Balvoc’s Story #1
Among the Lilitu, Balvoc was treated as a prisoner. He was confined day and night to the Seller’s Quarter, which was not at all the same as the Merchant’s Quarter. In the Merchant’s Quarter, shana flowed freely for all trade goods and was filled with finely crafted Arkono weavings and woodwork, unique Uvil metalwork, and trinkets from mysterious lands that the Lilitu would not speak of.
Balvoc was in Seller’s Quarter, however. A small, walled section of the city filled with warehouses and dust. There was no water there and any food that traveler’s brought with them was confiscated immediately upon arrival. The Lilitu claimed that foreign foods carried disease with them, and would not allow them within the city.
Balvoc had seen a few unaware merchants broken by this practice, having brought barrels of salted beef and pork with them, or fruits and vegetable, in hopes of turning a profit, but instead lost their livelihood. Once per day a few Lilitu brought barrels of water and salted fish to sell to any in the Seller’s Quarter, at extortionate prices, and then left. None of the Lilitu ever came to peruse their wares, none were interested in anything the foreign merchants had to offer. The Merchant’s Quarter was exclusively for the Lilitu and no foreigners were allowed inside. Only those that had been to the Lilitu capital of Hvare knew that you did not trade with the Lilitu, the Lilitu traded with you.
But, Balvoc was not a trader. The mighty Svet was a guard for the merchant Sin-sim, a fat and putrid man that understood the ways of the Lilitu better than most. He never tried to sell anything to the Lilitu, and only bought what he could sell himself in the north. Hidden compartments in his wagon helped him to sneak food and water into the quarter, but he always bought some from the Lilitu, just enough so that they would not be suspicious. When they came to sell their goods, he would slip a few shana their way to see some of their exotic goods, buy what he could from them and leave. Sin-sim never stayed for more than a week and was quick to leave the Lilitu lands as fast as he could.
Balvoc stood idly by the wagon that held Sin-sim’s goods, his thick arms folded across his barrel-chest while he could do nothing but sweat. The stink of the city made him want to vomit. Those who lived in the great cities were weak. His eyes followed the LIlitu merchants and their guards as they left the Seller’s Quarter.
No, not weak. At least, not the Lilitu. Individually, they could be overcome, but the Lilitu were numerous, and he could not name a place he had traveled where he had not seen at least a dozen of their kind. Here in their capital, Havre, they were too many to count. In other cities they bobbed their heads and smiled and leeched coin from every man, woman, and child. Here, they did not bother. They had power and used it. The Lilitu merely forced every merchant to bleed out their coin and then sent them on their way into the desert. They had no need to pretend they were small and weak. Here, among the Lilitu, Balvoc was weak.
Sin-sim smiled an oily smile as he sauntered towards the wagon, as much as a tubby man such as himself could saunter. His jowls swayed with each lumbering step, the fat of his face nearly hiding his crooked teeth. “Horse! Oi, horse, look here!”
Balvoc turned to regard the man, unable to keep the murder from his eyes. “What is it, filth?”
The chubby Anshedar chuckled, “Oh, well that is no way to speak to me, horse,” he cocked his round head and continued in a sing-song voice, “or do I need to have another finger sent for to remind you of your place?”
The Svet clenched his fists as he growled, glowering at the man and unable to speak. Sin-sim was a vile man, even as the Anshedar went. He had learned of Balvoc’s prowess in battle and recruited him by holding his wife prisoner. Balvoc had refused at first, and Sin-sim began to cut fingers from her hand. Every misstep cost another. By his count, his lovely Maruda only had six left. Sin-sim kept Maruda and used Balvoc because he believed that the Svet would be far more motivated by the life of his beloved than ever the clink of coins.
“No,” Balvoc managed to choke out. After a moment he spoke again, as deferential as he could, “What is it that you have, Sin-sim?”
The Anshedar pulled a purse from his belt and trickled its contents out onto his palm. A dozen multi-hued gems poured out into his broad hand. “Opals!” He giggled, an odd sound for his grated voice. “Enough to make the whole of the journey worth them time.”
He shook his head, “How could you afford them? How much did you pay?”
