Onslaught and the Vadeli
Renna Gennassdotter winced as her baggage thumped heavily into the side of the cog. "Careful you oafs!" She yelled. The sailors shrugged and grinned at her with the wearying insolence so common in these outlander folk. The men in particular had no understanding of the good fortune they had, being in the presence of a woman of breeding.
The Norramor was a large cog, built for cargo, built to tap into the wealth that streamed along the trade routes to the East. Her captain, a foul smelling barbaric soul called Odrough was owner aboard as well as her skipper. He was a large man, build for battle and plunder. He reeked of the sea as if it were embedded in his bones. As she walked up the gang plank, he grinned a black toothed smile at Renna. "Everything all right Doctor?" He asked, eyeing her up as he did so. She looked pretty damn good in that white robe, he thought.
Renna ignored that and launched into a blistering verbal assault "No it is not! I've never been so rudely treated in all my days as a Doctor! Your men are incorrigable and crude. They offer no deference even though it is my due. This has to stop Captain, I demand the respect due my station!" She fixed him with her best glower as she locked eyes fiercely with him.
He wasn't impressed. "This is a Handra ship Doctor. My men are a hard lot but you'll get no trouble as long as you understand that neither me nor me men are of your own people. Maybe things are different in New Crystal City but out there." he pointed out to sea. "We ride the waves, brave the terrors and taste the salt. We ain't lapdogs The only fear we acknowledge is the power of Magasta and his kin and that ain't a light power ma'am,. No it isn't." He turned away without a by your leave and began bellowing orders in some form of sea patois. His men responded with easy efficiency and ropes began to be cast from the sides of the ship as the last of the cargo came aboard.
Renna stood fuming. When she realized that she looked slightly foolish standing alone on the gangplank she carried on onto the ship to find her quarters.
It would be along voyage to Handra and her sponsors had paid for the best to keep her happy. Handra was growing fast and a recent plague had convinced enough of the wealthy merchants there that a private Doctor was a good idea. Of course, Renna saw it as an ideal chance to show them the Ways of Chalana Arroy and to civilize them with the mores and beliefs of Esrolia. Well, that's what she'd thought in New Crystal City when she accepted the post as Chief Doctor of the new Handra Hospital. After meeting Captain Odrough and his Handran crew, she wasn't so sure.
By the time she'd finished unpacking she felt movement and looked outside. The ship was underway and was just clearing the jetty. She took a long look at the sprawl of Nochet, a final look. That's when she noticed the commotion by the waterfront fishing boats.
A man was running at tremendous speed down the Jetty. He was being pursued by a small army of City Guardsmen and some of the Matriarchs elite Sword Guard as well as a handful of Axe Sisters. There must have been thirty of them and they sealed the end of the Jetty and moved after the man. They seemed outraged and angered beyond measure and the object of their anger was rapidly closing on the end of the jetty.
The man kept running and as he got closer Renna could make out more details. He was a big, very big man. Big and heavily armoured in iron, some kind of platemail, she'd seen the type before from visiting Trader Knights from Nochet. He was covered in weapons but ran as if he were naked. Captain Odrough materialized silently beside her which gave her a start. "Looks like a fugitive from the law to me, where does he thinks he's going?" He muttered. "He'll run out of jetty in a moment." It soon became apparent where he was going for as the man reached the end of the Jetty he leapt into the air like a cork being shot from a bottle. It was an impossible jump and Renna felt the stir of magic in the air, powerful magic. She was less concerned about that than the fact that the armoured man was curving through the air to land on the deck of the Norramor, almost exactly where she and Odrough were standing.
"Wachaza's Balls!" Yelled Odrough in realization as he shoved Renna one way and leapt the other. The armoured man landed with a crack that broke some deck planking and would have crushed them both. He rolled and came up standing, a bastard sword drawn with flickering speed.
