Garelgar Janlyn dragged his broad bladed knife slowly across his stubbled
pate, the dry, rasping scrape sounded loud in the pre-dawn stillness.
ignored the annoyed look shot in his direction from the black robed and
armored warrior priest, from the temple of the mythical demon hunter,
Beordin, and continued shaving. According to the priest, known as Keldrid
Thunderhand, from the order of the wolves of Beordin, he was bending his
mind and will earthward, reading, feeling and interpreting the ripples and
waves in the earths living fabric.
hunters!" Spat Amir Sotho, the short, but very broad, muscular man
standing on Garelgar's left. His slanted eyes, dark skin and intricate
tribal tattoos bespoke his far eastern heritage. Tying his long black
hair, which was shaved on the sides, into the traditional topknot of his
people, Amir continued complaining. "The troops're gettin' restless
Gar, chasin' ghosts and rumors."
saw the writ from the king, Amir; we are to extend every courtesy to the
priests of Beordin," scolded Garelgar, "and you gotta admit,
it's kinda weird out here. We haven't seen a living thing for days, and
damn it's hot for late autumn!" He turned away from the kneeling
priest as his outriders galloped toward him, hooves thundering in the
was fast approaching, and thunder rumbled in the west. The distant storm
clouds were ugly and had the greenish tint that usually promised
tightened his belt and habitually checked the straps and fasteners on his
worn chain link and plate armor. For twenty years he had commanded the
winter patrol on the southern border of Reban and the wastelands to the
south, keeping the roads from the silver mines clear from outlaws and
marauding bands of orcs, and providing law in a lawless land.
himself and Amir, about half of his hundred and fifty man company were
mercenaries, from all parts of the world, working away the winter in the
patrols, before being relieved by Rebanian military in early spring. They
then collected their earnings and scattered. Most returned in the fall to
re-sell their swords to the border patrol.
month ago Keldrid Thunderhand and his fifty wolves of Beordin had rode
into the garrison, with orders from the king. A silver caravan from the
mines had been attacked, the lone survivor – bloody, badly burned and
thoroughly mad – had ranted of demons before dying.
border patrol and the warrior priests had found the waylaid caravan, but
the silver had not been stolen. Instead it had burned, burned so hot that
rivers of crude ore ran from the ruined wagons, down hill, like lava from
in the ashes, they found the remains of the caravan workers and their
escort. It appeared as if they had been ripped limb from limb before being
consumed by the flames. Most mysterious of all, was there were no
discernable tracks leading to, or from the scene.
would outlaws melt the silver, and not steal it?" Garelgar asked Amir,
not for the first time. "And what, besides dragon fire coulda melted
all that metal?"
spell gone bad maybe," the easterner replied. "We're like as not
looking at an outlaw band that's gone an employed some half crazy mage
outa Ghan, went nuts from sniffin all that sulphur from them volcanoes.
For all we know, the reavers' scorched bones were among those we found.
Hell, it coulda even been sanctioned by Ghan!"
guessed Amir's speculation could be right. There had been border disputes
between Reban and Ghan for centuries, and Ghan's volcanic western regions
were infamous for spawning half mad, darkly ambitious sorcerers. Demons
had not walked the earth for thousands of years, since the Great War, but
even out here, in the wilds of Rebans's south western border, rumors of
strange happenings all over the continent reached the mercenary captains
toward the approaching outriders, Garelgar noticed the tension in their
demeanors, and instantly got flutters in his gut. Keldrid Thunderhand must
have noticed something also, as he joined the captain and Amir,
anticipation etched on his lined face.
large man dismounted and removed his helmet, revealing long white hair
that still retained some of its former yellow, framing a scarred, weather
beaten face and the hard blue eyes of a man from north. He walked toward
the trio with an obvious limp.
found sumthin', Cap," the large man said, eyeing Keldrid warily, not
wanting to reveal his information in front of the priest until commanded
to do so.
it out, Norge," Garelgar said impatiently. "The priests of
Beordin are here to aid us, the quicker we get this over with, the
noticeably relaxed; the big Norseman had been torn between his loyalty to
his company, and his loyalty to his god. Beordin was worshiped mostly in
the northern climes, but this far south, the followers of the demon
hunting legend turned god, were viewed as fanatics and zealots.
sir. About a mile, mile and a half northeast of the road, in a shallow
valley, we found a burnt out piece a ground, a big piece, about fifty feet
across." Norge swallowed, as if considering if he should continue or
not. Garelgar thought he saw a hint of fear in the Norseman's eyes.
how?" asked Keldrid. "Like a forest fire or campfire that got
out of control? Or does it appear to be a controlled burn, like someone
did it on purpose, and contained it?"
ain't never seen nuthin' like it sir," the Norseman replied.
