November 13, 1993
Tarlyn stared down from the ridge at his companion’s campsite and the fire they had just started. As he reached back to tie his long dark hair, the moonlight reflected off the runes etched in the silver bracers on his forearms. He was at home in the night, it was his element. He idly swirled the hem of his voluminous dark cloak as he turned to walk down the embankment. Dressed all in black he blended into the night, almost to the point of invisibility.
As he silently approached the camp, he heard his friends talking quietly as they fed and watered their horses. He could hear Shandra making some comment about Darius’s age. Shandra was in her late twenties and enjoyed teasing the older man because he was almost twice as old as her. Tarlyn smirked to himself. It’s a good thing she doesn’t know how old I really am, he thought. Although if I told her she would never believe me anyway.
As he approached the fire he noticed that neither of them had noticed him yet. Some habits die hard, he thought, when your mind is wandering off someplace training takes over. He hadn’t meant to sneak up on them but now that he was this close he might as well have some fun. Silently he stalked up behind Shandra, and while she was facing Darius he leaned down. In one fluent movement he picked up Shandra’s swords from where she had set them beside her, and flicked them so that they spun in an arc to land point first in ground right beside Darius.
Shandra spun around to grab her blades in an effort to face the oncoming attack only to realise that those were hers that had been thrown. Meanwhile Darius had jumped to his feet and was instinctively starting an attack combination that began with a flying spin kick to the opponent’s head. Tarlyn recognized the move so he was prepared for it. Just before the blow landed, he grasped hold of Darius’s ankle with both hands and spun him in a circle as he pivoted on his heel. When Darius was lined up with the stunned Shandra he released his hold and sent both tumbling to the ground in a tangled mass.
“What if I had been the enemy,” he scolded as they regained their feet. “You would have been dragon bait.”
“First of all,” grumbled Darius as he rubbed a sore spot, “you are not the enemy. Secondly we are hunting Goblins, not ghosts, and I know they don’t move that stealthily.”
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” said Shandra as she retrieved her shortswords and sheathed them at her side. “You scared the living daylights out of me. I thought the Goblins were attacking us.”
“Well if you stay here a few seconds longer, they just might.” Tarlyn said calmly, “Considering there is a party of Goblins heading directly for us right now.”
“What! Already,” sputtered Darius, “but we just entered their territory. They usually don’t notice intruders for several hours at least.”
“Well their new leader is obviously smarter than the previous ones,” replied Shandra as she saddled up her horse. “He’s got them running patrols. I’m just dying to meet the creature that can convince a pack of Goblins to follow his lead.”
“Well watch out,” said Tarlyn, “because whoever this new leader is he’s not just smarter than the last one, he’s also more ruthless. Just take the massacre of that last farmstead as an example.”
Everyone recalled the horror they had witnessed when they had arrived at the burning ruins that, until recently, had been a small thriving community. They could only helplessly watch as the last survivor told them with her dying words that an army of Goblins had done it. She had also imparted that the Goblin horde had a new leader, recently appointed.
“Filthy Goblins,” she had rasped, “spawn from the pits of hell they are. Killed me husband and infant daughter they did. Five years passed since they walked into the forest and never returned. Filthy Goblins.” She whispered as her last breath left her lungs.
And so the three companions had decided to hunt down this new Goblin king and put a stop to his rampage of violence. Since taking up the quest they had encountered four more villages that bordered the forest that had also been sacked and burned. After weeks of tracking this was the first time they had caught sight of a single Goblin.
They were all spoiling for a fight, and welcomed the coming confrontation.
Darius unslung his long bow and knocked an arrow to test if it had been damaged in the scuffle. “How many?” he asked bluntly.
“Oh, not to many,” replied Tarlyn, “I’d say about twenty or so.”
“Just enough for some fun.” Commented Shandra as she unsheathed her shortswords and tested their edge with a strand of her long coppery curls. The two horses were resting near a tree unaware of the coming fight.
“I think I’ll just go and whittle their numbers down a bit before they get to you,” called Tarlyn as he withdrew his long black sword from its sheath across his back. The silver hilt flashed once in the moonlight and then he was gone. Lost from their sight in the dense forest. His voice floated back to them from somewhere in the darkness: “Try and set an ambush up for them before I get back.”
“I wish he would explain how he just vanishes like that.” Exclaimed Darius. Shandra just shrugged and moved the horses farther from the path. After hiding the mounts in the dense underbrush she and her companion set out to find a hiding place for themselves.
At that moment Tarlyn chose to burst into sight, and he was not alone. Behind him a horde of goblins pursued him, howling and screaming for blood. Tarlyn brandished his black long sword in dazzling patterns of swordsmanship that made the silver hilt hypnotising to look at in the moonlight. Once, twice, and again the blade repeatedly cleaved through his enemies as Tarlyn expertly dispatched half a dozen of his closest pursuers.
