They came by night while they were away on patrol. Taking away his two boys, they ate his wife. His was not the only family destroyed. Several men unwisely pursued the foul beasts back to their tower lair in the swamp bordering Dimwood. They did not survive. The ancient witch had lured many to their deaths throughout antiquity. She was a scion of a brood from the Old World before the Scattering, long prior to the Cataclysm and even before the Age of Shadowed Ice. She once called the underworld her home. The witch of Yald'bok plants children in pots to harvest monsters...but on this day she stole the wrong seed.
This is a story of The Oraclon Chronicles. The witch's history with the Minions and her wars against Dagothar are further detailed in Chronicle of Dagothar.
Visit Amazon.com-Greric and the Witch of Dimwood to order a paperback copy.
Greric and the Witch
I am being followed.
In the twilight it is a shadow unseen.
Standing in ankle-deep green clover, I look behind me to no avail. There is no one visible on the path. But the shadow pursues me. I feel the weight of his eyes on my back. He seems to know my mind, moving as I move.
He flees from sight when I venture a look.
Pink sky eastward, but no sun will brighten this day. Following the old path to the top of the rise, I gazed at the shadowed land before me. Rolling hills to the tree line and a thick fog. The edge of southern Dimwood. The path behind me still, I lowered my pack to the ground.
First to be fastened to my oxhide belt were three longbottles of water along my rear, a silver flask of bloodfruit cider along my left flank. I will need the strength. Hooked beside it I placed my potion of feralsight to help me see better in the dark.
On my left thigh I attached my staunch powder, clover and cloth. A knife of hardened copper was strapped to my right. Straps wrapped and buckled, I hung my three throwing axes from the front of my baldric and fit all three javelins in the loop across my back. Hefting the comfortable weight of my warhammer in my left hand, I lifted the zebra hide wrapping out of the emptied pack. Slowly I removed the oiled cloth and withdrew the ancient scabbard.
The early morning sun illuminated the beautiful, mirrorlike longsword, the inscription SVANAK ORDU MAL'CRUL cast in shadow. My grandfather had been the steward of an elderly knight who was himself the nephew of a venerable wizard who had inherited this relic blade. Grandpa said the words meant Dragon of the Order of Omalacrul. The sword was forged in the halls of ancient Talan Dathar and it is said that the blade obeys more the mind of its wielder than his muscle.
I stood back up on the road and sheathed the weapon, leaving the pack on the dirt. The sky lightened as I walked onward, hammer in hand. Traversing the path, my mind wandered.
Two moons ago we disbanded upon returning to north Shannidar, each man to his own spread. While away patrolling the foothills of Devilspire Mountains, I lost my family. I returned to a half-eaten wife. My two little ones were gone.
On that day I died.
I am as the undead...a vacant husk having lost his soul. The gods mean nothing to me. I will not sacrifice nor serve them. If given the chance I will see if this sword can gut a god. My wife possessed more virtue than any goddess. My children were without fault.
Gone...not killed and eaten.
This was the work of dendraks.
As I was burying my wife the other men gathered at my farm. The dendraks had been busy.
Kicking a stone I stared at the dark line of green that was ancient Dimwood. I would not be going quite that far. Still looking, I drank deeply emptying a whole longbottle before dropping it.
I am commander Greric du'Brard. On this very day I will die.
When the sun was hot and halfway to its height, at salutation as we call it, I found the first body. Camon's lifeless eyes stared at the sky. Torn cloak, bloodied face. Stripped of weapons. He too found his wife dead. Heavy boar tracks were all about.
The Ungari. A pig people, foul, violent, stupid. Camon and the others did not wait for me.
Before moving on to the next rise, I glanced back toward my stalker. He is good. A few lone trees, low bush patches and rocks. Somewhere, unseen, I felt him watching me. I know he is a killer- trained in ways unknown to me. Turning back toward my goal I strode forward.
The dendraks had come by night. Twelve children taken. Five families destroyed. Five farms rendered meaningless. The gods do not care. We spend our lives thanking gods for all the good that randomly happens, then blame ourselves when their favor is withheld. Piss on the gods.
I sold my farm, laden with unharvested carrots, radishes, potatoes, onions and turnips- this year was my rotation for the root crop. Also sold was my new load wagon, provender, silo and well. All of my dairy stock means nothing. An empty house, only wind through its windows. The silence within was a reminder of what once was there to fill it.
My chickens sold quickly. I sold my mule and warhorse. My iron and copper spades, forks and plow brought me a half-silver by themselves.
A life of gains by fight and fortune...reduced to coins and gems. My pouch full of silver disks, two gold ingots, a triangular emerald wedge and two opals. A good bounty.
The measure of a man in metal and mineral.
Suddenly a bulk snorted, rushing me and I moved. The ungari took my warhammer in his chest. It was like hitting a tree. I smacked away the large bone nose horn of the scaly animal the boarman rode upon. As the beast turned its thick body around for another charge, I saw the pit hidden by shrub they had emerged from. I looked about.
It happened so fast, seemingly out of nowhere. Now I knew why. A single ungari scout on a voroch. That great horn and massive hooves behind so much weight would end a man quick.
The pigman wheezed, clutching his chest. I had hit him hard as he charged. I probably broke his breather. My men called it Wormfeeder, this hammer of mine. It was good for knocking skulls.
Yellowed-hateful eyes glared at me as he pulled the reigns and turned the creature around. It galloped in the direction I was going. I let him go, watching him disappear over the next rise.
To Stanis and Emara, my friends and neighbors, I gave my spice, the root cellar stock and wardrobes. Seeing my wife's things, Emara burst into tears. I told her to use the clothes and jewelry to honor her memory. Stanis stood proud. He held my axe. I was his company captain when we bled the lizardfolk back to their dens. In those days I used that axe.
We had never feared dendraks. Our farms had never been touched. The hideous things looked like walking trees a head taller than men, tough as oak, mindless, hungry flesh-eaters. I had heard the stories, we grew up with them. How the witch of Dimwood stole children in their sleep. But now they were here, and real, far from the comfortable campfires where little ones learn about them.
They had taken my boys.
I had to know more so I told the men to wait. I went to see the gnome. When I found him at Burrows Crossing what he told me only sealed my fate. I don't remember the taste of the ale.
