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  1. #1

    Threat Level Dump

    Greetings,

    I have taken the time over the course of several months to write a short story entitled "Threat Level Dump" or "Threat Level Phoenix."

    I have spent hours of my life crafting a journey that exposes several laughable features of the game, spreading from topics such as deed farming, reputation, questing, story line (most extensively The Fallows), and most notably, players in the game. There are only a few named individuals within the story, but all likenesses are in jest and not accurate to their true selves. I must note that there are several graphic scenes with blood, gore, and potentially offensive material that includes a depiction of a sinister individual known as Dancuru, who may be described as a severely sadistic person. So I ask of you - Come! Take a journey and immerse yourself in a world where all is not as it seems. Where heroes may rise and fall, and where there are more twists and turns than you can count. I apologize for any grammatical mistakes. I believe my writing is coherent enough to follow, if not a bit redundant and overusing of diction at times.

    To Turbine: You have abandoned all that I love in the game. And my depiction of your mechanics and quest line is meant in jest but is also most sincere. You recently offered the ability to buy level 50 characters from the turbine store. The fact that you don't want players to play your game, and just want them to hand you money and receive everything they need without any challenge whatsoever, solidifies your desperation. You have fallen far. You make me sick, and your tactics are as repulsive as some of the activities of Dancuru (which you will have to read about to uncover).

    Without further ado I present to you the legend of a land so dazzling, so deprived, so putrid, that you are likely to need a shower after encountering its society.
    I will make posts in one chapter segments.


    Chapter 1: A Date with Dancuru

    In the darkest night the horse trod weakly. The lone rider wavered in hunched position over the bridle as he clung desperately to the reins. Had not snow fallen illuminated by the moonlight, he would have ridden onward unnoticed upon his black steed. Chill winds raced through the snow drifts alongside the road and scattered against his coarse and cloaked face. Numb minded he road and below by hoof prints, droplets of blood leaked trailing in the snow as a crimson hourglass. Each drop, another moment passed and the remaining life within him stretched thin.

    With each step his spurs rattled over the wind and the elven blades at his sides hummed gently as they sliced the thin air. It was this low hum that alerted the watchman on the wall; it was this low hum that spared the horseman’s life.

    The guardsman stood looking out over the wooden wall of The Fallows. He walked steadily and with trained eye sensed that the night was astray. As clouds drifted over the night sky, the moon peered bleakly through the wisps and spared his watch from being consumed by complete darkness. All that has touched this land has been darkness, he thought. We know not peace for slumber – Shrouded in the distance the enemy watches and no victory has been gained without great loss.

    He thought of his family and the faces of his children. Ache of sickness filled him and though brief were his nightmarish dreams, within their confines he saw the pale and lifeless eyes of his beloveds in their graves and this stirred him to madness. He dropped the torch he bore and leaned over the city wall to vomit. In the distance his keen eyes sensed movement. He wiped his lips with his cloak and retrieved his torch, shouting out to the abyss of winter:

    “May ye of ill intent beware of these lands, for great has been the blood of man on the sword of mine kin and no such burden would be bore in wetting its edge this night!”

    He listened. In the distance, hooves beat lazily against the road.

    He reached for both the bow and arrow on his back and drew with precision against the darkness, aiming precisely at the ground above the clops. He held his aim steady, and slowly from the dull white of snow, the silhouette of a rider cloaked in black upon a steed the shade of night emerged. It took not long to decipher the nature of this unknown traveler, who without any attempt to brace himself slumped out of his saddle and onto the cold ground, clattering blades and armor alike.

    The Guardsman raced along the wall to the nearby steps and before descending rang the bell of alarm. The city came alive as blazes of torches lined the circling watchtowers and the shouts of men broke the silence of the citizens in their homes. Doors creaked and blades drew, and gathered at the city entrance there grew a group of fierce men expectant of Orc or foe alike.

    “How many?” one asked with gritted teeth.

    “None,” the Guardsman replied. “A lone rider fallen prey to some ailment. His dark steed lays yonder not a stone throw from our wall. I know not of his intent, nor his condition. Our enemy is keen to our hospitality and I fear trickery. What say you?”

    “Leave him to rot if that is your fear. He may already be dead.”

    “There is something amiss this night, but greater is my fear that a man with iron heart should die alone an arm’s reach from saviors.”

    “And what says the Thane of your heroics? Should you then die naught but to save the enemy time in skinning your bones?”

    A booming voice shook the stillness and the crowd turned with great attentiveness to its source.

    “I say that as clan we admire and honor those who uphold heroism at expense of their own life, even if it is for those as putrid as the Duvodiad. To those of you, who cannot stomach the thought of a kinsman dying for Duvodiad, stand on the wall with arrows trained so that might this be trickery we may spare our beloved Guardsman from ill fate. Go now and make haste!”

    The Guardsman turned and standing in the gap of entrance against the night his cloak flapped out beside him. He drew his blade and with hand clenched tight against its hilt he charged out into the night, fading out into the black like a quill into ink. The eyes of his kinsman with arrows drawn focused on the grunt of the Guardsman as he gathered the ill figure from the ground and lifted him on his shoulder. The horse in an act of loyalty carried onward behind its master. As quietly as the night had consumed him, it released him, and the guardsman emerged with horse and Duvodiad. With no threat apparent, those along the wall drew forward their bows and replenished their quivers with the unused arrows.

    “He is no man!” shouted the Guardsman as he laid the stranger down onto the torch-lit ground. “He is an elf!”

    Shutters and shivers split through the crowd and even the greatest of the warriors among the men spewed forth from their stomachs the contents of their evening meals.

    “An elf?!” a large-gutted man with one eye exclaimed. “Might it be much trouble to drag him out into the night once more?”

    The crowd erupted in laughter.

    “Silence!” yelled the Thane. “Intriguing to me this Duvodiad has become. Take this specimen to the Doctor’s quarters. Tomorrow we will have our answers yet.”


    When the elf woke, the smell of medicine pushed his nerves into spasms and he rose upward out of a small cot in a fit of coughs. The sheets were wet with both sweat and what he smelled to be urine. His backside burned and he viewed his surroundings with disgust. Scattered over tables were tools and jars the likes of which he had never seen and the contents of the jars reminded him of distant swamps where all life forms were birthed in filth. Standing by the foot of his bed he saw a man robed in white peering down at him.

    “Rise and shine, Duvodiad!” the apparent Doctor said. His voice was high and a certain tilt of his smile sent shivers down the elf’s spine.

    “Where am I?” the elf asked. “And who are you?”

    “Well my dear friend, my love, you are in The Fallows. And I? Well it is my pleasure to present myself to the likes of an elf such as yourself. I am Dancuru.”

    The elf sat back in the bed, at rest knowing that he had indeed reached his desired location.

    “And what do you call yourself?” Dancuru asked with sickening inflection.

    “Vrael. My name is Vrael.”

    “Oh yes! What a splendid name! And I have so much – “

    “Did you touch me? While I was unconscious?”

    “Well but of course! To examine you and such? But not in such way as to harm you!”

    “Then why does it feel as though my rectum has become The Rift of Nurz-Ghasu?”

    “Well silly boy, I am certain you do not recall your fall from your dark steed?”

    “Enough of this! Where is your Thane?”

    “Thane Thimaran is in the Mead Hall. But you need your rest!”

    “Where are my weapons? My armor?”

    “Vrael, need I remind you, you are in no condition – “

    “There slumbers in the dark abyss of your land an evil the likes of which you have not fathomed even in foulest dream. I lie here in sweat and filth while you tend to what you deem injury, but let me make myself clear: I have seen the Enemy. Conceive what pain I have shown you as what you will soon cling to as a sliver of hope once your agony has peaked to what your enemy shall inflict. Give me my weapons, my armor, and my steed. I will be on my way soon after I see your Thane.”

    -“Oh Duvodiad, your naivety could make even the lowest jesters cringe. Answers must be sought first before you may simply ride from The Fallows unscathed. You see, we have not seen your kind for quite some time. And lest you be blind, deaf, and dumb all at once I doubt that you have forgotten the terms of which our races last met?”

    “Listen to me. The chaos cultivating outside these walls will consume you. It will consume this entire region, as far as the Eastemnet; we are the last line of hope. I bid you no burden other than to warn your Thane and return to my people.”

    Dancuru stood pensively and narrowed his eyes. This particular specimen had quite a feisty attitude. His mind focused and in its darkest corner clung to the sinister secret that must never be uncovered by either man or Duvodiad. Let him see the Thane? Could it finally be time to release the machine? No, it isn’t ready. But if I had more time. . . Oh yes, my love, more time I shall have. Vrael will play the games of the Thane whilst I finalize the dastardly design. It took all of Dancuru’s might not to unleash a squeal of delight, but he managed to maintain his countenance and suppress his plan.

    “A warning, is it?” Dancuru asked, walking slowly around the edge of the bed towards the elf. “The enemy has grown ever stronger? Long have messengers sought The Fallows baring the ash of blazed city on their cloaks. Yet time passes – Oh yes, Vrael, your race has seen it pass so slowly. The children of men born to grow old and die and but a blink of an eye has passed for you. You speak of an Enemy that has never gathered forces to triumph over this icy labyrinth of mountain, despite the cries of your kin claiming such atrocity was but a day from our doorstep.”

    Dancuru leaned in close to Vrael’s face. The smell of his breath pungent, he offered naught but sickening rebuke.

    “How does one such as you spew lies to men who must cherish every moment of life before it is swept away by time? Your kin, despite having lived thousands of years, have never stood as some say ‘The Test of Time,’ because you have never felt its edge against your throat. You do not watch your father and mother age and weep in death beds; you know nothing of Age even having lived through many. You are nothing but a pawn, Vrael, and yet you still believe we would have ourselves die when by your own measure of life we are already dead. Go now, see our Thane. But a warning I have for you: There is a storm coming, and it is not alone.”

    Vrael stood up, angrily. He thought of dispatching this ignorant and arrogant man standing in front of him, but he restrained himself. Instead, he shoved him aside and scoured the room for any indication of his belongings. He saw a cabinet in the corner and hastily walked toward it, opening its doors with great vigor. A fraction of his rising frustration was put at ease when he found his clothes. Without speaking to Dancuru, he walked out of the room onto the wooden floor landing that overlooked the ground floor. The walls were bare, but the fireplace roared with flames and Vrael immediately took the side stairs down to stand in its glow. To his left, he saw another room, and within minutes he had emerged from it fully clothed. When he stepped back out into the living room, Dancuru stood above with his arms stretched out over the bannister. He spoke no words; his staring eyes and crooked smile conveyed all that lied within his foul mind. Vrael took one last look at him before walking to the front door and swinging it open.

    The daylight stung his eyes for a few moments, but when they finally adjusted to the bright rays of the sun that reflected off the soft snow that blanketed the ground, he saw that the house was located on a hill overlooking the city. A path leading down wooden stairs traced itself back down to a square where many townsfolk bartered goods and conversed. As he stood upon the hill looking down, he caught the eyes of many onlookers who stared back with much interest, clearly knowing that he was a Duvodiad. In the center of the town, he saw a great mead hall with smoke rising lazily into the chill air from its vents atop its thatched roof. He hesitated only briefly and then made his way down the hill.
    Last edited by eragon1; Jan 11 2014 at 03:12 PM. Reason: Grammatical Errors

  2. #2
    Chapter 2: Trouble with Thimaran

    He walked into the square with great caution. With no weapons, any incident would result in brutal hand-to-hand combat. Townspeople turned and glowered at him, and the tension of the situation become almost tangible. Even children scowled, one shouting:

    “Come to buy your gravestone, Duvodiad?!”

    The child was quickly quieted by his mother, but the outburst fueled other remarks.

    “You are not welcome here, Duvodiad!”

    “The Uk-Gwirod require us bid welcome to the Duvodiad, but we wait for your mistake! It will be your last!”

    “If the ice does not chill you, perhaps will the Thane!”

    “Your reputation is naught but neutral here in The Fallows, Duvodiad!”

    Vrael passed cautiously and despite the shouts berating him he managed to suppress his emotions and pressed onward. He crossed the square and made his way to the stone steps leading up to the mead hall’s entrance. At the distance of the Doctor’s home, he had not seen the detail of the hall. Now he stood before its shadow and marveled at its disturbing tapestries. A porch extended from the hall and wrapped all the way around the building. Along each wall hung vivid tapestries displaying what Vrael presumed to be heroes of The Fallows, but the events taking place in each had no place in Vrael’s mind as being synonymous to heroism. The first showed a large man holding the spine of a human, with a diagram beside each vertebrae providing evidence as to why Duvodiad lacked leadership. The fat man stood on the lifeless body of what looked to be, to Vrael’s horror, an elf.

    Vrael’s eyes scanned onward to the next tapestry. It appeared that the “hero” of this event held a shovel and behind him stood a brown tower resembling mud. It spiraled upward and from its highest point smoke emerged. An orange glow resonated from the base of the tower, and Vrael realized that it was no tower at all; it was a shrine. Embroidered at the top of the weaving were the words, “The Great Tower of Dump.” Vrael knew not the definition of “Dump,” but seeing that the man in the tapestry wore rags across his mouth and nose, he gathered that it must wreak a foul stench.

    The third and final tapestry that Vrael examined was quite perplexing. There were two ellipses merged together to form around what looked to be a cave entrance in the center of the two shapes. Darkness enshrouded the entrance, which narrowed sharply at its very center and held a dull, brownish hue. It was then Vrael saw that the shapes were not made up of lines at all. They were names.

    Names written in curves to create the entrance to the brown cavern. Names that were from all races – even Orc. As his eyes read each name, uneasiness took him. He could not stop himself from reading onward, his eyes narrowing to proceed faster and faster, suddenly invigorated. Whatever stirred in him stimulated from fear. He had to understand the end of this dark and unknown lineage and the mystery of the brown cavern. When he had neared the end of the list, his head tilted sideways, he saw that there was a new name stitched into the tapestry. His face paled and all warmth passed from him. He resisted falling to his knees as he read not the name of a stranger, Duvodiad, or Orc. The final name on that list of Dwarves, Hobbits, Men, and Elves, Orcs, and all manners of beasts was ‘Vrael’.

    “I see you have found Dancuru’s tapestry.”

    Vrael started and turned to a larger man who was dressed in purple robes tied at the waist with a twisted rope. He held his hands behind his back and smiled from ear to ear, accentuating his red cheeks and white beard.

    “I am Thane Thimaran. You made quite the entrance into The Fallows last night. You are fortunate that you caught the eyes of our Guardsman. I fear any other Watchman would have not hesitated in slaying you on sight. Come now, let us enter – We have much to discuss.”

    Thane Thimaran beckoned to him with a wave of his arm before turning his back to him, saying,

    “And you have much to answer.”

    Vrael was still in shock from having read his own name on the tapestry. He knew not why it had unsettled him so until the Thane had uttered “Dancuru’s tapestry,” from his mouth. Whatever ailment awaits this horrid place, I am reluctant to interfere, he thought. I must leave this place as soon as possible.

    Vrael turned and followed Thimaran back around the porch to the entrance of the mead hall. The Thane swung both doors open wide and immediately the warmth of the building enveloped Vrael’s cold body. Columns of decorated wood lined the hall and tables were placed parallel to one another, all leading to the Thane’s personal throne and table at which his guests’ should dine. Men and women alike gathered along the tables now, staring in stark silence as their leader and the unwanted Duvodiad made their way toward the Thane’s table. On the second floor of the mead hall, many more gathered along the banister and all at once all in the hall burst into song:

    Duvodiad, oh how we know
    Of how you sought us in the snow
    But here shall be your resting place
    Should you dare to make mistake

    Duvodiad, Duvodiad
    Scum you are, both near and far
    Duvodiad, Duvodiad,
    Begin to dig your grave

    What brings you to this barren land?
    Servant of the Elven clan?
    Pointed ears, and girly locks
    Elves are good for sewing socks!

    You are here to serve our Thane
    Forget this not or start the pain
    Not sword, nor beg, nor prayer, or grump
    Can save you from the Tower’s Dump!


    By the end of the song, Vrael and the Thane had reached his dinner table, and Vrael deeply regretted having ever made this long and dangerous journey to the wretched city. The Thane indicated for Vrael to stand on a maroon carpet placed in front of the table as he made his way around to sit in his tall Throne overlooking the entire mead hall. He raised his hand to silence all within the room. None disobeyed. When he spoke, his voice boomed against the walls of the hall and its vibrations were felt by all patrons.

