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Across Time and Space [Themed, open writing thread]


Skull132

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In ye olden forums, Far Cry started a thread that operated on the following premise:


You would write a story with your character(s), but place them into an alternate universe or dimension. Regardless of what universe or setting you choose, the stories would be written as if the character had lived in that setting for their entire life.


It's an interesting premise, and was executed rather well on the old boards. Let's see if anything interesting pops up here.

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Slightly edited version of the thing I originally submitted on original thread on original forums. Hue.

 

July 3rd, 1863

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Union field hospital


Janet hurriedly carried the bucket of water between rows of wounded men. They cried out in agony as she passed; most, if not all, were suffering from grievous wounds, waiting for treatment that would be a long time in coming. The bucket was heavy, and Janet walked with an awkward gait as she struggled to keep it from tipping over and spilling the valuable contents over blood-soaked earth. Still, water sloshed over the sides; the bucket might be only half full by the time she would get to the surgery tent. Dying men, in want of a drink, reached out for her as she passed, trying their best to get her attention. But this water was not for them. Janet had already learned to tune out the wails and pleas of wounded men. Otherwise she would have gone insane by now. She passed them without even a wayward glance. One soldier managed to grab a hold of a pleat in her dress; his other hand was preoccupied with holding his entrails within his abdominal cavity. Janet paid no mind, and carried on at her current pace, even as the piece of fabric was torn off and left behind in the hand of the dying soldier.


At the end of the row was the surgery tent. Janet slipped inside, setting the bucket down on packed earth. She watched with a strange mix of mute curiosity and gut-wrenching disgust as the surgeon, a German named Henkel, performed an amputation on a young soldier. Two other nurses handed him tools as he called for them. The tools were nothing more than repurposed silverware at this point, since the medical supplies were quickly running out. They were using things like sharpened kitchen knives in place of scalpels, a pair of fish hooks being used as a tenaculum, a carpenter's saw being used to cut through bone. The patient, a boy, who couldn't have been any older than 16, lay on the wooden table at the center of the tent. He screamed as Henkel sawed through the bone of his upper thigh, having already cut away the necrotic flesh. He was bleeding out rapidly, and Janet knew that despite the surgeon's best efforts, the boy would most likely be dead within the hour. She shuddered as she realized how casually the thought had come into her head, as if it was something to be merely accepted. She had long since grown used to the sight of blood, but suddenly she felt like vomiting.


Her first thought was to get some fresh air. She rushed out of the tent, but remembered that such a thing as fresh air did not exist in this place. Everywhere, the stench of death hung low in the hot, muggy air, a sickly-sweet scent emanating from the corpses scattered all over the ground, as their flesh festered in the harsh, unrelenting sun. Regardless, Janet felt the need to keep walking. She passed rows upon rows of men lying prone. Near the surgery tent, most lay on filthy cots, already covered with the blood and bodily fluids of the men before them. But further away, cots were in short supply, so wounded men were placed on the ground. Some had blankets beneath them, others lay on the bare patches of dirt, as the precious red ichor in their veins flowed freely into the earth. The further she walked, the quieter it became. The wails of the dying faded into the silence of the dead. Soon she could only hear the sounds of the ongoing battle, as the Rebel infantry slammed against the Union lines, and artillery pounded both sides.


Janet strolled amongst the rows of dead soldiers, glancing at the faces twisted in the agony of their final moments. She stopped before a body that caught her attention. It was one of a rather rotund man, made even fatter by the bloating of his dead flesh in the harsh summer sun. Stepping closer, Janet saw maggots crawling in and out of a circular wound in the man's gut, no doubt dealt by a musket ball. She watched the slimy, writhing worms for a moment before glancing at the man's face; her breath caught in her throat as she noticed he was staring straight at her with yellow, glazed eyeballs. She stood absolutely still for a moment, wondering if the man had died like that. Then he blinked at her and smiled; as he did, a few maggots fell out of his mouth. Janet fell to her knees, retching. The skimpy meal she had eaten in the morning poured out onto the ground, dust and bile mixing together. Almost immediately, she leapt to her feet, and bolted back in the direction of the surgery tent, leaving the not-quite-dead man behind her.


She reached the tent just in time to see the corpse of Henkel's young patient be thrown onto a horse-drawn carriage, to be ferried elsewhere for burial. Henkel himself came out, looking grim. He had not slept in days; there was simply no time, as the casualties kept mounting, day after day without cease. He glanced in Janet's direction, and solemnly shook his head at her as she approached, but said nothing. The other two nurses rushed from the tent, helping the nearest soldier to his feet, ushering him inside. Henkel followed suit, with Janet on his heels. The other nurses had laid the soldier on the wooden table, and Janet watched him grimace from the intense pain of having a musket ball lodged in his chest. The surgeon washed the blood off of his tools using the bucket Janet had brought earlier, and poured a shot of whiskey for the soldier, which he quickly downed. One of the nurses gave him a piece of wood to bite down on as Henkel poured some of the whiskey over his hands and tools, as a form of crude sterilization. As he made the first incision, Janet noticed that the sounds of battle had grown uncomfortably close. She could hear the frightful whoops and shouts of the Rebel soldiers and cavalry as they charged again and again, being driven back each time by volleys of fire from Union muskets and cannons. For a moment, she was curious as to exactly how many men were dying during this costly engagement, with all the lead being thrown back and forth between the opposing sides. It was only for a single moment she thought this, for in the very next one she found herself being thrown off of her feet. Everything went black.


