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Brother of the Sword Chapter 6

Chapter 6
The Road North, 1533 Imperial Calendar

She is going to kill me! Hunt me down and kill me! Krendiel the former Assembly Arcanuum wizard thought as he reeled through the orchard. All night and through most of the day he had been running… well staggering mostly, fear hounding him more than any physical pursuers. By now his perfidy would be known to the empire, his likeness being dispensed to bounty hunters and soldiers, his crimes being bandied about to his former fellows in the Assembly Arcanuum by communication spells. How was my magic countered and negated? That man shaped creature hit me with some spell that stole my magic away. How?

It did not matter how, what mattered was that he had failed Garmev the Witch. She was going to kill him, and she would make it a very painful death. She had that reputation, plus she had implied that killing lesser Assembly Arcanuum spell casters was something of a habit. Of course the Assembly Arcanuum dispatched search parties to hunt her down, dead or alive, but after a century of claiming to have the Witch Garmev on the run, she continually harassed the empire and neighboring kingdoms. What could Krendiel do to stop something or someone that implacable?

Physical exhaustion and the terror of his impending death conspired to steal Krendiel’s strength away. Collapsing into some sort of nut tree, the divinator turned assassin slipped down the trunk to recline in a sobbing heap against that tree’s trunk. Although it was not the life he had dreamed about in his idealistic youth, his career of working for the Assembly Arcanuum had been both comfortable and safe. Not like this, not like fleeing through the night feeling forces moving against him ready to call him traitor… willing to cut him down for his disloyalty. His new boss, Garmev the Witch, would probably be the one to find him, the first to cut his throat…. I could complete the job she set me, I could kill the simulacrum. I could keep her, at least, from tracking me down by proving I’m still useful. If only I could show the empire that I could still be their man.

Even beyond Mudberry by the Water, the road still ran parallel to the river. To Brother of the Sword, for each hour he traveled there was a bridge servicing a side road. An equal number of roads branched off heading in westerly directions too, the signs proclaiming the distances to small towns and villages. As the cobbler had warned Brother, farms, ranches, and groves butted against each other without gap or change for hours. Unlike his walk through the foothills and valley before reaching Mudberry by the Water, the farmers and farmhands Brother saw responded to his waves or nods with courtesy, seemingly pleased to see a stranger acknowledge them. Seeing mounted patrols of soldiers canter by, almost on an hourly basis, had to be the reason why the locals remained friendly. The homeless were being policed and watched, and those unfortunates were all too willing to give Brother a wide birth.

One thing that bothered Brother of the Sword was the signs that said Lake Talenchan, sure they pointed him down the route along the river, but unlike the signs to towns, there was no distance given. Vintage Grove, the road west, claimed to only be fifty six miles away; the lake was just an arrow directing him on. When the muddy looking waters of the river narrowed to a point where he could only throw a stone half way across, Brother found a farmer and her family tending a tall fence where pea vines were growing. Her teenage son stopped tending the plants to gather up a crossbow when Brother hailed the family; the mother, daughter and youngest son continued to weed or secure the flowering vines, the laconic bees bothered no one at all as they sought out flowers to crawl across.

“Hello! Pardon Me!” he called, very aware of the boy stationed so he could shoot Brother if he proved aggressive.

Barely looking up from her work, the mother gave Brother a hooded glance before she returned her attention to an extremely long vine that had ignored the latticed fence designed for it to grow along. That at least let Brother of the Sword know that they could hear him. “Do you know how far Lake Talenchan is from here?” For a moment Brother thought the family was about to ignore his question, even though some of the children were pausing to weigh him silently.

“No idea,” the mother eventually answered, using the least amount of language possible. Grudgingly she did offer a small token more. “Two weeks is what I’ve heard, some say three weeks.” No one seemed inclined to advise Brother as to which time span was most accurate.

“Uh, thank you.” The crossbow did not come off his back until Brother was nearing the extreme limit of the weapon’s range.

Leave it to me to find the most unfriendly lot of farmers I’ve seen since leaving the city to talk too. Everyone I’ve waved at today looked like they wished I would stop and talk, except for those people. One of the rare hills his road crossed began to rise before Brother of the Sword, and as he began the climb he heard the horses from the other side of the earthen pimple. From the way the horseshoes chimed against the gravel, Brother realized this was going to be another cavalry patrol, so he moved to the right side of the way. These cavalry soldiers had light blue pants and white tops, brass buttons and chains criss-crossed the chests of all the horsemen and women, the only sign of the imperial navy blue came from the right sleeve of each trooper. Their lieutenant raised his hand to gesture the cavalcade when he spotted Brother.

Using the front two horses to block the eastern half of the gravel way, the other soldiers spread out to flank and surround Brother of the Sword.

“Greetings citizen, have you been bothering the farmsteads around here?” the young officer challenged. Brother of the Sword did not like the trapped feeling that came over him, which almost made him call upon Brother Sword. Then he remembered he was not guilty of anything.

“I carry my own food, and the means to buy more,” he answered, dispensing with his winning smile. This information did not produce a change in the officer’s demeanor, though it was the right answer for Brother to issue.

