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Fire and Blood

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,559
#26
A welcome return to an enjoyable story. Another good installment.

You might want to be b it more consistent about the demon's gender. Unless that's the point.

And vampires, don't ignore the powerful enemy who escaped from you last time.:slapface:
 

Borgnine

Moderator
Staff member
True Blood
Joined
Jun 15, 2013
Messages
1,925
#28
Well, demon ans monster are male designation, but creature is a female one no ?
Nouns in English don't have genders by themselves as it probably is in French. The use of he/she/it depends on a persons/things/animals real gender. If your demon characters is a he, then he's a he no matter if it's a demon, monster, creature or anything else.
 
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
49
#29
Huu... f*k me. Why my english teachers never told me that... Indeed, in french, we can play with it : one section i call it the creature and so i call it she, the next one i call it the monster and i call it he.

Well, i'll have to read and track all those mistakes i did T.T

Thanks for the teaching Borgnine.

Edit 30-5-18 :
Allright, i've corrected every wrong sentence about the bloodletters (and some others) i found. It should not be anymore he/she mistakes. Only neutral descriptive about demons/creatures/things like them.
I can now go on to the chapter 10 \o/
 
Last edited:
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
49
#30
Ok, Chapter 11 with i hope no more translation surprise like the previous one xD

Fire & Blood
Chapter 11


A smile spread over the tattooed face of the elf who was leading the line. Pushing his hood back, he looked up at the canopy far above. The branches of the tallest trees formed an immense ceiling to the vast clearing, the thorns from the pines mixing with the leaves of oaks and birches. The sky was not visible. But small lanterns were hung in the heights and diffused a soft ambient light. Light that shone day and night, easily distorting the notion of time for those who were not used to it.

A second elf approached, sharing his wonder.

- Every time we come back I find this place a little more beautiful, he said.

- And tomorrow night we will merge with it, replied the first while throwing away his pack.

He approached the imposing rock covered with mosses which was enthroned in the center of this space. In several agile jumps he found himself at the top and embraced the landscape with a glance. Not a dead leaf dragged here. Even in autumn, this small part of the forest remained as lost in spring. That was one of the reasons he kept coming back to this place.

He noticed the troupe approaching the newcomers and had a resigned pinch. A second, less cheerful reason. Without hesitation he drove himself forward and made a perfect salto, his braided hair whipping the air in his naked back. He received himself with the flexibility of a cat and bowed respectfully to the elf at the head of the procession.

- Father, he simply declared.


*​

- Gailrya my sister, it is good to see you again, declared the elf by gratifying her with a vigorous hug.

She gritted her teeth when he released her but did not comment on her little brother's display of affection. Like a luminous ball, the miniature female figure flying close to them began a spiral descent around the two elves.

- I too am glad that you are with us, she assured, distractedly chasing the spite out of her hand. How was your journey ?

- Fine, he replied with a quick spin. It couldn't be any other way, Loren's majesty runs in our veins. But tell me Sister, our father seems to be better off than on my last visit.

- Yes, the last few years have been successful for him, she said while watching her brother stray through her room.

He nodded while lingering over the crystal shard on a shelf. Then he turned abruptly. His long braided strands whipped his face and naked shoulders, causing the little luminous spirit to gain new speed.

- I enjoyed seeing you again sister, he said.

Then, without waiting for her reaction, he turned back and went out. The elf remained motionless for several long minutes, so much so that the spite flew close to her face and held out a miniature hand towards Gailrya's hair. Her brother left just as suddenly as he landed. She sighed, then looked at the entrance with a resigned mine.

- I am also well, brother, she answered the question he had not asked.

She offered the palm of her hand to the spirit that landed there and began to imitate her brother's spins. She smiled at this performance, then invited it to take off again.

She in turn came out, rushing down the limbs allowing access to her apartments in the heart of a huge coniferous, whose variety grew only here in Loren. With her spirit on her heels, she ran like a child towards a less dense part of the sylvan city. The trees were particularly tall and sturdy, but also spaced apart. Large pieces of blue sky were visible, which was not the case under the canopy of pine thorns.

Her eyes were sparkling, she breathed in full lungs and stood up on her toes, pushing a long sibilant whistle. Floating over her shoulder, the immaterial elf was monkeying her posture. It exaggerated it even by placing its little hands as megaphones.

A few seconds passed. Then a sharp cry answered her. Skillfully slipping between the high branches, a magnificent bird of prey appeared and descended to Gailrya. It made several other high-pitched cries, then slowed its fall by flapping its wings more vigorously. The gust snapped the visitor's hair and carried away the surprised spite who carried out a roll-ball in the air.

- Anok, she said as she walked towards the bird that was looking at from a good head over.

She put a friendly hand on the plumage of its torso without trying to caress it. This would have disordered the complex alignment of feathers. With equal affection, the majestic bird surrounded the elf with its wings.

With malice she raised her arm and slipped her hand under a tuft of feathers at the edge of its collar. The giant falcon giggled with pleasure as she scratched its leather. Usually, they hated that kind of caress. But not it. It even loved them, which had always amused Gailrya.

- Bothel and his troupe are back ! she slipped to it laughing.

With its beak open, Anok tilted its head to the side, staring at its companion with its large black and yellow eyes.

- They're dancing tomorrow night for Mabon. I can't wait to see what they've prepared for us to celebrate !

The bird turned its large head towards the spite who flew close to its beak, raising a finger towards it while covering it with silent admonitions. Nothing in the bird's manifestations indicated that it understood the spirit or the elf. On the other hand it was clear that it appreciated the caresses lavished.

*​

- It seems more taciturn than usual, if that is even possible, noticed the elf wearing a long dress made of green and brown ribbons. And I don't think Bothel's feats and his dancers will improve its mood.

She added this remark with a keen eye to Helion, the sovereign of the Elven domain. Sovereign who, however, guarded himself well from approaching the creature which evolved heavily before their eyes.

They were a few kilometres from the heart of the elven settlement, on the edge of a darker part of the forest, one of the oldest groves in Athel Loren. Apart from the two elves, no creature came to tread the thick mattress of needles and dead leaves built up over the centuries.

- I just hope he will not go prowling around the edge of the forest again, commented Helion with a loose mine. If it were to shred simple travellers along our forest again, it would eventually incite humans to venture deeper...

His neighbour did not answer. She was content to observe the guardian of the place, moving slowly between the enormous trunks, surrounded by the vegetable shadows that never left it. She could perceive the anger that animated it. Even today, which was a day of feasts and rejoicing, a latent rage was brewing in the creature's heart.

- Gusternum will not act in this way, the enchantress assured him. Even if it's thirsty for scarlet sap, it won't do anything of the sort. It knows Loren would suffer afterwards.

- Pray Isha you are right.

In silence, they stood side by side watching the incarnated spirit wander through the grove. Unlike its fellows, it had never entered the vegetative state, close to hibernation, into which they sometimes entered for several years. And obviously it wasn't about to happen...

*​

- It's strange, we're in the middle of the day and this darkness doesn't go away, Manesh'k commented while exposing himself outside the protective shadow of the canopy.

At first doubtful, the other two shared his astonishment when they noticed that the light did not aggress the undead.

- I... don't understand it, confessed the ornithologist when he joined him. Certainly it is not related to Tristofan or Castille. And…

- Bhaa, whatever, cut off the third individual. We don't have to walk in the damn bushes anymore. That's the most important thing.

Manesh'k exchanged a worried look with Gilnash, carrying many questions. But this one had no more answers than him.

Luther took a steady step forward, both pleased with this prodigy and eager to leave the forest. The forest. Manesh'k had been through more than he could count over the centuries. Yet he felt something was wrong. That the more they advanced, the more the wood weighed around them, that the atmosphere stagnated under the thick branches. Added to that the unpleasant impression of being watched, that each of their actions and gestures had been observed since they had crossed the erected stone...

A robin came out of the foliage to fly near them, especially Gilnash, which surprised no one. Even though they had seen or heard very few animals, the birds remained attracted by the strange bond their brother had with these creatures. With a sincere smile, Gilnash gently stretched his arm towards him. The bird studied him for a moment, then landed on his finger with a few enthusiastic whistles. As Luther looked up from exasperation, Manesh'k silently shared the pleasure of their companion. Luther was still too young. Too young to realize Gilnash's privilege of being able to converse freely with strangers, however modest they may be. Strangers who did not flee by discovering his true nature, who did not attack him, did not judge him. They didn't care, they were just happy to share some of their time. Secretly he envied the vampire's gift...

- Another spur, Luther sighed which drew him from his thoughts.

Looking for the sun with his eyes, he added with irony :

- I never thought I'd have to look for him again to find my way...

Then, having found the star despite the veil that protected them, he set off on the opposite path, towards the West.

- Wait Luther, stopped Gilnash as he frowned.

He was obviously in the middle of a discussion with his feathered friend.

- Sorry I don't have any seeds for him...

- Let's take the other path, he cut their youngest with a worried mine.

- Correct me if I'm wrong, but Parravon's castle is to the west and the shortest route is the straight line. You've been there before, right?

- A long time ago, passing by l'Anguille, Manesh'k specified who had not discussed this kind of indications from Gilnash for many years.

Luther eventually sighed again, but still went in the direction indicated. For several hours they walked in the same direction. The bird did not leave Gilnash, this one showing a darker and darker mine as they were sinking into the thick forest.

- One moment, he finally stopped them, watching the undergrowth with intensity.

- What…

- Follow me, he brutally resumed while walking straight through the bushes.

Perplexed, the two vampires lingered for a moment on the surroundings, unable to determine what their friend had seen. Luther finally shrugged his shoulders and followed him before they were left behind.

Manesh'k remained forbidden by noticing a detail that Luther had not noticed. As they advanced in the same direction from the fork, the setting sun was facing them again.

*
The troupe of dancers gracefully performed acrobatics. They bounced off the promontory and threw each other into the air to gain momentum before skillfully receiving. Almost the entire city was gathered around them, enjoying the feast of apples, nuts and other dried fruits. Mabon, the autumn equinox, was an annual festival celebrated here only. The other cities, further South, were preparing for the coming winter and were entering a lethargic state following the end of the Wild Hunt. But here, North of Loren, the softwoods were not losing their needles and life was not keeping pace with the rest of the forest.

Capturing a fluctuation within the woods, the enchantress slowly turned towards the edge of the city. Something was wrong. She apologized briefly to her neighbours dressed in brown and orange, then walked a few steps away from the show.

Almost every day humans or dwarves passed the guardian stones that bounded Athel Loren's domain. More rarely, aberrations from the north, green skin or followers of the ruins forces. Even more rarely the undead. When these intruders were few in number, the old forest would retrace their steps without them noticing. If guardian spirits were around, they would never leave the tree canopy.

That very morning, she had perceived the approach of the unnatural creatures. Necromancy animated puppets, no more than two or three. She had felt the forest retrace its paths to make them leave it belly as quickly as possible, no guard being close to their position. Gusternum, the vegetal colossus, must have smelled it too. Probably that was the reason for its morning anger : these creatures were out of its reach and would have left before it could reach them. But it had to be said that they were still here. Worse. They were moving deeper and deeper into Loren's heart.

- Warda? Is there a problem ?

The enchanteress faced the young elf, Helion's daughter. She had perceived her disorder. The spite who never left her imitated her anxious posture, standing on her shoulder.

- I think it is, yes.

*​

- This damn forest will never end ! exclaimed Luther, who bluntly removed a shrub from his path.

Like the youngest, Manesh'k was getting tired of this constant penumbra. He would have almost regretted the strange sun that lit them a few hours earlier. For it had been several hours that they progressed with difficulty in ferns, brambles and other plants, evolving between more and more voluminous trees. Most of them were softwoods, so that thick needle mattresses frequently concealed roots on which they tripped.

Suddenly they ended up in a glade, the trees and ferns suddenly disappearing to make way for a wild grass. Luther almost fell of surprise so much he had stepped over knotty roots during the evening. Bewildered, all three blinked for a moment. Even Gilnash couldn't understand it. The second before the undergrowth and its vault of impenetrable branches stretched as far as the eye could see and now they walked under the starry sky.

- I... don't understand it, said the ornithologist, looking for his words. A few steps ago we were... and now we are...

- It's not natural, Manesh'k commented as she looked across the glade.

This one was vast, several cottages could have easily held there. All around, the forest suddenly left place to wild grasses. The sprigs came to them half-thigh.

In the centre of the cleared space stood several huge upright stones, even more imposing than the one they had surpassed when they entered the woods. The menhirs, polished by the centuries, were planted in an arc of circle which was opposed to them. The three undead approached carefully, studying both the ancient monument and the shadows of the conifers surrounding them. On the other side of the stones were two other rocks on which a vast platform of rock was placed.

- A... dolmen ? Here ? Luther commented.

And from almost four meters high, Manesh'k thought while crossing his arms. All this left him perplexed. Now it was clearly evident that magic was at work here. An ancient magic. Maybe even more than he and Gilnash were.

He closed his eyes and concentrated all his attention on himself, completely ignored his environment. He looked for a few seconds in the memories stolen from Castille and his short own experiences the desired sensation. With a satisfied smile he managed to find it. The vampire opened to the winds as he opened his eyes. The flow that suddenly struck him was so violent that he drove him back.

- Manesh'k !

Stunned, he pushed back without really paying attention to it the hand that his brother held out to him, a mask of anxiety painted on the face. Since they had wrested her powers from Castille, he and Luther were able to feel, even discern, the winds of magic. Not as intensely as in the hours following the necromancer's death, and he did not have the control that his younger brother had shown. He struggled to preserve this gift, to be able to manipulate the winds, his feelings diminishing as the power of Castille dissipated within him. And then... By opening himself to these winds, he had just become aware that he was literally bathing in them. Under his scarlet gaze, the invisible winds swirled furiously, almost scratching him with their ethereal claws. They swirled through the glade, grazing its edge, before wrapping themselves around the pillars and flying straight into the air. As he looked up he saw them fall back here and there in the distance, scattering beyond his field of vision.

- What's the matter with him ? Luther worried about the apathetic state of his eldest.

- He admires, Gilnash simply replied with an amused smile.

- Admire what ? he questioned him with a suspicious look.

- The majesty of the winds. Take the effort to open up and you will see for yourself.

- Isn't it... dangerous ?

- Considering his skills, not really. With greater power he could risk drowning in it. But given his... talents in the matter he can consider himself lucky to be able to appreciate them.

- ...Ah, just replied Luther .

Leaving a Manesh'k there somewhat lost in his contemplation, Luther and Gilnash approached the cairn with a quiet step. Both went around, studying granite that had been standing for ages.

- Do you think they were raised by men ? Luther asked.

- Honestly ? I doubt it, replied the ornithologist frankly. They look much older to me. As for the magic that flows through them, it is... how to say...

- Wild?

- Indeed, he approved while approaching.

He stretched out his arm and touched the rock with his fingertips. He was not surprised by the slight tingling that went up along his wrist. Raw magic flowed here and through this strange forest.

A swirling movement drew Manesh'k's attention to his companions as his brother came into contact with the dolmen's pillar. Above the plateau several shimmerings of energy materialized by agglomerating particles from the main stream. More and more amazed by this place, he approached his companions, eyes riveted on the iridescent amalgams within the winds of magic.

- Guys...

They both turned to him, then discovered with amazement the event by following his gaze. The air waved like a surface of water disturbed by a projectile. The web of reality was distorted and gradually gave way to three small, half-material, half-ethered forms.

- What is this, Luther whispered as the apparitions came down to them.

They stood between the three undead, nested in bright yellow and green halos of light. One of them floated quietly towards Luther who moved backwards, but did not raise his hand when the entity simply began to wave around him without attacking. Similarly, the other two approached a Manesh'k whose view of trends was overlaid with that of reality. The first swirled gently around his hips, the second along his arm. He raised it until the wild spirit came to rest in the palm of his hand.

Thanks to his double vision he could perfectly examine the true appearance of the creature who observed him with just as much curiosity. Apart from the whirlwind of light and soft sparks that surrounded it, this thing looked like a woman of about fifteen centimeters in the simplest appearance. No, not a woman, he realized as it bent forward to study his face, it translucent hair falling on its chest. An elf.

He looked down at the second spirit who was quietly climbing up his shoulder. This one had a whole other look. Simian arms were attached to a body he would have described as a batracian in the proportions of its torso and lower limbs. Except its shoulders and back were covered with quills like those of a hedgehog. Its face was that of a fox whose snout he would have crushed... However, even in comparison with the first, it did not repulse the vampire.

- Gilnash, he called without ceasing to observe his two curious. What are they?

- I have no idea, admitted the concerned man who was watching Luther's companion, a kind of squirrel with no fur except on its tail and dragonfly wings floating above the younger's forehead.

- They are beautiful, breathed Walach's son.

Manesh'k raised the second arm, a spirit in each palm now. What was this place that housed such strange creatures?

All three turned abruptly when the shot fused, grazing Manesh'k who narrowly moved aside. Immediately the attitude of the creatures changed as they jumped backwards. The elf's hair rose up on its skull and its fingers turned into claws disproportionate for its small size. The quills of the second rose up on its back, turning it into a real ball of spikes.

As for the squirrel, its jaw immediately became strikingly similar to that of the bloodletter while its wings were covered with leather, now resembling those of a bat. But these were not the three spirits to which the undead were turned : a good dozen other arrows sprang from the undergrowth without any warning. Gifted with reflexes far exceeding those of mortals, they drove away from the granite menhirs without being touched.

- I can't feel them ! Luther shouted, his forehead open by a shot better fitted than the others.

- Don't trust your sense of smell ! advised Manesh'k by closing his eyes.

Vigorously repelling the state of daze which had allowed him to commune with the place, he imposed himself in calm. They couldn't smell them. But there was one detail that never deceived vampires. A little less than a dozen heartbeats were ambushed in the thickets. He could hear them beating in his ears, the doubt that they had missed such easy prey coming to shake their confidence with a slight acceleration. He opened his eyes and smiled, his hand on the pommel of his sword.

- Don't kill any of them ! Gilnash suddenly ordered them, a hint of anxiety in his voice.

- Excuse me?

- Just do what I tell you ! he insisted to the younger, kneeling at his side under the cover of the same menhir.

- We'll pay the price again with this bullshit, he squealed spouting out without warning.

Manesh'k jumped behind him, Gilnash running in parallel a few meters from them.

*​

He notched a new arrow with a fluid gesture and shot it off, barely taking the time to align his target. These creatures were moving far too fast to be just humans ! He tightened his jaw when he noticed that his arrow had missed the invader again. But from the corner of his eye he noticed that one of his neighbours had better luck. The shock of the impact threw back the unknown in armor who spread out in the tall grass and disappeared from his field of view, stopped net in charge.

Two more, he thought as he unchecked a new arrow that the other barely avoided again ! As he drew a fifth from his quiver, his blood turned when he saw the metallic sheen. He dived to the side and dodged the dagger, which slipped into the trunk of the tree behind his back. He straightened himself by raising his bow, but it was now too late : a metal gauntlet picked him up at the cheekbone and threw him aside.

- Elves ! Luther exclaimed after a brief glance at his victim lying in the ferns.

He dived forward under a new arrow that blew into his hair and found himself under this new enemy. He had already dropped his bow and had his hand on the short sword hanging from his hip. The undead, however, was quicker. He straightened himself by drawing his sword from the sheath and struck a knob to the jaw of the Elf who released a sinister crack before he collapsed.

The vampire took a look at the undergrowth. Gilnash was pushing back another opponent with several scarlet sprays and was already leaving three more bodies in his trail.

For someone who did not wish to kill his enemies he had a heavy hand... A heartbeat, much too close, made him suddenly rotate. Luther grabbed the wrist of this new attacker with his free hand, preventing him from carrying his sword. He held a dagger in his other hand which he in turn raised to stab the exposed flank of the vampire with the cross guard. But more was needed to destabilize the undead who violently struck his opponent's ribs, protected by a light pourpoint that did not really absorb the shock. The Elf hiccupped in shock and his blow lost all power, cresting on Luther's steel shoulder pad without further damage. He released his wrist and slapped him with force with his gauntlet, which finally got rid of him.

Luther turned again, but this time he was not fact enought. The elven blade skinned him from ear to shoulder before sliding on his colletin with some sparks. He shouted a curse and then yelped with surprise when the second sword struck him in the pelvis, tearing off a strap of armour. He rolled on the ground and did not waste a moment to get some space. This new enemy looked at him, his twin blades pointed towards the undead. The vampire growled with contempt as he felt his own throat. He'd survive, but that skirmish would leave him with a hellish scar. With a war cry the elf charged and at the last moment whirled about himself, surrounding himself with a sharp and impassable perimeter. With blurry movements he found himself facing Luther and closed his two blades on his throat, like a giant chisel. But his dance was stopped sharply by the sword of the undead, who, pointing downwards, caught the two weapons in his guard and carried the three blades to the ground. The stupor was noticeable on the elf's face when his cheek came to crush against the vampire's fist as well.

*​

He leaned against a trunk as he stood up. The ground waved around him and the burn of his open cheekbone made him wrinkle his eye.

- It's called a Quillon dirty salad-eater ! he heard a voice scream.

He groped his bow again, then slowly notched a new arrow. He took a deep breath and waited a second for the universe to stop moving, and then turned carefully. The intruder was above one of his unconscious comrades and continued to insult him with dubious imagination. He calmly raised his bow and pointed it. A sudden shock at the end of the handle deflected the shot that whistled an inch from the undead, who jumped sideways, surprised. The elf discovered the first enemy to fall during the charge, an arrow stuck in the shoulder pad. He broke the part of the bow he had in his hand with a twist of his wrist before sending the tenacious elf to his companions.

*​

- I had seen him, Luther said confidently raising his chin.

- I don't doubts it, Manesh'k answered as he tore off the arrow.

He frowned but did not add any swear words. The archer had managed to find a rift between the breastplate and the shoulder pad. Moreover the point was barbed according to the sharp pain that he felt now...

Gilnash came forward. Several bloody features stained his patrol soldier outfit. As the youngest opened his mouth the ornithologist anticipated his remark :

- No comments. He is not dead. And I had no choice.

