Where Darkness Lies

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Summary

"Wait for a day where the sun never rises. On that day, make your journey for the desert oasis, and never look back." There is a legend in the land of Ferros. Once a great darkness spreads out from the northern mountains and consumes the land. When that happened, a pilgrim born of Man and Demon was sent to halt it. Elhym knows this tale well. It is his story. Referred to as Half-Breeds, the children of a human and demon’s copulation are shunned by the people of Ferros. Their pious hatred for his kind has left Elhym bitter and cold towards humanity, without respect for life. Now the darkness of old is rising once more. Black clouds fill the summer sky, and as the new half-breed pilgrim Elhym is the only one who can stop it. Though the journey shall not be an easy one. He must cross marshlands and fields, deserts and highlands, encountering bandits, witch hunters and horrors not of this world. All for the sake of saving humanity. But is humanity worth saving? With a long road ahead of him, this is the main question on Elhym’s mind, and he has time to think of the answer. His decision will be altered by the people he meets and the truths he learned; about this world, his heritage and his purpose. A monumental choice lies before him. Will he save Ferros from the darkness… or let it be swallowed whole?

Genre:
Fantasy / Horror
Author:
Joseph David Green
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
11
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Chapter 1: In The Darkness of Ferros

There is a legend in the land of Ferros; a tale as old as the mountains and the forest and the desert and the ocean.

In the beginning, when humanity was young and childlike, there was a darkness which covered the world. This was a darkness caused not by human means or natural causes, but by the reaching arms of a demon. From its place of rest within the depths of a cave at the peak of the Sovereign Crag Mountains, it spread its many umbral arms across the land and consumed everything. First came the dark clouds, which swallowed up the sun. Then came the moving shadows, which devoured all life on land. And then, after that, there was nothing but continuous, merciless suffering.

With an undying disgust for life, the demon had humanity enslaved. Over the eons, the humans were tortured, tormented and twisted by the malicious being, their unholy deity. The demon’s reign lasted for an immeasurable eternity, and those who died during its rule would never see an end to their sorrow. For the childlike humans, it was a time without hope, or belief, or strength. They were the rodents in the demon’s world, and for a long time it seemed that this would never change.

But then a miracle came, in the form of a pilgrim. A traveller from an unknown place, deprived of a name or title, imbued with solar light from the forgotten sun. This newcomer resisted the wrath of the demon, and confronted it in the cave at the peak of the tallest of the Sovereign Crag Mountains. There they found the demon’s heart, and destroyed it, ending its timeless reign over the land.

With the demon vanquished, the land of Ferros was freed from its era of darkness, and with the clearing of the sky the sun returned to the world. What remained of humanity was allowed to grow and prosper upon the ravaged land, forming cities upon ruins and farms upon graveyards. Their age of suffering was over, and with their job done, the pilgrim disappeared, never to be seen or heard of again.

This is the version of the tale known by most citizens of Ferros and its domains. With each generation the story has been passed down from parent to child, from traveller to traveller, and spread across the world. There are few who do not already knew this story.

However, most do not know the true story… of the identity of the original pilgrim, or what drove them to free the world from the grasp of demons.


It was raining on the day that he left for the north, though it was always raining somewhere within the swamps and flooded forests of Bleakmire. At the southern corner of Ferros, the land was saturated soft. Only tall plants grew within the coagulated water, and large clusters of pond cypress and slash pine trees dotted the region. In the denser regions, one could be caught up in the thick foliage of fetterbushes and wax myrtles, or step too deep into the waters and be pulled under by the sucking mud, or fall victim to the resident alligators which lurked in it. It was a feral place, mostly untouched by humanity, save for a small settlement at the northern border, who survive by selling off the rare fruits and animal hides to the northern cities.

It was a dark, clouded night on that first day of the journey. To the drier north of Bleakmire, a small flock of wood storks took to a panicked flight. This would be no unusual site to a resident. Often they would hear the avian life of the swamp calling out to one another, or see them swoop low above the wooded canopy. They would just assume that they had been scared by a predator. But, on this one occasion, this was not the case.

