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    Kyle Aarons
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Beyond the Crags - 1. Chapter 1

Adga adjusted her headwrap to combat the intense sun. She took a swig of water and looked to the west. At long last the two massive natural rock formations loomed in the distance. Twin Spires. Home. Only a few sandglass turns until she would collect her weekly pay as a senior guardsman apprentice and have a day off. The patrol out to Jade Gulch had been long and hot. The return trip had been hotter.

The wind blew from the southwest. Sand lanced into her. Below, her mount, a ten-legged lizard with webbed feet, put its head down and pushed on. The wide feet prevented the Sand Skimmer from sinking into the desert dunes. It moved fast. No other type of mount had a skimmer’s endurance or speed.

Ahead of her, the patrol leader gave an overhand motion. Next to him, the other apprentice guardsman lowered the patrol banner and pointed the tip in the same direction. The patrol angled further to the south. The other seven members of the patrol dropped their heads in unison. A detour, even a slight one, would easily add an extra sandglass before they could get to the river. There the skimmers could drink and rest. Their weary riders would join them. The thought of splashing cooling water over her face made the patrol leader's command sting almost as bad as the blowing sand.

Adga sighed. With a resigned shrug she pulled the outer wrapping of her headwrap down and covered her face. While it made it harder to breathe, it drastically cut down on sand entering her mouth and nose. No one purposefully angled straight into a strong desert wind. The man must have seen something.

Adga edged her skimmer out from the group. Adga’s massive size and keen eyes combined to help her see what the patrol leader saw. There were hordes of beings running in their general direction. Behind them, white stones poked up from the sand marking a road. Adga knew it well. It was the trash pit path. It traversed just over five kilometers from the southern side of the Spires to what most referred to as the ‘Noble’s Garbage Pit.’ “Beggar trash fight?” She asked loudly.

“Don’t think so none!” The patrol leader stated. “Too many running. It be something else!” He again motioned with his whole arm and pointed straight toward the bulk of those running in their direction. This gave the signal to increase from patrol to advancement speed.

“It be a bunch a beg and squat folk, Kolude.” One of the women grumbled.

“Yeah!” Another man snarled. “Yer cuttin’ into me day off fer a bunch a dregs!”

“Our patrol ain’t done yet. Dregs or not,” Kolude looked back with frustration in his eyes and aggravation in his voice, “Any in sight of the Spires be under our flag. We guard all, not some! Now let’s find out what the probl’m be! No more bitchin’!”

With the increased speed and wind blowing sand straight at them, it became harder to see. Suddenly the wind shifted for a moment. Adga spotted the problem. A mostly skeletal figure, hunks of flesh hanging off, was chasing those fleeing. She couldn’t make out many details, but it held a large bronze axe, green with age and no care in its left hand and a dented and greenish-tinged shield in the other. “Dead walker!” Adga shouted.

The woman next to Adga looked over and up, while shielding her eyes from the sun and sand with her left arm, “Ya sure?”

“Yes!” Adga hissed. “By Lunara’s light… There be more! I see at least five!”

“Charge speed!” Kolude shouted. “Get between the dead walkers and them fleein’ ‘em!”

The skimmer turned its head and hissed. She smacked it hard on its muzzle and kicked her feet into its side harder. It hissed again but surged forward.

Most of those fleeing dead walkers parted as they saw the Twin Spires banner. A few, foolish, reckless, or desperate didn’t. Adga cringed as Kolude’s skimmer trampled one of those they were trying to protect. At least this caused others to move or even dive out of the way.

Once past the majority of those fleeing, Kolude held up a fist signaling everyone to stop. He jumped off and pulled a flail off his belt while shouting “Ya know the drill! Right rank, blades! Left rank, blunt! Adga, Foelay, guard the skimmers and our gear!”

“We’ll guard ‘em, but dregs still be dregs. Them best not steal none a our gear! Beat ‘em down if them try!”

Adga secured the tether lines and gathered the skimmers. The blowing sand on the desert floor was even worse than up on the mount. She pulled her face wrap tighter and used her right arm to protect her eyes as best as she could.

“Ad, why’d Kolude call for weapon types?”

