Authors: Michael Reynolds
The snow had long melted from the
hill on which Tolian was being held prisoner. Only hours had passed, but the
flames that his demon tormentors used had not only melted the snow beneath his
bare feet but scorched the ground as well. Two purple-skinned monsters held his
arms as a third one beat, burned, and scratched him. His whole world was a red
and black swirl. Every punch and backhanded slap from the demon caused his
entire body to feel on fire.
"Where is he?" the beast
growled. Its voice shook Tolian from his stupor.
"Who are we talking about
again?" Tolian asked. Of course, he knew, but he had to find some weakness
to exploit in his demon captors. As the demon spoke to him again, he could not
help but tune out the thing, instead focusing on the throng of fiends below the
hill that scurried back and forth doing, as best Tolian could tell, really
nothing at all.
"Are you listening? Human
thing?" Tolian's silence angered the monster.
"Me? Oh, sorry not really. I'm a
bit frazzled at the moment." The flippant tone made an even greater impact
on the demon's temper.
"Where is your elf friend? The
one that you travel with?" the demon asked again. The sound of frustration
grew in its voice.
"Oh, him. I never really know
with him," Tolian said. He was not sure how much longer he could stay
conscious, much less how long he could hold out and not give his friend away.
The demon dug a clawed finger into
Tolian's side, feeling for the appropriate nerve. The demon had a surgical
precision with its claws. It found the right nerve just beneath Tolian's
bruised ribcage and clamped onto it. Tolian's legs shot out, and his body
bucked wildly. Fire swept up and down his insides.
"Certainly you know more than
that," the demon insisted. "Perhaps, I should seek out a more
thorough torture. Maybe then you will remember where your friend would
disappear to so abruptly."
The beast dug even deeper. Tolian
felt his back pop and crack as the demon began to twist and wrench on his body.
A scream issued from Tolian that he was sure could be heard at Werlgart itself.
"No more. No more. I will tell
you where he is," Tolian pleaded for cessation.
The pain lessened briefly.
"He is..." Tolian gasped
for air. "Not here."
The beast slapped him across the face
with a bloody hand. The bard's consciousness became fleeting, flickering in and
There's no way I can possibly keep
, he thought.
His body shuddered and he gave away again to the welcomed blackness.
I am here,
Tolian thought he heard Jaxius say.
Just rest now my friend and we will get through this.
Tolian thanked the gods Jaxius found
Actually, I'm not Jaxius,
the voice said. The voice, in fact,
did not belong to the half-elf. Rather, it was his young barbarian friend.
But how are you back,
We finished what we had set out to
do. So now, I am back with you.
Oh, I see. Well, I am terribly sorry
to inform you, but these demons intend to kill me, I am almost certain. So this
is an odd predicament for you to be returning to, friend.
I was gone for quite
some time. I know not long passed for you, but where I was nearly a lifetime
has passed. But a lifetime could not force me to forget the tortures I suffered
at the hands of the witch Fylzia. Let me take over the body, I can take it and
perhaps together we can find a way out of this. Aside from that, Jaxius may be
coming along soon. And I pity anyone in his path.
What do you mean?
ll in due time my friend. All in
Fine. But we don't really know how
this swapping places thing works. Remember?
Desperation clouded Tolian's thoughts.
Actually, I think I might have that
figured out. Anger.
That makes sense now that you say it.
I was very angry with you when I took over, and you were very angry with your
tribesmen when you took over.
Oh no. I think I am regaining
Tolian slowly cracked his eyes and
the red light of the demon fires filled his vision. Before he could open his
mouth to speak, he felt the familiar feeling of slipping backward in his body.
He tried to turn his head but found that he no longer had control.
Why did you do that?
Let me handle this. I can take it.
Bergar insisted gently to his
"Do your worst, demon. When I
break free, I will kill you slowly," Bergar said.
The creature sneered, and Bergar
noted every subtle aspect of the thing's appearance as the beast flooded his
world with pain.
Daylight came. Its hazy light brought
no relief from the brutal beating for Bergar. He could not really enjoy the
daylight, anyway, since both of his eyes were nearly swollen shut.
"Where is he?" the monster
His monotonous asking of the same
questions fueled the barbarian's resistance. In fact, Bergar had made a game of
his answers. Sometimes, he answered with words. Sometimes with numbers. Even
other times he answered by saying his words backward. However, Bergar quickly
grew bored with his games. His demon tormentor shared that feeling by the looks
of it. His pummeling had gotten noticeably weaker in the moments of the early
"He's mftpdlnk," Bergar
said. He did not try very hard to speak the gibberish word, in fact, his
swollen lips and jaws somewhat demanded the slurring.
The beast roared in frustration and
turned away from Bergar.