He hadn’t intended to scare the marsh birds like that. One of the stupid creatures was in his path, and without thought he had kicked at it. Now it was screeching as it took to the air, and its neighbours followed, calling out in a loud chorus. Elhym did the best he could to ignore them, as their shrill squawks echoed across the land. He had no time to meander and avoid the local wildlife, for he had a journey to make. A journey that would take him far from this sodden land and out across the whole country. Though he did not quite know where his final destination would be. That had not been divulged to him yet. But he had a vague idea of where he needed to go. He needed to walk north, beyond the marshes and plains and forest, till he was walking upon rolling sand dunes and standing before a vibrant oasis.

This journey would be tricky for any normal human, as navigating the deep swamp and dense woodland was difficult on days with good weather. There was also the danger of encountering miscreants, who often took up camp within the wilds outside of the major cities to the east of the land. And then there was the desert, which Elhym knew little about, though he knew the journey across the sands would take him several days. Water would be a priority issue during this step. But Elhym was not deterred by these obstacles. Any bandit aiming to make prey of him would have a tough time penetrating the sturdy black metal armour that covered his body from forehead to toe tip. They would also have to face the sharpened edge of his sword, which hung loosely from his belt, covered partially by the corner of a tattered and stained white cloak. That left the dangers of the swamp, the carnivorous aquatic reptiles and lurking venomous snakes. But neither were of concern to Elhym. He had killed alligators before, and he had ways of avoiding snake toxin.

There was a dense fog covering the marshes, and in the depths of the night it made sight impossible. An unfortunate with no lay of the land could easily wonder into the deep waters where the alligators waited. But for Elhym the fog was little more than a wisp, for his keen eyes could see well within the dark. It took him little time to find his way through the low cloud, and continue along the dry earth path carved out by centuries of travellers. Then, when he was out, he found that he was approaching a small incline. Ahead of him the land rose out of the water and towards the sky, reaching several inches taller with each passing mile.

Not too far ahead Elhym could see the glimmer of lanterns. A settlement, built beside the bank of a winding, trickling, stagnant stream. A number of wood houses clustered together, so tightly that the rooves touched. It was a small place, home to no more than a hundred people.

Elhym was not keen to approach. It would do him no good to visit the small hamlet. The people there would only get in his way, and he had no time for their simplistic lives to hinder his own. Though no doubt the people of such a town would not take kindly to a visitor such as him. The people of Ferros, whether living in the south or the north, could be quite vicious with strangers. It was necessary in such a place. Bandits and marauders often took up camp within the less-populated wilds. A settlement such as this was the perfect target for one of their raids.

As he approached the low stone wall around the site, he noticed that a few of its residents were still awake. It was an unusual hour for there to be activity outside, though as he passed he spotted several men stepping out from a large building towards the middle of the settlement. From the décor around the doorway Elhym could assume that this was some sort of hall where the residents would meet. He could hear some of their hushed whispering, though they did not appear to notice him.

“Again they come…” Muttered one of them. “Every week the same. We barely have aught left to give.”

“We must find something.” Said another, a voice of fear. “Perhaps there is grain left over from their previous visit, or gold hidden in secret places?

“They’ve already raided the storehouse and the farm.” Joined in a third. “And they took the gold and family heirlooms three weeks ago. We have naught left for ourselves. We may starve before their next visit.”

“Then we fight back.” Stated the fourth.

“Are you mad? We have no weapons to fight them with. Pitchforks and scythes will not halt swords and axes.”

“They can take no more from us.” Continued the fourth. “And so next time they come, they shall take our heads instead. I would rather die in defence of my home than be slaughtered like a pig cowering in its pen.”

“By Üstag, you would be a fool to face bandits by yourself!”

“Then stand with me, cousin! Take up arms and fight back against the bastards!”

“You are out of your mind, Kavlak!” Exclaimed the second of the men. “Our only hope is to flee south before they come back, let them have this place! I shall be leaving with my family tonight! I will not see my children murdered by those monsters!”

“Then you will fall foul not of raiders but of the swamp?” The fourth one stated with a wave of the hand. “Fine. Be a coward and flee. I will stay, along with any others brave enough to protect their homes.”

The group of four disbanded, with the cowardly running for their homes while the brave headed for the farm to take up whatever arms they could muster. Elhym felt that he ought to pity them, but pity was not an emotion he was capable of feeling. He continued on, unseen by the fearful villagers, and left the scared settlement behind him. They heard not one of his footsteps, even though crafted metal covered his body and weighed him down. Elhym had a stunning talent for remaining quiet, no matter what might give him away.

