STAR CX: Chapter 2 – Hruks

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STAR CX

Stew Stunes


STAR CX is being published in an 8 part serialized format, Verse 1 – A Saga of Starcrossed Souls is the first novella in the series. Each week I will be posting chapters from the series for viewing on my blog. For those that enjoy this series, I invite you to purchase the ebook or paperback editions of this story as a way of supporting this independent author; also reviews, likes, replies, retweets, and feedback are extremely helpful and encouraged.

“In space, there is no light but which you make for yourself.”

STAR CX follows two heavenly bodies that through an unbelievable mistake end up going on a journey across space and lifetimes. A mashup of sci-fi and fantasy adventure, mixed with spicy romance and sweet slice-of-life moments. This saga begins with a cosmic collision and ends in the world of Aura. Picking up 600 years after The King’s Challenge with a multitude of diverse characters, STAR CX is a story unlike any other in this world or the Universe of Chaos.


Verse 1 – A Saga of Starcrossed Souls

Chapter 2 – Hruks

Aster woke earlier than the sun. His thoughts remained troubled and filled with regret and nostalgia. He didn’t know how to put into words the feelings he felt, it would not be more than a couple days, and he would return to his wagon once again to travel alone. He had become accustomed to living by himself while he went from town to town, but that did not mean that he enjoyed it. His original destination was past forgotten, now he simply went.

Stepping out of his wagon, Aster’s golden eyes surveyed the mist in the calm morning. Noises of wild animals running through the forest around them reached his ears, the hunt was on. Aster leaned against his wagon and splashed water from a canteen upon his face. The rustling in the forest sounded heavier than large cats or wild dogs, no predator that he knew of ran with such a clumsy trot.

He fired up his lantern and held it above his head, trying to force the poor light further into the dark mist. His stomach grew tight with anticipation as he heard roars and grunts of which he knew to be impossible. Aster shook his head, he must still be half dreaming.

A piercing scream brought any sense that Aster could be in a dream to a close. As if by instinct, Aster ran out into the darkness towards where he thought the scream came from. ”Is anyone out there?”

Shouts and cries came from the camp, but he yelled back at everyone to keep quiet. “Stay together, I’ll check it out. Guards, protect your lords and ladies. I fear we are being invaded.”

“By what army, we’re so far North, it’s illogical to be attacked.” A guard yelled back as he charged to Aster’s side.

The moment before Aster could respond, a roar that sounded like a bear and a legion of men had all yelled at once told the guard all he needed to know. “I believe it’s Hruks.”

“But that’s impossible, there haven’t been Hruks on this side of the mountains for centuries.”

“I don’t know why, but I can assure you these are the sounds of a small hunting party, maybe 5, no more than 8 Hruks. You must get back to the camp and get the people out of the area. We do not have nearly the numbers to defeat even a single Hruk, our only chance is to run.” Aster said quickly before running off, leaving the guard behind.

The noise of stomping feet against the ground sounded like a drum of war. As Aster came closer, he heard the unmistakable chant of the Hruks. “Hruk! Hruk! Hruk!” On and on it went to the beat of their stomping feet.

Aster had no idea what he thought he might accomplish by running towards the war party, but Aster knew that he had heard a scream that had not originated from the Hruks. It had sounded like a woman crying out for help. Slowing to a walk, Aster peered as deeply into the thick morning fog as he could. It was in vain as there was nothing but shadows and loose shapes that he could see. Closing his eyes, he listened.

By the muffled sound of the Hruk’s stomps, they were probably 2000 cantibles away, the caravan would soon be overrun.

Aster opened his eyes and jumped back a step. Before his eyes, he saw a woman standing right on the edge of his lamp’s light. Her features were shaded and dark, he could not even see her eyes, but he knew that she had been the one running from the Hruks. Her ankles and her arms were bound together with thick steel, stronger than any man knew how to forge. It was incredible that she had been able to get so far away from the Hruks with the additional weight.

She was the first one to speak upon seeing his lamp. “Are you real, or are you just another mirage in all of this mist?”

“I am real, I promise you,” Aster replied. The woman stepped forward into the light, and he was able to properly see her for the first time. If she were to stand on the tips of her toes, she might have reached his shoulder. Her rough cut messy hair was the color of silver clouds, and her eyes reflected opulent ruby. Remarkably beautiful and also recognizably fierce, she appeared to be a few years younger than Aster. Her clothes were torn, and mud fell from her chains as if she had crawled many miles. A layer of dirt and dust marred her appearance. Aster took all this information in but was shocked when he noticed tears welling in her eyes.

