Dende (2/18)

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Dende (2/18)

Post by Admin on Tue Feb 18, 2014 9:11 pm

Chapter 1 : Eyes on the prize
He trudged past the massive wooden posts that marked the entrance to his village. Still carrying the heavy panther, he headed straight for his workshop. He glanced around as he made his way over, seeing that most of the village was up and active. No surprise there, it was nearly noon. It was the perfect time to trade and speak with the other men. Very few women were present, they tended to stay in their tents until their husbands returned. Their roles were very distinct here, and often brutally enforced. They did little more than prepare meals and tend to their husbands. Dende never really understood the distinction of roles; the women he has met always seem just as capable to be warriors or hunters as any of the men. He didn’t mind strong women, and was fond of the idea of finding one of his own. This shouldn’t be too difficult either, as soon as he won the tournament. It was only three days away, and he had been preparing for nearly five years. His only concern was Jothren, who was at least as brutal in a fight as he. Sometimes, he even had the upper hand. It didn’t help that Jothren had a few extra years of battle experience over Dende.
“Hey, you kill that all by yourself?” Jothren laughed as he approached Dende.
“I was just thinking about you. Have you been dabbling in mind magic?” Dende mused.
“If only my friend, I would if there was any magic left in the world. You know as well as I it has long since vanished.”
“Indeed. I suppose you will have to rely on your strength to defeat me in the tournament.” Dende winked.
“Please, I’ll rely on nothing more than my left hand. I’ll bind the other to ensure a fair fight.”
“You can keep making jokes, or you can help me gut this beast. Its fur will make a fine garment.”
Dende stepped past the leather curtain sealing his shop from the outside, and Jothren followed. He laid the large cat delicately on his rough stone alter, used to separate what he intended to use from the waste. Jothren stepped up to the alter and examined Dendes kill, apparently impressed with the haul.
“You know, all joking aside, this really is quite a catch. I’ve encountered these before, they’re quick. And smart too, one nearly took my head off when it dropped from a tree.” Jothren walked in a circle around the animal, gazing upon it as one appraising a trade good.
“This one certainly tried to do the same to me, I barely eluded it before cleaving its brain into two halves. In fact I…” Dende hesitated. Did he want to tell Jothren everything that had happened in the forest? Jothren noticed the hesitation, and stopped walking. He fixed his gaze upon Dende, as though trying to discern his thoughts.
“The important thing is that I survived. The catch itself is a bonus, my life is the prize.” Dende turned his back to Jothren, and started preparing his tools. Jothren continued his gaze at the back of Dendes head, aware that something was being left unsaid. He would not press the matter now, it would eventually come to light.
“Dende, how would you feel about a wager?”
Dende laughed, his back still to Jothren.
“Friend, you’ve known me long enough to know that question is redundant. State your wager.”
“The tournament is rapidly approaching, and the stakes are already high. You and I both wish to be promoted to commander of the brotherhood, for the honor of leading our brethren into battle. How about adding an extra incentive?” Jothren tried to conceal a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“Given that my victory is assured, I feel no reluctance to increase my winnings. What did you have in mind?” Dende turned back toward Jothren, and prepared to begin working on the panther.
“Arrogance aside, I propose a ceremonial prize for the winner.” Jothren gazed again upon the dead cat, taking particular notice of its luscious coat.
“You know my wife is talented with skins. Allow me to bring her the pelt of this beast, and she can work it into an elegant cape worthy of the leadership the winner shall attain. Whomever emerges victorious, is donned with the cape.” Jothren looked Dende directly in the eyes, anticipating the glory of the cape this pelt would produce. Dende, held his gaze for a moment, then looked at the cat on his alter. He had to admit, this would make a fine cape. Given, of course, that Jothrens wife didn’t ruin it.
“How can I refuse such a generous offer? Of course, your wife may craft me my future prize.” Dende wore a cocky smirk, and began to split the cat open to separate its skin.
“Then it’s settled. Three days from now, this prize will be given. And Dende…” his voice trailed off, causing Dende to look up from his work, blood covering his hands.
“May the best man emerge victorious.”  Dende stared silently for a moment, then returned to what he was doing.
