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post #1 of 34 (permalink) Old 06-11-09, 03:00 PM Thread Starter
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Default The Mutant Child

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THE MUTANT CHILD
Book One of The Price of Hope


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Chapter One


+++

Poc had gone quiet again – that wasn’t good. It never was. Somehow, he always knew when trouble was coming.

“Poc?” asked Ghuto. “Is something bothering you?”

The little boy looked up at him. “It’s too quiet…”

The dry, dusty road stretched out ahead, coiling like a fat, lazy serpent. On either side, the fading leaves of the summer-baked trees rustled quietly.

It was quiet. Now that Ghuto thought about it, there weren’t even birds singing. The idyllic calm now seemed almost menacing. The sun beat down hot and sticky, soaking his nape with sweat and making his temples throb. The trees’ shadows grew deeper, concealing terrible secrets and unknowns. Was that snapping twig a hidden watcher moving? Was -

“Poc,” Ghuto spoke softly, touching the child on the shoulder. “you’re projecting. Don’t worry. It’s probably just a boar that’s come out of the deep forest.”

He didn’t believe his own consolations. He’d seen Poc’s uncanny knack for sensing trouble too many times. Still, he had to do something to get the kid’s mind off… whatever it was. “You want a shoulder-ride?”

The boy giggled and reached up. Ghuto took his hands and hoisted him up onto his shoulders. He began to spin around as he walked.

“Wheeee! Faster, Nuncle, faster!”

Ghuto laughed, twirling like a top. Soon, though, the sun demanded that they rest and he collapsed by the side of the road. Nearby, a creek gurgled and splashed. Ghuto let Poc off his shoulders and lay against a tree in the shade, still wheezing with laughter and exertion. The vague, lingering fear wasn’t gone though. It never was entirely...

He looked at Poc, who was already enchanted by something he’d seen on the in thick layer of mulch that sat around the base of the tree. They’d been through so much, he mused. Would they ever be safe? He looked around again, seeing nothing but empty corridors of trees and the occasional scraggly bush. Fat, billowing clouds were beginning to creep towards them across the western sky. How would their enemies come at them this time?

“C’mon Poc, we’ve rested enough. Time to go.”

He looked down at his nephew who hadn’t heard him or, with childish duplicity, was simply ignoring him. “Poc.”

The boy stirred, turning to Ghuto. “They’re not done yet though. I’ve got to watch.”

Ghuto leaned forward, seeing what Poc was so avidly staring at. Pincher-ants had surrounded a finger-sized spider and latched onto its jointed limbs. The spider writhed and twisted, but it was slowly being torn apart by the hordes of ants. Poc was sitting on the ants’ nest–but they weren’t biting him. They weren’t even crawling over the bandaged fingers that he’d stuck into the loam.

“No, Poc. We’ve got to go.” Ghuto looked at the spider again and shuddered. He stood and held a hand back for Poc.

Reluctantly, the boy straightened and took Ghuto’s hand with his own slightly grimy one.

Later, when they weren’t molested in any way for the rest of the afternoon, he thought that maybe for once, nothing had come of Poc’s premonition.

+

The rain poured down. Gustav was glad to be inside his warm inn. He sighed, belched, and leaned back in his chair. The fire crackled and spat, its fuel still damp after being brought in. He’d have to repair that woodshed sometime soon.

Around the room, several customers slumped in various states of sobriety. It was getting to be the hour that wives started complaining that their husbands were never home, so only the truly drunk and desperate remained. As a testament to their stupor, nobody so much as leered at Marie as she circled the room with fresh mugs. No matter what the rumors said, Gustav didn’t go about selling Marie’s body. She slept with whomever she liked.

The door shuddered in the wind, shedding splinters and a layer of dust. That also had to be replaced soon-hell, the whole place had to be rebuilt. Things had gone to hell since the missus died.

The door shook again. Was somebody knocking? Who’d come around at this time of night? Late travelers? Angry wives, maybe?

Gustav staggered from his chair. Perhaps it was time to start cutting back on the beer. Surely the room shouldn’t be spinning this much. He began to haul his bulk to the door.

The door shuddered a third time. “Coming,” he grunted.

He got to the door, fastened the chain and then cracked it open. “Who ‘sit?” he asked. “What der yer want?”

“Please,” came a muffled voice. “I’m just a traveler with my son.”

“Awright,” grumbled Gustav. “Come on in.” He fumbled with the chain.

A tall man entered, followed closely by a boy of about seven years, both with soaked, dirty-blond hair.

“Yeh wanna stay th’ night?” When the man nodded, Gustav continued. “Then it’s ten pennies per sleeper, three fer supper, an’ one fer brekky.” Not strictly true, but times were hard.

“What? That’s outrageous! I could find a bed elsewhere for that much with meals included! And per room, not per occupant!”

“Yeh want to sleep out there in the rain? That’s yer only other choice besides here.”

“Fine,” sighed the man. “But my son’ll be sharing the same bed as me, so he should only cost half as much.”

“That’ll do, I guess. So I have you down for board and bed fer two?”

“Just… just bed. We can’t afford your trenchers.” He began counting out pennies from a pitifully small purse.

Gustav scribbled an illegible note in his book. “Ver’ well good sirs, whats’s yer names?”

“I’m Talere. We’re from Tilea.”

“Tilean. Roight… Bloody for’ners. But you, boy? What’s yer name?”

The boy stopped shrinking back behind his father. Nervously, he said, “I’m Po- Polem.”

“Ver’ good, Polem.”

Gustav finished his scribbling and looked at his new customers. The man didn’t look as if he had a drop of Tilean blood in him, being tall and fair and blue-eyed. The boy had bandaged hands and hazy, azure blue eyes.

“You, Talere. Yer boy give you trouble?”

“Sometimes… not much, though. Why?”

“Cause you done a bloody fine job of punishment, crunchin’ his fingers like that.”

“What? No, no, he was burnt. Playing with fire and such.”

“Roight. Roight… I unnerstand. An ear’s th’ same as an eye to me. So, you might not want food, but yeh both look half-starved. How ‘bout a bowl of soup fer th’ kiddy? Free o’ charge?”

The man exhaled and smiled. “Sure, that’s fine,” he said. He handed over the money for the night’s stay. Gustav counted each of the fifteen pennies out before tucking them into his own pouch.

“Marie!” He called. “Come on over and give this boy a wash and a bowl of soup!” As the barmaid began to come over, Gustav noticed that his guest had turned a sort of custard-color and seemed to be choking. “Talere? You awright?”

“Yes… I just… I just caught something in my throat. Polem doesn’t need a bath, though. After all, we just came through one!”

“Yeh sure? He smells like a midden heap, meaning no disrespect to you.”

“Yes,” Talere nodded. “Yes, I’m sure.”

“Awright then. Marie, you ‘eard ‘im. No wash fer th’ boy.”

