Heresy Fiction Comp 2010: The Ferryman's toll
It was that moment closest to Dawn which the ravens made their own, their sly calls filling the air and reminding Tunch of the butchers bill that would be paid here. The birds were a good omen though and they boded well for the coming battle. Tunch gripped the weapon his father had given him tightly, the solid metal of the lance’s shaft gave him a little comfort, like some tangible link to his distant sire. The weapon in his hands was not his only source of reassurance for either side of was a thousand strong wall of his father’s men, all of them entirely devoted to the Allking; all of them entirely dedicated to the task of protecting his son. It was one of the largest gathering of his people’s might seen since the wars with the orooku and it was designed with only one thing in mind, the destruction of the enemy who preyed upon their villages; pillaging the homesteads and raping and killing his people. This same enemy who were now the current target of the Allking’s ire.
Most of Tunch’s Clansmen carried a similar weapon to his own, though there were many variations, while others still carried small curved bows, designed for close quarter fighting. All of them were mounted upon Grelbaine, the large, aggressive raptors stamping their feet impatiently, each of the flightless birds stood over two metres tall and could easily match an Equest for speed. Their raucous calls filled the air as each sought to display their dominance of the others.
Tunch’s own mount, Kassar, was only a juvenile but it was still one of the finest animals here, its magnificent plummage more than fitting for the young warrior prince.
He yelped as something hit him hard from behind, relaxing a little when he heard a throaty laugh, realising it was his kinsman who had cuffed him.
‘This is it little cousin, today we take revenge for your brothers and show these Junglanders our teeth instead of our heels.’ Grevulf’s face was open and honest as he spoke, though his handsomeness was marred by the large scar that ran horizontally along one cheek.
Tunch grinned weakly in reply but couldn’t share Grevulf’s confidence, the Junglanders had come from the west in a ravaging horde, sweeping all before them in the name of one of their holy crusades, their belief in the God of men driving them to make war with those who did not share their zealous faith. His two older brothers; Maugin, his father’s heir, and Eremin, had been injured as they tried to repel a particularly violent assault on one of their Father‘s villages. As a result this large Fist had been gathered with Tunch being sent as his Sire’s representative.
Though Tunch had barely seen sixteen summers, his father had looked upon this as the perfect opportunity to blood him in the ways of war, by way of insurance, Grevulf, his older cousin had been chosen to serve as his advisor and protector. Though Tunch was the appointed figurehead, it was a token title, in reality the true power here was the more experienced and respected Grevulf.
‘Here,’ Grevulf handed him across a small leather bound flask, ‘this will steady your nerves.’
Tunch sniffed the contents and found they reeked of charcoal, the smell stung his nostrils so Tunch sipped it reluctantly. He nearly choked as the fiery liquid burned down his throat.
The Clansmen around them laughed and Tunch forced a weak smile. ‘Ooska?’
‘The firewater too strong for you boy?’ Called out one of the men. Tunch recognised the voice as Musta’s, the stunted weapon master was always one to seek the laughter of his fellow warriors.
‘No. It is of poor quality,’ he called back, ‘I prefer mine stronger!,‘ he tried not to retch once more as he did so.
The men roared their approval at the boys jest, most pounding their shields and calling out his name.
‘As you are so skilled at drinking Ooska my Prince, perhaps you will be similarly skilled in making war?’ Musta retorted, his face screwed into a tight sneer. The boy’s words having clearly angered him.
Tunch lowered his head refusing to meet the older warrior’s eyes, nervous that Musta would see his fear. The older man shamed him but there was little Tunch could do for he feared the old warrior.
It was his cousin who finally came to his rescue.
‘He is his Father’s son Musta, he will take to the bloodletting like a natural!’ Grevulf called out, the men cheered at his words, their spirits high.