Sin-sim grunted, “Well, pay is a loose term, mind you. Perhaps ‘picked’ is a better one.” A mischievous grin crossed his face, “And, as such, we best be on our way, eh?” He poured the gems back into his purse and carefully tied it to his belt.
The Svet stepped backwards, his hindquarters jostling the wagon. “You will get us killed!”
“Careful, fool. There is merchandise in that wagon. You will know it loose and it will come off of your wife’s hands!”
He snarled, grabbing Sin-sim by the throat, “You will get us killed. No one steals from the Lilitu! No one! And if you die, then my wife dies.” The fat merchant’s feet lifted off of the ground, “If she dies I will hunt down your corpse in the Netherworlds and the tortures you faced there will be petty next to those that I inflict on you!”
Just as Sin-sim’s face began to turn purple, Balvoc threw the man to the ground.
The fat man struggled to his feet, his face still purple, now with rage, “That, Balvoc, will cost your whore-wife, her hand!”
Balvoc’s Story #2
Balvoc spent a moment in a silent fury, his blood roiling through his veins as he debated whether he should be rid of Sin-sim now and forever or let him live for Maruda’s sake. But, he could not be rid of the Anshedar. Maruda was depending on him, and he did not know where she was being held to rescue her from the dark tortures that had been inflicted upon her.
He spoke through a snarl, baring his fang-like teeth, “Sin-sim, if you have no tongue to tell them and no fingers to write it. My dear Maruda will not suffer by your hand or mine. The Lilitu are not kind to those that steal from them.”
The fat merchant lay on the ground for a moment staring up at Balvoc’s great height, breathing heavily. Clasping a belt knife at his waist, the Svet realized. Finally, he struggled to his feet. Laboring to get them underneath him, “Then, we must go! If I am held or dead and my friends do not hear from me, your pet horse is dead anyway. And, if I hear another word of why we must go, and it will be her arm. They have eyes and ears and you bring suspicion down upon us with your every word.”
Balvoc snorted as he retrieved their team of horses from a nearby stable and began to hitch them up. Sin-sim piddled around with this and that as he secured his merchandise for the road. In short order, they were ready to be on their way and Sin-sim was already talking quiety with a Lilitu guard about escorting them from the city. That much was necessary, as none who were not LIlitu were permitted out of the Seller’s Quarter without supervision.
It took some time for a guard to be called, and there were suspicious looks for them leaving so late in the day, when the sun was hottest, but Sin-sim brushed away their agitations with soothing words that assured them that night travel was best and so on. Before long, they were walking through a narrow street on their way to the Seller’s Gate.
The city was as grand as any that Balvoc had ever seen, though it may not have seemed so at first. Many building were made of brick and clay and sandstone, but the heights to which the towers grew were inconceivable to his mind. In his villages, there was almost never more than a floor or two above the first. Each home and tower was interconnected with covered walkways to protect from sandstorms that swept across the desert in such a way that the entire city seemed to be be one massive structure, a hive bustling with uncounted Lilitu.
They reached the Seller’s Gate in short order, a half a dozen guards standing at attention, armored with pikes slanted across their chests just so. They nodded to the escort that came with them, who strode beside Balvoc easily. Before passing through the gate, Sin-sim was handed a large ledger to sign and discussed various things in regard to the technicalities that Balvoc did not understand. As he did so, another Lilitu guard came running from behind them, from the direction of the Seller’s Quarter.
Balvoc plucked at Sin-sim’s sleeve, “Perhaps it is time to be underway…”
The fat merchant ruffled, turning furiously towards Balvoc, but his words died on his lips as the running guard cried, “Hold! Hold them! Do not let them leave the city, there has been a theft!”
Balvoc’s hand darted down to the guard at his side, before he could draw his blade, the Svet had thrown him to the side. He was in a dead gallop inside of three strides, his hand slapping the rump of one of the horses pulling the wagon. Cries came from behind him as the twang of bowstrings began to call to the desert sun.