He stepped through the shallow stream, his sabatons flicking water up with each step. Pebbles loosened from the dirt under foot, though Elhym did not lose balance. He had never walked this part of the land before, but his experience of treading through the soft earth and deep waters of the swamp had given him dexterous feet and apt balance. Once across, he found that the land became more solid. The road beyond was tougher, and did not move under footfall. Upon the horizon he could see hills, rising up out of the flat land, which was now beginning to slowly incline downwards. Several days of walking were still ahead of him, and the night was getting no younger.

He had walked almost a kilometre from the frightened settlement when he decided to stop for the night. He was not especially tired from the long walk or the late hour. More so it was the need to close his eyes for a while, to rest his mind from the awful, dreary landscape. Unloading the small pack tied across his shoulders, he lay a few metres away from the road against a fallen tree, and with the light vegetation around him he began to craft a fire. Using a few loosened stones from the path he formed a ring in which to keep the flame from spreading, and taking a few nearby sprouting bushes and sapling, he snapped their stretching limbs and threw them untidily onto the pile.

There was now only the issue of igniting the flame. He knew that there were such tools and techniques for making fires with twigs or tinderboxes, but Elhym needed none of that. He had his own techniques. From the small pack, now at his side, he pulled out a thin, leather bound book, with a title of unreadable symbols. He had used it many times before, studying its aged pages. This book as the oldest possession he had, not just the oldest in his possession but in terms of actual age. If he understood its history correctly, this copy was over three hundred years old, and had been kept in a readable condition all that time.

And this was no ordinary book, certainly not one on wilderness survival which any normal person may carry whilst traveling through Ferros. Upon its pages was information unknown to most people of Ferros, information believed to be long lost. This was a book about the anomalous, unnatural art of Mancy.

Written by a Mancer witch decades before, the book detailed the requirements for performing the inhuman powers known as Mancy. Magic was believed to be a mythical subject by most of humanity, though Elhym knew that there were a few individuals with such knowledge of the subject still in this world. It was one of those people who had given him this book. Its pages detailed the necessary methods and requirements needed to perform Mancy spells, along with any additional ingredients within. Elhym had read through it many times over the years, and knew what each page held. However, on this night, he needed the knowledge of only one of those pages.

He flicked through quickly until he found what he was looking for. The language of the text was not that of Ferros, certainly not modern Ferros. He was not quite sure of the languages name of origin, but nonetheless Elhym knew how to read it. The process of casting was not a matter of remembering words or incantations. There were only two important factors involved in the casting of Mancy Magic; a specific rune with a unique meaning, and the blood of the caster. A Mancer would have to visualise each rune required for of a spell in order to perform it, as well as have the rune casted upon any target the caster was aiming for. This is more dangerous than it may seem, however. Each rune symbol has a vocal sound to go with it, and the pronunciation of these sounds was necessary to activate the spell. However, mispronouncing the spell’s sound could have dire consequences for the caster. Elhym remembered stories about how Mancers who had misspoken their spells were turned inside-out by the effect. Even getting the design of the rune wrong by the tiniest fraction could cause the casters death. For these reasons Elhym had to be certain that he knew what he was doing.

He reviewed the words upon the aged, yellow pages, taking their information in with scanning eyes, until he came across the symbols he needed to perform the fire spell. Three runes, each one having a different meaning and pronunciation, but together formed one single spell with one word. He extended his left hand over the flame, bare and armourless, skin as red as powdered cinnabar. Upon its skin were marked many runes, so deep that they reached the muscle and flesh beneath. With his right hand he drew a dagger from his belt, a curved blade with thin hilt. He placed it bellow the elbow and slowly slid it across the skin, till blood trickled out and down his arm. It seeped into the runic scars, and as it filled the wound it turned a ghostly azure shade.

Elhym began to think of the runes in his mind, keeping an image of them before his eyes. He opened his mouth and uttered the word to activate the spell.

“Fæòr!”

The air before the palm of his hand turned orange and ignited, glowing bright as a captured star. It spread from his hand to the pile of sticks, and within moments each and every twig was engulfed by the flame. By that point the spell had ended, and the flame escaping from the travellers hand was extinguished. No marks were left upon him, for the procedure of casting flame or indeed any similar resource could not harm the user if performed right. The pit of stick was ablaze however, and quickly crackling away in front of him. The light of the fire made the short grass glow, and for a limited distance the flame lighted up the dark path and the thinly wooded field. Its heat reached him and made his armour shimmer, yet it did nothing to warm the traveller, not even in such cold weather.