Luther picked himself up and then raised both hands as a sign of surrender before going to pick up his weapon.

- Elves ? Here ? raised Manesh'k after a moment.

- Meh, here or elsewhere...

In doing so, Luther gave the swordsman as a well-sentimented boot kick as Gilnash studied the battlefield.

- Nine, he counted. Too little to be a detachment and too much to be mere travellers.

- A patrol ? Manesh'k posed as a hypothesis.

Gilnash nodded. As they recovered from their emotions, the three spites appeared again, floating between the extended bodies. The elf's and the winged squirrel's were lingering by them, casting black glances at the undead. However they did not attack them, contenting themselves with going from body to body.

- Did you hear about all this ? Manesh'k asked, referring to his friend's conversations with the various birds he met during the day.

- It was confused in their minds, but many of them had already seen elves in these woods.

- You could have told us earlier, Luther reproached while the third ethereal creature was floating towards.

This one pointed out the vampire of its arms too big for its body, the quills of its back undulating with each movement. It croaked in silence, seeming to insult the fighter.

- What's the matter with you ? he pushed with contempt, gratifying the spite with a grimace of his own.

The creature moved back and blinked several times, blissful. Before it get back to its ride.

- Listen. I...

All three pivoted in one block when the dead branch cracked, already drawing their blades. But that was just a deer, about fifteen meters away. He watched them, motionless. Its antlers peaked well above two metres in height. All four considered each other for a few seconds in silence, until Gilnash spoke.

- We are still far from Parravon. Let's get out of here. The sooner we leave these woods behind, the better.

His two companions nodded. They left the scene without delay, leaving their unconscious aggressors and the majestic animal there, surprisingly unafraid. To everyone's surprise, however, the spiky creature stubbornly annoyed Luther and followed them out of the monolithic glade.
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,559
#31
It seems that uninvited visits to Athel Loren can be very bad fr your 'elf'.

More seriously, this is an interesting new setting for the story. I'm looking forward to more.
 
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
49
#32
It's time to go on !


Fire & Blood
Chapter 12



- They're gonna pay! These evil offspring have desecrated the sacred woods ! They must pay for this sacrilege !

The elf was fulminating. He walked back and forth to the edge of the cairn and gave black looks to anyone daring to approach him. The others of the tree dancers remained silent, not daring to attract the attention of their companion.

The scout patrol was still in shock when they arrived. Several of them were injured. One of them would not walk for several months...

- How could this have happened ? asked Helion.

He turned to the priestess who avoided his gaze. She herself had underestimated these creatures.

- Loren's song evoked a handful of creatures, she replied without facing him. We had no idea it was... that.

Bothel caught the talk on the fly. He almost shouted at the elf wearing a diaphanous dress for a moment, but changed his mind at the last moment. An enchantress spoke for Loren. To rush her was to attack the forest itself.

- We have never been confronted with that, she insisted, finally turning to them.

Helion sighed. This was not the first time the dead had entered the forest. However, they had never behaved in such a way before...

- The dead, witches desecrating corpses, even vampires as men call them, he summed it up aloud. But this...

- A vampire ? What the hell is that ? Interviewed this time the tattooed elf.

His fine eyebrows drew a horizontal line while he looked confused. Two other dancers of the troupe approached, interested by the thread of the conversation.

- Wizards, Warda began with an absent look towards the erect stones. Dead people who cling to the winds and refuse to give back to the earth what belongs to it. They feed...

She hesitated and grinned.

- They feed on mortal blood. They are poor fighters who prowl the night. They are never more than one and...

- Stop with the men's tales.

All three, as well as all the elves present, turned to the individual who had spoken by cutting Wanda's speech. The skin of his body undulating with each of his steps as the flesh below was redesigned, an indescribable creature advanced. The fur was detached by handles from his chest, his lower limbs were provided with hooves and the upper ones with trembling hands. His deformed head resorbed on itself as his snout became a real jaw. His antlers sunk into his skull and disappeared, producing eddies across his forehead, as if they were dipping into pink, malleable clay. A brown and tangled hair emerged from the spine, a few strands even fell back on his increasingly refined face. When his feet were finally topped with toes, a naked elf of strong build stood in front of them, stretching his neck with many cracks.

- Anos, Helion breathed as he recognized the shapeshifter. It's been a long time...

He nodded quickly to the lord. One of the spites in the grove appeared suddenly, like a translucent squirrel, and stared at the strange elf. He continued :

- The three undead were all vampires. And they were excellent warriors, he insisted with gravity.

Bothel crossed his arms and tilted his head to the side. This naked individual, more eccentric than himself, was already beginning to interest him.

- They had armor made by men. They have made short work of the foresters.

- Warriors, you say? Persisted Bothel with a gleam of challenge in his eyes.

Anos stared at the war dancer for a moment with a bored look. He detailed it from head to toe, before returning to Helion.

- Warriors, yes. And they deliberately chose not to kill anyone.

- What do you know, animal ? The war dancer pushed him.

He had finally reviewed his judgment. His palpable disdain irritated him.

- I know it, I was there, I saw it. There was nothing they could do.

- And why...

- I also know in which direction they went, he continued.

By saying so he showered the aggressiveness of the dancer while recapturing his interest. He turned to Helion and Warda.

- The dead go straight to the Mortourbe. [1]

The elf lord grinned. If these warlocks of the dead had killed no one, had committed no sacrilege other than to be present and defend themselves, this place would surely change the deal.

*​

- The Mortourbe ? What the hell is that ? She asked her companion higher up.

- You're still very young, otherwise you'd know what this place is.

As he said these words, his own mount, a huge eagle, came down to Gailrya and her falcon. His bird of prey was a little bigger than Anok. But this one had nothing to envy his fellow.

He studied the horizon as the wings of his mount beat, searching for his words.

- Even your father, Lord Helion, was young at that time. He was not yet 'Lord'. The forest had only recently accepted us into its midst and had only limited confidence in our kind.

A jolt interrupted him. Gaylria waited patiently for him to resume, stroking Anok's plumage. The emerald forest was moving at high speed a few meters below.

"That year a herd of man-beasts was engaged in the forest. In the middle of winter, the Loren was apathetic and reacted only late to their presence. They were able to penetrate deep and reached a frozen pond. They surprised a group of elves who had come to dance on the ice in the company of the rare spites then inclined to join them.

The slaughter was inevitable and the ice was tinged with red. When Helion and the first scouts arrived at the pond, it had changed. Changed to become what it is today. Instead of ice, dark lenses and dead leaves covered the surface. When they swept them, they found that the once crystal-clear water was cloudy, impregnated with mud and mosses of water. We never found the elves. The mystery was even thicker when they discovered the traces of the beast men."

Mouth-beat, Gaylria drank his words. Helion had never told her about this story.

- But... and the enchantresses? They must have found out what it...

- We do not yet fused with Loren as we do today, he answered sadly. And when that was the case... the forest refused to answer their requests, as it still refuses.

Helion's daughter remained silent. Such a catastrophe was hard to digest.

- What is certain, he continued, is that corpses are still on the bottom of the water. Beast men. But also elves.

Gaylria returned to the horizon. Mortourbe... what an unjust name. If elves had really died there, they should honour their memory, not make it a haunted place.

*​

- What the hell is this place?

Under Luther's eyes lay a swamp, covered with mist despite the day's late hour. Not a songbird, not a frog was croaking, not a single animal was showing up. No living being was there.

- This contrasts with the Dolmens clearing, Manesh'k tuned.

He chased away with his hand the immaterial quill spirit that had been stubbornly following them since dawn. He turned to Gilnash, as always when he did not know what he was dealing with. But he seemed more disturbed by the sudden disappearance of his flying companions. Not a swallow, buzzard or sparrow answered his call. The ornithologist only felt the emptiness. A void that his brothers could not fill.

- Let's leave this place quickly, I don't feel anything good there, he grinned as he studied the branches.

Manesh'k nodded. He wasn't comfortable either. And he was getting tired of that green tide stretching as far as the eye could see.

- What irony, Luther commented. Mortals always associate us with this kind of place, lugubrious as they wish. And yet when we find one at the bottom of the world, we have only one desire: to leave...

- Even the elves avoid this place, warned the ornithologist. For some reason, they don't like it either.

- One wonders why...

The elves... not skinning them on the spot had been painful. It had been even more so to keep his nephew from doing so. But, on Gilnash's vague indications, they had left them there. Unconscious, but alive. Manesh'k turned to his brother again. Why didn't he warn them they weren't alone in that damn forest ? Why protect elves like that ? Why deprive themselves of a feast ? There were enough for all three to be full... The elven nectar, so delicate and intoxicating at the same time... He frowned. What had Gilnash seen that he refused to tell them ?

- Let's go, said the ornithologist with a last look at the murky waters.

Manesh'k followed in his footsteps, thoughtful.

- Wait…

Luther's eyes were riveted on the surface of the water. Nothing moved except the steaming fumaroles from the warm peat and a few bubbles rising from the depths. It waved, immaterial.

- What's the matter?

- In the water... murmured the younger, fascinated.

Slowly he turned his lips up and revealed his fangs. He seemed so happy. Manesh'k went from his nephew to the surface, without understanding. Then a shiver ran through him as the disembodied spirit that accompanied them suddenly agitated. He moved away from them, growling in the direction of Luther, the prickles spiked with anger.

- The wind... he finally understood.

Not a breath came to disturb the place. But by extending his senses beyond his own shell, he took the measure of the agitation that reigned. Luther was marveled, Gilnash overtaken, his mind restless... and then what came to meet them.

Slowly, his hand came to rest on the knob of his weapon. A wave came to disturb the surface, spreading gently through the pond. Then another... and a shadow was discerned under water.

The vampire looked up, ready to react to any threat. With a measured slowness, a mixture of branches and roots came out of the marsh. The deformed thing, dripping with crumbling water and nauseous mud, dragged itself in their direction. It had no legs and no head. Its body was soaked bark, mouldy woods and vine roots. This... thing, was to vegetation what they were to living things. A mass of dead creatures, animated by some sorceries... And which advanced painfully in their direction.

Gilnash was incredulous, too. He didn't understand what he was looking at. He had seen the elves through the eyes of several feathered creatures. But never a creature like that. How was that possible ?

Never in their wanderings had the three vampires been confronted with such strangeness. And yet, it continued to advance, with soft roots like tentacles towing it meters after meters to the shore, to them. And yet, it wasn't even this being that left them speechless. That was their number. As if, slowly, the whole pond came alive, waving its bowels to regurgitate them in front of them.

Despite their unprecedented situation, Luther found a way to burst out laughing. Without understanding, Manesh'k and Gilnash saw him approaching the water's edge while the living dead plant was getting closer and closer.

- There are dead people in there, he said, reaching out his hand.

He closed his eyes and the two vampires felt his energy, his will that bent Shyish to his whims. And the purple wind of death was meekly manipulated. Like a shroud he dragged the creature and closed his grip on it bowels.

The thing flinched and stood still against Luther as he used all the power at his disposal, his will opposing that of the other creature.

- Bones, in the mud... guessed Manesh'k.

Linked by the roots and mixed with the branches, bones and joints worn by time composed in part the skeleton of this thing. And applying his claw to them, Luther was able to stop its advance despite its approximate control of necromancy. Trembling, dripping with mud and dead leaves, the thing could no longer progress forward.

- I love magic ! Rejoiced Luther while pushing on, forcing little by little the creature to twist, to skin itself into several branches. And there are so many more !

He stretched out his second arm in the direction of the troubled waters which had entered into effervescence at the moment when he had come into contact with the vegetable spirit. At his side, the magical animal with the quills feigned and spat in his direction without daring to do more.

- I love...

The arrow whistles slightly through his hand. Pushing a scream of surprise and pain, he moved backwards. The other two vampires, blades already drawn, immediately took shelter in the shade of the trees.

With an unintelligible gurgle, the creature of silt collapsed on itself, roughed by Luther's treatment. Holding his wounded limb in his wrist, he swept the undergrowth with his gaze.

- You fern-eating bastards ! Show yourselves ! I know it's you who....

Before he finished his sentence an elf suddenly appeared before him, as if fallen from heaven. And before he could grasp any more, he was opposed to a steel wall which forced him to jump backwards so as not to be lacerated. The undead found himself in a precarious balance on the water's edge, waving his arms so as not to fall. Without hesitating for a moment his opponent threw him into the water with a violent kick in the stomach.


*​

Immediately other attackers sprang from the branches and bushes, standing between the pond and the other two vampires.

- Where did they come from ? exclaimed Manesh'k, who bowed down to avoid a blade before leaping at his attacker.

More lively than his opponent, he grabbed his wrist on the flight and threw him violently at one of his companions. But rather than overturn it, the mate avoided it with a wise roll. His weapon ricocheted over the undead's one with a rain of sparks like Manesh'k managed to parry and send it bouncing in a new direction. From the corner of his eye he noticed that his first enemy was already on his feet and ready to come back.

He flip-flopped when a new individual let himself fall behind him, but held back his blade by notifying his outfit.

- Who are these guys ? creaked Manesh'k that stuck back to back with him.

- No idea, Gilnash replied. I've never seen them before.

- Mmh?

- Never, really, he insisted. My companions have never seen elves moving like them. They look more like acrobats than fighters. Or dancers, too...

Manesh'k slowly swept the group of about ten individuals that surrounded the two brothers in arms.

- We are not here to fight, Gilnash began. We mean no harm to...

An arrow whistled between them, Manesh'k pulling the ornithologist with him. He looked for a moment for the author of these shots. In futility. He frowned.

- Now I, I want to hurt you, he said darkly before leaping into the fray.

*​

Luther stood up and shook, throwing water everywhere. Immersed to the chest, he finally took the time to study his attacker. The elf dressed in a simple loincloth was watching him from the shore. He was taller than the vampire. Just like one of the foresters beaten the day before, he fought with two swords. But above all, he wore the tattoos of twin wolves spread out on his torso, ivy leaves rolling up his thighs and wrapping around his arms to his hands as well as stylized feathers painted on one of his cheeks.

Unimpressed, the vampire took the time to spit a little water while looking at him black.

- For that you'll pay, Elf. For you I'll make an exception. My blade will rust, but if I dip it in elf blood...

- I ask to see, he replied, standing still as Luther drew his weapon.

He cried out in anger and ran towards that cheeky elf. But as he was about to pull himself out of the pond, the cloudy water suddenly began to bubble around him again.

- What…

Gnarled roots sprang suddenly from the water and in great splashes threw themselves at the vampire. Before he understood the origin of this new assault, the bark tentacles wrapped around his ankles, hips and wrists. Strangled by a vegetable collar, he disappeared into the depths, dragged into darkness.

*​

- Luther!

Brutally pushing back the elf that was facing him, Manesh'k made his way to the shore, several blades bouncing off his armor. When two other elf warriors sprang up in front of him, he growled with hatred.

- Get out of here!

With one step to the side he avoided the third individual coming from behind. He collapsed like a mass under the knob that the vampire inflicted on him. This one would not return to the assault after another roll.

- I've had enough, leave me alone or I'll bleed you to death !

To support his threat, he took a battle position, ready to leap forward with his blade. Above the fighters the spite with the quills was watching the fight of the undead. He swayed here and there, hesitating about what to do.

- I like this one.

The two fighters took a furtive look behind them, not leaving Manesh'k with their eyes, rightly. Whoever had spoken had thrown Luther into the water. The spirit with the quills turned towards him. The vampire squeezed the handle of his weapon a little harder.

- It is a just end that drowning for your sacrilege, he said with a fierce smile.

- Drowning ? Manesh'k repeated with her lips.

- When a Lemure takes a body, it never comes back to the surface, added the elf with a mocking smile.

Then he made some reels with his two swords before imitating the vampire's position.

- Don't worry, you'll find him in a few moments.

- If you only knew...

Both jumped simultaneously as the other elves moved away from the struggle to come.

*​

Dodge, parry, roll, dodge again... his three opponents were good. Very good even. But he had been fighting since the dawn of human civilization. It was neither the first nor the last time he fought in outnumber. But when an elven blade nicked his flank, he came to his senses. As gifted as he was, he could not continue this mortal ballet forever. He enjoyed a time of respite between two assaults and looked around. Manesh'k was scraping with another half-naked elf, surrounded by several of these strange fighters. No sign of Luther. No archer in sight either. Though. The arrow the cadet had received did not come from one of these warriors. None wore bows or quivers.

From the corner of the eye the undead suddenly noticed a shadow sliding over the foliage. At the same time as his senses were rising and his enemies were returning to the charge, he jumped upwards. The vampire clung to the first branch that came. Leaning with one hand and his elbow for his armed arm, he hoisted himself up without losing an instant. The elves would soon imitate him.

A brew of air. His instincts had not deceived him. Jumping from one branch to another, he climbed up a branch like a tightrope walker and, close to the top, took his impulse... to find himself facing a fake face, all composed of brambles !

- What…

Before he realized what this new assault was, the thing swept him away. The next moment, he was diving into the void.

The shock on land was painful. With a thousand precautions Gilnash rolled to the side. He had lost the Lahmian sword in the fall but no matter, he still had his daggers hanging on his hips. As he stood up heavily, he noticed that the elves were not approaching. They stayed more than a reasonable distance from the shaken vampire.

Gilnash flip-flopped when a hoarse whimper sprang from his back. With one step to the side he avoided the vegetable whip that had propelled him into the air. Without wasting a moment, he walked away from this thing while keeping the elves in his field of vision. But they had their weapons down, just watching the living dead and the newcomer. Therefore, he turned to this new enemy and looked at it with suspicion.

This... creature, strangely similar to the thing in the pond. Except that it clearly had the shape of a humanoid. Its legs were composed of roots, similar to that of a mangrove tree, all intertwined with brambles. Its torso was hollow bark where no heart was visible. He noticed that the right arm had a shoulder but branched into a whip of intertwined brambles, the one that had made him fall from so high. The right, on the other hand, was composed only of black and smooth bark, sparse with thorns and ending in three sharp claws.

Gilnash drew his daggers with a fluid movement. He frowned as the creature charged : other varied specimens, ranging from interwoven roses to shoulders covered with reed fleece, had just appeared behind the first. His thousand years of existence would perhaps be entirely necessary...

*​

- Anok, what is it?

Perched on her falcon, the elf had the greatest difficulty controlling her feathered friend. From the moment they approached the Mortourbe, he had begun to behave strangely. Never in their fights against beast-mens or green-skins had he behaved this way. He categorically refused to approach the treetops. But as soon as Gailrya tried to point him in a new direction, he would fly back over the fighting.

Not far away, she saw that the eagle of the other rider had the same problems as Anok. Something downstairs was disturbing the two birds. Something that encouraged her to join the fight more ! Bothel, her brother, had himself thrown one of the vampires between the deadly claws of the Lemures of the Mortourbe. Then he started the fight with a second. A fight that was still going on, according to the metal smashes she was getting. She squeezed the wood of her bow to whiten her fingers. What could drive their birds of prey below to refuse to fight, but also keep them on the battlefield ?

*​

There were only two enemies left, the third eating the water lilies by the roots. One of them was reduced to facing a group of dryads with daggers. The last one was fighting his son in a single fight. The other dancers of the troop had moved apart and formed a circle around the belligerents, ready to skewer the undead if he tried to flee.

There was one detail, however, that bothered the Elf Lord. When the first had disappeared beneath the surface, this individual had rushed to his rescue, had used violence to make his way among the warriors. But after exchanging a few words, his behaviour had changed radically. He was... having fun. That was the word he could use. Even as he was fighting a mortal battle with Bothel, one of the most dangerous warriors Helion had ever seen, he was not dealing any mortal blow. Nothing betrayed this feeling on his impassive face and he was striking devastating blows to the elf. But the longer the fight, the more he felt he was right.

- You are strong, monster, told Bothel between two passes of weapons. But I'd still chop you up !

And he made a new spin that the vampire jumped backwards, stopping at a sword length from the dancer.

- You're not bad either, my boy, Manesh'k replied, moving away in the face of a new charge from the tattooed elf.

Helion frowned when he saw that several dancers had to move away from the arc of the circle described by his blade so as not to disturb him. The intruder's obvious calm, compared to Bothel's hatred, only supported his impression. He grinned more when he heard the rest.

- I... am... not... your boy ! he roars, punctuating every syllable with raging reels.

He suddenly rolled forward and straightened up immediately, outspeeding the vampire whose armour took the blow.

- I have seen more than five hundred winters pass by, said the elf with a mean smile.

Sniffing, Manesh'k quickly examined his outfit. One blade impact among many... He took a critical look at the confident elf.

- I'll tell you something, he began by sketching a smile that revealed overdeveloped canines. I'm over two thousand years old.

- What ? Helion hiccupped from his back position.

And the vampire, bursting with laughter, in turn charged a Bothel who had immediately stopped laughing.

- That thing would be two thousand years old ? That monster is lying ! That can't be possible !

Anos just shrugged, keeping his arms crossed. The forest itself was full of much older secrets. That these things were so old surprised him, but was not impossible.

Warda did not observe the same fight. She was turned towards the vampire with the daggers, much more in difficulties in front of the tens of dryades which he faced. His outfit was in shreds and several wounds spread over his face and arms. But he continued the fight without interruption. Like a dancer he avoided an assault from behind him. As soon as he received himself he leaned back to avoid a wooden member as sharp as a spear and with a dry movement he cut it. He suddenly dropped to the ground to avoid a third attack at shoulder height and took the opportunity to sweep the injured dryade with a circular movement of his legs.

- Something's wrong, she murmured.

- Yes, Bothel should have ended it by now...

- I'm not talking about that, cut the enchantress. Dryads...

Anos and Helion turned to her, intrigued.

- Dryades? repeated the skin changer.

- They usually live far from this part of the forest...

- I don't see how....

A real cataclysm suddenly jostled several trees, threatening to uproot them. The ground trembled as the imposing mass of the new and immense protagonist hit the ground. Several dancers immediately moved aside, barely being reduced to scarlet juice. Manesh'k like Bothel took several steps back, dominated by this behemoth of another era. Even the dryads interrupted their attacks.