When Tunch finally looked up Musta had turned away to share words with another of the warriors, relieved Tunch scanned his surroundings, all around him were the crimson colours of his clan, mixed with the green and gold colouring of the Grelbaines. In front of them was only the dark lined trees of the Goffen Forest, to their right the fast flowing waters of the Retten river and to their left the deep gulley where the long caravan and column of the Junglanders was due to pass according to their scouts.
He squinted his eyes as he spotted something moving near the tree line, shock crossing his face as he realised it was a figure swathed in black, worse still it seemed the stranger was staring straight at him. He was about to turn and warn Grevulf when his vision burst with colours as he met the strangers eyes, a cruel grin spreading across the other man’s face.
He gripped his head in his hands as pain blossomed behind his eyes, all the while the assault of colours continued, he felt himself fall from the back of Kassar to land hard on the solid ground. Worse he could feel wetness from as his eyes and nearly panicked as he realised it was blood.
It was then that a spasm took him and the muscles of his whole body contracted, wracked in pain, the colours suddenly resolved into images, visions of such clarity that he was at once shocked and entranced by them. They played through his mind like a lifetime of memories, offering a damning glimpse of the future.
Then, it was over and he sagged once more to the ground. He awoke to find Grevulf and Piphenstok, the Healer, standing over him. The older man held his hand in a surprising delicate grip, while he held smelling herbs to Tunch’s nose. Grevulf’s face was a picture of concern, for he knew that if Tunch was harmed, his life would be forfeit.
Tunch gasped in a huge lungful of air as the Healer wiped the blood from his face with a cool cloth.
‘Has he been struck? ‘ Grevulf cried, he gripped the old healers’s arm tightly as Piphenstock ignored him, ‘tell me old man! Is he wounded?’
‘He is fine as far as I can see,’ he snatched his arm away, ‘though it would help if you would let me do my job so I could tell properly.’
Grevulf moved away, anger clearly etched on his stony features.
‘I-I am fine Cousin,’ he said weakly.
‘My Lord!’ called out a voice, it was Horiz, one of the scouts, ‘the column has been sighted and is approaching now.’
‘We must prepare ourselves, time is of the essence.’ called out Grenadus, the Allking’s favoured assassin, his words though quiet were filled with purpose.
‘No.’ A voice called out, halting them in their tracks.
Tunch was surprised to realise it was his own.
‘We cannot attack, for they know we are coming.’ The gathered warriors looked at him incredulously.
‘How can you possibly know this?’ growled Grevulf, unsure of why his cousin was acting so strangely.
Tunch wasn’t certain of what to say but he couldn’t allow his clansmen to be killed.
‘I-I had a vision.’ there was a murmur of shock that ran through the assembled warriors,
Some of them even made the sign of the eight pointed star warding them against such magics.
‘Impossible! You do not have the far sight!’ called out Piphenstock.
Tunch became desperate now, if they did not believe him they would be crushed by the ambush that awaited them. ‘It is the truth, they await for you on the edges of the gulley, not only that but they have Orm with them.’
Derisory laughter was the only answer to his pleas.
He reached forward to grip his Cousin‘s arm, ‘Grevulf, please! You have to believe me.’
Musta pulled his Grelbaine between them, ‘The boy is mad, the Junglanders have no Orm only the beast seekers can control them and they have not been seen for decades.’
Tunch grimaced as he remembered the vision of the massive beasts bounding on two legs, crushing Grelbaine and warrior alike. All fangs and maw, the beasts were said to have been left behind by the Orooku and his father had fought long and hard to see them extinct, however from time to time they still appeared. Now it seemed there enemy had found some of their own.
‘Then you would disobey my Uncle?’ called out Grevulf finally, pushing past Musta, he decided that his kinsman would not lie.
Musta pointed at the boy. ‘He is not your Uncle.’
Grevulf sneered at the other warrior’s remark. ‘No, but my Uncle’s blood runs in Tunch’s veins, can any other man here say the same!’
He knew none would dare claim such and that only he and Tunch had any true claim.
Squabbling then broke out as the Clansmen argued amongst themselves, unable to decide whether to believe what the boy had declared, finally one voice broke out over all the others.