“Are those Hruks after you?” he had no choice but to ask.

The runaway shook the tears from her eyes and set her features to total seriousness. “If you are truly no phantom, you must stay by my side if you want to survive the next few minutes.”

“Aren’t I rescuing you?” He asked and immediately regretted his words.

“They will be upon us within the next few moments. Do you wish to waste that time discussing the finer points of chivalry or do you want to live to fight another day?” she asked him.

“Are you real, or are you just another mirage?” he asked, mouth agape at her words.

“You’re such a fool…” she smiled at him as if she held a secret he did not understand. Aster could not understand why she would call him a fool. “I am no phantom.” She confirmed and reached up and cupped his cheek with her left hand. Her chains rattled like dried bones in the darkness.

Aster gasped in surprise at the sudden movement. Her touch was real, and he realized by touching him she too confirmed that he was not a mirage. “You…You are real.”

She gave a small laugh and replied. “So too are you, now follow me.”

Having no other choice, Aster nodded and followed silently behind the mystery woman. She walked at a brisk pace and yet she did not seem to be rushing or in an incredible hurry. Even as accustomed to traveling as Aster was, he had lost track of the direction they were going in the dense fog. He swore it was getting thicker by the minute.

After a while of walking in silence, Aster looked up at the girl in front of him and asked. “Hey, what’s your name.”

She turned to look back at him, a sad expression in her eyes, her words were lost as Aster was blown backward due to the force of a screaming Hruk, not two steps away from him.

It is said that fighting a hruk, is like fighting a mountain. It is simply unthinkable. Hruks are giant, malformed, and most of all love destruction. Their skin is thick like a natural shield, and they love hanging the remains of past conquest around their necks. It was not unusual to smell a Hruk before one became visible. If one were to try and run away from a hruk, they would be quickly swept up, as their stride was twice that of a full grown adult. And above all else, the only word they seemed to communicate with was, “Hruk.”

The hruk swung a heavy ax over Aster’s head, who was lucky enough to have ducked when he heard the hruk scream.

Before Aster or the hruk could raise his ax again, the woman jumped into the air and wrapped her metallic bindings around its neck. The hruk growled and bucked trying to dislodge the one holding the chains. Silver hair flew all around as the beast wildly jerked and thrust about. The girl leaped off it’s back while the chains were still constricted around the hruk’s neck, causing the giant to flip and lose hold of its weapon.

Aster dove for the blade and grabbed it, but paused as he saw the hruk fling the girl away from him as if she were a fly. The silver-haired woman did not yell or scream she only set her sights on another attack and raced back towards the hruk. To Aster, she was fearless, and he was able to use that as confidence to plan his own attack. Moving with speed he didn’t know he had, Aster flung the ax as hard as he could into the back of monster’s right leg, causing it to scream and fall. The terrible noise shook the entirety of the forest.

Without a word, the girl tore the ax out of Aster’s grip and ended the fight with a swift swing aimed towards the monster’s neck. The forest became eerily quiet, as the hruk let out one last fearful roar and was done.

Aster muttered a thanks, the sun had broken the darkness and morning was beginning to burn through the mist. A new round of screams reverberated throughout the forest and a horrible realization hit Aster, “The camp!”

No more words needed to be said as they dashed through the bush towards the caravan. Aster ran as hard as he could, but in the pit of his gut, he knew it would be too late by the time they made it back. Just before they burst into the clearing, the girl pulled him to a stop.

“Let me lead, ” she whispered.

He wanted to protest, but the determined look in her ruby eyes told him that argument would be futile. “Are…are you sure?” was the only bit he could manage.

She paused and looked into his eyes, her gaze so sharp it made Aster wish to turn away and feel bashful. “Your guiding light saved me when I was about to lose all hope. I must repay you my gratitude by rescuing as many of your people as I can.”

The woman dashed into the clearing and was gone from Aster’s sight before he could reply. He couldn’t be sure, but for the faintest of moments, he had thought a sincere smile had appeared within her ruby eyes for the first time since he had met her.

Aster stepped into the clearing and saw total mayhem. The hruks had made fine work of obliterating every piece of the wagons. Downed bodies laid in strewn bits as if the beasts had opened a slaughtering mill and the price of meat had fallen to historic lows right before the cold season. Not a single guard, who had been trained since birth at the art of war, remained standing.

