Fan fiction:Bane Hero of the North/Chapter 10
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Bane Hero of the North is a fan fiction piece by Bane, originally posted on The Dark Library. The fiction series was recovered on April 14th 2010. You can find more information on Bane:Hero of the North article.
Chapter 10: The Gate(Part I)
The eruptions of fire from outside the complex had deepened his mood. The room was dark, and the true form of Horthis sat on his giant throne, his large thick boned figure finding comfort with difficulty.
He sat rubbing at his twisted thin chin with clawed hand, hundreds of thoughts rushing through his mind all at once. The most pressing of these was the re-emergence of his brother, Grandium. Why did Grandium ask an audience of him, was he not burrowed away somewhere, hidden in the very core of the world, plotting against it. What was his brother planning? Did it involve Horthis himself?
“You needn’t worry brother…” came a voice from behind the double doors leading into his room. It was loud and powerful, the very sound capable of freezing men. He had seen it before upon arrival in this world. Horthis shuffled uneasily in his seat.
“What do you want Grandium?” The doors swung open, a green mist entered the room.
“No brother anymore Horthis?” The mist dissipated leaving the tall figure of his brother before him.
“Always keen on making a big entrance Grandium…” Grandium laughed reply at Horthis’s words, and began a slow pace towards the throne, Grandium’s long clawed legs breaking the room’s tiled floor.
Grandium began to study the room in greater detail, walking over to the long table to his side running his hand over the polished wood. His attention quickly turned to the weapons and armour mounted on the walls. His hands reached out snake-like towards a halberd. He swung it about as if fighting an unseen enemy. Horthis watched with great interest.
“Nice toys you have here brother.” Grandium replaced the halberd and walked over to a piece of armour besides a furious fire, behind Horthis’ throne. Grandium began to stroke it gently.
“What do you want ‘brother’?” Grandium’s face brightened, his cruel sharp facial features breaking into a wicked smile. He stopped before Horthis, who had righted himself.
“Concerned are we, you always were troubled when you had no idea what I was doing weren’t you Horthis.” Horthis stood up and neared his brother.
“I wish to know what you are up to. I do not like being left in the dark.” Grandium laughed once more and began circling his brother.
“Always needing information aren’t we Horthis, always wanting to know everything happening on this damned planet. Why do you bother?”
“I need not explain my reasons to you Grandium, they are mine and mine alone but you will tell me what you are up to.” Grandium made himself to appear as though hurt by Horthis’ words, drawing his long green muscled arms in front of him.
“Your home has changed…”
“I am content with it Grandium.”
“Yes, I have no doubt that you are.” Horthis raised his voice, the coarseness of it echoing down the room’s walls and into the corridor.
“Tell me what you are doing brother!”
“Why do you think I am up to something every time we meet these days?” Horthis moved closer to his brother, placing his hand on broad shoulder. Fire burned in his eyes. Grandium was up to something; Horthis knew how much his brother enjoyed these games.
“I know you would not come out of your ‘burrow’ without reason to. A family visit is never in the cards you hold.” The two stared at each other momentarily before Grandium slipped away from his brother’s grasp.
“I am talking about the Way’ Far brother.” Horthis’ eyes widened. What did his brother want to do with the gate?
“The Way’ Far is lost to this world Grandium, we will never find it.” Certainty in the demons voice. Horthis relaxed slightly, and sat himself gently down on his throne.
“You are certain of this are you brother.” Horthis remained silent.
“We have tried to find it before but found nothing Grandium.”
“Yes but this world constantly changes Horthis, perhaps the gate has revealed itself once more and it is time to search for it.” Horthis raised his hairless eyebrow.
“What would you do with it if you found it brother? Return home?” Grandium stepped forward, anger evident on his face. Horthis’s mocking tone was something he did not enjoy.
“Yes brother, home and away from this damned world I have grown so tired with over the past centuries.”
“With all the power the Way’ Far contains you would return home through it? The darkness within can be used as a weapon against this world Grandium. We both know this yet your telling me your dark and twisted soul would rather return to our home. You lie well brother.” Grandium flashed a smile and stepped within breathing distance of Horthis.
“Perhaps, perhaps not. The gate is still yet to be found and a decision yet to be made. I ask of you to help me locate the Way’ Far Horthis. Have you no interest upon going home, and then what of this world and its cares and troubles.”
“Very well Grandium… I may help you find the gate, if only to return home. Leave me now brother to think on your proposal.” Grandium nodded, his form disappearing into the same green mist he had travelled here by.
“You’re a fool brother, the Way’ Far is not a toy to play with, do you take me for an idiot. The power that you could amass with the gate in your hands would destroy this world. I will not be made a pawn in this game Grandium.” Horthis whispered, the green mist far away now. The demon sat back on his throne, his heavy claw scratched at his chin.
The thrown fist missed Bane by a mile, his panther like movements too quick for the man who had challenged him in the square. Bane ducked and sent his fist crashing up into his adversary’s ribs. A satisfying crunch followed and the man screamed out, falling hard on his knees. Bane followed through his combination sending his fist into the big man’s jaw, once again the sound of a bone breaking filling his mind. The man dropped back, a trail of blood dripping from mouth.
The crowd cheered and Bane nodded, before turning to Walkin, who looked shocked at the display. Bane walked over to his friend and smiled like a child. Walkin could not help notice the blood on the barbarian’s hands.