Odrough staggered to his feet drawing his broadsword. A dozen sailors mustered behind him with pike and sword to repel this unwelcome boarder.
"Hold!" Yelled Odrough. "Lets talk before we spill blood!" He backed up a little. More of his men appeared behind him and he felt a little safer. He looked at the armoured man whose barrel helm obscured his face. His armour was black iron, etched and worth a Kings ransom. His sword seemed to glitter as if alive in the early evening air. The prominent Death Runes left Odrough no doubt as to what he was facing. "Sword of Humakt." He said. "Tell me your tale and put up your sword."
The faceless helm seemed to stare at him an age then the sword was sheathed. Two mailed hands reached up and removed the helm with a click. A scarred face with black, black eyes and a shaved skull was revealed. He grinned. His teeth were iron, fanged and ferocious.
When he spoke it was if he'd never removed the helm so dead and lifeless was his grating voice. "Wise decision sailor. I'd have hated to kill you all. Who'd sail the ship?"
There was an angry mutter from the crew at that but Odrough silenced it quickly. "Back to your posts! I'll deal with this." Unwillingly the men obliged. A few stopped to wave at the angry horde of warriors still yelling at the ship from the jetty, but when the Captain said cast off, he meant it. There was no going back unless he ordered it.
The iron toothed man crossed his arms and waited for Odrough to speak. Odrough looked back at the defeated pursuers. "They look real mad. Why are they after you warrior?"
"My name is Aldarch Roven-Drax but you can call me Onslaught." Said the warrior flatly. "The explanation is simple. The Matriarchal council hired me as a weapons master to train the jokes they call Humakti here. Never in my life have I seen such a useless, soft bunch of pretty boys in twenty-five years of training men. They spent more time buffing their armour and oiling their muscles than fighting. Still a jobs a job. I was training one of the better recruits and afterwards we went to a pub to talk about techniques. While I was away in the latrine he got into a scrape with an Axe Maiden of the Queens Guard. She was coming on to a friends girl so he stepped in. She drew on him and he fought back. Killed her."
Odrough winced. "Killed and Axe Maiden? Not a good idea!"
Onslaught nodded. "True but at least the killing had honour and was a worthy fight. Anyway, before we know it he's under arrest and they take me along as a witness. Within three hours he's on trial. The judge calls me up to tell the court how he killed the Axe Maiden. They know I'm bound never to lie. I tell her that I will not talk about a fellow Sword Brother and to go and find another rat. She turned red in the face and began banging her silly little hammer and calling me names. I told her to shut up."
"You told a Matriarchal Judge to shut up?" Asked Renna in disbelief.
Onslaught noticed the white robed woman and dismissed her as a healer and no threat. "Yes. It didn't work, she just turned redder in the face, banged her hammer again and yelled that I was in 'contempt of court' whatever that means. She ordered me taken down to the dungeon until I felt like talking. Well, seeing that the were all mad, I slew the guards, leapt the bench, killed the judge to stop her whining, though she deserved less honour than I gave her, and left the court."
Renna's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. "You _killed_ the judge?"
"And 12 guards though they were little opposition and therefore nothing to talk about." He said as if discussing the weather.
"Then you left the area and were pursued?" Asked Odrough.
"Yes, and from the numbers of pursuers you'd think killed someone important instead of a crazed woman. I killed a dozen but they kept coming. The odds were getting longer by the moment and the fight had no honour, no worth. It is one thing to die and go before Humakt knowing that you held the line for a kingdom. Its another thing altogether to die over a bar brawl. I legged it."
"You mean you ran!" Said Renna, horrified at the barbaric criminal in front of her as he broke the law yet pretended at honour.
The dead eyes swiveled in her direction. She felt a chill in the air that bit hard into her innate sense of wellbeing. The man reeked of death. "No lady, I do not run but like any military man I know when to withdraw and conserve my forces. There will be a reckoning for those people some day."
"So here you are." Said Odrough. "Now what do I do with you?"