It is said that she came to Dimwood in the War of the Black Tides, twenty-four centuries before the Cataclysm. From out of the Deep with the Minions she came. They made war against men at Talan Dathar...
The gnome's words in the lamplight stirred old memories, echoes of grandfather's stories. Talan Dathar was our origin, the metropolis of Men. For this reason the other races called us sons of Dathari.
As the ground shook I felt them before they crested the hill and charged me. Four bull vorochs carrying ungari with maces and a morningstar with a spiked chain. Stupid pigmen, to charge downhill, in pairs.
Two hulks stampeded roaring, horns seeking to impale. The weight of the four beasts moved the hill. Strangely, as I readied my hammer and sword, the gnome's words passed through my mind.
It is said she provoked the Tyrant to attack Talan Dathar in the War of Mygok the Titan...
I spun and reached, my blade gashing open the right flank of one of the monsters, a blink later severing the ungari rider's leg below the knee. The beast howled, the leg hit the ground. The rush of air above my head hummed as the knotted iron morningstar passed, its wielder and steed trampling by me. A voroch hit the ground, laying on its side squealing, eyes wild showing white. Bloody guts protruded from the gash. Its rider was quietly sitting on the ground, leg severed off. Pooling blood. The three others turned downhill and looked at the carnage. Yellow-angry eyes above curved tusks.
...said to be in the Dathan Archives in the Temple of Eternal Lore now buried under Talan Dathar. The records of her doings. The MageLords knew that it was she who induced the Nimbolc dwarves, the Silthani elves and the Draconarch of Winterfang to attack Men...
The ungari dismounted wisely. The voroch squealed, thrashing. The morningstar began circling, promising violence. The other two boarmen were smarter, charging with maces. I stepped into them.
Four fingers separated from an ungari fist and flew through the air tumbling with his mace. The tip of my longsword.
Crack! My heavy warhammer smashed through his collarbone.
The second pig warrior blocked my blade but then bent over my hammer, red saliva spraying the dust. He froze, I hit the dirt and he took the morningstar in the face. As the third ungari drew back the star for another swing, covered in blood and bone fragments, I hit him in the hip with a handaxe. He pitched sideways and I stood, throwing another axe. It sank into his thigh but he still swung the chain. Growling. My last handaxe struck his crotch and he collapsed.
Three vorochs stupidly stared at me. The fourth was quiet. And still. These ungari were done. Fingers gone and collar broken, a pigman whimpered face down on the ground, chewing on dirt mindlessly. The one missing a leg laid on his side as if asleep.
Checking myself and gathering my weapons, I ventured another look in the direction I had come. I am not chased. My pursuer is patient. Watchful. At times I can almost feel him following in my footsteps. I move forward, trapped between two deaths.
A female fiend and my unseen follower.
I left the ungari to die as they deserved. Perhaps they prayed. A smart one would question why his god did not protect him. As I traversed the path my mind dwelt back to the gnome.
Pulling absently on his braided beardlocks in the candlelight the gnome quietly told me what was the fate of my boys- what the dendraks need them for.
I had vomited.
The stories of men knew nothing of this garden.
Hollowly, I stared into the flame.
The Alder Witch can not be killed by a human. She does not sleep. In devouring souls she sings a terrible song...'tis only time she shuts her eyes. What she was before the Cataclysm is not known...but there be whispers among the ancient of faerykind...the feylorn...that she had been something darker, a greater evil during the Shadowed Ice. In the Deep, she was the last female of her kind...
Walking atop another hill, I unsheathed the longsword in a flash of reflected sunlight. I surveyed the landscape sensing something. A voice broke the silence.
"Mortal man...flee this wretched haunt." The words came as from the depth of a deep well.
A face on a boulder. Inspecting it closer I saw spiral designs, large brows and the hint of a mossy beard. I stared at the face, stunned.
"What is this? What sorcery makes speech from stones?" At my words the rock face moved.
"Stones? We, O man, are the watchers...she hath enslaved our kind..."
"We? Stones?" The large brow bowed slightly.
"We are the necklace, human."
I looked closely at the boulder face and followed its gaze. Another large rock. Then further off another. The other way revealed more stones of this size. A long line of boundary stones, each rock covered in spirals and symbols.
"Aye, son of Dathari, her necklace guards the Neck... Yalda'bok." A shiver assailed my spine despite the heat. I knew the name. The Neck was the tower of the witch.
"Come not this way, mortal. Choose another path." Listening, I sheathed the blade and leaned my hammer over my shoulder.
"Will you oppose my passage?"
"Nay, human. But it is folly...I am a slave...by passing the necklace I am compelled to report." Melancholy etched the rocky face. Looking ahead I saw the trees. So close now, smaller hills covered with their greenery. Behind me I studied the path, carefully searching for one who stayed unseen.
"Then give your report, Rock-That-Speaks. Sound loud your alarm, friend. Tell her that I am Greric, and that on this day the neck shall be severed and the necklace set free."
Astonished, the round eyes of the rock elemental watched the human pass into her domain. Bound to the border of the Alder Witch's land it was unable to stop itself from conveying to her what it had heard and seen.
Marching down the stony hill I recalled the gnome mentioning the necklace. Made little sense to me at the time.
"What is it?" I asked the gnome. Lying between us on the round plank table in the dank cellar under Burrows Crossing Inn was a shard of blackish iron affixed to a wicker arrow. Raven-feathered shaft adorned in unusual glyphs.
"A piece of a great spear from the world below. Used by a dusk giant to kill a dragon. It be Minion-forged."
"I do not ken the bowcraft, gnome."
"Nay, indeed. Does not matter. You are human. She cannot be killed by you. Your aura to her is read like a scroll. Carry this arrow, Greric, and she will know it."
"I need to know how to find her." The gnome looked at me with curiosity. I made no move to take the arrow. Foul artifact, I did not want to touch it.
"Over the centuries many of your people have tried. About seventy years ago a large group never returned from the Neck, a second expedition was cut down at the necklace. Others have tried."
"How do you know these things?"
"Many have drank their last ale dregs here." He pressed his gold beard collar down straightening his hair and raised a half-empty tankard. As he drank deeply his keen eyes watched my own. I was studying the arrowhead fragment.
