After monsters attack their village, a new breed of hero must set out to save the world
|This is an excerpt from the second chapter of a new novel. The story focuses on characters forced to fight werewolves and other monsters that have been sent to destroy their world.
Additional note: this is a raw first draft.
Ir-ir-ir-ir-irrr! A large rooster sat perched on a rickity old fence. Crowing out as the first rays from the son shone down, warming his feathers. As the sun rose, movement started in the homes across Cedar Hollow. It was one of the smallest villages in all of Ihm Sevauta, in English, The Miracle Reach. It was named by the old fairies who discovered it while fleeing the first wave of southern monsters.
They had made their way up an enormous mountain as the ogres, werewolves and other dreadful abominations pursued them. As they approached the peak, the monsters had grown bored of chasing and broke off their pursuit. The fairies stayed in hiding atop The mountain, eventually making their way down the northern side. They needed protection from future attacks and so they called on the magic of the forest to begin casting wards and protect their southern border from the beasts.
Elves, dwarves, gnomes, centaurs and all other types of creatures had fallen under attack. Clans, villages, major cities were all abandoned to thwart the attacks against them. Slowly the kingdoms made their way north, to the protection of the granted by the gods of the fairies.
By the current age, all different folk called the north home; with only a few remembering the age of the fairies and beasts of the south. Nearly 5,000 years had passed since then, with the north existing in relative peace.
Of course, few monsters had been seen in the north for centuries, most living only in stories and legend for the common folk.
Cedar Hollow, which consisted of only six homes on the hillside to the east of the main road. It also held a small inn at the center of town to the west of the homes. It was a place where weary travelers frequented on their long trips between Duermouth, the lakeside capitol to the southwest and Merinokoal, the city at the gates of the northern sea.
South on the road from the inn lie a row of three more buildings. From the north was a blacksmith, humble in size, the owner subsisted primarily repairing the weapons and armor of adventurous travelers. Following down the path was a general shop. Finally, a horse stable sat just inside of the meek wooden fencing that bordered the small village.
Other legends of a chosen warrior from another world, who, after defeating an army's worth of monsters, settled down in the fjords of the far north, where he wed a merihm queen; fathering several hybrid children. This was just a story, of course, with no evidence of having ever happened. The atonaci had to come from somewhere, though.
As the final drops of dew from the night before left to slumber, life in the quaint village had come in full swing, with one peculiarity.
Oliver, who was no longer a resident of Cedar Hollow, but ran the stables, hadn't arrived that morning. He was a dwarf whose family were mariners. His clan had all but vanished in a season of especially treacherous storms. Jere, Margaret's widower, found Oliver abandoned on the shores in the west. After rescuing him, Jere and Margaret raised Oliver for decades, but Oliver never felt as though he belonged in Cedar Hollow. He eventually left, living a life of solitude a short distance from the village. This allowed him to still visit the parents that raised him, while getting back to some of the traditions of his dwarves roots. As Jere and Margaret aged; around the same pace as their adopted dwarven son, they reached a point where Jere struggled with tending the stable. Oliver would come to town to help his father each day, feeding, exercising, and caring for the horses. Infrequently he would ride to one of the big cities to collect supplies and sell some wares. On one of these trips is where new trouble for Cedar Hollow and the rest of Ihm Sevauta began.
Jere awoke early, he needed the extra time to check over the wagon and make sure Oliver had what he needed for the five day journey to Merinokoal. Oliver departed just after daybreak to sell some trinkets his mother made and purchase what they would need at the stable over that coming winter.
"Oliver, me boy, ride safe, I heard rumor of
an attack not far from the capitol. It seems the bandits have gotten desperate." Jere's voice had the unmistakable sound of worry in it as he sent Oliver off.
"Aye. I'll move quickly to Valorhame and spend the night."
He was uneasy, but didn't want his father to worry. He struggled to climb up to the drivers seat, which wasn't designed for one as short as a dwarf. After scrambling up, he smiled at Jere and nodded as the shire pulled him down the road.
The trip was uneventful for the duration to the capitol. In fact, he was so unhindered that he was able to arrive by midday on the fourth day, allowing him to make his exchanges that day, rather than the next day as was usual. Before today, he had never arrived before the merchants shut down for the day, meaning he had to stay in town overnight. Since he arrived so early, the opportunity to leave this day was there. If he were able to move at the same pace, perhaps his entire journey could be made in less than nine days. Instead of stopping at one of the taverns for a pint and some rest, as he often did, Oliver left immediately after his business was complete.
