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Unread 5th of January, 2010, 02:56
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Refusing to Sow [Epic GM]

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Within this palace of the damned the witch sits upon her blackened throne. Scorched bone forms her seat where she commands the shambling servants he has spied trudging to and fro outside the haunted, twisted estate. Karus cannot discern if these thralls are living or dead. They move with purpose, attending to what mad tasks she has set for them, but they do not stop to speak. The young man’s brow furrows, wishing he could discern how to deal with such foes.

Time is short. This dire business must be attended swiftly. He cannot allow the witch to speak. Her sorceries will ensnare his will and bind him to her like the other servants. She is an oath-breaker like the rest of her kind. She has forsaken the natural laws of man and bargained with the devils and evil spirits of the world. The very thought causes bile to creep at the back of his throat. Here is a wicked one that must be purged from these lands. Surely there is some nameless hamlet nearby that is plagued by her machinations. Retrieving the relic from her manse will benefit his people, but her demise will surely help them too. Perhaps it is here, and not his village, where the true legend of Karus is born.

The pelt cautions him not keep from avarice. His father Brom whispers tales of greater glory.

Now is the time to be as still as a frozen winter morn. His village would grow like that, during the chilling depths conjured near the solstice. All would be curled inside the longhouse or small huts. Heaped beneath furs and huddled together for warmth, nothing would stir. It would appear that the world itself had frozen save for the faint wisps of smoke trailing up into the ether.

Now Karus forces himself to be perfectly still, crouched at the side of a corner of a ruined column near the entrance, his eyes watching the nearest shuffling monster as it makes its mindless rounds. He even wills his heart to slow in its pace until there is enough time between beats to loose. This is key. There is no time for misses. No room for sloppy kills like with the wolf. He must be precise. He must be perfect.

Knock, draw, loose.

The first automaton stiffens suddenly and then falls to the ground a hundred paces distant. The arrow hit it in the back, driving its way through its black heart. It makes not a sound but clutches weakly at the fletching and shaft before growing still. Karus is grimly encouraged by this. They wore no armor and were capable of being felled by mortal arms and means.

His eyes scan the perimeter of the walls that are slowly losing their battle to the siegeing bog. Here and there the swamp has broken through and muck lurks, but in other places it holds fast fighting to the last of the stone’s power. No other minions lurk in sight. Karus moves into action and pads along the outside of the wall, hunched low, until he reaches the fallen foe. Lightly, he vaults over the top and inspects the still creature.

It was once a man, and still bears the tattered garb of one. But in place of the crimson of lifesblood there is a black viscous substance seeping on the ground. Karus is careful not to let it so much as touch his mud-spackled boots. The work of these monsters is foul business and the slightest touch can ruin a man. So he is cautious but quick when he seizes the thing’s arm and drags it back over the wall. He is still uncertain as to their intelligence but he will take no chances. Vainglory will not fell him this day. Karus drags the monster into a thicket. These can be burned later to purge the earth of their impurities.

A few moments later, another creature jerks and falls, an arrow piercing its throat. Karus disposes of it as with the first, growing increasingly wary that a hue and cry will be raised once these are noticed missing. He counts himself blessed that the witch cannot see through their eyes and is yet blind to his approach. He has heard of the oath-breakers whose vision can pierce both flesh and stone. Perhaps she waits for him now, lurking within the crumbling walls. His resolve is unwavering. She will find this son of the north to be no easy prey.

Fleet is his stride as he lands back within the grounds of the manse and races toward the building itself. He stops at the corner of another wall, an arrow pressed against the heartwood and his head peaking around the corner, looking out onto the front expanse. It is a twisted mockery of how a man should live. The vague pieces are there—here, a stable and barn, there a waterwheel and a mill. But they are rotten and still. No water turns the wheel. There are no steeds within the stable. It is a blasphemous imitation of life.

Even Death herself longs to be alive.

The front doors have rotted off their hinges and have been cast aside. A foul smell wafts into his nose from deep within and he can hear the whispers of the lost souls claimed by the witch. They gibber and babble, driven mad by the long years of torture and imprisonment. Karus knows only a little of the black arts, but he suspects the witch has struck a bargain: damned souls for eternal life. The son of Brom vows to release those tortured ghosts and end this blight upon the land. His blood is bound by oath now. There is no turning back.

Rounding into the entryway, his boots are silent. He pads forward, in a half crouch, his eyes straining to see in the dark. He can still hear the chorus of whispers, chattering all at once. They mask his approach. The witch will not know her death is at hand.

Through the shadows he creeps. He can see now the flicker of torchlight around the corner. Perhaps the witch has not gone so far as to seal a pact to grant her demonsight as well. He takes courage in this. Her black heart will beat its last on this chill morn.

