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Fire and Blood

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,565
#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
1,981
#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.
 

vg11k

Skeleton
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
58
#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:

vg11k

Skeleton
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
58
#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
1,565
#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.
 

vg11k

Skeleton
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
58
#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
1,565
#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...
 

vg11k

Skeleton
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
58
#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
1,565
#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.
 

vg11k

Skeleton
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
58
#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
1,565
#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:

vg11k

Skeleton
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
58
#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
1,565
#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....
 

vg11k

Skeleton
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
58
#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
1,565
#41
Now that is old. But then, I suppose Manesh'k and co are good enough to make it to the former present setting.
 

vg11k

Skeleton
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
58
#42
My main character at least will do it. Luther Harkon - who the bordelins called Luthor - will also as it's more obvious since it's an official character. The others, i'll not tell.

It's been a while since my last chapter. I've been delayed in my translation and then lost my file... but here come the chapter 16. Have a nice read =)

Fire & Blood
Chapter 16


...My hand is shaking as I write these lines. The cold freezes my fingers, but your smile is enough to warm me up, engraved in my memory. Grissenwald is only three days away by cart, if it doesn't rain any more and we don't break a wheel... But enought of those words that will bring bad luck to me. Place to the one I prefer and who give myself some comfort : Roxanne. My dearest... you have no idea how much I miss your arms... See you soon, my love.

*​

- ...several types of animated corpses, punctuated Scleras.

With his finger, he stroked the chin of the rotted corpse that separated them. Her bare feet slipping pleasantly in the grass, she approached more. Relaxed, all senses awakened, she drank his words.

- In fact, he continued with his parchment-like voice, they do not need a necromancer to exist. The proof is in that many of the undead travel the world without anyone having raised them.

He took her hand in his own. She could feel his bones through his wrinkled skin and shivered with pleasure. Guiding her wrist, he invited her to press her palm against the dead man's forehead.

- However, two categories can be distinguished. Those with consciousness... and the brainless, guided by the last sensations they still have. They wander around with no real purpose. They don't have a single thought. A few hints of sensations at most....

She sketched a smile as he passed behind her without stopping talking. She rubbed her toes together without realizing it.

- Necromancy is nothing more than a subtle spider's web, linked to each of them. Handle these wires with skill and any dead person will become your puppet. Controlling more requires skill, but with practice you will realize that it is often not necessary to weave too much. Leaving the printed instincts in the muscles and flesh allows to save a significant amount of concentration.

The old vampire allowed himself a smirk.

- That's the secret of necromantic art : being able to handle as many puppets as you can. With a minimum of threads. And this, without forgetting your own physical body.

Telling her to look up, he stared into the young woman's eyes.

- I will teach you to shape the dhar, to braid threads that you can attach to the dead.

Turning away, he resumed his monologue:

- The conscientious dead, on the other hand....

*​

- ...is a capricious gift that only needs to be released, his teacher said in a serious tone.

The teenager's pen was panicking on the sheet of paper, trying not to lose any words.

- Unlike other schools, we do not draw on its power. Once lit, we hold the bridle to avoid destroying our very essence.

Combining practice with theory, the magician with the shiny skull and red beard slammed dryly with his fingers. With some sparks he produced a flame that floated above his raised index.

- An entropic spell would soon have devastated Altdorf, he continued as his manifestation swelled suddenly to the point that the apprentice felt the heat on his face and had to wrinkle his eyes. You must not give in. You must never give in. You must exercise restraint at all times. I would like to insist on this point.

And as it did, the crackling sphere retracted until it was just a spark that he dissipated with a wave of his hand.

- This is the secret that will make the difference between a burnt-out idiot in his own hut and a Magician from Flamboyant College.

*​

- Do you have any water left ? His neighbour asked him as he sniffed.

Without bothering to answer him, he handed him his bag. Their patrol would soon end. Only one more day and they'd go back to the Dunkelberg barracks. It was about time : he couldn't feel his feet anymore and his bag had been slicing off his shoulder since the day before. This time they had not seen any green skins or monsters with goat heads. They could consider themselves lucky.

Thinking back, he had collected a few coins from dice gambles during his wake tour, despite his numb fingers. He could consider himself lucky.

- Go on guys, tried to motivate them their lieutenant without much conviction. Only one more hour and we'll be at the cave of relay. And until then, back home !

- Hooray... moaned his neighbor while giving him back his water flask.

He could not repress a tired smile, shifting his gun on his valid shoulder to spare his arm. The grey mountains were no place for men. Only the boldest and craziest ventured into it. Or those overwhelmed by debt...

*​

Quickly, the metamorphosis took place. As the cycles progressed, it felt its hold on it growing. Already it felt its coat blossoming, the anger bubbling in the depths of its consciousness crystallizing a multitude of thorns on its outer shell. Its long branches, bending under their own weight, softened to resemble those of a weeping. Its incarnation spread to the slightest rib, sharpening its leaves one by one and making them as sharp as the tools of the vandals.

On the morning of the next cycle, it felt that the process was over. The crackling it produced caused all the flying parasites from the grove to flee. Its bark split all over, breaking up under the pressure of a second layer germinated from below, covering its physical body like scales.

Poorly it made a first step. It knew it had to imitate these inferior forms of life, but its scarlet thirst swept away its disgust. The base of the trunk of the white willow it had chosen was now split in two, giving it the mobility of bipeds.

As everything around Loren's other spirits moved, both happy and panicked at its arrival, it persevered, becoming more stable with each step. Shining with an emerald rage, coming from the depths of time, it turned its gaze to the East. It would feed their corpses to this same land that they mutilated day after day...

*​

- ...to play the fool!

Shaking his head, Manesh'k slowly returned to reality. His mind was still fogged up by the flood of memories he was recalling. He recognized Luther's voice. And once again, he was angry.

- Since this damn forest I don't recognize you anymore. Between you spending time with that glassy look. Gilnash who only has eyes for his pet elf, and go so I can mother you, go so I can feed you... And I'm on the kid's babysitting duty in all this !

Sighing, Manesh'k looked up to Enguerran, fell asleep in the vampire's bed. The immaterial spirit was rolled into a ball on its blanket, also appearing to be sleeping. Even if the vampire was aware that this was not the case. Looking up, he answered his younger brother, looking at him while he was sitting in a tailor's chair, with his back to the wall.

- He doesn't really need supervision, he says.

- That's not the point, I...

- You should focus more on the memory of Castille, he interrupted him. Sclera was a mad man, but he taught her so much in terms of magic... got scared of it. If this idiot had not consumed all his power to create demons, he could have laid the foundations for a new Murkain...

But the younger one just made a dismissive face.

- It is to practice what I have to do, not dwell on the memories stolen from that girl, Castille, over and over again. And I need corpses for that.

Sighing with exasperation, Manesh'k shook his head. This opportunity to better understand the very concept of magic was not, in the end, such a good thing for his nephew....

- You...

A sudden knock was heard at the door, interrupting the debate between the two vampires.

- On the market on the south shore, said the innkeeper when Luther opened it to him. A sir's shout' spread the word that last-minute tournament participants should show up as soon as possible. 'would have a trifle to settle.

He stared at Luther from top to bottom, engulfed in his armor in poor state after they had spent the entire day locked in the room.

- I thought you'd be one of those guys from the tournament. Am I right?

- Discerning, Luther whispered with a smirk.

Slipping his hand on his bag, he pulled a piece out of it.

- The dawn is not yet here, but what is the weather like outside?

The other groaned, staring at Luther's gloved fist.

- The dawn, the time...

Then he seemed to realize that the shutters were closed. Only a candle lit the room.

- It's raining since this morning. As predicted by the thinking heads of our Lord. That's why the tournament was postponed to that night. It should calm down as it says.

- It is raining yes, but do we see daylight ? Manesh'k insisted as he got up.

- We haven't seen the sun since the lunch break and I don't think we'll see it until morning.

- I see... thank you.

- Thank you, my lords, he whispered as he pocketed his coin. I'll pass this on to your companions in the room next d....

- Don't worry about it, Manesh'k interrupted him as he rushed forward. I'll take care of it. You may leave now.

- Gheu... As you wish...

As soon as he disappeared on the stairs, the vampire blew with relief. A little more and he would have taken short Gilnash and Gaylria. And the gods alone knew if he would have survived this unexpected intrusion.

- What do you think ? It's fine ? asked Luther.

- It's dark, he said, Manesh'k gauged. Let's find some headwear and see what Thierry wants from us.

*​

Slowly advancing into the large room, the grey-bearded leader moved from one support to another. Here was his father's armor. There, his grandfather's pourpoint. He could not repress a sad smile by lingering over the obvious patch, roughly made on the side. He had been mowed down by a greenskin when he himself was just a little boy. He was the same age as Hugo at that time...

- Why did you accept them to this tournament?

He turned to his dear vassal and friend, who was looking down at him. The Lord of Bordeleaux stood upright, but this man was just... taller. Dressed in his eternal black gambison, he kept his two hands crossed behind his back and stared at him intensely.

- And why not ? He replied, shrugging his shoulders. I am looking to expand my court and for that I offer their opportunity to all. Not only to Carloman, Drink-without-Thirst or the Beast-Hunt...

- I know well, the giant interrupted him without him taking offence. But still. One had armor that I wouldn't give to a beggar. As for the second one, I have the impression that he took his militia colours from a dead man.

- We have no way of verifying your statements, noted the owner of the place. They could be telling the truth and really have confront these monsters in Casseneuil. Hugo's entourage would be all the better with people of this calibre.

- With all due respect, dared to pursue the man dressed in black while his interlocutor was bending over a weapon rack. If this Luthor has proven to be a formidable man, what about the second one ? What about the thief who accompanies them who doesn't want to participate ? And I've never heard from Averland talks about....

- Don't be so quick to jump to conclusions, his eldest said. Let's wait until the end of the night to get a better idea of who they are.

The henchman did not insist, despite his obvious scepticism. They stayed for a while longer in the room where Thierry, the lord of Bordeleaux, meditated before his family's weapons, armours and writings.

*​

- Did you ever see him on your last visit ? The chatelain, I mean.

Luther did not answer immediately, dwelling on the boxes in front of them.

- He was just a kid if my memory is right. There's no way he'll remember me.

- I see. Did you ever cross Walach's path at that time ? Manesh'k continued as a groom came to them.

- Not yet....

- Good evening, gentlemen, a young man in his twenties broke in while wiping his hands on his pants. What can I do for you?

- Mandrak and Luther, chained the vampire to stop his elder questions. A messenger of the Lord should have told you about us.

Ceasing to rub his hands, their interlocutor stared at them, studying them with a suspicious look : two adults with a pale skin, one in blue tabard of the sovereign's men, the other engulfed in an armour that had known better days.

- That's right, he finally answered. However, I fear that you may face some difficulties.

He invited them to follow him, taking them to the stable.

- We have very few animals available for you, he began. And most of those who remain have never been trained in combat.

- It's not a problem, Manesh'k said in a reassuring tone. As long as they carry us during the game, it will do the job.

The human ticked when he heard these words. He stopped.

- Excuse me, but have you ever ridden a beast in battle that has never been trained for this ? Or worked with an animal you don't know and who won't necessarily accept you ? With all due respect, if you really intend to participate in the tournament in these con...

- Details, Luther swept away. And to answer you : yes. We had already ridden mounts we had met a few minutes earlier at war. Don't doubt us.

- At war, the groom repeated it halfway while squinting again.

Indeed, no armed conflict had torn the region apart for more than a decade. However, although they looked dark, both seemed to be in their thirties.

- And... these mounts, that...

- Enough, Luther cut off and lost patience. They survived just like us. Now show us which animals we will have to ride later if we want to participate in this event.

Whether it was the aggressive tone or the vampire's wild grin, the human understood that it was in his interest not to forget his place.

- It's... about... these horses.

Spreading his arms apart, he pointed out five boxes to them. Luther frowned immediately, his fists clenched against his hips.

- Too old, too frail, not athletic enough, Manesh'k judged by studying the selected animals in succession.

To the young man's surprise, the animals moved back one by one and pawed on the ground as Manesh'k passed in front of them. Most of them neigh of protest... or fear? He could not have said it well even if he worked every day with these horses. One of the younger ones even reared up.

- I should have known... the horses I sold yesterday were stunted but at least they weren't like these...

- Luther, don't forget we're coming in unannounced. We should already consider ourselves lucky to be participating. That Thierry is lending us horses for the event is...

He stopped in front of a new box. The animal in this one didn't seem to run away from him like the others. Just like the beast next door. Both followed him with their eyes, scratching the ground as if they dared him to move forward.

- What about these two ? he asked.

Still dazed by the strange reaction of the five animals, the groom took a look at the horses designated by Manesh'k before shaking his head.

- I wouldn't recommend them. The twins are not horses that can be ridden.

- And why is that ? Questioned Luther as he approached, finding a semblance of enthusiasm. Both seem to me to be in the prime of their lives and in perfect health.

- They have a bad temper, explained the young man. No one has ever been able to mount them or make them work, either way. The one on the right even regularly tries to bite me when I feed him. However they have an excellent pedigree, I think that apart from the breeding we will never make any...

- We take them, Luther cut them off with a carnivorous smile.

*​

- Lightning and Scourge, Luther whispered, pulling the two horses by the bridle. I hope you will deserve these pompous names....

- You know, we should be happy that they don't fear us like their comrades, Manesh'k tempered by following him.

- Peuh, they....

- Please excuse me, my lords....

Both turned to an approaching teenager. He was pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him with two orange gambisons that had seen better days.

- Are you Mr. Mandrak and Luthor Harkon ? He hesitated as they stared at him in silence.

- My first name is Luthe....

- It is us boy, Manesh'k preceded him while hiding an amused smile with difficulty. What do you want from us?

- Well, a representative of Lord Thierry asked me to give you this.

Putting his wheelbarrow there, he lifted one of the jackets up so they could study it. Immediately, Manesh'k guessed that it had not been made the day before, far from it. However, it appeared to be fully functional and showed no signs of tearing or mildew. At the heart's place was a clumsy and difficult to interpret painting, hastily painted directly on the canvas. And he found that it was also painted between the shoulder blades, much more detailed. A stylized scarlet dragon.

- This is....

- ...surprising, Luther finished, just as surprised as he was.

Both exchanged a perplexed look. The day before, they had presented themselves to the chatelain as members of the Order of the Dragon. This detail disturbed them because among Abhorash's heirs, they had the habit of calling themselves Blood Dragons. And until then, only Walach had pushed the vice to the point of drawing a coat of arms after Luther's rebirth : a black dragon on a scarlet background. Neither of them had thought of putting their lineage forward during this competition.

- Should I... should I bring them back ? Asked the squire like neither of the two vampires had a word.

- No boy, we... we take them, opposed Manesh'k by taking the one he was handing them.

Without wasting a moment, he put his arms into his padded sleeves. The skirt was a little short, he noted. But the shoulders were a little loose. Enough not to interfere with his movements. A smile slowly drawing on his features, he twisted his neck to see the symbol on his back. After all, that coat of arms was worth another.

- Yes, we take them, he repeated with more confidence.

Next to him, Luther rolled his eyes but did not add a word, contenting himself with accepting the other outfit the boy was holding out to him.

In possession of these new suits, the two fighters went to the competitors' area, which was lit by numerous torches. Multiple water troughs had been spread along a fence.

They stepped forward to claim one of these water troughs when a wacky man stumbled past them. He stammered an air of dubious accents, the bottle in his hand. The man didn't even seem to see them, his armor rattling with every step.

- What can I say, we are in Bordeleaux, could only justify Luther by shrugging our shoulders.


They were in a meadow made muddy by the heavy rain of the day. Here and there, exhuberus tents betrayed some wealthy participants. However, the two undead did not care. They needed neither comfort nor preparation. All they had to do was wait for the contest to begin. On the other side of the poles, several individuals were already gathered in a square of open ground, playing steel in front of their attentive future opponents.

Nevertheless, both did not dwell on it, preferring to use this time at their disposal to familiarize themselves with their new horses. In turn, they went up and made their mates trot. If Scourge, Luther's mount, tried for a time to bite him, he knew how to recall it to order by tightening his grip on the animal's neck. The yelping, mixed with fear and pain, which it pushed then assured the undead that it would learn this lesson. So he released it. Witnesses of his operation, a group of squires who passed there remained silent.

- What's the matter ? Do you want my portrait ?

They run away without asking for their rest. However, this was not the case for a competitor who also observed the scene from a little further away.

- The gauntlets, Luther said, raising his other hand.

Indeed, sharp points punctuated the arch of his phalanges and fingers, giving his hand a hooked appearance.

Approaching calmly, the man exchanged a serene look with him, simply nodding. Because Luther did not wear a gauntlet on his hand grasping the animal's mane. As Manesh'k approached in the opposite direction on Lightning's back, Luther took care to mentally note the colors of this stranger. It featured the colours of Bordeleaux, yellow and blue, as well as a stylized trident on its shield. However, it was personalized : a gold cross and hunting horn framed the weapon with right teeth while a vine leaf overhung the whole.

- An interesting meeting ? Manesh'k commented as he followed his gaze.

- You have no idea....

- It seems to me that there are more people than we thought, he added while looking at the men in the various outfits who were gathering.

- Meh. Less than a dozen of them deserve attention....

*​

Alone with his horse, the young man flattered the neck of his powerful steed drinking peacefully. It did not seem to perceive the nervousness that animated his rider. Trying to keep his mind busy and ignore the last people crossing swords a little further away, he undertook to put on his "bastard armour" according to his own words. A lamellar tunic to protect his abdomen and thighs, combined with a steel breastplate with only one shoulder pad.

However, buckling the straps alone at his side was always tricky. This was noticed by three competitors passing by. Laughting as one of them pointed to him, they approached. For a moment they critically examined his mount without letting it be understood that they intended to help him. He ticked and made a grimace, giving up his preparations for the time being.

- Where are you from, little man? began one of them as an introduction.

He stared at his elder without answering, lingering on the blue blazon embroidered on his tunic. A trident underlined with arrows : a participant from Bordeaux.

- I come from Brionne, finally answered the stranger.

- Brionne, repeated a second one while circling it, flattering in turn the neck of the animal.

- And what are you looking for in Bordeleaux, Monsieur de Brionne? pursued the third one behind his back.

He was bent over the shield leaning against the water trough. He stroked the black line that crossed the scarlet coat of arms all over its diagonal, thoughtful. Calmly inspiring, the Brionnese did not bother to answer, watching the individual near his mount.

- What is this drawing? continued the previous one while raising the shield. Did you do it yourself?

Giving him a new look, his mine began to darken. This one had ram's horns rolled up on themselves on a round shield, also on an Azure background.

- It's a Griffin, he creaked.

- A Griffin ? Seriously ? Have you ever seen one of them before ?

- That's right, he replied after a moment.

- Huh, nonsense....

- Say, you don't have anyone else to bother? interrupted the Brionese suddenly as he warmed up.

- Hey boy, show a little respect for...

- A Griffin did you say ?

All four of them rotated as one piece. Hands calmly crossed behind his back, Manesh'k was discreetly approached. He wore the orange gambison offered by the lord without buttoning it, revealing the blue tabard he wore underneath. Next to him came Luther, having partly put on his dented armor over his jacket. He held their frames by the bridle, impassive.

- Mmh ? Insisted the newcomer in orange clothing while scrutinizing the young man.

In doing so, he royally ignored the other three people.

- Man, who are you to come and join our conversation? said the knight with the spiral horns, looking at him, his eye turned towards the blue tabard.

- A Griffin?

- I'm talking to you dude, he repeated, putting his finger on the intruder's chest.

Without giving him the slightest glance, Manesh'k grabbed his hand. Crocheting his little finger, he bent it with a twist of the wrist. Neither of them wore a gauntlet. The Bordelin made a pitiful yelp as it fell to its knees in the grass, its elbow completely arched.

