Black Metal 2

December 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Running in darkness, even darkness lit by moonlight, can easily end in a loss of balance. Running in darkness on a mountain can easily end in a loss of life. Yet she hurled herself onward, trusting in her feet to find purchase, following the sound ahead of her and the flickering of an obvious cooking fire glowing like a coal ahead. Her breathing, her heart hammering drowning out much of the sounds around her.

One lunged into her path, barely visible, a blur of moonlit warts and yellow teeth. She dropped her shoulder and rammed herself hard into its chest, bringing the mace haft-first into its gut and letting the impact push her back, bowling the creature over. It bounced in her path. She used the momentum to spin herself around, sliding her hands up to grip the mace and bring it up and then down. The head caved in from the blow and flattened into the stone, bone crushed. The kick she dealt it wasn’t even necessary.

Leaving the bodies in her wake slowed them down. They stopped to eat their own. Despite their fearsome appearance, hideous mottled skin, claws like razors and teeth like a mouthful of broken glass, they were easier to kill than a man for her. Oh, they were stronger, faster, but there was nothing about them that inspired hesitation. Nothing that made her remember that these were someone’s sons or daughters, nothing she felt any sort of sympathy for.

Sympathy for her required some ability to feel kinship, and she refused to feel that. Not for them.

The faint light in the distance became brighter as she ran. Unlike most priests, even priests of Galia, the Daughters trained as battle chaplains, going into war alongside the armies of Alron. Standard bearers for the war goddess. She’d trained for years, but even so, she could feel herself growing short of breath. Her trainers and teachers had always emphasized that ignoring pain could only take you so far, that you had to become inured to it, used to it. Pain was your body telling you that you were exceeding your limits. It could stop you, or it could goad you, if you understood it.

She felt like she was reaching the limits of her ability to understand it.

Staggering, she finally came into the circle of light thrown by a large fire, and realized it was a burning set of wagons. There were streaks of lamp oil along the side of the closest one, and broken glass in the wood where a lantern of some kind had been smashed into it. In the circle of fire made by the crackling wood, improvised bonfires, she could make out two shapes that were clearly not the same as the ravenous, snarling, slobbering monsters trying to eat her.

One was an eight foot tall white bear. At least eight feet. The sight of it was strange enough. She’d never seen a white bear before, although there certainly were bears in Nazren forests. This one would have been striking enough for being a huge white shape in the dim moonlight, but that wasn’t what nearly rooted her where she stood.

The bear was holding a massive crescent blade mounted on an even larger wooden stock, and swung the thing with wide, easy stroked that crushed four or five of the things at a time. The weight of the four foot blade cleaved or tore them in half when it hit them, spraying their flesh in arcs. The disadvantage of the bear’s weapon was that it was huge, slow even for so gigantic a creature.

I’m standing here criticizing a bear’s choice of weapon. Without taking her eyes off of the bear she drove her metal-shod foot out and back, crashing into a knee with a satisfying popping sound and rolled forward under the burning rear gate of one of the wagons. She came to her feet out of range of the enormous axe, letting the bear see her clearly. Aside from its white color and a certain cast of thought to its eyes, it looked similar to bears she’d seen mounted in her uncle’s home years before.

Next to the bear, nearly hidden by the shadows cast by it, a smaller figure was firing arrows from a Tarsen-style laminated bone bow. He was very fast, and she saw him nock and draw and aim one directly at her before his eyes visibly widened and he changed his position very slightly. The bow hurled an arrow over her shoulder and into a throat a few feet above her, and as it fell clutching its ruined windpipe she smashed her mace up in a stabbing motion crushing its pelvis from below.

There was no time to do more than acknowledge each other as not those things and continue killing. The bear continued to sweep the giant poleaxe in arcs that scattered limbs and what they used for blood, even though the blade had long since gone dull from use. She fell back inside the bear’s generous reach and played defense for it, her faster strikes covering for the axe’s long return. The archer (he was actually a couple of inches taller than she was, which made him a very tall man) kept firing until he was out of arrows, then started throwing knives until he ran out of those, and finally drew a long curved blade from a back scabbard and took up a similar position to hers behind the bear.

The night passed in this fashion.

Whatever they were, the creatures seemed to finally have enough as the sun rose. She had been panting, waiting for more to come leaping over one of the wagons (they burned themselves as they came and didn’t seem to care) when the edge of wine red light began cresting the mountains to the east. It occurred to her then that there had been no new attacks for minutes. Sagging, her arms and chest throbbing with effort and sweat pouring down her face, she planted the head of her mace in the soil and leaned against it.

“Are they gone?” The man’s voice sounded as strained as hers, surprisingly reedy for a big man like him. She turned to look at him and opened her mouth. Then the bear drove the poleaxe into the turf like a flagpole and dropped onto all fours.

“I can’t smell anything. Too much dead, too much fire.” It snorted the air and turned to look at her. “Where did you come from?”

Panting, she pulled her helmet off of her head and dropped it onto the ground.

“I could … ask you … likewise.”

“She’s a Galian.” The man stood up straight by leaning himself against the closest burned out wagon. “She’s got to be headed to or from Null.” His hair was the same color as the steadily brightening sunlight burning its way across the east sky, as were his eyes. His skin was pallid with a dusting of light red dots across his cheeks and a scar on his throat. She’d seen similar scars years before. He seemed to know where she was looking. “Yeah, it’s a Naeth mark. I was five when they got me, fifteen when I got out. Did you fight the Naeth?”

“It was before my time.” She shuddered to get air. “So, is anyone going to explain the bear?”

“What’s there to explain?” The bear spoke again as it plopped onto its ass, sitting and swinging its head from side to side. “I’m a bear, you already know that part.”

“You can talk.”

“So can you. Are we going to trade the obvious?”

“Do you have a name?” She pulled the mailed coif back next, letting her short hair feel the air blow across it to cool down. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have many talking bears in Nazrean.”

“I call him Bely. It’s a Hentre word for white. You can call me Mark. It’s not my name but you Alronians absolutely butcher Hentre words.” Sliding down the wood until he crouch-leaned against the wagon, Mark took deep, slow breaths and leaned his head back against it. “I think we burned all the food. Oh, I hope not. I’m so hungry.”

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