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|Posted: Thu Dec 08, 2011 12:44 am Post subject: The Pits of Jhelom (All Chapters)
The Pits Of Jhelom
The small cell shook with the pounding feet of thousands of peasants in the stands above it. With every drop of blood spilled into the sands the crowd roared, the boards vibrated, and more sand and blood slipped through the cracks. The room was damp and crowded with beings, each bearing the same mark upon the left shoulder. Criminals, all. Murderers, rapists, thieves and enemies of the state. All here for one reason: To please the crowd now roaring above them.
The clamour, though muffled by the walls and sand between the men in the cell and the crowd, swelled to an almost intolerable level. This signified the end for one of their unfortunate comrades, and all those in the cell bowed their heads for the fallen soul. Some shook, some wept, and some remained stoic. However one, alone in the corner of the cell, smiled.
Though he sat in darkness, he was mostly visible, as the dim light given them by the torches just outside the cell reflected in his luminous skin. The pale entity was largely built, standing more then a head taller than most. He bears the distinctively pointed ears of an elf, though any who had used that word in reference to him had been taught the difference between elves and…Whatever he happened to be. A glint of pleasure shone in his blood red eyes as the brute remembered the lessons he had bestowed on those misguided individuals. Snow blond hair brushed the tops of his shoulders, flowing gently as his head swivelled to take in the fear now manifesting in his fellow cellmates. His body was all muscle and sinew, strong and unyielding, yet lean and agile. This being was built for this place that had been feared by all who came before him. Only those with a special taste for blood welcomed the arena, and the pale skinned creature had opened his arms and embraced it like no other. This bloodlust was cleverly masked by an almost angelic face. However, despite his welcoming visage, the others in the cell stayed very clear of him. Perhaps this distance was created out of respect, but, more than likely, it had been born of the fear instilled in them by the stories overheard by the guards posted above.
A voice now sounded, as the din of the people in the stands died down in order to hear the man now commanding their attention. The words mattered not to the pale skinned figure. Only the sound of metal against stone mattered as the guards approached the cell and called out.
Thanatos. God of death. An appropriate moniker for the beast now unfolding himself from the darkness, but one he despised. His skill in the art of killing was something he was most certainly proud of. However, the crowd had given him this nickname, and so his real name would be forgotten. Only the champion Thanatos would be remembered. Only this arena warrior responsible for the deaths of so many would hold a place in history. The thought angered him.
Fully upright now, Thanatos made his way to the doorway. He couldn’t help but smile at the grating sound of the key sliding into the padlock. He turned to the others, but none met his gaze. A quiet click, made comparable to the sound of an explosion by the utter silence now permeating the room, and the door opened. Thanatos stepped through the doorway and began to chuckle. The sound echoed down the hallway as the group rounded the corner. Once out of their sight, the prisoners left in the cell let go a collective sigh of relief, as each person believed that man to be their end at one point or another.
As they approached the gate to the arena’s floor, the guards accompanying Thanatos handed him his broadsword. Though it had been polished and sharpened, he could still see the faint outlines of bloodstains left upon the metal. The only trophies he was allowed to keep, and his smile returned.
The gate opened, and screams erupted from the stands. They called for this Thanatos, the creature they had named for his talent at being the last thing any man against him glimpsed before their meeting with their deity. Thanatos took a breath and blocked them out. He was not concerned with their interest in him. He refused to bother with the men who idolized him, or the women who lusted after him for his prowess in the arena. He cared only for the feeling of the cool metal in his hands, for the sand beneath his feet, and for the control over how long his opponents were allowed to live in his presence.
Sand crunched under his weight, and Thanatos walked to the center of the arena. Who would they pit against him this time? What unlucky fool would dare to think he could triumph over Thanatos?
The gladiator grimaced. He had referred to himself by his nickname. How could he have let his name in the arena take precedence over his real name? The thought disturbed him. It was time to leave this place. He had grown too complacent. The lie was beginning to take over.
As the horn bellowed, more gates opened, and three giants among men stepped out into the blistering sunlight. So, these were the unfortunate souls who’s blood would mix with the sand this day.
Anticipation welled inside him. His grip on his sword tightened and relaxed as he swung the sword around in a circle, loosening the muscles in his wrist and forearm for the coming slaughter.
They had circled him now, as Thanatos waited in the center of the arena. Calm and quiet, eyes half shut against the blinding light of day. He could hear the voice of the announcer, a dull sound in the back of his mind. Only one word could set him free.
“BEGIN!” Shouted the announcer, and the rowdy group of peasants launched to their feet in a chorus of cries. “THANATOS, THANATOS!” They chorused.
