Authors: Blaine Hart
This is a work of fiction. Any names, businesses, characters, events, incidents and places are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or actual events or occurrences is purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
There are stories still being whispered among the people of Theugua. Stories told about creatures hiding in the darkest corners of the world. Stories told about magic that could turn good and honest men against each other, stories about deeds that are darker than even the moonless night sky. Even so, men are quick to forget. Soon those hushed stories became nothing more than children’s tales told in times of peace.
For Ornsell son of Krull, that was always the case. The stories of the past were just legends that would never come to pass. He decided to start his day early and head straight into the woods to check the traps he had set the day before. As he proceeded along at a brisk pace, getting back home in time for supper was his only concern. Handling his axe with ease, he set off towards the forest. He was also planning to cut some firewood that would last him and his son, Vygarast, for a week on his way back home.
Day excursions into the forest west of Midvein were ordinary for the village people. Though the winters up north of Theugua tended to be harsh and unforgiving, the men and women of Midvein were tough. They knew that the best way to survive the cold winds of the north was to be prepared for anything.
The morning dew had covered everything in the forest with a sparkling veil under the rising sun. Ornsell had his hands folded in front of him on his chest to try and keep himself warm. Taking a deep breath every five strides or so, he soon found himself deep in the woods and his exertions made the chill less now.
Winter mornings are the best remedy for an old man’s head like mine. This is as good day as any to explore deeper into the forest, how many good days yet until I can’t take a walk into the forest without needing Vygarast to help me?
He laughed on the outside at the thought of being helped through the forest.
His eldest and only son was destined to be a Bard, one trained by a living legend, Lanarast the Bold. Being around to take care of him was not in his son’s plans.
So be it!
He laughed it off.
If Vygarast’s fate is to sing in the kings’ courts and charm women with his voice for the rest of his life, then so be it.
However, a sudden frown and flush of emotion betrayed that thought. Memories of his life as a Bard (an amateur one that it was) kept interfering with his expectations for his talented young son.
You can’t be jealous of your own son Ornsell. He has talent where you only had luck to rely on. Just get over it!
With a quick shake of his head, he kept on heading deeper into the forest, sometimes choosing to follow the forest path, other times getting away from it. The forest was beautiful and full of life despite the chill. However, Ornsell could not get his son out of his mind. Lost in his own thoughts he ventured deeper into the woods. It was only after hearing a twig snap behind him that he jerked suddenly aware, his thoughts alarmed. He turned around only to see the dark shadows cast by the trees dance around him on the ground. Even if he couldn’t see it, something felt wrong to him.
Bears are still asleep this late in the winter and it’s too early into the day for the wolves to hunt.
Normally, Ornsell was not a man who fretted over a dry twig snapping, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something, or someone, was following him.
A seasoned soldier, one matured in the last war of the Horizons, Ornsell wasn’t afraid of any man bearing a sword, nor even some who cast magic. Nature was his only concern and by paying his respects to the Great Mother every spring, he didn’t have anything to be afraid of. No, no matter how many times he thought about it, still something just wasn’t right.
I hope Skann’s boys are not in the mood for one of their pranks again or they’re going have a day’s worth of bottom ache when I finish with them. Those kids smell trouble from afar, especially since their father doesn’t give them a good beating when they deserve it.
Still, Ornsell went on, despite knowing quite well that a kid’s prank would not leave such a vile sense in the back of his mind and that they would not dare venture this far into the forest alone.
Looking around, Ornsell suddenly realized that he had no idea where he was. The sun’s bright rays barely crept between the leaves of the mighty evergreen and oak forest. Shadows were dancing as grey clouds passed above the thick forest. Cold sweat started to run down Ornsell’s spine.
Whatever is following me can’t be good.
His left hand instinctively rested on the handle of his axe. Then he slowly pulled it out as his heart pounded fiercely in his chest. His brown eyes quickly examined his surroundings, trying to make out what had made that noise. Unaware of what was chasing him, he decided to follow his instincts and run. His warrior’s sense of intuition, honed in the heat of the battle, was the only reason he was still alive after all of these years. The few times he didn’t hear them, or he ignored them, he ended up in the back lines, limping and nursing his injuries.
Ornsell saw a break in the forest and took off, crashing through the forest for a full ten minutes, unable to spot anything in the dark behind him. The rustling of the fallen leaves being squashed under his boots became more apparent, and a few cracking twigs that he didn’t break sent him jumping behind a large giant oak tree, noticing a terrible pain in his right ankle as he did so. His mind wasn’t sure that something was actually following him, but his gut kept shouting a warning.
You have to run, old Orn, you have to run and hide!
With his right ankle aching badly he knew that the only way to get out of there alive was to either hide or fight.
