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Author of the Saga of Ukumog discusses the challenges of being an author, the tools and processes he uses while writing, and sometimes posts something completely unrelated. This blog is the author exposed.

Shadow of the Pyramid, Chapter 2

Louis Puster

Posted for your enjoyment, this unedited segment of the story.  I admit, it does still need some polishing:

Chapter 2

The people who lived in the shadow of the Great Pyramid talked in hushed whispers about the world beyond.  Few had been to the edge of the shadow and seen the brilliant sands that lay beyond the borders of Shatter.  One thing all the stories had in common: The painful brightness of the sun.

Moriv stood there on the border of the shadow staring at the blinding world beyond.  Surrounding him were the twenty slaves that had been sent as his property for this mission.  A mission that was to take him far north of his homeland.  None of the people standing there had ever seen the golden sands north of the Pyramid.  They stood in awe of the untouched waves of glowing dust before them.  It seemed…unnatural.

Ten of the twenty souls in Moriv’s possession were the finest warriors of Shatter.  The other ten were a mix of porters, workers, and handmaidens.  While those first ten were to see to the Scion’s protection, it was up to the others to take care of all his other needs.  None of the slaves begrudged their duties, quite the opposite.  It was the greatest honor to serve the Scion of the Great Obsidian Pyramid.  All of them were happy to do even the most menial task or even give their lives for Moriv.  From time to time since he had been given the slaves, Moriv found himself thinking about how just weeks ago he had been a lowly slave himself and now how he had slaves of his own.

The adjustment to being a master of slaves was harder than Moriv thought it would be.  When Konrix told him that he would have company on his journey to the north, Moriv imagined himself as a dispassionate tyrant who would care nothing for the people who were his property.  One look from the dark eyes of his handmaidens melted his heart, however.  He could not stand to see them grovel at his feet or do some of the disgusting work that Moriv’s old master would ask of him.  Instead, Moriv treated his slaves more like friends or companions.  While the house slaves liked the feeling that came with this level of recognition, the warriors mostly missed the discipline and the off chance to get to bring their fist down on a lesser slave for a minor offense.

Twenty-one souls dressed in silks, leading pack animals laden down with tents and all manner of comforts, and all of them staring with frightened curiosity out into the golden waves before them.  Moriv knew that the sun would not hurt him or his olive skinned companions, yet there was some mischief he felt it was time to make.

He brushed his thin mustache away from his lips before he spoke. “You,” he picked out one of the warriors.  “Step out of the shadow first and make my introduction to the rest of the world.”

“Me?”  The warrior asked with eyes wide as saucers.

Moriv just nodded.

The warrior steeled himself against the rays of the sun, which he feared might tear him apart like a swarm of flesh eating insects.  He turned toward the land outside of the shadow and closed his eyes.  One step, then another, and he could feel the heat of the sun upon his flesh.  He was braced for the terrible burning pain, but none came.  A giant smile came to his face and he pounded his chest.  Hollering with exuberant joy he proclaimed loudly to the empty desert before him, “Beware children of the light!  A new Scion of the Great Obsidian Pyramid has come to bring terror into your light filled world.  Quake in fear, enemies of our beloved shadow, for Moriv has come to do…”  The warrior paused and looked over at Moriv.  “What are we out here to do, master?”

Moriv laughed and applauded the warrior slave with a half mocking clap.  Without answering the warrior’s question, Moriv slowly stepped through the sand and across the line of shadow into the light of the sun.  “I have come to steal the blade of the Betrayer and slay its master,” he shouted into the open air beyond.  “Now, let us head onward.  It is a long way to the Deepening.”

The warrior felt somehow as if he had been given special permission to ask more questions and so he blurted out, “What are we to do in the Deepening, master?”

Moriv felt as if he should have hit the slave, for asking him too many questions as he had always seen other masters do.  He decided to let this question go, however, and even to answer it.  “There is a tournament there.  People from all over the world come to the Deepening to fight for the right to breech the tomb of the betrayer.  We are going there, slave, so that I might enter the tomb and discover how to track down our enemy.  Inside its locked walls is the place where the blade was forged.  It is there that I shall claim that which is already mine.”

The warrior nodded with an approving smile.