- Excuse me, Manesh'k said while finally giving him a look. Were you talking to me ?

On his back, a smile stretched across Luther's face as the unfortunate man's companions held hands on their sleeves.

- N... no I... go on, did he manage to answer despite the pain.

Manesh'k nodded and returned to his interlocutor without letting go of his prisoner's hand.

- A Griffin ? He said again.

The young man, a little under thirty, blinked as he stared at the protagonists of this unexpected comedy.

- I... yes. It suddenly began to harass farmers working near Freduss Forest, several months after its first appearance.

- How tall was it ? Do you remember the appearance of its head?

- Uh... it was the same size as me on Albart's back. My mount, I mean. And its head, I don't know... dark eyes, a long beak like that, light brown feathers and some golden ones at the junction with the neck...

The vampire tilted his head sideways, detailing it in turn, thinking, as he continued to describe the beast.

- You must have seen it up close to notice that kind of detail, an I wrong ?

Now embarrassed, the Brionese swallowed. Then added :

- I... put it down.

- And... how did you do it ? Manesh'k continued, more and more interested in this story.

Attentive, the vampire had not detected any jolt in the young man's rapid pulse while he was saying that.

- An... arrow in the wing. Then I harassed it with a spear until it broke it.

He humbly shrugged his shoulders before resuming.

- At that moment, its wounds were reducing it enough for me to finish it off with a sword.

- Mmh... you confronted it on foot, so Manesh'k deduced. Wise decision : I think it would have slit your horse's throat with a blow of the talon. Pain tends to make them vicious.

- Probably... it hung the talon on the edges of my shield. It gave me an opening that... wait, you have... you too...

- Uh....

Manesh'k sought Luther's gaze. Did he just say too much?

Behind the Brionese, the Bordelin with arrows came in turn to grab the shield that was now lying in the mud. Slowly, he straightened it up, studying the upper stop... before he started to fade. Three parallel grooves were engraved in wood and steel....

- Possible, Harkon replied with an enigmatic smile.

- ...mercy, begged the man still kneeling.

Not for a moment had the vampire released the torsion he was applying. And his two companions, overwhelmed, were not sure how to handle this situation.

- And you, my good man, turned away while Manesh'k by pushing vice. Why are you wearing ram's horns on your shield ? Were you a shepherd before ?

- I... I occured a beast... a beastman... during a duel... prisoner after a failed raid...

- He "occured a beastman", Manesh'k repeated to his nephew. This terrible inmate was probably armed to the teeth... such courage.

- I would be curious to know the feats of arms of our other friends, Luther replied. But I remind you that we are expected. Last night's mustache-guy passed a few minutes ago for us to start gathering in front of the stands.

- It is true ! Manesh'k realized by finally releasing the hand of the unfortunate man who, surprised, stretched himself all along.

Keeping his arm against him, he rushed to his feet and took refuge near his companions.

- But who the hell are you? he spat. You almost broke my arm !

- Almost, Manesh'k pointed out with an amused smile.

- Last minute participants, Luther simply replied while turning his heels. See you at the tournament.

- What is your name, Griffin killer? asked Manesh'k before following him.

- Darran fr... he hesitated before recovering : just... Darran.

- Well, Darran, maybe I'll see you later.

Next to him, the looks of the three arrogant knights widened : they had just noticed the stylized dragon on Luther's back. Was it a pompous acquisition, the symbol of an unknown order... or was it...?

*​

- You do not participate ? the sovereign wondered as the first competitors greeted the gathered crowd.

- Heavens no. I'm not as belligerent as my companions, Gilnash replied with a pinched smile.

And my concentration is required elsewhere than in the arena, he thought without adding it, keeping one hand on Enguerran's shoulder.

- The order of the Dragons, said a man close to them, thoughtful. I don't think I've ever heard of it.

Gilnash studied it for a moment before resituating it. Earlier, he had been told about the crew of the imposing trading ship that was anchored in the mouth of the Morceaux. The Lord of Bordeleaux hoped to develop the river trade of his city in the coming decades. The presence of a familiar captain from Marienburg, Arabia and even the islands of the mysterious Ulthuan elves was therefore a good omen for the future. He must have been the captain of this ship.

- There are not many of us, justified the vampire. And we come from a country far from the coast.

- Mannan keep you, you don't know what you're missing. See, this city has understood this well.

Turning south - and the river beyond the buildings visible in the moonlight - he looked at the booming port.

Fishermen know who is filling their nets and avoiding storms. All that Bordeleaux lacks is the necessary infrastructure to accommodate real merchant ships. And a temple dedicated to the lord of the salt water.

- Why not make it one? questioned the sovereign next to them, following their discussion. A ship itself dedicated to Mannan?

- Well, here's a brilliant idea, and...

Gilnash, however, was saved from the political and religious discussions he felt smouldering between the two men when a trumpet blew lower.

*​

- Good evening, everyone ! I have the honour to officially introduce this tournament, organized in honor of the birthday of Sir Hugo de Bordeleaux, grandson of our Lord !

Under a general ovation, a kid a little younger than Enguerran approached timidly, not daring to move too far from his mother. On the platform next to the stands, the herald was waving at him to approach. After a few moments, he finally reached the Bordelin, which took his hand warmly.

- Sir Hugo, tomorrow evening, one of these brave knights will have the honor to sit at your table for years to come !

- What do you think of his story ? Manesh'k asked, turning away from the speech and looking for Darran.

Luther shrugged his shoulders.

- He mentioned the detail you wanted to hear, didn't he ? The golden crown I hear.

- Indeed.

*​

- Does your nephew Julot participate in the contest ? Gilnash was surprised when he noticed him in the second row.

- That's right. But if he wins, which would surprise me greatly, the next one in the ranking of this tournament will join my court. And so it is if this one is already one of them.

- Are there many of them ? asked the ship's captain.

- Well, in addition to Julot are Piers, Renaud, Ferragus... a newcomer intervened by designating them in turn. And maybe I'm forgetting one...

Unlike the other people in this gallery, he was not dressed in a breastplate or a pourpoint but in simple, light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing. The sailors who came with their captain studied it with astonishment.

- Let me introduce you to Martin, placed the lord. My Augur. It is to this person that we owe to have anticipated the terrible weather that has been going on all day. Without him, we would have taken the water in the afternoon rather than enjoying the show that evening.

Martin only did quick greetings to each of the people present, his trident pendant beating on his chest. He lingered a few seconds on the vampire, squinting. Gilnash slightly tightened his grip on Enguerran's shoulder. This man had a slight affinity for winds. He perceived it. But did he perceive it as the undead, by its nature and its concentration turned towards the other side of the river and a very precise room ? But the Augur turned away. He exchanged a warm greeting with the ship's captain and then sat down near Enguerran and stretched his legs relaxed.

*​

- ...son of Louis Light-Hoof, Piers of the residence of Ivy, the knight Darran from Brionne... listed the spokesman, the interested parties raising their weapons in honour of the boy.

- A male in love parade, Manesh'k whispered for himself. Exhibiting in full view of its nuptial feathers. Claiming a new territory....

- It's Gilnash who's going to be curious to learn more, Luther slipped with a mischievous smile. He who had been so disappointed that Varison did kill that couple they couldn't train....

To this memory the elder roughly refrained from bursting into laughter, attracting black glances from their neighbors.

*​

- And does your son-in-law participate ? Asked Gilnash between two names.

However, he guessed he had touched a sensitive subject when a sadness passed over the lord's eyes.

- This one could not be present, replied the estafier with the scarf arm. There is a case in Aquitania that requires his presence despite the birthday of his eldest son.

Gilnash considered him for a moment. He realized that this massive man with a cold look was speaking for the first time in his presence. So much so that he began to believe that this person dressed in black was mute.

- None of my heirs are involved, said Thierry with his eyes fixed on Hugo. Even if I require that all spears used tonight be blunted, an accident can happen. And I refuse to let my grandson witness a tragedy on this particular day. Julot is the only member of my family who participates.

- An honourable and understandable decision, the captain from Marienburg nodded his head.

*​

- Ralof from Riverwood, Carloman Goat Killer son of Roland, Jacen from Lily Fields from Aquitania, Benoist the Whelk Hunter from Moussillon...

- How did you tell him again ? He answered with tears in his eyes.

- "All you have to do is hatch an egg," reminded him of the younger one, who in turn repressed a laughing.

- He was so anxious to have one as a mount... he calmed down laboriously.

- Who knows, if that's the case, his would litter has given him satisfaction.

If the Lord of Bordeleaux, once again smiling, was absorbed by the speech of his spokesman and grandson, this was not the case of Gilnash. The shared hilarity of his two congeners was as misplaced as it was contagious. Torn between embarrassment and amusement, he managed to keep his composure. But it was not an easy task. I mean, what could they have said to each other that was so funny ? Manesh'k literally stuck his fist in his mouth to remain silent !

- ... Mandrak of the Order of the Dragon of Averland.

However, it was necessary for the younger to elbow him to respond to the identity they had presented the day before. So he hastened to raise his Lahmian sword to heaven without even pulling it out of the sheath, all smiles. Having noticed his lack of discipline, the spokesman sniffed dismissively before resuming.

... Luthor Harkon, also of the order of the Averland Dragon.

Finally, he put one knee down and found himself at the level of young Hugo.

- My lord, can we declare the contest open ?

Looking at his mother, the child hesitated for a moment, before showing his approval with a vigorous nod.

- For Hugo! The herald cried out as he stood up, sword pointed towards the sky, which slowly saw the two moons rise.

- For Hugo ! exclaimed the forty or so participants of the competition.

*​

Required helmets and blunt spear heads provided by squires... I would give a shit about blunt spear heads....

Pushing a new curse, Luther kicked a clod of dirt that crashed against the foot of the stands.

- He explained to you, told his elder having regained his calm before imitating the herald's accent: Our good lord wants neither death nor injury there. It's about not pushing your lil' guy.

- Nonsense. Broken teeth and a few trifles would forge his character...

- I...

However, Manesh'k had no argument to make about this statement. But they were not in a position to protest about these modalities....

- ...and encounters drawn by random draw, Luther ironically looked up to heaven with a gesture of helplessness. Father would go crazy if he heard that !

- But are you done complaining ? You will be able to ridicule unfortunate peoples who will only understand their misfortune at the last moment....

- Certainly ! However, I hope we will not have to fight each other. Cross the whole empire, a forest infested with pointed ears and this barbaric land to beat you up... That I could have done years ago ! No need for a tournament !

Both laughed heartily as they went to their horses, Lightning and Scourge, the latter failing again to bite his rider when he tried to get in the saddle.

The spokesman called on the first two fighters to take their positions, inviting them to accept the blunted spears handed to them by the squires. That is, weapons that were neither sharp nor edged. He also indicated that for those participants who did not own a helmet, several had been made available to them.

Called for the first time, the two riders went to introduce themselves to their ladies and handed their spears to them.

- But... Doesn't Piers already have a wife and a baby ? A bordelin close to the vampires was surprised.

He pointed to the knight in bright green colours, seeing a woman hanging a scarf on his weapon.

- Are you stupid or are you doing it on purpose ? replied his interlocutor. THAT's his wife.

- Ho crap... but by the way, isn't him already from our lord's court ? What is he...

- It is the vineyard price that interests him, he was cut as they were taking place.

With the sound of a trumpet, the first charge took place, seeing Piers from the Ivy House pushing down his opponent's round shield. On two occasions.

- Best of three, then, Luther analyzed by following with his eyes the defeated coming back head down.

Knights Luthor Harkon and Julot from Bordeleaux, suddenly called the speaker and made the two vampires blench.

- Julot ? Manesh'k repeated.

- Poor dude, Luther commented as he climbed over Scourge. Twice in two nights....

As he was walking forward, Manesh'k spotted Thierry's nephew. His face was distorted by a rancour mask. He too had obviously recognized his opponent and put on a sparkling helmet. Probably new.

From the first charge, Manesh'k felt bad for the boy. Luther was merciless despite his capricious horse. Julot was the first participant to empty the stirrups and to be eliminated from the competition. However, unharmed, he threw his helmet with a scream of rage. Luther on his side allowed himself a passage in front of the stands, greeting cheerfully the bordelins who acclaimed this winning foreigner.

As soon as he returned to the space reserved for the participants, Luther came to his elder to whom he give his hand. The latter slammed it happily as he watched the called ones of the next duel.

- Gontran Drinking-without Thirst ? Repeated an incredulous Luther as he presented himself. Talk about a title... Opposed to the Whelk Hunter... I would have heard everything tonight...

- Quite a few anecdotes must be hidden behind these names, Manesh'k guessed.

With his arms crossed, he was waiting for the call of a particular participant, curious to see him at work. He himself had easily touched the shield of an opponent three times, whose name he had already forgotten. He had simply revealed himself incapable of touching him.

When he finally saw Darran coming forward, he placed himself at the forefront of the competitors. This one was opposed to a certain Carloman Goat Killer.

- No kidding... he murmured, acknowledging the brute to whom he had twisted the wrist earlier.

*​

- You said that two companions of your order were participating, noted the ship's captain. Are they those two people in orange gambisons, with a purple wyrm on their back ?

- That's right, Gilnash replied as Manesh'k walked past them, greeting the audience with his hand.

- I'm going to have to apologize in that case, he said. I thought you were someone worthy of little interest. But when I see the prowess of your brothers in arms... it forces respect.

- Uh... thank you ? Was all that came to his mind as this statement caught him off guard.

In front of them, two young Bretonnians were in charge for the third time. With a touch everywhere on the shield, the vampire valued them on an equal footing. Just like the various judges in the front row of their stands, attentive to this last pass. And finally both of them reached their goal. Except that the blue shield flew from the owner's arm. Raising his visor, the winner with the red colors shouted a scream of joy audible from their position.

- We've been talking for a while now, but we haven't introduced ourselves, he insisted. I am Frederik, Captain of the Immaculate.

- Gi... Gaëtan from Averland, he hesitated. Member of the Order of the Dragon...

*​

- Damn, Luther spat when he came back from his second fight.

As soon as he had joined the participants' space with Scourge, he raised his armored fist. However, Manesh'k held his wrist back, preventing him from beating his horse in front of the bordelins. The gesture had not escaped the attention of a few, to whom the vampire replied with an embarrassed smile. Then, taking his nephew by the shoulder, he pulled him aside.

- What are you doing here ? He reproached him. You just won it and...

- The damn horse tried to bite me again in the middle of the charge, Luther replied with a black look at the guilty horse. 'why I missed my first charge.

Manesh'k was going to reply, but the words didn't come to him. So he simply shrugged his shoulders. And saw that Darran was watching them intensely a little further away, looking astonished. The vampire held his gaze for a moment, regaining all his seriousness. Until the human turned to the line and heard a scream of pain.

- What...

*​

Well annoyed, the winner of the current duel guided his horse towards his opponent. Spread out all over, he was screaming like a devil, holding his shoulder and legs shaken with spasms. In the stands, the ruler left his seat and approached the wooden balustrade while his augur rushed out of the stands. Several squires surrounded the wounded, knowing only too well what to do : although blunted, the spear had penetrated deeply into the plastron like the flesh below before it broke.

Hugo's mother hid her son's eyes when she noticed the regular scarlet sprays from the wound. Surprisingly, the injured person continued to scream but did not seem to spit blood. Or at least, it wasn't visible from the heights.

- His lung doesn't seem to be affected, Gilnash estimated, attracting Enguerran to him to also prevent him from seeing this traumatic scene. If they rush to stop the bleeding, he should live.

- Are you a doctor ? The captain of the Immaculate wondered.

- Not really. However, I do have... experience with bleeding.

- 'wants to see ! Protested the child against him.

However, the vampire's grip would not allow him to contemplate Martin busy removing the damaged armor to examine the wound. The winner, knight of the Ivy House, went to join the other participants without passing in front of the stands, with his shoulders arched.

- Who's the future stiff ? Asked Luther discreetly to his brother in arms.

- One of the idiots from earlier. The one with the trident and the arrows.

- Not a great loss in this case, he laughed.

As he did so, he attracted the black eyes of their neighbors. So for once he showed tact by simulating a coughing attack.

The squires, under the direction of a skinny man in pale blue, wide brays, took the wounded man on a stretcher. All that remained were splinters of wood and metal. Not to mention the dark blood that stained the grass where he had fallen.

*​

A few more duels took place, seeing Darran triumph over the Whelk Hunter. Then finally, Manesh'k came back smiling and slamming his nephew's hand : he had just eliminated the third scoundrel who had pushed the brionnois earlier in the evening with two hits. The vampire had even allowed himself the luxury of a gap on the third charge. This attitude was clearly seen as an insult to the defeated man who ducked out from the stands under the quibbles of several teenagers. Again by reflex, Manesh'k looked for Darran by coming back to attach Lightning to a pole. He watched him with a disapproving look as he followed a lively discussion between the Whelk Hunter and Piers from the Ivy House.

- It is getting late, suddenly declared the voice of the lord himself from the platform. And tell me, boy, so far do you like it ?

Standing next to him, young Hugo looked up, before realizing that he was expected to express himself.

- Oh yes ! Yes ! He replied, shaking his head vigorously.

The assembly, which had become silent when he came to the stands, could only be charmed by this innocent little boy.

- However, this tournament is still far from over, he continued. Until now, the meetings have been randomly determined. And it appears that six participants have not yet been defeated. I decided that three more matches would take place between these champions chosen by Mannan, for our greatest pleasure!

Immediately, an enthusiastic clamour came from the stands, mixed with loud applause. Among the fighters, however, it was in a different atmosphere that the declaration was received. While the majority of fighters sought to trace the duels that took place to identify the nominated fighters, this was not the case for vampires. Both exchanged a glance : they knew exactly they both where in the six.

They spent long seconds observing each other without saying a word. If Luther had joked earlier about a possible clash, they were now confronted with the reality of this competition. And, despite their peregrinations through the Empire, Estalia and the lands of the Bretonnis... they had never fought a duel until now.

- Let's wait for the call, Manesh'k finally declared to break the ice between them. It is unlikely that our Thierry will pit us against each other knowing that we share the same order.

Luther remained impassive, waiting a few more moments before agreeing and turning away from his elder. So he in turn began to look for among them who remained undefeated.

- I call Luthor Harkon of the Order of the Dragon from Averland in orange colors...

The two vampires froze on the spot when they heard the name, pivoting again towards the platform.

- ... as well as Piers from the Ivy House of Bordeleaux with its green colors !

While a real ovation immediately rose to the call of the local knight, already a member of their lord's court, the two rivals relaxed significantly.

- It will be for another time, Manesh'k said, slamming his shoulder.

He had a much more relaxed smile as Luther took over the reins of Scourge.

- You don't know what you're esca... By the Dragon's Fire ! I'm going to take it to you....

However, he stopped in full swing, his gauntlet fist raised above the muzzle of his mount. The indomitable animal had tried to bite him again. It was under a burst of laughter from Manesh'k that he passed under the stands to take his place.

*​

- I call Jacen from the Lily Fields from Aquitania in white and Ferragus Vine Leaf from Bordeleaux in blue !

Once again, the bordelins demonstrated their chauvinism by loudly cheering for their competitor. Both came forward, having already put their horses on.

- The last game, Manesh'k whispered, looking through the participants.

However, he seemed to be the only one preparing for another duel. Until he noticed it. A smile slowly stretched over his features as he realized that he too had not lost any of his duels.

- Piece of cake ! Luther shouted as he came to him with his hand raised, after throwing the lent helmet into the grass.

- Cake, yes, replied a vampire distractedly, giving him back his gesture of victory, without energy.

- So, did you find out who you were fighting ? He asked him in a much colder tone in response to his lack of enthusiasm.

- I couldn't have dreamed better....

A few meters away, Darran was staring at them with intensity. He had his griffin shield with a black stripe on his arm and held his mount close to him. He clenched his teeths with a slight grin, obviously eager to fight it out. Manesh'k licked his lips.

