[Vfw-times] MK Winter Assault part 85

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Thu Jan 17 02:42:01 CST 2002

Yet, both the times he could remember them and those times he wished to 
relive them were few and far between. The reality he had known for so long 
was the struggle to throw Nasoj's forces, specifically Baron Calephas, out of 
Arabarb and push them back over the Dragon mountains and into the Giantdowns. 
 After that they could care less what the Baron or Nasoj did, for their home 
would be safe once again.  But now that he had seen what Nasoj had done to 
the obstinate folk of Metamor for resisting them he knew that such a dream 
was a farce, that even if they did retake Arabarb and defeat the Lutin hordes 
that had come to find life on the western side of the Dragon mountains 
appealing, then they would face a similar punishment from the wizardry at 
Nasoj's beck and call.

A tap on the shoulder broke his reverie and, turning around, he saw the 
cervid face of Alldis, the infantry commander along this side of the gully.  
His dapper expression bore no indication of what he thought of them, at least 
not to Andrig's eyes.  The powder that had been used on his nose and muzzle 
had begun to disperse, revealing the dark bark brown of his fur and the pearl 
black of his nose.  His mobile scalloped ears twitched as he glanced from 
side to side between the two Northerners. 

"There has been a slight change in plans," he said, loud enough for all those 
near him to hear.  They would quickly pass the word along, so there was no 
need to make a general announcement. "But thankfully this is in our favour. 
Burris and the other birds have spotted a force of Keepers riding in behind 
the contingent of Lutins.  They estimate that they will catch up with their 
quarry just before they reach the gully."

"So we are going to meet them?" Gaerwog asked, massaging his injured leg 
beneath the layered furs with one thick hand for a moment.

"No, the Lutins should still continue to run even after they are met by the 
riders.  We are just going to focus all of our forces at the head of this 
ravine to keep them from escaping it.  So we are heading to the other end of 
the ravine.  No delays now, they will nearly be upon us by the time we reach 
the other side."

Alldis then turned, and with a flick of his short tail, started back up 
through the thick trees alongside the icy rock walls of the gully.  Andrig 
gave Gaerwog a passing look of relief mixed with annoyance before they both 
fell in behind the deer.  He hadn't come merely to move the infantry, but 
only to insure that the two Northerners would be at the front of the battle.  
Loosening the straps on his axe, he fingered the freshly leathered pommel and 
smiled.  At the very least they would have plenty of opportunity to gain 
vengeance upon the Lutins for what they had done to his childhood.

He did not have much time for reflection upon this before they had tramped 
through the snow and woods to the other side of the gully.  Alldis bade them 
stop and turned to face them.  Even before he spoke they could hear distant 
cries as the riders met the Lutins a short way up the road. "In a minute we 
will be rounding this bend and meet them head on.  However, we are to wait 
here for the other side to charge first.  Angus is waiting across the gully, 
and he will give the signal to attack.  We wait until then.  Ready your 
weapons, we should see them soon."

And almost before Alldis had stopped speaking Andrig heard the tightening of 
bows and the unfastening of swords, axes, and spears.  Leaning against the 
rock, he looked back the way they had come up along the road.  Before his 
eyes he saw the green-monsters that had come to haunt his nightmares pour 
over top of the rise, running as fast as their little legs could carry them.  
Row upon row of them fled, rushing with the wind, filling the gully without 
any worry but to plunge forward.  Then bestial cries filled their ears as 
they saw the riders from Metamor peak the rise, slashing at the rear of the 
mob with swords and huge axes that appeared more suited to felling trees than 
men, or even the diminutive Lutins.

Then, before he realized just what had happened, he heard cries much closer 
to himself and saw two figures in black leap from the other side of the 
gully, one bearing a gleaming, silvery staff in his hands.  At that signal 
Andrig found himself running around the ice encrusted rock, raising his axe 
over his shoulder and letting out a war cry, ignoring the scores of Keepers 
at his back also giving lent to that cry.  The faces of the Lutins he saw 
bore an expression of terror, yet they pushed towards them, brandishing their 
own weapons; swords, spears, diminutive hand axes or whet ever they had not 
already dropped in their hell bent flight from Metamor.

The two men in black met them first, though it was the one with the staff 
that caught most of Andrig's attention in those few moments before he joined 
the fray and caved in the skull of a Lutin with the butt of his axe.  The man 
twirled the staff in his hands and waded through the Lutins, smashing their 
heads open, and sometimes knocking them completely off as he spun the silver 
shaft around himself.  Lutins fell before him in a wide circle all around, 
their attacks blunted as if useless, while he danced, his black robe flashing 
like a shadow about him.

