[Vfw-times] MK Winter Assault Intermissions part 3
COkane8116 at aol.com
COkane8116 at aol.com
Fri Sep 7 22:33:23 CDT 2001
Biting down on the bit, Thomas followed meekly after the knight who had not
said anything for the last hour except to give him the occasional command,
which Thomas followed precisely, despite his fervent desire to do otherwise.
They appeared to be wandering aimlessly through the Keep, but always
downwards. He'd not had to attempt any stairs, as the Keep had provided them
with long ramps to descend, almost as if the Keep were allowing Thomas to be
degraded like this. Often he let the question in his mind flow freely, why
was this being done, but of course, no answer was forthcoming.
They several times passed by corpses of Lutins and Keepers, strewn in
horrific piles along either side of the corridors. His heart would ache with
a dull pounding every time he saw one of his own slain, but all he could do
was to keep on following the lead of the knight. Yet, it wasn't until they
were on the ground floor that the knight took them anywhere but the varied
halls of the Keep. Turning, he opened a door, and commanded Thomas to walk
inside. Inside he went, into a blackness that made him shiver in a very
The knight struck a tinder and soon had a brazier illuminated. The door shut
behind him with a whump, nearly catching his long tail between the frame.
Yet, when the knight lit a small lantern and brought it over, Thomas could
see what was in the room, and felt his heart beat even faster. They were
standing in a store room for the stables, and various equipment for the care
and control of horses was neatly organized along every wall.
"Indeed, thou dost know what this is for. Thou shalt become very familiar
with it, my fine stallion," the knight said mockingly as he ran his
gauntleted hand over a dusty saddle. He then lifted it from the rack and
carried it over to the Duke. Thomas tried to back away, but the barking
command, "Stand still!" froze the muscles in his body.
He felt the weight of the saddle descend onto his back, not particularly
heavy, but certainly alien and unwanted. With deft ease, the knight had tied
it tightly around his chest, securing it firmly in place. Again, he took his
gauntlet off and ran his hands through the Duke's mane, gently stroking the
fur, soothingly. Thomas breathed heavily, his eyes wide with nervous fright
as he watched the man's face. He could see very little within that visage,
and that frightened him even worse.
The man suddenly grimaced, however, and then began to look over the racks
again until he had come up with several blankets. "'Tis freezing outside,
thou shalt need some protection." He undid the saddle, and set it aside upon
the rack from which he'd taken it. Thomas felt instantly better with it off
of his back, for it had felt like a noose tightening about his neck. Yet the
moment was fleeting, for soon the man had lain the blankets across his back,
and replaced the saddle.
Opening the door, the knight called out, "Back." Thomas backed up then, his
tail flitting from side to side, the terrible weight of the saddle choking
his will and crushing his heart. Once he had returned to the hallway, his
captor extinguished the lantern and the brazier, and closed the door behind
him. Gripping the reins of the halter in one hand, and fitting his foot into
one of the stirrups, the knight hoist himself up onto Thomas's back. Thomas
felt his hooves grind into the carpet, and he gnashed his tongue against the
bit and the place where he'd lost a tooth.
Clicking his tongue against his teeth, and pulling slightly on the reins,
Thomas turned to his right, walking slowly through the corridors of the Keep,
obediently following the knight's commands as if he were a real horse. With
a sinking feeling in his heart he knew that he was almost a real horse as it
was. Whatever magic was in that halter, it had turned him into an obedient
animal, and left only the thoughts raging in his mind to distinguish him from
any other horse.
The air quickly grew cold as they approached one of the doors outside the
Keep. Thomas was very glad for those blankets, for they did hold the warmth
in his flesh, even as he bore up the knight upon his back. Yet was this to
be his fate? Was he doomed to spend the rest of his life as a stud to be
bred at this man's whimsy, and to be ridden and constantly be reminded that
he was just a simple animal? Would he over time begin to even believe it
too? The thought of docilely accepting such a life filled him with even
worse dread, yet his body continued to trot forward along the carpeting
against his will.