“You draw attention upon yourself easily don’t you Bane.” The barbarian simply nodded.
“The man had asked for it Walkin. Do not start a fight if you can’t go through with it.”
Walkin shook his head. The man had deserved some pain for Walkin had seen what he had done to Bane. The big man had walked right up to the barbarian and had pushed Bane into a market store. Bane was not a happy barbarian but instead of responding with sword, as Walkin had expected, Bane simply waded in with fists and kicks.
“We should return home now Bane, that fight would have attracted unwanted attention.” Bane nodded and sure enough as he turned he could see giant plumed helmets sticking out from the crowd, that broke apart as soon as the city guards began rounding up the spectators and the injured man.
Bane was happy, he had not seen any action for more than two weeks, since his encounter with the Dark Rider. He had returned to Galmnor shortly afterwards, and had stayed there since, without any wish to leave.
It had worried Bane for he began to live a more civilised life style, one that consisted of dining and washing, polite conversation and dullness, and the worst thing of all Bane had seemed content with it all.
He had seen very little of Travin, even less of Kabana, but Balkin and Chiana were around most of the time. With the mere thought of Kabana Bane was worried for his friend had become dark after the encounter in the clearing on the Night of Souls.
The man’s usual calm attitude towards things had seemed to fall apart. Bane could see a great need to leave building within Kabana. Bane had noticed him snap more, go wild like Bane himself would do. It was shortly after there arrival back in Galmnor did Kabana mention he would be leaving soon. He left afterwards with no mention on where he was going or when he would be back.
Of all the people he had met since he had left his homeland for the Western Kingdoms the dark coloured man had been the most striking individual, Kabana had a warrior spirit, any fighting man could detect that in someone, but he also had a heart warmer than most. He had seen Kabana stop fights in Travin’s bar with just words. Something Bane knew he could never achieve, certainly not now.
He had spent most of the time with Chiana, learning more about her and her people in the deserts of Aranoch. It had been an unexpected joy to learn about the customs of the eastern people, the differences between his homeland, the Western Kingdoms and the sandy cities of Aranoch was astonishing. The talks with her had made him swear he would travel into Aranoch before his death. Lost in thought Bane had hardly noticed the journey back to Walkin’s home.
Walkin stopped outside and turned towards his large friend. He could see Bane was troubled but had not asked him why. His left hand carried the food he had bought in the market, nicely contained in a sack that he placed by Bane’s foot.
“Bane…we are back.” The barbarian shook his head softly, as if shaking a blow in a fight.
“My mind is else where Walkin. I am going to see Chiana and Balkin now.” Bane turned away in a trance like state and began his walk to Travin’s Pub The Dog.
It was a short walk, a walk where Bane failed to see many people pointing and staring at him. They had heard and seen a lot of the north-man, many of the children in the area enjoyed watching him pass many an occasion. Bane had even seen some playing as barbarians in the streets, painting fake blue ‘war’ tattoos on their faces and running around screaming. It usually brought a smile to the barbarians normally hard face.
The Dog was unusually full. Smoke filled the room as if the place was on fire. Men and women laughed and shouted while others sat silently and on their own, keeping company with long elegant pipes and half-full pints. Bane walked over to the bar and sat down on the tall barstools, his hand taking out his depleted money pouch, ready to start drinking.
The barkeeper Travin trusted to run his tavern walked over to Bane, a great smile drawn across his stern looking face. Bane gave a nod which the returned. He tied his white apron tighter around him before addressing Bane with words.
“Good day to you barbarian.” He said, the smile still on his face. Bane had never really studied the man before, indeed only knew his name or the name used by the man’s friends. Pug they called him or ‘Pug the Brave’. Pug was a tall man, perhaps as tall as Bane. He was well built, not like Bane but much tougher looking than most men, rivalling that of his former employer Konrad. The man looked as though he had seen action as well, small cuts littered his face and forearms.
“To you as well Pug.”
“I heard about a clash in the market a few minutes ago from a source of mine, involving a brute of a man.” Bane pretended to be shocked.
“Don’t know what your talking about man.” he said smiling.
“What do you want to drink?”
The room was dark despite the burning torches set up on the walls. It seemed as though the light was being suffocated by the darkness. Footsteps echoed outside the thick oak door that separated the room from the corridor.
Kabana looked around. It had been a while since he had been in Kehjistan and within the walls of the great Zakarum Church. It had been a tiring trip to get here, through the sands of Aranoch and the very jungles of Kehjistan. He had travelled alone and as quickly as possible given his position in Entsteig.
The huge towers reached out to catch the clouds and stars and could be seen from miles away, towering over the trees, and the very jungles of Kehjistan.
Finally he had news to report to his superiors, information he had never wanted to believe, information he had never wanted to uncover. How much his news would worry the council he had no clue, perhaps this will be an annoyance to them, something that Sankekur, Que-Hegan would ignore, awaiting deeper and darker news from other agents with more evidence of corruption within the civilised lands.
The night he had offered a barkeeper his help to locate his lost son had proven nothing more than a constant nightmare. When he had slept he saw nothing but the Dark Rider and his demonic minions, worse though he saw the humans among the group, who hid themselves in robes and screamed as much as the beasts they stood by. If that wasn’t proof of the Prime Evils corruption upon the face of the world what was?