    “All here by decree of the Uk-Gwirod do stand to observe the trial of Duvodiad!”

    “What…” Vrael croaked.

    “SILENCE!” the Thane roared whilst slamming his fist on the table. All in the mead hall looked downward, and some emitted whimpers of fear. “So it appears as if our Duvodiad feels it necessary to speak whilst his judge does also?”

    Laughter erupted throughout the halls.

    “Let me make myself clear,” the Thane continued, a broad smile forming itself on his face. “It has been made known to us your identity, Duvodiad, but here your name is meaningless. We are aware of your great virtue, your noble traits, and your astounding deed. You have traversed far and wide – slayer of all beast and foe alike. You traveled deep into Angmar and faced the dangers of Carn-Dum and Mordorith. You felt the icy sting of Forochel on your pointed ears. You have slain The Watcher and beasts within the Mines of Moria. You have defeated the Lt. of Dol-Goldur atop the very tower he reigned upon. You have fought valiantly against a Dragon and despite slaying such a powerful creature you took not a coin from his pile of gold. You have survived even the wrath of the White Wizard!”

    His voice echoed and no sound was heard except for the crackling of the fires in the center braziers of the room. The Thane placed both his hands on the table and leaned toward Vrael, staring into his eyes.

    “When you enter the land of The Fallows, you leave that S*** at the door.”

    Vrael stood, dumbfounded. To what sick and depraved region have I been subjected?

    The Thane sat on his throne and rested his hands on his round stomach. His red face denoted every ounce of happiness he felt at Vrael’s expense.

    “Well now…It seems that has shut up our dear Duvodiad!” the Thane boasted with glistening eyes.

    The crowd again cackled.

    “The Uk-Gwirod provides us with a great assortment of punishments,” he continued. “…but I know that there has been one in particular that has long been overdue. Yes - I believe you all know of what it is I speak…”

    Murmurs moved throughout the crowd as the collective memory of the populous turned to produce an answer. Soon, the townsfolk were laughing and shouting, clapping and jumping, the punishment long forgotten but all too sinister to have faded completely. A scholar amongst the citizens even noted that it had only been used once in the third age.

    “Settle down, settle down,” the Thane urged, gesturing with both hands to quiet the crowd. When he spoke next it was as faint as a whisper. “With the punishment selected, the Uk-Gwirod also dictates that it must be administered by unanimous vote… Now I know that few among you would even conceive of such a possibility in the opposite, but as Thane of The Fallows, these decrees must indeed be followed…”

    His voice trailed off and the excitement among the crowd died out.

    “Is there any among you who feel that this Duvodiad is innocent of all charges?”

    “What charges?” Vrael erupted. He had stood idle long enough to collect his senses. “No such charges have been made against me! Do you not know of the dangers that lurk beyond this icy Hell? Though now I ponder whether it is you who fears the Enemy or the Enemy who fears you! I suffered long journey, risking life itself to arrive and yet now I am hailed as a criminal by decree of laws both foreign and savage to me. I have come to save you, do you not see this!”

    The Thane had sat through this outburst with concealed glee and crossed arms. He now looked out over the crowd with beaming eyes. He looked back at Vrael, who after having released his frustration realized the gravity of which he just escalated his trial.

    “What charges?” Vrael asked again, calmly.

    No one in the crowd stirred for quite some time, until from within their number a man with gruff voice shouted,

    “You’re an elf! You’re a Duvodiad!...And…Well, you’re an elf!”

    This drew the crowd into a frenzy, prompting yet another song, no less disturbing than the first:

    Break the bones, snap the hips
    Crack the necks, and gnaw the ribs
    The Uk-Gwirod so does declare
    That punishment is just and fair

    Upon the place of maroon square
    We watch the squeals, the tug of hair
    Duvodiad you’ve shown your face
    And come to find your resting place

    You have no friends, this is the end
    No silly games, please don’t pretend
    The Thane will judge your charges three
    And punish you quite painfully

    The Fallows Court bids this decree
    And we will served it happily
    The Elven race we so despise
    Now bring to us the Chafe Device!


    The Thane, greatly pleased by the choir of judgment, curled his lips into a wicked grin before shouting out:

    “BRING ME THE DEVICE!”

    Doors placed behind his throne that led to a place Vrael knew not nor ever wished to envision opened at once and from the bowels of that disturbing darkness proceeded an entourage of four pale-folk standing at half the size of normal men. They wore small leather thongs that served to prevent complete nudity, but far more impressionable than the procession’s attire was the machine that they sported. Standing at ten feet tall and constructed of dark wood, the pale-folk utilized their full strength to position it in front of the Thane’s table, facing the crowd.

    Vrael stood, dumbfounded, and as he thought to run there came from behind him two brutes that kicked out his knees, leaving him limp in their arms. His eyes widened.

    “By Celebrimbor…” he whispered.

    Standing before him, complete with cogs and gears, was a torture device the likes of which he had never conceived, even from foulest tale of the depths of Mordor. And in the center of this towering device there stood a chair, and beneath it, scrawled into a wooden plank that had been attached by nails there read the name, “Vrael.”

    Madness overcame him them, and all at once he kicked and screamed and shouted out:

    “Praise to the Uk-Gwirod! Praise be to those who serve it!”

    But the pleas could not save him. The brutes drug him forward as he resisted.

    “Remove from him his shirt!” one of the pale-folk demanded.

    The left brute clenched the tattered shirt on Vrael’s back and ripped it from its place, exposing Vrael’s hairless chest. Before Vrael had any chance to resist, they spun him and threw him into the chair while the pale-folk scrambled to strap him with leather belts to its armrests.

    “Prepare the crank!” the Thane shouted, spreading his arms wide in indication of his beloved moment of triumph over the Duvodiad.

    One of the pale-folk, who muttered to himself about ‘The Master,’ climbed to the top of the device before grabbing on to a lever and riding it to the floor. As it fell, gears spun and the machine rattled to life. Descending from its top were two wooden arms with circular attachments. Vrael looked to his left, in horror, seeing that the zipper-mouthed Halfling that had pulled the lever now spun with two hands the crank that powered the machine. With each turn, the circular attachments rotated faster and faster, moving closer to the target of what Vrael now realized to be his nipples. The circles seemed to hum, and detailed within their spiral he saw ridges that would serve to chafe him to obedience. Time slowed, and Vrael recalled the days when he was not subjected to Chafe Machines, the decree of the Uk-Gwirod, or Doctors who stitched tapestries depicting brown caves. In his mind’s eye, he watched himself as a child run through meadows and by shining Falls of Rivendell. He saw white horses ride over green hills and two deer lying peaceful by a stream.

    All at once a burst of light awoke him from this final fantasy. The entrance to the mead hall shook as its doors were cast aside. The silhouette of a cloaked man with sword at his side lay past the closing spirals.

    “Wait!” shouted the man.

    “What is this madness!” screamed the Thane, who stood rapidly from his throne.

    “I am Caius! Guardsman of the Fallows! And by decree of the Uk-Gwirod I oppose the charges this man faces!”

    Gasps from the crowd filled the room. The pale-folk who turned the crank was too self-absorbed in sinister pleasure to notice the intruder. He laughed to himself, but upon hearing the gasps became aware of his surroundings. He started cranking backwards with all his might and the machine squealed loudly as it slowed to a halt, mere hair widths from Vrael’s chest.

    “You dare challenge the validity of this judgment?” questioned the Thane, raising an eyebrow. “You dare to question me? Do thou not recall that once judgment has been made there may be no revocation?”

    “I do!” retorted the Guardsman as he walked to the machine. Vrael stared at him, wide-eyed. “I do not know yet what this stranger’s purpose may be, but having saved him I dare to challenge this decree. May I also provide that no such notification of this meeting was posted on the community task board as is also a decree…Therefore this trial is nullified!”

    Vrael’s heart pounded and a single tear traced itself across his pale cheek. He watched the Guardsman, who stood not an arm’s length from him in a stoic manner, but no glance came from him. Though comforted by his presence, Vrael had no recollection of any encounter with Caius, and the Guardsman’s reluctance to reciprocate his facial gesture of thanks puzzled him greatly. Vrael focused his ear’s attention to the Thane, whom he could not see.

    “Mmmm,” murmured the Thane. He knew the Guardsman’s declaration to be true; he had expected it. So you have foiled this plan, Guardsman, he thought. Long has my watchful eye been upon you. Long has your usefulness surpassed its prime.

    “Very well,” the Thane continued. “So be it. The charges against Vrael have been nullified!”

    The crowd roared back to life.

    “WHAT! Has not this Duvodiad breathed healthily long enough?” A man shouted.

    “Perhaps for a while longer he still may yet,” the Thane said. “But there is still hope of fulfilling this punishment! Who next is on the list of offenders?”

    A pale-folk ran quickly to the back room, returning with a scroll scribed in red ink. He held it up to Thimaran and looked downward, reading:

    “It appears that our next offender is…Eomin Longbow!”

    The crowd hushed; No one spoke. A commotion broke loose on the second floor of the mead hall, and pounding footsteps on the hardwood floor echoed to those standing below. A man with short, black hair sprinted down the steps with an expression of absolute, unrelenting fear.

    “STOP HIM!” cried Thimaran, casting a finger toward the runner.

    Another brute standing near the entrance of the mead hall stepped out of line just in time to tackle the man who Vrael presumed to be Eomin. The debacle resulted in a resounding crash and the crowd gasped in unison. Before long, the pale-folk had unstrapped Vrael and thrown him out of the chair onto the maroon carpet, where he now watched as the entrance brute dragged Eomin by his legs toward the front of the room. Eomin resisted with both screams and clawing hands, but attempt was futile as his shirt was torn off his back and he was hoisted upward and buckled into the seat still warm from Vrael’s backside.

    “Please, I beg of you, do not do unto me this dastardly deed, as I have repented earnestly of my wrong doing…”

    “SILENCE!” the Thane screamed once again, his fervor renewed as his eyes scanned the red ink of the scroll. “It appears you have so violated decree thirty-seven of our beloved law: No citizen shall contribute to the Tower of Dump before the first blizzard of our year.”

    Vrael, who stood shirtless beside Caius, could not resist turning to inquire of what such a tower implied.

    “Not a word boy,” Caius murmured harshly out of the corner of his mouth. “We may survive this yet.”

    Vrael did not disobey. Before him unraveled a spectacle that would haunt him to eternity’s end. Thane Thimaran waved his hand out, ordering the punishment to be carried out. Eomin panted and cried out sobs whilst the pale-folk begun to turn the crank. The cogs again turned, the gears squeaking from disuse but maintaining the fast rotation with ease. The chafers spun and descended down toward Eomin.

    “No, No, NO!” Eomin gasped out, desperately pulling against the arms of the chair, his knuckles white. When the chafers made contact, his eyes rolled back and his body shook. It took not long for red circles to imprint themselves into his chest, raw to the touch as though the sun had scorched him. His white skin contrasted so harshly with the pink circles that they could be noticed even from the back of the room. His nipples, no doubt flattened under the immense pressure of the sandpaper-like ridges, acted as antennae of pain. Coupled with the rhythmic turning of the crank and the laughter so horrid, he found comfort only in the darkness of unconsciousness. He slumped over in the seat and the Thane waved his hand at the giggling pale-folk, who reluctantly slowed the crank to a crawl.

    When the brutes lifted him out of the machine, the movement stirred him from his slumber. His head snapped upward as he was heaved onto the shoulder of a brute and his eyes wide and red proclaimed far more clearly to Vrael the message Eomin wished to convey than did the faint words passing from his chapped lips:

    “Run.”

    The crowd cheered wildly as Eomin passed in the Walk of Shame. The entrance doors opened once more, long enough for the townsfolk to see Eomin cast out into the snowy mud outside. They thud shut, and all attention was again turned to the Thane.

    “This trial of Duvodiad has been adjourned,” he said, somberly. “But let us hope that time shall not delay in permitting another glorious event in honor of the Uk-Gwirod…”

    His eyes pierced through Vrael’s being, sparkling as in them reflected fire from the braziers. The Thane continued to watch as the crowd disassembled and the Guardsman grabbed Vrael’s arm tightly, pulling him alongside to the entrance.

    “Come, Vrael,” Caius insisted. “We have much to discuss.”
    Last edited by eragon1; Jan 11 2014 at 03:06 AM.

  3. #3
    Chapter 3: Dastardly Deeds

    When they had exited the mead hall, the world seemed drastically different to Vrael. Colors had faded, and the wind’s icy chill that had been only a nuisance now seemed intolerable. Still shirtless, he shivered and wrapped his arms around his sides. While it was still afternoon, the sun was obscured by grey clouds and its absence only intensified the cold. From the bottom of his feet to the top of his pointed ears, Vrael was miserable.

    Caius observed him. Was this really the warrior he had seen riding dark mount through wintry night? He seemed distraught; mortified. But he could not blame him. He recalled the day he arrived to The Fallows, all those years ago. The stench of the Tower’s ritual still burned his nose in memory, and he shuddered. He had ridden in condition not much better than that of Vrael’s own arrival, in need of food and drink, on the brink of exhaustion. A blizzard had passed over not long before he had arrived and the yearly ritual of contributing to the Tower was being carried out the next day. He had begged so intensely to be pardoned of it, but even with great pleas he was ignored, lifted out of his bed and carried to the wretched event. He then watched, in horror, as silhouetted against the sinking sun was constructed a Tower formed of filth. Man after man, woman after woman, and even child after child, walked to its base and turned about, exposing themselves fully to the tower before letting loose the contents of their bowels. Still etched into Caius’ mind were the sweating, red faces, and the grunts of particular specimens that drew cheers from the crowd. It went on for hours, until finally it became time for his contribution. . .

    Caius jostled himself to break free of the horrid memory.

    “You seem cold,” he said, a smile forming in place of the stoic expression he usually carried. “Let us walk to the armory to fetch the rest of your belongings.”

    Vrael could not have complied more happily. They walked briskly from the mead hall toward the square that Vrael had passed when he had entered town earlier that day.

    “Caius,” Vrael began. “I cannot express in the words of your own language my gratitude. Gûr nîn glassui! Ci vellonen n'uir.”

    “Ni 'lassui. I 'ell nîn,” Caius replied, surprising Vrael.

    “You speak the tongue of my kin?” Vrael laughed.

    “Indeed,” Caius retorted with a smirk. “There is much hidden of my past from those of The Fallows. I must ask that you aid my intentions of keeping it as such, but I will explain more in time. Here we are: The armory.”

    The building was constructed of a wood, but painted black with gold trimming around the molding. It stood out clearly amongst all the plain buildings of the square, and a sign hung from above the door frame displaying crossed swords laden across red shield. When they entered, Caius turned, locking the door. A fire crackled in the fireplace, two chairs standing beside one another near the hearth.

    “Take a seat,” Caius gestured to the chair closest them and walked across the room to an area with plates stacked in a sink. Vrael presumed this to be the kitchen, and from its doorframe Caius emerged carrying a large box that jostled a load of clinking armor and rubbing leather. He set the box down next to Vrael’s feet, turned and retrieved from the same room two elven blades sheathed in polished, black scabbards. Vrael could not have been happier to reunite with his armor and weapons.

    Caius had placed within the box a spare shirt of his own, and in the warmth of the fire Vrael donned that which was the legacy of his Father and his Father before him. Caius admired the ease of which Vrael reacquainted himself with his belongings. Long had time passed since last he had seen the craftsmanship of Elves.

    “My wife is attending our children, upstairs,” Caius continued. “I am owner of this armory, and you are welcome to stay with us for the duration of your time here. There is a tavern equipped with room and board within the town square, but I urge you not to enter. You have encountered the harshness of The Fallows populous, and I am afraid that within the tavern walls and with stomach full of ale, the hostility is only intensified. I know you have a great many questions. Firstly, I will address my own relation to you. Last night as I stood out looking over the wall, I saw you emerge from the darkness on the brink of death. I know not your purpose for your journey, but I sense that your intentions are not ill. Vrael, I must warn you. These men, these children, even; among you…They will kill you. You must not stay longer than you have intended. May I ask why it is that you have come?”
    “I have come to warn your people – “

    “These…people, are not my own,” Caius interrupted, and then paused realizing his rudeness. “I am sorry. I have not spoken with sanity in several years.”