And then, as they turned the corner and saw the doors burst inwards, and
piles of snow filling the hall, they also saw a small band of Lutins standing
at that doorway. The green-skinned beasts saw them and let out a cry as they
charged at the horse and his rider, wielding wicked clubs and spears high in
their stubby hands. The knight kicked Thomas in his sides and drew his
sword, still holding the rein firmly in his other hand, letting out his own
Thomas leapt forward, his hooves pounding into the carpet and stone as he
snorted and ran forward to meet those filthy beasts. The first of the Lutins
fell beneath his hooves with a satisfying crunch of bone. The knight severed
the head of another, while the other four tried to attack from the flanks,
even as Thomas stamped his hooves, and champed in fierce rage at the bit..
With a simple tug on the reins, Thomas turned around, kicking with his hind
hooves at the two Lutins now at his back. One of them managed to duck out of
the way, the other was tossed against the wall, the armour on his chest caved
in fatally. Looking forward, he could see that one of the Lutins was jumping
towards his shoulder to sink a knife into it, but the knight brought his boot
forward and kicked the beast aside. With a jab of his sword, the other fell
to the ground, his head hanging limply upon his shoulders.
The last Lutin gave out a strangled cry and began to run down the hall, his
weapons dropped to the ground. With another kick into his sides, the knight
commanded Thomas to charge again. His mind flaring with the battle fury, the
Duke drove forward, his hooves crushing the stones beneath them, as the
single Lutin grew closer and closer. His head turned once to see what the
sound was, and then his eyes went wide in freakish terror, letting out a
horrific cry of anguish as he tried to run as fast as he could. Yet it was a
futile attempt, for soon, Thomas's hooves met with the Lutin's back, and sent
him sprawling against the ground. A moment later, those same hooves ran
across the prone Lutin's form, smashing the bones to pieces.
Even as he continued to snort from the exertion, he felt a soothing hand at
his neck, and a calm voice in his ears. "Thou hast done well." Upon hearing
that, Thomas could not help but look back at the bodies that now lay strewn
through the snow littered-hallway. He'd behaved just as warhorse might, and
had enjoyed the thrill it had given him. With renewed fear and trepidation,
he could only wonder what ythis halter was doing to him. Was it making him
not only obedient in every way, but also a regular horse in every way? Would
he begin to lose his memories of being anything but a horse?
Before he could even begin to debate those questions, he felt the tug of the
reins, and heard the nicker from the knight's lips. Turning, he began a slow
trot back towards the open door, and the wintry blizzard that waited outside.
Yet he felt the reins tighten as a set of blurry images rounded the far
corner from which they had originally come. He stared at them for that
moment, bringing them into focus, and felt joy fill his hear. For they were
"Bryonoth!" he heard a light voice call out, as the figures rushed forward,
four of them. He recognized the knight Saulius and his new friend Egland.
Copernicus was at their back, wrapped in mounds of cloth, while a polar bear
whose name he believed was Cassius was right at his side.
Yet the knight Bryonoth did not give the Duke long to ponder, for he had soon
kicked his sides and cried, "Charge!" Thomas thundered forward, the din of
hoof beats filling his ears, and the new sent of battle flooding his mind.
He tried to hold back, as these were his fellow Keepers and friends, but the
fury of the fight and the halter's magic prevented him from doing anything
but what the knight wanted.
The Keepers fanned out before him, trying to move out of the way of the
charging horse. Copernicus turned his long head to one side beneath the
bundles of cloth he'd wrapped about himself and called out, "Don't hurt the
horse, it's Duke Thomas." Thomas took some small solace in that they knew it
was him, but found his hooves pounding relentlessly forward to smash their
chests in, and to crush into the tiling.
Bryonoth swung his word in a wide arc as Thomas reared only feet from them,
but the Keepers were quick, and stayed low. Egland and Saulius raised their
swords, hefting the flat edge of the blade against the knight's chest. But
Bryonoth turned his own swing, and knocked back the rat's blade, while
kicking the deer in the chest with his armoured foot. While Egland was
reeling and trying to catch his breath, Saulius swung again, only to be
parried once more. Thomas found himself turning with the bit then, and
lashed out his hooves at the rat, but the knight was quicker, and scurried
back, his face twisting with desperation.