"There's trees and brush on the outskirts of the area, that don't
show any sign of damage, like there wasn't a raging fire two feet away
from 'em! And there are dead things in the circle, deer, a couple a hares,
a fox. They ain't burnt, just dead, and our horses won't go near it, it's
the damndest thing, Cap!"
you, Norge. Return to the sight and secure the outskirts. Amir!"
Garelgar turned to the easterner, who was making faces at the priests of
Beordin, drawing laughter from some of the onlooking soldiers.
"Gather your trackers and accompany Norge and the outriders to secure
the area. We will join you as soon as camp is broken. I want to know
everything that has approached or left the area in question, even if it's
a single rabid raccoon."
sir!" Amir replied, and hastened about camp, eager to break the
monotony of the uneventful, previous month. Besides being Garelgar's
second in command, the stocky easterner was also in charge of stealthy
reconnaissance, and intelligence gathering.
trackers were comprised mostly of young, Rebanian military scouts, looking
to hone their skills. If any living creature left even the lightest track,
or slightest spore, Amir's trackers would find it.
should leave the horses here, Captain," advised Keldrid Thunderhand,
keeping his voice respectfully low. "Spooked mounts could be a
warrior priest looked Garelgar in the eye, and the mercenary captain
noticed for the first time the Nordic resemblance he bore to Norge,
especially the piercing blue eyes. Although Norge's hair was the yellow
common to the men from north of the Graode mountains, and Keldrid's
graying hair was the black of those from northern Brynhalla, just south of
the Graode Mountain range.
what do you think we'll find out there?" asked Garelgar. "What's
gonna spook experienced war horses?"
priest's eye's narrowed fiercely and he took a step closer so as not to be
Captain Janlyn, demons. You said yourself, it seems strange out here, and
you're right, there are dark forces at work. I can feel the evil portent
in the air, as if the earth is tensing for something. This is the calm
before the storm, Captain, and I fear it's about to hit us full
about the surety of Keldrid's tone, and the gleam in his steel blue eyes
sent an icy chill up the hardened soldier's spine.
soldiers scouted the tree line on either side of the broad, hard packed
road, flanking the priests of Beordin, protecting them from any earthly
foes, allowing Keldrid's wolves to concentrate on what they called
disturbances of nature, disturbances they were sure would be caused by
mercenary captain admired the priests' discipline as the orderly column
turned east, off the main road, onto a trail marked only by wagon ruts.
The brush obscuring the path had been hacked away by Norge and his
outriders. On either side of the leaf-littered trail, the trees grew
thicker, and overhung the trail in places, before widening a short ways
road," commented Garelgar, walking in front of the column with
Keldrid Thunderhand. "Probably branches off a hundred times, most of
em leadin' nowhere."
led credence to Amir's theory that they were dealing with bandits, who had
perhaps fallen in with a renegade battle mage, or crazed wizard. But
Keldrid's warning of supernatural foes nagged at the back of Garelgar's
still rumbled in the west, moving closer, making the humid air seem thick,
and adding to the tension that seemed to hang all around them. As the road
sloped upward, they paused briefly to study a fork in the road. Garelgar
was about to comment on the lack of insects, which should have been
plaguing their every step, when they all felt a hot wind crest the hill
before them, and wash over them like a thick wave. It smelled like
burning, putrefied corpses.
it was Keldrid Thunderhand, who recognized it for what it was.
the Hell…" Garelgar's question was cut off by Keldrid's answer.
tear in the earth's fabric!" the priest yelled above the wind, as his
Wolves of Beordin nervously drew their slender, slightly curved swords.
"It's a rift between earth's material plane of existence and another,
dark, foul plane!"
strode among his wolves, reassuring the warrior priests with his confident
demeanor, as Garelgar's flanking scouts began to filter in, Amir among
them, his usual devil may care attitude replaced by the hardened
professionalism of an experienced fighter. Before the easterner could give
any reports, the thundering of hooves reached their ears from beyond the
brow of the hill.
be the outriders!" commented Amir as the horses crested the hill from
were riderless, large eyes wide and rolling with terror as they ran at
breakneck speed out of the valley, scattering the assembled scouts and
priests. A couple were dragging their hapless riders behind them.
on his feet, Garelgar sent a detachment after the loose horses to rescue
the dragged riders; they then quickly reformed their lines, and hastened
up the hill to the rocky, pine tree lined crest.