Then any thoughts of others fled Andrig's mind as he came crashing into the 
body of the Lutin mob, their grunts and cries for blood answered with their 
own deaths. He swung his axe about his chest and middle like one long used to 
tangling with bears.  Lutin after Lutin fell before him, even as the arrows 
rained down from above, striking only the Lutins who were in the centre of 
the gully and not near any of their own forces.

With a squishy smack he slammed the blade of his Axe into the side of one 
Lutin's head and yanked it back out again with a meaty crunch, hauling the 
smaller humanoid off its feet for a moment before it fell.  Andrig scanned 
about for any other Lutins nearby, but they were all several ells away 
engaged with another comrade.  Glancing up at the carnage, he could see 
several Lutins trying to scale the icy rock walls of the gully.  Yet they 
would fall back down, either because the walls were too slick, or because 
there was an arrow imbedded in them.  In fact, in short order the number of 
Lutins left alive had been cut in half.  

A cry of rage rose above the din of the battle close at hand and brought him 
swinging about, the red braids of his beard flashing by his eyes.  A short, 
broad shouldered lutin was charging him with a long spear point aimed at his 
middle.  Andrig twisted to the side and brought his axe head sailing across, 
through the slender shaft, hewing it in two.  He then reversed the stroke and 
brought it back up, cleaving into the Lutin's chest beneath his ribs.  
Stunned, the figure dropped the broken spear and tried to push at the axe 
blade futilely with dead limbs.  He then slumped over, his hands slipping as 
his legs gave out from beneath him.  Andrig kicked at his middle and the body 
rolled off the blade, which was completely soaked in blood.  He could feel it 
running through his fingers as he tightly held the leather.

Rolling the axe about in his palm, he squished the blood deep into the 
leather, trying not to think of its awful stench.  Spinning on his heels, he 
charged headlong into the fracas only a short distance away, where Gaerwog 
was removing arms and ears with finely timed swipes of his own longer axe.  
With a quick, ravenous grin, they stood back to back, pushing further into 
the expanse of dying Lutins, helping them along the way by crushing in their 
skulls and chests, only further drenching their furs in the dark blood.

He had worried for a bit whether Gaerwog's injury would deter him in the 
fight but, as he pressed his back up against his friend's, he knew that such 
speculation was foolish.  His friend stove in the bony frames of Lutins just 
as effortlessly as did the rest enjoined in the battle, and with an even more 
ferocious aspect, for he had pain to beckon him on.  Pain was without peer 
among the many reasons to that Andrig knew of to fight, for it gave strength 
beyond the measure of simple anger.  Pain was closer to the flesh than any 
other feeling, beckoning lost instincts from man's past.

As he slammed the blade through a Lutin's back as it tried to scramble away 
and past them, he knew that it was over.  Andrig surveyed the gully about 
them, and could only see a few Lutins still alive, but they did not last long 
as the riders slashed through those at one end and the man in black danced 
the others to ribbons.  With a heavy breath, he knew that the fight had been 
won, and the blood that lay on his hands was not his own, not even a drop of 
it.  He did see a few of the animal folk being carried back, stabbed or 
slashed by a Lutin blade, but not a single Lutin remained to cart off their 
own dead.

Turning about, he saw Gaerwog facing him, relief plastered across his own 
visage.  With a great sigh, they embraced each other in a burly hug, patting 
each other on the back with the flat of their axes, and laughing in delight. 
"We won!" Gaerwog said, as if amazed of that fact.

Andrig nodded and glanced back about the gully, as if the sight of so many 
dead Lutins was something he could not believe unless he was looking at it.  
The riders from Metamor approached from the head of the gully, the hooves of 
their horses crushing bones with each heavy hoofed step.  Suddenly, just as 
he was turning his back on them, a familiar voice called out, "Andrig!  By 
all that is Holy, is that you?" His blood froze as he heard it, for it was 
almost the voice of his father, but there edge of bitterness had been taken 

Turning back to face the riders he saw two of them divert towards them, both 
on huge Clydesdale stallions.  The first was one of the strangest creatures 
he'd ever seen, an animal of some kind with huge feet, a long thick tail, and 
a narrow upper torso with donkey-like ears.  The second, however, was the one 
who caught his attention more fully, for the human was a broad-shouldered, 
red bearded Northerner who looked like his father must have twenty years ago.

Dismounting, the two approached them, the Northerner grinning uncontrollably 
as he bellowed again, "Is that you, Andrig?"

"My name is Andrig," he said finally, uncertain, gripping his axe a bit more 
closely.  He did not know why he was suddenly afraid of this man, but the 
familiarity was too close for him to be sure what to make of the man.  He had 
heard tales of Nasoj using familiar faces to fool his enemies.

