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Of Gold and Blood
 
Old 15 Aug 2007, 09:24   #1 (permalink)
42
Shas'El
 
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Default Of Gold and Blood

Olaf sat, crouched behind a large fern with his trousers around his ankles, looking skywards as he attended to a business important the world over. Hearing a rustling in the trees he sighed inwardly. “Alright whoever that is. Stop messing about and leave me alone.” Turning to further berate the intruders of his privacy he took one look and turned to run. Unfortunately, due to his trousers being around the vicinity of his ankles he didn’t get very far.

* * * * *

Lounging with his fellow mercenaries around one of the many campfires near the edge of the jungle, Leif stared dispassionately at the bowl of thin gruel sitting in front of him and wondered what in the name of Sigmar had convinced him to go along with this cursed venture. It had all seemed so simple back in the bustling monotony that was the town of Marinburg.

Leif had been lounging around the town square with some of his companions when he saw a man in bright yellows and purples, probably a merchant or herald, talking to a growing mass of young men. “Adventure!” He expounded “Adventure and riches beyond your wildest dreams in the New World of Gold! And,” He leaned closer to his audience, as if telling a great secret “I know of an expedition leading to this fabled land this very week. Go to the east docks and look for a tavern called The Stump and Ivy. Ask for Heinrich.” One of Leif’s companions and long time friend Marcus clapped him on the back cheerfully, “We should go Leif! The pays good and we get to see the world outside of Marinburg!” “Bugger that for a joke, it’ll be a suicide journey, that or a complete waste of time. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Leif laughed with derision and strolled away, leaving his friends talking excitedly to the man in purple. Dodging around horses and people going about their daily drudgery, he told himself he was going to the tavern for a drink on his way home. He told himself he would have nothing to do with some fools dangerous escapade into the unknown. But mostly he told himself he was an idiot.

Heinrich had turned out to be Sir Heinrich, personal retainer of none other than Lord Baldric, Duke of Lexmark. Heinrich looked with bleary eyes at the eager faces looking across the table and took another swig from the tankard of ale in his hand. He had been drinking a lot lately and he knew it was not just to enhance his social life. Finally summoning up the courage to speak, he waved the tankard for emphasis, “Its simple really, an expedition into the largely unknown southern continent known as Lustria.” “Lustria? A pox on Lustria!” A bearded, heavyset man of about sixty and one of the taverns frequent patrons, stumped over to the table “That’s where I lost me leg!” he swung a foot up onto the table and pulled his trouser leg back. His leg was made of wood. “Fifty good men we lost on that thrice accursed venture! I was the only one who made it back to the ships!” He pointed an accusing finger at Heinrich and began to scream and swear incoherently about dark magic and night demons until kind but firm hands guided him back to his seat and a mug of beer. One of the taverns other patrons looked apologetically at Heinrich “Sorry Milord, he’s always like this after a few drinks. We’ll try and keep an eye on him.”
And here lay the base of Heinrich’s problems. Anyone with any experience or who had encountered Lustria before wanted nothing to do with him and thus he was left with the dreamers, the young, and the unexperienced. This was going to be harder than he had expected.

Leif was snapped out of his reverie by screams and a primal roaring from within the underbrush. All around him men leapt up, snatching weapons and running to the source of the noise. Pushing branches out of the way, Leif was horrified by what he saw. There lay Olaf, or what was left of him. Crouched over Olaf was something. Something green and vaguely reptilian. Seeing the men appearing through the jungle it turned and bounded away and out of sight. “W-what was that?” Leif asked softly. Everyone spoke in whispers as if afraid to talk to loudly. “Look at him though” One of Lief’s old friends from Marinburg, Ronan observed “He looks so peaceful, as if he’s in a better place.”
“Peaceful! He’s bloody well dead!”
“Maybe we can resuscitate him then?”
“Ok, I’ll just go look for his head! It must be around here somewhere!”
“Hey, guys maybe that thing will come back.”
“Oh yeah…”
The mercenaries backed away towards their camp. The body of the late Olaf lay where he had fallen, head laying a few paces away, chest torn open and trousers around his ankles. What the men didn’t know was that smell carries a long way and that, in a jungle full of vicious predators, something had already noticed it.

