gave a shrug.

Einar just shifted uneasily, gazing off through the ranks of trunks. Ulric slung the bow over his left shoulder, and then, reaching for the skinny legs, he hauled up the lank burden of fur, flesh, and bone. “Come, let’s go,” he spoke, “Before the day fades.”

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[Flashback] The Bone Hunter (Act II)

Postby Ulric on December 3rd, 2011, 9:55 pm

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They moved rapidly, traversing the stony crags, the undulating ridges, and descending into broken gorges. The gray, slick granite was sheathed with a coating of pale green moss, veined with purple lichens. Icy fingers tapered from ledges, frigid tears beading turgidly on their tips, yet everywhere, the rocks were crusted by drifts. The grasp of winter did not relent. The wind kept lashing their faces, skirling through the gorge, forged into a frayed, mournful murmur. “Do you see?” Einar halted, knelt by the water’s edge. Ulric glanced at the blotchy mirror. Us, you mean? He fought back the urge to break through with a cruel laugh, a stamp of his foot, lashing away the wraiths that haunted him in from those unrelenting depths. “Look,” Einar spoke again, holding up a milky sprig, nearly indiscernible to his eyes from where curling buds rose from the snowy carpet. “Edarled.”

“So?” Ulric grunted, bereft. “Do you mean us to chew on leaves?” With a shrug of weary muscles, he forced the carcass higher on his shoulder, bow scraping on his calf.

“You’d be a fool, then,” Einar retorted. “Even a tiny leaf, when brewed into a tea, is enough to upset your gut. Use a few more, and you’d be choking up your own, bloody shyke. Deadly stuff, that.” Bearded face curled into a wry, angular grin, he cast it away from him, stood.

“Don’t like tea,” Ulric snorted, though he made certain to take a good look at the herb, lest he encounter it near where he drank.

“Just a few, and it’s over,” Einar kept on, brow furrowing, rasping slyly, nearly desperately. “There’d be no hearing, no knowing – we could go away, depart this insanity.”

“For what?” Ulric’s laugh was harsh, rumbling from the depths of his chest, snot furling from the corners of his nose. “You speak of insanity, but what do you know of yourself, brother?”

“Enough, brother. Einar snarled. “Enough.” They spoke no longer, just walked. They were both entangled by skeins of an insipid betrayal, the grate of a knife between ribs. But fear ran deeper.

Tel Kanor, the squat keep of rafters and beams, whose smoky hearth was their only bulwark from the icy fist of winter, was waiting for their return, though behind a gap in the hedge of crude, sharpened logs, heaps of tumbled rock. “Back, finally,” growled Grim, leaning higher on his spear. He spat a gob of phelgm, nearly smearing the faded scrap of cloth that was nearly flayed to rags. “Bastards.”

“Prick.” Ulric chuckled at Grim, casting a sidelong glance at Einar. “We’re not sharing, eh?” The jape just went through deaf ears. He flung the carcass away, and then, cracking his knuckles, trudged to grasp Ingvar’s eager forearm, return a nod from Agnar.

“They just grace us with red grins.” Einar took hold of an antler, cursing as his glove slid over the bony ridges, and headed for the fire. Agnar frowned, but presently his blackened, crooked grin returned.

“Huh, what crawled up his arse?”

“Nothing.” Ulric turned, ducking under the flap of hide, and was instantly swept up by gloom. He just bided for a moment, waiting for his eyes to adjust as he stared at bright tongues of flame, snaking up from a carpet of red ember worms, the contours of faces. Knute and Thord, scraping at furs, poking holes with an awl carved of bone, drying long, thin hanks of leather. For boots, he knew, sparing a glance at his own, rag-swathed legs. There were cuts of dark, smoked meat hanging from the rafters, though not very many, heaps of furs by the corner, near a tower of logs.

“Back, are we?” Knute glanced up, absently scratching at the iron-gray beard that covered his sharp jaw.

“And in one piece, too,” Ulric jerked off his gloves, displayed his numb, splayed fingers.

“Don’t mock me, lad.” Knute scowled, began to reach for his sword, only to snarl as his elbow gave a crack. “Shyke,” he snarled, clutching at the ache as though he could wring it away.

“Don’t ask, then,” Ulric gave a snort, “If you’ve the evidence of your own eyes, old man. Knute shut his pale, bleary eyes for a moment, then reached for a scrap of hide.

“Can’t let me have any fun, can you?”

Thord just grunted, shaking his head. “Fun,” he rasped, twirled an awl over his fingers, deftly probing at the furs. “Fun,” he repeated, brow furrowing as though confused.

“Fun.” Ulric gave a shrug. Play, you foul pipers, for we won’t lay down. Play, you harpers, and sing our elegy, for we defy the winter. Far away, the bones bide for us, caught by the jealous embrace of rock. The raven is our harbinger.

“Fun?” Knute struck his knee with a clenched fist. “Shyke on your fun,” he waved at the rafters, nearly lost in the press of smoke. “Shyke on your pride. Shyke on the world, eh?” There was a thwap, a furling of hide, and then Agnar was among them, bearing a joint of raw, bloody meat.

“Shyke on everybody but us,” he growled, making for the fire, where a bare, charred skewer waited. “We’ve fought for years, trudging through the muck beside their wagons, their carts, eating their shyke, choking on bad food, trying to pretend the ugly slut we’re petching is young again, with tits that don’t sag to her cunt. Yes, shyke on them,” he spat a gob of phlegm, his face harsh, yet mocking.

The flames hissed.

“And for what?” Knute leaned back. “Regrets?”

“The agony of old, puckered, festering scars, and a fervent vow to bide ‘til our return, though we are always forlorn,” murmured Thord, and then more forcibly, “Shyke on them.”

“They forget us,” Agnar snarled. “They don’t care. They don’t see, they won’t hear, but by the gods, they die just as easy as us.” Ulric put a hand on his shoulder, stared deeply into his eyes, and forced a nod. I know.

Red-Eye shows us the way.

“Shyke on them,” he broke in, “Shyke on their betrayal, and shyke on their black hearts.” We, the scum on the sole of your boot, the rats that have crawled from the canals, the dirty docks, do not kneel any longer. Here there is no power in your grand rhetoric, or your coffers, the broken slaves that cringe under your jealous coveting. Here there is just the clarity of your wits, the heft of your sword, your resolve to endure. Here, a man is defined by what he does, not whose arse he licks.

Do you hear us roar?