The man called Onslaught looked about. "Where are you bound?"
"Then you can take me to Handra, I've never served there but I hear there are wars aplenty, more in Ralios." He unhooked a pouch from his belt and tossed it to Odrough. "Twenty wheels, its all I've got, apart from the strength of my arn and my weapons. I vow to protect your ship to the best of my ability and to hold you, your crew and passengers in all honour and respect. By my Sword do I swear this."
Odrough nodded. "Good enough for me. Never did like the Nochet crowd anyway. Big bunch of stuck up idiots if you ask me, with all their airs and graces. Welcome aboard warrior." He held out his hand and Onslaught clasped it in confirmation of their deal. "There's been some disturbing reports of pirates operating on the route, and we ain't talking your usual crowd of Wolf Pirates and Alatani. No, there's some new sharks in the water and we may need a good sword arm on this voyage." He looked at Renna thoughtfully, a disturbing look. "We may need a healer too."
The captain looked around and saw that his men awaited his attention. He turned to Onslaught and Renna. "Come, lets get you to your quarters, I have a ship to run!"
With that, what was to be the most terrifying experience of Renna's life began. Renna awoke to the sound of stamping. Her ears rang with it. After a week of getting trying to get used to the rocking motion of the hammock she needed all the sleep she could get. Now it was the noise of booted feet on the deck above that stirred her from her sleep. In a fury she stormed out to find the miscreant responsible.
She should have known, it was him.
For a week now he'd hovered around the ship like some armoured vulture, waiting with terrible patience for its next bite to eat. He was practicing his sword and axe combinations again. Its all he did, practice to kill. With weapons, with his hands and feet and when he didn't fight imaginary foes he lifted weights and ran round the ship toughening his body even further. The sailors had blanked out the noise of his ceaseless training days ago but Renna heard only the screams of the dying and the moans of the wounded in each swish of the blade, each clink of armour. "Will you just please stop it!" She screamed at him.
His lightning attacks ceased and his movements slowed to visual speed. Onslaught looked over at Renna, a slight frown on his scarred face. It was one of the greatest signs of emotion she'd seen on him all week. "What do you want healer?" he grated.
"I want you to stop, I want you to cease this dreadful noise and give this ship some peace!" Onslaught looked at her momentarily then shook his head. "I will not cease. I have never been aboard a ship before and I must explore the opportunity to widen my skill."
"What do you mean? Widen you skill? Practice to kill harder against invisible opponents? I'm sure you're good enough at that already!" She said tartly.
"Really? Let me show you something. Run down the deck and back again." Renna looked perplexed. "Just try it, or can a healer not run?"
Renna snorted. "I can run, I was the fastest woman in the New Crystal Tourney when I was younger."
"Then do it then."
She did, she took off at a strong lope which would bring her back to her starting position in a few moments. As soon as she picked up any speed at all the deck slewed sideways as the ship crested a low swell and Renna staggered into the wall of the foredeck. She nearly fell twice on the way back for similar reasons. He stood there with an almost smile on his face. It was hard for a man with fanged iron teeth to make a smile convincing. She was annoyed. "Okay, so I nearly fell, what's your point?"
"You nearly fell doing something you've done all your life because we stand on an unstable platform. Imagine for a moment, if you can, that I am fighting a warrior of lesser skill to me. On land I would triumph every time barring ill luck but were I to be fighting an experienced seaman with only slightly lesser skill than I on a moving ship when I had only fought on land, how would I do?"
Renna saw his point. "So you practice your swordplay while on a moving vessel to allow you to fight without disadvantage at sea?" Though he nodded and he was right in his own way she still resented the noise. "Do it when everyone is awake then, I'm trying to sleep. Don't you ever sleep, you always seem to be training no matter when I awake or go to bed."
"I don't sleep, I have made a vow to Humakt not to, not to waste any time with human weaknesses. The power of my vow to him sustains me."
