Title: The Origins of Cade
Description: A story im writing
Sewad - January 29, 2006 10:53 PM (GMT)
The Origins of Cade
A loud thump preceded a body falling to the snow covered ground. The warrior struggled to regain his feet but a swift kick to the back of the head from one of his purple booted assailants ended his struggles for good. Streams of blood and gore broke up the perfect pale backdrop, weaving through the snow as a crimson river. Cade covered his face from the harsh, biting wind brushing snow flakes from his long black hair. His dark metal breastplate, purple clothing and cape while ideal for combat were scarce relief from the cold. He wished for nothing more then to be back home right now, sat in front of his warm open fire enjoying the pleasures of life.
Instead he found himself stuck out here in this god forsaken snow covered wilderness watching his older counterparts revel in the destruction of enemies well below their capabilities. Even at the age of just sixteen Cade had already seen more death and torture in his time then he dared to recall and despite his Dark Elf descent he still failed to grasp what exactly was so joyful about slaughtering foes so obviously mismatched. This was no fight it was a massacre.
“Hey Cade you best grab one of the stragglers before you miss all the fun” one of the other Elves snorted in his direction. His face was covered in drying snow and blood stains, his eyes rheumy with ecstasy from the bloodletting. Cade shrugged knowing to refuse was to be ostracized. Kill or be killed had always been the Dark Elf way and to shun that path was to accept certain death.
He walked up to a whimpering young human swordsmen bleeding from a dozen major cuts already. His ankle has been crushed making it impossible to fight back. His terrified eyes met Cades and for a moment he almost felt sorry for this young wretch. He couldn’t have been much older then Cade and here they were both stuck in this pointless impossible situation. Cade shrugged again and leaned down towards the gasping youth whispering into his ear “my apologies my friend but it really is you or me”. The human youth gasped realizing what was coming but it was too late. Cade took his neck in his gloved hands and wrenched sideways snapping it with a loud crack.
He rose from the humans body feeling neither guilt nor elation. Was this the sum of his path? To be nothing more then a bit part killer on missions to nowhere? He could not accept that. He stared at the humans and their Elven murderers with equal contempt realizing he felt sympathy for neither parties. All he felt was an overwhelming urge to find a challenge at last.
The snow was falling heavier now covering the scenes of slaughter. Cade pulled his cape tighter around him to keep out the cold but it was of little use. His pale skinned body felt numb and filled with frostbite. Night was setting in and they were still days from home. Home was the one true thought that kept him going. It’d been two days since the battle with the human patrol and since that time nothing had happened. Winter had well and truly set in and this mission to retrieve new slaves would prove to be a spectacular failure. The other Elves had become disillusioned without any combat and a whisper around the camp was that soon they’d seek to inflict their own.
Cade fiddled a fresh bolt into his crossbow, the movement the only thing preventing his stiff frozen fingers from seizing up all together. The fire was dying out leaving the camp in perpetual shadow. The snow had stopped but a bitter chill still lingered in the air. But that was not all. An aura of electric tension was floating in the nights air anticipating something was about to happen. Cade forced the remaining bolts into his bow as quickly as possible and strained with his eyes and ears. There was a whisper on the brink of his senses. A crunch of boot on snow was all the further alert Cade needed as he leapt to his feet and cocked his crossbow into aiming position straining to pick out his assailants in the gloom.
His mouth dropped open and his bow fell momentarily limp as his attackers came into focus. They were not cattle species nor were they an enemy Elf tribe. Stood in front of him blades drawn were his own team mates. So addicted to bloodlust were they that they were going to attack one of their own to satisfy their addictions. Cade aimed his crossbow in desperation and plugged one through the neck but then as his former allies closed in he saw no more.
He awoke to a shuffling sound and become aware that his own body being dragged was the cause of the noise. His eyes were clouded from the blood pouring from his wounds and he had no idea how long he’d been unconscious for. The dragging stopped and he strained with great effort to sit up. In front of him cold, feral eyes gazed at him.
Sewad - January 29, 2006 10:53 PM (GMT)
Chapter 2 - Awakening
Cade tried to focus on the figures in front of him but his head span still fading their shapes into swirls of nothingness. He lifted his arm gingerly feeling a spasm of pain shoot through his side as he did. It took great strain to reach his fingers to his eyes and press some focus into them. The effort was a wasted one as nothing in front of him became clearer. His forehead felt heavy from the dry blood that had spewed from a deep cut across his brow line. His whole body felt like it had just survived a raging stampede of horses and he wanted nothing more then to slip back into sleep once again.