“That has always been the plan my friend. Now leave me, you are distracting me. You wouldn’t want me to make a mistake with our pretty little pelt, would you?”  Dende spoke softly.
“Indeed, take care friend. I’ve been inspired, I’m off to go train. You’d best do the same, when your hands are… well, clean” Jothren chuckled and exited Dendes workshop. Dende sat and pondered the conversation that just took place. He couldn’t quite place it, but something didn’t feel right. Was it the wager? No, he and Jothren made such wagers frequently. Maybe it was the tournament. The fights were never to death. But as Dende looked down at his hands, still drenched with the animals’ blood, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of foreboding. After a long moment, he put his carving blade down. He needed to get some fresh air.

Chapter 2 : Preparations
With a deafening crack, Dende reduced the practice post to a ball of splinters. He was undoubtedly lethal with a club, but he always preferred precision instruments. He also knew the value of variety.
“Hard at work, I see. You know, when you destroy those training posts, someone else has to replace them,” Bruthen stated as he approached Dende.
“True, but while these posts sacrifice themselves for my training, this village becomes ever safer. You know as well as I that I can slaughter any challenger.” Dende paused after he said this, feeling like it may have come off as a little too arrogant. His leader seemed to have a talent for humbling his men.
“Well, I certainly agree you are formidable… However you still your weaknesses, as do we all.” Bruthen inspected the shredded post, and then turned to face Dende.
“I have heard of you wager with Jothren. Very interesting.”
“Is it? It is nothing more than a friendly wager between comrades.” Dende avoided Bruthen’s gaze.
“Perhaps… I just hope this tournament doesn’t become too serious. In the days when I was young, these tournaments were to the death. I see no sense in throwing away the lives of our precious few men. I assume you agree?” Bruthen began walking behind Dende in a semi circle, as if inspecting him. Dende continued to face forward, refusing to make eye contact.
“Of course. This wager was not intended to change the parameters of the tournament. Just the stakes.” Dende felt a surge of fury, but was unsure of where it was coming from. He quickly stifled it, and calmed himself.
“Good. We’re all brothers here. I know you and Jothren are like family. I just… I don’t want to see history repeat itself.” Bruthen turned and began making his way back to the village center, presumably to commune with some of the other men. Dende was left bewildered. What did Bruthen mean, he didn’t want to see history repeat itself? Did he mean in the tournament? Dende was convinced that wasn’t going to happen, there was no reason for it to. Bruthen was right, he and Jothren had a friendship that couldn’t be found anywhere else in the village. They had been since they were small. But what of that stab or anger? It came seemingly from nowhere. Dende dwelled on that for a moment, sensing there was more going on than he was comprehending. But he had work to do, so he pushed the thought away and picked up short blade, and departed to go for a hike in the mountain range.

Chapter 4: But a taste
Dende heaved himself over a large boulder, which was blocking his path to the Silent Ford. He made his way towards it, knowing he was approaching the most notoriously dangerous river anyone had yet encountered. He approached it cautiously, feeling an almost ominous presence lurking over its translucent green waters. Amazing, how the surface of the river was so calm. It peacefully drifted downstream as a cloud may roll carelessly through an open sapphire sky. This appearance, however, was extremely deceiving. This river has taken more lives since ancient times than any single battle in recorded history. It particularly lured small children, who would use it to play and to bathe. Judging by its appearance, it seems as though it would be good for both. However, under its alluring surface lies a haunting secret. The water underneath the glassy surface is moving much faster than the water above. If you were to put one leg in the water up to your knee, even a strong man would endanger his balance, and therefore his life. Once you become subject to the current of the river, there is no hope for you. The river is deep, almost as deep as it is wide. It is nearly a hundred paces across, and no one is certain about its exact depth. They are certain, however, that anyone who is sucked into its treacherous grip does not resurface. In fact, not a single body has ever been recovered. Its name “silent” is self evident, in that the surface is so quiet that you would not hear it unless you were nearly upon it. To Dende, the silence translated to death. He dipped his canteen into the water, very cautious to keep it shallow. Once it was filled, he capped it and made his way back toward the forest.