She awoke to find herself lying on the dusty earth, spread-eagled, staring straight up at the sky. There was a deafening ringing in her ears, and a moment of confusion as she attempted to recall the events of the moments prior. She lay on the ground until the ringing abated, and she could hear the muskets and the cannons and the cries of the dying once more. Supporting herself on her elbows, she sat up and looked a few yards ahead. The surgery tent was gone, and a smoking crater had taken its place. Gingerly climbing to her feet, she made her way towards it, and saw that the other occupants were dead. The only thing left of the poor German was his disembodied head, lying close by the severed arm of one of the nurses. Looking around, she noticed some of the soldiers in the nearby cots were also dead, killed by pieces of shrapnel thrown up by the blast. A feeling of dread passed over her, and she frantically checked herself over, looking for wounds. Miraculously, she seemed practically unharmed, escaping with only minor scratches on her forearms. She sat down cross-legged in the dust, unsure of what to do, now that the surgeon was dead. The tools were destroyed along with him, so she could be of no help to the other soldiers. One by one, all around her, they expired in the unforgiving heat.


After a while, just as the corpses began to stink of decomposition, a cavalry officer rode up behind her. As he dismounted his horse, she glanced up at him; he was an older gentlemen, with a well-trimmed white beard, and a clean blue uniform, the buttons polished to a shine. She could immediately tell that he was one of the reinforcements advancing from the rear, for none of the front line troops had uniforms as clean as that. He offered a hand to help her to her feet. She stared at him for a moment before accepting it. "Excuse me, ma'am, but what are you doing all the way out here, sitting by yourself in the midst of such a grisly scene?" The surgeon is dead, she told him. The medical equipment is gone. There was nothing to be done about it. "Well, you are a nurse, aren't you?" Yes sir, she said, that I am. "Well, there's a fortified position over yonder, and they're in desperate need of people to tend to the wounded." Well, she said, it's not like I'm any use to anyone just sitting here. "Well, alright then, it's settled. Come on, I'll help you up onto the horse, and I'll take you where you're needed." The cavalry officer mounted first, then extended his hand to help Janet up behind him. He kicked the horse's sides, and it started at a gallop towards a farmhouse on a hill.


As they approached, she saw it was surrounded by activity, as wounded men were unloaded from wooden carts, and laid down on fresh cots, brought to the front lines by the Union reinforcements. The cavalry officer helped her dismount, before galloping off in the direction of the front lines. Janet made her way into the farmhouse in a daze, weaving in and out between soldiers. Sunlight streamed into the main room through a large hole in the roof, and a few nurses rushed between cots, tending to as many men as the could. One of the other nurses noticed her. "Thank the good lord. We need all the hands we can get up here. The wounded keep pouring in and show no signs of stopping." I was an assistant to the surgeon down near the front, said Janet. Is there a surgeon here? I could make myself useful in that way. The nurse nodded. "Yes, we have one here. An actual doctor too, from Boston. I'll bring you to him." The nurse led her to what could have been a dining room, but now served as an operating room. There was already a man on the table, and he looked up as Janet and the nurse entered. He was tall, and had messy dark brown hair, the same shade as his eyes. He immediately struck her as unusual. He wasn't wailing, or grimacing, or whispering prayers to a god that would never hear them. He simply stared at her, with an expression that could almost be described as puzzled. Janet looked at his right arm; a glancing hit from a charge of grapeshot had most likely caused the damage, as the fibers of his muscle were torn and frayed, and she could see the bone exposed in glimpses under torn flesh. The soldier had used the sash of his canteen as a makeshift tourniquet, which had probably kept him from bleeding out while he waited for a doctor. Still, he was deathly pale, and the entire right side of his uniform was stained crimson.


She looked at his face again, but this time he didn't seem puzzled to her. She recognized the look in his eyes as one of resignation. He didn't expect to survive. The realization shocked Janet out of her daze. She moved up alongside the soldier. I'm Janet, she said. What's your name? The soldier licked his dry, cracked lips and took a shaky breath before answering. "Erec," he said finally. "Erec Bellard." Well Erec, she said, the surgeon and the other nurses and I are here to help you. We're going to help you get through this. He said nothing in response, but his eyes pleaded with her. What's the point? they said. I'm dead anyway. But she wasn't going to be persuaded otherwise, not after seeing the look on his face. She took his hand in her own. You're going to make it, she said as the surgeon walked in without fanfare. He unceremoniously pulled a syringe out of a small leather pouch on his waist and sunk it deep into the soldier's thigh; morphine, something of a luxury on the front lines. As the surgeon made preparations to amputate, the soldier kept his eyes locked on Janet's, even as they began to unfocus under the effect of the drugs. Just keep looking at me Erec, she said, squeezing his hand slightly. He smiled almost imperceptibly at her and weakly squeezed her hand as well. You're going to get through this, she said. I'll help you.


The operation commenced.

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Slightly edited version of my original, to deal with grammar and other errors that I had not previously seen.

 

The sound of clashing weapons, and the hum of taut bowstrings echoed through the ancient woodland, followed by the choking smell of smoke, and a spreading inferno. Trees older than even the most venerable of living races cracked and fell as flames consume them.


Two shapes flitted through the twisting trunks of the forest, moving swiftly towards the firestorm. The sound of weapons peters out as they dash through the trees; in its place were screams and cries of agony.


The figures pause at the edge of the fire, and the smaller of the two calls out a single word, illuminating them with a bright green flash. The taller of the two is male, wearing light chain mail armour, with a full face helm, carved into the shape of a hawk; across his back is an ornate metal bow, glimmering in the ethereal green light. The other is a woman, wearing hardened leather, her face is uncovered, with long blue hair flowing down her back; she has a long wooden spear in her left hand, and her right hand is raised towards the flames.


