BEYOND THE GATES OF DEATH
Fifth Blade: The Blood Sands
The travel was rather calm, at the high displeasure of Lomstat, who was craving for a bit of action. One of the many reasons of this situation was the fact that he was really angered by his new contract. Protecting a human... By the way, he was not seeing her much, only at nightfall, when she enters the Vardo to take some rest. He rarely saw her during the day, and he wondered how she spent the rather boring days... When he asked her, she simply smiled a bit, remaining silent. So, he gave up, and tried to find an interesting activity to fill up the dull days... In order to do so, he finally train himself to improve his sword skills, when the caravan would stop for noon or night. Otherwise, he would walk alongside the Vardos; as the caravan was pulled away by oxen-like creatures and it would advance rather slowly... Walking in the hot sands of the desert made him rather meditative. He thought about his situation... A Necromancer was pursuing him for whatever reason, he has now to protect a woman that seems to be quite able to defend herself, and he was now travelling toward a keep of an Order of Assassins, in order to know more about his enemy... Well, his life has become quite interesting recently, to say the least... He was interrupted in his thoughts by someone petting his shoulder. He turned himself to see Jarana, smiling like a little girl.
-"How do you do, my friend?"
-"Could have been better..."
-"Awwww, cut it out, you grumpy fluffy Folf..."
-"Don’t call me like that!"
-"I’ll call you as I want. I’m paying you heavy gold..."
With that Jarana wrapped her arms around the Assassin’s waist, and let her head rest on his back. Lomstat blushed heavily under this contact, and was unable to say anything.
-"Hmmm... Warm and soft... I wonder how and why you let you become a warrior... You’re so cuddly..."
Lomstat wanted her to stop it immediately, and raised his paws in order to unwrap Jarana’s arms. But he stopped at last moment, didn’t daring to touch her. Finally, she let the Folf go.
-"Heh... I’ve always dreamed of a big plushie able to defend me..." Jarana smiled softly while she walked away.
Lomstat was a bit surprised by the woman’s behaviour, and, for the rest of the day, he tried to wonder why she acted like that...
During the following days, they passed through Bagdanna, Lyzan-jhor and Razine, without any problems. At each village, Jarana dragged the Folf in the Bazaars and market places. It seemed like she had an endless source of gold coins, and she bought many clothes, jewellery, food, and so on, spending hours choosing such or such piece of fabric, while the merchants of the caravan were bartering, selling and buying stuff they would sell after in the next village. Needless to say, Lomstat found these ‘shopping trips’ quite boring... But she had a way to smile to him... Even in spite of the fact he could not bear humankind in general, he found that smile wonderful... Arrived at Salamatuk, a village well known for the rare and precious fabrics it weaves and sells, Jarana dragged the Assassin again through the different shops of the village. Lomstat sighed, knowing that the woman will pass hours choosing clothes. That’s why he was rather surprised when she handed him some well made green clothes.
-"For you" Jarana simpered.
Hesitating a bit, Lomstat took the clothes, and Jarana guided him to where he could try his new clothes. Lomstat began to unfold the clothes, when he noticed that Jarana was still near him, his ears perked down, and he looks at her, ill-at-ease. She was smiling warmly, but she didn’t seem to notice the Folf’s embarrassment.
-"Hum... Could let me alone. Please?"
She looked at him, a bit puzzled. Then a wide mischievous grin spread over her lips when she realised the Folf state of mind.
-"Okay. I’ll wait outside, my shy fluffy bodyguard..."
While she left, Lomstat looked at her angrily. How does she dare to mock him that way?!? He quickly stripped off his current clothes, in order to put the new ones. It took several minutes for him to figure how to dress all the different parts, as he was not used to wear so rich adornments... After a while, he finally emerged from the tiny room, dressed in his new rich green clothing. Jarana turned her head toward him when she heard the door creaking open, and she smiled warmly. Lomstat felt weird at this time, and he pulled here and there on the clothes... Jarana approached him, and looked at him, from ear tips to toes.
-"Not that bad. But..."
She softly took the large belt of fabric that Lomstat has left hanging; and she wrapped it around Lomstat’s waist, circling it many times, and finally knotting it on Lomstat’s flank.
-"Now, you truly look like a Prince of the Burning Sands."
She smiled at him, and softly caressed his cheek. Just after, she grabbed his paw, and nearly ran him out of the shop.
-"Quick! We have plenty other shops to visit!"
For once, Lomstat didn’t complain...
