The Viking's Pupil
The morning air was more brisk than normal. Today it chilled me to the bone; it had no regard for how many layers I had put on in an attempt to warm myself. Although, it didn’t really matter. I was close to my destination and my trek was near its end. I brought the opening of my fur coat close to me and took another twenty strides through the deep snow. I tightened my helmet’s neck strap as I finally reached the castle’s stretching shadow. The door had been broken into. Its lock had been destroyed by blunt force, leaving the hinges clinging limply.
“This is his signature,” I thought. I gently pushed on the door’s handle, causing it to crash to the ground. A cloud of dust rose into the air as the sound echoed throughout the halls of the castle. My hand instinctively reached for the single-bladed ax strung to my back. I sunk my left wrist through my shield’s second strap and held onto the third leather strap; securing it to my forearm. Stepping inside, I saw a variety of rugs with bright colors and designs covering the floor. It looked like they had been torn down from high posts and racks. I knew this castle was once the beacon of beauty and creativity. Now it was nothing more than a nest.
Entering the castle, I was confronted by blood-boiling screams echoing from the far end of the castle. Soon the floor would be stained by the blood of my enemies.
I withdrew my ax and held it away from my side, eager to bring its blade through a wide swing. Around the corner it came – a Hagtiya. It’s emaciated body lunged at me with a yelp. I threw my spiked shield forward, sending the creature to the ground. Another one followed, but it was smarter than the first, leaping up onto the high wall to my left with great speed and flinging itself down on me. I swung my right hand upward as hard as I could. To its surprise, the creature was suddenly pinned to the wall by the sharpened blade of my ax. Blood flowed from its gut. It squirmed violently, but to no avail, my ax would not relent. It let out a last breath and hung there, like a trophy.
A dozen more screams filled the air. I panicked for a moment, my ax would not come out from the creature nor from the wooden wall it was pinned against. I left my weapon and ran down the hall. I made the turn of the corridor and lay my raging eyes upon what was next. Pure adrenaline ran through my veins.
“The call of battle is what makes you a Viking,” my mentor had taught me. “Embrace it and use it for the good of mankind,” he had said. Now was the time to be the embodiment of that wisdom.
I clenched my fists and raised them to protect myself from the approaching horde of vile creatures. There were at least seven with claws outstretched and fangs exposed, charging me. I ran at them, seeing what I needed to reach next. I collided with two of them as the hall began to open up into a large palace-like room lined with windows. They fell back at the force of my shield and gloved fist. I kept my momentum strong, trying to push them away from the item that would become my next weapon. One of them got a solid bite into my left forearm; I cringed as the razor sharp teeth found a weak spot in my armor. I brought up my forearm and gave the creature a head-butt. It fell to the floor, unconscious. Two more leapt over me and took advantage of my undefended back. I caught my target out of the side of my eye. I had to get to it before I was brought down. I used all the strength I could muster and threw all the Hagtiyas to the ground with a mighty shout and a determined swing of my armored shoulders and arms.
I turned around and grabbed the large torch off the wall. I created a blazing firewall in front of me that none of the creatures dared to cross. They backed off. They were soon joined by more creatures, but they were just as fearful. I moved along the wall, my eyes still set on them. A second torch illuminated another corner of the large room. I made my way to it and grabbed it with my left hand. I let my shield slide closer to my elbow.
Taking a breath, I re-summoned my strength. The Hagtiyas kept their distance. They paced, talking to each other in their deep growls and whines. It was as if they were formulating the best way to bypass the fire and devour me. I finally took a moment to observe my surroundings. A defiled throne was to my right, atop a dozen stairs. They were stained with blood and covered by the fleshless remains of the Hagtiya’s victims. I wiped the sweat from my brow and approached the bottom of the throne. Bones, filth, and the waste of the creatures surrounded the throne. I took a moment to study my enemy. They had the appearance of men who had been starved, tortured, and brought to the point of death. But they had the speed and energy of an animal that had been trained to kill without mercy. Sores and open wounds covered several of them from head to toe. I began to feel sick the longer I stared.
I backed up the stairs, hoping that my mentor was near. A few Hagtiyas began to cautiously follow me. I swung one of the torches at them, but it was dead, it had already burnt out. I threw it down and put the one that still flamed in front of me with a thrust. A Hagtiya had decided to lunge at me just as I put the flaming torch forward. The daring creature knocked it out of my hand. The flame was extinguished as the torch rolled down the stairs. The creatures attacked, pouncing on my vulnerability. I did the unorthodox; I jumped forward, trying to get as high into the air as I possibly could.
With my shield aimed at the ground, I crashed into several Hagtiyas, crushing their deprived bodies. I quickly stood up. Close to twenty more ran out of a side corridor, determined to end me. I yelled, ready to fight until my dying breath.
Suddenly, a bone-shattering bellow erupted from just outside the building. Several Hagtiyas fell to their knees, overwhelmed by the colossal battle cry. Through a large glass window next to the throne came a force that matched that of a typhoon. Shards of glass rained into the horde of Hagtiyas, piercing their flesh. A large man clad in fur coats, silver greaves, and spiked gauntlets jumped into the palace room and made his presence known. He was armed with a countless array of weapons and tools. The majority of the Hagtiyas were knocked down from the shock of the man’s entrance. He stood tall and proud. He was the incarnate image of the mightiest of Viking lords.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Eskoleth,” I said. He handed me two short swords and smiled wide. His bright teeth contrasted vibrantly with his red beard.
“I’ve been cleaning up the Hagtiya filth that’s plagued the surrounding farmlands,” he said. “I thought for sure he‘d be with the hordes in the fields, but now I’m certain he’s below the castle.” He withdrew his prized broadsword from its sheath and held it at his chest. It emanated its own silver radiance, which illuminated the entire palace, bringing the hope of light to a place of darkness.