    “You are not of the Fallows?” Vrael inquired.

    “No. The Wold to the East was my home, bordering The Golden Wood. Often I would venture into the wood, marveling at its glory. The light strands sifting through the canopy as tangible gold and easing worry. Time stood still. Like an hour glass had been laid at its side; Equilibrium and peace were achieved, where age and sickness no longer lingered. I looked up and saw her then, an elf maiden bearing beauty of legend. She spoke to me in her own tongue, and her voice spirit-like sung out against my ears. Never had I heard a sound to aspire to its magnificence and I doubt I should ever hear again a voice paralleled. She had taken great risk in speaking to me, you see. Her people, not trusting of my own, took great means to ensure that the race of Man would not influence the Golden Wood. My being there was fueled by a sense of adventure. As easy as I had entered I could have been laid to rest within its golden tomb. The maiden believed that a time would come when our Races would call upon each other for aid. She feared that without unity, hope for the fate of our world would be lost. I fear that time may have come now. Out there in the darkness, delving in crevice and cave alike, lingers an ancient evil cruel and unusual. With uncertainty, we wait for its movement when the time for action is now. The maiden spoke to me then in my own tongue, and she shared a desire to educate me. She wished for me to become an ambassador to her people on behalf of Men. She shared with me in months to come knowledge of her language. I would slip away from my chores and find her, and we would pass hours laughing and speaking together. She stole my heart, Vrael. But as is the nature of all things, when there is light, there is shadow. Her Father discovered her plans and kept her from ever returning. A note was left in that sacred place amidst sound of stream over smooth stone, and I left that Wood vowing my return. More youthful than wise in those days I knew not the pang of heart’s wound. So I sulked, and I waited. But time wore on and I grew older, and the Wood lost its allure as I placed out of my mind the memories that plagued my waking thought. But the language I have kept all these years. I have not stepped within its shade since. I lived in The Wold for a great time, but the darkness that the maiden feared has taken hold and its reach is sweeping wider, only beginning to touch our fortunate lands. The men of Rohan are divided. I set off for The Fallows in hopes of restoring the unity lost to us in times past. All who ventured into the mountain never returned. You are the first arrival since my own. The rest either perished in route to this city or…”

    “Or?” Vrael asked.

    “Or they were sacrificed.”

    Vrael sat for many minutes in silence. During this time Caius retrieved from the Kitchen a bowl of soup. The taste of food restored Vrael’s psyche and he felt his mind clear.
    “How is it that you have survived this long, Caius? You are Duvodiad.”

    “I proved myself to them. Legend had told of an icy beast in a cavern old not far from the city. In the dead of night, I slipped out from this wretched place and sought its lair. I hunted it for two days in the icy hell, with both Soothsayer and icy chill in pursuit of me.”

    “Soothsayers?”

    “Witch Doctors. Men of the mountain who claim divine influence. They roam these mountains, now. Born in The Fallows, some find their sanity deteriorating rather… uniquely. They leave the city and claim to undergo a series of trials that instill in them power and leadership. You must understand, Vrael. Once you enter the city, you cannot leave. These men embrace the terrain; they know every path, every crevice. With trap and wolf they will hunt you until you hang from gallows in the town square.”
    Vrael’s stomach dropped.

    “And what of you and the beast?” he said at last.

    “I slayed the fowl creature; a grizzly bear possessed by spirit, seemingly decades old. I had been without food for great while, but I swear to you Vrael, it even spoke to me. It spoke dastardly words, calling upon my fears. I took from it its reeking head and threw it at the feet of the Soothsayers, who fled. They ran into the town square and spoke of my deed. I arrived not long after and to the Thane’s seat took the head of the beast. It resides there now in the mead hall, though I doubt you took notice.”

    Vrael recalled the walls of the mead hall, but Caius was right: he could not remember it. He had no reason to doubt his story, however, his living body before him in this monstrous place was proof he had survived by great means.

    “I am sorry. I believe I interrupted you as you were explaining why you were here,” Caius remarked, sitting back in his chair and closing his eyes in thought.

    “I am here because I fear the maiden of whom you spoke was correct. The White Wizard of Isenguard has begun to mobilize a great number of foes. Across horizon, their number outnumbers the stars and their ferocity parallels none that I have ever seen. He has vowed to wipe out the race of man, and I fear that even this icy mountain will find its place among the ruins.”

    Caius opened his eyes and stood, his face becoming wary and somber. He walked to the hearth and stood before its blaze, his eyes downcast.

    “I have been here for too long, Vrael,” he whispered. “If what you say is true, my time here has come to an end.”

    “May I ask why you have stayed?”

    “Even after my deed, there was no return journey. Having proven myself to the inhabitants of The Fallows, I was safe within these walls from sacrifice, but out in the white abyss they would spare me not.”

    Vrael nodded. His mind was racing for a solution. He wished to be rid of this place. He wished to turn back time and prevent himself from having ever set out for The Fallows. But Time is relentless; it stops for no man and even in centuries that peace reigned over evil, its era would erode. The battle rages beneath the surface of all things, unseen to men within their own hearts, but obvious to observers. Their daily actions and decisions could influence evils returned. The judgment awaiting man is justified in its reluctance to tip the scale in goods favor. Vrael knew what he must do.

    “I must prove myself to these people as you have, Caius. Out there, in the white prison, Orcs linger around fires blaze. This night I will brave the chill winds and face them. I will slay far more than ever have these men known to exist and this deed shall bring peace to my name.”

    Caius nodded, but looked on solemnly into the flames present before him in the fireplace. He could only hope Vrael’s decision would spare him. Having seen the ease with which Vrael donned his armor and weapons, he worried not of the night’s battle that awaited him, but instead of the journey home. Seven years he had lived within The Fallows, and it had taken from him all hope of normalcy. He had witnessed a great many terrible things, and had it not been for his wife and children, his sanity would have long been shattered. He thought then of his wife, who attended to the children upstairs. She was fair, but it was never love between them that led to marriage. She was quiet, and though Caius cared for her deeply through both times good and bad, his relation to her was purely beneficial to his psyche. He had thought himself doomed to the psychological toll of The Fallows, and marriage seemed to grant him more time before he became a man foreign to that of his kin. Even his children, who he indeed loved, seemed to embody nothing of himself or the honor he hoped to instill in them. He would watch them play with the other children, and day by day the innocence of childhood passed slowly from them, and he knew a day would come when their shadows would resemble that of the Thane rather than himself.

    Even if he and Vrael could brave the icy road and terrain, he feared what the future might entail.

    “I will come with you this night,” he spoke at last. “I will fight alongside you. We must rid ourselves of this place.”

    Vrael looked to Caius. He realized that before him sat a man of dignity and honor, who would fight with valor to express loyalty despite his race holding little tolerance for his own people. This fight to escape The Fallows and return to the land of men was no longer about their own survival, but of the symbol they represented: unity. Vrael reached out to Caius and clasped his shoulder.

    “It would be an honor to fight alongside you, friend,” Vrael spoke softly.
    Caius smiled at last and looked to his Elven comrade.
    “Do try to rest before the sun sets. I fear you may have difficulty keeping up with the pace of my blade.”

    “You had best think twice before challenging the combat of Elves,” Vrael laughed. With that, they both stared into the orange glow of the fire before drifting to sleep.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Dancuru had not let Vrael’s departure deter him in the slightest. He had heard of his trial within the mead hall and though it greatly displeased him that he had not received his just punishment, it had given him the time necessary to enact the final components of his plan. Beneath his home, in the dark and abysmal space that served as his basement, resided many pale folk who with tools and goggles worked through each night, following blue prints posted against foul, stained walls. They spoke in their native tongue, their tongues clicking and their razor-like teeth shining when they smiled at the completion of every piece of The Machine.

    When Dancuru entered, he stood at the base of the stairs looking over his minions. This was his dominion. His eyes scanned the room, which had been widened by pale-folk diggers to accommodate new tables and chairs. The white half-lings became silent at the sight of their master, and even the assembly line of tinkering hands paused to examine him silhouetted against the bright light that enshrouded his image. He was a shadow, a shade, the light foreign to them after long days within the darkness prevented examination of his scowling face.

    In the center of the room stood a very large chair, towering on a stand which sat upon a circular space on the floor. Pulleys and levers, tubes and gears, and other assorted objects made up the beast machine. Scrawled and embroidered into the chair were the initials, “S. T. O. R. M.” Dancuru smiled as he watched the subject of his attention apply the finishing touches to the letters. Having heard the workers stop and the sound of the room calm, the skinny human holding the thin paintbrush turned to face the stairs.

    “NATHAN!” a cry pierced the air from behind Dancuru, who started and turned to see none-other than the Thane himself towering above him. With each step his boots resounded across the stairs. As Dancuru graciously parted for him, his countenance sporting an unseen scowl, it became apparent who was the true master.
    Nathan fumbled with the paintbrush and nearly kicked the paint bucket onto the floor until finally managing to stand before his father. Even on the platform supporting the creation, he stood not but a few inches above his father, Thane Thimaran.

    “You did not attend the Trial of Duvodiad!” he screamed.

    “Father, I…I…”

    “SILENCE!”

    Thimaran observed the room and passed slowly from table to table, occasionally lifting components from assembly lines to examine their specifications. When he frowned, the pale-folk surrounding his vicinity cowered in expectation of severe punishment, and when he smiled, they dared to even look at the feet of their feared master.

    “Good,” he spoke with great emphasis. “You have done well, Dancuru. How long until the machine is prepared?”

    “I believe it can be fully operational within a day, my Thane,” Dancuru replied, with subtle disdain.

    “And you believe it to be compliant with the manuscripts?” Thimaran asked, turning to face the repulsive man.

    “We have followed it to the greatest level of scrutiny, my Thane. The pale-folk have given generously their devotion to the cause. Upon the morrow all that must transpire are the uttered incantations and the installation of an exemplary sacrifice; rest assured, I am certain Vrael shall suffice.”

    The Thane regarded Dancuru with admiration and approval. His eyes then narrowed and he turned back to Nathan.

    “HAVE YOU NO MIND, BOY! Even in completion of The Machine, I think the restraint of my frustration against you shall break at last! You slack in your chores, slumping around the mead hall as might a war-torn man, but having seen no battle you are nothing but a lowly being, fit for the shoveling of waste and having but one purpose: Service to the Tower of Dump! Yet here you are, tinkering amongst these folk, who in direct comparison I must say do resemble your own flesh and I cannot but hope you will at least carry the dignity to witness The Machine’s execution tomorrow! If even you showed but a sliver of heroism I would consider putting you in its chair, but seeing you in this condition decides definitively that you are not even fit for sacrifice!”

    Nathan cowered before him.

    “Y-y-yes Father!”

    “NATHAN!” He screamed once more. “Never address me as Father! Get up! You are finished for the day!”

    Nathan stood up clumsily and began to run toward the stairway, before Thimaran caught his arm at the elbow. From his robe pocket he pulled out a leather bundle and handed it to Nathan, who having recognized its purpose cast his vision downward.

    “Have you forgotten YOUR MASK!” shouted the Thane. Even the pale-folk turned whilst Nathan donned the leather mask, which concealed his face, save for two circular eye holes and a rectangle through which his lips protruded oddly. The mask having been sewn with thin string made Nathan resemble a thin wrestler, but his malnourished body served to dissuade such thoughts.

    Nathan ran up the stairs and out of the basement, and his father waited for the sound of the front door before he turned back to Dancuru.

    “Ah, Dancuru. Can you feel it? Too long have we dwindled away our joint minds and the power we together share – I wish to impart to you the sincerest gratitude for your generous gift of your time and resources. The Machine will change everything – we no longer will remain the icy city from legends of Men – We will emerge from fantasy into tangible wrath and the screams of those who have exiled us shall linger not in dreams, but in our own ears. With our eyes we shall see the fall of Man.”

    “Yes, my Thane,” Dancuru replied, but behind his eyes in the vision of his mind he saw not the fall of man but the rise of a new region. His body shivered and cast aside the fantasy; he must be careful to maintain his stature until the morrow.

    “Dancuru…When tomorrow has passed we will reign over our people together – not as Thane and Servant, but as Master and Ally. The construction of The Machine is of the greatest deed accomplished in your time alive. For this, I shall place in The Tower your specimen at the highest peak, marked with small gems to shine over our dark kingdom.”
    “Thank you, my Thane. My servitude establishes my purpose; long live the Tower!”

    “Long live the Tower, indeed. I suspect your ears have borne the horrid news of Vrael having been spared his punishment? Mmm, yes it was quite the turn of events. I will say now that indeed the time of Caius Martius has come to an end; I intend to have him executed alongside Vrael on the morrow. But even in light of the unlikely events, we witnessed still a judgment of great enjoyment and pain for a specimen…I thought of you whilst he squirmed beneath turn of the crank and pitied your inability to have participated. So as a gift…”

    The Thane snapped his fingers, and Dancuru cast his eyes toward the top of the stairs as heavy boots and the scuffle of heels drew his attention. Entering into the darkness below were two brutes common to the mead hall that by gripped elbows dragged none-other than Eomin Longbow. When Eomin saw The Machine before him he immediately fainted. The brutes dragged his sliding legs toward the machine and in but a moment’s time hoisted him into its seat.

    “My Thane,” Dancuru interjected excitedly. “While I thank you most sincerely for this gesture beyond comprehension, I must warn that The Machine has yet to be calibrated – He may indeed die.”

    The Thane examined Eomin, who by this time had been strapped into The Machine, his legs dangling freely below him. He knew that this man would die. He knew that the light would pass from his fading eyes and that the pale cheeks that sat bloodless now on his pathetic skull would in time rot beneath the thin dirt of whatever shallow hole had been dug for him.

    “Let it begin,” he said with a crooked smile.

    The pale-folk scrambled having heard their master utter his command. They moved swiftly from their stations to the base of The Machine, winding small cranks that began to turn cogs beneath the surface of the platform. The chair in which Eomin sat rotated slowly in rhythm with the Pale-folk, awakening him from the peace of unconsciousness. His eyes blinked rapidly, but even at a moment’s glance he gathered that the situation he found himself within was dire. He screamed and shook his body in resistance to what would no doubt be excruciating pain, but the dizziness that availed him assured that there would be no cease to the coming punishment.

    As the chair whirled, Pale-Folk pulled levers which raised a circular mechanism from the rim of the base upwards. Along its edge were placed metal coils, and energy unknown to the Thane surged before his eyes, pulsating a white light throughout the room kin to that of thunder-less lightning. It appeared that the intensity of the energy increased as did the speed of rotation.

    “FASTER!” he cried, curling his lips in wicked anticipation. Had he not been absorbed in marvel and awe, perhaps he would have taken notice of Dancuru uttering words beneath his breath. But before him now lay a spectacle the likes of which had not graced his eyes since a man had slipped while adding his specimen to the tower, finding himself ablaze within its dark, brown confines.

    Eomin’s heart raced and the blur before him left him sick to the stomach. He vomited, but the high velocity rendered him unable to release it from his mouth and it lay pressed between his cheek and tongue tasting of putrid slime. He felt the chair begin to rise, and the surging energy concentrated into the coils began to race down thick metal wires extending from the mechanized rim to the base of the platform. A great white light flashed, sending sparks outwards in all directions and blasting Pale-folk back against the walls of the basement.

    Eomin’s hope for reprieve faded as even without operator the machine slowed not. It drew from whatever energy had been generated by the cranks and continued its dazzling show. From beneath the chair rose a shining cylindrical shape, its head pointed as would be a spike on a flail. Although it rose unbeknownst to Eomin, its purpose was clear to Thimaran, who could contain himself no longer.

    “POWER!” he screamed with outstretched arms in perfect synchrony with the surge of energy that powered the metal stake upwards into Eomin’s body.

    “DAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH HHHHHHHH!!!!!!”

    Eomin’s body corkscrewed around the now crimson shaft, which found itself lodged to the base within his rectal canal. Whatever energy breathed life into the machine passed onward through the instrument into his body. He shook, convulsing whilst white flashes of lightning raced up his arms and legs into his chest. His clothes caught fire and the hair upon his head stood straight as would that of a brush. His lips were rendered useless as the muscles of his jaw tensed, and he bit down on his tongue, his teeth cutting deep into its flesh. Through gritted teeth he at least spewed the vomit, which sprayed against Pale-folk and walls alike.