“Have you seen a tall man in his early thirties, wearing the gold bordered navy blue robes of an Assembly Arcanuum spell caster? He would have dark hair under his hood and will be traveling in this direction.”

Ransacking his memory, Brother of the Sword thought back on all the stranger’s he had seen through out the day. Then his brain connected with the events of last night. Fingers traced the bandage on his head, as the shadows of the previous evening were reviewed. They’re after that wizard, what’s his name… Krendel- no Krendiel. How did they get a description of the guy out so fast? Seeing the light come on in Brother’s eyes, the lieutenant cocked his head expectantly.

“I saw this wizard last night when he ran from his crimes.” Brother of the Sword’s claim caused most of the soldiers to take extreme interest in him, even the lieutenant’s eyes flew wide. He knew what the soldier would ask before the young officer even opened his mouth.

“What happened? They only gave us the criminal’s description and told us he might be in the region of our patrols.” Brother had been prepared to deliver the news raw until he heard the request, then he wondered if his information would bring doubt and fear to his audience.

Several soldiers watched the struggle that went on behind Brother’s features.

“C’mon man, spill! What did this asshat do?” a female lancer demanded, brandishing her slender spear as though offering defiance rather than frustration.

“He transformed a platoon of city guards into monsters, then had them burn the business’s along the Emperor’s Way, and then they killed the people trying to escape those fires. I would be careful if I were you, this wizard is very dangerous.” He could see by the paling visages of many of the troopers, including their leader, that he had not done them a favor. Many faces turned on the lieutenant with expressions that asked him what they were supposed to do against this wizard if they did find him. The poor junior officer looked at a loss, his eyes darted around seeking inspiration. When the lieutenant’s eyes fell back upon Brother of the Sword, he chose to commit to stalling tactics; he did not address his soldier’s concerns.

Clearing his throat and drawing himself up tall in his horses saddle, the junior officer inclined his head to Brother of the Sword.

“Thank you for letting us know, citizen. Be on your way then.” The soldiers behind their leader rolled their eyes or wore expressions that spoke of rebellion, but they parted before Brother to let him go on his way. An argument broke out in his wake, but the insurrection was conducted in whispers Brother could not hear. On reaching the far side of the hill it occurred to him that he had lost a chance to ask how far away his lake lay from here. Temptation almost made the coffin born man turn about to make his inquiry, then Brother reminded himself how upset he had made those horse soldiers. Wisely he kept on trudging.

Having that stark reminder that Krendiel remained on the loose and was gunning for him, Brother of the Sword began to watch the terrain ahead more closely. The nut groves became places of dread for him, passing the acres and acres of established trees made him see navy blue hiding behind each and every trunk. Brother could feel unfriendly eyes dogging each of his steps, plotting against him and weighing the chances of confronting him. His only moments of security came when mounted patrols passed him by, in the late afternoon he remembered to call out to ask for Lake Talenchan’s distance. When the number seven or eight hundred miles was called out, Brother almost stopped there and then. That was a daunting distance, he did not have enough pouch rations to get that far. Did he?

No I don’t, but there are several towns in my path, I have enough silver, now, to buy more. I might even buy some food that I can cook over a fire with all the pots and pans I’m hauling. Discovering a solution to his worries helped defray the stress of watching for wizards, Brother’s steps became lighter and he soon began to notice swathes of grassland breaking up the plethora of crops, vineyards, and the various vegetable and grain farms he passed by. Also the sun was on its late afternoon decline, bringing warmth to the left side of his face. Still sore from his fight, and weary from hauling the extra weight of his back pack, Brother stopped an hour earlier than normal.

Erecting his tent was an easier proposition than he had thought, once he understood the instructions. What Brother of the Sword did lack was wood for a fire. There was a single lone oak tree on a distant hill, and Brother had learned from his time gleaning firewood in the forest was that it took a lot of trees to offer enough dead fall for a single nights fire. Rather than walk all that distance for the opportunity to be disappointed, he ate a self heating meal as the last rays of the sun found a hilly horizon to slip behind. Tarp and oilcloth smell filled his tent, but inside his sleeping bag and wrapped in blankets, Brother found himself quite toasty. Without the wind and ground stealing his warmth away, he did not miss not having a fire at all. All that comfort actually made some difficulty for Brother when he attempted his new healing meditation, he almost fell asleep a few times before he found the ether.

Crickets and frogs were still pulsing their love songs into the night when Brother of the Sword woke up. His warm blankets were as cozy as a real bed so he could not understand why he was suddenly back in the world. He was still tired enough to know he needed sleep, so why was he wide eyed and listening to the competing choruses of night creatures?

“Anthel, what if he wakes up when we’re trying to get into his tent?” The voice was a whisper that came along with the hiss of tall grass being pressed down.

“We do whatever it takes, I ain’t starvin’ to death without fighting for my chance to survive. Are yo goin’ to give up?” Evidently the man questioning this Anthel made some gesture to affirm he was still in on the robbery game, Brother could still hear the careful movements of two bodies crawling up to his tent.

