What Lies at the Heart

by: C.M. Galdre

Nothing can change what the heart contains.

Words spoken by the warriors love upon their last meeting, too brief to grant him the solace and rest he desperately needed. She had been just a shimmering image awoken briefly from her long sleep within the Dreaming City, long enough to aid Beard in his adventures, but never long enough to aid his troubled heart. His brain pulsed with the sound of drums beating in the night, their dull rumble, their frantic crescendos, their maddening repetition. He had heard these drums before, in the cursed forest near his home, the maddening heartbeat of the Eastwood.

Beards mind swirled in his restless sleep, sweat beaded across his body like a plague victim, his veins rose hot and steaming beneath his skin, thick serpents full of blood running along his powerful arms.The black mark of the voidling he slew on the Crescent Isles blazed into existence upon his chest, the lines of the lidless reptilian eye glowing like embers in the dark. The warrior burst into wakefulness, sweat rolling from his iron muscled form like rain shed from oilcloth. The shadowy presence of the Tattered Edge burned within him, waiting just beneath the surface of his skin, waiting for its master to call it forth.

The warrior heard the drums in earnest then. So my mind has not been simply tormenting me, the grim Thorgithen reflected as he reached for his vest and belt. He had not bothered to shed his trousers or boots before collapsing upon his bed the night before..

Beard heard someone rushing towards his cabin door. Truth be told, the warrior figured it was Crabs but it had become difficult to tell which of his crew it was since his sharing of strength with the wyrmship and in turn to its bonded crew. He had meant only to lend the ship strength and yet some power had allowed him to take on the wounds of his crew; wounds Beard, with his fate cursed body, could survive. Pain was now ever upon his mind. The pain of the tormented ship, the pain of his crew, the pain of his own memories.

The warriors intuition proved correct, as it often had, and Crabs came bursting into Beards quarters, sweaty and terrified, his hands clasped like two pincers, not yet used to being prehensile and multi-fingered.

“Cap'n” the frightened pirate warbled. “The trees. The trees be maken for the ship!”

Beard fixed the marauder in his steely gaze. “And?”

“Well the crew was wondering if you wanted to come take care of it, or if we could just be off.” muttered Crabs.

The warrior sighed and strode past the trembling pirate, each step made with the swagger of a man beyond rest but still confident in his abilities. The crew had assembled upon the port side of the ship, staring towards the shore. Aye, the trees moved and shuddered with religious ecstasy to the beat of the unseen drums. Beard knew the source of the sound, it was the beat of the wicked creatures hearts and realized how such monstrosities came to be. Had he not seen how the islands keeper, Beg, vomited the black seeds from his gullet, germinated in blood and fear?

Beard watched the shore, his warrior blood burned with the call of battle, but the warrior remembered well the trial he had faced in the Eastwood, how narrowly he had escaped back then. No, battle would not be joined easily, and as such the grim Thorgithen stood upon the deck of his ship and glowered at the shivering wood upon the shore.

In the brig of the Satrian Falx a cell had been made comfortable for its occupant, the blood washed from the floor, the bed heaped with blankets, the door standing ajar with a wooden wedge placed within the latch to keep it from locking. Upon the blankets slept a boy, his jaw bandaged from where his father had broken and reset it, his body bruised from the eons of abuse.

How long had he been trapped within this body? How long had it been since he felt the hunger that had driven him to his fathers god. How long since his body had been changed to hunger for the flesh of mortals. The boy winced as his stomach growled, the glamour of the Merciful One had passed with the creatures passing and now the boys memories unwound in their grisly detail, the bowls full of water and meat, the sight of a rosy red cheek and an eye staring up from the slightly seasoned depths, the crunch of a mans tooth ground to fine powder beneath the boys eager molars.

The boy vomited upon the floor. It was thick with black blood. He stared at his own sick as the memories came flooding back, his eyes grew wet with tears and then the black bile moved. The boy tried to ignore it, it is just the movement of the ship he told himself, but as he stared at the glistening lumps upon the floor he could not deny that they moved of their own accord, they pulsed and quivered upon the splintered planks.