‘Enough!’ the tone of the voice was subtle yet filled with command, they all turned to see Tyran move his mount through the throng. The massive warrior was a seasoned killer and one of the Allking’s best. All argument died under his gaze, only Grenadus did not shy away from those eyes, for the Assassin believed himself a match for any man. Even the Grelbaine seemed cowed by Tyran’s presence.
‘Razier, take your scouts and see if the boys words ring true.’ he called, ordering the scout with an ease borne of expected dominance. The scout nodded and several of the men followed as he moved off.
Grevulf took his cue from the other warrior, ‘Musta prepare the pitch for the arrows, if there are Orm there I want us to be ready and fire arrows are the best way to kill the beasts.’
The men moved to do as they were ordered and Tyran began to move off to join them.
‘My thanks Tyran.’ Grevulf called after him, relief clear on his face to have the big warrior on their side.
Tyran halted his mount and turned his head to look back at them. ‘Do not thank me yet whelp, if the boy is wrong and we lose here today, I will kill you.,’ he spurred his mount into action then as an afterthought he called back over his shoulder, ‘and the boy will share your fate.’
With that he kicked his mounts flank and the massive bird began to run, carrying the big warrior away once more.
Tunch did not know what was worse, Tyran’s threat or the fact that when he turned back, the figure still watched him from the forest’s edge.
The Fist had returned to a hero’s welcome, the people of the Allking’s Hold running from their homesteads to march alongside the warriors as they rode for the palace. The woman and children squealing in terror as they saw the bodies of the Orms brought back as a gift to Tunch’s father, the men simply laughing and singing in celebration at the latest victory of the Allking’s warriors.
Tunch had laughed as he saw his people throng the streets, as the Fist had marched the Victory road, the huge palace of the Allking rearing up in front of them like the gates to the afterlife.
Tunch and Grevulf now knelt upon the marble floor of his Father‘s throne room, their heads pressed against the cool surface, daring not to look up. Before them, the massive form of Tunch’s father languished upon a throne made from the skulls of his many enemies, like a parody of one of the ancient gods. An aura of power resonated from the old warrior and all who stepped into his presence could feel it palpably. The Allking was an obese man, though slabs of muscle and fat covered his body in equal amounts, the pox marks that covered his face on one side were testament to the favour the Gods blessed him with, for few survived the gift of their deadly afflictions.
‘I do not care whether he is the Skull God incarnate, he is too useful to me to simply allow you to lock him up in your towers.’ Bellowed the Allking, his body physically quaking with rage.
‘My Lord, he has the farsight! Your edict clearly states that any with such a gift should be sent to my brethren for study, only we can deal with such power.’ The coweled figure who prostrated himself before the Allking pleaded.
Tunch knew that Bocus, his father’s High priest, was right but still he hoped his father would deny him for although Tunch enjoyed learning of the Mystic arts, he had heard rumours of the disturbing practices the priests engaged in.
‘To hell with my edicts, my word is final, he remains with me.’ Though he looked like he wanted to argue the point further Bocus merely bowed, knowing he was defeated.
‘As you wish my Lord, we shall pray to the Gods, that you are right as always.’ The Allking lashed out at that, throwing a piece of grox meat at the other man.
‘To hell with the Gods! They care not for your prayers anymore than the God of Men cares for those of the Junglanders. They seek deeds not actions, I care not for them, they want nothing from me and I nothing from them. Now leave me for I have much to discuss at my War table and your reek distracts me.’
The mystic rose and left the room, leaving the Allking, Grevulf and Tunch alone.
Grevulf and Tunch kept their heads pressed against the floor until such time as the Allking acknowledged them, as was only respectful. The acknowledgement was not long in coming for one of them at least.