As his eyes began to droop into a doze he caught the sound of faint whispering up ahead and his focus shot once more to the hazy figures. He strained with all his senses but none of the talk meant anything to him. It took Cade along while before he discerned that it was a language unfamiliar to him, possibly a debased form of the Dark Elf language. His vision began to return and it became clear that the figures in front of him were Elven, but like none he had ever seen before.
Their armour was dark purple like standard Dark Elf clothing but rather then the normal chainmail or plate worn by a standard warrior it was leather as if designed more for speed then protection. Their arms were muscular for Elves, and serpentine tattoos of numerous colours coiled from wrist to shoulder. Their hair was long, black and wild looking but no less elegant for that. Most drawing of all though were their faces which were as cold as winter, while their eyes were feral and bestial. He was almost knocked back off his elbows by a female face bursting into his still blurred vision. She was beautiful like all Elven women were but still bore the same feral nature to her stare. Her pretty face was worn from constant hardship but this in no way retracted her niceness. She wore the same as her male counterparts apart from a tiara of leaves and gems that held her dark hair back.
She spoke the same unfamiliar language through purple lips and then gazed at him quizzically as if awaiting a response. He pondered how to approach the situation knowing that speaking in his own tongue may well cause the same problem for her. His thoughts were broken as she spoke again more insistently, her expression becoming impatient. “I’m sorry” he said quietly deciding that trying to communicate was better then just sitting there “I do not understand you”.
Her face took a look of understanding and she smiled a little “I apologize for that” she stated with no hint of irony in her voice “It’s been so long since we have met a newcomer who spoke in the old tongue”. He nodded politely but stopped dead immediately feeling the nausea come pushing back into his head. “The healing herbs will still be affecting you” the female Elf stated frankly with no real emotion “You were in quite the state when we found you”.
Cade strained to remember the events leading up to this point but all he could recall were his fellow Elves turning on him and then everything else beyond that was still a blur. “What happened to me?” he asked still confused “Who are you people?” The female Elf considered her answer carefully before finally reply. “We were watching your party from afar. The treachery and impending bloodshed drew us to you” she said in an almost dreamy tone “Your kin betrayed you, cut you to pieces and would have finished you had we not stepped in. They fled without fighting us like the cowards they were”. Cade took the information in making particular note of how the Elf had left out who they were.
“How did I get here?” he asked straining to control the rage that bubbled in him from his supposed teammate’s betrayal. She smirked at him a little as she spoke “You don’t remember that either? Although it must be pretty obvious. We brought you here of course.” Cade smiled a little his head swirling “Then I guess I owe you my life. Whoever you may be that is”. The Elf’s face became evasive and she had to turn away from his gaze before saying “That is not important for now. Right now you have more healing to do”. She reached into her leather pouch and produced a small piece of fungus. “Eat this” she said pressing it into his mouth forcibly. Seeing no reason to doubt someone who had saved his life he began to chew. The taste was a little tangy but he soon finished it feeling unchanged. He looked again to the Elf in bafflement “Nothing hap...”.
His sentence was cut short as raging pain like nothing he had ever felt shot through all of the wounded spots on his body. He fell back into a laying position once again, contorting in pain. Soon the agony was unbearable and he blacked out. His mind drifted away from reality and he found himself walking through a misty forest, his hearing focusing on the light chirping of bird song from the branches above. His body felt as light as a feather swirling onwards on a gentle breeze. The sun was warm and pleasant on his skin and all around the forest smelt of blossoms at the height of spring.
Reveling so much in his surroundings Cade began to burst into song increasing his stroll to a skip, then a jog. As he sped up to running through the tranquil scene he felt his body twist as he tripped over a branch he had been too distracted to notice. When he picked himself up all had changed. The birdsong was sharp and nervous, the trees leafless and sinister. The sky had begun to darken as he approached a small clearing. In the centre a solitary Elven maiden dressed in black crouched before a mossy, unkept stone sobbing quietly to herself. Cade walked up to her slowly and she rose to her feet turning to gaze at him through tear filled eyes. She walked passed him her face filled with sorrow and Cade gazed upon the source of her despair. He swept away the layers of moss and froze dead as his eyes fell on the stones epitaph. He screamed in rage and terror at the sight of his own grave here alone and forgotten in the middle of nowhere. His fingers began to tear at his eyes and face stripping the skin away in large chunks as he screamed louder and louder. Soon he was nothing more then an eyeless skull gazing up hopelessly at his own place of rest.