His fingers trembling, the young lad fell down to all fours. Cautiously he stretched a finger our to poke the quivering mass but fell back instinctively as the nearest lump burst. The boy stared in wonder at the thing that had lain at the center of the burst pustule, a black heart covered in glowing green veins pulsed upon the floor, small, like a button mushroom, and very much alive. The boy recoiled as the other lumps burst revealing their contents, all the same, and now eight tiny hearts pulsed to a single beat among the bloody sick that lay upon the floor.

“Yes” A voice shivered in the darkness of the boys mind. “Become what your father could not.”

“No.” the boy mouthed as he drew away from the pulsing hearts, “I will not serve the Merciful One.”

“Do not hate the mind for the actions of the mouth.” the voice sang “Long have we been separated, the mouth, the mind, and the body. But you could change that, for I am here, the mind waits for you, oh body, and together we can make the mouth our slave.”

The boy hesitated, and the gurgling of his stomach echoed within the vastness of the Satrian Falx' hold. One by one the boy picked up the quivering organs and one by one he placed them within his mouth, his white teeth gleaming as he bit down, the black-green blood filling his stomach that would never feel full.

Satrian, Beards voice boomed even within his own mind as he stretched his perception inward and called out to the consciousness of the wyrmship. Yes, Captain? The morose voice of the ship replied, his presence filling the warriors consciousness. Are you seaworthy? The warrior inquired. I am well, but well weary. The ship chuckled. I would not risk the open ocean.

Beard released his hold upon the bond that tethered him to the ship and faced the growing storm before him. The sentient forest had begun testing the waters, their thick roots swirling like coiled serpents as they tested the azure waves. Beard smiled as several of the eager trees began to show signs of illness, their leaves loosing color their root movements growing sluggish, before ultimately falling dead within the waves. The warriors expression changed though as he saw how swiftly the trees abandoned the tactic, they were planning something, he could hear their hearts beating faster and faster, the wild roots of the trees were burrowing deep.

“Oy, what're you doing here.” Crabs barked at the young lad that had just run into him heading from his cell to the main deck. The boy had been walking quite swiftly and deliberately and froze upon being questioned. “I said, what're ye doing lad?” Crabs continued more firmly. “Things aren’t looking too good up there, better to stay in your cozy bed.”

“We heard you.” The boy responded. “No, things are not going well.” The boys eyes turned up to face the seasoned sailor. Crabs stifled a gasp as he peered down into those monstrous orbs, no human eyes stared back at him, the whites turned a foul black, veined and pulsing with green light, the iris' and pupils fused into a single green glowing disc. “Things are not going well at all,” The boy-thing continued, “for you.”

A twisted smile stretched across the boys shell as he lunged and sank his gleaming teeth deep in the sailor's thigh. Crabs doubled over and felt his weight give out from under him. The thing bit down harder and Crabs felt his consciousness fade. He felt himself fall over and get dragged up the stairs, his leg in the boy things mouth, the boy moving with surprising speed and agility. A chuckle gurgled past the blood filling the boy-things throat as it carried its prize towards towards the sounds of combat.

Beard twisted his mighty torso, swinging his blade with the gusto of a man born for war, and with one swing of the mighty edge he brought down four thick roots as they assailed his ship from beneath the waves.

Upon the shore, the malicious trees had regimented themselves in a system of assault, the front row of trees sent their roots deep, stretching their strength thin into a single powerful root spanning the distance between shore and ship and burst from the shallow ocean floor to strike the vessel. When the root died, either by blade or salt poisoning, the trees discarded it before falling back among its brethren to let another wicked angiosperm take its place.

The attacks had come suddenly and with little warning, and the Satrian Falx was starting to take damage. “Damn my indecision!” Beard cursed, he suddenly wished he had pushed Satrian to take to open waters rather than waiting and judging the danger to ship and crew. Now the warrior and his crew of marauders were stuck fending for their lives as their enemies assailed them unharried from the shore.

