5th March 2012: Blood Red Roses - The Beast & The Priest Please be warned this is equivilent of 5 pages in MS Word. I hope you enjoy it.
Maliki had never been afraid of doing what was needed to survive, even when we was a lowly apprentice in the mercenaries guild.
The civil war in Algundy has drawn no small number of mercenary companies over the past few years; after once such company returned from the fighting they were besieged by bandits. Already battered and weary of fighting, the small band of mercenaries were pursued by nearly twice their number, through a remote forest in Algundy for 2 days. On the 3rd day, now exhausted the mercenaries found themselves surrounded. The leader of the bandits once again called for the mercenary sergeant to hand of all the company’s coin. The sergeant, refused perhaps out of pride or out of greed, despite his men were outnumbered and exhausted. The bandit leader could be offering 10 coins to whoever could bring him the sergeant's head. Almost without hesitation Maliki, took his sword and took the head. From that moment forward he abandoned his oaths to the Mercenaries Guild, his captain, and his company, as he turned his sword against his former companions. Believed to have murdered with the rest of them, the Guild left him for dead.
Was it greed, or the will to survive that had driven him on? Whatever the reason, he now found himself a member of a gang of bandits, roaming the back roads of Algundy in search of weak victims to prey on. Greed and selfishness became a way of him, and those around him. No more so than the day that he and several of the gang were carving up the rewards, after attacking a group of travelling merchants. Maliki had intended carve the loot up evenly as the ringleader had told them to. They would each take their cut, and take the rest back to the ringleader. But some of the others he was with had other ideas. They decided that they would take more than their share, and anyone else’s share who stood in their way. Before he knew it weapons were drawn, and blood had been spilled. Maliki stared in disbelief as one of the band who he had become good friends with clutched a gash in his right arm. Maliki looked across at the man who had inflicted the wound on his friend, while his grip tightened on the hilt of his sword. “Come on Maliki. Your not gonna pass up on the opportunity make a little extra money are you? After all; we know how cutthroat you can be.” said the greedy bandit slyly.
Angered at the insinuation that he would betray his friends (even though he knew it was true), Maliki draw his sword. This only escalated the situation. Those who wanted the loot for themselves stepped forward with greed and murderess intent in their eyes. The friends of the injured man took this as a sign to fight, though they were lesser in number and weaker than their aggressors. Maliki still unsure what he was going to do took a step back, and watched the fight unfolding before him. His strength and skill could tip the balance. What happened next would bother him for a long time to come. Two of aggressors fell upon the injured man; he struggled to parry the blows from the 2 men. Then the man Maliki called a friend, and was like a brother to him, Jenkins, was stabbed through the heart. This was enough to tip Maliki into a bloodlust-fuelled rage. He swung his sword with all his might, separating the head and shoulders of the man who’s blade a had pierced Jenkins heart.
While the attackers made have felled Maliki’s allies, he would not be stopped so easily. Such was the ferocity of his attacks that the bodies soon piled up. But before he could slay all the opposition, the greedy ring-leader had managed to put some distance between him and Maliki. “When I get back to the boss I’ll tell him this was all your doing. Shouldn’t be hard to believe given your past” he yelled as he fled the scene. Rather than stay and defend his name, Maliki ran in the opposite direction leaving behind him the bodies of his fallen friends.
Once again Maliki was forced to leave behind the life he had been living. So this time he fled across the border into Veermark, where for a time acted as a petty highway man robbing people on the roads between near the border of Algundy, or as a guide. During this time he had several minor run is with Veermark border patrols, these usually ended with him being beaten, whatever weapons he had being confiscated, and being thrown back into Algundy. None the less, he would sneak back into Veermark. On the second or third time he was caught, he was branded with a branding iron so all could see he was a bandit.
But in these dark times of war there are people despite enough to employ a man marked as a bandit. Maliki found himself working a guide smuggling supplies across the border into Algundy from sympathetic people in Veermark. This time, when he was caught by Veermark border patrols, they punished more harshly. They wanted to know who was sending the supplies to Algundy, as this endangered Veermark’s neutral position.
After a week of questioning and torturing him, they decided that they needed to break his will, and then maybe he would talk. And so they cast him into a prison like no other; a desolate pit of despair deep in the mountains, where next to no light shone, and where they sent people they wanted to hide or simply forget about. And that’s exactly what they did.