“Do not mistake my kindness for weakness, slave.  The next time you ask me questions without permission, I will remove your ability to ever ask questions again.”

The warrior nodded again and quickly slipped back into his duties of protecting the Moriv and his property.

Moriv and his companions traveled deep into the sands.  None of them had been this far from their home before, and all of them would take quick looks over their shoulder to see the black pyramid slipping further and further away.  By the end of the first day, the obsidian peak of their god was obscured by distance and dunes of sand.

When night fell, they unfurled the lavish tents and carpets that had been given to Moriv.  Together, they reveled in the darkness of the night.  A fire was lit in a brazier filled with oil to keep warm the blood of the warriors.

Moriv needed no fire.  His blood was so hot with lust and power that he shared that burning with his handmaidens.  There, in the darkness of his lush tent, he learned every beautiful thing about the three slaves sent to pleasure him.  When he saw the memories of punishments long past etched into their flesh, Moriv decided to distance himself from them.  He was, after all, the scion of the Great Pyramid.  Who were these women if not playthings?  If he grew to care for them, his mission might be in peril. With a heart made of obsidian, he enjoyed the charms of these women.

When the burning sun rose the next morning, its baleful glare found them already on the move.  Their fine things packed and carried, and again they were but twenty-one shadows traversing the golden dunes.

Moriv found it quite unnerving that there was no other sign of life that he could see.  No traces of footsteps.  No buildings or trees.  Not even any animals crossed their path.  This place is how he imagined that the world might come to an end.  The sky filled with fire, the land turned to dust, and a capricious wind that brought both relief from the heat, but had invisible claws made of sand.  This is the world that the Pyramid protected them from.  This is what would happen should the obsidian crumble and the light let loose upon all things.

“Master, how do we know we are going the right way?” One of the handmaidens asked from lips dry and dusty.

Moriv wanted to gently wipe away the dust, but he steeled himself against such unexpected kindness.  “The ancients guide us, young one.  For I am their son, and they have shone me the way.”

His words filled all those who travelled with him with a pride.  For even here, their god travelled with them.  What most of them didn’t know, is that they were right.

Around Moriv’s neck was a tiny shard of the pyramid.  It was in the shape of a teardrop, and embraced by silver.  The silver chain that it hung upon was fine and long, and allowed the pendant to hang low over Moriv’s chest.  He would often find himself touching it without thinking about it, and while he wore it, he heard the distant whisperings of the ancients, almost silently guiding him on his journey.

This necklace was called the Cursed Eye of Damnation, and it was a sacred thing passed down to each of the Scions.  Even those Scions who died far from home, the pendant had always found its way back.  Moriv did not truly know how the magic worked, but he knew that this thing was now his - and he intended to keep it a secret, especially from his slaves.

More days passed in this way.  Travel during the day then rest and revelry at night.  There was still no sign of any people, still no markings in the sand to denote their passage.  As the days travelled on, Moriv grew to find comfort in this loneliness.  His slaves, on the other hand, did not.  All but the ten warriors began to fear that they had become lost in the desert.  This same challenge did seems to steel the tough and brutal warriors, yet their lust for battle did grow.

“Master!  O, master!  Most terrifying child of the pyramid.  We are lost in this place.  We must find more supplies, or we will surely perish,” one of the porters exclaimed on the seventh day of travel.

Moriv smiled.  He stopped the caravan and looked at this slave while caressing the whispering eye of the pyramid.  “Are you saying you know better than I?  For the ancestors are my mother and my father.  The pyramid gave birth to the man you see here.”  Moriv’s anger was rising, and with that the intensity of his voice.  He almost seemed to feed on the fear coming from the slave’s face.  “I will decide what way we go, and how long we can survive.”

All twenty of the caravan drank in the words of their master.  Some found this gulp distasteful, and their faces betrayed them.

“Let your fear poison you,” Moriv’s voice was chilling and quiet, yet all could hear the power in it.  “If you have no faith in our mission, and in me, let the pyramid take back the soul which it granted you.  You do not deserve it.”

Silence fell over the group and then Moriv signaled for them to move on.

Night came once again, and the revelry was not so joyous.  The warriors were grim, but eager.  The maidens were suddenly shy.  And the other slaves huddled together in fear.

“Master, some of the slaves are dead,” a warrior woke Moriv from his sleep.

