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Tales of Conan - A Homeland Torn

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Age of Conan - Fictional Story Series - #7
by Michael Lafferty

GameZone.com presents another in a series of original fictional stories by Michael Lafferty stemming from the massively multiplayer online world of Age of Conan - Hyborian Adventures. The following story was written with the permission and cooperation of Funcom, the developer of the game. This tale continues a series of stories that deal with the world, the characters and the lore involved in Hyboria. Some of these stories may contain spoilers for quests, so by Crom, be forewarned!

A Homeland Torn

The metallic slither of whetstone against blade underscored the snap and crackle of wood consumed by fire. Occasionally, a soft sob interrupted the symphony produced by the lone weapon, but Cimmerian women were generally not prone to flirtation with the tears of sadness – at least not in public. The strong women of the northern nation would deny the tears, take up steel and seek vengeance for loses. Such was the way of the nation, from clan to clan.

The barbarian hunched near the fire of a burning hut, sharpening the edge of his greatsword while the smoke wrapped around his form like an extra layer of wolf skin, staving off the cold that descended each twilight from the mountains above the valley.

A tall woman nearby pulled the fur collar of her cloak tighter to her throat, her eyes casting furtive glances in the direction of the woman outlined by the fire of her burning home. There was a memory in this for her, not tangible but rather something she felt deep within. It chilled her moreso than the winds rolling down off the mountainside and sweeping through the settlement of Clan Moragh.

“Beren,” she said softly, “these people are in great pain … the pain of loss.”

Few called the barbarian honing the edge of his greatsword by his first name. Few knew it. To most he was simply Ravenwar, a man of few words, and most of those were uttered by the sword strapped to his back.

But her words stopped his labors, for the moment. He considered them; there was more there than surface meaning.

“No more than the rest of us,” he finally said.

Daphnae Aesileif turned her head slightly to look at the barbarian. He had returned to the labor of his sword, but she could see the marking on his face, a blue-black raven, was hunched. His brow was furrowed and she knew that he was forcing his mind to the weapon and away from whatever memories tugged at him. She had met him on the streets of a distant Barachian isle, both trying to remember that which had been torn from them by foul magic. They had fought together on the streets, blood flowing in tiny rivers of life washing away. His greatsword had cut swaths through the attackers while her twin blades sang a different tune, but one that was no less deadly. Back to back in the battle they had fought, and fought, until the enemies ceased to press them, until there were no enemies left to fight.

What really did she know of him? When he laughed, his eyes danced. But that was not often. If he remembered his own clan, he did not say, but she would almost swear to Crom that there were times when something within him stirred and his eyes looked far away into the past. A flicker of pain and then his eyes refocused on what was before him. His clothing was sparse at best, too much, in fact, for the cold of this valley, but if it affected him, he did not show it. That, too, was buried.

The shimmering song of the whetstone on the sword ended with one slow note. Rocks beneath his feet protested as Ravenwar rose to his feet, slinging the sword to his back.

“There is work to be done,” he said and turned in the direction of the settlement’s main gate.

This was a clan besieged by Vanir and worse, the Ymir. The people of the clan had a haunted, somewhat gaunt look. They were slowly starving. The war was not going well.

After leaving Tortage, the duo had traveled to Conall’s Valley, and had found their way to the settlement of Clan Moragh. But even as the huts were burned and the bodies of Vanir provided some fuel to the flame, or – in the vein of the Cimmerian culture – adorning pikes outside the gates, the leadership of the clan was in turmoil. The chieftain was for staying within the walls, fighting as the fight came to them. His sister was of a different mind.

Ravenwar and Daphnae had sat in her council chambers and listened to her words, offering their own advice, whether wanted or not.

“We sag beneath the weight of the Vanir attacks and our numbers dwindle,” Riona said. “In contrast, the Vanir seem to grow in strength every time we face them. Their gods are bloodthirsty and demand blood. Crom broods on his mountain and does not care for the fate of our people.”

“Crom gave us strength enough. It is up to us to use it,” Ravenwar replied.

