â€œEverything dies someday,â€ he muttered, bracing himself with a calloused hand against the even coarser surface of a young oak tree. A thin trail of blood streaked his chin, the lower lip cracked by a backhanded slap that, a moment before, sent him tumbling against the gnarled bole. A bright red droplet fed the loamy earth as he traced his foeâ€™s swift approach from behind. Narrow, tapered ears perked to focus on the thunderous gallop, and the concussive force of the centaurâ€™s hooves reverberated up the oak, through his fingertips. â€œSacrifices will have to be made. Iâ€™m sorry,â€ he told the tree. Twenty meters, ten, five...
He spun to the side just as the beastâ€™s lance pierced the oak with enough force to send splinters of wooden shrapnel into the air. The barbed tip protruded through the other side by nearly a meter, and the centaur howled a baleful sound upon finding its weapon lodged firmly in the trunk. While the monster wrested it free, the leather-clad elven man recentered himself several meters away. He raised his own weapon -- an enormous great sword, far lighter than its massive dimensions suggested -- into a defensive stance. When at last the beast regained its wicked spear, Sien met the creatureâ€™s fiery red gaze with calculating, impassive ceruleans.
A serene breeze blew across him, tousling the short, wavy mop of black hair crowning his regal brow. Hardened, black leather armor deflected any reprieve the cool wind might have afforded the rest of his finely sculpted frame, but then most discomfort was easily stricken from consciousness in the immediacy of battle. He smelled the brimstone hatred of the centaur somewhere beneath the rancid odor of its sweat, heard the gravelly rasp of its labored breathing. They might have been evenly matched when the fight began, but he sensed its growing exhaustion and frustration as something palpable, its labored strikes begging for counter attack. For several minutes now, wherever the creature thrust its lance, it pierced naught but air. When it reared and tried to pummel him with those cloven hooves, it took a playful lash from the edge of Sienâ€™s blade - several bloody gashes scored its forebody already, though none of them very deep. Itâ€™s backhanded slap had caught him by surprise, but was the only injury the high elven soldier had sustained.
Though that single blow had nearly been sufficient to end the fight. A momentâ€™s dazed confusion could swing the advantage all too quickly, he knew from experience. He wiped the blood from his pointed chin on the gold-enameled bracer of his right forearm. His boyish face held no expression, though his body was taut with anticipation.
â€œYnngoral shoshâ€™arn vekith ro,â€ the centaur snarled in its grotesque language, stamping the ground restlessly. I will feast on your flesh.
"I' am most likely delicious." He bowed ever so slightly, a demeaning flourish to the gesture.
The centaur charged again, the same reckless assault Sien had thwarted several times already with graceful acrobatics and timely parries. Where he previously granted the beast a wide berth in its clumsy passes, this time he stood his ground, chin tilted down to observe the centaur under the sharply angled ridge of his brow. Unimpeded, the lance would strike him through the heart, doing much the same to Sien as it had to the now sundered oak.
His counter-attack began even before the creature was within reach of the bladeâ€™s tip: an angled, arcing slash that whistled over the grassy earth before rising to meet the lance. Batted aside with a sharp clang, the barbed spear swung wide. Sien spun in place on the tip of one booted toe, following the momentum of his greatsword as the centaurâ€™s equine torso brushed against his shoulder in the passing. Yet before it could gain enough distance to bring itself around, the backswing of Sienâ€™s blade caught the unarmored bulge of a knobby knee.
The centaur did not have enough time for the pain to register in its barbaric mind, merely buckled and careened into the ground when the hewn joint collapsed under its considerable weight. For its speed and mass, it dug a furrow into the soft earth, another leg and a grossly muscled forearm snapping with the graceless fall. The lance, whose tip caught the ground during the tumble, wobbled back and forth several times before it stilled.
Mad, guttural curses flit past Sienâ€™s delicate ears as the centaur tried to right itself to no avail. He cocked his head curiously and hefted his sword into the brace on his back when it snarled in broken Elven, â€œFinish it, soft one.â€
â€œI need information,â€ he replied calmly, brows knit by a scarred sense of empathy as the centaur writhed in agony.
â€œGroâ€™theorai!â€ it spat.