Adga grabbed a stake off the side of her mount and slammed it into the sand, then used the back of her axe hammer to pound it in deeper as she responded. “Bone walkers need to be smashed. Flesh walkers need to be cut up!” She secured the lines to the pole. At the same time, the sound of metal on metal told her the guardsmen had engaged the former living.

She pointed to the banner the junior apprentice guardsman fought to hold onto. “Foelay, wave the distress signal! Maybe those on Spire top guard can see us.”

“In this sand squall?” The twelve-year-old Human boy asked.

“Worth a try!”

Foelay held the banner up as high as he could and swung it in a zigzag pattern as best as he could. The wind almost ripped it out of his hands a couple of times.

Suddenly Foelay dropped the banner and started back peddling, “Adga!” he pointed in the direction the guards went.

Four dead walkers pulled themselves out from under the sand. Two were old. They had no skin on them. One had just turned. It had hunks of meat hanging off its side. The left side of its face was peeled back, exposing teeth, and blackish-oozing gums, and its tunic looked wet with body fluids. The final one was extremely old, but unlike the bonewalkers, it hadn’t lost its skin. Instead, it had dried giving it a mummified look. She had only dealt with one of these types before. It was a hidewalker. The dried skin giving it a natural armor.

Adga yanked her shield off her mount and spun the axe hammer around in her hand so the blade was facing forward. “Foelay, pull your mace! We can’t let them get to the skimmers or attack the patrol from behind!”

She glanced over her shoulder only to see the boy backing up further. Fear was the worst thing to show a dead walker. They sensed it, fed off it. This case was no different. The hidewalker turned its full attention toward Foelay. It held up a broken longsword and ran right at him.

Adga moved to intercept. She dropped her axe hammer and pulled her much bigger and heavier bastard sword from over her back. She then went low as the hidewalker ran right past, ignoring her.

She swung with everything she had. The blade’s edge made contact with the right leg and cut through. The power of her swing reaped more damage. The bone under the dead dried skin split with a snapping sound. The blade still didn’t stop. Its forward momentum carried it through the back skin. The leg came off.

The hidewalker slammed into the sand face first. Its broken longsword slipped out of its gnarled dry-skinned hand and its ribs caved in where it fell on its metal shield.

Adga stood and drove the point of her bastard sword through the back of the hidewalker, then gave it an extra shove. The blade sank down to the hilt. Pinning the thrashing flesh-eating thing to the desert floor. She left her blade in it and grabbed her axehammer. She turned to check on Foelay. All she could see was his back as he ran. Right behind him was one of the bone walkers.

She grabbed the bronze mace hanging off what was left of a weapon’s belt around the pinned and thrashing hidewalker, spun, and heaved it with everything she could muster. The weapon was heavy and not designed for throwing, but her aim was good. The metal weapon slammed into the back right side, shattering two ribs and cracking a couple of others as it spun through the bone walker. It stumbled and fell hard. “Foelay!” she shouted to the departing lad, “Turn and finish it!”

Adga didn’t have time to see what the younger apprentice would do. She turned back to the other two dead walkers. The second bonewalker was on her. She managed to deflect a two-handed battle sword swing with her shield. She spun and delivered a backhand strike to the vile thing. The hammer smashed into the shoulder blade cracking it.

It spun; red glowing eye sockets seemed to flare with pure evil hatred. It went to raise the two-handed weapon, but its damaged shoulder prevented it from getting it up properly.

It was an opening begging to be taken. The axehammer hissed through the air. This was followed by a shower of bone as rib bones shattered. The force of the blow spun the bone walker in a half circle. Adga stood fully, gaining a further advantage by her massive height of just under three meters. She drove the hammer side of her weapon into the back of the head. The skull fragmented. It collapsed.

A series of hisses pulled her attention back toward the skimmers. The fleshwalker backed up as the alpha lizard moved to defend the others. The skimmer snapped at it and slashed with a front foot.

The fleshwalker swung back with a sap in its left hand and a small wooden club in the other. As it did so, pus and bits of maggot-infested flesh flew off it.

Even from several paces away, the stench of rotting flesh caused Adga to wrinkle her nose. She had dealt with a very fresh dead walker a few times before in her explorations. It always took several Cleanse Autospells and a trip to the father of one of her best friends to get the lingering smell out of clothing and armor. Spending coin on a potion or three to eliminate the reek of rotting flesh from what she wore was not on a list of things to do heading into her day off.