*​

- Now here is the last game of the night ! The herald cried out. I call the knights Darran in red. And Mandrak, also of the Order of the Dragon from Averland, in orange!

Darran, Griffin's killer, thought Manesh'k as he passed in front of the stage. At the end of the ground, he went around it and contemplated his opponent already in position. Show me what kind of wood you're made of, he dreamed as he lowered his visor.

At the signal, both rammed their respective mounts. Their spears dropped... but none hit their target. By deflecting his horse away from the field, the knight in orange colours avoided the enemy spear. Without trying to target the opponent's shield.

Amazed by this strategic choice, a whisper came from the crowd as both turned back. They repositioned themselves, spears to the sky, waiting for the trumpet. Then they started again.

- What... stammered the vice-captain when he saw Mandrak not lowering his weapon.

To everyone's surprise, again he did not try to touch his opponent, keeping his spear upright. Instead, he spread his shield arm and managed to push the blunted spear head back with a backhand before continuing his run. And quietly, he went to position himself for the third and final charge of the competition.

- This is surprising, commented a stunned Frederik. What...

- STOP MESSING ! Darran suddenly cried out as he pulled out his helmet, throwing his spear to the ground.

All the spectators turned from Mandrak to the brionnois, surprised by his sudden burst of voice.

- I identify this reckless horseman, began the captain, referring to Mandrak. But who is this one ?

In doing so, he pointed to Darran. Hugo's grandfather shrugged his shoulders.

- A young man from Brionne, if my memory serves me correctly, replied his bodyguard in dark clothes.

- YOU MAY BE HAVING FUN, BUT FOR ME THIS TITLE CAN CHANGE EVERYTHING ! He insisted whith a loud scream.

At the other end of the ground, Manesh'k raised his visor in turn.

- SO STOP FUCKING MESSING WITH ME ! TAKE ME SERIOUSLY !

As he did so, he put on his helmet and took back his spear to a squire frightened by this statement.

- Who does he think he is, creaked Luther from the foot of the stands.

Around him, the opinions of the other participants seemed mixed. More than one nodded his approval head while others criticized the behaviour of this young rooster.

- What a language, sniffed Martin with disdain, returning from the bedside of his wounded.

His clothes were stained with blood. However, his presence must have meant that the days of the unfortunate were not threatened.

- Answer me honestly Gaëtan, said Thierry while turning to Manesh'k below. Is this young man telling the truth ? Is your friend Mandrak having fun hiding from us the extent of his talents ?

Doubt and curiosity pierced his voice, as Mandrak opened his shield arm as a sign of acceptance.

- I cannot say for sure, was all Gilnash could answer as he was so caught off guard by the turn of events.

- COMES AT ME ! WITH EVERYTHING YOU GOT ! Darran stubbornly lowered his visor.

- ... You will have claimed it, Manesh'k whispered on the other side while slowly sliding his own.

In the stands, Gilnash noticed that Martin in front of him had suddenly turned towards the orange-jacketed fighter. Like the vampire, the augur must have perceived the slight fluctuation in the winds at that moment. He clenched his teeth, silently begging his brother in arms not to do too much...

The two riders thus remained for a few moments to scrutinize each other, separated from the entire length of the charging lanes. And the trumpet sounded. Immediately they planted their heels in the sides of their frames. Lightning and the steed of the brionnois rushed at full speed towards each other as the cavalry spears lowered. Several people gave their voices, encouraging the fighters of this last charge. Several horns resounded loudly...

At the last moment, Manesh'k threw away his round shield. With his thighs firmly closed on the sides of Lightning, the vampire pivoted on his saddle. He gave his extension as much amplitude as he could. With a dreadful crash, the scarlet shield, stripped of black, shattered.

*​

Lightning pushed a neigh of pain under pressure against his sides, his course becoming uncertain. Throwing the spear in turn, Manesh'k took the bridle with one hand and clung to the mane with the other. Playing with his considerable strength and insolent luck, he managed to bring Lightning back to a trot without any further difficulty. Only then did he allow himself to look back.

Miraculously, Darran had not emptied the stirrups. A squire from Bordeleaux was trying to grab the reins while the rider leaned dangerously backwards with his arms loose. The loser from the previous game even came to help him get back on his feet as he threatened to fall. Still conscious, the brionnois nevertheless seemed pretty stunned.

- He is unharmed, My Lord ! cried the squire after exchanging a few words with him.

At these words, the spectators stood up. A round of applause and acclaim came to congratulate them.

- Impressive, Gilnash said in the rush while watching Darran as Manesh'k led Lightning to the defeated to check his condition.

Considering the performance, he would not have been surprised to find a green look in his companion if he had not worn a helmet. His brother in no-life had not done in half measure by lifting at arm's length the heavy cavalry spear...

- He will be lucky if he doesn't have his elbow and shoulder in pieces, commented the big bordelin in black jacket, himself with his arm in a scarf.

- Certainly. But about your companion Mandrak : what audacity ! Daring such a risky manoeuvre....

- He is... bold by nature, could only answer Gilnash to Frederik's vice-captain, impressed by the performance.

In front of them, Enguerran never stopped applauding, euphoric and overexcited despite the late hour.

Soon, a circle formed around the loser. Circle that moved away, however, as the knight Mandrak approached, bareheaded and holding his mount by the bridle. He looked at Darran for a moment, sitting on a bench while silence was building around them. And, to everyone's surprise, the boy had a jolt that quickly turned to a burst of tired laughter.

- I knew it, he articulated painfully as he looked up. You could have thrown me out in the first two passes...

Impassible, Manesh'k saw a slight smile illuminating the expression of the brionnois.

- ...but you see, I didn't bite the dust.

Repelling the help of a squire who didn't know what to do, he got up. Alone. And stood up straight in front of the vampire who had not said a word. And, still smiling, he offered his hand. Hand that Manesh'k considered for a moment, before grabbing with vigour.

- Thank you, Darran thanked him at last. Thank you for not holding back.

His opponent of one evening sketched a divided look before answering, placing his free palm on the shoulder pad.

- Remember to make your arm looked.

Darran immediately drew a grimace of pain.

- Serious business start tomorrow, he added with a smile.

And at his words, he turned his back, leaving the other competitors there who watched him leave. Darran's smile faded slightly, then he looked at the other competitors and squires. But not one of them seemed to have noticed Mandrak's fangs.

The Whelk Hunter, Piers of the Ivy House and a few others exchanged uncertain glances. Crossing swords the next day with this man in orange... wasn't that a monumental mistake ?

*​

The huge room was silent. Not a single breath would disturb the armor and trophies on their displays. The room was one of the most remote in the castle of Bordeleaux. The Lord's ancestors had been here for several generations. Their family had built this building overlooking the city when it was only a village. The sword of the first ruler was enthroned on a support, under a light layer of dust. Several oxide stains were beginning to appear here and there. She had defeated many greenskins, but would probably not defeat one more.

Disturbing the calm of these places, a crackling in the air agitated the breastplates on their mannequins. A gust swept through the heart of the room with its century-old windows, yet sealing every single exit to the outside. And suddenly, a flash of light illuminated the shelves. Several bumpy helmets bounced off the pavement. The next moment, a crack had appeared in the center of the room, pulsating with sizzling lightning. And slowly, reality unravelled as the breach in space stretched. It illuminated the displays with a dazzling purple light.

However, a shadow darkened the gate. Generating a muffled whistle that dominated the energy detonations for a moment, a piece of metal made its way to this plane of existence. Black, long and tapered, a blade chiselled with shiny symbols emerged. His yarn and the quality of his material ridiculed the relics stored there. And with a new detonation the weapon was suddenly regurgitated, crushing the weapon rack several hundred years old. Just like the rusty sword it was exposing.

With new energy arcs, the rift closed quickly, bringing with it the strange purple gleams from other worlds. In a few moments, the place regained its calm. If it wasn't for the smoking and whistling wood of the pieces of furniture, sliced clean by the black blade. And the stone underneath. Notched off a finger deep.

Slowly, the symbols lost their shine, melting into the blade a few minutes later. The silence returned... until a shadow appeared, attracted by the noise.

*​

Without saying a word, the innkeeper watched them leave the place, the kid on their heels. They operated exactly the same ride as the day before, leaving all four of them from his inn at nightfall. And leaving the fifth member of their group alone upstairs.

Thrilling, he went to take a look through a tile blackened by humidity. He had time to see the boy disappear on the corner of the street before they left his field of vision. The owner then sketched an irrepressible smile from one ear to the other. A smile shared by his companions who had been sitting at the table until then and who had remained impassive. They woke up exchanging fat laughter, savoring in advance the coming night. More than ten of them hurried towards the stairs.

However, it was with unsuspected discipline that they approached the room. Not one dared to disturb the silence. Coming with her face hidden by a hood, this woman's curves had not escaped the owner's attention. These strangers had paid upon arrival for all his rooms, which had been booked for the entire week. Rich was a bit of a statement about their condition. Mannan alone knew what riches they would reap inside. Then on these wacky people when they would relieve them of their possessions, upon their return. But it would be for later. He had another kind of reward to collect. And this one had been hiding behind that door for two days now.

Still smiling, he turned the handle.

*​

Enguerran pushed the vampire when he suddenly stopped as the bridge ledge. Looking up, he saw Gilnash's expression literally decompose.

- Gaylria... he whispered in a trembling voice.

And without a word more he rushed in the opposite direction, throwing aside a poor lady who had the misfortune to find herself in his way.

- Which fly bites him ? Luther wondered as he followed him with his eyes.

- The elf, guessed his elder with a dark face. Something just happened.

- It's not serious ! The fighting starts in less than an hour!

But Manesh'k wasn't listening to him anymore. He snuck in the wake of his comrade, several people getting up after being pushed back by the previous runner. Being alone with Enguerran, Luther looked up to heaven. Then lowered them on the child. He shivered while guessing the anger the exasperated vampire was feeling. He didn't say a word and just walked back to retrace his steps.

*​

Manesh'k stopped at the entrance to the building where Gilnash had already disappeared. But he already saw that it would not be necessary to go any further. A stool was sitting in the middle of the street, having crossed one of the few windows on the ground floor. The door hung on a hinge, pushed in from the inside. The individual who served as a ram lay in the cable, his throat torn out, his torso and face mutilated. Dismaying, the vampire nevertheless entered. The place was unrecognizable. The terrible smell. Even for him. The stench of the gutted entrails, spilled alcohol and blood took him by the throat.

The furniture had been reduced to rubble, including the bar. Here and there, the unfortunate people who were used to shatter it slowly bled to death, relieved of a limb or two for the most part. The vampire felt his boots sticking to the slimy ground as he walked through this impressive charnel. The walls were not to be outdone, scarlet fingerprints punctuating the vermilion sprays that had repainted the area. With a grin, he refused to go any further : the trail of intestines running down the stairs gave him a glimpse of what was waiting for him on the floor. And to think that the perpetrator of this massacre had acted with his bare hands...

- By the... began Luther by coming at his turn.

He moved backwards, holding his hand to his nose as he discovered the extent of the damage.

- Don't let the kid get clo...

A very unnecessary request. Already beside the vampire, Enguerran was passing his head through the gap. His face lost all color as Luther stood out ignoring him, protesting against Gilnash and "his elven animal".

Manesh'k snatched the boy from this morbid contemplation, dragging him down the street by the shoulder. After a brief glance around, he threw the body inside and closed the door. Then returned to Enguerran.

The poor child had exorbitant eyes, shaking like a leaf. He didn't say a word, his mouth open, blissful.

- Enguerran, look at me, he ordered. Now. Look at me and listen to my voice. You...

However, he stopped quickly. Obviously, he didn't even hear it. The child was in shock. Even he couldn't get anything out of him right now.

Manesh'k turned as he heard the door squeak behind him.

- She is no longer there, Gilnash flatly declared as he rubbed his forehead.

That was obvious. However, Manesh'k had the tact not to point this out to him. They had a much bigger problem to solve. Gaylria was there, somewhere in the shallows of the city. And she probably took a new life every moment they lost catching her.
 
Last edited:

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,565
#43
Happy New Year. You haven't lost your touch at all.

Yes, vampire children require parental supervision at all times...
 

vg11k

Skeleton
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
58
#44
Happy new year too !
Thanks for your comment.

Gaylria is indeed a difficult child, but i still like her ^^

I realize i used citizen french name for the Bordeleaux inhabitants and not for the Brionne ones (Bordelin and Brionnois, but also Marienburgeois) with Brionese. Is it right in english ? I'm not sure... It's possible these chapters need some adjustments about that. I'll let you tell me.

Whatever.

Here goes the chapter 17 on 18. We are near the end of this story.
It was fast to translate since i'm particularly proud of this one. I hope you'll enjoy it.



Fire & Blood
Chapter 17



- Moooooom ! Mom, come on !

Hand in front of her mouth to hold a yawn, the mother with ginger hairs entered the room. Her young daughter was sitting in her bed, the sheets brought back against her.

- Mom....

- Honey, Mom has been working all day at the market, she sighed while sitting on the edge of the bed. She's tired and tomorrow morning we'll have to get up early again. So now it's time to....

- I can't sleep...

At this statement, she frowned.

- And why is that so ?

- There's a monster in the closet...

Hiding under her duvet up to the snout, the child looked at the closet, which was embedded in the wall. The adult looked up to heaven and retained a sigh of exasperation.

- Don't be silly, there's no monster in this house. By the way, where is your father now ? He came by to tell you g...

She stopped as the wooden door had just moved. Forbidden, she contemplated it, no longer daring to breathe.

- Mom, whispered the little girl again while hiding more beautifully.

But she had no comfort to provide. With a new hitting, one more movement animated the closet, followed by a slight growl. As all colors deserted her face, the mother forced herself to get up. And with infinite slowness, she forced herself to walk to the recessed door. She reached out, holding her breath. Another jolt. She could now touch the handle with her fingertips... her hand closed. All she had to do was pull, but she couldn't do it. A drizzle of cold sweat ran down her back.

- Mom....

She waved to her to remain silent, with an attentive ear. From the inside, a growl came to her. The mother would have almost cried with relief. A cat. She had just been scared to death for a simple cat, stuck in a closet. Turning to her daughter, she displayed a big smile.

- Darling, look what your monster is, she told her while opening the door wide.

The little one opened her eyes when she saw what was in the little room. Pushing her sheets back, she screamed loudly.

Immediately the mother turned around. She discovered a woman curled up inside, her hairs dripping and her face stained with blood. Blood of her disfigured husband lying under her with his throat torn out. The intruder turned to her, forbidden. Then opened wide scarlet eyes and pushed a new growl.

The woman's scream joined her daughter's one.


*​


- You grind our owns, Luther cried. It's just a burden you've been putting on us since the forest ! You should have gotten rid of it as soon as you got out of there !

- Don't start, this is not the time, Manesh'k held him back with a hand on his shoulder.

- But it's true, he insisted while pointing to the third vampire. Look...

- Listen, cut off his elder. You want to go play in the old Thierry's tournament so badly ? Go ahead. We're not holding you back.

The troublemaker was going to answer him with a sharp reply, but this statement left him speechless. He blinked before showing a sufficient grin.

- You don't have to tell me twice.

Putting his deeds into action, he turned around in the alley and took a determined step forward.

- Enguerran, Manesh'k said to the kid still shaken by their discovery at the inn. Go with him. And once there, bring me Lightning, my horse. You'll be waiting for me on this side of the bridge.

The child stammered an inaudible answer. Manesh'k lowered down to his height and gently grabbed his arm.

- I need this horse, he insisted as he tried to get his attention. Do you understand?

After a moment of hesitation, Enguerran agreed to turn to him. Manesh'k sketched a slight smile.

- This horse has character, he acknowledged. But if it's being difficult, ask Luther to slap him. This will make it docile. And he'll lose his nerve. Do you understand me?

Unsure, Enguerran nevertheless nodded.

- Now go, he said as he straightened up.

On the corner, Luther had stopped. Looking gloomy, he stared at them for a moment before waving at the child to follow him. Manesh'k nodded. He knew that his nephew's fine hearing would perceive the passage where he offered him his blessing to correct the capricious mount.

- Found, Gilnash suddenly declared as he reopened his eyes. She's very close.



*​


The two vampires slid along a roof before coming to a standstill at the edge, throwing several slates into the alleyway.

- Where is she ? asked Manesh'k.

His brother just extended his arm. Instantly a crash sounded in the building in front of them. Passing through a window on the single floor, Gaylria fell into the void in a rain of glass. She landed heavily on the ground before turning to a beggar who was passing by. He yelped as he discovered her blood-stained face and fell backwards. She took a first step towards him... before stopping. Suddenly looking up, she discovered her elders watching her in silence. She stared at them for a few seconds with a black look. Then she growled with anger at their address and turned back, leaving behind her terrified prey.

- I'll take care of her, Gilnash said with a grin. Look at the damage she caused.

Manesh'k nodded before dropping off the first floor. Gilnash immediately jumped on the nearby roof in pursuit of his daughter. As he received it, he briefly heard his brother's voice "Listen to my voice...". He shook his head. Manesh'k knew what he had to do. He had to focus only on his daughter who was running at high speed on the ground.

- This is not the time, Gilnash creaked without slowing down his race.

He grinned, pressing his effort. Gaylria was running fast and he already guessed that catching her would be long if she refused to stop. Grunting with bitterness, he insisted even more, giving more amplitude to his stride as well as to the pendulums of his arms.

The runaway threw a brief glance over her shoulder. She had just perceived a subtle change in her father in death's race . The slamming of his short cape had become more violent. The impacts of his footsteps on roofs heavier. Plus a rough moaning that increased in amplitude as the seconds went by...

Suddenly, he propelled himself into the void, tearing off several tiles as he passed. With his arms extended, he jumped on his offspring and bridged the gap between them. At the moment of seizing her, however, she turned around and hit him with a backhand in the face. She growled with anger as he crashed into a pile of crates lying here. Without delay, Gaylria threw herself at him and tried to scratch his face. Knees bent between them, however, the eldest managed to stay out of reach. Suddenly expanding, he pushed her across the street.

She bounced against the mortar of the opposite building without even touching the ground before collapsing. Shaking her head, she straightened up. Just in time to be grabbed by the vampire's knotty hand. Her head hit the wall while her feet were shaking in the void. Instinctively, she carried her hands on the wrist of her jailer, crying out in anger. Not for a moment was she surprised to pull feathers out of Gilnash's arm as his grip tightened on his neck.

- Enough, he thundered with a voice that got lost in a whistle.

Manesh'k caught up with them as the father in death held his daughter steady at arm's length. She gesticulated more and more softly under his embrace, the fingers of the undead pressing her throat with incredible force. When she finally stopped struggling, he allowed himself to have her touch up the floor. Without further ado, Gilnash put her chest over his shoulder. Then he came to meet his comrade by carrying the unconscious vampire. The latter refrained from commenting. The feather down disappearing from Gilnash's bare arms made it clear how violent he had to be to neutralize Gaylria.


*​


- Only the sixteen best riders of yesterday participate, Luther whispered with a vague look. We fight in duels one by one, the losers being eliminated. Only one jousting charge. If we are both still in the saddle, it is without a lance and a balustrade until one of us gives up or falls off a horse. And this until there is only one person left....

Thinking back to the rules laid down by the Lord's spokesman, he turned to the gallery, which was lit by numerous torches and braziers. This one finished filling up, with the local gentry in the first row. However, he noticed a stranger coming to him. Among the nobility, he swore by his tired counterpoint and his sharp blue braies, uncommon in this region.

- The four finalists will deliver a final contest afterwards.... he finished it for himself before this unwelcome nuisance interrupts him.

- Good evening Knight of the Dragon of Averland, he said. I am Frederick, captain of the Immaculate. Your name is Luthor, from the Harkon house, if I'm not mistaken?