Cades eyes shot open and he wrenched himself to a sitting position panting heavily. He clutched the floor with his hands making sure that where he found himself was for real. He breathed a sigh of relief and rose to his feet. His body felt stiff and tender but all the pain had passed him for now. He saw his clothes in a pile near where he had slept and noted that he was now completely naked.
He turned with a start as the drapes to the hut parted and the female Elf entered. She looked surprised to see him standing but otherwise bore no expression to his nudity. The fact caught Cade off guard and he felt himself blush a little at the exposure. “That you’re standing already is testament to your spirit” she said bluntly to break the silence. He smirked a little still stunned by her coolness to the situation. “Get dressed” she said coldly “Some people wish to speak with you. They’ll have the answers you seek.”
She strutted out of the hut with no further inclination of what she meant by that. With new found urgency Cade approached the pile of garments and armour noticing for the first time that they were in fact not his clothes, but rather his apparel in his healer’s style. He dressed quickly, leaving the leather body armour and vanbraces until last. It felt light yet one knock with his fist showed that it was more then just for show. Feeling a little safer in his new armour he passed through the vine like drapes and headed towards a large fire in the middle of the village.
He walked past several Elves dressed like those before but their eyes were now shielded with purple war paint in the shape of elongated triangles. They observed him with cold expressions and he tried not to make contact with their feral, brutal eyes. Instead he lowered his head and made for the fire as quickly as he could. When he reached the large inferno he noticed the female from before now crouched in a bowing stance in front of a large wooden chair flanked by two burly Elves wielding large torches that stood several feet above them. The chairs back was decorated with the shrunken skulls of numerous different species but Cades eyes were drawn instantly towards the figure gracing the throne. He was dressed like the other Elves except for his neck which bore a silver, serpent shaped amulet. Stranger still was the large, Cobras head mask which covered the top half of his face leaving only his mouth and chin visible. Grey hair flowed from under the mask down to the Elf’s collar bones and ancient, piercing eyes stared from under the masks unrelenting gaze. “Greetings Cade” the Elf spoke in a voice filled with both vitality and immense wisdom “We have been expecting you.”
Sewad - January 29, 2006 10:54 PM (GMT)
Chapter 3 – Beastmaster
“How did you know my name? I’ve not spoke it since I got here.” Cade answered with astonishment. The elder Elf remained expressionless and cocked his masked head towards Cade sagely. “We have watched you for awhile now young one” he answered with little hint of emotion. Cade stared at the female Elf seeing her as the only remotely familiar face around. She gazed back at him with a hint of surprise before nodding in agreement. “We watch all potential new initiates” she said with a trace of hope in her voice.
“Now Eleanor!” the elder snapped. He fidgeted in his high throne with irritation “Cade has not even agreed to anything yet. We must give him time to understand”. Cades frustration was starting to build as he stood there lost in a world beyond him. Here he found himself in a forest clearing in the middle of nowhere rescued by war paint covered savages. And now these strangers were discussing his future for him. It was too much for the impetuous young Dark Elf to take.
“You’re damn right I haven’t agreed to anything!” he burst out loud, unable to control his temper anymore. The arguing elder and Eleanor turned towards him surprised by this sudden outburst. Cade gritted his teeth un-phased by dozens of strangers eyes now locked on him. “And I won’t either until I get some answers. Like who in the hell you guys are?” One of the Elves shook his head in disgust and leapt before the throne grabbing Cade roughly by his neck. “How dare you speak to the elder like that” he growled in an almost animal-like voice filled with zeal. His breath stank like a beasts and spittle shot out from his fang filled maw with every word that he spoke. Cade squirmed, wanting nothing more then to be away from this foul smelling maniac.
“Put him down Castrol” the elder said raising his hands in a gesture of peace “there will be no need for that.” The angry Elf stared at his older counterpart as if contemplating defiance, before he lowered his head and sighed. Cade felt Castrol’s grip loosen on his throat and he quickly pulled himself backwards, staring at the brutish Elf with a mixture of hate and fear. Castrol’s eyes had not left Cade and still remained fixed on him filled with barely controlled rage. The elder coughed deliberately to get their attention and all eyes turned towards him.