The man was nearly crying in delight, while the odd amalgamation standing 
next to him looked simply delighted. "I know you don't recognize me, but I'm 
your sister, turned into a man by the curse of the Keep."

"Lhindesaeg?" Andrig asked suddenly, nearly dropping his axe in surprise at 
this revelation.  His knees quivered as he gazed at the older man, knowing 
that had his sister been born a man, this was what he would have looked like. 
 And then he remembered the letters that she had sent soon after the last 
attack against Metamor, telling them that she had become a man.  Andrig had 
at the time been working with the Arabarb underground and so had not paid 
much attention to such wild claims, but here the truth stood before him, 

The man whom had once been his older sister nodded, laughing a throaty 
chuckle. "The same, though I use the name Lindsey now, it is easier for the 
Southerners to pronounce."

Gaerwog stood befuddled at Andrig's side, scowling in confusion as he looked 
between the two,  until Andrig joined his sister-now-brother in the laugh, 
and threw his arms about his tree-trunk-like neck. "Lhindesaeg!  I never 
would have thought to see you again!"

Lindsey hugged his younger brother back, pulling him tight against his chest 
like a bear. "Nor I you!  Mother wrote me telling me that you'd died!"

"Ah, a terrible deception that I had to make, I will tell you about it over 
some ale sometime."

Lindsey nodded and smiled then, his face bright and full of colour. "You do 
remember Habakkuk do you not?" he said then, indicating the strange creature 
at his side.

Habakkuk hopped forward, disturbing the blood covered snow as he did so. "It 
is good to see you alive again Andrig.  It has been so many years since last 
I visited the house of your parents."

Andrig nodded, even as he peered at Zhypar, the memory of his older sister 
following after the strange merchant coming back to him clearly. "I had 
wondered what had become of you.  What exactly are you?"

"I'm a kangaroo, and I'm sure that does not help you much.  You would have to 
cross the entire length of the world to see another."

"At least I have a name for it now, " Andrig said, pursing his lips as he 
looked between the kangaroo and his older sister - brother. "Are you two still
…?" He let the question trail off, finding the situation awkward.

"No," Lindsey shook his head then, but patted Habakkuk on the shoulder with 
one thick hand, curling his fingers around it completely. "We are simply best 
of friends now."

"Ah, I'm sorry," Andrig said suddenly.  "But it certainly is good to see you 
both again, I had not expected I ever would." He looked with delight upon 
their strange new faces, but noticed that the kangaroo was looking past them 
at something else.  Turning curiously, he saw the two men draped in black 
cloaks talking with Lord Avery, and then turning to leave.  One of them, the 
black-haired one, glanced back, almost right at them.  He could not help but 
shudder, as if thrown out naked into the arctic winds; for in a single moment 
that stranger's face turned into a visage of pure malevolence before being 
replaced by the serenity that he had glimpsed upon it all other times.

Dimly, he heard the kangaroo mutter, "Before this year has seen its last day, 
somebody is going to die from a shadow without a shadow."

"What was that?" Lindsey asked, turning to the kangaroo, in confusion.

Habakkuk appeared to snap out of whatever trance he had slipped into and 
shook his head. "Oh, nothing, a bit of nonsense I heard somewhere before." 
Yet his eyes continued to watch those black clad men.  Andrig turned about to 
look at them again, but saw that they were departing by themselves into the 

Before he could add anything new two more figures came to their sides.  One 
was a tall moose much like those that he was used to seeing in the hills 
around Arabarb, save for the fact that this one walked on two hooves instead 
of four.  The second figure, however, made the kangaroo appear completely 
normal, for it was some large rodent of some kind, whose fur was a plaid 
pattern of red and black. "Ho, Lindsey, Habakkuk, who are your friends?" the 
beaver called as he trundled over, his shirt tight over thick muscles.

"Ho, Michael!" Lindsey called, smiling to his fellow Metamorian. "This here 
is my younger brother Andrig."

The beaver stopped a few feet short and peered at the man who clearly was 
Lindsey's brother.  His eyes had gone wide, the whites bright against his 
cream coloured flesh. "But I thought you said he was dead?"

"Happily, I was mistaken," Lindsey said, before laughing and hugging his 
younger brother again. "By the gods, Andrig, you are the greatest sight I've 
seen in a week."

"Perhaps," Habakkuk ventured. "One could view him as a symbol of our victory, 
they thought we were dead, but no, were came back and proved otherwise!"

Both Andrig and Gaerwog stared oddly at the kangaroo, but the other three 
with him laughed.  The moose then said, "You must forgive Zhypar here, he is 
a writer.  They tend to get a bit melodramatic at times."

Zhypar turned on the moose and favoured him a lop-sided grin. "And I must 
confess I'm amazed you know a word like melodramatic!"

