It had been a long day for Berg, and the night had been even more grueling. He usually enjoyed the attention, but tonight had been too much. Everyone was asking too many questions, and it was making his head hurt. He was finally sitting by himself, trying to order his thoughts.
“Are you alright, baby?” a voluptuous woman wrapped her arms around Berg’s neck. Her breasts pushed against the back of his head, sending waves of heat through his otherwise cold body. Berg thought for a moment about turning her away, but decided against it. He could use the distraction. His body language told her that he was interested. “Want to head over to my place and I can make you feel better?”
Berg did not want to waste his night with Beth. “How about we just go outside?”
Beth didn’t really care to spend the full night with Berg, but she had a fire of her own that the frost demon spawn always seemed to know exactly how to extinguish.
They made their way outside and the woman dropped her dress down, exposing her ample breasts. The frigid night air made her nipples harden. Beth gave Berg the look, promising pleasure and release. Berg approached and kissed her neck. As his skin touched hers, goose bumps sprang up across her flesh. His hands went to her ass, and she whimpered with practiced perfection.
Berg almost failed to hear the muffled cries over Beth’s moaning. Almost. He pushed her away.
“What…” Beth started, but Berg put his finger over her mouth. Then, she heard it as well. As Berg took off toward the sounds, she quickly pulled her dress back over her shoulders.
Larkin and Dani finally entered the Crab Trap to join the celebration. The man wore simple clothes, but Dani felt the need to dress up. She did not want the people of Dorsi to start mumbling that Larkin deserved better. Larkin gave her a smile, his pearly white teeth shining through his beard. She knew that he would never lay with another women; his honor was too strong. However, she wanted to make sure that he never wanted to.
Everyone congratulated him on the great victory. Larkin smiled, and shook hands. Dani knew that he hated the attention, and Larkin squeezed her hand as the words poured over him. Usually Berg would absorb the praise, but the half-demon was nowhere to be found.
Larkin saw Ricci approaching and tried to find a way to avoid the interaction. There were simply too many people around. Larkin felt the man’s hand on his shoulder. He spun and feigned surprise.
“Larkin, I need to have a word with you,” Ricci said without any need for small talk. Then he walked back to the same table where Berg had denied him earlier. Larkin did not immediately follow Ricci. He made his way to each of the soldiers who had been with him that day; giving his thanks to them. By the time Larkin got back to Ricci’s table, the head of the city was fuming.
“Sorry,” Larkin stated, “I had to talk to my men.” Ricci glared. “You remember my wife, Dani?” The woman smiled at Ricci, despite the fact that she hated the man.
Ricci did not even acknowledge Larkin’s wife. “I need to know what happened out there today.”
Larkin put his nose against Ricci’s nose. “I said it. You sit there, all fat and happy, but I remember when we were boys. You were Ricky then, but still a coward. You disrespect my wife, and then ask for information? You are a fool, among your many flaws.”
Ricci pulled away. “You think I can’t get the information from one of your men?”
“I know you can’t.” Larkin answered without hesitation. “If I find out that you have even tried, then I will beat your ass down.”
“A threat?” Ricci tried to sound brave, but his voice cracked and betrayed his bravado. He tried to recover, “I have the law on my side, Larkin.”
“My authority comes from a higher power,” Larkin smiled. “If you challenge me, you will lose.”
Berg quickly located the sounds. It seemed a man was trying to take advantage of a lady. The man was having a rough time of it, however. It was about to get much worse for the man. Berg grabbed the man by his tunic and pulled him off of the woman. The man threw a wild elbow into the frost demon’s chin. The air grew immediately colder. However, Berg did not have to strike the man; for the woman came up and clawed her attacker’s face. Then she grabbed hold of his ear and tried to rip it off.
Beth grabbed the woman, and pulled her away from the man. She started to try to calm her down, which was no easy task. Berg was glad that Beth was with him. As Berg looked at the two women, he realized that it was just a child in Beth’s arms.
“She wanted it,” the man screamed as he tried to shrug Berg off.
“She just tried to rip your ear off,” Berg responded. “I have enjoyed some crazy nights, but it never escalated into missing ears.”
Beth, too, realized that she held a girl not a woman. “This is a child,” she stated with disgust. There was no hiding the repulsion in her voice.
“Out this late? With a dress like that?” the man argued. “How could I know?”
“If you were deceived, which I doubt, it was because you wanted to be fooled.” Berg slapped the man in the face. “Her dress does not fit, loose in all the places a woman would fill. No make-up and no jewelry. My guess is that her mother would notice if the make-up had been used; and she couldn’t risk losing any jewelry. However, the dress; her mother probably outgrew the dress with hopes but no realities of wearing it again someday. A child playing dress up; nothing more.”
“How do you know all that?” the man asked.
“Because I did not want to be fooled.”
