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The Blood of The Honored, Part 10 – Conclusion


Posted on August 14th, by Kevin Gubernatis in Excerpt, Fantasy, short story. No Comments

Pargnok rose to his feet and readied his blade and shield. He stood dead center in front of the door and stared through it. Grilcor took his place beside Pargnok and awaited orders. The rest of the patrol who were still standing, or had otherwise made it to their feet, formed up around their captain into another half circle in front of the entrance to the barracks,  this one reversed to create a cage to trap foes in. The view outside the door was naught but darkness and rain, but Pargnok could still hear the beast. Its heavy breathing seeped through the darkness hungrily.

Finally the creature made its appearance. The portal was not quite large enough for the bear to fit through, but that did not stop the creature from reaching in and snatching a legionnaire who was standing near the door with a massive claw and pulling him outside. The sound of razor steel chopping into flesh was the only sound Pargnok heard before Tongrit screamed in pain. Then there were no sounds.

“Be ready!” Pargnok called loudly, trying as much to give his men orders as draw attention to himself along with the beast’s ire. “Shields up! If it reaches in, give it something to grab and then make it bleed!” Pargnok emphasized his point and his threat by bashing his own shield with the flat of his warblade, just as Mettcaff had done earlier.

The bear’s snout came through the door suddenly and began sniffing around. Before it could smell much of anything, one soldier brought her warblade down hard, apparently trying to strike the creature’s eyes, but slipping low and catching it in the cheek. The bear snapped at the legionnaire but withdrew its head. Then, one of the beast’s arms shot through the door and grabbed the soldier in question. Several of her comrades surged forward, not wanting to lose another friend and harassed the arm until it released her and retreated.

“Mother’s tits, that thing is fast!” Grilcor blurted out somewhat quietly, apparently not wanted to share his surprise with the rest of the patrol. “How can we defend against it if we can’t see where its coming from?” The sergeant’s question was accentuated by another roar from the beast. As if in response to the roar, a bright streak of fire shot out over Pargnok’s and Grilcor’s heads to slam into the shadowy form of the bear.

“No evil can hide from Solarine’s light!” came the clarion call from behind them as Pargnok and Grilcor turned to see an injured, but very alive Elevani holding her bow. “Where the fire moves, the beast will strike!” When Pargnok looked back, sure enough the bear had a fiery arrow protruding from its hide. At first, he thought it might have been in vain as he expected the rain to gutter out the flame, but Elevani’s arrow had gone low, under the beast’s chin, so that no rain fell on it.

“That was a damned fine shot, elf,” Grilcor complimented Elevani earnestly, still keeping his eyes on the creature. “We are in Solarine’s debt and yours. Mind the flame, you grunts! Keep one step ahead of it and we will bring this beast down!” Grilcor had a way of keeping morale up even in the midst of complete disaster. He never seemed to lose his mirth, even whilst complaining. It was a quality that Pargnok had grown to rely upon.

The bear lunged in straight forward, apparently trying to get at whatever had fired the burning, stinging arrow into its neck. When its claw caught nothing but stone, five warblades, including Pargnok’s, came down in quick succession onto it. One blade cleaved off the creature’s end nail entirely and the beast howled in pain and withdrew the paw. After several moments it happened again, and again the fire told the patrol where the beast would go. This time it lost a good chunk of flesh when seven blades came down.

Just when Pargnok thought it was going to lunge again, he heard the singing again, this time it was from much closer, as if the druid were just outside the door. In response to the song, the bear began throwing itself against the entryway, bringing its full weight slamming into the front of the building and causing it to tremble. After only a few assaults in this way, the supports cracked and the ceiling and front wall began to collapse.

“Fall back!” Pargnok ordered for the second time this night. “Get back from the wall now!” They’d heard him and began the move further into the barracks, but it was too late. The whole front of the building crashed inward and buried those that had been closest to the entrance in a mound of stone, brick, and wood. Atop that mound the beast stood, roaring in triumphant victory over the barracks wall.

The scene before Pargnok was jarring. Inside had suddenly become outside with the rain falling on wall sconces and beds, while farther back, the building was still intact and the light of the pit fire and torches illuminated the the rain partially, creating slight rainbow effects on individual droplets. He was disoriented to say the least and had lost more than half his remaining patrol to the collapse. But the words repeated in his mind and he found that they gave him focus.