‘So Grevulf, my Blade Grenadus tells me you have won us a great victory, that the Junglanders were left reeling by your raid. Not only that but that you killed several of those accursed Beast Seekers and their pet Orm. ’
Grevulf raised his head slowly, positively beaming at the praise. The Allking rose to his feet moving forward to stroke the head of the [I]Orm[/I[ that the Fist had presented him with to seal their victory.
‘There will be a great feast in your honour my Brother Son.’ The Allking smiled as he spoke, Grevulf aped the Older man‘s actions, pleased with himself.
The smile then faded from his father’s lips. ‘Now leave us.’
His kinsman bowed then left, Tunch remained completely still as he felt his father’s eyes boring into the back of his head as his attention turned to his Son.
‘A vision eh? I truly did not expect that one of my sons would trod the path of the mystic.’
Tunch remained silent he had not been addressed yet.
‘Tell me my Son, what do you see? Do you perhaps see more Orm?’ He sneered indicating the beast’s head that Grevulf had returned with.
‘No my Father, I see a figure in black, for he haunts me, after that I see a Junglander try to kill you.’
The Allking lifted his son’s head in one of his meaty hands. ‘Tried to, then they fail?’
‘Of course Father, but I know you must have Grenadus with you at all times or they will succeed.’
The Allking simply nodded. ‘Very well. What of the rest of the Junglanders? I know that at least half their strength was elsewhere.’
Tunch shook his head, ‘I have so nothing of the others father.’ he stopped as though unsure if he should continue. ‘Father this figure in black-’
‘There is no figure in black boy, it is simply a trick of your mind, ignore it, I will not have the men thinking you are mad as well as cursed. You will speak no more of this.’
His father turned away and headed to his War room. ‘Mosseis, send for the Council, I wish to discuss the coming campaign with them.’
Tunch dearly wished for his Father to offer him succour, to solve the mystery of the figure in black for him but that was not his Father’s way. Instead Tunch would have to find answers of his own.
Tunch had prayed by the idol of the ten headed God, for it was said he was the one who protects those blessed with the curse of farsight, for several hours, hoping to find the answers in religion that his Father would not provide him. It hadn’t worked, it seemed his Father was right again, the Gods were not the answer. He would leave praying to the Mystics and the Junglanders.
He now sat upon the roof of the Hold’s Great Hall, the quiet of the night, giving him time to think on his Gift. Below him he could hear the muffled sounds of celebration as his Clansmen revelled in their victory over the Junglanders. He could also hear the muffled screams as the prisoners were sacrificed to appease the Gods and Tunch once again was thankful that he was here instead of down there. Killing held no appeal for him, he preferred to learn, to understand how the world around him worked, how the stars in the sky penetrated the gloom of the voided night to shine brightly when all else was darkness, like a man struggling to rise from obscurity.
He reached down to take out the small flask of dew-wasp honey mead and the pack of sweet meats he had taken from the stores earlier and drank a small draught before biting happily into the meat. His mouth fell open, dropping the meat, when he noticed the figure sitting on the roof of the hut across from him. Perched like a bird the man, the same one who had seen at the treeline, stared at him intently, the same cruel smile playing on his lips.
‘By the Gods,‘ Tunch cried, ‘ will you not leave me be?’
He then screamed as the pain in his head returned, the colours spinning once more to strike his mind from different angles. He rolled onto his back as he spasmed with the pain, weeping tears of blood, he was shown more visions.
Several minutes later he opened his eyes, gulping for air he wiped his stinging eyes. Anger at what had happened, he pounded his fists upon the roof and cursed the Gods for giving him the farsight. Finally when his tantrum was over and he sat exhausted, he rose to his feet. Strangely the figure was gone, it seemed this time it had not hung around to watch him suffer.
He debated with himself whether he should warn his Father of his latest vision or instead whether to remain silent and allow the future to play out as he had been shown. He thought on it for a while as he gathered himself, he decided he would do what any dutiful son would do.
He would warn his Father.
He watched his Father eagerly, the Huge form of the Allking was mounted upon his favourite Chariot, the Gold plated battle machine was pulled forward by no less than four Equests, the rarest creatures in the old king’s stables. It was an ostentatious display designed to show exactly how much wealth and power his father exerted.
