The Cyneweard

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Part I - Bringer of Storms :: 15

He stared ahead, vision blurred by pain, into the remnants of what had once been an inn. Multiple Northern Tribe warriors could be seen running in and out of the ruin. A woman holding a child was dragged out. They killed the babe first, tossing the remains at the woman's feet. Her sorrowful howl pierced his heart harder than the pike had punctured his stomach.

His hand received another warm gush of blood from the wound it was trying to cover. Parton coughed and let his head loll. He continued watching as the woman's husband was drawn from the inn. They forced the woman down. She cradled what was left of her child, howling in that grotesque tone. More blood rushed from his pierced abdomen.

The tribal warriors bathed the woman in her partner's lifesblood, slitting his throat over her. The wail stopped. She closed her eyes. Parton saw her lips move. They ended her in silence.

How had it gone so bad? Despite having the power of the slugthrower on their side, they had been routed by superior numbers, pushed back into Smythe proper. No warning had been given to the townsfolk. They were now collateral damage. Did the Emperor even care?

The warriors had noticed his gaze. They started to move across the street. His legs managed to spasm as his flight response reacted to the pending danger, but the fight had been slowly leaking out of him for a while now. He wasn't going anywhere.

They smelled of blood and sweat. Two of them were Hume, dressed in the blue uniform of the Getty tribe, not known for their compassion. They were a mercenary group, hired by the Dearth tribal elders. The Getty tribe had a habit of playing with their prey.

Parton reached for the dagger on his hip. He wouldn't wind up a Getty plaything. Slicing his own throat would do the job, as alien of a concept as that was to his young mind.

The taller of the two Humes pulled the dagger from its scabbard and tossed it to the side. Parton had not even managed to get his hand to its hilt before they had arrived.

Leering at him, the warrior drew his own curved, serrated blade and waved it in his face.

"Do it," Parton pleaded. "I won't make for too much fun in this state."

The warrior ignored him, flashing yellowing teeth in a wide grin, still waving the blade back and forth.

"I get it, you're going to kill me. Hurry up or my wound will handle the job for you."

Confusion slacked the warrior's grin. The tribesman behind him turned and then fell where he stood, body limp in an instant.

The warrior with the blade turned just in time to catch a slug between his eyes. Parton watched as the man's head bulged at the back and jerked back with the force. The warrior fell dead between Parton's knees, his confusion forever frozen on his face.

"Injured!" came a yell.

Parton tried to focus but only found a fuzzy figure moving towards him. He was growing cold. A shiver licked at his shoulders and neck.

Another figure rushed up to his face. He smelled sage, maybe lilacs, maybe thrower powder. His sister's voice came to him, singing him a lullaby. His father yelled at him for knocking down the thistles. His mother cooed at him as he nuzzled into her neck.

A great force pulled at his navel and he flung his eyes open, heart slamming against his ribcage. He reached for his dagger, found no hilt to which to purchase his grip, and coiled his left arm to drive an elbow.

"It's ok," came a woman's voice.

Parton looked left. Ruined street. He looked right. More death and destruction. He looked ahead. A beautiful woman wearing a Humbolt Priest's robe.

"Are you ok? I was able to heal your wound. You've lost a lot of blood. Take this,"

She handed him a piece of rockbread, the hearty ration that no soldier dared eat without a drink to dunk it in at hand.

"No," he mumbled, shaking his head. His entire body felt as if it was only seconds away from losing all will to move.

The roll was stuffed into his mouth. He choked, bit down, let the remainder of the roll fall from his lips. Every clamp of his jaw hurt. The roll threatened to crack his teeth.

"Keep chewing," the priest told him, her hands on his shoulders. "Are you wounded elsewhere?"

He shook his head.

"Ok," she said, turning and speaking with someone he didn't have the strength to look up and recognize. "I think he'll be ok. He'll need to build blood back up though."

"Healing magic is the only worthwhile magic," came a deep voice in response to her. "Looks like he's it."

"I searched multiple houses and only found death."

"And all I found were young warriors picking at the town's carcass."

The priest sighed. "What was the reason behind this offensive?"

"Get a leader before he could make it to the elders. Went real well, as you can see."

Again, she sighed. "I fail to understand how this betters the Whistlands."

"That's the key," responded the voice. "It doesn't. The emperor is a buffoon. He may even be insane. Now do you see why I'm doing what I'm doing?"

"Yes," she responded. "But all this death."

"Necessary evil. There will be a lot more to come."

"Who...who..." Parton stammered after swallowing the bread.

The Priest knealt back down. "Who am I?"

Parton nodded. "I'm Elara, the Humbolt Priestess of this village."

"I'm sorry," the young soldier managed before his head lolled to the side.

"Eat more," she pressed.

After two full rolls, his energy began returning to him. His head was back under his control and he looked further up to the figure standing a few paces away.

A male Hume, tall, stood arms crossed. Two slug throwers of a crude make were dangling on his sides. His face was lined and his hair graying. A scowl tugged at his otherwise handsome face. Expressive green eyes betrayed the look of disgust on his face. Parton could tell that a part of this man enjoyed the mayhem.

"Who are you?" Parton asked.

The man shot him a glance and then frowned. "A friend."

Parton adjusted his back and straigtened. His legs refused to move at his command. "You saved me?"

Patting his weapons, the man replied, "No, these did. I just showed up at the right time."

"Ah."

"I am known as Jute. Secondary commanding officer of the Slug corps. Or at least I was."

"You're Imperial?"

"No longer. I've had enough. Friend, you do realize that you're it, right?"

Parton looked up and down the street. Smoke billowed around broken and battered bodies, broke through the seams of bisected buildings, and weaved its way up into the sky. Fires sprouted all over, deadly flowers licking at the wood and stone littering the remnants of the town. He saw no movement, no sign of life. All was quiet. It all smelled of burn.

"I'm it?"

"The only one of your corps left here. They abandoned you to your fate."

"Thank you," Parton sighed.

"Don't thank me until we get out of here. I cannot guarantee the tribes won't come back to survey and loot. You don't want to be here when that happens."

Parton nodded. "So I can go with you?"

"I'm not sure of that either. Where I'm going, an Imperial like you won't be able to come back from."

"Where are you going?"

"To a place that will almost certainly seal my death."

Parton raised an eyebrow.

"I'm going to kill the Emperor."

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