The sun burned angrily down at Moriv as he emerged from his tent, but he didn’t care about the sun.  He was a child of shadows, and the light would not stop him.

Moriv followed the warrior to the tent for the porter slaves.  Two of them lay dead on their mats.  Their bodies were slightly shriveled, and all their passages were overflowing with sand.  The other slaves were huddled together on the other side of the tent, fearful of both Moriv and their fallen brothers.  Joy cause a smile to emerge on Moriv’s face, for one of the dead slaves was the one who spoke against him the day before.

“Leave their bodies in the dust, and cast away their burdens too.  We do not need them anymore,” Moriv commanded the slaves.

One trembling slave crawled forward and pressed his forehead to the sandy mat upon the ground at Moriv’s feet.  “Master.  They were the ones who carried your tent.  Surely you will not have us cast that away.”

He could not be angry.  His curse had cut both ways, as the magic of his people did.  These slaves had lost their lives, and he had lost his tent.  It is how things should be.  “Leave the tent, I do not need it.  The sky is beautiful here at night, why should I hide from it.”

Before they were on their way, they piled up the tent, the lavish mats, and the rest of the slaves burden and set them ablaze.  Thrown like garbage to the side were the bodies of the two slaves, naked and shriveled, they were left for whatever animals lived in this dusty place.

One more day passed, and that night Moriv found himself under the stars.  A simple blanket on the ground kept him from laying in the sand.  As the night got cold, he found himself kept warm by the shapely bodies of his maidens.  The whispering from the stone still echoed in his mind as he drifted off to sleep.  His last thought before the darkness took him, “All is how it should be.”

The next morning, two more slaves were dead.  Their sand filled, and shrivelled bodies were the same as the last two.  Again they burned the things that those slaves carried and travelled onward, leaving the desiccated bodies out for the carrion feeders.

That day the whispering in Moriv’s mind grew stronger.  His temper was shortened by the bright fire in the sky, for he longed again for the darkness and the stars above.  In this fuge of anger at the light, he ignored the whispers telling him which way to go.  Many hours of travel passed.  In his stubbornness, Moriv started actively leading the caravan the direction that put the sun on their backs.  As time stretched on, the whispers grew near screaming in Moriv’s head.

With everything that had happened in the last few days, the slaves were hesitant to say anything when Moriv began talking to himself.  Even still, they gave their master space when he started separating himself from the group.  When madness seemed to grip him, one of the warriors, Junaria, became concerned.

 

Junaria was an exception among most of the slaves of Shatter.  She had a name.  The story of how she got her name was a simple one.  There was a time, many years ago, when Junaria was a nameless slave in service to the priests of the Mari’Andi.  First, it was simple cleaning, but as she matured, the nature of her service changed with the shape of her body.  The Scion before Moriv, the very same that had died to give Moriv his power, once called the slave that was Junaria his lover.  Before he went on his mission beyond the shadow of the pyramid, there was an attack that almost took the life of this previous Scion.  It seemed that his previous master did not accept that his prized treasure had been taken from him.  In a drunken rage, he tried to kill the old Scion, Akreiq, while at a party celebrating the task the Scion was to be set upon.

The slave who Akreiq called his lover saw the attack coming, and grabbed the glass goblet from the lips of the Scion, broke the glass on the wall near where she sat upon his lap, and drove the large shard that remained in her grasp into the throat of the attacker.

She stood over his gurgling body as he died and spit in the dying man’s face.  Akreiq began clapping, and it was the only sound in the entire hall at first.  For all had hushed the moment she had grabbed for the goblet.  Everyone saw the fire in her eyes.  Junaria, the Scion called her.  He said that it meant moon-fire.

After the Scion left, Konrix put her with the warriors of the temple. And when Moriv became the Scion, she wanted nothing more than to serve him directly.  Konrix granted her wish, and she was made the shield of the Scion.