In “The Pit”, more than ever, Maliki was forced to survive via, his cunning and his raw strength. Prisoners would brutally fight each other in savage fights, for entertainment and for the right to eat. This was decided by the “Pit-Lords”, the biggest meanest and most ruthless bullies “The Pit” had to offer. It was through these arena fights, that he attracted the attention of one of the “Pit-Lords”, and was offered to work as an enforcer of the lord’s word. So life in “The Pit” improved marginally for Maliki. He partook less in the public fights, was afforded some respect the weaker prisoners and those loyal to his patron, and food was a little easier to obtain; once his patron had taken first cut of what food fell to them from the wardens above.
But as weeks and months past, stories began to spread of some man possessed of monstrous strength stalking the prison’s population. In a matter of weeks all manner of panic had erupted, as this “Beast” tore through weak and strong alike. Even the “Pit-Lords” who had been so comfortable I their position of power, were now scurrying like rats in the path of an oncoming flood. Maliki, his patron, and many of the retainers that served his master fled from their domain near the top of the pit to the lower levels. But like some great predatory animal, “the Beast” soon caught up with them, and tore the “Pit-Lord” to shreds.
Goaded on by the weaker lesser retainers, to avenge their fallen master, Maliki descended after “the Beast” deep into the lowest levels of “The Pit”. Here in this twilight realm of shadow where only the faintest slithers of light from entrance of “The Pit” reached, Maliki ambushed his foe, as was hunched over the cadaver of it’s last victim. Maliki was strong and hammered the large and lumbering shadow before him. But “the Beast” was stronger; it struck back at him with such force his whole body shuddered from the impact. Barely holding himself up, Maliki staggered back from the blow. “The Beast” lunged forward and swung for and narrowly missed Maliki, and it did so he felt it catch and rip his shirt, and nick his chest. A blade? How had this monstrous madman managed to get a blade into “The Pit”? Wondered Maliki. But soon he realised the terrible truth of the matter, as “the Beast” raised a clawed hand above it’s huge shadowy form, slashing Maliki’s left arm. He felt the stinging pain, as the warm trickle of blood ran down his arm. As he fell to his hands and knees he asked himself; just who or what was this thing and what was it doing in “The Pit”?
No more time to think. He had to act quickly. Grabbing the largest rock he could find on the cave floor, he rose up and smashed it into the face of the “Beast”. It bellowed in rage, before landing an almighty punch so strong it could have split mountains. The force of this blow would probably have killed a lesser man, but even someone of Maliki’s stamina was sent crashing to the floor. His right arm pined by his own body he was barely able to move. As “the Beast” advanced on him, it’s vast shadow blotted out what little light fell upon Maliki, until it was just a thick inky blot against shadow. Maliki desperately scrabbled with his already wounded left arm for another rock with which to hit “the Beast”, in the hopes it would buy him enough time to pull himself to his feet. But “the Beast” fell upon him before he could act out his plan. Reaching down it took Maliki’s hand and crushed it around the rock he clutched. He screamed in pain as he felt the sharp edges cut into his hand and his bones begin to crack.
“Just what are you?” he asked the shadow that towered over him.
“The Beast” let go of Maliki’s now mangled arm, and let out a guttural growl. A singular pale eye stared down out of the darkness at him. And then through gritted teeth it snarled; “I’m what you must become if you want to seek redemption”.
And with that it stormed off in the shadows, leaving Maliki for dead.
And so he lay there in the cold and the dark shattered and broken, drifting out of consciousness for an indeterminate amount of time. In the dark he lay awaiting death, aware of a distant trickle of an underground stream. Then he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder and a cup pressed to his lips. “Drink my child and let the Lady’s grace keep you from death”. Said a calm voice. Maliki forced open his eyes, and in the twilight could see a large hooded man before him. Still weary of suffering a fever as a result of the cold, he drifted for several more days. During this time the hooded man tended to his wounds, and spoke to him of how he had been saved from death because the Grey Lady was watching over him. Slowly Maliki began to notice other voices in the dark, and the hooded man preaching to them about the Grey Lady. Maliki could not understand how or why this hooded man, this priest, was even in “The Pit” in the first place.
Eventually a small fire was started and a chirurgeon brought to mend his damaged bones. A leper, who was once a master leather-worker, built a brace to hold his damaged arm in place after the chirurgeon had finished is work. “Why are you doing this?” Asked a confused Maliki.
“Because these men are your spiritual brothers. Brought into the light of the Lady’s grace.” Answered “the Priest”.
“But I already have comrades.” Replied Maliki arrogantly.