Now he sat on a long bench awaiting Sankekur, Que-Hegan and the council to ask him to present the information. For the first time in a while he felt the weight of his armour, dressed in his full plate mail, his white robes a symbol of power and purity.
Apparently his appearance had caused uproar within the very council itself, and not more than a week ago bishops from Westmarch had been called forth as well, including Archbishop Lazarus to discuss the action to be taken.
Kabana had no doubt that the evenings proceedings would be a long drawn out debate, with those in the church on two separate sides, one on Sankekur, Que-Hegan’s side, backing his decisions with loyalty and commitment, and those who have been rumoured to be a cancer within the high positions of the Zakarum.
The footsteps from outside his room came closer, breaking his chain of thoughts. The shuffling of sandaled feet could be heard besides the door that opened slowly to reveal a young man dressed in customary orange and purple robes. His eyes revealed no thought; no individuality for the boy was merely an errand boy for the council and had no need of his own opinions and thoughts.
“You are summoned.” He whispered in a rehearsed manner. Kabana stood confidently and began an easy pace out of the room and into the corridor.
The corridor was long and wide, large paintings and statues lined the brickwork in small alcoves. He had walked this way a couple of times before in his life and service to the Zakarum. The church was much grander than those that had been erected in the Western Kingdoms. The errand boy was besides him, walking quickly to keep up with the strides of the knight.
Two great doors stood closed before them, after the pair had negotiated their way through the many corridors and rooms that led to the great Council Chamber. Two armed men flanked the doors, wearing their full plate mail and carrying tall halberds. From the distance they looked like nothing more than the statues he had seen on the way here, standing there motionless. Upon arrival they stirred and took hold of the door handles, two great rings of iron. They pulled back and the doors opened with little resistance.
The room was grander than that of any he had seen in Galmnor. There were long spanning tapestries and hanging curtains depicting scenes of battle and great men who had become saints and martyrs after their deaths. The Horadrim mages could also be seen battling the Prime Evils, they’re past glories relived for the privileged.
Indeed Sankekur, Que-Hegan had gathered a lot of high figures in the order, which now sat in their allotted seats high above the ground. Kabana looked up to see the semi-circle of seats located high in the northern wall where Sankekur, Que-Hegan sat, his gnarled staff in hand, his other playing with his long grey beard. Besides him was the powerful figure of the Archbishop Lazarus, a blank and unreadable expression on his face.
The Archbishop was a well-respected man in the Council, even more so than the Supreme Patriarch himself; his loyalty to Sankekur was unquestionable however. It was Lazarus alone who took the responsibility of spreading the Zakarum religion to the west. It had been some kind of personal quest, one that earned him the respect of the council.
All the details of the room, including the council were lit up by the standard burning torches on the walls, instead a great ball of light hung from the ceiling, almost like the sun itself. The doors shut silently behind him and Kabana shuffled forward, to the centre of the room. He raised his head towards Que-Hegan and waited to be addressed.
“Good Kabana, trusted general to the Zakarum Order I welcome you back home.” The patriarchs voice was unshaken and calm, sounding friendlier than he last remembered it being. Kabana replied.
“Thank you Supreme Patriarch, it is good to be here.” silence ensued; Que-Hegan’s old face broke into an easy smile. He stood from his seat to address the gathered bishops and Kabana.
“As you all know, I have sent members of our Order into the Western Kingdoms on certain quests, all of great importance. Some to spread word, others to build churches and gather the people to us so the Light can touch them, and although we have had great difficulty there has been a start, an uneasy one which will be fully continued at a future date, for only when we have spread the Light through the east can we begin in the west. It gives me no pleasure to hear that one such man, who stands before you now, brings word of no good tiding.” the council began talking, each man whispering to the next, apart from Que-Hegan and Lazarus, who remained silent. The Supreme Patriarch continued, the power in his voice silencing the whispers.
“Tell us what you have uncovered good knight.” Kabana could feel all eyes turn on him, something he had gotten use to serving as a general to the paladin’s, the trusted knights of the Zakarum.
“It is as you feared, for I have seen the Prime Evil’s corruption, signs of their evil tainting our very hearts.” A laugh broke out. Kabana turned to the man who had mocked him. It was Archbishop Medici, one of the so-called ‘cancers of the council’. The man was tall, possibly taller than the Archbishop Lazarus and much younger.
“There is no such thing as corruption man!” he shouted. “The Prime Evils have been locked away for more than one-hundred and fifty years, where is the proof?” Kabana shook his head; he had no respect for fools such as Medici.
“With respect sir, my words are true. Ask any man who has met me, I do not lie or even manipulate the truth.”
“But you lie everyday on your mission; you are an agent.”
“Yes my lord, but I would not lie to the very people I serve. My words are true for I saw this corruption with my own eyes on the Night of Souls. I had stumbled onto a scene of chaos and evil upon a request from an elderly man wishing his son to be found. It led me to a human sacrifice where demons and monsters, the likes such are shown on the very tapestries and paintings in this church. With these beasts, standing together were men and women. I watched them chant in ancient tongue and dance in the very blood spilt from the men, women and children that had been butchered on the stone.” Archbishop Lazarus stood, turning his attentions towards the outspoken Medici, his voice like a calm breeze.
“You really believe that just because we have contained the Three that their work has been completely halted. Only an ignorant man would say such things, but to hear such words come out of an archbishop of the Zakarum Church’s very mouth is such as blasphemy itself. We can not ignore the Prime Evils any more than the Horadrim’s trust they put in us to contain such evil.” Archbishop Lazarus’ words were not spoken with anger but hit home like a knife in the chest. Medici appeared agitated and embarrassed.