He steadied his breathing. He was nearly invisible, crouching low and remaining completely motionless. He sniffed the air, sensing that there was life nearby. An unfamiliar scent caught his attention, but wasn’t sure which direction it was coming from. He didn’t budge, waiting for some sign of movement around him. A twig cracked twenty yards to his right, and he quietly unsheathed his short blade. Taking extra care to be dead silent, he crept in the direction of the sound he heard. He stopped behind a large blueberry bush, taking a mental note to stock up before he left the forest. Then he saw it. Just in front of him, on the other side of the bush. It was a white doe. Dende stood staring in awe. Seeing a white doe was considered a good omen in the lore of his people. None had been seen in over a hundred years. Dende lowered his blade. He would not kill such a beautiful creature. He had been feeling odd since his conversation with Bruthen, almost as though a mist of confusion and anger was creeping into his thoughts. From where this mental fog arose, Dende did not know. But he wished it would leave him. Gazing upon the white doe however, seemed to calm his nerves in a way that nothing else was able. He felt peaceful, almost as if in a trance. He snapped back to reality as the doe vanished before his eyes. What happened? Did he blink? It was just gone! He turned his head in every direction, searching for some sign of the creature. Finding nothing, he looked at the ground lost in thought. Somehow this felt significant, but he couldn’t place the meaning of it. First the odd feeling that came over him while talking with Bruthen, then seeing a white doe, a creature presumed to be mythical. Then it disappeared as he gazed upon it. He must be hallucinating, because deer don’t just vanish. Nothing vanishes. Except that boy he met in the forest the day before. What was he to make of that? He had pushed it out of his mind after it happened, but now that it was resurfacing it troubled him. The boy told him he had power. He couldn’t deny that what happened when the panther attacked was unusual. But was it power? He still didn’t know.
Dende’s head snapped to his left faster than he could blink, and saw a huge Cabbeulsed lumbering toward him, clearly intending to dismember him. He was frozen with shock as he took in this monster’s goliath frame. Nearly ten feet tall, built like a swollen gorilla, with thick tusks the length of his forearm coming out of his carnivorous mouth. His teeth looked like they could separate bones like butter, and his deep black fur was unnaturally loathsome. Dende recovered his senses, and leapt over the blueberry bush just as the beast slammed his huge fists into the ground where Dende was standing. Where was his premonitory power now? This beast seemed to come out of nowhere. There was something odd about this, but he couldn’t see what just yet. He sprinted toward the nearest tree and started climbing. With beasts such as this, it was always wise to have the high ground. They can’t climb, and at the very least it would give him time to hatch a plan. Dende cursed himself under his breath for only bringing his short blade. If only he had his throwing axes. They may not have been enough to slay this beast, but at least it would have given him some options. The lumbering Cabbeulsed rammed into the trunk of the tree and Dende felt it shift slightly. This was not good. He watched as it backed up, preparing for another ram. It looked at him ravenously, evidently hungry. It would be a matter of seconds before the beast uprooted the tree, and Dende would be on foot again. He couldn’t risk close combat with it, there was no way he could slay it. It was too big, too fast, and too resilient. His short blade spelled certain evisceration against a monster this size. It collided with the tree again, and Dende felt the tree sag noticeably. One more good hit and it was going down. He watched it begin backing up again, and his mind raced furiously to hatch a plan. A surge of adrenaline filled his body as he remembered the Silent Ford was only a quarter mile away! But getting there would be a problem. And once he did, how could he lure the beast into it?