The Thorgithen's blade sang as he fought across the deck, where other men struggled two to a root the mighty warrior made up for their slack, cutting down three or four roots at a time. The warrior grinned with battle lust as the deck filled with dying tubers. “Sand!” Beard shouted above the fray, and two of the more nimble pirates dashed around the deck spreading sand from great burlap sacks to soak up the black blood that spilled from the trees and the red that streamed freely from the men. It was easy enough to defend the ship, but Beard wondered how long they could last, this was no battle of skill, it was a siege and their enemies energy seemed boundless.

A scream erupted from below decks and the crew paused as it was a most tormented cry, more troubling still, the roots themselves paused in their attacks and all eyes turned towards the entrance to the hold. A single pale hand gripped the frame of the door, red blood dripping between its fingers, and after followed the face of the boy, changed nearly beyond recognition. In his mouth he chewed upon a sailors leg, Crabs, who was fading in and out of consciousness as the boys working maw chewed through muscle and bone. Crabs screamed again as the boy bit down and the mans leg fell with a sickening thud to the deck, Crabs fell as well but the boy, a blur of motion, swiftly grabbed the falling pirates arm jerking him upright and then set his teeth into the poor mans bicep. Crabs fainted again, seemingly unable to resist the strength of the boy, he was the plaything of an infernal predator.

With leonine strength and agility Beard lept at the monstrous child, the gleaming edge of his blade held high above his head. The grim black blade of the warrior came down with singular purpose but the blade never reached its intended target, it's keen edge sank into root after root as they rose in defense of the boy, eventually stopping clogged in pulp and black blood before the boy-things grinning face. Beard howled with rage and withdrew his blade for a second strike, but the boy was already out of reach, dragging Crabs along with him surrounded by the protective roots. The trees kept up their formation, though the roots never came as far as the ship, now they rose up before the boy and his grisly prize so that he may step upon them and then falling back into the waves in death. Beard made to pursue the boy immediately but he found himself restrained by the crew.

“No Cap'n!” a marauder who was known only as 19 shouted, “Death awaits you in those waves, you can't fight the pull of the ocean and the woods.”

Beard saw the wisdom in this but it did not prevent him from bellowing his surly reply “Then what would you have me do? I have spilled blood with Crabs, I know the foul dangers of the woods, the grisly fate that awaits him. I will return him to the ship or give him an honorable death apart from those wretched things!”

19 shook his head “Aye, Crabs be a brother to us all but against such a force, stealth be our only ally. The island is small and you know well that Crabs will be preserved for other uses than immediate death. We have time to plan, for Sol to set. Choose a few good men and we shall smoke black our blades and follow you to hells end!”

Beards eyes blazed with barbaric pride at this pirates impassioned speech, perhaps the men of the south were not so weak as he had written them off too be. The warrior gazed over the war hungry faces of his crew, he would turn these men into warriors yet. “You and Bill, bring whale fat and lampblack, we shall become as shadows, black reavers against the black wood.” Beard bellowed and looked towards shore. “Hold friend Crabs, with night comes freedom and vengeance or red ruin.”

Crabs awoke to the sound of furiously working mandibles. Instinct told him to check his limbs, but, to his relief, the thing was not working away at one of his two remaining appendages, no, the boy-thing was tearing its way into the heart of the great worm, the Merciful One, as it had fashioned itself, that Beard and Satrian had killed not a day before. The boy was changing further. Feeling nothing, Crabs propped himself up on his remaining good arm and watched in horror as the boy tunneled into the massive creatures shuddering body. Minutes passed as bile and ichor wept from the wound the boy had made upon entering the creature, Crabs could no longer see the boy but he could see the worm corpse shaking with the boys movements inside it. A glow began to pulse from within the great carcass emanating from somewhere near the place the boy had entered. The corpse shivered and began to decay, not as a corpse upon the sea or laid bare upon a salty shore, but as one left in the woods, insects spilled over the body and flesh eating fungi burst forth into life and then decayed as well, soft mosses grew over the beast and spores filled the air from the accelerated cycle of life and death. When all was done only a small glowing mound of moss and spore spawned mushrooms remained, this mound pulsed to an infernal beat and the forest answered. All around the living trees gathered to its call, their internal workings thumping to the same beat, the wicked drums of the wood.