 

The madness that gripped Moriv troubled Junaria.  She feared that he was being tested by the ancestors, and that she too was being tested.  At first, the training of slave came to her.  She held her tongue, and subtly looked at the other slaves.  They all, even the warriors, had fear in their eyes.  After the death of the fours slaves at the hands of Moriv’s curse, Junaria felt herself steel against her fear.  To let the doubt in would be to succumb to the curse.  She would not die with her lungs full of sand.  This was the warrior in her.  The slave and warrior could not find a solution, so she called upon her skills as a lover. She approached Moriv, to the shock of the other slaves, shedding her shield and spear along the way.  When she was close enough, she whispered with a lovers whisper, “What haunts you, o’ mighty Scion? Let me help you fight the demons that plague you.”

Her voice cut through the nightmarish screaming in Moriv’s head.  For a moment his thoughts were clear.  He turned suddenly towards her, and no longer did he see a faceless slave.  Instead he saw the strength of his people personified.  She was the dark heart of the pyramid.  She was the ferocious thing which lived in the sideways part of the consciousness of men. “The stone,” he whispered.  “The stone wants to rule me.  It wants to tell me what I should do.  I must resist!”

Closer still she came, and placed her gentle fingers upon his hand that was clenched round the pendant so tightly blood trickled down his arm. “You are the master here, even of the stone.  There is no darkness that you do not command.  Tell me, what sacrifice do they demand for your divine mission to continue?”

To Moriv’s eyes she was a towering shadow with glowing eyes.  She was the Night Walker, the legendary ally and protector of the ancestors.  “Blood must color the sand.  Kill them.” Moriv pointed at his three handmaidens.  For what did he need them for anymore.  He had found the fire to keep his very soul warm, and it was her.

Junaria nodded and calmly walked over to the three maidens.  The did not seem afraid of her, so she knew that they had not heard what was coming.  Slowly, Junaria drew her short blade, the one given to her by Konrix when she joined the warriors of the temple.  And with three quick strokes in the air, she cut deeply the throats of all three maidens.  Their eyes grew wide as they fell to sand, and red streams flowed down the dune.

The ancients were satisfied in this sacrifice and the many voices silenced in Moriv’s mind.  One voice spoke, “Walk against the flow of life and you will find the depths.”

The web of blood that penetrated the sand quietly grew larger as they all stood staring.  Moriv watched the sand soak in the dark red life of his slain handmaidens and had no regrets.  The people of Shatter live to serve, and their service was now complete.

Thinking on what the whispers had told him, Moriv ran his eyes up the length of the streams of blood to the opened necks that were their source.  He did not stop, he looked up the dune that they were all standing on, and quietly pushed past the silent slaves that waited for his command.  They followed him up the dune, and when he reached the peak the vastness of the desert was stretched out before him.  On the horizon, he saw dark clouds.  Lightning flickered inside them as they ominously loomed over a dark spot of ground.

Moriv squinted to see what lay in the shadow of the storm but the distance and the light was against him.  So he started walking.  Without a single word, the fourteen souls started their trek towards that mysterious stormcloud.

Grey clouds rolled across the sky and as they collided, sparks crashed to the earth.  Peering into the coming storm, Moriv saw shapes on the horizon.  With each step, these shapes became clearer, but he could only be sure that they were not more dunes.

There was a brilliant flash of light that came from the sky, and just as the immense boom that followed hit Moriv’s ears, he realized what the shapes were.  Trees.  The horizon was littered with trees and lush grasses.  They had finally made it to the Deepening.

Moriv’s blood started pumping with wild excitement and he picked up speed, chasing the storm as it peeled away from the horizon.

The slaves saw the trees too, many of them whispered prayers of thanks to the Pyramid for leading them out of the desert.  As their toes reached the fertile soil, Moriv lifted the whispering pendant to his lips, and gave it a kiss of gratitude.

Sand became more solid earth as they walked closer to the jungle on the horizon.  The trees seemed impossibly tall to the slaves who had never seen their kind before. The bark of the trees looked like a lattice of leaves that had grown together forming an elaborate armor.  Branches reached out from the top of the tree leaving most of the trunk barren.  In the shade of these towering trees there were all manner of other bushes, ferns, and shrubs.  As the storm clouds receded, the brilliant green of this lush flora dazzled Moriv’s host.

“This bright world does hold some amazing wonders,” Moriv muttered.

“Be careful, Master.” Junaria warned.  “Do not let this accursed place seduce you away from the shadow.”

Moriv felt a little insulted that she would think this place could steal away his heart with wondrous plants.  Instead of punishing her, he chuckled.  “Things born in this light could never seduce me while I have you to protect me,” he whispered to her.