He felt a sickening thud as the mammoth beast collided powerfully with the base of the tree, splintering the trunk and sending the towering wood rapidly toward the forest floor. Dende saw the ground approaching, and timed a leap from his branch in such a way that it allowed him to convert his momentum into a body roll. He tumbled twice, then quickly jumped to his feet, eager not to lose any time. He began sprinting towards the Ford, aware that the beast was quickly gaining on him. He saw a large tree ten feet in front of him, and he ran straight for it. At the last second before colliding with it, he dodged around the left of it. He heard a satisfying crack as the Cabbeulsed slammed into it. Luckily for Dende, the beast had a capacity for thought that was inversely proportionate to its size. He didn’t let this thought slow him down however, because the beast quickly recovered and began pursuing again. It was much faster than he was, but luckily for him they were in a dense forest, with many trees to dodge. His heart was pounding and his head throbbed as we weaved around trees, heading towards the edge of the forest. He could hear the beast running into trees behind him, clumsy in its haste to catch him. This was buying him precious time, but the beast was so fast that he couldn’t put much distance between them. He was maybe a hundred yards from the edge of the forest, and he realized he had another problem. When he broke the tree line, there was a clearing before he could reach the edge of the water. This meant that for about ten seconds, he would be racing against the beast with no trees to obstruct his pursuer. He wasn’t sure if he could make it. In fact, he wasn’t sure what he would do when he got there. Something inside him told him the Ford was his best chance at defeating the beast, but his odds of survival were no better. Finally, he broke the tree line. This was the final stretch. He quickly glanced over his shoulder, and saw the beast nearly bowl over the last tree as he broke into the clearing. Dende put every ounce of life he had into this final sprint. He struggled to breath and he could barely think, but something caught his eye. As the gap closed between the beast and his backside, he noticed a set of large stones maybe twenty feet from the edge of the river. They appeared to be stuck deep, not being swept away by the force of the current. The two nearest stones seemed to be pushing against one another, and he thought that perhaps he could use them as a wedge. With no other options, Dende made a split second decision. He got to the edge of the Ford still going full speed, and used his last three steps to prepare himself for a flying leap toward the stones in the Ford. As he flew, he brought his short sword over his head, and with all his might stabbed his blade into the slim space between the rocks as he came down upon it. His blade barely reached the stones, but was sharp enough and was thrust with enough force to pierce the gap between large rocks. Dendes body slammed into the water, but he immediately pulled with all his might toward the blade, and managed to attach himself to the stones. His biceps strained to the point that Dende felt they might tear, because the force of the current threatened to consume him. He turned his head back gasping for breath, to see the Cabbeulsed trudging through the water attempting to reach him. It took a few steps closer, evidently struggling to stay upright amidst the powerful torrent of water beneath it. Dende watched as it reached for him, moving closer slowly. He could do nothing but watch, and struggle desperately not to be sucked away himself. The beast couldn’t reach Dende from where it was standing, and Dende could almost see the huge creature ponder its options. Finally, it decided to follow Dendes’ example and make a leap, even though these creatures were not built for it. Dende watched in horror as is crouched, and made an astonishingly far jump from the few feet of water he was in toward Dende. It seemed to be in the air forever, considering this leap would determine Dendes fate. Its massive hand reached for Dende as it flew, and looked as though it might make the grab. The first part of the Cabbeulsed to hit the water was his feet. As soon as they got further than a few inches into the water, the power of the Ford consumed it. Still reaching for Dende, the beast was sucked under the surface of the water. Dende watched in horror as the large black mass under the water ripped away from him at an alarming speed. His foe was surely lost to the world forever. He took little comfort in this victory however, because his fate seemed likely to be the same. His muscles burned as he resisted the violent pull of the Silent Ford. How was he going to get out of this? He tried to pull himself up onto the rock and get out of the water. He slowly resisted the current enough to pull his shoulders and chest up and out. He brought his legs forward to try and grip the stones, and he felt his abdominals burn from forcing the crunching motion. He slowly brought one leg up, and found a notch in the stone big enough to use as a step. He began to push up and rise out of the water, when his foot slipped. His head came forward and slammed brutally into the stone, and he felt a surge of blood rush from his face. His nose may have been broken, but at the moment, every ounce of his focus was diverted to desperately not being swept away. He was back in the position where his whole body was getting sucked into the current, and only his aching biceps held him there. He felt a wave of grief overcome him, and he began to weep. He knew this was the end. There was no point in resisting the river any more, the last of his strength was beginning to fade.
“You look like you could use a hand.”
Dende whipped his head around in the direction of the voice, and was astonished to see the boy he met the day before.
“Help me! I can’t hold on much longer!” Dende felt a stab of despair even as he said this. How was this small boy going to help him?