After Salamatuk, the caravan travelled once again in the desert, and Lomstat was laid on the floor of the Vardo. Jarana was once again somewhere out. He was thinking about the last few days. It was rather strange... He disliked humans much since a long time, but, with Jarana he found quite difficult to dislike her... And he was not quite sure why... After a few hours, He heard someone knocking at the door of the Vardo. Before he could say anything, the door was opened and Jarana entered. Lomstat straightened himself, and asked her why she entered.
-"Well, we’ll arrive soon at Jinada. Quite in time for the local Festival. The caravan will stay at Jinada for the day and night of the Festival. And I was wondering if you would agree to accompany me at it. We will dance, sing and such..."
-"... I think not. I... Won’t accompany you..."
The smile on Jarana’s lips disappeared instantly. She was on the point to say something, but she was interrupted by the Folf.
-"Needless to insist. It’s no."
-"Fine." She said, being obviously disappointed.
But she does not insist and get out of the Vardo. Lomstat resumed his former position on the floor of the Vardo, thinking hard. After several hours, the night begin to fall on Jinada, a small village lost in the desert. Jarana was already at the well famed market place of Jinada, famous for its complicated mosaic pavement. A fire has been already set on the middle of the place, on a hole especially made for it. She was dancing around the fire, on the music of the Jinadani instruments, in her most beautiful clothes, bought earlier in the shops of the other villages. After a whirl, she stopped at a strange sight. Here, behind some people, Furs and Humans alike, Lomstat was here watching at her, dressed in the green clothes, the large belt well wrapped around his waist and correctly knotted. She smiled warmly, and invited him to join her by the fire with a wave of her hand. Lomstat approached, and noticed that many other couples were also gathering around the fire. He gently took Jarana’s hand in his paw. She smiled at him, and it seems to him that her bright green eyes looked like those of a Feline, by the light of the fire. And he began to lead the dance. He was a crappy dancer, usually, but the music was not meant for any constructed dance. The couples were only moving instinctually, simply following the flow of the music. But even with this, Lomstat was terrible. He even earned a few laughters from the Jinadani. He blushed, his ears perking down, and he began to growl. But soon, Jarana put a hand on his chest, and whispered to him:
-"Don’t care about them. Simply follow your heartbeats. Beat, move, beat, move... Jinadani music is built upon heartbeats. Beat, move, beat, move..."
Lomstat follow her advice, and soon, he found that his heartbeats were indeed increasing pace, in order to follow the energetic music. After that, he followed the flow, moving in tune with the music, and with Jarana. It lasted all the night, but Lomstat didn’t see it passing. But when they broke the dance, he felt light headed and tired, as after a long run, or an intensive effort. They managed to reach the Vardo, but Lomstat fell to the ground, and, in addition, asleep... Jarana looked at the great assassin at her feet, and smiled a bit, petting the head fur between the ears of the Folf. After a moment, she sighed.
Next morning, Lomstat woke up on the floor of the Vardo. His first reaction was to curse his foolishness for having fallen into slumber without protecting himself. He then remembered the night, and he stopped himself, troubled. On a pure rational point of view, it has been perfectly stupid and dangerous, any thug, assassin, or worse, could have taken advantage of the situation. But on an emotional level, it felt so good… Lomstat rarely had such good times before, it was leaving him with a weird feeling… His thoughts were interrupted by Jarana’s entrance, holding a huge plate, full of coloured fruits.
-"Breakfast!" she happily said loudly, handing the plate toward Lomstat. "Beware, some of them are said to be really addictive, or…"
-"Or what?" Lomstat asked, an eyebrow raised, looking suspiciously at the different fruits, none of them were familiar to him.
-"Weeeeeeell… There is this fruit called ‘Lover’s Sin’, that is said to provoke wild desires… To say the least…"
-"Are you kidding?!?"
Jarana simply smiled in bemusement, spotting the disbelieving expression on the Folf’s face.
-"Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll let you alone, I have some business to do before we arrive. This way, at worse, you’ll have only yourself to assault…"
With a broad mischievous grin, she was out of the Vardo, leaving a puzzled Folf in front of the plate of fruits. He hesitantly took one, sniffed it, before taking a bite…
Lomstat has not seen Jarana after this, for the whole day. Strangely enough, the caravan didn’t stop for night, and kept on moving forward, and Lomstat wondered why. Spotting one of the scouts recruited by the caravan chief, Lomstat asked him about this.
-"A Grandmother is arriving on us! We’ll go get shelter between the rocks of the Blood Sands!"