“You mean, those cowardly men who sent you down hear to battle with a mighty foe all by yourself? They have abandoned and betrayed you just as you abandoned and betrayed other’s in the past.” Responded “the Priest”.
How could he know that? Thought Maliki.
“But now you have brothers who will not betray you, as long as you serve the same purpose. To fight in the Grey Lady’s name, against evil, tyranny and all those who seek to plunge the world into chaos and damnation. As long you seek redemption, they will be your brothers.” Said “the Priest”.
And the suddenly Maliki realised those words “seek redemption” had been what “the Beast” had said to him before leaving him alone in the dark. Could this “Priest” be the same man he had fought with. As he stared at hooded stranger before him, “the Priest” gave him a sly grin, as if to confirm his theory. Maliki paused for a moment; should he strike down this man who was both “the Beast” & “the Priest”? Before he could come to a decision, “the Priest” spoke to him. “Will you use your strength to fight against the dark? For freedom, and for redemption?”
And suddenly through “the Priest’s” words Maliki heard the Lady speak to him. “You’re a murderer. Your hands are stained with blood. And yet I have chosen you as my instrument. Through me you shall find salvation. Pledge me your sword and soul, and do what must be done. For your salvation shall come at a heavy price.” She said
And upon hearing the Lady’s words, Maliki accepted his place in “the Priest’s” flock. Now fully recovered and with an increasing number of followers, they left the lower levels and headed up to convert more of prison’s population. To Maliki’s surprise “the Priest’s” teachings and his own spiritual experience, had made it easy for to preach about salvation, redemption, and personal conviction.
Then one stormy night in autumn, as the rains fell and the wind blew, the faithful followers of “the Priest” marched from the depths up to the iron portcullis that bars the entrance to “The Pit”. They stopped just short of it, confused as to how they would pass, but then “the Priest” stepped forward and spoke. “You have followed me this far, but you must each chose your own path from this day after. If after this day you should fall into depravity once more, then beware for The Beast shall find you. Do you have the will to go out into the world and do what must be done in the name of the Lady?”
“YES!!” roared the men behind him.
And with that “the Priest” alone in show of awe inspiring strength ripped the portcullis open, and then the army marched from the depths, out into the stormy night.
How good it felt to feel the rain on his face more thought Maliki. Though his eyes stung as the rain trickled into them, he could see “the Priest” throw up his hood and try to disappear into the crowd. Maliki caught up with him. “Let me travel with you.” He asked.
“For a few days.” replied “the Priest”.
And so Maliki, “the Priest” (though only Maliki is aware that the hooded man travelling with them is “the Priest”) and a few others travelled towards the border with Algundy. On the 3rd night since their departure from “The Pit”, they camped in some remote woodland just past the Algungy / Veermark border. While the others sat by the fire, Maliki and “the Priest” further away, and spoke more of their respective pasts and of their newfound faith.
As they sat and talked scuffling noises could be heard approaching them out of the woodland. Then shouting could be heard coming from the encampment. As the 2 men rushed back to the fire, they could see their 4 travelling companions being attacked by the slow shambling bodies of men long dead. “Lost” the hooded man shouted.
As they tried to fight the walking dead, Maliki paused as he recognized he corpse shambling towards him. “Wait, these men were my former mercenary company.” He called across to his comrades, as he realised they were in the same forest.
“They may wear the faces of people you one knew.” Spoke the hooded man. “But they’re nothing more than walking corpses now. Just lost souls”.
“But i…” Maliki’s words were cut short as one of the Lost advanced on him.
“Let go of your past!” Shouted the hooded man.
And suddenly Maliki remembered the oath’s he had sworn. To turn his back on his past, to fight against the enemies of the Lady, and to stand by his brothers. It was more than just survival now, he had a purpose. He struck hard and fast with renewed vigour.
Most of the Lost, passed them by, drawn towards the East by the evil that lay there. He watched as the hooded man pursued them.
“Shouldn’t we follow him?” asked the only other standing man of their group.
Maliki paused for a moment before answering. “No. The Priest told us to each go our separate ways, and that’s what he’s doing.”
“What then shall be do?” asked the man.
“Help me bury them. Then make your own way.” Maliki indicated to the 2 dead men on the ground.
“What about him?” he asked about the tall, thin, dark haired man who lay injured on the floor.
“I’ll carry him to the nearest town” replied Maliki.
As he took one last look at the hooded man as he disappeared into the undergrowth. “Until we meet again my friend.” Maliki muttered to himself.