“What have we been doing all this time then… building churches and spreading lies? Westmarch may believe in our words, but those in Entsteig and Khanduras are stubborn, even unwelcome. And what of the Horadrim? They have been at constant war with themselves for more than two centuries even before the capture of the Three. They are nothing more than a broken brotherhood that has split into different factions, clans that seemed to have forgotten this world now. What worry do we have if the mighty Horadrim do not worry and concern themselves with such trifle matters such as the agent speaks?” Archbishop Lazarus remained standing and glared icily towards Medici. Kabana shuffled uneasily in the centre. He knew there would be disagreement in the meeting.
Suddenly other voices could be heard, siding with and against Lazarus. The words that were shouted were lost in the crescendo, the very tone of it echoing through the giant room as if it were an angry cloud ready to fling great lightning bolts upon the world. Kabana stood patiently, trying to make out individual conversations and arguments. It seemed as though Kabana’s news had split the council even more than it had been rumoured to. These were his superiors, the people that had sworn allegiance to the Horadrim. He had seen children make better arguments.
Then a powerful voice silenced the council, and all eyes turned to the Supreme Patriarch. His hand was still busy playing with his beard, wrapping pieces of it around his old fingers. His staff seemed to hum, sounding like a fly beating at its wings. An inch from the end, where the symbol of the Supreme Patriarch hung proudly was a bright light, a ball of fire similar to that of the light above them.
“It is a sad time indeed when I see my brothers fight amongst themselves. If the Three could hear us now they would laugh at us. The position of the Horadrim should no longer concern us. They have done their job, now we must do ours. It is obvious that Sanctuary is contaminated by the Three’s presence even if they are not free and able to do it themselves. Kabana brings us bad news and we must act.”
“What do you suggest?” asked Archbishop Lazarus, seating himself, no longer glaring at Medici who now turned his attention towards Kabana.
“I can see no alternative but to increase our searches. People who have been touched by chaos will not be easily found. They hide themselves away in the very heart of civilisation. They could be anyone, rich or poor. That is all, I thank you for your time.” Whispers filled the chamber, more arguments perhaps? Kabana remained standing as the council dispersed.
“What of me?” Kabana asked staring directly into the calm old eyes of the Supreme Patriarch.
“You will remain here Kabana. I will inform you when you will be needed next.” Kabana nodded and turned to leave.
Bane stared at his empty tankard, slowly swirling the remains of the ale around. His pocket was empty and his head was swimming. This was city life, a dull society he thought as he looked at the drunks in the tavern. Perhaps he had stayed in one place too long? He was here, in Galmnor to do a job, one that he had ignored since his arrival. There was no work for mercenary units in Galmnor or anywhere else it seemed.
Konrad would have no doubt, moved his small army of misfits from Kath-Amor by now. Why did Bane feel guilty about it anyway? He had hardly given the matter any thought since his arrival. He had met new people, so far his only friends in the civilised lands. He had a job of sorts, one that bothered him little. Travin however, had not been around much and with no approaches for potential work Bane had nothing to do but drink and make conversation with his newfound friends, something of a difficulty for the barbarian.
A warm hand touched his shoulder and he turned to see the smiling face of Chiana, her long hair tied back. She sat down besides him without a word. Bane noticed Balkin had also entered the tavern and was at the bar.
Bane could not think up anything to say to the girl, the ale had took hold of his senses, he would only sound and act like a fool he thought. Chiana sat silently too, but looked as though she wanted to talk. Bane shook his head, annoyed by the constant banging in his head.
“You look like you’ve drunk too much!” she said in a cheerful way. Bane simply nodded, all words forgotten.
“Not going to say anything? You going to stare at your empty drink all night!” she laughed and Bane smiled.
“This empty drink is about as interesting as Galmnor. It feels as though I’m doing nothing here. I could have stayed at home, amongst my brothers if I wanted to drink. Free there it is, the drink I mean, well most of the time anyway.” He leant back on his seat and looked over at Chiana.
“I think we all need to get out of here. Kabana’s gone, Travin isn’t around.” Bane nodded.
“Have you ever been to the Gulf of Westmarch?” Bane’s mind cleared and his ears seemed to pin back.
“I have heard of it but have never been.” he replied, sitting more upright than before.
“Great! I have not been either; I ask you this because Balkin is going to see his brother there in a couple of day’s time. He would be glad of some company.”
“I have never seen the sea before, it would be nice to, its a never ending lake I hear.” Chiana laughed again.
“I have never heard it put like that before. The sea is an amazing sight Bane; I have spent most of my life looking over the walls of Lut Gholein, staring at the docks and the waters. How much it will affect a big lad like you I don’t know?” Her customary playful laugh followed. The shuffling of feet besides Bane made him turn. Balkin held a tray of drinks and set it down on the table. Balkin grinned and sat on a stool between Bane and Chiana.
“Drinks for me Balkin, your too kind.” Balkin blushed and passed a drink to Chiana and then to Bane.
“Quiet girl. I’m not the only one who’s going to be drinking tonight.” Bane noticed a troubled look across his short companion.
“What is wrong?” Balkin screwed his face up and turned to the barbarian.