“Are you sure about that?” The boy cracked a smile, and slowly raised his arm. He pointed his index finger at Dende, and the tip of his finger began glowing green. Dende watched in amazement, not comprehending what was happening. His focus returned to himself when he realized his arms no longer burned. He looked down at the water and the blood ceased to drip from his face. He was still being pulled by the current, but somehow its’ potency seemed to be lessened. He cautiously pulled himself closer to the stones, hesitant to take the next step. Feeling fairly stable, he removed one hand from the blade, and reached up over the stone. To his surprise, he was able to heave himself out of the water with relative ease. He repositioned himself on top of the stone, surveying the water beneath him, dazed and perplexed at what had just happened to him. He looked up at the boy, who was still smiling at him.
“Come.” The boy waved to Dende, as though inviting him back.
“I can’t. I made it out here with a running start. I couldn’t possibly make the leap back.”
“You have so little faith. A moment ago, you didn’t think you could make it out of the water. Now, after doing the impossible, you still set limits for yourself?” The boy crouched down, wearing a mischievous grin. Dende did feel different. Refreshed. Stronger, even. Could he make the jump? He didn’t seem to have much choice; he couldn’t stay upon the rock. He coiled up his muscles, as a tiger does when preparing to pounce. With a mighty release, he launched forward toward the river bank. He sailed over the water, and made it to the edge with room to spare. He landed perhaps a few feet from the water’s edge, and tucked into a roll. He rose to his feet, and looked at the boy. He wasn’t sure what to say. Clearly, the boy had somehow imparted power to him. Who was he? And how did he obtain this power?
“The beast you just killed, did you notice anything odd about it?” The boy lingered for a moment, then broke Dendes gaze to look out over the deceptively calm surface of the Silent Ford.
Dende paused for a moment, still bewildered at this strange turn of events. He thought back to when he first encountered the creature. There was something odd about its appearance. First of all, cabbeulseds were not known to be in this region. In fact, he had never heard of these beasts appearing on the western side of the Wyldian Ridge mountain range. On flat ground, the distance alone would take eight days on horseback. Including the mountain range, it is a two week journey. And yet, this beast had found its way to the Silent Ford. But that wasn’t the most peculiar thing about this unexpected encounter. The cabbeulsed appeared different than any creature he had ever seen, or even heard spoken of. Its fur was as black as charcoal, like a walking nightmare. And its’ eyes… its’ eyes were crimson like pools of blood. Surely no beast like this had ever been seen. Dende stared over the Ford into the mountains, lost in thought, when the boy began speaking again.
“Would you like the answers?”
“Answers to what?”  Dende slowly returned his gaze to the boy, his face solemn.
“The questions racing through your mind. I can help to illuminate the mystery.”
“Fine. Then illuminate. Who are you? And where did you get your power from?”
The boy chuckled, and turned to the side, surveying the rocks on the ground.
“I learned what I needed to. Nothing more. Power is inextricably connected to knowledge.”
“You didn’t answer my first question,” Dende grunted.
“And to that, you won’t receive an answer. Not just yet.” The boy turned and began walking away, and Dende felt a stab of panic. He realized he had no control over the boy, and in fact, did not know the full scope of his power. For all he knew, the boy could slay him with ease.
“Wait… if you will not answer that question, will you answer others?”
“What was wrong with that creatures’ appearance? And how did it get here?”
“Ahh… these are good questions. With no simple answers. Let me answer both questions with a story.” Dende was amused at the demeanor of the boy. He was confident and playful, yet somber and deep. There was an air of adventure around him, and yet there were brief moments when Dende felt a touch of darkness in the atmosphere. This boy was hiding something. He had a secret that made Dende feel a creeping cold grip his heart. But for whatever reason, this boy had saved his life. For that, he would hear what he had to say.

Chapter 5: The Sadistic Order

“Sit down, and rest. I will tell you everything you need to know.” The boy pointed to a smooth stone behind Dende, and Dende slowly took a seat. The boy sat cross-legged across from him, and eyed him curiously.
“My name is Calvaine. I think it’s time you knew how to address me.”
Dende eyed the boy, still not sure what to make of him. He was certainly more than he seemed, and Dende was drawn to his mysterious power. For a boy no older than 16 by all appearances, he held himself with a confidence that was unprecedented.
