Hey all you dreamers. I felt it was about time I tried a love story. And what is a love story without mood music =) ?
Happy Valentine's Day, and Enjoy!
Ba’dak leaned against the bamboo wall separating the dojo’s courtyard from the rest of Skargol. The rotting smell of death blew in from a nearby butcher making his stomach rumble, and he watched hungrily as Master K’rylen instructed the initiate Skarlings with his infamous training cane.
“Our great strength comes from our great numbers,” he shouted with a growl, “AGAIN!” The young novices reset their stances, ready for another match. Master K’rylen bent over one of the out of breath children who was resting instead of fighting. “The longer you train, the longer you can fight,” He shouted directly in his face so all could hear him, “do you think that your enemy cares when you are tired?” The master picked him up by the collar of his bloodied, white robe and stood him into position. With a crack of his cane across the novice’s legs, blood trickled down his calves. “AGAIN!”
The dojo was situated at the base of the Dead Shear, a reminder of the great collision that left them stranded on the lands of Terminus. Rising high into the air, it made a natural sundial which cast its immense shadow across the entire impact crater that the Skar would call home. At midday, though, the shadow was nearly nonexistent, as the monolith simply pointed directly at the sun beating down on the combatants, quietly saying, “That is the source of your hatred, brothers.”
Ba’dak’s stomach continued to growl and his skin reddened as he quietly hoped for the demonstration to end. He pulled out a throwing star and sharpened it against a stone before polishing it with the exposed bones on the backside of his hands, sharpening and shaping the bones in the process.
The throwing star whizzed passed a petrified tree and struck its target a hundred yards from its release point. The lizard immediately collapsed as its heart exploded from the razor sharp star slicing through its chambers. Ba’dak bounded through the acrid wetlands and scooped up the corpse. Leaning over a brackish slough of green water, he dressed it; scraping away scales with the sharp edge of the star. Still famished after the morning demonstrations, he devoured it immediately, letting the blood and raw meat quench his hunger. Partially satisfied, he delved deeper into the consumed crater to continue the hunt.
For 400 years of Skar infestation, the surrounding lands have been plagued with consumption by the inhabitants of Skargol. The forest withered and petrified, the swamp stagnated with rot, and the air tingled with acidic fog. This environment left Skargol, neatly isolated outside the curious gaze of Terminus, allowing it to exist as its own horrible universe.
Weakened roots and muddy steeps slowed Ba’dak’s ascension to the rim of the crater. Reaching the top, he looked back toward Skargol to see the dead shear, like a bastion overlooking the wasteland, casting its shadow into the gaseous crater as the afternoon sun began its descent. The trail he was following seemed to be recently disturbed, as the telltale depressions of exposed foot bones suggest the presence of another Skar. He also noticed a set of animal prints cleverly hidden; just off the muddy edges of the trail.
He stalked along the trail quietly listening for animal, or Skar, when he heard the echo of battle. His instincts guided him through a grove of wild thornbush that broke through to another trail overlooking the crater rim. There, a large dire wolf had a female Skar backed into a corner of a rock outcropping.
With a snap of the wrist, his throwing star flipped silently through the air, slamming into the beast’s side. The second star found its hind quarter as Ba’dak dove forward into a lunging tiger strike. The strike staggered the beast into a stone tower which teetered and collapsed onto the surprised beast, crushing it under its weight. Ba’dak celebrated momentarily then turned back to the female who was bloody and tired from the viscous attack. Before he could speak, the pile of rocks behind him shifted and rumbled as the beast melted into a black, magical fluid that trickled out from underneath, taking shape into two identical copies of itself, right in front of his eyes.
Ba’dak leapt forward into a flying kick that landed the moment the shapeshifter’s first form solidified, sending it slipping down the trembling crater wall, safely out of immediate reach. The second form lunged forward toward the female who let out a roaring hiss as her mace landed against its skull, disorienting it. She followed the attack with a blast of frost that knocked the beast back, just teetering it against the crater rim. Ba’dak leapt straight up into the air and came down with such force that the ground shook and a muddy landslide gave way underneath the beast, sending it sprawling down the crater wall along with several dislodged boulders.
Finally safe from the beasts, the two turned toward each other. As the female wiped the blood away from her face, she looked over at him. Their eyes met and Ba’dak immediately felt something primal stir within him. Her green eyes gazed into him like the soft light of a candle. Weakened by this look, he stood there staring, waiting for her to speak. Her face was stunning, for a Skar. The soft bone structure protruded gently through her blushing skin. Something about her calmed his wild ambitions.
She could not hold back her own smile, either, as she dodged eye contact. “My name’s Iz’era,” she said, “I’m a…”
“Priestess,” Ba’dak finished her thought before turning his gaze away as well and kneeling before her with his head bowed. He felt something when she spoke. Like a cool wind that stokes a fire in the darkness, she warmed and calmed him; culling the hatred that he carries as his source of strength.