The pale warrior let out a calming breath and waited. Each opponent, who stood as tall as Thanatos, but carried much more muscle than he, were equipped with a weapon and a shield, though none of it would save them. The man directly in front of Thanatos carried a long spear, which bore a tip that he believed would be perfect for his escape plan. To his left his opponent carried a broad axe. A weapon that would require two hands for a normal man, but the size of this one in particular turned the axe into a single handed weapon. And so, he too carried a shield. On his right stood the smallest of the three walking dead. He carried a short sword that Thanatos knew to be laced with poison. They soon became anxious, made unsure by the stillness of the man who almost shone in the sunlight. One of them, the man in the middle, soon became impatient and began muttering under his breath. Thanatos picked up one word in what his opponent uttered, and decided that all three would need a lesson in respect. “Elf”
Thanatos lunged to the right, bringing his arm up in a vicious arc, slicing through the muscle and bone of the mans forearm, rendering his poison laced sword obsolete. The man cried out. In shock and in agony, and brought his shield up to ward off the oncoming attacks from the pale ghost. The crowd howled as the other two opponents broke into movement then. They had been as surprised as the new amputee at the speed of the attacks. Thanatos hammered at the shield, knocking the bleeding man backward. Another sound of pure agony, and a sickening splintering of bone sounded. Thanatos’ continued striking of the shield bent the metal inward so fast and hard that it’s carriers arm had shattered between the metal coils that secured it to his body. The fight in this man had gone. In shock and pain, weak from the blood loss, his adversary stood shakily. His eyes had glazed over from the pain. A flick of Thanatos’ wrist severed the man’s jugular. Warm lifeblood splashed over Thanatos’ chest. He smiled and pivoted, quickly landing a kick to the man’s chest, sending him across the sand into the place where his life drained from his body. One down, two to go.
After seeing the results of facing Thanatos alone, the leftover prey grouped together, coming at him simultaneously. Thanatos wanted that spear tip, and so when they were almost upon him, he began to move, circling around, side stepping, then lunging between them. Both took a swing in his direction. He dropped down low, in time to feel the wind caused by the movement of the giant axe above his head. Next came the spear. Now on his knees, Thanatos lunged backward, his lower back resting against his heels. He could feel the heat of the sand beneath his shoulders. As the spear floated above him, about to be drawn back to it’s master, he flicked his sword upward, clipping the tip of the spear. Metal against metal sounded in the arena, and the crowd roared its approval.
Now angered from the failure to obtain the spearhead quite yet, he leapt to his feet. The axe-wielder was still stumbling from the effort of swinging the axe the first time, leaving Thanatos’ with a few precious moments to separate the spearman from him. He gathered his strength and ran at the spearman, planting a foot on his now upraised shield, running along the metal until Thanatos kicked out at the soldiers helmet, launching himself off of the giant. The force of the kick sent the man stumbling, rendering him unconscious as he hit the ground.
Thanatos recovered, turning to the axeman and walking toward him. A low growl of frustration sounded from the metal clad giant, and he brought the axe up for another swing. Thanatos ran at him, dodging as the axe swung by him. He placed a hand on the mans shoulder and used the momentum to hop onto his challenger’s back. A flick of his wrist and his sword was point-down, aimed for the back of the surprised goliath’s neck. With one hand wrapped around the hilt, and the palm of the other pushing at the butt of the sword, he drove the blade into the axemans neck and rode the flailing man to the ground. A dust cloud rose as Thanatos’ roared his triumph and dragged the sword through the sand, and the man’s spine, jugular, through his flesh. He severed the head of the unfortunate man, creating a trench in the earth, a trench that quickly began to fill with the sticky red fluid now pumping from the gore at apex of the fresh corpses spine. Thanatos drew his arm up, straightening it out quickly, flicking the excess gore and blood from the blade.
His final target stirred, coming to quickly and launching to his feet (as well as a man his size could). He glared at the ghost.
“What..are you!?” Exclaimed the spearman.
Thanatos simply smiled and broke into a run. The spearman steadied himself and prepared for the attack. He lunged, bringing his spear up and out at the near colorless streak coming at him now. Thanatos gained speed, and as he neared the spear tip he dropped, sliding beneath the spear and swinging his sword arm upwards. A satisfying severing of the wood resounded and the spear tip hit the ground. Thanatos continued the assault, bringing one knee up, putting his weight upon it and spinning, with his sword following suit. Another dust cloud formed around the crouching man and a blood curdling scream broke through it. Thanatos had scooped up the spearhead and stored it in his boot as he brought the sword around, relieving the spearman of his legs from the knee down. Quickly, even before the giant had a chance to hit the ground, Thanatos lunged upward, bringing his sword straight up. A clean cut from stomach to sternum. Gore and viscera spilled out from the gaping wound. The agonized scream was cut off by a sickening gurgle. A death rattle emerged from the dead man as the giant finally hit the ground.
The pale warrior stood, facing the crowd, covered in blood and gore, but still loved by these people chanting his title. The elation of battle was soon over, however, as pain, red hot and blinding coursed through his veins. With every beat of his heart the pain surged and receded, each time coming back with a ferocity greater than before. Thanatos cried out, clutching at his chest and dropping to his knees. He had felt this crushing pain before. No man nor beast could get him here, but this pain was more than he had experience before. His vision blurred, and the last sensation felt before everything went black was the scraping of his flesh in the sand as the soldiers dragged him from the arena. The crowd was silent.