She glanced around, dropped her axehammer into a ring on her weapon’s belt, and grabbed the discarded patrol banner. She aimed for a gash in the dead walker’s chain shirt and charged.

The pointed tip of the wooden pole entered the upper chest with a sickening squish and splut. The former human’s head turned and let out a choking cough sound. Its tongue, swollen and blackened with rot and yellow pus leaking from around its gums fully exposed as it tried to lunge forward and bite her.

The wave of stench reminded Adga of the ripe vomit of tripe soup and mead left on the floor of the barracks by a very drunk fellow apprentice who then passed out in it. It made her shudder and almost puke then. This caused the same visceral reaction. She turned her head to get as far from the smell as possible. It also infused her with disgust and rage. She drove the banner staff deeper. It pushed through the backside and hit the chain shirt. With a snarl of her own, she pushed it several steps back from the skimmers, used her strength and leverage to lift the body up, and dropped the bottom end of the banner staff into the sand. It sunk in almost a quarter of a meter, then stopped. She spun away, expecting the shaft to snap. It didn’t. The dead walker, impaled and suspended over two meters up, thrashed wildly. It dropped both weapons and tried to grab at the pole holding it up. The shaft wobbled back and forth, but the thrashing only caused the bottom of the pole to slowly sink deeper into the sand.

At the same time, fluids from inside ran down the pole. As the wound opened wider, entrails started to drop out. Maggots hit the ground and shriveled up as they made contact with the hot sand.

The horrid display distracted Adga. It was only the hiss of a skimmer that caused her to turn. Her eyes went wide as she turned to face the bone walker who had chased Foelay. She was certain it was the same one since the mace she had thrown at it was still hanging out of its ribcage. She grabbed for her axehammer. At the same time, the metal shield carried by the bone walker slammed into her face. She staggered back but managed to bring up her own shield to block another shield bash. Blood poured down from a deep gash in her lip and her right tusk hurt worse than anything she had ever felt.

The bonewalker was relentless. It advanced, swinging its shield. Again, shields connected with a massive clang. It caused Adga’s ears to ring. The blow also sent a twinge of pain up her shield arm. She reached for her axehammer. It wasn’t there. Shields slammed together again. Both she and the bonewalker knocked back a full pace. Her eyes darted around. Her axehammer was well off to the side. She had dropped it and didn’t even realize it.

She reached for her blade. It wasn’t there! She had left it in the hidewalker, pinning it to the ground. Her final weapon, a dagger, wouldn't do her much good. The clang of shields once again cascaded off the desert. It took a shake of her arm to clear some of the pins and needles feeling. She took a step back. In an act of desperation, she tried to use the edge of her shield to smash at the bonewalker. It brought up its shield. Metal on both shields vibrated at the impact. Adga’s even bent. At least this time she had knocked the skeletal creature back a couple of steps. It gave her a chance to think. Her training with one of the meanest, toughest Dwarves in the northern side of Twin Spires took over.

She let the bonewalker get close and swing the shield. She went low and blocked it by shoving it up. As she shoved upward her other hand reached into the ribs and pulled the mace free, taking a chunk of a rib bone as she did so. The sharp edge of the snapped bone stuck into her hand. She winced. As disgusting as it was, and even as badly as her mouth hurt, she pulled her hand up to her mouth, bit down on the bone sticking out of her hand, and pulled it out with her teeth. She spat it out as she deflected another shield attack.

She at last had an advantage. She let it close again as she adjusted her grip on the weapon. She gripped it tightly since its handle was old and smooth, and her own blood was dripping onto the handle. She blocked the shield attack and added in a hard shove. It added to the pain in her arm. She didn’t care. The maneuver gave her the opening she needed. The mace in her other hand went into the opening created by knocking the shield out of the way. More ribs shattered, and then the head of the weapon hit the backbone.

The bone walker jerked wildly and both arms went out to its sides from the force of the impact. Adga moved up and swung on the exposed shield arm. Bones snapped. The shield fell into the sand.

It slashed out with its remaining arm, trying to use bony fingers to claw. Bone met the shield with a crunching sound.

Adga delivered an uppercut. The lower jaw split in half. It fell into the sand in two pieces. The crimson glow in the empty eye sockets dimmed for a moment, then faltered altogether. It collapsed into a heap at her feet. Breathing deeply, she advanced and slammed the mace down, shattering the skull.