The green light blinks out as suddenly as it appeared, leaving the two standing in the brightening red light of the fire. Loud creaks and groans emanate from around the pair and a long wave of ancient roots flow over the fire, the enchanted roots dampening every spark, leaving a clear path for the two figures.


They sprint across the smothered blaze, leaping over smouldering trunks and fallen branches. A small settlement appears before them as they round a corpse of scorched trees.


The settlement was in ruins, the graceful wooden buildings ablaze, the screams of those trapped within slowly fading. Bodies littered a ground awash with blood. Scattered around the village, there were people in rough leather garments, snatching valuables from the corpses. As the two of them watched, a woman staggered out of one of the burning houses, where three of the bandits waited. The woman gasped as one of the bandits shoved her back towards the flames. She fell on her side as the three thugs drew various weapons and closed in around her.


A high pitched thrum echoed across the devastated glade, and one of the bandits dropped to his knees, a long arrow bursting bloodily from his chest. A clear voice called across the settlement, “Sentinels, Strike!” As the two figures watched, half a dozen armoured fighters poured out of the forest, long spears and elegant swords carved gruesome wounds as they tore through the bandits; shards of metal flew as the wafer-thin blades shattered the axes and swords of the unfortunate brigands.


The group of warriors paused for a moment as the last bandit in sight fell, leaving another dozen bodies in the bloody mud; a long hiss echoed between the blazing houses, and the air around the fighters wavered.


An explosion rippled through the ranks of the Sentinels, scattering them like debris, several died immediately, whole limbs blown away by the immense fireball. A wave of heat pricked the skin of those surviving as a roiling creature of flame emerged from one of the houses, bodies disintegrating as it glided past them.


The three remaining fighters clambered to their feet, dashing towards the creature, long blades slicing gashes through its infernal flesh. It was to no avail, the creature laid about itself with its arms, one of the Sentinels ignited with a horrible scream, while another had their brain dashed out against the wall in bloody fashion.


The last Sentinel charged again, easily scooping up the blade of one of her fallen companions. Weaving a shield of enchanted steel, she leapt around the elemental, slashing and cutting into its hide. With an agonised roar, the creature swung at her, knocking her out of the fight. She flew over ten metres before slamming into the ground, where she didn’t move again.


The two figures darted forwards, a constant hum reflected a volley of arrows launched at preternatural speeds. The elemental roared in fury as it turned away from the injured Sentinel towards the new distraction. Another seething fireball arced towards the two figures, but they parted effortlessly, and it soared past them. The woman’s figure shimmered for a moment as she applied her mind just so. The shimmering intensified, and the woman faded towards translucency. Every survivor in the glade could feel the magical energy being drawn in as she raised her arms.


The elemental charged forward, icy arrows digging gaps into it’s form, it swiped at the man, but missed as he danced backwards, drawing his bow back for another shot. It roared again and gave chase, fixated on destroying the painful nuisance. The woman shouted an incantation and thorny vines burst from the ground, wrapping around the elemental. It slashed at the weeds, searing them with intense heat. The creature charged at the man again, smashing through a smouldering ruin, sending blazing splinters flying across the glade. The man raised his arm to shield his eyes from the splinters, hissing in annoyance.


The elemental roared in triumph as it charged again, but its yell was drowned out by an ear-splitting crack of lightning as the sky disgorged a massive shard of light.


The shard arced downwards, the woman’s hands guiding its path towards the elemental. The entire glade was illuminated in the stark white light of the star shard. The elemental gave a guttural yell of terror and swung its arms towards the shard, calling up flames to shield it from the descending attack, to no avail.


The shard struck the elemental with full force, transfixing it for a moment, before disappearing, the elemental weaved backwards and forwards, crushing another building before it began to fade; within moments the fire died, leaving only a crystallised residue.


With the elemental slain, the two of them heard more bandits fleeing into the forest, snapping twigs and startling animals as they sprinted from the village. The man darted away, disappearing into the forest in pursuit. The woman hurried over to the fallen Sentinel.


The Sentinel was lying in the ruins of a building, her weapons lost in her short flight; a massive carbonised area across her torso showed where the elemental’s blow had landed. The woman knelt down quickly, holding her hands over the stricken Sentinel.


The Sentinel’s eyes opened a fraction, as the woman crouched next to her, her mouth moved slightly, “It’s dead…Thank the goddess…” The druid put a finger to her lips and her forehead creased with concentration. A green glow filled her palms, and she placed them against the wound. The Sentinel hissed in pain, but stayed silent as flesh began to regenerate, a low glimmer of light swirled about the two of them as new skin flowed over the injury,


The green light was extinguished as the last of the injury healed. The druid helped the Sentinel stand up carefully, keeping a cautious eye on her as they stepped out of the ruined house. The druid asked quietly, her voice barely audible, “What happened here?” The Sentinel grunted, crouching down to collect her silvered blade, “Raiders, with a powerful mage, this is the third settlement they have destroyed in the past month.” The druid frowned slightly, and waved her hand over a slaughtered villager, greenery flowed from the scorched earth, covering the body, a low green glow glittered around the mound. “Why was the Circle not informed? This is out of the Sentinels’ expertise.” The Sentinel didn’t respond, only shrugging as the plants parted, revealing a weak, but very much alive elf.