“Troubles my barbarian friend, troubles on my brother’s farm. Someone’s trying to take it from him! Of all the disrespectful things to do to an honest hard working man like my brother! He needs my help.” Balkin was surprisingly angry. Gone was his hard man act and playful cursing, instead Bane could sense nothing more than rage, an anger that was building up inside.
“Ease down. There’s nothing you can do right now is there. When do you leave?” Balkin took a deep swig of his drink and placed it hard on the table.
“No damn it. Your right Bane, that’s not gonna’ stop me from cursing though. I’m leaving tomorrow as soon as daybreak. It’s going to take a while before I get there though, Kanton is a few miles off the Gulf of Westmarch, a week at the very least.”
“Mind if we tag along?” Chiana asked, her hand touched Balkin’s gently. Bane shook his head and smiled.
“I could use your help, I don’t know these people who are playing with my brothers livelihood, but he said they were pretty rough.”
“I could use some action, I hope they don’t disappoint!” Bane shouted, his hand firmly on the hilt of his sword. The crowded drinkers in the tavern turned towards the sudden loud shout from the barbarian, looks of confusion and anger on their faces.
The sun rose high above the seemingly endless rolling grass fields and hills that scattered the countryside. Dense woods were like its borders, forests Bane had entered before on his way to Galmnor. Finally he had left the city that had trapped him. He was on the move again and already he felt free. The soft wind was a refreshing breeze against his face.
The journey had already taken up the past three days, the ground covered quicker because of Balkin’s hurry. They would push the horses at a quick pace through most of the day, stopping occasionally to rest the horses and feed them. Bane had enjoyed the hunting for it was more exciting than spending a week in a tavern. He had practised more in the use of the bow and had shown his inexperience.
Chiana with the lightest of touch had tutored Bane well enough, and his third arrow had hit and killed a moving target. He had smiled proudly as if it was the day he had become a man. The rabbit was not a hearty meal but he had eaten it with the joy of a child, something that Chiana had seen a lot in the barbarian.
She had seen things in him that Bane probably did not know existed himself. Bane had seemed to look upon a lot of things through a child’s eye, his eyes would widen, and his mouth would sometimes hang open.
“Tell me about your brother.” Bane asked, curiosity clear on his voice. Balkin slowed his horse down to a trot, and looked towards the barbarian. The dark cloud that had Balkin in such a mood seemed to pass.
“My brother is a very special man Bane. He is a few years younger than I, yet wiser and a better man than me. He had married at a young age, only twenty I think to a lovely lass… now what was her name,” Balkin searched his mind for his brother’s wife while Bane patiently rode his horse slowly next to Balkin.
“Laya. That’s the one…Laya,” he shook his head as if he should have known it all along. The sun began to glare angry upon them, and Bane raised his hand to cover his eyes.
“My brother is called Bailey, he is a farmer, an honest one at that. Took the honourable route he did, unlike myself, I suppose that’s why I lov... like him so much. I am proud of him.” Bane nodded as if in understanding.
“I never had a brother, a blood tied one, but I have many in my homeland that I care for; they are all my brothers in Kamidia.” A look of longing passed Bane’s face. Was he missing his homeland?
“I have never been to the barbarian mountains Bane, I have seen them in the distance many times, it must be a different place there?” Bane nodded, a smile spreading across his face. He lowered his hand and rested back on his sword hilt.
“It is a wonderful place, despite what many people in the Western Kingdoms would say and think. Snow covered mountains that stretch as far as the eye can see, reaching out towards the stars like your towers in Galmnor except no man made them. Only the gods can be responsible.” Bane could picture his village sitting in the valley this very moment, smoke rising out of snow caked houses, children wearing thick animal pelts to protect them from the cold while they played in the snow, the men and women of the village sat in the Long House, besides the warmth of a crackling raging fire, talking about days of long ago. It was a community, where everybody counted, where everybody depended on the next to survive unlike the society he had seen in the Western Kingdoms so far. Here he saw what power did to men and women alike, where the arts of powerful godly magic were taught by the few to the masses. A place where those with power can do what they like. The words that Travin had used in a conversation once had interested Bane, he had not forgotten them; “Those with power can determine the exception.”
“Perhaps it would take you some time, when my lust for adventure dies out and I wish to return home.” Chiana sighed behind the talking pair, and rubbed at her eyes sleepily.
“Do you know if there is a town near?” She asked, her face paler than usual. Bane shrugged and turned to Balkin.
“There are small farms dotted around the area but no real town, why do you ask?” Chiana closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“I don’t feel so good.” Bane turned his horse gently around and began a trot towards the girl. When he arrived she attempted to smile. Bane placed his free hand on her forehead.
“She’s burning up. We should rest.” Bane took out his water pouch from the saddle of his horse and passed it into Chiana’s shaking hand. She drank deeply but clumsily; excess water flowed like a spilt flask down her chin and cheeks. Once she had finished she lowered the goatskin pouch and looked slightly refreshed. She then passed it back to Bane.
The next hour went slowly, constantly stopping to accommodate Chiana’s needs. It was a strange thing Bane thought for she was bright and well early in the day. It was like she had been suddenly hit by an unnatural illness that neither Balkin nor himself could explain. He had seen cases similar to this in his homeland, but the shaman would be there to administer treatment, the patient well by the following morning. Here there was no one with the knowledge of healing. All Bane could hope for was Chiana getting well over a good nights sleep in a bed if possible, or even a barn.