Balvoc’s Story #3
Balvoc tried to avoid galloping in too straight of a line as arrows began to pierce the sand around him, but inside of the first fifty paces a well-aimed shaft had already thudded into his hindquarters. He knew that it hurt. Yet the pain was a distant thought, the pounding of his heart helped to hide the pain away in another part of his mind.
The wagon thundered along beside him, Sin-sim cowering, letting the horses have their heads. Blavoc galloped near to the side of the wagon and grabbed the fat man’s collar, “Hold them straight, you fool! Follow the road!” It was all that he could yell while breathing as he was from his gate, but the merchant seemed to regain something of his self and held the reigns more firmly.
Ahead a sandstone lookout tower rose on the northern side of the broad road that led to the city. Lilitu guards had begun coming out of the tower while others atop the structure began to rapidly string their bows and nock arrows. The guards held their pikes at the ready, calling for the merchant and the Svet to halt, but Balvoc merely slapped his hand on the rump of the horse again.
Quickly, he pulled an angon from his back, rearing and throwing the light spear mid-gallop to strike one of the guards blocking their way in the chest. The guard fell away and the Svet galloped ahead of Sin-sim and the wagon as he pulled his double-headed axe from over his opposite shoulder, gripping the labrys in both hands.
The Lilitu were not ones to back down in the face of adversity, and to their credit they did not flinch, even as Balvoc’s massive weapon crashed through bone and sinew, throwing their bleeding bodies from his path. But, their steadfastness won them more than glancing blows at the mighty warrior, their halberds’ pierced him in more than one place, though the thick leathern armor that covered his chest and lower body reduced those deadly blows enough so that his continued to move forward.
He could feel his life leaking away through the wounds that covered him, and even the distance covered left him feeling weak in his knees. He could not stop, though, not even slow. If he did and Sin-sim or he died, his wife would soon follow. A snarl wretched his mouth as grabbed the bridal of one of the team leading the wagon and began to drag it forward with him. He would not let the Lilitu keep him from her.
How long he ran, it was difficult to say, but he knew that he could not let the Lilitu catch him. He half-expected to hear complaints from Sin-sim, but the man was silent, and Balvoc did not have the energy to give the man any attention. It was not until he noticed the white lather coming from the horses pulling the wagon that he slowed and glanced at the fat merchant.
When he did, his breath caught in his throat. The fat man was pierced several arrows, slumped to the side. Blood oozed from his lips.
Balvoc’s Story #4
Balvoc’s hands shook as he reached to touch the man. To think he could be dead? Well, it was unthinkable. If Sin-sim was dead then, what would that mean for him? For his wife? If the Merchant’s Guild did not hear from Sin-sim, then they would kill his wife before he could possibly reach her. The Anshedar had to be alive.
His fingers hovered over the man’s lips, but he felt no breath stir the air. A hand on his chest told no tale of a beating heart. For a moment he could only stare at him as tears filled his eyes. His nostrils flared as he fought them back, his teeth bared. His heart was in his throat and he could not breathe. With a rising cry of frustration, his fingers tangled in his hair, tugging as he screamed wildly at the sun.
With a wordless roar, his fist caught the fat merchant across the jaw, the crunching sound of bone telling him that the blow broke the dead man’s face. Yet, another and another bow fell upon the fat man, as his features rapidly turned to mush. How could he save his wife? How could he find her without Sin-sim?
Balvoc looked down at his bloody hands, shaking with rage and fear. After several moments of heavy breathing and rapid-blinking, he wiped them on Sin-sim’s vest, looking around as he tried to ascertain if the LIlitu had begun to follow him. The glaring sun reflected off of the barren land revealing nothing to him at any noticeable distance. A sneer at the landscape brought him back to Sin-sim.
He quickly rifled through the man’s pockets, finding a few coins, a dagger, a key, and a thin strip of paper. The paper was of a kind that was used for carrier pigeons for messages. He quickly unrolled it, reading the missive, “Take another. We will return in one week.”
Another? Sin-sim had not yet sent the directive to remove another of his wife’s fingers. That bade well for Balvoc for the time being. His beloved Maruda would not be harmed any time soon. No! He smashed his fist against the wagon, splintering wood with his resolve. She would never be harmed again.