* * * * *

The following morning Lord Baldric, Duke of Lexmark emerged from his brightly coloured tent and proudly surveyed what he called his “fine body of men” and “glorious adventurers”. To say that Lord Baldric was an idiot would be a gross inaccuracy. In fact he was an intelligent and shrewd man; you had to be, to be a courtier. Unfortunately, this shrewdness was concealed by layers of bumbling and almost likeable stupidity in every other field of life. It was an example of his stupidity that he saw the best in everyone even if there was no best to see.
Turning, Baldric smiled broadly at a figure as it approached “Ah, Father Benjamin! You rested well I hope? Marvellous! I belie-” “I don’t have time Baldric!” Father Benjamin, a priest of Sigmar, growled, “Where is the map? Have you managed to make any sense of it yet? Oh, why do I even bother?” Benjamin paced around in frustration, fingering the golden amulet in the pattern of a hammer and twin tailed comet that hung around his neck. “Fear not Benjamin,” Baldric threw his hand around the priests’ shoulder and started to guide him towards a small bench by one of the fires where Baldrics retainer Heinrich was glaring at a ragged, tattered map as if it had personally insulted him, “we will find these artefacts you seek.” “You had better,” Benjamin finished lamely, “it is of utmost importance that we do.” Without loosing his stride Baldric grinned brightly “Very well. I will prepare the men to leave in one hour. We will forge onwards Benjamin and we will overcome!”

About an hour later and the explorers were nearly ready to depart. Some men gathered equipment and harnessed the few horses present while others forced down a late breakfast. Lord Baldric and Sir Heinrich could be seen riding about the camp, anxious to get moving. Father Benjamin spoke softly to his young apprentice Mortimer, a pale faced fair haired boy of sixteen, both glaring silently at anyone who came to close.
Finally everything was ready and Lord Baldric led the way, pushing onwards into the jungle, hacking away at the branches in his path with his broadsword. Suddenly, a deafening roar reverberated through the jungle that seemed to command the attention of the entire world. Horses threw their riders and bolted, men fell to the ground clutching their ears and curling up like newborn infants and a flock of bat-winged pterosaurs lifted from the nearby trees and flew away, squawking in alarm. “What the hell was that?!” Heinrich roared, picking himself up from the ground where his horse had tossed him. The roar sounded again, closer this time, “Everyone! Stay alert!” Heinrich called, looking about the impenetrable jungle but seeing nothing. And that was all the warning they had. Leif relaxed slightly, perhaps whatever that had been had moved on. He laughed with relief and sheathed his sword.
The jungle exploded outwards and there was a fleeting impression of a huge muscular body, claws and scales as a massive reptilian creature pounded forwards, straight towards the nearest group of men. Without breaking stride it scooped one man up in its massive jaws, trampling others underfoot. “Dragon!” The word swept like wildfire through the company, not even drowned out by the screams and roars of predator and prey alike. But these men were not called soldiers for nothing; they desperately ran at the beast, weapons drawn and ready, only to fall at the reptile’s claws and terrible jaws.
Some men managed to get a small cannon set up and now they fired upon the beast, creating a dark, billowing cloud of gunpowder smoke. The lead shot smacked into the creatures flank with the sound of a tenderiser mallet hitting a piece of raw meat. The creature staggered, its roar turning into a strangled, agonised yelp. When the smoke cleared, more than a dozen men lay dead and their foe was nowhere to be seen. “What in Sigmar’s name was that?” Demanded Baldric, struggling to his feet from where he had luckily fallen early on in the skirmish. No one answered him; Leif tried to gather his wits together and finally noticed the wounded man lying next to him. Blood. The word rose to the surface of Leif’s mind. So much blood “Oh God! Help!” A couple of men hurried towards him, but reeled backwards at the sight of the man’s injuries. His stomach had been ripped open by the beasts’ claws, his lifeblood and internal organs spilling out onto the muddy ground. “Move! Let me through!” Father Benjamin pushed past the men to kneel by the stricken man. After a moment he turned away, “There’s nothing I can do to save him, all I can do is make his passing more comfortable. You, you, get a stretcher made up; we will still need to keep moving. Mortimer!” “Yes Father?” Mortimer appeared at Father Benjamin’s shoulder, “You may perform the Rite of Morr ere this man parts from us. Do you remember how?” Benjamin said softly, “Yes Father.” Mortimer replied, face nervous and pale. “I’ve told you lad, call me Benjamin” Father Benjamin smiled kindly despite the morbidity of the situation “But Father it’s only correct for me to call you by your proper title.” “Worry not Mortimer, now, perform the rite. I must go and speak to his lordship Baldric.”