Cassius came swinging at the knight's backside with his mace, but Thomas
could see the motion out of one corner of his eyes. With a quick jerking
motion, he kicked back with one hind leg, grazing the bear's side, twisting
him about as he tried to hold his balance. Yet the ursine warrior recovered
fairly quickly, his dark eyes betraying the momentary pain he'd suffered
beneath that white plume of fur.
Copernicus, being as tall as he was, had grabbed the knight's sword arm, and
was twisting his wrist, attempting to force him to drop it. Bryonoth,
despite all of his year living in the Steppe, and the training he'd undergone
at Yesulam, did not have the strength in him to wrestle with a
three-hundred-fifty pound lizard. So for a moment he let go of the reins and
with his other fist punched Cope square between the eyes. Dazed, the lizard
stumbled backwards, letting go of the knight's arm as he tried to wipe the
swirling images from his eyes.
Having caught his breath, Egland slapped the flat of his blade at the
knight's back from his left. Having been too occupied with the lizard to see
the deer approaching, Thomas was the only one who could keep his rider from
harm. Though he wished to do nothing, his body acted, turning quickly to the
side, and slammed his flanks right into the deer's shoulder. He even went so
far as to attempt to stomp hard down upon the knight's foot, but as his feet
were hooves as well, it merely glanced off to the side.
However, Thomas was surely not ready for what came next, for Egland, staring
up into his face with desperate need, drove his fist hard into the side of
the Duke's head. Thomas let out a terrified whinny as he toppled to the
ground, sending Bryonoth sprawling onto the floor. Pain swelled through his
face, and especially in his mouth, as the strike had hammered the bit right
into the empty space where one of his teeth had been. Kicking with all four
of his hooves, Thomas tried to right himself, blinking with one eye at the
bruise that was surely swelling.
Yet, as he did get to his feet, the weight of a rider was no longer present,
and as he cast his eyes about, he saw the knight laying upon his back like a
turtle, while the Keepers descended upon him, holding his limbs and trying to
keep him down. Thomas told himself to stay there, to remain where he was,
that his obligation even as a warhorse was ended to this man as he was down.
It was time to allow himself to be rescued and restored to his more human
"Ts'amut!" Egland cried out as he beat Bryonoth's right arm into the ground,
resting his chest completely on it. "It is I, your friend, Sir Egland!
Please come back to us, Ts'amut!"
Though Thomas did not recognize the name he used, it was clear that Bryonoth
did, for a flicker of recognition came into his face, and for a moment, his
struggles ceased and a smile seemed to play across his swollen lips. Yet
that flicker was short-lived, as some other personality drowned it out,
pushing that glimmer back into the depths. The struggle for dominance was
quick, and soon settled and won by that malicious nature, as if Bryonoth
carried two souls within him.
Leaning forward, he slammed the front of his helmet into the deer's face, but
the massive deer ducked his head and the helmet clattered impotently against
the animal-knight's antlers. And then he cried out, "Help me!" Thomas found
his muscles compelled to action as he reared and tried to land both front
hooves into the bear's back as he forced Bryonoth's leg down. Copernicus
gave a shout in time and Cassius was able to roll out of the way. But he did
not escape Thomas's bite, for his teeth gripped the bear's shoulder and tore
at the flesh in a fury that he could not ever remember allowing into his
heart before. One leg freed, the furious knight twisted his body, bringing
the armour plated knee up firmly against Egland's ribs, forcing a startled
grunt from the heavy deer, then again, kicking out as he lifted his chest and
kneed him once again, finally knocking the gasping deer away.
Snorting, he spat out the distasteful flesh and fur, even as the bear tried
to stop the flow of blood with his other paw. Thomas's attention was no
longer on the bear though, for he had turned toward the lizard who was laying
atop the knight's other leg. Stamping and snorting in rage, he tried to
bring his hooves down on his chest, but Copernicus rolled inside, and with a
quick punch, drove his fist into the horse's chest. Thomas spluttered,
nearly falling from his hooves again, but managed to remain upright, lifting
his hooves for another attempt to kill. But Cope was no fool, and rolled out
from underneath him again, and landed another punch into his flanks.