Another glance behind him put a sense of urgency into his step as he unlocked the wagon with the key. He was much too large to enter the wagon fully, but he managed to bend and twist so that his front quarters could squeeze into the enclosure. Along one side of the interior were about half-a dozen carrier pigeons. They would always return to the same place, and so his wife could not be moved from where she was, or the pigeons would not be able to find her.
He knew the basic route that Sin-sim had planned and could backtrack it for a time to the area he had intended to trade in. He stuffed the six pigeons into one larger cage he found and set it outside. Continuing his search he came across more coin, which he took as payment, recompense, and a means to fund his journey.
A few vials in a cabinet were put in his saddlebags. Some he recognized and some he did not. One which he did was to restore vitality in the ill and injured. He drank it quickly, bracing himself as his mind reeled, causing him to become dizzy and slightly confused. Such potions were a trade off against one’s mental abilities, and he would need to rest before he was fully well again. However, his bleeding had stopped and he would be able to travel now.
Taking a few more odds and ends, along with the stolen opals, he strapped the pigeons behind him as best he could. They would ultimately lead him to his wife, if he could just get close enough to where she was. A last look at the fat merchant, left to rot for the carrion birds, which had already begun to circle above, he carried what water he could, and trotted away from the merchant’s wagon.
Balvoc’s Story #5
The sound of the Lilitu soldiers pursuing Balvoc kept him moving forward, though he knew that he could not maintain the pace much longer. His blood pounded in his ears and his throat was sandpaper. The frantically cooing pigeons on his rump made it impossible for him to hide. He had little choice in how this would play out.
He cocked his head listening. He had, perhaps, enough time to catch his breath before they were upon him, and he had to prepare himself. Balvoc had managed to find a recess in the earth, hard rock that set his back to a column of red stone nearly thirty spans in diameter. The recess at its based looked as though it occasionally held water, though now it was bone dry.
With that thought, he quickly pulled up a skin and drank from it before returning it. He then removed the pigeons from his back, setting them gently on the ground as if the grey and white birds were Maruda. For Balvoc, in many ways, they were. His face, softened for a moment, before turning stony as he hefted an arbalest from his side, knocking a bolt in the heavy crossbow. His other hand swung free his axe, leaning the labrys against his side before he aimed the crossbow over the ridge of the recess.
And then the Lilitu were upon him. The bolt flew from the arbalest with deadly accuracy, taking the first soldier from his feet as he topped the ridge, taking him beyond sight. Balvoc hefted his labrys and snarled as he charged them. The mighty weapon whirled about his head and the Lilitu visibly blanched as his onslaught.
The first few died before they could more than start at his anger, fear gripping them as he howled for blood. The other sought to slow him, but his rage filled him and he shrugged away their feeble attempts to take away his mobility and strength. The blows that landed stung, but his armor helped to reduce their impact, though the Lilitu armor could do little against his heavy blows. Even if the blade did not cut their armor, the force of the blow shattered the insides of the Lilitu.
More than half a dozen lay dead around him before he noticed that they had regrouped atop the hill. Another Lilitu stood among those atop the ridge with raised hands and a roiling mass of sand and fire grew from the ground in a rapidly widening arc that threatened to sweep Balvoc from his feet and burn him to ash all at once. With a snarl, he charged at the wave of sand and fire, some of the sand fusing to glass, glimmering with razor-sharp deadliness. He leapt with all of his strength to clear the wave, and the Lilitu smiled.
With a twitch, his fingers burst open and the wave beneath Balvoc exploded, sending fire and glass into his underbelly, the sand and glass fused to his flesh.
Balvoc’s Story #6
Balvoc jerked on the ground. He did not know how long he had been unconscious. His body ached and he barely enough strength to open his eyes under the blistering sun. His lips were cracked, completely dried out. His flesh stung with the burning wounds that layered him from hoof to chest. He groaned miserably.
He took note that the world was silent outside of the hollowing wind that pressed against his eardrums in the mid-afternoon heat. He had expected the Lilitu to come crashing down upon him at any moment, to tear him to shreds. The Svet would never leave an enemy to die of their own accord. Balvoc would have assured that his enemy was dead!