- Luther, creaked out the interested one with the orange gambeson. What do you want from me?

- First of all, to congratulate you, replied the sailor.

If he felt insulted by the knight's derogatory tone, he didn't let anything appear.

- You and your brother in arms made a strong impression yesterday, he continued. I was discussing it with Gaetan whom I don't see anywhere. Is he present?

- He is... indisposed, Luther improvised after a moment of reflection.

- Nor do I see your second companion, he notes as he looks at the qualified competitors.

- I'm afraid he can't come. My uncle might keep him all night.



*​



- Isn't this symbol Thierry's one ? asked Manesh'k as he studied the dead man's tabard.

They were in a second residence ransacked by the angry vampire. She had left the three bodies of an entire family in the previous one...

- Yes it is, confirmed his companion with a brief glance as he placed Gaylria on the ground while she regained consciousness.

Without waiting for her to regain her senses, Gilnash stood in front of her and took her forehead in her hands. Still stunned and at this distance, she could not fight against her connection with the wild wind and the kinship that united them. He would regain his mental domination over his daughter. He had to.

Suspicious, Manesh'k went to inspect one of the adjoining rooms as the vampire elf's gaze became more vague. The magic was working. Gradually her wild instincts faded away and the ornithologist's will was restored. After a moment, he carefully walked away from her.

She straightened up and looked at the scene without really dwelling on it as the third vampire came back behind her. Things were finally back to normal.

- That's enough death for one night, sighed Gilnash as he let himself fall on a chair.

- I would be you I wouldn't be so sure, replied his brother in arms from a nearby room.

Grinning, Gilnash stood up to join his companion. One more body was lying on his bed, his throat torn out. His blood dripped on the floor as Manesh'k knelt down. He stroked the scarlet liquid with his index before bringing it to his lips while the other vampire noticed a whole set of military equipment on a table on the opposite side of the room.

Slowly, Manesh'k straightened up with a vague look. Flanges after flanges, memories stolen from the dead man marched through his mind. He gradually opened his mouth and realized what a mess Gaylria had just put them in. The vampire pivoted towards the table.

- You've got to be kidding me...


*​


- Julot is no longer here ? wondered the omen as he took his place after assisting a rider who had crashed earlier.

The captain of the Immaculate shook his head.

- The lord's nephew took leave after Gaetan's comrade's second victory, he explained while looking at Luther.

With his arm crossed, he observed the current game without mixing with the other participants. Surprisingly, of all the competitors who had reached this stage of the competition, he was the only one not to be accompanied. Until the young man shaken the day before by his brother in arms crossed his field of vision, also alone.

- Tell me Martin, have you examined him? he asked, pointing to the knight in red lamellar.

Having just eliminated the local participant Ferragus vine leaf, he went to sit in a corner. Shield behind him, he already seemed focused on his next duel.

- That's right. His sore shoulder attests to the severity of the sudden shock. However, I thought he was able to continue. This man is more solid than he looks if you ask me.

- To be present after having his shield broken, I would like to believe you... by the way, speaking of a shield...

- We provided him with a blank one. He himself repainted his coat of arms during the day, a griffin if I'm not mistaken.

- Black striped, noted Frederik. Does that mean something? I am not familiar with local heraldic customs....

- He's an illegitimate son, I presume.

- Ho....


*​



Rising to the call of his name, Luther came across the intense gaze that an eliminated participant threw at him as he passed him. He recognized the individual he met the day before the tournament began. He made a contemptuous face as the orange fighter stopped in front of him, thinking.

- "Fought the dead," Luther said, pointing to the coat of arms decorated with a cross. Were they even armed ? I can hardly believe it considering what I saw... Vine leaf.

The person concerned rubs his jawbones as he exhaled, but refrained from responding to the vampire's provocation. In view of his behaviour, Luther guessed that doubt was eating away at this man : gauntlet or not, he had seen him bending his whimsical horse just by grabbing his spine the night before.

- I'll show you how you should have dealt with that scarlet young man.

- Tss....

The bordelin looked away towards Darran who was riding to face the second representative of the Dragon of Averland.

- May he teach you humility.

Luther laughed, drawing attention to himself as he would finally find his horse lent by the lord.

It was now the final of this tournament. His fourth and final confrontation. Before, of course, the famous final contest mentioned by the spokesman. Putting on his helmet, he looked at his opponent in a corner. Both were already assured of participating. Nevertheless, there was no question of conceding any defeat.

He had a brief grin as he took a stand. Finally, fighting these humans would have been... easy. Only Manesh'k would have put up any real resistance. However, his elders were not even present....

- Too bad for you, he creaked, pushing Scourge at the start signal.

With a confident smile, he quickly lowered his spear and calmly aimed at his opponent's shield. It would be a quick game to send....

- What...

He suddenly realized that Darran's point was flying straight towards his chest and not his shield. Neglecting his own position, he tried everything for the whole thing, even if it meant that both of them would be disoriented.

With a violent rotation of the pelvis and tight knees, Luther urged his horse to make a gap. And missing his target while his shield was being touched.

He had missed the brionnois, he realized when he finished his race. How was that even possible ? Worse still : he had almost emptied the stirrups. With a roar of anger, he threw his cavalry spear to the side and pressed Scourge to turn around with a hip movement. Shaking the neck, it pushed a protest neigh. However, the vampire did not tolerate these whims. Not now. Not against a human. A human that Manesh'k had easily defeated the night before.

He grabbed its mane and with a strong pull forced it to turn. Darran was already charging, blade clear. He and his horse shared a bond that Luther had no chance of reproducing. And he was aware of it.

- You will regret that, he whispered under his helmet while pulling his own blade.

Disregarding all subtlety, both struck the shield with side strikes. Confident in his superior strength, Luther supported his move, succeeding in pushing the human aside. Without waiting he started a blow to the chief to conclude this masquerade as soon as possible.

This was without counting their respective steeds. With a violent blow of shoulder, the brionnois ones shook its opposite which pushed a neigh of surprise and shook the vampire, deflecting his attack. After a moment Scourge replied, trying to bite him on the rump. In vain, the scarlet griffin cover prevented him from finding a grip.

As Luther was about to counter the brionnois counterattack, his steed swerved again, trying to position himself behind his rival's back.

- Enough ! Luther cried suddenly, slamming his heels.

Darran's blade only encountered air as his opponent took a gap. He rotated his mount, ready to take the orange knight on the hunt. However, he did not do anything about it, disconcerted.


*​


- But... what is he doing ? Wondered the omen as he stood up in his seat. I don't understand....

- It's simple, replied the Marienburger with a smile. This excited man is getting down.

- My lord, asked the spokesman by turning to the sovereign of Bordeleaux.

Everyone was caught off guard by this behaviour. The dragon's knight no longer rode his horse. Should he be disqualified ?

However, Thierry himself had an amused grin. They were not at the end of their surprises : Darran had just thrown his shield before jumping to the ground himself.

- Leave it, he said with a mixed smile.

Turning to his grandfather, young Hugo stammered a few words pointing to the two fighters before turning to the scene again. The boy was overexcited.

- What did he say ? asked the captain of the Immaculate, frowning.

With an amused smile, Martin shrugged his shoulders. He had not understood a word either. He focused on the two competitors again. The child liked the show. That was all that mattered to him and his grandfather.


*​


While Luther had a smile of well-being under his helmet, having finally chased away his whimsical horse, he only widened : the brionnois had just thrown away his blunt weapon. With anger, he drew his true sword.

Darran picked up his scarlet shield with black bars and turned to Luthor with a raging face. First Mandrak, then this one. These strangers in orange wanted to discredit his victory ? So be it. They'll get their money's worth !

- This choice honors you boy, congratulated Luther by throwing the dummy weapon away himself. You have no idea how happy I am with your behavior.

- Shut up ! Darran simply roars as he charges with fury.

With his eyes now sparkling with stars, Luther in turn drew his sword and advanced on the human running. The brionese first shot his weapon down with a deaf strike, finding only the shield of his enemy who vigorously dismissed the threat. Carried away by his momentum, Darran took a few more steps while trying to maintain his balance. Luther ran into him without giving him that opportunity.

Several people in the stands hiccuped with apprehension as the blows rained on the griffin killer. The orange knight did not give him a moment's respite, pounding the defense like the shield of the human being with frightening efficiency. He pushed him across the field, step by step, without offering him any opening. Breathless, the human parried to the chief, his arm shaking high above his head as he supported the vampire's strength. He did not see coming the boot that hit him in the chest. A clamor rose from the stands as he swung backwards at the edge of the lit field. Clamor that suddenly flared when Luther savagely lowered his weapon.


*​


- How dare he... cried the Lord as he stood up, quickly imitated by many spectators.

However, he did not end his sentence by hearing Luther scream with surprise and then jump back. He took a few steps back towards the stands, any form of enthusiasm dissipated.

- He no longer has his sword, noted Captain Frederik rubbing his chin, totally captivated.


*​


Luther weighed down by waving his hand. This worm had managed to squirm aside at the last moment. Then hit him on the wrist as he pulled his weapon out of the greasy soil. From the flat of the blade, fortunately ! But now he was helpless against this resourceful human being. Throwing his helmet aside this time, he pushed a wild growl. There was no way to lose that fight !

More cautiously this time, Darran approached as the vampire moved back step by step. To the blunt weapons in the center of the arena. Reluctantly, he picked up the first one and welcomed the next assault. They crossed swords again, each putting more ardor into his strikes than the previous one.

Until the brionnois sword bounced off the dragon shield. Suddenly, it discarded and Darran almost fell over. The human shouted as he saw at ground level the reflection of the knight's blade crouching down. The griffin fighter managed to jump over the weapon just barely, raising his arms in his impulse. And as soon as he had touched the ground again, Luther was straightening up, already ready to hit after his forehand. In a flash Darran advised the threat, arming his shield to protect his chest and ward off the dazzling backhand.

But this one didn't come. Luther's arm of the shield struck Darran's defender like a hammer. Crossed arms, he punched the brionnois from his left hand to his temple. Despite his helmet, he dropped his weapon and took off from the ground under the force of the blow. Before the impact of the ground took his breath away.

He coughed for a moment, the field of vision full of lights and a dull buzzing in his ears. Then felt the cold of the metal against his throat, scraping against the base of his helmet.

- Surrender, Luther said with a cold voice.


*​



Dear fellow citizens of Bordeleaux ! I hope you enjoy the sight of these brave fighters ! the spokesman shouted, stirring up the crowd of spectators. After these two days - or rather I should say evenings ! - of celebration for our lord's heir, four champions stood out from all others. They will have the privilege of participating in the final round of these events. I have named Knights Benoist the Whelk Hunter from Moussillon, Jacen from Lily fields from Aquitania, Darran from brionnois and Luthor Harkon of the Order of the Dragon of Averland !

A real ovation came to pick up the four men as the speaker beckoned them to approach. Holding their horses by the bridle, they did so. Looking particularly badly at Scourge, his steed, Luther had the satisfaction of seeing it run without further incident.

The rules are simple, said the spokesman. You will face one by one the champion appointed by our Lord Thierry in the order in which I called you. Any winner will face the next finalist until the indisputable winner of this tournament is revealed !

- So if you beat this guy, I'm good at giving you another spanking, Luther said half-voiced to his neighbor Darran.

The latter was about to reply, but abstained and only looked at him with a menacing look.

- Let me now introduce you to the designated champion of our thriving city of Bordeleaux. Chosen by your Lord himself, he is a terrible warrior who has proven his worth many times over the decades. If his identity remains a secret, his exploits are such that Evil learned to fear his blade and trembles at the evocation of his village of origin ! I am of course talking about the village of Maleaux which...

Following the speech with interest, the Marienburger bent over to his neighbour Martin's ear.

- I note that the Lord's escort is absent, he pointed out halfway. Does this have anything to do with the enigmatic knight of Maleaux who is portrayed to us ?

- Perspicuous, recognized the omen by nodding his head.

- Yet, wasn't his arm in a sling these last few days ?

Martin simply shrugged his shoulders and repressed a smile that spoke for itself.

- Here, without further ado, is Thierry's champion, sovereign of Bordeleaux. The terrible Black Knight of Maleaux !

As he said these words, a neigh on the side of the stage opposite the four finalists made all heads turn. A stranger was advancing, calmly leading a light-coloured horse in spite of the shadows of the flames. A massive helmet in salad and a gorgerin completely concealed his face, leaving only a thin slit to see through. His entire armor was dull black and devoid of a coat of arms. As if it had been rubbed with charcoal from the feet to the unique feather on the dome. Even his dark grey gambison contributed to his dark appearance.

Theatrically, he took this mount forward in small steps and passed in front of the spectators who were appalled by his appearance. Until he came face to face with his opponents. Squinting, Luther tried to catch his gaze. In vain. Even his superior vision was not enough : the gap was simply too narrow. However, he noted that if this "Black Knight of Maleaux" had no symbol in his uniform shield, two sheaths hung from his harness. Both on the left side.

Right-handed. He guessed easily.

After probing the four qualifiers with his invisible gaze, the anonymous champion turned away to face the stands. An astonishing calm had reigned since his arrival. The children and the horses present were discreet. Holding his grandfather's hand, the young Hugo timidly followed his grandfather when he raised his hand to greet the newcomer. Without saying a word, the black knight bowed his head slightly, releasing a real cheer from the audience.

Then he turned again to his rivals, staring at them without a word.

- I call the first opponent of the terrible Black Knight of Maleaux : Benoist the Whelks Hunter from Moussillon !

- It's our turn ! exclaimed this one as he climbed up the saddle despite the weight of his pourpoint.


*​


With his arms crossed, Luther examined him and directed his steed with his knees, making reels to stretch his shoulders. He had a dismissive grin, focusing rather on the unknown. Stoic, he did not move an inch on his side of the field while his opponent was being equipped.

After a last greeting from Benoist to the stands, he finally lowered his visor. Just below the lord a percussionist started a fast drum roll. And as it came to an end, the two fighters followed their mounts.

In an instant the duel was over. With a resounding clash, the black knight's spear slipped over the shield to hit the Whelks Hunter in the chest. He literally flew away and fell painfully flat on his back.

Luther himself sketched a grimace. He must have felt it passing through. Many people in the stands instinctively carried their hands in front of their faces in shock. Others, on the contrary, rose up, driven by the performance of their anonymous champion. And as several people rushed to the wounded man, the black knight returned to his place without a look for the stands or his opponent. Martin came down the stairs from the stands to join the man on the ground. However, before he could reach Benoist, he timidly raised his arm to indicate that he was fine.

- Meh, sniffed Luther's neighbour with contempt before turning his back.

Surrounded by a real cohort of riders with blue flowers on a white background, the next competitor headed for his horse.

- Pompous arrogant, commented one eliminated competitor. As if he wasn't rich enough already.

He spat on the ground to sustain his words while several others disapproved bitterly. Their resentment amused Luther. No one around him had been talking about his performance since the beginning of the competition. And he knew he had a fine ear. He bombarded his chest with arrogance. A few meters away, he didn't notice that the fourth finalist was nodding silently, nervously stroking the knob of his weapon. While the Whelk Hunter was finally evacuated on stretchers led by the augur, the herald coughed to clear his voice.

- I call the second opponent of the fierce Black Knight : Jacen from Lily Fields from Aquitania !

- For Aquitania ! Clammed the interested by raising his fist to the dark sky.

The herald turned to his lord when Jacen was inevitably shouted at by the crowd. Thierry shrugged his shoulders and told him to let it go : after all, their guest knew what to expect from this chauvinistic audience by making this statement.

Slipping his long mustache under his helmet after a final challenge salute to the stands, he took place. A drum roll later, an acclamation resounded as he in turn bit the dust. Already getting up and sworing, no one doubted his good health after this sudden defeat.

- But who can beat our lord's champion ? The spokesman shouted. The answer may lie in our next duel with Darran of Brionne !

Already taking up his position on the side of the field, the black knight followed the brionnois with his eyes. In his scarlet armor with a griffin on it, he took his place. Once again, a theatrical drum roll preceded the charge of the two riders who pushed their mounts forward when it ended.

- What... Luther stammered.

Astonished, he witnessed, like the rest of the spectators, a slight difference from the brionnois. Unlike his two predecessors, he remained in the saddle. Better still, he managed to scratch the dark shield of his opponent who did the same. However, the young man's spear scratched the rump of the white colored mount of the knight of Maleaux, despite its dark cover. It pushed a neigh of protest as it stood up. The assembly held its breath. For a moment everyone thought the beast would get tangled up. But to the general relief this was not the case. So it ended its race with a limp.

Luther repressed a grimace. If this Darran had just deprived him of an encounter with this "black knight" he would hear from him. That said, he was surprised by the scheme used by the brionnois. The gap he had made was similar to Manesh'k's the day before and... he suddenly opened his eyes. In front of them, the black knight had just freed himself from his stirrups.

Neglecting his current status, he stepped down and looked into the wound of his steed. In the gallery the amazement was general. Did he just disqualify himself ? Was Darran winning the fight or would he be awarded a second foot fight ?

- It will become a new fashion in the games, laughted the Marienburger.

Thierry's irritation was palpable this time. The outcome of the duel between Darran and Luther and the turn of events were not in accordance with his plans. However, he made a dry gesture that the competition should continue.

Luther, on the other hand, could not keep his smile on. He would therefore still have a chance to face this man if he were to triumph. Better : he could finally do without the Scourge, this damn horse !

- Can he continue ? Darran asked calmly, guiding his horse to his opponent on foot.

Lifting his head without revealing his face, the knight shrugged his shoulders and raised his palm to the sky. Darran sighed with a tired but not angry face.

- Well, he grumbled. At this point....

As he did so, he also put his feet on the ground under the gaze of the unknown. He nodded without saying a word. Clearing his first sword, he made a brief greeting of thanks to the brionnois who returned the favor with a solemn gesture.

A few seconds passed without either of the two fighters taking the first step. The stands were surprisingly silent. With his red shield crossed with black firmly attached to his wrist, Darran breathed out slowly. Two fights : Lord Thierry's champion and then a revenge against Luthor of the Dragons. He almost felt the pressure of the stakes on his shoulders. To have two victories in a row would mean coming out of the shadows, finally being recognized. At the slightest deviation, at the slightest error, he would return to his starting point.

Without warning, the brionnois charged with a scream of rage. His blade whistled when he split the air laterally, but only came to meet the black shield of the knight of Maleaux. Having anticipated this easy parry, he hastened to anticipate the shield strike forward response. The lack of strengh from the strike against his defender reinforced his choice. Nevertheless, he did not succeed in pushing his opponent back as he had expected. With a new bellow he spread his shield and immediately placed a vertical strike towards the imposing helmet. But the knight parried without flinching.

The unidentified man suddenly made arcs with his arm between them, taking Darran's blade out into his keel. The latter did not let go but was forced to open wide his guard into which the bordelin rushed without hesitation. With a boot kick to the stomach, he pushed him back as Luther had done earlier. The young man was breathless and almost fell backwards. Miraculously, he still had his sword in his hand. But with a sharp forehand, the black knight repelled Darran's sword, which clumsily parried this new assault. Then the assailant brought his weapon back to him to get back on guard. As he did so, he this time hooked the new griffin killer's shield into his keel.

With powerful pull, he opened wide the guard of the young man who almost lost his balance once again. Trained forward, he had no choice but to expose his chest once again to the stranger. And before he could bring his guard back, the edge of the black shield pressed his throat. However, the knight without any coat of arms did not push his luck and remained motionless. He held the scarlet knight in his sights, whose arms collapsed.

With his chin raised and inspiring with vigour, Darran looked at his opponent's visor. In vain. The slits were too narrow and his head tilted with shade. Nevertheless, this man did not show any sign of running out of breath despite these three successive fights. He had a disappointed grin before letting his sword fall. It had been undone.


*​


- Darran from Brionne, apostrophised Luther as he approached.

