Listen to this tale narrated by the author or read the full text below. My body ached when I awoke. Something hard pressed against my face. Mud had latched onto my back and limbs, slowly
Listen to this tale narrated by the author or read the full text below.
My body ached when I awoke. Something hard pressed against my face. Mud had latched onto my back and limbs, slowly dragging me deeper into its embrace. Already my ears had been sucked down into a pool of liquid. My head throbbed.
Gods, I hope that’s water.
I opened my eyes to see the remnants of a red dusk cast across a gray sky. The faceplate of my helmet was bent down against my nose, widening my field of vision. But from where I lay all I could make out was the sky above me. I tried to sit up, but my limbs were stiff and heavy, and the mud refused to relinquish its grasp on me.
I took as deep a breath as I could manage. What had happened? Where was I?
For that matter, who was I?
I searched my mind for answers, nothing. My memories were trapped behind locked doors and darkness. What did I know? I was alive. My name was…I was from…I had a helmet. Was I a soldier? A knight?
A pale-skinned face leaned over my field of vision. Its head was round and bald, except for a few wisps of black hair just below its long pointed ears. Its snout was pushed in and up, like someone pretending to be a pig. Its eyes were large, gray things that glinted with greed. It leered at me, revealing teeth that had been filed into points.
Scavenger. The term popped into my mind like a bright light. Creatures that combed through the carcasses of battles looking for lost treasures. And food.
But if a scavenger’s here, was I in a battle? Long-nailed fingers gripped the edge of my faceplate and tugged. My heart beat against my ribs. Not the time.
A mailed fist collided with the creature’s face. It was mine, moving on instincts I couldn’t recall. The scavenger fell back with a muffled squawk.
I took a deep breath. There were only two choices now, rise to my feet or die in the mud. I pushed upward with all my strength.
It was almost too much. Some of the scavengers had already unhooked most of my armor, while I’d been focused on the one I could see, and without the extra weight, and much of the mud, I almost launched myself face-first into the soft ground in front of me.
The battlefield stretched out before me for what looked like miles in the gathering gloom. Dozens of figures, which must have been other scavengers, squatted across the carnage.
All this death, where are the survivors?
Only three of the monsters were close enough to pay me any mind. The first, which I’d struck, had wrapped itself in a banner displaying a golden boar and gibbered at the other two in their coarse tongue. The second was bare and as thin as its bones. It moved to circle me, never quite rising from its squatting position. The third was the largest, being almost as tall as me. It wore a banner with a red lion as a cloak and clutched a broken spear in its bony hands.
I was weaponless, and my armor had been reduced to the gauntlets, boots, the right forearm guard, and my dented helmet. I didn’t know how good a fighter I was, but I didn’t like the odds.
I raised my arms to put as much metal as possible between my chest and the scavengers, and I backed away. The mud clung to my boots and threatened to knock me off balance, forcing me to move slower than I wanted.
The two banner-clad creatures kept pace with me, never too close, but never far enough away for me to turn and make a break for it. The bare one sped in his hopping-squatting gait around to flank me. In another moment he would be out of my sight, I needed to change something. I ducked down to grab a sword from the chest of a nearby corpse.
It was the wrong move.
In a blur, the bare scavenger leapt onto my back and sank its filed teeth into my shoulder. Fresh pain flowed through my arm like blood. I gritted my teeth against it. Not like this.
I grabbed the creature off my back and hurled it at the spear-holder. As I did, he scratched and clawed at me, but only managed to rip the gauntlet from my right hand as I released him. I raised my hands again, readying for the next attack.
But it didn’t come.
Instead, the scavenger in the golden boar pointed at me and gibbered something. The other two looked at my exposed hand and shrank back in fear.
I risked a glance at my hand. There was some kind of design tattooed on the back of my hand, but in the growing darkness I couldn’t make out what it was. Still, if the scavengers were frightened by it, I figured I best make use of it while the light was strong enough for them to see it. I picked up a nearby sword and fled.
Whatever this tattoo was, it saved my life.
To Be Continued….
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