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The Wastelands - Part 4

Nolon Darkwalker towelled his face dry of the cold sweat that covered him like a touch of Valinds hand. He'd had a good session in training, engaging half a dozen men at once yet emerging triumphant. Now he moved through the main training hall to view the progress of his students.

Since Gimgim had taken over as the Blackfang there had been many changes in that part of the criminal and assassin organisation under his control. The upper echelons worked with almost military efficiency simply because most of them _were_ military men. The Spoken Word Elites both trained and trained with the parts of the Blackfang Brotherhood under Gimgims control in an attempt to build the organisation faster and to better mold it to his purposes. Nolon commanded the operations side of the Brotherhood.

Nolon watched critically as two of his best men leapt and danced a deadly duel of shortsword and dagger together. They moved with precision and a total commitment to everything they did, an approach as essential in training as in real action. All in all Nolon was proud of his men. Many had been gutter scum or ex-slaves, now they were warriors of stealth, skill and shadow.

"Ulranth!" Barked Nolon to one of the writhing combatants. "Keep your guard up and out, do not allow it to drift centrally. Use more angulation on your leg thrusts to hit the main blood flow behind the leg muscles. Remember the quick kill is everything!" The men never slowed their movements but Ulranths shortsword assumed a better guard in mid move and his next thrust was angulated perfectly to slip past his opponents parrying dagger and ram the blunt ended practice sword into the muscle with enough force to deaden the leg.

Ulranths opponent, a taut, sinewy man named Ferraud simply shifted weight, took the pain, which must have been intense, and bound up Ulranths parrying dagger with his own in a down-thrust binding action while slamming the point of his shortsword into Ulranths sternum with tremendous force.

The crack of breaking bone was audible right round the cavernous training hall that had once been a Pavic grainery. Ulranth dropped like a boned fish, his body flopping about in helpless convulsions while Nolon looked on.

Nolon shook his head sadly. "You use an attack I recommended moments after I spoke it and you don't expect to die? You forgot that your opponent had ears too?"

Ferraud Spoke up. "Shall I heal him sir? He's normally a good sparring partner and an asset to the Brotherhood."

Nolon seriously considered letting the dying man breathe his last but he was short of trained men as it was. He had some twenty novices in training and perhaps as many more thoroughly conditioned but after the attack on the hidden Manside shrine to Orlanth last week ten of his best men were dead He needed every man he could get. Idiots or not. "Heal him." He said and stalked away.

Yes, he thought as he walked, those Orlanthi had cost him dear. The Blackfang expected results as if Nolon could conjure them out of the air like some foul sorcerer. He'd told Nolon about the Orlanthi shrine and how to desecrate it but had failed to mention the likely presence of Garrath Sharpsword of all people! The Orlanthi Wind Lord had cut a bloody swathe through his men, killing seven personally and encouraging the couple of initiates on the site to fight so damn hard they'd taken three more men with them. Nolon had only stopped the Orlanthi warrior with a massively boosted Shatter spell that had left him weak for hours from the casting. He thought he could have beaten Sharpsword blade to blade but after seeing the warrior in action the last time, when he'd saved that weasel; Deville's neck, he wasn't inclined to take the risk. Now of course it was a moot point.

With an evil smirk he descended to the dungeon to observe what progress the Ikadz torturer had made with the Orlanthi.


Garrath Sharpsword gritted his teeth against the pain but nothing could blank it out. He prayed once more to Orlanth, refusing to believe that he'd been forsaken but again no voice of power answered him. He suspected from the pall of doom hanging over his spirit that he was on sanctified ground and that his chance of escape had ended at the shrine with the Shatter spell hitting him in the head and knocking him out. If only his Alynx-Ally; Karris, had been there he could have called on Orlanth for him but he'd left the great cat at the camp near Pairing Stone to represent his views to the other resistance leaders. It had seemed a wise move at the time. Now it seemed particularly stupid but then hindsight had the vision of a Vrok not a Cave Troll.

The torturer was a fat but incongruously friendly face in front of his pain-burned eyes. He was whistling happily as he pushed another needle into a nerve centre in Sharpsword's wrenching shoulder. "There, there." He crooned as if talking to a troublesome child. "The lovely pain will be back for you soon when Lord Ikadz gives his blessing to the sweet needles of torment I have rewarded you recalcitrant flesh with. Does that make you happy?"