"I should not have showed you this. It be stolen. Even now its owner is hunting for it."
A movement startled me out of the past. I looked at an enormous tree stump waist high with gigantic roots like spider legs sunken in the soil. The bars of a wooden cage were in a circle, an open-air dungeon cell made of tree, roofed by the rest of the tall tree. A tree hollowed into a prison.
Something had moved inside the wooden bars. A sudden burst of obsidian-winged fury erupted from the tree cell as crows protested my approach. Inside the cell was the decomposing body of one of my men. Not one of them had waited. No need to see more, I moved away and studied the trees. It was too quiet. The damned birds were already going back to their meal.
Noticing them, I looked back up the hill I had descended. Great boulders, crags, shrub, scattered trees, thin and small. My search is futile. Tracked unceasingly by a murderous ghost, I know he will not let me see him.
But he is there. Observing me. Getting closer. Waiting for me to fall. The hairs on my neck tell me that I am watched. When I turned back around a tree limb hit me in the face.
A second later I hit the ground landing on my rear, dropping my hammer. Through a blurry haze I saw a troll-like face gritting wooden teeth and glaring at me through knothole dark brown eyes. A small, walking tree. Like a man, two arms and legs, but covered in bark and twigs. Ivy vines wrapped around its torso and left leg.
Its oaken arm was about to swing again. It never would have snuck up on me had it had been recognized. I dismissed it because it was a tree. It leaned forward and began its twist. And instinct took over.
The mirrored SVANAK ORDU MAL'CRUL flashed like a burning razor as I chopped off the extended claw of wood. As it dropped to the dirt I severed the abomination's whole left arm at the shoulder, reversed the blade to separate the twig horns atop its head. A quick chop dropped the monster to its knobby knees, a shocked expression now stretching across a wooden, childish face.
Then did a horrible thing happen as ungari and vorochs stampeded toward me out of the deeper woods. The dendrak shuddered. A whining all-too-human sound issued from its hideous mouth.
My blood froze listening to the weeping of a child. It fell back, writhing in agony.
I jolted back to Burrows Crossing. The braidlocks of the gnome reflecting the candlelight.
"The dendraks keep them alive..." the gnome merely whispered. "The witch has no need of the dead." Possessed of the might of a rage rising within my soul, my first javelin sank deeply into the thick neck of the boarman as his horned voroch rushed by me trampling the dying dendrak. I jerked out of the way of a second voroch , slashing its rider's thigh as the hulk careened by.
Spinning, I removed the third voroch's nose horn as a spear winded my face thrown from a group of ungari afoot. The hornless voroch buried its inflamed stump into the dirt pitching its rider into the air as it screeched in pain. The rider flew beyond the reach of my blade.
The children are bound helpless. Drugged until she is ready...
My second javelin thudded into an ungari chest. He forgot his mission and stumbled off. A spear hurled hastily flew over my head. The lead ungari raised a heavy battleax overhead and I punished him for his stupidity. His pink and purple entrails burst from his navel after the tip of my blade opened his stomach. The battleax dropped slowly behind his heels. It stood straight up longer than he did.
Each child is lowered in to a pit, neck deep, buried in stinking mulch and decaying body parts of animals, up to their chins...
The longsword blade parried a hatchet as my warhammer crunched the arm bones of the pigman that held it. He yelled and dropped quickly to the earth as I hamstrung him. A mace leveraged for my face so I evaded, spun and backslashed. The ungari's head was still rolling when his body fell forward. Fighting five more boar brutes, through the chaos I saw the voroch's advance.
Planted in her foul garden, the little ones are forced to eat spell-wrought porridge.
I pulled the longsword out of a body, the SVANAK ORDU words somewhere buried in his chest. MAL'CRUL was the only part I could see. A scimitar aimed at my head blocked by my hammer. In the press of bodies I dropped, letting go the sword.
Hammer of war crushed the hoof of my enemy. As time seemed to crawl his howl lingered. I sank my knife in one's groin. When he twisted away I jabbed the blade in his rear. He screamed like the ghosts in the banshee tales. Snatching my sword I rolled out of the way as the voroch bellowed.
It be a foul soup...victims ground into meal mixed with alder bark powder...
The rushing voroch's horn impaled a wounded ungari, the pigman limp as the beast shook him wildly. As the rider fought the reigns to gain control, I slashed them. A spearpoint angled toward me but wavered, held by an ungari rider pitched from his mount. My hammer shattered the wood, my blade split apart his tusked face. As the last standing boarman charged me, I bashed his head back snapping his neck with my heavy warhammer. His hooves cleared two palms off the ground as his body fell straight and dead.
A boarman sat astride an abandoned voroch and turned the monster toward me. I only dimly saw the ungari on the steed, my focus on the words of the gnome.
The youth...like plants they sprout twigs and shoots...they grow hard as bark.
With a roar the creature lowered its head and charged. I waited. As it rushed I hurled the heavy hammer mightily. Leaping away I heard the fracturing of the animal's bone browplate. It slowed to a stop. It's breathing was calm. It stood still.
I walked up to its rider as the voroch ignored me. With a handaxe now in each hand I advanced as the boarman yanked the reigns. Breathing deeply, the voroch did not respond. My first axe sank into the ungari's lower left back. Tusks vibrated as he screamed. The voroch did not stir. Breathing. My second axe was used to hack the harness causing the ungari to fall over the flank of the creature. He slid off the side, still wriggling in pain and unable to fight. The voroch did not stir, but remained standing, watching.
With sword in hand I pinned the pig to the ground.
The dendraks tend the children, for they regard them as their own...
The twisted, trampled dead dendrak was still. All around it were dead and dying boarmen. I gathered my weapons, emptied a longbottle of water and strode into the trees. The voroch was snoring. A dent in its skull clearly resembled my hammer.
The sun was good passed salutation. Walking through trees up a slight prominence, I studied the greens and browns. Before cresting the rise a cloud of butterflies drifted off, in and out of the sun beams. Then I saw the body.
Cautious, with the tip of a javelin, I prodded. No trap here. No mystery either. It was the very first ungari scout. Before passing the necklace I had thumped him in the chest with my hammer. This was as far as he rode.