“Just kill me,” the man begged. “If my wife finds out…”
Berg slapped the man again. “I hope she kills you. No, I hope she ruins you. I want her to absolutely destroy you; the way you tried to ruin and destroy this girl’s life.” Berg motioned for Beth to take her home. Beth slapped the man as they walked past, and his mouth filled with blood. “Pull your pants up, and let’s go have a talk with Larkin.”
“No, not Larkin!” the man shouted as he pulled his pants up around his waist. Berg slapped him again.
Ties That Bind
The Cave Tree
Calidorn’s broad fingers tinkered with Qari’s bird skull helmet while the two talked about their past. Qari explained how his tribe had been slaughtered by the blood monkeys while he was away. He explained that all of the surrounding tribes had suffered the same fate. Rolo was out searching for food; it had been a while since the anteater had been allowed to freely hunt. However, now that his master was safe Rolo enjoyed romping through the forest without a saddle.
“What about you?” Qari asked. “Did the monkeys take out the others in your party?” Calidorn had explained that he was part of a mining expedition that had found this cave particular cave.
Calidorn shook his head. He fidgeted with the helmet and attached some adornments. “No, not the monkeys.” The elephant man handed the bird skull back to Qari. “It was the jaguar.”
“Yeah, the jaguars are bad,” Qari put the helmet on, and it fit perfectly.
“Not the jaguars,” Calidorn picked up his hammer as the memory came back to him. “THE JAGUAR.” Qari didn’t understand what he meant, but when Calidorn did not elaborate he knew better than to pry.
Instead the small human decided to change the subject. The past was filled with too much bloodshed. “So how far back does this cave go?”
“It goes pretty deep. I shrunk down as much as I could, but still couldn’t slip through a few places.” Calidorn’s eyes seemed to lose the sadness in his eyes.
“Wait, did you say ‘shrunk down’?”
“Oh, yeah!” Calidorn grew to stand about eight feet tall. Then he shrunk back down to around four or so feet high. Qari was amazed. Calidorn just laughed. “Want to go exploring? I bet you can fit through some of the cracks that I couldn’t. You are skinny.”
So the two new friends set off to travel deeper into the cave. Qari trusted that Rolo would be safe. Anteaters survived in the wild on their own all the time. Further and further they went, and it got cold to the shirtless human. Calidorn offered the man a cloak to help with the chill. “Gets cold down here.”
They passed over a small underground stream. “I have been able to get fish out of here sometimes. They are small, but at least it gives me something to eat other than fruits and roots.”
“How long have you been surviving down here?”
“Somewhere around a moon cycle,” Calidorn answered. At first, Qari was amazed at how the elephant creature had made it so long. Then he realized that he and Rolo had been running for almost two weeks. It was intriguing the lengths living creatures would go to ensure survival.
Calidorn led them to a small crack in the wall. Qari would not have even noticed it if it was not pointed out to him. “I have heard strange sounds through this crack. I know it leads somewhere.”
“Go it alone, eh?”
“As I said, I can’t fit,” Calidorn laughed. “You don’t have to go, if you don’t feel comfortable.”
Qari chuckled nervously. “I will go. If I don’t come back, take care of Rolo.” He was only half kidding. With a deep breath, the small man slipped into the small crack. He had been in a cave the whole time, but being unable to move in any direction except sideways was overwhelming. Qari considered going back, but he heard a sound that he was all too familiar with; monkeys.
Anger drove him along. Hate pushed him through even though it took the skin off of his ears and cheeks. Qari climbed and climbed as he made his way toward the sounds of his most hated enemies. Finally, he saw a small light up ahead. He cautiously poked his head out into a large open chamber which spilled light into his crevice.
What he saw nearly took his breath away. He was midway up the wall overlooking an open cavern. In the middle of the cavern was a large tree. A small opening in the top of the cave gave enough sunlight to keep the tree alive. Strewn throughout the tree were abyssal plant vines. Their smell washed over the small man, and nearly made him swoon. He covered his face with the cloak Calidorn had given him earlier.
Monkeys leaped from the opening into the tree and climbed up and down. At the base of the tree, Qari saw something that he did not expect. There were about thirty humans and elves sitting under the tree. What are they doing? Why are they just sitting there? Qari wanted answers. Some of the men at the bottom of the tree were tribesmen. Could some of my people have survived? Qari hoped, but he needed to get down to them.
Suddenly Qari heard a powerful call from the opening. He looked up to see a spider monkey with blood red eyes. The beast hooted and barked and all the monkeys rushed up the tree and followed him. In a matter of seconds, the cavern was completely quiet. Qari courageously jumped from his perch and grabbed hold of a branch. He quickly climbed down, making sure that the cloak stayed wrapped around his mouth and nose.
When he reached the humans and elves, he puked into the cloak. The abyssal plants had caused them to be lulled into a near catatonic state. They were sedated and did not even notice the small human that had climbed down among them. Worse than that was the fact that they were covered in blood sac oozes and leeches. The blood sac oozes where heavy with the life essence of their host. Qari realized that the monkeys were using them to harvest blood. He could see scars and some fresh wounds where the monkeys had pulled the oozes and leeches away.