Junaria could not help but let a tiny smile come to her lips.

Before they realized it, they were deep in the lush rocky jungle. Under their feet, the rocks were more solid than the sand dunes, but they were no less treacherous. Whispers from Moriv’s stone continued to drive them on through dense plants.  Two of the warriors hacked their way through the brush with their swords, blazing a trail for the rest of the group.

Colorful birds and curious monkeys watched with wary eyes from the trees above as Moriv’s company pushed their way through the jungle. None of these people of Shatter had ever seen a jungle before. Eyes filled with wonder were completely distracted by the terrifying beauty. Stories of the wild creatures that lay in wait outside the protection of the pyramid haunted their thoughts.  Every branch that rustled stirred the paranoia that bubbled to the surface of their minds.

Slowly they creeped in the direction that the stone whispered to Moriv.  The fear washed over the group, and the Scion pushed them onwards.  Time was running out.  He needed to find the camp where he could challenge for the right to get into the tomb of the betrayer.

“Keep moving!” Moriv shouted.  “Faster!”

The slaves complied. Hacking and rushing through the foliage, the fervor of the pyramid’s scion drove them on. Cutting and slashing, branches and leaves became the carpet on which Moriv walked. His slaves slicing their way to his victory.  Moriv smiled a wicked smile and felt invincible. One more chop and suddenly the slave out in front seemed to disappear.  Then the second slave vanished.

The whole train of them stopped because the third slave held up his hand signaling them to halt. The slave in the back of the group could not see, and he stumbled into the group, pushing the warrior who called for the group to stop off the edge of the cliff, and his dying screams echoed off the canyon as he fell beyond their sight.  

This hidden edge of the land above had claimed three lives from Moriv, but still his heart burned with a furious need for victory.  He pushed his way passed his slaves and the wild foliage.  Standing there at the edge, he knew then why they called this chasm The Deepening. This massive gash in the earth stretched to his left and right further than he could see and was wide enough to fit many pyramids.  The sheer immensity of this hole in the earth made Moriv smile.

All the unnamed slaves stared at Moriv with wary fear in their faces. The Scion, still burning with the will of the ancients, grabbed a thick vine and after testing its strength, he began his descent.

For what seemed like hours, the small group from Shatter climbed down the damp rocky surface.  Jutting stones and sinuous vines bore them ever downward.  Moriv took small note of the broken fragments of fallen warriors as he climbed past them, but the other slaves would pause briefly to pray for their fallen brothers, and to wish they did not have to leave their beasts of burden behind at the top of the cliff.  When they reached the bottom, they found the largest pieces of the torn corpses of those warrior slaves that had plummeted to their death.  Junaria roared at some dog sized lizards that were rapidly devouring the flesh of her sword brothers.  With a hiss, the small lizards fled from the ferocious servant of the Scion.

Junaria knelt where she could see all three of the remains and whispered, “Brothers, may you find your reward in the cold arms of our ancestors, and may I not be quick to follow you.” Dipping her fingers in their blood, she drew a triangle on her shield.

Moriv watched this ceremony with a curious wonder. Slaves in Shatter did sometimes hold vigil for the dead, but those with names never mourned for the nameless. Even with this break in tradition, Moriv silently approved of the ceremony that was performed, and when the other slaves looked to him with nervous stares, he just nodded at them to let them know it was ok. When Junaria was finished with her remembrance of the fallen, Moriv let the whispers from the stone drive him deeper into the jungle.

Danger dripped from every shadow, it rustled from every branch.  This jungle wanted Moriv and his slaves to nourish its roots. Moriv ignored the fear the gripped the hearts of his slaves. He used Junaria’s fearlessness and the whispering of the stone to keep him going.  The deeper they got within the basin of the valley, the more Moriv embraced the ferocious animal that lay quiet in his heart.

Junaria knew that something, or rather, some things were stalking the group.  As the light from the sun waned from the sky, the humid struggle against the light was replaced with avoiding the predators that were waking up to find food. The path they were cutting in to the Jungle was leaving a visible trail. One that could easily be followed. Junaria did not encourage those in front to stop hacking at the jungle, she wanted to see what this place had to offer, apart from twisting vines and hidden cliffs.  She wanted to shed the blood of this place.