The colossus compacted on itself and exulted with a hoarse rumble, similar to the crash of an avalanche. It dominated the humanoids to a large extent, with its tallest branches alongside the local peaks. No one made a move. The crashing arrival had literally frozen the fighting.

- By Isha... Anos whispered.

- Gusternum... where...

- It's a spirit, Warda breathed, just as stunned. Although incarnate, he knows the secret paths better than any asrai !

The creature's sparkling green gaze was riveted on the undead. It shouted again and armed a titanic strike, from a right side limb. Manesh'k and Bothel dived on both sides to avoid the blow that shook the ground under their feet. With his eyes wide open, Manesh'k saw it bring back to himself the amalgam of vines that would have violently crushed him. Weighly, the monster straightened up, sliding its soft branches like willow stems. They left deep furrows in the humus.

- Bothel came out of there ! cried Helion as his son stood on the vampire's right.

But the dancer didn't have the time. The bark beast suddenly continued with another attack. It used it's vines as oversized whips and each of its blows caused new earthquakes. They drew concentric circles on the surface of the water as the primal anger raged on its target.

Between two shots the war dancer managed to roll outside the combat area redesigned by this gigantic protagonist. He watched as his opponent dodged the tree man's attacks. Then he turned to the tree-man himself. He already had the opportunity to see and even fight alongside one of these venerable spirits. But the few seconds spent in front of it were enough for Bothel to understand that he had nothing to do with his fellow men. No other guardian of the forest would ever have pushed young sprouts to come into battle, attacked an elf to injure an enemy, or blindly maimed the ground. He knew the name of this tree-man and the history of its plant incarnation. But seeing its anger with his own eyes was a whole other thing. Gusternum…

It continued to hammer the ground with thick branches loosely resembling arms, two on each side of the trunk. But the vampire was sharp, he had discovered it himself at his own cost. Gusternum would not be able to mow him down like that and it must have realized it because it stopped. It took a steep step forward, the roots surrounding its limb immediately sinking into the ground. If that could be called a limb: its legs were only the soft trunk of the tree in which Gusternum had incarnated, split in two in order to be able to walk the world... It roared again before straightening up with a multitude of cracks. The living dead raised his blade, ready for any eventuality.

- Get back ! All of you ! Helion suddenly ordered in a frightened voice as his son joined them.

Manesh'k took a quick look at the elf as he heard the tone of his order before refocusing on his enemy. In an orange plume, he belched in the air a fine powder that quickly fell on the undead, now alone facing the tree-man. Trapped, he swept the cleared clearing with his eyes, waiting for the effects of the substance that covered him. His enormous opponent stood still without taking its eyes off him.

- Father, what ? asked Bothel without blinking.

- Oxidizing spores, he simply murmured.

- Oxi... what?

- When several centuries ago, Gusternum was incarnated to repel dwarf lumberjacks, it confronted them with this process, Anos answered without bothering to turn to the dancer.

A strap suddenly detached from Manesh'k's breastplate. He looked down and saw his shoulder pad following the same path. Then his sheath fell off too. It was with round eyes that he saw one of his knee pads suddenly crack in two before joining the rest. Looking at the scene with an absent eye, Anos continued his account:

- The fighters' chainmail and blades have fallen to dust. Not one of them approached Gusternum with a metal weapon. And not one has returned home...

- Nice story, elf.

The shapeshifter flip-flopped and turned the vampire's wrist away and the dagger of the vampire cut only from the wind.

- Fine reflexes, the elf, he commentated by giving him a hook with his other hand while spraying him with water.

What he had not foreseen was that by taking the blow the elf would not grab it with his own second hand. He amplified his movement and lifted the stunned vampire off the ground.

- But... he should be... began Bothel whose gaze glided to the surface of the water.

- ...dead ? Luther completed as he straightened up, a mean-spirited smile taking shape on his face. I'm already dead. Were you seriously hoping to drown someone like me in a pit full of bones ?

And he charged the four individuals. But it was neither Bothel, nor Anos, nor Helion who replied. Overspeeding the undead, Warda stood up on her way, arms wide apart. She revealed the inside of the diaphanous veil that covered her indented outfit. Before Luther reacted, a cloud of wings, claws and quills grabbed him by the throat, blinding him and tearing the skin of his face and arms. He rolled to the ground screaming as the swarm of spirits of all kinds were attacking him.

*​

- I can't believe my eyes, it is here!

- Who ?

- The guardian of the grove ! exclaimed Gailrya, lowering her bow.

As she urged Anok to approach she could see the scene through a hole : the tree-man facing the helpless intruder and surrounded by the dancers. With a herculean setback, the mind threw him out of her field of vision. She also saw her brother and father in front of another enemy covered with spites and gesticulating like a devil. Then his gaze flowed towards the last of the group, unable to approach, completely surrounded by the dryades. The scene was unreal. So many means for only three individuals ! She slid her bow into the quiver at her shoulder, idle. Their presence in the air was not necessary with such a demonstration of force.

Gently, she urged Anok down a little more. Without her knowing why, his reluctance had gone away as suddenly as she had come. Flapping his wings vigorously, he gradually descended to the gap, imitated by his neighbour on a giant eagle. The bird suddenly shrieked and swerved.

*​

- Manesh'k !

The vampire tried to join him, but immediately a wall of living brambles and knotty roots blocked his way, challenging him to approach. Whistling, Gilnash replied without losing a moment and tore pieces of bark from their owners with daggers. But the creatures of wood and sap did not falter and on the contrary, began to suffocate the living dead under their numbers alone. With claws and thorns, the plant creatures gradually reduced the border outfit to shreds...

The cry that resounded in the foliage had the effect of a flash on the living dead. He stood up abruptly and savagely repelled his assailants before turning to its author. The massive corpse of the raptor cut through the branches and crushed many of the plant creatures before coming to rest a few meters away. Gilnash rushed to the creature on the ground, rushing things of brambles, turning away from the fight, from his brothers and from the threat of the elves. At that very moment, only that huge falcon mattered. Releasing his daggers, he laid his hands on the already sticky feathers while the body was shaken with spasms. He avoided a wing strike without thinking about it, struck by the agony of the bird. Then he stopped. The wing fell back and the blood stopped spurting from the gaping wound.

He could hear the cries of pain of his companions. He would guess the wooden spirits ready to tear him to pieces in front of the elves. He saw the person with a quiver staggering up next to him. But Gilnash had eyes only for the author of this atrocious act. This author who in turn let himself fall and stared at him with incandescent eyes. It whipped the air with his long, dripping tongue in mood before raising its two glowing blades.

From a roll Gilnash avoided the tattooed demon's chisel. With a howl of rage he plunged his hands into the torso of the nearest creature's bark. The one who was trying to attack him was thrown without warning in front of the scarlet monster who cut it in two before charging and growling with hatred.


*​

- What is that... that thing! exclaimed an elf.

- Impossible…

It was simply impossible. A bloodletter couldn't have been in that forest. Not here. Not that far. Not without Warda and the forest itself perceiving it. And yet there it was, clearing a deadly path through the dryads to reach the vampire. Vampire trying to stay alive under the blades of this unnatural aberration.

Even Gusternum turned away from its enemy on the ground, sounded. His clothes and armor were in pieces, but by some magic his sword had escaped the slaughter. Shaking his head, the undead followed the emerald gaze and discovered too the demon who came to sow discord in their battle. The tree-man returned to him, then again to the scarlet demon. Manesh'k remaining lying on the ground, it finally opted for this new enemy. With a heavy step where anger was perceptible, it moved towards this fourth intruder.

*​

Gilnash heard the approach more than he saw it. He was almost swept away by the dull strike that threw his pursuer out of his field of vision. He himself rolled out of range and narrowly avoided the claws of a new bramble creature. He pushed it away and looked for the colossus, before finding that in the confusion he had returned next to the corpse of the giant falcon. The ornithologist grinned in pain. A pain that had nothing physical about it. As he lifted his head he saw that the elf that was riding this prince of heaven was facing him. An arrow in hand. Tears in my eyes. She cried out in hatred and pain and then threw herself at him. The vampire had only to take a step aside to avoid it, then was splashed in the face.

He blinked several times before he could realize what had just happened. Everything was going crazy. Black points protruded from the back of this new enemy. Loading him to despair, she had just impaled herself on the claws of a dryad that was about to stab the undead !

- For someone who didn't want to kill...

With a haggard eye, Gilnash turned to his unrecognizable nephew. The skin of his face had been lacerated and his armour, already mistreated in Grissenwald, was in pitiful condition. He held Manesh'k upright, his arm around his shoulder, barely in better shape. The latter dragged his sword with one hand. And just above them floated still and always the spiky simian beast, passively studying the two undead. Behind them came several fighters who visibly hesitated about the approach to follow : finish the vampires or join the colossus on which the demon threw himself without hesitation ?

*​

- Gailrya!

Making fast reels with his blades, the tattooed elf rushed to the other end of the battlefield. He passed in front of the enchantress, also overwhelmed by events. She had recalled her cloud of spites, leaving the first vampire free, and now hesitated to send them to harass the demon. But she still didn't understand. But how did he get here ?

- Warda ! Banish him !

- What?

- Banish him ! Helion repeated, incredulous. You ! Neither the vampires nor the demon come near ! he shouted to the dancers stopped in full charge.

The side completely skinned by the whip with the sharp leaves, the tattooed bloodletter rose again, healing at sight of eye.

- That's impossible, Anos realized when he came out of his storeroom. He can't get up again ! Not with injuries like that ! He should go back to the void !

- Banish him! insisted the Lord.

With a wild bellow, the scarlet beast jumped over a new lash and reached Gusternum. Without ceasing to howl, it drew two furrows on its trunk and tore off several bark plates on the way.

*​

- Get away from her ! Right now ! shouted Bothel.

With an agile leap he jumped over the dryads stunned by the sudden wound of the titan. They turned away from Gilnash and advanced towards the duellists, leaving the elf and the vampires alone. But the dancer was not affected in any way. His sister lay at Luther's feet. A smile appeared on his unrecognizable face.

- Is that who you're talking about ? He provoked him by taking the body by the throat.

Without visible effort, he lifted her inanimate body, her feet no longer touching the ground.

- You…

A blast brutally cut the elf. The explosion separated the bloodletter from the living tree and threw them both to the ground. As Manesh'k, overwhelmed by events, turned to them, he could only be dazzled by the flash that followed. Then nothing.

When Bothel's wrinkled eyes recovered his sight, the three vampires and his sister had... disappeared. Pure and simple. He flip-flopped, incredulous, while the enchantress discovered with horror the result of her fate.

- It... It... It bounced... she stammered as Helion like Anos did not yet realize what had just happened.

With an agile leap, Khorne's herald stood up and scanned the assembly, looking for its prey. Its bright gaze waited a moment on Warda who had a hiccup when discovering the dark metal rune hanging from its neck. Then, before the massive tree-man also got back on its feet, it rushed towards the undergrowth carrying away its two blades. Neither the elves nor the dryads tried to pursue it.

- What just happened ? asked a war dancer to his neighbour who was as lost as he was.

Vampires were simply volatilized.




[1] I can't really translate this one since its a play on word from Mort and Tourbe who mean Death and Peat.
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,559
#33
A good, long action scene here. How did those vampires think the elves would care what their intentions were? Eenter Loren, die, right?

Interesting behaviour from the daemon...
 
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
49
#34
The calm before the tempest :)

Fire & Blood
Chapter 13


- I repeat, I don't know what happened !

The warrior made a scream of rage before pointing an accusing index finger at Warda.

- This is all your fault ! If you had seen that these vampires were so dangerous, if you had warned us that a demon was serving them, if you had not abused your...

- Bothel ! Enough.

His father's order was scathing. The tone as well as the look used did not admit protests.

- She killed Gailrya right in front of you ! he shouted however, by no means intimidated. She just banished my sister to the lost groves, your own daughter was...

He suddenly stopped as the elf lord was about to retaliate. A gleam crossed the eyes of Bothel and he turned around, leaning over the enchantress.

- Send me over there ! I'll bring her back !

- What…

The elf took a few steps back, her diaphanous dress fluttering behind her. She shook her head.

- That is not possible...

- Of course it is possible ! You were good enough to send my sister there. How would sending me there be any different ?

Warda sighed and then turned to Helion for support. However, he was not in a position to provide this assistance. He himself was burning to ask her for this favor. If she was not able to discourage the dancer, he would follow his son into this madness.

- It is not without reason that we should not move away when we walk the secret paths. Beyond that, Kurnous himself would no longer be safe.

She took time to catch her breath. Father and son hung on her lips.

- The place where I unintentionally sent Gailrya is in the heart of these lost woods. She can't....

- Send me there, asked for Bothel again. I fear not Loren's wild spirits. I…

- You will have no way back, she cut. Only an adept would be able to return from this place without using a passageway. But it is impossible to create new ones or to bring someone back from our world, without which Gailrya would already be back among us. I'm sorry, but there's no way to get her back.

Bothel took a few seconds to digest this information. But already he came back to the charge:

- Then come with me. You will bring the three of us back.

- I…

- It would only be a just tribute after what you...

- Bothel ! exclaimed Helion.

This one stopped, red with anger.

- Father ! She …

- She can't leave our city while a demon lurks in our woods !

- It would only be a matter of a few minutes ! he opposed. I've walked the hidden paths before, I know time goes by differently ! Every second we waste is hours that expose Gailrya to...

- Get out.

The order was severe. The look of the lord threatening.

- But father ! She's blind to this creature's movements ! She can't...

- Get out ! He shouted suddenly.

For a few moments the sovereign seemed to have gained in size. He now dominated his well built son. His finely chiseled tunic lifted to the rhythm of his inspirations. But his wrist was not shaking as he firmly pointed out the exit.

- Get out, he repeated for the third time.

Grumbling, Bothel rushed outside the tree-house. It was only after a minute that seemed to last for centuries that Warda broke the silence.

- Helion…

- I've heard enough. What's done... is done. Find this abomination.

The pain was palpable in the voice of this elf who now seemed much less imposing, crushed by the weight of fate.


*​


The jaw with sharp fangs slammed into the void. Then the beast fell back on its feet and flip-flopped, ready to jump again. However, a Lahmian blade came to nail it to the ground. The steel passed through its mouth, yet it continued to wriggle to get rid of it. It took a few moments and splinters in all directions for the thing to finally stop moving.

- Five legs, a mouth as big as three quarters of the body. Toothed. The rest is covered with scales... This thing is really... made of wood?

Manesh'k knelt down to examine the body. He made a grin and then straightened up. The answer was yes...

Carefully he returned to the other two undead. In each direction, latent light emanated from the undergrowth, such as a sunset taking place in each direction. Or a fire surrounding them. Except that glow wasn't shaking like the flames would. It was diffuse, like a kind of mist spreading across the borders of their vision field . And wherever they went, these thorn beasts hunted them down and attacked them relentlessly. Slaughtering their congeners did not really deter them from coming back to the assault...

He looked at his two comrades. All three were in pitiful states. Gilnash's imperial tunic was in tatters and Luther's armor had little to envy him. As for Manesh'k, he only wore rags: with the exception of his sword, all his metal gear had fallen to dust. Up to his belt buckle and the ornaments of his sheath.

But, more than their pitiful condition or the fact that they didn't know where they were: the elf was with them, dying. But she was alive and well. The weakening beats of the heart in her chest resounded in their ears like blows of a club.

Gilnash looked up at the swordsman, dazed. He could tell what his friend was suffering from. Since they had landed in this place they had not heard a sound, except the thorn beasts. Not a single animal, not a single bird song. These woods harmed the bird watcher, cut off from his feathered companions. The longer they stayed there, the further away Gilnash would get from them. Manesh'k knew that. They had experienced this kind of isolation in the past. The sooner they left this forest, the better.

Suddenly coming to fly at Manesh'k's gaze, the translucent spirit reminded him that he too had been trapped. Waving its simian arms, too long for its stout body, it blamed the undead for something it didn't care to know. Distractedly he drove it out of his hand as if it were an unwanted insect. The prickles that were on its back were stretched out as it raged harder...

- After what they did to us this is only justice ! protested Luther again. If you refuse to bleed her, too bad for you. I'd be happy to take care of it.

Feeding would have relieved their wounds, if not regenerated them. But Gilnash still refused with a nod. With his inanimate body in his arms, he could feel the heartbeats more and more apart under his fingers. Only a few centimetres under the cold skin...

- But look at her, that wooden thing blew her guts out ! It's a waste of food...

- Enough, Gilnash sighed as Manesh'k let himself down, enjoying those few moments of respite. Look around you, open your senses. We are no longer in the elves' forest. And what's more...

He had an ironic grin.

- We don't suffer from thirst. It's the gluttony and the years since our curse that have pushed you...

- Excuse me?

If Manesh'k still had a heart, it probably would have missed a beat. What was the bird friend saying to them there ? They were skinned, lacerated, ribs broken... Mortals would have been nailed to the ground, would have stopped fighting... And yet he realized that Gilnash was telling the truth. His gaze went from his friend to his palms. Luther was just as shaken up as he was. He whose skin had been torn from his face, more than his elders, should have succumbed to his inner beast. All three of them, in their respective states, should not have been able to dither over a prey like this. She should already be a bloodless carcass hours ago. Yet she was still dying in their hands, alive.

- Where are we ? asked the youngest once more out loud.

- I fear that only she can answer us, Gilnash answered in a breath.

He spread a strand of brown hair, stuck to the dying woman's forehead by sweat. She was freezing under his fingers. His look was sorry.

- I hope you're not thinking about it...

- Quite the opposite. She will be able to give us the answers we are looking for rather than random bridles of stolen memories, Gilnash replied.

- But... the curse affects the elves ? Luther wondered. I thought Varison had failed to....

- His infant was a degenerated beast worthy of Ushoran's offspring, Manesh'k explained without looking away from Gilnash. It was unable to control its thirst, which is why he killed it himself.

- Ah... I see. But then...

Gilnash looked away.

- He hopes that this place will quench her thirst as it quenches ours, Manesh'k guessed aloud.

He took a look at the ocean of ferns, thinking. He lingered on the light until the spiky spirit came again to fly in his field of vision. It was a daring bet. All three had violent reactions when they became undeads. But did they only have a choice?


*​


Cross-legged on the low branch of a coniferous tree, without thorns, the shapeshifter observed. In silence. The immense tree-man was agitated. This was nothing new. But the events of the previous day had obviously not helped. On several occasions, the venerable spirit had suddenly disappeared from the grove to reappear without warning on the other side. Even the succession of incarnate bushes and dryads that never left it could not follow. They entered a confused frenzy then rushed towards the tree-man when it reappeared. Now, Gusternum probably no longer distinguished between man, elf and undead. So when he heard the enchantress approaching, long before she was in sight, he came to meet her. As he did so, he carefully avoided the spirits of the forest.

- Father and son are furious, she sighed as an introduction.

- They are not the only ones, Anos replied with a new glance at the undergrowth. Let us go further.

She nodded. It was only when they had gone far enough away to the taste of the lone elf that he picked up again:

- It's looking for them. The forest is agitated with its comings and goings between here and the paths.

- Yeah, I feel it too. But I doubt it'll ever find Gaylria.

Anos looked at her, surprised.

- Gusternum doesn't care about the rider, was she Helion's daughter. It only has eyes for vampires.

She nodded in resignation. Anos already admitted what neither she nor her family refused to accept : Gaylria had died the moment Helion's daughter was banished.

- I can't understand... she murmured. How could all this happen...

Anos bowed his head sideways, waiting to see what the enchantress was getting at.

- The banishment had no effect on this red and painted thing, yet Gaylria and the vampires disappeared instantly. And then... how did it get here ? If vampires were able to hide its existence, why didn't they do it for themselves ? And how ? How did they do it and how do they keep making it invisible even to Loren's eyes ! That's impossible !

Passing his tongue over his lips, Anos took a few steps, before returning to the enchantress.

- I think we're looking at this the wrong way.

- Wrong way ?

- I was here at the monoliths. There was no trace of the demon. Yet its presence would not have been too much. And it wasn't with them at Mortourbe when we ambushed them. It didn't came until after that.

- What are you getting at? she asked, crossing her arms.

- I don't think these vampires control or have controlled the demon. I think they don't even have the power to do that.

- You're wrong, two of them manipulated...

- The dark and brown winds. That's not enough to summon such a servant. In addition, this one was wearing a necklace.

In front of the perplexed face of her interlocutor, Anos swept with his foot the dead leaves and revealed the ground under them. From the big toe, he roughly traced the symbol he had noticed on the beast's neck. A human figure "eight", stylized and distorted. Warda's gaze was immediately illuminated. She had indeed seen the pendant, but at the time had not given it any importance.

- The doomed rune...

She turned to Anos who took the time to carefully erase the unholy drawing.

- This bloodletter was wearing the symbol of Khorne himself ! It's a chosen one from ruin ! It is...

The truth seemed so obvious now...


*​


Bothel fell off the branch. He slowly approached the body, his shoulders sagging with each step. The cauterized wounds were still smoking with the morning freshness. The murder was very recent, but he was well aware that tracking the beast would be futile. Scouts as his father's enchantress were blind to this creature's movements. He, a simple warrior, had little chance of finding her.

The fight must have been hard : the animal's horn was stained with blood that was not its own. But that was not enough... At least the unicorn's agony had not lasted long.

His fists were tight, he swallowed a howl of rage. His powerlessness made him sick. He couldn't save his sister. He couldn't protect the forest from the bloodthirsty demon. He could not pass his anger on the undead responsible for this chaos.

With a dark look, he looked for the direction in which the beast might have gone. In vain...


*​


Delicately, the bird friend laid the body on the ground. Now they had to wait. Wait for the curse to take effect. That this elf, from whom they knew nothing, would join them in non-life. The three vampires exchanged looks. There was no need for words. Having noticed their change in behavior, the spirit with quills came to fly between them, but they did not pay attention to it. Not even when it flew near the elf's face, pale.