Light was reassuring, though. In these dark times, the presence of a flame was encouraging, no matter what was causing such a flame. And recently the times had been very dark indeed. The days were getting shorter, with the darkness of night growing longer and closer over the weeks. He had been told to watch for such an event. It was the reason he had set out at this point, for the rolling sand dunes of the desert.

‘Wait for a day where the sun never rises. On that day, make your journey for the desert oasis, and never look back.’

That was what she had said, before…

Well now that day had passed. On one fateful morning, not too long past, Elhym had awoken to a sunless sky, loomed over only by black clouds. Not even the moon would offer its glow. Since then the sun had not shown its rays through the sky. This was the sign he had been told to wait for. And now he had to make his journey. He wasn’t sure why he was headed for the desert, but he had been promised that all would be explained once he got there.

He closed the book and placed it back inside his pack. He lay back against a moist log for a while, staring at the fire as it crackled and sizzled and gave off thin smoke. And, sometime after that, Elhym fell asleep.


Elhym’s dreams were always filled with the same memories. No matter how hard he tried to forget his worries, they always came seeping back to the surface once everything fell quiet, like sweat through the pores of the skin. He dreaded sleep on many nights because of this. His fears and torments would torture him with the few good things he’d ever had in his life, and then with the awful events which had taken them away.

On this night he recalled his early childhood, before he discovered how harsh the world could be. He was back within the small hut in which he had grown, aged two and held within his mother’s arms. He could feel her rocking back and forth, a slowly burning flame within the cracked stone fireplace before them. Her long black hair was drooping over his face, catching in his eyes and mouth. He remembered being so small, so fragile. He took her hand, and noticed his own tiny fingers gripping around hers. He knew, even as a child, how different he was. He shared none of the physical traits his mother had, yet she loved him beyond all his deformities.

“Do you want to know where your name came from?” His mother asked, her pale face smiling down upon him. “Elhym. In the old Ferrosian tongue it means ‘He who walks’. I chose it because it will define you. You shall walk, my child. You shall walk for very far for a long time. You may have to walk forever, but some day you will stop walking. On that day you will have found your purpose, your reason to be. This is a road we all must walk, and some of us walk for a long time. Some never stop walking. But at the end of our journey we all finally realise who we are born to be.”

Elhym had never learned the meaning of her words. A child has poor understanding of such difficult concepts, but even now the sleeping Elhym, seventeen years of age, could not understand what his path was. He knew where he was walking, but he didn’t know why. Maybe he would understand when he reached the end of his path, or maybe he would walk on forever.

His mother hugged him tightly in her thin arms and kissed his hairless forehead.

“Your mother has walked a long way herself, but now she has neared the end of her journey.” She told him sweetly, as the fire flickered and smoked beside them. “I know what my purpose is. My purpose is to raise you, and to care for you for as long as I can, until you are ready to walk your own path. But know that no matter what may come down that path with you I will always be there, in mind and in memory. I will always love you, my child. Never forget that. You may have times where you feel alone, but I will always be with you. I will always be your light no matter how dark it gets.”

Elhym’s tiny infant eyes focused upon the flickering flames. The red light danced and lapped at the wood, turning the bark black and casting shadowed shapes upon the stone. But there was no heat coming from it. There was never any heat from the fire.

And then the fire was expanding, growing until it consumed the room. Everything burned; the stone, the wooden walls, the chair, his mother, all aflame and charred black. Yet he felt wet clothes covering him. He glanced down, and saw that he was standing knee deep in marsh water, a child of twelve years. He looked back up, and saw his home ablaze. The roof collapsed with an infernal groan and snap, and from within a cloud of black smoke burst out. The doorway, half open, was billowing flame like the maw of a dragon. And amidst the roaring of the fire he could hear a shout, a scream.

The voice of his mother, caught within the fire. Her last words to him before she died. The only instructions he had towards his journey.

“Wait for a day where the sun never rises. On that day, make your journey for the desert oasis, and never look back.”