“Slight miscalculation boys and girls, my maths tutor would be very disappointed with me, if he were still alive today.” Yelled Tarlyn as he skidded to a halt beside his companions, “There were a few more than I counted the first time. Say about fifty. But I dispatched some to their makers on the way here.” He said as he reached in his pocket and pulled out a ruby the colour hot steel, muttering quickly to himself he fingered the gem. He jerked his head up as the Goblin horde advanced.
“Wait! Please don’t kill us!” he whined as he ran up to them, “If you spare our lives I will give you this priceless ruby.” Tarlyn raised his hand so that all the Goblins could see. Their charge ground to a halt as the greedy creatures pondered the proposition. One Goblin stepped forward.
“Throw here!” he yelled, raising his hands.
“Okay, but you asked for it,” yelled Tarlyn as he hurled the red ruby into the midst of the Goblins. On impact the gem exploded in a ball of fire that measured several yards in radius.
On the fringe of the explosion the surviving goblins fled from the disaster, some were unlucky enough to meet the swords of Tarlyn and Shandra. Quite a few of the Goblins that escaped his companions' whirling blades of death found themselves transfixed by an arrow through the chest, courtesy of Darius and his long bow. When it was all over three quarters of the goblin horde was either dead or dying and the rest had fled into the forest.
“How in heck’s name did you do that?” Darius asked nervously, as he pointed at the crater in the middle of the path while staring straight into Tarlyn’s lavender eyes.
“It’s a trick,” stated Tarlyn as he bent down to examine the dead body of the group’s leader. He mumbled a few words over the corpse before standing up.
“A trick!……A TRICK!….That trick killed most of those goblins!”
“Calm down Darius,” scolded Shandra, “we know your old age is taking its toll on your mental capacities but now is not the time to flip out.”
“I am NOT flipping out,” said Darius, “I merely wish to know how he did that.”
“I learned it from a wizard,” Tarlyn said calmly as he led their horses from their concealment. He handed the reins to his companions before looking across the valley to the foothills beyond.
“Do you see that big bonfire up there on the hill over there?” asked Tarlyn. Both indicated that they did. “Good. I will meet you there tomorrow night.” With that he ran and jumped off the ridge into the forest below.
“I swear, that man has no regard for his own life,” said Darius in exasperation, “at the rate he’s going he will die young!”
“Quit your complaining and let’s get going or he’ll beat us there,” replied Shandra as she mounted her horse and started to ride toward the section that Tarlyn had pointed out. The light from the bonfire could be seen as it reflected off the foothills and the sky. A beacon to any foolhardy enough to attack an armed camp of Goblins.
* * * * *
It took them two days to cross the valley and climb the adjacent foothills. Finally by nightfall of the third day they were situated above the goblin’s main camp. It was a large plateau filled with dirty tepees and in the centre there was a large bonfire burning in front of a pavilion. The bonfire was kept burning all day and all night long, so the pavilion was stained with ashes blown from the fire.
“You’re late,” observed Tarlyn as he materialised out of the bushes surrounding his companion’s vantage point.
“Don’t scare me like that!” yelped Darius.
“Be quiet,” whispered Shandra as she observed the camp.
“That must be the leader’s tent,” said Tarlyn as he pointed toward the large pavilion, “the outlining areas aren’t too well lit. We should be able to sneak in and take out the King and his captains before anyone notices.”
“Hadn’t you better get down out of sight,” Darius said caustically, “before someone sees us and blows our cover?”
“If you can’t see me from twenty feet away, what makes you think that they can see me two-hundred feet away?” pointed out Tarlyn, “Now let’s go down and put His Worship the Goblin king out of business.”
“Finally,” said Darius as he rubbed his hands together, “let’s hide the horses and go down and have some fun!”
“And he calls them barbarians,” Shandra said dryly as she watched Darius lead the horses into the bushes.
“I think I’ll go and check out how well their sentries are patrolling the perimeter,” whispered Tarlyn as he slipped into the darkness and made his way silently down the hill.
“I really hate how he does that,” growled Darius as he crawled back to his vantage point, “he just melds into the night and he’s gone. Not even a trace, no broken branches or footprints, not even a rustle even when he’s travelling through dense underbrush. It’s unnatural.”
“You know, I’ve noticed there’s a lot you don’t like about what he does.” Replied Shandra.
“Well face it,” whispered Darius, “how long have we known him? Eleven years? Twelve? In all this time I haven’t even seen him age a single day, he can run faster than my horse can for heaven’s sake, and his eyes! Have you ever seen anyone else with silver eyes? I surely haven’t.”