- What…

All three turned in the direction Luther was pointing. Someone had joined them. About ten meters away from them, another elf stared at them, impassive. She appeared out of nowhere, deceiving the sharp senses of the undeads.

- It's you, exclaimed the youngest. You're the pig that sent us here!

But the enchantress did not reply, contenting herself with observing them. Her diaphanous dress flew around her. Yet there was no wind to lift it.

Raising his sword between them, Manesh'k took some careful steps towards her.

- Elf, he began. We mean no harm. What happened to that unfortunate woman is a...

Without warning the elf was replaced by a new plant creature. At the moment when the illusion was dispelled, it opened wide a mouth filled with thorns. The thing threw its members forward and as if they were whips they came to wrap themselves around the vampire caught off guard. Before he could react it already dragged him to it, loops of lianas and ivies tightening around the undead. His sword fell to the ground, useless.

- Manesh'k !

Wielding his own sword, Luther rushed forward. However, he had to change his mind : like a monstrous snake, the wooden beast swallowed his whole elder. Choked and compressed, he could not cut with a sword without injuring the victim.

He sweared a curse and grabbed his dagger. Manesh'k's body was agitated with uncontrolled spasms. Even his undead nature could not bear such treatment for long. Shooting at a knot, Luther began to cut it, but it was covered with a bark on which its blade only slipped. In addition...

- Damn it !

He leaps back, shaking his injured hand. Amazed, he saw that thorns as long as his finger had instantly sprouted from the greenish tentacle. They had gone through his gauntlet like paper. With his jaw tight, he tried to find a way to help the vampire. He consulted Gilnash, but he had no answer to give him, taken short...

Luther was suddenly frightened by an inhuman cry. Before their amazed eyes, the vegetable thing... howled in pain. It squirmed in all directions, visibly in an unsustainable suffering. Its tentacles slipped over themselves until they revealed two incandescent embers. The choke loops tightened even more, carefully avoiding the burning spheres. The beast intended to end it all. But the arcanic manifestation entered in movement, coming to be affixed on the biggest liana.

Luther and Gilnash were petrified. Both stood before this prodigy. The balls of fire came and went, mercilessly mutilating the ever screaming vegetable incarnation. One by one the tentacles fell to the ground, blackened by the flames. Until the loops loosened and the creature rolled pitifully to the ground.

In front of them, breathing deeply, stood the vampire, shaken but whole. In the hollow of his palms were coiled the saving flames that continued to burn, fed by the rage of the living dead. The hoarse breath, while it did not need to breathe by its nature, it gradually let them burn. His skin didn't even have the ashes of the spell on it.

The companions remained incredulous.

- What the... !

Manesh'k gave his younger son a tired look. He stumbled and without Luther would have pitifully spread out on the ground.

- That was amazing ! How did you manage to handle those flames ? Did he question him without worrying about the vampire's condition.

- Let him recover for a second, Gilnash intervened. I'll explain it to you.

Luther brought Manesh'k to the elf's body where he let himself fall with all his weight.


*​


- Boy, you've been keeping us here for four days. Your undead birds got the hell out of here, whether they got into this forest or not. And I also want you to explain why we have to do this.

Runtnar insisted on this last word, pointing to the plate placed in the middle of the road, only a few steps from the imposing megalith. Since their arrival, all three camped at the edge of the forest and left a plate of food to spoil, to the great dismay of the two dwarfs. Both were not stupid and had understood well that it was an offering or a kind of invitation. They knew Loren was haunted. But the repurgator put their patience to the test...

John remained silent. He didn't really have any answers to offer. If it is only by penetrating the woods without invitation all three would only find death. He sighed. The trail was cold now. And the vampires had, in all likelihood, disappeared in the undergrowth. They would never get out.

- You're right, sighed John, who turned his back. We have nothing more to do here. Let's go home.

- How ? Wait, Boy.

Runtnar came to stand between the repurgator and its package, standing firmly.

- You're gonna bend the rod like that and go home and get an herbal tea in Aldorf ? After you made us run across the passes and wait in front of a bunch of ferns ? Just because you don't have the guts to get into this forest ? Wait, if I remember these guys killed your buddies and slaughtered two patrols that...

He stopped. The grin of hatred that was slowly drawn on John Grenaille's face left him speechless. Several veins in his forehead were pulsating dangerously over his wide eyes. He blew intensely several times, then turned away from the dwarf. He went around it then bent over its package.

- Guys.

John and Runtnar turned to the second dwarf who, as usual, had remained a silent witness to the whole scene. Hrugnir was standing up and, squeezing the handle of his maul, looked down at the road with his eyes squinting.

An unidentified person was between the menhir and the bowl. Alone, wearing a loincloth and armed with a sword pointing to the ground. His torso, leg and right arm were covered with tattoos of wolves and plants, while a hawk was drawn on his cheek. His piercing look was framed with braided hair strands. The elf was much more muscular than most of those John had had the opportunity to meet.

- Come on, Runtnir grunted as he grabbed his rifle.

- Put your weapons down, told John while advancing with hands where he coult see them. Do it ! he insisted as both remained stoic.

Runtnar reluctantly executed himself, then imitated by his brother.

- Please accept... John began.

- What are you doing here ? Asked the elf without detours, interrupting the repurgator.

The two dwarfs tipped, but John did not catch the offense. He abandoned the offering and rituals he had once been told about to get to the heart of the matter.

- We're in pursuit of three fugitives. We think they've gotten ins...

The look of the elf appeared suddenly darken as he advanced towards them with an energetic step. As he did so, he raised his blade with a menacing look. Runtnar immediately pointed at him as Hrugnir approached John.

- You're gonna tell me everything you know, right now !


*​


Bothel's joyful smile and our chases in the heart of the forest always made our father, Helion, fulminate. We knew it was forbidden to come into these groves. That was precisely why we came only here...

The joy of living, discovering these fabulous creatures. Merchants hold them in cages because they sing, but they do not deserve to be imprisoned. These idiots do not even understand melodies: they are prayers of hope, of freedom, not vulgar sounds from human instruments.

Listen my words carefully because I know you will hear them. My name is Gilnash and I was born on the other side of the continent hundreds of years ago.


*​


- Wait, let me recap, Luther stopped.

He was pinching his forehead. He inspired then mechanically resumed :

- Not the same world, not the same energy flows. Tristothing's fire... the magus, couldn't find arcanic food. So he drew from Manesh'k's supply. Am I right?

- More or less, Gilnash sighed after a second. But the idea is there.

A crack in the air made them suddenly startle. A new enemy had just fallen from the branches. Luther had just enough time to roll aside, taking away the elf's body so that it would not be cut up by a vegetable whip, bristling with thorns. Manesh'k knelt on his knees, swearing. He was an easy target in his condition.

Catching his brother's Lahmian sword, Gilnash pushed the beast away. But it did not give up and immediately returned to the assault.


*​


Father's anger was unprecedented when Bothel left. Even my initiation rite among the windriders was ousted. Yet I was the first to suffer from his departure : my older brother had always been there. And today he abandoned me.

To flap my wings, to shout with joy, to feel the wind on my feathers... I could never live more intense sensations than to share the flight of a prince of the sky. At least that's what I thought. In one night, the thirst for blood turned everything upside down.

I know my memories are flashing before your eyes right now. Memories don't lie. That's why you have to trust us : we're not your enemies.


*

The knot wrapped around the blade. Suddenly it was thrown aside. However the vampire's grip did not give in and Gilnash followed with it. His body shattered against a nearby trunk before disappearing under the ferns.

The brambling thing now turned to its next victims. Raising his own sword, Luther stood between it and the two wounded.

- You'll see what I'm made of, he growled ready to jump at the slightest movement of his enemy.

Not intimidated the creature threw herself forward and impaled itself to the guard. With a quick movement Luther tore off a whole part of its body, without any more effect. He rolled to his side, hit in the head by a limb full of thorns.

Gilnash stood up painfully and saw their enemy bending over Manesh'k, offering his body as a shield to the unconscious elf. Both would be shattered if he didn't intervene.


*​


The shell is shaking under my fingers. It's about to hatch. And a few minutes later, eyes full of stars like a little girl, I discover this frail animal. No, it's much more than an animal. Today it's just a newborn, but tomorrow it'll be the lord of the sky. It will be my companion. My friend. It'll be Anok!

To fight thirst for every heart beating nearby. To fight against the inner beast not to succumb to madness. Abhorash's precepts are inhuman. They're too hard to follow... But they have to. Because deep down I know it's the only thing to do. Otherwise take your own life for good. For my brothers in the sky and my brothers in blood, I would be strong. I would know how to resist.

I won't hide from you that the awakening will be painful. You were mortally wounded and I only had one way to save you. The thirst will be added your wound. You're gonna have to realize the impossible. You're gonna have to resist. Anyway, there are no hosts here to please you.


*​


Growling more violent than ever, the simian spirit came out of nowhere. It literally crossed the bramble beast before twirling, gesticulating like a devil. The effect was immediate. Their aggressor backed away, affected by the intangible animal in some way. It stood and made a series of menacing squeaks. But their porcupine-backed companion was not intimidated and continued to protest. And, as incredible as it sounds, it was repelling the creature. Shouting inarticulate sounds, it continued to molest its opponent until it finally turned its heels.

The three vampires followed the bramble beast with their eyes until it disappeared into the shadows. Then returned to the translucent spirit.

- By the dragon flame, what just happened ? Luther swore.


*​


Today we are strong enough. Father is finally proud of us and no longer needs to compare us to Bothel. He himself is envious of my status, he confessed it to me during a visit. Anok took us both under the stars. Now we are gathered. Bothel, Anok and me. Nothing could be more wonderful.

He did it. Father has succeeded. The monster's body was smashed before us, while Abhorash was finally freed from the curse. I can't believe it. After so many decades, we know that there is a transcendence to our state. And I intend to do the same. It is with my brothers, Manesh'k and Walach that we begin our own quest. We too will find opponents to our measure. We will defeat the scarlet thirst once and for all.

Gaylria's eyelids lifted up. Her jade pupils were streaked with ruby. From the depths of her womb rose a cry of agony. She straightened up suddenly and let her suffering burst in a scream.
 
Last edited:

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,559
#35
A new terror stalks the night. Hmm...

Well, this whole mess is kind of their own fault for intruding on an elf forest, but oh well, it's interesting.

Another good entry.
 
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
49
#36
As always thanks for your comment Count Vashra. I appreciate your support ^^

Now, let's get some bloody action !


Fire & Blood
Chapter 14



The bark of the twisted trunk cracked as it deformed. The ancient tree shaked on its roots and sap seeped through the torn envelope. In a final crackling of energy, a blinding light pulsed from the heart of the tree. A light breeze began to blow in the undergrowth, attracting twigs and dead leaves to the vortex.

Slowly, the translucent spirit moved away. The spines on its back had collapsed, producing a kind of thorn coat. Without a sound, he turned to the four individuals, waiting for their reaction with an excited look.

- I can't believe it, Luther whispered, his hand on his forehead to hold the hair swinging against his face. From the beginning this thing could bring us back...

- Spite, squeaked the elf with a black look.

And as she did, she turned to the two elders in the group. Gilnash and Manesh'k were better at hiding their surprise than Luther. They were doubtful about the statements of Gilnash's infant : the sylvan spirit would be able to bring them back to the real world. But they now had to acknowledge their misjudgment.

Manesh'k stepped forward, his silhouette standing out in the blinding light of the vortex. His cape was glued against his diminished figure. Without his armour he was much less imposing. But believing him weakened would have been a serious mistake. He turned around, his scarlet eyes probing one by one his companions, lingering for long seconds on Gaylria.

- We meet on the other side, he solemnly declared.

And without hesitation, the undead jumped into the gate, which irradiated for a moment, illuminating the vampires. Luther stepped forward, taking a disdainful look at the elf.

- I swear to you, girl. If this thing doesn't take us home, I'll find you and make you eat your pointed ears.

Gilnash grinned but remained silent, squinting as the cadet walked through the gate as well. Now alone with the spite and his daughter in the non-life, he sighed. Then stared at her intensely.

- Once on the other side, it will be terrible, he warns her again.

She ignored it, contenting herself with observing the light, pulsations after pulsations. These reminders were useless. Through Gilnash's memories that she now shared, she relived the metamorphosis of the bird trainer. Over and over again. This one had been terrible. The citizens of Lahmia had perished in their dozens when with Manesh'k they had swept in, all notions of humanity gone. Only the nectar was important, soft and warm, sweet and metallic at the same time....

Gaylria shivered. These memories were not hers. They came from the feelings of an undead man who had been walking the world for centuries. And no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't push them away. They were engraved in her mind, as was the true nature of Gilnash and his companions. And in a few seconds, it would be her turn to fight the furious beast, lurking in the hollow of her veins. Once back in the real world, she would do anything to....

- I will hold you back, Gilnash said as he guessed her thoughts.

- Hold me back ? Huh... Like you care about anything...

But as soon as Gaylria had spoken these words, she already regretted them. The vampire's nature flowed through her. His compassion was sincere. And he would do anything to help her. The elf bowed her head.

- Don't worry, he continued as if he hadn't heard anything. I won't let you kill elves.

Without a word, he reached out his hand to her, which she looked at without saying a word. After all, he had cursed her. This elf was forced to share their fate because of him. And now she was helping them to return to her own world, the gods alone knew why... Sighing, he lowered his arm.

But the elf's grip held him back. In silence they exchanged a glance. And in it he read fear, confusion, hatred... love. Although their relationships had started badly, even if she would suffer centuries for the choice he had made, he was her father in non-life. And few bonds could be so strong.

Hand in hand and the spite with spikes on their heels, they crossed the vortex and left the secret woods behind them.


*​


With a firm step the creature came into another clearing. It marked a pause while a group of birds fled, frightened by its intrusion. Grunting, the being covered with dark tattoos swept the place with its eyes in search of the next victim. However, unlike the previous one, there was no potential prey in the area. None except a primitive deer that observed it placidly. Whatever it decided in an instant. Parasites, humans and elves would wait : ruin claimed blood, whatever its origin. The monster pushed a snarl as he raised its burning blades high, dominating the antlers of the majestic animal. And was pushed back into a confused whirlwind of flesh and fur.

The demon rolled among the wild grasses, but with an agile leap it found himself standing again. Before its shining eyes its prey was completing his metamorphosis. The deer had disappeared, giving way to an elf still covered in fur that was sparse at first sight. However, the scarlet beast was not very interested in the process : a prey was offered to its blade. With a new foliage it moved towards the shapeshifter as he slowly moved backwards in the center of the glade. It was only then that the dozens of ambushed archers from all over revealed their presence. By the time the intruder realized the trap in which it had set the claws, it was pierced by a flood of arrows.

Enchanteress and lord of the forest advanced out of the undergrowth as the scarlet monstrosity collapsed a few metres away. They joined Anos, who remained disarmingly calm despite his confrontation.

- The animal flair to the rescue of magic, commented the master who wip a smile off the lonely elf's face. So much pain for an unfortunate necklace....

- A rune not to be neglected, Warda pointed out.

Helion nodded. It was the symbol of the blood god himself. A relic capable of reversing the magic, whatever its origin. This thing alone had caused more damage than an entire herd....

Having swapped the bow for the spear, the woodland warriors surrounded the mutilated monster without exchanging a word. With exemplary coordination, they skewered the creature that had a last jolt before giving its last breath. Slowly, the brightness of his eyes passed by, leaving only two dark, eyelid-less orbits.

One by one, the spearmen removed their tips and exchanged brief nods of satisfaction. Their brothers and sisters were avenged. Leaving the unholy carcass there, they took a few steps back and took the time to contemplate this thing that had caused their forest to suffer so much.

- Something is wrong, however declared the enchantress to these two companions, the worried look.

- The rune, Helion said as she waved to the nearest lancer.

This one put down his spear and went to lean over the remains.

- It's not the rune, she insisted as she thought aloud.

- He is dead and we are in possession of his artifact, said Helion. What else is there to add ?

Lifting the fist, the soldier displayed the chain collar that he had managed to remove despite the deformed skull of the beast. Warda looked away, grinning. Then suddenly opened her eyes wide, finally realizing their mistake:

- The Bloodletters decompose into a puddle of blood when they are revoked ! she shouted.

As if to emphasize her words, a wild snarl swept over the clearing. Immediately the spearmen took back their weapons. But already the tattooed demon was raising its flaming sword. It cut the elf's wrist in a blink of an eye and pinned him to the ground. Its clawed grip closed on the pendant despite the spearheads that instantly pierced its body. Nevertheless, it managed to raise a muzzle stained with elven blood.

Not far from this futile battle and beyond the perception of the elves, the tenuous veil of reality was intertwined : the offering claimed by the Lord of the Skulls was back.


*​


- Undead, demons, sorcerers, necromancers, massacred patrols... rhaaaa !

Bothel shook his head vigorously as he skillfully climbed out of the underground. He finally passed the knotty roots surrounding the opening and pulled a tuft of long grass from within reach.

- At least you will have spent your nerves on something other than a mannequin, commented another elf on his heels, also covered in tattoos.

The first dancer groaned as he cleaned his bloody hands.

- All they had to do was answer more spontaneously.

With great strides the nomadic troop moved away from the barely visible underground, surrounded by wild grasses. But after only a few minutes towards the wood city, Bothel froze. The tufts of dirty grass slipped off his trembling fingers. Facing the five war dancers, just twenty meters away, stood one of these damn vampires. Dressed in a simple loincloth, he gave them a defiant smile, revealing his fangs. Then he stretched himself carelessly by performing a few shoulder reels.

- You... scolded the elf... you dare to appear before us !

- I dare, replied the creature whose smile slowly faded, his eyes shining with anger.

The dancers remained motionless, looking at the vampire whose armor had disappeared. After a few moments of silent study, the intruder took the initiative to take a step forward. He even had the nerve to invite his enemies to come and face him, greeting them with the sword.

- We bring you his head, soberly addressed one of the elves to Bothel.

The person remained silent while three partners unhooked the blades hanging from their hips. They moved forward fast and the vampire backed away cautiously, impassively.

- It's a gross trap, argued the last dancer close to Bothel.

- His arrogance will be his downfall.

He approached a quieter step as his companions threw themselves at the undead. Immediately the wood resonated with metallic impacts. The elves swirled with fury, attacking from all sides with their six blades. However, with impressive reflexes, the vampire managed to keep them in line. For the time being. He split, dodged and counter-attacked with a vigour tenfold increased by the absence of armor to slow his movements.

- It's a lost fight from a....

He stopped as a spite flew by them, its back covered with spikes. He followed it with his eyes, until he discovered that another undead had just appeared in that direction. Engulfed in a badly damaged armor, he had his weapon in his hand, full of rage. Bothel recognized him in an instant : he had survived the lemur of the Mortourbe.

- I don't know how you got back from the secret paths, inveighed Bothel. But you'll wish you'd stayed there and rot !


*​


Almost escaping his grip, she pushed a scream that echoed through the woods. Gilnash grinned as the fury struggled harder, scratching his face and ploughing his ribs with her elbow. As he felt her escape from his embrace, he finally managed to identify the scent. Satisfied, he hurried to throw the rabid newborn child into the darkness. Immediately he drew his daggers, ready to face her if necessary. From the shadows she gave him a wild look. She'd do anything to tear him apart.

However, the soft aroma must have finally reached her nostrils. Suddenly straightening up, she sniffed the air and completely lost interest in him. A few more seconds and she would disappear into the depths. To say that Luther had smelled the dwarf's blood more than a kilometer away... But that he had deigned to leave this prey to Gaylria surprised him even more than this ability of Walach's son. Or finding a dwarf in this place.

Slowly, the vampire's shoulders collapsed. For the time being, he had managed to canalize her. But for how long, he couldn't have said it. The only previous known one was Varison's son, an elf warrior whom he had considered worthy of non-life. But despite the efforts of the ancient master of arms, his infant had remained an uncontrollable animal. However, he had waited several weeks before eliminating this simulacrum of a warrior. To their knowledge, no other vampire had tried to transform an elf into one of them.

Returning to the present, he turned to the bare-chested elf who was running, amazed to find a living dead man there. However, he chased away his stupor, twirling a spear around his hips. A spear. With only his daggers left to Gilnash.

- Great, he said bitterly.


*​



- You... Did... Killed... MY... SISTER ! shouted Bothel, punctuating each word with a deaf strike on the guard of the vampire whose wrist trembled at each impact.

- My poor boy, managed to slide Luther by finally taking a step back. If you knew, it's just the opposite.

The elf screamed more loudly and tried to skewer the undead. However, his blade only split air, Luther having moved aside. Without losing a moment, Bothel followed with an aerial heel stroke that the vampire blocked with his wrist. However, he escaped a cry of pain and jumped back, holding his injured member. On impact, a thin blade hidden in the back of the shoe had bitten its flesh. He grinned.

- When I'm done with you, you'll be a scarlet porridge, added the elf as he returned to a fighting position, his blade hidden under his heel again.


At about twenty meters Manesh'k skillfully slipped between two vertical blades and struck a violent left hook at their owner. His nose burst into a scarlet spray, then he collapsed. With a roll the vampire stood back from his two other enemies who stood in front of their unconscious brother.

Taking advantage of this brief respite, the undead licked the blood that was now smearing his fist. The elves ticked as they watched him and charged together. However, they did not know that a few scarlet drops represented a handful of memories for a vampire.

Without lifting his blade, he dodged the first assault and with a sudden flexion passed under the second's weapon. He even allowed himself the luxury of knocking the ankle of the first dancer with one kick of his boot with an evocative crack. He ignored the wounded man's cries and stood up to face the last swordsman. He would no longer collect any more slashs : he now knew the different moves and twirls of the war dancers. Even better : he knew he was agile enough to reproduce them.


*​


- By Grimnir's beard !

Stretching his arm through the gap, the elf who had just arrived tried in vain to catch his wounded brother. The latter was merely defying her with a black look.

- What the hell is that ! exclaimed Runtnar as he turned to the other "cell".