Marie nodded and moved off demurely, leading the child by the hand. Gustav turned back to Talere again. “Now, let’s be going upstairs t’ check out your room.”

+

Poc splashed in the tub as Marie poured another bucket of rainwater over his head. It was a shame that the boy’s father wouldn’t even let the boy stay clean–he obviously enjoyed the bath, despite the fact that the cold water would have had most children his age in tears. After the boy had gulped down his hot soup, Marie had bundled him into the tub.

He was now naked except for his arm-wrappings, which he had insisted upon continuing to wear. She reached down and tried to start peeling the soaked bandages away again.

“No!” the child cried, yanking himself away. “Nunc- Talere said that my hands had to heal before I could take my covers off!”

“Well,” asked Marie, “what if we put some beeswax salve on them? That would help them heal faster.”

“But… but Nuncle said I couldn’t take them off at all,” the boy pouted. Water glistened on his stomach in the gloom of the kitchen. Marie bustled around him a few times, scrubbing his hair with a dishscrubbing rag that was slightly less filthy than its fellows. Eventually, she spoke.

“Isn’t he your father, not your uncle?” she asked.

“I meant Talere! I meant Talere, not Nuncle. You didn’t hear that! Please?”

Marie chuckled softly. “Of course I didn’t, Polem. Not if you didn’t want me to. Tell you what. I didn’t hear it if you didn’t hear your father say-“

“Not my father. My father’s a bad person. Gh- Talere’s nice.”

Marie sighed and carefully reworded her offer.

“How about this- I didn’t hear you say that Talere was your uncle if you didn’t hear him say that you had to keep your bandages on, all right? Anyways, wouldn’t it be nice to get some cool salve on your burns?”

Poc looked around, a nervous scowl twisting his face into a knot.

“All right,” he said. “All right. But don’t tell anybody. And don’t be afraid of my burns. Talere said that was another reason why I shouldn’t take them off, so don’t be afraid of them.”

He cautiously stuck his hands forward. Marie took them gently and started to unwind the wrapped cloth. She slowly unwound the snakes of coiling cloth, starting at his elbows and working her way towards his lumpy finger-wrappings.

Poc stared at the hanging strips of cloth as Marie undid them, watching as they settled into the tub of water at his feet.

Marie looked at his tender flesh. She stopped unwinding when his arms were fully unwrapped but his hands weren’t. She slowly ran her fingers over his smooth, unmarked flesh.

“Where are the burns?” she asked. Poc looked up and frowned.

“On my hands.”

Marie’s gentle fingers teased the rough fabric from his palms and fingers off in one more soft push. The discarded cloth slipped into the water below and uncoiled, forgotten.

Poc’s hands were burnt. Little flowers of scar tissue both old and new sat in layers across them, and both hands were raw and pink. A few of the burns hadn’t even healed. That wasn’t what had drawn Marie’s attention though.

On Poc’s left hand wiggled six little pink fingers.

+

Ghuto sighed and leaned back on the bed, regardless of the countless lice that no doubt he popped beneath his weight like rotten fruit. From just a cursory glance at the mattress, he knew that he’d be itching his hair for weeks. At least Poc wouldn’t have to worry about them. Ghuto had never seen a single creature from bug to bear harm his nephew.

After the fat, greasy innkeeper had left, he’d started trying to decide what to do and where to go next. He had no real plan after they reached the nearby city of Gerholtz. They couldn’t risk staying in the city more than a few days any more than they could turning around- either way, they’d be falling straight into the arms of Phe’s minions.

Whatever they did, they couldn’t stay long enough to earn much money. That was the main problem. His purse was stretched far too thin as it was.

Where was Poc? Ghuto was sure that he couldn’t take that long to eat a bowl of soup - by now he’d probably run off to play under the tables. Ghuto knew what kind of trouble he could get into if left unwatched.

He stood, if slightly hunched because of the low roof, and made his way to the door. Surprisingly, it didn’t creak as he opened it and stepped into the dingy hallway. Everything in this place seemed like it was on its last breath.

The stairs weren’t empty. That maid from earlier, Marie, stood at their base whispering frantically with Gustav.

“Don’t worry,” Gustav was saying to her. “I can’t imagine him comin’ out here anytime soon. He sank onta the bed like he’d been runnin’ about fer years.”

“Who?” asked Ghuto. They both span around. The way that they looked at him gave him a clear idea.
“Well, Talere, I was talking ‘bout yeh. It appears that yeh weren’t entirely honest with us.”

“What?” Ghuto frowned. This was not good at all. “How so?” He slowly finished coming down the stairs. Gustav and Marie backed away slightly. Marie spoke first.

“I gave him a bath anyways, despite what you said. I see why you wanted to hide him.”

Ghuto’s heart sank. Gustav took a step forward, brandishing a meaty fist.

“Get out,” he growled. “Get yer mutant-lovin’ arse out of my inn. Get out, traitor!”

Ghuto held up his hands. “I’ll go, I’ll leave. Just don’t hurt him. Where is he?”

“GET OUT!”

Marie flinched away from the innkeeper.

“He’s out there, in the rain…” she whispered.

+

Poc and Ghuto sat shivering, Ghuto’s coat wrapped around them both. Together, they watched the rain dripping through the slats of the dilapidated woodshed. Ghuto’s cheek had a series of purple marks where the innkeeper had struck him.

“Get some sleep,” Ghuto said over the musical ‘plunk’ of the rain. Poc shook his head.

“We can’t.” The child turned back to Ghuto, his cerulean blue eyes now glinting with faint flashes of gold. “Father’s coming.”

Ghuto stiffened. Phe was that close behind them? Ghuto stood, leaving his coat on the boy.

“Then lets get moving. We don’t want him to catch up.”

Poc shuddered with fear and cold, but stood up. Together, they ducked back out into the pouring rain.

Hopefully, Ghuto thought, this village would slow his Beastmen down until they escaped. Hopefully, they’d get away from Phe. Hopefully, they’d get out of his reach entirely, soon. Hopefully, Poc wouldn’t grow up having to look behind every door for danger…

The rain closed behind them like a curtain.

+

Smoke rose in acrid billows, choking lungs and bringing tears to eyes. Here and there a survivor labored, striving to dig through the rubble to find lost friends or belongings.

Beams still smoldered and embers glowed in the deeper recesses of the charred houses. The cold breeze bit into the faces and hands of those still alive. It scattered their cremated friends, mixing gray ashes with the churned mud.

They’re pitiful, thought Witchhunter Melchias. They weren’t worthy of saving. They’re just the same as so many other villages across the Empire–undeserving of spiritual and physical aid. Where are their menfolk? Who will drive the beasts away from their hearths? They’re all dead or captured now. Sigmar helps the strong.

He could not do his work here–beasts and their heretical kin had despoiled this town and the light of Sigmar shone too weakly. These citizens would likely mob and kill him if he tried to purge their sins now.

“Rakwith,” he said without turning his head. “We won’t be stopping here.”