The scenery changed slightly over the course of the day, the land becoming littered with more trees and animal life. Fields that were obviously tended by man were also littered amongst the scenery, corn and other foods growing well.
When the group arrived on top of a small rise in the land they could see a small group of large houses set about in a circle. Pens surrounded them, livestock such as cows and pigs milled about like they were watching some form of entertainment.
“Looks a nice little place.” Balkin whispered, the length of the day finally tiring him. Bane nodded and began leading his horse towards the settlement.
Bane led the way through a winding gravel path lined with white fences. The scent of home cooking drifted in the air, as well as the scent of the animals. Small children hid behind fences as they passed, watching the barbarian closely and fearfully. Men looking after the stables and pens gathered together, crude makeshift weapons in hand such as pikes, shovels and simple wooden clubs.
Bane stopped his horse before the nervous looking crowd of people. He counted eight, all of them healthy looking but with similar distrusting facial expressions. Bane spoke aloud determined to break the silence.
“We mean you no harm. Our friend is not well and needs rest. Would it be acceptable to stay with you for the night?” There was no answer for several minutes. Each man looked to the other until a short stocky man stepped forward, his hands gripped a wooden club securely.
“What is wrong with your friend?” he asked in a low but heated tone.
“I do not know, she is tired, we all are. Would you be able to put us up for the night?” The man who stepped forward turned to his companions quickly, but realising his eyes were not on the intruders he whipped it back round as if his very life depended on the action.
“That is the only business you have here?” curiosity was evident. Bane replied quickly.
“Yes. What other business do you mean? We are merely travelling to see a friend in Kanton.” The farmer looked relieved, a sigh and slump of shoulders followed.
“I apoligise for our uneasy way but people have been to us recently, coming with threats. They have killed off many of our animals.” Balkin came forward.
“I am visiting my brother in Kanton. He is a farmer like you. He says he has been approached by people recently as well, although I do not know the circumstances.” The farmer looked to his left and right, still apparently nervous.
“I will explain things, this way, you can stay in my home for the night.” Bane smiled and got down from his horse and proceeded to help a complaining Chiana from her horse. The farmer turned to the group of men by the paddocks.
“Stable the horses lads and carry on.”
The farmer led them away, further on down the gravelled path, passed a brick well positioned at the centre of the homes. The farming houses were of a generally good size and had their own distinctions despite the unified look.
The man spoke with Bane as they walked towards the house, Bane introduced himself and his companions, and the farmer did the same. He was called Hugo and was in charge of the farms in the immediate vicinity. He said he had a wife called Erylin and two daughters called Nian and Elyse who were the most important things in his life. He told Bane that farming was in his blood. He had helped his father on the farm when he was a child, learning the trade in the same way his father had and his before that. He mentioned nothing about the men who had come to the village however, and Bane did not want to press him on it. Not yet.
Hugo’s home was the largest building in the area. It was of simple design, but built solidly out of good stone and strong wood. As soon as the small oak door was opened Bane could smell the aroma of home cooking strongly.
The hallway, although large, was plain and of simple construction, the walls were not painted but polished, the wooden floor seemed well made, Bane could see a blurred image of himself on the polished wood. The base of a flight of stairs was located to the north, besides an open door that led into another room.
“Come this way.” Hugo whispered leading the trio into another large room. Scattered chairs and a small rectangular table made up the rooms furniture. Windows let in the days dying light, windows in which one could see the fields and men still slaving away outside.
Small paintings hung in a series on the eastern wall of the room; closer inspection revealed that the paintings were a history of the farming community in which Bane now found himself. The building they were in had its own set of paintings from its start of the production to the finish. The walls in this room where white, while the floor was made to match the hallway, various large red rugs and animal pelts lay on top of the polished surface, a stark contrast to the walls. A door slowly opened before them and a thin woman with long black hair stepped forward, concern across her hard features.
“Who are these people?” she asked her husband who took a hold of her arm softly. He whispered into her ear and she relaxed. She smiled and walked towards Chiana who Bane was supporting. She brushed back the girls hair that had fallen over her face and looked at her with a mothers love.
“This way my love.” She said softly, taking her away from Bane and leading her out of the room. Chiana did not resist.
“My wife will tend to your friend Bane. She has a basic knowledge of healing. Sit, my wife has cooked some chicken and vegetables. There is not a lot you understand but we were not expecting guests today.”
“That is fine Hugo, thank you.” The barbarian sat awkwardly down on a seat that had a high back. The cushioning of the furniture was comfortable. Bane relaxed and took off his sword belt, propping it up against the back chair leg.
Hugo pulled the empty table over to Bane and Balkin and rushed into the kitchen. Shortly afterwards he returned with steaming plates which he placed carefully in front of Bane and Balkin. Hugo had given them a lot of food he thought. The man sat down before them after he had roamed the room, shutting the open doors and drawing the windows shut.
“We will not be disturbed Bane. My wife and daughters are with your friend, she will be fine by morning. As we walked across the square I noticed you were interested in our problems Bane, I could sense you were anxious to know more. I can tell you now. Perhaps the information might spread more light into the misfortunes of your brother also Balkin.”
“Why are you being so secretive?” asked Bane, sitting upright and tucking into the meat on the plate.