Moments later, still heading toward the crest of this hill of scattered trees, it began misting, A fine drizzle thickening the air. At the top of the hill through large trees I saw the top of her ancient tower. The Neck. Below me stretched out a valley...a swamp. Again I thought of the gnome.
"At Sigils Arch there is an elf. He might help you. A map, perhaps," he said, using the candle to light his pipe. "He has done business with the witch, knows the road. Been inside her tower."
"Why would he help me?"
"Payment, of course. Why else do elves do anything?" Smoke cloud swirled about the candle flame.
"Where is he?" The gnome paused. Shifted.
"Why? You have naught of worth for payment."
"I do. I have enough." The gnome stared at me. I fought the desire to feel for my heavy coin pouch. He exhaled.
"Go to the Arch. In the Market District go to Fae'locks Gaming Hall nigh the gate to Faery Court. Inside are my kin. Tell any gnome there that Georod Overburrows sends a friend. Then tell them you seek the Moonshadow."
"Aye, indeed. But let no elf hear you speak it. You would never return. Now go. I bid you my blessing. 'Tis all I can spare."
I walked the path toward the swamp. The air was heavy with moisture, the aromas of wet earth and old plants. Water dripped through a canopy of green. To my right my eyes fell upon the decaying hindquarters of a stag, its head and body wrapped in a plant membrane of some flesh-eating weed. As I looked a nearby tree moved and I spun, weapons ready.
But it was no tree.
The dragon-sized python lifted its bulk, entwining higher in a great cypress. I noticed a man-sized lump in its body and wondered if it was one of my men. Stretched end-to-end I know this land-kraken was the length of nine men, maybe more.
I left it behind me. It would not serve my ends dying in the belly of a legless dragon. It was a steep descent. The path went down into swampland. The mist-enshrouded tower jutted above the deep green sea.
I cast my gaze the way I had come but the land is still. There is seen no one. My shadow is crafty, silent. Dangerous. A lurker. A trail of bodies he traverses. I slay and maim and still he comes. I know that he is gaining on me, my victims ignored.
The swamp stretched out before me, I inhale its moist, acrid air. The scents and aromas of the living and the dead. Two gulps of the bloodfruit juice from my flask brought a burning strength into my gut. It slowly spread to my back and shoulders, arms and thighs and up my neck. A deep breath had the sensation of immortality course through my being.
I'm coming, boys...papa's on the way.
My pain and discomfort fled. Gone with a few breaths. Unease had melted into a steel resolve.
I'm killing that bitch.
Trudging into the dark, green swamp the ground quickly levelled out and narrowed into a raised path. Ankle-deep murky water quickly blackened with unknown depth. As I marched into the swamp the nearby surfaces of the water on either side exploded with spiders and dancing lizards skimming the top from lily pad to lily pad. A troop of orange and black striped spiders gathered atop an enormous turtle shell draped in algae, its occupant long dead and eaten. A sprinting lizard was gulped underwater by a shadow, other lizards clearing away from this new threat.
A deep rumbling. Louder, the noise grew. The whole swamp seemed to still.
A horn. The loud noise seemed to come from all directions but faded in only one. The tower.
She calls for help, huh? Increasing my pace I knew not that I was grinning, hammer in my left grasp and longsword ashimmer in my right. The bloodfruit filled me with life.
Deeper into the swamp I passed a small island covered in the biggest toadstools I ever saw or heard tell of. White with brown veins and bumps. Underneath them in their shadows hung a colony of riptail bats. It was passing the giant mushrooms that I found the skimming lizards to be my allies. An area of deep water just off the right embankment of the path was very dark, shadowed. Though spiders unable to look down were scattered about, not one lizard ventured the spot. I stepped toward the left edge cautiously, relieved to see dancing lizards scatter. But I had no time to ponder what evil lurked beside the path.
Old enemies approached ahead.
Curved backs...flatheads is what we called them. Spears and sharpened talons, teeth and flint, the lizardfolk knew no other weapon. Waddling side-to-side these descendants of the Silapenti jungles of the south advanced upon me. I readied Wormfeeder and my sword.
When they neared, spears pointed at me, I counted nine of them...and a tenth wearing a raven-feathered headdress above a tooth necklace with a pouch made of skin. A shaman. In small engagement they are little feared-takes too long for them to utter a spell. But I am alone.
In their rush I evade the spear to my left and fold the flathead over with a hammer blow to its padded stomach. I swing, longsword severing a spear as I spun, pulled the blade tight and whipped it horizontally in my twisting allowing it to sink sickly into another lizard warrior's torso. Knee deep in muck the lizardman laid still below the surface.
A spear thrust at my face was easy to evade and I chopped off the warrior's right hand at the wrist and pulled back the pommel of my sword to me hip. It blinked at me stupidly with toothed mouth wide and agape so I thrust the sword into its chest. Quickly I snatch-tossed a javelin at the shaman but the weapon suddenly turned in the air as I yanked my sword out of the lizardman.
Shit. I really hate spell-casters.
The shadow underneath the swamp stirred the water and suddenly a dead lizardfolk warrior was dragged into the deeper murk. I moved to higher ground around a tree with about five or six shoots looking like smaller trees around it. Two more spears closed in on me and I dropped low with a slashing arc of my ancient blade. Two reptilian thighs were chopped in half as a lizardman squawked, splashing into the filth. I backslashed the other bastard and it lowered its spear, blinking, chest flayed open. A fifth one leapt as I parried a spear with my blade. Turning to evade the flying flathead a burst of stinking muscle with green spots on a pale bluish body erupted from the shadow catching the flathead in mid-leap, dragging the lizardman below the water with no noise and hardly a splash.
The four remaining flathead warriors halted and I chunked a handaxe at the fifth. But the shaman was unmoved and my axe splashed into the swamp. Muttering murder it stared at me.
The closest lizardman hesitated and I ran him through.
The shaman cast his spell.
I pulled my longsword out of the bleating, limp idiot.
A reddish tendril of flashing light shot away from the foul marsh shaman...and the words SVANAK ORDU MAL'CRUL instantly scintillated in blue light and the edge of my longsword brightened silvery-blue as the crimson magic seemed to get drawn into the steel.
