The Gathering

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Chapter 19

Upon reaching the valley’s edge, their mounts grew tired and needed to rest. Dismounting, the heroes slowly made their way to the forest; some already had their hands on their sword hilts. No one wanted to go back into the woods, especially Cynbel. Her arm now bears a scar after her first encounter with the Wendigo’s. Despite how everyone felt, they all knew they had to get the stone from the cannibals. Letting out a heavy sigh, Amyntas began to walk back into the forest when he stopped just realizing he had no idea where these cannibals dwell.

“Avalon, where exactly do the Wendigo’s live in the forest?” The hunter pointed his finger straight into the very center of the forest. The Spartan shook his head. Of course, where else would a cannibal tribe live other than the forest’s heart, he thought to himself. As he was about to enter, Avalon stopped him.

“You have to leave your armor and shields behind.” The Spartan looked at him in bewilderment. “They live deep underneath the ground, beneath a dead tree with wild roots surrounding the entrance. If we want to succeed with this, we cannot have items that will alert them.”

The Spartan huff but saw the truth in his words. He removed all of his bronze armor, his helmet and his shield. Decimus did the same and along with Tyra, Cynbel, Mori, and Richard. Sparrow knew a safe way to the cannibal’s lair and asked everyone to follow him. Now fully ready, the Mohawk led his companions into the forest, towards the dark and secluded region of the area.

Treading further into the woodlands, the surrounding scenery grew quieter and colder. As if all life had been snuffed out of existence. Everyone stayed close together as they feared that the Wendigo’s were already watching them. Further along, the group went, venturing ever deeper into the heart of the woods.

They finally found it, the home of the Wendigo’s, the dead tree that Avalon had told. His descriptions were not wrong either; wild tree roots tipped with poisonous barbs surrounded the entrance underneath the tree, thus preventing unwanted guests from entering. Luckily, Sparrow knew of a secret door the Wendigo’s did not know, a hidden passage behind the dead tree blocked by a massive stone.

“How does he know of this place?” whispered Cynbel.

“When we were summoned, Sparrow teleported to the center of the forest, where they captured him,” replied Richard. “He was held captive for almost three weeks, enduring terrible torments at the hands of cannibals. Since then, he has a deep hatred towards them. He was able to escape at night, while his jailers went hunting for new meat. This passage is how he escaped.”

The Mohawk warrior moves toward the mighty stone and proceeds to push it off the entrance. The mighty rock slowly gives way, inch by inch is the passage revealed.

“I don’t like this place gives me the creeps” Tyra rubs her hand across her arms. She has never been more afraid of a forest than this one. Everyone was feeling the same thing. No one said a word, for even the slight noise could give away their position. Decimus surveys the surroundings, but there was a light mist covering the area, only allowing three feet of vision.

Finally, Sparrow moves the stone ultimately off the entrance. He quietly signals to the others that the opening is clear. Quickly, they all went into the cold, dark abyss of the secret passage. As they prepare to go further into the passage, Sparrow pulls out a flint from his pouch. Grabbing a dead branch, he tore off a part of his clothing, wrapped it around the very top of the wood, and made a makeshift torch. He gestures to everyone to do the same.

“Be careful where you step, these passages are littered with the bones of the eaten. All we need is one false step. So be very careful.”

The group of heroes get in single file and cautiously proceed further into the passage. The further they walked, the darker and colder the air became. It was so severe that breathing in sent shivers down one’s spine. After walking for what appeared to be hours, Sparrow sees a faint yellow light towards the end of the tunnel. He motions everyone to stop and wait by the walls. The young native presses his ear against the cold stone surface and listens. On the opposite side of the cave, he could hear the faint sounds of chatter and other noises. Then he hears a distinctive sound, one that he remembers all too well. He did not listen to what was said exactly, but he did hear enough.

“You two shall guard our holy relic. My scouts have reported that the soft skins have entered our realm. I believe they mean to take our stone,” said a booming voice.

“We will not let them take it, lord Ursa, their skulls will break under our axes,” spoke a much younger voice.