The two of them continued the walk around the village, each time they approached a corpse, plant life would flow over it, restoring what was lost. Each such resurrection put greater and greater strain on the druid, and by the end, she was shaking with exhaustion. The bodies of the raiders, and the bodies too damaged for such magic to work, were laid in a line in the village centre, while the surviving villagers gathered what belongings they could.


The man emerged from the forest; a short sword at his waist glistening with fresh blood, his mouth was set in a grim line. “I found their encampment, they took prisoners.” He turned to the Sentinel, “By the gods! Foolish girl! What did you think you were doing? Ordering your forces to attack an elemental!” He snapped, drawing his short sword and wiping blood from it with a dirty rag. The Sentinel glared at him, stepping closer, “Maybe if you had intervened sooner, we wouldn’t have had to. There were people dying, hunter, doesn’t that matter to you?” The hunter paused, then said quietly, “Of course it matters, but if you had used the skills you were trained in, you would have known about the elemental, you would have known about the pair of us ready to enter the village.” The druid growled loudly, an almost deafening sound, echoing off the ruins, the other two cut off their argument immediately, “Gollee, we need to destroy that camp. We need to set an example. We cannot do that if you are going to fight with our allies. That goes for you too, Kayla.” The Sentinel blinked as her name was spoken, “How do you…? Nevermind… I will provide whatever assistance I can to deal with these raiders.” Gollee glared at his sister, and then spoke to Kayla, “It would be best for you to help these villagers relocate, Inis and I can deal with these raiders.” Kayla nodded, and walked into the centre of the village, leaving the two of them alone.


Gollee sighed and slipped his sword back into his belt. “Are you going to need a rest first?” He asked Inis quietly, she nodded slightly, before sitting down on a broken roofing strut. “I should be fine in an hour or so…How far is this camp?” Gollee shrugged, sitting down next to her, “At least two hours walk, though we could go faster if necessary. We will need to move quickly, or they will relocate.” Inis nodded, closing her eyes and rubbing her temples.


An hour later, the two of them slipped back into the forest, moving quickly through the trees in the direction Gollee indicated. As they travelled, they came across more bodies, both elven, and raider. The elven corpses all had cut throats, with a signature twist at the end of the cut. The raiders were killed in a variety of ways, some had deep wounds in their backs, others had arrows between their shoulder blades.

Gollee slowed as they began to hear shouting and the sounds of horses. “Here…” He whispered to Inis, indicating through a line of trees; movement was visible through the hanging leaves. Inis could see another elemental, this one was of the element of water, she smiled slightly.


She nodded to Gollee, and he drew his bow back, aiming at a mounted man, wearing fine silk clothes. A loud hum echoed across the camp, and the man fell backwards, an arrow appearing in his throat. The elemental gave a roar of rage as it was banished, it’s link to the world severed. Cries of alarm filled the glade and swords were drawn from scabbards, electing a chorus of screams and cries from a group of chained prisoners, both elven and human. Another scream went up as a flash of silver dashed out of the glade opposite Gollee and Inis. Slashing silver blades cut down a dozen raiders before they began to close on the attacker. Inis and Gollee burst out of their copse to see Kayla being tackled to the ground by half a dozen raiders, her swords knocked out of her hands as they struggled to restrain her.


Gollee unleashed a volley at Kayla, almost carelessly, the enchanted arrows arcing towards the unfortunate raiders restraining her. One of them gave a yell of fear before an arrow took him through the eye. Within two seconds, the other five raiders fell dead around her, either killed by the pinpoint volley, or by Kayla herself as she snatched up her swords. The three of them flew through a dance of death as they sprinted through the camp; Kayla’s lashing blades racking up dozens of kills as she cleared the area around the prisoners. Gollee’s arrows cut down the bandits that attempted to flee, razor sharp arrows puncturing lungs and hearts as each shaft found its mark. Inis shifted effortlessly between a half dozen forms, slashing at screaming raiders with claws, teeth and talons as she cut them down.


A group of archers formed up across from the three of them, launching volley after volley at them, Kayla’s blades caught the arrows before they could touch her, Inis’ resistant hide simply shattered the arrows on contact, while Gollee returned fire, matching them shot for shot, destroying every arrow they fired at him.


The entire skirmish took only a few minutes, once the last raider had fallen, the glade fell silent as their blood soaked into the already sodden soil. Kayla struck the restraints off of the prisoners, marshalling the freed humans and elves into a group to return to the closest village. Inis searched through the dead, looking for any that might be redeemable. Gollee flipped each body, searching for his expended arrows.

 

Second, new one, based off of a DnD campaign I am running, though this story is set 200 years before the player party. (I am also writing up a story on the actual campaign, though not with their characters as they are all insane, and not the good story sort of insane either.)

 

Second of Wind, Season of snow.


Gollee smiled as he handed over the wrapped cut of meat, accepting a handful of copper coins in return. He was having a quick turnabout for his wares; half his stock had already vanished, and it was barely midday. He crouched down, flipping open a large backpack. The insides were stuffed with snow and ice, reaching in, he extracted several more cuts of meat, before tipping the bag of ice on to the ground; with the icy weather, there was no need to salt the meat to keep it fresh. A voice called over his stall, “Is this all you have?” The voice was obviously female, with an odd tone to it, Gollee stood up quickly, turning back to his stall.