Rolling out of his sleeping bag, Brother of the Sword physically drew Brother Sword from it’s sheath rather than call through the ether, then he hesitated to see if he had proved more stealthy than the unemployed robbers creeping up on him. Their noises kept on closing on the front of his tent. I bet I can easily surprise these guys and kill them or drive them away, he thought, trying to formulate a plan of attack. Wait a minute, do I really have to engage these guys to get rid of them? Smiling because he knew those who were stalking him were about to make ridiculous surprised faces, he settled on scaring them away instead. Feeding some of his energy into Brother Sword, he made his sibling of steel manifest it’s glow, lighting up his tent with pale blue illumination.

Instantly the grass stopped making slight noises.

“My sword complains of hunger, and low and behold two low life burglars come to feed it. Please remain where you are as that will allow you to die with less pain and fear,” Brother stated aloud. He began to tug on the tent flap zipper, making sure the aperture made as much noise as possible.

“Fuck! Run!” Anthel shouted. Before Brother could poke his head through the flaps he could hear the two moving away rapidly, all thoughts of stealth cast aside. Smiling at the effect he had caused without ever having to lay eyes on his attackers, Brother thought about calling something after them, a taunt or insult of some sort. He did not as better sense afflicted Brother, making him take the time to think things through instead. Will they stay away?

This time Brother of the Sword had woken up, but in the foothills he had awoken only after a robber had grabbed up Brother Sword. People could sneak up on him in his sleep proving that he was very vulnerable in that state. In the foothills his brother had sent an alarm when it had felt the touch of a foreign hand, what if they brought their own weapons the next time? He could be killed while he still dreamed. As the light of Brother Sword slowed its heartbeat like pulse, then faded, Brother of the Sword was beset by fears that were already preventing further sleep. Sensing Brother’s turmoil, Brother Sword sent an image of them hunting the two homeless men through the tall grass. It’s idea of a solution was to carry out the killing Brother had shied away from originally; images of Bother Sword drinking down blood smeared on it’s surface was not the enticement the sword thought it was. At least Brother Sword did not react negatively when it’s idea was rejected, it just quieted down to await Brother of the Sword’s will.

Brother realized he needed someone to watch as he slept, then he realized that he would never get anywhere that way. Whoever watched him at night would need someone to watch them in the day while they slept. If Brother Sword had external senses it could watch him, the blade never slept. However the living weapon only sensed the world around it when in someone’s hand, and that someone had to be awake and aware. Feeding Brother Sword blood back in Mudberry by the Water allowed it to talk to me mind to mind. Could feeding it more blood grant it area awareness? He sent that thought to his sibling, and Brother Sword was greatly amused, but it asserted it would never manifest a power like that. However, Brother Sword did send the image of the pots and pans toppling over at the tents entrance, stacked so they became an alarm when someone entered.

Yes, an alarm! Brother almost felt like cheering out loud as he thanked Brother Sword for it’s idea. However setting up his pots and pans to fall over and clatter at some disturbance was a bit of a chore. Leaning the cooking accouterments against the door flap failed under the pressure of a gentle breeze, plus it depressed the tent fabric; a dead give away that an alarm was there. He next tried to prop a skillet against a skewer fork, but the structure would not stand on its own, not even with the assistance of his bowl and plate. Nor did his regular fork and spoon aid in any way. Almost frustrated, Brother of the Sword attempted his first idea with propping his cookware up with the skewer fork again. This time he attached a string to the door’s zipper, strung that through the leather lanyard loop of the fork, and he was able to suspend the long fork in an upright position with the slight counter tension of the string running to the zipper. Then he was able to lean his skillet against the fork, and lay the pots so they would be hit when the skillet fell. Opening the tent flap would tug the skewer fork away from supporting that skillet, and the resulting clatter would yank Brother from dreamland.

Pleased with his solution, he lay down and knew no more until he rose in the morning. Taking an early evening seemed to have had many benefits for Brother of the Sword. His bandage had unraveled while Brother slept, which caused some worry at first, but probing the wound with his fingers showed him that he was almost too the point where new hair would begin growing. The gash was thoroughly sealed and showed itself as a slightly indented crease over his ear. On top of that, when he broke camp and began his march, his back and legs barely noticed the new weight of his tent. His body was already adapting to hauling the additional bulk and weight. He began to laugh as his feet hit the gravel road, in Brother’s mind he felt so good that it seemed the morning birds were singing his joy out for him; their jubilation at life such that their song matched his mood.

An hour into his jaunt, the river parted from the gravel road’s side, curving off sharply to his right to bend around a small hill to the north east. The water frothed to white as the river bed narrowed into a channel choked with boulders and battered storm washed timber. The road itself bent a little more towards the west, climbing into a series of hills that sported crowns of wild maple and cottonwood trees; a small orchard of hazelnut trees was nestled before those foothills, three hundred yards or more away from the road. Far, far beyond the little white house trying to hide behind the nut trees, Brother of the Sword saw distant movement. From his experiences the day before, those distant brown splotches were likely herds of elk or deer taking a wilderness route to the north west.