The person looked up and stood still, hand on the rump of his horse and lifelong friend. He was surprised to see the radiant face of the foreigner turning into a more... serious face.

- I am not interested in the old man's place at the table, he indicated to him in clear terms. I'm only here to have fun and you've already satisfied me. Therefore, I would give you the title. Once I correct this joke in black.

The young man's gaze widened. He opened his mouth to answer, but could not find words, stuttering in the void. Without waiting for him to recover from this confidence, Luther passed him and regained his carnivorous smile. The icing on the cake. It would be black and crunchy.

Luther walked forward, abandoning Scourge without any regret. A hubbub came up from the stands to comment on the stormy finalist who showed up without a horse. Facing him, the masked knight considered for a moment his own steed in the hands of two squires. If he had to step ashore in the previous duel, it was unlikely that the beast would have taken this last encounter. Turning his helmet in salad towards the main stand, he silently sought the herald's approval. And after a quick consultation, he finally announced the last fight of the tournament.

Smiling under his helmet as the last drum roll of the evening ended, Luther spoke to the stranger in an arrogant tone :

- Don't disappoint me, Black Knight.
- …

Without warning, Luther leapt forward at a high speed. He struck from top to bottom with a first wild attack that only found the shield of the knight of Maleaux. As he touched the ground again following his impulse, he was surprised to be thrown aside not by the blade but by his opponent's fist. Without struggling against this push, he did a leg move to regain distance.

The unidentified man had not sought to counterattack following his dazzling parry. Without using his weapon, he just pushed him away. Faced with the astonished vampire, he now raised his blade over his shield, behind which he took shelter. Luther's perplexed expression immediately turned into a fierce smile.

With a new impulse the vampire rushed to attack the knight in defensive posture. He made a slit above the shield, clearly aiming at the visible part of his opponent's helmet. But he dodged the deadly charge with one step to the side. With his own sword he slammed the assailant's sword and brought the two blades to ground level. Without losing its inertia, the orange belligerent swirled towards the knight with a hip movement. The dragon shield violently struck the colorless fighter's flank and pushed him back in turn. As the stranger regained his balance two steps further, Luther charged again aggressively.


*​


- Are you... sure their weapons are not sharpened ? asked Frederik, who was stunned by the crescendo show.

Before their eyes, Luther and the black knight rained a deluge of blows. Not an inch of land was given up. The two swords bounced one on top of the other in a deadly ballet. And yet not a single serious touch had been made, as could be seen from the roughened shields with increasingly deformed steel edges.

- I would not have believed your servant to be so talented, said the captain of the Immaculate.
- Neither did I, whispered the astonished lord.

Frederik frowned, realizing his confusion. He looked more closely at the "anonymous fighter". Was his performance so unexpected that he left the bordelin stunned ? As for this representative of the Order of the Dragon of Averland, what a panache !


*​


Delighted, Luther threw his helmet aside once again. Then his shield.

- Believe me or not friend, did he coarsely quote him. I never thought I'd enjoy this tournament so much ! To face you makes me a happy man !

Stretching his neck with several crackles, Luther made a few reels with his weapon, overexcited. His lecherous smile revealed his fangs as the black knight undid the strap linking the shield to his wrist. Imitating the vampire's reel, the colorless fighter invited him to approach with his free hand. Without being asked, Luther set off and made a bold leap, pointing straight at his opponent's heart. But he deflected the weapon effortlessly and swept the vampire with a lateral backhand. But he was already making a pivot with only one foot on the ground and moving away from the sword of the bordelin champion.

With a leg move reversing his inertia, the knight nevertheless invaded his space. He made another forehand shot as the orange fighter put his second support back on the ground without giving him the opportunity to dodge any more. If he was caught unprepared, Luther did not let anything appear. Impassible, he let himself fall backwards. The blade whipped the air over his face and took some hair as he fell on his back.

Carried away by his momentum, the black knight rotated to position himself in front of the vampire, ready to unleash a pernicious backhand when he got up again. But he didn't have the opportunity. Luther jumped and was up in a flash despite the weight of his harness. He rushed forward, smiling his teeth out.


*​


- Shouldn't you stop them ? This is not an exhibition but a real fight to the death that we are witnessing. Each of their passes is intended to take the life of their opponent !

Young Hugo took a surprised look at the sailor without really realizing what he was saying. The lord, on the other hand, was fascinated by this duel. He had to stop them before they killed each other. And yet he could not accept it. He had never before witnessed a fight like this. The fighter of the Order of the Dragon of Averland showed a ferocity and skill that left him stunned. And yet, his dear servant and friend, engulfed in this armor black like ebony, beat him back for each blow. The bordelin would never have imagined that it would be capable of such a feat. To say that the fights, whether mounted or on foot, were generally settled in a few passes of weapons at most....


*​


The black knight suddenly made a fatal cut. But despite the speed at which he made his attack, Luther managed to avoid it with one step to the side. With his left arm raised above the unsharpened weapon, he repressed a petty smile. He lowered his elbow with a vivacity that betrayed his real nature and wedged the black knight's sword between his biceps and ribs. Taking advantage of the fact that his opponent was temporarily immobilized, he made a devastating right backhand at the head of his enemy. Twisting to avoid the blow, he managed to slip under the blade. The feathers of his crest flew, sliced cleanly. Unwilling to wait for the forehand that would undoubtedly follow, the champion stepped back, bowed down. He tore his weapon from Luther's grip, tearing off his gambeson by doing so.

The vampire hiccupped before he got back on his guard. Protected by the layers of the padded garment provided by Thierry, he had been wounded in his pride more than his flesh. At the end, he grabbed his weapon with both hands before jumping forward. Luther roared as he split the air with all his power, while the man already parried to the chief, high above his head.

It was with a crystalline sheen that the metal broke under the force of the blow. Luther realized it in the moment but could not change the trajectory of his blade, carried away by his momentum. The deadly strike struck the stranger... who parried with his second sword.

Luther immediately jumped back, still struck by this unexpected development. His opponent had not flinched. His right arm holding a broken guard was still up. He held his second sword upside down, with his left hand, pointing towards his elbow as one would hold a dagger. He must have wrapped his elbow around his neck to block the fatal blow. This man had managed to realize that his weapon was broken, draw and make this improvised parade to avoid having his skull split in two. All in a fraction of a second.

However, it was not the reflexes of this individual that left Luther stunned. It was the weapon in question. This simple guard with keels matt and smoothed not by years but by a craftsman of another age. This dark color reflecting the flames with a light purple veil. This point, slightly curved and foreign to this region without resembling the swords of the Eastern Empire... He had already seen this weapon. He even knew it too well.

He stammered like the knight of Maleaux lowed his arms, unharmed. With a slight nod, the stranger signalled him not to repeat aloud what he had just whispered.

Then he turned to the stand where absolute silence reigned. Everyone was stunned by what they had just seen. Shaking his head, Luther turned again to this masked opponent.

A sudden laugh broke out, tearing the atmosphere of this unexpected scene. A laugh from several directions at once. He went suddenly into the high notes while increasing in intensity, marked by a certain madness. And yet... no one here laughed as everyone looked for the author of this disturbing glow. In the stands, Lord Thierry turned to his augur who had no explanation to give him. Luther looked at the masked man who shrugged his shoulders with misunderstanding.

Nimbed with flames, a rider passed the spectators' stage as the knight of Maleaux had done earlier. Instinctively the mounts of the different competitors chirped in fear as this newcomer rounded them by making an arc of a circle. The beast was just a walking nightmare. The rags of a faded caparison did not hide the bones and tendons that allowed the beast to move. Its snout, amply visible, was nothing more than bones blackened by heat. The dreadful beast was only a vague parody of the proud stallions who paraded in the evening. As for the rider, a dark clothe allowed its arms to protrude, naked bones licked by flames that did not seem to burn the cloth. Its head without a helmet was just a skull with incandescent hair. Its jaw was shaking as it laughed, while a greenish glow shone in its empty orbits.

- A new surprise ? Dared Frederik in an uncertain voice. You're spoiling us....

The Marienburger stopped when he discovered Lord Thierry's forbidden mine at the sight of the flamboyant horseman. He got up, instinctively standing in front of his grandson.

- Martin ? Tell me you know what this is about.

- I would have liked to, replied the augur swallowing his saliva.

The individual stood at the end of the rail, facing the two fighters on foot. Without consulting each other, their duel had ended. Luther and the black knight were studying the fiery intruder. Even at that distance, its empty orbits with unhealthy lights seemed to probe them carefully. On its back was tied a large scythe. However, it is a flail hanging at the end of a chain it was holding, itself devoured by the flames. The infernal creature pushed a neigh able to freeze their blood as it reared up, then rushed off without further ado. Already the horseman was twirling its weapon. It rushed to the finalists who camped their positions. It charge quickly became clearer towards the vampire.

Confident, Luther armed his parry while taking into account the length of the chain : it would not fail to send the mass to its own face by wrapping itself on his blade. What a shock he was when the chain, instead of being blocked by his sword... simply passed through.

- What...

The impact against his padded shoulder threw him to the side, with links even bouncing against his jaw. He swirled in the air before rolling on the ground like a rag doll.

Immediately there was panic. This nightmarish creature had just defeated this formidable and so far undefeated fighter. And this from their first exchange ! Shouting, adults and children alike rushed towards the stairs allowing them to leave the stands from the back.

- Hugo ! thundered Lord Thierry in a voice that dominated the chaos. Stay close to me, boy !

Then, addressing his soldiers, he added:

- Protect my people ! Don't let this monster hurt them !

The undead ended his race against the eliminated competitors, most of whom were already moving away in panic. But the fiery horsemen turned its mount, apparently having no use for them. Facing the two finalists again, it threw its flail, which disappeared in scattered smoke before it even touched the ground. With a slow gesture it grabbed its scythe and burst out laughing again.

- Hang on to the monster ! exclaimed Ferragus Vine Leaf bravely as he climbed into the saddle with the help of a squire.

Imitated by a handful of jousters, he hastened to draw his sword from the sheath. But the ghost didn't seem to care. Ripping off clods of earth as it regained speed, it loaded right on the fighter with the orange gambison still on the ground. That was without counting the champion in black armor who stood between them, his second blade pointed towards their attacker.

However, the rider's weapon did not cross the Maleaux knight's weapon on impact. Instead, the scythe escaped the clutches of its owner, who was even thrown off. Stumbling under the backlash, the black fighter regained his balance and then took a few careful steps back. The incandescent creature struggled to get up, leaning on its knee. For a moment it looked out of its orbits at this stranger who dared to stand up to it with this atypical sword in this region. Behind him Luther was coming to his senses. Kneeling and with his hand to his chin, he struck the undead with his gaze.

- I don't know what you are, but you're going to pay for that, he spat. I can now see the winds !

Without warning, he jumped on his feet and rushed not towards the creature, but towards the end of the stands. Where the black knight arrived from, then the horseman from beyond the grave. He went beyond the gruesome parody of a steed that totally ignored him, now motionless. But before he could fill half that distance, another laugh sounded in the arena. That same laugh of madness that quickly faded. Facing the black knight, the contours of the ghost briefly wavered, as if it were only a mirage. It disappeared before the stunned eyes of more than a hundred bordelins, scattering like a whirlwind of dust. In a few seconds it was only fumarolles in front of the fighter whose shoulders collapsed with relief.

Arriving on the other side of the stage, Luther screamed with rage. Opened to the winds, he had perceived the stormy bond from this horseman as distinctly as the wires he handled when animating corpses. But he no longer saw any trace of this essence. And already the bordelins were rushing out of the stands by the stairs he was facing.

- Tss....

Someone had summoned this thing, whatever it was, and was in that particular place. The vampire had felt it as surely as he felt the disappearance of the flaming horseman without having witnessed it.

Massaging his bruised jaw, he held back a scream of rage as he swept the panicked city dwellers who were running in all directions. His prey was among them, both so close and out of reach. Fulminating, he returned to his steps to find this "Black Knight of Maleaux". He had some very strong words to say to him. However... Luther stared at the competition overwhelmed by spectators and squires overwhelmed by the events, he saw nowhere the wearer of the dull armor. He too had taken advantage of the confusion to escape.


*​


He followed with his eyes the sparrow who went to rest on a wooden panel, floating in the night breeze. The bird scratched its wing with its beak before pushing a chirping with its throat extended. Then, without further ado, it took off again and disappeared into the night. The next moment, the door of the building opened on the fly.

It was an innkeeper whose jaws collapsed with astonishment who saw a man of high stature enter his establishment in impressive armor. Black from the boots to the top of his helmet in salad, not very common in this region. Without a word, the Black Knight of Maleaux stood in front of the man who felt himself shrinking as the seconds went by. Then, after a few moments, he wore the gloves around his neck to get rid of this cumbersome helmet.

- Take me to the room where your last residents are, Manesh'k asked in a tone that did not admit any protest.
 
Last edited:

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,565
#45
I'll read and comment on the chapter later, but for the citizen question...

Bretonnia as a whole is 'France', except for the Arthurian references which are English (mostly, anyway). Marienburg is Imperial/(mostly 'German', but I think with some relation Holland and Belgium). So Marienburgers wouldn't be Citizen X (insert spy agency here).

We don't call people citizen such and such in English. You should probably just use "Sir" and "my lord/Lord such and such for nobility, and Mr. such-and-such for the lower classes.

I hope that's not too confusing.
 

vg11k

Skeleton
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
58
#46
Oookay, so i guess i can go like that :

Guys from Marienburg => Marienburgers
Guys from Bordeleaux => Bordelins
Guys from Brionne => Brionnois

I also take note about the Sir when they are respectful and Lord for Thierry (since it's not yet the Duke era).

I'll edit that in the two chapters tomorrow i think. Thank.
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,565
#47
That was awesome. I kind of expected Athe Loren to beat up some vampires, but this black knight giving Luther a run around...and then the skeleton thing....actually the whole jousting scene was such a delight to read.

And we have avampire child who may have just killed her father's host's loyal retainers/family. Oops.
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,565
#49
You're welcome. It's my favorite scene, really. Made me think about dusting off my own Blood Dragon character. Watch this space.
 

vg11k

Skeleton
Joined
Oct 5, 2017
Messages
58
#50
Alright. It's been a long road since the day i started to write this story in french (8 years already !!) and finally i translated it full in english. Thank you for your comments and advises on my work who helped me doing a better translation, Count Vashra & Borgnine in particular.

Here is the final chapter of this story

Fire & Blood
Chapter 18





- We should get out of here right away. With the appearance of this thing, Thierry will try to find out where it came from. He will inevitably become interested in us in the end.

- Slooooooowly, Luther said while pinching his temples. One thing at a time.

Manesh'k sighed with exasperation and looked up at the ceiling.

- This is the third time I've explained this to you at last....

- Yes, I know, I keep the accounts too... moaned the younger one. Let me resume.

Raising his hand, he folded his index as he began his enumeration.

- This guy, which did not leave Thierry one step away... his arm in a scarf was only a staging. He was supposed to play the role of the "Black Knight".

Striving not to lose patience again, Manesh'k nodded.

- Bad luck, the other crazy one tore him to pieces, he continued while bending a second finger. His body was still warm when you found him. His armor was in this room facing him.

Raising his other hand to emphasize this detail, he sketched a smile.

- Reading his last memories, you understood the scenario. So, in order not to betray the massacre she had just carried out... you couldn't find anything better solution than to take his place ? To... buy time ?!

- I helped ! Suddenly said the boy from his corner of the room.

Frowning, Luther turned to him. Until then silent, he had fun making circle bows with his arms, the sylvan spirit following his hand from one side to the other.

- I brought Scourge back ! He said proudly.

- That's good we'll give you a coin. What...

- You could have recognized this mount, Manesh'k interrupted him. I didn't have time to get the one I planned. The steed of the knight of Maleaux should have had a black dress. And that, unlike you, I think the old man noticed it.

Annoyed, he finally sat down in the only chair still available and crossed his arms.

- At this point, the carnage must have been discovered, he supposedly darkly.

- He was.

Sitting as a tailor on the floor and turning his back on them, Gilnash continued :

- All the bodies were. The other side of the river has been in turmoil since dawn. But irony of fate, with this thing of flames they have an obvious culprit to whom they attribute these events...

- Moving to this side of the Morceaux was a good idea anyway. What about the guy he replaced ? Questioned his nephew by pointing to the impostor with his thumb.

Without turning around or raising his voice, Gilnash shook his head sideways to tell them no.

- Where we've hidden him, there's little chance they'll find the body. But in doubt we should leave, Manesh'k insisted. I like to fight, but a whole city of this size is a lot.

- And miss the party that's planned for tonight ? Stop me from enjoying this moment of glory ? It's been over a hundred years since I've been able to attend even these kinds of events ! As for winning it....

- You didn't win that tournament, Manesh'k interrupted him with a smile. You weren't the winner of our duel.

- I beat you ! Luther shouted as he stand up. I won the tournament !

- You broke my weapon, shaded the eldest.

In doing so, he laid his hand on the pommel of his Lahmian sword with an equivocal gesture.

- But at no time did you dominate me.

- You...

- If you start a rematch on whoever pisses it off farther, go do it outside, Gilnash grunted abruptly. Otherwise be quiet, I can't concentrate with your racket.

Both turned to him without answering, then exchanged a new look. "I won," Luther silently articulated, pointing himself with his thumb. His opponent grinned before waving his hand.

- If we were sure that this creature was specifically mad at us... I would understand we hunted it down and...

Sighing, Gilnash gave up his efforts before getting up. The severe mine, he said :

- The appearance of this... thing, at the exact moment we are in town, is too big to be a coincidence.

- That's not untrue. But...

- It attacked you and no one else, he insisted while interrupting Luther and sticking an index finger on his chest. Only you. And you're both sure it was just a puppet.

- Certain, Manesh'k and Luther said with one voice.

Surprised themselves, they exchanged a smile. For once, they agreed on something...

- So whoever invoked it is still here in Bordeleaux. But this conjurer doesn't know where we are. Just as I don't know who it is.

- No birds that spotted it....

Gilnash shook his head to confirm that even he was blind.

- If I'm right and you were the target, leaving Bordeleaux now would be like postponing this problem. It's better to take advantage of the fact that he lost track of us to try to understand what this thing was.

- If you are right, noted Manesh'k. If so, we would be interfering in a problem that is not ours. Getting involved wouldn't do us any good and having done it in Grissenwald has already cost me my infant...

- On the other hand, Luther opposed with a half-smile, we were able to acquire new gifts. I suffer as much as you do from the absence of Claster, but you can't deny that. Moreover, without the events that this set in motion, we would have died in the elves' forest...

- You...

- He's not totally wrong, Gilnash interrupted him. Moreover, we all know that these humans would have died needlessly. And right now, Scleras would forge a new Mourkain in this city. At the head of an army of dead and demons both enslaved and immortal.

Manesh'k was about to retaliate, but gave in by looking away. He knew that even if they did not show it any more than he did, both suffered the loss of his first son. He also knew that they were right.

- Do as you wish, he grumbled as he watched the elf sitting on the second bed of the room.

Once calm, it remained leaning against the wall. Gaylria was not even trying to fight the ties they had tied her to. Silent and motionless, she simply stared at the child intensely. A child who obviously didn't seem to notice that his life was hanging by to a string, held by a thaumatrist who had a lot to do. The spite landed in Enguerran's hands and his face lit up with joy.

- I'm going to the party, Luther cut off.


*​


- But still, the merchant wondered halfway through. This thing yesterday could...

The man in ceremonial dress, a bunch of grapes surrounded by stylized leaves on the chest, shook his head.

- The knight of Maleaux settled this... unexpected situation, replied Ferragus in a reassuring voice. Whoever he is and wherever he came from. You saw it just like me. You had a special place in the stands. There is no need to worry quite the contrary.