"That's terrible! You gave up sleep? You're mad!"
Onslaught did his near smile again. "No, not mad, committed in a way that few people can truly imagine."
Renna shuddered. What he'd given up was what had made him human. Now all he had was war, combat and killing. That was soul-rending in itself but what scared her the most was the fact that he had _chosen_ that path, not been forced into it.
"Sail ho!" Yelled the lookout.
Odrough was on the deck in moments, peering out to sea. The dawn air was still hazy and he saw nothing. He climbed the mainmast and saw for himself. When he came back down his expression was grim.
Renna felt impatient with these taciturn sailor. "Whats wrong captain? What did you see?"
Odrough looked over at the horizon. "I saw a Crimson sailed ship closing fast." The crew muttered in concern at this. Odrough continued. "Its the Crimson Corsairs, I've heard whispers that they were out there but no ship has ever survived an encounter with them, only seen them at distance." Odrough looked around at his crew. "Well lads, were going to be the first ship that tells the tale of the Crimson ship!" His men cheered, they had confidence in him, he was the best in Handra, if anyone could save them it was him.
Renna watched as the crew bustled into action under the bellowing voice of the Captain. The ship slewed hard and headed for the distant coastline, sails billowing as they caught the wind.
Nearly an hour later Odrough was cursing audibly. "Damn them, they've got me going in against a land wind, I have to tack an hour to gain a league!"
"They're gaining?" Asked Onslaught who'd spent much time putting on his armour and checking his weapons in the last hour.
"Hells yes they're gaining! They don't seem to need the wind. I figured I could lose them in the Wenelian Isles, I know them like the back of me hand but the Gods of wind have forsaken us today." Onslaught and Renna looked over the stern. The red ship was clearly visible now. The dawn mist had lifted and the air had a crystal clarity which showed how the crimson vessal cut straight towards them as if it were using a different wind to the rest of the world. At its rate of gain it would be on them in half an hour.
Onslaught turned to Odrough who still stood fuming. "Captain, you'll have to stand to to repel borders sooner or later. They are going to catch us. How well armed is your crew?"
Odrough looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. "I have twenty-three men including myself. We've got boarding pikes, good Pasos swords and some leather armour. Some bows too. Our best protection has always been our size. No Wolf Pirate can easily board us, we have much greater freeboard than any of 'em. But that ship." He pointed to the Crimson Corsair. "Its as big, if not bigger than us. Obviously a warship from its lines. Catapults mounted front and back and without big holds it could carry maybe a hundred men. Warriors all I would guess."
"So we're outmatched?"
Odrough nodded solemly. "Aye but we'll fight. Handrans don't give up their ships easy, whether to storm of pirate. Its not our way."
"Good, for I made a vow to stand by you and your crew. If we're outmatched and outnumbered it will be a good fight!" Onslaught seemed animate for the first time since they met him. His black eyes seemed to glitter with a grim inner light and the aura of gloom and coldness that hung constantly about him seemed to expand and fill the deck.. Renna shivered uncontrollably.
For the next shift of the sun the crew worked to defend their ship. They hung anti-boarding nets up from the masts to the deck, they brought up bails and crates to form a bulwark around the helm and strung their bows and placed their spears ready.
The first moment they realised they were in range was when a cheerful old seas salt named Frenk was picked up bodily and pinned to the mainmast by a spear sized bolt. The twang of the ballistae was heard long moments after it had done its deadly work. "Keep you heads down!" Yelled Odrough. Everyone complied except Onslaught who stood like a statue in the middle of the deck.
For several minutes the ship was bombarded by a hail of head sized rocks and long ballistae bolts. Thanks to the little redoubt of cargo they hid behind only one other crew member was hit and only lightly.
There was a shower of arrows that riddled the deck. A few glanced off Onslaughts armour or were struck casually aside by his drawn Sword and Axe. Then there was a grinding impact, wood on wood as the Crimson ship came alongside the Norramor.