Hoofing uphill too the trees took a longer time than Brother of the Sword thought. Whoever had built the road had made their path go partially up one hill, then down into the trough between mounds, only to ascend part way up yet another earthen climb. As if tiring of the road builders vacillation, one grand hill rose to force the road up and into the treeline. Now the gravel way seemed to remain up along the ridge line or along the flank of this grand sprawling geological feature. Around noon, the trees to Brother’s left plunged down a sheer hill face to grant him the sight of his river. The flow arched away for scores of miles, but far to the northeast it curved in to rejoin his road many days journey away. Granted this perfect view, Brother sat in the middle of the road and watched the sun craft sparkling gems off the water as he ate his lunch.

Cow elk began to make their bird like bleats when Brother began to brush biscuit crumbs off his lap, he could hear some of the females and their young begin to crash through the trees to come out onto the road at a low point forty yards before him. That which had spooked the big animals was not Brother of the Sword, he could see the matron of the herd pause to take him in then continue on her way with the younger elk females. She had not increased her pace or added to the calls she had been making, he had just been someone near their flight path who had not provoked any more fear. Far away he could hear more animals angling away from his point on the ridge line, he could not hear those animals give guiding calls to their comrades over the thrashing brush of the nearer beasts. Those nearby elk were not stealthy in arching south to circle back behind him.

Shaking his head at the wonder of it all, Brother of the Sword hefted his pack and took his next step on his journey. Though he knew the ascents and descents were slowing his progress, Brother hoped that this leg through the trees would last awhile. He preferred the forest to the grassy valley floor. He even liked the living creatures up here better than those in the low lands. In the wilderness the animals were fey and elusive, rare and precious. In the low lands they were all domesticated and uninteresting, far too numerous to be counted. Unfortunately his long sprawling ridge did come to an end in the middle of the afternoon, and the road became one long descent that bobbed over a few uneven undulations of the land. Brother almost turned around to offer his farewell to the oaks and maples as the road left the woods.

West, the hills continued bracketing the valley. Their crowns of trees drew Brother of the Sword’s spirit, his short time clambering around the hills had bolstered his morale immensely. There was nothing wrong with the valley except for the exposed feeling he had, where it felt like anybody with a vantage could see what he was doing. Just as lacking in privacy as this hillside he was on. Somewhat hazy from distance, Brother could see the hills making another stab eastward. Their heads hairy with trees, the hills attempt to make it to the river seemed held back by the farms laying at their feet. All this was so distant that Brother knew he did not have to worry about those remote farmers possibly seeing him. Yet he felt something watching him, or someone his imagination was crafting

All that time that Brother of the Sword felt he had lost while traipsing along these hills was being regained with the pace gravity was giving him down the gravel roads long grade. Each of his steps felt twice as wide as a normal walking span…. To the west a large flock of birds took to the air, their far off calls sounding panicked. Mounted riders angled out of the western hills heading in his direction, though they were a mile off, the galloping pace they had set themselves seemed uncannily determined. An inhuman cry, redolent with pain and loss bugled from behind Brother, and a look back showed him two cavalry soldiers sitting atop ungainly caricatures of horses; these riders were less than a half a mile from him, and they too were warped from true. They were definitely placed to cut him off from returning to the sheltering trees above. One bug eyed beast of burden trumpeted its agony from the ridge line, its dangling tongue wagging and dancing unnaturally from a mouth overburdened with fangs. Though these riders were still distant, he thought he saw forward facing dew claws on their mount’s altered hooves, hooked spurs of bone or antler.

At a walk the two nearest lancers began to move toward Brother of the Sword, and he was able to see the light blue pants, and mostly white uniform jacket of the empires’ cavalry. One rider’s head lolled limply, jolting around as if there were no neck bones to hold the cranium in check to the lurching gait of the horses. The calm walk of the troopers behind Brother only added on to his mounting fears, the rapid gait of the cavalry too his left felt like an assault about to happen. How am I supposed to fight mounted men, including the two at my back, there are ten of them? Brother Sword was as alarmed as he was and reached for him through the ether, becoming an eager waiting presence in Brother’s head as he bid the blade to wait. Maybe the spontaneous teleportation of Brother Sword to his hands would scare these strange soldiers. The horse behind Brother screamed again, a sound that begged for the surcease of pain.

I have to find terrain that limits their ability to charge me en masse, Brother of the Sword decided, using his eyes to seek out such territory. He was already on such a feature, the gravel road was slightly elevated from the remainder of the slope. All Brother would have to do is drop down on the east side of the road and he would be out of immediate eye sight of those fighters coming from the west. Of course the two at Brother’s back would still be able to see him, but they would have to try charging their horses across a drop off slope that would slow them or see them lose their riding beasts. That would only give him so much advantage though, their numbers would soon negate any maneuverability he stole from them. Almost as bad as figuring out how to limit how many of them could come at him at once, was the fact that they were already getting too close; a mile was not a great distance for a horse to cross.

Calling Brother Sword to his hand, he turned about and began walking towards the nearest two. Brother of the Sword realized that if he could deal with those nearer foes before the other eight joined the fray, then he would be better able to exert his will on the battle instead of having it dictated by his enemies. Looking as though their flesh was shaped by round blister like musculature, the bug eyed tongue lolling riders reigned in the lumpy distorted horse creatures they rode; the horses also had bulging orbs and skin that looked of pustules layered upon pustules.