The Pits Of Jhelom
The cold stone floor beneath him did nothing to quell the burning beneath his skin. As Thanatos returned to consciousness he let out a growl of frustration. Pain was not a sensation he was used to. He coughed and pushed himself into a sitting position against the wall. The other captives in the cell seemed to shrink back.
“I’m leaving. If you seek freedom, then follow me when they come for me next. You will have one chance.” Said Thanatos. He could see surprise in the faces of the others, and smiled inwardly.
“Why would we ever consider helping you?” One captive, braver than the others, spoke up though his voice shook.
Thanatos smiled and cocked his head to one side. He was hoping someone would question his motives. It enabled him to deliver the line that would scare the others into complacency.
“Because, if you don’t achieve freedom now, it wont be long before I kill you in the arena. And I will kill you.” There was menace in the gladiators eyes as he spoke. “So, die tomorrow ,alone and surrounded by thousands of strangers . Or die ten, twenty, thirty years from now surrounded by your loved ones. Your choice.” And with that, he leaned back against the wall, letting his eyes drift closed. He could feel the now warm metal of the spearhead against the flesh of his calf. The knowledge of its presence calmed him, and as he waited for his next battle to arrive, he could almost smell the clean air of the outdoors, could almost taste the freedom, and he smiled in anticipation
The Pits Of Jhelom
The telltale chanting of his arrival began, followed by the distinct sound of metal feet against the stone. With every step the hunger for freedom grew, and slowly he removed the spearhead from his boot. The metal gliding against his skin sent shivers of apprehension along his spine. He could almost feel the warmth of their blood pouring over him, but he needed to calm himself. He could not risk spooking the others and having them alert the guards to his plan. Thanatos looked to each, searching out their gaze in the dim light, the question burned in the red of his eye.
Thanatos was pleased when all those in the cell nodded their agreement.
The key clicked into the lock and the iron gate swung open. Thanatos stood, clutching the spearhead in one hand and making his way to the open door. He could feel the tension of the small crowd behind him, as they had almost no idea of what action he might take to secure their freedom.
Thanatos stepped forward, placing himself in the middle of the group of four guards. Familiar faces, men he had seen each time he had been summoned to the arena. But that did not matter to him. It would never matter to him, no matter how ‘well’ he knew these beings he deemed beneath him . The pale warrior stood in contrast to the dark armour of the guards surrounding him, staring dead ahead and hoping that those behind him would follow his lead and make his escape all the easier.
He let the spearhead slip down comfortably into his grip and quickly drew his elbow up and backward, listening for the sickening crack of the guards nose to his right. The guard stumbled backward into the open cell and the anger of abused gladiators inside. Thanatos followed through on the momentum and spun to brace his hands upon the chest of the guard previously behind him, and shoved the man backwards into the cell alongside his partner.
“Take them!” Thanatos shouted. He smiled as the two other guards were upon him, dragging him to the floor. His cellmates were now pinning the surprised and helpless guards to the ground. Fear had always been their weapon. And now, caught off guard and unprepared, their tool was being used against them. Both men, now frantically wrestling against their attackers, let out growls of frustration, only to have them silenced by a stone hard fists to their faces.
Thanatos turned, dragging the guards gripping tightly to his arms, along with him and shoving one guard toward the cell. This one, however, had a stickier grip than he had anticipated and the guard continued to cling to Thanatos’ frustration. It was then that the guard discovered the pilfered spearhead hiding in his grip. Their eyes met, and Thanatos smiled. The look contorting his features startled the guard and his grip loosened. Thanatos shoved him backward, shaking the guard off completely before curling his leg upward and landing a ferocious kick to the unfortunate guards stomach. The man doubled over and heaved, retching miserably before he was dragged down next to his fellows and summarily beaten into unconsciousness.
This left Thanatos’ spear laden hand free to drive toward the throat of his other assailant. Metal pierced flesh over and over as he shoved the pointed end of the spearhead repeatedly into the other man’s neck, opening it up to a tidal wave of the warm red fluid Thanatos loved to watch flow. The guard toppled lifeless to the floor, the blood pooling around his head. A bloody red halo forming as the man’s soul left him.
Cries of alarm could be heard ricocheting throughout the halls of the underground cells. The sounds of the scuffle had alerted the other guards, and metal against stone began to sound throughout the halls. The small group of cellmates, headed by Thanatos took off to the rear door. The door used to bring in new slaves to use in the arena, or to solicit the attentions of the male patrons of the arena above. They broke into a run and headed for the door, an easy run as most of the guards were stationed above, controlling the rowdy and drunk men and women here for the fights. Thanatos rounded the corner and stopped dead in his tracks. He spread out his arms, stopping his followers without a word. A group of soldiers stood gossiping by the door. They back pedaled around the corner and waited. This group obviously hadn’t been alerted, but it wouldn’t take long, Thanatos knew. He signalled for the group to attack with him. Eager and trusting eyes, alight with the bloodlust they all often felt once they got past the fear. Thanatos brandished his spearhead, four of his companions lifted their stolen swords, and the lot of them charged around the corner.