and Garelgar, accompanied by Amir, skidded to a halt at the rim of the
shallow valley and stared down at the horrific scene below them.
saw what appeared to be a swirling black hole of nothingness that blotted
out the burnt road beyond. Norge and his remaining outriders, about twenty
in all, formed a wall between the road out of the valley and the black
hole, their hair and cloaks blowing behind them as they were buffeted by
the hot, acrid wind blowing from the portal.
of the black rip in space marched a score of demons, each ten feet tall,
with enormous, bat like wings folded on their backs. Their heads were
simian in appearance with great, jutting tusks and goat like horns, set
atop massively muscled, humanoid torsos. They were clad in blood red
armor, which stood out in sharp contrast to their jet black skin. Each
demon held a huge black rune sword in their clawed hands, which seemed to
pulse with the heat of Hell.
could feel the earth protest each time one of their foul, taloned feet
touched the earth, scorching it, and turning it black.
to emerge from the nothingness was a huge, skeletal, bird like creature,
which issued an unholy screech from its viciously curved beak while
spreading its bony wings. Dried up and singed pieces of flesh flapped in
the foul smelling wind.
between its horrid wings was a demon, larger than the rest. The demon's
baboon-like head swayed on its thick neck while it surveyed the terrified
humans assembled before it. It raised its bestial head and sniffed, as if
savoring the musky scent of fear that hung thickly in the air.
Keldrid could order Garelgar to call his men back, the demons fell on
Norge's faltering line of outriders with thousands of years of pent up
fury, sweeping their great swords left and right, up and down, cutting
through shields and armor, flesh and bone like it was linen. Heads and
limbs were severed, blood gouted and souls were sent screaming to Hell
with each swing and chop. The demons cried out their pleasure in guttural
voices that sounded like broken glass and metal shards scraping together,
drowning out the anguished screams of the dying soldiers.
wolves spread out on the rim of the valley, as the storm winds from the
west picked up, carrying greenish black clouds filled with moisture,
giving the gruesome scene in the sun splashed valley a surreal look.
Surrounded by his grimfaced warrior priests, Keldrid raised his rune
etched sword to the sky, calling on the earths elements to aid him in his
time of need.
then bellowed a challenge to the mounted demon below him. "I am
Keldrid Thunderhand, direct descendant of Beordin Demonsbane, and this is
the icy blade that smote the demon lord Zaranoth, and sent his black soul
back to Hell!"
the mention of its ancient nemesis, and the banished demon lord, the demon
leader looked up from where it was feasting on the flesh of the fallen and
locked gazes with the warrior priest.
see you recognize the names!" Keldrid continued. "Now take your
abominations back to the pits of Hell! Or we will send you back!"
mounted demon answered by snarling, then opening its mouth and vomiting a
cloud of huge, Hell spawned insects resembling flies, with green eyes and
oversized, flesh tearing mandibles. The sound of their buzzing wings and
clacking mandibles was deafening as they winged their way up the hill.
and his men stood, weapons drawn, and stared in helpless amazement as the
cloud of insects bore down on the warrior priests.
brought his sword back, as if signaling the advancing storm to charge, and
then brought his blade down in a chopping motion. Storm winds from the
west blew stronger, as if on command, Keldrid's cloak was billowing around
him wildly, whipped by the cross winds, natural and unnatural.
cloud of bugs, riding the foul wind from the portal, seemed to falter as
the clean, natural air pushed them back. Keldrid then passed his sword
before him, from right to left, the air seemed to ripple and crack as if
frozen, surrounding and constricting the grotesque cloud, and taking on
the color of hoar frost. Following the direction of the priest's blade,
the now silent cloud changed direction and hurtled down the hill,
solidifying like a gigantic hailstone, trailing tendrils of ice as it
picked up speed.
an attempt to dodge the frozen missile, the demon leaders bony, bird like
mount flapped its horrid wings, and with speed that belied its great bulk,
took to the air. But it wasn't fast enough, as the giant ice ball slammed
into its hind quarters, pulverizing bone and rotting flesh, flipping the
remains over, and sending the demon crashing to the ground in a shower of
steaming bone fragments.
frozen sphere continued on its course, and entered the swirling black
nothingness of the portal to Hell. There was a great tearing sound, like
parchment ripping slowly, then the portal began to collapse, creating a
vacuum that seemed to suck all the sound from the air for a split second,
before spitting it back out in the form of an explosion, showering the
valley with hot coals and ash.