“Save your groveling for D’sath, monk” she ordered. “I am not yet a priestess, as you say, but soon…” she trailed off.
“Ba’dak,” He offered his name to break the awkward silence.
“ Ba’dak” She echoed. “I am very fortunate to have met you here today, disciple.”
“Fortunate indeed,” he reminded her, still noting her heavy breaths. “How long have you been running?”
“Since dawn,” She replied, “I am soon to take the test of hatred, which none have survived in quite some time. Shhh, my brothers approach.” With the sounds of marching feet and clamoring wagons approaching, she motioned toward a path cut between the rocks and they slipped away quietly.
The hidden trail spiraled around the crater’s rim and disappeared among a forest of barren boulders. Their strides started out frantic, but slowly turned into an afternoon stroll. They spoke to each other as long lost friends reconnecting after a long break. From time to time, Ba’dak would guide her in front of him, gently placing his hand against the swell of her lower spine. They spoke of their lives, their fears, and their challenges; Iz’era on becoming a priestess, Ba’dak on his training in the dojo. The trail ended at a small clearing where some black flowers were attempting to reclaim the Skargol wastes and the view over the city was not even blocked by the shadow of monstrous monolith. The sun was setting quietly and its purple and red rays reflected through the green mist and onto every gray surface it could reach.
Ba’dak disappeared for a moment as Iz’era rested against a decaying tree, gently trampling the flowers and grinding them beneath her feet. He returned with a blood soaked basilisk in one hand. He dressed it while Iz’era started a small fire, and they sat closely together watching it cook while the sun sank into the land. When the beast was sufficiently charred, the priestess broke it into two chunks and gave Ba’dak his share.
“You must return,” Ba’dak offered before taking a bite of his prize, “you are of the one bloodline, Iz’era, they will not allow you to simply disappear.”
“I know,” she smiled at him in that way, “I will rest when the sun rests tonight.” She settled in close to him, placed her hand on his leg, and rested her shoulder spikes against his. Their eyes met again and neither had words that could replace the moment. Instead, they watch the flames die out on their fire and talked peacefully until the sun disappeared.
The trek back into Skargol did not last long, for when they reached the base of the crater wall, a temple scouting party surrounded the pair. The lead scout immediately tackled Ba’dak and several others jumped on him, pinning him to the ground and slicing him with their boney talons. As he got the upper hand on the group of them, a heavy coldark steel boot slammed against his chest knocking the wind from his lungs. Very rare in Skargol, coldark steel was rarely claimed by anyone other than the staunch protectors of the Priestesses.
“Brother, brother,” Iz’era exclaimed, “this disciple has saved me from a Shapeshifter.”
The dark guardian grinned and pulled back a cloth on a carriage with a cage mounted on it. “You mean this shapeshifter?” Its long tale snapped hard against the steel cage, and a long growl echoed across the wastes as it made eye contact with Ba’dak. The guardian savored the unflinching stare between the two creatures for several moments before covering the cage again.
“We have been searching for you, and now we find you in the presence of this… monk?” He pointed to Ba’dak. Lost in thought for a moment, the guardian listened quietly. “Why is your heart beating so fast, sister?”
Ba’dak finally stood, patiently allowing the scouting party to celebrate their victory. The guardian watched Ba’dak rise, and turned his gaze back to Iz’era before letting out a bemused chuckle. “You must be kidding me, sister. You have worked so hard to become a priestess, why would you risk your hard work?”
They both stood in silence, heads down trying not to make eye contact again.
“You better learn your place, lest you end up like the others.”
Ba’dak wiped up the blood from his torso as the convoy disappeared into the dead forest to return to Skargol without him. The priestess looked back once, offering only a smile before turning away.
The night wind was unwelcoming to those who wandered the moonlit streets of Skargol. Ba’dak had not slept well since he met Iz’era, and he often spent his nights pacing the grounds in front of the temple hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Sometimes, he would spy the priestess walking the temple, humming to herself. He would watch her intensely and listen to her music as he leaned close against the fence hoping to decode her secret message to him. On occasions, the wind would change direction at just the right moment, and he swore he could taste her scent. Alas, she would not notice him, and she would simply move back into the temple to return to her nightly activities. He was left to obsess over her from a distance, not knowing if she ever thought of that fateful day.
The sparring grounds did not treat him any better. His focus began suffering from his sleepless nights. He no longer hit as hard and he was much slower to react making him a liability. Master K’rylen did not hold back his ire for this evolution within him either. Ba’dak had been disciplined now more than ever in his training. And he spent much time on the ground by the hands of his own master.
