STAR CX is being published in an 8 part serialized format, Verse 1.5 – I/O is the second novella in the series. Each week I will be posting chapters from the series for viewing on my blog. Due to participating in NaNoWriMo, I have elected to delay the formal publishing of Verse 1.5, I will post chapters weekly and then in December launch the novella officially. For those that enjoy this series, I invite you to purchase the ebook or paperback editions of STAR CX: Verse 1 as a way of supporting this independent author; also reviews, likes, replies, retweets, and feedback are extremely helpful and encouraged.
The first night of any job can be fraught with worry and confusion. But no one told these new recruits to the trelven army that their first night would be dealing with murder, facing the enemy of their nightmares, and being sent off on an adventure doomed to fail. For Ahy and Ough, this fate-filled night would be the start of a quest like none had ever attempted. Their mission: cross the forbidden mountains of Gre-Llue to the land of Redren, break a 2 thousand year treaty, and convince the king of the humans to aid the last free city of the trelves. The only problem, Ahy and Ough might be the worst pair of trelves to be given such an important duty. For you see, they hold no such experience in things like fighting, hunting or even walking
through the woods.
Verse 1.5 – I/O
Chapter 6 – Horrific Travels
The road leaving Hadriana was quiet and gray. In years past it would have been bristling with activities as overwhelmed merchants made their way to the city to sell goods and excited travelers visited the big city. Fear and defeat had turned this road from prosperous and joyful to sorrowful and lonesome. Now it was desolate, save for the two adventurers who found themselves walking too fast towards certain danger.
Ough was the first one to draw his pace to a stop, “I think we should get off this road.”
“You’re just worrying too much, this is the surest and quickest way,” Ahy responded with a brave voice. The trelve’s gaze never leaving the road as his eyes moved in a constant survey for any movement ahead of them.
“This road is frightful, we are sure to be captured if we stay the course. The Hruk’s will smell us before we can even see them.”
Ahy stepped forward, trying to continue on their way. His stride twice that of the smaller trelve’s put a surprising distance between them. Ough trailing behind, forced a shuffling pace to keep up with Ahy. Ahy turned his head back towards the new companion. “Worry not, together I am sure we can prevail in any battle to come.”
Ough whistled and smiled up at Ahy, the trelve’s worried face breaking out into a broad smile as fear left his spirit. “Wow, famous and brave. This is the best day ever.”
Ahy shook his head but didn’t feel it was necessary to admonish Ough’s careless words. If anything, this was the worst day ever. The Isuelt of Hadriana, their king was dead. Somehow the two of them were supposed to travel to the other side of the world. Try to convince humans – who happen to hate anything not human with such vigor that they wish us death in their prayers – to come to our aid. To help us find this missing weapon that the hruk’s want so bad. Then try to use that weapon against the hruks. The plan, to Ahy, was destined to fail. There was simply too many problems to overcome, but the trelve knew deep in its heart that it had to try. The consequence of inaction would be to watch the last free city of the trelves become decimated and overrun by the hruks. As if Ahy did not have enough to worry about, Ough’s never-ceasing optimism to their situation was giving him a headache. As each word from the ignorant trelve caused an eye roll that Ahy had to fight from showing.
“So what did you grab on your rush out of Hadriana?” Ough questioned.
Ahy grimaced at the humiliating memory of having the lesser trelve carry him out of the Isuelt’s chamber. Once out of the room, Ahy had calmed down enough to be on his own, and they had agreed to meet at the entrance in one hour. “I….I said goodbye to my family and grabbed a pack of supplies for the road.”
Ough glanced with wistful curiosity up at Ahy, “was your family sad?”
“In a way,” Ahy answered in a vague manner. “But most of all they were proud of their great son. How about you, what did you do?” Ahy questioned, quick to turn the conversation around.
“All I need is this here ax, ‘tis a family heirloom. All great men in my family for a hundred generations have carried this ax to war and to splendor. Now it is my turn to do the same,” Ough answered with booming pride.