And then she was gone, swallowed by the blaze. And in the distance, Elhym heard the sound of laughter, maniacal and victorious. Men of the hunt, having completed a slaughter. Met in black metal armour with white cloaks. Me who had killed his mother. And in that moment Elhym felt the heat of the flame. Only it was not a heat upon his skin. This fire, as intangible as time, was ablaze within his young heart. It would never be extinguished, not by any water or cloth. This was a fire of hatred, and it would remain with him till he died.


Elhym jerked forward, awoken by a sudden sound. The fire was dying out, slowly crackling as it dwindled away, yet it was not this that had awoken him. His keen ears picked up on the sound from far away. In the distance, faint yet fast approaching, came the metallic clopping of horseshoes.

He quickly rose to his feet as they came over the horizon. Five figures on horseback, drabbed in furs and carrying rusted and dinted blades. They were approaching across the sloping fields in a steady gallop, only to slow as they noticed the bulky, well armoured figure to the side of the road, and the dwindling fire at his feet. As they approached, now cautious and watchful, the figure at the head of the band reached for the hilt of an axe attached to the buckles of his saddle.

“How do, stranger?” He asked is a maliciously humorous tone. “What business have you on these empty roads at such a late hour? Don’t you know of the bandits in these parts?”

Though Elhym had little experience of social interaction, he could tell from his tone that this man was mocking him. From the grins on their faces, and the readied weapons in their hands, and the rough, stained furs they wore, he could tell that these men were not ones of high moral standard. At an hour such as this, no one other than marauders, fools or madmen would dare travel. Though Elhym was still cautious of this situation. He trusted that he could face one or two of them on foot, but all five on horseback may prove above his skills.

The first of the bandits, evidently the leader of the band, pointed at the traveller with a gnarled, stumpy finger.

“Where’d you get armour like that?” He asked.

Elhym had an answer for him. He had taken it from the corpse of a witchhunter, who had burned down his home and killed his mother. He had skewed him in the heart and taken the metal suit from his fresh, cooling body. Now he donned it as a guise, to deter meagre and petty criminals, and to protect against the foolhardy or brave marauders, such as the men now before him. But, more importantly that that, it hid his true identity, the one thing that denied him safe passage anywhere. With his skin mostly covered, nobody knew what he was, what he originated from. That was for the best.

Failing to earn a response, the leading bandit raised a fuzzy eyebrow at the silent Elhym.

“Look’s quite nice.” He said as a false complement. “A suit of armour fit for the king’s guard.” He tilted his head. “One might even think you killed suck a king’s guard to obtain that. If you were king’s guard, you would have drawn your weapon the moment you saw me.”

Elhym continued to look at him through the visor of his helmet, the only thing hiding his face. He continued to stand there, silent as the night itself.

Tired of his refusal to speak, the bandit leader went on. “I’m the most wanted man in the whole of Ferros!” He stated with pride, throwing his arms out dramatically. “Lithaesus of Squalor, the Fellblade!” he bellowed. “Butcherer of warriors, slayer of heroes, the death bringer, the grave filler! So many names, so many lives taken. Full grown men cower in fear of me, priests pray to me at their alters and plead that I do not come for them next, children hide under the covered at night dreading that I might be hiding under their beds. I am the worst horror to have even been birthed!”

Elhym looked at this figure, who now wielded his axe in lose hands, swinging it about as he gestured. Was it possible for a human to be this delusional?

“You talk too much.” Elhym stated quietly. “Move out of my way, or I shall take your tongue as well as your life.”

The bandit leader glared at him with fury. He turned sharply to the bandit at his right side.

“That armour of his looks like it could be worth quite a bit… Take it from him!”

Now was the point at which Elhym had been waiting for. The moment in which the talking ended and blood was spilled.

With a swift movement of the right arm, he reached under his long white cloak and withdrew a long, well-sharpened arming sword. Along the blade were carved runes similar to those upon his left arm, though they did not glow as of yet. He held the weapon before him, gripped in only the one hand, as the ordered bandit approached on his horse.

He was not far from the traveller, so their fight didn’t last long. He kicked his horse, which made it spur forwards into a sudden gallop, and brought his sword downwards towards his target’s head. Only as it was ten inches from his metal covered skull did Elhym react. He raised his weapon, catching the sword with the edge of his blade and letting it slide harmlessly away. Then, with a quick thrust, he buried the tip into the unprotected side of the horse. The poor animal whinnied in pain and fear, and moments later collapsed onto its side, blood gushing from the wound. The injured creature landed on top of its rider, kicking and grunting and rasping. With the bandit trapped, Elhym finished him off quickly. His blade buried itself deep into the attackers chest, and left a fountain of blood erupting from his opened torso. The traveller turned back to his remaining assailants, bloodied sword in hand.