“Do not let them take our most precious relic, or it will be your skulls underneath my ax. Am I understood?” After that, there was nothing else the native heard. Now the situation has gone from bad to worse.

“What did you hear?” inquired Richard.

“They know we are heard and know we want to stone. They were spying on us in the safety of the forest before we got here. Dammit.”

Everyone looks at each other with faces of worry and shock. So much for stealth and sneakiness. Now it was do or die for them. “To make matters worse, Ursa is here.” Avalon’s eyes widened with horror. Has that monstrosity returned already? The newcomers were puzzled by this name, who is Lord Ursa.

“Who is this Lord Ursa? It seems to me you have a history with him.” Before Sparrow could speak, Avalon answered first. He sighed and placed his hand over his mouth. “He is the chief of the Wendigo. Once a scrawny lowborn, Ursa became a ruthless savage. Brutally murdering all other clans who have ties to the throne, including my clan and my father, the former king.” He stops himself before continuing.

“He is a psychopath, a monster, and a definite threat.” After explaining the threat, no one wanted to encounter the bear king.

“Something tells me no one was not expecting him to be here,” whispered Tyra. According to Sparrow, the last time anyone heard of the Bear King, he waged a skirmish war against the Aeetos, Saurian, and Desmodus clans further south. Richard had hoped the Ursa would have died in battle due to his unsustainable thirst for conquest, yet the Bear King managed to escape death and return home.

Knowing Ursa, he would not leave his stone unprotected, even with two guards standing watch. Faced with a dilemma, they debated on the best way to get the stone. While half the group agreed on a more stealthy approach, others believed that it must be a quick snatch and grab.

For a while, none of them could agree on anything. Soon Cynbel began to lose her patience and quietly yelled at her companions.

“This is stupid, the more time we waste arguing, the less time the village has. I will go get the stone.” She pushes past her companions and slowly creeps further along the wall.

Slightly poking her head out, she notices that one of the guards has its back turned to her. Unsheathing her knife, she quietly approaches the one in front of her. Amyntas peeks his eye out, just a little, as he sees the Celt slowly approaching the unaware guard, yet his eye quickly darts up and notices that the other guardsman has moved to an upper level and spots Cynbel.

The young Spartan knew that she was in his sight. Grabbing Sparrows bow, he notches an arrow and prepares to break from cover and fire. He then realizes the critical of this shot; if he misses, the guardsmen will sound the alarm. This shot had to be on point and quick, no room for error. Taking a deep breath in, the Spartan quickly moves from the cover of the wall and fires the arrow.

The thin shaft flies ever so smoothly through the damp atmosphere. The arrow gives off a sharp whistle and then pierces through the bone armor and flesh in the guardsmen’s center. The Wendigo stumbles and staggers, Amyntas, pleased with his shot, smiles.

But his smile then deforms into a state of horror as the guardsmen stumbled forwards and fell over the railing. He lands on the stone floor with a loud thud, getting the attention of the other. Sensing someone behind him, he moves out of the way of Cynbel’s surprise attack.

Seeing the others behind the wall, the guardsmen let out a loud animal-like screech—his alarm echoes throughout the tunnels and gorges of the Wendigo dwelling. Everyone’s face went sheet white; it was only a matter of time until the entire army surrounded them. Cynbel, already scarred from these devils, was not going to experience that again.

Rushing the lone Wendigo, she tackles him to the ground, and the pair begin to struggle. She tries desperately to stab the guard, yet his armor of bones protects all his vital organs. In the struggle, she knees him in the groin, lowering his guard and loosening his grip. She then thrusts her blade into his unprotected neck.

Red liquid oozes from his wound and, in a last-ditch attempt, tries to choke the girl. Yet she grabs one of his arms and stabs him in the face. Her knife went entirely through his skull. The others move from behind the wall and into the room.

“Well, this is a precarious situation, what now!?” yelled Decimus. Richard, along with Tyra, Avalon, and Mori, go to alter housing the stone. The luminous green gem is embedded in the center of the great oak.