“That’s right you said your family was…” Ahy struggled to find the right word to use so as not upset his new partner.
“Damn those hruks,” Ough conceded while pounding his chest with his fist.
Ahy turned back to look at the smaller trelve, “You’ll get your revenge, trust mEEE…..oh my Leone!”
Ahy’s gaze had met with a Hruk, not a hundred cantibles behind from them. Ahy could see its large beady-black eyes reflecting in the light as it watched the two of them. Twin tusks jutted out from the Hruk’s face. Making its appearance look very close to that of a wild boar, complete with a bull-like nose ring. The Hruk’s brown tufty fur cut short in a way that highlighted its muscles. The moment the Hruk noticed that the trelves had seen it, it let out a terrible roar that filled the abandoned road.
“Oh dear…” Ough’s eyes went wide with fear. The trelve whipped around and drew its weapon against the enemy. Ough’s weapon of choice was a single bladed war ax. A jewel of red fire sat on the crest casting the day’s light around in magnificent rays. On the opposite side of the blade was the shattered remains of a twin blade.
The reflective light from Ough’s monstrous beheader brought Ahy to attention. Ahy tore an arrow out and had it threaded and taught within a single blink. The two junior soldiers in the Isuelt’s army were ready for their first encounter with a hruk in the wild.
The hruk’s roar came to an end as it flexed its muscles and bared its teeth, but the beast did not step towards them to attack. Instead, the hruk stood its ground and glared at them with deep mistrust.
Ough hoisted the curved head of the blade towards the monster. “Oy! Stand down and we’ll all survive this clash.”
“It’s a hruk, you can’t reason with them,” Ahy fussed and squinted as his arrow found the center of the feral enemy’s left eye.
“I know that, but it ain’t charging us. I had to say something, this is really weird,” Ough admitted.
One of the first bits of training that any soldier in the Isuelt’s army learned was how to deal with an encounter with a single hruk. They were all instructed that no matter the circumstances, a hruk’s first move would be a head-first charging style attack. Ahy agreed with Ough’s assessment, “You’re right, this is odd. What do you think it wants?”
“To eat us,” Ough respond with an extra gulp of concern.
“If that were the case, I understand this battle would already be over,” Ahy conceited.
The hruk took a step forward and growled, “Hruk.”
Ahy blinked twice, trying to remember his classroom training. At the time, the war had seemed so far away and unreal to him. He had never considered that he would ever meet a hruk face to face, let alone tasked with fighting one. The trembling in his thoughts would not let him convert the single syllabic language into trelven. All he could surmise was that the hruk was asking a question.
“I suppose it is asking us where we are going. It must know about the attack on the Isuelt, and I’m guessing was put in charge or making sure no one left,” Ough whispered.
Ough’s explanation made sense to Ahy as the tall one thought over the hruk’s statement. Ahy made two strides towards the monster. Lowering his bow to the hruk’s throat, in an attempt to appear less threatening. “Hhhrukk?” Ahy attempted in an unsteady tone.
Ough translated, “It’s asking if the commander sent us out here.”
“I’ll tell it the commander sent us to go retrieve the weapon,” Ahy converted his speech for the Hruk.
The beast cocked its head to the side as it absorbed the information. As Ahy finished in a single word, the hruk bared its teeth and let out another terrible roar. The ground around Ahy’s feet shook at the overwhelming noise.
“I think you just told it that the commander sent us to fight him.”
“Ah, my mistake.” Ahy felt his face grow red at the mistranslation. The hruk appeared to tense all its muscles in its body and grow an additional length taller. Entering its berserker stance, the hruk was ready to charge.
“Hruk!” Ough shouted, “Hruk. Hruk, Hruk.”
At once, the enraged hruk relaxed and took a step back. It bowed its head and turned around, “Hruk.”
“How? I was sure it was going to destroy us,” Ahy looked on in stunned surprise.