“By Üstag!” One of the bandits muttered in horror.

Their leader looked back at them and saw fear growing like a cancer within their hearts, growing strong enough to unravel the religious beliefs they held close to them. As if muttering their god’s name would save them from him. Only the bandit captain seemed absent of this terror.

“You weaklings!” He growled. “He is one man. Cut him down already.”

The subservient bandits glanced at each other. Their prey was evidently a man capable of wielding a sword. He had already killed one of their own with little effort. An individual such as this was to be avoided in most circumstances. However they knew their boss well. If they did not do what he said, they would suffer for it. Now it was a decision between which was worse to face; the blade of a traveller or the wrath of Lithaesus of Squalor.

With fear in their eyes and their hearts, the three bandits spurred their mounts forwards and charged at the white cloaked warrior, various weapons gripped in their shaking hands. Rainwater shone upon steel as they charged.

Elhym was unmoved by the sight of the oncoming attackers. They did not scare him as he scared them. In fact he would sooner welcome them in open arms, so that he might thrust his blade through their backs. Any man who got in his way was enemy, and he was not in the habit of sparing his enemies.

The fight lasted less than a minute, and when it was over only the blood-covered figure in black armour and white cloak was left standing. Around him were the fresh bodies of four bandits and their unfortunate steeds.

Elhym had expected more from his attackers. A three on one battle ought to be interesting, but alas these men were inexperienced and terrified, and such men made weak opponents. It had been easy dismounting them. A simple swing of his sword took the leg of the first attacked, who fell from his saddle as his mount fled towards the marshes without him. Once on the floor, Elhym made an easy end of him. The other two were more cautious. It had taken force to dismount them, and once of their horse they recovered quickly. With the sound of the terrified horses galloping away, the two bandits charged him on foot. One went down with a simple swipe of his blade, and collapsed with a split down his face.

The last of the subservient bandits had been the trickiest of the lot. The bastards had gotten behind Elhym while he was taking down his companion, and grabbed his sword by the blade. Elhym’s immediate reaction was to thrust, but the bandit was smart enough to avoid this, letting the point slip under his armpit and gripping it with two tough, leather clad hands.

“No you don’t!” The bandit had taunted. “You won’t be stabbing no one with this no more!”

He hadn’t been expecting a tactic such as this from a frightened marauder. The bandit appeared to have found a weakness, denying his ability to swing his weapon. This had not concerned Elhym, however. He had a few tricks of his own.

He recalled the runes within his book of spells, thinking of the three symbols needed for one spell in particular. Once he had that image firmly within his mind, he uttered the word to cast it.

“Ÿśs!”

The word had confused the bandit at first, obviously wondering why a troubled target would make a meaningless sound. Then he screamed, as his hands were covered over by a frost now rising up the rune-etched blade. Ice was forming from nothing, growing rapidly along the weapon’s edge until it covered not just the blade but the hands gripping it. The bandit tried to let go, but his fingers were frozen over in moments, and not even the leather gloves could prevent this. As he tugged to free himself, the bandit sealed his own fate. It didn’t take much for the ice to break, and when it did, the bandit fell backwards. His fingers remained attached to the weapon, frozen solid and turned black with frostbite.

It was then that the bandit screamed, looking down at the stumps of his hands. “Mancer!” He cried. “A Mancer!” To shut him up, Elhym had shoved the icicles dripping from the edge of the blade into his chest and finished the job.

Now he turned to the captain. Without his men he seemed so alone, a friendless marauder in the wilds of Ferros, facing down a foe greater than he had anticipated. A glint of horror showed upon the brutish character’s hairy face, but he did well to hide it. He wasn’t going to turn craven, even when confronted by a much stronger foe.

“You killed my men!” He stated, an oncoming fury in his voice. “Who the hell are you?”

Elhym gave him no response. The ice had already melted from his blade, and with it washed away the blood from its victims. The fingers of the unfortunately cunning bandit dropped to the soft grass. He raised his sword, gripped in only his right hand, and pointed the tip towards the last of the bandits

Lithaesus of Squalor, the Fellblade, took his axe in hand, and slid from his saddle to face his opponent on foot. It had done his companions no good to ride on horseback when facing this traveller, so he would remove such a factor from their battle entirely.