The glowing mound shuddered and the woods grew quiet, a head emerged from the soil and peat, the boy but so changed was he that it was if he never was, his skin segmented as a worms hide, his hair falling in clumps upon the earth, his limbs longer, fingers pointed and sharp. Crabs vaguely noticed the time then, Sol dipped low in the sky and the woods all around felt anxious. The boy strode over to Crabs, it appeared he had not mastered his new form, his limbs twitching and jerking unpredictably as he strode. Crabs felt the slithering tendril of a vine wrap round his body like a spider spinning its victim in silk, the last thing he saw before the woods dragged him deeper into the isle, was of the boys eyes, hollow and empty, no light or even the fearsome visage they offered before, here two sockets stared out at him, beneath a layer of worm-skin.

Beard surveyed his three man stealth cell with pride. 19 was tall for a southman nearly Beards height, lithe and well muscled, upon his chest three horizontal lines were tattooed followed by the number 19 from which he drew his name. Bill was short and wiry, resembling a well weathered ape, he was a natural climber, first up the riggings in a storm and the last one down, his knife was a natural extension of his body, maneuvered as nimbly as a man might twiddle his own fingers. All three were were darkened with lampblack and whale fat, their blades blackened over torches and wrapped tight in oilskins. Beard, whose blade was an item of myth, an artifact of deep shadow, simply drew it within him the blade fading into a shadowed mist that seemed to soak into the grim warrior. Their preparations made the three men sank silently into the calm waters and swam swiftly towards shore, the moon rising behind their ship at their backs.

With his sleek and powerful strokes Beard reached the shore before the others and scouted a few feet into the woods. He set his head against the nearest trunk but did not hear the telltale beating of a live tree's heart, no these were only ironwoods. The woods themselves seemed more sparse the spaces between the trees greater and was this not where the great worm fell? Where now was its body? Beard had and ill feeling about these portents. The warrior fell back to the shore where he found 19 and Bill emerging from the water.

Beard used the hand language his people use when in enemy territory, he did not notice the confused stares of his men, but they understood his intent. The three warriors set out towards the center of the isle, undoubtedly this would be where the boy had gone, back to the only home he ever knew.

Three grim shadows moved through the woods, pantherish, but none more so than Beard. To his keen Thorgithen ears the steps of the other men, though quiet to the common ear, sounded like two wounded boars stumbling through the undergrowth.

They came upon the clearing, opposite a dense copse of trees, Crabs lay unconscious on the ground and Beard feared that the man had finally bleed his life out. His fears subsided as he saw that the marauder was made of tougher stuff, witnessing the injured man's chest rise and fall... shallow but alive. From the cellar of the old house that had once stood upon the spot the boy emerged, changing as he strode, from his legs burst mighty roots gnarled and hardened into the shape are large legs, the boys own legs still visible in the woody upper thighs, the boys hands and arms grew long and thorny, like twisting brambles they formed into knotted muscles and long slender fingers made of fibrous timber, around his head an emaciated torso formed strong in chest but weak were the boys head still appeared from the stomach, his face a look of utter anguish. The headless thing turned to the shivering trees behind it, turning its growing back to the three warriors. Beard did not know if the thing had seen it, or if it was simply ignoring them, but he did not like the look of the creatures back. From a growing nodule of wood and flesh a multitude of wormlike mouths gibbered and grew, a dull green light growing from within their depths. A sinewy neck coiled up and formed from vines sprouting from the things growing torso and from them blossomed a black flower which bloomed then formed into a fruit which hardened and became a husk, a dull rattling noise echoed from it and the creature turned to face the soot blackened men.