He ran into a clearing amidst the dark woods. Ornsell knew that this place was his best chance for salvation. He was never one for hiding, especially not when he had a perfectly good axe in his right hand and solid ground beneath him. But he knew not to ignore his gut, so he brazenly ran towards the golden light of the still rising sun. Ornsell was sure he could sense the freezing breath of some vile creature on his neck. With desperation, Ornsell dove into the illuminating circle of the glade, landing roughly into a throng of black twigs and unearthed roots.
Gasping, he quickly stood on his feet once again. The warmth of the sun falling on his shoulder was relieving. Hungry for air, he looked around, searching for a good reason to explain his panic.
What is going on inside these woods?
When he heard the flapping of the wings, it was already too late to do anything about it. The moment the talons of the creature penetrated his shoulders the forest echoed with his pained scream.
Dropping his axe, Ornsell could do nothing but bare the excruciating pain of his whole body being carried aloft by some large feathered monstrosity through the gap in the forest. As they rose he grabbed desperately at the clawed talons, but he could barely move his arms the brutal grip was so tight. HThe talons sunk in even deeper and then he passed out. Moments later, Ornsell regained his senses only to find himself released from the grip of the monster and falling on the outskirts of the forest, close to his home. His steep fall was painful, knocking the wind from him. The flapping stopped with a solid thump on the ground next to him.
“It has been years since the last time I saw humans. You haven’t changed a bit, still fragile and puny, like maggots swinging their tails to the sun.” A woman’s twisted voice boomed behind him. Unable to talk, Ornsell tried to keep up by examining the talking creature. “Oh, you’re still conscious. That is commendable. You’re lucky that I’m not here to kill you, human, although you’ll soon wish I had. I’m here to deliver a curse to you and let the world know that we’re back. The legends have come back to life, and soon every nightmare will haunt you whilst you still lie awake without slumber.”
Ornsell heard the hoarse voice of the monster mumble in a language unknown to him. His eyes were barely able to focus on the monster’s figure; hands full of dark feathers, long feet that ended in sharp talons, pitch black eyes. The legends were true when they spoke of dark creatures that once roamed the land of Theugua. This creature was one of the worst, a harpy witch.
Her feathered hands moved in unison, her words giving a hazy rhythm. The dark magic of those creatures needed no instrument or guidance. Sounds coming from the darkest corners of his mind made a crude melody to accompany them. Being a Bard in the past, Ornsell knew something of magic. Whatever magic this creature had done to him seemed bad indeed.
She took a step forward and looked over him. With one of her black feathers, she touched the wound in his back. A drop of scarlet blood glistened on the feather when she stepped away. With a sharp pull, she uprooted it from her body and let the droplet run all the way to its root. When the dark red sparkle dropped to the earth, a feeling like fire started spreading from Ornsell’s legs and up his back. Cackling like some insane parrot, the harpy witch swiped him across his cheek with a sharp talon then vaulted into the sky, cackling as she flew away into the distance.
His feverish thoughts ran wild. The burning feeling in his legs and back was getting worse with each passing second. Pain usually sharpened his senses, but the throbbing pain just clouded his mind.
I have to get home. I have to. . . ,
but he was unable to complete that thought. His body was stubborn like most people from Midvein, with a strong mind. Blinded by pain and rage, he thought of his family as he crawled towards his home.
Vygarast chortled as he escorted young Noelene to the mansion just outside of Midvein. He was with a beautiful young girl who was pleasant company for him. Noelene was a sweet servant to the local royalty and was destined to live and die under the command of her mistress. But even though her fate was already known, Noelene always shared her sweetest smile with everyone.
The young Bard knew that he would soon complete his training under master Lanarast (that old geezer was always boozing and piping) and that he would soon venture out of Midvein to see the world. However, Noelene was still a great pleasure to be with. The young woman was quick to complain that she imposed on him, but every time they arrived in front of Vygarast’s house, she stopped and insisted they stand together to say their goodbye.
“Don’t worry sweet Noelene. My father is a grown man and can stand a few hours without my company.”
She blushed as Vygarast approached her and put his hand around her shoulders. “But my mistress always sees us together. I can’t let her think that something is happening between us. It would dishonor her and Lady Aderfell. I can’t do that to her.”
Embarrassed, she lowered her eyes and tried to get away from Vygarast’s sweet but firm grip. But the young man was charming and his bright green eyes had long cast their net to catch Noelene’s heart. “Don’t worry. If that ever happens, I will restore your honor by asking your hand in wedding. You know that I’m an honorable man, one who always keeps his word, right?”
The blond girl did not answer. Her eyes were wide open, her hand stretched, pointing towards Vygarast’s house.
“What is going on Noelene? Is everything okay?” Before he was able to complete his thought, Vygarast looked towards the house himself.
He strode as fast as he could, almost losing his footing a couple of times along his way, hurrying to his father’s motionless body. He was a bloody mess on the ground and Ornsell growled like a wounded animal when Vygarast got to him.
“Father! Father, what’s wrong? Father, who did this to you?”
With great pain and with the last of his immense strength, Ornsell whispered in an agonized voice: “...harpy witch...”