His eyes widened slightly as he saw that his newest customer was quite obviously not human. Standing at least a head shorter than him, the woman wore hardened leather armour, with a pair of shortswords sheathed at her waist. Long auburn hair was partially concealed underneath a cap of fur, and long pointed ears were visible around the sides of the cap. As he set the new cuts on the wooden stand, she peered at them closely, “This is high quality meat… For a human.” She pointed out three cuts, two shoulders and a side. “I will take these.” Gollee brought out his sheets of wrapping cloth, before asking, “How do you plan to pay for these?” The elf reached into a pouch on her hip, pulling out a silver coin, setting it on the table. “Will this suffice?” She scooped up the wrapped cuts, placing them carefully into a knapsack held at her side. “Aye, that it will, here’s your change.” He handed the elf some copper coins, “We don’t see many elves in Parthsfast, your people tend to keep to themselves.” The elf shrugged, touching the blades at her waist, “Some of us like to travel.” With that, she turned and left, disappearing into the crowded market place. Gollee inspected the coin, it was the same size as a silver crown, and it was marked with elven around the edges. He absentmindedly flipped it before placing it in his own coin pouch; returning his attention to his customers.


With the darkening of the sky, the marketplace began to clear, townsfolk escaping the cold and the snow, either into their homes, or into the large tavern, just across from Gollee’s stall. Gollee took the last of his produce from the top of his stall, the innkeeper would probably trade for it. Scooping his bag off of the ground, he strode across the frigid plaza and pushed open the tavern door.


A blast of warmth and sound assailed Gollee as he slipped into the tavern; the taproom was crowded; farmers, tradesmen and labourers all relaxing after a long day of work. The sound level was subdued, it was too early for anyone to be truly inebriated yet, though it was unlikely to be long, he had already spotted several ne’er-do-wells loitering by the hearth, tankards in hand.


Gollee moved through the crowd to the bar counter, nodding to the aging innkeeper as he arrived. “Pretty busy tonight, have any rooms left? I don’t fancy leaving town for home at this time of night.” The innkeeper nodded in return, passing a tankard of ale across to one of the patrons. “Aye, I do; how will ya be payin’?” He turned to the side, passing several mugs to one of his servers, pointing past her to the group at the fire; she rolled her eyes and walked off towards them. “I have quite a bit of produce left, the finest meats, a trade perhaps?” Gollee suggested, lifting up his backpack and putting it on the counter. The innkeeper flipped open the top and peered inside, “Finest meats? Bah! Some of this is hardly fit for pigs.” He turned and snatched up a key from a table behind him, “I’ll take it, these drunks never could tell the difference; second room, up the stairs, the dart-ear has the first.” The innkeeper made a quick, sharp gesture towards the intended target of his slur. Gollee glanced around, spotting the elf from the market; she was sat down at a table in the corner of the room, a mug set in front of her. Most of the room gave her a wide berth, Gollee could hear muttered words from the people nearby about her.


“I don’t suppose that meat got me an ale as well?” Gollee enquired to the innkeeper, smiling widely. The innkeeper glared at him for a moment, before his face split into a long grin, “Cheeky bastard, ‘ere ya go.” He passed across a tankard of ale, “I would steer clear of the elf, if I were you, they’re bad luck, everyone knows it.” Gollee raised the tankard in a half-salute, before slipping back into the crowd.


It wasn’t long before the ale began to flow more freely, the level of noise rising steadily throughout the night. One of the men by the fire had already received a stinging slap from one of the servers for his comments, and though it hadn’t caused a brawl, tensions were definately running higher over that side of the room. Gollee dropped down into a chair at an empty table, taking a draft from his tankard, he grimaced, “Poor drink for poor meat I suppose…” The heat of the fire was all-pervading in the taproom, filling it with a hazy warmth; combined with the alcohol and the long hunting trip of the day, it wasn’t long before Gollee’s head drooped onto his chest, quickly falling into sleep.


-----


He jerked awake as someone touched his shoulder, it was the old innkeeper. “Those damned fools are starting on the dart-ear, this’ll be good ta watch.” The old man pointed towards the corner of the room, several of the wastrels from the hearth had wandered over there, surrounding the elf’s table, from their stances, it was obvious they were spoiling for a fight.


Gollee couldn’t make out their words over the chatter of the tavern, but drunken voices couldn’t disguise the clatter of the elf’s tankard being knocked off the table, spilling water across the floor. The elf rose to her feet immediately, trying to sidestep around the men, only to be shoved back into the corner. Immediately, the elf lashed out, catching one of the men across the face with a heavy blow; combined with the drink he had consumed, it was enough to lay him out on the ground.


Both of the other men recoiled in shock from the rapid strike, staggering back a few steps; the elf took advantage of the movement by darting past them. She shoved through the crowd, amidst angry cries; without a backward glance, she vanished through the door.


Gollee looked at the innkeeper, “Aren’t you going to do something about those hoodlums? This is your tavern.” The innkeeper snorted in disdain as he accepted the spilled tankard from one of his servers, “Why should I care if some of the men give a dart-ear a hard time? Their kind isn’t wanted here.” Gollee placed his tankard back on the table, then stood up, “I prefer judging people as I meet them, rather than on what they are. If you would excuse me.” He manouvered through the crowd, and stepping out into the night.


The air had quickly turned frigid as night had fallen, a thin veneer of frost clinging to the ground made the footing treacherous as Gollee hurried after the rapidly receding figure. The elf had raised her hood against the cold weather, and was striding swiftly towards the town gates.


“Hey-!” He reached out a hand towards her shoulder, then jerked it back as a blur of glittering metal swiped towards it; he staggered back, and the elf turned to face him, her icy blue eyes bright like a cat’s in the dark. She twirled a long, ornate knife in her right hand once more, before sheathing it against her leg. “What?” She asked coldly, staying motionless as he regained his footing. “I came to see if you were alright; you left in a hurry after you dropped Derlin, did they get you?”