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[Flashback] The Bone Hunter (Act II)

Postby Ulric on December 26th, 2011, 4:04 pm

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Through the debris of rocks, the yawning, pewter gorge swept by tongues of cloying fog, he trudged by icy waters, a grim set to his jaw. Rust, he grunted. Rust. He swept by gray, spiny firs, tenaciously clutching at sheer banks, by the towering menhirs, squat boulders rimed by frost, raggedly erupting from the swift gray current. None to be found. The wind was in his ears, under his furs, making him shiver. He hunched over, kept trudging. By now, he’d given up on fear. He was weary, and the cold no longer a stranger banging at the door. Let it take me, he growled, defiant. He chafed his fingers together, numbly snug in their bays of fur, then clasped at his bow, counting the shafts in his quiver. Four. Taking the higher way so he wouldn’t risk tumbling into the icy waters, he wended through spurs of rough, gray-green granite, by a stray, umber trunk, rigidly leaning over the rocks. He leapt a break in the rock, blankly tapering. There was a jumble of broken twigs. The gleam of tiny bones, bereft. The husk of an acorn. Meager fare, he grunted, leaping another gash, shoving through a hedge of thorns. He began to move swiftly, in a hush. His knuckles were raw, the dry, tight skin cracking to form pink, gaping ravines. His face was caked with grime, whorled by faded, sooty smears.

But he kept going.

Rust.

Dourly, the gorge began to widen. He found the sprawl of a trunk, dead bark carving away in pale fibers, except near knots of fungi, strange to his jaded eyes. Dubiously, he regarded their flat peaks, squat shafts, spurned them. He began to trudge away, lowering under a fir that had bent awry. Under, there was a carpet of scant, ruddy needles, a tinge of sharply redolent sap. The crunch of cones, broken. Ha. He knelt, bided for a long instant, caught by the uncanny serenity. He traced a finger through the dry carpet, his world tersely shrinking. Decaying leaves, he frowned, Decaying flesh, a whisper crept into the bones of the earth, forlorn. That’s where we’re going, not what we are. The trunks shudder, crumble. The result of our paltry dreams. They’re just a murmur, the grinding of tawdry bronze gears. The beating of tawny wings, rising up to the sun. The smear of wax, petrifying on a seal.

Rust, on a plow.


Ulric rose, to a sullen creak of joints, the wry scar of a grimace over his face. He began to clamber again, the river far below him now, a grim furl of ribbon that snaked through the gorge. He was careful now, dark eyes scrying for a shelf of rock, broad ledges dangled by mossy beard. Don’t look, he thought, wedging the bow over his shoulder, but he did, anyway. The slope crept up, juts of meager, scraping crags, vaguely crusted by frost. He forced worn, rag-wrapped boots against their jut, fingers clenching at hanks of purple heather, a shrapnel of broken gravel. The axe’s haft caught around his thigh, making him grunt. He tore it away, began scaling the rocks again, pink tongue probing around a shaky incisor. There was a rattle in his lungs, a cloud of vapor before his eyes. The grate of a foot, scraping over dirt.

Fear.

Sordidly, he clung to his perch, one leg flung out over a spur of rock, mashing his cheek on the lichen. Steady, he thought, chest heaving in a shiver, and he forced himself to tear his eyes from the plunge. He began to clamber over the boulders. Even then, his body was taut, sorely beset by dread, until he rose over the spur, and trudged back to the turgid waters. Doesn’t matter, he grated. Doesn’t matter.

There was a shriek of crows. The ragged beat of wings. Not yet, he frowned, scouring the lead-gray sky, and reaching under his furs, he halted tersely. He swept out leather skin, drank deeply. He unslung the bow, used one end to break the frost by the river’s edge, and knelt.

And then, he saw her.

Her, leaning by a knuckle of granite, nearly masked by a vast menhir plunging up from the ropes of fog. Her body clad in furs, wisps of pale, spiky hair over her brow, straying from the knots of her braids. Hard, but fair, he grunted, surveying her spear, the leather thongs that hung from her neck, around fetishes of worked bone, horn, and tusk, banded by copper, a fragment of purple quartz. “You,” he grunted, for lack of anything finer to say.

She gave a snort, flung back her hair. “She said you’d come,” she spoke, with a flash of indigo eyes. She drew nearer, crinkling her crooked nose, taking in his furs, his worn gear, his dark eyes. Curious. He found that, though slender, she wasn’t much shorter than he was. “You look like shyke.”

“Happens.”

“You smell of shyke.” Her eyes, steely. Her voice, harsh. She expects more, he frowned. But why?

“Probably.”

“You’re him, though,” she spoke in a whisper, crowding him. “You’re him.” Her tone was raw, clumsy, but he began to stir. He stared into her eyes. Her breath was warm, wet on his bare neck. He didn’t falter, just kept staring, confused and clasping at the haft of his axe. His nerves cried out from the tepid force of her gaze, her vast presence. Her fingers rose, tracing the edge of his jaw under the whiskers, a thumb deftly moving over his chin. “You kept us waiting.”

Ulric just gave a grunt, vaguely felt as though insects were crawling over his face. “Don’t,” he snarled, making to tear her hand away, but she just wound her fingers through his own, jerking the web of their bones and flesh against her furs. He didn’t defy her, much. Her eyes drew him down, as a moth to a flame. Not sultry, just plain, wanting to speak to a higher end, but he saw that her tongue defied her, the conceit of meaning laughing away in a swirl of cinders. Her face was strewn by discord. He was uneasy, but he just knew.

“Why?” He flung the query at her, as if it was a lash. Why, as the embers slowly fade, do we peer into the depths, to the red coals, and think of the vagaries of a cloven dream, the broken whispers of the past. Why, when night springs eternal, do we cower in the empty dark? Dreadly hearing, fearing, the heart weary, yet our eyes don’t close. They shear through our betrayal.

Rust.

That’s why.

Vaguely, she forced a gesture, the spear leaning back against her shoulder. “Must you ask?” Her hand jerked away, and she began to depart, dancing over the smooth, green stones bearing smears of verdigris, a finger to beckon him away. Her receding form chafed at his doubts, making him wonder. You know what I don’t, he frowned, but it wasn’t just that herding him in her wake. The earthy cloud of musk rose up to chain him. The rush of her pulse. The cloying sway of her narrow hips. He wanted her. He was but a husk, his soul given to the hunt for bones, a sprawl of gray ashes over the snowy peaks, but he wanted her. He didn’t care for his fear. He was in a waking dream.

Fever?

They were alone, but for the rocks, the somber trunks, the thunder of water, yet together in the swirl of fog.

Rust away, pipers.

Rust away.


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[Flashback] The Bone Hunter (Act II)

Postby Ulric on January 25th, 2012, 2:28 pm

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They went, over boulders, through ridges of rock that just sloughed away. The way was treacherous, as ever. The stones were slippery, the strands of spiny moss whirled by the water, a jumble of twigs at every breach in the rocks. The jetsam of harsh gusts, cruel tempests. They were soaked, yet buoyed up by a somber vow of escape. The hangers on of the forest. The victims of inexorable decay. So tiny, yet together they hold back the water. Ulric barely gazed at them, for he’d a tautness in his chest, a question of urgency. The cryptic fog, of words and broken gorge, the spear and its augury beyond. They were somber, yet vapid in their density. He craved answers.