    Disgusted, yet pleased, the Thane watched his body steam as was baked his flesh within leathery skin. Eomin’s eyes rolled back into his head, yet he had not the strength to cry out even in death. The great heat from his body now left his skin bare as the fires caught on his ragged clothes reduced them to ash. As time passed, the rotation subsided and left his corpse sitting idly. Not a word was spoken. Liquid the Thane thought to be tears ran down Eomin’s face, but on closer inspection it was deduced that it was in fact the remains of his eyes fully liquidated, the sockets black and hollow. The Pale-folk squirmed uncomfortably having lifted themselves from their place on the floor and unsure of whether it was safe to approach The Machine. Dancuru stepped forward at last.

    “Magnificent,” he whispered. He had not witnessed anything so beautiful in his entire life. But a day remains before my ascension, he thought. All has come to pass.

    “Clean it up.” The Thane scowled, but behind his eyes his mind and heart raced excitedly, replaying the execution time and time again. “Our blessed machine must be in pristine condition for tomorrow’s grand event. Indeed, there is a S.T.O.R.M. coming, and as I am sure Eomin can attest, it is not the only thing.”

    With that, as Pale-folk cautiously approached The Machine, the Thane swiveled on his heels and departed alongside his brutes, leaving Dancuru. The Doctor stood there for hours, watching the corpse be lifted from its place and carried out and Pale-folk wipe clean the stains and charred remains about platform. Outside his home, the sun sank and cast long shadows over The Fallows. Howls of wolves and Soothsayers echoed across the barren terrain, and by the time stars shone bright in the sky, all that could be heard from his house upon the hill was a high-pitched cackle.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The two shadows crept delicately across the drifts of snow. Their movement methodical and calculating, only the most attuned warrior could have detected their presence. By orange fire and roasting pig, the Orcs danced and shouted out in cacophonous tune songs native to their bloody origins. The tents were small, but even so, the Orcs numbered at least one-hundred and twenty.

    The hunters were not afraid.

    They had passed round the fires several times, shrouded in darkness and planning every detail of their strike. Their whispers were dismissed as wind, and their footsteps as beats of the leather drum played by an obese Orc Captain sitting upon a low stool. The camp was laid out in a large circle, and at the center was erected a tent larger than those of the outer rim, undoubtedly serving as the Orc Leader’s quarters. Inscribed on the dried leather of the tents was the insignia of the great Eye of Sauron, reminding the hunters that the reach of Evil was indeed great.

    They each knew their role. Kneeling by the back sides of adjacent tents, they cut narrow slits with great precision and passed into the black before them. Smells of unwashed skin akin to rotting flesh plagued their nostrils and the harsh breathing of their respective Orcs indicated the position of their targets. The knives sunk deep into the sides of their flesh, just below the armpit, and the practiced hands twisted abruptly. The Orcs, unable to scream, found warm, black blood where once their tongues salivated, but the gurgles slowed as death overtook them.

    One by one, the hunters crouched to each of the adjacent tents, fanning in opposite directions and tracing semi-circles until they had at last met again.

    “The watch shall soon rotate,” the man’s voice whispered.
    “Aye,” replied the elf. “Have you set the traps?”
    “It has been done,” smiled the man, his white teeth dully glowing.

    The pair watched from the outskirts, and after several minutes passed, an Orc brute from the Captain’s tent opened the entrance flap. The thuggish, repulsive stature of the Orc was only accentuated by his next action of reaching for a skull skewered atop a large leg bone and using it to play a loud beat on the drum by which it lay. Murmurs among the dancing Orcs could be heard as they lazily sulked back to their tents, leaving the roasted pig for those who would be on the next shift.

    “Wish we ‘ad a few ‘Obbits to roast!” shouted a skinny archer whose face resembled that of a rat.
    “Oh, shut your trap!” replied a smaller.
    “Knock it off, boys! We got sleep to catch. Boss says we have a lot o’ work tomorrow!” said the biggest of the three.

    All about the camp, shadows raced across the ground as each cluster walked to their tent. While they traveled, the hunter’s own shadow darted out and quickly obtained a stick burning deep, red embers from the nearest fire. He remained unseen, even his footsteps untraceable as he placed his own steps within those of larger Orcs. The man smiled as he held the stick out to his companion.

    “The greatest offensive is power in numbers, but when you cannot afford numbers, diversion is a valuable asset,” he smiled.

    He guided the orange tip toward the ground, where his elven comrade watched it burn through a dark powder that begun to hiss and trace itself back around the semi-circle to an unseen location.

    “Clever,” the man’s companion admitted. “But can diversion set its pace at the rate of my own blades?”
    “We shall find out soon enough,” mused the man.

    The Orcs at last reached their tents, and as gentle breeze cast the powder’s smell of sulfur through the air, the thin archer lifted his nose and sniffed.

    “You smell ‘at?” he asked, his black eyes narrowing.
    “Shut up and get inside your tent!” the Orc nearest him cried in frustration.
    “No, no, fools – Intruders are amongst us!”
    “Whinin’ again? First food and then intruders! Might find yourself on the fire if you don’t shut your trap! I’m sick of – “

    Snap.

    The Orc, along with the other groups about the circle, had reached for the entrance flap, but upon casting it aside, a thin string was displaced and the click of a mechanism was heard before a sharpened bolt sprung from the darkness and lodged itself into his throat. His hands clasped the wound, and he aggressively pulled at the bolt, but it remained within him, even as the night faded from his sight and his body slumped beside the archer.

    The scrawny Orc shouted out a high scream into the dim sky above, but the warning came too late as the surrounding tents were soon strewn with victims of the traps. The pounding feet of the enraged creatures echoed out over the horizon as they sought their crude weapons from piles near the firesides.

    The hunters watched, amused as chaos erupted in the ranks of their enemy, and tumbling bodies and scurrying feet characterized those who but a moment before had lived unscathed. By the outskirts they waited, the hissing of the powder having long faded from earshot, but very much in existence. The sparks popped and danced out of sight of the Orcs, and the hunters waited to strike as would a leopard their prey.

    From his belt, the Elf retrieved the horn of his kin. Beside him, his companion drew his steel sword and prepared to launch himself into the fray. They closed their eyes, preparing themselves in meditation.

    Their attack coincided precisely with that of the monstrous explosion that erupted from one of the tents as the powder found its origins among barrels filled to the brim with its substance. Splinters of wood scattered in all direction, grazing the arms, legs, and faces of the nearby Orcs that were fortunate enough to be at a surviving distance. Specks of the wood cut through the hunters’ cloaks, but the wool spared them from harm. Seconds passed, but the colossal force of the shockwave still left many of the Orcs dazed.

    As limbs of the dead rained down upon the earth, the hunters shouted out the war cries of their kin and projected themselves forward, their hoods cast back and revealing their identities. Vrael cut to the left and Caius to the right.

    Vrael pressed the horn to his lips and blew with valiant fervor. The familiar sound instilled fear within the cluster of four Orcs that now faced him, leaving them stunned momentarily. Drawing his Elven swords, he utilized this time to cut horizontally through theirs ranks, the blades like a wall before him. The thin leather worn by each Orc could not prevent the razor edges from sinking deep into their flesh, but the attack only served to wake them from their stupor. The largest of the four, the Overseer, charged forth, swinging overhanded a spiked wooden club. Vrael spun to the left to avoid the attack, but in mid-spin thrust his padded elbow into the fat Orc’s face, snapping his nose with a satisfying crunch.

    The Orc fell forward on his knees, and the Elf’s blades promptly severed his hamstrings, rendering him nothing more than a source of pitiful agony. Vrael turned to examine the remaining three. A skinny archer smirked as he held drawn a black bow strung with a crude, warped arrow. The string twanged as the bony fingers released it, sending the arrow forth toward the shield-less elf. But the elf’s eyes were keen. They traced the path of the arrow the instant it shifted from its place, and the elf stood as might a statue, unflinching. The warped arrow carved a wobbling spiral through the air, but the shaking hands of its prior owner had served only to guide it inches to the right of its target. Its passage caused no damage other than the displacement of hair strands.

    “Hmph,” the Elf smirked.

    Vrael darted forward, crossing both blades in a sinister ‘X’, and before even a cry of resistance squealed forth from the archer’s crooked lips, the Orc’s head lolled about on the earth below, its body still standing above.

    The raging blades stopped not even at this gruesome death. Spinning wildly, Vrael advanced his attack to the two remaining Orcs, seeming to extend the range of the blades by an entire arms-length. Only one of the two was successful in parrying the attack, and Vrael found himself on the defensive. The last Orc wielded a thin, but heavy, piece of a metal with an edge sharpened by the obsidian of Mordor. Had not his blades been forged in the Golden Wood, the metal might have been cleaved in two.

    Vrael backpedalled as the Orc ferociously sought to end his life. The strikes came from every angle, the contact between blades instantaneous before the next onslaught began. The Elven eyes searched for an opening in the offensive; His blades sought the mistake that inevitably would come.

    Across the battlefield, Caius faced his own trio of opponents. His knuckles white as he gripped the hilt of his heirloom, he stood with resolve. The three Orcs before him, two Berserkers and a Defiler, grunted and salivated for this specimen of man. Caius shouted.

    The battle-shout pierced the night air and shattered the stature of the Orcs before him. The two Berserkers hunched over in pain from the audible fury, but the Defiler, who wore a skull mask and was immune to the attack, directed his staff toward his companions and cast a green orb over them, restoring their hearing. The staff then spun, its head taking on a hue of purple and shrouding the Orc nearest him with a dark corruption. The Orc growled, and his veins expanded, allowing for black blood to course through his muscles and grant him great strength.

    “Elendil!” Caius shouted while charging forth. The blade reflected hints of blue in the dull moonlight, and he slashed its sharp edge upwards against the empowered Orc’s chest. The spell of the corruption broke. The strength unused, its potential energy absorbed the blow and the Orc remained standing. Caius pressed his attack, swiping across the two Berserkers, whose attempts to parry failed. The cut sent both Orcs sprawling out in the dirt below, and the Defiler hastily pivoted to cast crude, healing spells over them. Having learned from his prior mistake, Caius kicked the Defiler with the heel of his right boot, interrupting his concentration and provoking searing pain in the untended wounds of the assailants below. He planted his extended leg downwards and used the force to bring down a devastating blow over the Defiler’s head, cracking both the living skull and mask simultaneously.

    By this time, the Berserkers had rolled and now stooped in a crouched position. Their open wounds wet the ground, but the ferocity in their eyes told of their lasting resilience to the pain. The Berserker to Caius’s right dived forward, pulling from its belt a wicked, black dagger. The speed of the attack forced Caius to pivot in a defensive strike, cutting at the side of the Orc while allowing his own armor to absorb the brunt of the force. Caius then stepped forward and struck the Orc before him with a grave wound across the shoulder blade. The Orc ‘s attempt to dive away from the blow sent him headfirst into the fire, and his wails of pain rose upwards as did the smell and smoke of his charring skin.

    The remaining Orc leapt onto Caius’s back, thrusting the dagger in a downward arc in an attempt to pierce the heart of the man. But Caius was prepared. Grabbing the Orc’s forearm with his free hand, he guided the tip of the blade to his side, and though it cut into the leather of his breastplate, the threat to his life was minimal. Caius leaned forward and knelt swiftly, and the Orc above him was flung into the dirt with a hard landing.

    The man of Rohan stepped forward, and the gentle breeze of the night brushed the edge of his cloak to the side. The Orc scrambled on his back, kicking backwards and seeking his lost dagger. Caius locked eyes with the foul creature, and the wisps of embers from the fireside carried the heat residing within him now. The hilt spun, the hands gripping the pommel as the steel was driven downwards into the chest of the Berserker, who lay very still.

    The clash of parried blows directed Caius’s attention toward Vrael, who he watched wildly fighting the last of the four Orcs he had faced.

    “Fight on Vrael! Have courage!” Caius shouted, running toward his companion.

    The words of courage bolstered Vrael’s energy and replenished his morale. The momentum of the Orc’s attack slowed, and a notable shift occurred. The elf’s dancing blades soon pressed forward, and it now became the Orc who backpedalled in the darkened dirt. The opening was only noticeable to the eye of a warrior. The Orc, who clearly in his style was dominant with the right arm, continually left an opening along his left flank available. Vrael focused his energy onto the Orc’s right side, and his muscles flexed fiercely as the Orc parried blow after blow. Rapidly, the elf rotated and with a swift strike prodded the left ribcage of his opponent. The black blood spilt out over the stomach and thigh of the Orc, who angrily displayed his sharpened, yellow teeth. The seeking blades shot upwards, and though the edges were parried, the black metal of the Orc’s weapon sustained shocking force, leaving his chest vulnerable. The blades slashed in unison. Diagonal to the left, diagonal downward to the right, and finally overhanded in a downward cleave. The brutal strikes cracked the sternum of the beast, the lungs deflating as the breath that filled their foul volume escaped through the puncture wound.

    The black eyes stared into those of the victor. The elf watched him collapse, his weapon laid bare beside him. Caius arrived and observed the massacre. They panted heavily, nodding to one another. The crackling fire from the explosion minutes before was spreading about the ring. The companions looked onward over the bleak environment. Howls of assembling groups and scurrying feet of Orcs retrieving weapons sounded out before them. The heartbeats of the hunters synchronized with the pounding feet of the enemy. Their roars echoed, and beasts as they were, they appeared more animal than Orc.

    They swarmed in great number. Though Vrael and Caius had killed at least thirty sleeping in the tents, in addition to the seven below them, dozens of the barbarians sprung forth and circled the elf and man. A moment such as this had not occurred often in the rising age of man; the elf, back pressed trusting against that of the man, focused with intensity as did his companion, fully susceptible to the fault of the other.

    “Ready friend?” Vrael asked.
    “Always,” replied Caius.

    And the storm ensued.

    Clashing blades, death cries, moans of agony, searing pain, aching bodies shivering on cold ground. A battle fit for the lips of bards. Valiant heroics and flurries of blows, waning morale replenished with bellowed cries from the heart. Crimson Earth, blackened on the hearth of nature’s fire, and the cruel visage present within each fighter now savage with blade for tooth. The bodies flailed, and the dead rose on – the archers unable to fire scratched and bit and snarled and kicked. The fighters stepped on the hands and legs of the corpses and by the blaze of fire forcibly ended what evil lived in the wretched beings.

    The thunder rolled, and the storm of battle departed, and the grey moonlight illuminated the two hunters, exasperated. For a great many moments they did not speak. They reconciled their actions; they assimilated back into the world of the living, lying to rest the hunters within. At last, Caius spoke:

    “Search them. Find among the dead the Captain who shall soon depart with his head.”

    Vrael stepped over the bodies carefully, examining their weapons and faces for any indication of who might be leader of the encampment. The two sifted through the slaughter for many minutes.

    “I find nothing,” Vrael said, looking to his ally.
    “Nor I,” Caius retorted. “Let us search the quarters; perhaps our Captain is a coward. How many did you slay?”
    “Fifty-Nine.”

    Caius stopped, replacing his frustrated expression with a smile.

    “Fifty-Nine? Ah my friend, the number is also my own! Make haste!”

    They ran over the mass of the slain, following the path leading up to the large flaps of the center tent. Animal skins were laid over the dirt, and foul foods were laden over wooden tables. A brazier was placed in the center, and rotating over it was undoubtedly the corpse of a man. The smell sickened both Vrael and Caius, an unforgettable stench remaining in memory long after sight faded.

    When they saw the throne, they stopped abruptly and drew their weapons. The figure was cloaked in black, easily the height of both Caius and Vrael combined. From its hood peaked two green eyes and a hooked nose. The throne creaked as it stood, now towering above the companions. They made steps backwards, but stood their ground as the shape descended. Two scaled hands emerged from beneath the folds of the ominous shroud, pressing together before building to a resounding clap.

    “Good, good!” the figure howled in a voice much less impressive than that of its appearance. “Adventures among us, I see. Sent by him no less? To kill us? We haven’t any pages! Not one! All given to him, who now slays us? An elf and man? Dark times indeed, master shall be most displeased – oh yes, whippings to come, we must be ready. Slew even my brutes – impressive! But no loot among us here, for you man and elf! Tell me, was this his plan all along?”