- But still, repeated his interlocutor. Maintaining this celebration in honor of his grandson....

The knight sighed as he shook his head. Despite his efforts, he couldn't calm the mess.

- Come, he said. I know what you need.

Putting his words into action, he led him to the nearest table where several glasses were waiting, already full. At this vision the face of the good man seemed to light up. Satisfied, Ferragus looked for his lord as silence settled in the festivity hall.

- My dear friends, declared the Lord of Bordeleaux as he raised his cup. It was a pleasure to share with you these festivities in honor of my grandson !

- Happy birthday to you ! shouted one of the youngest members of Thierry's court who was quickly picked up by the whole room.

Despite himself, he laughed. The lord took his heir's hand and invited him to raise his arm. Intimidated, the smiling child no longer knew where to look. As his grandfather began an improvised speech at his court, the veteran slipped to the augur of their sovereign who watched him approach, impassive.

- Ferragus, he slipped.

- Still no news from....

He shook his head.

- I would have liked to have had him at our side for what's to come, Ferragus grinned. I hope he'll be back soon. Since his performance yesterday in the role of... he should have been back by now.

But Martin had nothing to say to him. No one had seen their lord's escort and friend since he had donned the black knight's armor the day before.

- ... and it is with sincere pleasure that I welcome to the Bordeleaux court : the knight Darran, Griffin Killer!

Raising theirs hands to join the applause, both remained marble. And without consulting each other, their eyes converged on this stranger who dared to strut around here.

- His performance yesterday against our... Averland friend... then this thing must have shaken him up, articulated Ferragus with difficulty without taking his eyes off Luther. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that it will arrive soon.

- I hope so too. Thinking about it, I've never seen that second sword he wielded before. Any idea where he might have found it to complete his role as a black knight ?

- Not even the slightest, Ferragus conceded, shaking his head once again.

As Lord Thierry invited his guests to sit down, the stranger dressed in a ridiculous costume that they were not leaving with their eyes continued his discussion with another guest.

- Very noble of you to give up your reward, said the sailor. It is a pity that you cannot stay among them in Bordeleaux. They could really use someone of your talent.

With a smile on his face, Luther simply shrugged his shoulders.

- We knew that no matter what happened, we would have to leave. This tournament was a great entertainment but it was only one step on our way.

- I understand. It is a pity, however, that your brother-in-arms could not participate, sighed Frederik as he contemplated his glass.

- Surely I would have liked to have seen a duel between you and your companion, suddenly intervened a man in his forties as he joined their conversation. It must be said that Sir Mandrak made a strong impression on us all during his duel with the brionnois.

- And... you are? Luther asked, squinting.

- Piers of the Ivy's house, ticked the interested one. We... we faced each other on the first day of the game.

- Ah... possible indeed. I don't... have a memory for faces. What's more, with our helmets...

Mimicking a lowered visor, the vampire smiled with a big smile at his doubtful former competitor.

- Were you not injured last night during the incident ? Rejected Luther by trying to change the subject.

Frederik and Piers exchanged a surprised look.

- It is to you that this question should be asked," said the Marienbourger. After all, we saw you being hit by that rider....

- It was nothing, hijacked Luther by caressing his collar

- ... and immediately get up.

- I assure you, all he had done was scratch me. Proof of this is that my orange gambison offered by Th... by Lord Thierry, was not damaged. Speaking of clothes....

He turned to the captain of the Immaculate who, guessing what would follow, waved his hand in anticipation.

- I have been told that these sumptuous clothes that were lent to me for this feast were brought by your ship. I'm grateful to you, they are beautiful.

Still studying his white, puffy and striped sleeves in lengths in the emerging fashion in the North of the Empire, he couldn't help but smile like a child. Then with satisfaction, he wore an index finger to the strawberry neck with which he was dressed, attracting many eyes all around him. Between this extravagant but expensive outfit and his exploits, he was the main attraction of the evening. To the point of almost eclipsing the brionnois joining the local court.

- I am delighted, replied Frederik. May the emerging bourgeoisie of these regions share your opinion. And... forgive me, I think I'm being asked for...


*​


Gilnash opened his eyes suddenly before turning to Manesh'k.

- We must leave this city, he cried with fright. As soon as possible. We've been spotted !

Manesh'k frowned. What had he just seen through the eyes of some bird that also suddenly made him change his mind?


*​


Laughing at the dubious joke of some of the court's noblemen, Luther noticed that a guard was closing the second door to this large hall.

- Well, he said for himself by turning away from the man.

Looking for Darran with whom he was eager to discuss monster hunting, he stopped and frowned. The main doors had just been closed in their turn. Even as, in the concert of beating hearts where he was, he could see the rhythm of several of them accelerating. Something was wrong.

On the lookout, he looked for the sailor who he saw in great discussion with Piers and the Griffin killer. On the other hand, he spotted the Whelk Hunter courting some ladies. Then the lord and his augur, who immediately looked away.

Luther frowned and moved towards them. At the same time, several guards with the blue tabard of the city converged on Thierry. Pressing his pace, Luther pushed a first person before stopping, with his senses on the lookout.

An individual's suddenly wrapped heart in his back betrayed a spike of adrenaline. In a flash he turned around and grabbed the wrist raised above his head. The dagger was only a few centimeters from his face.

- You, he spat at Ferragus Vine Leaf with a black look.

With a tense jaw, the human struggled against the grip of the undead. In vain : he was unable to compete and already his arm was spread.

- You're going to regret that....

Luther could not finish his sentence. He had a hiccup of surprise as he felt the peak cut through his ribs, the surge of pain hitting him on the spot. It was with a roar of rage that a real hammer hit him and shook his scapulas. He lowered his gaze on the spike protruding from his chest, his suit soaking up dark blood. He stammered into the void and felt faint, unable to support the bordelin's arm any more. Surprisingly, he did not finish him off.

The vampire rolled to the ground, devastated by the suffering and too weak to breathe. He spit a thin scarlet drop weakly as the world began to spin around him. The last vision he had was a shadow leaning over him, putting on an extravagant hat, then he sank into darkness.


*​


- I told you to do nothing and let me take care of everything. Your man could have died needlessly !

Lord Thierry remained silent, staring at this man with a strange hat who dared to teach him a lesson in his own city.

- What's going on ? Darran wondered when he came to them.

He only then noticed the vampire's body. Forbidden, he lokked at the stranger and then at his new lord.

- Luthor Harkon... Why...

Turning to him, the stranger stared at him and lingered on his emblem at the Griffin.

- Did you face him as I was told ? Didn't you find anything strange ?

- In what way...

- He's a damn vampire, spit out a newcomer as he made his way to them. And he deserves his fate !

This time Darran's jaw drooping with astonishment. A kind of pitiful cape hiding his shoulders and chest, a man taller than him was walking forward. He stopped and looked at the corpse with a gaze full of hatred. An eagle was tattooed on his left cheek while a deep crusted scar disfigured his other cheek. In addition, under the folds of his improvised clothing, he saw the beginning of other aggressively colored tattoos.

Not a man, he thought, lingering on the pointed ears that framed his face and the mat from his forehead to his neck. An elf !

- Calm down, Bothel, tempered the repurgator John Grenaille with a sign of appeasement. There is no need to scare our hosts and....

- Wait, you mean Luthor, the winner of the tournament organized for my grandson's birthday, was a nosferatu ?

- That's right Sir, John confirmed to him. Just like his companions Gilnash and Manesh'k, as well as probably....

- My sister is not a monster ! cried the elf brutally as he pulled a scimitar from the folds of his cloak and pointed it at the repurgator before he finished his sentence.

- I don't know any of them... Maneshke and Gilnea, Darran replied while crossing his arms without trying to calm the tension between them. His companion in arms was called Mandrak....

- My boy, if you could stay out of it... began the augur by telling the new knight to step back.

- ... and the second one introduced himself as Gaëtan. Gaëtan of the Order of the Dragon, intervened Frederik by joining them with a severe look. From Averland.

- Bullshit, swept John away. There is no order of this name in the empire. Just like the names they gave you. It's all lies.

- Anyway, you just murdered the winner of our tournament in front of a hundred people, Darran protested. For all I know, he didn't do anything...

- I regret to contradict you, Lord Thierry cut him off in a serious tone. They have committed atrocities in my city that you can't even imagine.

Darran took a fresh look at Luthor Harkon's remains. Were these strangers responsible for what was said to have happened on the other side during the tournament?

No... Luther, he thought.

- After all he has done to us, scolded the elf as he walked forward, I will be happy to finish off this monster,.

- Bothel, do not...

The main doors suddenly slammed :

- Enough !

Straight into the cable stood Manesh'k whose face was only a mask of anger. In the instant, the two guards stationed there pointed their spears at him.

- Take hold of....

The lord did not have time to finish his sentence. Nor his men to react. In an instant, the newcomer grabbed a spike flying towards him and, with prodigious force, recoiled on the weapon whose other end came to pick up its owner at the chin.

Without even turning around, he took a step sideways as the second soldier tried to skewer him. Quickly rotating on himself and bending his knees, the vampire slid under the weapon horizontally. He came to mow down his opponent's ankles with the spear stolen from his first enemy. Before he even touched the ground, Manesh'k was up again. The shaft of the weapon fell on the unfortunate man who pushed a yelp interrupted by the sharp blow.

Without a look, Manesh'k negligently threw the weapon aside and stepped into the room. The scene lasted only a handful of seconds. As they approached, everyone moved away with mixed fear and suspicion in their eyes. Wives of noblemen, soldiers and tournament participants... all cleared him a corridor to the center of the room. Not a single one dared to stop him after his smashing demonstration.

- What does this mean ? he scolded the Lord and his neighbours John and Martin. I thought you were honorable men, not common murderers of your guests.

He stood in front of Luther's body, clenched fists and playing jaws. Behind him, a circle of soldiers rushed to cut off any possible retreat. But the orange gambison fighter didn't care. He only had eyes for his interlocutors.

- You just murdered my brother in arms. My friend. I request reparation.

- Monsters like you are not allowed to....

- What do you want, the lord intervened by interrupting the tattooed elf.

Thinking at full speed, Manesh'k searched discreetly for Gilnash. In vain. The situation was completely out of control. But while waiting for news from the bird master, he had to buy time.

- A duel to death, he replied with a deep voice. Luther's memory can only be washed in blood.

Slowly, a smile appeared on the repurgator's face as Thierry remained pensive.

- Prove that you are not the monster we accuse you of being.

Manesh'k k laughed.

- I don't know of any such creature, how....

- Daylight, John flatly stated. It burns those of your species.

- I would gladly wait for this light if it could dispel your doubts about us, Manesh'k replied after a moment's reflection. However, my lord, my honor requires that Luther's memory be washed away. Right now.

- We....

- That's not all, John continued with a sharp smile. We won't have to wait until then.

Pulling two objects from the folds of his long coat, he handed them to Manesh'k.

- Bite this garlic and grab this silver spoon. Vampires are allergic to both and...

Not giving him time to finish his sentence, he took them out of his hands. The spoon in his clenched fist, he crunched the second. And swallowed his bite as he grinned in front of the disappointed human.

- Convinced ? he replied by throwing utensil and vegetable in his back.

Raising his arm, he raised his hand clearly. Intact.

- It is now... time to die, he ended with a corner look at the elf who was trying to bypass him to reach Luther's body.

Stunned, John could only stare at his failure. How could this creature have freed itself from these two defects since Grissenwald ? He couldn't have been wrong ! However, he shook his head.

- Last test and I'd cross swords, he conceded.

He took off his medallion and pulled a second one out of his pocket. Then raised them up in front of the undead. A wolf's head and a stylized hammer, surmounted by two comets.

- Prove that Ulric and Sigmar do not reject you. Grab their symbols.

This time, Manesh'k did not take the trinkets from his hands. And slowly, the human regained his smile.

It was useless to take them. Even Gusternuum's sap wouldn't allow him to pass this asset from the repurgator. They did not shine at that distance yet, but viscerally he felt the repulsion he felt for the symbols. Moreover, one of the spectators of the tournament was advancing, dressed in sailor's clothing and a tricorn swearing with the bordelins. He had a third necklace in his hand.

- I have nothing against these two deities, Frederik said. But, like the people of this land, I would follow Mannan's judgment.

Amazed, John looked at him in silence. Then also took the green crown when the owner of the place approved this choice.

Sighing, Manesh'k reached out, trying not to betray his discomfort. Gilnash better have an excellent excuse...

- You will have chosen your own fate, he said by crushing the three pendants with his bare hands.

His skin whistled in the room that was silent. Grinning in pain, he dropped the twisted pieces of metal. The Lord hiccupped in surprise at this unexpected scene. Bothel himself had a moment of hesitation. It was enough for the vampire to act.

With a fast spin, he leaned over and grabbed Luther's body by his ridiculous clothes. His nephew wasn't dead. Not yet. And he wouldn't let him be finished. Using his supernatural strength, he threw him into the air before rolling forward himself. Luther passed through the window of this floor and disappeared in the night of Bordeleaux. In the hall, Manesh'k stood up in a hurry, pushing two panicked guests. Where he had been, there was the elf with the drawn swords. He had abandoned his coarse cape, shirtless and exhibiting his tattoos of animals, climbing plants and refined symbols.

- Are you going to run away too like the coward you are ?

- Not this time, replied the vampire with severity. We have accounts to settle.

Behind their backs, the lord gave orders for the guests to move away. Then for his guards and the knights of his court present to seize the unmasked vampire.

- Do not do anything Sir, John held him back. Just stop him from running away, we'll take care of him.

The bordelin remained silent for a second against the imperial order. His guards, but also the participants of the tournament including Piers and Ferragus, were waiting for his verdict.

- I would not shed Bordeleaux's blood if I could avoid it, he said.

Wise decision, Manesh'k approved in silence despite his uncomfortable position. This man put the lives of his subjects before the insult of the vampire's presence. A ruler his people probably didn't imagine the value of. Without a word, he observed the bordelins encircling the three strangers without drawing his Lahmian sword.

- You're going to tell me what you've done with my sister, cried the scarred elf as he threw himself at him. Then your skull will be mine !

- Your sister ? replied Manesh'k while avoiding a first scimitar again without pulling the weapon from the scabbard. I'm afraid she's no longer part of your world.

As he stepped back a few steps, the guards and guests cautiously moved away, a woman pushing a yelp among them. Marking a one-second stop, Bothel roared again as he threw himself at him.

- I know you took her as hostage ! And until I know where she is, I'll tear you apart like the other two !

- Evacuate the room, ordered the lord again. You, he continued at the repurgator's address, tell me why you dropped your elven hound in my town ? That was not what we agreed on....

- That's what I agreed with him, replied John. I owe him at least one of the vamp... nosferatus.

- You could have at least waited until they were both in a place more conducive to this kind of barbarity. This... this is neither an execution nor an honorable duel !

In front of them, Bothel had just cut a chair in half after Manesh'k had leaned against it for a moment. They were now both standing on a table. They were moving on it, throwing dishes and victuals in all directions. The vampire had finally unsheathe his sword and now put the war dancer on the defensive.

- To be honest, could only grind John Grenaille with bitterness, I agree with you on these points...

- Lord Thierry, intervened the Marienburger. It's not that I'm not tired of the turn of events, but if there are any vampires other than this one marauding in the city, I have to leave you. The safety of my men comes first.

- I ask you....

- My ship the Immaculate is anchored in your bay and my sailors are currently enjoying your settlements along the docks, he quickly detailed. But I wouldn't risk bringing that... vermin on board. Be assured, however, that I will convey to Marienburg your willingness to develop a trade route between our two cities.

- I... understand, could only apologize to the lord by sighing, depressed. I would do the same if I were you.

- Thank you for your understanding. With that, my dear friend....

Frederik made a quick curve by sweeping the ground of his tricorn. Then he turned around and, after a last look at the two belligerents who were arriving near them, queued up to evacuate the room.

At the end of the table, Bothel made a salto to find the mainland. As soon as he was on his feet, he made a dazzling chisel towards the vampire's ankles. But having anticipated the move, Manesh'k was already in the air. His boot hit the cheekbone torn apart by the demon a few days earlier with a scarlet spray. Bothel was thrown against two guards who almost collapsed in shock.

Receiving himself with flexibility, Manesh'k made a reel before advancing towards his temporarily disoriented opponent.

- Is that all you have to offer me, elf ? What a disappointment, I expected more from you.

- That... Thierry whispered as the vampire passed in front of them with the blade visible and a forbidden glance.


*​


Going around the building, Gilnash stopped for a moment to study the upper levels. Restricting Gaylria while Manesh'k and Enguerran were on their way to join their nephew had taken him longer than expected. Thinking of the child, he thought that he should be around and...

A broken window on the second floor interrupted his thoughts. Turning to the origin of the sound, he took a first step to go around the building and see what unfortunate Manesh'k had probably just defenestrated.

However, he stopped before passing the corner. Lifting his head up, he looked up at a turtledove who flew over him for a moment before disappearing into the night, pushing a panicked coo. Impassive, he then turned to a related alley. The vampire looked up before making a grimace.

With a disarming calm, a dwarf walked out of the shadows. All at his haste, the undead had not noticed his presence. Measuring one head less than Gilnash, he had an unusual build for a representative of his race. His stature was enhanced by the sleeveless leather vest he wore and the protruding muscles of his arms, each lifting an axe. Sullen face, dark beard and recently shaved head to form an Iroquois a few centimeters long. The vampire sighed.

- You were in that cell, with the elves.

No answer.

- I know that the repurgator and the dancer are up there, Gilnash continued. And my companions need me. However... I am really the only one responsible for what happened to the other dwarf and...

- My brother, groaned Hrugni with a glance.

- ... of what happened to your brother, he said with a look away for a moment. So I guess you're asking for revenge, I would have done the same.

Luther... Manesh'k... I fear I will be delayed, he thought bitterly.

When he looked into the dwarf's grey eyes again, he shared his cold determination.

- As a fighter, he said gravely, I invite you to come and wash your brother's memory.

Slowly and without blinking, he grabbed his daggers. Hrugni smiled as anger began to distort his features.

- ...'would have made a good dwarf, he irked bitterly.

Without further ceremony, he rushed forward and waved his two weapons high. Giving up on his dull strike right away, Gilnash took several steps aside to maintain distance between the two, holding his blades pointed down. Getting back on the ground without his weapons hitting the ground despite his momentum, Hrugni made a sudden forehand stroke that forced Gilnash to take a step backwards despite his retreat.


*​


The sovereign's face turned white as he recognized the weapon Manesh'k was holding. He had only seen a bastard sword with a neutral pommel, plum reflections and a slightly curved point like this one once in his life.

- This... this sword, he stammered. The one the black knight wielded yesterday during the.... during the last fight...

Manesh'k turned to him with a pinched expression. The Lord frowned slowly, then grimace as anger took precedence over surprise before continuing:

- You took the place of my escort, he accused him. You took his place as the Black Knight at the tournament ! What have you done to my advisor ? To my friend ?!

- Wait, Darran realized. Mandrak was the Black Knight of Maleaux ?

However, no one paid attention to him as he studied the vampire with a new eye.

- Where is he ? What's the matter with you...

- Your friend died, Manesh'k released in a neutral tone and expression that did not betray any emotion as Bothel stood up. But it's not by hand, it's....

- You're going to pay, promised Thierry by cutting short his explanations. By my hand or by the hands of these men ! I should never have welcomed you to Bordeleaux !

Manesh'k held his gaze for a moment before he sighed wearily. Whatever he may say now, it wouldn't make any difference. Retreating a few steps as the room was clearing, he took a step back from the frenetic elf. Only a handful of women remained in the lobby, guards and most of the competitors from the previous day.

Between two assaults by Bothel, he noticed from the corner of his eye that the two entrances were once again closed, while a line of spearmen prevented him from escaping from the windows. Even in this situation, he could not repress a carnivorous smile. This battle became more and more interesting as the seconds went by.