“You’re one of them,” he grunted, raspy. “You, the others. You came from over the tundra.” She turned back, the head of her spear probing lower, to flip over a brown, decaying branch. That slender body curving up, taut like a bow, the harder core covered by soft furs.

“No longer.” The turgid waters yielding to a harsh, tapering gorge, leading up and away, to hunched peaks. They were like a spine, rising in desolate clarity. They sundered the sky, made the winds scatter. There were tracks in the ground, a path vaguely widening. The shelves of rock, bridged by heaps of powder.

Ulric bent lower, dark eyes scouring over the tracks, seeing the part of cloven hoofs, larger than a deer, or an elk. He knew they were from the passing of a goat, mostly from the ember tales of his youth, drowsing by roaring fires, or defiantly huddled under a frigid winter’s sky. He swept his palm over one, just to obscure it from his eyes. Gone, he gave a wry grin. “Ulric,” he spoke, staying in his crouch. “That was the name my father gave me. The gods didn’t hear.” Then he spared her a wayward glance, jerking his jaw at the clacking slivers of tusk, the motley beads. “There’s much in a name. They make your foes quaver. They make your lovers pray for the hush of night. They’re us, and yet just a whisper.” They are what we forget. They’re the smears on dry, flaky parchments, crumbling away under leather covers. The only things we know. The only way we’ll find out who we’ve become. “You have one?”

Harshly, the gusts furled her hair. Her lips parted, the pink tip of a tongue gently tracing over. “Veya,” she reacted, then went to take his shoulder, drawing him up to her. “You shouldn’t linger.” Ulric felt her breath hot on his face, the hard edges of her nose jutting. He gave a frown.

“Why not?”

“You know why.” Veya broke away. “They come, and they come. The world is full of peaks and valleys, but you can never get away.” Her jaw tensed, and she broke away, her eyes colder than the gusts. He heard the creak of leather as her fingers went tight over the spear. “They come with swords, and axes, and coats of mail, trying to take what’s ours. They’ve got that hungry look in their eyes. The empty, jealous glares of men that want to rape, and destroy.” Nervously, she glanced at him, her confidence sloughing away. Ashes, he thought. Ashes always remain, but they won’t feed an empty belly. Ashes won’t bring back the dead.

“And my eyes?” Ulric trudged nearer, making his hugely armored, fur draped body loom over her, suddenly taken with the desire to cow her, and make her fear. “What do you see in them?”

Veya didn’t speak for a moment. Though her legs jerked, she kept her ground, eyeing him warily. “There’s more,” she hushed. “That’s why you’re here. The hunger is there, but it isn’t.”

“No?” Ulric grunted, fingers lashing out to close around her jaw, forcing her toward him. “That’s wrong. There’s only that. The hunger to carry you under a ledge, to tear your furs away and take you right there, just because I can.” He felt her body rigidly against him, yet she didn’t try to break away. He was sullen, angry. The coal black of his eyes met cinder gray.

“Why don’t you, then?” Veya groped at his trousers, hasty and scornful, her fingers finding only furs, and plates of leather. “You’re a man, aren’t you?” There was always that. The groans, the slap of haunches, but that wasn’t what she was driving at. No, she already knows, he scowled. There’s no going back. There never was.

“Perhaps.” Then he went quiet, the grip on her jaw falling away. The dark eyes peering over the gorge, spurs of gray, granular rock erupting from the hanging fog, like steps from the sky. “That cunt of yours could be mine, but for what? The squirt of seed, The deadening of aching desire? There’s no meaning to it, you see. There’s no reason to bother. The day breaks, yet I’m always here, hunting for the bones of some old, dead warrior.”

Veya trudged away, with the barest brush of a nod. Ulric stayed there for a long instant, then went to her side, using a nearly eroded snare of spiny roots to wrench himself over a low ridge. “That’s why,” she spoke softly. “The way you talk, it’s as if you’re in a dream. There’s more to you than eating, petching, and fighting, even if you’d pretend that’s all you are.” Ulric’s jaw clenched, for he was confused by how a woman he’d never even seen could speak like this, persuade him from his searching for a foray into the unknown.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.” Veya gave only the barest of rejoinders, scantly more than a meager blanket over his shivering fears. They went over the rocks, probing for crevices, grasping at the protruding knuckles, hauling each other up. The gray firs were fled, and now there were only crusts of snow, regular scraps of furze, sharp, red branches, and orangey smears on the boulders.

And then, he did see, for beyond the ridge, just over the juncture of two gorges, was the squat form of a circular hut. He glanced over it, seeing how it was mostly just lowly heaped rock, with timbers lashed over the roof, bracken poking up from clumps of the bluish powder. There was a curl of smoke, and a long, low hump that he suspected was yet another structure, though he wasn’t sure. “You live there?”

Veya gave a grunt. “No, just a woman.” Hardly enough, he thought, growing weary of their game. There was a pause, a change to regain shaky legs.. Then she began to clamber down the ridge.

Ulric didn’t take heed. He just turned away from the gusts, biding on the crest. “Veya, we won’t be the last,” he growled after her. “There are always more of us. That’s not why we’re here, though.” That took her like a bodkin in the shoulder, making her fists bunch, her neck taut. Her eyes were soft, yet the glamour was gone from her voice, the sway of her body.

“Come on,” she frowned, “Can’t you see that we’re nearly there?”

“Why,” Ulric told her, “If you want me to go with you, just say why.” Veya’s face began to twist, though not in anger. She’s reluctant, he thought, watching her return.

“There’s the way of my betrayal, you see. That’s why.”

“Betrayal?” He glared at her, fingers clenching around the haft of his axe, only to grasp that she was speaking, as ever, of matter that didn’t pertain directly to him. Her words were circuitous, defying his reason.

“The spear-” she began to say, and suddenly he just knew.

“Goren Rath.”

“You knew? Veya’s face went sour. “The breaker of men wants you, surely, but not yet. There are some of us that don’t want it to come to pass, but not many.” Ulric gave a nod, for the certainly had always been in his chest. For as ever, the fever was coursing through his body, his dreams of the char of bones. He’d heard the howls over the ridges, through the trunks.

“We’re ever shaped by war.” And there it was, flung idly from his lips. “Were you there, you’d have known, too,” he grunted, thinking back to that day when Red-Eye and Rath had clasped arms, and vowed to do no harm. “There was never a worse deceit than harmony. They came, and I merely looked into his eyes. That’s all I needed to figure that it would end this way.”