The elf’s stance softened slightly, “No, I’m fine; though I expected to be able to have a drink in peace. I doubt I would be welcome back in that place at this point, however. You are the man from the market, are you not?” She queried, a quick glance taking in his hardy clothes and unstringed bow.

“Aye, do you have any where to rest for the night then? If you aren’t going back to the tavern?” His voice was tinged with concern, with the sky getting darker by the minute, he wouldn’t have liked his own chances of lasting the night, cold as it was, and he fancied the elf’s chances even less, as slight as she was, without a cloak. The elf shrugged, “I will find somewhere, I always do.” She raised an eyebrow quizzically, “You speak with concern, why?”


Gollee was taken aback, “I don’t know how long you have been in the vale, but it is only going to get colder, I was going to stay at the tavern for the night, but that brawl put me off of that idea; my home is a ways off, but it would be a more pleasant journey with company, and I could promise warm lodgings and a meal at the end, the least I can do, given how abrasive the rest of the town has been.”


It was silent for a few moments, as the elf considered his words, “I hear honesty in your tone, I will accept.” She gave him a look of silent warning, before stepping to the side, “Lead on.”


-----


Though they were stopped momentarily at the gate, it wasn’t long before the pair were making their way along the worn tradesroad to the east, passing small farms and copses as they made their way further from the town. Neither of them spoke for several minutes as the darkness grew thicker, eventually, the elf broke the silence, “We haven’t been properly introduced, I am Inis Galanodel, wood elf of the clan Varynn, from the Kryptgarden forest.” Gollee nodded and extended his hand, “Gollee Chernin. Kryptgarden is a long way north, what brings you to Parthsfast? The only things here are farmers, hunters and drunks. The capital is far closer.”


The elf shook his hand carefully, “I was sent by the elder to contact the elves of the Wrymwood forest, there are rumors of dark happenings in the Wrymwood’s southern reaches.”

Gollee looked surprised, “There are elves in the Wrymwood? I have hunted there for years, I have never seen any sign of them.” He suddenly looked nervous, “You… Don’t have any problems with humans hunting in your forests, do you?”

Inis laughed loudly, “It is natural for humans to hunt, provided they do not harm the trees, or the sacred beasts, they may do as they wish. It is strange that you have never encountered the elves, I would have thought they would frequent the town; though the way those humans acted may explain that.”


The two of them fell silent again as they approached a low-set building, Gollee stepped forwards and gave an elaborate flourish, “Welcome to my humble abode.” He turned and pushed open the door, before holding it open for Inis.


Inside, it was cluttered and smelt strongly of smoke; rows of fish and small animals hung on racks around an extinguished hearth, around which several stools were positioned. Gollee grimaced as he swept several clods of dirt into the ashes with his foot, “It isn’t much, but I have a guest room, mainly for relatives, it is just down there,” He gestured down a short corridor, “Why don’t you go take a look and put away your things while I see if I can get this fire going?” He gestured to a stack of deadwood stacked against the far wall, “I didn’t cut any trees down.” Inis strode off down the corridor, opening the door at the end with a long creak.


Gollee grabbed some cut logs from the pile, laying them out in the ashes of the cold hearth, igniting them with some kindling and a flint; the dim light illuminating the room as he sat back on his haunches, watching the fire carefully. Once it had grown to a suitable size, he stood, unhooking his backpack from his shoulders and slinging it into the corner.


Inis returned as he was filling a metal pot from a covered bucket, “Are you hungry? I am planning on making a stew.” He asked as she sat down close to the fire.

“That would be wonderful,” She twisted one of her boots off and began rubbing the soreness out of her feet as he placed the pot over the fire, dropping a handful of chopped vegetables and chunks of meat into it. These were swiftly followed by varying amounts of spices, and soon a gorgeous aroma began to emanate from the covered pot.


-----


“Awake!” The shout woke Gollee immediately, he sat bolt upright in his bunk, to see Inis standing a short distance away, clad in her armour. She spoke urgently as he looked over at her, “I can hear screaming.”

He rubbed his eyes, “I can’t hear anything, was it a dream?” Even while straining his ears, all he could hear was his own breathing, and the crackling of the dying embers of the fire. “I am certain, it is coming from outside. Ready yourself.” Inis turned away as he clambered out of his bunk and quickly donned his clothes. “There is a spare cloak on the back of the front door, it might be a bit long, but it will keep you warmer; you didn’t exactly come dressed for the weather.” Gollee motioned towards the corridor through which they had entered the house, and Inis strode down it, snatching a black fur cloak from a hook. Meanwhile, Gollee strung his longbow, before attaching his quiver to his hip. “Ready?” Inis nodded tersely, drawing a shortsword with her left hand.


The pair of them stepped out into the glacial air, it was snowing lightly as Inis turned around carefully, trying to track the source of the elusive calls. After a moment, she headed off back along the tradesroad towards the town, blade held out to her side as her eyes swept back and forth over the landscape.


Gollee followed behind her, an arrow half-nocked as they made their way along the road. It was shortly afterwards when he too, began to hear the faint yells and screams, caught in snatches of the wind.“There!” Inis pointed towards the horizon, a faint orange glow was visible in the direction of the town. A cold pit formed in Gollee’s stomach as his eyes found what she had indicated, “Oh no… We need to get over there.” Inis nodded her assent, and the two of them broke out into a run.


-----


The glow grew brighter as they approached the town, and soon the wind brought them a strong smell of smoke. Inis redoubled her pace as the road began to rise to the town; then threw herself to the side as Gollee yelled in warning. An ancient, rusted blade swept through the air behind Inis as a monstrosity emerged from the shadows.