“Finally. I no longer need to refer to you as ‘boy’ anymore.” Dende eventually replied.
“You are a hunter by trade, correct?” The boy looked intensely at Dende.
“I am. I feed myself, and trade any extra meat and skins for things that I need. Why do you ask?”
“As a hunter, you must have trained your senses to be quite adept. Otherwise, you would be a terrible hunter. You clearly are not a terrible hunter, judging by your performance against that monstrosity.”
“I suppose not. I have been hunting since I was small, younger than you, I would imagine.” Dende began unlacing his boots, to take them off.
“Tell me. Did you notice anything strange about this encounter you narrowly survived today?”
Dende paused for a moment, as he reflected upon the experience. He ripped his boots off his feet one by one, and began massaging them. He noted a blister on one of his toes, from his frantic pace escaping the cabbeulsed.
“Well for one, cabbeulseds do not belong here. I have never seen one on this side of the Wyldian Ridge.”
Calvaine studied him. “Anything else?”
“Its fur. They are typically clothed in white fur, sometimes gray. Never black. Something was wrong with that creature.”
“Hmm.. go on.”
“Its eyes… They were glowing red. I have never seen such a thing. It was as though it had crawled out of a pit in the land of Sasinth.” Dende shuddered at the thought.
Calvaine rose from his seated position, and turned his back towards Dende. He seemed to be staring off into the distance, contemplating thoughts grander than the cosmos. Dende wasn’t sure what to say, so he waited for Calvaine to respond. After a moment that felt like hours, Calvaine turned back towards Dende, and his eyes were swimming with tears.
“Do you value life, Dende?”
Dende was stunned. This sudden display of emotion, of vulnerability, was striking.
“Of course.”
“What kind of life?”
“People, I suppose. I value my friends, and my village. And though my allegiance lies with them, and to my chief, I suppose I value the lives of the other barbarians from here to Rimhearth.”
Calvaine paused, as though searching for the right words.
“It’s interesting you mention Rimhearth. But we’ll come back to that in a moment. Who do you care most about? Who in your life is the most valuable to you?”
Dende hesitated, but only briefly. “My friend Jothren. He and I have been sparring partners for as long as I have wielded a blade.”
“What if he were to be slain?” Calvaine wore a look of concern, and the way he said this made Dendes blood run cold.
“If he were slain, I would be devastated. But he is quite competent at defending himself, and we have no enemies. I do not worry for him.”
“You have no enemies? Why, then, did I have to intervene and spare your life just moments ago?”
Dende paused, not comprehending the connection.
“That was a beast, not an enemy.” Dende returned his attention to his weary feet.
“Have you forgotten your first two questions? You asked me why the beast looked strange, and from where had it come. You have not yet received an answer, are you satisfied with that?”
Dende eyed the boy, following his logic. He was very curious about the beast, but he had been temporarily distracted by his conversation with the boy. Now that Calvaine had reminded him, he was indeed very hungry for answers about the beast.
“Very well. You claim to have answers, and I want to receive them.”
Calvaine looked at him solemnly, though Dende was sure he saw a smile flash through his eyes.  
“I promised you a story. Are you ready?”
Dende felt like in any other situation, he would be annoyed at the banter. Of course he was ready! Somehow, though, he was so intrigued by Calvaine that he couldn’t wait for the story. He felt no frustration, no apprehension, only desire.
“I am ready. Tell me.”
“I never said I would tell you anything. I will, however, show you.” Calvaine whispered. He stared intently at Dende, before leaning forward and poking him softly on the forehead. Dende looked at Calvaine stunned, totally perplexed at the boys action. In his confusion, he became aware that he was lying on the ground, unable to move. More curiously, the world around him seemed to be melting away into utter darkness. Dende lost all consciousness, and the blackness utterly consumed him.
Chapter 6:
Dende opened his eyes. He blinked. He was not prepared for the colors that greeted his vision. He beheld a luscious green field full of daisies, with massive trees of unparalleled grandeur bordering his view. Mountains rolling in the distance, giving the impression that this was a coveted paradise, protected from the twisted hands that polluted the rest of this beautiful world.  Everything was indescribably beautiful, and yet there was a haze blanketing his sight that he couldn’t shake. It suddenly dawned upon him… he was seeing a vision.