    Vrael looked to Caius, and Caius to Vrael, but the confusion of both the voice and words was not eased by either of their expressions.

    “Him?” Caius inquired. “We know not of anyone living who bid us here; we came of our own will. Of what manuscripts do you speak?”

    “Ooo, tricky!” the figure replied. “A test for our loyalty, perhaps? But we have been so very good. And yet you slew us! Murderers! Brutes! Intruders! Kill them! Let their skins be laid bare beneath our feet!”

    The hood scanned the room, as if expectant of triumphant roars from reinforcements. None came.

    “Tell us your name,” Vrael spoke calmly, sheathing his blades, but resting his hands on the pommels. He stepped forward, peering under the hood into the green eyes of the being before him.

    “My name? We mustn’t say! Master would be most displeased…but master isn’t here.”

    The voice looked around, tipping its head forward and speaking in whisper:

    “They call me The Dark One. But that name was given to me after the operation. My true name is…Dobnakh.”

    “Operation?” Vrael asked.

    The creature lifted its crusted hands upward and clasped the edges of its hood. The hands slowly and sheepishly, pulled back the cloak to reveal a sight the likes of which Vrael and Caius had never conceived. The head was functional, clearly that of a young goblin. The green eyes were now dim in the open light, but nevertheless remained their hue as before. The pale, pointed ears were wide and had prodded the cloak in a fashion to make the head appear much larger than it actually was. The mouth was small, but directly below its round chin and neck were the stitched lines of a surgery long past. For while the head in its entirety was intact, it was not placed upon the torso of a goblin; it was seated on the body of a troll.

    “What dark magic is this…?” Caius gasped. He walked forward baring the blade of his kin. He stood beside Vrael, who had not words to describe his mind’s repulsion.

    “Who? Why?” Vrael began, but he stuttered often and was forced to regain his composure.

    “Who? W-w-why?” the goblin-troll mocked. “Has it occurred that even after the slaughter you so gladly witnessed and participated in, you now have seen what your eyes are reluctant to behold? Turn then, man and elf! Turn, as did so many before you, so that I might not see your ugly visage whilst I pummel your brains into the floor! I have told you, we hold no pages – we have given all you have asked!”

    “What pages?” Caius shouted. “We know not of the existence of any pages of value.”

    Dobnakh narrowed his glowing eyes.

    “Intruders? Perhaps you are not sent by him, the creator. Perhaps you are but cowards who have come in the dead of night for pleasure! Murderers! Brutes! Filth! To die by your hands? I shall not grant you the enjoyment!”

    The creature grabbed at the chest of its black shroud, ripping it from the chest to the waist. The muscles bulged; sweat already pouring from the abdomen. The troll lowered its shoulder to charge, and Vrael unsheathed his weapons; the time for diplomacy had long ended. But as he and Caius closed the gap between the throne and the flap entrance, Dobnakh abruptly swiveled, and charged against the tent, tearing a troll-sized gap in the leather.

    Vrael and Caius ran to the hole, expecting the troll’s reentry at any moment, but to their surprise they watched Dobnakh leap from snow drift to snow drift, casting aside trees and hill alike. But in the distance, he turned and shouted:

    “Master shall not be pleased! Think not of this as our last encounter!”

    He then leapt out of sight.

    Caius and Vrael stood for a long time contemplating the events that had just transpired. They knew of no manuscripts, or of the ‘master’ which Dobnakh had spoken. There was a great shroud of evil lurking, and Vrael felt that the darkness waited for an opportune moment to strike. This mountain was a beacon of filth, and he longed to be rid of it.

    The companions felt their adrenaline wane after long minutes passed.

    “Well, my friend,” Caius said at last. “I fear that we may see our new acquaintance again, but I know nothing of what he spoke. Something sinister is afoot. Let us search this camp for anything worthwhile, and return to the city. Perhaps then we may uncover more of this monstrous mystery.”

    “Alas, even in our confusion, surely we have gained great victory over the enemy! Long has time passed since last I enjoyed such a challenge! There must be great treasure within the camp, surely worth many gold pieces!”

    Caius chuckled.

    “Vrael, you are still naïve to The Fallows. Anything your eyes deem of value, anything you believe could be cherished: it is nothing to the citizens of The Fallows. Seek out broken daggers, tattered cloaked, shattered jewelry, crumpled handkerchiefs, barrels of slime, and if fortune shines upon us, perhaps we will uncover a pot of feces. These are priceless items among the villagers.”

    The elf remained open-mouthed, unable to decipher whether Caius jested. But the long pause indicated there would be no entry of comedic timing, and began to walk about the room, examining clutters of boxes and crates surrounding the legs of the tables. It was then he heard the rattle.

    The pair turned to a corner of the tent that had remained unnoticed. The sound became clearer as they approached; resembling that of a fence being shook, and appearing to reside beneath a rectangular shape covered by animal hide. They tore aside the hide, and in shock examined a young boy sitting in a cage, no much older than ten years of age.

    “Have you come to save me?” the boy asked.

    “By Celebrimbor,” Vrael gasped. “Surely you have been saved, my child. How did you come to be here? What is your name?”

    “I can remember not how I arrived…but…but…they call me…Mabon,” the boy sobbed.

    Caius and Vrael watched the boy, who stood only three-and-a-half feet tall, peer at them through the cage links with blue eyes and gleaming cheeks that reflected his tears. Caius walked to its edge and twisted the mechanism that acted as a door latch and was staked in the ground out of reach from Mabon. The cage rattled open, and Mabon crawled out from the prison he had known for so long. It was then Caius noticed the knee pads Mabon wore, and he could not fathom their purpose. He could not ask the boy, he had endured enough.

    Caius took a knee next to the boy and rested his hands on his shoulders, his eyes seeking any sign of humanity left in Mabon’s tarnished visage.

    “My child,” he whispered. “Whatever you have witnessed here, however long you have remained shrouded beneath the chain prison, you are free of it now. We will gather what we need and return to The Fallows. You will never be placed in a cage again.”

    “T-t-hank you,” stuttered the boy.

    “Vrael,” Caius continued. “This camp is large enough that it must have received supplies, perhaps by sleds. Let us search for the trinkets I have mentioned and load them to be moved to the city.”

    The elf nodded, and the three walked out of the tent. The sky maroon behind the white mountaintops, the sun having not yet triumphed over the darkness, brought hope to their movements. And on this blood meridian, the edge of all that was and all that is to come, they knew the time for departure was near: Hope present at the end of all things. They found a sled among a tent filled with supplies, the fire of the night’s explosion dying now as chill wind scattered forth white powder into the mouth of the flames. They loaded what tattered cloaks, shattered blades, busted scabbards and filth they could scrounge up onto the sled, and Mabon sat atop the boxes. He did not smile, but behind his empty stare there grew the understanding of the safety he now acquired.

    Within a few hours, they had loaded supplies, and using rope tethered to the edge of the sled, Caius and Vrael trudged forward over the snow trails to the wretched city.
    Last edited by eragon1; Jan 16 2014 at 07:28 PM. Reason: Break point inserted

  4. #4
    Chapter Four: A Table for Two

    When they were in sight of the city walls, they acknowledged that they must not be seen reentering. Moving stealthily off the side of the road, they dragged the sled through the snow drifts and bramble. The sled scratched against rock, but the rope holding the supplies remained strong. Mabon now walked alongside the sled, trudging through the snow that came to his knees. He had not spoken the duration of the trek, and even now with The Fallows in sight he remained silent. In the light of the rising sun, now high above them approaching noon, they followed the edge of a wall from a distance until they reached the point directly behind Caius’ home. Caius relayed that they would have a brief moment as the guards changed shifts to move the supplies to the edge of the wall. The wooden planks were not rooted deep into the earth, and the snow beneath them could easily be dislocated to provide a gap wide enough to drag the loot under piece by piece.

    They waited, and the fatigue from their nightlong battle now sunk deep into their beings. They rested with backs against trees, often casting glances toward the boy. When Caius signaled that the guards were beginning to rotate, they grabbed the reins of the sled and heaved it over the rough terrain, pouring their last ounces of energy into darting across the open field before their actions alerted the watchman. Fortune shined upon them, and no cries of intruders were voiced into the still air.

    The walls were high enough that any guard standing on watch above would not notice the supplies directly below. Vrael, Caius, and even Mabon began to dig furiously at the edge of the snow, scooping with cupped hands piles of dirt and powder to unearth a sort of trench beneath the planks. They began to slide the filth, trinkets, broken scabbards, into the space, and just as they believed themselves to be on the brink of collapse they discovered that the sled no longer bore any more of the waste. There was enough space left beneath the planks for Mabon to crawl beneath. From the inside of the city, he began to pile the items alongside the inner wall until Vrael and Caius could find the opening traversable. The two then speedily finished the remainder of work.

    “What of the sled?” Vrael asked.
    “Leave it,” replied Caius. “The Watchmen shall not see it in its placement below the wall. I have my own sled that I often use to relocate armor. We may load it with our loot and bounties and bring it forth to the market. For now, let us rest and eat. I am sure that Mabon also seeks replenishment.”

    Caius smiled at the boy, but the boy with eyes downcast did not return a glance.

    They stood in the small space between Caius’s Armory and the city wall, and they were able to enter his home through the backdoor.

    Caius prepared soup for each of them and they sat by the fire as they had the night prior. Mabon devoured bowl after bowl, his stomach bottomless as brood in him the condition of utter depravity. They spoke little, eyes drooping and fire crackling a rhythm soothing to each.

    A long while passed before Caius spoke.

    “The day is young, Vrael. Let us finish our work that we might rid ourselves of this place. Mabon, you may stay here and rest. My wife serves in the Mead Hall during the day, but when she returns, she will not cast you out.”

    He walked to a desk at the side of the room and from its drawer removed ink, parchment, and a quill. He scribed a note, folded it, and handed it to Mabon.

    “When she arrives, give this to her. It will explain everything. Come Vrael, let us take our loot to the market. If fortune smiles upon us, you shall gain a soaring reputation among the city.”

    The duo walked through the back door and out into the wind once more.


    The market square functioned as would any other; the bartering, the negotiations, the exchange of goods. But where one might seek treasure, there lay none hidden in the bowels of The Fallows. No goods of value ever passed from trader to trader, and it would appear each individual had an obsession with a particular category of filth. The Orc heads rested alongside the canopy of stands, the dull shine of their bald heads gleaming in the overcast sky. Broken scabbards and worthless jewelry lay strewn out, often crushed beneath heel of intrigued patrons, who examined each piece as would a jeweler a diamond.

    The bustling crowd soon calmed to an eerie silence as the sled drawn by the two figures passed between the stands, slicing deep ruts into the snow. The jingling trinkets aboard its wooden frame captivated the citizens, but even more wondrous was the Duvodiad who appeared to take ownership in the monstrous heap.

    The man and elf walked to the end of the row where a bearded, bald man stood with muscled arms bulging and crossed before him. His countenance was fierce, his eyes narrowed and darting between the subjects that caused such great disturbance in the daily routine of the market. Hushed voices of the men and women proposed what business the figures had with him, for he was the most well-known tradesman among them: Noblow.

    “What do you need?” he grunted.

    Caius looked to Vrael, indicating he would be the one to communicate with this legend of the trade.

    “Master No Blow – “
    “Have ye lost yer mind?!” boomed the voice. “It’s pronounced Noblow! Bringin’ to me rotten Duvodiad the stench o’ which brought me to my knees but moments ago. Smelled ye before even me eyes caught sight of what scrawny skeleton bears those pointed ears! So I ask again: What do you need?”

    “Forgive my insolence, dearest tradesman – “

    “CAN YE EVEN SPEAK A WORD VOID OF STUPIDITY?” Noblow growled. “Come to me own stand to imply such accusations as tradesman, a vendor for simpletons? Listen ‘ere, boy, I see more trinkets worthy of majesty in a day than ever did you and your prancing, inbred excuse for nourishment and manhood standing beside you view in a lifetime. Broken scabbards sleek as even to bring tears to me eyes by its shine in the darkness of night. Slime that is so putrid to the nose bearing likeness to medical salves as it opens all forms of nostril constriction known to living thing. Even laid me eyes on a marvel of taxidermy as miraculous to meself as would be running water to a desert-stranded man: the mounted buttocks of a warg. So go on, then, man of stature, provoke me with your belongings. Offer to me the amusement of eyeing the lowly pieces of inheritance you wish to barter. What do we have – BY THE GODS!!!”

    Noblow had peaked over his stand to see the mound of trinkets, a sight for which he had no vernacular to provide description. Falling to his knees, he crumbled before the filth, clawing at the Earth with one outstretched hand and holding his stomach with the other.

    “My eyes…unworthy…Where did you claim such vast treasures?” he muttered.

    Vrael and Caius, not wishing to be categorized as murderous thieves, quickly dove to Noblow’s sides and lifted him to a standing, albeit hunched, position.

    “We slew over one hundred Orcs…” Caius began.

    “ONE HUNDRED ORCS – Er, I mean, such a number is but a fraction of my own…” Noblow replied.

    He looked back to the treasure and his eyes began to glisten with tears.

    “I am unworthy…” he repeated.

    “Perhaps a bit of water?” Vrael asked.

    “No…no…I will be alright. I will never drink again. You have brought to me the omega, the item every crafter must face: an item so magnificent that it could never be replicated by its seer’s hands. To many forgers, it is a blade, but to myself, it is this pile of sheer, masterful art. Though unworthy, I cannot deny your purpose. What price bid you?”

    “Uh,” Caius muttered. “I cannot say we have coined a price for it as of yet.”

    “Aye,” Noblow nodded. “Even a dull mind such as yourself can fathom its excellence: priceless among all things.”

    “Well, not exactly,” Caius began, becoming increasingly frustrated with the continual berating.

    “Perhaps you may honor us, with your broad expertise, by naming a price fair to all?” Vrael inquired, placing an assuring hand on Noblow’s rigid shoulder.

    “I cannot say it to be fair. I cannot even say it to be trade. I can only describe it as a gift. A title so beloved by meself that ever since its conception I have relinquished it to no man, save for my son, who died whilst suffering from explosive dysentery after eating rotten fish from a decade old sewer. You see, you’ve got your three categories: explosive, silent seepage, and steamy stream. I’ve seen a man suffering all three at once, can’t say I would wish it on even my worst enemy! Best to stand a few feet back, then, lest you wish your shoes ruined.”

    Caius dry heaved, walking swiftly from the scene as to not drive Noblow into madness by vomiting over the luxurious prize beside them. Vrael was able to suppress his disgust, but his visage suffered from the irresistible twitch of his right eye as his mind visualized the scene of a man slumped in a pile of excreted filth, crying out for help.

    “And…What might this title be?” he gasped, at last.

    “It is a name sought by adventurers from across the land. So rare that I believe it to be the last existing title of its kind in this age. If I bestow it upon ye, ye will be upheld as the great-finder, the seeker prophesied in times forgotten to uncover secrets hidden to the blind who cannot sense worth in the lowest of places. I bestow upon ye: Trash-Sifter.”

    Vrael’s blank stare was misinterpreted as reverence.

    “I know, lad! I know it may overwhelm ye. But let it be known, ye are worthy of such honor.”

    “Thank…you?” Vrael spoke slowly and carefully. Perhaps this plan would work, after all.

    Noblow reached behind him, digging into the far reaches of what appeared to be the backside of his trousers, the movements akin to some primal ape seeking to quench the itch of an unreachable crevice. At last he held in his grasp a browned, ragged scroll, passing it to Vrael, who took it by a corner and read from its inked surface: “To man, woman, and child, to wanderer and King alike, he who holds this title and deed shall be known henceforth as Trash-Sifter.”

    “And on top of that,” Noblow added as a though remembering a particularly juicy piece of gossip. He repeated, to Vrael’s displeasure, the ritual of seeking out an item in his trousers, and in time he removed five circular pieces and held them in his palm for Vrael to examine. “The Fallow’s finest bartering tool: Tokens of the Tower’s Dump.”

    Vrael ashamedly took from the man these rounded pieces, wishing to be rid of them the moment their grimy surfaces slid over his pristine hands.

    “I never did gather how they fashioned it into circular pieces.”

    Vrael gagged.

    The elf, with crumpled deed and smelly coins in hand, walked to where Caius now leaned hunched over with hands planted on his knees.