A scrape of a boot freezes him and he locks gazes with another one of the abominations in her service as it comes around its own corner. It is shorter than the other two and it stares at him with black eyes. Karus imagines the faintest flicker of intelligence lurks in those black pools. It matters not. The arrow takes it through one of those hellish eyes, dropping it in a lifeless pile. He drags it into a shadowy corner and hopes it will not be discovered before his fell deeds have fruited.

He passes near windows smeared with dust and cracked from the wrath of winter. Peering out reveals a courtyard where several more of her creatures lurk. They are standing in a trio, looking at each other, but if their lips move Karus cannot see. It matters not to him. The halls of the manse encircle the courtyard. He will avoid these three for now, vowing to slay them upon his return if they are not felled alongside their queen.

His prey is stalked like any mountain cat or great bear. However, He lacks the hounds he might use for one of the great cats that prowl the woods and hills of his homeland. The element of surprise is paramount. This hunt is as is intended: one man proving his worth and grit against a dangerous foe.

It is cold in here, terribly cold, and his breath fogs the air in slow rolling bursts. Karus welcomes the chill. It reminds him of the days of his youth. It speaks to him of frozen lakes and mountains draped in snow. It harkens to steel gray skies and the swirl of snowflakes in the air. This cold reminds him of who he was, who he is, and who he will become. There is but one thing left to do.

He slips into the main hall, a ghost made flesh, and ducks behind a pillar. In the back, she waits. The witch is not lounging on her wicked throne but instead attends to several of her minions. It is quiet within the great hall with little but the scrape of boots and the crackle of torches to fill it yet he cannot tell if she speaks her black speech to her puppets or if her will is communicated silently through their malevolent connection.

Karus watches for a moment, pondering if this is some sort of trap. The witch fiddles with each of her subjects, all shorter like the last one he slew. She smooths out their rags and adjusts their tangled, moldy hair. His lip curls in disgust. She treats them like children; even that hallowed bond is corrupted in these foul halls. He waits another moment, then two, watching and waiting for a telltale sign that she knows he is here and is waiting. There is nothing.

Beyond her, behind the black throne, hang objects on the wall. Here, an axe, there a pair of crossed swords, and in the center is his quest: an ivory and silver horn. Its metal has tarnished under time’s cruel grasp, but it still offers a dull gleam in the torchlight. This is what he has been searching for to return to his people. This is what will deliver them from the curse of the giantmen and will allow them to prosper and flourish.

The son of Brom straightens, and pulls the arrow back to his cheek, steadying his aim on the witch’s back. His heart surges at being so near to his goal. He takes a slow breath and forces the beat to slow again. But the scrape of boots in the hall behind him herald the coming of doom. His body remains still but his head turns just enough for his eyes to glance back at the doorway behind him. He has no time, no time to waste. They are coming.


The bowstring thrums as it returns to its heartswood mate and the arrow speeds through the air, burying itself deep in the witch’s back.

But it is not a killing shot.

She twists one gnarled hand twisting as it reached for her arrow that pierced her flesh. Sinking to her knees, the witch spasms, trying to find what hurt her. A spatter of blood leaks out onto the dirty floors. Karus smiles. The three attendants bear no sign of being startled but stare blankly at him for a moment before springing to action. One sinks to the ground next to its queen, one hand touching her arm. The other two sprint toward him, black fury in their black eyes.

Knock, draw, loose.

One of the two falls, but there is not time for a second arrow. His hand drops to the long knife sheathed on his belt. Out the curved blade comes, and onward the monster comes rushing headlong toward him. It is a head shorter than Karus, and thinner too, but where its size lacks its malevolence exceeds. But in one smooth motion Karus turns and slashes the throat of it the servant as it rushes onward. A stream of black jets from its neck as it falls, clutching at its own parody of lifesblood gushes outward.

Karus spins back and runs toward the witch. She writhes in pain and as he approaches he sees the head of it jutting out from the front of her ragged gown. There is blood, and plenty of it, but she may yet live if she possesses the fell magics to sustain her life. Karus is here to make certain she does not have the chance.

A few more paces brings him to her side. He grabs the witch by her filthy hair and wrenches her head back. There is no time to look her in the eyes. No time for last words. There is only time for the kill, lest he fail.

The knife draws out her life as surely as a pen draws a line. Crimson floods down her neck, spilling on the floor without ceremony, without remorse. She gurgles a curse, but it has no effect, not even in the overwhelming presence of her blood. Of those curses, it is those that bind to life that are the most binding and terrible to behold.

What were boot scrapes in the hall have turned into the pound as the sound of killing reached the ears of the damned. They burst into the hall, ten paces distant, and see Karus standing over the fallen queen as she squirms away, one hand clutching her neck. Karus drags the flat of the blade across her leg as she squirms, cleaning it before sheathing it in his belt once more. The servants bear pathetic weapons, pitchforks and staves, suitable to farmers and not a hunter. He cannot tell if he sees rage in their eyes or if it is his imagination. It matters not. Let these beasts know that a northman walks among them, a king yet to be crowned, whose wrath will be too great and terrible to behold.