John Grenaille was also caught off guard. He had more than a dozen vampires on his hunting list. But this was something new. Shouting more loudly and twisting their eardrums, she made all the wooden cages where they were locked tremble. The repurgator doubted that it was conventional wood : it was much more robust than it should have been. But this strange solidity was put to a severe test. The rabid elf's new shoulder hit unhooked a few stones from the vault.

- Hey, you son of a bitch ! Come and feel the...

Runtnar jumped back as the fury threw herself on the door of his cell.

- I wouldn't make her more angry if I were you, John advised her without getting up.

- No way I'm letting my brother be threatened like that, he spat with guts.

Hrugnir remained silent, slumped against the bottom of his own cage.


*​


The third elf in turn collapsed under Manesh'k's blows. His gaze slipped from one body to the other as he stretched his shoulder, remaining attentive to the metallic shards of Luther's duel. His last opponent had taken advantage of an overconfidence on his part : a dark trail came to stain his pale skin at the shoulder. It did not concern him too much. It would heal quickly after feeding. As soon as the vampire had this thought, he felt an irrepressible need inside him. His jaw trembling, he forced himself to turn away the eyes of unconscious but very much alive elves. The three undead had not eaten since the military patrol of the cave at least five days ago. And had since fought many battles in the damn forest. Slowly giving in, he stepped towards his nearest victim. He could feel the blood from this broken nose and hear the regular drum of the heart nestled in this chest. He had tasted a few drops of this nectar in the middle of the battle. A simple sample....

The spite's translucent form burst into his field of vision as he bent over to grasp the unfortunate by the neck. The vampire growled and chased him away with the back of his hand. In vain : the immaterial creature only passed through his flesh. However, the icy tingling managed to capture the attention of the undead for a moment. The sharp beast was gesturing from all four limbs, suggesting a direction from which battle cries came. With his mouth open and his fangs exposed, Manesh'k turned to the origin of the tumult. His eyes widened as he realized the situation they were in.


*​


- That's all you can do, the elf ! cried Luther as he wiped his chin.

Bothel did not respond to this umpteenth spade, contenting himself with making the steel roar. The undead was an excellent swordsman and he seemed never to want to get tired. However, the war dancer was beginning to read some of the vampire's shots. The longer their fight lasted, the more predictable he became. He himself had to be aware of this, his provocations becoming more and more original. The tattooed dancer sketched a slight smile, which froze when he noticed the face of his enemy. He was the very expression of surprise, observing a point behind the elf. Listening only to his instincts, he threw himself aside. A glowing blade whistled above him and bounced off the undead guard.

Bothel rolled out of range and straightened himself into a combat position, ready to face this new opponent.

- Uh....

Slowly he lowered his blade. Before his eyes the scarlet beast savagely attacked the vampire forced to retreat at each parade in the face of such fury. Handling two long incandescent swords, the tattooed beast never gave him a moment's respite. It made the arrogant undead bend and even managed to silence him ! However, this fight remained totally illogical : why did this demonic animal attack its master with such hatred ? It was hard to believe that this thing had come to their rescue the day before during the intervention of the tree-man !

At the end, Luther managed to deflect one blade and then push back the other, finally finding an opening in the steel storm of the scarlet aberration. The steel sank to the guard in the scaly abdomen. However, this did not stop the monster who, opening a gaping mouth, came to stick its fangs in the vampire's shoulder. He felt the burning inflicted by the sharp fangs. And this despite its thick shoulders. He screamed in pain and in panic dropped his weapon. He took the bloodletter from the throat with his wounded arm. When he saw the sword raised by the monster, Luther managed to turn sideways. He barely grabbed the guiding wrist with his free hand and stopped the fatal blow a few fingers from his face. The heat released by the weapon made him look wrinkled as he felt the infernal jaw secure its grip, ploughing his flesh. He screamed more beautifully.

Forgetting all caution, Manesh'k hit the creature with all his weight and sent it two meters away. In a blink he stood up again as the beast rolled with a kidney blow, like a hound trapped on his back. Luther moaned at his feet, grabbing his bruised shoulder. While snarling, the beast straightened up, drunk with anger. And, without it seeming to feel any pain, removed Luther's weapon from its belly. It threw it away carelessly.

Manesh'k sketched a grimace as he watched the offspring of Scleras. He had plenty of time to examine it howling and shaking its insidious tongue. This thing had grown since Grissenwald. How many people had been bled ? More importantly, how many times would it take to kill this horror for it to stop rising ? His face became a mask of anger and he in turn scolded, rolling up his lips to reveal his fangs. The chain around the beast's neck ringed as they both charged to engage in yet another deadly struggle.


*​


Gilnash huddled up, hidden among the leaves. From his high position, he could supervise the whole scene. The creature of Scleras was scraping with Manesh'k who had the situation in hand. More or less. They were moving away from the elf warrior. He followed the fight closely, paying attention to each of their weapons rounds. On his side Luther stood up, obviously shaken. He had seen others, he would recover. The main thing was that this mess did not move to the elves' hiding place where Gaylria was feeding herself.

A handful of elves came along : a few archers and a lancer, as well as the three individuals who remained in retreat during the fight in the peat pond. Most of them had their strange clothes stained with blood. They stopped when they discovered the scene, the archers hesitating on the target to aim at : the two fighters or the wounded undead in retreat ? Keeping his nerve, Gilnash slipped onto another branch as stealthily as possible. He had to get closer to these newcomers.

The diaphanously dressed witch who had banished them to these strange woods was among them. She was their way out of the damn forest. Evolving as fast as the woodland vault allowed him to, Gilnash noticed other movements behind the archers. Were they other elves? He stopped for a moment. And swore.


*​


- I thought you were taking care of this thing, mocked Bothel as the newcomers joined him.

However, he lost his haughty expression when he noticed the sticky clothes of several archers. Helion himself had the scarlet flank.

- Later the questions, his father cut off. What the... what... what... what the hell is this ? I thought they were prisoners of the secret groves ?

The fact that he chose a human term said a lot about the very inconsistency of this scene. Warda shrugged her shoulders. She had no answer to give as to the presence of the two undead. With a wave of his hand Helion ordered the archers to release their arrows. Demon as undeads were to die, for good. However, in a whirlwind of feathers, a buzzard burst out of nowhere and made a loud scream. It scratched the wrist of one of the archers as he released his cord, deflecting the shot. The other shots burst out and hit the demon who, improbably, was interposed between Manesh'k and the elves at that moment. Luther, for his part, narrowly avoided them by rolling, alarmed by the bird's intrusion. Under a rain of arrows he ran to shelter behind a massive trunk without any further request.

- By Loec ! shouted the archer, waving his arms to make the troublemaker bird flee. The forest itself has lost its mind !

- You wouldn't know how to say it so well, said Anos as he watched the newcomers.

Without another word the archers stopped. The elves slowly lowered their weapons. Several humanoids passed them, composed of animated brambles, green vines and thick knotty branches.

Without saying a word they stood between the elves and the two fighters. During their deadly struggle, neither of them noticed the dozens of dryads that were spreading around them. However, none of them seemed to want to intervene. It was only between two weapon passes, taking a step back, that Manesh'k realized the arena that the wooden devils had deployed around him. Carefree, the scarlet monster snarled once again, preparing to jump on the vampire. However, the quake that followed dissuaded it from doing so.

Just like the previous time, the bark behemoth appeared out of nowhere. It did not need to break the line of inferior spirits. Without losing a moment it charged and wiped the protagonists with the force of an avalanche with a long vegetable whip. If Manesh'k managed to jump over it, the demon was not so lucky. It went to be embedded in a trunk about ten meters away in a scarlet rain. Without waiting, many creatures from the groves rushed to its remains.

On the edge, Manesh'k stood up and faced up. Gusternum was easily five times his height and was infinitely heavier than the vampire. Bringing its limbs back to the bust, the mastodon inspired for a moment before pushing a hoarse rumble. It spat out a cloud of orange dust again. It surrounded the undead without him trying to escape it.

Manesh'k's skin and the vegetation around him became orange-coloured, close to rusty iron. He kept his nerve, taking care to study the colossal creature. This thing had imposing whips welded to its wrists, not vines but rather long branches of willows with sharp-edged leaves that could dig the ground when it brought them close to it. He had to avoid being beaten down at all costs, he thought. Even the regenerative faculties of the undeads would not allow him to survive such a blow.

As the ochre mist slowly dissipated, Manesh'k pierced the green and sparkling eyes of the tree-man. Calmly he walked aside in order to be visible, raising his sword with insolence. The emerald light at eight meters high pulsed with anger under the provocation. Striking the ground with its foot, Gusternum bellowed with rage in the face of the undead who felt the vibrations through his jaw. Nevertheless, he had been able to see what he wanted. The entire body of the colossus was covered with pieces of knotty bark that he guessed to be as strong as stone. Nevertheless, on its left flank one of its vegetable scales was missing : the tattooed demon's incandescent blades had left two deep furrows in its flesh.

Losing all restraint, the lord of the woods charged again, at an astonishing speed for its size. It hit the ground where Manesh'k stood with the strength of a divine hammer, its fist sinking deep into the forest soil. It had already released itself as Manesh'k finished his roll to the side and swept him away with the same arm. This time the vampire jumped over, just to see the second sharp-leaved whip fall. But from a new roll forward he slipped under the extension of the man-tree. Within blade reach of the trunk. And the breach in the giant's natural armor. He made a smile with a murderous blow that he knew was decisive. And the Lahmian steel ricocheted lamentably against the living wood. A few splinters were torn off at most. He staggered for a moment, his muscles torn apart by the backlash. Would he have hit a rock that he would have broken it in half. But Gusternum was not made of stone. And a rock wouldn't have thrown the vampire off with a kick.

Suddenly shaking up a sylvain spirit fascinated by the fight, Luther rushed between Gusternum and the vampire on the ground. Immediately the spirits of the forest rushed towards him, ready to tear apart the already wounded undead. The roar of the oldest of the forest guardians discouraged them, however, as Luther interfered.



Gilnash studied with amazement the giant of bark pushing back the lower spirits. Clearly it was leading the horde of thorns devils. And it did not tolerate anyone interfering in its fight. A rare event, even in the eyes of the elves, the dryads meekly withdrew, bowing with deference to their elder and reforming their circle. Suddenly several of them made high-pitched cries attracting general attention. Cutting limbs thicker than the vampire's thigh as if they were twigs, the scarlet demon broke the newly reconstructed circle. And without further concern for the bark spirits it charged right at the tree man by raising its two incandescent swords.

Gusternum immediately intercepted it with a backhand, its vines-whipping whistling to come and sweep the demon away. But this one struck with both blades with all the force conferred by its momentum. A scarlet arm flew on one side, its fist still clenched on the guard of its demonic sword. And a confused mass of vines and twigs rolled through the grass. Ignoring its own wound, the scarlet beast stood up and mumbled with satisfaction as Gusternum stepped back, bringing its wounded limb back close to it. Its long, flexible branches had been cut cleanly at mid-length, with a stream of sticky sap flowing from the partially cauterized wounds.


*​


- Shooting the slightest arrow would be stealing its prey. In the state it is in, it will not tolerate it, Anos contended, shaking his head, arms crossed on his chest.

- But you can see that this demon will turn it into a firewood ! exclaimed Bothel as he raised his arms to the sky. A hundred dwarves couldn't get close to it, but look at the wounds it caused it in just two swords blows !

- We are aware of this, said Warda while grinning as Gusternum was undergoing a new stamp. But there's nothing more we can do.

- Any...

- By Isha, Bothel ! gave in the enchantress. It just massacred more than 20 of our soldiers without showing any injuries ! How many more do you want....

- There is a way, Anos intervened in a calm voice. Without the pendant it wears around its neck, you should be able to banish it to the secret groves.

He had spoken these words when he addressed the enchantress. However, his face was turned towards the warrior.

- Its pendant ? repeated Bothel without understanding.

- It is a talisman, a gift of the dark god, Khorne itself, said the enchantress. And as long as it wears it, it will be immune to magic, whatever its shape.

In front of the dazzled look of the war dancer, Anos explained by straightening his arms :

- Forest gaze, primitive human magic or banishment to other worlds, he enumerated and insisted on the latter point. Nothing will work on it as long as it wears that thing. And believe me, it's not as if we didn't try to take it away from him.

Without participating in the debate, Helion contemplated the struggle between the tree-man and the demonic avatar, looking darker and darker. They had failed until then. The imposing man-tree paid a high price for it. How many more lives were these invaders going to take ? His jaw was tense and he was angry. Wounded or not, what lord was he to watch his people and allies die in vain ?


*​


The vampire grinned from his rooftop. The current situation was completely out of their control. But what the almost naked elf had just declared gave birth to an idea in his mind. A close rustle suddenly alerts him. Some birds flew all around as several incarnations of wood and vine approached, slipping from branch to branch as he had done earlier. Caught in a trap, all he had to do was hope that this idea would be right. Betting everything he had, he let himself fall into the void.

Bothel blenched when a dark form dropped among them from the high branches. All the elves turned around, their hands clutched on their weapons pointed at... Warda.

- What...

- A gesture and I slit her throat, Gilnash threatened without preamble. Whether it's an elf or a spite.

In a flash he had slipped his dagger under the enchantress' throat. He grabbed her wrist with his free hand and blocked it in her back, forcing her to bend herself while lifting her neck with his blade.

- Quiet. I speak, he imposed as Bothel was about to protest. We don't have much time, so I'll be brief. Warda, tell me how many elves we've killed.

She inspired with difficulty all the witnesses ready to jump on the undead at the slightest movement.

- A thirty-something...

- Not the scarlet beast ! he cut off immediately. Vampires.

- You... you... you...

- None ! he replied in his place, pressed for time. We haven't killed anyone since we entered, whether they were elves or trees !

- My sister....

- Your sister was wounded by a dryad ! he cut again with a black look at the war dancer.

He suddenly pointed to the tree-man and its opponent of the dagger.

- We entered your domain by mistake, he said. Not to harm you. That monster over there followed us there but it's not one of us ! We have been fighting it for several weeks now !

- How do we know you're right ? asked Helion, studying the undead with intensity.

- We came back from your secret groves with the help of this spite, Gilnash said while pointing to the spiky spirit that was just flying there. Do you think it would have brought us back like this if we had soiled its beloved forest ?

- I don't believe a word of it, spat Bothel. You are not...

- He is right, Warda intervened with her eyes wide open in amazement. This spite opened up a way back for them !

- What do you expect from us in this case, vampire ? asked Anos at last.

Gilnash took a look over his shoulder. The shapeshifter had his arms crossed again and seemed particularly calm despite the enchantress' uncomfortable position.

- I want an exit. For me and my mates. In exchange, we rid you of the demon's necklace, he added by anticipating their complaints. All Warda has to do is banish it to your groves. Then she opens a path for us in the Roots of the World and you will never hear from us again.

- The Roots of... how...?

- How do you know about the Roots, Helion completed by losing ground.

- He knows it because Gaylria is alive, guessed Anos in a tone that betrayed his own surprise and unfolded his arms.

Helion's gaze went from Warda to Anos, then Gilnash. He supported his gaze with a heartbeat and then nodded darkly.



*​


- Can you handle it ? Asked Bothel in a tone that betrayed his skepticism.

- There were originally three of them, Gilnash confided. This is the last one.

- ... If you lied for my sister I...

Without waiting for the end of his threats, Anos passed them and made an impossible leap for a normal elf. However, he was not a normal elf. And the dryads were taken by speed when he flew over them. And by the time they reacted, the two agile fighters in its wake had also crossed the animated wooden wall they made.

The war dancer roared with anger as he poured first on both belligerents. Scarlet demon and tree-man turned to him for a moment. The glowing blade whistled, but the fighter slipped under the sword. He hit its chest hard and sent the beast to roll back and then straightened up, grinning in anger. Behind his back, the vegetable whip waved like a divine punishment for interfering in this fight.

Until a colossal mass of flesh shakes the tree-man. Gusternum stepped back, destabilized by the impact. Its assailant fell back on two bare feet, his forearms finished with hooves. But the matter of these crumbled, quickly replaced by thin fingers. The bovine horns barely emerged from Anos' forehead were swallowed by his temples. Gusternum stared at him for a few seconds, shaken by the shapeshifter's intervention. On the side the war dancer threw himself at the scarlet enemy, stealing its prey. However, a bestial roar brought its interest back to its author, the shapeshifter. Also when the furious tree-man took its impulse in his direction, Anos turned his heels without asking, starting a new transformation without having finished the previous one.


*​


- Ally ourselves with the elves ? Are you kidding ? Luther cried as he helped Manesh'k get up.

But the vampire's leg gave way under his weight and he fell back into the arms of his nephew with a moan. The deaf strike from the immense sylvan guardian had devastated his body. Ironically, the arrival of the scarlet invocation had probably saved his life... On this thought, his gaze rested on the vegetable whip, bristling with real vegetable blades. Sliced by the aberration of Scleras, it oozed an amber sap where the burning sword had struck.

- Do you have a better alternative to leave these places in one piece ? replied Gilnash.

- I...

The bark behemoth interrupted the undead with a muffled rumble by lifting huge clods of earth. Its prey, a kind of humanoid with goat limbs, had just flip-flopped between its massive legs. Starting at an astonishing speed despite his weight, Gusternum chased the resourceful elf away.

- Trust me Luther, Gilnash continued. It's our only way out.

- And they, he cursed as he pointed to Helion and his archers on the other side of the dryade line.

- They will not intervene, Manesh'k replied by straightening up despite the pain. Their shepherd is wounded, as are most of its followers. They will not take the risk of attracting the wrath of their monster or that of Sclera. The dirty work is our responsibility.

Gilnash nodded without reacting to the barely veiled disdain for Helion.

- I'm going to get Gaylria back. Remove this creature's necklace, he said. I...

- The demon is mine, Manesh'k placed with authority, his fangs protruding.

The bird-friend studied him for a moment. A shin, a wrist and multiple broken ribs. In such a state he had nothing to do on a battlefield. Nevertheless, he knew about his brother's in death gaze. Nothing he would say could change his mind


*​


The blade fell on the elf's skull and surprised him... and sparked him when Lahmian steel intercepted the fatal blow. The demon turned its face towards the undesirable troublemaker. Manesh'k held his weapon in his left hand, his jaw tightened under the effort as the creature continued to support his shot. By pushing a growl the beast attacked with its second blade and the vampire had to throw himself backwards so as not to be cut in half. From a clumsy roll he stood up, leaning on his valid leg, just to discover the creature tattooed above him, the two blades brandished.

That was without counting the war dancer who swirled between the two of them. His kick came to pick the beast in the stomach and threw it back.

- Stay out of it, vampire, spat Bothel.

The wounded warrior swallowed a rebuke. His intervention had almost been his last pass of arms. As the scarlet monster returned to the assault with a bestial whistle, Bothel came to meet him and their deadly ballet restarted. Manesh'k was silently enraged to be only a witness to this fight. His wounds made him more of a burden than a real help to the elf. The latter was gifted, he moved and hit with skill and regularly passed the defense of the demon. However, he did not linger, aware that a fatal blow would not be enough to win. But despite his efforts, he could not tear off the unholy amulet from its owner.


*​


Anos finally found himself facing a wall of dryades. They formed a wall that he could not cross. And this was true whatever his transformation, assuming that they give him time to change his skin. A deep rumble behind him confirmed this assumption. Grinning, he turned around, ready to suffer the wrath of the tree man.

Bowed over the elf, the venerable spirit marked a pause. What could be the whirling questions behind that emerald look, keeping it from crushing the elf ? Anos had no idea. After all, Gusternum was only accountable to itself...

Suddenly, a branch bounced off the shoulder of the tree-man.

- You piece of bark, come and see what I'm made of !

Under the amazed gaze of the elf, the third vampire made great provocative gestures. And his persiflage immediately paid off : turning away from the cornered shapeshifter, Gusternum chased the undead who immediately turned his heels.

- This one doesn't lack nerve, commented Anos with a look for the dryads, who also turned towards the vampire.

He had probably just saved his life....


*​


Bothel armed a cross-shot from top to bottom. Again the incandescent weapon stopped and in a metallic sheen the elven blade broke. Without losing a moment, the elf reversed his strike and, yelling, sliced off the monster's wrist with his broken weapon before parrying the second one that was coming down. He drove in a blink, anxious to keep the distance between the amputated beast and himself.

The elf took the new attack from his opponent. Taking a weapon away only seemed to have increased its fury. So he attacked Bothel once again. However, he was beginning to show signs of exhaustion. He once again spread the demonic sword. In the process, he pushed the broken weapon into the tattooed abdomen with a scream of victory.

Immediately the creature's second scratched hand sprang up. In a flurry of anger, the monster ploughed Bothel's face, which was thrown aside under the force of the blow. Ignoring its own wound, the monster stood up high above the elf on the ground. Its second blade had reappeared on its fist, although it had been sliced a few moments earlier. Snarling joyful, it raised its arm to finally finished him.

But once again the Lahmian sword comes out. In a scarlet splash, the monster's head flew sideways as the pendant fell to the ground in a metallic sound. In an instant the beheaded body turned to strike this unwelcome one. But without delay, the opportunistic vampire rolled under the burning blade and, lying under the blind demon, threw the talisman away. Without waiting he crawled in another direction, unwilling to be projected again into another dimension.


*​


- Warda ! shouted Helion as their decapitated target clawed the horns of its own head.

Just like the vampire on the ground, the elf lord turned to the enchantress. However, she had not waited for them. Her eyes closed, she was speedily articulating the syllables of her incantation. A breath of wind agitated her hair and her diaphanous dress as she channeled her spell. Instinctively the dryads turned to her. And the next moment, a violent flash of light blinded everyone present, whether elves, vampire or spirit.


*​


- They succeeded, Anos congratulated himself although he was still blinded.

Thanks to his sharp senses he immediately noticed the disappearance of their enemy. On the other hand, the shapeshifter did not notice the immense grip that threw him into the shadows. Far from being dazed, Gusternum grabbed the elf it lifted high above it with a roar of anger. Then, crushing the unfortunate elf in its iron fist, it violently hit the ground, throwing dirt in all directions. It straightened up again. Then finally released the unconscious elf who rolled like a wireless puppet. Finally rid of this intruder, it looked for the profaners of its forest.