"Agran!" a call came from
beyond the demon. "Have you found him yet?"
The demon shrank as it stepped
forward, "No, sire. I have not. The man-thing refuses to tell me."
"Hmm. Refuse, you say?"
said the voice. The bearer of that voice stepped through the parting crowd.
Stepped, however, was not really what the creature did. It slithered. As it
came into view Bergar noticed that its bottom half was that of a giant serpent.
Its long muscled arms dragged huge, black hands on the ground. A crown of horns
encircled its ape-like head. To emphasize its power and position, it raised up,
standing on its serpentine tail, head and shoulders above the other demons,
spread its large bat wings, and said, "Then quit playing and bind him. Our
master has told us to bring that one and the elf thing to him. But now, I will
try to find another way out of this slavery."
The demon leader despised its worldly
master and hated him for shackling it with this petty task. Perhaps, it
thought, it could find a way around doing what its master demanded. First, it
would need to contact him. To learn more. It slithered a short distance away
and waved its hands through the air. They trailed fire in the air, the flames
forming a circle. The circle rippled, and in its center appeared the shadow of
"You have found them, I
assume?" the man asked.
"Yes, but we were only able to
recover his companion. There was a forest faerie with them, and it managed to
get the half-elf away. My scouts are looking for him now. He shall be dead
within a day."
"How can you be so sure?
Perhaps, I have called the wrong creature to do this simple task. I just
assumed that you would want some measure of revenge on this one."
The demon's face lit up for a moment,
hoping that the summoner would dismiss him, but then he slumped back,
recognizing the riddle set before him. "Revenge? What would I want revenge
"This one is the self-same that
destroyed your master's armies a millennium ago. That is why I chose to call
you forth. To take revenge on him while he is still weak and young. Times are
changing. Something in the world has brought this elfling back. But I task you
with destroying him before he can learn what or why. Kill his human friend, and
fly to the Nordrasian city of Werlgart. It is a fortress, but your small army
should find it relatively simple to penetrate their defenses. Raze it to the
ground, put the people down. And then, the one you seek will come to you. Bring
him to me at the stone circle."
The beast looked over its shoulder at
the human captive and snorted. "As you wish... Master."
With a new plan in its mind, the
demon swung its arm through the circle, dissipating the fires. It flew a few
yards up into the air and said, "Friends, prepare yourselves. We go north
to war. Tonight we fly on the fortress of Werlgart."
Did you hear that?
, Bergar answered.
If I couldn't hear it, then
technically neither could you. Right?
Oh, do be quiet and listen, would
you? That monstrously ugly creature is obviously the demon horde's leader. But,
it is subservient to the man in the image. If we can find out who that man was,
then we can find out what is driving these demons. Then we defeat them, raise a
tankard, and compose songs to our glory.
Bergar thought for a moment, trying
to find the right words to explain to Tolian that he already knew almost all of
Jaxius' past life. In the end, he decided to keep the information to himself
until it was needed.
Right. A few
things we already know. The demons search for Jaxius. The demon leader's
master's armies were once destroyed by Jaxius, whatever that means....
rambling slowed to a stop as he realized that he had heard Bergar's thoughts
I see. Well, it seems that you have learned much and shared
I don't think you really understand.
Where I was, time moved slowly. You know me as Bergar the boy. When I left that
place I was old. I had gray hair and a white beard. I do not intend to trick
you. Or even withhold information. You just never really think about things
that you just know. Besides, I didn't know that this even mattered until I saw
the man in the demon's image. I would have told you. I just need to find the
right time to have this discussion. The more important discussion is, of
course, how we are going to escape. Because what we know makes no difference if
these demons eat this body.
Tolian could not argue with the
rationale. Also, the idea of being eaten did not particularly please him. And
so, the two men set to noting every fact that they could in the short time
allowed them the demon tasked with their destruction approached and it was time
to spring their escape.
Most of the demons had already taken
to the air, winging their way to Werlgart. The torturing demon loved to torment
with a zealotry typically only found in inhuman maniacs. It crept to Bergar and
moved its hideous face close to his. A powerful snort from its upturned snout
filled Bergar's nose with a foul, sulfur and rot smell.
"Hurry up. You heard the
General," the demon holding Bergar's right arm said.
"Yeah. Just get it over with.
There will be plenty people at the human city," the left-side demon
"Silence. Neither of you can
ever know the simple beauty of this man thing. It is willful. See how it still
struggles? Hours of beating and still it resists. Can you not taste the
deliciousness of its anger and willpower?"
The two bored demons looked at each
other, resigned to have to wait for their lieutenant to finish playing with his
food before he ate it.