Veya’s braid bumped against her shoulders. “Hunthar is reluctant, dourly counting the days until you leave our lands. His belly is huge, his jowls wobbly, and he barely remembers his spear, but he’s not a bad leader. He frets, and drives us to worry. He won’t deny the fury, though.”

And then we fight. Ulric gave her a wry grin, saw her twitch slightly, eyes jerking away. “You’d betray your people, then,” he grunted, only making her angry.

“Never,” she spat. “I only desire to save them, and you. It must surely come to woe, for your comrades will only perish by our spears, while my people, too, must suffer badly. I don’t want that.”

Ulric bit his lip, staring over the peaks. He didn’t know what he was doing here. He only wanted to go back. He was sick, deep in his heart. “Veya, what d’you want of me?

The empty gusts were his only answer.

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[Flashback] The Bone Hunter (Act II)

Postby Ulric on January 30th, 2012, 11:44 pm

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Harshly, the tongues of smoke caught in his chest. He coughed, eyes red, bleary as they adjusted to the gloom, the ember worms in their cage of sundry rocks. The hut was smaller than it seemed from the ridge. There were low, broad benches around the edges, a scatter of furs, tools of antler and iron, clay jars whose contents were of myriad colors, motley consistencies, and tended to reek. There were strings of tiny onions dangling from the roof, turnips, warped strips of jerky, bundles of withered roots, bunches of desiccated herbs, creating a dense, cloying odor. He nearly gave a shudder, taking in the bone carvings, richly done; the sooty pot that hung over the fire, making his mouth water. Having departed the frigidity of the peaks, he was uneasy in the sultry heat of the hut, making his legs sticky, beads of sweat form on his brow.

“You’ve come.” The speaker rose, languidly from a bench. Ulric just gave a grunt, studying her. She was a shorter woman, her curves displayed by a scanty robe fastened by leather thongs down the sides, affording him a vantage of the feral, inky whorls tracing over her shoulder, snaking down the tawny cage of her ribs. The plume of her hair was jet, her eyes a hazy violet. Her cheeks were broad, sloping to a camber of jaw, soft where the other woman was tense.

Veya drew nearer. “Kyal,” she whispered in his ear. “She’s the crone that wards these peaks.”

“She doesn’t look it.”

Kyal gave a laugh. “Don’t be so eager to judge. There are girls that are just plain unlucky. That’s me. They had a crone, but she was dying. That’s what the shrunken bitches always do, though they cling stubbornly to life, mostly to plague us. I mean, me. That’s how they’re made, closed up by the jaws of the world, with only a warty crone for company.” Her feet were bare, and now they moved closer. He heard a sigh catch in her chest. “Enough to drive you mad.”

Ulric flung his bow away, began to unfasten the clasp at his throat, draping the heavy cloak over a bench. “What d’you want?”

“You already know.” Kyal was already there, taking the quiver away, working on the straps of his shield. “Ulric, I was swept away by a dream of you last night, an augury of who you are. I’d just woken to find you waiting there, cradling a dead crow as fiery ruin consumed the forest. I went to you, and you held me closer than I’d ever been held. I jerked your furs away, just like this, and-”

Now that’s unexpected.

“Kyal,” hissed Veya.

“Rode me?” Ulric bluntly forced her away, clasping the fingers that sought to slither into his trousers. He wanted her, that much was plain, but he was wed to the bones. He just wasn’t there. “I don’t remember.”

“You’d deny me?” Kyal was abruptly sulky, jaded by her lone vigil over the peaks. A lock of hair furled over her face, and she swept it away. “You don’t know what it’s like, having to spend your entire life up here, away from anything but melting frost and mildewy herbs, throwing bones just for the petch of it. There’s nothing here. There’s just me and the hut. There are days when I’m so weary, I just fling myself down and cry my eyes out. That’s your fault. There’s other no way of dealing with the despair.”

That’s probably why they all become such bitches.

“You don’t have to stay,” Ulric grunted. “You could just leave.” That seemed plain enough, but he’d learned long ago that seeming was different from being. That begs the query, is it better to flay away the folly erupting from our burdens of calumny and deceit, or to drag through those murky waters? That’s our tragedy. Though we want, we don’t take. Though we’re hurt, we don’t speak. There’s no way of making it simpler. There no way of changing who we are, but maybe if we’re brave enough to clasp at our fears, we can forge above this fog.

They wouldn’t comprehend, though. They’d never see the inky canals through his eyes. Veya laced her fingers over his shoulder, drawing him away. “No, she can’t.” The voice was sturdy, but he didn’t care. There was no sense in any of this, no sense in anything people did.

Pervaded by defiance, he lashed at her.

“Why not?”

Veya gave a shrug, hesitant, nearly wilting under his smoldering gaze. Kyal just flounced away, lying down on a bench with her calves bent back, her feet jerked toward the smoggy flap in the rafters. Her face plunged into the furs, stifling her reply. If there was any. Veya took a long glance at her, and then turned back to Ulric. “Rath.” That was it, infused with all the dread power of a name. Then terse, brooding quiet. The sundering of old scars. He regarded both women, the skin beside his eyes crinkling, brow vaguely furrowing as though confused.

“So?” There was no sympathy in his surly rejoinder, the query jutting loudly. That was his way. The japery of words, the tiny gestures, they just weren’t him. They’d betray him, anyway.

“Rath is a proud man, and hardly ever defied,” Veya began. “There are few of us that aren’t under his sway. There isn’t a man he hasn’t defeated. The poles of his hut creak with the sheer burden of his cravings, which are mostly for power. That’s why he fought to give Kyal away, because she’d be just another pair of hands to carry out his bidding. That’s why he’d never let her go,” she clasped at his shoulder, so hard that he winced. “Not ever.”

Ulric gave a frown, bluntly staring at Kyal, or more purposely the shapely curves of her thigh, and then back at Veya. “You’re implying, then,” he spoke slowly, “That she’s his sister.”

“May he rot,” Kyal jerked up her head, crawling from her heaps of pelts to vainly kick at the coals. They flared ever so briefly. Veya reached over, flung on another chunk of timber.

“Nobody gains,” she hushed. “Nobody ever will, if you fight. There’s wounds that never close. There’s just agony, and death to guide you through the gates. The swirl of cinders blinds you.”

“Probably,” he grated, “Though the crows are ever eager, they’d only find me stringy.”

Veya’s eyes grew harder. “You’d jape about this?”

“Why not?” There’s a certainty for you. The grim vagaries of demise, they differ but stay the same. They don’t go away. There’s nothing for it, but to laugh, and defy those that make you fear. The last, racking sigh is the worst, engulfed by despair, crushed by keenly somber regrets, but at least you’ve fought. That’s all we can do, really. There’s no way of running forever.