“Tyra, if you would be so helpful,” said Richard. The shieldmaiden grabs one of the clubs, and using the blunt end, she cracks into the wood and grabs the stone as she puts a it in her pocket, Amyntas a large group approaching them.

“Doesn’t this place have any other exits,” said Decimus. “There must be a backroom somewhere in here.”

Everyone looks around the room, trying to find another way out. Just then, Mori finds a small tunnel behind some dead branches. Breaking the deadwood, the samurai looks inside to make sure it is clear.

“Richard, I think about a way out of here,” said Mori. The rest huddled in the small entrance and realized that it was narrow. They had to be on their elbows and knees to move. There is very little room in the tunnel in the tight space, yet the company pushed onward.

As they trudged through the narrow tunnel, they could feel insects crawling all over them. It was an uncomfortable feeling for all of them. Halfway through the tunnel, Mori realizes the passage was getting smaller and narrower. Now everyone had to be on their stomachs and crawl through the mud. Their wool shirts all began to soak in water. Cynbel was not pleased.

“Just great, getting my clothes wet again. Perfect,” grunted the Celt.

Despite the hardships, they all made it to the other side of the tunnel. Getting out one by one, the group found themselves in a dark room. None could see their own feet and hands. The sound of dripping water was the only noise they could hear.

“Where are we,” whispered Tyra. “I cannot see a darn thing.” The only person who was not affected by the darkness was Sparrow. As a former prisoner of the Wendigos, he spent most of his time in the dark. Placing his hand on the wall, he brushes over the cave’s smooth surface until he finds the rough texture of flint further down the cave.

Getting his spark stones, he chips away at the wall until sparks fall onto the floor. A fire trail traced around the room, making a rink of fire in a matter of moments. As the Mohawk takes his hand off the wall, he hears a loud crunch. Looking down, his eyes widened with horror.

“Look at your feet,” said Mingan.

Everyone looks down and sees massive piles of various bones and skeletal remains. Surrounding them were towers of the remains of the wendigos. All were horrified. Many had seen carnage before, but not like this. Nothing like this.

“I don’t like it here; we should leave,” said Cynbel. Being here was giving her too much anxiety. Sparrow places a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Do not worry; we are leaving now.”

"Oh, are you now, just when I was happy to see old friends,” said a voice from the shadows. Suddenly red glowing eyes begin to emerge all around them. Looking around frantically, Amyntas sees that they are surrounded.

“Back to back, prepare for combat,” shouts the Spartan. The room fills with the sounds of barks, growls, and one unmistakable beastly chuckle. Walking towards the company in all his glory was the most feared creature in all the realm.

More dangerous than Kairos himself. Wearing his bone armor with his bear skull helmet, brandishing his mighty war ax, the monstrosity of the dark forest came forth. A being Richard, Mori, and Sparrow hoped never to encounter again.

Lord Ursa.

܀

“Well, well. Look who came back. Our old friends, the pink skins. We missed them, didn’t we boys.” The room fills with howls and laughter. Ursa makes his way closer to the others, dragging his mighty ax across the bone floor. “Did you think that you could just walk into our domain and expect to leave here alive with our relic.” The mighty wendigo king smiled wickedly, revealing his jagged teeth.

“Sparrow did,” said Cynbel. Ursa looks at her and growls at her. His eyes were glowing red in the firelight. Cynbel hid her face from the beast’s glare. “A minor incident, one that I have made sure never happens again. Now, hand over the relic, and I promise my men will not make too much of a mess.”

All the wendigos howl in unison. It had been many moons since they had a feast. Everyone was getting worried until Avalon stepped away from the group brandishing his wolf fangs. “You want the stone, come and claim it.”

Ursa bellowed a mighty laugh. It echoed throughout the cave. “My, if it isn’t the former prince himself,” said the king. Everyone was shocked by this sudden news.

“Look at you, an outcast siding with pink skins. How the mighty have fallen.” Uras mocked as the young Wendigo’s anger was boiling.