    “Time to go?” Caius panted through deep breaths.

    “I believe we overstayed our welcome the moment we set foot in the market…” Vrael replied.
    “Shall we have a drink at the tavern? Settle our stomachs and know whether the townsfolk will appreciate your new accomplishment? What did he give you?”

    Caius took from Vrael the crumpled page and read the title. For a long while he said nothing, a silence shared as each reflected what horrid a place they now resided in. Caius passed the parchment back to Vrael, and the two set off for the tavern.

    “Oy! Ye forgot yer sled!” Noblow cried, echoing off the buildings about the square.

    They quickened their pace and did not look back.


    The tavern was but a few minutes from the market, and at their brisk pace they arrived out of breath and in great need of drinks to ease their psyches.

    “Remember, Vrael, you now have a Title and Deed. Even with them, I cannot assure your safety among these men of The Fallows. Be prepared for anything.”

    Vrael nodded, and even as an elf who had slain countless Orcs in the darkest hours of the night, he felt an unfamiliar twinge of fear creeping its way into his heart as he perceived the threat of facing the patrons of The Fallows tavern.

    Caius entered first. The door creaked and the bright light from its wake cast long shadows before them; two figures walking the edge of death as squinting eyes deciphered the faces of these intruders. The tavern was larger than its exterior alluded. At least forty patrons sat among the tables, both on the ground floor and the second level, staring.

    The Elf and man shuffled their feet at the threshold, kicking snow onto the animal hide below that served as a floor mat. The door closed with a resounding thump, and for a moment they were blind before their eyes had adjusted to the darkness. To their right stood an obese barman behind a bar of serviced stools upon which sat angry men with frothing mead in hand.

    “Duvodiad…Your kind are not welcome here,” the barman said, setting down the pint glass he was currently cleaning with a rag.

    “Perhaps we can come to an agreement,” Vrael spoke in a soft, diplomatic tone.

    “Can’t say there’s anythin’ to agree about, Elf. Cannot you see the wall?”

    The barman gestured to the wall to the left of Vrael, and mounted above the fireplace, with eyes still wide in a mannequin death stare, was the head of an Elf.

    Vrael gulped and quickly turned to offer remedy.

    “I assure you. I no longer am among you as a Duvodiad. My name is Vrael Argetlam, Trash-Sifter.”

    Time among these men now halted; their disbelief tangible in that pressing silence. A pint dropped, shattering. The name, having not been heard in a great number of years (and certainly not held by one as putrid as Duvodiad), was legendary.

    “Can ye prove thyself holder of this Title?” a patron grunted.

    “Indeed I can,” the Elf replied with confidence. He held out the scroll, and the inked words shone before the appalled faces. “I have triumphed over an orc-encampment, pillaging their trinkets and taking for myself the greatest prize. Long into the night did their cries reverberate across crack and crevice of these mountains, yet not one howl did I grant mercy. All were cut down.”

    “By my beard…” the bartender uttered. The flickering light of the fire illuminated the words, but the bold width of the quill upon the parchment made clear to all that his claim was true. Murmurs made their way through the tables, but the disbelief was ultimately reconciled as the bartender looked to Vrael with new intention.

    “Trash-Sifter…I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

    Caius rested his hand on Vrael’s shoulder and leaned toward his ear.

    “Well, my friend, it seems we have made progress.”

    The intensity of the moment subsided as patrons accepted this new status for the Duvodiad. Vrael and Caius stepped toward the bar.

    “What do you need?” The bartender grunted, bearing a scowl.

    Vrael nearly gasped out loud. Had not he but moments ago relayed his triumph to these folk? Had not the bartender offered acquiescence?

    “Might we have two pints of mead?” Caius asked, equally perplexed.
    “That’ll be ten tokens of dump, no more, no less!” shouted the bartender.

    Caius scoffed, turning to Vrael. Reluctantly, the elf reached into the pouch he had placed the tokens from the trader into and revealed the grimy tokens to the barman.

    “Two…Five…Eight…Nine. I count nine tokens, Elf! Do not ye have a mind for simple mathematics?”

    A fire ignited within Vrael at that moment. He had traversed an icy road and was brought to the brink of death. He had suffered a trial for his life for these twisted, despicable men. He had slain dozens of Orc and brought great wealth to their market. And now, having become an acquaintance of these men, he was being denied service for being one token short.

    “Listen here, you – “

    Caius grabbed Vrael’s arm at the elbow and yanked him away from the bar before he could shatter every miniscule step of progress they had made.

    “Calm yourself. We must tread carefully.”

    Vrael seethed and looked at the barman, who continued to scowl whilst examining the Elf with a rebuking stare. Caius moved him toward a table nearby that held one patron who gazed into the distance, visibly disturbed in some manner.

    “You cannot reason with these men, Caius.”

    “No, you cannot… I have sought reason and justice in this place. I have prevailed only with a seed of hope, Vrael, that there may be a day when this place would be vanquished and I could be rid of it. But while it stands, there has been no man among these who should uphold the values I hold dear. We reside now in the smoldering ash of humanity. This culture that has prevailed upholds filth. There is not a man here pure, and I am the first to admit my own faults. You have brought light to this place, Vrael, whether these men seek it or not. Your presence is needed. For my sake. I ask you not to cast aside this opportunity for myself to at least make a final cry for virtues: honesty, empathy, valor, zeal…these are the tokens I hold dear. I came here out of dissatisfaction with the state of man, yet I fear my underlying intentions were to escape the responsibility I had among my own people. I must return to them, and I must fight for light to prevail.”

    They sat for a long while and were the only silent table in the entire tavern. That is, until the third party at the table began to speak.

    “Mead Hall. The year of two-hundred and seventy-eight, the year of the Dark Lord in the Third Age. See here the man, who purchases from the barman mead, roast mutton, cabbage, potatoes, and bread. In that man’s visage is that of gluttony; in that man’s visage is the edge of death. I am that man. I thought I could comfortably consume it all, having been celebrating the destruction of an Orc camp. The night is darkest just before the dump, and let me tell you: The dump is coming. For an entire night I sat upon the throne of waste at the edge of the Tower, howling to the full moon my agony. Unspeakable pain. It was as though I had rest my bum onto hot coals. On several occasions I stood, only to realize that I had lost feeling and continued to trail excretions onto the ground below. If only a wandering wizard had appeared at that moment to cast a healing spell. Perhaps if I were a man of the Valar I might have cried out to them and sought delivery from my wretched place. I learned to sleep by leaning over and resting my face against the inner sides of my knees. Days must have passed, yet at each instance of growing hope, the audible drops alerted me that my time was not yet ready. I staggered from that place with a beard, having entered clean shaven. Have you felt the wrath? I am spoke to often in nightmarish dreams, reminded of my guilt… Watching townsfolk enter into the outhouse after my experience, shouting out, “Corby! What have you done?” And I deny them, three times…But the rooster crows, and at last I cannot hold within myself the secret, and with shame in my eyes I stand, and I cry, “IT WAS ME!”

    At this point in his tale, he quite literally stood and shouted. All the patrons turned, seeming to be familiar with his tale.

    “Silence yourself, Corby!” the barman screamed.

    “Perhaps we have enough tokens for a meal?” Caius postured hurriedly.

    “Perhaps so!”

    The pair stood, but at that moment, the door to the tavern swung wide.

    “Perhaps there is a meal already prepared, free of charge…” the voice spoke above the whistling wind.

    Caius released a heavy sigh, knowing the all-familiar stench of Dancuru’s words.

    “A table for two?” Dancuru laughed, and soon, as though all efforts had been dashed in a moment’s time, one-by-one, the patrons began to laugh with him.
    Last edited by eragon1; Jan 11 2014 at 03:11 AM.

  5. #5
    Chapter 5: Cataclysm

    The man and Elf were surrounded. If one could imagine a scale put into balance by good and evil, Dancuru’s chuckle had tipped it ever so slightly in evil’s favor, and now they watched it tumble downward.

    Dancuru made his way into the tavern, and as he spoke, he made sweeping gestures as might an entertainer to an audience. As though he were introducing the final act of some grand performance.

    “Vrael Argetlam, Trash-Sifter. Caius Martius. Quite the pair of specimens. Does it warm your heart, Men of the Fallows? Or like my own, does it churn your stomachs? If it were my choice, I would pluck from you your most delicate appendages and plaster them to the wall as décor. . . but it is not quite time, but it is coming, sweet, sweet Vrael. You thought your escapades were unbeknownst to the vast knowledge of the Thane?”

    He approached the Elf and walked about him, finally swinging his face behind his lower ear and sending shivers down to the core of his soul. He brought his dirty hands upward and swept strands of hair behind the pointed cartilage. Despite his mouth being great distance from Vrael’s face, the Elf’s keen nose did not spare him from the foul odor of Dancuru’s breath.

    “Oh yes,” he giggled. “Soon I shall have my way with all that I choose. You have overstayed your welcome. You have overstepped your bounds, Elf. It would please me to end your pathetic life and to watch you squirm.”

    He released an erotic sigh and stepped backward with his eyes tightly shut, spinning on his heel to again address the patrons.

    “I announce to you, my brethren. . . A feast the likes of which you have not seen. After all, is not this announcement of such a grand title bestowed upon Duvodiad time for celebration? Men, women, children, all are welcome to witness a spectacle challenging even the Tower’s majesty! Nay, I speak not in blasphemy, for you too shall bow to its glory as I unveil the splendor of The Machine! The Thane in his benevolence has offered to these newfound companions a place among his table. Come, let us honor this fortune!”

    He turned to Vrael again and pressed his face close to his ear once more.

    “Dinner is served,” He said as his tongue jetted out and licked the edge of Vrael’s cheek.

    Vrael’s rage consumed him. He spun and lunged for Dancuru, but felt an overwhelming force prevent him from pursuit. Thinking this to be Caius, he growled and turned to confront him, but he was instead greeted with the face of two brutes who had entered the tavern quietly while they watched Dancuru’s theatrics. Dancuru cackled and walked to the door. He stopped abruptly, and pensively turned, but the smirk reflected all that that was confined within his dark mind.

    “I seem to have forgotten a most delightful discovery. . . We took the liberty to investigate your dearest armory, Caius. And I must say, trafficking young children is indeed despicable. It took me a great deal of time just to extract the boy’s name. But… I assure you, Mabon is quite the servant.”

    With that, he licked his lips whilst staring directly into Caius’ now burning eyes and walked out of the tavern. Cheers from the patrons shrouded Vrael and Caius in misery. More brutes and pale-folk flooded through the door. Without weapons, there was no hope of escape. Chairs and tables slid against the floor as the surrounding men stood and watched the pale-folk kick out the legs of the companions. The brutes lifted them into the air and allowed the pale-folk to tie their limbs with rope. They were carried from the tavern like lumber. The air stung their face, but as Vrael’s body bobbed with each stride, he determined that they were directed toward the wretched Tower.

    No words were shared, nor would they have found refuge, for the outspoken citizens spewing insults prevented anything else from being heard.

    “Should ‘av left ye out in the cold to die that night, Elf!” one cried.
    “A fine head mount shall be made of you!” said another.

    If Vrael had had a sword in that moment, there would not have been a single of the vagabonds spared. At last, they arrived. Hoots and hollers sounded out and echoed across the high peaks. The ground surrounding the tower was flat, and the increasing volume of shouts indicated that the rest of the village had already been summoned to the feast. Tables had been laid out, with a single aisle serving as passage to the Thane’s chair. But it was not the sight of Thimaran resting upon his cushioned seat that brought the greatest sense of dread to the prisoners. Upon a platform in between the Thane’s chair and the tables of the townsfolk rested a contraption, painted in the deepest black conjured only from obsidian. Coiled metals and spheres were mounted on towering lumber pieces, but the wicked chair set high on the wood resonated with evil. It was black, but appeared to have the remains of flesh on its arms, which were charred, as though exposed to great heat and energy. Vrael had once laid eyes on diagrams of Goblin torture devices, but none looked as wretched as the one before him now. His eyes gazed over the craftsmanship and rested on the gold, embroidered word ‘S.T.O.R.M.’ His mind raced back to the morning he awoke in Dancuru’s repulsive home. There’s a storm coming, Vrael, and that’s not the only thing.

    “Hail! Heroes of the Fallows!” bellowed Thimaran. “Your endeavors did not go unnoticed, Guardsman and Elf. And what pity it may have been to see you depart without bidding farewell! Come, do not cower in fear. You have life in you, for now. Better it be spent on honoring your hosts. Bring them to my table.”

    The Thane gestured to the two chairs on either side of his own, and the brutes snaked their way around The Machine to their assigned seats. Thimaran pulled from his robe shackles, which he took great pleasure in watching his victims don, quite unwillingly. Their legs and arms were chained to the chair, and they looked out over the participants of the feast.

    Families sat along the tables, and heaps of food sat piled on silver platters. Goblets of wine and pints of mead were before them, but pale-folk, who ran about serving these men, women, and children, spoiled what may have been a sentimental scene to an unknowing onlooker. There were several thuggish looking fellows interspersed throughout the field of view, waiting to snuff out any unwanted behavior. Dancuru, however, was nowhere to be seen.

    With snaps of his fingers, Thimaran ordered plate after plate of food. He would pass plates to Vrael and Caius out of mockery, laughing to himself as they sat unable to partake in any consumption.

    “Oh, we do have a surprise for you, Elf,” he mused. “You may have evaded our Chafe device, but I have seen the devastation of The Machine. Perhaps you recall our mischief-maker Eomin. He gladly volunteered to participate in the final calibrations of The Machine. We did attempt to clean it after his usage, but you must understand that there is only so much we can do. Speaking of which, NATHAN!”

    The skinny form crawled from beneath one of the tables and ran clumsily to the base of the Thane’s chair.

    “Yes Fa – err… Yes?” the boy said with downcast eyes.

    “I was having such a lovely time until I realized that there was something amiss. Our friend Vrael has so kindly reminded me that The Machine is not being polished by YOU! What are you doing clawing at the Earth beneath tables – Ah, but I suppose it would be fitting for one as lowly as yourself to pick scraps from beneath the feet of others. It is a shame no dogs are about to combat you, for I have much greater use for a scavenging hound than I do for YOU! Go find that sobbing Mabon boy and attempt to prove that you have more use than an animal! Polish the chair! I daresay that it is nearing time for its maiden encounter.”

    He flashed a crooked smile towards Vrael. Time passed once again, and the pair were in a state too repulsed to speak. They watched as Nathan returned with Mabon (who seemed to be shaking and in a state of shock), and began to apply a foul smelling solution from a bucket and rags to the black chair. Although the pair scrubbed vigorously, Vrael saw no improvement in its appearance.

    Caius sat fuming. He had not the slightest inclination of where his family was. He had scoured the tables searching for their faces, but the absence of both them and Dancuru prompted him to expect the worst. He could not at this moment cope with the reality that they very well may lie in a pool of their own blood, but Dancuru was demented. There was not a child, man, or woman who could be spared from his intentions if he had the mind to bring harm to them. He should have slit his throat long ago. It was then that he saw him approach, carrying the same theatrical stride as he had displayed in the tavern, gazing straight in Caius’ eyes.

    “Ladies and gentleman, children of the Fallows! It is with great pleasure that I ask you to give your full attention to my dearest aide, Dancuru!”

    He carried on his face a look so sinister that even the townsfolk neglected to applaud his entrance. The whistling wind took reprieve from its sting, and all eyes laid upon the wicked man who began to speak, first at a whisper, slowly gaining volume as his speech went on.

    “My friends…My dearest associates. My precious specimens…Long have I awaited this day. You have entrusted me with upholding the security of this city. You have entrusted me with your lives. In my practice I have treated several of you; I have examined you in your times of need…And…in times of my own. But this day, we are in need of a power greater than the sum of our individual progress and aspirations. This day, we are in need of inspiration. We are in need of a grand proclamation. The Thane and I have been looking forward to this day, and at last the time has arrived to unveil the work of several years of dedication and enslavement to the hope that one day, we may bow before its glory: The Machine. I must warn you. What you are about to see is so splendid, so miraculous, that it will require your full attention. It saddens me to say that there are several individuals who will be unable to join us…Caius Martius knows of whom I speak.“

    Caius could not hold himself in balance. His fears had been confirmed. A twisting sensation in his chest prompted him to yell out in pain. His heart began to ache while his mind raced with denial, that perhaps there was still hope, that this all was a mangled plot with no substance. But he looked into Dancuru’s filthy eyes – he watched their sparkling dance so calmly entranced by his own grimace that he knew that there was no hope.