Doesn’t matter who you are, lads. Doesn’t care what you’ve done, or what you’re going to do. There may be a glint of promise, but that doesn’t mean shyke when you’ve got a spear heading for your chest. Fly or die, take your pick. Don’t mean anything to me.

Kyal rose, cuffing at her livid eyes. They skewered him, tinged amethyst in their urgency. “Turn away. There’s no reason for you to stay,” she sulked, her words nearly a whisper. “There’s no reason you need to die.”

“But there is,” Ulric gave a shrug. “There’s s’posed to be a cave in these peaks, and a parcel of bones. That’s why we’ve got to stay.”

“Bones?” Kyal laughed harshly. Her lips were thin wedges, betraying her contempt, her confusion. Maybe even despair, he thought sourly, just as her tirade began. “The world is full of bones. They’re there, lurking just under the frost. The gray, grimy spars, slowly ground to a gritty meal that’s later squashed, and crushed so badly that it forms boulders. There’s bones for you, the bones of the earth, back up to defy the sky.” Her round shoulders gave a jerk. “There’s plenty of bones. They’re just there. They aren’t flesh, they can’t swing a sword, can’t bear a babe in the worst of winter. They’re nothing.”

“They’re not just bones,” he growled, leather armor creaking as his muscles bunched, the coals of his eyes blazing. “They’re what I’ve got left, y’see. The bones. They’re far away, but I’ve got to delve as far as I can. They may not mean anything, but maybe, just maybe…”

Through the rising dark, the embers faded away.

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[Flashback] The Bone Hunter (Act II)

Postby Ulric on January 30th, 2012, 11:45 pm

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Ulric kicked up a spray of the powder, heavy boots sinking through to crunch on the stubborn crust. The snows were fewer. The howls of the wolves were always there, though. They starved. They’d left a bony sprawl by the river, yet another to perish from the cruel winter. There were fat pale worms in the ears, The greasy reek of decay, and of mangy fur. The skin had already burst, like crumbly parchment stretched over an empty cage of bones. The axe jangled against the clasps of his armor, the shield slung over his back, quiver trying to snare his legs. He clutched the bow as he crashed through the briars, drenched by a cold sweat.

The sky was jumbled, motley hues of charcoal, slate, and pewter broken by paler wisps. The boulders were always there, squat and uneven, looking so much like huge molars. The jut of an incisor was rarer. They were just a sprawl in the gorges, where gray waters slowly eroded the crags sloughing over the ridges through dense larches, spiny pines, and slender birches, ever driving for the coast. That world seemed very far away. The thought of so much water barely entered his ringing ears, for the colors were draining away.

Ulric felt their loss keenly, yet even then, he’d begun to forget how to feel. He was a man. He was the bringer of fire. He could think, but other than that, he was just trying to bide through the winter.

Tyrfing wouldn’t have cared. The hunter was wary. The gray of his eyes were always scouring, crawling over the swaying trunks, and the lumps of boulders crowned by white. They were like a lodestone. They shrieked out, and they found the boar. There were enough signs, surely. The scrapes, broad of hoof. Ulric was nearly consumed by the chase, the vapor hissing from his chest. He charged through the trunks, his legs were like bars of lead. Tyrfing wasn’t any better.

But they kept going. They couldn’t halt, not just yet. There were speck of blood in the powder. The crushed briars, caging their feet, tangling their bows. Ulric sought to go after the boar, but they were going so swiftly, he couldn’t pick out quite the right path. Tyrfing was just a blur. The hunter kept swerving abruptly, nearly vanishing behind spurs of brown-gray granite, a knot of spiny trees, and then he’d have to track yet another set of marks. He was faster, though. That kept him in range, though he’d always have to keep wary. The crashing of his pursuit rang out, with a snap of twigs, a raspy curse. That hank of brown hair forced up again, and then he was changing course, drawing up to the gasping hunter, charging by.

Drifts were red, the only color that wasn’t gray.

The boar was nearly spent. The flanks were heaving, the jut of a broken shaft from tough, bristly hide. Ulric broke from the trunks, reaching for his quiver. “Shyke,” he growled, tearing the glove away, for the boar was rumbling deep in its chest, beads of blood on its snout. The tusks began to waver. The hoofs scraped at the frost, though the beast was ready to drop. Take a few paces back, he clutched at a shaft, brought it up to the unsteady bow. The notches over the string, fingers cinching over the end. He jerked it back, ever so quickly, let fly. Twang. The shaft was already heading away. Too wide, too high. The boar gave a snort, vapor rising over its bead eyes, and charged. “Shyke.” Ulric flung away the bow, tearing the heavy axe from his belt. He began to whirl around, right leg snaking back to pivot as the boar neared. He could hear it coming, almost sense the blast of rancid vapor. Then, his shoulder were coming around, cracked lips curling into a feral snarl as he swept the axe’s edge around, taking the boar just beyond the ear. There was a sickening crunch. The jaws swung away, crazy ribbons of crimson lashing through the air, and then it was over. The ribs touched the powder, making the shaft snap again, and the boar spun over before lying prone.

Ulric closed his eyes. “Rest easy,” he growled, holding the axe lankly by his leg. The was a steady crash from the briars, ever louder, until the hunter erupted from beyond a boulder.

“Not bad,” Tyrfing gasped, though a frown came to his lips. The ring pommels of his swords were juts over his shoulders, rising up from a shaggy wolf’s pelt. He trudged over slowly, his cheeks ruddy, the beads of sweat already drying white on his brow. He drew a boning knife from his belt, began to cut out the shaft so the the head might be used again, glaring up all the while. Ulric just gazed at him warily. Yes, it was your shaft, you shyke. You’d think it wouldn’t matter. But he was already inured to the hunter’s pride, and he just didn’t give a shyke any longer.

“Well,” he grunted. Taking a knee, wiped the edge of his axe on the bristly hide. Nearer, he found that it was covered by scars. Though squat, it was heavy.

“Let’s rig it,” spoke Tyrfing. Ulric spared him a terse nod, then turned away. He looked around, finding a birch sapling, and cut through the slender trunk with a few, jerky swings. He clutched at it with his other hand, guiding the jumble of branches down to the frosty ground, then began to shear them away, creating a spar that they could carry between them. Tyrfing rose, taking a hank of rope from his pack, and sawed it in half, tying the boar’s legs together around the spar.

They’d nearly finished their albors when there was the discordant crack of a twig, breaking through the hush of the gray sky. Ulric drew back, flinging the large, round shield over his elbow, holding the axe just beside the rim as he perceived the first of the intruders. They were a handful, clad in furs, pieces of leather, their faces daubed with paint. They bore spears and viciously curved blades, and two of them had shaft already on their strings, directed at his chest.