“Shield me!” That command came from the distant tree line over a hundred yards from the gravel road, which was twice that far from where Brother of the Sword now walked. Krendiel, the wizard assassin! All the troopers were now closer too Brother than Brother was to the key to stopping this mess. If I can get close enough to Krediel to stop his magic, this crazy fight ends!

Leaping their horse creatures off the western verge of the road, the two controlled soldiers spurred their mounts into climbing back up to where their master crouched behind a maple trunk. Glancing over his shoulder before he broke into a climbing trot, Brother noticed the other eight horse riders were gaining ground rapidly, even though they were now forced to struggle uphill to get at him. Brother had lost this race even before he knew it was supposed to be a race; now all he could do was figure out how to string them out or create angles that prevented them from bringing their numbers to bear. All he could do was glare his frustration up at Krendiel as he remained upon the road; going for the renegade sorcerer now would allow the spell warped lancers to work in unison against Brother; as hard as the climbing was, those eight beast riders would catch him before he reached the wizard.

Foam frothed off the bouncing limp tongues dangling from the horses and their riders mouth’s, the grade just steep enough to rob all the steam from their charge. All eight of the pursuing riders chose to parallel the road, rather than risk their mounts hooves and shoes against the hard stones and gravel of the gravel way. Just shy of being in reach of the lead rider’s slender lance, Brother swerved over to the eastern side of the road. Brother of the Sword clambered down the flank of the road, using its raised bed to deny his opponents a view of his person; not even Krendiel could see him. Laboring just as hard as the distorted horses, Brother raced through the grass next to his road. When he heard the ringing of steel shoes striking stone, Brother flattened himself against the raised road’s stones, climbing back up them while trying to remain unseen. Jumping or bounding down, the eight cavalry creatures plunged off the road where Brother had made his climb; at first the oddly bulging things did not see him, but when Brother dashed back onto the road they all bayed like imitation hounds.

In full view of Krendiel and his two spell slaves, Brother of the Sword dashed straight across the road and down onto the western side. Again he followed the roads flank listening for the sound of horseshoes beating across stone. Stepping out from behind his tree, the former Assembly Arcanuum divinator pointed an indicting finger at Brother just as the eight riders brought their mounts back to the roads flat surface. Flipping the wizard the bird, Brother began scampering up the roads side, several of his pursuers leaped their mounts onto the western grasslands to begin churning his way; shod hooves still sang against rock indicating that a few warped riders were still up top. Wearing the rank insignia of a lieutenant, the nearest spell altered trooper lowered his lance when Brother gained the road. Silvered spurs dug into the caricature horses flank over and over, urging a speed the devolved animal could not make. Twisting at the hips to aid his parry, Brother swatted the spear aside, stepped towards his attacker, then uncoiled at the hips to strike the horses neck.

Even mangled by whatever magic it was enthralled too, the horse tried to rear back from the blade that killed it falling onto and crushing it’s rider. Spilling in front of the hooves of the following riders, the thing that used to lead the patrol now hindered the other three horse creatures; including the flailing hooves of the dying mount the three bad guys on the road were thoroughly blocked for the moment. That gave Brother of the Sword the brief respite he needed to run over and clamber down to the eastern side of the road. This time he duck walked down hill when he was out of their view, but they began to leap their mounts over him rather than scamper up the hill to where he had gone down. Surprised by the first jumper, Brother did not hesitate when the second trooper leaped down. His cut eviscerated the sailing horse, and he used a big lunging step down the slope to clear himself from the blood spray, viscera discharge, and tumbling limbs; the third horse creature rode up to the roads edge and tried to lunge down at Brother with it’s lance.

It was clear that the three warped men had not known that Brother of the Sword had been moving downhill, even as Brother was parrying and dodging the third rider’s lance, the first one was peering up the flank of the road trying to spot Brother. Despite the second rider having been rolled on by her gutted horse thing, she rose drawing her saber, one bulging eye seeming to suck into the bruised flesh where a flailing hoof had stricken her. Darting away form the spear point trying to stick him from above, Brother sprinted out of that lancer’s reach by closing with the unhorsed rider. Biting upon her own tongue with her misshapen fangs, the female being screeched like a banshee trying to make up for lost haunting time. Without a thought for it’s own safety, the lumpy creature used an overhand stroke to kill Brother. Using power over control allowed Brother to easily step aside, she was unable to recover and block Brother Swords counter attack. Her head bounded down the grassy slope and just seemed to keep on gaining rolling momentum from the grade.