Creatures began appearing over the hillside, approaching a babbling creek to take a long drink after an even longer trek. They surely needed to rest. As they drew closer, Dende was able to recognize their shape through the haze. They were large, bulky creatures. Hazy white fur, slow pace, clearly strong. Dende suddenly realized.. they were cabbeulseds. This is what he was brought here to see. They approached the creek, somewhat cautiously. A few of them began looking around curiously, totally unaware of Dendes passive presence. There didn’t seem to be anyone else in sight. Finally, one of the cabbeulseds braved a drink. He tasted the water, and finding it pleasing, began to drink deeply. The creatures on the outskirts of the group gave up their attempts at caution and raced to the edge of the creek to join their companions. Soon, all of them, maybe 12 in all, were taking long, satisfying gulps from the rushing water. But Dende saw something in the water.. But he couldn’t identify it. It didn’t look solid. In fact, it didn’t even look liquid. He could only describe it in his mind as a presence. Something was occupying that water, and the poor creatures were drinking it in as though their lives depended on it. Dende felt a deep sense of terror as they finished drinking and began moving away from the creek. Their innocent bliss ripped at Dendes heart with a ferocious tug, because for some reason Dende could feel what was coming. Dende watched in horror as they creatures all began to behave curiously. Each one of them, not simultaneously, began looking toubled. One by one, they would let out a horrendous moan, and then fall to the earth, twitching and convulsing. Dendes eyes were wide as he watched this dark show.  Before his eyes, the seemingly poisoned creatures began to decay. Their fur began scorching, not with literal flames, but they became dark as though they had been burned to the flesh. Those whose eyes Dende could see became glassy, and started filling with blood. He could see the eyes turning red, and he realized what he was witnessing. He was seeing how the creature he has just survived had been born. Dende continued to gaze, but his horror was being replaced with awe. It finally made sense. He began reflecting on the attack of the dark cabbeulsed, and all of the things that seemed wrong about the creature. This explained its origin. But why was the boy showing him this?
Dende blinked again, realizing that he wasn’t in the field anymore. He saw water rushing, but it wasn’t the creek that housed the dark presence. In fact, everything looked sideways, and Dende realized it was because he was lying down from being poked by Calvaine. Wait, what? Dende sat up quickly, in shock over what had just happened.
“What the hell did you do to me?” Dende was slack jawed, staring at the boy in utter disbelief.
“You know, you have a little something on your cheek…” Calvaine chuckled.
Dende was taken aback, and slowly touched his cheek, only to discover that it was quite moist. Drool. He had been drooling whilst watching this tragic story in his mind. He wiped it quickly and averted his eyes from the mysterious boy.
“I don’t mean to embarrass you, I just thought you would rather I tell you than let you discover it afterwards. Did you see what you needed to see?” Cal eyed Dende with expectancy.
“I’m rather overwhelmed at the moment. I’m not sure what is more boggling, the vision itself, or your ability to bestow it upon me. Who in the name of Ithoras creation are you?”
“The answer to that would take a lifetime to tell. You know my name, I am called Calvaine. Everything else will come in time. But you are not really focusing on what is important here. What did you see?”
Dende paused, seemingly stopped in his tracks. He allowed his mind to return to the glorious dwelling. The luscious green fields, the invitingly lush tree line, and the protective mountains bordering the distance. He recalled the small pack of large creatures, native cabbeulseds. He recollected the darkness swirling in the water, which the unsuspecting creatures drank in deeply. He relived watching them die, the innocence rotting away until all that was left was a putrid evil. What was left was one of the monstrosities that nearly killed him just minutes ago.
“I saw where the beast came from. But the answer only provokes more questions. I saw the water, and there was something stirring inside of it, something dark. What was it?” Dende seemed short of breath, and his heart was pounding. He struggled to steady his nerves, this was not like him.
“That, my dear Dende, is exactly why I have met you here today. There is something coming, and you are the only one who has any hope of preventing it.”