“Ah the impetuousness of youth” he said allowing himself a slight chuckle before becoming deadly serious in an instant. “You are quite correct young Cade” he continued “it is time you had some answers. If you are willing to hear them?” Cade smirked a little before slumping to the floor and staring up at the elder. “Go ahead” he said with a wink “not like I’m going anywhere.” The elder swallowed a little, as if keeping his emotions in check, before lowering himself from his throne and beckoning for everyone to follow him. “This way” he said striding off determinedly. Cade leapt up to his feet and followed the rushing Dark Elves, fuming a little that once again his answers were evading him.
Cade seemed to be following the Elves through dark unfamiliar woodland for at least an hour before the dense undergrowth began to break up The dark silhouettes of the imposing treetops cut away as the ground beneath him became rockier. He looked up to the sky and noticed the half moon glowing down on him from above. His anger was rising steadily as the very answers he seeked were wandering ahead of him. It was soon dispelled however as a bloodcurdling roar broke the night air almost knocking Cade over with fright. Composing himself he began heading up a craggy slope filled with trepidation.
Soon he arrived at an opening in the hillside. Snarls from inside the cave mouth were all the indication Cade needed that what had made the roar was right before him. He breathed heavily before entering the dank tunnel. The cave was not completely dark, being lit by the elders two torchbearers. The burning poles cast shadowy images on the walls of the cave. Cades eyes went wide as one such shadowy image came in to view. He span around and gazed upon the most extraordinary scene. The elder was some ten feet or so away from any assistance and stood quite blatantly in the path of a foul creature of legend. Three snarling heads, a goats, a serpents and a lions, were snapping at the elder with vicious intent. Its stout, pale yellow, four legged body was surprisingly agile making it hard for the elder to avoid being bitten in half.
Cade instantly recognized the Chimera of legend. He stared with shock and disgust as the younger Elves and even Eleanor, merely stood there and watched the older Elf struggling for his life. The serpentine head hissed at the elder with its forked tongue before drawing in a deep breath. Smoke pored from its gaping maw as it prepared to cover the elder in flames but he just stood there unphased. Cade stood frozen with shock, the impending danger making his pulse race until he could take no more. “Why are you just standing there he’s going to die!” Cade screamed with rage. No one turned to acknowledge him, there eyes remained fixed on the action ahead of them.
As the Chimera prepared to exhale the elder raised his hand and muttered something in the strange, old Elvish Cade had heard before. The Chimeras eyes went wide in its three heads and it froze on the spot transfixed. The elder walked towards the Chimera without trepidation and gestured with his hand in front of its eyes. The Chimera hissed a little in some fleeting attempt at resistance, but slowly it lowered its heads and slumped to the floor and closed its eyes. Cade could not believe his eyes. It was just not possible to him. His mind raced trying to ascertain how the elder had killed the beast. Sorcery perhaps or maybe poisoning. He shook his head and approached the elder and the dead beast body but froze when he heard a low growling noise. The Chimera was not as he had first believed dead, but rather asleep.
Cade made to ask how but before he could speak the elder raised his hand and shook his masked head. “I know you are wondering how I did that” he said coldly “but it is not important for now. And you would not understand it yet anyway”. Cade seethed inwardly having had just about enough of the elders evasive. However before he let his anger get the better of him the elder spoke again. “We were all once like you young Cade” he said with a hint of reminiscence in his voice “Ostracized outcasts unhappy with the way the Dark Elf race conducted itself. One by one we were betrayed by our own race and left for dead. We wandered lost and alone no longer able to return home. Eventually some of us bumped into the other and so our community began. We lived in the forests safe from our vengeful kin learning the ways of nature and beasts. Overtime we would venture out and observe our former people, watching closely those who seemed unhappy. We would wait until they too were betrayed and then we would offer them a home”.
Cade nodded realizing this was where he came into the equation. “Since we have been here in the forest we have learnt many things. We mastered the beast and observed their ways. Their defensive and hunting techniques became our strategies for battle. Soon we could stalk as good as any animal, remain hidden from our enemies and strike. Our ventures became more aggressive.” The elder stared at Cade as if expecting a reaction but none came. Instead Castrol burst in “the revenge on our kin was along time coming”. He spat on the floor after he spoke still filled with bitter resentment. For the first time Cade noticed his face was scarred from cheek to brow. His eye must have been caught in whatever foul attack had befell him as it was now nothing more then a plain white globe of flesh. In this moment, seeing this brutish, battle hardened Elf filled with bitterness and rage, Cade prayed he would never make Castrol as mad again as he had earlier.