In the hours after his departure of Merinokoal, a small storm had rolled into the valley with intent to leave its mark; this included the flooding of a small part of the road leading home. As he approached, Oliver had a decision to make. Though the road was generally safe, especially compared to that of the wild, he had been slowed several hours now and darkness filled the night. He could continue on, another six hours would bring him near a farm and relative safety. Alternatively, he could camp here and risk a bandit attack.
Forced to make camp in the wilds, Oliver chose to not make a fire and to sleep on the driver's bench of the wagon, preparing himself to make a quick escape.
The rain came and went throughout the night. Occasionally, small breaks in the clouds allowed the orange moonlight to shine down on Oliver's camp, illuminating his humble canvas tent and the wet, grassy meadow where he lie.
The Cedar Forest lie just ahead. If Oliver were awake he'd have noticed the layout of the woods, which looked like they were laid out in straight columns arranged north to south. The trees were aged and full, but still, fragments of orange moonlight let the solstice come through, marking the midway point of the year.
Not only wold he have seen this, within the tree line, polished steel caught the light, exposing a troupe of six men, whose shabby clothes were bespattered in mud and food stains; no doubt, the same attire they had worn for weeks as they prowled the forest.
A plan already in place, the six of them quietly surrounded Oliver's encampment. Without a word two of them piled on top of Oliver, holding him down by the arms, their full weight seated on the sleeping dwarf.
Oliver awoke in a start, struggling instinctively to shudder the weight and climb to his feet. As he kicked and thrashed, the two bandits started to lose grip. Oliver was large for a dwarf, nearly five foot. This was substantially higher than any of the bandits, who were themselves gnomes; none of which were more than three and a half foot high.
Just as Oliver had nearly gotten the pair knocked off of him, the cracking scrape of a scabbard having a blade pulled from it came into his right ear. In no time, the glint of moonlit steel took over the place in front of Oliver’s face. The cold metal pressed into his throat, drawing a small pool of blood from the dwarf.
Too afraid to move, Oliver laid back, angry at himself for not pressing on further. By now, the remaining bandits had cleared the camp and were driving the cart into the woods and out of sight.
The two gnomes got off of Oliver, the third still pressing his blade into Oliver's neck.
"Okay dwarf. Now give us the rest or your head is all that gets home."
Slowly, the dwarf pulled a small pouch from his left breast pocket, handing over the gold from the sales of his mothers goods.
"And the ring!"
The gnome pressed the blade in a little farther, deepening the small wound on Oliver's neck. Oliver hesitated to give up this heirloom. A small gold band that bore a single, round topaz that encompassed most of the width. It was a gift from Jere and Margaret, given to him shortly after his rescue, and passed down through generations of Margaret's family.
After handing off the ring, the blade that had threatened Oliver was replaced in its sheath and the gnomes retreated into the woods. But not before one of them lay several shots into Oliver's breast and face. The final kick sending Oliver into unconsciousness.
"Jere, he should have returned. I beg you, go find our son!"
Tired of the argument with his wife, Jere set off to find the delay. The storm from the previous week had passed, with no remnants to be found along the road. Before making it to Valorhame, at one of his first camps, Jere heard the unmistakable sound of a howling beast in the dark.
"Ihmisi? Jere's voice was confident as he talked to himself. He didn't fear the monster he heard, after all, he was one of the last of the adventurous atonaci. And one who had seen more adventure than most. Of course, that was in his younger days and the confidence he held today was misplaced.
His thoughts went to his son, who, though strong, would be no match for an Ihmisi, if that is in fact what this was. Hurriedly, he placed his belonging in his pack before wielding his bow. It was a strong bow, crafted in the old days from a branch of the verpuristut, a great red cedar that towered over the square of Mahtavka; the city of the old atonaci and Jere's homeland.
Silently, Jere moved toward the sound and into the forest. The waning moon illuminated the ground under him, no doubt he was on a secret path that led deep into the forest.
Jere stepped cautiously, and though the forest floor was covered in twigs and brush, his atonaci feet made no sound. One of many skills injected into the atonaci was stealth unlike any other inhabitants of Ihm Sevauta.
As he moved in complete in expert silence, bow at the ready, he came across a scene unlike any he'd seen in his storied lifetime.