A turn back toward the skimmers made her heart sink. Two more bonewalkers had managed to get past the rest of the patrol. They were still quite a distance off, mere outlines in the blowing sand. But the fact the sand went right through them told Adga what they were. They advanced right toward her. She took a couple of deep breaths and spit out some blood, “Come on you boney bastards! Get some! At least one of you bastards are going down!”

Her words seemed to spur the two. They charged. She slid over to her axehammer and switched it out for the mace, however, she still slid the mace into her weapon belt ring. She pulled up her shield and readied.

Moments later, a quartet of skimmers appeared moving at top speed cutting across the open sand from left to right. Two angled straight for the bonewalkers. The rider of the lead skimmer swiped downward with a war hammer. What was left of the skull flew off and disappeared into the sand squall. The second didn’t even get a chance to turn toward the new arrivals. The rider of the second skimmer shoved his hand into the neck of his mount. This forced the head down. The skimmer slammed into the bonewalker. At the same time, the rider jerked back on the leather reins. The skimmer’s head jerked up. The skeletal figure flipped high into the air and slammed back down into the desert floor in a shower of sand and bone pieces. The rider wasn’t done. He reared his mount hard and dropped the full weight of the skimmer’s front four feet on what was left.

The other two riders peeled off and came toward her.

“No!” Adga motioned with her arm, axehammer still in her hand. “The patrol is still fighting! Get to them! Get to them!”

The closer of the two skimmer riders pulled up a horn and blew it while pointing with his heavy flail in the direction of the noble trash pit. However, he didn’t turn away from Adga. Instead, he rode at full speed toward her and jumped off the still-running skimmer. He hit the sand with a roll and came up standing, flail still in his hand.

“Guardsman, you are hurt!”

“I’ll live!” Adga barked back. "My patrol…”

“Your patrol is getting two full squads of Vylevin cavalry to assist them. Now take a breath!”

Adga started to say something but stopped as she noted the clawed dog crest with the extended claw holding a sword. She gulped, “Sorry sir!” She staggered as she knelt.

The man moved up and grabbed her shoulders, “Guluntac! Need healing now!”

Another man wearing chain armor with a dark orange and black robe jumped off his skimmer. He moved up and looked down, “This can be none other than Adga, sponsored Illorc of Lord Alagor-Kavilim Shunral, sir.”

“Such is my guess as well. Heal her!”

The man pulled out a silver necklace. An obsidian triangle with a ruby on the tip hung down from it. He knelt. “I think Vaneuben will grant me the power to heal most of this, but I cannot channel a spirit powerful enough to heal her tusk…”

“Do what you can. We’ll send her back…”

“No!” Adga snarled. “Not while my patrol is still in danger!”

The man with the knight crest momentarily glared at Adga, but his lips quickly twisted up into a smirk. “Lord Alagor’s choice of who to sponsor has proven him correct. See what you can do Guluntac. If she wants to continue this fight, who am I to stop her?”

The robed man moved up and touched Adga’s forehead with the obsidian and ruby pendant. “All-powerful Vaneuben, God of the powers of volcanoes and all forces under our feet if you find favor with your humble servant, send a healing spirit to aid this guardsman!”

The ruby pulsed and a wave of intense heat rolled through Adga. She fell forward as she gasped. Wounds across her body healed in a matter of moments. The long crack in her tusk even closed some, but it still hurt very badly. She pulled her shoulders back and noticed where her hands had fallen into the sand, there were firm imprints. The sand had melted and hardened. She reached up and touched her tusk with a wince.

She refused the offered hand-up. With a shake of her head, she secured her axehammer, stood, and moved up to the pinned hidewalker. She slammed her hammer into its skull a trio of times. Satisfied, she yanked her bastard sword out of its back and moved up to the still-impaled and thrashing fleshwalker. With a scrunch of her nose, she growled and swung as hard as she could. The head came off cleanly. “Stay dead this time!” She snarled then glanced over to the Vylevin knight while adjusting her shield, “Time to gunch a few more… With your permission sir.”

“I am not stupid enough to try to stop you, guardsman. Let’s move!”