Letting out a whinny of rage, Thomas turned on the lizard, snorting and
flaring at his effrontery. However, he heard Bryonoth call to him again, and
turned to look at his rider, and heed his call. Bryonoth slammed his
gauntleted fist down hard on Saulius's helmet, making the rat's head ring
with the clanging vibrations. Jumping to his feet, he drew a dagger from his
side, and sliced once more at the bear who had interposed himself between the
knight and Thomas. Cassius let out a chocking cry as more blood began to
stain his white fur, this time from a gash in his chest.
Gripping Thomas's reins, Bryonoth pulled himself back into the saddle, and
kicked hard into the Duke's sides. With a thunder of hoof beats, Thomas
charged down the hallway, and then out into the open air through the door the
Lutins had been watching. The snow was bitterly cold, and rose halfway up
his legs, yet he did his best to leap through it. The excitement of the
battle still pounded through his veins, yet in one part of his mind, all he
could do was feel both his home and his humanity slip away. With defeated
reluctance, he allowed himself to just be a horse for the time being.
"Damn!" Egland swore breathlessly as he climbed back to his hooves, using the
wall to help him rise. Once standing, he rushed over to the open door,
feeling the chill of the cold wind blow into his face. Though it was still
snowing, it was not nearly as heavy as it had that morning. It was clear in
which direction they had gone, for the long pockets in the snow were
unmistakable. Yet those pockets would fill if they did not hurry. But who
among them could outrun a horse?
Turning, he looked back to the others, as they rose to their paws, taking
stock of their loss. Cassius did not rise easily, and needed Copernicus's
help to stay standing on his hind paws. He grimaced the whole time, pressing
what little cloth he did have to his chest wound to staunch the flow of blood.
"I'm sorry, friends, but I cannot continue this chase," Cassius said
reluctantly, a terrible moue upon his muzzle the entire time. "I have to head
back to the chapel."
Egland nodded, and looked at Copernicus who appeared similarly regretful.
"I would be of no use to you out in that weather. I'd slip into torpor
within thirty minutes, despite all my protection. If it was during the day,
perhaps, but not at night, and not with this much snow on the ground."
Copernicus offered him a weary grimace on his rather expressive face for a
reptile. "I will help Cassius get back to the Cathedral, and tell the others
what has happened so far. Are you going to continue?"
"Yes," Egland said, meeting Saulius's firm gaze. It was clear that the rat
was bound to go on and rescue his liege. "We have to, though I do not know
what hope we have of catching up to a horse in this weather. If we had our
steeds, that would be one thing, but we cannot risk a journey to the stables,
not with the Lutins sacking the city."
"Thou art a deer," Saulius pointed out. "Thou art fleet of hoof in thy
Egland opened his mouth to object, but closed it again. The rat was right,
it was quite likely the only way they could catch up with Bryonoth and the
strangely complaint Duke. He finally nodded and began to undo the cinches
holding his armour in place. "You are right, I must shift to my full deer
form. You can hold onto my back, Sir Saulius."
"We can use bits of cloth to help you hold on," Copernicus suggested, gently
setting Cassius against the wall. The bear nodded, and let the lizard leave
him leaning there. "I suppose I can sacrifice my outermost layer to such a
"Thy act is most appreciated," Saulius said, nodding, watching his fellow
Egland felt those eyes upon him very warmly, and though he had never before
publically allowed his most intimate parts to be seen, he found the thought
of it now strangely exhilarating. There was no shame in being naked when one
was already an animal. Lifting his mail off, her deposited it on the ground
beside him, and then removed the undershirt that was stained with oil. "I
just want to know why Thomas acted like he did. You would think he would
resist being made a horse."
"He probably does not have a choice," Cassius suggested between breaths.
"Yes, he probably is under some magical control. I can't see why he would
attack us otherwise," Copernicus agreed, even as he ripped the black fabric
robe he'd had on the outside into several long strips.
"Well, how are we supposed to defeat that? We aren't mages!" Egland decried
even as he slipped his leggings off.
