‘Krul Sails For The Fold’
Warm memories drift into a tortured future …
There are things my body remembers, deep to the bones, things my father must have taught me, though I do not remember him now: how to row, sail and navigate. How to wield a blade and command men. How to disarm an enemy and snap his neck. There are other memories, so detached from me now that I am never certain if they are real… or just parts of songs I’ve heard sung belowdecks.
It seems impossible that once I breathed. That I feasted with brothers. That I ever held a woman, my nose buried in her hair, while she slept.
Now, there is only the pain.
I have carried this torment since the time of your grandfathers’ grandfathers, and if what I seek is not in the Halcyon Fold, I may well carry it generations longer.
I hunger. I desire. But fulfillment never comes. There is no peace in this cursed life, if this can still be called life.
One hope remains. One more chance to be rid of my soul and the steel that binds it – and find my final rest. Every pull of the oar, every splash of sea spray, draws me closer to salvation.
‘Krul, the Tortured Undead’
A soldier bears witness to Krul’s savagery …
The pain crept upward. It went deep into my bones, rose up my legs, churned my belly, gripped my throat. I crawled to the bushes to hide and watched as the minions died, writhing. I watched seasoned warriors twist in agony and collapse without ceremony. I didn’t dare move; I curled up and prayed.
I will never forget: He came out of the shadows, his jaw opened wide in a battle scream, eyes glowing with hate. He is some cursed dead thing that cannot be stopped. You don’t believe me, but it’s true; nothing should be able to survive that wound!
He ripped apart the minions. There were only pieces of things left on the ground when he was done. He clambered away and I crawled here on my belly like a coward. Believe me, he will come for you, too. You’ve been warned.
Now, let me die.
‘What Krul Seeks’
Krul battles his way to hope …
If only it would work.
The turret remains silent, but he can smell recent explosions. Someone is keeping it loaded. Someone is summoning the minions that come through the choke point beyond the turret, past the shambles of what must have once been a rock fortress, in waves. And beyond that someone may be what he seeks.
Krul drags his left leg, nursing a nagging sting of magic in his thigh where some spell hit him earlier. Another someone, now lost to the world. The smell of summoning drifts over the rock face and he grimaces, grinds his teeth. More minions coming. Ugly bastards, no necks, no language, nothing in them but fight. He punches his leg to get the sting out and takes an unnecessary deep breath. A habit from a former existence. The air leaks out through the sucking wound in his chest, fogging up the cold steel trapped there.
Every step is pain, and he runs hard. Catches the biggest of the idiot minions by surprise, flattens him fast, ignore the pain, ignore the pain, ignore the… Tearing into the minion’s belly is good, the only good thing. A distraction from the misery that threatens, in every moment, to lay him flat. The minion’s dark insides are slippery in his hands; their bellies come apart like cobwebs, their legs detach easy as fly wings. He screams into their faces, spewing spittle. His insane laughter echoes through the battleground. Their souls suck away from their dying carcasses and feed him. It is his only satiation.
There is blood, there are limbs, there are gurgling death-screams, there are pieces of once-living creatures clinging to Krul’s teeth and nails when he sees her standing atop the ruins of the fort. Human from the look of her, tall and still as morning, a sword buried between cracks in the rock, eyes impassive. His face, or what is left of it, cracks open into a grin.
“Hullo, beauty!” he calls.
Her response is the slow pulling of her weapon from the rocks, that shing of steel.
“You cannot protect it from me,” he growls. “Best run now and let me at it, before I destroy your best assets.”
She leaps, falling hard onto him, sword front, magic buzzing around her like bees. She is good with her weapon, well trained. He might have respected her, once. She gets a few slashes into him, his half-dead flesh sagging apart where she aims. He swings at her, hits only air, circling, snorting like a devil, dodging as best he can until she turns the sword over her shoulder and pounds him good in the brow with the hilt. He lunges, closes the gap between them, roaring his dead breath onto her, then her valiant cry is cut short by his fist round her throat.
“Pretty thing.” He licks her cheek while she squirms; her sword clatters on the stones between them and he kicks it away. He’s had enough of swords. A squeeze, and her neck breaks in his grip. Her life flows away from her and into him and she collapses, forgotten the moment he steps over her, toward the turret.
There is no one left to man the cannon, to feed it gunpowder and magic, no one to summon the thick-necked bastards. His right foot leaves bloody footprints and his left leg drags smears of minion gut all the way through the choke point, beyond the fortress, to the well.
To the dead well.
Perhaps once, the well had charged crystal; perhaps heroes had once guarded it. Perhaps he would once have found salvation here. But there is nothing now, nothing stirring in the well, only shards of broken crystal lying about, hardly anything worth defending.
Hope lost, the world comes back to him. The rhythmic bzzt bzzt of insects. Birds complaining. Cold coming on, sinking into his muscle, cramping him up all around his eternal wound, whatever is living about him trying to reject the foreign thing rammed through him. Pain and hatred.
He allows himself one agonized scream before stalking back into the bush. There is another road there, to the Halcyon Fold, that he must now take.