“It is a strange time my friends. For years we have lived here peacefully with no real trouble. Aye, people have tried to steal our stock before but nothing like this. The people who came here were odd, originally peaceful. Over the last few weeks however the actions have become hostile towards us. They watch us constantly from the woods, and come to our very homes to beat upon us. At first we thought them nothing more than a group of wandering priests, trying to spread their religion. Then there words became strange, evil I could say, their ideologies twisted. When we told them to leave they became aggressive, and killed some of our cows, burning some of our crop fields. Shortly after this I sent my nephew to check out the neighbouring towns and villages. He came back bruised and fearful, his news even more strange.”
“He told us of this group. They were much bigger than we originally thought, and had started trouble in many towns. My nephew had found out by word of mouth in taverns that these people were not only in Entsteig, but in Khanduras as well, possibly even Westmarch.”
“Does anyone know what they want?” Hugo shook his head.
“There are ideas. Many believe that they are directly facing off against the Zakarum Church, that they are trying to preach a new religion to the people. If this is true they are going about it in a tyrannical way and I believe it will not work.”
“Word of mouth is never accurate Hugo.” Balkin exclaimed, gravy dripping from his chin.
“Yes but there is no denying the fact that these people are about and are up to something.” Bane was deeply interested. No one like the people Hugo described were in Galmnor, perhaps it was just in the pastures surrounding the main cities, affecting the small towns and farming communities. Finally there was no more talk. The three sat and ate their fill until the daylight had drifted away to leave the dark void of night. Bane and Balkin were shown to an empty room, usually used for storage but was cleared early on in the week. Hugo supplied them some bedding which provided more comfort than the road. Balkin had fallen asleep shortly after closing his tired eyes. Bane however felt refreshed by the food supplied by the friendly farmer, his mind alive and active with the words spoken in the conversation earlier.
The group of ‘priests’ had interested Bane, his curiosity had been fed and now all he could think about was discovering more information on them. Eventually he fell asleep to, besides his snoring companion.
Bane was disturbed, his light sleep allowed a noise to filter through into his not-so peaceful dreams. At first Bane had believed it was his dream, part of it, for he had been riding across a yellow field, its tall grass came up to the horse’s knees. Something had scared the horse as it came to a halt, it reared backwards throwing Bane to the ground, the soft grass had disappeared for some reason but the impact had not hurt. From his prone position Bane could see what had scared the horse; a snake was directly in front of it, hissing like it was possessed. His horse began neighing.
Snapping out of his dream he could hear a horse was whinnying, possibly in terror. Bane stood up slowly and picked up his sword belt. He carefully tied it around his waist and opened the door. Moving quietly through the house he made for the door.
“What are you doing?” Bane turned around. Startled to see Hugo standing by the staircase, a candle burning in his raised hand.
“I heard a sound from outside, I was about to investigate.” Hugo stepped forward, putting the candle out.
“I did too, its those damn ‘priests’ snooping around the stables, probably going to steal them too.” Bane looked angry.
“I am going to check, if they are they can have some cold steel for their efforts.” Bane turned away from Hugo and took a hold of the cold iron door handle. He pulled back on it gently and moved forward, eyes and ears open to the surroundings.
The moon hung in the sky, casting its eerie light onto the farmhouses. The wind was soft and whistled gently against his ears, a ringing sound beat at a consistent rhythm, and the horse was still whinnying. Heavy footsteps came behind him and Bane turned round quickly, his sword withdrawn smoothly, his heart began beating faster.
“Can’t see anyone.” Hugo said, too loud for Bane’s liking. The barbarian brought his index finger to his lips, wordlessly instructing the farmer to be quiet. Hugo nodded and crept forward to the best of his ability.
Bane brought his hands up; momentarily forgetting the man with him would not understand Kentu, the barbarian hand-code. Hugo shrugged at Bane’s commands forcing Bane to curse. He was no longer with his people. The two crept forward, keeping low and near to the buildings.
Bane could ‘sense’ that something was wrong, the same gut feeling he had noticed mature into a lifesaver. Hugo was nervous yet did not turn back and almost clung to Bane’s arm as they drifted towards the stables.
Bane’s mind was racing. If this was an assault on the farm surely he could do something to protect the farm. More importantly however, he could find out information about the group of strange ‘priests’, something that would satisfy his inquisitiveness.
Shortly after crossing an open area where the homes were separated by a low-cut grass field Bane discovered the ringing noise was that of a chain hanging from a closed gate, banging tenderly against the wood. Then the farmer jumped and let slip a gasp; an owl had begun singing its hollow wraithlike song, the very sound running a tremor up and down Bane’s spine. The leaves of the trees and bush that squeezed past the gate rustled violently to their right and Bane issued a snarl, as harsh and terrifying as that of a wild animal. Hugo steeped away from the barbarian, panic across his face.
Bane stepped forward, his eyes narrowed as if the action would pierce the dense leaves so that he could see beyond them. They rustled again and Bane rushed forward, pushing the quivering bush aside. Bane relaxed suddenly for it was only a cat. It stared up at him; its giant intelligent eyes seemed to pierce his mind forcing him to look away. When Bane turned back round to see it the animal had gone, but he could still hear the rustling of leaves as it made its way through the bushes.
Gathering themselves together, the pair began to head towards the stables, the horses even wilder. Bane began a fast pace, his long strides taking him far away from Hugo, who was forced to run on his small legs.