None of this moved Ba’dak to action though. The beatings have been part of his existence since his birth. To be a Skar is to know the pain of slavery, the self-motivated infighting, and the evolutionary culling of the weak. All of this seemed trivial when faced with the deep emotions inspired by his hunt in the wilderness. He did not lose his will to survive, but he no longer felt the hatred burning in his heart that he used to feel. Every day, he could only hope that their paths might, one day, cross again.
The evening sun beat down on Ba’dak as he lay on his back in the sparring grounds; defeated once again by his master.
“Where is your focus, pupil?” Master K’rylen demanded, “Where is your hatred?”
Ba’dak did not speak. He simply stood and brushed himself off. In taking his stance, he failed to notice his master approaching; once again, kicking him in one strike to the ground. The sparring grounds echoed with chuckles of entertainment at the merciless punishment being dealt out.
The clamor of carriages and armor breaking through the gates of the sparring grounds was the one thing that took pity on the fighter. The entire class turned in silence, allowing a troop of shaman to disembark along with a formal formation of dire lords. Ba’dak stood and dusted himself off as the carriages emptied and an aged, ornately glamorous priest stepped forward to speak.
“As is our customs, we hereby proclaim a maturing of one of our young priestesses.” His arm raised as the final carriage door opened and Iz’era stepped out, shielding her eyes with her delicate leathery hand. “Having passed her test of hatred,” he continued, “we hereby officially offer Iz’era up as a life mate to the most skilled fighter at this Dojo. Any who wish to be considered must know that your skill will be fiercely tested before you are declared a victor.”
Ba’dak’s heart leapt out of his chest. Immediately, he meant to prove his skills and be named Iz’era’s life mate. Master K’rylen could sense the excitement in Ba’dak and glared over at him. “You are not ready,” he grumbled angrily under the sound of silence, “you have lost your focus!” But the masters warning went unheard as Ba’dak had already stepped forward.
“Ah,” the priest announced, “our first challenger.” He motioned to one of the dark lords standing near a carriage and the jubilation in Ba’dak’s heart turned to fear, as the guardian removed the cloth covering a cage. The beast within straightened its tail and snapped it against the steel bars as their eyes met once again.
“You must kill this beast if you wish to claim the hand of the priestess.” Without hesitation, the cage door swung open and the creature charged forward, grinning its sharp teeth as it reached ahead for a nibble.
The beast’s charge was easily dodged, but its teeth caught part of Ba’dak’s shoulders and snapped through the tip of one of his protruding blades. Its tail whipped around and snapped the air just in front of his face with a resonating ‘crack’. The creature jabbed forward again with its head, catching Ba’dak’s robe and shredding it with razor sharp teeth, but Ba’dak lunged forward himself and unleashed a nerve attack just above its shoulder blade, paralyzing the beast’s head movement in one direction and slowing its leg strides. The shapeshifter’s tail whipped around and drew blood against Ba’dak’s spine before he could retreat.
As the beast paused to shake off the nerve attack, Ba’dak removed the upper portion of his robe and formed a makeshift weapon by whetting it with blood and twisting it tightly. With his head lowered through a murderous gaze, he charged in once again. This time he deflected a tail swipe with the twisted robe and dodged an onslaught from the beast’s jaws. As he slipped by, he grappled its tail at the base and pulled it off balance before snapping the bones at the base of the spine, causing it to lay limp. The creature let out a piercing howl before kicking back with its massive legs, knocking him to the ground. Without allowing a moment to recover, Ba’dak rolled to his feet and leapt onto its back, stringing the beast around the neck with his shredded robe.
As he pulled back, the beast thrashed and tried to remove the monk, but the harder he thrashed, the tighter his noose got. It wasn’t long before the beast fell to the ground, unconscious. Through the shreds of his robe, Ba’dak could feel the pulse of the beast slowing heart. Once the pulse got weak enough to keep the beast asleep for quite some time, he stopped pulling, as killing it meant that his problems would only double.
Ba’Dak, bloody and tired, kneeled before the priest. “As you requested, I have defeated the beast and wish to claim my prize.”
“How dare you speak to me before the beast has been killed,” the priest angrily returned.
“This beast cannot be killed, you’re Excellency,” he groveled, “It will simply multiply.”
“Everything can be killed,” the priest replied with a kick to his face, pushing him back far enough for his guardians to surround him, “even monks who dare to challenge our traditions.”
The priest raised his hand as an order to execute Ba’dak, but before he could finish the command, Master K’rylen interrupted, “your honor, a moment.”
The priest halted and dropped his hands to his side, “Master?”
The dojo watched as Master K’rylen approach the beast. With a crushing blow, they could hear the ribs shattering in the beast’s chest. Another strike and the long sharpened bones on his hands dug into the side of the beast. With each thrust of his attacks, his hands pierced deeper into its side until he could reach what he was grasping for. Something under the ribcage tore free from the surrounding tissue before the master removed his hands from the wound he had created.