A rancid smell of putrefying flesh rose from the creature as it darted forward for a second strike, moving at unnatural speeds, as it raised it’s arm for another wild swing, scraps of flesh and long, greyish bones were clearly visible against the lightening sky. It clattered it’s teeth in irritation as Inis dodged it’s second strike, and drove both of her blades through it’s torso. It staggered backwards, then wrapped it’s bony hands around the hilts of the blades, slowly drawing them back out.


It clattered again as an arrow sank into it’s decayed abdomen, swiftly followed by another. Taking advantage of it’s distraction, Inis drew a long knife from her hip, driving it into the creature’s neck; it hissed one last time, then collapsed, a faint flicker of magic disappearing from it’s bones.


Gollee gagged as he approached the fallen beast; it was humanoid in shape, but it’s flesh was foul with rot and decay, without the binding magic that had driven it in it’s attack, the rotten tendons and ligaments holding it’s bones together had snapped, splitting it into several pieces; held together only by thin strands of flesh. It’s armour and weapons were of an ancient design, riddled with rust and corrosion, it’s armour had shattered under the first of Inis’ blows.


Inis was crouched next to the body, her face deathly pale, she looked ready to vomit, “Undead… Gods preserve us...” She wiped her mouth with her sleeve and stood up; glancing beside her, Gollee saw that she had indeed been sick; his fixated focus on the creature had caused him to miss it. He stepped closer to the creature and wrenched his arrows, and Inis’ knife from the corpse, before retreating to a safe distance. Holding the knife up to the light, the silvered sheen on the blade became evident.


“What are we going to do? Could there be more?” He asked Inis quietly, passing her the knife.

“I… There might be survivors at the town, at least at the temple… We need to move quickly, there will be more around; and they will be hunting for us now.” She slipped her knapsack over her shoulder and rummaged around inside, pulling out a short scabbard. She pressed it into Gollee’s hand, “My spare blade, silvered, keep it close.”


Moving more carefully this time, the two of them approached the town by the western side. Gollee nocked his bow as the two of them crept forwards; the smell of smoke was thick in the air by this point, and the screams and cries had been replaced by the clash of swords and the dull thrum of magic.


The gates were the site of a massacre, bodies of guards and undead alike were piled up around the small entrance, as far as they could tell, the guards had managed to kill at least a hundred of the unholy fiends before being overcome, but still more bodies littered the path into the town.


Once within the walls, the pair clung to the shadows, the temple was just past the marketplace; as was the sounds of combat. Several of the undead beasts started to rise up as they passed, but, lying down, they were easy prey for a silvered blade to put them to rest.


The temple came into view as they rounded the decimated market place, an icy mist had settled around it, while at least a dozen rotting creatures were attempting to force entry, as the pair watched, one of the beasts was blown half-a-hundred feet from the doorway in a burst of fire; someone still lived within. Another skeleton stepped into their view, this one was wearing long, tattered robes, and moved with a fluid grace that the others lacked; with a careless flick if it’s wrist, the fallen skeleton twisted and creaked, dark ribbons of energy coursing over it’s bones. Once more, it rose from the earth and charged the door, it’s jerky, stammered movement supported by the foul magic.


Inis made a short gesture towards the lich, then slipped back into the shadows, try as he might, Gollee could not track her movements as she disappeared. He sat, frozen on the spot, watching the lich as it’s underlings attacked the temple. A splintering of wood from within, followed by a clipped cry spurred him into action.


Gollee rose to his feet, and sent an arrow buzzing towards the lich; his aim was true, and it staggered as the arrow collided with it’s skull, shattering it apart. His feeling of euphoria was short-lived, however, as the shards of bone swiftly reformed, and the ancient creature turned to face him. It raised it’s arm, and a long spear of ice formed in front of it; Gollee dived to the side as the creature hurled the bolt, which buried itself two foot deep into the cobbled path behind him.


The lich turned it’s full attention to him, hurling bolt after bolt of ice and dark magic after the evasive human, each shot creeping closer and closer to it’s target; with a final blast, the lich caught him with a glancing blow from a blade of ice, sending him spinning to the ground. It clattered it’s teeth in satisfaction as it readied a final blow.


So fixated was the lich on killing the human, it was taken completely unawares by Inis. Yelling a warcry, she hurled herself into the back of the lich, sinking her dagger deep into it’s spine. The result was immediate; the skeletons attacking the temple collapsed, robbed of their sustaining essence; the lich spun about, dust crumbling from the expanding wound in it’s back. It seized the elf by the throat and lifted her high above the ground, it’s icy aura sapping her strength to fight back.


With a final cry of fury, the lich hurled the limp elf away, before collapsing to it’s knees, the long wound caused by the silver blade continued to expand, and, within moments, the lich was reduced to a pile of ash.


Gollee rose slowly to his feet, clapping his left hand to a long cut in his right arm; turning towards what remained of the lich, Gollee was relieved to see that the remaining undead had returned to death, leaving the town eerily silent. His heart froze in his chest as he saw Inis, crumpled in a heap on the ground.


Holding the edges of the wound together tightly, Gollee rushed towards the fallen elf; at the same time, several armed villagers, along with the local priest emerged from the temple, looking around warily for more undead. Gollee called out to them as he reached Inis, “Help! Over here!” The call drew exclamations of surprise, as several of the villagers turned their weapons towards the sound, the blades shaking slightly in their inexperienced hands.


The priest swept over to the two of them, his normal ceremonial robes swapped out for a set of functional, if old, iron armour. He directed one of the villagers to bind Gollee’s arm with cloth, while he inspected the unconscious elf.