“O sons, o daughters, see you not these men of resolve, come to play with gods.” It seemed to hum from within the husk, the trees quivered with ecstasy at the sound of its voice. “Here is one who has killed your cousins, a northman, a Thorgithen.” The trees shook with rage. “Beard.” The creature called out. “Oh yes, I know your name, the echos of it reached me from the continent.”

“How is this possible.” Beard bellowed “The trees of the Eastwood bare some ill intelligence but none that would suggest it spanned lands.”

“No, no, the trees do not, but I do, and they are part of me, infants waiting to nurse from their... god.” The creature hummed quite pleased with itself. “There was a time when I roved the Eastwood, with little huddles of men who worshiped me, making effigies of the manlike form I took.. but I much prefer this one.” The creature drew its long arms up to its husk face and as it ran its fingers over its featureless face eyes formed, green and glowing and horns of wood and bramble sprouted from its skull. “I was known as Grisholmn the Seed Bearer. That was of course before the Thorgithen came... Sigrund.”

Beard drew in a sharp breath at the mentioning of Sigrund's name, in the Book of Victories, where a conquering king may warrant an entry, Sigrund held two pages.

“Surely you know the tale, of how Sigrund came to my wood and struck me down, sundered my beautiful form and scattered its parts far across this world.” The creature buzzed angrily.

Beard raised an eyebrow. “I am afraid it wasn't recorded, perhaps Sigrund did not feel it was an important tale to recount.”

“You LIE.” The thing quaked “Grisholmn is a name feared by all the north, for how he broke Sigrund and for how he barely escaped with the aid of some whore dryads saving him!”

“I tell you now,” the warrior replied with a grin, “this is the first I have heard of your name, though Sigrund Among the Dryads is one of our most cherished bawdy tales.”

The creature shook with heathen rage and Beard motioned 19 and Bill to gather up Crabs. The two marauders worked swiftly pulling their comrade between them as Beard moved between his men and the thing.

“Come to me children.” Grisholmn whispered. “I shall show you warrior, my progeny, my legacy that Sigrund stole.” The trees shifted a little closer to Grisholmn who extended his hand towards the nearest and escorted from the group like he was leading a girl to a fair. “What you encountered in the Eastwood was just the beginning. Children, larvae, lost and starved, knowing only the hunger and never the release that only I can bring them. They feed and feed, and it seems some have even learned how to make more of themselves, and grim shadows of their final form. You have seen the vine rotten dead that they raised, so close, and yet so far away from the glorious form they remember in their hearts but are unable to obtain.” The creature drew a fell symbol across the shivering trees trunk and the bark separated revealing a thundering black heart. “This is my body.” Grisholmn purred as he stretched a long arm to his back. “Broken for you.” he continued as he pulled one of the gibbering worm maws from the fleshy patch upon his back. “Take this and eat of it.” He placed the squirming mouth within the chest cavity of the tree. “All of you.” The fell creature gazed around the wood. “To the glory, and honor of me.”

The black heart convulsed as it consumed and was consumed by the slavering mouth, being absorbed and eaten at the same time, a new thing forming, a glistening green embryo, a fetid green fetus, a sylvan child. The things eyes opened and it stepped from the withering husk from the tree its face contorted with mystery, then it continued to change, similar to the boy who turned into Grisholmn, his limbs extended, his shoulders wrapped with vine corded muscle, a second neck grew from the first as the boy-things child like face contorted and became the creatures chest, and then there were two Grisholmns that stood before Beard and his shaken crew, distinguishable from each other only by size and the rune upon its chest, so similar to the one drawn upon the bark of the tree that was its womb.

“See you now the first sons of the wood.” Grisholmn cackled.