A brown, bloody, gangly mess melded with glowing, magical stones that hummed with magic dangled from Master K’rylens fist. He dropped the organ at Ba’dak’s feet before reaching around its gargantuan neck and snapping its spine. He listened calmly as the breathing echoed into its empty mouth for the last time.
The priest was clearly impressed at the master’s skill and composure. His hand rose up in victory as he pointed to his prize. Priestess Iz’era stood to congratulate Master K’rylen on his victory, holding out her hand delicately toward his.
”Well, your highness,” the priest asked, “What shall we do with the other?”
Iz’era looked down at Ba’dak. Their eyes met for one last time, and his heart leapt as he swam into her green eyes. That fateful day flashed in his memory and he tried to see that she remembered. If she remembered, she would not show it, instead she raised her eyes to his master. “Your pupil does not know his place, Master. For that, you will both be punished.” She waved him over to his pupil with a subtle grin and placed her sharp fingers against her own throat, signaling for his death.
Master K’rylen turned on his groveling pupil, and under his breath, he was heard mumbling “You, Fs’Sok” before bashing him with a powerful fist attack against his spine that stopped all signs of life.
Ba’dak awoke disoriented in a pile of decaying Skal, slaves and sometimes food of the Skar. His master’s strike left him with an incredible headache, yet, somehow, it had not killed him. A butcher, carving up a dead Khägan, jumped to defend himself with his blade when the monk stood and leaned uneasily against his wall. As the butcher’s hands began to shake, Ba’dak took the opportunity to slip past him emerging into the darkened streets of Skargol.
He wandered around that night only to find himself standing in front of the temple where he had spent many of his sleepless nights. He was exhausted by the day’s events and he collapsed into a trash pile between two huts overlooking the temple. His hatred grew as he meditated on his time with Iz’era and the order she issued for his death. “How could she have given such an order?”
Upon this, he meditated until the early morning hours when Priestess Iz’era and Master K’rylen emerged from the temple to walk the grounds and greet the morning sun. She hummed a different tune, while his master followed silently, stopping only for a moment to adjust his eyes to the light reflecting off the space between the two huts.
A while after they disappeared back into the temple, a Khägan emerged carrying a letter. As he passed by the space between the two huts, the missive fell to the ground, and the slave continued his trudge deeper into Skargol. Ba’dak scooped up the dispatch and read it hungrily.
Although you may not agree with my tactics, my lesson is clear.
Let your hatred strengthen you. Focus on your training.
Embrace D’sath, and he will bless you, as he has blessed me.
There is one bit of information I purposefully left out so we can play a little game. Your answer to the following question will tell you alot about who you are.
While reading the story, what color were the glowing, magical stones attached to the shapeshifters organ, in your imagination?
If you imagined the glowing stones were...
...Red, it means you are active, daring, passionate, and optimistic. Your recommended classes are warrior or rogue.
...Black, it means you are formal, conventional, dignified, and secretive. Your recommended classes are dire lord or necromancer.
...White, it means you are precise, critical, sincere and pure. Your recommended classes are cleric or paladin.
...Orange, it means you are optimistic, social, ambitious, and self-sufficient. Your recommended classes are bard or summoner.
...Yellow, it means you are intellectual, communicative, optimistic, and cheerful. Your recommended classes are wizard or enchanter.
...Green, it means you are sympathetic, steadfast, and restrained. Your recommended classes are druid or ranger.
...Turquoise, it means you are charming, self-confidence, social, and offer clarity of mind. Your recommended classes are enchanter, monk, or bard.
...Blue, it means you are idealistic, rational, honest, and tranquil. Your recommended classes are monk or wizard.
...Purple, it means you are grand, idealistic, sensitive, and imaginative. Your recommended classes are summonner or rogue.
...Pink, it means you are optimistic, volatile, affectionate, and nurturing. Any of the healing classes would fit you well; shaman, cleric, or druid.
...Brown, it means you are practical, earthy, secure, and protective. Your recommended classes are ranger or druid.
...Silver, it means you are noble, spiritual, and mysterious. Your recommended classes are paladin or cleric.
...Gold, it means you are prosperous, elegant, and sophisticated. Your recommended classes are cleric or wizard.
...Gray, it suggests uncertainty, unemotional, and compromise. You are probably an altoholic.
...Iridescent, it means you are intellectual, emotional, and social.You will be successful as any class.
Another good story Larr. Thank you I enjoyed it. The focus on hatred for strength reminded me of Star Wars when Obiewan told Luke that once you started toward the dark side, forever would it direct your destiny. (I know I misquoted that Star Wars fans, sorry)
Anyway, as for the color of the stones: My imagination pictured a swirling iridescent color. Like a drop of gasoline in a puddle of water.
You've inspired me to write again Larr. I've been busy working on my second book as of late, but I'm sure I can take a short break to put a little time into some fanfiction.