Behind him, his aide murmured assent. For a few minutes, all that could be heard was the clip-clop of their horses’ hooves and the bitter whisper of the wind. Eventually, Rakwith stirred and cleared his throat.

“Yes?”

“Shouldn’t we help them, sir? They have no food left, no supplies. They’re unsheltered and unprotected. Surely it is our duty-”

“Do not lecture me on duty,” snarled Melchias, “as you obviously do not know ours. Our duty is not to be benevolent benefactors, weakening and softening the lives of our quarry. All are heretics; we merely sniff out the worst of them. You are young and naïve- these people will survive. They’ll rebuild. Now shut your mouth and ride.”

“Y’sir.”

Melchias rode through the smoke, considering the boy’s words. They struck perilously close to memories that he had spent the last eight years trying to bury.

Behind him, Rakwith sulked. Melchias felt his disapproving glare and sneered. The boy would have to learn the hard way that the Empire wasn’t a nice place.

A woman shrieked as they came into view past the rubble that had been the inn. She stumbled in front of the horses and Hartfeld reared, ready to protect his master from any danger.

Melchias pulled on Hartfeld’s reins. Cold he may be, but he wasn’t about to run over a helpless woman.

“Out of the way, girl!” Melchias roared.

Weeping and crying out in distress, she stumbled forward and grabbed his stirrup. He freed his foot and kicked out, his sharp spurs gashing her cheekbone. She fell back stunned, sitting down hard in the black mud.

Filth, blood and soot had smeared together to make her face a swirled mask of black and brown. Fat teardrops traced clear pathways through the grime.

“Please, sir,” she begged. “Please!”

“Please what?” Melchias snapped. “I’ve no time to aid you unless you wish to be aided to the pyre. Other more deserving heretics await the confessor’s blades; do not try my patience unless you wish to be stretched across them yourself.”

She slid herself backwards through the muck, cowering in fear.

“They killed him. They killed Gustav. Please, help us.” Her voice shook and cracked as she pleaded. “They came with nets and axes, the Beastmen. I hid in the woodshed, but they killed Gustav!

“They were looking for that mutant! I heard them. They asked, ‘Where’s the boy?’ Gustav didn’t know, so they killed him!”

“What are you babbling about, girl? What mutant-”

Rakwith’s horse sidled up beside Melchias. He cleared his throat again. Melchias sighed and put a hand over his eyes.

“Go on, then.”

Rakwith dismounted and handed his reins to his master. He turned around and offered his hand to the woman. She grabbed him and scrambled up, hanging from him for support. Rakwith leaned back, trying to keep his leather coat clean.

She began shuddering and weeping again. Melchias looked at the sun; they would have to make good time to reach the next village before sunset. Rakwith consoled the blubbering woman and Melchias studiously cleaned the underside of his fingernails.

Eventually, she began to talk. Having nothing better to do, Melchias listened.

“We—Gustav and I—are, were, the innkeepers,” she gasped. “Well, he was. I was the barmaid. There was also old sour Corlem, the cook. Recently, a man and his boy came through, running from something. He gave us names, Talere and Polem, but I don’ believe them. They even claimed to be Tilean, if you believe it.

“I gave the child a bath, an’ he told me that the father was really his uncle. I didn’t really care either way; I just like to know things, really. But then his hands were bandaged, so- so-”

She lapsed into sobs again. Rakwith patted her on the back and Melchias snorted. Eventually, she began speaking again.

“The boy, he was a mutant. His hands were burnt and he had an extra finger. We kicked them out of the inn. Gustav was angry for the rest of the night.

“Then I fell asleep for the night—Gustav lets me use one of the actual beds when nobody’s staying in the room. I stayed in one of the windowed rooms, I like the breeze when it comes through.

“I woke up to howls and screams. There wasn’t anything that I could do! I managed to get out the window before they got through the door, and I hid in the woodshed. Then…”

She died away, but Rakwith finished for her.

“Then they killed Gustav when he couldn’t tell them anything that they didn’t already know.”

Through her sobs and tears, the girl nodded. Rakwith looked back up at Melchias.

“Sir?” he asked.

Melchias frowned.

“What?” the Witchhunter asked. “You expect me to go chasing after a pair of travelers that could be anywhere by now? How do we even know where they went-”

“South!” Marie cried. “South, I heard one of those… those beasts say it! They said, it, I swear!”

Melchias grimaced and turned to face forward. He still felt the two imploring gazes digging into his back. He tried to ignore it, tried to form the words “Rakwith, let’s go. We’ve nothing more to do here; we head back to Averheim”. He couldn’t. The memory of Keasha was still too strong. Damnit, he thought that he was stronger than that! He should have been, then…

“Fine,” he said, his voice hollow. “But we go in chase of the Beastmen, not the travelers. They’ll be nothing but a bonus. Take the girl, Rakwith. She might know something else, and she’s the only one who’s seen them.”

“Who?” asked Rakwith, “the travelers, or the Beastmen?”

Melchias nudged Hartfeld with his spurs.

“Both,” he growled.

+

Poc squirmed in Ghuto’s grip.

“I wanna go to the stream!” he cried.

Ghuto’s sigh was matched by a gust of wind that rattled the drying grass and leaves. A few hundred yards away, the clear stream shone invitingly. The sun beamed down upon it, promising an enjoyable relaxation from the tension of the road and the dry, billowing dust. Ghuto shook his head again; they’d lose too much time. Phe was still too close behind them.

Perhaps the Beastmen would be too bloated with their spoils. Perhaps the village had even beaten back the beasts! Perhaps—but that was the thing. Perhapses cut them no bread and bought them no time.

“I wanna go to the stream now!” Poc was almost shouting.

“Poc, we can’t. We can’t stop for a while still.” Ghuto tightened his grip on Poc’s hand as the boy started yanking away viciously. “Poc! Stop! We have to keep moving!”

The boy sunk his neat white teeth into Ghuto’s hand, cutting skin and drawing blood. Ghuto cursed and let go. Poc darted away.

“Stop!” Ghuto yelled after him, clutching his hand. The child paid him no attention and vanished into a tangled snarl of bushes. Ghuto cursed the gods and ran after Poc.

His long, loping strides ate up the ground much quicker than Poc’s pistoning legs. Soon, the boy was huffing and puffing with the effort of keeping ahead. Poc crashed noisily through the bracken and snagged his clothes on dead bushes, barely keeping out of Ghuto’s reach.

Then he tripped and fell. Ghuto snatched for his arm, but the boy managed to roll away. Coarse sackcloth slipped through Ghuto’s fingertips.

No sooner was the boy down than he was up again, bouncing energetically through a patch of fanged brambles. Ghuto wheezed a snarl and staggered forwards again. He ripped his way through the thorns, feeling the stabbing, needling prickles.

“Poc!” he called. “Stop!