“You dare threaten the legendary Fellblade?” Stated the bandit with gritted teeth. “You are no weak morsel, yet you shall still fall like the rest.” He then charged without warning, axe raised above his head.

Elhym stepped aside of the oncoming attack, leaving the axe to strike the earth. However, the captain was quicker than his deceased subordinates, and managed to block Elhym’s thrust with the flat of his rising weapon. With a powerful strike he swatted the sword away with the hilt and attempted to swing the head into Elhym’s side.

But Elhym was not unprotected, not completely. This was the moment where he withdrew his left arm that had been hidden within his cloak all this time. It lashed out and caught the axe in mid swing, a dagger’s shining blade gripped between the bare fingers.

The bandit captain stared at the arm in shock. Until now he had assumed Elhym to be a man, a human born of woman, weak and pick. Normal men could be slaughtered like cattle. Yet this assumption was what had sealed his fate. He looked upon the bare left arm and saw not pale flesh but red skin, unlike any that was donned by a human. Dark Crimson, like dried blood and wilting rose petals. Only one type of person had skin like this, and that meant…

“You’re a Half-Breed!” The captain gasped. “A demon’s spawn!”

He said nothing, but in his heart he felt an ancient, kindling hatred that had been with him all his life.

With his left arm taking the axe’s force, Elhym was free to strike the blade of his sword across the bandit’s right thigh. This shook him from his surprise, and made him drop his guard ever so slightly, enough for the traveller to twist the axe away. With a flick devoid of style and flamboyance, Elhym manoeuvred the weapon around and yanked the metal grip free from his opponent’s hands with a mighty tug.

Lithaesus of Squalor watches as his weapon sailed through the air behind his opponent and buried itself beside the ruined head of his deceased companion. The inner horror which had started to build in his heart escaped through his lips as a weak groan. In the face of defeat his true cowardice oozed through.

He turned and ran, but Elhym was upon him instantly. The sword’s edge sliced open the back of the barbarian’s legs, and he toppled forwards onto his knees, no longer able to stand. Elhym flipped the blade over and struck the pommel against the fallen barbarian’s head. The Fellblade slumped forwards, still alive and still conscious but thoroughly beaten.

Without sympathy, Elhym grabbed the man by his scruffy, uncut hair, and pulled his head sharply back, letting his terror filled eyes stare into his visor. There the bandit could see just how absent of humanity his opponent was. He was no mortal. He was evil in suit of armour.

“Please spare me!” The defeated bandit begged. He raised his arms up in prayer, not to the gods but to the devil who walked before him upon this earth. “Please let me live. I’ll change my ways. I’ll become a better person. I’ll never rob or rape or kill ever again, I swear! Have mercy!”

Elhym only looked down on him, seeing nothing but the false promise being uttered in fear by the defeated, cowardly marauder. He would never change. Men like this never did. Elhym did not care about justice, but this man had got in his way. He would not get a second chance.

The traveller in white and black yanked the bandit’s head back further, dropping his sword and reached his metallic fingers into his bruised mouth. With two fingers he grabbed hold of the slithering, worming tongue and began to tug. Then, with a mighty pull, the muscle broke away and he ripped the fleshy, slimy taste organ from its holding, and took a large section of jaw meat and throat with it. He held the pink flesh between his fingers, dangling strands of saliva and blood falling from its sinews. Then he threw it away, where it landed on the soft grass next to the corpses of the fallen bandits.

This was how Lithaesus of Squalor, the Fellblade, ended his life. It seemed that the trauma of having a sensory organ ripped from its rooting had sent him into a soundless, paralytic state of shock. He did nothing but stare forwards, wide eyes full of agony. He couldn’t even bring himself to blink. Any sense of power or intimidation that the bandit had once had was now vanquished. He was just a man, at the end of his life.

Elhym put him out of his misery. He too up his sword once more, pulled it back in an arc, and swung it at the man’s neck. The head sailed almost a metre into the air, before landing on the road with a squelch. Blood rained down upon him, coating his armour and staining his cloak.

And then the world was quiet again. Five corpses lay around him, mutilated in various ways. With the threat now gone, Elhym wiped his bloodied weapon across the grass and continued on his journey.

He did not look back.

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