Slow to the uptake, the first rider finally turned about to spot Brother, and the third trooper gathered it’s tumorous horse to jump down off the road. Slurping down the blood on it’s surface, Brother Sword gave off a sense of satisfaction for the violence. Breathing heavily from all the climbing and running, Brother sprinted over to the road as the third rider sailed from the raised gravel path. He had to parry the first rider’s spear once before he rolled onto the sloping road out of the lance’s reach. Clambering like over weight mountain goats, the other four riders were just now climbing to the road from the western side. Cursing because he had hoped for a moment to gather himself, Brother scrambled to his feet and began to sprint for the western edge of the road above where the altered soldiers were now climbing; he had to throw Brother Sword at the lead rider from ten feet away over the head of it’s lance

As though punched by a giant fist, the distorted rider flew from the saddle back to the western side’s grassy area. Riderless, the horse lunged at Brother of the Sword with it’s teeth, and when those failed to clamp down, it reared and pawed the air trying to rake with the claws nature had never meant it to have. Brother had to reach through the ether and recover Brother Sword, the flashing blade made the unnatural animal shy back; it wanted nothing to do with the glowing steel. When the riderless beast veered it blocked the path of the second rider who had climbed onto the road, this trooper and it’s mount had been trying to ride around to bring it’s weapons to bear. Both the rider and its twisted mount cried out like victims being stretched on a torture rack, long drawn out wails that sent shudders down Brother’s back even as he bounded off the bedrock boulders of the raised roadway.

Chased by the ringing of horse shoes on the stone way above, Brother raced up the side of the road watching the wizard gesturing his creatures towards the attack.

“Get him! Get the simulacrum!” Krendiel called pointing with both hands, his voice rife with disbelief. A heavy thudding behind Brother of the Sword told him that a horse and rider had leaped off his side of the road. Clattering hooves on the gravel paved way attested to the fact that the warped cavalry were gaining on Brother. I have to create angles with these guys now, I have to keep a single horse and rider between me and the bulk of this unit. With a bound, Brother bounced away from the road, then he pivoted and jumped back to where he had been. Razor pointed steel passed through where he had just been, the grass bound lancer began to recover from it’s thrust while turning wide insensate eyes upon Brother. It also tried to wheel it’s horse thing around. Hopping again, Brother’s lunge crunched through the riders ribs; it’s eyes never registered pain or regret, it just slumped in the saddle and dropped the lance, the fever leaving it’s eyes as they caught sight of that which lay beyond.

Just as feral as it’s rider, the malignantly twisted horse did try to twist about to bite Brother of the Sword, his second lunge caught the former horse in the neck just below it’s jaw line. Four riders and three horses dead, he thought while thrusting hard. Automatically, he had been counting those he struck down and those remaining, just as he had done back in Mudberry by the Water. It dawned on Brother why he kept track, it was to keep from underestimating what they could bring against him. Two were guarding Krendiel hundreds of yards away, two were on the road lances ready to intercept him from climbing up to their level, and the last two were downhill from Brother springing down to the grass and arranging themselves in a line. One riderless beast had forgotten the fray and was racing back down hill screaming as though it were on fire.

Each horse panted as though a marathon had been raced, Brother of the Sword himself gasped for air. While the two cavalry creatures to the down slope north positioned themselves, he shrugged out of his pack; which he threw towards the still kicking blister bubble mount bleeding out near its dead rider. Fell brother, if you capture a warped beast I may be able to help you control it, Brother Sword suddenly stated.

“Hey, you can talk again.” Brother of the Sword’s spoken words made the two riders on the grass spur their horses to a walk, one rider had one arm a foot long, while the right arm seemed to be double normal length. Rider and mount had their blank bulging eyes fixed on him, their attention so focused that their lolling tongues did not bounce around like tassels at a music festival. You will have to fight all four of them if you do not plunder for yourself a direful mount, most fell brother.

When he started walking toward the two, they heeled their creatures to a canter. On the road, the two riding sentinels mirrored his movements, their lances held cross body but still very much threatening.

“How am I supposed to do that?” he asked his blade. Brother pretty much received the impression that Brother Sword was shrugging, it did not offer him an answer. Hoof claws tore up grass as the twisted horses were spurred to the charge just yards away from Brother. He knew he could not angle towards the road because of the two lancers up top, and running too far away from the raised gravel strip would make the same two troopers come down as they would have the space to keep him away from the roadway. The four all together would be able to keep him from gaining the roads temporary shelter when that happened. Yet he could not remain where he was and allow two to attack at the same time.

Darting to his left, farther out into the grassy slope, Brother made it so the warrior with off kilter arms could not strike at him, effectively pinning that one between it’s companion and the gravel road. Nearly at the same moment the two cavalry creatures on the road forced their mounts to ping pong down the side of the road then they swept a little downhill to keep Brother from the road. His nearest foe thrust out powerfully with it’s lance, then it swerved it’s horse out of Brother of the Sword’s return attack, Brother could only slash the flank of the unhealthy looking animal. Screaming in distress, the former horse began to kick out with it’s rear hoof claws, forcing Brother to dive to the turf to keep his head from being stove in. Bucking savagely, the horse began to strike out as it circled around and around like a wild bronco, it wanted to strike anything and everything in a three hundred sixty degree angle. It’s third kick struck the belly of crooked arm’s horse, and crooked arm’s leg, tossing horse and rider down in a thrashing screaming heap next to the gravel rise.

Clinging like an expert, the warped thing riding the stricken animal, arched and swayed at each lurch clinging tight to the saddle; it had been forced to toss it’s lance to get both hands choked up on the reins. The troopers fresh from off the road were already oriented on Brother of the Sword, but the downhill most rider was blocked off by it’s forward friend when that one couched it’s lance and charged. Standing as if he did not see the razor edged steel point aimed at his heart, Brother posed with raised sword until the lead lancer was close enough. Grass flew from the hooked hooves of the mount as the slope hampered the creatures movement, yet it would still be able to assist it’s rider with the weight of it’s body if that spear hit Brother. Once again he threw Brother Sword. Rotating once as it flew, Brother Sword intercepted the riders ulcerated face point first, rolling the rider over the horse things haunch. The sibling of flesh reached for the sibling of steel, and they were reunited in an instant.