"That's right, isn't it? You are
a strong willed one? Well, that smells sweet to me," the tormentor said
nearly sniffing blood-matted hair into its wide nostrils. "How shall I
kill you? I could break your knees and leave you to starve. But, my friends
here are so very hungry, and I don't know if I can come back to claim you. That
won't do. No."
The thing paced back and forth for a
moment, obviously trying to decide on an appropriate death for the unnaturally
strong willed man. It stopped mid-step and turned in the barbarian's direction,
a wicked grin crossing its face.
"We will make a sport of this,"
it said. It looked at each of its companions, still grinning and continued,
"We take flight with the rest of the battalion, and we take this one with
us playing catch the human."
Raucous laughter issued from the
demons, shaking Bergar in their grasp.
This isn't good
, Bergar said.
No. But I believe we may be able to
use their idea against them. Let me take over control of my body. I know a bit
better how to use my magnificent self. I can fight them,
Realize that your hands are
trembling. There is no way that one of your tiny daggers would hit its mark.
As if to break up the silent internal
argument of the pathetic wretch, the demons snapped him up into the air and
flew straight for the cloud of demons.
See, now you have lost us the advantage.
We stood a much better chance on the ground. I could have slipped free,
Then take back your body and slip
said, the building anger hot in his voice.
Funny. For a raging barbarian, you
understand nothing of true combat. I was brought up traveling from fighting
arena to fighting arena. My mentor sang the heroic deeds of many a gladiator. I
have seen brutes like you, relying purely on size and strength, taken out by
studious little girls who chose when and where to place each blow, methodically
destroying their foe's defenses.
The demons released Tolian's body and
let it plummet nearly to the ground before snatching it back again, rising into
the air. They nearly jerked the bard's arms out of socket. They dropped him
again. The three participating demons passed him around like a child's
The rage in Bergar grew, overpowering
Tolian's own anger and fear.
Bergar waited until the demon that he
had previously marked caught him. Again, it began ascending with him in tow. At
about thirty feet from the ground, Bergar tensed the muscles in Tolian's lithe
What are you doing?
Tolian demanded of his body's other
No answer. In fact, Tolian soon felt
alone. The familiar presence of Bergar's thoughts was gone, replaced by a
forbidding wall. Tolian asked again and again. Then he realized what that wall
was composed of and did the only thing he could do. Watch the barbarian work
out his rage through Tolian's own, already battered, body.
Bergar swung his feet up high, using
the momentum to throw his feet above his head and startle the beast into a
backward tumble. They rolled over backward in the air and began to fall. Bergar
kicked and kicked the thing in the face on their way to the ground. It loosened
its grip on the man trying to break free. Bergar's hands broke loose and he
clamped anger-strengthened fingers onto the hideous thing. Years of playing
musical instruments and wielding daggers had strengthened Tolian's fingers to
Oh, gods, we are going to die,
horribly and painfully,
Just before hitting the ground,
Bergar kicked the monster full in the face again. The heavy blow thrust the
demon's head back, slamming it right into the ground. Its body hit the ground
with a thud, and Bergar landed Tolian's body almost as solidly on the beast's
chest. Its head was split wide open, oozing dark, hissing blood, and its
broken, twisted body didn't move.
Tolian knew they were dead, just
dying slowly. He awaited whatever afterlife would claim him. He was surprised
when the first thing that Bergar did after hitting the ground was to punch the
dead thing in the face. A second punch. And finally, the barbarian wrapped
Tolian's delicate hands around the monstrosity's throat.
Tolian said, almost shouted.
dead. Bergar. It does not live. Bergar. Stop!
The wall wavered and shrank. Much of
Bergar's rage had burned away on alighting.
Huh? What? Oh. Sorry,
Bergar thought and released the
How are we not dead? A descent such
as that should have killed any man,
It is said among my people that if
you give in enough to the rage, that if you let it completely take you, then
you can live through any injury. Not even the gods can take your life from you,
Bergar shrugged mentally.
I suppose your people are right,
Tolian agreed, noting this fact for
the victory songs that he would sing.
The other two will come looking for their
I am not so sure. The beasts wanted
to catch up with their horrendous army. Besides, those others weren't told to
dispose of us. This one was
, Tolian reasoned.
We have to get to Werlgart. Do you know the way
You are kidding, right? All I have
done for the past five years is guard a caravan of my people to the great
Fortress City. From here, it will take no more than two days to get there. The
demons brought us far, even through our fighting.
Is that two days
Ye... I see, we don't have to stick
to the trails. Alone, we can get there much faster. But still, I don't think it
will be fast enough.
We do have to try something, Bergar.
Your people must be warned, and helped, if at all possible,
Agreed on this, the body companions
set out on weary feet across the frozen tundra of Nordras toward the fortress