Not hesitating I struck the next flathead and jolted with alarm. I blinked in surprise, seeing that the blade left a trail of ice crystals across the Lizardman's midsection as the incandescent enchantment faded. It fell dead and the others plunged into the swamp opposite the underwater beast. The shaman led their retreat. My peculiar weapon returned to normal.
Looking to my right I saw bubbles where the shadow had been, lizards already reclaiming their lily pads. The anger burned in my bosom. Wicked bitch had blown her horn to see me stopped...she thinks to keep my boys.
The wailing image of the dendrak blurred my vision. In the still of the humid swamp I filled my lungs.
"Hear me, witch! You have taken from the race of Brard! Stolen what belongs solely to me." I stamped through swamp toward the Neck.
"I am Greric du'Brard...and you shall bathe my blade!"
Out of the darkness ahead they came. A horde. On both sides of the path the lizards fled. Bloodfruit potion steeled my nerves. Sharpened my focus.
Charging toward me were vorochs with ungari riders, lizardmen, dendraks, a few very tall behemoths I knew to be kraxa'kin trolls- swamp tyrants. I saw a wildish-looking human among them. A moan promising violence came from my right. I glanced to see a huge threat moving toward me through the swamp chest-deep in the filth. Mosshump ogre.
Boils covered its head, face and chest. It salivated at the sight of manflesh. Seeing it lumbering my way through the much seemed to anger me even more. I inhales deeply.
"No more, witch! No more will you hide in your tower...Two necks will be cut apart this day!" My mind flashed through a tunnel of another's memory- children petrified with fear dragged down this very path.
My hammer met the browplate of a voroch and in the crunch the iron broke bone. Its rider was thrust forward to slide across the sharpness of my blade. Snarling ungari and hissing flatheads came to surround me. Club broke against hammer, spear cut asunder by archaic sword.
Mortal man...flee this wretched haunt. Words from a miserable rock. She hath enslaved our kind.
A lizardman's right arm tumbled overhead. Slowly a voroch's lifeless bulk slid into the thick swampy morass off the path as spiders skittered away. Its rider tried to get off the creature but lost his head to my reach. A lizardfolk warrior thrust quickly and I parried turning his spear into a stick before folding his ribs inward with the thud of my hammer. Another ungari charged afoot, its steed bleating in agony, missing a leg. In my dance of death I don't remembered severing it off. The pigman slipped on wet offal, dropping his mace. He jerked his head up to look at me and I filled his face with hammer.
"Come here, heathen!" I slashed across a voroch's eye and it reared up throwing its pigman rider. The creature plunged straight into the mire atop a struggling lizardman and neither resurfaced. The swamp on the right of me just off the path was deep.
"Join the ranks of her sacrifice!" A lizardfolk warrior hesitated at my yell and I repaid him with steel. An ungari brute with a large-bladed glaive swung the old weapon at me. I stepped in to take the blow with the staff instead of the extended blade. It hurt like hell but not as badly as the foot and a half of longsword I thrust into his stomach. Pigman and glaive fell down.
"Pray, witch! The Hells have unleashed their fury! I am Greric!" I hit a lizardman on the hip with my hammer and it folded him sideways to collapse onto the wet earth. Tactically it made no sense but it felt really good hacking his right arm off with my sword as I moved passed him. I really did need that blade elsewhere. Seeing the approach of the kraxa'kin, I slid the pommel hook of the hammer onto my belt and let go. Only a sharp blade could hurt trollkind. You can beat them till yesterday and run them through with a score of spears and they'll keep at you.
Three kraxa'kin trolls, no doubt from the jungle wastes to the far south. No eyes, just wrinkled faces of scars with two holes of darkness they probably saw out of. Jagged yellow teeth, long, gangly arms with talons- vile monsters serving only to kill and eat.
I spun low, grappled my blade two-handed and melted the MAL'CRUL all the way through its knobby shins. The troll fell forward as I side-stepped, kicking a claw away. A second troll reached and I separated two fingers from the other three and passed the tip of my blade through its elbow leaving the mangled hand to dangle by loose tissue and sinew. Somewhere I heard the voice of my boys.
How many orcs have you killed, papa?"
I jumped to evade the troll's vicious other arm as I hacked off the head of the kraxa'kin on the ground still reaching for me. The second time the troll standing before me reached I took off the entire arm leaving it only two working feet. The severed arm fell into a mass of little lizards.
The furrier said you fought an axemaster in Devilspire, papa. Is it true?
Through a blur of tears I stepped forward, thrust, twisted to deliver a wicked slash, leaned back and unleashed two hard chops ending with a reverse spinning-slash and stopped the troll. It sank to its knees with its throat open, stomach emptying guts over its thighs and its right knee cut through thoroughly.
A club thumped against the back of my blade just above my hand. A powerful grasp on my right calf. Evade, twist, step, pivot, sword raised high and brought low. Fast.
Ma said the mountain dwarves made a statue of you, papa. Said it stands at the place where a great battle was fought. Can we see it?
My powerful downward cleave almost split the third troll's head in twain as the second troll dropped on the path. My calf burned and fiery pain flooded my right thigh. The shin-severed troll's yellow teeth bit into my flesh. I felt it suck out blood. Three times I sank my blade into its ribs before it stopped and fell still.
A pigman burped up blood bubbles.
Lizards crawled all over a severed hand of one of the lizardfolk.
Two dendraks were face down, hacked apart. A third had no arms or horns and stared upward, mouth moving mindlessly. Voroch entrails stank and the ungari dead remained still. Lost in thought I remembered not how I had killed them. My lungs filled with the dank air.
"Prepare your spells, hag! Strengthen your staff...you can send nothing alive that I cannot kill!" And when I picked Wormfeeder back off my thick belt and raised it defiantly, my feet left the ground.
Too late now to remember the ogre.
Powerful fingers like iron tendrils prevented me from letting go of my hammer. Hauled aloft by the immense strength of the mosshump half-giant, my whole body lifted to arc over its head as it jerked the hammer out of my grasp.
The ground of the swamp path hit the length of my whole body with a heart-stopping impact. A snap inside my left arm echoed in my head. Far away I heard a splash. My warhammer, given to me by dwarves, was gone. Knowing my arm was broken I recalled the words of the gnome.