“Big talk coming from a chieftain too scared to face the sorcerer himself.” Ursa noticed this and was surprised, impressed even. He always admired those who hated him. It made killing more regal, for him that is.

Ursa orders his wendigo soldiers to make a circle around him and the human. His elite guards begin to encompass both he and Avalon. The Spartans’ friends watch from the outside of the ring, worried for his safety.

No one has ever outright challenged Ursa to single combat since he became king. The young hunter thinks to himself about how insane his plan is. He clutches his medallion and asks for guidance. The guardian simply told him This is the most dangerous opponent you have ever faced; you cannot lose.

Once fully enclosed, the elite guards begin to hit the stone floor with their iron spears and begin to chant. Their chants were barks, howls, and other noises.

“What are they saying,” whispered Tyra.

“It is their ceremonial chant,” replies Richard. “They always perform this when they encounter a worthy adversary. To them, killing a worthy enemy before devouring him is a religious act. It is the only sacredness these people have. I hope he knows what he is doing.” They all hope for their friend. He is the one who inspired all of them. If he dies, all is lost.

Back with Avalon, the hunter stared down his enemy. Both circled each other, trying to find a weakness. Avalon knows he is at a disadvantage. He had no armor, no spells, and was out of practice. Ursa knew this and thought that the fight would be over quickly.

Hoping to overtake his opponent, Ursa rushes the Spartan. Avalon sidesteps and slashes across the king’s back. The blades glance off the bone armor. Then Ursa jabs into the young hunter’s stomach with the end of his ax. He stumbles backward but regains his footing. Catching his breath, a large hand wraps around Avalon’s face and lifts him off the ground. The king’s clawed nails dig into his face as he squeezes.

Avalon groans in pain as he feels his skull being crushed. Lord Ursa then throws the Spartan across the floor. The young hunter hits the ground hard and lands flat on his stomach. His friends could do nothing but watch in horror as their friend fought for survival. Crawling on the floor, he grabs his blades and uses them to prop himself up only to be pin down by the mighty king. The wendigos all howl in praise.

Forced onto his back, the former prince looks directly into Lord Ursa’s eyes through his skull helmet. Just as he was about to kill him, Ursa mocks him one last time.

“Who taught you to fight like that?” Realizing that the king’s face was close to his, Avalon thrusts one of his blades into the eye sockets of the skull helmet. The king rears in pain as he lets go of him. The wendigos and heroes look in shock at what had just happened. Catching his breath, Avalon sees the massive ax on the floor. Scrabbling towards it, he grabs the shaft and props himself back up. Breathing heavily, he looks at the fallen king, who had just pulled the weapon out from his now bloody eye. Walking towards his fallen foe, he drags the ax along the dirt.

Lying helplessly, Ursa was paralyzed by fear. He had never had anyone harm him before. The once-great wendigo chief felt fear grip him. Looking up with one good eye, he sees the prince over him. Everyone held their breath at what happened next. Using all his strength, he lifts the massive ax over his head and swings down on Ursa skull, splitting it in half. A loud thud filled the room, and then nothing. Avalon lets go of the handle and let out a loud huff. He looks at the dead body once more and gives his answer to the now-dead king.

“My father.”

A praetorian walks over to the bloodied blade on the floor and picks it up. Looking at the prince, he kneels before him, presenting his sword before him. Soon all the wendigos did the same and knelt before Avalon and his friends. “I’ll be damned,” said Richard.

He had seen many things in this strange land, but this was something he or anyone did not expect. Avalon, still recovering from the fight, reaches for his weapon. His hand is still shaking from being thrown to the ground. Gripping the handle, he places it at his side. He turns his head back at the wendigos and gestures a nod. Suddenly the room is filled with the sounds of cheers and chanting, this time a different one.

“What are they saying now?” said Tyra. Richard knew what they were saying, but he could not believe they were chanting it.

“They’re saying…long live the king.” Sparrow, Mori, and everyone else’s mouth drop to the floor. Avalon looked all around him. Tears began to form in his eyes. Chuckling, he smiles triumphantly. Their odds had just improved.

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