* * * * *

The party tramped through the thick jungle, their terror replaced by a sort of cold dread. Heated but whispered discussions rife within each small group of men. Had they but listened to the other conversations they would have noticed no change in topic. Men threw furtive glances over their shoulders as if the very mention of the beast could conjure it out of the air. Leif tried to speak with some old friends from Marinburg, Arthur, Ronan and Marcus but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched. The jungle was quite beautiful, Leif decided. Light from the distant sun was almost completely blocked out but where it did filter through in patches and speckles, it was a vibrant emerald green. The harsh cries of exotic birds cut through the general buzzing of the jungle as Leif drifted back to focus on the present. “That was no dragon back there,” Marcus insisted, “I saw pictures of one once. Dragons have massive bat wings and they breath fire. That thing didn’t do that.” He paused for a second, shook his head as a man would to remove himself from drowsiness, looked as if he was about to say something and collapsed onto the ground. Leif leaned down towards him, “Are you alright Marcus? Marcus?” It was then that they noticed his arm, “What in the Gods…” Leif stared in horrified wonderment at the huge black leech hanging from Marcus’ arm; thick and bloated, glistening in the oppressive forest light, “Quick, get it off him!” the leech was longer than the dagger Leif used to hack it from Marcus’ pale sickly looking form. “We should get Father Benjamin.” Leif got up to run and find the priest as the rest of the company navigated a patch of boggy ground but Ronan held him back. “He’s dead Leif.” Ronan said quietly. Leif touched Marcus on his pale cheek, “He’s so cold,” Leif murmured, still in shock. “We’d better leave him here. We won’t be able to carry him.” Said Ronan sadly but as usual, practically. They rose up and moved to join the stragglers as they crossed a patch of swamp. Leif hardly flinched as one of the men next to him was taken by a giant crocodile that appeared out of nowhere. Marcus and dozens of others were dead, Leif thought dreamily. But he still felt like he was being watched.

The only sign that the day was ending was the gradual darkening of the light filtering through the leaves and the appearance of new and strange creatures. When the call was made to halt and prepare the camp men simply fell to the ground, to exhausted to set sentries or set up tents. Leif slept fitfully, his dreams filled with terrifying monsters stalking him through the jungle, of him trying to run but falling to his knees. He thought he woke at one point to see the silhouette of a slender figure crouched over him, but when he shook himself awake it was gone and Leif fell back into his nightmares almost instantly.
The steady drumming of a company of men marching away and someone franticly shaking him was what finally awoke Leif. He looked up into the annoyed face of Ronan, “Get up Leif!” He hissed, “We’re moving!” Leif rose and looked with shock at the scaly body of a reptile the size of a horse. “I think it wandered into the camp” Ronan explained “but something killed it before it could do any damage. It wasn’t the sentries though ‘cause we didn’t have any. If you ask me we’re not alone here.” And indeed, the creature had been slain by outlandish stone weapons, one of which still rested in its scaled hide.

* * * * *

It was around midday that they first found any signs of civilisation. The lead men in the group clambered up the steep bank of a swampy river and were thrown into stark contrast by the sudden appearance of a clearing in the seemingly impenetrable jungle. Cautiously advancing further into the clearing they noticed for the first time the ruined building in the centre. Father Benjamin pushed through the throng of men, desperate to get to the ruins. “Let me pass!” He roared, “In the name of Sigmar let me pass!” Shoving past the last of the men, Benjamin saw there were strange symbols etched over every surface of the ruins, a temple he guessed. Skilfully made, they depicted snarling reptile faces and figures. At the entrance to the temple were two stone jaguars, faces set in vicious roars, the spiritual guardians of the temple and its previous worshipers. Unheeding, Benjamin walked in between the jaguars, pausing only to call a warning to the adventurers, “Touch nothing and I won’t have to kill you.”

Deep inside the temple Benjamin was joined by his apprentice Mortimer and Lord Baldric who voiced the common thought, “Where are they?” “The artefacts should be here, they must be!” Father Benjamin growled. “It would help if you said what we are looking for.” Baldric said reproachfully, “I’ve told you all I know. Magical treasures of a bygone race that the church desperately needs. I’ll know them when we find them.” “Excuse me Father” Mortimer timidly interrupted, “but there’s a passage down there that I don’t believe we’ve investigated yet.” He pointed down a darkened corridor. Benjamin smiled fondly at his apprentice “Where would we be without you, Mortimer m’lad?” Taking up a torch Benjamin led the way into the tunnel.

Leif sat idly on the ground, swatting at the biting insects that plagued them every step in the jungle. Hearing the noise of something moving in the river he turned about, but the murky water was undisturbed.

Benjamin pushed aside a massed tangle of cobwebs as he stepped into a small side corridor. Something glittered in the torchlight and he advanced curiously towards it. There in the corner, as if thrown down at random and forgotten, lay what he had sought for so long. Stooping and dropping his torch in his excitement, Benjamin raised it upwards for his companions to see. Cast in gold and inlaid with precious gems, jade and lapis lazuli, the mask was moulded into a grimacing reptile face, many times to large for a mans head. On the floor where the mask had been lay all manner of treasures. Blades, armour and jewellery were strewn around the place. Kneeling down, Baldric picked up a weapon and examined it closely. Instead of steel it appeared to be made of gold, with protruding barbs made of a sort of hardened stone. Turning suddenly he smashed the unnatural weapon against the stone wall. “Baldric! What in Sigmar’s name are you doing?!” Screamed Benjamin as the dust cleared. “Don’t worry old friend.” Baldric smiled “I have a feeling that weapon is not all that it seems.” Looking back to the wall he glared triumphantly at the others. The wall now had an enourmous hole in it at the point of impact while the blade itself was unscathed. “We have what we came for,” Benjamin said as he shoved the mask inside his robe, “we can go now.” Glancing at Baldric, “You can keep the sword milord.”