Lindsey then interfered, motioning the moose and beaver towards his brother. 
"Forgive me for being so rude, Andrig, this is Michael and Lance, two good 
friend so of mine."

"It is a pleasure to meet a friend of my brother's," Andrig said, while 
Gaerwog smiled and shook their paws. "We definitely must share a drink 
together sometime soon.  The stories we will have to tell are too numerous to 

"Then perhaps we shall have them tonight," a new voiced chimed in.  They 
turned to see Lord Avery, accompanied by a large bull dressed in the same 
manner as the Metamorans. "I've already sent riders back to the Glen to 
inform them of our victory.  Chief Tathom here tells me that the Lutins have 
been routed at Metamor.  Now they are just chasing them down through the 

"That's right," the bull said in a gruff voice. "All that is left to do is to 
mop the remainder up.  I've heard that Misha Brightleaf himself is organizing 
a force to assail their flanks all the way into the Giantdowns, to make sure 
this never happens again." He rubbed at a scar on one side of his bovine 
muzzle, and they could all tell that it was recent. "There were many 
casualties, but we won."

"And the city itself?" Andrig asked suddenly.

"We'll be rebuilding for quite sometime.  I imagine we'll be up in the forest 
chopping trees almost everyday for the next five or six months at least." 
Behind him, he heard the beaver groan at that.  Tathom narrowed his glassy 
eyes at the beaver, but then shrugged. "Right now though it is time to 
celebrate our victory and to mourn the dead."

They all nodded in agreement before Habakkuk interjected, his face curious. 
"Excuse me, Lord Avery?  What were those two black clad men saying to you 
before they left?"

Lord Avery blinked, his long bushy tail flitting behind him. "Oh, just that 
they had to depart before the curse took them.  They were friends of Charles, 
and damn good fighters, more than that I'm afraid I cannot say because I do 
not know."

"Ah, I thought so," Zhypar nodded, gazing back at Lindsey and then Andrig. 
"Now, I think we ought to reacquaint ourselves better, perhaps over some ale 
at the Keep?  I assure you that we will not be the only ones drinking 

"At my place," Lindsey said determinedly, embracing his brother with one arm 
again. "Assuming it still stands of course!"

"I'm sure we shall find it in good order," Habakkuk said, and then laughed 
along with the rest of them.  Andrig just smiled and joined in the joy.  The 
battle was over, Metamor had won, and here stood his sister, now his older 
brother indeed.  For the first time in almost ten years, he felt free.


12/28 -

It was only an hour since they had stopped at the watchtower, but Calephas 
wanted to be sure of his plans before he pressed on.  All the powerful mages 
among the Lutins and Nasoj's human servants had been sent to aid in the 
attack on the Keep, so he had to rely on his eyes to know anything about the 
conditions to the South.  So he and Captain Skolem had climbed up into the 
trees and were sharing the farseeing device.  Neither of them liked what they 

"I see too many Keepers walking about Metamor, sir," Skolem said as he passed 
the magically enhanced telescope back to the Baron. "I'd say that they 
somehow beat our forces."

Calephas bore a scowl that could have curdled milk. "Yes, it does appear that 
way." Through the lenses he could see Keepers gathering the strewn bodies of 
Lutins and depositing them in huge heaps just outside one of the gates.  
Several crews were working nearby with huge, mostly unburnt timbers making 
sledges, most likely to haul the corpses away from the keep for disposal.   
"Nasoj will not be pleased.  It will be another seven years I fear before we 
could even hope to attempt another attack.  One of his generals is probably 
going to die."

"Are you afraid it is you, sir?"

Lowering the telescope, the Baron considered the question.  It was quite 
likely he could be killed for this failure, even though he was not at Metamor 
for any of it.  Finally, he shook his head. "My orders were to maintain the 
fortifications at the Dike, and that is what I shall do.  Order the troops to 
turn around.  We are going back to the Dike.  If they try to strike at the 
Giantdowns now when we are in retreat, they shall have a very unpleasant 
surprise.  I will make any more deaths cost them severely."

Skolem nodded and began to scramble down the tree. "That you shall, sir, that 
you shall."

Calephas lingered in the tree branches a moment longer, glaring at the Keep.  
He had visited it once in his youth, long before the curse had struck.  They 
had failed to take it twice now, and that fact stung even more bitterly than 
their first loss had.  He would stride the halls of Metamor, even if it took 
another seven years to accomplish.  He would win this valley for Nasoj, no 
matter the cost.

Finally, unable to bear the sight of those bright, sparkling spires, he spat 
and began to climb back down the tree, eager to return to the Dike and to 
lands more familiar.  Already, plans were circling his head on how to make 
life even more miserable for the Northerners living near Arabarb.


End part 85
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