About seventy years ago a large group never returned from the Neck, a second expedition was cut down at the necklace. Others have tried.
How do you know these things?
Many have drank their last dregs here.
The crunch of bones beneath the massive ogre's weight brought me back. Left arm numb with pain I found my sword still firm in my right fist. I sat up, pulled my last axe and tossed it as dizziness blurred my vision. Snatching my blade I looked up at the mosshump ogre. My left arm hung lifelessly, useless.
A sharp wind seared my right ear and I jerked, but my eyes barely followed a shaft as it appeared in the ogre's navel. It bellowed like a herd trapped in a cave and before my eyes the ogre stiffened and turned to stone.
It was at that moment I began to fear. A second arrow a finger's breadth over my head passed into the stomach of the crackling mosshump ogre. More flesh turned to rock.
I did not turn to look. I knew who it was. The ogre now whimpering as it petrified, a third arrow flew through the swamp air but where it went I know not.
My coinpouch. A longbottle of water. A couple sips of bloodfruit. A copper knife. My longsword. I had lost everything else. As I ran passed a large bone midden the whimpering of the ogre became pitiful wails. I could feel my heartbeats in the pain of my arm.
Multitudes of yellow-green spotted frogs scattered as I approached. A swarm of horseflies buzzed over a carcass bent over a gigantic lily pad. Spiders and lizards fed. Dart minnows were chased off by a slender shadow. Fear of my pursuer heightened my senses.
Again I thought back to the gnome. He had spoke true. I had met the elf. At Sigils Arch in a dim chamber of the Golden Pillar Tabernacle he told me about his visit to the witch. He had been one of many Silthani accompanying a merchant train that sold its cargo to the Alder Witch. I met his price and he gave me instruction. Advice. A map.
Sharing a pitcher of mulberry draught, an elven spirit of Shannidar, I told the quiet elf my plan.
"Ye human, ye jest! Mulberry doth make men mad." In the light of the yellow lamp I did not smile and his grin faded.
"Ye be truth? Ye go and do this thing?"
I inhaled humid swamp and jogged onward through a storm of frolicking fireflies, catching a glimpse of cyclopean stone blocks ahead in the foliage. I was close to her tower.
I be truth, damned elf...I be doing this.
Behind me all was quiet. The ogre was now stone dead. Moving forward I stumbled out into a clearing, a pond surrounded by swamp trees, an island with a walled tower. Yald'bok of some dateless gnomen race. Ivy and creepers covered half of the tower. A lone vulture perched on the broken ruins of the wall. The bird stared unblinkingly.
Thoughts of my boys brought here filled me with fury.
"Do you see through their eyes, witch? Their lids grow heavy when they meet my blade!" My voice echoes from many surfaces but the vulture moved little to none at all. A megalithic cracked pylon of three enormous blocks covered in symbols buried in filth provided the entrance to a raised boulder path leading into the fallen gate and walls.
Quickly, sword leaning on my leg, I withdrew and drank the last of my bloodfruit as my left arm throbbed. Discarding the flask I then drank my feralsight potion and then chased the bitter brew with some water.
As I walked across the stones my eyes began to penetrate the darkness inside the open tower entrance. Three pairs of amber eyes blinked out at me. As I crossed the distance my eyes began to adjust better and what I'd mistaken for rocks and bracken was the old skeleton of a cyprian bog giant with a slimy squidish thing coiled in its rib cage half submerged along the edge of the island.
Sword poised, I crossed onto the isle of the witch and before the ruinous walls I turned abruptly to scan behind. I saw him.
Under the raised megalithic pylon, across the bridge. A hooded shadow. He is statuesque, unmoving. No attempt to conceal himself, this evil close behind me.
Murky water, minnows and toadstools between us. I know that long after I am dead, he will keep on killing. He has been a breath behind me all this time. Yew bow carved like serpent heads with wicker arrow, he make no move against me. Driven to this end, I turn and plunge into the courtyard.
To my right a huge armored shell-backed monster like a turtle, a great green eye blinking at me. Inwardly I cringed at seeing two wererats standing like men smoking a cheroot while appraising me. One exhaled blue smoke, whiskers twitching. Both had bows and spears. They made no move. Ahead in the entrance the three shadows dispersed. Alarmed, finding no resistance, the sneer and smoke of the gnome came back to mind.
"Trust no elf, Greric. They seek only to gain. In the Beginning, one God lied to another and out popped an elf. This is what is said." The gnome's golden beard collar reflected the dying candle flame. He exhaled from his pipe and continued.
"The time of a man is but a whisper in the wind that is an elf's life. Only for silver will they serve." The gnome's dislike of elves was like a dwarf's. In truth, there is no love between men and elves either. But nor is there hate. I see differently than the old gnome, his bearded braids weighed heavily with prejudice.
But it was not malice that brought Silthani elves to my farm the night after I buried Ulyssa. They approached me in my grief, wooden tablets in their hands. Masterwork engravings of elven prayers. They told me to speak to the tablet and cast it into the fire. As the symbols burned my wife and boys would hear me. Hours later I opened my eyes. The elves were gone, tablets ash.
The two wererats sat atop the shelled monster making no move to intercept me. Ahead the blinking eyes all moved to the left inside the dark unbarred portal. I moved into the tower casemate, arm throbbing, right shoulder sore from overuse, my troll-infected thigh making me wince with pain.
In the antechamber of shadow my surroundings became a low, glowing green. The feralsight potion was working, allowing me to see in very dim light. Three wererats stood motionless, holding scimitars, blocking a hall to my left. On my right stood a hulk, the biggest ungari pigman I had ever seen. Wearing bronzeplate armor and holding a bat-winged greataxe, the boarish warrior had not two, but four chin tusks. A head taller than I, he made no move. Straight in front of me the corridor was empty so I ventured forth.
An arm-limb gestured toward an open stone door. Glancing about this chamber I saw a hall continuing forward toward a wide gallery. Three more dendraks stared balefully from a hall they blocked to my left. Through the door I found the archaic debris of what once had been a stairway leading up. A good amount of crude effort had gone into breaking apart the stone steps to make an uneven ramp like a cave road twisting upward. It was eight feet wide and strewn with bones, pottery shards, petrifying hide fragments and stones. Every step upward loudly announced my approach. Alone on the stair-ramp my mind focused on Georod Overburrows.