The pale silhouette of the gladiator was the last that the guard closest to the corner saw out of the corner of his eye as Thanatos barrelled into him, knocking him back into the group of his comrades. Thanatos could hear the sound of metal on metal, could hear the cries of anguish as the blood of guards and prisoners alike collected at their feet.
The spearhead found its way into the eye socket of one unfortunate guard. It slid into his cranium with ease, and Thanatos relished it. He gripped the left over shaft of the spear and began to shuck the mans eye from his victims socket, but it the spearhead caught on his orbital bone, grinding against it as Thanatos tried to remove it. This gave one of the guards, currently drawing his sword from the belly of one of Thanatos’ makeshift allies, enough time to bear down on him. The guard swung his sword toward Thanatos, creating a shallow parting of flesh of the arm gripping the spearhead.
Rage coloured Thanatos’ face, twisting it into a feral snarl as he lunged for the guard. He grabbed at the man’s sword hand, gripping it tightly as he bashed it repeatedly against the wall. He could feel the guard’s bones turn to dust in his palm. He could almost feel the guard going into shock, as he watched him go limp and his eyes glaze over in pain. The sword fell from the now useless mess of the soldiers hand and clattered to the ground. Thanatos continued his assault, curling his fist and landing a blow to the guards windpipe. Knees buckling, coughing and heaving, and almost sick with pain the guard hit the ground, but defiance still burned in his eyes as he glared up at Thanatos. His useless wreck of a hand clutched at his throat. Thanatos reached for the fallen sword and drew it upward, holding it, two handed, above his head with the killing end focused on the kneeling man before him. His comrades had ceased their fighting and stood around him, their quarry lay dead and bloody among them, along with several of their original companions. Five left, including Thanatos. Soon to be four as he smiled down at the defiant man below.
“Take their armor. Their weapons, money, anything useful.” Said Thanatos before gripping the sword tightly and bringing it down, shoving the cold steel into the man’s chest and letting him drop.
The ashen warrior collected the keys from the soldier and smiling to himself. Soon these walls would no longer contain him.
They waited, clad in stolen armour and weapons, silent and waiting for the shouting guards to pass them by. News of the escape had been contained by the guards, but the guard at the exits had been doubled, and everyone was suspicious. The meagre entertainment provided to placate the crowd was failing, and Thanatos could hear their unhappy words throughout the halls. He turned to the four behind him.
“Stand tall, arrogant. Walk with one hand resting lightly on the top of the hilt of your sword. Do not grip the hilt, it is a sign that you plan to attack. Should a guard look you in the eye only as you pass, greet them with a curt nod. Say nothing, do nothing that will draw suspicion, or we will all be lost. If we are separated, head west and meet at the graveyard.”
Thanatos’ words seemed to steel his fellows’ resolve. All four straightened, their faces going blank, confidence showing in their eyes. A shame. They listened so well, could follow orders obediently so far. It was unfortunate that he would not be keeping them as his underlings. The appropriated sword felt heavy in his hands. He ached to spill more blood with it.
The patrol passed and the group rounded the corner. Thanatos in the lead, two behind him and the last centered and walking in back. They walked together, through the corridors, past gossiping guards and unsuspecting slaves. Through the damp, headed for the light. They headed for the exit, could see the peasant-lined streets and anonymity beyond. One more obstacle. The heavy guard searching for his troupe, searching for him in order to satiate the hungry crowd now throwing near rotted fruit and ale into the arena in protest.
He approached, making as if to pass without interaction at all, but was stopped by four stony eyed men blocking his path.
“There are prisoners loose on the grounds, what business have you in the street?” Suspicion flickered in the leaders eyes, but Thanatos carried on with confidence.
“Orders. We are to check the surrounding area for signs of the prisoners’ escape into the street.” Thanatos let the words pass his lips with ease, meeting the guards searching gaze with his own fortitude. He could feel the men behind him, however, begin to grow uneasy with the length of time it took to receive an answer from the scrutinizing guard.
A moment too long, the hand of the youngest among them, covered in cold sweat, shifted to grip the hilt of his sword. The scrutiny of the guard stopping them flickered to the hand and back to Thanatos’ face, and realization dawned.
“ ‘TIS THE FUGIT-” Began the guard, but his words were cut short by the blade of Thanatos’ sword piercing his lungs. The guards remaining advanced on Thanatos’ small group, brandishing their weapons, pure determination in their eyes. Thanatos began hacking at the men in front of him, parrying blows of their swords and dodging between his foes. The men behind him fought as well, though Thanatos could tell they had begun to tire.
“Kill them, we cannot let them alert the others!” Thanatos grunted to his team as he flicked his wrist, spreading the flesh of his opponents neck.