Pouncing like a cat on wriggling string, the riderless warped horse tried to pin Brother of the Sword with the raptor like claws of its fore hooves. Those hooks would have split Brother from chest to mid thigh if he would have stayed still. Instead he glided to the side, and as the beast moved through his former territory, Brother grabbed the saddle horn and swung himself up. As warped and distorted as it was, the animal beneath him immediately freaked out, screaming and bucking in a clockwise circle. Razor sharp steel raked across Brother of the Sword’s back from the following lancer, and Brother’s instinct was to block the next thrust with Brother Sword. Touch this tainted beast on it’s flank with my body, fell brother. My nature will sting the arcane influence within this creature dour. Instantly he slapped the flat of Brother Sword to the animals side, but even as he did he had to lean back from the lance trying to pierce his rib cage. This time Brother was cut from under his right pectoral muscle to over his solar plexus, a deep stinging slice.

Shrieking as if hell were nipping at it’s heels, Brother’s indignant mount sprang into a downhill sprint. It ignored Brother of the Sword sawing on it’s reins, but under Brother Swords instruction a touch along it’s jawline turned the distorted horse uphill; aimed at Krendiel. Still trying to face it’s horse downhill, the lancer who had cut Brother did not expect to find Brother racing by heading uphill; It confused it’s beast by reining back the way it had been facing. Having controlled and calmed it’s altered mount, the creature riding the slashed horse drove it’s animal straight at Brother; both animal and rider howled like beings trapped in a furnace. Goaded by rump swats delivered to it’s backside, Brother of the Sword managed to pass that rider by, all it could do was brandish it’s saber with it’s long arm and continue to howl. This is good, fell brother, the wizard sets his last two protectors against us now. It is our hope that we draw close enough to eat the wizard’s magic before you are spit on their weapons.

Just as Brother Sword had observed, Krendiel had set his two lancers loose. They were charging downhill howling as though just learning they were damned. What was bothering Brother of the Sword the most, though, was the hooves beating over his left shoulder; glancing back did not show his closest pursuer gaining on him, but Brother could not help but hear the shrieking horse gaining on him. Doubting that he could reach, Brother laid back in his saddle and took a swing with the blue glowing blade. Brother Sword did not touch flesh, but the thing that used to be a horse shied away as though stricken. Despite retaining his seat while the animal had bucked earlier, the rider was now thrown; the other trooper chasing Brother was much further back and would not become a factor for some time.

Just as Brother of the Sword was doing, the magic blade was trying to figure out their options to close with Krendiel. They needed at least half a hundred yards for Brother Sword to be able to negate the wizards disgusting spell, but it was looking doubtful that the downhill speeding cavalry would place second in this particular race. Veering around those two was no longer an option. All Brother could hope to do was get lucky and block both lances when they thrust at him. What he had not counted on was that both riders tilted their weapons down, piercing and destroying the mount he rode. The weight of two horses stopped his malformed mount dead, inertia threw Brother over the former horses head to land between both enemy riders. Brother was not the only one to be surprised by this turn of events, but his foes were still bulldozing his horse downhill, inadvertantly mucking up their lone uphill facing companion; it had to brake instead of wave it’s saber about.

Back pedaling into the tree he had once hidden behind, Krendiel’s face registered disbelief and more than a little fear. Knowing he was still in a race, Brother of the Sword rolled to his feet and set himself churning up the slope; he did not take the time to glance at the horse like thing he had rode to see how poorly it had fared. So close, fell brother! I pray the prey does not flee before us! As if stealing the idea from Brother Sword, the wizard whirled about and tried to dash back into the woods. Over Brother’s shoulder he could hear the huffing breath of a horse and the wail of the rider, the enemy had closed faster than he had hoped. Under the branches of his tree the wizard suddenly dropped to his backside, his blue robes tangling with branches and shrubs; to Brother’s eye it looked like the man had smacked into a branch that could not be seen from his vantage.

Whether it was psychosomatic or real, the thudding of hooves at his back felt close enough to vibrate the earth below Brother of the Sword’s feet. Surely his toes were only making the briefest of contacts with the earth, he could not possibly be feeling his pursuer like this? Holding his head, Krendiel labored to his feet and cast a wide eyed look back. Now, fell brother, now! Brother Sword felt just as desperate as was. Fearing he would feel a saber thrust into his back, Brother swung the magic blade and pointed it straight at Krendiel. A sword shaped light blue bolt shot out and hit the wizard in between his shoulder blades, Krediel’s wail matched the sounds of despair his surviving victims made. Still in mid stride, Brother of the Sword jumped and spun in the air, swinging his sibling hard in an uppercut. Brother Sword smashed through the lower jaw and out the top of the horses snout, snapping it’s head up forcefully even as it plowed chest first into the earth. As it fell the rider catapulted through the air.