“This is where you come in Cade” the elder said finally “we want to offer you an opportunity. A chance to grow strong, hone your skills and even gain vengeance on those who left you if you so wish it? The road will be long and arduous Cade but worth it in the end.” Cade stood silently considering his options. If he returned home it would be as a failure. If Mordred himself didn’t have Cade executed then those who had assailed him before would be sure to finish the job at the first opportunity. He was alone on the world with no prospects, no friends and no hope and the prospect of living as a lone wolf didn’t appeal to him in the slightest. He knew what it was he must do. “Ok” he said with a nervous grin “what do I have to do?”
Sewad - January 29, 2006 10:55 PM (GMT)
Chapter 4 - Initiation
Cade stared at the walls of the hut he would now consider his home. It was not a reassuring thought. Its wood makeup, while sturdy, was in sparse contrast to his dwellings back home in Scimitar. His mind drifted back to his old life. Scimitar was a cold place and not just in the climate but it had been his home. It was the southernmost city in the great Dark Elf realm of Bacchanalia. Ruled over by the cruel Mordred in his fortress of steel, which dominated the city from the centre. A brutal flagpole in the middle of a pile of malignant dust.
Mordred had been a cruel leader even by Dark Elf standards, but possessed strong leadership qualities and a keen mind. While others back in Bacchanalia sought to gain more power through greater risk taking, Mordred was smart and merely gathered what his might and resources were capable of taking. Cades mind reeled at what would become of his home while he was away. While he had been ostracized by many Cade had overheard from some that the other Dark Elf leaders had become obsessed with enhancing themselves through dark means and that Mordred had been the only to try and dissuade them. Cade shuddered reasoning that despite the fact he’d been ditched by his towns folk that it was still his home and he wished no harm for it.
His mind drifted back and he once again found himself gazing at the walls of his hut. They were plain and shadowy, the proximity of the hut being lit only by a small fire in its centre. The floor was purely uncovered dirt that had been flattened before it was built upon and all that was inside, bar the fire, were some old pots and bowls made of wood. His bed occupied the wall furthers away from the drape covered entrance, and was nothing more then some grass for padding and a stuffed sack for a pillow. He allowed himself a sigh as he considered what he was getting himself in for and then slumped onto the bedding area attempting to get some sleep. After much strain he finally dropped off into a twitchy doze.
Cade opened his eyes and stared towards the ceiling of the hut. He felt in a haze that he could not escape his body feeling like a lead weight. He stared around the hut squinting hard, trying to regain his senses. A snapping sound of dry wood forced his gaze back to the ceiling. Shards of twig and dust dropped onto him causing him to cough and splutter. The very roof buckled as if under immense pressure and it suddenly leapt into Cades mind that it might cave in on top of him. He struggled to overcome the feeling of heaviness and get to his feet as the planks of the roof creaked and strained from the force above it. Cade leapt to his feet and dived over as the ceiling finally gave in and collapsed all around him. Choking from the dust he rose to his feet once again wondering what had happened. He gasped aloud as his eyes fixed on the hole where the roof used to be. The reptilian eyes of a giant lizard like head stared at him with malovence and hate. It suddenly registered with Cade that it was the same eyes as those from the Chimera before only so much bigger. He panicked wondering how he was going to get out of this. He tried to yell for the elder but he was too choked from the dust of the collapse. The Chimeras smoky maul edged ever nearer as Cade went for broke and raised his arms trying to calm it like the elder had done. The Chimera stopped and Cade smiled realizing it had worked. As he drew breath once again the Chimeras mouth opened engulfing him in flames.
Cade shot up panting heavily. His head throbbed with pain and his body felt clammy with sweat. He put his hand to his forehead hoping to numb the ache. It felt wet from sweating but the pressure helped a little. Suddenly overcome with terror he wrenched his neck to stare at the ceiling and breathed a sigh of relief as he realized it was perfectly intact. He slumped back into bed breathing hard, having never been so pleased to see those dull old planks as he was now. His mind felt too active to sleep again now and if he was honest he feared what he would find there so instead he let his thoughts wander to the events in the cave earlier. Words formed in his mind as he remembered the elders answer. “Just follow what we do” he had said. Cade had been too enamored with what the elder had done to consider the implications of that statement but his dream had driven the point hard into his mind now.