A branch that was throttled by thorns caught his arm. He tore away from it in frustration, instead pushing his face through a dangling spider-web. He sputtered and wiped his face, tripping through the vines that Poc had bounded through so easily.

When Ghuto looked around again, Poc had vanished. Ghuto whipped his head around, looking for the boy. The trees swayed slightly in the breeze. In the distance, the stream gurgled. Birds sang, but his nephew was nowhere to be heard or seen. Ghuto sighed and turned toward the creek. That’s where the boy would have gone.

He found Poc on a mossy boulder—the boy wasn’t even trying to hide. His shoes sat beside him and his bare feet dangled in the burbling brook. The rock was one of two that clinched in both sides of the stream, squeezing the water into a miniature waterfall. Ferns draped both banks, weaving a tapestry of green, brown, and flowing water.

A smile wreathed Poc’s face. It wasn’t mischievous or triumphant; just a smile of sheer bliss. His eyes were squeezed shut and the misting spray from the fall speckled across his face. In the small pond formed by the rocks, Poc’s legs were visible. Even through the rushing water, the angry red scratches were visible. Ghuto’s expression softened a little bit.

Poc opened his eyes and looked up.

“All right,” he said calmly. “I’m ready to go now.” Ghuto choked on his tongue.

“What!” he exclaimed, clutching his hand tighter, “You make me chase you out here, get cut up on brambles, you bite me—and now this? You’re just done?”

Poc frowned, considering Ghuto’s words. Eventually, he nodded.

“Yup.”

Ghuto violently tore a strip of cloth off his tunic and began binding his hand. He hissed in frustration.

Poc continued, saying, “I just wanted to get away from the bad person on the road. He should be gone by now.”

Ghuto stopped binding his hand and frowned.

“Your father?” he asked the boy.

“No, not him. Somebody else,” replied Poc, shaking his head assuredly. Ghuto considered the words as Poc looked at his surroundings. The boy continued, saying, “Look! The road crosses the stream down there, Nuncle. There’s a ford. We can go back to it that way!”

Ghuto gave up trying to fathom his nephew’s sixth sense. He looked.

“Yes,” Ghuto replied, seeing a band of brown bisected by the flowing waters of the stream, “there is. Let’s go.”

Poc slipped his scratched feet out of the water and began to shove them back into his ragged shoes. Ghuto turned back to tying up his hand. With his teeth and his other hand, he pulled the half-tied knot tight. A ‘crack’ rang out behind him and he whirled. Poc grinned at him, holding a stick broken from a dead bush. Ghuto relaxed.

+

Ghuto sank down onto the slick side of the ford and sighed. Now, the afternoon, was when last night’s fatigue truly caught up. They hadn’t dared sleep the previous night and had only caught about four hours this morning. They couldn’t risk any more; Phe followed them too closely.

Ghuto began to go over his tattered trousers pulling out the burrs and the thorn that had lodged there. At this time of year, the long, sharp grasses shed their prickers with the slightest of provocations. Currently, his hems were solid clusters of sharp, poking seeds.

Poc saw was he was doing and began clumsily mirroring him. The little boy pulled off one of his battered shoes and started to work some of the larger, pokier burrs through the tough upper layer of the shoe’s fabric.

Ghuto was almost done with his first pantleg when he heard the hooves. Fear flashed through his mind as he remembered Poc’s comment about somebody on the road. He turned to Poc, who had turned pale.

“Quick,” Ghuto hissed, “hide!”

He pulled the boy behind a gorse bush by his collar and ducked behind it as well. Peering back over the top of the thick shrub, he saw that Poc had dropped his burred shoe. Ghuto cursed, preparing to jump over and grab it. Too late—a pair of horses came around the bend of the road. They clopped along the road at a fast walk.

The first horse was a magnificent black beast, ridden by an ominous, dark-coated rider. The man had a grizzled, salt-and-pepper beard and lank, greasy gray hair that hung to his shoulders. A black, buckle-fronted fedora rested atop the man’s head with all the arrogance of a crown. Expensive steel buckles were scattered about his coat, belt and steel-shod boots. His black charger was slick with sweat from the sun’s heat; the billowing road-dust caked its flanks.

Behind him, a pair of riders occupied the second horse. The first was a younger, bony copy of the other man, but the second, riding pillion, was Marie. Ghuto clamped his hand over Poc’s mouth to keep the boy from crying out in shock or fear.

His own head swam and his temples pounded. These people who’d seen them, who’d recognize them: How were they so close behind? His throat was dry and his heart beat a double tattoo. Their horses, he thought, that’s how.

The lead rider cast a glance about and Ghuto ducked behind the bush. Great Gods above, Ghuto prayed, please, shield us from their eyes. He became aware that Poc was struggling against his grip. He loosened his hand around Poc’s mouth and the boy took in a massive, shuddering gasp of air.

“Shh,” Ghuto breathed him at him. The boy nodded, clearly biting back a whimper.

Ghuto turned his head back to the bush, crawling forward and peering through a small gap in the foliage. He could see the small stretch of the road that showed Poc’s shoe, nothing more. Slowly, Ghuto heard the jingling of the horses’ tack die to a halt. An iron-shod hoof thudded down in his view, followed by its partner.

“Stop here,” came a rough, harsh voice. “We let the horses drink.”

A pair of riding boots descended from the horse and landed heavily in the dirt. They dwarfed Poc’s small, empty shoe. Lusterless spurs dug into the muddy ground, a caking of blood scraping off of one of them.

“Very well, sir,” came a reply.

The black horse shifted its hooves. The man moved to the horse’s front and led it down to the ford. Over the pounding of his heart, Ghuto heard the horse greedily slopping up the water. The second, tan-coated horse eased into his view. Its own rider slid off and helped Marie down carefully. She bunched her skirts in her hands to keep them from dragging in the mud.

“Mister Melchias,” began Marie, but the older man cut her off.

“Silence! If you must speak to me, you will call me sir or Witchhunter: I will not tolerate disrespect.”

Ghuto’s pounding heart skipped a pair of beats. His stomach lurched - a witchhunter! No wonder they were following him and Poc! There could be no doubt that these riders were mere travelers now - even without Marie’s presence.

“No disrespect was meant, sir!” squealed Marie, lapsing into silence. The second man whispered some consolation to her. They led the second horse to the water as well. The horses drank uninterrupted by further conversion.

Finally, Melchias said, “Enough. If they drink too much, they’ll bloat themselves while we still have to ride. Let’s go.”

The riders remounted and moved on and Ghuto sighed in relief. Once they were gone, Poc scrambled out and grabbed his shoe.

+++

CSM Plog, Tactica

What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator! Imperator!

Last edited by Mossy Toes; 06-19-09 at 04:48 PM.
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post #2 of 34 (permalink) Old 06-12-09, 09:15 PM
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Now certainly this one will have more to it? LOL Good story bud! I thorougly enjoyed the read!

Good luck and good gaming,

Nate

"If you can't stun them with your tactical brilliance, baffle them with your superior grasp of BS."