The cold hilt of his sword in hand was a comfort to Bane, for he knew if there was indeed a formidable opponent around the stables at least he could rely on his weapon, and the natural but trained fighting instincts that had kept him alive in combat situations before. Although his heart was beating Bane was not afraid, his mind seemed clearer than it had been as he had moved through the farm buildings and down the gravel paths.
Bane’s sharp eyesight picked out a form rushing away from the stables, but it was fast. Bane arrived at the stables and peered into the darkness. Two horses lay slain on the ground, there blood forming a giant pool that the other horses avoided. Bane was pleased to see his mount still standing and alive, if a little shaken. It looked like Balkin’s horse was fine, but Chiana’s black steed was cut on its flanks, blood dripping down its powerful frame.
Bane stepped forward and began stroking the wounded horse that relaxed slightly. Bane turned to see a horrified Hugo, The man stood at the doorway and gasped.
“Why do they keep doing this?” he whispered as he stood beside the barbarian. He could see footprints in the blood, and followed the trail out of the stables and onto the grass. Whatever he saw rushing from the stables was most probably long gone. Bane cursed and turned to Hugo.
“There are empty stables further on up the path, the horses should be taken there now.” Bane nodded.
“You should go to sleep Hugo, I will tend to the horses and stay with them the remainder of the night. My sleep is light so do not fear for me.” Hugo simply nodded, the look of disgust and horror still on his face.
It was early morning when Bane and his companions left the farmhouse and got back on the road to Kanton. Farmer Hugo had his wife prepare previsions for the journey and had already groomed and fed the horses.
Chiana was bright and well, her face bursting with colour. Whatever Hugo’s wife did it worked, or at least seemed to. Her horse however was a different story. The wounds had proved fatal and it had died an hour before daybreak. The farming community had been generous however, realising the haste the group needed Hugo had supplied a fine chestnut horse for her to ride that was gratefully accepted on her half.
The night’s events had been strange and plagued Bane’s mind as they rode away from Hugo’s farm. Bane had remained awake, and wondered the village. Footprints were located in many places and appeared human enough. The speed of the figure he had seen had shocked the barbarian. It had appeared to glide across the grass like that of a ghost he imagined. Whatever was in the farm had been real enough, and four horses had been butchered along with some of the livestock.
With full stomachs and eagerness the group left, Balkin anxious to get to his brothers farm, worried that it was a similar case of that of Hugo’s farm in Kanton.
Bailey sat on his stool and looked over his fields from the safety of his kitchen window. His eyes scanned his crops and animals that milled about in the sturdy paddocks he had built with his own hands. In the distance he could see the burning newly constructed watchtowers that lit up the woods and nearby town. He was generally worried. Not just for the future of his farm, but his family as well.
Those damn priests! he thought slamming his fist on the sturdy windowsill. They had changed the running of Kanton. In all his years he had never witnessed such an aggressive group of men. He had seen them beat on anyone, young children to the old seemingly uninterested in males or females, beating on them as if they were mere animals.
Many people had already disappeared under strange circumstances, some of them would turn up later, as cold lifeless bodies found in the woods or ones farm. It was sad he thought. Kanton was a breathtaking place, lush green forests and open land good for farming. The weather was generally good, the cool rain that followed the changing of seasons refreshing.
The strange men had come to his farm and approached him directly only twice and had not raised their fists against him, although they had flung threats his way. Farmer Fern, his neighbour had suffered badly however, his fields had been burnt to accommodate the priests. He had been told that a lot of trees were being cut down, and buildings erected on Fern’s land. It had turned out to be some kind of temple, and Bailey had followed them their three times now.
He had hidden amongst the trees that lined the buildings, cold blue eyes straining. The men had cued before the great wooden construction, carrying chickens, hung over long wooden sticks all in a row. They would remain in the building for more than two hours, song and laughter echoed from within. The last night he had been spotted by the tree line, and that was what was worrying him so much this evening.
His attention fluttered for a brief moment as a moving figure moved into the kitchen. He turned towards his wife and forgot his worries as she smiled warmly and lovingly at him. Unconsciously Bailey returned the smile before returning his attention and his thoughts back to the window.
Suddenly he jumped up, his blood running cold as someone knocked on his door. He turned towards his wife, who had frozen by the kitchen door. Bailey could feel his heart race as the knock came harder, as if someone was trying to break the door down.
Walking forwards slowly, he placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder and squeezed it gently before brushing past her and into the hallway.
“I’m coming, stop being so bloody impatient!” He tried to keep his voice steady and confident. The knock came harder and Bailey could see the door shake violently. Covering the last few yards of the hallway Bailey took the cold iron doorknob in his shaking hand and pulled back the door. He hesitated and shut it quickly before he had a chance of seeing who it was who had disturbed the house.
“Who is it and what are you doing here at this time of night?” He raised his voice but noticed it was more high-pitched than usual. His hands were sweating and he felt incredibly hot, as if he had been sitting next to the warmth of a blazing fire. There was no answer for what seemed ages to the worried farmer.
He stepped back from the door slowly as he heard his wife whimper from the kitchen. She screamed out loud, one that pierced Baileys very heart and with his fear still running but with thoughts of protecting his family Bailey rushed towards the screams. A shadowy figure flashed towards him suddenly, and Baileys world span as the figure struck him in the face. Bailey clung to consciousness desperately, and lunged towards the figure that stepped back calmly away from the wild attack from the farmer. Then all of a sudden the pain left him, and his vision turned to darkness.
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