He was yet to glean any firm answers on anything from these people and yet he felt in his heart that when the time came he too would have to face a raging beast and overcome it like the elder had. The thought was not a nice one. He knew little of the ways of beasts bar the inevitable dangers that came with them and he certainly had no idea how he could ever master one with the ease that the elder had. He had heard stories of the legendary Beastmasters before, told by slaves in his comfortable home back in Scimitar. He never believed in their validity and had always assumed that they were just as they seemed, stories told by foolish slaves who wished to give names to those things in the dark that scared them the most. And yet here he found himself in this small hut with only one of these legends and his protégés for company. Oh and vicious mythological beasts he added with an ironic grin. He sighed again deeply realizing that it was he who had signed up this. Surmising this was getting him nowhere he closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep.
“Wake up Cade”, the words shot across the room wrenching him from his uneasy sleep. It barely felt like he’d slept at all but one hazy glance at the light peeking through the hut door told him otherwise. He rubbed his eye sockets wearily and sat up, staring towards the hut door. Eleanor stood there with one arm rested on the frame. The other was placed rigidly on her hip and her expression was stern. “You’re late for washing” she said with frustration “hurry up and get out there.” She strutted back out the doorway leaving Cade with a bemused look on his face. Shrugging he got to his feet feeling a pang of pain in his spine. His bed had evidently been made for practicality rather then comfort he thought sourly while rubbing the sore area with his palm.
The mornings light dappling through the canopy of trees was surprisingly stinging on the eye causing Cade to squint and raise his hand to his brow. Eleanor was about twenty feet away from him with her back turned. She turned as he edged towards her and frowned calling “Hurry up we don’t have all day.” Cade sneered a little as his frustration began to grow but he took a deep, calming breath and strode after the female Elf. The birds chirped in the trees above as the morning sun beamed down but Cade was feeling too uptight to enjoy the idyllic scene. After about one hundred or so meters of following Eleanor the sound of running water reached Cades keen, pointed ears. The air felt fresh with moisture as he arrived at the point where Eleanor had stopped walking.
He stood on the bank of a small, fast flowing river of the clearest water he had ever seen. Stood in midstream washing themselves were several of the Elves from the woodland village. They were all completely naked and Cade noticed that they were all female. Bar Eleanor, Cade had not encountered other female Elves in the community so it came as some surprise to him. He wondered where they had all been hiding since he’d got here. His thoughts were broken by Eleanor tapping him on the shoulder. He span around with a startled look on his face causing her to giggle a little. She quickly regained her stern stance and pointed towards the water. “Hurry up and get washed you’re already way behind the other males” she said coldly. Cade gasped aloud and glanced at the bathing Elven beauties before turning back towards Eleanor. “Are you mad?” he stammered “I can’t bathe with them. They’re well they’re girls!” He felt his face warming as it turned crimson. Eleanor cocked her head a little as if judging his sincerity before laughing aloud. “You didn’t mind strutting out here in your underwear” she said pointing downwards. His eyes followed her finger down and he nearly fell backwards as he realized it was the truth. “Now stop complaining and get in” she said pushing him sprawling backwards into the river with a loud splash. The noise caused the females to turn in his direction and giggle on mass. He sunk down into the stream praying he’d never come back up.
He climbed out of the stream cursing Eleanor’s name out loud. The female Elf had long since wandered off, as had her naked counterparts, leaving him stood alone drying himself on the riverbank with some large leaves. He shivered a little from the cold stream water and it dawned on him again that the days of creature comforts had now passed him by. No longer his was a life of hot, indoor baths ran by the slaves, or warm living rooms heated by log fires. He dressed quickly and was tightening the last strap on one of his vanbraces when Eleanor reemerged from the undergrowth. She shook her head firmly causing her long platted hair to lop over her shoulder. “Are you not done yet?” she said clearly irritated. Cade gritted his teeth a little as he responded “Yes I’m done already. Now what’s this all about?”
Eleanor had not answered him and Cade once again found himself following someone he barely knew blindly through the forest. The fact that this was not the first time and undoubtedly not the last made Cade all the more curious as to why he was agreeing to this. The obvious problems back home sprang out at him. To return would mean his demise from numerous possible sources. But he knew if he searched his feelings deeper that this whole little adventure was much more then that. He had always felt like he didn’t belong. The cutthroat, revel filled life of a well off Dark Elf had never exactly struck him as a purpose he enjoyed. Indeed some if not most of the things his fellow kin took for enjoyment he was somewhat sickened by. At the same time he knew he was no angel. Battle and slaughter were at times as exciting to him as any other Elf on the planet. Its just it had to be done right.