"I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed man."

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Well, seeing as how you capitalize your characters, use proper grammar and punctuation, I'd say you qualify.
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post #3 of 34 (permalink) Old 06-12-09, 09:20 PM Thread Starter
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Indeed it will. There are six chapters, of which this is the first. Also, there are plans for two more in the trilogy, which have been plotted out but I haven't had the time to write, yet. I'm glad that you enjoyed it!

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post #4 of 34 (permalink) Old 06-12-09, 09:33 PM
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Excellent! I was starting to think you were an incorrigible tease...tantalizing us with your works only to leave us hanging !

Good luck and good gaming,

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"If you can't stun them with your tactical brilliance, baffle them with your superior grasp of BS."

"I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed man."

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Well, seeing as how you capitalize your characters, use proper grammar and punctuation, I'd say you qualify.
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post #5 of 34 (permalink) Old 06-14-09, 03:38 AM
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this is great, can't wait to see more.

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post #6 of 34 (permalink) Old 06-14-09, 04:15 AM
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This was amazing. I hope the second chapter is soon, eh.

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+++

Chapter Two

+++

Ahead, from the top of the hill, the sounds of revelry rang out. Wood to fuel a bonfire was being piled in the center of the square, and laughing children danced around an elder with an ancient fiddle. Several vendors hawked their wares and several cynics hawked their phlegm. Near the center of the unorganized urban sprawl, the gaily-painted inn sign of the Head of the Boar swung from its pole.

As Ghuto and Poc pushed through the thronging, vital mass, Poc twisted against his collar. Why did Nuncle have to hold it so tight! He just wanted to look at all the new sights! Here there were stalls stacked with sugary sweets; there a fool’s colored cloak twirled enchantingly. The sights and the constant, roaring babble were overwhelming. He just wanted to look at a few of them! Eventually though, the inn reared up ahead of them. The jostling, boisterous crowd lessened to mere passers-by.

A scarecrow of a boy with a head of auburn hair slumped across a balcony above the hanging sign. When he saw Poc and Ghuto coming up the packed dirt road, he leaned back through the doorway and shouted something inside.

As Poc arrived at the chipped front door it swung open, revealing an incredibly thin man—so thin that he made the boy on the railing look well-padded.

“Welcome sir,” the man said to Ghuto, bowing. “I am the innkeeper of this humble abode—please sir, what might your name be?”

Poc frowned at being ignored. However, the man’s odd manner of speech caught his ear and he listened in as Ghuto replied.

“I’m Jonis and this here is my nephew Selim. We were wondering if we could catch a room for the night. Could we?”

“Ahh,” the innkeeper sighed, seeming to collapse in on himself, “I am afraid we only have rooms for one available. All the farmers seem to be bringing in their broods for the Midsummer Festival—perhaps they hope to lose one or more child in the festivities. Hehe.

“If you do not mind sharing a bed, though, we do have several rooms available. I shall offer one discount. Please, sir, follow me and to see if it would meet your tastes. Also, I would rather the boy waited outside—no offence is meant to you, good sir, but he might rather upset my patrons with his dirt.”

Ghuto nodded.

“Selim,” he said to Poc, “wait here. I’ve got to go inside. I’ll be back in just a few minutes.”

“K’, Nuncle,” murmured Poc. Ghuto stepped through the door and the tall, scrawny man reentered the building. The battered wooden portal swung shut.

Poc sat down on the steps. He looked around a bit, but there was nothing interesting in sight. Then he remembered the teenaged boy on the balcony. He looked up, but the boy had receded back to his previous stupor of boredom.

“Um, hello,” called up Poc. The listless, pockmarked face peered down at him.

“Hullo,” said the boy. “Who’re you?

“I’m… right now I’m Selim. At least, that’s what Nuncle says. Who are you?”

“Name’s Jorden. Look, you’re really interesting, but I gotta go. Got lots of important things to do.”

The shaggy, ginger head pulled back from the balcony disinterestedly. It was funny, thought Poc. If he had more important things to do, why didn’t he get up and go do them?

Ghuto still hadn’t come back yet, so he tried to strike up conversation again.

“Like what?”

He heard a sigh from above him and the funny, gangly arms lurched back into view, soon followed by the funny, bouncing hair. The face underneath it was screwed into a knot of exasperation.

“Look, kid, Selm or whatever your name is, I just really don’t want to be talking to you right now, ok? My dad’s put me on guest-watch for the entire day and I’ll probably be sitting here till the inn’s full or it’s to be pitch black. Now would you just leave me alone?”

“Ok,” said Poc, considering this for a moment.

“Sometimes,” he said, “I wish that I could sit around all day. Especially after I’ve been walking all day already.”

He heard a blast of pained air above him.

“Hey, Jorden,” came a voice from down the road, “choo’ got there? You drag it in from the forest or something?”

Several more adolescents, all pimple-faced and awkward-limbed, strolled toward them along the dirt road.

“Hah!” replied Jorden. “Just some little scrap waiting for his uncle.”

“Do you think he’s got anything worth the time?” one of the boys asked.

Jorden moaned.

“Aww, come on guys, you know that’s bad for the inn’s business. My dad would get mad. Besides, look at this kid—he’s poorer than the old mud-woman!”

“Naw, naw, not that poor. The old witch doesn’t even have a penny to her name! Still, I see what you mean…”

Poc stared up at the boys who had, by now, surrounded him.

“What are you guys talking about?” he asked curiously.

Above him, Jorden hooked his legs over the balcony and slid down onto the jutting post that held the inn sign. From there, he jumped to the ground and thumped into the dirt.

“Aw,” he said, “just nothing, really. Don’t worry yourself.”

One of the bigger boys leaned forward.

“What’s yer name, kid?” he asked.

Poc leaned back a bit out of his way.

“Jorden already knows,” he said, “but I’m called Selim.”

“How old are you, Selim?”

“Six!” Poc exclaimed, holding up his left hand and wriggling his wrapped-up fingers. He frowned at their tight, concealing wrappings.

“Naw,” said the massive boy, “that’s five, Selim. You gotta have another finger up fer six—one from the other hand.”

“Oh,” said Poc, staring at his hand, “but I thought… okay.” He raised the thumb on his other hand. “How old are you guys?” he asked.

“I’m Gorgy. I’m fifteen myself, and the oldest of us,” said the boy. “Jorden here is one of the youngest—he’s only thirteen.”

“Wow,” breathed Poc, wide-eyed in admiration, “you guys are old. You must be almost as old as Nuncle.” The boys laughed at this.

“Choo’ doing out here, Selim? Waiting for your ‘Nuncle’?”

“Yeah,” said Poc, “I thought that it would be boring, but it isn’t ‘cause of Jorden and you guys. Isn’t Jorden’s hair silly?”

“Hey!” exclaimed Jorden, trying to cover his bouncy locks with his hands. The rest of the kids laughed hard.