The Alder Witch cannot be killed by a human.
The gnome was a merchant. His people were meddlers, masters of barter and secret deals. The blood of bandits and black marketeers, unrepentant coin-clippers. Only half loyal to dwarves, what animosity they had for elves was equally felt for humans.
She does not sleep. Overburrows knows much about the witch. About the fate of my boys. The garden.
In devouring souls she sings a terrible song...'tis the only time she shuts her eyes.
Bones and pepples crunching underfoot, my leg burned with the fiery venom. The troll bite festered.
Oxhide, recently sewn, sole tacks without rust, leather tie-tassels well oiled. I know this boot. Belonged to one of my men. For some odd reason it made me think of the foul arrow I refused to touch.
...a piece of a greatspear from the world below. Used by a dusk giant to kill a dragon. It be Minion-forged.
Climbing the winding stair, I knew that I had been driven to this place by the invisible cords of intrigue and deceit. Victim to a plotter, a diabolical scheme designed to leave the planner untouched.
It be stolen, even now its owner is hunting for it.
At the top of the stair a thick oak door of wood half-turned to stone was open. Standing knee-high tall was a furrowed faced bantam with a pot belly and beady eyes looking at me warily. He had a long blowpipe strapped across his little back. I could see slender needle darts on his baldric sash. I stepped passed him and into an old workshop, the weight of the large irregularly-shaped stones of the walls seemed to push down my spirit.
Many have drunk their last dregs here.
Ancient stone tables with chains supported skeletons, husks, mummified bodies and decomposing cadavers of men and women, elves, a few ungari, a dwarf, a couple orcs and a dozen or so gnomes. Some had had their arms and legs removed, their limbless torsos planted in big gray pots filled with putrefying earth. A rack dangled the skeleton of a female...the tiny skeleton of an unborn infant under her brown ribs. In the greenish illumination I saw movement to my left and my heart froze.
Wild human eyes popped open...searching. In the dark he could not see me. Another one of my men. A bloody mess. His beard had been plucked out.
Thanok Greenlea had been planted in a large pot. His arms and legs had to have been removed for they could not have fit. His wife and daughter were gone as well.
"Thanok..." my voice cracked.
"Wh...who? Who...Greric?" Thanok whispered, life fading and owlish eyes casting about.
"Knew...pride of du'Brard. Knew...you'd come." Thanok trembled uncontrollably shaking the whole pot.
"Save the children...save them! My little girl...oh, Greric...she's stuffed in a pot! Save her! I beg you..."
"I will." My friend shuddered and moaned. Then he stilled, erect. "Greric...she closes, closes her eyes. As she...sings." Thanok nodded over and over again.
"Save my girl. Save...all the children."
With a swift arc of my blade I decapitated him. From the oak door the aged bantam watched me in the dark saying nothing. Those we cannot carry, we kill. This has long been our compact, to save none alive for an enemy.
Knife tucked in my belt and longsword ready, I traversed the dim workshop to a keystone arched doorway. Before I entered her chamber I could feel her presence. Inside the door at the head of a half-circle shaped chamber high in her tower my eyes fell on the form of the witch. I was expected.
Many thousands of years old she was not a female I could discern. Layers of wrinkled, folds of skin. Two obsidian-dark orbs for eyes. Large misshapen head, no neck or shoulders. No breasts, just furrowed skin, hanging.
She raised an arm and I felt a tug. SVANAK ORDU MAL'CRUL flashed in the darkness. My knife was tugged out of my belt. She tried again, and again, my sword glowing protest, defying her. The relic longsword was forged anciently by the MageLords of House Malacrul in Talan Dathar. I knew not its properties. Again I heard the gnome.
From out of the Deep with the Minions she came. They made war against Men at Talan Dathar...
The Minions were the enemies of the Old Gods in the traditions of the bards. More than this I know not.
A broken, withered body of a man missing a boot lay upon a raised flagstone table. Husks of dehydrated corpses littered the large vault. So strange to stare down an ageless horror and feel no fear. Her black, soulless eyes widened as I advanced, right hand gripping tight the artifact blade.
...there be whispers among the ancient of faerykind...the feylorn... that she had been something darker, a greater evil during the Shadowed Ice...
In a burst of speed I rushed, sword poised to impale.
The Alder Witch gestured with her left gnarled hand and the dead body upon the slab slid off the stone. In midair upon my leap I was caught in an invisible grasp. My sword flashed violently. Slowly I descended on the table, a godlike weight pushing me down. Unable to resist, to struggle, in seconds I found myself laying on the stone, helplessly. Weakening, my fingers loosed and I heard the sword clank against metal on the floor. In panic I thought back to the cursed arrow the gnome had tried to give me.
Used by a dusk giant to kill a dragon. It be Minion-forged.
She stood over me, stinking. An old stench. Her abyssal eyes lowered as a wide, toothless maw opened in her hideous wrinkled face. A low, growling moan. The faces of my two boys burned through my mindscape, replaced by my beautiful Ulyssa. I saw again the dendrak I cut down, writhing like a little child in agony.
With a mighty heave I pushed up and a searing pain coursed through my body. The troll venom had spread rapidly. But still, I could not move. My broken arm did not hurt me as did the embers in my chest.
She began to hum and the noise grew deafening, her rancid breath filled the air heavily but I could not choke. Her song was anything but a melody, the blast of an old giant's horn with a crack in it. The scream of a soul that knows it is lost.
I felt life escape my torn body, energy that had always been felt within now pulled from me. I grew heavy with an unnatural fatigue.
This is for my boys...for sweet Ulyssa.
I opened my eyes and looked up at the nefarious murderess as she suddenly choked.
Her song halted against a wall of silence.
She wheezed, and in the dim light of my dying eyes I saw the raven feathers. A dark arrowshaft buried in her open mouth.
Gurgling gags. A second arrow thudded into her throat, sinking deeply. The fletching was different that the first, much more ancient arrow. A third arrow tore into her right eye.