Before the Folf could ask what a ‘Grandmother’ was, the scout was away. Puzzled for a moment, he then remembered that ‘Angry Grandmothers’ was the name given to especially violent sand storms, those that ravage the Burning Sands regularly. Indeed, a Grandmother was needed to force such superstitious people to get shelter in a place like the Blood Sands… Getting a bit annoyed by this, but also somewhat content with that, because it meant that the caravan, would go faster in order to arrive at its destination, hence, making the whole trip shorter. With those thoughts in head, he calmly prepared his stuff, and watched the caravan crew alerting all the others, and getting prepared for the incoming sand storm. Soon, the night fell upon the caravan. Soon, a full moon rose in the sky. Many in the caravan took this as a boon, as the light provided helped them in the really dark night.
And, soon, the huge rocks announcing the Blood Sands were clearly visible. The landscape was amazing under the moonlight, and Lomstat looked at the twisted rocks in awe. During the travel, he has heard stories about this place, that powerful magicians were also involved in the battle, among the soldiers, and that their powerful spells has blasted and twisted the rocks. Seeing the shapes of said rocks, he could easily believe this… Like this one, pointing toward the sky, swirling around itself, or this one looking like the giant muzzle of some giant beast… At a moment, however, an odd feeling made the Folf’s ear to twitch several times. The caravan was now between the rocks, trying to find a cave large enough to welcome the whole caravan. Many scouts were wandering here and there, with their lit torches, yelling to tell that there was a cave here or there… Lomstat kept feeling… Weird. Something was utterly wrong with this place… It could be the perfect place for an ambush…
That’s when a scout shouted something, in a scared voice. Lomstat looked where the shout came from, and saw a scared Fur pointing a finger toward the sky, and more precisely toward the moon. Lomstat followed the direction indicated by the finger… And all his body shivered at this sight…
There, in front of the moon, with huge skeletal wings, was flying the Necromancer wolf. Despite the distance and the night, Lomstat could felt the white and blank gaze of the Lupine upon him… The wolf remained in the air, the wings moving to maintain the Necromancer at this height, but Lomstat suspected some kind of magical trick. The wolf suddenly raised his head, and howled…
This sound instilled fear in the hearts of many in the caravan, even the Haschachiyyin shivered. Not long after the wolf has finished howling, the sand between the rocks began… Trembling? Here and there, sand seems to move, pulsate and shiver… Many scouts watched this weird phenomenon with angst, while many customers that were travelling with the caravan shrieked.
That’s when the first creature came out of the sand… A soldier, still wearing a rusty armour and an old, old scimitar. It may have been a Fur, once, but now, it was little more than dry flesh over bones. This first apparition was soon followed by many others, quickly sprouting out of the sand, like some kind of gruesome blossom… Warriors fully armed emerged from the sands, skeletal hands wielding ancient weapons, eyes being nothing more than black holes where could be seen green gleams, like horrid balefires. Panic-stricken, scouts and customers alike were fleeing everywhere, while mages and soldiers were preparing their weapons. Lomstat himself took his sword, and prepared to fight.
His waiting wasn’t long, as the undead soon attacked, their dead muzzles exhaling dreaded screams. Coming from everywhere at once, emerging sometimes right under the feet of the defenders, the undead soon took the advantage over the living. Lomstat fought like a devil, swirling, dodging the multiple attacks of several undead at once, beheading many of them, but they came back again and again, still fighting, still screaming, still moving forward the Haschachiyyin… The other groups of defenders were also overwhelmed by the assault of undead creatures, many fell under the strikes of the zombies, their blood soon colouring the sands in red again… Lomstat attacked another creature, slicing it in two, from the shoulder to the flank, then, he turned back to face another group of undead, beheading one and cutting the arm of another in the same strike, before having to step backward to avoid the blow from the scimitar of the last one. One of his ears flicked, and he instinctually ducked the assault of another creature in his back. Glancing toward this new threat, he saw a large group of zombies approaching. Cursing, he kept his sword in one paw, and directed the other toward the incoming monsters, and incinerated them with a fireball, before returning to the undead he was previously fighting…
Lomstat knew that it was useless, for the Necromancer would rise dead again and again, even adding the casualties among the caravan to his army, and they’ll fight again, and again, until they all fall from exhaustion…
That’s when a huge thing crashed near him, provoking a cloud of sand, cloaking his sight for a moment… When the sand fell back, Lomstat could see that it was a spear made out of several bones articulated with one another, that was planted inches near him… Looking up, guessing the general direction from where it came, the Folf noticed a horrible thing. The wolf pointed an arm toward sky, and a white point sprouted out of his wrist. The point soon grew larger, and the wolf grabbed it, and made it coming whole out of his arm… He then twirled it several times in the air, and the new bone spear grew larger and larger… When it was long enough to the taste of the wolf, this one threw it with supernatural strength toward the Folf. Lomsta’s eyes widened at this, but having not totally lost his wits, he quickly stepped aside, and, thus, avoided being hit by the gruesome weapon.