 

Copyright © 2023 Kyle Aarons; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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@drpaladin it's funny you should mention heroes.  let me ask a question of the readers.  We now have 3 stories set in this very troubling world that is crying out for heroes.  so what makes these characters, heroes?  What do they do, or don't do that allows them to attain such a mythical status as a hero?  Interesting question, with many varied interesting answers.  I will give my thoughts at a later time.  

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Great start ! Adga is a fierce warrior with a winning spirit. She does not give up. 

The enemy is disgusting and formidable,'

I noted two connections to Xavier and his  Seandra  crew. Adga and her team are riding sand skimmers which the Seandrans also used. The last name of  Adga's sponsor is Shunral which is the same last name of Sir Syth, bodyguard to Xavier, Crown Prince of Seandra and could be part of the founding of the current house.  

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Heroes stand out and effectively fight for a noble cause and protect the innocent. They accept responsibility for winning their mission. They rally people to them. They inspire and lead and build a team who trust them. They have a can do attitude and learn from their mistakes . 

Adga, Xavier and Kandric are heroes.

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Hero comes directly from the Greek heros and meant protector or defender.

Ideally, heroes are selfless and act for the common good without seeking fame, glory, or wealth; though those benefits may follow their deeds. Real heroes tend to be humble about what they've done.

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All are good answers, but I am speaking about the characters in these stories.  yes, Agda's still too new to really understand her motivations.  but there is one thing that I see when I look at ALL the 'heroes' in these stories.  

The inner drive they have to better themselves is something not seen often in a world like this.  There is a strong argument that this concept holds true today in our world.  but that is another topic altogether.  

What other character traits do all or most of our heroes share?

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4 hours ago, akascrubber said:

I noted two connections to Xavier and his  Seandra  crew. Adga and her team are riding sand skimmers which the Seandrans also used. The last name of  Adga's sponsor is Shunral which is the same last name of Sir Syth, bodyguard to Xavier, Crown Prince of Seandra and could be part of the founding of the current house.  

I see that you made the immediate connection.

What I found interesting is that within the Combined Desert Realms, being a Drow doesn't appear to have the negative connotations it does in the other two stories.

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6 hours ago, Roland said:

All are good answers, but I am speaking about the characters in these stories.  yes, Agda's still too new to really understand her motivations.  but there is one thing that I see when I look at ALL the 'heroes' in these stories.  

The inner drive they have to better themselves is something not seen often in a world like this.  There is a strong argument that this concept holds true today in our world.  but that is another topic altogether.  

What other character traits do all or most of our heroes share?

Heroes survive. Heroes return from their battles, their missions, their adventures to then be recognized as heroes. There would be no Odyssey to read if Odysseus had perished. I would likely agree with whatever character traits are put forth but I propose none matter more than survival.

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On 9/26/2023 at 8:18 AM, Dan South said:

Heroes survive. Heroes return from their battles, their missions, their adventures to then be recognized as heroes. There would be no Odyssey to read if Odysseus had perished. I would likely agree with whatever character traits are put forth but I propose none matter more than survival.

Not all heroes survive. Some become heroes due to their willingness to sacrifice their lives for others. The Greeks had a hero cult and all those heroes were dead.

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On 9/26/2023 at 1:14 AM, Roland said:

All are good answers, but I am speaking about the characters in these stories.  yes, Agda's still too new to really understand her motivations.  but there is one thing that I see when I look at ALL the 'heroes' in these stories.  

The inner drive they have to better themselves is something not seen often in a world like this.  There is a strong argument that this concept holds true today in our world.  but that is another topic altogether.  

What other character traits do all or most of our heroes share?

Ambition, desire to better themselves and help their friends.

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On 9/26/2023 at 12:14 AM, Roland said:

What other character traits do all or most of our heroes share?

Being in the wrong place at the right time.

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4 hours ago, Al Norris said:

Being in the wrong place at the right time.

Is this a character trait or bad/good luck?

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Think of Henry V at Agincourt as written by Shakespeare. His speech inspired men to be heroes in the upcoming battle and to be a united as band of brothers. They faced an uncertain future and death, but their inner commitment and drive was pictured as roused by their young King. The French lost the battle for many reasons., including the unexpected effectiveness of their enemies' long bow. The speech is still powerful and evocative today when heard in a play.

  I can see Adga inspiring those under her as they prepare to fight fierce battles.

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