"I'm not sure," Copernicus admitted.
"For a moment, thy friend did recognize thee," Saulius said softly, his
whiskers twitching thoughtfully. He strapped a second sword to his belt, one
for himself, and the other for Egland. "Perhaps thou ought to try to find
that bit of him again."
Egland nodded as he finally removed the last of his clothing, standing before
them, a two-legged buck in only the flesh and fur. "Well, whatever we may do,
we need to catch up with him first. I am ready, are you, Cope?"
"Yes, just shift and we'll get you two strapped together," Cope said, lifting
several long strips of what had once been a thick black cloak.
Egland nodded, and let his form flow over him, watching as his hands hardened
further into true hooves, before his shifting back forced them to the ground
with a clatter. His fur was quite thick, and he felt taller than he ha been
before, though he knew that was just an impression. Though everyone called
him a deer as it was more commonly known, he was truly an elk, broad thick
neck, and massive powerful frame in his full form, gave him renewed
confidence that they would indeed rescue the Duke.
Copernicus lifted Saulius onto Egland's back, the sudden weight surprising
him. He spread his hooves to capture it more fully, but found that it was
not a terrible burden. It probably would have been easier, had the rat
removed his armour, but that would have been a foolish thing to do in the
long run. And then, as he felt the rat's claws dig into his neck fur, the
lizard began to wrap the straps about his middle, tying them underneath
firmly. After a few minutes, he stepped back and nodded. "I think that is
secure. My best wishes to you both. May Eli guide your footsteps."
"And thine as well," Saulius said in response, before patting Egland on the
neck, "Let us be off!"
Egland snorted and turned to face that open door through which the wintry
wind howled. Charging at a brisk canter, he leapt out into the snowy night,
his hooves finding those same tracts that Thomas's had, and began to follow
the trail around towards the back of the Keep, while the rat kept a look out
for any Lutins.
It was not completely dark outside, as there were many bright fires that
could be seen in the town some distance away. Burning homes lit the sky a
lurid orange as they were reduced to cinders, testament to Nasoj's greed and
quest for power. Egland pondered just how many of those homes still had
Keepers inside them when they were set to torch. How many people would come
out after this was over and find their precious heirlooms naught more than
piles of ash? How many gifts between husband and wife would have been
smashed and shattered at the loutish hands of the Lutins? How many lives
would be destroyed because of this madness? Egland did not dare attempt to
answer any of those questions.
Charging through the snow, he realized that he barely could feel the chill in
his present form. He had to leap through the piles of it, just as Thomas
surely had to as well, and he still was not moving as fast as he would have
liked. Leaving the town behind, he saw that they were circling to the rear
of the Keep, where it was closest to the curtain wall atop the ridge that
Metamor rested upon. The ground here was stripped bare, the earth littered
with the fallen bodies of those that had been slain attempting to secure the
wall above. Shattered ladders were cast about haphazardly, forcing the elk
to slow his steps as he moved around the thick fall of corpses and broken
wood. Some, he noticed, had no injuries at all. They had frozen to death
before ever facing a single Keeper. Suddenly, the tracks veered off, and led
closer toward the wall. Following them into the darkness that was the rear
of the Keep, he could see that they were moving towards the small gate in the
rear of the wall that had been put in place only just recently.
The gate was on the steep side of the ridge, which made it nearly impossible
to reach. It was little used as well, built to make checking the outside
walls easier. From what he'd heard, a mage had left a spell on that wall
before, and it had taken months to find it, as nobody would have ever thought
anyone would make that difficult walk all the way around the walls of the
Grunting, Egland drove forward to the gate, following the long strides of the
horse that Thomas was. It was only a solitary door in the wall, just big
enough for a rider to pass through. The snow around it had been cleared
away, apparently in preparation for Bryonoth's escape. It was slightly ajar,
the wind whistling through the crack. Stepping up along side of it, Egland
waited, unable to do anything about it himself.
Saulius pressed his claws into the crack, and heaved, drawing it open
slightly. Egland then turned about on his hooves again, stepping softly in
the comparably light dusting by the door. Pressing his snout into the crack,
he wedged it further, before it finally swung wide before them. Cautiously,
Egland stepped out past the aperture, peering into the solemn darkness, his
eyes distinguishing very little of the snow-slick ridge.