- Anos ! cried Warda as she put her hands to her mouth.

She was trying to help him, but Helion stood in her way.

- He will die if I don't treat him quickly ! protested the enchantress.

But the elf shook his head.

- You will die the moment you try to approachthem. It's already a miracle that he and Bothel...

He suddenly realized that his son was still not getting up after being thrown to the ground. He was certain, however, that the demon had not hurt him before he disappeared.

- The venerable spirit, commented one of the members of his guard.

Helion's gaze slipped to the tree-man. It had noticed the disappearance of its scarlet opponent and was fulminating. Until it saw the two vampires still present, side by side.

- Do not interfere under any circumstances, he said after a moment.

- But... and your children ?

- Bothel is not Gusternum's target. As for Gaylria....

- Your daughter's fate is in the hands of these vampires, reminded him the enchantress with a dark look.

Helion grinned. But he added nothing more and simply watched the giant move towards the already wounded undead.


*​


- A curious custom, Manesh'k commented ironically as he observed Anos' body.

However, he made a grimace by holding his ribs.

- Hey, protested his nephew right away. I'm in charge of inappropriate humour, don't touch it !

But the two vampires stopped their jokes all at once when Gusternum bawled as it charged. The ground trembled at each step of the furious tree-man's footsteps.

- Hold him back for a moment, Manesh'k suddenly said, turning around.

- Wait, what?

Caught off guard, he was almost crushed by the brutal assault. Putting aside all his experience as a fighter, he fled. Screaming like a madman while waving his valid arm. In a blitz the behemoth was again on its heels, throwing clods of earth into the air at each of its steps.


*​


John had no more words. After a final crash, the bars of the cell had given way. In a heartbeat, the dwarf's life was gone. That dwarf he had dragged into this mess....

The vampire elf tore a new bloody bite out of the corpse, savoring her feast. Hrugnir, usually so taciturn, had long insulted and cursed her in his own language. But he himself was stunned by this macabre scene. His brother, reduced to lint, was slowly devoured by this infernal creature. His lips waved in the void while tears soaked his beard.

Only John noticed the silent arrival of a new individual before he spoke.

- I'm sorry.

In a second the unrecognizable elf turned around and threw herself on her elder who welcomed her with a violent right hook. Gaylria shook up, hiccupping with surprise, then straightened up. But already the vampire was behind her back. With a sudden but particularly violent blow to the neck, he sent her to bite the dust. This time all the fury of the undead was insufficient. She fell into unconsciousness.

- You... whispered John as he stood up. YOU !

Gilnash turned to the repurgator. The surprise was perceptible in his eyes for a moment. Then he went from the remains to the second imprisoned dwarf.

- I am sorry, he repeated while wiping Gaylria's lips and throat, stained with blood.

- I believed in you ! shouted the repurgator as he shook his cell. I fought alongside you and trusted you ! But in the end, you're just monsters ! I should have exterminated you to the last one when I had the opportunity !

- Perhaps you should have, indeed, replied the vampire in a dark voice by lifting his daughter into death.


*​


- Whatever you intend to do, do it quickly, Luther shouted as he abruptly turned around.

In doing so, he managed to avoid the whip of the tree-man and to gain speed. Much more massive, it continued forward for a few steps before returning to pursuit.

The liquid burned his tongue and lips. And every swallow was like swallowing molten metal. However, Manesh'k forced himself to take an extra sip before throwing away the sliced vines, then fell to his knees. As he had imagined, the sap of this creature was more saturated with magic than a dwarf in beer on a festive evening. He felt it spreading through his veins, flowing to his muscles and setting fire to his arteries. With his jaw tightened to break his fangs, he turned his tight face towards the strange sky that reigned in Loren. The pain was atrocious, even more violent than the first time he had experienced the bite of the sun....

Lancinating, he fell sideways but caught up by putting his hand on the ground so as not to collapse. Dumbfounded by the pain, he nevertheless had a difficult smile : he had caught up on his broken wrist. His broken wrist that he felt boiled under his skin, as did each of his bones when they were resealed. And this since its renaissance centuries earlier. With the exception that never before had the burn been so intense. The energy contained in the sap of this creature drunk with raw magic healed his wounds at a frightening rate !

He straightened up painfully as the sensation dissipated, then took a fresh look at the clearing. He distinguished Luther perfectly, followed by the vegetable monstrosity. As well as the entity that inhabited it. It was literally sweating through the bark. Just like the creatures of wood and brambles surrounding them, though on a smaller scale. He also perceived the many lower spirits, such as the spiked one and the two met at the cairn. The sprites were literally swarming around them. He was shocked to notice them only now. And further on, the elves with the witch who also radiated a soft glow. But most of all, he perceived these ambient flows, all around them, as torrents rushing down from the canopy to sink into the ground here and there.

- Manesh'k !

Luther's cry ripped him away from his contemplation. The tree-man was about to seize him. Luther. His nephew. His companion. His friend. His brother in arms. With violence he pushed back his arcane fascination to give way to a single thought, a single objective. To strike down this giant.

Then his gaze fell on his Lahmian sword. It had only bounced off the bark. But not the demonic sword that was lying a few steps away. But when he tried to grab it, he felt the profane magic pushing him back even before he could get his hands on it. He could not use the incandescent weapon to fight the tree-man. Nevertheless, he had recently taken over the memories of a sorcerer in Grissenwald. And a fraction of his power. Tristofan would have been able to generate a similar spell. With the power that was flowing through his veins at the moment, could he achieve such a feat ?

He raised a finger to the level of his gaze. Aqshi. The flaming wind. Drowned in this green forest, suffocated by this unique atmosphere, he called with all his heart for the fiery wind. Until a slight spark crackled at his fingertips. He then raised his weapon.

- I must stick, not consume, he repeated by slowly sliding his fingers over the Lahmian steel.

He gradually sketched a smile, trying to stay focused. In the wake of his index finger, the metal turned white and emitted a heat similar to the demon's weapon. He clearly saw the scarlet aura along his weapon, which he would not have perceived a week earlier. The heat did not hurt him when, satisfied, he pointed his now enchanted weapon at the tree-man.

- Third round, he solemnly declared. The winner wins everything.

And he rushed off at full speed. He crossed Luther who had not seen him coming in the opposite direction and intercepted the vegetable whip as the demon had done earlier, blade forward. The lateral strike caused him to slide over a meter into the grass but the vampire held on. He felt his shoulders shaking under the force of the shock and was finally pushed aside. However, he managed to maintain his balance and a predatory smile appeared on his face. If his flamboyant fate did not have the same effectiveness as the demonic swords, he had just reached his opponent's left fist. Several sharp vines lay on the ground while smoking. However, he had to hurry because his rough spell could dissipate on his own at any time.

Gusternum did not dwell on this new wound. It swept again, even more enraged than it already was. With a quick leap, the vampire climbed on the limb of the tree-man flying towards him and in the process climbed its already mutilated shoulder. Manesh'k made a new jump as his opponent straightened up. Suddenly the vampire turned around and went down. Facing the colossus' back.

- Aqshi ! he screamed as he ploughed the bark of Gusternum from shoulder to hip, before finishing his fall with a roll.

He got up in a blink and charged once more. The imposing behemoth did not yet face him that he was already slipping on the grass. He snaked between the giant's legs and strikes its knees in the process. Taking even more advantage of his higher velocity, he got up again, once again in the back of his enemy. He moved back two hits later, the two shanks of Gusternum severed cleanly.

The vampire had completely left his enemy behind. And it finally collapsed as amber sap gushed out of the back of its knees. However, it was unable to bend its legs and held on to its knotty arms. With a much more calm step now, Manesh'k walked around him and presented himself in front of it. Even so prostrated, the tree-man measured more than twice his height.


The vampire looked into this emerald light, bubbling with anger. To demons, to dwarves, to undeads but also to elves. This creature hated these life forms, whatever they were. He could see it in its eyes. Unless it was that amber liquid he had ingested that gave him that feeling. It didn't matter.

The tattooed demon had fought it head-on. Expressing all its savagery and thirst for destruction, it had plowed its arms and chest. But Manesh'k was of a different kind. Now that he had his own incandescent weapon, Gusternum no longer had a chance to win.


*​


It was when Gilnash saw the wooden devils rushing forward that he guessed things were turning to vinegar. They were not charging in the direction of the vampire and the unconscious elf he was carrying, but towards the immense sylvan incarnation. The enchantress and the soldiers present were amazed.

As he came closer, he saw no trace of the beast created by Scleras. He nevertheless stopped when he noticed Manesh'k standing alone facing the titan. How was that even possible ? A few minutes earlier his leg and arm were broken ! And yet, he had his sword at his hand and stared at the incarnate spirits rushing at him. But with a hoarse rumbling, the tree-man stopped them from reducing the vampire to lint.

- Do you understand anything ? Luther asked him as he came, neglected by the dryads at the moment that Gusternum had collapsed.

- I should be the one asking.


Obeying the authority of the ancestral spirit, the bark and brambles devils moved away. They fulminated and dug furrows in the earth with their sharp limbs. But they didn't come any closer. And slowly, Manesh'k turned towards the tree-man. He raised his weapon.

The enchantress made a heart-rending cry when he pushed the burning sword into the bark. He plunged the weapon to the guard, at the junction of the chest and the head. With a jolt that elves and vampires alike felt despite the distance, Gusternum floundered. But it didn't collapse. In precarious equilibrium, it held on despite its terrible injury. And Manesh'k, climbed up to his throat, leaning on the weapon stuck in the wood. Then, with solemn slowness, he carried his lips to the wound while rotating the weapon in its living sheath. With the upper limbs in the ground, the creature's suffering was obvious. It pushed a agonizing moan of agony.

- Enough ! Enough !

In the same movement, the elven archers bandaged their bows, arrows pointed at the vampire splashed with amber sap.

- Helion ! called Gilnash with a severe tone.

All colors deserted the elf's face as he discovered his daughter, unconscious in the arms of this second undead.

- Gaylria, he whispered in a torn voice.

- We had a deal, suddenly said a rough voice.

All turned to Manesh'k. He was sticky from sap, his hair stuck to his face and his bare chest. On his belt hung a sheath and a loincloth, both stained with blackened blood. But more than anything else. More than the tone he had just used. More than the deference with which the dryads moved away. His eyes struck elves like vampires. His pupils were scarlet. But they shone intensely, like those of a feline in the dark while they were in full light. As for the white of the eye, it had turned green. A green that pulsed with the same energy as the tree-man's gaze, which he left weakened behind him. Weakened but alive.

- We would rid you of the bloodletter and you would send us back to the world of men.

He turned to Gilnash who took a moment to realize that his brother was asking him for confirmation. What he did with a nod.

- We did, he continued in a relentless tone as he approached step by step. And instead you dropped your monster on us.

- It was my son who defeated the demon, counter Helion. My son than you...

- His heart is still beating, Manesh'k cut off with a rumble of anger dangerously reminiscent of the roar of the tree-man. Just like the one of the shapeshifter.

- Isha, whispered the enchantress before turning towards the body of the war dancer.

But the Lahmian weapon blocked her way, quickly recovering its usual dark colour as it cooled down. With the arrows still pointing at him, Manesh'k shook his head and spread amber droplets.

- You will only heal them when the four of us have left this forest, he threatened by showing his fangs.

At such close range, everyone could see that his pale skin was streaked with veins turning dark green.

- Hurry, he insisted. They both are dying.

- How dare you give him orders in my presence! exclaimed Helion. I...

- Try to stop me, Manesh'k scolded with a new black look.

The elf could only repress a chill. Behind him, the archers began to doubt. Should they be sifting through it with arrows or lowering their weapons ? Especially since about thirty ancient spirits observed them in a heavy silence, totally motionless. Including the imposing tree-man mutilated, looking back at the scene from its unreadable emerald gaze.

- The Roots, Manesh'k asked as he joined his brothers in arms. Now.

Gilnash and Luther exchanged a look but remained silent. Both were trying to hide their trouble. In vain. They obviously had Abhorash's exploit in mind. But his liberation from vampirism had nothing to do with this transformation. What was happening to their brother ?

- My daughter, opposed Helion by finding some semblance of authority.

- Your daughter is no longer an elf, Manesh'k calmly said as he bowed his head.

- What...

- You killed her the moment you decided to attack us in these woods, he cut off by turning to Gaylria.

Gaylria who was just opening her eyes shyly. Red eyes, just like Luther and Gilnash's.

- By sharing our curse with her, we offered her a new life. She will accompany us until she control the gift we have given her. On that day, she will be free to return to Athel Loren or not.

Helion stammered, then sought the gaze of the enchantress in search of support. However, the latter discarded without adding anything.

- We didn't kill anyone, the vampire recalled again. This can change.

As he did so, he rengained his weapon, then looked to one side of the clearing ravaged by the fighting. The two elves were still lying there.

There was nothing more to add. If Helion held them more, his son and the lonely shapeshifter would lose their lives. He sighed slowly, turned to Warda and then to the undead. And dropped his verdict :

- Go away. And never, never come back to Athel Loren.
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,559
#37
Manesh'k finds it's very healthy to eat your greens. And I'm sure a vampire elf would have no problem feeding on the inferior humans...
 
Last edited:
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
49
#38
Yeah, surprisingly, he likes his vegetables.
As always, thanks for your comments you put on every chapter of this story :D



I make a quick edit to remind i also share this story on my own blog with an easier format to read.
Currently it's the only story i started to translate.


Fire & Blood
Chapter 15​


Running out of breath, Enguerran headed straight for the cottage, followed by the echo of the ongoing massacre. The door slammed when he entered the house, making his father jump at the table. He stared at the breathless boy with a dazed eye before turning away. He swore when he noticed that he had just spilled his bottle.

- By the Lady, Enguerran ! What the hell were you thinking about...

- Monsters, he managed to blow between two breaths. There are going... up the village...

His face changed color in an instant. He got up awkwardly, flipped his chair over and began to open the lock sealing the trunk next to a wall.

- How many are there?

- Many, was the only answer his son could give him.

He growled in his beard and finally managed to open the improvised chest, his hands shaking. For a second he looked at the sword and chainmail that were enthroned there. Then took a look at the open door in front of which several panicked people passed. Finally, he turned to Enguerran.

- Dad ?

- Let's not stay here, he said as he grabbed the weapon.

Leaving the chainmail there, he closed the trunk without bothering to lock it and grabbed his son's hand.

Barely outside, the air whispered, followed by a muffled shock. Both turned in this direction : a woman was nailed to the wall of their house, harpooned in the middle of the run by a spear bigger than her. It was a woolen from the village. The surprise was visible in her eyes as her head gently bowed, the red rising to her lips. Then her face was hidden from them by her blond hair when she collapsed, her feet a few centimeters off the ground.

A throat bawling followed quickly and Enguerran was trained by his father before he could see the source. Running as he could, according to the imposed rhythm, the child heard all around the cries of panic to which war horns responded. The breeze carried the smell of smoke to them, although no fire was lit. At least not visible.

- Jeannot!

His father recognized the guy hailing him and stopped running at last. What Enguerran knew, he was a former soldier, just like his father, who had traded the sword for a sickle and a plow. A scarred scar streaked his bald skull and his shirt was torn.

- Where are Josh and Gaston?

- A little everywhere ! replied the other, waving a sort of raven beak hammer. Those bastards caught them near the well !

Jeannot grinned and then waved at him to follow them, but his companion held them back.

- Wherever you're going ? The whole village is surrounded by these animals !

Father stammered, exchanged a look with Enguerran, just as surprised as he was. The fear that he would see in his father's eyes, however, froze him there.

- At the fort, Jeannot decreed after a moment.

The fort was just an old tower where the few militias that kept order were housed. Several prisoners were currently being held there, bandits having missed the theft of several horses from one of the villagers a few days earlier. Half the village had fallen on them and they were lucky not to be stoned...

- The fort is on the edge of the village, they must already be there !

- I'm not sure. And once we're barricaded inside, we can advise what to do.

He was not very happy about it, but after a moment's reflection, the ex-soldier nodded. Their run resumed, with several people joining their small groups.

As his father pulled him by the arm in their frantic race, he almost got thrown forward. Jeannot had stopped suddenly, quickly imitated by the man with the raven beak and a handful of villagers. Before he could see anything, his father pulled him behind him. It was only then that Enguerran was able to discover why they had suddenly stopped.

He could guess the outline of the fort in the distance. And this despite the darkness. But on their way there stood a creature he never thought he would see with his own eyes. It was standing like a human and that was about the only thing they had in common. His ankles had an additional joint and ended with hooves that nervously scraped the dust. Except for a loincloth, this thing was naked although covered with a rough fur that did not hide its impressive musculature. Its face, on the other hand, was no longer human. He had an elongated muzzle and two horns raised towards the sky overhung eyes with horizontal irises. Goat eyes that reflected the flames rising to one side when the beast mooed wildly.

- Stay behind, intoned Jeannot in a voice badly assured, sword in hand.

- Get back monster ! shouted the other man as he charged.

No one else had the guts to follow him. Waving his raven beak, he also seemed to surprise the beastman who raised its arm too late to avoid the blow. A vicious blow that was actually a fake. The tip of the weapon slipped under the monster's wrist strapped with bracelets to come and bite it deeply in the thigh.

- Yes ! exclaimed Enguerran to this bloody wound.

Nevertheless, if the creature suffered from it, it did not show it. While the man was clearing the peak of his weapon, the goat-man stabbed him deep in the abdomen with the javelin it was holding in the opposite hand. The weapon came out of his back without splashing. However, a dark spot quickly surrounded his linen jacket. His scream of panic and pain twisted their ears.

In front of the group paralyzed by this sudden turnaround, the mutant took his head between its hands and struck him with a violent headbutt. The scream stopped as his nose shattered. He fell softly to the ground, his face unrecognizable.

- Run ! Jeannot shouted as he found the courage to rise, the monster already turning towards them.

Stretching out his arm, he pointed in the opposite direction to the one from which the goat-man had emerged and led Enguerran there. The young boy had just enough time to see the beast coldly tear the javelin off the still warm body before passing through a corner of the wall. However, they were pursued by a bestial bellow as they bypassed several houses.

They finally came out in front of the long-desired tower. The door about a hundred meters away was closed, but the shy light of a candle was visible on the first floor. At this vision, Enguerran felt his legs lighten as they ran. Until a shock of unprecedented violence threw him to the ground. He flew several seconds before rolling on his back, completely stunned by his fall. With his ears full of roars and panic cries, he forced himself to stand up on his elbows.

Despite his vertigo, he clearly saw his father held by his throat by a creature even bigger than the previous one. He had dropped his sword and grabbed the monster's wrist with both hands, his feet scratching the ground. Behind them several dark shapes were moving around the other runaways, most of them grounded. He heard more than he discerned what was happening there : muffled blows, torn cloth, woman's tears, gurgling and roaring. Laughter too, beastly, as the monsters mutilated some and executed others. And his father who suddenly stopped struggling, a dagger stuck in his stomach. He rolled to the ground, his eyes finding his son's barely recovered standing up.

Enguerran fell back, horrified. His universe was shattered, destroyed by the blade of this creature. Renouncing, the goat-headed humanoid turned away from Jeannot's body and stepped forward with a firm step towards the boy. Fighting against fear, he backed into the mud, playing heels and scraping his elbows. Nothing mattered anymore. Only getting away from that monster. Its companions shouted with triumph as they raised their weapons as it raised an immaculate axe, which had been fixed to the back of its harness until then. The child rolled on his stomach, closed his eyes and took his head.

The torment lasted for long seconds, which seemed like an infinite time to the boy. But the saving blow did not come. When he dared to open one eye, he noticed that the fort door was open. One individual stood in the opening, with the light of several torches highlighting his silhouette. He was bare-chested, wearing simply stained tatters and had a sword in his hand. The beastmens had remained silent, surprised by this apparition. Slowly, the newcomer stepped forward. Then he took a fighting posture, challenging the monsters to approach. Those ones were quick to regain their ardor and roared new cheers. Enguerran's executioner seemed no longer to see him : it had eyes only for this stranger. As it stepped over the child, it shook and charged, axe up.

After only three strides the mastodon leaped forward, giving maximum scope to its thumping strike. Enguerran wanted to warn the man, to tell him to move, but was caught up in speed. Just like the creature. In an instant and with a few sparks, the fighter deflected the axe despite the frightening force of the blow. Then he avoided being tackled with one step to the side. He passed the beastman by standing up in a vermilion spray. Immediately the beastman bellowed in pain and collapsed forward, its hock cut off. In its back, the bare-chested warrior raised his arm, sword point towards the wounded beast, before vigorously pushing it to the guard in the fur. The blade came out under the neck of the impaled beast at the base of the neck. It was only when he pulled out his sword that the body collapsed in a gurgling noise.

With an astonishing calm, he turned around and stared at the other mutants with a scarlet look. This quick demonstration had showered their enthusiasm. But not their thirst for blood. They rushed out screaming, all at once, on the human. By reflex Enguerran huddled together not to be trampled... but the fighter passed him for a breath and intercepted their charge.
Mechanically, Enguerran dared to raise his head. And discovered a scene that engraved itself in the deepest part of his mind. Surrounded by at least five goat-headed creatures, all larger than him, the man was fighting. Alone. Armed with a sword against several axes, flamberges, spears and even a flail. He split and dodged at an inhuman speed, hitting his foot on one side and cutting a wrist on the other. Enguerran even saw him bending abruptly and dodging a spear blow from behind that the child himself had not seen coming. In a flash, his boot hit the ankle joint of the attacker. With a sinister crack, its owner rolled to the ground and howled with pain. And already the man was standing, barely parrying a blow to the head of a huge flamberge. He bent under effort but did not give in. Trapping the weapon in the quillon of his weapon, he managed to pivot sideways by dragging the flamberge. The tip of the longsword scratched another mutant. At the same time, his free hand slapped another creature from this side. It immediately stepped aside, holding its hand to its eye. When it snorted and returned to the fighter, they were the last to stand.