Not. One. Drop.

The bear was ragged and wounded badly and Pargnok suddenly remembered it slumping down under Grobasha’s blows. He also remembered the sound of the creature’s own demeanor when it heard the druid’s song. It had hurt itself trying to get at Grobasha, almost as though it felt no pain. With sudden realization, Pargnok flipped his weapon into his other hand and picked up one of the stone bricks that had been the wall of the barracks.

The rain was oppressive and made pinpointing his target difficult, but he could see it clearly atop the bear, swaying back and forth. He gripped the brick tightly and silently begged for Dumag’s prowess, as he launched his cumbersome missile into the air. It flew up and over the great bear’s head…right into the chest of the forest elven druid that stood atop it. The blow silenced her song and knocked her from her perch. As the singing stopped, so too did the beast’s immunity to fatigue and pain, as it shuddered, groaned, and fell to the ground.

“NOW!” Pargnok screamed desperately to what remained of his patrol. “Slay the beast while its master’s will is disrupted! Bring it down!” He charged forward, dropping his shield, Grilcor right behind him. The soldiers of the Manticore came upon the beast like a pack of hungry wolves, biting into it’s flesh with their blades.

The bear tried feebly to fend them off, but without the druid’s magic urging it on, the creature’s will for battle was sapped. Pargnok looked the bear in the eyes as he drove his blade home, severing its head. The expression was weary and almost grateful, and Pargnok’s desperation was replaced by a pang of shame.

A triumphant cheer went up through the denizens of Forest Edge Fortress as the beast was felled, but Pargnok did not share in the revelry. His gaze pierced the darkness of the ruin of the barracks, trying to find his other quarry. The druid could not have gotten far, but may have decided that she had lost this night and finally retreated to The Dark Forest. Something in Pargnok’s gut told him otherwise.

Suddenly a cry came from behind and Pargnok turned about, knowing it was not over and fearing some new horror. Elevani stood next to the pit fire, which was still burning, but hissed here and their from an errant rain drop. As she collapsed into a heap on the ground, an elven dart protruding from her shoulder, Pargnok cursed himself again for not killing the witch. The huddled form of Geldinier sat just behind the fire and Pargnok felt more than heard his sharp and panicked gasp, as his wife fell.

“Elevani!” Geldinier screamed as he started to rise to his feet. Before he could stand, another dart zipped the air and stuck in his own neck. The elf slumped to the ground just as his wife had. All over the inside of the barracks, people were falling to the ground, poisoned by forest elven magic. The only ones to escape the assault were the children, including Posha who had now wrestled her way out of Geldinier’s limp grasp.

“The children!” Pargnok said loudly, as he surged forward to try and get to Posha before any harm befell her. The only adults left standing were Grilcor, Worglin, Smithson and Pargnok himself. Broll lay off in the corner in a bed, badly wounded. The rest of the patrol was either definitely dead, or buried under a pile of rubble and likely dead.

“Elf spit, the kids!” Pargnok heard Grilcor exclaim as he too ran towards the children. They both came up short as the druid came into view from out of the shadows near the pit fire to stand behind Posha. The little goblin girl screeched as the forest elf grabbed her under the arm and laid the razor sharp steel blade adorning her index finger against Posha’s collar bone. All around the children who were left standing suddenly had a shadowy cloaked form standing behind them.

There were a total of nine assailants now, including the druid, more than double that of Pargnok’s remaining force. The elven druid lifted her clawed hand into the air and gestured elegantly, but kept a firm grasp onto little Posha, who was now frozen with fear. As Pargnok made a move again to get closer to them, the claw came down like a flash and the witch hissed and shook her head.

“I’ll speak to you in your own foul tongue, Tusk-Mouth,” the druid said, disgusted. Her accent was thick and breathy. “You are beaten. We outnumber you greatly. Your only chance to live is to throw down your weapons and surrender to ME!” She emphasized the last word directly at Pargnok, which he though appropriate. She wanted to have defeated Him not the Manticore. Somewhere in all the fighting and blood this had become very personal for her. For him too.

“That isn’t going to happen,” Grilcor said condescendingly. “The minute we drop our weapons, you’ll knock us all out with your sleepy juice and haul us off to gods know where.”