“Hey, Selim,” said Gorgy. “Do you want a tour around? It’ll be fun—we can show you the best parts of the festival. When the bonfire burns down, yer uncle might even let you go coal-jumping!” The other boys laughed pretty hard at that. Even Gorgy and Jorden sniggered. Poc didn’t really understand why.

“Naw, man, naw! Don’t invite this baby!” groaned one of the other boys.

“I’m not a baby!” pouted Poc loudly, his confused good humor vanishing. “But I don’t know if I can come. Nuncle has to say ok.”

“C’mon!” said Jorden, “It’ll be fun!”

“Go ahead,” came a voice from the doorway behind them. Poc and Jorden spun around. There stood Jorden’s father, the tall, wraith-like innkeeper. “I’m sure that Jonis will be fine with it. He’s up getting settled into his room by my servant now. I hope that you enjoy the Festival.”

“Thank you, sir!” said Jorden enthusiastically. Poc still hesitated.

“I’m sure that you’ll see him later at the bonfire. If you need to see him later, you can always come back here.”

“All right,” said Poc nervously, “but you’re sure about that? I don’t wanna upset him.”

Don’t worry,” said the innkeeper warmly. He turned, still smiling, to his son, though his smile shifted shape a bit. “Why don’t you take him up to Sigurd the Baker later?” he asked his son. “I’m sure that he’d be willing to give away some of his sweet-pastries.”

“What- really? Thank you, father!” Jorden crowed happily.

The gaggle of boys took off down the street, Poc trailing behind.

+

“Has a Witchhunter come through here today?” Ghuto asked as he came down the stairs. The innkeeper, who had been coming back up them to meet him paused thoughtfully before answering.

“Why, sir? On the run?” Ghuto faltered for a moment, his foot hitting the next stair a fraction of a second late. The innkeeper gave half a smile and turned to follow him back down the stairs.

“No, of course not. That’s absurd! I just saw him and two others on the road yesterday - I though that he might have stopped for the night in Shelm and passed through here today. Has he?”

“Actually, sir, he has. Stopped outside our very inn for horsefeed. Very rude lout, he was. Went by the name of Melchias, and was traveling with his assistant and some girl.”

Ghuto licked his lips and opened his mouth to speak as he ducked outside, but then he froze.

“Where’s Selim?” he asked. He looked up and down the street. There was a shipment of wood; there was a pair of laborers. Where was his nephew? Dished, empty cobbles stared back at him.

“Where’s Selim!” he demanded the innkeeper frantically.

“Don’t worry, Jonis, sir. My boy Jorden and several of his friends took him out to see the sights of the Midsummer Festival. I’m sure you don’t mind.”

“I do mind! That boy has a knack for attracting trouble far bigger than he can handle!”

“What? Mischief? Then he should fit right in with the boys.” The innkeeper shrugged regretfully.

“No,” said Ghuto, sinking down onto the wooden steps, “he just- he’s one of the most unfortunate children I’ve ever seen.” His head sunk into his hands.

Behind Ghuto, the innkeeper gave a sharp, vicious little smile and nodded slightly in quiet agreement.


+

Poc was sure that the firewood was stacked wrong. Merely looking at it left a familiar, greasy taste in his mouth. Well, not a taste, but a feeling in his mind. It was like the deep stinging a rotten tooth. The wood was stacked in one big pile, with one leg of stacked wood reaching out to another, smaller one. He knew that he’d seen the shape they formed before, but he couldn’t quite place it.

Shefis, one of Gorgy’s friends, said that the stretching out of the fire was so that when it burned down, couples that wanted to have a baby jumped over the coals. He seemed to know everything. However, a lot of the jokes he and Gorgy told weren’t that funny. All the other boys thought that they were but they didn’t make sense to Poc.

Still, he was enjoying himself if he ignored the big pile of wood. There were lots of tents being strung up, and people with trays of hot pies wandered about selling their wares. Jorden and the others had gotten Poc a pie; they’d bumped one of the sellers so he looked at the bumper and somebody else had pinched it. It had been warm and filling and only a little of it had been gristle—but the best part was that it was all for him.

Exotic glassware was heaped on several of the tables that surrounded the square. Carpets and bolts of wool and flax were stacked in precarious piles.

Poorer people scrounged the edge of the square. The weird thing was how many of them were grown ups. Back home, most of the ones that he’d seen were young orphans that had lost their parents. There were almost no children to be seen here, though.

Ghuto wouldn’t have noticed that. Most adults wouldn’t have. They didn’t seem to really look at things—they just saw one thing and accepted it. Father might have seen it, but Father was a bad person. Ghuto had told him that when he had taken him away, but he had already known it. Father and Old Vulture were bad; they smelled like blood and pain and fear and misery.

But he didn’t want to think about them. He wanted to finish licking out this small wood bowl that had held the pie!

“C’mon Selim,” called Gorgy, “don’t fall behind! We’re going to Sigurd’s shop now—do you want to miss out on a free sweet-pastry?”

+

Ghuto cursed. The street was clogged with vendors and buyers who all seemed to be shoving toward him. He staggered out of the way of a tinker’s cart and then had to jump quickly to avoid being hit by a tightly knit pack of farmers. At last he found a quiet spot against a wall; an eddy in the crowd.

He wiped his forehead and looked around. Past the thronging mass, the road split two ways. Uphill, it flattened off to the village square. Below, the crowd died off and the buildings grew more decrepit. There wasn’t too big a difference between the best and the worst, though—there couldn’t even be more than two hundred houses in the entire town. It was hardly bigger than a village! His host had told him that the surrounding homesteaders and farmers had poured in for the festival and choked the town with life.

He had to keep heading for the square—that was where Poc would probably be. His darting eyes found another calm spot in the crowd ahead. It was a pocket of clear space directly across the street.

Ghuto pushed away from the wall and shoved his way past a bread-carrying woman. She dropped her basket. Ghuto breathed a hurried apology and pushed onward, but her foul-mouthed curses followed him.

Soon, though, he stepped through the invisible boundary and he was free; free from the shoving, churning mass of sharp elbows and shoving hips. He gathered his bearings again. It was curious, really. There should have been a wave of people sweeping through this section of the road. It was in the crux of the crossing, but the crowd automatically pushed around it in an arc.

He turned around and looked at the shop that was shunned by the crowd’s path. Tattered, hanging drapes and shawls weakly attempted to block out the dying light. A pair of glinting eyes stared back, holes in a smooth clay mask.

“Hail, traveler,” came a croaking, genderless voice that was muffled by the mask. “I know why you’ve come.”

Ghuto frowned at the shrouded figure. It was hunched with age and surrounded by graying robes that blended into the faded shawls around it.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Hah!” came a reply, “You know just as well as I. I won’t waste your time with any ‘cross my palm with silver’ nonsense. I have a message for you from one who seeks to help.”

Ghuto stiffened.

