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Richard Fenner
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Krarn's Tale
Onslaught's Tales
Sheng Seleris' Tales
Onslaught, Return of the Humakti

The streets were dark, the lamps unlit, as they always were these days in the Old Quarter. The dank cobbles clattered against the iron nails in his boots, echoing with a grating sound that vibrated up his spine with shivery oscillations at each step. He didn't notice. His mind was preoccupied with the ominous situation he was about to face.

Tactics, stratagems, plans all whirled through his brain at frenetic speed. He'd have to be careful. He'd have to be cunning. He'd have to be ready for anything. For all his concern, Onslaught felt no fear. Such things were beyond him as his vow to Humakt made his will iron and his heart stone. Yet for all that, an anticipation of dread dogged him like a thick fog.

He hated uncertainty. His confidence and surety in battle were legendary, but now he trod on broken ground. On ground not of his choosing. Press on! Press on! His thoughts and experience demanded. And he did. His step never faltered, right up to the doorway which he knew he must enter.

His mailed fist raised, then paused. He examined the door carefully. It was solid in construction but old, very old. The latch was bronze as were the hinges. The green of aged metal blended into the rancid mold of the wood. A spreading stain, a rotten blemish.

The building that the door faced was two stories of old brick, crumbling and cracked but still solid, though it had been there a hundred years. It probably looked like this when newly built and would look like that in a hundred years. It had an aura of built- in shabbiness.

Steeling himself, he rapped his Iron-bound knuckles hard against the door. Once. Twice. Three times.

For long moments there was silence, dank silence, the silence of the tomb. Then a shuffling noise penetrated through the thin timbers. A rattle. A clatter. The door opened.

An old lady, hunched, gray and rheumy of eye peered up into the face of the mighty warrior.

"Hello mum." he said.

The house was much as he remembered it.

The main room was lit only by the fire and a single low-burning lantern that reflected with orange hue upon the members of his immediate and extended family. There were a score of his kin in the room. In corners or on beds they sat, huddled or hunched together for warmth. Some were his brothers, some were his sisters. Some were their wives, some were their children. One was his father.

His mother slowly moved into the room with inching steps that bespoke of her age and declining vitality. "Its our Aldarch! 'e's come home to us Byll!" She said to her husband.

Byll, the Rat Catcher, stood slowly, his mug of beer in his hand and a moustache of froth on his old, hard face. For all the sagginess of his skin there was a fierce, beady - eyed ferocity about the old mans gaze. "Oh aye?" He said dubiously.

"Aye Byll, its your eldest returned to the family and he's a big warrior now!"

"Hello dad." said Onslaught. He wasn't really too sure what else he should say. His usual conversational openings like "Do you want to see my sword?" or "Oh you come from Esrolia? I've killed a lot of Esrolians." didn't seem to work here.

"Hello dad?!? HELLO DAD?!?" Growled the old man as he stalked towards Onslaught and gave him a heavy cuff around the ear. "I'll "hello dad" you!"

"Now stop that Byll!" screeched mum. "Leave the poor lad alone. He'll want a nice cuppa, its cold outside."

Ignoring his wife as she wandered off to make a cup of tea, Byll peered at the iron armoured giant in front of him who visibly hunched to avoid the low ceiling. He noticed for the first time the beweaponed appearance, the scars, the black eyes and the smell of death that hung on his oldest son like a miasma around a latrine. "Where have you been these last score years boy?" He asked, curious now at the change in his son.

Onslaught shrugged. "Around. Killing people mostly. I'm a Sword of Humakt." He said with a hint of pride in his otherwise monotone voice.

"Humakt?" Byll questioned. "Killing poor folk for a living eh? Call that work? I don't. Real men don't go swanking around with big swords and shiny armour all toffed up trying to impress folk with the size of their weapon! Real men work for a living lad! Marry! Raise children, carry on the family name."

"I've sworn to chastity in the name of Death. Women interest me not for I live only to fight for Humakt's glory." Intoned the big warrior.

Byll looked incredulous. "You what? Are you telling me you're some sort of woofter like those painted Esrolian fellas? My eldest son a brown-hatter? Aaach!"