A horde of Red Skinned warriors unleashed a bloodthirsty roar and leapt from their ship into the anti-boarding nets defending the ship.
The action had begun.
As the red skinned warriors leapt, Odroughs men rose from behind their impromptu defences and unleashed a volley of arrow at point blank range. A few red warriors staggered but most seemed to barely feel the barbed arrows sticking in their flesh. They tore at the netting with a wide variety of weapons and a terrifying ferocity.
Odrough watched a third volley of arrows slam into the attackers with no visible effect and waved his sword above his head. "Have at them with the pikes lads!" He roared.
While the crew grabbed their pikes Onslaught tested his enemies magical defences. They were very strong, like fighting a whole army of Rune Lords. However Onslaught knew it was imperative that casualties were inflicted on the attackers and so in the first few moments of the assault he used the spiritual sword of Humakt to sever five of their souls from their bodies.
Renna hid behind a bail casting sleep on the attackers to no obvious effect. Their magic was too strong. The violence of them was palpable in the air and left Renna feeling weak and drained. The huge, muscular redskins frothed at the mouth while the crew yelled back with desperate defiance and Onslaught stood ready like a Harbinger of doom.
Odrough's charge met with some success. The anti-boarding pikes had large crosspieces that forced the skewered attackers away from the netting and half a dozen of the red warriors were pushed back with serious wounds.
But it wasn't enough, in moments they were through the nets and the deck filled with crimson killers. Onslaught moved in among them, trying to aid Odroughs men. The crew were seriously outclassed, even Odrough, master bladesman that he was, barely held his own against only one warrior. His crew were cut apart like gutted fish. Those that didn't die outright were clubbed senseless and captured for reasons unknown, It didn't seem likely that the red men did it as an act of kindness.
In moments Onslaught knew he'd found a fight worthy of his steel. The first red warrior launched into him with stupendous speed and almost caught him off guard. Not only was the attack blisteringly fast but it had a weight of arm behind it that Onslaught had never encountered before. It drove his parry down and struck sparks of his armour. As surprised as Onslaught was, it was as nothing compared to the shock the red warrior felt as his throat was torn out by a deceptive back handed blow that evaded his quick, but out of line parry.
Three more fell before Onslaught before they grew cautiousand sent forth a champion. A warrior standing over seven feet in height leapt at the Humakti with a greatsword that could have held up a building and been mistaken for a girder. Knowing the strength needed to weild such a blade, Onslaught slipped the massive blow with fading footwork and closed for a gutting axe strike against his lightly armoured foe.
He was nearly beheaded by the returning greatsword as the red warrior brought in the huge weapon on a gliding back-swing with no discernable effort. Onslaught reflexively dodged the next attack though his eyes still saw sparks from the glancing blow he'd recieved. Changing tactic, he feinted with his own sword and spun in a tight circle, his foot lashing out and downwards into the knee-cap of the big red killer. The pop was audible over the sound of battle as his leg bend backwards at an angle like a marsh cranes. Onslaught cut through the back of the falling warriors' kneck as he slipped past him and rammed his sword through another attacker.
Renna crawled in among the bales of Karse wool and hid while the final moments of the one sided battle played themselves out. Odrough fell bravely, killing two of his foes before a colossal axe stroke cleft him from brow to pelvis. He was the last of his men to die, true to their word, defending their ship.
Only Onslaught still stood and fought. A ring of red warriors came at him from all sides to take hime down, he ran at one warrior as the ring closed, leapt into the air with his magical jump, kicking his foe in the head so hard that his skull burst on impact with the iron boot. Onslaught tumbled from the impact, rolled in the air and landed like an acrobat. In moments he was back among them again, killing and killing.
Finally even the red warriors, in their fury, saw sense and they pulled back. The big Humakti stood at bay, surrounded by his foes. Two dozen spear were readied to be cast at him and magics filled the air for the final onslaught on Onslaught.