I smiled and grimaced together. The kraxa'kin venom now paralyzed me. She roared but the hooded shadow in the entry loosed a fourth and fifth arrow rapidly. Folds of nasty flesh older than whole civilizations dried instantly, cracked and petrified. The Minion-forged arrow in her throat stole her life and the enchanted arrows of my dark pursuer began turning her flesh to stone. She thrashed wildly, mindless with fury and panic.
The Alder Witch would never sing again. Never again feed on another's soul. She would die with her eyes open. Rock replaced tissue across half her face, around her throat, across her midsection. A roaring-whimper escaped her open, arrow-filled mouth before she quietened. Stilled.
She expired with her eyes open. A foul creature from the Old World.
I stared up at the pale green skin and eyes inside the hood. The Silthani elf Moonshadow assassin regarded me silently. My throat was drying.
"Your payment...my belt." The guild killer of Sigils Arch cut away the heavy pouch and rummaged it, eyes narrowed.
"'Tis more than guild fare, Greric. I can nay-"
"You are not finished..." I rasped. "The sword...take it too. It's value is known." The elf picked up the longsword, puzzled. It rested atop a scattering of other weapons from other time periods when victims were forced to drop their swords.
"It protected me...no magic could harm me."
"Then how hath she hurt ye?"
"Not her...kraxa'kin bite." Hearing this the elf nodded.
"Mulberry brew?" he asked me.
"Aye, I brought it." The elf dug through my pockets and found the flask of mulberry brew, taking it.
"What would ye have of me, Greric?" The elf was sincere. The gnome was so very wrong. The Silthani were a noble race. Even the words of a contract assassin were binding.
"Before you go...you must find the children. A garden..." I died only moments after the Alder Witch. The elf was still by my side when I passed over to The Other Side.
Two days later the cloaked elf walked into Burrows Crossing on a blue-sky day. The sun was at salutation. He had done as the heroic human had wished. The witch's garden was full of buried children, not all of them human. Crazed with fear and discomfort. Souls broken. A harvest of monsters in the making. Iron tongs pried their mouths open as a stinking soup dripped onto their tongues. Growths, lichens and sprigs protruded from the children's faces and necks. They had already begun to grow.
Quietly he had slit their throats.
Inside Burrows Crossing Inn Georod's face lit up seeing the elf.
"Old friend, sit!" The elf saw that the gnome now wore an ornate gold beard collar. Georod, seeing the flask of Mulberry draught, pulled out two tankards.
"Aye, indeed. You drink with taste. I trust all went well?"
The elf nodded.
"Good, good. I am avenged. Taxing our trains was offensive enough. But stealing a whole caravan and eating my kin! Infernal bitch! Gnomes are not feed for the demons."
"Eh?" Georod drank deeply as the elf explained.
"There be none alive like Greric."
"Aye, indeed. It is said that commander Greric is the mightiest of men."
"Nay, old friend, there be none like Greric. Not elves, not dwarves, not gnomes. You forget, he slew an axemaster. Greric was mighty like the warsloths of Everleaf."
"Was? Is he dead, then?"
The elf nodded.
Seeing this the gnome thought hard. The Silthani watched him closely.
"Well..." the gnome cleared his throat and poured himself another drink. "That, uh, well...solves another problem. We will make the trade route straight...right through the farmsteads. Save a day to the Arch." A sweat broke out across the gnome's brow.
A cold seeped into his gut and suddenly he wanted to lay down. After the Moonshadow Guild assassin departed for the road Georod Overburrows remained sitting. He stared in horror but unable to move.
The elf had not touched his drink.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
If you enjoyed this story please dignify it with a review.
Beyond Dagothar, Book One of The Oraclon Chronicles, Amazon $2.99
An unusual warlord has united the underworld. The lead ranger has vanished. Josiah Arrowloft races across kingdoms with enemies close behind spilling forth in a new Uprising.
Far below the world of Dagothar a Barad-ai ranger and his steed traverse the underworld on a quest to find the surface. Liam is one of the Deep Men and with the dragon Sibilan Stonescales he embarks on an unforgettable journey for the Council of Sages and Seers.
Urick Arcanacraft is a 13th degree knight-scholar who leads his crew on a voyage through alien waters filled with perils aboard the ship Seeker of the Ancient Lost. This blademagus possesses a secret deciphered from an old tablet.
Dax Clovenheart is a hulking blue-skinned rhinotar. He claims to be a ranger, uses unspeakably powerful weapons and is from a place very far away. He has been to where the others go but must return in what will prove to be his most important assignment ever.
These four heroes and their friends will meet amidst a holocaust of war and carnage, dark sorceries and curses, prophecies fulfilled, tragedies unforeseen, unbelievable heroics and the shocking presence of future-craft weaponry...a faery apocalypse, disasters culminating with the cataclysmic return of the Broken Moon.
In an epic struggle where offworld interference endangers all the inhabitants across Dagothar, mankind will get help from the most unlikely place...
The realms of Hell.
They sailed around an entire continent crossing half of Dagothar aboard the Seeker of the Ancient Lost. The Poltyrians were no ordinary crew. Led by a 13th degree Knight-Scholar of House Demarsculd, a trained blademagus named Urick Arcanacraft, the heroes Felix, the helmsman, Cassius the sky knight, Jaston of the palace guard, Hannalyn, an ArchRoyal Bowmistress, the veteran Maximin, a priestess of the Order of the Broken Moon named Melisha and a strongly disliked Royal Observer, these eight people accompanied by fifty-one marines embark on a fantastic voyage to an unknown sea. They visit and escape perilous encounters at Kings Bane, the coast of Hinterealm, contend with the Rivensail pirates and the dungeonships of the slavers of Edgehaven in the uncharted waters of the Spawnsea.
Urick is an arcanologist and his mission is secret, none aboard know the true agenda of their expedition to the fabled ruins of Daethalon, ancient capitol of the Caedorian Empire. Urick possesses a secret the faeries will kill to keep, the knowledge of Cavin Knightshade's discoveries in Dimwood and Talan Dathar. As the underworld armies of the Taran Warlord continue their trek across the west, Urick keeps his own crew in the dark concerning the risks they will be forced to take all the while unaware that the greatest danger to their lives is right there on their ship.
Thus begins The Oraclon Chronicles
This is should be a prospective customer's number one call to action, e.g., requesting a quote or perusing your product catalog.