“I told the beast you meant that we were sent to follow him, he is to take us to their encampment.”
“You saved us,” Ahy smiled down at Ough.
“Erm, before you get too excited, that last bit was something like “follow me, then I will eat you.””
“You’ve doomed us,” Ahy recanted his praise. “At least we have time now, to think of a way out of this.”
Ough nodded his agreement, as the hruk crossed in front of them and they had no choice but to step forward and follow.
Ahy returned the arrow to its quiver and let out a deep breath. Looking back at the encounter it had been nothing like what the trelve had learned in training. The hruk did not charge immediately, it gave time for them to negotiate, and it appeared to be alone. In normal formation, hruk’s always traveled in groups of four, but this one was alone. Was this hruk an outcast, or extra important, there had to be a reason for its behavior. Ahy could not decide and did not risk attempting more of the language should the words set back their temporary truce.
With stiff lips, Ahy spoke to Ough, “So how far away do you think this encampment is?”
“Well if the major’s words were true they are still on the other side of the river Rhue, so at most three days away.”
“Wait we have to follow that…that thing, for three days? How are we ever going to survive?”
“No. Sudden. Movements.” Ough mouthed to Ahy. “It will not chase if you do not run, we have time.”
Ahy nodded. Again this lesser trelve was showing poise and grace under extreme pressure. Ahy felt impressed and amazed with his companion. Of course, to voice that would be to face ridicule by any higher born trelve, should they hear his thoughts.
“Hood up, the rain is coming,” Ough stated as he flipped up a gray patched brown hood and cloak.
Ahy did the same, and in a moment the trelve became sealed away from the outside world. The rain came in another instant and closed off both Ough and the Hruk from Ahy. The Trelve wanted to say more to Ough, but the words echoed in the heavy storm. Instead of words, the only noises present was the pitter-patter of rain and the sloshing of their footsteps.
* * *
* * * *
Three days later
On the backside of late afternoon sun, the weather changed. For the last three days, Ahy and Ough had done nothing but walk. All the while, it had rained. The rain was steady and seemed to be never-ending. Each day of their travel the temperature had risen adding an extra boost of humidity to the air. Ahy could no longer determine the difference between rain or sweat.
The party could hear the river Rhue before they saw it. It’s current was flowing stronger and fuller than its banks could contain. At an alarming rate, the water was rising and filling the basin Ahy and Ough found themselves traveling towards.
Ahy wiped away the sweat dripping from his brow and motioned at Ough to walk closer so that they could talk. The Hruk continued to walk in front of them, leading the way. Not once did the creature look at them to check if they were going to run away. It must have already assumed that it could run down the trelves at any distance.
“We’ll be to the river soon, we need to act soon if we are to escape.”
Ough agreed, “I’ve been thinking, but nothing other than turning around and running comes to mind.”
“I’m sorry my friend but it would overrun you. I may be able to outrun it though,” Ahy pondered, without considering his companion’s feelings.
“Would you stop!” Ough snapped as loud as he dared, “You can be very mean at times.”
Ahy’s steps stalled as his mouth opened to respond but no words felt correct and so he remained silent. His upbringing would not allow him to humble himself before a lesser trelve.
“Hruk,” The warthog like giant snapped his jaws at them.
Ough translated with a disinterested look on his face. “He says, we must cross the river, the camp is 15 cantibles north.”
Ahy nodded towards the hruk to show he understood. It growled and resumed walking. In another minute they had arrived at what appeared to be the new edge of the river.
“The river is near to twice as wide as normal, and I’d say from what I remember three times as high now. There is no way we can cross and make it to the other side alive, without a boat.” Ough said aloud, refusing to make eye contact with Ahy.
At that moment, the hruk bent over and appeared to be searching for something Ahy could not see. The monster’s claw found its target and it acted like it was tugging on a rope. Growling in a non-threatening way, as if complaining, the hruk stood up and heaved arm over arm.