Then a voice broke the brief silence. It was a female voice, potent and sensual that spoke in a throaty language that neither Onslaught or Renna had heard before. The red warriors responded immediately, putting up their weapons and drawing a corridor through them for the speaker to walk through. Though restrained, their hungry eyes never left Onslaught for a moment.
The speaker was a woman. She was vitually naked, blue skinned and stunningly beautiful. She stared at Onslaught with a burning intensity. "What manner of man are you?" She asked clearly in trade tongue.
Onslaught felt stirrings he'd thought long buried at the sight of her but with decades of iron discipline he spoke evenly and without inflection. "I am Onslaught, a Sword of Humakt."
She moved closer to him, the power of her presence seemed to draw strength from him and replace it with desires he had forgotten existed within him. She moved within his weapon range and touched the think blood caked all over his armour. "You slew a score of my kin, an unheard of feat yet you are just a mortal, doomed to die like all the cattle. Come with me warrior and I can give you life eternal! Come with me and weild your sword for ever in war, death and plunder!" She burned with the fires of her passion and need.
Onslaught spoke stiffly. "Death comes to us all for it is sacred and not to be avoided but revelled in. It is what defines our lives and gives us meaning. If I were immortal the gaining of my skill would mean little for who could not with centuries to practice?"
She laughed, a rich bell-like sound. "Foolish mortal! How I love to hear you excuse your miserable existances and to revel in the suffering you endure! We live for ourselves and suffer only at our whim, only if it brings pleasure. Join with us and see eternity clasped in my arms as we inflict our whims on the world around us. You can be my consort-king, the war leader of my Reds and my lover forever!" She held her arms out in further invitation, the power of her voice sunk deep into Onslaughts brain, seeking out his weaknesses, the human side of him that wanted to live a life of pleasure and to grasp this vision of beauty in his arms and to forget his rigid geas's and iron bonds of loyalty for ease and momentary pleasures..
She saw his inner struggle, saw his self-doubt, knew that he was hers. A smile lit her radiant features, a smile of triumph and insatiable lusts. A smile that never left her face, even after Onslaught cut her head off.
"Sorry lady, you ain't my type." He said quietly into the silence. His words were punctuatedby the thunking noise her head made as it hit the ground.
With a roar of primal fury the Reds assailed him once more and Renna watched as blood sprayed the decks till it ran in little rivers down the planking, till the roar of death filled her head and threatened to make it burst.
Renna screamed and staggered to her feet. She called out to her Goddess, called out to end the suffering and she gave of herself to end that suffering. She poured out her life so that others may live and the goddess heard. The Goddess responded.
Renna awoke with a start as cold water splashed in her face. Onslaught stood over her. He was heavily wounded but didn't seem to notice the blood seeping through the riven armour. "Are you alright?" He asked.
"What happened?" She wondered aloud as she shakily made it to her feet. The deck was covered in bodies, that she'd seen already but among them were dozens of shriveled red corpses, shriveled as if all the juices had been sucked right out of them.
"I don't really know. I was fighting, ready for a good death one moment and they all keeled over the next.. They're all dead on the ship too. I heard you calling on Chalana Arroy to heal them. I think that's what she did."
"Healed them.....but why are they dead?"
"Like a wound that's infected, some say it has a life of its own. You heal the wound you kill the infection. I think you healed the wound but they were the infection."
Renna nodded wearily. Her soul was drained and her connection with the Goddess that she had felt every moment of her priesthood was distant, a feeling she hadn't had since being a lowly initiate all those years ago. "What do we do now?"
"The crew are all dead, we're on our own. The shores not far, I'll unhook a boat and we'll row. I checked Odroughs maps. Seems we're off the coast of a land called Ramalia. I wonder what its like, sounds like fun." Said Onslaught cheerfully.
Renna groaned and felt the blackness close in on her once more.
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