A cry of pain and Thanatos turned to see the man who had initiated this confrontation topple to the ground. His fingers groped at the gaping wound in his chest, attempting to staunch the flow of the hot red lifeblood leaving him at an astounding rate. One less loose end to tie up. Thanatos smiled and shoved his sword to the hilt into the next guard in line. He held the man upright, drawing his sword back ever so slowly, relishing the flares of pain in the mans face as every inch of steel left him. Soon the others finished off the remaining guards, but the shout, though it had been cut off, had alerted many more to their location, and Thanatos could hear the pounding of metal heels approaching.
“The meeting place!” He shouted. He bolted into the street, removing his helmet and tossing it into the crowd. Sounds of frustration and angry calls resounded behind him. The others were following. This was acceptable to him, it would mean less hunting should one of them have decided not to show up at the cemetery. The group, now down to three, bobbed and ducked through the streets until they arrived at the cemetery. The guards had not been able to follow, had been to far behind to see which direction they had headed, and so Thanatos had some time before the search spread wide enough to include the cemetery.
Thankfully the cemetery was deserted, as few ever dared enter at dusk. Thanatos made his way deep into the forest of stone markers, slowly removing the deceased guard’s chest piece and bracers. He stood silently, watching the others recover from the sprint. They came to stand before him, one on either side.
“It worked…We’re free! But…where do we go from here, Thanatos? What is the plan?” One man spoke up, his breathing ragged.
Thanatos did not respond, merely stood, gazing between them, silent. His silence must have made them uneasy, as his fellow prisoners turned to each other, the question in their eyes.
As their collective gaze returned to Thanatos, surprise coloured their faces. The steel of Thanatos’ blade glinted in the dim light. One man’s hand came up, as if to stop the onslaught, but the blade cleaved through the flesh, spine, tissue and sinew of the necks of both men before either fully realized the betrayal. One single, fluid motion. Perfect. Thanatos was pleased. Warm blood sprayed his chest, and the body of the reaching man continued to fall. The palm of the outstretched hand slapped his chest, carving an ivory trench in the blood collecting there. No loose ends.
The Pits Of Jhelom
The Red Hood
Thanatos stared at the scrap of fabric in his hand. The contrast of the almost black blood against the white of the fabric startled him; and as the spectral being stood among the resting place of so many dead, he surveyed the cold tombstones with a smile on his face. How many had he sent to this place? How much blood had he spilled? His gaze dropped to the cloth in his hand. Not enough. Yet. However, before he could continue with his favourite pass time activity, there was the issue of this constant throbbing in his veins. There was no pain, just a subtle discomfort. It still annoyed him.
The fabric crumpled beneath the force of his hand and Thanatos tossed it away. His gaze followed the bloody material to the ground, but movement flickered in the corner of his eye. Thanatos leapt backward as the blade of a sword crashed down before him. While the fabric had drawn his attention, five armed guards had ventured onto the cemetery grounds. He had forgotten about the patrol.
Cold steel slammed against his chest as the first guard thrust the face of his shield at Thanatos, knocking him backwards. Thanatos nearly tumbled over the headstone behind him, but caught himself before his balance was lost. He used the momentum to launch back over the headstone and plant a fierce kick to the knee of his assailant. The bone fractured with the force of the kick and the man dropped to the ground. He had little time before the other guards were upon him, and with that thought Thanatos brought his foot down on the wounded guards knee again. Bone punctured flesh and cries of agony echoed through the graveyard. The guard passed out from the pain. Thanatos scooped up the other man’s sword and made his way toward the other guards. Two more on foot had followed their leader into the cemetery, but had ended up too far behind to help their comrade. Though he was positive their numbers would not change the outcome, he would prefer to have as little attention drawn to him as possible.
Steel sounded against steel as Thanatos met the other guards. He drove the point of his blade into the chest of the closest man, giving it a fierce twist for good measure before pulling it backward and letting the man drop. Moving on to the next target, Thanatos met him at full speed, bracing his forearm outward at the last second, letting the steel of his muscle collide with the mans neck and collarbone. The soldier collided with the ground and immediately began convulsing, trying to draw air into his lungs and failing. With the wind knocked out of the man, and terror filling his victim’s gaze, Thanatos brought the sword down upon him, shoving steel through the heart. His prey lay dead around him, blood staining the grass, turning the blades of green to a lacquered black.
Thanatos felt the throbbing in his veins. He needed to head south east, to the moongate. There was something important waiting for him there. But of course, the short journey wouldn’t be easy for him, as Thanatos spotted two mounted guards coming in his direction. They eyed the bloodshed around him and kicked their horses into a gallop. Thanatos spun and launched himself in the general direction of the moongate, refusing to part with his stolen blade, as he was sure he was going to need it to remove the blemishes now following him. He tore through the crowd, moving as quickly as he could without pushing the crowd out of the way. Leaving the masses intact would make it more difficult for the horsemen to get through and catch up to him. He knew he had to make it to the woods. Cover and near invisibility would make ending these two quite simple.