Tyrfing’s swords were already scraping from their sheaths, and ugly sneer on his face. “What the petch?”

There was a harsh, raspy peal of laughter, and then a stocky warrior was pushing through the ring of men, bearing a pair of short, heavy hand axes, a livid grin. “These are our lands,” he scowled, regarding them with eyes black as coals, the ridge of his brow sundered by a milky scar. “These are our beasts.”

“Like shyke they are,” growled Ulric, though he knew the words were empty. They’ve already won, he thought bitterly. They’ll just take the boar away, and leave us hungry. Rage surged up in his chest, but he forced it back down, sucking in a deep, shake breath. Veya had warned him, and he only hoped they could get away with their skins intact. “Don’t see your mark on them.”

“There’s our mark,” coughed one of the archers, swiftly sending a shaft hissing into the boar.

“Yes, why don’t you shyke off,” the scarred man kept moving closer. Eyes glinting with menace, just daring them to fight.

Tyrfing didn’t care. “Those are hard words,” he snarled, “Even worse, coming from the lips of such a dirty cunt. If you try it, and I’ll slice out your petching liver, and fry it up with onions.” Ulric’s nerves screamed out for him to hurl his body aside, to come up swinging, but he just couldn’t. There were too many risks. They were at a disadvantage, and he wasn’t going to cast away both their lives. There’d be enough time for vengeance later. Tyrfing slowly moved forward, but before he’d gone more than a few pace, the shield crunched into his chest, making him grunt, stagger away.

“Not yet.” Ulric roughly gave him another push, forcing Tyrfing nearer to the ring’s edge. “There’s no use.” He kept the shield up, facing the archers. He half expected them to let fly, but they didn’t. They just let him walk away.

Trudging to the cacophony of laughter.

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[Flashback] The Bone Hunter (Act II)

Postby Ulric on January 30th, 2012, 11:46 pm

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The bowl bounced on the floor, daubing it with smears of acorn gruel. “You let them what? There was a hush, but for the howl of gusts through chinks in the timbers. The clacking of spoons ceased.

Ulric could only shrug. “They left us a choice. Thought you’d prefer your men back, instead of losing us and the boar.” Einar gave a frown. Agnar was picking at his beard, watching intently, and Ingvar looking away, scraping at the edge of his bowl. They fear.

“Shyke, we could’ve had ‘em,” Tyrfing grumbled, though softly. He was leaning in a corner, crafting an arrow to replace the shaft he’d lost earlier that day. Red-Eye wasn’t amused.

“That’s what you should’ve done,” he hissed. “That’s what I pay you for. Though that’s not why I’m angry. Do you imagine I cared about the boar? Then you’d surely be a fool. That’s just a piece of meat. They just took it from you, dared to take what’s mine, and for what? To display that they can? To make us cower, like young, wet girls?”

“They’ll pay,” rasped Grim.

“You’re damn right they’ll pay.” Red-Eye, enraged, reached for a hanging fur, jerking it from the rafters. The damp, drying skin, just draped near the tongues of flame, forcing Einar to haul it away. “They won’t get away with this trespass, nor any to follow. They can’t tar us with this perfidy. They’ll learn to fear us. They, and any others that get in my way.”

Knute perked up, his eyes red, bleary from the greasy coils of smoke. “We’re in for a reckoning, then.” He gave a cough.

Red-Eye barely gave him any notice, just swept out of the door, leaving them in a dismal, sulky quiet. “Didn’t you hear him?” Angar growled after a long instant. “We’re going to war, lads.” And of course, there wasn’t anything else to do. That was the way of things. They were hungry dogs, ready to rip, to bite, to crush, merely because they’d been bereft for so long.

There was a rising symphony, growls and snarls, the clank of metal, squeal of leather, the slither of mail rings as they jerked over heavy beards, nearly drowning out the vaguest of whispers. The roof creaked, but nobody cared. Ulric went outside, leaving the clumsy bow, and glanced through the ruddy dusk. Red-Eye was gone, probably raging through the trunks, or by the thunder of the gorge.

“There’s no other way.” Einar came out, reaching into a pouch for a string to fit on his bow. “They come at us, we’ve got to come at them, but harder.” He was wearing leather now, regularly pierced by broad rivets, and had a sword hanging from his hip, the haft of a heavy flail suspended over his shoulder.

“Y’know, there’s always a way,” Ulric grunted, turning the axe over in his gloved hands. “We’re just too weary to look for it, too proud to take it, either. We’ve scraped for scraps, dug for acorns, yet what’ve we got to show for it?”

“You speak like a man destined for the gallows.” Einar flung another bundle of twigs on the watch fire, went to straddle a log. Ulric just glared at the embers, his knuckles pale where they grasped the axe, thinking of the laughter that rang out through the trunks, which yet pulsed in his burning ears.

“They’re going to answer for it,” he spoke after a long moment. “They will, and don’t you doubt that. The thing is, we’ve got to keep fighting. That’s what we are. There’s always going to be war, always a purse of gold, or a ring or something that catches our eyes, and we just take it because that’s our right. The stronger over the weaker, that’s the rub of our dismal augury, but prayers aren’t going to change the fact that we’re just fading away, like those embers. There’s a day when every man dies, and then he’s just gone. That’s why we live so fiercely. There won’t ever be an elegy for us. There’s just agony, shyke, and tears, and then it’s done, returning to the muck that we sprang from just like nothing ever happened.”

“Enough of your brooding.” Einar looked up, face twisted by a scowl. The darkening sky was his answer.

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[Flashback] The Bone Hunter (Act II)

Postby Ulric on January 30th, 2012, 11:47 pm

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Hunthar’s holding was drab, just a dozen huts of earth, sticks, and hides, ringed by a low scatter of boulders. They trudged, just the nine of them, through the drifts, hard men with harder eyes. There was no way they’d be missed, for the clank of mail rose over the bare branches, dislodging a clutch of raving crows, their swords held tight, bows ready, bearing shields, axes, spears, and cruel, barbed cudgels, for they weren’t going away. Not absent the boar.

Every instant that went by, tensely laden with a lingering dread, there was the fear of a stray shaft. There were warders, a few near a gap in the boulders, clutching spears, others with bows on the crude towers, no more than a bulky framework of timbers lashed together, covered by dingy leather. There was the blare of a horn, desolately rising over the jumble of crags.

But nobody fired.

Ulric’s jaw was rigid. That’s hardly a bad omen, he scowled, the region of him that wasn’t quavery nerves thinking that they might just head away, though with a nudge of diplomacy. There was a sinking in his chest, though. There had to be a way.