“So you always let your subordinates speak for you?” the witch asked curtly, almost cutting Grilcor off. “I had thought you Manticores were more disciplined than that.” She smiled wickedly and her index claw traced Posha’s neck. The girl began to cry openly.

“His reprimand not withstanding, I frankly agree with his estimate of the situation,” Pargnok said matter-of-factly. “That’s just not going to happen. Maybe we can come to some sort of arrange-”

“There will be no bargaining, Tusk Mouth!” the druid cut in angrily. She hoisted Posha into the air so that their faces were level and pressed her claw into her throat. “If you will not throw down your weapons then I will slit this little whelp’s neck and drench this ground in her blood!” She sneered fiercely, bearing her teeth.

At that moment a call went out from the back of what was left of the barracks. The howl of a wolf came from the bed of a wounded soldier as Broll beckoned to the night. The look Pargnok saw upon the Druid’s face was pure panic. She had no idea what it meant, but it terrified her. Suddenly, from all around the fort came more howls, as the patrol’s mounts answered Broll’s call. Now she knew and he could see her fear deepen.

“The blood of the fallen!” Broll yelled as he threw his warblade like a spear into the back of one of the elven slavers. “For the blood… of the Honored.” The last words came out in a wheeze as three arrows struck the already dying orc in his chest. It was enough for Pargnok and his soldiers. Smithson acted first, pulling his second throwing ax and launching it some distance into the chest of one of the slavers, laying him low. Worglin surged across the ruin of the barracks and slammed his shield into the face of another slaver and launchrd his own warblade at another. He crushed the head of the one he’d slammed with the edge of his shield for good measure.

Grilcor and Pargnok ran forward together, Pargnok hoping to perhaps grab at the witch’s arm away from Posha’s neck, but the druid surprised them both when she threw the little girl at Grilcor and threw herself at Pargnok. She tackled the captain to the ground and slashed at his face, biting deeply into his flesh with her claw. Then her bone handled knife came up and she tried to bury it into Pargnok’s throat. He managed to catch her arms and keep them from driving her blade home.

Through the blood and rain in his eyes, Pargnok was able to get a good look at this woman for the first time. She looked like hell to be sure, as did he and anyone else was fighting that night. Her face was covered in dirt and blood from multiple injuries and her eyes were manic and crazed, but somehow deeply focused.

“At least I will get to kill you, Tusk Mouth,” the druid spat at Pargnok through clenched teeth. “I will find some measure of comfort in that!” She smiled wickedly at him, as she had so many times before. For this one, glory was more important at this moment than the undertaking that had brought her to his lands, and as he heard the screams of her remaining men, he knew it was her undoing. For there was no glory in his heart. No battle lust or desire for vengeance for his dead men. Only one guiding truth. One oath that he knew in his soul had driven him to this point, and he had fulfilled that oath to the letter.

Not. One. Drop.

“No…you won’t,” Pargnok offered to her as the rain fell down in sheets over them both. The look of confusion on her face gave him no satisfaction. Nor did the look of surprise as Trugmuk’s mount – Salla was her name – caught the elven woman’s throat in her jaws and slammed her into the ground next to him. Tears mixed with rain then as Pargnok lamented that so many of his soldiers should die this night, while he lived. That was his sacrifice, he knew. To live when others more worthy than himself fell. To carry on and defend the Honored for as long as he was able to draw breath. It was his task and the task of all survivors of battles in the Legion of the Manticore.

“For the Fallen.”

Epilogue

As the sun rose over Forest Edge Fortress, Pargnok drove shovel into earth along with Grilcor, Worglin and Smithson. They had managed to awaken some of those that had been paralyzed by the elves’ poison and they in turn had gone to work nursing the others into a state of wakefulness as well. Pargnok caught the scent of rabbit stew on the wind and knew that Geldinier was now awake as well. There was no respite to be had, yet, though. Not until the grim task of burying the dead was finished.

As he stood there, digging a ditch for poor Broll, Pargnok’s thoughts dwelt on his own family. On his niece, in particular. Perhaps when they were ordered back he would request some leave time to go see his sister. Then he heard the sound of shuffling feet and a slight sniffling noise that drew him out of his own mind.