In an unexpected turn of events, to Aster, it now appeared that the hruks seemed to be on the defensive, as the silver-haired girl drove a stake into the back of a hruk three times her size. She yanked the weapon out of the monster and brandished it towards the other 4 hruks.

With the one hruk they had stopped together, plus the one she just finished, and the four others in front of her, that meant it was likely this was all of them. Hruk’s only ever journeyed in groups of 5-8, never more as that was simply too much of a waste of resources. One hruk was nearly unstoppable, and yet she had downed two before Aster’s own eyes, but could she really dare face off against an entire hunting party. Just as Aster had made the prediction, two more stepped out of the forest behind the woman. Aster shouted, but she had already heard them approaching, as she whipped around and drove her wooden spear into the nearest.

The impaled hruk sneered and splintered the stick, but Aster saw no more as he was violently ripped off his feet and sent rolling. There had been a 9th hruk, what madness could drive such a show of strength that the hruk’s needed to send 9 of their own. This was equal to men sending an entire legion to handle a trade dispute, was it possible that this could all be for the silver-haired girl, Aster doubted.

Aster tried to regain his feet, but they were swept out from under him as a beast lifted him into the air and turned him upside down. The hruk lifted his feet into the air until they were face to face, grotesque tusks grew out of its mouth. Boiling fissures and scars ran from scalp to neck in an unrecognizable patchwork of terrible cruelty. A stench like that of rotting eggs, steamed from behind the fetid chompers of the beast. Black, intelligent eyes full of fury watched its prey with keen distrust. Aster would have screamed, but he was honestly too afraid to even do that much.

“Hruk!” the one holding him roared at the others, “Hruk! Hruk! Hruk hhrruk!” It shook Aster towards the girl as if to taunt her.

She stood with the remains of her spear, held up ready to fight as if that were enough to take on this army of hruks. “Close your eyes.”

“Hruk!” the beast replied with a shrew that could only mean one thing, murder.

“Close your eyes,” she repeated, and Aster finally realized that she was talking to him, not the monster.

“I do not understand,” he managed to say.

Her expression became suddenly bashful, and her eyes sought the ground, “I do not wish you to look upon me. I am about to summon the power of the sun above our heads, these monsters fear me. I do not wish you to fear me also.”

“I’m already more scared than I’ve ever been. No matter what happens, I cannot believe it could be..” He never got to finish his statement as the hruk swung him once around his head like a rag.

“Hruk!”

Aster did not mean to, but the sudden rush of air and dizzy spinning caused him to shut his eyes and yell. A great whooshing sound filled the air, and then something unseen exploded, the force of it blew the hruk off of its own two feet. A light and heat greater than any fire Aster had ever know engulfed the area. He knew beyond doubt that if he were to open his eyes at that exact moment, he would surely be blinded.

He could hear the dying screams of the remaining hruks around him, and yet the heat never became too much for him. In fact, it reminded him of something from his past, and yet he could not think of what it reminded him of, only that it was something quite profound.

Despite his better judgment, curiosity became the best of him, and he wished to see what had caused such heat and light. Raising his one eye just by a fraction, he was amazed to see the silver-haired girl, totally engulfed in flames. Her hair now shimmering in waves of gold and red, flailing wildly around of its own power. She looked to be more a part of the flame than she was ever a regular human girl. She was not simply using the flame as if it were a weapon, she was the fire and the heat. Aster was seeing her true nature. The chains that had once bound her melted away into dust and she was free. The flame grew to such brilliance that Aster could no longer keep his eyes open, he forced them to shut as the Hruk who held him tossed him in the air with a final agonizing roar as it was consumed by raw heat.

As suddenly and as violently as it had begun, the flame extinguished itself, and the girl remained. After a brief pause and exhale, she smiled and waved at Aster when she noticed the slight crack of his eye, before falling over in a heap of exhaustion.

*
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Aster jolted upright as his senses came back to him. The memory of the terrible conflict returned just as fast as the pain from being mauled by a Hruk. Clapping his hand over his mouth, Aster realized he had yelled as he became aware of his surroundings. Flashes of white invaded his vision and were soon replaced by a shadow.

“Are you okay?” A concerned voice asked.