Ahy doubted that anything could make it across the wild river. An entire tree sped past them as if to highlight how difficult it would be to cross. Ahy watched the tree get further away and a sudden but ugly thought came to his head.
“Ough,” The tall trelve whispered at a level so low that it could have been misheard as a drift of wind.
Whether or not Ough heard Ahy, the lesser trelve gave no indication.
“Push the hruk,” Ahy breathed. The moment had come. All that it would take is knocking the hruk off balance. Sending him into the raging torrent and they would be free. Ahy could not be sure that Ough had heard him and so he resigned himself to taking action.
Ahy stepped forward towards the hruk. There was no longer any doubt, the hruk was pulling an invisible rope. Before long Ahy spied a boat at the end of the line. Squinting his eyes, Ahy could see a small boat making its way across the dangerous flood. Instead of careening out of control, this boat was carving through the waves as if the river was still with no wind.
Ahy clicked his tongue in anger at missing the chance to take down the hruk, “I needed to be closer, anyway.”
The boat approached the shore and to Ahy’s surprise, it was not manned. The Hruk pulled it ashore and grumbled at them to climb on. Ough was the first to step on the boat. He did not look back to see if Ahy made it aboard, instead, the trelve stared straight out into the wild stream.
Hesitation and fear entered Ahy’s heart as the trelve put a foot on the swaying boat. A wave hit the boat and sent a plume of spray over Ahy. He felt sick to his stomach, there was nothing to be afraid of. The boat was safe and Ough had gotten on without any problem.
Ough appeared to break away from his resolute silence when he reached out and pulled Ahy aboard, “Fear not, the boat is steady.”
Ahy’s left foot broke from the earth, and the trelve was fully in the boat before he could protest. Ahy had but a moment to stand before the hruk shoved him forward face first into Ough.
Swinging around, Ahy prepared to retaliate but the look on the hruk’s face stopped any chance of fighting back. For the last couple of days, the hruk had appeared disinterested and had done nothing else but walk forwards down the road through the rain. Now, it looked hungry.
Turning from the beast, Ahy observed that Ough had returned to staring off into the swirling current. Ahy tried to make eye contact with Ough, to show him that he had a plan, but Ough did not meet his intent.
Giving up on getting Ough’s attention, Ahy glanced at the hruk. The site of it so close caused a nervous rumble in the pit of Ahy’s stomach. Ahy had only a moment to notice the bloodstained fur on the back of the hruk’s head before the overwhelming stench of rotten decay struck the trelve. Grimacing, Ahy blew out from his nose and mouth in a vain attempt to expunge the acrid air. Ahy noticed several scars running over the hruk’s left shoulder and one that ran from the neck all the way up to its eye. It was immediately clear that this hruk was an experienced fighter. A surprise attack executed with perfection would be the only shot they had to take it down.
The hruk turned its head towards Ahy and the front of the boat. It growled at Ahy and motioned for him to step back and let it pass.
Ahy conceded with a nod and took a step back. The trelve was dangerously close to the edge of the boat. If the hruk wanted to a light shove would be enough to send him over the rim. It was the reverse position of where Ahy had wished to be and yet the beast moved past him without incident.
All the while Ough remained blissful and unaware as he continued to look out at the flood. The hruk reached Ough and roared at Ough to move. It was also terrifying to Ahy how much of a size difference there was between the hruk and Ough. Ough managed to approach but not clear the hruk’s chest. Ahy wondered how any lesser trelve thought they would be an asset in a battle.
From what Ahy could see, Ough still did not react to the beast growling behind him. Ahy could not figure out why Ough was putting on such a show of bravery and resolution. Ahy could not but help feel proud for the little trelve.
Growing tired of the obstruction in its path, the hruk placed a meaty hand on Ough to force him aside. This action caused Ough to finally come back to reality. The trelve yelped and jumped back, spinning around at the same time only to come face to gut with their worst nightmare.
“Help!” Ough shouted as he landed with awkward footing and fell back towards the front of the boat.
