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The Masks of Death

- by Wesley Quadros

From the Joms Hu-Valorous Saga

24. The Masks of Death

And so Joms Hu-Valorous remained at home all that summer with great honour.

That Storm Season, Joms gathered his followers about him and told this tale:

It came to pass that Orlanth was away at Yinkinsgrove - mediating a dispute between Vadrus' Hurts Everything clan and the Earth-Crawlers - when the news came to Humakt that Korkrendle the Breathless was bringing an army of the Unbreathing [1] to the Storm Realm.

Now Korkrendle was a fearsome foe with a hole where his breath should have been. He was mad with envy that Orlanth's people had something - breath - that he did not. The Storm Tribe feared Korkrendle for their magics were of no use against him. He took them into his breath-hole and grew stronger.

Korkrendle was afraid of Humakt though, for Death was everyone's master. This time, Korkrendle was bringing enough force to overwhelm the Sword and steal the breath from all in the Storm Tribe.

Humakt fears naught for he is death. He gathered an impromptu band of thanes, carls and cottars to defend the village.

Humakt took his band to Thunder Barracks and demanded a ring tunic for each. The warriors scoffed and boasted of their might.

Now, Humakt is not given much to boasting but at this time he did. So grim were his words that some of his new followers quietly left and the humiliated warriors within quickly provided identical tunics the entire band.

Next Humakt went to Gustbran and asked for weapons for the band. The Redsmith was arguing with his apprentice over some missing ore and refused. Humakt spoke the truth of the matter and Bonesmith provided each levyman with the same sword [2]. Some couldn't hold the hot-glowing hilts and dropped them in pain. Humakt left them nursing their burns.

Humakt next strode into Inginew's forge and asked him to make a battle mask for each of his followers. Inginew could not, for Eurmal had made off with his last lump of iron.

Now the Lord of Death had seen Minlinster ride south that morning and was certain, as only Death can be, where to find the Trickster. And so he strode into the Brewmaster's hall and found Eurmal, head-first in a vat of honey mead. So dark was the Sword's glare that the mead soured in fear. Eurmal came to the surface with a sputter and a wretch.

"Grim-Eye" he exclaimed. "Come to drink with me?" He moved to a new vat and pulled a crude iron mug from his cloak. He offered drinks around and some of those poor souls following Humakt accepted.

Humakt refused and demanded the return of Inginew's ore. So afeared was Eurmal that he immediately handed over his mug and explained how he had seen it and thought it would make a good mug.

With that, Humakt and his remaining band gained identical battle masks from Inginew. Now, Humakt stood with the band and none could tell them one from another.

And so Humakt took his band and hid them across the Breathless' trail. One was hidden on Torvas Hill, one in Baethrin's Gulley, another near Peni Stream and so on.

When Korkrendle approached Blue Oak Valley Humakt stepped from the trees. "You will not pass," he said. The enemy host shuddered but Korkrendle laughed. "You cannot stop us all Slayer!"

The host turned to climb Torvas Hill but another Humakt stepped onto the hillcrest. That same, grim voice came from behind both masks, "You will not pass."

The host turned to Baethrin's Gulley and a third Humakt stepped from behind a boulder. "You will not pass," grated three voices.

Four voices stopped them at Peni Stream. Five at the Burnt Fir. Six at the Badger Bank. The host trembled with fear, as more Humakts appeared to block every path that they tried.

"You will not pass."

Korkrendle told his followers that there was only one Humakt but his captains edged back. With a shout of rage the Unbreathing One charged at the nearest Humakt.

The armoured form shuddered and swelled with power. Humakt met the monster in battle while his followers watched on from behind their masks. Korkrendle made to take Humakt's Breath but he could not, for the Death God's Breath came through Havan Vor and the Vale of Death. His fear conquered his rage and he ran with his host behind him.

 

 

[1] Often associated with chaos or the undead.
[2] The weapon provided often varies by clan or storyteller.


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March 2, 2002

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