"I'll be happy when I break your stinking chaotic neck and see your eyes pop out with the knowledge of death." Snarled Sharpsword as he breathed hard through the agony.

The Idakz torturer seemed to shudder delicately for a moment and Sharpsword felt some elatation at a victory of spirit over evil but his gloom resettled doubly when the torturer smiled beautifully at him.

"You paint the most wonderfully vivid and delectable pictures in my mind. Truly you are wasted as a warrior, you should experience the joys of pain and torment as I do. Perhaps you will see the holy thrill that is there to be discovered when I tear out your toenails, slowly, one by one?"

Sharpsword roared in anger and slammed hard against his restraints but they were cunningly connected to the needles piercing his body in a dozen places and the agony overcame even his ferocious will. He slumped back. Defeated for the moment.

The benign look of understanding from the torturer almost made him vomit. "You know how the restraints will hurt you yet you rail against them regardless. I see now how deep down you really want me to hurt you, to burn your soul with exquisite agony. My friend, I value you so much I shall delay my daily flaying to bring you further rapture." The baby-like smile continued as he took a particularly large and sharp needle and inserted it with circular motions deep into Sharpswords knee socket.

The howls could be heard even in the training room.

When Nolon came down he saw one of the torturers men pour chilled water over Sharpsword to revive the warrior. "How goes it?" He asked the Ikadz priest. The chubby man gave him the creeps but the Blackfang said he was one of the best there was so he put up with him.

The torturers delicate features were only animate when discussing pain, both taking it and inflicting it. "Oh he's wonderful. He struggles so much and tries so hard to resist everything I do. Quite the best subject I've had for years. I may be able to delay breaking him for as long as a Season."

"But we want to know about the resistance now! Not a season away!"

The Ikadz priest managed to mold his baby face into a stern look. "The ways of my god are clear. I do not torture him for you and your purile politics but for the soul I can convert to the ways of suffering."

Nolon shook his head and was about to object further when one of his personal guard can hurtling down the stairs yelling as he came "We are under attack! Alarm! Alarm!"

Nolon grabbed the man instantly. "Explain, now!" He ordered curtly. He knew calmness was a vital as fast action in a deadly situation.

"The surface guard posts have been hit and a force of warriors is fighting their way into the barracks section! They all wear the Writhing Devil sign sir."

"The Red Devils! Deville! How in the Hells did he find us here? No-matter. Take five men and join the guards on the tunnels and go into the Krarsht network. You know the route to the Broo tunnels. Get help. I will co-ordinated resistance here."

The Brother didn't look too happy about having to get help from the screaming chaos in those tunnels but he had little choice. He nodded and moved to obey.

Nolon ordered the Ikadzi to watch Sharpsword then moved into the main halls to see a force of his men finish armouring up and moving into action. One of his lieutenants was there looking for him.

"Sir, they've broken through into the second barracks. They have heavy magical support, I think the Red Masks are with them!"

"Damn! Are the Shamans warned?" The man nodded. "Go and tell them to bring everything they can. This will be a fight to the death."

His lieutenant moved swiftly to obey but Nolon had already moved to the seat of the action in the main barracks section, once a basement of a massive warehouse in the Old City's hayday.

Chaos met his eyes as the swirls of magical energy almost obscured the line of fighting men slowly being pushed towards his position. In a glance he knew that Deville's men were winning and that they would soon force their way into the main section of the Brotherhoods underground fastness.

The Red Devils fought ferociously, with superb skill and timing. Onslaught and Hrothmir led the tip of the attacking wedge and nothing seemed to stand against them for long. Behind them Rannur Fazzurson directed his men with cool calculation to the points of most danger or promise.

To the rear stood the School of Masks, led by Deville and the magic they were unleashing was terrifying in its potency. With the Full Moon to empower them they directed attacks that blew the Brotherhood warriors apart, drove them mad or burst their fevered brains in their skulls.

To give his men heart, Nolon dived into the fighting with a handful of his bodyguard forming a not of competence and skill around him. He reached the line just as two of his men in front of him fell to the tip of the attacking wedge. One was smashed aside like a rag by a immense poleaxe, swung with more than mere mortal might. The other seemed to jerk in a dozen different directions as his body spurted blood from the impact of multiple blows almost to fast to see.

Then they were through.

Onslaught held his battleblade that he had named himself after in one hand and a black crystal battle axe called "Soul Cutter" in the other. His black iron platemail glistened with magic's and his unhelmed head, splattered with blood, bore a grin from the pits of Hell. Beside him roared the frothing fury that was the warrior called Hrothmir. Neither man liked the other but as long as they had enemies to wage war on on all sides their tenuous truce held and their foes died.