This would, indeed, complicate the things a bit more…
Lomstat tried to figure out a way to get rid of the Necromancer as quickly as possible. He fought again against the undead, but, soon, he pointed his hand toward the wolf and cast another fireball, this time, with the wolf as a target. The fireball flew directly toward him, at an incredible speed… But the wolf nonchalantly dodged it, as if it was nothing… And threw another bone spear toward the Folf. This one, jumping forward managed to barely dodge it. And several zombies fell upon him… He tried to slice them with his sword, but they were too numerous… And, then, three of them were sliced right through, a strange blue and black wound appearing where they were sliced, said wound growing larger and larger and reducing the undead flesh to black and blue ashes… Stunned at first, the Folf quickly get back on his feet, and destroyed with one well placed strike from his sword the other creatures. Turning his head in order to thank the one who helped him, he stopped right in his tracks, shocked by what he was seeing…
Jarana was there, with blades at the end of her arms, her delicate hands wrapped around said blades. She was in her usual black leather armour.
And she had a mad grin on her lips.
Without saying a word, she quickly moved toward another undead, and sliced it efficiently; the blades must have been magical, for they inflict those strange burning wounds to the undead, reducing them to piles of blue and black ashes… Lomstat blinked several times, impressed by her grace and the efficiency of her attacks. But he soon collected back his wits, and returned to the battle. Lomstat and Jarana were destroying many creatures, but it was obvious the caravan was loosing the battle. Undead were killing soldiers as if they were nothing but rag dolls, and the magicians were soon overwhelmed by the sheer number of creatures, unable to cast their spells fast enough, or getting to low on mana to be of any help. Jarana beheaded another creature, and turned back to Lomstat, while the body of the creature fell on the ground, being burned from the neck down, while the head was soon nothing more than dust… When she spotted the Folf involved in a combat with three zombies at once, she also noticed another thing…
-"Beware!" She screamed, looking up.
But it was too late. Lomstat only had the time to turn his head to see the bone spear coming. He slightly moved, and his flank get sliced by the weapon. Fortunately enough, Jarana’s warning allowed him to be only wounded, or else, he would have been impaled… But it hurt like hell nonetheless. Lomstat fell to the ground, one of his paw on his wound, trying to prevent the blood from flowing away. He was bleeding heavily, the wound was deep… Jarana cursed, took a tiny bag at her belt, and threw it to the ground, protecting her eyes. Lomstat spotting that, quickly closed his eyes too.
There was a light blue bolt.
When lomstat opened his eyes again, he saw several piles of consuming and smoking corpses around him and Jarana, slowly turning to blue and black ashes. Then, Jarana ran toward the Folf, took his free paw, and get the Haschachiyyin on his feet.
-"Get up, Folf! We have to get out of here!"
With that, she started dragging the Folf toward a big rock. Soon, they were covered by the shadow of the rock. And soon, many, many undead were running toward them, wielding their rusty weaponry toward the two. Jarana ordered to Lomstat to run faster, and he tried, too much preoccupied by his wound and the incoming monsters to get angry at the woman commanding tone. Adrenaline helping, the Folf quickly moved faster, and they manage to reach the entrance of a cave. Jarana, as she was perfectly knowing what she was doing, quickly ran toward it, pressing the Folf to get faster. They were quickly engulfed by the cave, but Jarana didn’t rest, she ran quickly, the Folf still clinging to her shoulder, toward a smaller tunnel in the cave. The creatures were still following them, the clinking of their armours and weapons, in addition to their dreadful screams, announcing them… Jarana ran inside of the tunnel, and after several steps, she turned back and threw another little bag at the entrance of the tunnel. There was an explosion, and Jarana quickly jumped backward, dragging the Folf with her, as tons and tons of stones were quickly blocking the entrance, crushing many creatures in the process…
Jarana forced the Folf to walk through a mile or two of stone tunnel before allowing him to get rest. Lomstat, as adrenaline quickly exited his organism, felt terribly tired… Pain has came back, too, making his eyes seeing all in a blur. He must have been more severely injured than what he thought… But he let no complain exiting his muzzle. He noticed Jarana approaching something from his muzzle, and his first reaction was to jerk his head away of the suspicious thing.
-"Drink this" Jarana ordered. "Don’t be foolish, will you?"
With that, the woman forced a flask of potion inside his muzzle, making sure the Folf was swallowing the liquor. The strong scent of the potion invaded Lomstat’s snout, as its taste spread over his tongue and down his throat. It was pleasant. Soft and warm…
-"Sleep, now, Haschachiyyin. You’ll need all your strength…"
With that, the Folf fell asleep…
End of Fifth Blade.
By Darthen Wulf