However, that depended on Red-Eye, and as ever, he was entirely inscrutable, skinny shoulders vainly forcing to the boulders. Those ruddy eyes were dancing, the pale worms of his lips latched tightly, sulkily against the incursion of so many glares. There were more warriors gathering now, many blinking the dust of dreams from their eyes. They were easily twice as many, perhaps even thrice, though it was hard to say, what with the boulders in their way. Those faces, many badly smudged, or even devoid of the daubings of blue, white, and gray, were mostly angular, bearing deep creases over the tidy knots of their beards, seeming drawn, yet badly hungering. Maybe for food, or maybe just for us, for the end of our menace to their lands, Ulric thought bleakly, taking solace in the burden of his shield, the heavy slabs of timber rising over his chest. They’d see us dead, for where they’ve got wives, their shrieking spawn to fight for, we’ve got nothing except for what we take.

Grim gave a snort. Ulric knew from past jobs, when he’d fought by the man’s side, that he lacked patience, especially when it came to a fight. Agnar was humming, though the tune wasn’t familiar. Knute grumbled about needing a piss, and of course, Tyrfing had to rub it in, with a few quips about the gray in his whiskers, and the withering of his cock, while Einar and Thord barely made a noise but for the jangle and creak of the leathers. Invar’s face had drained, and though his breaths were raspy, coming up quick, but he looked steady enough.

“What d’you want?” Harshly, the laughter was there again. He glanced up, found the scarred man’s legs dangling over the gap’s crest, with that insouciant grin smeared over his face.

Red-Eye bared his teeth, long ridges of enamel, rapidly going yellow, that rose up pink, receding gums. “We’ve come for what’s ours,” he snarled. “We’ve come for what was taken from us.”

“Taken?” Bluntly staring, the man just spat a long, sticky glob of phlegm over the boulders. “Here, we’d say it’s hardly yours if you can’t hold on to it, much like your women, or maybe even the worm between your legs.” He dug vainly, trying to find a gash, a crack in that red glare, but there wasn’t any.

“You forget, I’ve yet to lay even a finger on yours,” Red-Eye spoke in a whisper. “That’s why you’ve got anything, if not for much longer.”

“You’d be wise to shut your face, freak. You’re not among friends here, and the last I checked, there’s just enough of you to make a tiny pot of soup.” Though he began to say something else, abruptly there was a roar, and the words sheared away. Then a huge, painted shape lurched through the gap, chest bare, the gray, flinty eyes a skewer.

Goren Rath. There wasn’t anything in his face, just a jaded scowl. The further he walked, the more it felt as if his strides rang out on the packed crust of ice, the turgid mud. He flung out a burly arm, forcing the other warriors away, back to the huts beyond. “You’re wanting the boar,” he rumbled. Red-Eye just inclined his chin, crossing both arms over the ridges of dented scales, layers of boiled leather that covered his chest. He wasn’t short, but the other man towered over him, seeming ever larger for the disparity in their frames. Rath gave a shrug, turned to the men beyond. “You heard him, they want the boar. That means you let them through.”

Ulric passed through the gap, taking even, shambling strides as he looked around the ring of boulders. He feared treachery, but it didn’t come just yet. He took in the huts, the young in their furs, the fires and frames covered by hides, drying strips of meat, bent green saplings. There were piles of timber, and large, sooty kettles. They’re just like us, he coughed, though he wasn’t quite sure why. They’d seemed different somehow, as if they weren’t even men. There were logs burned out, used for storing water, and by one of these he picked out a familiar face. Veya. The knot of her braid snaking over her scant chest, face partly concealed by a cowl. Even so, she saw him, her lips curling into a frown. He saw her furtively mouth something to him, but he didn’t catch it. Probably too late, anyway, he grumbled. They kept moving, a tight knob of blackened metal enveloped by the scraggy furs of these warriors, led by Red-Eye and Rath, until they finally reached the base of the largest hut.

Hunthar was resting on a crude bench, clutching a tankard as he hunched round shoulders over a fire. Ulric found that he was a walrus of a man, larger Veya had led him to believe, with a thick, forked beard that was more gray than dirty brown, fastened by a braided coil of silver. Hunthar wore a large, jet bearskin, with a fine sword in his belt, and more silver in the buckle. “You’ve come,” he grunted, slurping from the tankard, looking them over with rheumy eyes.

“The boar.” Rath spoke before Red-Eye. “They want the boar.”

Hunthar gave a cranky snort, his huge belly jouncing under the bearskin. “Well, you can’t have it.” The tankard rose again. There was a crackle of flames, the hissing of fat sloughing off the charring carcass of a badger.

“That’s hardly the right answer.” Red-Eye’s voice was a whisper, his eyes burning crimson. Hunthar’s face wrenched from annoyance, to brazen anger, to a sullen, mistrustful twitching. Red-Eye kept going, the intensity rising, masking and unmasking a plethora of threats, raging doubts, the laugh of deceitful ravings. Though the words were plain, he was saying far more than departed the puckered scar of mouth. “That boar was brought down by my man. That means it’s my boar, that your man took from me. That begs a reckoning.”

“Reckoning?” Hunthar ran pudgy fingers through his beard, his jaw clenching, eyes wavering. “That just a fancy way of saying that you’re right, and I’m wrong. The boar’s mine, not yours. That’s that. There won’t be any reckonings, isn’t that right, Rath?” Though he’d probably been counting on the man’s support, they were clearly of diverging visions.

“Nay, let us have this reckoning,” Rath gave a sneer. “That’s the only way of finding out whose boar it is, wouldn’t you say, Kor’el?”

Though he’d vanished just behind the boulders, the scarred man eagerly broke through the throng. He was clad in bronze and leather, bearing that pair of hand axes, with a snarling wolf’s head helmet over his long, greasy hair. “I’d say it’s only fair,” he growled. Then he clucked like a chicken. There was a harsh chorus of laughter.

Ulric returned his glare.

“Kor’el, what is this?” Hunthar rasped, but Rath put a hand on his shoulder, keeping him from rising. Then he began to whisper in the chief’s ear, eventually receiving the vaguest of nods.

“You see,” Rath rumbled, “There’s only one way of dispensing with this unlucky argument, and that’s for my man and your man to fight until one of them is lying dead. That’s what we do.”

Red-Eye refused to tear his gaze away, just gave a curt nod. “Very well,” he grated. “Ulric, you’re going to slay that cunt, and you’re going to do it now.