Qari sank to one knee and contemplated just staying there; giving up hope. He realized quickly that he had to get away from the effects of the abyssal plants, or he too would become a feeder for the monkeys. If he had more time, he would have killed every one of the damned souls under the tree. However, he had no weapons and no time. Qari climbed the tree and made a leap back to the crack. He had to catch the ledge and maneuver his way back in, but he managed it with some difficulty.
Qari stopped about halfway back to Calidorn and cried. He let out all of the anger, hurt, guilt, shame, regret; all of it. His eyes were red and puffy when he stepped out of the hole, but he had a plan. He was going to kill every blood monkey he saw. There was no more running. It was time to hunt.
Zoe and the Outcasted
Metal Among the Trees
Chaff was cloaked in an old robe that once belonged to Zoe’s father; hiding his unique appearance. He and Zoe made their way through the streets of Pinevale without any notice at all. They had considered making their way around the city, but decided it would be faster to cut straight through. Also, they hoped that Pinevale’s magical energies would drown out the power of the gauntlets. The minions did not dare attack inside the walls of the great city. Their reasoning was sound, and nothing bothered them.
However, they had to travel through dense forest to get from Pinevale to Locwood, the home of the orcs. The major road was dangerous, as many displaced orcs sought easy prey. A fourteen year old girl and a harvester would be no match for a group of robbers. So, the duo was forced to take their chances in the pine forest.
Both Zoe and Chaff were amazed at how beautiful the pines grew. The admiration did not last long before the minions of Rainor stormed over them. It was as though they had been waiting for Zoe.
There were thirteen of the winged beasts, and they ranged from tamarin to gorilla. Chaff ripped off his cloak and raised his bladed arms. Zoe raised her magically armored hands. The rubies encrusting the gloves glowed red, and Zoe herself seemed to radiate heat. The winged minions hooted and screeched at the display of magical power. Their excitement was short-lived.
From each gauntlet sprang a flaming whip, ready to do the girl’s bidding. Zoe spun her new weapons around, getting a feel for their length. One of the gorillas attempted to take the gauntlets, but he was met with lash after fiery lash from the whips. The other minions hesitated before staking their claim on the magic item. Chaff was not interested in letting them regain their composure. The harvester sprang on them with his scythe-like arms cutting several of the smaller monkeys down among the pine needle floor.
A few of the quicker, smaller winged monkeys manage to escape the carnage. A large and hairy orangutan with tiny wings was not so quick. Zoe wrapped him in her burning coils as he attempted to flee into the forest. The dying creatures cries could be heard in both Pinevale and Locwood.
The battle with the minions was over as quickly as it had begun. However, there was a new problem. The dried pine was igniting from the flames of Zoe’s gloves. She dispelled the whips with merely a thought, and started trying to put out the flames. Chaff used the old robes to smother the blaze, and eventually all of the fire was out.
Zoe and Chaff were exhausted and covered in soot and ash. They needed to rest, away from the still smoking remains of their forest fires. Chaff led them down a small trail. The trail ended at a strange, vine covered tree. Chaff leaned against the tree, and threw his head back into it.
The strange tree wasn’t a tree at all. Zoe started pulling vines away, while Chaff cut, In no time, they had uncovered a large metal humanoid. The sculpture must have stood nine feet high and carried a huge axe, which was half buried in the earth. Its legs were wide cylinders, like an elephants. The arms and torso seemed to have giant springs cleverly worked into the metal frame. Zoe could not get a good look at the face, it was too high.
“I wish he would lean down so I could see his face,” she pouted.
Chaff’s heart dropped into his stomach as the metal giant slowly dropped down to one knee. It put its face down at eye level to Zoe.
“Stay back, fiend!” Chaff tried to sound brave when he finally gained his composure.
“He won’t hurt us,” Zoe stated with a certainty that the harvester felt was unwarranted.
“You don’t even know if it is a ‘He’ at all.”
The metal titan turned to Chaff and spoke in a voice that was deep and strong. “I am a he.”
Zoe and Chaff spent hours asking the creature questions. Most normal people would have grown weary of answering the non-ending barrage of questioning, but this was a machination. He was created by Rainor during the War of Hoarded Magic. This particular machination, which Zoe named LJ, was clearing a path through the forest for the orc army when the war ended. He was left with no more orders, so he had been sitting and waiting for someone to come along and give him a purpose.
Zoe and Chaff had no problems giving him orders. Once they had learned of his purpose, they asked him to cut down a large pine tree. LJ readied his huge axe and turned his torso. The great spring inside groaned under the strain, but LJ continued to turn. Finally, in a motion so quick and powerful that Zoe and Chaff hardly registered it, LJ let the tension loose and sliced through the pine in one chop.
“Yeah, he can stay with us!” Chaff stated and they shared a laugh. Even LJ seemed happy to once again have something to do with himself.
The Next Testament
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