“So he’s different,” replied Shandra, “he’s saved both our lives more times than I can count and he’s the best damn swordsman I’ve ever seen. When I see him fight it makes me think about those old tales about the Bladesingers.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” laughed Darius, “The last Bladesinger died three hundred or more years ago. The God that gave birth to them is no longer alive. No, the legacy of the Bladesingers died out long ago.” But even as Darius said this his thoughts recalled how, as a boy, he had clung to the tales of the Bladesingers and had aspired to be just like them. He also recalled that the legends didn’t say that all the Bladesingers were dead. Everyone just supposed they were since none had stepped forward and identified themselves.
At that moment Tarlyn appeared out of the brush and beckoned them over.
“I thinned out the ranks of their guards a bit, so we should be able to get in undetected.”
“Let’s go,” grunted Darius as he started to move stealthily toward the camp. Thinking that, as usual, his compatriot had probably understated his accomplishments again.
* * * * *
The guard was walking his rounds when he heard a sound from his right. He turned around to see two figures sneaking into the camp. Just as he was about to call out a pair of hands reached out from the darkness and clamped onto his head like a vice. With a single deft twist Tarlyn snapped the goblin’s neck before it could sound the alarm.
Darius stepped swiftly into the first tent he came to and found himself staring into the back of a Goblin. Nonchalantly he tapped the creature on the shoulder. The Goblin spun around only to encounter a punch to the face that felt like a hundred pounds of bricks. Shandra stuck her head in the tent to see what was going on.
“Sorry,” whispered Darius, “no more left.”
Shandra put on a pouting look and deftly flicked a dagger over Darius’s shoulder. Darius spun around just in time to see a Goblin, that had been about to run him through, slump over dead with a dagger in its throat. He turned back to thank Shandra only to find her gone.
Slowly and methodically the companions made their way to the centre of the camp. Behind them lay silence and the stillness only brought on by death.
* * * * *
The Goblin hated having to stand guard when he could be in bed asleep. Idly he ripped the legs of a bird he had just caught, he relished in its screams of pain just before he tore its head off. A slight movement in his peripheral vision caused him to spin to his right. Finding nothing there he turned back to take his position by the doorway. Suddenly a figure detached itself from the shadows of the tent and sliced his head off with a long, black, deadly blade. He was conscious of the fact that his dying scream had brought the whole camp running.
* * * * *
“Now we’re in deep trouble,” yelled Darius as he executed a lightning combination of kicks and hand motions, leaving two Goblins with broken legs and another whose head was at a right angle to its neck. So far he had only acquired a few scratches in the fight, and that’s how he intended to keep it.
“Ya don’t say,” drawled Shandra as she eviscerated a Goblin with its own weapon. Quickly she sidestepped another oncoming Goblin, and stabbed it through the heart as it passed. A sudden pain in her side brought to her attention that she had missed one. Swiftly she pivoted and struck the Goblins stone dagger from its hand. On the second swing she reversed her grip on the hilt and plunged her sword into the Goblins chest. As it slumped to the ground she was already turning to her next opponent.
Tarlyn meanwhile was a whirlwind of death, the area around him was littered with dead bodies numbering in the twenties. He was an untouchable demon of darkness, his cloak flowing out from him revealing his glowing silver bracers. Eyes glowing with an inner red light, his swirling black blade causing disaster in the ranks of the Goblin horde, he slowly advanced. Up and down the razor sharp blade swooped, slashing to the side and plunging indiscriminately into Goblin bodies.
“Save the King!” went up the cry among the Goblins. They clustered around the throne as it, and the occupant, were carried away.
“Hurry,” yelled Shandra, “We have to catch him. He’s getting away!” She yelled as she ran toward the group. Slashing at the mass of Goblins in an effort to break through. Tarlyn was still occupied by most of the Goblin army, with no chance to break free in time to intercept the fleeing king.
Darius unslung his bow and knocked an arrow. He sighted down its shaft at the figure sitting upon the Goblin throne as it waved commands to its followers. Urging them on, screeching at them to kill the intruders. With a twang, Darius released the arrow. It sped to its destination with deadly accuracy. The figure in the throne slumped lifelessly in its seat.
Upon seeing this, the Goblin’s morale broke and they fled whimpering into the forest. The Companions slowly picked their way through the field of death toward the creature that had ordered the death of hundreds of innocent human beings.
When they reached the dead body of the Goblin king, they all stood still in shock. Then slowly Tarlyn picked the body of the king from the throne and cradled it in his arms. Gently he cleaned the blood painted chieftain marks from the tiny face. Revealing that of a seven-year-old girl with dirty long dark hair braided between human bones. Their thoughts were drawn back to the memory of the first ravaged farmstead they had come across, and the dying words of a woman.