“And it looks like I finished cleaning up that mess just in time,” Eskoleth said, observing my situation.
“Indeed you did,” I answered.
The Hagtiyas recovered from their distress and readied their next assault. We were surrounded. But that didn’t startle the Viking lord, it only added to his furious battle rage.
“Duck!” he yelled as he swung his broadsword at my head. I ducked, rolled forward, and attacked the creatures that tried to take advantage of Eskoleth’s undefended flank. I quickly cut down two of them, stepped left, then parried the strike of a claw. I glanced back and watched my mentor make the Hagtiyas pay for infesting this once radiant castle. He swung his weapon like it was weightless. It swung left, then right, then lunged forward, piercing three Hagtiyas simultaneously. He cut them down with ease. None of them could overtake him. But then, two creatures suddenly jumped onto his back, gnawing away, as he advanced into a new throng that appeared from another nearby hallway. He disregarded the two on his back and kept attacking the rest of the horde. He was unrelenting, like a wolf devouring its prey. He finally found a break in his forward attack and threw his back up against the stone wall, crushing the two who clung onto him. They slid down the stone in a pool of blood and organs.
I finished off another creature by sending the tip of my sword through its gut. It cried in pain as I held my blade there. I finally kicked it away and withdrew my weapon. The majority of Hagtiyas focused on taking down Eskoleth. His form was much taller and stronger than my own. This worked to our advantage though, because now I had time to search for the one responsible for leading these despicable creatures here. I cut down one last Hagtiya and proceeded to the entry of the same hall that most of the creatures had come from. The set of stairs descended into the darkness of the lower levels. A terrible smell arose from below, making me cover my nose. A deep cry came forth as well. It was pure evil down there.
From far behind me, Eskoleth yelled, “Go, Codall. We have to end this! I’ll be right behind you…. Go!” He was being swarmed by over forty Hagtiyas. It was a sight to see. He wasn’t even phased, the overwhelming numbers of the enemy only added to his finesse and fighting style he was employing. Every move he made mattered; it either blocked an attack, sent one or more creatures to their grave, or moved him out of a predicament. It inspired my fighting spirit and granted me a sense of immovable courage.
I ran down the steps with speed and purpose. A reddish light was all that lit my way. It came from deep within the lower levels. I held my swords to my side and slowly advanced. A giant storeroom opened up directly before me.
There he was. Ahead of me was our enemy. He was known for summoning great evil from beyond this world. He wore a blood red cloak and wielded a single curved dagger. His arms were raised high as he attempted to summon a massive beast from beneath the earth. An open pit had been dug through the soft dirt floor. Bones were beginning to rise from it, along with smoke that was forming into the beast’s mighty form. The hole was the source of the red light. I stared, taken in by the sight. It was as if my mind was under some sort of spell. The Sorcerer was in a trance as he chanted in a language I didn’t recognize. A darkness I had never experienced permeated the room and began to enter my body.
Suddenly, the Sorcerer snapped his head around and gazed straight into my eyes. His skin was as pale as the moon. Open wounds along his mouth and throat allowed his fanged teeth and forked tongue to cast a vile image into my mind. I was so horrified I couldn’t move. I was powerless. Five words from the Sorcerer’s mouth etched into my mind without remorse,
“My wrath has only begun,” he said. He turned back to his ceremony and continued. The massive beast was forming and beginning to rise further up from the hellish pit. My swords fell to the dirt. I dropped to my knees and watched in helplessness.
All of a sudden, from behind me, Eskoleth landed at the bottom of the stairs with a powerful jump. The dirt floor cratered. He held a black recurve bow in his left hand and a thick arrow in his right. The arrow’s shaft was covered with tiny spikes. The Sorcerer turned his head to Eskoleth. He was surprised at the Viking’s audacity to confront him. Eskoleth didn’t waste anytime, he quickly nocked the arrow to the bow, drew back the heavy string, and let it tear through the air. It struck the Sorcerer in the throat and went straight through, sticking into the wall behind him. Red mist poured out from his neck wound while his eyelids slowly closed. He was suddenly enveloped in a cloud of red energy. It vanished, taking away his body. He was now gone, with no trace to be found. The forming beast that had been rising from the pit also disappeared into thin air. With the Sorcerer gone, the beast’s power to be summoned was gone as well. The only thing that remained was a large, empty pit. Darkness returned to the storeroom, yet its menacing evil had left. Everything was quiet.
Eskoleth helped my weakened body back up to the main level. We sat at the bottom step that led up to the palace’s throne, exhausted. All around us lay the bodies of the Hagtiyas, the countless minions of the former Sorcerer. The stench of their blood filled the palace. We sat there and studied the work of our hands. Eskoleth slowly cleaned the stained blade of his broadsword with an old cloth. He finally broke the tired silence,
“I‘m impressed, Codall. Your bravery and ferocity defeated a dark enemy this day.” I leaned forward, let out a deep sigh, and looked at my mentor. His eyes had faded back to their normal color; the rage of the Viking’s blood had left him after the battle’s end.
“Your intervention saved me,” I replied. He removed his helmet and ran his hand through his hair.
“Perhaps,” he admitted. “But one day I will no longer walk this world. Who then will take my place as guardian of these lands?” I let that statement sink into my mind. And as I did, I was reminded of what future lay ahead of me. That one day I would have to say farewell to my mentor and take up his reigns as protector of these lands. However, that day would not come for a long time. As it now stood, I was pupil to the most powerful Viking lord the world had ever known.