In the twilight of the valley, they could hear the violent deaths of things in their wake.  The predators were feeding on the distracted prey who were avoiding these strangers from the pyramid. The screeching death rattles of these animals caused ripples in the branches of the trees. These waves hit the morale of the slaves, filling their hearts with doubt yet again. The curse that Moriv had placed upon his own people had not yet done its worst.

Night fell, and Moriv insisted that the group press on.  Slowly they creeped through the jungle with no light, save the stars above.

The first slave to disappear must have stepped on a hive of bugs and been distracted by the biting insects, because he never heard the beasts come for him.  The second to die was a warrior that saw something to the side and decided to check on it without saying a word. One by one Moriv’s doubting fearful slaves were picked off behind him, as Junaria and he eagerly pushed forward through the bush.

Junaria finally noticed that their numbers had been cut down to only four when she stopped to truly assess why the group was making less noise. “What happened to the others?” She whispered to the slaves behind her.  They only shrugged and made some vague motion at the jungle around them.

She then knew that the fight she hoped for was coming.  She would shed blood this night, and it would be glorious. Taking her place at the back of the group, in her heart she challenged the jungle to do its worst.

Long enough the beasts had waited.  To them, Moriv shone like a beacon of life, one that they could not resist. Like cunning moths who seek to steal a flame, they stalked him, ignoring the other humans. As the first one of these reptilian beasts crashed through the brush and lunged at Moriv, it received a swipe across the snout from Junaria’s blade.

“Master! You are under attack!” She shouted boldly.

Moriv smiled, and quickly drew his blade, he too had been waiting for a fight. He had yet to use the blade given to him by Konrix. Now it was time for Shadow Stealer to take lives, as it was meant to.

 

The blade was not new, and Moriv was not the only Scion to have wielded it.  The last time it had been used was in a war against the princes of Broken. So long had the rivalry gone on between the city of Broken and the chosen of Shatter, that only their masters remembered the cause. The first time it was wielded by a Scion of the temple, however, it was upon a field of battle, where the Pyramid itself had travelled. It had floated up off the great plaza and moved north across the desert, an army of slaves were all safe from the light inside the belly of this massive shadow.  When the two armies met, their clash tore apart the very earth, causing it to rip and collapse beneath their might.  The pyramid itself shots glimmering rays of light that caused a deep chasm to open in the earth, swallowing half of the army that stood against it. The Princes of Broken were not without their own powers, however, and they launched great stones into the air with machines of war.  Hundreds of them pelted the pyramid, and eventually their endless assault caused cracks within the obsidian. The first of these cracks send a shockwave of sound across the battlefield, causing all combatants to cease their clash, even just for that moment, to stare in awe at what was happening.

Great tendrils of light and darkness leaked forth from the cracks in the pyramid, licking the air and entwining the surface of the pyramid itself. The Scion who was at this battle was standing so near the pyramid when it cracked that the sound alone knocked him to the ground. When he saw what had happened, his heart was filled with such rage that he picked up a long shard of the pyramid, one that was shaped like a blade, and started running towards the enemy’s battle line.  As he ran, he was able to make out where the seven princes of Broken were standing, back behind their army. He sliced his way through the combat towards them.  So great was their arrogance that they just stood there, waiting for him to arrive. As he did approach, the princes just smiled.  Their ebony skin covered in brightly colored silks, the best that their limitless coffers could buy. All of them were identical, save for tiny differences in their clothes and jewelry.  This ancient Scion suddenly was confused, for they all looked like the same man.  All of them smiled at him with the same unflinching malice.  Unsure what to do, the Scion just lashed out at the nearest of the Princes to him, slicing the prince across the cheek.  Suddenly, all seven of the Princes were animated by their anger, and attacked the Scion. With knives, swords, and spears.

The battle only lasted a few moments, and the blade never touched another of the Princes that night.  The Scion had made his mark, and was left to rot upon the field after the chasm grew to separate the two armies enough that they could no longer continue their fight.

Years later the blade was reclaimed by a different Scion who had been tasked to return it to the pyramid, and it was shaped and changed from the crude shard into a masterpiece of dark glass. The silver handle was etched so finely that the detail of the design faded from view when not looking close upon it, and was done specifically to prevent the silver from outshining the obsidian blade.