Onslaught frowned, accepted a steaming cup of tea from his mum and growled back a reply. "I forgo all pleasures of the flesh as they only distract from the purity of Death!"

His mum; Irene, known to all as 'rene, watched father and son argue back and forth and felt warm inside. They're so alike she thought. 'Course he's got Bylls looks, poor lad.

Byll spat his anger. The lad could have had it all, taken over his family contract to be the chief rat catcher of the city. It was a honourable trade, a fine living that afforded Byll his luxurious house and allowed him the support of a big family. Instead all his eldest had was a big sword and a bad attitude. "I suppose all you've gained for your troubles is that big sword of yours eh? What's the use of that?"

With flickering speed Onslaught drew his sword. One moment he was standing without a weapon, the next it appeared in his hand as if summoned. Byll blinked at the glittering iron, the runes, the aura of power. "With this sword I have struck down the mightiest of foes in the name of Humakt. I have killed kings, princes, lords, chiefs. champions, monsters and innocents. Death is my forge for I am one with my blade. I bring ending, I bring the final separation that is part of the cycle. Without me life would have no meaning, without Death life would be lifeless!" snarled Onslaught.

"Rene shrilled in alarm. "Put that away Aldarch, you'll have someone's eye out with that!"

Onslaught noticed his family cowering around the room away from his glittering sword and put his battle-blade away somewhat sheepishly after slicing it into his palm to make sure it was blooded. "Ah, er sorry mum..." he muttered.

Byll shook his head sadly. "Aye? Well, I don't know about all that but I suppose I should hear your story or your mum'll never stop her nagging! I'm off to the pub, you might as well come with me but you'll have to take off the armour and weapons or you'll attract to much notice."

Onslaught cocked his head in thought and slowly unbuckled his weapons and armour, leaving them in a heap on the floor. "Very well, lets...go to the pub dad." he said uncomfortably.

The Block & Tackle was the neighbourhood local. A festive place that was always full. The clientele were ageing slowly as the younger folk sought more fashionable entertainment in the newer quarters of the city but "The Tackle" as it was known still filled up on a Windsday night.

Byll ambled towards his local with the bow-headed trudge of a man accustomed to low places. He talked at Onslaught, not with him, about all the local news. "Aye, old man Henshal died of grief t'other day when he heard the tannery is closing....The beers not what it used to be when I were a lad and Esrolia's going to hell....I remember the good old days when the Pharaoh was in charge and working men had their fair share. Now these damn foreigners are poncing about owning everything, bringing strange ways...."

Onslaught soon ceased to listen but grunted or nodded occasionally. He wasn't one for small talk at the best of times and now he was beginning to wonder why he'd bothered to come home. He supposed he'd felt a duty, much as Humakt had for his kin and father, even after the separation of Kin Ties. Though spiritually he was free to follow the path of Death, his childhood had memories that were hard to forget and he owed them a visit while he was in the city.

Father and son walked into the crowded pub. Byll waved above the throng to the barman, Gest Big Club, an old friend and yelled for his usual. He turned to Onslaught. "What do you want lad?"

Onslaught pondered the question. Realised that he was referring to alcoholic beverages which he was sworn never to partake of and said "Water."

Byll was about to launch into another tirade but saw the look in his son's eyes and changed his mind. "And a tankard of water." he yelled.

The barman soon produced the two tankards and Byll collected them from the bar. He was about to reach into his purse when Onslaught tossed a Gold Wheel onto the bar from his bulging money bag. Byll looked at the glittering gold as did the barman and a dozen others. "Keep to the change. "said Onslaught.

Gest the barman picked up the coin tentatively and bit it. "T'is real gold." he muttered with awe. A gold wheel was a rare sight to anyone but a noble or rich merchant.

Byll glanced uneasily at the suddenly silent crowd around them. A large number eyed Onslaught's money bag with serious intensity. One big group of men, dockers from the looks of them, and a rough crew at that, exchanged meaningful glances.