Dende looked at Calvaine blankly, and then returned his gaze to the ground. The boys words carried tremendous authority, and Dende wasn’t sure he felt ready to submit to them.
“What is coming? What was that darkness that twisted and distorted those peaceful creatures?”
“The darkness is a manifestation. It is a visual representation of those who would see this world razed to the ground. It is the brood of the necromancers.”
Dende felt dizzy. He tried to bring himself back to focus on Calvaines words, and found it difficult.
“The necromancers? What necromancers?”
“Ah, Dende… Of course, it could only be the necromancers of Rimhearth.”
“Rimhearth? What have they to do with that darkness?”
“I told you, the darkness is their offspring. It is a tool at their disposal, and the fruit of their labor. It is what created the creature you bested today.. But I assure you, that was not the end.”
Calvaine stood up slowly, eyeing Dende. Dende instinctively stood as well, towering over the boy. And yet, he felt like the boy was distinctly his superior. He was not used to looking at those of shorter stature and fewer years of age as being greater than he. He felt a curious admiration for this mysterious child.. No, not a child. Of course he appeared as such, but he has the presence and wisdom of a seasoned man. This child was a conundrum. Unfortunately for Dende, his head was still a little hazy and couldn’t make sense of the boy. For now, he would just listen and absorb.
“A tool, you say… For what?” Dende finally managed to emote slowly.
Calvaines face seemed to darken, and he shifted his countenance downward. He looked at Dende with an expression that left him feeling cold and empty.
“For decimation.”
Chapter 7: Seeds
Dende didn’t remember making it back to his tent. He was sprawled out on his bed, lost in a haze as though in a trance. He wasn’t sure how long he had been lying there. The boy had told him things that changed everything about the world he thought he was living in. Nothing was safe, nothing was protected. Calvaine had told him about the necromancers, and about their chilling plan to slaughter his people. They have used their particularly decrepit skills to conjure a dark force that contaminates water supply. This darkness invades an unsuspecting creature, turning it into a crazed monster. These monsters wreck havoc upon the target cities that these necromancers have selected. By the guiding hand of nefarious dark princes, cities and civilizations would crumble and burn. This small army of raging beasts would be used to slaughter all that Dende loved and cherished. He couldn’t let that happen. He was a warrior, after all. It was his unspoken duty to rid the world of such heinous evil. That is exactly what he must do.
Dende jumped out of bed, heart pounding and instincts ready for battle. What was that sound? Dende grabbed a short sword from beside his bed and opened his tent flap. As he exited into the open air, he struggled to resist being overwhelmed by the brightness outside. After a moment his vision began to adjust, and he beheld what caused the sound.
“Dende, finally, you’re awake! Come give a hand, we need your muscle!”
Dende blinked, and realized it was his brother in arms, Jothren. They were moving heavy stone slabs into place to serve as the tournament foundation. Of course! The tournament began tomorrow. Dende swiftly paced to Jothren’s side, and relieved some of the burden from his friends shoulders. They grunted and heaved, and gently lowered the heavy platform into its proper place.
“You know, it takes a strong man to admit his muscles are insufficient.” Dende smirked.
“Hah..  It takes an even stronger man to never need help in the first place. Unfortunately for my pride, I am no such man.” Jothren returned the mischievous smile, and surveyed the scene. They had set up nearly half of the tournament platform, which meant there was still a lot of work to do.
“So, why were you up so late Dende? Half of the morning is gone.”
Dende hesitated, unsure how to respond. Should he tell him of the boy? No, certainly not. He wasn’t even sure HE understood what was going on, there was no way he could possibly explain to Jothren. But what about the necromancers? He had to do something. But what? That is a very difficult question to answer. The tournament begins tomorrow, and he must participate.. he will worry about Rimhearth after he has won.
“I’m employing strategy. I intend to sleep for half of the day to store as much energy as possible, thus having ample resources to defeat you in front of the whole village tomorrow.” Dende winked at his friend.
“Oh is that so? You know, it takes a strong man to admit he needs to sleep like a dead man in order to win a skirmish. Perhaps rather you are predicting your own demise?” Jothren tried to keep a straight face and failed. They caught each other’s eye and simultaneously erupted into hearty laughter at the banter.


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