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Red Rage - Part One
"I trust that your journey was kind. The woods have indeed gentled as time has passed... there was a time, though..." Humphries' voice trailed off into a hush, as his eyes turned to the window, and the woods beyond. He sounded troubled, as though to even think on those events of the past was a painful thing to him. His 437 years certainly had not dulled his memories.
The old elf shuffled over to the warm fire at the hearth and attended the kettle, now sharply and insistently whistling its song. Into two plain, brown clay mugs he sprinkled an aromatic powder, whereupon he quickly added the boiling water. One could almost see the smells arise and infuse themselves into the room's air. A spicy aroma nipped at their noses, as Humphries set the mugs on the end-table near the overstuffed coach. He made his way to the sill, and the tea-biscuits that rested upon it.
His movements were deliberate and slow. As his feet padded their way across the stone floor, he looked the typical old Elf. His snowy white hair gently waved on his shoulder to unseen breezes as he made his way to the sill. His gait seemed bothered by a slight hunch to his posture, brought upon by the weight of years past, no doubt. As an older Elf, though he got along well, the townsfolk visited him often to check his well-being.
He extended the platter of tea-biscuits as a good host should, then placed it near the teacups on the end-table. He lowered himself into his favorite overstuffed chair, always warmed by the hearth, and ever inviting to one's weary bones. Helping himself to a tea-biscuit, he eagerly nipped off a small portion of the cake, not before dipping it into the honeypot on the platter. As he chewed, he leaned slowly to the chair's back, and settled comfortably into its cushion.
Humphries tended to drift off in thought. He seemed to fall at ease when those silent moments invaded one's conversation. His face wore a look of contentment in the silence, as though he was quite comfortable to be alone with his thoughts, despite that guests sat at his hearth. At the first, one might think the old Elf to be touched in the mind. But nothing could be further from the truth. Humphries was highly revered, even in such an aged state, as most scholarly. His lifelong pursuit of translating the sacred Scrolls of the Nimarill, those ancient and highly lauded Elves of the past, now no longer, brought him much knowledge and wisdom. The magic of those Elves surely was to rub off onto Humphries.
He was quite lucid in conversation, if one were to ask of those times past, when he told of prophecies uncovered deep within the Scrolls, those times when the Red Master was to come to power. Despite those painful times, he seemed to drift back with anticipation of its ending. Never was he to refuse telling the story of the heroes, Thorlibue, Palin, and Arienna, as well as the brave Nomad Thentek, and the felling of the Red One. His eyes were alive with youth as he spoke of their travels through the land...
He obliged, shutting the door quickly.
He moved to the hearth, standing slightly to one side with his back against the wall. Ever the warrior! He got his first good look at the tavern's inside. There was a bar running the full length of the wall opposite the fireplace. There were no stools or benches, rather it was a bar for free standing patrons. There were four round tables with four or five chairs each cluttering the small main area in the center of the room. A door stood on the wall to the right, to the kitchen he ventured by the smells wafting from there. And the door to the left was the main entry through which he had just come. A smallish tavern; he guessed they could handle 30-35 guests at a sitting on a full evening.
To the right side of the main entry, there were two dwarves throwing an axe at a target board mounted on the wall, in between sips of their morning ale. One table about mid-room had a small group of three, what looked to be a female outfitted for light battle, an elf, and an immense human who must be a warrior. What looked to be the Proprietor busied himself behind the bar, as two young men and an older woman served and cleaned.
Thor had his eye on that female, not for the pleasures of the flesh, more so that she looked outfitted for a fight! She wore a slender blade about a yard long at her hip, and had a decent complement of leather armor. Her muddy colored hair spilled in disarray from underneath a hard leather skullcap helmet. One interesting thing Thor noticed was that she sported a smallish gemstone ring on her right hand, some sort of blue opal-like stone. He considered it not wise to flash such wealth in these parts, considering that since waking, he's been privy to three fights and an attempted mugging, all before having a bite for breakfast!
Thor considered approaching her in conversation, when he suddenly felt hot breath upon his collar as he heard, "As if she's there for the taking..." the voice raking through his ear.
Thor spun around quickly, and saw that her Warrior friend had approached his side unnoticed and was now broadsword in hand, and apparently jealous! "How could I have been so careless to not notice..." Thor wailed to himself. He had been so intent upon the female, that the oaf of a Warrior snuck right up to him...
[Thor's back was against the wall, and a
pointy broadsword was seeking retribution for his wandering eye...]
By the Gods was his opponent big! Standing four hands taller than Thor, and possibly more wide, he was easily the largest man Thor had encountered. Flaxen hair ran to his shoulders, tied off into a cat's tail with a leather thong. His beard, although braided into two segments tied off with a thong of rude leather at each end, seemed to fall in disarray to his chest. Despite the winter's chill in the air, he wore a sleeveless leather vest open to the waist and thin leggings. The point of his foul broadsword currently teased at Thor's cheek, begging him to flinch.