Forcing his eyes fully opened, Aster took sight of the person he had saved. She looked the same as she had before the Hruk attack, and yet Aster could not help his actions as he shook in fear as his eyes met hers. As his eyes focused on her, he realized that all of her chains and clothes had burned off in the fire, leaving her flesh uncovered. She stood with a brave expression before him, as if daring him to question her state. “Are…Are you a god?” He barely managed to whisper.

“Please don’t run.” She begged, unexpectedly.

Aster could not help himself, as he scooted away from her. “Well, what are you then? I’ve made it around this world a number of times, and I’ve never seen anything like what you can do.”

“I can assure you, I am no god. In truth, I do not know what I am. I could be a god, but I don’t think that’s right as god’s do not generally spend most of their life within the confines of a dungeon.”

Despite his shaking arms and legs, Aster managed to right himself and stand. Looking down, he could scarcely imagine how such a small shaped person could be filled with such raw power. He would not have believed such a story if he had heard it from another traveler. Feeling that he was at a loss for words, he surveyed the damage around himself. In all directions, smoldering ash lay in piles. Not a shred of the once peaceful camp remained, it was all gone. Every bit of Aster’s wagon and home -if it could be called that – was destroyed. A tatter of the royal robe, Christopher Juhnson had worn the night before flapped in the wind as it was caught in a nearby bush.

The ruby-eyed woman interrupted his trembling gaze. “Is it true, you are a traveler?”

“Yes…why do you ask?” He answered with guarded caution.

Instead of answering, she smiled brightly and sighed with relief. “I’ve escaped my prison, and I have need to hasten a journey to the king of this land. I must be a bearer of bad news for this side of the world.”

“Bad news? What on Aura could be worse than a pack of Hruk’s on this side of the mountains? That in itself is an omen of dark times to come.”

“How long will it take to get to the King?” She asked, ignoring his question.

“A while…we are very far from the Jewel,” He answered. He could feel his beating heart finally slowing down and allow him to take stock of his situation.

“So a few days of travel, How long? Please, we must hurry.” She urged, her earnest eyes filling his whole vision.

“Do you know where you are?” He challenged.

For the first time, Aster noticed her falter as a shadow of fear crossed her expression. She crossed her arms over as if holding onto herself for reassurance, “No. I am lost. I don’t know a thing about this place.”

“Presently, we are at the end of civilization as Redren sees it. We are far in the North, and to get to the Jewel is no less than a 3-month journey using the fastest roads. By ship, we could make it in a week, but all of my wealth just became ash.”

She covered her mouth to hide her surprise at the news. “Three months…I fear we may be too late by then, but all we can do is try our best.” She responded, quickly bouncing back from her moment of defeat.

Aster did not know how to answer to this new person who was currently enlisting him.

“So will you help me?” She asked.

“Tell me…are you not a god?” He couldn’t help but repeat.

She smiled at his question. “Would my answer change your mind?”

“No.” He shook his head and realized for the first time that his face and arms were burnt bright red like he had been in the sun too long. “It would only help prepare me for the danger I’m sure to encounter by agreeing to help someone like yourself.”

“Danger?” She stamped. “I bring no risk to you. I only seek guidance and travel.”

Aster swung his arms out wide showing off the camp of disfigurement around them. “Then what do you call this?”

“I call this the proof of my mission, and the reason we must hurry.” She answered. “Now, let us make monuments to give these souls rest. Then our journey can begin.”

Aster nodded his agreement, despite his gut twisting in nervous anticipation at what he agreed to. “I cannot guarantee fast travel or safe passage, but I can ensure that we will arrive at our destination. You are welcome to travel with me.”

“I understand, I am not asking you to escort me as if I were a princess. Just get me there, any way possible.” She blushed her thanks, running her hands through her uneven silver hair.

With no doubt in Aster’s mind that he was entering into an unbelievable amount of danger, he offered his hand to shake on their new arrangement.

The silver-haired, ruby-eyed woman who appeared out of night’s deepest fog, with an army of Hruks chasing her, accepted his hand and smiled with sincerity. “Thank you, I know I have much to learn about this world, but what great luck I must possess to have the first person I run across be the one I need most. I don’t much believe in gods, but I can tell that this arrangement was meant to happen.”

 


Chapter 3 – Now What? – 11/01/2017

STAR CX

If you like this story and would like to support the author please consider purchasing a physical copy of the novel you are reading or sharing this blog with a friend.

2017 © Stew Stunes

 

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