Howl of the Carrion King – Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-eight

It had started well. Bree and Santon had made it all the way to the outskirts of lower Kelmarane before they were spotted. Even then, they only came up against four gnolls. Whether the gnolls lacked conviction, attention or skill Bree couldn’t tell, but it didn’t matter. She and Santon were filled with purpose. With rage. The gnolls were easily dispatched. The first ones anyway. By the third quartet even Bree had to admit she was tiring. She wasn’t used to such drawn out fights. When the twelfth gnoll fell dead she felt a rush of adrenaline. They could do this.

And then it appeared.

She wasn’t sure what it was, exactly. Only that it was angry and it was tall.

It looked like the bastard offspring of a human and a goat. It’s face was bestial and topped with two backward-curving horns. Its body was partly covered in mangy white hair while its skin was pale pink. A series of strange symbols were carved into its chest. It screamed when it saw them, howling an alarm to the entire town.

“Foul brew!” They would soon be outnumbered.

The creature raised its halberd high, ducked its head and charged at her. Bree dove to the side. She meant to come up in a roll but crashed into the rocky, uneven ground instead. Santon swung at the creature with his blood-encrusted broadsword landing a glancing blow.

The creature roared again showing nauseating yellowed teeth. Spittle flew from its mouth. Its breath reeked of decayed meat and human waste. Its beady eyes burned with an amber rage.

Santon roared in return and lunged at the creature but it stepped back, nimbly turning his blade to the side with its own. Bree swung at it with Tempest but found she left little more than a scratch upon its skin. Froth and foam, its hide was thick! She swung again but the creature parried her blow and twisted his halberd almost yanking Tempest right from her hand. She kept her grip but tripped in the process.

The creature raised his halberd above him and stabbed down at Bree with it. Santon thrust his sword at the halberd just barely knocking it off course. It pierced the ground right beside Bree’s leg. She breathed a sigh of relief and threw herself to the side, putting some distance between her and the beast. Santon and the creature traded blow after blow in quick succession. Metal clashed against metal. Sweat beaded up on Santon’s brow. He was tiring.

Desperately, Bree lunged forward, nicking the beast in the leg. It roared and struck Bree in the side of the head with the butt of its halberd before parrying Santon’s next swing. It hadn’t missed a beat!

Bree went tumbling to the ground and knocked her head against the stoney ground. She groaned and spat a glob of blood onto the dirt. With shaking legs she staggered to her feet.

The beast tore Santon’s broadsword from his hands and thrust forward with his halberd. Santon twisted to the side, dodging the blow.

He smiled.

So did the creature. It lowered its head and thrust forward with his horns. Santon’s eyes widened in surprise. Still, his instinct was strong. He threw himself to the ground, underneath the charging creature. The horns grazed his shoulders. He gritted his teeth.

The creature crashed into him but Santon rolled with the impact and kicked his legs, sending the creature flying into a nearby wall. Santon struggled to his feet slowly. Bree walked forward, tripping on loose rocks and masonry. The creature turned, lowered its head and charged.

“No!” Bree yelled. Santon was too tired. He wouldn’t dodge in time.

Bree hurled Tempest at the creature. It turned in the air, tumbling end over end. It struck the creature in the thigh, but not deeply. It didn’t falter. Santon stumbled then fell.

An ear-piercing squawk sounded from above. Bree looked up. A black, molting vulture streaked down from the sky and dove at the creature. It clawed and scratched at the creature’s hide with its talons, and tore at it with its large, sharp beak.

The creature batted at the large, unnaturally vicious bird with his large hands. The bird tore bits of flesh from the creature and tossed them aside before diving in again to feast.

“Enfebastious vesral!” an unfamiliar, gravelly voice said solemnly.

A shadowy, black ray plowed into the creature. It shrieked. Its muscles visibly shrunk and its back hunched as if under a heavy burden. It was as if the creature were becoming weaker, withering right before her eyes.

Bree looked about for the source of the spell.

A man – at least she thought it was a man – stood in the shadows of a nearby building. He was very tall and slender, nearly six paces in height, with a wiry build. His skin was a deep, reddish brown colour, like partially dried blood. He had long, wild hair that hung about him like a cowl. His features were both thin and strong. His long nose was slightly hooked and his thin, pursed lips were set in a grim line. Tall branching horns, almost like those of an elk or deer, sprouted from his head, but leaned backwards instead of forwards. A red pointed tail, like that of a devil, whipped about him. His fingernails were rather long and sharp-looking, though not enough to be used as any kind of weapon. He wore a hodgepodge of mismatched, dirty armour over top of torn clothing. It was obviously scavenged from others but made him look rugged rather than desperate. He was good-looking, but in a sort of fiendish, unnatural way. Like a gift or treat that you knew you weren’t supposed to have. He was almost… sinful.

He looked at the creature with fierce bright, almost glowing, red eyes and smiled, revealing fanged teeth. “Come then, fiend.” His voice was deep and vibrated with emotion. He was intense. Brooding. Dangerous.

Bree gasped. This was the prisoner they had come to save.

He was obviously born of some kind of unholy union. Perhaps the child of devils, or fiends? She knew it was common in other lands to bear devil-tainted children. In Cheliax, especially. What did they call them? Tieflings? Bree couldn’t be sure.

The creature roared, flung the vulture off of him and charged at the man with his horns. The man waited patiently. Unmoving. He was unnaturally calm. Like something from a nightmare.

Bree, caught somewhere between revulsion, fear and awe, opened her mind to the auras around her. The creature reeked of evil. The man did not. But, how could that be?

The creature neared the man. There were mere paces between them. Finally, the man moved. He stepped to the side and ducked, then twisted and leaped into the air. The creature missed him by a hairsbreadth. The man swung down at the creature’s head with a light, spiked mace. Blood splattered everywhere as the mace cracked through its skull. The man landed a few steps behind the creature. The creature plowed right into a wall. The man stepped forward again and brought his mace down upon the creature’s skull, once more, and then again.

The creature roared. Then twitched and finally stopped. With a rippling, its body disappeared. It didn’t turn invisible so much as be pulled into the spaces between space. Its death upon the material plane had caused its body to be dragged back to whatever foul hell he had come from.

The man stood up calmly and pressed some of his long hair behind his shoulder. The vulture squawked and swooped down, perching himself atop the man’s horns.

Bree shuddered and looked harder at the man. He still radiated no evil.

Santon stumbled up to the man and nodded. “My thanks.”

Bree walked up to them with apprehension. The man had such an ill look about him, but his aura was no more tainted than her own. She blinked, letting the auras fade away. “You’re not evil.” she stated. She raised her hand to her mouth in shock. She shouldn’t have said that. “Oh, froth and foam!”

The man arched an eyebrow and tensed. Slowly, deliberately he locked eyes with her. “Indeed.” he said tightly. Apparently he was used to being judged as a fiend.

Bree frowned. She hadn’t meant to say that.

In the distance gnolls yipped and howled.

“Yeah, yeah.” Santon said hurriedly as he snatched up his sword. “Save it for later.”

The man nodded. “Perhaps we should retire to a more defensible location.”

“As in now,” Santon grumbled. “Before the dogs arrive.”

The man blinked, finally breaking his gaze with Bree’s and turned. “Fly, Husk.”

The vulture took off for the skies, leaving his perch atop the man’s head.

Bree hesitated for a moment, watching the devilish man they had come to save walk away with Santon.

He hadn’t needed their help at all.

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