their rage and frustration, the demons charged up the hill, snarling
obscenely, unholy flames burning in their fiery red eyes.
wolves of Beordin met the demons advance, led by Keldrid Thunderhand, who
engaged the demon leader in combat. Ducking under its pulsing black rune
sword, Keldrid felt the hot air of its passing, as it singed his hair, and
set his cloak afire. Coming out of his crouch in a spin, Keldrid brought
his enchanted blade around, scoring a hit on the demon's upper thigh,
hissing through black, demon flesh with a burst of steam.
to his right, Keldrid side stepped the creatures return stroke, a downward
chop that would have cut the smaller human in half. Before the demon could
recover from the missed blow, Keldrid brought his sword up over his head,
and brought the blade down with all his might on his opponent's neck,
parting its deformed head from its obscene body.
took heart in the warrior priest's bravery and success, and embarrassed at
his inaction, he led his men into the fray, falling on the demons that
were taking injuries from Keldrid's warrior's icy blades. The mercenary
captain, sword held high, charged a demon who was standing atop a dead
priest. It had torn the head from the warrior's mutilated body and was
holding it up above its own up-raised, bestial head, allowing the blood
and pulp to drip into its open maw, as if it was squeezing nectar from a
brought his broadsword down on the creature's spine, between its wings and
right above its hind quarters. He felt the blade bite deep into flesh and
grind off bone. The hilt of his weapon grew hot, blistering his hands as
boiling ichors spewed out, burning his face and arms.
an unearthly howl, the demon turned, slapping Garelgar aside, raking
through his leather and chain link armor with razor sharp claws, opening
up three deep wounds on his chest.
the demon could finish the stricken mercenary, Amir leaped to his defense,
long sword in his right hand, short blade in his left. The two blades were
a blur as the small easterner weaved in and out of the demons defenses,
striking and slashing at vitals with every stroke, until finding the
abominations black heart, sending its twisted soul screaming back to Hell.
soldiers grew more confident as they realized the demons earthly
incarnations could be dealt grievous wounds with material weapons, and
fell on the Hell spawn in sheer overwhelming numbers.
men were lost before the battle ended. The blackened, steaming battlefield
was littered with smoking demon parts and dead and injured humans. Of the
roughly one hundred or so brave souls that participated in the battle,
only fifty-one remained, thirty of which were Keldrid's priests of Beordin.
Some were obviously mad from the hellish experience; most were injured,
but all were shaken right down to their very souls.
silence, the survivors, Garelgar, Amir and Keldrid among them, built a
funeral pyre for their fallen comrades, while thunder boomed and lightning
seared the skies.
seemed as if the storm waited, out of respect, for the oil fed flames to
consume the fallen, before the clouds opened up. Driving sheets of cool,
clean rain cleansed the scorched, despoiled earth, which was the scene of
the horrific battle just hours before.
the exhausted soldiers and priests left the valley behind, Garelgar turned
to Keldrid. "Is this a portent of things to come? Can we expect more?
Or is it over?"
pulled the cowl on his cloak back a little, so as to look the mercenary in
the eye when he spoke. "I am not a seer, Captain Janlyn, but I can
tell you we are approaching the end of an age. The delicate balance
between law and evil is becoming compromised. The wards between our
material plane of existence, and the fiery nether plane, put in place by
the arch wizards after the Demon Wars thousands of years ago, are
deteriorating. Also deteriorating are the temples of Beordin, Trinia,
Illunar and all the gods of light, as well as their beliefs. While
clandestine temples of dark gods such as Zaranoth, Hisseesha and Zareesha
are growing bolder, attracting followers with the promise of quick wealth
and power." The warrior priest sighed deeply and stopped momentarily
to help Garelgar readjust the bandages wrapped around his bloody chest.
"Strange things are occurring all over the world Captain, and all of
us will have a roll to play in the upcoming struggle."
pulled his cowl back down over his face as the rain picked up in
intensity, and hastened forward to assist more of the injured.
looked behind them as in the valley, swirling cross winds created a great
funnel cloud, forming above, and touching down, at the spot where the
demons breached earth's material plane. The tornado's tip danced and spun
on the ground, seeming to erase any signs of the demons' passing.
it reached the smoking funeral pyre, the twister raised and hovered above
the site. Many ghostly forms issued from the ashes, rising into the
swirling cloud. A great black mist, in the shape of a clawed hand reached
up and grasped at the ghostly forms in vain.
tornado then took on the shape of a giant war hammer and smote the hand,
Nature took the souls of her brave children back from the pits of Hell.