“May I help?” Elevani asked solemnly, as she stepped out of the main gate of the fort, Posha right beside her and Salla right next to her. The little girl had been through so much in so little time. Pargnok honestly wondered for a moment why the Solar Elf had brought her out there to see the grisly work he was doing. But then he realized that Posha had likely insisted on coming.

“I’m afraid not,” Pargnok said while trying not to sound too stern about it. “Only the Legion can bury the Legion. It is an older tradition, but one I hold dear. Forgive me?” Pargnok looked at Elevani pleadingly and bowed slightly.

“Of course!” Elevani replied sorrowfully, just a bit embarrassed. “I honestly thought I’d remembered that, but I’ve buried many friends and…I didn’t want you to be alone.” She looked down then and then all about as if she were looking for an excuse to leave.

“For that I am grateful,” Pargnok said earnestly, smiling sadly. “Your company is most welcome.”

“You just can’t dig,” Grilcor said, a bit less somberly than Pargnok. “We bury our own but talking is free, so sit and talk if you like.” The Hobgoblin gestured toward the wall as if Elevani and Posha should sit against it. The elf did just that and sat cross-legged facing them all. Posha did not, nor did the worg.

“Why are you burying them here?” Posha asked, still crying just a bit, but not seeming to mind so much. “Why not take them back with you to their homes and families?” She sniffed once and wrinkled her mouth quizzically.

“For two reasons, kiddo,” Grilcor said calmly, before Pargnok could answer. “First, as a reminder and monument for those that these soldiers fought to protect. That they will never be forgotten by the people who they died defending.” He ended the sentence by stabbing his shovel into the dirt and leaning on it.

“How could we ever forget their sacrifice?” Elevani said incredulously. The very idea that someone would forget sounded like it disgusted the woman.

“You won’t,” Grilcor admitted wryly, nodding. “And no one who is inside this fortress will likely forget, that’s for sure, but what about the people who come after? We bury our dead where they fall in places where people will see their graves and remember who they were.” As he finished his thought, he snatched the shovel up and began digging again. There was a long pause before anyone spoke further.

“What’s the other reason?” Posha asked curiously, cocking her head to the side. Grilcor looked up at her and then smiled a little sad smile. He just went back to digging then.

“It is so that even in death, their spirits will continue to guard the homes and lives of the people they died to protect,” Pargnok said, gently and quietly, so as not to frighten Posha. “It is so that they may carry their honor into the next world.” As these words left his mouth, Salla let out a mournful howl, long and strong, in lament for her fallen rider.

“Are you going to go back to my village and bury Trugmuk?” Posha asked seriously after a few moments, patting Salla’s mane gently.

“We are,” Pargnok answered gently as he went back to digging.

“May I go with you, to say goodb-” Posha started, but then thought differently. “To pay my respects?”

“You may,” Pargnok answered calmly as he continued his task. Some time passed then and morning began to shine a bit more brightly as the sun rose higher into the sky. The fort looked far less sinister in the daylight and Pargnok could see the damage that had been done to the main gate. They’d have to send builders.

“Captain?” Pargnok heard Posha’s little tender voice call to him. He looked up to see her gazing at him, her little yellow eyes searching his own. “If I want to join the Manticore Legion…what do I do? Where do I go?” Pargnok immediately climbed out of the hole he was digging and pulled up his warblade with him. He dropped the weapon on the ground between himself and Posha.

“Pick it up,” Pargnok said seriously, sliding the warblade closer toward Posha with his foot. The girl looked from the warblade to Pargnok and then back again. She bent down low and tried to pick up the weapon. She managed to get the blade of the weapon about a foot into the air before she dropped it again, which surprised and impressed the captain. “When you can, come see me. In the mean time, I bet Elevani could teach you much that would help you with that goal.” Posha turned back to look at the elven woman who smiled and nodded at her approvingly.

“I will,” Posha said as she turned and took a seat next to Elevani. Pargnok retrieved his blade and jumped back into his hole to continue his task. He wondered then, what great and noteworthy tasks might lie before Posha of Stonetree and what a life she might live. Pargnok promised himself that he would live long enough to know, that when he was laid to rest he might tell his friend Trugmuk of the little girl, with the yellow eyes.
The End

The Blood of The Honored
by Kevin Gubernatis





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