Inis was breathing lightly, her hair had changed from it’s former deep auburn to a bone white;and her skin was a deep, grey pallor.; the priest quickly gathered her up, and hurried back into the temple.

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Peter stared out of the window, the sound of the waves crashing on the seashore seemingly muffled by the thick, wet air of the Havana night. The sultry, black-haired Spanish woman he had picked up earlier snored softly in the bed across the room, tangled in the sheets. Thrushwood turned away from the window, staring at the lady for a moment, before picking up his eyepatch from the table before him and donning it. Approaching the bedside, he left a few coins on the pillow beside the sleeping woman's head, then picked up his nearby satchel and left. The rest of the inn was quiet this time of night, the last few drunks stumbling home down the cobblestone streets.


He walked down the stairs and out the front door undisturbed, stepping in to the muggy Carribean night. He looked up at the sky, a brilliant painting of stars- a thousand-thousand points of light burned upon a black canvas. He was lost in them for a moment, before remembering that this night was one of grave purpose. He set off down the street, each impact of his boots on the stone seeming more audible than they had any right to be. He checked his bag anxiously as he walked, making sure nothing had been forgotten- powder, shot...


He reached the agreed meeting place after an hour of walking. Moonlight shown brilliantly on the cliff's edge, and the sea stretched endlessly in to the night, far below. He sat on a nearby rock, listening to the waves and waiting patiently. Time passed, the waves kept crashing- and suddenly, he could hear a noise. The clopping of a horse's hooves, coming up the road. Thrushwood raised his head in anticipation, and soon the mounted figure was before him- a man clad in black trousers, burgundy leather boots, a cream blouse, and a brilliant red coat. His long brown hair swayed slightly in the wind, and a neat beard framed his mouth. Finally, his eyes- a brilliant green Thrushwood would recognize anywhere. The man dismounted, and then grinned.


"Dean Sinclair. Ye showed up after all- I was expectin' you to leave me twistin' in the wind. As yer wont t 'do," Peter said, staring at the somewhat flamboyant man in front of him.


"Amigo! You offend me with such talk- haven't I always been the greatest of friends to you?"


"Like when you left me on that sinkin' ship off o' Antigua? Or when ye pinned me with that huge tab ye ran up at the pub in Nassau? Eh?"


"Momentary lapses in judgement, you understand. Sometimes I'm simply not myself," Sinclair grinned wickedly, a hand resting on the flintlock jammed in to his belt, "but in any case, what's at stake here was too grand to walk away from. Whoever walks out of this alive gets all of Deadwater's loot- and you always were a terrible shot. I imagine the eye helps you none either."


Peter frowned and spat. "Don't rib me about the eye, arsehat. And aye, the loot's here, right down over in th' cave on the cliff. Ye remember the agreement we all made those 10 years ago, aye? When there's only two blokes left alive from the original crew, they meet up n' settle the matter like men. One o' us is walkin' out o' here a rich man, n' the other ain't walkin' out at all. Maybe I'll do the decent thing and bury yer dandy arse."


He left his place on the rock and rummaged through his bag, pulling out the fine flintlock , his powder horn, and a small bag of bullets. He loaded the weapon up, with his opponent doing the same. They barely looked at each other as they took the seven paces, then turned to draw.


The blast of the guns and the acrid scent of gunpowder filled the air. Peter was unscathed- but so was Dean. Both men frowned and hurriedly began to load again. The horse had fled- presumably, Sinclair had either stolen it, or presumed that he was about to become rich enough that he needn't worry about tying up his mounts. The two finished reloading, quickly aiming and firing again. Another burst of smoke, more gunpowder in the air. Another mutual miss. And another. And another. After five shots, the two men stared at each other, perplexed, and then began to load again. Suddenly, rain started to fall, so they hurried their work before their powder would be rendered useless. Both reloaded, both aimed, both fired.


Two screams cut through the rain, the ringing sounds of fire, the cloud of gunsmoke. Both men had crumpled to the ground, clutching at the wounds on their legs- Peter his right, Dean his left. The two men groaned in agony, applying pressure to their wounds, and after a few moments realized the bullets had gone straight through. They stared at each other, and then, simultaneously, burst in to an uproarious laughter peppered with groans of pain. The rain poured down on the two men as they laughed and groaned for what seemed, at least to the two of them, like hours.


A few days later, Peter came to see Dean off at the Havana port. Sinclair had bought passage back to England on a galley, and planned on taking it easy for a few months. Both men were walking with crutches, but fortunately their legs weren't going to be cut off. They embraced for a moment, patting each other on the back, then separated. Dean got as far as the foot of the gangplank before he stopped and turned.


"Peter, what are you going to do?"


"Well, I'm quittin', t'be frank. The pirate life ain't fer me, not anymore- but I could do well here. I met a nice girl the night o' our duel, a fair Spanish lady by the name o' Rosa. With any luck, I'll get married, have a few little ones, get a house down here in Havanna. I can settle fer that."


Dean smiled, nodding once.


"My friend, I wish you the best of luck. I'd say if anyone's earned such a life, it's you."


"And what about you, Sinclair?"


The man seemed to think for a moment, before the ship's bosun cried, "all aboard!" The pirate hurried up the gangplank, looking down at Peter as the ship began to cast off. He simply shrugged.


Peter nodded back as the ship began to sail away, leaning on a nearby rail and watching it until it disappeared over the horizon.


"I'll kill yer arse. Someday, I'll kill yer bloody arse."

 

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