Beards eyes locked with the faces of pain that were bound within the twin creatures chests. The shadow the warrior cast by the bright moon flickered and seemed to grow in the pale blue light.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit.” 19 and Bill cursed, they had seen some of the warriors wrath and the silence that hung heavy in the air, broken only by the occasional shifting of the wicked trees had the pressure of a coming storm, a thunderhead in the form of a black bearded Thorgithen warrior.

Beards blade, the Tattered Edge, swirled dangerously into existence in his mighty sword arm. His broad chest rippled with controlled fury in the moonlight, the symbol of the voiding smoldering into existence above the warriors heart. With Crabs dangling between them, 19 and Bill ran for the ship. Roots burst from the ground closing off the clearing immediately, blocking off all escape. Grisholmn chuckled in its dry seed husk voice, but his mirth was short lived. In a motion of precise fury, like a cobra striking its prey, Beard lashed out a single circling strike and all the light of the moon and the glowing green lights of Grisholmn's eyes seemed to be blotted out, if only for an instant, and then the sound of splitting timber as the root circle fell away from the retreating men, cut down by the shadowed edge of the warriors blade.

“The third gate is opened.” Beard bellowed. “I have seen your heart Grisholmn. I know the pain of your existence, and I know it as if it was my own.”

“What do you blither about warrior?” The creature spat.

“Our hearts our different, but our wishes are similar, you wish a death of peace or to have the whole world feel your agony. Sigrund denied you both. This is what your heart contains, hunger, and malice, rage for a life you never wished to live and so now you wish only for death for you or for all.” As the Thorgithen spoke his shadow danced as if aflame, and the blade he bore, the blade of the first revenant hummed with its understanding. The warrior progressed quickly, six gates the sword had placed between itself and the warrior and now the third had come thundering down, not in furious action, but in the calm control that comes from truly knowing one's enemy.

“AND WHAT OF YOU WARRIOR, WHAT LIES AT YOUR HEART THAT YOU PROCLAIM TO KNOW MINE SO WELL?” Grisholmn screamed and his progeny surged to him.

“Vengeance” the warrior replied as visions of his fathers death at the hand of his own mentor Brög filled his mind, “and fire.” Beard stepped forward then, a man against a surging wave of wood and leaves, the Tattered Edge dripping in black flame.

“Is he dead?” 19 asked, huddling over the still body of Crabs. Bill kneeled next to the man they came to rescue. “At least he won't get fed to those damn shrubs.” Bill sighed. 19 kicked the stump that was crabs leg. Crabs screamed.

“Kor! Can't a man rest is eyes.” Crabs eyed his shipmates.

19 rolled his eyes and whistled. Bill just shook his head and the two of them gathered up their oilcloths and hastily fashioned tourniquets. “I suppose Crabs always was more booze than blood anyway, the loss of a few pints probably wouldn't faze him.” Bill chuckled. “So long as we get some drink in him back at the ship.” 19 mused, and the three friends journeyed swiftly back towards their ship.

Beard and Grisholmn faced each other in a ring of smoking ruin, the first born of the creature lay burning at Beards feet, burning with black flame that blazed with relentless hunger, the flames of true vengeance. Crisp vines and cinder chunks lay scattered all around, the remains of Grisholmn's sons and daughters. Grim forms twitched and writhed as the relentless black flames devoured their bodies, others shrieked out as they burned, their voices like acorns boiling in a campfire, echoing a hundred fold.

The battle had writ a story in blood across Beards sculpted form, he stood now more as a statue lined with age chunks of his flesh hanging ragged from his body, the statue of a god ravaged by age in a crumbling temple.

“You weaken warrior.” Grisholmn purred. “I wonder how long your tormented form will last.”

Beard grinned as he felt the shadowy presence of the Tattered Edge rise within him, he knew he should not give in to its powers, the easing of the pain, the boundless energy it pumped into his limbs, but now he felt something else, something pulsed within his chest. The warrior twisted and lunged at Grisholmn with deceptive grace, he caught the creature in its wooden ribs and the thing cried out as the black flames licked at the edges of his wounds.