Therein laid his connection to these people. There was something of their society that felt like it had truly experienced the other side. The side that Cade had always felt a little sympathy for. The kind of experience that a slave race would live every day of their short, under indulged lives. There was something else too, a sort of honour amongst them that would never allow such one sided slaughter and backstabbing which had been commonplace back in Bacchanalia. In Cade there was a real urge to face true challenges, not slaughter the helpless and innocent. What he wanted from life was nothing more then to have his name sung in ballads about achieving the previously impossible. And with these people he finally had a chance to achieve it.
After an hours walk through the deep undergrowth the daylight was starting to become snuffed by the heavy tree cover making it difficult for Cade to make his way. He staggered and stumbled occasionally on sharp rises in the ground or exposed roots. He watched Eleanor pick her way across the ground as if it was a plain of ice and she was skating along it. He realized that he had along way to go to ever match such gracefulness and that maybe he’d never even achieve it. Finally voices up ahead reached Cades ears and he strained to see what was going on. Eleanor turned back towards him and beckoned for him to hurry up. He rushed up to her side practically tripping over an uncovered tree root as he did. Stooping at the last minute to avoid an embarrassing fall he stared up at Eleanor with a nervous smile. Then his gaze took in the scene before him.
The dark canopy of trees had fell away leaving a large area of clearing that was unnaturally dark. Clouds of grey, heavy with water, lingered in the sky above causing the same gloom effect that the tree tops leading up had done. The elder now sat on a moss covered chair of purest granite flanked by his now torchless guards. A large stone tablet rested over a smaller stand of the same substance dominated the area before him. To the side of the tablet was an area of flat ground about forty feet across and wide surrounded by wooden fences covered by baying Dark Elves. Inside the area stood two Elves kitted up fully in their battle dress and engrossed in battle stances. Cade instantly recognized the tempestuous Castrol as one of the two fighters and recalled the manhandling he’d received in the Chimeras cave. He did not recognize the second fighter but right now, with that memory fresh in his mind, Cade breathed a sigh of relief that it was not him stood there.
“Ah Cade you finally got here” the elder called over in an almost cheerful tone “come young one and stand by me”. Cade looked at his feet uneasily before deciding it would be foolish to ignore the elders request. As Cade approached the elder he pointed towards the fighting area. “Castrol’s twenty-fifth defence of his heir to my rulership” the elder said “something tells me this will be his twenty-fifth victory too”. Cade was hard pressed to disagree with the elder’s viewpoint. Castrol’s opponent looked an impressive warrior all by himself but was in no way able to match the stance of the scarred, brutal Castrol. “Let the fight begin” the elder called and immediately the younger elf pulled something from his pocket and ate it. Castrol did likewise causing his pupils to turn even more feral then previously. His body began to contort as the muscles around his limbs and torso expanded outwards tearing his clothing. What drew Cades attention more was how Castrol’s face had begun to twist into something quite bestial, large fangs protruding out of his lips.
Wasting little time the challenger leapt towards Castrol fangs aimed at his throat. His transformation was somewhat less impressive then the impressive Castrol and suddenly Cade understood why no one had defeated him yet. Claws had replaced nails on the fighter’s fingers and they now bit deep into each others sides as they rolled in the dirt trying to bite each others throats out. “Aren’t they going at it a little rough?” Cade said quietly to the elder “It’s a wonder any of Castrol’s opponents survive”. The elder laughed before finally saying “Foolish young Cade they don’t”. Cade nearly staggered backwards with shock before staring back towards the ring just in time to see Castrol deal a fatal neck break to the challenger. The snap was sickening and Cade had to cover his eyes as Castrol howled his victory to the skies causing the gathered crowd to chant along with him. The elder clicked his fingers and one of the torch bearers entered the ring area and picked up the corpse. Castrol shot him a hate filled stare but otherwise gave no other reaction. The torchbearer slumped the corpse on the stone tablet and Cade suddenly understood it was an altar. The elder strode up to the body and drew a ceremonial dagger from his belt. “Now Cade we shall initiate you on the trials of a Beastmaster scout” he said coolly “with the feasting on the heart of a former initiate”.