All around him were his Honour Guard, the fiercest warriors his Clan had to provide. They rode close to the Allking, their huge Grelbaines the most powerful of the clan’s flock. Each sported a Golden mask, shaped to resemble his Father’s features so that every time an enemy fell to their huge Glaives the last face they would see would be the Allkings.
To each side of this tight knot was the rest of the army, thousands of men had rallied to the Allking’s call and now they waited here to finally end the threat of the Junglanders and their erstwhile allies.
Tunch had seen the town before him in his vision, he knew it was here that their enemy had decided to set up camp for the winter, here they intended to wait out the worst weather for a fresh campaign of raids in the Spring. Thanks to Tunch’s vision they would not get that chance, he had warned his Father and advised him to rally his men, for this final battle would be the killing blow. The Junglanders would not recover from the losses and then the crusade would cease.
He did not mention to his father about the other vision he had had, the one with the faceless warrior chasing Tunch through a wood. It seemed pointless to him to do so.
He nodded as Grevulf moved forward to bring his mount in line with Kassar.
‘You alright Tunch? you look as pale as a day old lynxon.’ Grevulf asked as he pulled along side him, genuine concern contrasting with the fearsome war paint on his face, ‘Don’t worry, the Gods will favour us this day, the followers of the God of men want know what hit them.’
Tunch nodded weakly, he was still spooked by the man in his Vision, worse still he felt like he was constantly looking over his shoulder for the figure in black.
‘Just watch my back Grevulf.’ He muttered grimly.
‘Ah pre battle-nerves,’ he placed his arm round his young kinsman’s back, ‘Don’t worry Tunch no-one is going to harm you whil-’
He never finished the sentence, instead an arrow blossomed like a blood red flower upon his throat. Tunch yelled in dismay as his Cousin’s lifeless body toppled from his Grelbaine. All around them chaos erupted as the sounds of raised shouts and stamping feet appeared at their rear.
Tunch heard someone yell. ‘They’re behind us!’ He spun trying to get a better view of what was happening.
He was immediately caught up in the madness as the army tried to wheel to meet the new threat, all the while arrows continued to punch his Clansmen from their steeds. Tunch could see swarming figures moving along the town’s walls aiming their long bows. It seemed they were caught between the hammer and the anvil. He couldn’t believe his gift had been wrong he had been so sure of victory.
The worst however was still to come, to the east there was a cacophony of screams as several huge Orm burst into the disarrayed flank of the Allking’s forces. The massive beasts caught the Clansmen on that side completely unawares and they died in swathes as they and their mounts were torn to pieces.
The Allking bellowed the orders and his men rallied around him, they became a solid wedge that drove into the heart of the newly arrived enemy force but with the element of surprise in their foes favour, Tunch could see they would be lucky to escape with their lives. He watched in disbelief as his kinsman Griver was punched from his Grelbaine by an enemy lance, too many of his family had died this day and most shockingly he worried that it was his fault, that his Father would of course blame him.
He had to escape, this was too much. He turned Kassar around and fled towards the treeline, to the northern side away from the fighting and the township, the cries of pain and sounds of death and on into the peace of the woodland.
Unbeknownst to Tunch, a warrior had seen his flight and now detached himself from the fighting to give chase.
Kassar pushed them forward on his mighty legs, the raptor’s speed taking them to the edge of the forest within a matter of moments, it was only when they passed the threshold that Tunch realised his mistake.
‘No, no, no.’ he whispered, surveying the familiar surroundings, he pulled heard on Kassar’s reigns and brought his mount round.
It was then he saw the figure from his nightmares, the warrior from his vision was bearing down hard on them and was almost at the treeline.
Tunch nudged Kassar round once more ready to flee but instead the Raptor toppled forward as a solid bolt found its mark in the Grelbaine’s flesh. Tunch barely had time to cry out as he was thrown clear of the stricken bird.