”You are right,” Riona said. “Crom gave us strength and we should use it! Let us bring the fight to the Vanir and their northern gods. I have seen what the Vanir call worship; a frenzy of dancing and howling around the carved totems. Let us destroy that accursed totem. We’ll show them their gods are weak.”

Too soon it was time to enact the plans set in the chambers of the chieftain’s sister.

The moon sat atop the mountain peaks, casting its pale light upon the slopes and meadows. It was hardly a night for stealth, but that suited Ravenwar fine. He had grumbled about going out at night. He wanted the Vanir to see them coming and realize there was nothing that could stop them. But Riona has rationalized that if the dawn came and with it a destroyed totem, it might lead to fear that other gods were conspiring against them and strike them deeper than if a pair of warriors openly attacked the totem.

Her argument won out. Daphnae led the way, keeping to shadows when possible. But Ravenwar’s keen eyesight sought out Vanir hiding in the brush and soon the path from the settlement toward the totem was marked with bodies. Each kill brought a new surge of excitement. The  blade slicing through the darkness drove him away from his past and its demons. But it did more than that; he knew what he had become.  In that moment he reveled in it.  In that moment he truly hated himself.

After the first half dozen had died, Daphnae vented the mounting frustration she felt at the blatant disregard her companion showed for the tactics agreed upon. “Are you so blind as to need to mark the trail back?” she asked.

His dark eyes seemed to flash even in the night air. “No, but I want them to know the hand of Crom was at work this night.”

“Riona wanted this to be done quickly and unobtrusively.”

“Then she asked the wrong people to do it,” he replied sullenly, and then his eyes locked on something else, and he was off. She heard the sound of steel hacking through rawhide armor, the grunt of a man whose life was ripped from him. She saw movement in the shadows heading for the location where she knew Ravenwar was, and without a thought, she was in motion.

The Vanir ambusher had his eyes locked on the broad back of the male barbarian. He did not see the female coming swiftly across the grasses, her lips pulled across her teeth in a snarl. The first indication he got of her presence was when a blade went in under one ear and came out under the other. A surge of adrenalin hit her, an electric jolt that heightened senses and submerged the sanity and reserve she had shown. A piercing scream cut through the night, the sound of a wild cat screaming pleasure over a kill. The sound was enough to take the chill of the night air deeper into the bones.

Ravenwar’s grin flashed in the night. His head tilted back and he let loose a roar. The bloodlust was upon them. They charged across the meadows to the totem. The Vanir who had come to see what creature had made the shattering sounds found steel talons awaiting them. The pale softness of the mountain grasses caught in the moonlight were stained a darker color.

In the distance, Riona heard the screams cutting through the night. She grimaced. This was not what she had asked for … but then she thought again. Those were primal screams, full of rage, full of triumph … maybe this was the better course after all, though she would be loathe to tell them that.

There were those among the Vanir who wisely chose to stay close to their fires, waiting until the light of day to see what had transpired in the howling of the night. And in the light of the new day, dismay greeted them when they saw the totem of their gods. It looked as though a giant hand had descended from the heavens with might and fury and driven the totem into the ground with force that left nothing more than tiny splinters spread in a large radius from where it had once sat. They found the night guard, or rather pieces of them, also scattered across the meadows. Whatever the Cimmerians had unleashed into the night was hell-sent, this was the story that flew through the camps of the invaders. And even though their commanders tried to dismiss it as nothing more than a raid from a large party, the rumors of a Cimmerian beast trembled the hearts of the Vanir infantry.

In a hut within the settlement, Ravenwar looked down on the sleeping form of Daphnae. She tossed and turned, calling out names that held no meaning to him but seemed to flood her dreams with pain. He did not know the names, but the pain he understood. He had remembered more about his past than he would ever admit. The night’s destruction brought a measure of pleasure to his tormented soul, but he knew that even if he killed all those responsible for what had happened in Cimmeria, it still would not ease the pain in his heart. But he accepted that. He moved slowly into a corner of the hut, where eyes could not see him nor ears hear him.

“Rika,” he said softly, “Crom, in His cruelty, let me live yet again. Soon, beloved, we will be together, but there is more I must do first, it seems.”

 

Other stories in the Age of Conan fictional series can be found here: Tales of Conan - Fictional Stories index.

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