The smells of the city followed him. He could smell the fresh baked goods at the bakers shop, the yeasty smell made his stomach growl, but there would be time later to sustain his body. He kept running, passing the scribes, the healers. He could still smell the herbs they used, the scent of them clinging to the inside of his nose as he broke into the woods. Thanatos could hear the horsemen crash into the bush not far behind him. He had little time. The moongate must be close, the humming in his blood was ebbing, becoming more pleasant the closer he got. Why? What could this mea-
The thought was cut off as white hot pain lanced through him. The arrow jabbed into the ground, the end swung back and forth with the force of its landing. Thanatos glanced downward and watched a trail of blood cut its way along his calf where the spear tip had grazed him. A shallow parting of flesh, but Thanatos could feel the anger bubbling up in him none the less. He dragged the arrow from its nest in the ground and spun to meet the guards now coming through the woods at him. Wood splintered easily in his grip and the pieces landed around him. The man in front lined up a spear and charged. Thanatos braced himself, he spread his legs, letting his center of gravity drop to better prepare for the force of his retaliation. Thanatos had let the pilfered sword drop to the ground in preparation, and seeing this the guard continued at his speed, thinking it a sure kill, that the prisoner had given up.
Steel tipped wood passed by him narrowly, as Thanatos shifted subtly to allow the spear to pass close to him. He dropped, bringing one hand up underneath the spear, and using the other to push down on the killing end. The fierce grip the guard maintained for the killing blow made it easy to pop him out of the saddle and dump him on the ground. The other guard was not far behind. Thanatos scooped up the sharp end of the arrow he had broken and dashed for the guard. He dropped to one knee and smiled at the semi-conscious man before cramming the sharp end of the arrow into the man’s eye socket. With the tool firmly embedded in the skull and the man now screaming in horror beneath him, Thanatos stood and levelled his foot over the jagged protruding shaft of the arrow.
More pain, radiating from his shoulder as another arrow embedded itself in Thanatos’ shoulder. He almost screamed, nearly losing balance with the shock of this common filth actually landing a shot on him. He growled in frustration, quickly regaining his balance and dropping his foot to the end of the arrow, shoving the arrowhead deep into the brain. Thanatos launched into the woods, leaving the soldier behind to twitch until finally expiring.
The moongate. It was close. Thanatos burst into the clearing. The moongate stood before him in the cleaning. An oval mirror surrounded by several large stones. He could feel the blood trickling over the muscles of his back. No time to lose. As he ran for the gate, he reached around and snapped the shaft of the arrow, tossing the leftovers behind him. The action obstructed his vision and Thanatos failed to see the rock that was now bringing him to the ground. A flash of disbelief coloured his features. A tiny piece of stone would be his undoing. He hit the ground with a grunt of pain, landing on his wounded shoulder. Muscle and sinew tore with every movement, and Thanatos was slow at recovering. The guard was upon him.
Wood creaked and groaned as the archer drew back the arrow resting on his string. A smile broke through the concentration of the mounted soldier and he spoke before taking the final shot.
“I can’t imagine the notoriety I shall receive for ending you. I’ll be a hero. You, however, will die the nameless scum you have always been.”
With that he let the arrow fly, and Thanatos closed his eyes, and prepared to meet the one after which he had been named.
But the pain never came. Thanatos cracked open one eye. He had been perfectly prepared to meet death, he had been calm, unusually so…But the blow had never come. His gaze revealed a cloaked figure before him, and in its grasp was the arrow meant for him. The figure had caught the projectile in its fist, stopping it dead. The arrow fell to the ground.
The archer made to string another arrow, but the pure intimidation of being outnumbered made him clumsy. The figure reached out to the soldier, each movement was flawless, graceful. Like a….Woman.
Thanatos watched the scene in awe. The soldier stopped, his eyes opening in shock.
“Vas Ort Flam.” Whispered the cloaked entity. The soft voice only confirmed to Thanatos that a woman was now rescuing his hide. More disbelief flooded him. How had he gotten here?
The train of thought was interrupted by the prompt combustion of the former archer. The mount shied and took off into the woods, and as flesh and blood rained down around them the figure turned to Thanatos and offered him a hand. The great hood of the cloak covered her features, leaving only the bottom half of her pale face visible. The shape of the mouth only confirmed Thanatos’ suspicious of the sex of his rescuer.
Immediately Thanatos took the offered hand. He only had a moment to ponder why he would even consider letting another help him up before the figure spoke.
“Follow me, Brother.” Before she disappeared into the reflection of the moongate.
The Pits Of Jhelom
Into The Darkness
“Follow me, Brother.” The hooded figure said as she disappeared into the reflection of the moongate.
Trillin stumbled behind, clutching his wounded shoulder. He was unaware of what awaited him on the other side, or for that matter where the moongate would even choose to take him, but he was sure it would be better than what was left for him here.
His vision blurred as sharp lances of pain hurtled through his veins. Trillin had not anticipated the speed at which the poison would travel through his body, and his body was beginning to tire. The moongate drew him in, and a feeling, like water, trickled over his skin in the mere seconds it took him to arrive on the other side. The calm of the moongate released him, and the double vision and pain returned just long enough for Trillin to see his rescuer. The poison overwhelmed him, and as he stepped toward the cloaked figure, his eyes flashed red. Trillin collapsed and welcomed the dark where so many of his victims resided.