The young boy saw the spiked balls of the flail shake as the monster stepped back. And without asking anymore hesitation, it turned its heels and made a panicky roar. However, the unknown did not remain there. Ripping off a victim's spear lying at his feet, he quickly armed his shot and threw the weapon forward. The runaway took only one more step before collapsing, its bellow being lost in an evocative gurgling.

Soaked in blood that was not his own, the man looked at the child paralyzed by what he had just seen. Then returned to the lancier beastman on the ground, now unarmed. He summarily passed it by the wire of his sword. Calmly, he looked at the court. Four corpses surrounded him, but he paused for a moment on the three humans lying in the shade of the building. Too far from the torches, Enguerran could not distinguish them in the darkness. This did not seem to be the case for the man who went there calmly. He leaned over one of the bodies. A woman, guessed the boy from her bare chest. The man whispered a few words to her that he did not understand. Then he bowed his head and straightened up. Without further ceremony he laid the tip of his sword against her breast.

- What...

Before Enguerran reacted, he plunged the weapon into the heart of the woman on the ground. She jolted when he took off his weapon. Without looking back, the murderer turned away and walked to the child.

Returning to the use of its members, Enguerran had only one desire : to get away from here. Leaving this place invested by madness and death. But the man with the scarlet eyes, shining in the half-darkness, was walking faster than he could crawl on his elbows. When he reached his level, he knelt down and studied him for a moment.

- Are you hurt ?

His voice was intended to be reassuring. But with the sticky face of blood between his black hair, framing his ember gaze, he inspired no comfort. Faced with the terrorized child's silence, he sighed and put his hand on his face, spreading the dark blood even more. He looked at the bodies, then came back to the child who was watching him all the time.

- This poor woman had a sharp point in her stomach and her face was badly damaged. So...

He hesitated with a new look, then justified himself without finishing his sentence.

- I avoided her hours of agony.

But Enguerran was not more reassured. Trembling like a leaf, he couldn't turn his eyes away. The other swore in his beard and stood up straight.

- 'never good with kids, he grunted as he walked towards the tower.

The boy turned sideways to follow him with his eyes. Who was that man ? Why did he have red eyes ? How... Dad !

In a blink he was on his feet and stepped over the bodies of the monsters. He fell to his knees in front of his father's still warm corpse. If it wasn't for the warm puddle in which he had just put his hand or the red net on his lips, he still seemed alive. Then he saw his gaze. The rabbits that he broke his neck at had this glassy look, lost in the vagueness.

- Daddy ! he cried as he hugged him, unable to hold back his tears any longer.

His cries echoed in the alleys for long minutes. He hugged the body as hard as he could, screaming the pain that tore his guts out. As if, in a way, he could receive this same embrace by applying enough force. But he already knew his efforts were in vain...

- I caught six of them, but given the flames wee see from upstairs, I wouldn't be surprised if there were more.
He straightened up abruptly when he heard the voice. The man had come out of the tower, accompanied by an unidentified individual in dented armor. He too had red and bright eyes.

- 'spared them a kid ? wondered this one while he wiped his mouth.

However, despite the distance, Enguerran saw perfectly that his chin and throat were stained with blood.

- I heard the screams in time to intervene.

- It is maybe not a gift you just gave him, added the man in armor while passing.

Without answering, the fighter still covered in beastman's blood lingered on the child before taking the lead from his companion. Enguerran followed them with his eyes as they moved away towards the heart of the village. He saw the one in armor drawing a sword before he lost sight of them.

- GAYLRIA !

The scream cracked in the child's ears and he jumped. A visceral fear nailed him there, like a mouse paralyzed by the clamour of the hawk. And without turning around, he guessed a presence behind his back. Something was standing behind him. Something that was watching him, gauging him. He felt it instinctively, although this something doesn't make any noise or movement. Trembling like a leaf, he dared to look over his shoulder.

Enguerran was breathless when he discovered the creature. Her face was only a few centimeters from his own. The pupils of her exorbited eyes shone as did those of his savior and the warrior in armor. Multiple scarlet ribs streaked the white of her orbits. And the child was so close that he could easily have counted them, looking into the eyes of this predator.

- Gaylria, said again calmly the voice. Back up gently.

Slowly, she tilted her head to the side, judging the young boy without blinking. She wasn't gasping like a wolf would, but her mouth was wide open. A mouth dripping with blood and sharp fangs. A mouth whose breath was similar to the smell of raw, freshly cut meat. Slowly, the woman wrinkled her nose, opening her mouth a little wider.

- I said BACK UP !

Without warning, the woman was pulled back. The person sent her driving with incredible strength. And like a cat she finished her roll on her four limbs. She growned aggressively towards the newcomer.

- You have fed yourself enough for the moment, he said with a calm swearing with the violence he had just shown. Now, you're going to have to learn to control your....

But already the woman, whose pointed ears Enguerran noticed between two strands of brown hair, was no longer listening. She seemed to have noticed the bodies around her and threw herself at the nearest one. One of those monsters with a goat face.

- No ! Don't.....

His order was lost in a sigh. Already pieces of flesh were flying in all directions as she attacked the throat and torso of the body. He grumbled a few words in his beard. Then turned to Enguerran, amazed. He repressed a shiver when he discovered that he too had red eyes. They considered themselves for a moment, in a silence troubled only by the chewing of the elf-thing.

- Gilnash,?

The first fighter, shirtless, was back. And Enguerran was hardly surprised to see what he was holding in his hand. After everything that had just happened to him in the last hour, discovering an almost naked man throwing three heads of beastmen against a wall no longer shocked him any more. And this despite the obvious dark spot that remained imprinted on the stones of the house.

- It's okay, I... manage, he hesitates with a new look at the elf, before pointing to the bodies. Mutants?

- Coincidence, I suppose. Luther's having fun with the last ones right now. However, it would be better to get out of here. I don't really want to be discovered in this area at daybreak.

The man named Gilnash nodded. Then the first warrior addressed Enguerran.

- Come with me, kid, I have some questions to ask you.

- But... Dad... he whispered with a new look at the corpse.

At his words he felt his throat tighten as tears once again blurred his field of vision.

- Your father... whill not fly away while you're with me, he replied while difficulty choosing his words, which the upset child don't noticed. My friend here will make sure of that. While he continues... to manage.

As he put a firm hand on Enguerran's shoulder, he took an equivocal look at Gilnash. This one went from Gaylria to the father's remains. Then nodded.

- Come with me.

The tone did not admit any objections.


*​


- Tell me, Enguerran... where are we?

The child looked at him astonished after giving him his name. Where were they located?

- Case... Casseneuil on Morceaux, he stammered.

- Morceaux ? The River of Gien ?

As the child, hardly reassured, nodded timidly, he insisted :

- Are we near Gien ? Derrevin ? Bordeleaux ? he listed.

- Bordeleaux... it takes a week for the launch boat coopers to descend the river to the city...

- I see... the bitch left us in the forest of Châlons...

He looked outside the small house where they were, before whispering for himself:

- We're lucky they're not greenskins...

- Who... who are you ? dared to question Enguerran.

The adult stared at him, surprised. Then slowly sketched out an amused smile. However, when the child noticed the same fangs as the strange woman's, he had a retreating movement.

- I am a knight, he said, trying to hide his grin. A knight of the order of the Blood Dragons. Just like my friends, Luther and Gilnash. However, as you can see, my outfit suffered a little from the trip....

- Knights... he repeated. But, your teeth... Are you going to eat me ? Like....

- We will not hurt you, he reassured him calmly. We only kill the... bad people.

- But, the lady with the pointed ears, she...

- She is sick, he replied quickly. And Gilnash is treating her as best he can. Don't be afraid.

- Luther... continued Enguerran on his way. He had blood on his mouth and...

- A problem that afflicts our order, he said. It's a long story...

With these words, he left his crouched posture and stood up. He was going outside when Enguerran asked him one more question :

- Knight, are you going to the Bordeleaux tournament?

Hand on the door, the bare-chested man stopped when he heard these words.

- Tournament, you say?

*​



- We're going to Bordeleaux.

- Do you really think this is a good time to go play the sword ? Gilnash replied dubiously.

- And why not ? Since we left Kemperbad we have only travelled without any real objective. For once, there is an opportunity to have fun, there is no question of missing it !

- Killing will be forbidden but it should be fun, Luther thought aloud. I'm in.

- As much as we care, we cannot leave the village in such a state, stressed the new father in death.

Faced with the surprised faces of his companions, he shrugged his shoulders.

- So many corpses will attract vermin and can be a source of epidemics for men. Fewer humans means less... less...

- ...prey ? Luther added with an unhealthy smile.

Gilnash grinned. But did not seek to contradict him.

- What about the kid ? What do we do with him ?

All three turned to Enguerran. But he no longer followed their discussion, captivated by the new creature that had appeared. The immaterial being, bristling with spikes who was flying in front of him had even managed to turn him away from his father's body. Just as curious, the spite flew from one side to the other, following the child's head movements.

- We're taking him with us.

- Manesh'k... are you sure ? said Gilnash surprised.

- We'll leave him once at Bordeleaux.

To pass him by the blade would be a favour if you ask me, Luther replied. Well. What do we do with the bodies?

- Morceaux is not very far away, Gilnash said. Nevertheless, if it means keeping him alive....

Enguerran was suddenly drawn from his naive fascination for the sylvan spirit when Manesh'k, the bare-chested warrior, stood in front of him.

- Enguerran, he began by capturing his gaze. We're going to go to the river. However, I will need you to do me a favor.

The child blinked, but the vampire made efforts to keep his attention. The glittering eyes, he continued :

- Listen to my voice.


*​



The fog... He was moving in a thick mist that suddenly invaded Casseneuil... But, even if he could barely see his feet so dense was the smog, he was not afraid. The child saw the small spiky animal flying near him, despite the distance. Without him understanding why, this vision reassured him. And he knew Manesh'k was close by. He had protected him from the monsters. And would do it again. Enguerran could hear his voice very close... As well as those of his companions, attenuated by the mist...

- One day you will have to explain to me how you do this, Luther's voice said in the distance, suffocated by the fog.

- One day, perhaps, replied the Manesh'k one much closer. What do we do with them?



*​



- The goats you burn them, explained a third voice barely audible so close was it to a whisper. The humans you bring them to the river.

- All the way to Morceaux ? You are kidding us, aren't you ? I'm not going to carry around...

- You wanted to practice, didn't you? Manesh'k interrupted him, a few steps from the child. This is the perfect opportunity.

- Practice ?

- Don't think that the distance the kid's father traveled escaped me, he continued with a bitter tone.

Luther did not even try to contest the accusation.



*​



An incredibly long time passed. With his eyes lost in the vague, Enguerran walked. Slowly. Calmly. The monsters had disappeared. The flames were extinguished. The blood had dried up. Even his father's eyes had been swallowed by the mist. He was walking. The spirit with the spines was flying with him. Just like Manesh'k. His savior. His friend. He could trust him. He... was suddenly drawn from his dream state.

- What...

- Manesh'k !

Blinking without understanding, Enguerran looked for the knight. The fog had suddenly dissipated. They were no longer in Casseneuil but somewhere in the forest. The child guessed it despite the darkness, the moon shyly illuminating the path where they were.

- By the Dragon's fire, what is happening to him ?

- I have no idea ! Manesh'k answer me, that....

- I am... well... roared a dull voice that Enguerran felt resonating right into his chest.

In search of answers, he turned around and found himself face to face with an adult. Josh, did he recognize him despite the shadows. And despite his missing lower jaw. As well as his vitreous look and the bloody wound on his abdomen.

Stunned by this vision of nightmare, he pushed a yelp of terror by turning around. But there was the woolen, the tips of her blond hair turned scarlet. A moonstroke highlighted the thumb-sized hole in her dress. And on the other hand was the neighbours' son, his face half torn off....

And there the warriors who saved his life. Completely panicked and reckless, he rushed towards them, panting. Gilnash and Luther were leaning over his savior, with a knee on the ground and a soldier's blue tunic in hand.

- Manesh'k, help me...

The look that he received nailed him in place. Sparkling with fury, this glance shone in the dark and placed the weight of a mountain on his shoulders. The other two people no longer existed. All that remained was the two-coloured gaze of this ancestral creature of a power that crushed him. His eyes were two real green lanterns with bright nuclei like red hot metal. In comparison, the colors seen at a glassblower in the neighbouring village would have looked pale. Everything in that look stunned the child.

- Enguerrrr...raaaaan....

The rocky voice no longer had anything to do with the warrior's voice. His very appearance had changed. Even if the child was unable to realize it, his bare chest was covered with fine dark snakes in this darkness. His own stature matched that of the giants in his father's stories. On his knees, he was as tall as his companions. And when the wind blew for a moment, the moon revealed that even the skin of his arms and shoulders had evolved. Thick and blistered, it seemed rigid, rough. Like bark.

But this vision was simply impossible. Just like the death of Jeannot his father. Just like the monsters in the village or the bodies of his relatives walking in the moonlight in the middle of the forest. It was....

- ...listen to my... voice...

Enguerran had a retch and fell to his knees. As he did so, he lost sight of the deformed monster Manesh'k. Gasping, he contemplated the earth under his hands. He was definitely in the forest. How did he get here ? What...

A herculean grip closed on his skull. Before he understood what was happening to him, he felt the ground disappear under his feet. Then Manesh'k's face, illuminated by his own gaze, filled his field of view. And at this distance, held in one hand, he could see that the metamorphosis was also affecting his face.

The knight's lips were swollen and split at several points. The skin on his forehead, cheekbones and chin also had the rough and cracked appearance of the bark. His nose was reduced to a deformed knot between his blinding eyes.

- My... voice...

He seemed to realize something, his squeaky tone getting lost in a tired whisper. The colossus observed his own hand, then his body, before closing his eyelids. He raised his face to the sky and opened his mouth, his jaw tightened. His grip tightened even more on the head of the tetanized child, his arms dangling. Enguerran screamed, both in pain and in terror, in response to the inner struggle that his executioner seemed to be waging.

When he opened his eyes again, however, they only glowed with a carmine glow. The pressure on the child's temples eased as he said in a much softer voice :

- It's just a bad dream. Go back to sleep.

And, without Enguerran being able to explain it, the pain disappeared. In few seconds, mist snaked between the trees and the motionless deads, as well as all along the path leading to the river. It swallowed all the horrors of the night and wrapped him in a white, cottony treacle. A sanctuary where he could, for a time at least, find peace.


*​



- Dawn is approaching, Luther reminded.

But Manesh'k signaled to him to leave them alone. Kneeling at the child's level, he remained silent. He knew no words for what Enguerran was going through. In front of them, the ground had been turned. And in the bark of the oak beyond it were now engraved the few words :

Here lies Jeannot.

Militiaman of Bordeleaux and loving father.


For a long time they stayed that way. Immobile. As the sky slowly colored. And, without warning, Enguerran turned to him. He threw himself into his arms. He burst into tears, his shoulders shaken with tears. Taken short, the undead in a blue tunic looked for his companions, but found none of them. Grinning, he forced himself to slowly fold his arms behind the boy's back.

As Enguerran tightened his embrace, Luther's words came back to the vampire: "It is maybe not a gift you just gave him". But he quickly drove them out of his thoughts. He took the time to inhale, a rare thing, then after tapping the boy's head, gently pushed him aside. His eyes were fogged with tears. His pain gave rise to a feeling of unease in the heart of the undead, which he had not felt for many years. Not even after Claster's death at the hands of the wizard in Grissenwald. Slowly, he forced himself to speak.

- We'll leave tomorrow evening, at nightfall. You can stay if you wish. Or accompany us to join the world of the living, at Bordeleaux. It's up to you. But now it's late, or early... Go to sleep.

The child stepped back, his cheeks still flooded with tears. With his lip shaking, he was going to cry again, turning to the grave once more.

- Don't be afraid. He won't go anywhere. And will wait for each of your visits.

Time was running out. He was about to raise him up when Enguerran straightened himself up. With a last look, he reached the farmhouse a little further away with a slow step. A stable was next to this one, where four horses were chirping.

Relieved, Manesh'k turned away from the improvised tomb and headed towards the river, beyond the modest building. The other two undeads were already there, accompanied by the sylvan spirit who did not leave Luther for the last few hours. On the left was attached a long launch boat with a fitted cabin, loaded with barrels. And on the right, a second was carried away by the current. It was not loaded with barrels. Nevertheless, this barge was so loaded that its waterline was confused with the turbulent surface of the water. And the thick smoke, released by the flames, rose high into the sky that was bursting from minute to minute.

- Why did you dig that grave? Luther asked him with a disapproving look. He was just a human.

- I dug this tomb because he needed it, Manesh'k replied as an obvious answer.

Before the next question, he added:

- And I didn't just turn the land upside down because I feel bad about lying to him. Whether it's a human or not. We're already monsters, so there's no need to add more.

- What about them?

- I didn't have the patience to dig for an entire village, he grumbled as the people of the village burned in front of them. But leaving them there would have been like acting like a son of W'Soran. To eat them... like a Strigoi scumbag.

Dubious, Luther nodded.

- What would we have done if there had only been one boat ? To get to Bordeleaux we....

- There were two boat, Gilnash cut off without looking away from the floating butcher.


*​


Sighing, Luther turned away and took the direction of the house, leaving his elders. Immediately, the spiky spirit rushed in its wake, swirling around the undead. Exasperated, he chased it away from the back of his hand, which only encouraged it to insist.

- Where has Gaylria gone ? asked Manesh'k suddenly to his brother. I haven't seen her since....

- Still in the village. She'll join us at nightfall next night.

- You're not afraid that she...

- No, she'll come back to us as soon as it gets dark. I can feel it. By this... connection, which you sometimes told me you had. With Claster.

The vampire held back his line. He understood what his friend wanted to talk about. In part....

- There were no more humans there, are you sure ?

- None within a day's ride, he assured. For her first night, it's better if she doesn't have the kid around. As for the sun... nothing strikes more than the experience. Thus even in her condition, she will remember that shade is now her domain and that day no longer tolerates her.

- Are you sure? he doubted after a moment. The elf infant of Varison....

- Varison doesn't understand the winds, he replied before going on. Who better than a beast adept, as humans say, to train a wild person ? Moreover, she also has this affinity, though to a lesser extent. In a latent state. And I'm not letting her out of my sight. My gaze is far away.

- You and your birds... he sighed with an amused smile.

In silence, they watched the boat move away. It was far away and the sun was appearing in the East when Gilnash suddenly questioned him.

- You say you didn't accomplish the father's achievement, that thirst is just in the background as Meloch repeated. But what about.....

With the thumb, Manesh'k pointed to the rising sun.

- We will soon know, he replied while thinking.

Gilnash gradually backed into the shadows. His companion remained in the light, dressed in a blue tunic taken at the tower of Casseneuil. Closing his eyes, he raised his arms and let the light warm him up for the first time in more than a thousand years. And this heat did not consume him.

The sun was no longer affected by Loren's strange magic, he could feel it on his skin. This gentle warmth was real. Not far away, he sensed his brother. Attentive to the slightest change. However, he did not need to open his eyes to guess the current spectacle.

The skin of his face and bare arms smoked. Literally. Like an animal in extreme cold or an individual coming out of a hot bath. A kind of steam was coming out of him. It did not burn instantly as it used to, but the burden of the sun was still there. Although less heavy.

- There's no need to insist and check if I'm starting to burn, he said. I don't need to add to my current appearance for the Bordeleaux humans to be on their guard.


*​


It was only much later that the child woke up on a rough bench. The voices of the vampires came to him as he rubbed his eyes, eyelashes glued by tears.

- I still have trouble understanding why we took these two horses on board, Manesh'k said.

It's simple, Luther sighed. These launch boats are loaded with barrels of wine. They go down the river to the locks at Bordeleaux and beyond. Once there, the horses pull the boats from the shore to go up the flow, with empty barrels. And they do it again, over and over again. All the winegrowers' estates near the river benefit from this system. On this shore as well as on the Aquitanie side.

- That still doesn't explain why the horses are...

- Are you doing this on purpose ? How can the lock guards not find us suspicious if we don't have our own mounts to go up ? Already we will introduce ourselves at night....

- All these commercial stories tire me... Manesh'k abridged by rubbing his temples.

- I think our friend is awake, Gilnash's voice intervened.

It took Enguerran a few long seconds to realize that he was talking about himself. As he sat up, he discovered the two vampires sitting at a table. They were in the half-darkness of two windows, sealed with rags. Gilnash was on the other side and did not look at him, leaning over the elf lying on the ground. Ground that suddenly pitched under the footsteps of Enguerran.

- What...

- We are on the water, Manesh'k warned him with an amused voice.

As he did so, he handed him a basket containing apples and pears.

- Eat. You need to regain your strength.

He looked for a moment at the person with red eyes, bright in the dark, and trying to appear friendly. Then the fruit basket. He didn't hesitate long before filling his belly. Eating, he studied the place more carefully, his vision getting used to the shadows.

The cabin where they were standing had only one door. Door that Manesh'k's chair kept closed. Instinctively, he began to chew more gently. Then the strange translucent creature appeared, fluttering around Luther.

- Leave me alone, he grunted while waving his hand to chase it away.

Growling, the simian creature took a step back by waving arms too long for its stout body. Then, after a few moments, approached again the undead bored by its game.

- What is it ? whispered Enguerran, his eyes riveted on the sylvanian spirit, his eyes regaining some stars.

Gilnash looked up from his daughter in death, himself curious to learn more. After all, this "spite" as Gaylria had called it before going mad, had already saved them twice...

- What it is... repeated Manesh'k with a smile.

Leaning against his chair, he closed his eyes, his lips articulating a few inaudible words. Then they reopened, a hint of green tinting the white of his cornea. A green that caught Luther's attention in front of him. He had a slight recoil, his hand on the guard of his weapon at the hip. Nevertheless, his elder reassured him with a brief wink. Then he turned to Enguerran. All traces of the events of the previous night already seemed to be behind him. At least for the time being.

- Far away, very far from Casseneuil, there is a forest, he explained calmly. The spirits of nature watch over it. They can take different forms. Simple reflections in the water, living in and moving trees... or this one.