“Any who would of help to me,” he said roughly, “are farther away than you could ever guess. What are you? A mere, petty fortuneteller? I have no time for your games.”

The figured laughed harshly as Ghuto turned away.

“We’ll talk later, Exiled One. Graces be with you.”

Ghuto froze. Exiled One? Graces be with you? His heart froze in his chest. He broke away, shoving himself into the crowd. His mind whirled. Soon the shadowed stall fell out of sight. Its occupant hadn’t moved.

Only one of Phe’s – how could that – no. He would throw that out of his mind. It was just some half-wit hedge-warlock who had a knack for sticking his nose into more trouble than he knew. It was coincidence, nothing more.

He almost laughed at himself - bitterly - for that. He of all people should know better than to believe in coincidence. He needed to find Poc, now, and get out of this town.

Ahead, the dancers were beginning to light the bonfires.

+

“Oh, sir!” Jorden crowed excitedly, “Please sir, could we have some of your treats?”

The man laughed, his muscles rippling. He had a butcher’s muscles, decided Poc—how could he have gotten them kneading bread?

“Look now, Jordy, Gorgy. Shefis came up ahead and told me what yeh’d be wanting. It’s all ready now.”

He pulled a tray out of a cobb oven that had several scones and pastries on it. He made a show of fussing over them as the teenagers leaned hopefully toward the tray. Poc tried to get into the baker’s line of sight so that he could get a pastry too.

“Stand aside now, stand aside,” the massive man said, “let the kiddy get his first.” Grudgingly, the others sank to the sides. Poc felt every hungry eye on him. He smiled anxiously.

“Do I get to chose?” he asked, motioning to the proffered tray.

“Sure, if yeh want,” rumbled the mountainous man “but I’d really recommend this one here. It’s my specialty.” He grinned, baring a mouthful yellowed and missing teeth.

The pie in question really looked special. It was perfectly crisped, and even capped by a fresh strawberry.

“O-” Poc paused, something niggling at the back of his mind. He dismissed it.

“Ok.” He reached out and took the pastry. Everybody watched him in anticipation.

He bit down. The explosion of taste rocked his mouth and his eyes opened wide. He began stuffing it into his mouth in massive bites.

“That’s my boy!” laughed the baker. “Yeh might want to slow down, though. Savoring it’s half the delight!”

“What?” asked Poc around a mouthful. He crammed the last bite into his mouth. When no reply came except more laughter, he shrugged. “Aren’t you guys gonna eat some too?”

The tray was passed around. For some reason, they never stopped watching him as they ate their own pastries. He smiled nervously at them.

One of them whispered to Jorden, “When is he gonna-”

“Shut up!”

Poc’s stomach grumbled as he licked his mouth clean of the last small fragments. His eyes swam. He was feeling very dizzy all of the sudden, so he leaned against the boarded front of the baker’s open shop.

“Help me,” he said quietly.

Blackness swam around him and slowly blossomed inwards across his vision. Sigurd the Baker began to lean over him, but he fell faster than the man could reach. Falling, falling, he was falling into the dark…

+

As the last fingers of the setting sun sank beneath the horizon, the torchbearers strode forward. By now, a ring of onlookers surrounded them. Slowly, reverently, they lowered the flames to the tightly packed tinder at the bottom of the stacks of wood. The dried moss and kindling lit up hungrily, consuming itself with greedy red lips. The rising smoke shifted to flames and slowly, the larger sticks began to catch.

A few people in the crowd whooped with delight. In the shelter of an awning, drums began to beat and a fiddle began to play. As couples began to pair off for dancing, onlookers began to stamp to the beat.

Unfortunately, that meant that Ghuto’s shins were kicked relentlessly as he tried to push through the crowd. He kept up a steady stream of apologies and muttered curses as he worked his way past the well-dressed townsfolk. Too soon, the crowd compacted even further to make room for the dancers.

The few people that he had asked about Poc hadn’t even bothered with a reply. They’d just looked at him pityingly and walked away.

Finally, he made it to an edge of the crowd, where a shut-up bakery served as a backboard for several of the less enthusiastic members of the crowd.

“Excuse me,” he asked over the noise, “have any of you seen a little boy around? Goes by the name of Selim?”

“Nah, sir,” said the largest of them, a man wearing a baker’s apron. The man paused for a moment and continued, “I haven’t seen a single peeping little ‘un for several hours.”

The quick slap of leather on stone joined the mix of noises behind Ghuto. The dancers had begun. Ghuto twisted and looked at them for a second. At the base of the fire, the flames were licking higher. Ghuto turned back to the man.

“Well,” he said, “thanks anyways.”

“S’ no problem,” rumbled the man. “You’re just looking out fer your kid.” Wondering what baby goats had to do with anything, Ghuto made off along the side of the wall. Behind him, the baker relaxed and leaned to whisper something to one of his fellows.

+

“Master Jonis, sir!” came the cry.

Ghuto’s head whipped around and he stared into the dark alleyway. A vaguely familiar head of red hair stared back.

“Who are you?” Ghuto asked. The lad hopped back a step.

“I’m Jorden – the innkeeper’s son.”

“I remember your face, yes. Wait a second… your father said something about you leaving with Selim. Where is he?”

“That’s what I was trying to tell you, sir! He’s this way, but he’s had a bad fall!”

Ghuto pushed past a hapless woman and bounded over to the lad. Unreasonable fear curdled in his stomach.

“Where is he?” Under his furious gaze, the boy shrunk back.

“Just this way, sir.”

“Then lead me there!” Ghuto growled. The boy spun around and ran back along the alleyway. Ghuto followed closely in his footsteps.

The plank swung out of nowhere, directly at head height. Ghuto tried to duck, to dodge, but it was too sudden. The wood cracked into his face and his mind erupted in starbursts if pain. His neck snapped back and he crumpled to the ground. Black spots leached across his vision, growing and swallowing him in their depth.

+

Light. Dark. Light. Shadows shifted across his shut eyelids. He hurt. His neck, his face, his stomach – all three pounded in a symphony of bruises. Dried blood caked his forehead and clogged his nostrils. His eyes were swollen heavy and tight.

He cracked them open and saw the flickering flames. Tall shadowy figures, blurred by his waking, cavorted deamonically back and forth across his vision. They whirled and casting his eyes in shade, then light, and then shade again. Silhouettes loomed jerkily, claws of shade darting across the ground and flicking back and forth as the fire flared hungrily.

Drums beat a tattoo through Ghuto’s aching head and matched his pounding heart. They thrummed through his core and pounded the beat of the ancient earth. They spoke of secrets and carnal terrors long forgotten by man. They spoke of death.

The air was heavy with the rancorous scent of burnt flesh and the copper tang of blood. Ghuto smiled bitterly. Just like home. Just like that hell from which he had rescued Poc-

Poc.

Ghuto scrambled to his feet ungainly yet urgently, all but forgetting his injuries. Poc. He stumbled forward, bursting into the cobblestone square. He almost vomited.