A voice, thick with urgency, woke Trillin from the darkness.
“you must!” Trillin’s eyes slowly began to open, the smell of the forest bombarded him. “You must take him in… he is like us” As the darkness receded, the pain returned, and soon it became unbearable. He could feel his weight being shifted, carried up, jostled, until his mind shut down from the pain, and the blackness returned.
The same voice forced the blissful darkness away. Only this time, a threat laced the calmness of it.
“Take the gold, speak to no one. You will regret it, should you decide to betray me.” Sounded the voice. Trillin cracked open one eye, hoping to get a peek, even a blurry one, at his surroundings. All he saw were shapes and colors. Unrecognizable in his hazy state of mind. . “As you wish, M‘lady.” Replied a frightened voice. “No one will know of his existence from my lips, I swear it.” Trillin could see the vague shape of the hooded figure that plagued his minimal waking moments. It was as if looking through the thickest fog he had ever experienced. And, were it not for the constant thrilling of pain pulsing through him, his frustration would normally have reached a deadly peak. Again, the darkness swept upon him, washing away the fog with dreamless sleep.
Light filtered through the windows, shining directly into his eyes. Though he could see the red behind his eyelids, Trillin could not open them. Try as he might, the sheer weight of them was unmistakeable. The severe pain that Trillin remembered before the darkness was gone, replaced by a dull ache in every inch of his body. Try as he might, he could not lift a limb, he was forced to remain in the place between awake and dreaming. Muffled voices surround him. Only bits and pieces make sense to him. Substantial injuries…Sedated….Recovery, but over time….One month lost…..
Cold, salty fingers filled Trillin’s mouth, and he began to convulse as a rancid tasting liquid was forced down his throat. The clammy hand covered his mouth and nose, and automatically his body swallowed the foul beverage. Few words followed him into the darkness. “Thanatos... No More."
Finally, Trillin awoke. A pasty film covered his mouth, and immediately a trencher was placed to his lips. Water. Greedily he drank, draining the trencher before even fully opening his eyes to see who held it for him. A pale white face, much to similar to his own stared back at him. A feminine version of himself. All pale hair and skin, and blood red eyes.
“You’re awake. I’m glad to see that my efforts were not in vain.” The girl set the trencher down on the table next to his bed. Trillin’s gaze followed suit, taking in the empty bottles cluttering the table. He also noted the small cot in the corner of the room. Has she been standing watch by his bedside?
“Yo..u ar..e li...ke me?” Trillin spoke, though he stumbled over his own words. She smiled and nodded.
“You’ve caused a lot of trouble for our kind. They’re looking for you, you know. $5 million in gold for you captured alive…But luckily for you, I have other plans.” The hooded figure rose, drawing the cloak over her shoulders and slipping the hood up to cover her face and hair. "Now that you are awake, damage control is in order.” And with that she turned on her heel and left.
Ever foolhardy, Trillin refused to remain in bed, and with some difficulty, he rises up and dresses himself. The hooded figures words remind him that his face will be posted all over town, and Trillin searched his small room for something to conceal his face.
His search turns his attention to the small chest at the end of his bed. Upon it lay the perfect solution. a hooded robe, red in color, that much like his saviors. Placing the cloak up and over his shoulders, Trillin set out to explore his involuntary new home.
The Pits Of Jhelom
Trillins empty stomach led him into the heart of the city. He followed his nose, finding himself amid the bustling crowd of the marketplace. He wove through the clusters of people eyeing the shopkeepers wares, keeping his eyes forward but using his peripherals to search for those who may have recognized him.
So far, so good. He thought. Though Trillin was most certainly not one to shy away from a fight, he did, at the moment, have other things on his mind. Sustenance. He cut through the alley to his right and followed the smell of roasting chickens to a tavern. Trillin stopped just short of entering and stepped to the left. Pinned to the stone by a thick iron stake was a large piece of parchment bearing his likeness. The corners of Trillins mouth upturned in a twisted grin. The artist had failed in capturing the perfect line of his nose. Trillin snorted and pushed his way into the tavern.
Trillin passed a group of whispering patrons who had noted his entrance. He hoped that he could get some food down before they became a problem, but Trillin was ever the pessimist when it came to the intelligence of others. He seated himself at the bar, and ordered himself a side of whatever meat they had roasting at the moment and a flagon of ale. His stomach groaned at the very thought of what was to come. The barkeep shoved the plate and mug in front of him and left. Trillins mouth watered and he dug in.
His pleasure in solid food was cut short, though, as he felt a hand close over his shoulder. The owner of said hand attempted to turn him around, but Trillin resisted. He could hear the man grunt with exertion. He set his tankard down and turned slowly to face the man, keeping his hood up and over his face. So much for a good meal before trouble found him.
The man standing before him stood taller than Trillin while seated. He must have weighed triple that of Trillin, but his bulk was mainly comprised of ale as evidenced by the subtle jiggle as he reached for the hood.
“Show your face!” His gruff voice sounded. He grabbed at the fabric, wrenching it backward and over Trillins head.