“You should not let your guard down, lest I turn you into kindling.” Beard goaded.

Grisohlmn launched a verdant assault, roots and vines bursting from his arms their edges sharp with thorns bursting forth to impale the warrior. Beard danced around the wooden spears, a few scoring marks but the warrior hardly noticed them. His blood spat fire both black and amber, the lidless eye upon his chest glowed with malice. Beards steely thews surged with tigerish strength and the warrior surged forward with unrelenting force, his blade strikes as a hammer falls upon the anvil and Grisholms vines fell in flames around him.

The grim Thorgithen swiftly worked himself inside the creatures reach, the verdant things limbs less nimble than the catlike warrior and unable to defend from his assault of strikes with his blade hilt and iron fists, loosening the creatures defenses. Grisholmn’s limbs grew slack his head slumping forward as the warrior broke the creature down. Beard grinned with grim satisfaction as his opponent faded, but then the eyes of the tortured boy upon the beasts chests opened and a spear of hardened wood burst forth from its mouth, launching the warrior across the clearing.

“Where Cap?” the crew of the Satrian Falx cried out as they pulled 19, Bill, and Crabs, dripping, over the side of the ship and onto the still bloodied deck.

“He will be along shortly I am sure.” 19 coughed.

“I ain't never been so scared of a man in my life.” Bill added.

“Unstrap me you bastards.” Crabs added.

The pirates laughed as they cut Crabs free of 19's broad back, the Bill had tied him to the lithe marauder like a mother straps in her babe for a long journey. As Crabs fell free the crew brought warmed rum to men, and the ships wood workers began to take measurements of Crabs remaining limbs.

Beard stood, his knees bent, his head hung low, but he stood just the same with a wooden spike jutting from his chest, its long haft leading back to the contorted mouth of the boy-head at the center of Grisholmn's chest. The warrior stirred. His left arm rising from his side, he grasped the spear and stood, the wood burning from where he grasped. Shadow and flame raced down the haft of the spear and hit Grisholmn like a thunderbolt.

“How.” The creature howled, but rage turned to astonishment as the warrior stood, his back straight, his eyes blazing in the dark. The warriors wounds dripped fire, his eyes blazed blue, and his chest was encased in black carbon, not a wound, but armor grown from an ancient mark, the powers of the voidling awakening within his skin.

With inhuman speed the warrior closed the gap, and swung his blade as Grisholmn struggled to raise his arms. The blazing blade swung true, biting through the things fingers as they rose in defense, the sword unimpeded sliced on through like a searing axe blade upon rotten wood, it crumpled the creatures left shoulder slowing only briefly before exiting the creature through its right. Grisholmn's top tumbled over and screeched as it burned upon the ground.

Beard stepped back to survey his grisly work and saw the boy shifting between both child and monster, fighting but never winning between the two. Briefly the boys eyes met the warriors. “Beard, please.” the boy whispered.

The warrior nodded and his black blade swiftly found the boys skull, unresisting, it shot straight through and out the creatures back. The fires of Beards blood snuffed out, his eyes returning to their cold blue grey, the blood came freely then, and the warriors fury died as the monster-boy burned to ash about his blade.

“Rest well boy.” The warrior muttered. The woods around Beard burned, but the warrior seemed unaware of the heat, his head heavy as he headed towards shore.

Beard awoke to the familiar sound of Crabs wooden gate clamoring down the hall to the captains quarters. He had not slept, his eyes burned with ash, he had returned to the ship, his clothes smoldering ruins save his loin cloth and trusty Thorgithen boots. He had gone to his cabin and collapsed upon the bed. The crew had left him till morning. Satrian had told him, or rather the warrior had felt that the ship was sea-worthy once more, but he had not yet emerged from his cabin, he had not yet given his orders to his crew.

“Cap'n” Crabs whispered. “Where should we be headen?”

“East.” the warrior croaked. “My heart tells me east.”

This article is my 32nd oldest. It is 5803 words long