He landed hard and felt the wind rush from his lungs, he rolled on the ground trying to catch his breath.
The massive figure of his assailant filled his tear soaked vision, he watched as the blurrily vague warrior came closer, removing its mask.
He screamed in fear as he realised it was Tyran and scrambled backwards, pulling his small knife from its holder as he did so.
Tyran simply smiled, his had rising to show off the blood covered falchion he carried. ’I warned you that if your visions led us to ruin that I would kill you.’
Tunch threw his knife weakly at the big warrior, then raised his hands to cover his face as Tyran simply dodged the throw before raising his own weapon to strike.
It was then that Tyran’s head exploded like a rotten melon being struck by a hammer.
Blood and skull fragments showered forward to cover Tunch’s face, he whimpered in disbelief, unsure of what had just happened. He rolled onto his side to look behind him as he heard something moving.
He was shocked to see that it was the figure in black. Standing a little behind him was a naked man with a cage covering his head and his hands bound by knots of chain, the chain was then joined to the stranger’s belt.
‘Finally we come to the Endgame.’ The man spoke finally, his voice was light, almost melodic and though he spoke Tunch’s language, the words seemed odd, it was almost as though the mouth speaking was unused to forming the words.
‘Who-who are you?’ Tunch stammered rising to his feet unsteadily.
‘I am Darkus.’ he said as though introducing himself to a child, he then turned to the shambling figure, ‘and this is LoLucas, he is like you.’
Tunch was unsure what he meant by that.
‘What I am about to explain to you, you will not understand but I will tell you anyway. I am not of this world and have come from the void to seek you, this world is only one of millions, millions that are inhabited by mankind. These worlds make up the Imperium of Man, I am an agent of that Imperium. You my boy are warp touched and the Emperor has needs of you.’
Tunch could not fathom what the words and simply stood dumbstruck by what was happening. ‘I do not understand, you came from the stars?’
Darkus ignored him, ‘You are quite the quarry, it took a scheme of some devising to finally remove you from the protection of your clan.’
He reached out and touched Tunch lightly on the forehead. The boy fell to his knees as a Vision assailed him, this time though it was clear and painless, as though it was projected from somewhere else rather than dredged up from the depths of his dark mind. When it was over he was seething with rage.
He rose to his feet, rage filling him as he realised what he had been shown.
‘It was you all along!’ he snarled. ‘You changed my visions, you- you killed my Father and my kinsmen!’
He rushed forward and tried to tackle Darkus but the other man was quicker, he shifted his weight and Tunch suddenly found himself on his back once more, the wind driven from his lungs.
‘Your kin were merely drops of rain falling into the swollen river that is humanity,’ he gripped Tunch by the hair and pulled his head up so that Tunch’s eyes met his own. ‘You though my boy, you are something altogether more interesting.’
Darkus released him, then rose from his crouching position.
At the mention of his name the man creature began to gibber, his mouth foaming.
As if in reaction to LoLucas’ words a dark mass appeared behind the two of them, it was massive and dwarfed all three of them. When it finally resolved into a shape, Tunch was shocked to realise it was a building, perhaps one of the biggest building he had ever seen, easily larger than even the mighty cathedral on Jungland. It was blacker than the most starless night and its form spoke more of brutality than function and Tunch’s mind recoiled as he felt the waves of dark emotion that poured forth from it. He nearly retched as he felt the sheer anguish it radiated.
‘What is that?’ he cried finally, looking down at the ground so as to avoid looking at the building further.
‘This? This my boy is a black ship, it has come to take you home.’ Darkus replied as a ramp descended slowly.
‘A ship? How is that possible?’ Tunch tried to reply but he barely heard the response for a new vision took him.
This new vision was infinitely more trying than any that had gone before for it was of an insatiable God, a God with a hunger unending, opening his maw to swallow Tunch whole.
Last edited by the_unchanged; 08-31-10 at 11:58 PM.