The square was draped in a multitude of limp or bare, writhing bodies. Naked, masked dancers of both sexes whipped themselves with razored chains, twirling and laughing. The fire flickered behind them, illuminating the scene with a baleful red glow.

It raged. It was one massive pile of blazing fuel with a stack of wood spilling away and ending in a crescent. Across the shaft was a short perpendicular stacking – completing a massive rendition of the symbol of the Dark Prince.

Slaanesh…

The vile name whispered itself, coiling treacherously through his mind. The mere act of remembering it allowed it to slide in and plant fear and debased urges into his psyche. Why not simply relax and join the massed throng that carpeted the ground? Why not moan with pleasure with the rest as sparks hissed against their sweat-slicked skin? To delight in pain, to drift through its throes rather than fighting it, drowning in it. His sore neck tingled with a raw, delighting sensation. What was a mere boy, after all-

Poc.

He had to find Poc. He had to save Poc.

Ghuto drew his belt-knife and ran along the wall, trying to shake the fugue of pain and confusion that had sunken into his head. A naked cultist tried to lovingly embrace him and he stabbed his knife up to the hilt in its arm. As he ripped the blade messily out, the man shrieked with delight and fell backward. Ghuto ran along the edge of the courtyard and leapt over a mound of supine bodies.

Where was Poc? Ghuto was clueless, but he knew that he had to get away first, that he had to plan his next step. Ahead of him, several of the cultists that had managed to keep their wits somewhat around themselves were forming a wall of flesh. His roving eyes swept to the center the square beside the fire, where the conductor of this vile orchestra stood – the baker. A writhing, coiling serpent was tattooed across the man’s sweaty back. It seemed to shift and undulate in the flickering light.

Ghuto faltered and pawing hands groped at him. A slash of his knife sent out a spray of blood and another severed an outstretched thumb. A hole opened in the fleshy mass before him and he dove through. He slid and staggered to his feet, continuing to run. His treacherous eyes drifting back to the baker and the fire. There was where the awful stench came from – small, burnt bodies littered the crumbling wood and hissed as the flames embraced them. Ghuto almost sunk to his knees in shock and despair.

No. Poc – no. No! He looked frantically around – there! Several children were tied to a heavy shaft of wood. Not all of them had been sacrificed. Murdered.

Ghuto roared like a pained beast, charging heedlessly over the sprawled flesh. There, on the log, was Poc. Blue-gold eyes gazed calmly into Ghuto’s, surrounded by welts and bruises. Rage gaze him wings, lifting him and driving him forward like a hurricane. The baker’s face contorted with glimmer of recognition and he brandished a blackened sacrificial dagger toward Ghuto.

Just before Ghuto reached the man, a weight slammed into his back and he was borne to the ground. His chest slammed into the hard cobbles and his knife skittered across the stone into the flames. It vanished in a shower of sparks and a cascade of coals. A wash of boiling air radiated out from the fire and Ghuto broke out in a sweat. He heard heavy breathing above him and a bare, grimy foot dug into the fore of his back.

“I thought,” breathed the baker heavily, “that you had said, that you destroyed this fool!”

“I’m sorry, Master Sigurd,” came the defiant reply from Ghuto’s arrester. “I left him for dead in the alley. He has a thicker skull than I had assumed.”

“Check then, next time!” roared the naked Sigurd angrily, glistening in the heat of the fire. This close to the flames, all of his hair had been singed off. He stalked angrily forward and seemed to think better of it. Instead, he turned to the row of children bound to a log.

“This is your brat, isn’t it?” the baker growled, cutting at the leather bond holding Poc’s hands. “Or your nephew? Well, how about he goes on the fire next then? You’ve caused enough trouble.”

An animalistic shout ripped itself from Ghuto’s lips and he twisted. He grabbed his captor’s leg and rolled to one side, twisting violently as he did so. The slick flesh spun in his grasp and the person on top of him tumbled to the cobbles with a crack. Ghuto got his first look at the man; a heavyset youth with black hair and a rictus of hate and pain.

“Gorgy, you fool! Get him!”

The lad staggered upright and lunged towards Ghuto. Ghuto used his forearms to absorb the blow and twisted away. Gorgy followed, favoring his good leg.

Ghuto snarled and shoved, pushing the unfortunate lad into the crackling bonfire behind him. They wrapped around the boy greedily, eager to take in this new fuel. Sparks and coals showered out from the thrashing boy, and a heavy, charred log fell atop him. Pinned underneath the log, his screams were drowned by the laughter of the flames.

Ghuto turned slowly to Sigurd. The man had Poc under one arm, his hand wrapped over the boy’s mouth. The other one wiggled his sacrificial dagger. Ghuto took a step forward and the man laughed, half-shoving Poc towards the flames. Ghuto’s heart froze and he jerked with fear.

“Don’t take another step, Jonis,” said the muscular, sweat-soaked man. His naked flesh seemed to shimmer and flow in the light. “Not if you value this child’s life.”

Ghuto quivered with impotent rage. He let out small, snorting breaths and flexed his fingers. The hands and arms of the cultists behind him wrapped around his limbs, ensnaring and caressing him.

“Of course,” sneered the man, “I’ll still kill this boy afterwards. An eye for an eye, you see. You killed Gorgy after all.”

“No!” shrieked Ghuto struggling against his captors and only being dragged backwards.

“Oh yes,” said Sigurd, licking his cracking lips with a dry tongue, “and I’ll enjoy every second of it.”

A braying snort cut above the laughter of the cultists. All eyes turned. A tall, matt-furred beast, shadowed by more of its kin, stepped into the square. It looked around with obvious disgust at the sprawling figures around the square, many of whom hadn’t even stirred to watch the confrontation with Ghuto.

“Give us the boy,” growled the beastman in its guttural tongue. Oblivious, the cult master raised his arms in a mocking greeting.

“Look here!” he crowed to his followers. “The forest-brethren come to join our celebration!”

“Give me the boy!” snarled the beast crudely in Reikspiel.

Sigurd smiled, the skin around his eyes crinkling slightly.

“No.”

+++

CSM Plog, Tactica

What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator! Imperator!

Last edited by Mossy Toes; 06-15-09 at 06:57 AM.
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post #8 of 34 (permalink) Old 06-15-09, 07:13 AM
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Argh!!! cliffhangers are the Joker to the reader's Batman! but other than that very good.

One thing you can say for enemies; they make life more interesting.
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post #9 of 34 (permalink) Old 06-15-09, 09:01 AM
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You, sir have a knack. A Knack for telling a beast of a story. The dialogue is excellent, and although I'm normally against conversations, due to the way that it appears on the page, this is one occasion when I can read it easily ;)



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post #10 of 34 (permalink) Old 06-15-09, 09:09 AM
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This is just like reading a book, only better quality than a lot of them and it's free. You sir are amazing, so for that have some rep.

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