    “You bloody coward. You thieving derivate of slime. I will kill you for what you’ve done,” he sobbed.

    “Kill me? KILL ME? No.. I do not think you will kill me Guardsman! Conspirator!”

    Dancuru became enraged. He leapt upon a table and began shuffling the platters of food off with great kicks. The volatility shattered the moment, and Thimaran appeared distraught.

    “Dancuru, calm yourself,” the Thane spoke, more reserved than his emotions should have liked.

    “You…” Dancuru pointed a crooked finger at Thimaran, and the flash in his eyes frightened the man who thought all was going to plan. “You have nothing to speak to me of calm. Years I have suffered under your confounded rule. You live so contently within the confines of this place, knowing nothing of the immense power that is available to us outside its gates. You spoiled our opportunities to expand our city, nay, our kingdom! And me? I watched from the shadows. I watched your insanity thrive and the townsfolk applaud your never-ending spiral into nothingness.”

    He bent downward and spat into the face of a woman, and then cried out as he drew back his heel and swiped a man sitting across her. Blood spurted from his broken nose, and he writhed in pain on the ground.

    “GUARDS! Restrain him!” Thimaran cried, pounding his fist on the table before him.

    “Guards! Guards!” Dancuru mocked. “Restrain me!”

    He feigned a face of terror and spun around in jest. Thimaran scanned the brutes and pale-folk, yet none made any moves toward Dancuru.

    “Your power is meaningless. Your rule is a falsity. I have the power now… I have the power now.”

    “What is the meaning of this!” Thimaran shouted, throwing his hands into the air. “I cannot understand your intentions. We have built this place together, for the glory of the Tower! To The Machine!”

    “Fool! Have you not the ability to comprehend a word I have spoken! Do you think I should have included you in the production if not for this moment now of humiliation. It was my plan, but I could not hope to abstain from your involvement, for you could not bear to watch someone other than yourself excel. I ventured out into the icy maze, to the lair of Soothsayers who danced by fireside and called cursed words into the sky. I spoke to them of power unseen in this age. And when I showed them this…”

    He removed a piece of parchment from his trouser pocket. Vrael’s eyes burned and he experienced a sharp pang in his head. The page itself conjured oppressive images, and foul laughter echoed through his mind. He shook himself, but knew that the page had come from a place rooted in greater evil than he had known to exist presently.

    “It is a legendary page of historic significance. Written in Black Speech.”

    Thimaran gasped. “Where…”

    “You have locked yourself within these walls far too long, old man. You must know that I have a great many…desires. I fear that the specimens within these walls cannot always bring the satisfaction I seek. But in the chilled winds there are far more creatures to…select from. It was out there in the night beneath stars that I stumbled upon the Emissary. I thought him to kill me, but he sensed a hunger within me that could not be quenched by frequent prey upon his subordinates. Orcs, having traveled a great way to seek agreement. Orcs bearing the White Hand of Saruman.”

    “The White Wizard…” Thimaran sat in disbelief.

    “Oh yes, the White Wizard does not limit himself to the walls of Isenguard. No longer shall he lay idle whilst there remains such wide lands, unused and wasted…and neither shall I. Vrael should be quite familiar with his power. He relayed to me great displeasure in having had to deal with your rag tag group of inferiors. Though you proved effective against the likes of Bukot and Kalbak, Crisiant, Usgarren and Iorweth, I assure you, his decision to spare you was vastly merciful. Though I am in this moment glad you have delivered yourself into my hands… it is has long been time for an Elven specimen. When he relayed word of his encounter, I pictured a figure much more heroic, however. Yes…From the moment you arrived, your identity was known to me. He has offered a position that I could not refuse, and tonight is the night that I shall rise to the occasion! I hold now a manuscript from the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie. It speaks of an icy beast within these mountains, and though its sister pages were scattered throughout this land, it has been my greatest pleasure in discovering their location and comprehending just how foolish you have been, Thimaran. This power was open, if only you should have sought it. But you grew content with your bumbling bunch of buffoons that you call citizens. Orcs even rival their intellect. The beast of the mountain may be summoned when a device has been crafted sinister enough to draw it to the source, and the creator of the device will wield the beast’s power! I so thank you for your decision to execute Eomin last night. I uttered the incantations to begin the summoning whilst his screams rattled the walls of my work chamber. All that remains now is the final call.”
    “Stop him…” the words passed without weight from Vrael’s mouth.

    “Vrasubatburuk ug butharubatgruiuk.”

    Rumbles began to cascade through the ground as it groaned as if in labor. Rocks from the mountains rolled from their place as they were dislodged by deep vibrations. Women grabbed their children, who through the entire ordeal had begun to become fearful of Dancuru’s impending wrath. One man who had consumed a great portion of food could not handle the pressure the shaking induced, and he began to vomit, prompting a chain reaction as the smell traversed down the table like a children’s game of dominoes.

    A hornlike drone hummed across the sky, and high above, on the snowy peak of the tallest mountain, a plume of black smoke rose. The speck rising from the gaping hole at first seemed small. But the crashing sound of its growl was like a whip upon their ears, and as it leapt from its lair, hope drained from the citizens.

    “The Tower shall fall!” one cried.
    “You have brought ruin to us all, Dancuru!” cried a small boy.

    The crowds scrambled and screaming commenced. They ran to their homes, with several shouting promises of defending against the beast. Yet not a door or window cracked once they found refuge within their wooden shells of homes. Cracking pine trees began to cascade into the air at an alarming rate of speed. A powerful grunt from the beast shattered the glass of all the buildings nearby. Caius and Vrael began to yank at their shackles, but were unsuccessful in becoming rid of them. Thimaran sat and began to sob.

    “You do not know what you have done, Dancuru! All I have built for you! You cast it aside and have brought ruin to the Fallows.”

    Dancuru began to cackle. He called pale-folk to him and gestured to The Machine. They began to climb about it and configure the gears to ensure maximum functionality.

    “NATHAN! MABON!” he called. “Come to me, my children. You shall be first to witness its glory. We shall display that I am the master of The Machine to the beast. Brutes, take Thimaran from his place. He has elected the way of pain.”

    While Mabon crawled from beneath the platform, Nathan was nowhere to be found. The brutes grabbed Thimaran from his chair, and when he attempted to resist, they jabbed him in the stomach several times and let him quiver in pain. They lifted him, and brought him down to the platform below. But in that moment, the beast arrived.

    The speck on the mountain now stood as tall as the Mead Hall, and it waded through the trees that came to its knees like blades of grass, and the needles scattered about, and all forms of wild life scurried from its radiating chill. The ground beneath its feet froze with each step, its crystalline shards cracking as it placed its full weight onto each piece. It breathed from a gaping hole, and piercing blue light resonated in its core, penetrating crevices of its rocky form and shining bright from its eyes and mouth. It was a rock-golem of legend. Spikes rose from its back, jagged and sharp like stalagmites risen from the earth. It roared and observed its onlookers, searching for the wicked device that’s absence had long kept it in isolation. When it laid its eyes on The Machine, it peered down to the subject held between the arms of the brute. Thimaran shuffled backward, kicking at the ground to put distance in between himself and the soulless eyes, but the beast pressed forward, reaching downward and lifting Thimaran from its place with a death-like squeeze. All air was forced out of his body, and even as his arms rumbled, cracks of Thimaran’s ribs were heard from below. His face grimaced, but he stared deep into the face of the beast that would be his end. He swore in those last moments that its eyes narrowed, though the light blinded him, and there would be no indication of such an expression. The beast took a last look at the robed man, unable even to gasp last words to the city below, and threw him out to the distance.

    The body arced high, over the city gates and farther and farther away, seeming to ragdoll in the sky, cartwheeling in weightless flight, soaring free from the grasp at last. They heard in the distance,

    “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhh ,” fading out, and the immense power surely put several miles in between his body and the city. Yet, still, the remaining figures beneath the beast heard with certainty and large thump. And thus ended Thimaran.

    “By the gods, you have answered my call! You surely are the creature of legend! I have crafted The Machine for you. Thimaran was to be its first victim, but we have…others…to select from…”

    Dancuru watched the beast attentively as it took notice of this small man speaking to him. It knelt to the ground and gazed at him. It was then that Dancuru’s confidence faltered, for the beast appeared resilient to his command. For Saruman had known the beast to be attracted to devices of great cruelty. But it was not the contraptions that prompted the beast to rise from its slumber. The beast feasted off the hatred of its masters, and only one who bore the greatest hatred could yield the power of its form. The creators of such cruel devices were often those with overwhelming impurity and anger, but it was not Dancuru whom the beast sought in this city.

    “What…What are you doing! You dare not touch me will ill intent. I – RAKCH…”

    Dancuru’s words were snuffed out, like a cushion being sat upon. His eyes popped, and his face turned blue. But, struggle as he tried, there was no amount of force that could challenge the grip of the rocky hand that held him. The ice-golem was becoming angry at its continual disappointment. These souls are surely wretched… It thought. But there is one who remains, unseen…

    It clenched its fist, and the remains of Dancuru splurged over its knuckles. At this moment, pandemonium broke loose below. The pale-folk howled and scattered, and the brutes began to beat their chests and flee. Caius and Vrael sat defenseless, praying for the beast to overlook them. But its height was deceiving. There was not a living being it could not sense below. Even the forgotten companions, shackled and hopeless.

    It turned, and as it walked forward, it stepped on The Machine. Though it took years to design, and months to execute, it took only a fraction of a second to destroy. Mabon, who had hidden himself beneath the platform, had time for a single cry before his body was skewered by a thousand fragments of wood from all directions.

    “NOOOOOOOOOO GAGK.”

    “MABON!” Caius cried. The tears sprang forth from his eyes, and he hung his head.

    “This is madness,” Vrael cried. “Utter madness. Amin khiluva lle a' gurtha ar' thar.”

    The beast closed in. The tables collapsed under its feet. The air stood still, and Vrael felt the moments stretch into infinitesimal pieces. He could feel all that he had felt in his elven life, and looking to Caius, knew that the man of honor had experienced yet a fraction of his allotted time. How could it be, after all he had triumphed over, that he should meet his end in isolation atop a solitary peak, facing an unfathomable foe? He closed his eyes, beckoning to the world beyond, opening himself to its light.

    But the beast hesitated. The skidding sounds of skates across the snow brought him from his place of melancholy. Though his eyes were wet, he still made out the figures riding upon the sleds drawn by wolves. They chanted foul curses, and spun skull staffs. Cloaked in bear and warg furs, their painted faces and hands were lined with tattoos of intricate design. They wore tooth necklaces and bracelets, some bare-chested, even in the cold.

    “Soothsayers…” Caius gasped.

    Years had passed since his triumph over the icy beast that he had slain to prove himself, yet the day he had thrown the head down in the encampment, sending the Witch Doctors fleeing, legend of a man champion was born, and they would never forget he who had spared them of the wrath of the beast.

    The chants brought attention to the ice-golem, who turned his attention to their familiar words. In distant times they had been called to him. It culled him into a trance of remembrance. It was at this moment as he turned that a Soothsayer crept up to the chairs and uttered sacred spells over the shackles of Caius Martius. They snapped open, and he quietly rolled down, kneeling and turning to the Soothsayer with overpowering gratefulness. He gestured to Vrael, and though the Soothsayer had great reluctance in doing so, removed the shackles from this unknown individual.

    The pair knelt behind the table, rubbing their wrists from the wear of the iron shackles. The Soothsayer cast a spell over their feet, allowing them to share his own silent walk. He guided them through the snow to where a sled barely large enough for two had been prepared. He made several gestures to Caius, who seemed to understand.

    “They are going to attempt to distract the beast while we make our escape, Vrael. We owe them our lives. I fear they will not escape from this.”

    The Elf nodded, both to Caius and to the Soothsayer. He made gestures to his chest and clenched his fist as he had seen Caius do at the end of their interchange. The Soothsayer bowed, and the pair leapt onto the sled as he ran back toward the towering golem.

    “We must wait for their signal,” Caius said, grasping the reigns. The wolves before them kicked the snow in anticipation. They could sense the urgency and the power of the beast.

    The Soothsayers began to call out louder and faster, stepping forward and circling the beast. He stood breathing heavily, but his mind began to grow restless, feeling this state was not natural. But he was mesmerized by the recollection of his past. The furred men of the mountain pressed inward, but at last they stopped, and with a resounding cry they dropped their staffs in unison to the ice below, shattering the spell and sending the golem reeling in a state of confusion. When he recovered, he turned to seek the two who had been in the chairs. When he saw they were absent, he knew trickery was afoot. With rage, he brought his fists upward, and dropped them. When they made contact, a crater blasted the Soothsayers backward dozens of feet. Those that landed on the Earth remained alive, but several were sent spiraling out of control through the walls of buildings, and the shattered bones surely were beyond mending.

    Caius cracked the reigns, but a rumbling behind him caused him to turn back toward the mountain. He watched a small crevice begin to cave from the force of the golem’s wrath, and as its rocks fell out of place, the snow surrounding it slid, and a tide of snow began to snake its way to the earth below, building upon itself and showering in a powdery mix of fury.

    “Avalanche. Wonderful.” He said, disconcerted. The wolves howled and pounded their feet, bred for but one purpose: speed. They swung themselves around, at a distance from the rock-golem, who saw them flee. In their wake he sensed their auras, and he knew that neither were the one he sought. He should have liked to end their puny lives, but there still resonated from somewhere within the city walls a beacon of malice. The beast groaned and began to crash through building, sending families scurrying beneath him. Wood splintered and the groaning supports caved under the pressure of the now wall-less floors. But the fate of the Fallows was destined for an icy grave as the snow began to arrive. Men and women were buried along with the pale-folk, suffocated and crushed beneath the white wall. The ice golem pressed against the force and waded through, continuing to search.

    Vrael and Caius felt the rush of air gush past their faces, and though they had just been on the brink of utter destruction, the liberation felt in exiting the city, free from the wrath of Dancuru and Thimaran was astounding. The wolves’ paws flowed like an oiled machine, but the splintering pines behind alerted them that the ensuing frenzy of snow was not far behind.

    “Fight on!” Caius called.

    The animals heeded his call, and they pressed onward, pounding against the ice. The sled ramped across subtle inclines, bobbing and weaving across the path, faster than any horse could hope. The minutes felt like hours. Vrael turned behind to see the wall, but it was slowing! They may make it out of this yet!

    Or so he thought. At the base of the mountain, far from the city, seeming to be safe, there ran an icy stream. Had it not been for the grumbling mountain, perhaps the Orcs may have hesitated in moving their camp from the higher slopes. But they had heard strange noises, and the leader had drawn them downward, where they had slew animals by the river to taste blood. It was from there that he had spotted the swerving sled above. Two archers were place at the narrow gap between two hills, arrows drawn, preparing to fire.

    The sled turned into the bend with great speed, but Vrael’s elven eyes caught sight of the ambush before those of Caius. The twangs sent their arrows flying, and there was a grunt from the front rider. But the second archer threw he bow down in fury as the second leaned backward with agile speed, letting the arrow pass and shatter its shaft against a boulder.

    Blood poured from Caius’ head. There was no hope for his life. And having not slept during the night, fought against a small army of Orcs, and faced an icy golem in a single day without food, Vrael blacked out against the sled’s handles and Caius slumped out onto the road, dead.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Pain came to him in his dreams. The blackness surrounded him, and he cried out to no avail. No light could penetrate the space he was trapped within. Caius’ body lay in his arms, still and quiet. All at once, a speck of light would be birthed in the distance, and a lone figure silhouetted against the white would walk through the darkness, vanquishing it. Vrael would call out, only to find his voice lost and mute. And then a rush of air would overtake him and he would wake, inhaling deeply and being pressed backward into the bed with great forcefulness. And then the abyss would come again.

    As if being drowned in water, he fought for air and desperately clung to life. He was shackled in this moment and on the brink of failing. Yet, in time, the figure of his dreams became clearer, and the silhouette could be identified as Elven in figure. Golden rays shone bright on his face, and at last he woke.