Then the moment broke and the happy noise of the pub continued as normal. Byll led Onslaught to the quiet end of the pub called the lounge and sat in his usual spot. Two of his oldest friends sat there playing Match-hole and Bylly joined them without a word. They played a few hands while Onslaught sat and watched his father match the variable holes of the little wooden strips to each other to win by emptying his hand.

Finally Byll nodded towards Onslaught and grunted; "Me son. Eldest." The two old men grunted back. Onslaught remembered them from his childhood. The one with no hair and an eyepatch was Jarn Bonesmith who'd been one of the cities finest bronze- workers till a leaping hunk of red-hot bronze had burnt his eye out. Now he worked horseshoes and other simple items. The shrunken old man with the black-toothed grin was Fen Armsman, once the strongest arm-wrestler in the city, now a frail old man in his eighties. Like Byll, both men were models in taciturn stolidity.

Onslaught was growing restless amid the physical inaction of the game of Match- hole when he sensed hostile movement behind him. He moved on his stool to observe the dozen dockers shoulder their way through the throng like a ships prow through the breaking ice of the White Sea. They were all big men, scarred, muscled, strong. Most had clubs or blades of one sort or another on their person and all of them had the kind of facial features that one associated with folk who had been on the wrong side of a fist or two.

The largest of them placed himself in front of Onslaught and looked him up and down disdainfully. "What's this piece of shit doing in here? We don't like foreigners and strangers in this part of town!" His whole manner radiated contempt.

Onslaught grinned his dreadnought smile. Byll peered up at the dockers and gave them the benefit of his gemstone gaze. "'Ere, you lot, bugger off, we'll be having no trouble tonight. This is my lad here and any son of mine is no foreigner in this part of town!"

The big docker growled. "Shut up old man or you won't be old much longer." He looked at Onslaught and pulled out his club. It was heavy and stained from many a fight. "Hand over that purse and we may just forget your trespassing on our turf."

Onslaught didn't bother to look. "I'll not fight you nor feed your greed. It's my dad's night and I don't wish to disturb him at his game." He looked back to the table and watched as the old men carried on their play without pause in the sudden silence of the lounge. Each placing of the match-hole caused a click that reverberated with startling clarity around the room.

The docker went red with rage at being ignored and brought his club down on the table hard. The match-hole pieces flew in all directions and the old men's beer upturned all over the place. "You will do as you are TOLD or I'll smash the lot of you - starting with this old codger here" The docker pointed his club at Byll.

Byll looked back at the docker without fear, anger flushed his face. "You spilt me beer! That's just plain bad manners sonny. Aldarch me boy, kick his head in for me will you?"

Onslaught smiled once more. It wasn't reassuring. "Certainly dad." He stood, turning as he did, to face his foe and received the full weight of the man's club on his skull for his troubles. It broke in two over his head with the power of the blow.

Onslaught grinned through the blood coursing down his face from the welt the strike had left. "That's the spirit! My turn?" The docker just gawked. Onslaught twisted with snake-like fluidity and rammed his gnarled fist in a looping uppercut straight to the dockers chin. There was the crack of snapping neck bones as the man flew up and back into his mates, clearing a space for the big Humakti. He followed up his blow instantly and moved among the gang like Death incarnate. Which is what he was.

Their yells of rage soon turned to yelps of fear and he demolished them with mechanical precision. It wasn't even the carnage that he created that scared them and stunned the watchers. It was the casual indifference of his blows, the almost nonchalant ease with which he killed and maimed that terrified all present. Nothing touched him except the sprays of blood from the fountaining foe.

In the midst of the struggle Byll yelled advice to his son. "Leave that fellas head along boy!"

Onslaught replied cheerfully. "Righto dad!" and tossed the head he was holding aside to move to his next victim. Suddenly there were no more dockers. Or patrons. Most of the pub had cleared out rather than be mistaken for one of the antagonists or to be sprayed with the offal of their defeat.

Returning to the table Onslaught rearranged his stool and sat. He wasn't even out of breath. A dozen corpses littered the room behind him. Byll gave him a sharp nod of approval. "Never liked that bunch, always the trouble making kind. Nice to have you home lad!"

"Its good to be back dad!" grinned Onslaught. Home isn't as boring as I remembered it he thought.

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May 31, 2000

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