 

As Moriv drew the sword with murderous intent, the story of its making was whispered to him, by the stone that was leading him on his journey.  He reeled as his mind took on the overwhelming memories of the previous scion, and he struggled to get back to his feet once it was over.

When Moriv returned to his senses, he saw that Junaria and the two other warriors had killed one of the massive reptiles.  Still two more of the hulking things with terrible maws filled with dagger length teeth still sought human flesh to fill their bellies.

One of the beasts lunged at Junaria as she quickly brought up her shield to bash the creature’s snout.  Shooting a glance over at Moriv she shouted, “Master Scion!  Are you ok?”

Before he could respond, Moriv heard the crackling passage of something coming through the jungle behind him. Looking over his shoulder, he saw another of the reptilian monsters, this one had stalked around the Scion’s protectors to try and collect an easy feast.

Moriv tightened his grip on Shadow Stealer as he turned to face the creature.  The two opponents let loose a roar at the same time and charged to meet one another.

The company from Shatter was fighting for their very lives, but not against the treacherous tyrants of Broken, Flay, or the other nations of the world, but instead they were locked in a battle with the denizens of this deep dank jungle.  The humidity was not anything like what they were used to, and it was stealing their very strength.  As they danced their way through the fight, streams of sweat poured down their backs and off their brows.  The very air was pressing on their will to continue fighting.

A fog of exhaustion began to fill their minds, and one of the warriors suddenly found that his body would no longer listen. One tiny delay in dodging a lunging bite, and the warrior’s left shoulder found its way into the maw of one of the beasts.  He screamed in agony as his ribcage was shattered under the force of the creature’s jaws, and a shower of blood sprayed everyone.  Knowing he was dead, the warrior jabbed his sword into the eye of his killer, blinding the beast and causing it to shake him violently.

Junaria dodged a dismembered arm that went flying by her, hitting the lizard facing her. She, and the other remaining warrior, took that brief moment to score a hits against the side of the creature’s neck, causing it to give a screeching wail. Quickly it recovered from the wound and resumed its attack.

The blinded reptile began feasting on the unmoving corpse of the slain warrior, throwing gore in every direction as it tore through the flesh and shattered bones.

The feasting distracted the hungry beast that had engaged Moriv and it disengaged to try and steal some meat from the fallen warrior.  Shadow Stealer had scored a few light hits against this beast, and Moriv could only think that it decided against pressing the attack on him further.  Moriv instead turned his attention to the beast that his companions were fighting.

The three of them cornered the reptile, and with Junaria blocking its attacks, Moriv got in a few quick slashes to its side and underbelly, wounding it severely.

As the Scion and Junaria moved in to finish the dying monster off, the other warrior turned and found the remaining two beasts hissing at each other over the ravaged corpse between them.  They took snapping bites at each other in an attempt to chase the other away from the torn flesh.

Believing he had an opportunity to score a fatal blow on one of the creatures, the warrior lept forward. His timing could have been better, for as he came into range, the two lizards both turned on him and attacked.  One dug its dagger long teeth into his upper sword arm, the other bit into the top part of his shield, and together they pulled him in different directions with such force that the straps on his shield broke, and in doing so - his shield arm’s wrist nearly exploded, sending bones from his forearm through the surface of his skin.  There was a wet ripping sound as the other beast tore his sword arm off his body. Shocked and in pain, the warrior screamed and fell to his knees.  As the one beast was distracted by the fresh meat of his arm, the other recoiled for another attack, and brought its powerful jaws down over the head of the kneeling warrior.  There was another muffled cracking and a spray of blood as the beast’s maw crushed the warrior’s torso. With a violent shake, the reptile tore away the corpse’s head and chest, leaving behind the shield arm, half the torso, and legs to fall twitching to the ground.

Shadow Stealer finally tasted the heartsblood of the fallen beast.  Moriv and Junaria turned to find their companions torn to shreds and the two remaining beasts rapidly devouring their flesh and bones.