Thor could see a look of slight puzzlement cross the oaf's face, as though distracted by some distant thought. Quite suddenly. a forceful nudge seemed to come from nowhere, causing Thor to stagger backwards and against the wall, as a look of surprise crossed the oaf's face.
"What hit me?" was all that Thor could think. His Warrior training was in play though, as his right hand grazed at his belt. The comforting feel of cold steel in his palm calmed him, and he readied to propel the blade to his target. Yet, the hairs on the back of his neck stood, and his instinct told him that something was definitely amiss.
His eyes left the oaf now coming toward him and gazed toward the main entry...
The door splintered from the force. Wooden shards sprayed inward, felling the Serving Wench. The entire room dove for cover, by instinct alone. The oaf stopped dead in his tracks and spun to the din.
A warrior of great size stood forward of two slightly smaller men. All dressed in black leather, from head to toe, they displayed a dark foreboding of evil. They blended into the shadows of the room, save for the glint of their blade's steel in the firelight. The leader pointed his blade toward Thor's opponent and bellowed, "You!"
As he slowly approached, he threw back the hood of his cape. A shock of black death he had for hair, as dark as Thor had ever seen. He had the facial features of a typical city guardsman, as though his face was chiseled from granite. As the snow melted away from his gear, he noticed the leader's outfit to be much too expensive for a city guard, too clean. Thor studied the intruder's blade, it being of a fine steel with a spiked pommel. He could barely perceive the glint of gemstones at the handle, he thought, but the cloth wrapping on the handle tried to conceal the truth.
There was something about this one, Thor mused to himself. Maybe he had underestimated, dismissing this one as a city guardsman. As the stranger stopped four feet from the oaf and himself, Thor tensed, gripping loosely the knife from his belt.
"You will drop your weapon, Palin, and come with me." The order was as cold and steely as his gray stare. He motioned the blade toward Palin's chest, resting the tip upon the poor oaf's leather. The other two guards had positioned themselves defensively to either side of the leader, giving him room to maneuver.
"A long, long journey, my friend, but one not lightly taken..."He spat upon the floor.
Palin stole a glance toward Thor, and Thor noticed an almost imperceptible smile cross his lips.
Thor's palm twitched at the steel it held
in nervous anticipation...
Color rose quickly to his face as he wiped away the spittle. The guardsmen to either side of him immediately moved toward Palin, their shortswords drawn. The Dark Leader waved them to a halt.
"Your folly shall be your undoing. You never had much wisdom for restraint!" With this, he drew his broadsword to his right hand. Like a flash of lightening, cold steel arced through the air, making its way to Palin's midsection. Palin quickly countered with his broadsword, drawing it from his back and to the left as quick as a bolt. His deft defense of the attack betrayed the oaf-like mannerism he had been displaying.
The two guardsmen advanced toward the swordfight, but the one on the right side of the leader was felled almost instantly by a crossbolt. Thor needed no further prompting, and he felled the left guard with a perfect dart of a throw, blade to throat. Crimson blood ran from the guard as he dropped. At the same moment, he spied from the corner of his eye that the Proprietor was reloading his crossbow for another volley. He never got the bolt in place, before the Fighter-Woman drew her slender blade across his right shoulder, causing him to loose his weapon to the floor. Thor's eye caught hers, and she acknowledged his grim look with a nod.
Thor turned his attention back to Palin and the Dark Leader. At this point, their deathly dance had turned into a blur of steel. Thor was amazed that a man as huge as Palin could be as nimble as he was. Thor's intuition told him that something was amiss; he could sense dark magic in the air. Twice he tried to intercept the Dark Leader's blade with his own, and twice some force repelled his advance. Frustration boiled within his veins.
The swordplay escalated further, and the strain of it was wearing upon Palin. The bar patrons had now formed a loose circle around the fighters; the dwarves, axes in hand, the Fighter-Woman with sword drawn nervously tapping the floorboards. The serving boys had taken their fallen father to the kitchen to escape this mayhem. Thor noticed something odd, though. 'Where had the Elf gotten off to?' he thought. It seemed odd that a traveling companion would leave a partner in dire straights.
Thor could think on this no more, for suddenly the strain of the battle took its toll on Palin. The Dark Leader was totally aglow with a red rage that enveloped his being, and with a resounding crack that shook the entire room, he brought his blade to bear, and Palin failed. As he fell hard to the floor, Thor jumped forward, arcing his blade toward the Dark Leader's skull. Perhaps the Dark Leader had let his guard down out of exhaustion, Thor knew not why, but his blade was not repelled this time. For a second in time, it looked as though Thor's blade would find its mark. The Dark Leader spun quickly to Thor's advance with a look of surprise, almost disbelief, as though a child was to attack so mighty a foe.
With reflexes as fast as a light bolt, he brought his own blade, still glowing red with the heat of battle, to block Thor's push. As steel met steel, Thor was blinded by a searing red pain deep within his head, and he thought he heard far in the distance the Fighter-Woman screaming, "No! It is not how it should be!" And then Thor heard nothing as his mind faded...
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