Trillin cocked a fist and drove it into the mans windpipe. As the heavy man hit the floor his friends, three of them if Trillin had counted correctly, launched themselves from the table they once occupied and threw themselves at him. Trillin flattened out a palm and shoved it into the next assailants nose, propelling the broken splinters up into the unfortunate man’s brain. He dropped as well, blood and froth spewing from his mouth and nose. Bewildered, his friends simply stared at the puddle forming in a gruesome halo around their companion’s head.
Another stepped over the crumpled form lying prone on the floor. He had brought the knife he had been using to cut his meat. He lunged, Trillin anticipated the attack and ducked. He took hold of the man’s wrist, squeezing until the knife clattered to the floor behind him. The sound sent Trillin’s face into another twisted smile. His grip tightened and Trillin rammed his free hand upward at the elbow, shattering the brutes arm. Blood flecked Trillin’s white skin as bone punctured skin. Trillin’s smile stayed at the man’s screams filled his ears. A glorious soundtrack to the mayhem.
The few patrons that had gathered in the tavern fled, leaving their uneaten meals behind them. The last man turned and fled as well, calling for the guard. Trillin couldn’t have the guard following him back to the hideout in the woods, and quickly made to solve the problem. He grabbed the forgotten knife from the floor and dashed for the door. He jumped the tables, running through plates of abandoned food. He propelled himself at the fleeing man, driving the knife downward, planting it squarely between his shoulder blades as he followed the man to the ground.
Trillin stood, brushing himself off and extracting the knife from the dead man’s back. He strode toward the bar, grabbing a towel and wiping down the blade before setting it next to the plate. He could hear the harried voices of the patron’s who had already fled and knew that the guard would soon be upon him. Trillin chugged down the ale. He tossed a coin to the barkeep and snatched up the hunk of meat from his plate before replacing his hood and heading for the back door.
In the alley, Trillin felt an overwhelming need to return to the hideout overtake him. A need so all encompassing that his blood almost boiled with it. Trillin took off racing through the streets and toward the forest. He burst through the door to his room, first seeing the woman who had saved him, but immediately taking note of the hooded figure beside her. He stepped toward the newcomer, furious that this woman had brought a stranger to see him.
“Who are you?” Trillin demanded.
The figure lifted the hood, dropping it around his shoulders and revealing a visage quite similar to that of Trillin himself. Pale skin and hair, blood red eyes and sharp pointed features stared back at him.
“I am the Bloodroot.”
The Pits Of Jhelom
Written by Asimov
"You are angry..," spoke the Atalan Bloodroot sternly, turning his back on the former gladiator. "I can feel it as clearly as you do in your own mind."
Thrusting one of Equinox's two blades into the ground, the Atalan turned back toward the man with a flash of his red eyes. "Soon you will learn to feel what your brethren around you are feeling. Soon you will be in tune, as one, with the rest of us," the Bloodroot stated matter of factly. "As beings that draw our strength from emotion, feeling that which your ally feels," he paused, "...is a skill most beneficial in combat. It is a skill you will master."
Taking two steps forward and flexing his chest, Trillin exclaimed, "I will do NOTHING until you tell me who you are. I am THANAT..."
Interrupted by a forearm to the throat, Trillin was quickly driven back and pinned against the wall by the Atalan. The Bloodroot had deftly lunged forward, knocking the gladiator off balance. As the Atalan reached his other hand backward, Equinox leapt from the ground into his open grasp.
"My name is Asimov, General of the Atalan Warbreed, and you WILL do EXACTLY as you are told, because neither I nor the burning blood coursing through your veins will allow otherwise," Asimov spat back at Trillin, eyes flashing red as he accentuated his words. "Your stance is weak, you are slow, you place too much weight on your front foot, and you telegraph your movements," the Bloodroot sneered. "I am no mere gladiator, and while our race's natural abilities have allowed you to survive, I will teach you how to kill."
Spinning the double bladed staff in his right hand, Asimov took a step back and crouched slightly, releasing Trillin from the wall by removing his forearm from the man's neck and replacing it with the tip of Equinox.
"And you are incorrect," the Atalan General continued. "You are not Thanatos...nor have you ever been Thanatos," he said, rising to stand full height in front of the gladiator while releasing his grip on Equinox, allowing it to dissipate in a sudden burst of flowing, smokey air. "You are Trillin of the Atalan," Asimov said with glowing red eyes. "It is time for you to stop fighting with children and start preparing for war."
"The blood that has been burning inside you, urging you to find me...is a part of a process called the Bloodfyre Summoning," the General spoke. "And it guides an Atalan to their true calling."
Moving the corner of the room, the Bloodroot picked up a shadow-iron spear that was leaning against the wall.
"Much like the spear you wielded to mount your escape, you move without fear to lead a charge head on into your enemy," the Atalan smirked...tossing the weapon to Trillin. "No longer will you fight at the whim of mere humans looking for coin," Asimov said staring at his new soldier.
"From now on you fight as the Spearhead for me."
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