Nolon felt something that he thought no longer existed anywhere in his icy soul. It was cold, stark fear. He swallowed hard as if to drive it down. He was a warrior and a killer of surpassing skill. He would not quail. He would not fail. With his men around him, he attacked.

Elsewhere the Brotherhood reeled back in dismay. Fighting men they could handle but Deville wielded the School of Masks like the precision instrument of carnage that it was and three or four men died every few moments. It could not last, anyone would break under such stresses but then salvation came.

The Brotherhood Shaman/priests arrived at last with their trainees to back them and a spirit horde to unleash. With them also came more Brothers, those who'd been guarding the various tunnel entrances or had taken longer to get equipped. They dived into the fight while the School of Masks was shaken by the unexpected assault of angry spirits and combative spells.

With cold disdain Deville dispelled, deflected and crushed the spirits that dared to attack him and with harsh mindlinked commands he brought the School of Masks back to discipline and led them in a group effort to repel the spirits, wraiths and night demons that hung like a blackened web of hell around their protective magic's.

Red spirits of deep madness surged from Deville and the others. Wraiths, ghosts and souls of torture were all part of their arsenal and they hesitated not to use them. The air itself boiled with the battling essences.

Oblivious to everything except survival, Nolon parried another titanic blow from Onslaught. the Humakti Sword attacked so fast and with such utter relentless fury that Nolon had barely managed to counter more than a handful of times since first their blades had clashed. Nolon slipped and dodged, leapt and span using every trick he knew but Onslaught bludgeoned him back with what seemed like simple force yet there was a stunning skill behind it that left Nolon no chance to reply. In desperation, he threw one of his men in the way of Onslaught and ran for his life.

The Brotherhood Shamans stood and died, their spirits had been beaten, some even used against them by fiendish spells directed by powerful minds. The Red Devils drove back the last of the Brotherhood men into a knot of forlorn hope around the Shamans. Their other leader had left them to die and die they did.


Nolon arrived at the tunnels into the Krarsht network just as a small horde of chaos arrived led by a Thed Priestess. She stopped him in his tracks and hissed. "What happens? Why do you flee?"

"They have broken my men and killed the Shamans. To stand against them is to die!" He howled, fear finally overcoming his fragile self-discipline.

The Thed Priestess snarled. "I will not die here nor will my people. You I will take with me, come." She nodded to her attendant Broo and the small host fled back into the tunnels they'd came from taking a moaning Nolon Darkwalker with them.


Surveying the carnage Onslaught shook his head sadly. Deville looked surprised. "What's the matter Onslaught. The sight of all this killing sicken you? Don't feel anything for these scum, they deserved everything they got!"

Onslaught looked surprised for a moment then laughed hard. "Sicken me? Sicken me? The only thing that sickens me is that it was over too quickly! Pity those chaos creatures fled. What a fight that would have been eh?"

Deville shook his head in amazement. He looked at Omander the scribe who'd been dry heaving at the stench of death and opened bowls for some time now. "You see? Theres just no pleasing some people!"

Trask came into view at the head of a stairway that he'd taken a squad to clear out. "Deville! Down here, I think I may have found something that will surprise you."

Deville moved to look, curious. Onslaught came with him as he was already growing bored with the lack of action. Omander caught sight of Hrothmir tucking into a loaf of bread he'd found and collapsed to the floor as his stomach rebelled again.


Garrath Sharpsword regained consciousness in a dreamworld. He knew that his soul must be sorely damaged for he imagined in his sickness that that weird Lunar Priest; Deville, was standing over him.

His dream spoke to him. "How are you feeling? This was fortuitous for you I think. Don't worry, they are all dead including the torturer who Onslaught killed with the fastest decapitation I've ever seen. He said that Ikadzi hate to die quickly, it ruins their placement in the after life." He carried on, describing the attack in detail.

As Deville chatted amiably, Garrath Sharpsword realised very slowly that he wasn't dead and that he wasn't mad at all. A smile came to his face which halted Deville's small talk. "Thank you for introducing me to a new experience Deville." He said firmly.

Deville raised a quizzical eyebrow. "Oh? And what's that?"

"Being pleased to see a Lunar!"

<< Part 3 | The Deville page | Part 5 >>


May 31, 2000

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