Leif looked suspiciously at the water as he heard another splash from behind him. Again seeing nothing he turned back to where he had been idly passing the time playing dice with Ronan when he heard a cry of shock from a group of men sitting nearer to the river. Men came running from all over the camp to find one of their number lying on the ground, clutching his neck and frothing at the mouth. “We don’t know what happened,” one of his companions said in panic “we were just sitting there when he grabbed his neck like he’d been stung and fell over.” The man lay still now and Leif noticed a small dart lying in the grass. Poisoned he guessed as men picked up the body and wrapped it up in an old blanket in preparation for the rite of Morr. Looking out towards the jungle he silently moved his arm and grabbed Ronan by the shoulder and turned it around. “What is it Leif? Oh gods…” Ronan yelped and ran to find Sir Heinrich, yelling “Monsters! Enemies! We’re under attack!”
For in the water, something was moving. First appeared ranks of reptilian heads, green and blue mottled scales glistening as more and more of them appeared. Hefting stone weapons, rank upon rank of the creatures advanced silently, water pouring off them as they rose ever so slowly like a legion of ancient leviathans awoken from their slumber. Benjamin, Baldric and Mortimer appeared at the entrance to the temple, Benjamin cursing at the sight of the reptiles. Without warning a war hammer appeared in Benjamin’s hands and Mortimer drew his own weapon and shield, warrior priests Baldric thought with surprise but had no time for further musings. Suddenly, with a burst of speed the lizard men smashed into the human lines, stone weapons smashing through armour and bone alike. Sword glanced off scale, crossbow bolt embedded in hide only to be pulled out by clawed hands and lead shot bounced off shield. Leif swung his blade at the head of one of the lizard men but his attack was blocked with almost casual ease and he was struck and thrown to the ground by its scaled hand. This wasn’t a battle, it was a massacre. Men started to break and run, scattering into the jungle as their companions were cut down with heartless efficiency. Leif crawled through the dirt, spitting blood and teeth as he tried to make his own way to the trees and apparent safety. Pulling himself to his feet he started to run, feet thumping the ground and cold sweat on his face. Pushing aside branches he finally took a second to catch his breath in the cool shade. A blade suddenly appeared at his throat and a strange voice spoke, “Make one move and we kill you.”
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Old 20 Aug 2007, 16:47   #2 (permalink)
Shas'Saal
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
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Default Re: Of Gold and Blood

I think this piece is one that deserves a bit more attention. I loved the flow, the descriptive writing and the depth of character in the adventurers, although I wasn't entirely convinced in the plot. I didn't feel much urgency in the conflict from Leif's point of view, which is the one we should be relating to - if he went for gold, what did he want to buy that was worth going to Lustria? The conclusion was also a bit open-ended and, well, inconclusive. I imagine more could be written this way, but as a short story, there has to be some kind of closure, and I feel this wasn't included as strongly as the opening.

As one more thing, a few commas were left out (i.e. when embedding multiple quotes in a sentence), but this was pretty much the only spelling/grammar gaffe I found.

I enjoyed reading this overall, especially since it's one of the few (if not the only) WHFB entries.
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Old 22 Aug 2007, 07:20   #3 (permalink)
Shas'El
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
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Default Re: Of Gold and Blood

I think it might be part one of a bigger story and that was an attempt at a cliffhanger ending. I liked it, if only for the fact it has lizardmen :funny:
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Old 03 Sep 2007, 07:29   #4 (permalink)
Shas'El
 
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Finland
Posts: 2,510
Default Re: Of Gold and Blood

The story seems to cut short, as if more is to come, but somehow it seems unfinished(even the part here). The writing in general is pretty good and the transitions Ok. Some of the humor seems a bit forced IMO. One thing that seemed out of place was the use of word "resuscitate". It just seems so out of place in the mouth of medieval(ish) mercenary soldier. It's a small thing, but it removes a bit from the realism of the discussion.

I don't know much of the WHFB fluff so I can't really say how well everything fits, but the story seems Ok.
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Old 03 Sep 2007, 10:09   #5 (permalink)
Shas'El
 
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Default Re: Of Gold and Blood

Thanks
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