Cracking at fantasy again, but this time reviving an old universe I made up back in university.
“Fight like a man!” the swordsman howled, slamming the flat of his blade against his buckler.
Stavon tried to ignore him. He kept himself balled up under the bar and held his breath. The old tavern had seen better days; ones without war. When he ran inside, he fought past the stench of charcoal and decay. Blood stained the walls. Dead men covered the floor. A woman with an arrow in her throat lay near him, her skin pale and tight. He choked.
Why me? He asked himself, heart racing. He was just a page in the Derriger fifteenth legion when the thousand Ulossi berserkers fell over the hill. Scores died around him. He remembered blood, the screams, and the waves of multi-coloured warriors, their hairs and eyes various unnatural pigments, bathing in red under the morning light. ‘The Rainbow Men,’ his friends in the legion had called them; those friends all died.
Why me? He asked again. He wished he didn’t enlist. The guardsmen doing the enlisting said he would be safe. They said it was likely he wouldn't see the fighting. Liars, one and all.
There was a door ahead of him. It was broken off of its hinges. It led outside, to somewhere safer or perhaps a sea of blades. He had to chance it. Either way, he was a dead man.
On a whim, he peered round the edge of the bar. He saw his pursuer, tall and broad, pacing around the corpses. Leather and iron was strapped to his chest and legs. Magenta eyes, a round iron shield and a hooked sword glinted in the sunlight that seeped through the windows. Red-and-gold-streaked hair fell in curls over his shoulders. The man huffed and kicked at a table.
Stavon pulled back and sucked air.
He listened. There was silence; then, the shuffling of boots that quickened and drew near. Greaves scraped together. Stavon panicked.
He looked up just as a bent blade was raised above his head.
He dove left. A melodic curse rang out. Metal whipped through the air. Stavon launched his body over a chair and onto a half-pulverized corpse. The smell made bile crawl up his throat.
He looked and saw the Ulossi charging. He staggered to his feet, but tripped over one of his own legs and fell again. Just then, he saw a broken chair leg lying before him. He seized it.
The man was upon him when he threw the wood. It bounced off of the warrior’s face; he staggered back. Stavon slid between his opened legs and darted for the bar again. Fire raged inside him.
Something told him to defend himself. The woman’s corpse lay by the door. He reached for the wooden bolt sticking out of her neck. Setting his foot against the woman’s breast, he tugged. In seconds, the arrow was loose.
Stavon whirled and aimed the bit of wood and metal at the warrior. The man snorted and glared at him. A bruise formed on the side of his face.
If he ran, the man would catch up to him and open his throat. If he fought, the man would break both of his arms before opening his throat. Parley, he told himself.
A word he learned from an Ulossi prisoner came to him. “Avain!” he tried to croon. The Ulossi tongue was a tonal one, scholars told him, but had a certain melody to them. Every sentence was a hymn, every speech a ballad. High tones were generally pleasant; lower tones were more aggressive. He hoped he said “Stop!” and not “Fall!”
The large man bared his teeth angrily. Stavon gulped.
He charged. Swinging the sword high, the giant leapt for him, vaulting himself over the bar. Instinctively, Stavon jumped back. He let the blade fall.
His body reacted independent of the rest of him. His grip on the arrow tightened. A lunge.
He drove the metal point into the man’s eye. The man wailed and shrieked, flailing blindly at all sides. Stavon was thumped aside by a wild swing. He hit the floor and looked up. The arrow had gone in deep. The Ulossi man gave one last furious swing and dropped. The blade fell from his fingers, clattering against the ground.
Stavon’s hands shook. He stumbled back to his feet and out the doors. At the street, he heaved. Bent over. Hands on his knees, he started weeping. A man was dead. A son was dead. He shuddered. Why didn’t I run? His thoughts whimpered. The door was there. I should have run. I should have.
There was a noise.
He dried his eyes and lifted his head. Twelve men stood at the edge of the road. One sang to the rest in Ulossi and pointed Stavon’s way.
He did what came naturally.
See you next time!