Abruptly, everybody was drawing back. Ulric was barely aware of it, for he was bringing up his shield, knocking away Kor’el’s right axe and whirling deftly away from the second, crouching lower so he could cleave at the man’s ankles, trying more to get him to back away. Need to make room, he thought, coming out of the whirl with the spike of his axe driving at Kor’el’s eyes, only to be driven away with a discordant clang, the other, shorter axe biting deeply into his shield. They weren’t particularly hard blows, judging from the shocks that jarred to his elbow, but they were quick, as precise as they came, and he knew he was facing a worthy foe. Grim was roaring, and Ingvar, too, Hunthar’s warriors packing in so near that there was barely space to fight. Ulric swept his axe around, ducking away from a deadly chunk of metal, and wormed past the other hand axe, feeling the haft smash vainly against his shoulder. He forced a grin, and then, throwing the entire weight of his body behind the blow, bashed the shield’s boss into Kor’el’s face. There was wet, satisfying crunch, and the warrior jerked away, threads of crimson lashing from the wreck of his nose, spurting into his whiskers. Kor’el wasn’t done yet, though. There was a terse, crazy thrashing, mostly to clear some space as he lurched away. Ulric didn’t press him, just kept back until the man was on the verge of regaining his bearings, then leapt back in, trying to hack at the man’s weaker side. He deflecting the right axe with his shield, let the left hiss past his ear, and then he was bringing his backswing around, dragging a scraping gouge over a bronze plate. Though he tried to follow up, Kor’el was wily. There was a blunt, gravity defying thud, and then he was tumbling back from a kick to the gut, tucking his shoulder so he could roll to his feet. Ulric’s shield took the brunt of the blow, though he wasn’t clutching it quite so firmly. The rim just lashed back, dealing him a stinging slap to the lip. He tasted the tang of warm blood, keep the shield up to take the other axe as he hooked his own around the joint of Kor’el’s ankle, using the curving edge to jerk out the man’s leg so he fell heavily on his rear.

Ulric got up just as quickly, driving Kor’el back with a nasty, crossways cleave, and then circled around to his weaker side, ensuring that he’d only have to deal with deflecting a single axe, not the pair. Kor’el was forced to whirl, which meant he just struck out vainly. Ulric took a long step to the side, sliding his rear foot through the crusty mud, which was broken by gray ashes. Then, before the other man could bring the other axe to bear, he lashed the shield around, driving the rim into a heavy jaw. There was another crunch, a stagger. The tiny, pearly beads of teeth flying from a bloody mouth, but it wasn’t enough. Kor’el was tougher than he looked, and he spun with the blow, hurling an axe around to keep the larger man away. Ulric just struck it away, nearly tearing it from the man’s fingers, and spun the other way, making the flat of his shield crash into a broad slab of back, bashing him to his face. The head of his axe was already descending, trying to crush through armor, through ribs, but his foe squirmed away, lashed out so that he was forced to dive over the sprawl of torso and limbs, knowing that zeal had nearly lost him a leg, if not more.

They both came up again. Kor’el wasn’t going to let him keep on coming, and now the pair of axes was a blur, crashing against his shield, howling through empty air as they desperately sought his body. Ulric was panting heavily, a sheen of sweat on his brow, salty beads tracing down his neck, the curve of his spine, making the tunic under his armor stick to his shoulders. His pulse racing, body growing heavier. Korel wasn’t much better, rasping through his mouth as the blood just sucked wetly from his nose. Ulric had been keeping the shield high, dancing around to keep Kor’el from using it to hamper his vision, or worse, jerk it away from his hands. He’d been playing is safe, but now he deftly brought up his axe to jab at the man’s chest, the spike jouncing off bronze, punching through leather. Kor’el gave a grimace, backed away, so Ulric lashed at his face, then his shoulder on the backswing, deflecting one of the deadly axes and swiftly twisting away from the other.

The problem was, Kor’el wasn’t trying to get at him. There was cruel, scraping clang, making his shoulder jerk back, and abruptly the haft of his axe was being ripped away.

Shyke.

Ulric just let it go. He wasn’t going to struggle, for if did he’d only get his joint ripped from the socket, and if he got locked up he’d only be prey for a quick hack, and end to everything. He brought his elbow up, driving it into the bloody, squelchy nose, and as the man cried out, his other axe going awry, he forced his hand up under his foe’s throat, flung him down on his back. He kicked the offending axe away, then flung himself down, driving his knee into the man’s chest. There was a whoosh of breath. Got you, he snarled, forcing his shield over the other axe, snaring and befouling that deadly edge, and drove his fist into the pulpy nose. Then fingers were groping for his neck, tearing at the skin. He cuffed them away, crushing his fist into an eye, then again, and again, barely pausing as a hand beat feebly at his armored side. He crushed the ridge of brow, drove the heavy leather of his gauntlet into the socket, twisting and making the eye spurt, and then brought his elbow down on the crimson, frothy mouth. He bashed out incisors, ignoring the flecks of blood that speckled his face, and moved on to the jaw, the cheek, beating and grinding them to raw, shapeless flesh, until the entire side of the man’s face was pulp, and a strange hush came over the crowd.

Then he got up, strode over the mangled corpse. He was shaking, unsteady from the effort, but he knew what he had to do next. Rath was there, watching him dourly, and he shambled over to the large warrior, stared up into his flinty eyes. “You lose,” he growled, holding up his bloody fist. “You’ll always lose.”

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Ulric
The Warrior-Poet
 
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[Flashback] The Bone Hunter (Act II)

Postby Echelon on March 14th, 2012, 9:29 am

Adventurer's Loot

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A Gift
Experience is it's own reward.

Ulric's Loot :
Ulric Dagor-Fyr

Skill XP Reward
Philosophy +4XP
Poetry +3XP
Observation +3XP
Bow +2XP
Body Building +4XP
Poison +1XP
Wilderness Survival +2XP
Rhetoric +3XP
Land Navigation +2XP
Seduction +2XP
Intimidate +3XP
Interrogate +2XP
Logic +2XP
Hunting +3XP
Stealth +1XP
Shield +1XP
Bearded Axe +1XP
Acrobatics +2XP
Unarmed +2XP
Climbing +1XP
Running +2XP
Tracking +2XP

Lore:
Picking Your Fights, Axe: Finishing Blow, Fear is A Joke, Sex: Prioritizing, Adarled: Properties


Items or Consequences:
None.

Notes: Usually I'm scrupulous about Item's and Consequences, but I feel you will do a fair job with this. The skills may seem wonky to you, if so this is likely because you have a very steep incline between your major skills and minor skills. Minor skills are easier to raise as you know.

(I could tell you were writing for yourself, and nobody else. Not just for experience, or to impress somebody. This was refreshing. I have to admit to feeling I stepped out of Mizahar for a bit into another world. Not a bad world, just different. You are an amazing writer and I do believe you got the feel you were going for, keep it up. And, in the future try to pay more attention to both where you break paragraphs, and pacing throughout an entire thread. Thanks for the good read :) ) - if you have ANY questions or concerns about this grading, don't hesitate to PM me.
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Echelon
Pew~Pew!!
 
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