There was a moment where Moriv considered sneaking off into the jungle, but that thought never crossed Junaria’s mind. She let loose a roar and charged the nearest beast, slamming into it with her shield and nearly knocking it off balance.  Moriv followed her lead, and found himself relishing in the rush that the combat gave him.  He plunged Shadow Stealer deep into the side of the unbalanced creature’s neck, and the puncture caused a fountain of blood to pour freely from the wound.

Without wasting a moment, Junaria turned to the second creature and found it already charging at her.  She raised her shield in time to block the charging attack, but as the creature crashed into her, it also lifted its head, knocking her backwards onto the ground.

That moment was the first time Junaria had actually felt fear. On her back, with her arms spread out, she lifted her head to see the menacing thing staring at her prone body. She quickly realized that she was laying amidst the gore of her fallen companions causing a slippery problem, should she try and stand up too fast.

As the wounded beast lunged at Moriv again, he slashed at the snout of the thing, opening a huge tear in the beast’s flesh with Shadow Stealer. As the creature screeched and recoiled from Moriv, the Scion stepped forward.  He drove the black tip of Shadow Stealer into the neck of the beast over and over, until the thing fell over writhing and bleeding.

Junaria rolled away from the first charge of the beast who had knocked her over, but when she tried to stand up, again she got caught by a charge which knocked her back off her feet.  The beast was persistent, and continued to pursue her, ignoring Moriv’s killing of the other massive reptile. It charged her again, and she was able to bring her shield up just in time to block the attack, wedging the shield sideways into the creature’s wide open mouth.  Before it could even pull away from her, she used her sword to cut away the leather strap on the shield and released it just in time to avoid the powerful beast’s attempt to shake the shield loose from its jaws.

Moriv turned away from the dying lizard to find the other beast trying to pry the wedged shield from its jaws. On the other side of it, Junaria stood.  They gave each other a look and a nod to signal that they were ok and then they both closed on the beast. Just before they got within striking distance, the beast crushed the shield in its jaws, sending huge splinters of wood in every direction.  Moriv sent Shadow Stealer point first into the creature’s side, and the beast wheeled around and smashed into Moriv with the side of its head, knocking the Scion into the air.

The creature hissed at Moriv before preparing to pounce. A pounce that was cut short by another strike from behind as Junaria pierced its other flank. The beast roared a powerful roar that made the leaves on the trees rustle.

Junaria swinging wild, powerful swings at the creature kept it both distracted and at bay long enough for Moriv to get back to his feet.  Quietly, he walked up to the creature and again struck from behind, as it turned, Junaria did the same. Again the creature howled and turned, and again Moriv struck it from behind. Moriv and Junaria took turns stabbing the distracted beast that could not make up its mind which one of them to attack. Its indecision would ultimately be its undoing, and in the end Moriv and Junaria stood there looking at each other across the pile of perforated flesh at their feet.

They were both covered in blood and exhausted.  Moriv’s mind cried out for water, but his body was slow to react.  Before he could move, light from torches filled the small grove in the jungle, and people all from different styles of dress stood before them.  They were all armed and looked ready for a fight.

The men looked around at the carnage before them and some of them were suddenly very afraid.  A man with skin as dark as pitch spoke, “We heard noises in the jungle, and thought that someone might be out here getting eaten.  It seems that we were not wrong.” He said, gesturing to the two dismembered corpses of men.

Moriv looked at them all blankly. He was so tired, he barely cared who they were.

“You speak to the Scion of the Great Obsidian Pyramid,” Junaria said as she stepped between the men and Moriv.

The ebony man smiled, “Has the Scion come to fight in the games then?  We men of the Free City of Broken would happily face him in combat.”

“Can he not speak for himself?” A mocking voice called from the crowd.

Junaria casually picked up the intact shield that lay at her feet, slipping out the arm that was still gripping the handle and waited for the situation to decide what it wanted to be.

“He has come to fight,” Moriv said powerfully. “Have you come to show us to the arena?”

One of the other men, with an off-white tabard with a single wide green stripe riding over his armor, stepped forward, “This we can do for you, m’lord Scion.” The man bowed. His skin was pale and he had the look of death about him.  Moriv had heard of the revenants of Flay.  Could this be one?  The man spoke again, “Follow us and we will take you the rest of the way, we are nearly there.”

Moriv nodded and after Junaria had a few moments of prayer over her fallen warrior brothers, the last two souls that had set out from Shatter went on their way.