Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Warrior's Tale, Part Four

James wakes from his slumber in his darkened chambers, instantly reaching for his heavy-hafted battle-axe in fashion he’d been drilling into himself since he’d been declared “The Horned One’s Champion.” The weapon, while hefty and made primarily from bone and steel, was also blessed by the rotting red skeleton Spicer, the cursed creature having spent an afternoon lazily etching Latin into the sharpened double headed blade. When prompted over what he was doing, the skeleton (or rather the tattooed child that spoke for him) gave a mirthless laugh.

James hadn’t asked about the weapon since then, merely accepting it as a “boon” of the cult that had taken him in. Tonight he was scheduled to face the newest challenge that the priest could cook up. James was well aware of the stakes that were at place: if he couldn’t best whatever monstrosities the priest brought out for him to fight, the cult would then unleash a plague upon the region while also using the remaining captives as living sacrifices. One of those living captives was the mercenary that James had agreed to guard.
Technically, James hadn’t failed in that regard yet.
Moving up into a seated position, the sconces flare to life in an ethereal green glow, bathing the room in an emerald hue that made it look… well, like a tomb. Just a tomb with nice lighting.
The Tomb of the Champions the priest had called it when he’d marched James to it a few nights ago.
“The resting place of all our fallen champions… well, their ashes at least.” He’d said with a small smile.
“You cremate your dead?” James had asked, surprised. Not many did that, save for the barbarians of the North.
“More out of necessity than any form of right or ritual, I assure you.” The priest said, defending the action as he’d guided James into the chamber. Circular with high walls, the Tomb of the Champions was primarily dominated by a leering gilded statue of the Horned One, a horrifying depiction of a creature part man, part goat and part dragon. Six arms, all ending in pronged claws, stood spread wide before the near skeletal frame of the strange statue, a long and sinuous scorpion tail looping around the body and up to rest near the shoulder. Each “hand” bore a small offering plate with a black wax candle, all eternally lit. What was worse about this fact was that the black flames produced by the fire offered no light.
James did his best not to think about the disturbing statue of the profane god in his resting quarters. Instead, he stood and threw on his bear skin cloak, fixing the collar so that the heavy garment would cover his muscled frame as he moved, in order to ward away the chill that seemed to permeate the caverns.
Making his way through the honeycombed tunnels, James stopped to check on the merchant, grimly looking at a new batch of captives that must have been captured while he slept. The merchant, once a jovial fellow with a bit of weight to him was suffering greatly in his small cell, and had developed a wracking cough that did not sound pleasant at all.
“James!” He cried as he caught sight of the young warrior, reaching out a bruised arm through the narrow bars to just feel a friendly face. James happily allowed the older man his chance to pat him on the back and to grip his shoulder. “What news do you have for me, for us?”
“I fight again tonight, and should I win not one of you will be sacrificed to the Horned One.” James said with a sad smile. “But you will still be incarcerated.”
“Better alive and in chains than dead and in the ground!” The merchant wheezed, coughing as he chuckled. After clearing his throat, he smiled at James through teary eyes. “I did a good thing that day, choosing you and the others to serve as my guards. God guided me that day.”
James fell silent at this, his earlier conversations with the priest and the skeleton coming to mind. “If God planned for me to be here to save you, why plan for you to be captured and tortured so?”
The merchant chuckled once more, shaking his head. “You know better than I that the good Lord works in mysterious ways. Perhaps this will strengthen my faith, or lead to this nest of cultists being wiped out? Or maybe this is a trial for you, and I am merely along for the ride.”
“Hardly seems fair.” James quipped, watching as the hunched over jailor shambled past them, glowering at his captives.
The merchant held his hands apart wide, shaking his head. “Since when has life ever been fair?”
“Good point, I suppose. Still, why would God allow such suffering for someone as devout as you?” James asked, the conversation and questions burning in his mind.
“As devout as we are,” the merchant stressed, looking at James sternly, “promises us only the greatest rewards for our lifetime of faith. As to why he would test us so, how can he tell we’re faithful if we give up on him when the going gets rough?”
“Makes sense…” James trailed off, hefting his battle-axe onto his shoulder. “Well pray for me my friend. I’m going to go and get ready for the battle tonight. I imagine it’ll be far worse than the first one I was in.”

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