Flesh that looked as though blisters had layers of other blisters below, writhed, but Brother did not check himself from chopping the trooper in it’s flight. Down the gradient, Brother of the Sword watched the trailing two riders and their horses collapse. Their painful transformation back into themselves sounded as hellish as their enchanted existence had been, but the screams were back to back instead of intermittent. Wanting to collapse and suck in all the oxygen the world could supply him with, Brother forced himself to remember the assassin wizard above him. Krendiel was already back on his feet again, crashing into tree trunks drunkenly on legs of rubber.

Almost sobbing with the effort now, Brother of the Sword, made his legs climb, the muscles of his calves felt like they wanted to cramp up. He was only a score of yards behind Krendiel when he entered the tree line. A few steps later, the spell caster looked back and spotted Brother.

“No!” that cry reverberated with the denial of the inevitable. Krendiel tried running on, but he turned back too often to track Brother, he stumbled and fell almost every single time. At a dozen steps away, the wizard spun around and fell against the trunk of a maple, his hands held up in either denial or supplication. “Don’t kill me! You can’t kill me!” the wizard demanded, fear bugging his eyes out. Brother continued advancing, his soul riding a self righteous anger.

“Why not, you tried to murder me? Twice.”

Holding his hands up as if those fleshy appendages could stop the wrathful steel of Brother Sword, Krendiel tried his justifications.

“It’s not murder, you’re a simulacrum,” the wizard said, sounding as if he was well within his rights.

“I’m a what?” Brother found himself asking as he stomped to a halt over the man, Brother Sword held raised.

“You’re a simulacrum… a false man,” Krendiel explained, then seemed amazed that Brother of the Sword did not seem to understand. “You were created in another wizards laboratory. You were made to kill off his competition.”

Knowing the wizard was just trying to gain extra moments, Brother still lowered Brother Sword a little so he could learn some more.

“Who made me?” he asked. Looking like a man who had just found the means to his salvation, Krendiel lowered his hands and peered up at Brother.

“I don’t know who made you, the Witch Garmev never told me, but if you let me live I might be able to get her to inform me.” Brother had heard that name before. With a memory that was almost two weeks old, Brother was easily able to summon the moment forth. The fey giant he had faced up in Galen Falls had practically bragged that it had been paid and ensorcelled by a notorious witch of that name. So, this was her second and third attempt on Brother’s life.

“Who is the Witch Garmev?” Sighing in relief, Krendiel lowered his arms all the way. He even had the temerity to smile up at Brother as though he had already been forgiven or something. Brother Sword was urging him to strike now, this moment!

“We in the Assembly Arcanuum consider her an arch wizard class spell caster. She has chosen not to take any side but her own. When she wants something, she usually has the power to take it, unless that brings her up against someone as powerful as she is. We don’t know too much about her, but we think she has set her residence up in fairy.”

Thinking hard, Brother of the Sword tried to recall what he knew of fairy. The sense he got was that it was a realm within and without this world and weird creatures existed there. Elves were tied to Fairy as much as they were tied to this world, though no one could truly fathom what that implied.

“How do I get to fairy?” he asked Krendiel. Smiling as if they were friends the wizard began to push himself upright using the maple tree as a brace.

“I’m not sure where the actual gate is, but you must ask the king and queen of the Star Elves for permission to pass.” Trying to keep his distaste off his face he asked one last question of the divinator.

“Does being a simulacrum make me a lesser being?” he asked feeling a pang of disquiet. Frowning at the sudden tack of the question, Krendiel was slow to answer.

“You’re not real… well, you’re real but not really human. I imagine that your emotions and thoughts are but the product of enchantments placed on you to help you mimic being alive.”

For a moment Brother of the Sword studied the renegade wizard’s self pleased smile. The man actually thought his reasoning was sound. That self satisfaction evaporated like water in hell when Brother exploded.

“I’m not real? My fear is simulated? My blood is a travesty, because you choose to spill it?” his shouting alarmed Krendiel, but the wizard still did not expect the speed in which he swung Brother Sword. Jetting blood from the stump of the neck, Krendiel’s body dropped limply to its knees and continued on to spill soddenly into the leaves. The head bounced off the maple then down to ricochet off it’s own shoulder, only to roll to the small of his body’s back. After a few moments, Brother of the Sword began to lose the justified feeling he felt looking at the corpse.

Fell brother, your clothing is stained by the lives taken. Wrap me in your shirt, then wrap me in your pants. I will deplete the vital fluid that stains thy garments, Brother Sword stated still audibly slurping Krendiel’s gore into itself.

Surprised, Brother looked at his sibling blade.

“You can still talk?” Amusement rippled as glowing highlights in the layered steel. Oh fell brother, I was depleted when we struck the wizard’s magic down. Still I had been fed much blood and vitality before the bolt flew, and you fed more blood into me after the magic was negated. As small as this wizard was, he still had much magic vitality for me to nourish myself with. We both grow, fell brother, from each experience we have. Both of us have increased in ability since we woke in that sarcophagus not so long ago. Please, your garments can be made nigh pristine again if you let me take the vitality that sprayed upon you from your sweet violence, fell brother.

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