He found himself lucky that the Lilitu were not as thorough.
With his eyes shut, he reached to his belt for another potion to give him the boost he needed to continue the journey. The red liquid slid down his throat with ease, his mind having the general effect of being clouded. He hated the sensation, but the lacerations on his body immediately were given relief.
“Maruda,” he muttered gruffly, a gentle reminder of why he struggled. It was why he lived. His beloved needed him.
As his vision cleared, and his strength returned, Balvoc looked around the landscape for the deadly Lilitu that had attacked him. It did not take long for him to realize that he stood alone. They had truly left him, already thinking him to be dead. They obviously were not familiar with the resilience of the Svet. He had the impulse to seek revenge against the spineless seafarers of the south, to rip them limb from limb and taste their blood on his lips. But, Maruda had to come first.
“I am coming for you, Maruda.”
Balvoc was glad to see that the pigeons had been left at his side. He took one gently from the large cage and set it loose into the air. It flew furiously to the northwest. He gathered his weapons with a snort, his ears flipping irritably at the situation.
With what strength he had, he galloped after the pigeon. His tale was not yet done!
Balvoc’s Story #7
Weeks turned into months. Balvoc trekked across the desert and into the grasslands of northern Marharia. Frequently, he released the pigeons and followed them until he no longer could hold the pace. The land became more familiar as he raced across the landscape. He knew this world. He knew the North.
Balvoc released another pigeon with the rising of the sun. It fluttered into the air and flapped its wings to the Northwest. Balvoc followed. The pigeon only flew for about half an hour before Balvoc saw it land in the distance over a small hill.
He had found the place. Now, if only Maruda was alive. He hoped that Rujan, the God of War and Glory, blessed him this day
Balvoc was aware that the Svet were not known for their stealth, so he did not even try to sneak upon the base camp over the hill. With a snarl, he raced towards the hill. His labrys was clutched in his right hand and the crossbow loaded in his left.
As he climbed the hill, his vision fell on the makeshift camp near an outline of scattered trees. Five Anshedar men sat around the fire, eating their morning meal and laughing heartily. Their bedrolls were still scattered about the area. Their weapons were nowhere near their hand.
Balvoc’s eyes laid upon Maruda. She was down on her knees, collapsed on the ground, weak and thinner than he had ever seen her. Her dark skin was pale. Maruda’s head was dipped towards the ground as though she barely had the strength to lift it. The female Svet heaved and coughed as though sickness had been with her for weeks without remedy.
His wife was alive!
A deep-seeded roar unleashed from his throat, deeper than the dark caverns of the Kras, deeper than the depths of the Netherworld. He bolted down the hill with full intent of laying waste to the human scum.
“Maruda!” he cried. “For glory!”
The Anshedar threw their heads up about the same time that he released the bolt from the crossbow. It tore into the neck of the man on the left, causing him to spew his breakfast to the ground with the blood that erupted from his mouth.
“To arms!” One cried.
And already, Balvoc was upon him with unmatched speed against the two-legged fools that dared cross the centaur. Balvoc hit the first man that stood with his horns, crunching bone, and laying him back down. His feet trampled the man as he swung the labrys towards another. The weapon hit its mark with deadly accuracy, slicing through the underbelly. The Anshedar’s guts spilled like spoiled wine across the green grasses of the northland.
Another human managed to grip his sword, and came at Bulvac with full force. The centaur dropped his crossbow and grabbed the man’s arm that swung the weapon. He pulled the man off his feet, dislocating the arm, and sunk his sharpened fangs into the man’s face with the ferocity of a savage beast. His cries were cut short before the weapon clanged upon the ground.
“Die, Svet!” the last Anshedar screamed, firing a bolt into Balvoc’s stomach.
Bulvac resounded in pain, jerking the sharp projectile from his body, and stamping towards the ignorant pile of sheepdip. He raised the labrys and ran the man through before he could nock another arrow.
“Balvoc,” Maruda whispered faintly.
Balvoc fell to his wife’s side, his touch grazing by the severed fingers of her hand, and touching her face with the gentleness of a falling leaf, “I’m here, my love. I’m here.”