- It can make a tree move? Enguerran wondered, amazed and doubtful at the same time.

- I don't think so. On the other hand, he can talk with them.

Seeming to realize that they were being talked about it, the wild spirit stopped bothering Luther. It floated to the center of the table, turned in the air, looking at each other. Its hind legs, ridiculously short compared to its arms, hung in the void. On its back, the long spikes they now knew could straighten waved as it turned its head, as a hedgehog would have done.

- In these woods, spirits like him are called fairies. Or spites, as our friend here asleep called them. This one is a "malevolent" spite. Usually, these are aggressive spirits who defend their groves.

- Aggressive ? interrupted Luther with disdain. During our whole stay in this damn forest, it didn't lift a finger at us. Besides, it can't touch us....

- You are wrong, Manesh'k said in a very serious tone.

- Why do you think I urged you not to kill anyone and damage their sanctuary ? recalled Gilnash.

Luther blinked several times.

- Wait, you mean that in addition to having seen the pointed ears you had seen the golgoth that gave us....

- No, he said quickly. I hadn't seen it. Not until it was too late. The... spirits as Manesh'k called them... of it scale are very rare in Loren. My flying companions themselves were unaware of its existence...

Gaylria sighed slightly in the strange sleep she had put her into, bringing him back to his new daughter.

- Even then, Luther insisted. It can't touch us. How....

Calmly, Manesh'k raised his hand towards the spite, palm towards the ceiling. It studied him for a moment, considering his invitation. Then came gently to rest in it. Contradicting his nephew, the creature's previously ethereal began to glisten. And in front of three amazed spectators, the spite took shape.

Awkwardly, it straightened up on its atrophied legs, leaning on its gnarled arms. Its large yellow eyes swept the room as if it was discovering it for the first time. Instinctively, the thorns on its back straightened up and pulled the knotty skin out of its crushed snout.

Fascinated, Enguerran raised his hand to touch him, but Manesh'k stopped him, grabbing his fingers.

- I wouldn't recommend it. The spines of its back would plunge you into a sleep full of nightmares. And I think that applies to you too, he added to a Luther who immediately took umbrage.

- Does it have a name ? asked the child.

- Not that I know of, he replied while letting the sppite return to its usual shape to float near Gilnash.

- Is it not in danger of disappearing, so far from Loren?

Caught unawares by the question, Manesh'k crossed his arms, thinking.

- I don't think so, he finally said. An inferior spirit like it must be able to survive in any forest of sufficient importance... or alongside another sylvan spirit, more powerful.

With his hand on Gaylria's forehead, Gilnash nodded. Following recent events, the creature drew on the presence of their companion to stay by their side. Why had it accompanied them rather than stay with its own, however, even Manesh'k seemed to ignore it.

Amused by the fascinated child, Manesh'k beckoned him to approach.

- I have something else to show you, he said while trying to appear friendly.

Nevertheless, Enguerran remained at a cautious distance. So he did not insist. After a look to make sure the spite had moved away, fluttering near the elf, he raised a finger.

Staring at it with insistence, he caught Luther's attention.

- What is it about...

A sudden crackle made the child startle like a spark suddenly lit on his index. The boy's jaw almost fell off, mouth-breathed as he was. However, Manesh'k did not stop there. With his face more and more tense with concentration, he tried to manipulate, to shape a wind that humans could not see. And, slowly, the dancing flame ignited. It twisted, burning into a twisted ball from which two small limbs timidly emerged. Then the flame tips turned in the opposite direction, mimicking quills.

Luther was without word. Although grotesque, he had before him a flamboyant representation of the spite. Nevertheless, the effort seemed to cost the undead, who suddenly dissipated his creation with a rapid setback.

- Incredible, was all that Enguerran could pronounce as the last volutes of smoke disappeared. How... how do you do that ? Where did you get such powers ?

- It's... complicated. I'm not sure you're...

- Try it anyway.

His insistent and familiar tone both took the undead by surprise. They exchanged a surprised look. Before they become amused smiles.

- You are a curious person, he replied. These powers, I... cheated to get them. And now, if I want to keep them, I have to earn them. Practice regularly, as I just did. That kind of thing.

- I don't understand....

- Consider this power as a liquor, Gilnash intervened as his brother was looking for an appropriate answer. A bottle of liquor. With each sip, you can use this power at will. Therefore, with each use, the bottle is emptied. Little by little. Until that power is lost. And recently, he had an easy descent. So, if he wants to keep this ability, he must learn how to produce this liquor. Thus, in the long term, it will no longer be dependent on this bottle, with its limited content.

- But the bottle, this liquor, I mean, where did he get it ? Where did it come from in the first place ?

- Uh....

The two elders exchanged an embarrassed look. What could them answer this candid question, when Luther's smile stretched from one ear to the other ?



*​



It was under the emerging moonlight that the ferry, lightened by a few barrels, left the floodgates behind it. In the far distance, the high districts of the city were distinguished by their soft lights. And it was by sketching impatient smiles that vampires appreciated this island in the clear night.

A few hours later, they passed the arches of the only bridge over the river.

- During my previous visit, Luther commented while following the vault of the gaze, the work had just begun...

Enguerran frowned, not grasping the meaning of this statement. It was clear, however, that the work had just been completed after decades of hard work. Or were about to be, as evidenced by the presence of scaffolding around his masonry. His father himself had always told him about the bridge under construction since his own childhood... his father...

He flinched like a hand suddenly rested on his shoulder. Manesh'k had approached silently.

- Have you been here before ? he asked him.

Enguerran shook his head, burying these thoughts and repressing his tears.

- Neither did I, he added. I have the impression that this port is trying to be inspired by what is being done in Marienburg.

- For their excessiveness, Luther dwelt on the huge palaces visible from the river, illuminated below by real bonfires.

- By their mess, he rectified by observing the poorly arranged streets and docks on the opposite side. Their anarchy....

However, it was these buildings that restored Enguerran's vision. Illuminated by gleams below, they looked like giants attacking the sky in the eyes of the child. Even the sylvan spirit, fluttering near him at that moment, failed to attract his attention. The creature was much less enthusiastic about this environment....

- The merchant guilds, Luther commented, following his gaze. Nothing is ever too expensive for them when it comes to strutting around...

If his comment made Manesh'k smile, he did not reach the child whose smile stretched as they approached.

Turning away from the brightly lit north shore, the vampire led their boat to the docks on the south side. According to him, the majority of trade was carried out on this shore. This was despite the fact that the huge ocean-going ships were located on the other side. It was to the south that the bad neighbourhoods, parallel markets and housing where the colour of gold prevailed over its origin were located. Luther's ease in selling their boat, barrels and mounts to a dock worker confirmed this statement. This was despite the late hour they arrived or their heterogeneous outfits.

- As I thought, Luther began by returning to them after completing the negotiations. The tournament takes place at the northern entrance of the city and not in front of the current lord's residence. Thierry, I believe. It has been several weeks since they started building the infrastructure.

- Did you learnt which motive this tournament ? Manesh'k asked while crossing his arms and holding the dockworkers in his field of vision. And what is the reward?

- Hugo, the lord's grandson, is celebrating his 10th birthday. For the occasion, he wishes to enrich the future court of the heir with the presence of a new line of knights.

Manesh'k grinned.

- Welcome the winner to his class ? Talk about a reward... well, for humans...

- Correct, Luther confirmed. The winner of the tournament will be offered a place at the lordly table for him and his descendents. As well as a significant winegrower's estate. A political choice that seems to fuel the discussions given the enthusiasm of the guy who told me all this.

- Yes. And I think it's time for us to go.

Indeed, he had noticed the interest that the few unscrupulous sailors and traders on the docks seemed to have in them. Their eyes regularly converged on their group when they arrived on a barge that had been given up far too easily. Too often to his liking.

Can you keep her on a leash until we find a suitable hostel ? Luther asked, pointing out the elf by a chin sign as they moved back towards the nearest alley.

After attending the butcher's mess she had made in the jails of Casseneuil, he could hardly believe that the elf who accompanied them was indeed the same individual. She had still not said a word since they left the forest trails. With her head straight under a hood concealing her ears, she stared at the onlookers. In her scarlet eyes shone her thirst for murder. Her eyes jumped from one man to another as one studies the meal plan of a restaurant. And yet, her thin face remained impassive. Her hands remained joined in front of her.



*​



But neither Luther nor Manesh'k were fooled : since their shared experiences during the assassination of Castille or the Cairn of Loren, they were able to feel the effects of the magic flows. To a certain degree. Despite their lack of affinity with Gilnash's gifts, his efforts over the past few days to prevent her from reducing Enguerran to shreds were easy to guess. The bird friend never looked away from her, staring at her all the time. Even when his feathered companions came to rest on his shoulders or fly around them. In addition, the two undead regularly felt shivering as they bristled their hair on their heads. And this despite their very nature as undead....

- She will remain calm, Gilnash said in monotonous tone without even giving him a look. We'll leave her the time to introduce you to the tournament.

Luther was going to answer, but articulated in the void by assimilating this last sentence. He intended to leave her alone in the middle of the human underworld ?

- Well, he simply added while renouncing to seek the logic behind his elder's choices.

Then he looked at the child who was studying this environment with naive curiosity. Not tired, he lingered on the lone and huge ships that could be seen on the other side. The excitement of the moment seemed to have swept away the pain of losing his father as well as the fatigue of the trip. It also seemed to blind him to the dangers of this place.

- He stay with us for a while longer, ahead Manesh'k. I think he can be useful to us.

The younger one looked up, doubtful. But did not contest and took the lead of their group. Manesh'k closed the march, careful to keep the immaterial spirit in the folds of his tunic. Drawing attention to them through the presence of the spite would have been unfortunate, as soon as they arrived in the port city. If his companions had observed him at that moment, they would have been able to see the brief green glow of his eyes.

Finding a rarely visited inn in these low-lying districts, between two beggars or drunkards, proved to be an easy task. And their generosity to the owner assured them that no one else would stay. As long as they were there. They took a large amount from their savings acquired a few minutes earlier. After all, gold was not really a necessity for immortals...

In addition, ensuring that Gaylria would be left alone reduced the risk that the situation would escape them. Although none of them were really worried about the elf-vampire. Betraying them would have been at his own peril for the owner who had never had to earn so much in one night... By some evil spells that escaped even Gilnash, Manesh'k nevertheless encouraged the sylvan spirit to turn away from Luther whom he was once again harassing. In this human city, it would only be an unwanted distraction. It remained with the taciturn elf, sitting on the bedside edge, looking into the void. However, they took the precaution of locking her up behind them.

It was before night was too late that the three vampires, still accompanied by Enguerran, took the newly erected bridge, and surprisingly little guarded, to reach the northern shore.



*​




- The parade took place today ? repeated Manesh'k, disappointed.

- That's right, repeated the mustached guardby crossing his arms.

He bulged his chest and raised his chin. With the neat coat he proudly wore, his posture could have been comical. Indeed, the three undead were staring at him despite his efforts to appear larger than he was.

- The parade took place this afternoon, he continued. Our ladies have chosen their champions. And tomorrow they will participate in the games just he...

- We don't care about the favours of these ladies, Luther interrupted him, as the Bordeleaux native already pointed out the dark space behind him. We only humbly wish to participate in combat events.

Grunting, the man camped on his supports in the framework of the access. Behind him were stands, the jousting field and several tents. Silhouettes were drawn on the textiles, projected by a few braziers.

- This will hardly be possible, I fear, he sniffed with an increasingly condescending look. Chivalry has its rules and it would be unworthy for participants... forgive me sirs, but are you only knights?

As he did so, he detailed from head to toe the individuals he was facing : three adults accompanied by a child with a lost look. If the first one had a knightly appearance, his armor was in such a sorry state that it was hardly worthy of being considered as such. As for the other two, one had a simple militiaman's tunic of the lord and the other a leather pourpoint. Typical of highwaymen by the way... Finally, the three adults had pale faces, scarlet eyes and dirty hair.

- This will hardly be possible, he continued.

Manesh'k sighed. He looked at his companions with bored eyes, then approached. He laid his hand on the shoulder of the brave man with familiarity. Then made sure to get his attention before declaring :

- Listen to me... what if you go ask your superior officer to see us ? I'm sure that....

His words were lost when he noticed the crowd that came out of the nearest tent. Disturbed by the behaviour of this "militiaman", the mustache shook his head. Then noticed the hand on his shoulder. But before he could protest, he had already passed him.

Manesh'k stood in front of the cluster of people who were heading in their direction to leave the tournament facilities. And before anyone could stop him, he made a skillful curl with a smile. The crown on the forehead of the oldest man in the group had not escaped him.

- My lord, please forgive my audacity but I must ask for a few seconds of your time.

Behind the lord stood a strong, dark-looking individual dressed in a black gambison. He had an arm in a sling, but this did not prevent him from carrying his valid arm to his hip, where there was a sword guard. A second tall person followed, both frailer and younger. Finally, two guards wearing the same blue tunic as Manesh'k at that moment followed, who stood in front of the daring undead. However, they waited for their lord's reaction before threatening the vampire with their weapons. Lord who took a surprised look at this troublemaker.

- A few moments no more, militiaman. What business justifies assailing me at such a late hour ?

- Don't mind me, Lord, I'm not a militiaman. My...

- How dare you... began the guard at the entrance to the tournament.

But with a wave of his hand, he was meekly silenced. In the process, the other two guards moved away. Only the massive guy came forward, staying as close as possible to the discussion.

- My companions and I, Manesh'k continued, come from a faraway land. We learned of your tournament late and came as quickly as we could to have the honor of participating in it. It seems we missed the traditional introductory parade and your guard...

- Absolutely refused to give credit and respect to deserving knights, Luther intervened as he stepped forward.

He gave a dark look at the first guard. Pumping, this one was fulminating in silence.

- Knights ? repeated the tall young man as he approached.

Dubious, he turned around the two vampires, critically examining their equipment.

- I can hardly believe it considering your respective costumes. Maybe your names will be more evocative...

- My name is Mane....

- Mandrak, Gaetan and I, Luther Harkon, interrupted his nephew by improvising less exotic names for his uncles on the fly. All three knights of the Order of the Dragon, in Averland.

Suspicious, the young man looked more closely at the vampire who was also staring at him, displaying a fierce face.

- Enough Julot, claimed the lord, waving his hand. Luthor Harkon, please forgive my nephew. The organization of this celebration makes him particularly nervous. It is indeed a long way from the Averland that you sirs have come. As lord of this beautiful city that is Bordeleaux, i am Thierry and i welcomes you.

- Luther, said the vampire, grinding his teeth.

- Pleased to meet you my lord, Manesh'k immediately declared. Please excuse our outfits to Luthor and the rest of us, but it has been a long and dangerous road to your city...

If Luther had been able to strike his elder with a look, he would not have seen dawn.

- Long and perilous, repeated Thierry with a dreamy look. I'm curious to hear more. In particular, why are you wearing my colours ? It's late, but an hour more or less... Would you like to summarize your journey around a bottle for me ?

- Uncle, you don't think about it...

- You should also come Julot, I have a feeling that the story they have to tell will be particularly enriching.

He suddenly turned to one of the guards:

- Go tell my lady not to wait any longer. Preparations for tomorrow are proving more complicated than expected.

He nodded, then disappeared with great strides in the night.

- Now, knights, you have a story to tell me. And I hope it's worth the sleep you're costing me. Or Mannan protects you.

The vampires sketched amused smiles. This Lord Thierry turned out to be a man who was both open-minded and accommodating.



*​



- ... and that's how we saved that poor boy, Manesh'k finished. It was too late for the rest of the villagers. The monsters were already on them and there was nothing we could do. To have purged Casseneuil of their presence is a very meager consolation for what they did there.

Thierry had not said a word since the beginning of their history, attentive to every detail. Just like his fellow with the wounded arm. His nephew, Julot, was stomping on his side. Questioning these weirdos obviously made him itch. Listening to the Casseneuil massacre had barely showered his fervour.

- It was as a result of this terrible confrontation that my armor became what you are now discovering, Luther added. As for my companion Mandrak's, it was now unusable. He had to take one from...

- ...in the reserve of the guard tower, Gilnash suddenly intervened which had not said a word until then.

He looked at Luther who was just realizing the mistake he had almost made. Indeed, Manesh'k had not recovered his outfit in the tower but on the body of a militiaman. Stripping one of the lord's men would probably have been misunderstood. However, Thierry did not seem to notice, digesting all this information.

- So this boy is the only survivor of the whole village, he finally said while turning to him. I'm sorry to hear that... What's your name, boy ?

He looked for vampires, who encouraged him to answer.

- My name is Enguerran, he finally replied. Enguerran, son of Jeannot.

- Jeannot, you say ? suddenly intervened the moustached guard who was stationed until then at the entrance to the modest tent where they were standing. Jeannot de Casseneuil ? Lord, may I...

He stopped, waiting for Thierry's answer, who quickly invited him to approach him.

- Son, he continued. Wasn't your father a militiaman at Deer-Pond ?

- I... no, Dad was helping out at the mill and spending his time at the tavern, he...

- But he did have an outfit like that of this individual, insisted the guard while pointing to a surprised Manesh'k still dressed in blue.

- In a chest yes, with his old sword and...

- That's what I thought. Lord, I knew the father of this child. He left the militia about ten years ago to live with a woman from Casseneuil. She worked at the village flour mill.

The vampires exchanged stunned looks. This energetic man, who refused to let them see Lord Thierry just an hour earlier, was confirming their story. A story that was far-fetched, although partly true.

- And you would have defeated, between the three of you, the monsters who burned an entire village ? finally intervened the lord's nephew. I can't believe it, considering your costumes.

Luther had an enough grin at these words, smiling snidely at the young man.

- You don't think we can do it ?

- I think, if Casseneuil did burn, you picked up this kid from the still smoking ruins before you brought him to us and...

- Enough Julot, cut Thierry.

The reaction of the young rooster surprised the undead. But he did not reply. Thierry seemed to have real authority over his nephew. Sighs, the Lord of Bordeleaux looked at the colossus beside him. With his arm in a sling, he had remained motionless throughout the story and had still not spoken a word since the vampires arrived. He nodded at a silent question that only they grasped.

- Knights of the Order of the Dragon of Averland. I'll send militiamen to confirm your statements. In the meantime, you are my guests for cleaning my land from this vermin and saving this boy. In addition, if participating in tomorrow's tournament is your wish, I grant you that. However, I must warn you : my advisers have told me about the terrible weather all day long. Therefore it will be held in the evening for the remaining two days. If we can talk about a day under these conditions. You don't mind, do you ?

- Not in the slightest, Manesh'k bowed, delighted to learn that the events would not take place in the light of day. We are honored by the trust you have placed in us, my lord.

- Until we see that they lie as they breathe, Julot placed.

With his hand on the ceremonial weapon at his hip, he stepped forward.

- I still find it hard to believe that you are able to fight robbers in the forest of Chalons. Even less against aberrations that...

- Would it be a challenge? Luther said while smiling calmly.

- Yeah it is, he spit out as he looked at the undead inclined to provoke him.

- Julot....

- Lord, hasarda Gilnash.
All turned to him. He had had little to do with the story.

- Proving our worth would not disturb our friend Luthor in any way. As long as it dispels your doubts about the story we have told you.

Thierry grinned. And after a fresh look at his guard in dark clothes, sighed.

- So be it. Teach my nephew humility, Knights. But please, it's late so be brief. And don't hurt him, it would upset my daughter very much....

- Uncle !

- Don't worry, Gilnash replied in a soothing tone. Luthor won't inflict much more than bruises on him.

Fulminating, the young man came out of the tent with his sword already in his hand. Smiling in advance, Luther followed, as did the rest of those present. As soon as the vampire had drawn his weapon, Julot threw himself at him.

- If I may, knight Gaétan, began Thierry at Gilnash's address as Luther skillfully avoided the young man's crack. Why are all three of your eyes red and... shining in the dark, he noticed as he studied the fighters.

- A... regional peculiarity from where we come, in... Averland, he recalled. Just like our pale skin. The majority of the members of our order share the same singularities.

- Mmmmh....

Without questioning his words, Thierry did not add anything. In front of them, Luther had totally reversed the steam. He was literally playing with his opponent, bouncing the tip of his weapon against Julot's blade.

- Are there many of you in that order?

- A maximum of fifteen, Manesh'k replied. Scattered throughout the empire, in search of exploits worthy of our master of all.

- Your master... repeated Thierry. This person must be a formidable person with a sword in his hand to deserve the respect I detect in your voice.

As he said these words, Julot's weapon jumped out of his hands. The next moment he fell forward, unbalanced by a clever pass from the vampire.

- Well, it seems you've earned your place in my tournament, he said as he watched his nephew get up, pucker mud-stained.
 
Last edited:

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,559
#39
More excellent work. I find this chapter to be surprisingly heartwarming. Also hilarious, with the duke just swallowing nonsense about "red eyes and pale skin are natural in Averland". Poor Julot. How's he going to explain getting into a fight he proceeds to lose before his won tournament?

How convenient it'll be an evening event. I imagine it would be rather difficult to hide, say, smoke emanating from everywhere....
 
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
49
#40
the duke just swallowing nonsense about "red eyes and pale skin are natural in Averland"
In fact, we are at an old era where the carstein still not are knowns, the red duke not born and Moussillon still a good city. Even Gilles the Breton is not yet in this world. So even if vampires are a tale known about few... i take the shot where they was not known enought yet.

How convenient it'll be an evening event. I imagine it would be rather difficult to hide, say, smoke emanating from everywhere....
This one i agree, it's pretty convenient xD
But well, for the fights comming i had to find something or they would have fought in plain sunshine, which would have be a nightmare to set up or a detail pretty badly hidden under the carpet...

Also, i'll highlight something i guess you didn't noticed : Bretonnia still do not exist. As well as the Duke title. Bretonni is the name of the mans of the whole land, but nothing more.
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,559
#41
Now that is old. But then, I suppose Manesh'k and co are good enough to make it to the former present setting.
 
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