*​

Cornered, Gilnash backed against the wall. Holding firmly to his two daggers, he saw the dwarf arming his chisel. He no longer had any space to back away from the two axes that were hitting him on both sides at once. Stoically, Hrugni had managed to block him and did not show any more emotion by striking the vampire with his fatal blow.

When Gilnash's dagger came through his forearm, a first expression spread over the dwarf's face. Jumping above the twin weapons, he gave an impulse against the wall to free himself from the side. As the thread of the axes scraped wood and thatch as they crossed, the vampire carefully rolled out of reach of a counterattack. He breathed a sigh of relief : he had come close.

As he growled a swearword in his beard, Hrugni's first axe bounced off the ground. Under the watchful eye of the attentive vampire, he carried his valid hand to his wounded wrist in which the dagger was still inserted. Without letting go of his second axe, he tore it from his flesh, holding his breath. He panted as he let the dagger fall to the ground and gave a black look to his elusive opponent. Bending his arm, he waved trembling fingers, provoking the vampire despite the obvious suffering. He was scarlet from the nails to the elbow, the deep wound spitting out threads of blood.

- You should stop there, Gilnash said as he straightened up. Wrap this wound or you'll bleed to death.

For any answer, the dwarf spat from the side before wiping his mouth and dyeing his beard red. He raised his valid arm towards the vampire, defying him by gazing at him.

- His name was Runtnar, he grunted.

Gilnash sighed. What a stubb... A shiver went up to him suddenly along his back. Alert, he backed away by turning his head from right to left. He perceived the sudden agitation that was disturbing the brown wind that had so far been calm in Bordeleaux. Exactly as when the thing described by Manesh'k and Luther had manifested itself.

Having noticed his discomfort, Hrugni tightened the grip on his weapon. But before he charged again, the vampire raised his hand palm towards him to interrupt him.

- Something is wrong, he said without even looking at it. It's coming...

He pivoted to the angle where earlier a stranger had fallen from the floors like a sudden burst of laughter dissuaded Hrugni from taking him as a traitor. A laugh full of madness resonating in all directions at once, in every alley around them. Disconcerted, the dwarf turned on himself, looking for the origin as other invisible strangers joined the first one with uproariously. Then he advised that his enemy was totally unaware of him, turning to the corner of the building where he had found him earlier.

They rushed in with the crash of an avalanche when none of the buildings seemed to shake as they passed. Too many riders appeared in front of them to be counted, all wrapped in flames and brandishing scythes, hooks and flails. They rode skeletal or fleshless horses, which like their masters, seemed to pass through the edges of the walls, thrown at a gallop.

Turning around, Gilnash rushed into the nearest alley as they entered the wider street. But Hrugni beat him there, much closer to the corridor than the vampire. He dissuaded him from approaching by raising his axe as a sign of threat, impassive despite the fatal procession that was coming towards them. With their laughter on his heels, Gilnash rushed without hesitation. He made a vertiginous leap, literally jumping over the dwarf... until he met the back of his axe. Bowed, Hrugni grabbed him from his stomach to his groin without using the edge of the weapon. Instead, the dwarf threw him back. Stunned, the ornithologist rolled to the ground before disappearing under the hoofs of the ghosts.


*​


- Sorry friend, John slowly said while gushing a gun at his hand, but it takes too long.

He aimed at the two belligerents, continuing their round trips into the room. However, a hand came to rest on his wrist, forcing him to lower his arm.

- Would you stop my men from intervening and then dishonour your companion ? The lord was surprised with a disapproving pout.

John grinned in turn, before hiding his gun with nothing to add.

Striving to take advantage of both his weapons, Bothel was determined to hit the vampire from all sides. Each assault came from an unlikely new direction, punctuating his attacks with vicious boots strikes. But despite all his talent, the undead seemed to systematically predict his movements. Undoubtedly, elven steel bounced back against Lahmian steel. To top it all off, he advised Manesh'k to smile with a slight sneer. As he was shouting at himself to pass this damn purple-reflecting sword, the vampire was enjoying this duel. Jaw tightened, the elf pushed his effort again.

The vampire moved back a few steps like the strikes flood the elf was raining on him increased. To the wall of spearmen.

- I got him ! One of the bordelins shouted as he spiked the undead on the back.

Unfortunately for him, he screamed before hitting his shot, which was enough for his target to move. The orange gambison ripped at the sides without hurting him. Nevertheless, Manesh'k blocked the weapon's shaft under his armpit before parrying another blow from the elf. He pushed back the last one before pivoting without releasing the lance and struck this opportunistic human suddenly. The Lahmianne sword superficially cut off his face diagonally.

In the moment he returned to his position in front of Bothel, letting the pike fall. In his back a scream of pain rose.

- Do not interfere ! Lord Thierry roars as he makes his way to the wounded.

As the elf took a moment to catch his breath following this unexpected event, Manesh'k took the opportunity to bring the blade to his lips. Exaggeratedly, he licked the wounded man's blood without taking his eyes off Bothel. In doing so, he raised a flood of shocked and disapproving whispers among the guards. But he didn't care about it. Suddenly, he turned to the lord surrounded by his soldiers.

- Vine leaf... he creaked. Grenaille... You lose nothing to wait for...

This did not escape the elf who frowned without understanding. Then it was the trigger.

- You... the memories... stammered at the elf like the pieces of the puzzle took place in his mind. You see the past in the blood and... You know my dances and anticipate my attacks !

For any answer, Manesh'k gave a big smile before bringing his sword back to him as a gesture of salvation. And suddenly he stretched his leg sideways and, with an impulse from the pelvis, turned on himself in balance on one foot. He completed his knee spin bent, stable on his supports and one leg extended towards the elf. The Lahmianne sword was pointed at Bothel in parallel with his free hand.

- I forbid you to imitate our art ! He roars as he leaps forward once again.

After a few passes, Manesh'k frowned. His patterns had suddenly changed. His assaults were still as irregular and unpredictable as ever, but he no longer used any known movements of the vampire. Having pierced the secret of the undead, Bothel tried to attack from new angles and for the first time really managed to put his enemy on the defensive !

He began to focus his attacks on the vampires' legs, forcing him to parry ever lower. Suddenly, the two scimitars crossed each other at the knees of the two belligerents, blocking the Lahmian sword. With a cry of victory, the elf's boot shot over their three blades. He came to pick up the vampire caught in the chin, lifting him off the ground for a brief moment.

- You're actually worthless ! Bothel shouted as he abandoned his weapons and rushed to the unarmed vampire. You just copy other warriors...

Supporting his words, he struck a direct left punch at the still staggering vampire who clumsily raised his wrist to protect himself but could not block the dazzling kick in his floating ribs on the opposite side.

- You're actually worthless ! He roars as he leaps to hit him in the forehead with his right fist.

- That's enough.

Without warning, Manesh'k grabbed the elf's wrist and pulled it to him. His other arm grabbed him in the crotch and, bowing over, he sent him off heavily against the floor of the room. The elf bit his tongue, his breath taken away.

The vampire turned around and grumbled, abandoning his still-struck opponent who was rolling laboriously to the side. Then he casually recovered his weapon before looking for two specific individuals with his eyes.

- Vine leaf... he whispered.

- Vampire ! Bothel cried as he stood up. I'm not done with you yet ! Nor with your fellow !

Tiredly, Manesh'k turned to him again. The tenacious elf picked up his scimitars and staggered towards him, spitting blood.

- You're nothing but filthy bloodsucking parasites ! He continued by finding his insurance step by step. I'm going to tear you apart for days and enjoy your suffering ! Then I'll cut you into pieces and this time no witchcraft can bring you back to life ! Only then would I collect your skulls and make them the foundation of an ever-higher monument to the glory of... of... to the glory...

Slowly, his expression turned from anger to stupor, then to astonishment. Unbelieving, he turned to John, himself surprised by this tirade. The repurgator was confused. Instinctively, the elf carried his hand to his cheek devastated by the demon a few days earlier.

- For... why... he whispered as he slowly lowered his scimitars. I... I want to kill him... But why... these words... I don't understand... they...

- Pathetic.

The elf turned his head before being lifted off the ground. In a scarlet gush, a dark blade pierced his abdomen in front of the whole assembly. Stunned, Manesh'k and the rest of the assembly saw the scarred elf weakly shake his arms and choke on his own blood.

- I knew you were not normal, spit out the lord's nephew while throwing away the body of the war dancer. Strutting around and humiliating us like we're just kids ! You....

- Julot ! shouted Thierry in a tone of shocked by what he had just seen. What does it mean...

- Don't interrupt me ! roared the tall young man pointing a strange and dripping of blood weapon at his uncle. I've suffered enough from your so-called...

Manesh'k was already no longer listening to him. The situation could have become funny with all these reversals of situations. However, the weapon the boy was wielding passed to the vampire the desire to smile. In addition to its atypical black colour that drew on purple - without reminding its own blade - its pins and knob ended in sharp, clawed shapes. Forms that he had previously only seen on the blades of the demons invoked by Scleras. Added to the discomfort he felt just looking at it... things were going to get out of hand very quickly.

- Dude, John began by pointing his second weapon at the human. Put down that sword and....

- I forbid you to give me orders ! he screamed as he waved the strange weapon. You and everyone else ! And... and who cares after all !

A laughter resounded suddenly across the room as Julot wielded his black sword. Without even having to rely on his still recent mastery of the winds, Manesh'k was able to witness the demonstration of the weapon. As a series of unholy runes began to glow along the blade, its edges became blurred. Like when a blank piece of metal emitted heat. Dark filaments floated for a moment in the wake of the sword as Julot lowered his arm. As he smiled with a lewd expression, his hair stood on his skull. Then his clothes began to slap against him under the effect of some gust of wind that only affected him...

Dazed, the bordelins jumped when the doors at both ends of the room slammed. Wielding flails, sickle or flaming scythes, several horsemen came out of some nightmare and burst into the room. Like the creature of the day before, their naked bones were devoured by the flames. Their skinless and fleshless mounts flew over the assembly, knocking down the unfortunate ones terrified of their appearance.

Immediately the two leading riders flew to Manesh'k. Without being overwhelmed, he ensured his feet and performed the exact same move as the day before when he was wearing the black armor. The Lahmian sword caught the sickle brandished by the first assailant and with a blow of kidney he managed to pull it out of its saddle. In the second he drove ashore near his enemy, avoiding the chain that the second one made click over him as it passed.

- Protect the lord ! Ferragus shouted running to a table.

Bowing forward, he overturned it to prevent the race of walking nightmares before moving back a few steps. It was with dismay that he saw the first invader ignore it and just pass through, his weapon flail swirling towards his head. However, he was caught before the impact, thrown to the ground by a companion.

- Get up ! Darran shouted as he struggled to get up from his life-saving tackle.

Near them, a hatchet flew through another skeleton brandishing an extravagant scythe. Its jaw clucking to the rhythm of an unhealthy laugh, it turned to his owner who yelped before turning his heels. Ramming its macabre mount, the afterlife emissary chased him and passed the two knights, leaving only smoke in its wake.

- They cannot be touched, Ferragus stammers as he realizes the horror of their situation. We can't....

He shook his head before he pulled himself together. He took his new companion by the shoulder:

- See what you can do for the nephew, I'll get Thierry out of here.

Darran stared at him for a moment before approving.

Passing through the doorway on the main entrance, Hrugni stopped. The scene he had in front of him in that big room was unreal. Everywhere these same ghosts, set on fire and riding beasts of the same kind, were sowing death. The bordelins were reduced to pieces one by one. He almost dropped his prisoner, dragging him by the hair of his arm, summarily bandaged with a soaked cloth . He stammered as he advanced through this chaos. Until one of the Lord's knights came to him.

- Did you kill him ? He asked straightforwardly by referring to the body of the vampire he was carrying with him.

But the dwarf shook his head in front of the bordelin with green gambison embroidered with climbing plants.

- He's alive, he managed to understand despite Hrugni's accent. Just in the cabbage.

Illustrating his words, he raised him with his knotted hair. Gilnash moaned in protest, his eyes ajar and barely conscious. Not far away, the lord's nephew stabbed one of his uncle's spearmen with a weapon bristling with spikes at the keel before bursting into a laugh of madness.

- Get rid of him, said the human. We have enough problems on our hands already !

Without answering, Hrugni followed him with a glance as he took his momentum to charge one of those riders who had reduced the vampire to a sorry state. His sword only crossed his target as if it were made of mist. Luckily, the counterattack did not bear fruit. Shaking his head, the dwarf noticed that in the middle of this chaos, Manesh'k had also spotted him and had stopped.

- Shit....

- At first Luther... he scolded even if they could not get along with the distance. Now Gilnash.....

Without paying attention, the vampire stepped aside and avoided the weapon flail of a rider coming from the front. Then came forward towards the dwarf. Dwarf who dropped his amorphous prisoner to his knees to grab his axe with both hands. With a bad mine Manesh'k began to cross the battlefield as if nothing had happened.

- Come on, Hrugni scolded while shaking his head.

On the other side of the room where he was trying to help evacuate the last civilians, John noticed the vampire's change and the direction in which he was walking.

- No... he whispered while thinking at full speed. No, it's on the boy we must channel the vampire... Why did you bring the other one back ?

- You took my son away from me... Manesh'k continued in a hoarse voice. Then my nephew... Now it's my brother you want ? Do you DARE ?

- Maneshke ! The repurgator was calling.

But it was a lost cause, he didn't hear him. Manesh'k had closed the arms and bent himself forward. The shaky blade on his fist announced nothing good.

I curse them, all those big bourgeois who forced me into darkness !

If only this power that flows in me could change things... but even at the gates of death I am forced to hold back this burning flow...

Death lurks at every turn... I can no longer bear to bury my comrades in arms to defend men wallowing in their palaces of glory !

I'll find these undead, these vampires, and they'll feel my blades. Loren will not be defiled for a moment more by their unholy presence.

Incarnation... twilight... scarlet sap...

- I am tired of you mortal... he began in a trembling voice of wrath. Even if we present ourselves peacefully, you attack us and seek to destroy us by all means... Now you mutilate my brothers... and dare to believe that I would pass over this affront...

He slowly swept the room with his glance, the guests frozen on the spot staring at him with horror. Some ghosts had even stopped the massacre and turned to him for a moment, anticipating the coming storm.

- So be it... he murmured darkly. Go... Go if you care about your miserable life... Go ! He shouted in a roaring voice that made the building tremble. That' s enough... From now on...

Aqshy !

- ... I won't hold back anymore.

As he completed his speech, the torches and candles in the room caught fire with bright new flames. Crackling furiously, they spread several times their normal size. In a flash, several doilies, curtains and tapestries that had been spared until then caught fire. Without wasting a moment, he slowly slipped his hand over his blade. As he mumbled a few inaudible words in this confusion, his weapon gradually covered itself with flames. In a short moment, the Lahmian sword became a burning torch on his fist.

Astonished, the bordelins were totally overwhelmed by the turn of events. Only Julot seemed to rejoice in this disastrous situation, bursting out laughing again as he approached the undead.

- Fire ? he cried out between two hiccups betraying the delirium into which the human being had fallen. Poor miserable, brainless wretch, don't you see that I hardly fear this one ?

Not realizing that the vampire was not after him, Julot pointed to him with his evil weapon and continued to laugh hysterically. Ignoring their human prey, the nearest riders rushed towards the undead. The disembodied servants followed their right mounts on him. From the corner of his eye, he notified the imminent threat. With a sudden roar, the vampire parted the first scythe flying towards his head : unlike conventional weapons, his sword was not crossed by those of the undeads !

- Let... me... pass ! He roars as he tries to progress towards his brother in arms despite two spectral riders leading their horses around him, like predators pushing their prey.

Noticing his whining, Julot finally saw the recently arrived dwarf. Unlike his uncle's bootlickers, he didn't seem determined to escape the chaotic room. He was a rock facing the tide of runaways who came through the doors to escape the hall. A rock that sheltered a figure which the young man was familliar with.

With a determined step the slender young man walked straight towards Hrugni, totally absorbed by the melee taking place in the center of the room. The bordelin repressed a smile. It would be qui....

It was with a yelp of surprise that Julot's right arm suddenly stretched against his chest. As if trained behind the dark sword, he barely parried the sword of a knight of his uncle, emerging from nowhere.

- Piers ! He spat while the person was stunned that his blow did not hit him.

Chasing his amazement, the man between two ages stepped back and brought his weapon back to him.

- Mannan ! He exclaimed as he made a straight slit towards the conjurer.

Again, his blade was deflected. He hiccupped before collapsing forward, a bloody line smearing the stylized ivy of his gambison. Julot himself surprised by his performance, slowly sketching a smile as he contemplated his prodigious weapon, dripping with sticky mood. Purple runes engraved in the metal began to pulsate with a life of their own, the weapon seeming to awaken as the carnage advanced. Delighted, Julot turned to the dwarf and his prisoner on the ground. Now he had his attention. Perfect. Leaving there the still warm body of a man who had known him since his first hazardous steps, he stood before Hrugni who took the axe he had left with both hands.

- Midget ! Give me that vampire, Julot ordered while reaching out his arm towards Gilnash.

The dwarf frowned more under the insult. Lifting his arm, he kicked Gilnash in the face with his elbow and he collapsed like a stone.

- You want it ? he said without further ado. Come and get it.

To punctuate his provocation, he stepped over the body before camping on his legs, with the axe in his fists.

Squatting behind one of the overturned tables, the repurgator tried not to attract the attention of the fateful riders. The ambush on the vampires turned into a massacre. These monsters rode across the room raining blows, ignoring armor like shields. On the other hand, not a single bordelins seemed to have been able to riposte to these fiery creatures. The spectra crossed the boards and drapes laughing at the top of their lungs, entering and leaving the room at leisure. John saw more than one man simply crossed by these ghosts before collapsing, eyes repelled and barely alive.

Trying to find his way to Hrugni and Julot, he could not ignore the vampire evolving in the middle of the room.

His flaming sword stopped the ghostly iron of the ghosts. Only this weapon seemed to be able to counter the intangible monsters. Weapon visibly imprinted with the gifts of Tisseron... this vampire was therefore responsible for the death of the flame sorcerer...

Forcing himself to chase away this thoughts, he noticed that Manesh'k literally seemed to anticipate each threat, always one step ahead of the undead. It was only then that the repurgator realized that, until now, he had never seen this "Manesh'k", or Mandrak as he had presented himself to the bordelins, in action. Against demons in Grissenwald, the tree man in Loren or right here at the tournament : every fight he had been told about described a relentless fighter. And it had to be said that this reputation was not usurped in view of the feat he was achieving there. However, he was unable to progress further, put in difficulty by the number of endless attackers. Attackers, some of whom were now on foot, their parodies of mounts dispersing here and there like dust in the wind.

Facing one of the flaming riders, three guards pointed their spears at the head of the mount. In vain. Its jaw slamming in the void, the ghost made its steed rise without giving them the possibility to move forward. It stood between them and the secondary exit of the main hall, preventing the soldiers from evacuating their lord.

Angrily, Thierry could only contemplate his faithful subjects dying in vain. On both sides of the hall, the tapestries and draperies were consumed by the flames. They were starting to lick the ceiling beams. If only....

- Forward ! Suddenly cried out his augur as he approached the spearmen, his arm outstretched towards their enemy, whose appearance suddenly changed.

Under the amazed gaze of the bordelins, the rider froze. Its appearance seemed to become more precise and the air to undulate more beautifully around it as if under the effect of heat. The skull without orbits immediately turned towards the thaumaturgist. It pulled the lead to charge this new threat.

- It is... visible, one of the men stammered as he searched for his words. It...

- What are you waiting for ?! A knight suddenly shouted as he pushed the lancer to charge.

Without any other form of trial he raised his sword and dislocated the muzzle of the mount in a shower of splinters. In the moment the skeletal animal collapsed to the side, carrying its rider under its weight.