A camp in a small clearing, or at least what was a camp. The tents were shredded. Pans and clothes strewn about. Near the center of the camp lie the remnants of a small figure, its paunch torn open and innards in a line after having been pulled from the remains. This was one of the less grotesque scenes. The others were eviscerated in much the same way, but their skulls smashed and broken. Arms, legs and unrecognizable viscera lying all about.
There was no more time to survey the gnomish bloodbath. It was there, at the far end of the camp.
The gnome lying under it seemed to be moving. Unsure if it was from the tugging of its intestines as the werewolf dug into it or if it was still alive, wishing to escape.
The werewolf raised its claw to slash down again, its finger-like paw stretched out above its gnome victim. It was then that Jere saw it, a gold ring with a large Topaz embedded into it. The ring was displayed on a thin part of the beasts smallest finger.
An arrow whirred through the air, penetrating right into the werewolf’s neck. The monster let out a shriek of a howl and turned to Jere. By the time he had dropped the bow and pulled out a short sword the werewolf was on him. In a fury of swings of steel and gnashing of teeth, the two fell to the ground.
Jere slowly bleeding out from an eviscerating blow to the abdomen and the werewolf suffering a seemingly mortal wound; its ringed hand severed from its arm.
As the groans and howls quieted, someone else who had been following the sound arrived. It was Oliver, there to discover the body of his father. In his limp hand was his blade, bloody and scarred.
Next to it was an unsightly puddle of blood with the severed hand of a gnome and Oliver's ring on its little finger. The hand, though, had not fully transformed. The wiry hair and razor sharp claws were still there, drops of Jere’s blood still wet on the dripping ends.
He was strong, but seeing the one who raised him like that broke Oliver. He stayed there for some time sobbing over the corpse of Jere. All he could think of was the day he rescued him as a young dwarf. Sitting on the shoreline, playing in the sand. Alone and unaware of the criminal act that put him there. After hours of sitting in solitude, he cried one in hunger. There he stood, a tall blue man, unlike anyone Oliver had ever seen at this young age.
All he had been told was that his family had been slaughtered by a monster, but never did Jere give him any more details.
After Oliver collected himself he made his way slowly back to Cedar Hollow. The folks of town went back, collecting the corpse of their dear friend, leaving Oliver and Margaret with a few others to console the pair.
In secret, not wanting to alarm the village, Oliver showed his mother the hand.
"It was a devil, Oliver. They come from
the shadow; let loose on the world to wreak havoc. Your father..." Margaret had tears welling in her eyes as she continued. "My Jere was a hunter of monsters, battling all that came from the dominion of shadows."
Oliver knew of Jere's adventures, of course, but not of any monster fights.
He asked her, "Is this... this thing. Did it know him?"
"I believe so," Margaret said, "or it was at least sent for him. The atonaci were always known for their ability to end monsters. The shadow lord wants nothing more than to end the line of atonaci, just as he’s done to the fairy folk and many others."
The attack occurred one year ago to the day.
And, as i've said, Oliver didn't arrive at the stables this day. As it turns out, Oliver's not showing up was an innocent event. The dwarf had taken a liking to Marlena and her brother Simeon. As a dwarf, Oliver had an innate ability in crafting. Historically, most dwarves were miners, stone works, or metal workers. All of these rare in this part of the realm. His skills allowed him to wok with wood near as well to metal.
The members of the Virta family were rousing. Iivana and her husband Kaal prepared breakfast and worked to get their two children, Simeon and Marlena ready for a hard day of playing.
Marlena had just finished her breakfast and whoosh, she was out the door before her spoon settled in the bowl. She flew past the widow Margaret Thatcher, who was sitting in front of her home, as she always did. Marlena made her way down around the hill and past the shops and inn toward the stables.
Hilpa owned the village inn, which she had done from the time it was passed down to her at the start of her second century, more than one and a half centuries ago was setting out a small iron table and two chairs out front. Her daughter Elina, barely of age, 40, was just inside preparing the inn’s tavern for another slow day.
Peter began polishing the swords he put out on display in front of his smithy, singing to himself as he wiped down the blades.
At the general store, Rose was actively sweeping, dusting, and doing other small tasks to prepare her shop for another day, still taking time to wave at the young girl flying past her storefront.
“Where are your off to in such a hurry.” She was shouting up the road, laughing, as the girl had already moved well past her.