An epithet for a weeping child, I think? I could stand to learn more of their crass argot.
â€œI did not anticipate you would cooperate willingly. That is why I brought this.â€ He closed the distance between them with a few long strides, halted just outside the crippled centaurâ€™s reach. En route, he unhooked a large metal ring from a cinch on his belt and held it at armâ€™s length for the fallen beast to see. Outwardly similar to a sorcererâ€™s disk, the hollow center began to crackle with ephemeral, purple arcs of light. â€œDo you know what this is? I suspect not, even I was mildly astonished to learn of their existence. It is an instrument of... coercion, I believe my kind would call it. We have a tendency to dislike ugly things, you see. Ugly creatures like yourself, and ugly words like torture. It was used on prisoners of war during our unfortunate campaign against the other races, but then I would be surprised if you knew much of history outside these woods.
The device is quite elegant and beautiful itself, though, not only in the physical craftsmanship, but in the methodology of its persuasion.â€ He turned it around in his hand, eyes flitting over the silver runes embedded on the wheelâ€™s rim. â€œThis will be the first time Iâ€™ve used it, and the last if I can help it. The magic with which it is invested plies the soul, not the body. Clearly your physical duress is great already, but your eternal spirit is in peril now.
So tell me, what manner of heaven do you believe your kind meets at the end of life, and how eager are you to never see that place?â€
â€œWhatâ€™s he doing?â€ Jasten asked, peering from the woodline as the Elven slayer stood over the fallen centaur a hundred meters away. He spoke slowly, deliberately in that deep, rumbling voice, an affectation that many strangers presumed a sign of mental deficiency. His opponents in the board game of Jay'nan often underestimated his intellect, and lost. His foes on the field of battle took his creative taunts to heart, nevermind the sorcerer flaying the flesh from their bones with his warping and wending of reality. Like any true warrior, he understood the parameters of life-and-death violence in a way less martial vocations could ever begin to comprehend.
The barrel chested warrior scratched the back of his clean-shaven head, squinting in a vain attempt to make sense of the strangerâ€™s doings from afar.
â€œNot sure. That thing heâ€™s holding is putting off some strange energy fields,â€ the Castanic sorcerer replied. His disk flitted off its shoulder holster to hover between themselves and the distant figures. A token gesture of will bent the empty space in the center to form a telescopic lens through which his human companion could also watch.
â€œHe should put the damned thing out of its misery already.â€
â€œHeâ€™s got an agenda. The centaurs have been harassing supply lines from Lumbertown, and their last raid got a sell-sword friend of his killed. Hey, heâ€™s kind of cute, do you think he...?â€
â€œNo. Lost a wife during the invasion of Essenia a hundred years ago. At least, thatâ€™s what the prefect said. Arun's flex, what was that?!â€ Jasten exclaimed, witnessing through the lens how the centaur violently convulsed when the elfâ€™s bizarre device flashed a bright purple.
â€œShh!â€ Tre hissed. â€œThey can hear a frogâ€™s fart from a league away.â€
â€œEars aren't that sharp.â€ Jasten muttered. He folded his arms over his chest, grimacing as he watched the scene unfold through Treâ€™s disk. â€œAre you sure we want this one? We can be a little more discriminating than recruiting a random, pissed off elf with a big sword.â€
â€œFor all your size, you hit like an anemic Elin, Jasten. Youâ€™ve got the brawn to take some punishment, but we need someone that can deliver it, too. More importantly, someone to watch my back when things go catastrophic.â€ Tre sent a sidelong glance at his companion, amber eyes flitting between the human warrior and the hovering disk. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his deep red robe, maintaining the far-sight invocation in his disk with only minor concentration.
â€œWhat about my back?â€
â€œThat's my job."
"I'm not very inspired," Jasten scowled at the Castanic.
"Do I need to remind you about the Stricken Chapter?" Tre said defiantly. It wasn't the first time their egos butted, and both knew it wouldn't be the last. Fortunately, they had saved one another's lives too often to take their personal disputes and philosophical differences very seriously.
"Maybe you should, because the way I recall things, it was a lot of hassle over a lot of nothing."
Edited by: Nevur
12 months ago