- Ferragus, Thierry whispered as the veteran was attacking the enemy on the ground.

Sighing with satisfaction, he turned to his still stunned compatriots. The monster had lost its invulnerability for a moment. Thanks to Martin's intervention, augur of their lord, they could finally retaliate ! Thanks to...

With horror the knight saw the spellbinder being caught at the throat by a chain. The next moment he was flying behind its riding owner, laughing hysterically under its hood.

- Martin, whispered Thierry while watching his adviser bounce off the ground like a wireless puppet. Mart...

- Now! Go away, my lord, intimated Ferragus by grabbing him by the shoulder. The way is clear, get out of here !

- But what... what kind of ruler would flee leaving...

- The kind to live tomorrow to fix what can still be fixed ! Ferragus was furiously ahead of him.

Stunned, Thierry stammered in silence and contemplated this loyal warrior of all, having no argument to make against his reply.

Hrugni charged without preamble, filling the space between them in a few steps. This pretentious man left his left side completely open by brandishing his trinket well above the imposing dwarf. He would only have to shorten it with his left leg before continuing with any kind of sequence. However, he advised that the bordelin was anticipating its move with a septim parry much faster than he had imagined. From the flat of the blade. This arrogant kid's toy would be shattered along with his calf.

A note more serious than he had imagined sounded on impact. Then Hrugni frowned as he noticed that his bulldozer shot had not had the desired effect. However, even if the metal had not given way, the dwarf's force had stuck the black sword to his owner's thigh. In the second, he stepped forward and hooked the damn sword up in the hollow of his axe before pulling back with a furious roar. He scratched the young man's leg who made a grin. But a sudden pain set Hrugni's cheek on fire and he backed away with surprise. The kid hadn't dropped his weapon. Moreover, he had allowed himself to inflict a stamp on his cheekbone.

Grunting more beautifully, he armed a powerful two-handed shot but already Julot's sword was leaning against him in mirror : the blade of his axe suddenly split into two distinct sections in an outbreak of sparks as the edges of the two weapons hit each other head-on. Amazed, Hrugni found himself with a handle finished with a few centimeters of smoking steel. The rest bounced back.

- Wha...

Before he could react, the sword with its sparkling runes struck again as it moved up from the hip to the opposite shoulder. A scarlet spray punctuated the dwarf's fall, as his doublet ripped like paper. With a rasp, Hrugni collapsed along Gilnash's body.

- Pathetic ! Julot shouted as he opened his arms before bursting into laughter. You are so pathetic ! Is that the dwarf tenacity that I have been so praised for about...?

The slender teenager stopped in his tracks as Hrugni turned sideways and moaned. His face smeared with crimson blood, he looked with resentment at his executioner, who was lacking in words. Slowly leaning on his arm already bruised by the undead, he bowed on one knee before a surge of suffering passed through him. Hiccupping, the dwarf huddled and squeezed his arms against his chest, kneeling facing Julot.

- Tss... Pathetic, he whispered as he regained his confident smile that had frozen for a moment.

Hrugni's beard dripped on the ground as the human grabbed him by the throat with his free hand. But his smile faded again. He may have bowed down, but he was unable to lift it. However, he made it fall sideways and raised his arm to finish it.

As if the scratched weapon was animated by a life of its own, the human was suddenly pulled aside. He parried in extremis and without shaking the wild strike of the brionnois in full jump.

Without really trying to regain his balance by touching the ground again, Darran dropped a hand from his sword. He reversed the rotation of his shot to the head to make an upward shot to Julot's left hip. In vain, the evil weapon easily stopped his attack and opened the guard to him. The dazzling backhand, however, only took air.

- I've had enough of that move yesterday ! Darran cried as he resumed his posture.

He wiped his face and stained himself more with the ashes that were now raining in the room. Then, crying out in rage, he charged the tall young man. As the tip of his sword fused to Julot's sufficient expression, a loud slap pierced through the surrounding chaos. Then a surge of pain ran down the side of the griffin fighter. Without succeeding to hit, he collapsed by bending his arms against his chest.

Confused, Julot contemplated his own arm. Guided by the voices, he had beaten the annoying bastard from Brionne. But he should not have twisted himself with pain on the ground but choked on his own blood....

It was only after a few seconds standing still trying to understand what had just happened that he noticed the leather strap wrapped around his gloved wrist. Astonished, he went up along the whip to a John Grenaille who was making a bad face.

- This toy guides your arm, he said without preamble. But I'm not fighting a piece of metal: it's the human behind it that interests me.

Julot stammered for a moment before he finally understood. The repurgator's intervention had deflected his strike. By pulling his arm over, he had prevented him from making a decisive move.

With a roll of his wrist he cut off the guilty instrument, which did not resist the supernatural edge of the weapon. Grunting, Julot walked towards John wielding his weapon. Without being dismantled, he raised his arms towards the young man. In a flash the guns appeared in his hands. The detonations followed and Julot felt his shoulder protesting as suddenly his arm rose from an unexpected angle.

John blinked for a moment to understand what he had just seen. The first shot was to the head. The second one was to his chest. With his arm raised and his elbow raised outwards, Julot held the black sword pointing downwards. On the blade, the repurgator could clearly see the two impacts of smoking plumbs. Swearing, he drew a rapier and rushed towards his enemy, plunging his free hand into the folds of his coat. Despite Julot's obvious discomfort, his parry was perfect again : he easily blocked the light sword on his left. Not the vial John smashed against his right cheek.

- What...

He made a furious backhand able to dislocate his own shoulder, but already the repurgator was dropping to the ground. Julot raised his arm before stopping, carrying his hands to his face. He pushed a yelp of terror. His skin was covered with blisters, burned by the liquid he had just been sprayed with. Tapping his injury and losing track of his environment, he stumbled back a few steps.

- Defeated by blessed water, the repurgator ironically said and then pulled a dagger from his sleeve.

John took a first step towards his prey by arming his strike. However, a movement at the limits of his field of vision caught his attention before it hit him.

- Shit ! He swore as one of the horsemen in full charge dominated him with all its height.

Dropping the dagger, he fell backwards to avoid the flaming sickle that scratched his headgear. He rolled aside before getting up clumsily, incredulous about his own luck. But already the ghost was turning back....

Returning to his senses, Julot looked on as the repurgator ran away.

- You...

He took a few steps in his direction, angry. But a sudden heat seized his throat, forcing him to raise his arms to protect his face. With his eyes wrinkled, he saw the ground ignite in front of him. A real wall of flames blocked his way, furiously crackling. Shaking his head, he raised it to realize that the blaze was forming a circular arc preventing him from going any further. Then he discovered the vampire facing him. His face distorted by rage, he had his own sword pointed towards the ground, burning like a torch. The human swore. With the interventions of the bastard and then the coward to the hat, he had neglected the graves emissaries...

- Wait, where are...

Without letting him finish his sentence, Manesh'k rushed at him. A metallic squeal resounded as the flaming weapon fell on the demonic sword. Turning his head to the right, Julot had not had time to realize the threat that his arm had risen on its own. Guided by a power he barely apprehended, he had parried. But Manesh'k was pressing his point, insisting with both hands and bending the human being. Opening his mouth, he revealed his fangs and grunted like a rabid predator before pushing Julot back. He almost fell but managed to keep his balance. Manesh'k was already on it.

A new deaf blow fell on the bordelin which parried again, fire sparks coming to caress his face as he bent under the pressure of the burning firebrand. Suddenly it disappeared and Julot jumped forward like a spring. Straight to the vampire who was passing with the blade burning in his back after a step back. Changing hands, he furiously swept the boy's right hand, again barely parring, dragged aside by his weapon. With his arm twisted at an unlikely angle, Julot saw his elbow twitch before the pain flooded his shoulder and he was thrown against an upturned table.

Marking a halt, Manesh'k walked to his opponent on the ground, stunned. He screamed in pain as he rolled on his back, leaning against the furniture. His elbow was probably broken. His shoulder's dislocated. He carried his hand unscathed to his mutilated, pale limb. As he did so, his palm touched the spiky guard of the dark weapon lying against his knee. The next moment Julot was the first to be amazed to block the deadly blow that fell to his forehead, holding the weapon in his left hand as he would have held a dagger. Unable to scream any more, he saw his own arm continue to act on its own, dragging the Lahmian sword into his quillon, which was provided with sharp claws. With his arm spread, Manesh'k bowed backwards as the teenager's backhand, although on the ground, whistled under his chin. He took a few steps to regain distance, incredulous.

With his eyes filled with tears and still whining, Julot bowed to the tip of the weapon, leaning back to get up. He screamed even louder when his wounded limb grazed the edge of the table. But despite his deplorable condition, the implacable will of the sword pushed him forward. Leaving a smoking mark in the ground, he raised his weapon once again. Without further ado, Manesh'k rushed to him again. From the first blow, the young man's right arm flew uselessly to the side and caused a new hiccup of pain. The parries that followed were nevertheless just as fast as the previous ones, stopping every attack by the unleashed warrior.

Without warning, the vampire turned around and parried an ethereal sword coming into his back. Grinning in anger, he dragged its ghostly owner to the ground a third time by sliding his weapon over its assailant's one. Then came back to Julot who had to block a vicious blow from the vampire towards the groin. But Manesh'k was already taking a step back, returning to his opportunistic opponent. Without taking his eyes off the human, he impaled the ghost on the ground with his ancient sword, wrapped in flames. Despite himself, Julot could not take advantage of this respite to attack. All he could do was blink and discern a scarlet swirl that consumed the entrails of the ghost who did not try to fight.

Doubt suddenly assailed him. He felt weakened. This vampire could destroy the reapers summoned by his sword. Worse still, he was playing equal with the lightning reflexes conferred on him by the runic weapon. Did this undead bloodsucker who stood in front of him... His own thoughts became erratic as panic took over the cold determination of the bewitched weapon. He almost tripped over a motionless body. Mandrak was relentless and moving forward. Julot grinned in fear as he raised his arm to protect himself... but the blow didn't come.

The vampire's sword bounced off the ground, its flames dissipating with a crackling sound to leave only the glowing steel. Mandrak fell to his knees, his hands on his throat. Facing the stunned bordelin, he was taken with a violent coughing attack that became raucous. The protruding veins of his cheeks and forehead turning darker, to a bottle green. As his crisis became more and more violent, Julot regained his composure. He didn't understand what he was witnessing but didn't care. Exorbited eyes and the skin of the face covered with bark-like leather, he was no longer a threat.

Having regained his confidence, Julot looked around the room. Most of the knights in his uncle's court were dead. Or would soon be. The repurgator was still running in a corner of the room. A few meters away, the bastard stood up painfully. At his feet, the unconscious dwarf on whom he had stumbled in his moment of panic. And behind him, just under the windows...

- Look at me the vampire, he intimated in a sufficient tone to Manesh'k as he stood above Gilnash.

With a feverish look in his eyes, he could only contemplate the bordelin raising his weapon above his unconscious brother in arms.

- One less, Julot articulated dramatically.

- No ! Manesh'k shouted.

In vain. A new surge of pain came over him, preventing him from rescuing his companion.

A burst of glass suddenly joined the scene. And the next moment the disturbed bordelin was hustled in its execution. He was thrown to the ground with a strong enough shoulder blow to hit his head against the tile.

- What...

Scratching his chest to pin him to the ground, Gaylria's face came to stand a few centimeters from his one. The vampire roared wildly in the face of the dazed human. His scarlet pupils glowed with primal anger. He armed his arm to cut off her abdomen with his bewitched blade, but the undead's fingers closed on his biceps, nailing his wrist to the ground. And without further ado, she plunged her face under Julot's chin. He didn't have the time to scream in panic that already a thick fluid was filling his mouth. He dropped a scarlet spray when she finished tearing his trachea with her fangs.

In an instant, all the returning flames stopped. Looking past the undead elf, reducing the human to lint, Manesh'k realized that the massacre had stopped. As one individual, the undead had stopped their massacre and turned to their deceased conjurer.

A light breeze blew into the hall. Under the stunned eyes of the survivors, the edges of the ghosts began to fade. In a handful of seconds, they all dissipated, leaving only a few fumaroles behind.

Immediately a calm contrasting with the past chaos set in, disturbed only by the crackling of the flames and Gaylria's chewing. Ignoring the other individuals, she continued to attack the already unrecognizable corpse.

Still in shock, Manesh'k looked at the survivors. Most knights and bordelin guards shared haggard expressions. The Lord himself was helping a soldier to get up after being overthrown in confusion. The dwarf, pale, was catching his breath holding his scarlet flank. And the repurgator turned to the still shaken vampire. With the same reflex, their attention converged on the demonic weapon lying on the ground between the two of them.

They jumped forward at the same time. The vampire was the first on it, reaching out his hand to take it. But the detonation immediately followed by a ceramic burst under his palm discouraged him from going any further. Aiming a gun at him, John Grenaille dared him to take it. But he was no longer in the mood for these games : with a sudden nod, the vampire replied. A new spray of flames broke out between them, flinching the human whose shot missed his target.

Suppressing a painful new surge, Manesh'k turned again to the weapon. Back to him, Gilnash was leaning over it despite his bound fists and covering it with a cloth miraculously spared by his companion's fire. Struggling against the rigidity that seized his neck and back, Manesh'k forced himself to approach.

- Let's not touch... this thing, Gilnash breathed as he wrapped the weapon.

His companion nodded. Then took a look at the elf who was squatting on his right, imitating his father in the no-life without saying a word. Both her face and throat were stained with blood. But ironically, she seemed calm. For the time being.

- Let's get out of here, he said while severing his brother's ties.

Gilnash nodded, taking his daughter in death by the shoulder, leaning on her with his valid arm to get up and then inviting her to do the same. But she remained motionless, one knee down. Amazed, the vampire followed his gaze... to the body of the war dancer who was lying in a pool of blood. He bit his lower lip.

- It's over now, he told her in a calmer tone. Come on, let's go.

Without opposing or saying a word, she stood up with him.


*​


- He should have brought him there, creaked Manesh'k.

But no matter where he turned his head, he saw no trace of the child or their nephew. Just the small square with a well where they were supposed to find themselves, as deserted as the adjacent streets.

- You think they were captured ?

Turning to the sky, Gilnash's gaze became vague. Without saying a word, the first vampire became nervous as his brother-in-arms questioned the heavens.

- I don't think so, he replied after a moment. However, I have no idea where they are...

Sighing with exasperation, Manesh'k turned to the heights of the hill where the flames of his blaze were already visible. He had seen the Marienburger leave the hall without delay : the Immaculate would soon leave. They didn't have a minute to waste.

- I find Luther and Enguerran and then I catch you, Manesh'k said while making sure that the evil weapon was wrapped in its piece of cloth. Go to the docks with your daughter.

- Not that I don't trust you... but how...

- The spite, Manesh'k replied with a smile. I more or less managed to persuade it to stay with the kid.

Relying on Gaylria, Gilnash nodded. They entered an alleyway hobbling while Manesh'k turned back.


*​


One more sweet sip. The memory of his first visit to the mill where his father worked passed before his eyes. He spiritedly explained to him how the millstone crushed the mowed wheat earlier to produce flour. Flour that would then allow them to... shaking his head, he chased away these fleeting images. He had no interest in a miller's past.

The two older boys challenged him to jump the stream they had crossed. And miserably he landed in the middle, from water to his thighs. It was under the quibbles of the other two that he escaped and... again he turned away from his uninteresting memories.

He didn't like children in general. Slightly sweet on the taste. In fact, he preferred more mature growths. Richer in mouth and spicier for some varieties. On this side of the Grey Mountains, for example, humans produced a spicy nectar that he particularly appreciated. In addition, an older host was more likely to offer juicy snapshots than such a young subject.

That being said, in his condition, Luther was not picky eaters. He licked his victim's wound, caressing his chin with greed. The vampire was kneeling on the unconscious child's body as he had been immobilized for a while with his own weight. One more memory came to mind. The one of a bare-chested fighter who came out of a tower before interposing himself in front of the monsters. In a flash he knocked it down before...

A suspicious movement brought him back to the present. As he straightened up, he turned away to discover the same fighter standing above him. He blinked as he opened his mouth of amazement. Was he still in the kid's memories ?

Too dazed as he was, Manesh'k's fist came down on his head without him reacting. Before he even touched the ground, the vampire had fallen into the void.

Growling as she shook his bruised hand, Manesh'k studied the scene, feeling a sudden weight overwhelming him. Luther lay at his feet. He would not die of his wounds - not permanently at least. For the child, on the other hand... Trying to remain impassive, he contemplated the remains of Enguerran, near which floated the immaterial spirit.

They brought the kid here so they wouldn't let him die in his devastated village. It had been a sign of mercy from the vampires. And yet... The kid had informed them of the existence of this tournament. He had contributed to their survival to the best of his ability, without asking them for anything in return. He even saved Luther by dragging his body through the alleys. And this idiot had found nothing better than to bleed him dry as thanks....

These dark thoughts swirled in Manesh'k's mind as the child's blood kept spilling over the cobblestones.


*​


- And this sword ? he asked him while pointing to the evil weapon. I don't see what we could do....

- This "thing" has no place with us, Manesh'k said with gravity. As for leaving it to men....

Suddenly turning towards the river, he armed his shot before throwing the weapon that disappeared into darkness while spinning. Still wrapped in tissue, it fell back much further with a splash that went almost unnoticed in the night.

- ... there is no question of it either, he solemnly decided.

Gilnash nodded, thinking. He told him without saying anything he approved this choice.

- And now ? he asked after a few moments of calm that they both enjoyed. Should we stick to the plan ? Despite the states of Luther and Gaylria ?

Both of them took a look at the elf accompanying them. She tilted her head sideways, her sticky hair slipping on her face.

- We stick to the plan.

Their eyes shifted towards the imposing imperial ship anchored in the bay.

The Immaculate.

- Let's hurry, your "Frederik" left the hall in a hurry and told me he wouldn't stay long in Bordeleaux. The sooner we hide aboard the ship, the sooner we can finally get some rest.

Gilnash nodded. As he guided his daughter, Manesh'k put his arm under Luther's valid shoulder before turning to the heights of the city. So many misadventures since their arrival in Grissenwald several weeks earlier... With one last grin, he turned away and followed his brother who was already heading towards a modest fishing boat.


*​


When the day finally rose on Bordeleaux, it found the city still ringing from that animated night. The incident had burned down several houses and the vampires had managed to escape. Alone on the docks, the repurgator would not have been able to describe how he felt at that moment. He contemplated the empty bay, mentally reviewing this unsuccessful hunt. These vampires had left in their wake a pile of corpses. Within a few weeks they would be in Marienburg. Out of reach. He had failed. Sighing, he turned away from the rising sun to take the road to Thierry's castle. Hrugni as the Lord's court awaited him.

With a slow step he crossed the alleys. Without noticing the wild spirit floating there, nor the pair of scarlet eyes that began to shine in the shadows.


"May my sword be my only truth, may death be my only answer and may my quest have as its only objective to lead me to surpass myself."







Alright guys. First thank you for reading all this story. And i really mean it. Do not hesitate to do a return even if it's just "great" or "could be better", everything is useful.

Now. What's next.

First, i started a big work on this story with a friend to upgrade many points and to rectify mistakes than can be fixed (the fire sorcerer 1300 years before magnus and teclis create the colleges of magic for example will stay a mistake...) and when i'll have done it in french i'll commit those changes here too. At this moment i will post a resume of what would have been done. The objective of that change ? Well, i like good work and i wish to print this story (maybe amazon for self-editing or something like that) so i would be able to say officially "I'm an author ! I made a book !" even if there are only 3 printed books, in my library or in my friend's one.

Second, it's not the end of the adventures of Manesh'k and his friends. Far from it. I already wrote a little sequel to Fire & Blood i'll translate and post here too. Then... i will have to write the next story in french xD
 
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