“It’s ready! Today it’s ready!” And Marlena was gone, off down the road again.
Panting as she got to the stable gates, Marlena inspected
"Ooohh... where is he?" she hunted around more. "Oliver! Oliver!”
"Quiet down, Lena," the voice coming from behind her. "Sorry for being late, I had a bit more work to do to get it ready.”
He set a pack down, her eyes widened as he revealed what was inside. A small, wooden bear. It had perfectly textured fur chiseled into its round belly. Fat bear arms and legs coming off of the torso, with equally impressive tufts chiseled into them. Its round head, topped with circular ears, painted blue eyes, and a flawless smile under a small protrusion of a nose.
The girl jumped into the dwarf to hug him, nearly knocking him over. She was only twelve, but stood as tall as him.
"why don't you take it home? I need to get my things together to set out."
He handed her the bear and sent her back into the village, before turning back toward the stable where he was readying himself for a hunt. See, every month since Jere’s death, attacks continued all around the hollow, not far from the village.
As Marlena took the trip home, she stopped briefly at a neighbors home to show off the birthday gift she had gotten her brother.
Eeli worked in the farm with Kaal and was just setting off that direction. He and his wife, Onerva, occupied the house furthest south on the hill. The couple was expecting their first child, who would be the most recent addition to the village since Simeon, who was to turn eight in one week.
Perhaps the most compelling part of the pregnancy; really the town as a whole. The twelve folks that lived there, along with the expected thirteenth, were the last known atonaci in all of Ihm Sevauta. The atonaci were an old race, with ties back to the world before Ihm Sevauta. A typical atonaci stood between six and six and a half feet; females typically on the upper end, standing a good few inches above the men. They moved swiftly and silently, despite their relatively high stature. They remained thin, none weighing more than 150 pounds, even at the farthest depths of age; which was commonly beyond 300 years. Their flesh was ashen and coriaceous, with thick, wavy seafoam blue hair. Their origins had been lost for thousands of years, but many believed their roots could he found in the legends of the merihms. A race that once dwelled in all of the seas; commanders of all creatures in the depths. Stories told of their striking green-blue hair and slender humanoid build, with a dark grey fin below their torso.
Marlena burst through the door, more comfortable invading her neighbors home than you or I would be comfortable with, but a normal event in the world of the atonaci.
"Onerva! Look Onerva!"
She held the wooden bear above her head as she entered the house. Onerva was in the kitchen, cleaning up after the couples breakfast.
Marlena busted through the door, more comfortable invading her neighbors home than you or I would be comfortable with, but a normal event in the world of the atonaci.
"My, that is beautiful. Your little brother is sure to love it. Did Oliver make it for you?"
"Yes!” she exclaimed excitedly.
But her excitement shifted and she asked, "why
does he always leave?"
Onerva, who had been smiling at the girls joy, suddenly got a serious and stern look on her face and said, "Oh, Marlena, you always have loved to care for others. You see, when Jere was ki..." She hesitated before going on. "I'm really not sure I should be the one telling you this."
Marlena, in frustration said, "Please tell me. I do not care for it when he leaves. I worry if he'll come back. Plus, I’m sure I've heard worse! My mother already told me of the fairies and the great wars?”
"Oh sheesh, you really are convincing,"
Onerva said, "See, Jere didn't die in a bandit attack. He was hunted by a terrible monster, much like the ones that the fairies fled. Jere, when he was younger, was a hunter of beasts. And Oliver, despite what's best for his safety, has taken it upon himself to seek vengeance on the beast that killed dear Jere."
"Wow, So Oliver is a great hero?"
Onerva laughed. "Yes, I suppose you could say that. A great hero, much like his father."
"Onerva. I do have another question..." she said, looking up at the expectant woman. "Why do the monsters come?"
"Such tough questions from such a smart girl! Long ago, before our age, a dark shadow came over the world. It brought with it all manner of foul beasts; sending them upon those living here to cause harm for its own amusement. But fret not, for there was good all over the world. This good fought hard to hold back the shadow and its minions."
Marlena stood there, leaning on the table, not looking amused.
She said, "Yes, yes. I know all about this, but why does the shadow lord send them?"
"sometimes , Lena, there is not a good reason. Some thing in the world are just plain evil."
With the mood soured, Marlena made her way home, doing her best to keep the wooden bear hidden as she walked through the door.