"There!" Saulius cried, pointing his claw of to one side. "He hast
switch-backed down the ridge. I shall guide thee."
Egland nodded and set off carefully down the slope, following the gentler
incline that Bryonoth had taken. By taking a constantly switching route, the
knight had found a less dangerous way to descend the perilous ridge. Even
so, Egland could feel his hooves slipping on the snow as he worked down,
taking it as slowly as he could allow himself. Grunting in displeasure, he
continued forward, despite the winds that were gently sweeping along the
hillside, lifting the snow and throwing it into his face.
Saulius's frame clutched tightly around his neck, the whiskers rubbing
against his flesh as he slowly trotted, blunted by the fur there, even as it
blunted the sheets of snow that were cast about both from above and below.
The weight of the rat, dressed in his armour as he was, was quite heavy, but
not terribly so, Egland felt. It did give him more reason to worry as he
moved forward, trying to find purchase beneath the snow on the ridge. If the
wrong wind should dislodge his friend even a bit, it could send them both
tumbling down the hillside.
At a shout from the rat, he turned about, and began to work down the hillside
in the opposite direction. So far, from what he could see, Thomas had had
little difficulty in making his way down the ridge only a short time ago.
The marks were just his dragging hoof steps, no signs of trouble, no long
smears continuing on downwards. Just ever forward, inching down the ridge.
Egland kept his eyes on following the path that he could see in the faint
light that crept over the top of the ridge wall from Metamor. There were a
few torches burning brightly still in that edifice, but far fewer than he
would have hoped for.
Yet, even as the cold winds blasted across the forbidding hillside, his
thoughts turned elsewhere. Here he was, in the form of a full elk stag,
working his way down the hill carrying a knight rat upon his back. Saulius
was riding him as if he were but a steed, just as Thomas was being rode like
a war horse. Whatever foul magic his friend from the steppes had used on the
Duke, it had made of him nothing more than a well-trained animal.
When the curses had originally struck, those like him had become animals in
mind as well as body. Would Nasoj attempt to strengthen his original curse
once more? Would he, Sir Yacoub Egland, formerly a knight of Yesulam, become
nothing more than an elk, running off into the woods to chew on grass and
shrubs the remainder of his days? And what of Saulius, clutching his neck as
he was. Would he just become a small rat, tossed from the back of the elk
only to be smashed against a tree, or crushed from the powerful hooves of a
beast in panic as it tried to dislodge the armour from its back?
Even as he continued pondering such terrible deeds, he felt the guiding hand
of the rat and his neck, and turned once more. Taking a moment to glance
back up the hillside, he could see a bit of light streaming through the
doorway before it was swallowed by the forbidding haunt of the storm and the
night. It was many ells away though, clearly they were making good progress
down the hillside. Turning back towards the path, he trotted along,
carefully setting his hooves into the grooves left for him by Thomas's own
resolute march downwards and away from his kingdom.
What terrible thoughts must Thomas be thinking now, the knight wondered as he
placed one hoof forward. Surely he cannot be happy about what has happened
to him, as long as his conscious mind is still awake. He had heard rumours
of fetishes that Lutins sometimes carried that triggered the curse into full
bloom, reducing one so afflicted to nothing more than a dull-witted animal.
Could Bryonoth have been given one of those to use on their poor Duke? If
so, they would be leading back a horse, and nothing more, unless one of the
mages at the Keep could lift such a deadly burden and find their liege
beneath the equine exterior.
Yet Egland shook his head at that, determined not to see only disaster ahead,
determined to find some hope, some glistening ray that would lead them
onwards. Bryonoth was not that much farther ahead of them, he could not make
Thomas run forever either. Eventually they would have to stop somewhere, and
that is where Egland would catch up with them, and knock some sense into his
friend, rid him of this evil influence that he appeared to be acting under.
It was clear that something had gotten a hold of him. From all that he had
heard, it was the same man who had killed the Patriarch.
End part 3
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