    The only light in the room came from a strip at the base of the door. No lamp lit the room, and for a long while the Elf lay still, observing his surroundings. His eyes adjusted quickly. A nightstand with a lamp stood to his right, and he gathered that a particularly dark blotch on the wall to his left must have been a closet. A few pieces of furniture were placed about the room: a tall wardrobe, a medium-height dresser, and undiscernible pictures were hung on the wall, too faint to examine.

    The flare of a match in the corner drew his attention. The orange hue illuminated the man sitting with his legs stretched and crossed at the heels of his boots. Its slow burn flickered as he brought it to his mouth and the cigar resting between his set of bright, white teeth. The flame kindled the head, and smoke began to lazily drift upward from its end. Every piece of clothing worn by the figure was as black as death itself - even his skin. An eye-patch lay over his left eye, and the line of a scar passing through where the socket would be was discernible even by the small burst of light. The man inhaled a slow puff of the cigar, and Vrael watched the orange tip brighten and then fade. It was only then that the man began to speak.

    “I must say, having heard of your accomplishments, I was a bit underwhelmed seeing you in that bed tossing about,” he said. “Angmar. The Watcher. Dol-Goldur. Even the White Wizard himself. Impressive.”

    “Where am I…Who…are… you. Your skin, I have never seen – “

    “If you are making a social commentary on the color of my skin, I suggest a different path of conversation.”

    Vrael gulped.

    “Who am I?” he continued. “I carry quite a collection of titles, but at this moment, I am obliged to tell you that I am a choice between life and death.”

    He paused for a moment to inhale another puff from the cigar.

    “I imagine you understand that the current state of Middle-Earth is in dire need. There are powers at play that we do not yet fully understand. But, I assure you, there is an evil lurking in the shadows. In fact, there is a quest taking place as we speak that concerns both you and I, lands as far as Ered-Luin, and every corner of this world. But that is not why I am here. There are a great many evils that lie hidden beneath disguises of innocence, Master Argetlam. It is of my humble opinion that it is those evils that are the most threatening to our existence – The evils that snake their way unseen into the societies among us, hiding in plain sight. That is why I am here.”

    A silence passed between the two and Vrael’s mind raced to understand what was being asked of him.

    “What do you want from me?” he said at last.

    “I said I was a choice. Several of my connections in the west have brought my attention to a nasty group of individuals who operate under the guise of trinket collectors. Though you may believe yourself to be more than capable of handling the matter, especially considering your most recent endeavor, this is not an individual operation. They call themselves The Mathom Society. Operating out of a Shire town known as Michel Delving, they are enacting plans rather…sinister in nature. Special batches of toby-weed are being run down the Buckland River and westward across the South Farthing without a trace. Quite frankly, we have never seen this level of efficiency. We need to know just how wide their network reaches.”

    “I still don’t under – “
    “Do not interrupt me. I’ve killed for less than that.”

    Vrael could feel the man’s one eye penetrate the space between him and peer into his very soul with an intensity of an arrow true to its target. At last, the man began again.

    “I’m getting a team together. Helpers of Order Erroneously Imagined and Named as Xenial. Phoenix. In the acronym, the P is silent.”

    Who is this man? Vrael thought.
    “And if I refuse?” he postured.

    “Given your current state, I do not think you are in a position to make that kind of conjecture. And, I might add, given the fate of former applicants, that I would not deem it wise. We’ll be in touch.”

    The figure shifted and stood up. He was at least six feet tall, but the broad width of his chest indicated he was finely muscled, as did the heavy thump of his boots as he stepped toward the door. He wore a black trench coat, but even in the darkness, as its edges danced around the heels of his black boots, the blades of his twin daggers gleamed. Yet, even over the sound of his heavy footsteps on the wooden floor, Vrael could distinctly hear a jingle-jangle in each stride.

    The man reached for the door and swung it wide, and his stance was truly magnificent against the golden light of the hall. He tilted his head to the side and looked backward with his good eye.

    “My name?” he said. “My name is Naweth.”

    Epilogue:

    There were no sounds over the graveyard of corpses. Already the skin of the victims had become blackened with frostbite, exposed to the wind and river of snow. Nothing stirred beneath the icy surface. The Soothsayers lay strewn about, several dismembered, and crimson trails led to each piece.

    The golem swept through the snow, kicking and roaring in dissatisfaction. The beacon was nearby, and it was not until several scoops of snow and debris that he uncovered the frail form. He peered into it, searching, and beneath its skin crawled a river of hatred.

    Good… At last, my master.

    The creature extended its life-force to the boy, who could not have been much older than thirteen, and was pleased to witness his revival from unconsciousness. It projected himself into the boy’s thoughts, dwelling in the core of his emotion, basking in its warmth.

    Nathan stirred in the hand of golem. He had thought himself dead. But then, in all the black had been a feeling that he had not encountered: power. It surged through him, and he gathered the strength to open his eyes wide and return to the world of light.

    We leave now, spoke the beast.

    Nathan peered up into its gnarled face, and his eyes became hollow, and he embraced the power before him. He nodded, but then smiled crookedly.

    Let me fetch…My mask.
    Last edited by eragon1; Jan 11 2014 at 03:12 AM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Posts
    1
    tl;dr
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  7. #7

    Announcing A Sequel!

    Given the great popularity and the vast messages I have been receiving regarding Threat Level Dump, I have been green-lighted by a publisher to begin a sequel to the series! Rest-assured, it will hold the same level of chaotic adventures that those of you that have read Threat Level Dump adore. For hints of the potential conflict, take a look at the Epilogue . It should suffice to say that the Great Tower will pale in comparison to the treacherous acts that the heroes will encounter. Thank you for your support and donations that have made it possible to proceed in this dream of mine. I'll be posting a new address for which you to send fan mail, as I've had to hire a dear friend to sort through the fan art, cosplay, and letters that I've been receiving. Remember that I love each and every one of you equally, and I do get around to reading those letters :P (The sorting is rather an issue of safety, as the one that sent me ANTHRAX has led to a bit of caution in my life. P.S. I know who you are.)

    In other news, it has been requested that a full audio book be created using Threat Level Dump. I'll be doing my best to make that a reality, but as we all know, life can get in the way of our desires! I wish you all the best, and get ready to embark upon an adventure as dastardly as the previous Suilad melon!

    The Fail Vrael
    Last edited by eragon1; Mar 17 2014 at 01:30 AM.

  8. #8
    The Summoning

    Prologue: Bounders, Keepers

    It was not often for Summer evenings in Bywater to be spent inside. The nooks of The Green Dragon were to be unoccupied, and the streets were to be filled with the pitter-patter of children. After all, it would be most dishonorable to avoid a social gathering as widely participated in as the Summer festival! But on this night, a fog wandered about the Hills and Holes of the quiet town, and though the watermill churned clear water and street lamps illuminated the cobblestone paths, comfort was not to be found outdoors. Indeed, there were several residents who caught glimpse of the young (by Hobbit years) figure deep in thought on his nightly stroll and made comments such as: ‘A nosy Bounder, that one! A trouble-making boy, unsociable and peculiar!’

    But Grigory Brandybuck could think of nothing else other than the strange piece of parchment he had found whilst visiting a cousin in South Farthing. Now, there are a great number of individuals who claim to be skilled in scribing words; these days the art is known as calligraphy, but few races throughout Middle-Earth could boast as enduring of an adoration for penmanship as Hobbits, and that is precisely why he was puzzled. The ink sprawling across the page was not written by a Hobbit, and the loops and thickness and thinness of the letters were not entirely the writing of man, either. Any other Hobbit might have dismissed the note as rubbish and fuel for fire beneath the hearth, but Grigory was not an average Hobbit. In fact, there was likely more truth in the comments directed towards him than he cared to admit, although it pleased him to be the subject of such scrutiny.

    In several ways he was peculiar, and perhaps that is why he concluded the letter to be a work of mischief, written by a man under the guise of a Hobbit. Few things brought more joy to Grigory than a mystery, but the night enveloping him suppressed his sense of excitement; something was amiss. For Master Brandybuck had read the order several times over, but had yet to gather what business a man might have with several hundred barrels of Toby-weed. One barrel was revered in these lands, and it was difficult for him to fathom the need for hundreds.

    Nevertheless, the written words described an order to move the copious amounts of Toby-weed to an undisclosed location, referred to only as ‘The Pit.’ Grigory was most perplexed by this, because although Hobbit holes and rabbit holes and the occasional snake hole were scattered about the hills, there were no ‘pits’ to be found west of the Brandywine.

    He had been walking about the town thinking of all this and wondering just who might have the immense power and wealth to conduct as nasty a business as a black-market. Several years prior he had worked a case involving a purse snatcher (it was quite often for purses to be snatched from the likes of Hobbits), which had led him all the way to Budgeford. An unlikely turn of events resulted in his uncovering of an underground network of thieves who dressed in black robes and traveled among the corn fields at night. It was a ghastly sight to the faint of heart, and in these parts, there was emphasis on the fainting.

    Even so, when Grigory heard the churning watermill moan and come to a creaking halt, he quickly dove off to the side of the road, rolling over a bush and coming up to a crouch with his wooden club in hand. His small Hobbit head peered over the green leaves and tried to discern through the darkness what had caused such a commotion. He could see nothing, and he heard only The Water lapping lazily against the wooden frame of the mill. He reasoned that an obstacle had flown downriver into the mouth of the mill, but it had been such a loud noise – Ah! There, a low thud, like a fishing boat against a dock as it is being tied. Grigory shifted his weight so that he was now kneeling and capable of moving quietly. After all, a Hobbit Bounder is often said to be as stealthy has a Hobbit Burglar. He traced the line of bushes to the gate and cobblestone path of the Hobbit hole in which whose yard he was by all means a trespasser. Luckily, no light emitted from the round window at such a late hour, but he took proper precautions of arranging the gate precisely as it had existed before his exit as he rapidly crossed the street path to the other side.

    He made his way down the incline of the shore, coming short of stepping into the cool waters, and used the reflection of the moon to guide his eyes to waterwheel. It lay silhouetted against the silver light, a lump of … Well, Grigory could not quite yet determine its identity. He made an effort to roll up his trousers as to prevent their soiling, but Hobbits, being as short as they are, seldom cross water that is below the waist. As he waded through the water, moving closer to the object, an eeriness came over him and a tingle went up his spine. His eyes passed across The Water, where they were met with two, bearing the color of yellow-green.

    “Ahoy there! Ahem. My name is Grigory Brandybuck, Bounder of Bywater. What business have you being about at this hour?”

    No response came other than rustling brush, and in an instant, the yellow eyes had faded away and were lost to the shades of black.

    “Oh, confound it!” he muttered beneath his breath.

    He continued forth until he reached the obstruction, which now appeared to be a bit of fabric – no, not fabric, but covered in fabric. Half of it was lodged within the wheel, and Grigory reached for it as to pull it away, only in horror to retract his hands as he felt that it was not by any chance that it had arrived at this resting place. For his hands had felt a shirt, and within the shirt, the cold, hardened, and most definitely dead, body of a hobbit.
    His heart began to pound, but adrenaline rushing through his mind and body permitted him the strength to yank it from its place. The wheel creaked back to life as he drug the body by what he reasoned to be an arm or leg to the shore. It took several minutes, even at the close distance, because the current of The Water worked against him, but at last he lay panting next to it. He turned it over and held in a squeal as he realized that no head rested upon its shoulders. He gagged and vomited down into the water, repulsed by his discovery. Murder in Bywater? Murder had no place in The Shire. He had not even read about Murder in the past decades of reported incidents, save for a mysterious drowning long ago. But decapitation ruled out any accident. Who was this Hobbit? And what in Middle-Earth would lead them to this end?

    “I never did understand decapitation,” the voice spoke from the shadows, startling Grigory.

    “Who is there?” the Hobbit shouted, climbing to a defensive stance with his club.

    The voice emitted a boom laugh. “The courage of Hobbits never ceases to amaze me. Put away your stick, it is a friend to whom you are speaking.”

    It was a man’s voice, Grigory decided, but it left him even more befuddled than before. Despite the words of good intentions, he kept his club in hand and crept through the shadows in circling motions, spinning in the hopes of finding the source of the conversation.

    “I don’t know who you are, but you are most troublesome, sir! A body here, and you in the shadows! It’s high time I shout out for help and arrest you for murder!”

    He tried to keep his voice from quivering as best he could, but a swoosh of a cloak inches from his back made him scrunch his little Hobbit neck and drop the club altogether.
    “Perhaps you would prefer I enter the light?”

    A powerful force yanked Grigory by the collar of his shirt upward, and he kicked his legs wildly in the air while it moved him closer to the street. The cold body remained behind, but he could think of nothing more than if he would join it in the ditch in but a moment’s time. He fell to his feet the moment he hit the ground, but rolled over onto his back and crawled backwards from whoever had just moved him involuntarily. The light emitted from the street lamps provided him with all he needed to see: the gleam of twin daggers on a black belt. The figure that donned them stood near seven feet tall, clearly muscled, though his face was indiscernible in the night. His hands were resting on the pommels of the daggers, and it ran through Grigory’s mind that perhaps he did not prefer the light and would much rather die without seeing his mountainous aggressor.

    “Now, I imagine you must be very confused. Murder in The Shire? I can’t say that I’ve recalled the last murder here,” the voice continued. “But rest assured, I will bring no harm to you. At least nothing as bad as what our friend in the ditch has received. I’ve come here with a proposition. And I request your silence whilst I speak.”

    The request would not be a problem. Grigory sat, dumbfounded while the man, who shifted slightly while he spoke, continued. This was how Grigory caught sight of his skin, the color of charcoal, and his left eye covered by an eye patch.

    “The people who I answer to, let us say that they have a wide angle on all the events in Middle-Earth. You Hobbits here live a pretty sheltered existence. Your purses might be snatched, and you might deal with the Sack-Ville Bagginses, but save for a bit of melodrama, your existence is smooth sailing. I would not be one to exaggerate, mind you, but I fear that this is all about to change. There are a few dastardly deeds going on far to the east, and I would be lying if I claimed them to me non-life threatening. There are a few who would even say the fate of Middle-Earth rests in the hands of the current generation. This could very well be the end of the third age, and all ages of Good-Willed things. My being here was to chance, as I had business with a… partner, in Ered-Luin. I pass through The Shire on foot because I enjoy the sight of these little cubby holes you call home, and I can’t see them very well from the air. I never did gather how one could live so contently in a dirt hole.”

    Now, Grigory was not one to interrupt a story, especially if he thought it may involve him receiving six inches of a dagger through the chest and lungs, so he sat patiently, terrified and trembling.

    “Now look, I’ve gotten off subject. I sensed something was amiss this night, the same as you were no doubt pondering while you walked about. I watched you for a while. I’ve got means of… sensing individuals for their intentions, and I feel that you intend to do a lot of good in your time here. I thought to myself, why waste the opportunity? I’m looking for a business associate of sorts in these parts. I like to have eyes in regions that I can’t be in while I am elsewhere. And from the looks of this, there are some rotten things happening. This parchment has an address in Bree to which you will send word should you find any more about this nasty murder business. Oh, and regarding the Toby-Weed barrels, it is safe to say that these are related incidents. At least that is where I would begin.”

    Grigory reached in his pocket for the note he had been reading but moments before, only to find it missing. How could he have stolen it from him? He hadn’t seen this man for but a few minutes time.

    “You may be thinking me to be a thief. I prefer the title, Burglar. But not all burglars are so bad. In fact, I believe one lives somewhere about this here Bywater who is a bit of a legend to those old enough to remember a mountain of old and tales of dragons. Good luck, Master Brandybuck, and do be careful, I fear a wooden stick won’t be of help to a blade.”

    Grigory fought against the knot in his throat for words, stuttering until they passed through as a whisper, and then at an audible level.

    “W-w-wait. How do you know my name, and what is yours?” he said.

    “Some mysteries are better left alone, Grigory, though it is up to you whether one is worth solving.”

    The Hobbit heard the twirl of a cloak and the pounding of boots against cobblestone, but he never saw the full figure of the man. When he at last stood he found the pieces of parchment nearby on the ground, and he stood in a confused state, unsure of whether he was in a wild dream or drunken state. That was until he heard the call across the rolling hobbit holes. It was only then that he was certain of his very real circumstances.

    “My name… Is Naweth.”

 

 

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