An arrow takes one in the chest as they stand in the door, stunned or perhaps trying to decide what to do. A second arrow fells one as they surge into a run toward him. It falls clutching its face. The third reaches him as he draws his blade and buries it in its neck. He lets the monster fall, knife and all, as he notches another arrow. There are more coming. There will always be more.

He backpedals past the throne and toward the wall. Eyes on the door, he can hear the footfalls coming now. He steels his resolve. The goal is too close now to fail. One hand reaches back and plucks the tarnished horn from its place of honor on the wall. With a deft move he slides it into his rucksack. He has it. He cannot believe it. He has it. This is what his people have been looking for. He knows it. He can feel it in his bones as surely as it can feel it singing in his blood.

Karus’ heart soars at his deeds. He has done what none in his village would have ever suspected he could. Now all that remains is to escape and show them what kind of mettle this one is truly made from. A grim smile touches his lips. He is ready. Let them come.

Six bolt into the room, carrying cudgels and staves like their brethren. For foul servants they are woefully equipped to repel an attack upon their mistress. He brushes it off as he draws back the first arrow. Be they fresh converts or poorly tended, he cares not.

As the first one clutches at the arrow jutting from its chest, the others snap back into action. They charge him. He shoots another before drawing his long knife and taking up a spot with the throne to his side as makeshift cover.

They come at him in a blind rush, swinging their sticks wildly, nearly braining each other as they attempt to brain Karus. He ducks aside one particularly clumsy slash and lays open the monster’s belly, dancing away as its black guts spill out onto the floor.

But a club catches him on the shoulder and he tries to roll away with it, wincing at the pain. Clumsy they might be, but it does not remove any of the sting. He counts himself lucky that nothing broke from that. He pays the wound back by sheathing the knife in the assailant’s middle before jerking it out again.

A third comes for him and he jams the blade into its chest once more, but the creature wrenches away weakly grasping at the hilt. Karus retreats immediately drawing an arrow. But as one monster rushes him, the other one flees. He shoots the former in the belly, but it falls into him, writhing and ruining his shot on the one that took flight.

His chest heaves and the air is thick with the smell of death. Shoulder aching, he shoves the monster still clutching at its guts. It sprawls, still weakly pull at its arrow until it becomes very still. Karus looks down at his hand and grimaces. Some of the black blood is on him. A flick of his hand sends the viscid in an arc, spattering against the dirty floors. The rest is wiped off on the rags of one of the dead. That their flesh is still warm is not surprising to Karus, it is that they are warm at all. But fell magic does strange things and it is not for him to know of it, merely to end it.

The witch does not stir. Her heart has ceased its wicked beat, but Karus knows better than to leave any part of this to chance. He fetches his blade and sets to the grisly task. A few moments later, he rises back to his feet, his trophy hanging from his hands.

The pelt whispers something to him. Karus ignores it.

In the old tales, once a man or a woman has forsworn the oaths that the first men made with the spirits, once he or she has pledged to the demonic—using their soul as the forfeit—then they no longer need to fear death in the same way as men. Karus knows if he leaves her there she will rise up once more. A grim smile touches his lips. He would like to see her return from this.

“That’s a mighty fine work you’ve got there, son,” his father says. The ghost of the once-great man stands next to one of the hearths, an arm up in a mockery of casually leaning against the stone.

Karus’ eyes light up with one of the simplest joys: praise from a father to a son. He does not think he has ever heard those words before. It is all he can do to stammer out his thanks. He shifts the severed head from one hand to another. The greasy hair makes it difficult to hold.

Brom nods once and clears his throat. “’course, I would have caught that last one. It went to tell the others, you know. Best be on your way.”

Karus opens his mouth to thank his father, to tell him that his son is glad for all he taught him, that he knew their contentious relationship was just Brom’s way of toughening up his son, that he loves him, but Brom is gone and Karus and the pelt are alone once more.

The pelt’s whisper grows into a shout.

“Yes, I know,” he says. “Let us make haste.”

Quickly now he runs down the hall, the head tossing the odd drip onto the floor. He dares not look down into its eyes for he can feel the witch and her magic lurks within there. He prays she does not find a way to speak. Down the hallway he flies, racing around the courtyard and back to the main entrance. He bursts outside into the light.

A mob of shambling monsters greets him. They ring around the entrance standing several ranks deep. Some clutch cudgels and pitchforks while others have more proper spears and even the occasional sword. Some in the back appear to have slings or small hunting bows. He feels their eyes shift from him to the head dangling from his hands. As one they recoil. It gives Karus an idea.

Karus, the son of Brom and first of his name, opens his mouth to address the crowd.