“HRUK!” The enraged beast screamed at Ough’s sudden rabbit-like scurry.
Ahy could see that the hruk was going to smash Ough between its massive hands. Ahy’s training took over, as the trelve pulled out a long but slender knife and lunged forward. The knife slid into the lower back of the hruk. The beast arched and recoiled, letting out such a fierce battle cry. Ahy was sure the flood attempted to flow the opposite way for a moment.
The hruk swung it’s tree size forearm back at Ahy. Ahy dodged the attack, quick enough to pull the knife upwards in the same movement. Ough was still stumbling and trying to get his balance back in the now very rocky boat.
A second blast from the hruk, landed on Ahy knocking him aside. Black swirls entered Ahy’s vision. He struggled to roll out of the way of a third fist, that no doubt would have finished the fight.
Ough finally found his feet and joined the fight, as the trelve swung the backside of his ax into the same spot Ahy’s knife had been.
Howling and bleeding much deeper the beast looked confused on which threat to eliminate first. Ough took this hesitation as an advantage and flipped his ax in his hands as he went in for the killing blow. Unfortunately, the hruk was much faster than Ough had anticipated and Ough’s onslaught passed over the hruk without a scratch. The sudden and unexpected miss, caused Ough to stumble forward and land in a pile beneath the monster.
The Hruk grabbed Ough by the head, but could not exact it’s revenge as Ahy’s knife slashed down it’s back. Dropping Ough, the hruk again swung for Ahy. With a speed Ahy could not comprehend, the hruk grabbed his knife and tore it out of his hands.
The moment Ahy realized that he had lost his weapon, fear seeped into his adrenaline-soaked mind and he jumped back stunned. There was no way to fight the beast in such close quarters. The battle was over and Ahy and Ough would both be slaughtered and thrown overboard. Or worse eaten once the hruk dragged their corpses back to the camp. Despite his entire body trembling, he would not allow himself to give up. Forcing a new resolution to make one final attack.
Rushing the beast, Ahy dove shoulder first at the hruk’s midsection. It was enough to knock it back a step, but the hruk did not have a step to make as Ough was still trying to recover. Instead, it tripped over Ough and in an almost unbelievable manner fell back into the flood.
Before the hruk could even yell in surprise, the torrent washed the hruk away with sudden and violent tug. And so the two trelves had defeated their first challenge on their journey to the other side of the world.
Ahy and Ough had but a moment to enjoy their victory and let out a breath before whatever magic was keeping the boat calm despite the thrashing waves gave way. The boat shot out into the middle of the engorged river.
The two trelves fell onto each other, as the boat rocked and thrashed between waves and rocks. It slammed into something very large. Ahy yelped as he heard the craft bending and splintering. Water flew into the boat soaking them, a second wave sent the spinning in a new direction. All they could do was hold onto each other, as they had no oar or paddle to steer.
Like a firework out of a canon, their boat launched into the air and they were flung onto the other side of the river.
Neither Ahy nor Ough moved or spoke for a long time. Lucky to be alive and relatively bruise free, they both enjoyed a time of zero movements and peace.
It was Ough that was first to break the silence, “Thank you for saving me, my hero.”
“Hero?…nay,” Ahy could not help as his face blushed. “I was only trying to save us both, I’m no hero.”
“Thank you,” Ough repeated and squeezed Ahy’s hand. “With full sincerity, it means a lot for a highborn trelve to risk his life for a lesser trelve.”
Ahy nodded and began to take stock of their situation. Looking up at the sky, Ahy realized that it appeared wrong and corrupted. “Hey Ough, is it nighttime?”
“No, sir, tis but only a slight past midday.”
“Then why is the sky so dark?”
“This is the horror we lesser trelves have been warning about for years.” Ough clicked his tongue, “that be no nightshade. That be smoke from the horde of hruks. From the orientation, it looks like the main swarm stands between us and the way to the mountains of Gre-Llue.”
2017 © Stew Stunes