Sewad - January 29, 2006 10:55 PM (GMT)
Chapter 5 - Trials
What little light there was in the dank clearing gleamed off the polished knife blade as the elder raised it above his head in a strike position. Cades mind raced over the events going on in front of him but he couldn’t possibly reason it. His thoughts were too frantic at this point and he could feel a dull vibration, like a small earth tremor, reverberating from the centre of his body all the way through to the very ground on which he stood. So lost was his perspective that it took him some time to realize that the feeling was not causing the ground to shake but rather his own feet. The thud he was hearing was that of his own heart pounding within his chest and the disorientation was his whole frame trembling with the shock of what had been asked.
Rather then try and reason the request Cades focus turned to the ceremonial dagger above the elders head. It was beautifully crafted from handle to point, its creator evidently an Elven craftsmen of some skill. The blade was polished silver of the highest quality, inscribed with raised lines in the shape of thorns. Its surface was, to Cades best reckoning, as flawless and reflective now as it had been the day it left its makers hands. Yet one look at the stained and worn altar told Cade that the knife had seen its fair share of bloodshed. The handle was again crafted of the finest quality, made from pure gold and fashioned in the shape of two serpentine heads facing opposite directions. Instead of eyes two perfectly cut emeralds sat in the eye sockets, gleaming with a benign power that was unsettling to view. Something about the blades flawlessness told Cade that it was no mere dagger but rather something of more mystical origin. Worse of all was his brief time with the woodland Dark Elves had already taught him not to be surprised at this.
He snapped from his pondering by a snapping sound as the elder’s dagger was driven into the defeated Elves chest cavity. Red droplets gushed into the air covering the elder’s breastplate in a light covering of gore. He seemed to pay no attention to the mess on his fine armour and instead remained transfixed to his task, his eyes beneath his mask taking an expression of pure zeal. A snap followed by a wrenching sound heralded the breaking of the chest cavity and then the gore swathed fist of the elder, clenched around a soft, red object, rose ponderously from the altar. Cade’s face went pale and he felt his stomach churn a little. He had seen his fair share of gore before so he was unsure as to why it affected him so now but he could only ascertain that the fact he was supposed to eat it was adversely causing the reaction.
The tension built for a few more moments, until finally the frantic spinning of his head and the pounding of the heart within his chest became too much for young Cade to take. “You want me to do what?” he burst out suddenly feeling his insides lurch again at the very thought of such an action. The elder turned suddenly and set his gaze upon the heavily perspiring Cade, his mouth slightly ajar as if to suggest that Cade’s outburst was the strangest or maddest one he’d ever heard. He shook his masked head a little causing small bells attached to each side to jingle faintly. The crisp sound pierced the deafening silence, ringing out more akin to cathedral bells then the small pieces of metal affixed to the cobras head. Cade realized it was his tenseness amplifying the sound, rather then it actually being that loud, but it in no way lessened the chilling effect. “Why I want you to eat it” the elder said bluntly, some of the fanaticism he had shown from removing the heart still apparent in his voice.
“Or rather” he continued with his almost jovial tone returning. “You will want to eat it. Our initiation rites strictly enforce it. When the flesh of our brothers is available, when the wisdom and courage of that warrior can be shared with a new initiate by the simple swallowing of a heart then it is their duty to do so.” Cade tried to take in what was being said but a sound in the background quickly caught his attention. Heavy footsteps approached the altar and the crowd of bystanders that had left the arena rails to view the sacrifice began to murmur with anticipation. “What does this cur know of our duty?” Castrol said with disgust in his voice. He spat on the floor as he spoke and the crowd of watchers groaned in tandem. “Now Castrol that is enough” Eleanor said leaping from the gathered Dark Elves to stand between Castrol and Cade. “Cade is allowed the same choices we all made. Castrol shook his head, his face contorting into an enraged snarl. “Why? Why should we accept this pampered city boy into our ranks? What has he done that warrants such reverent treatment? We even let those fools who ditched him escape merely to appease this weak fool’s honour”. He spat again and clenched his fists tight causing small streams of blood to flow between the gaps in his fingers. “Elves who had killed our own might I add oh honourable elder” he continued staring directly at the elder with total brazenness.
The elder’s eyes narrowed a little in the shadows of his mask as he stared directly at Castrol. Cade realized he had stumbled into an ongoing feud and suddenly he wished he was anywhere else but here. Castrol was out of control right now and if he chose to dispose of Cade purely to get to the elder, then Cade had no doubt that he could do so in an instant. “If you wish to question my rule Castrol” the elder said, anger building in his voice. “Then you only need challenge me and we can settle this the proper way”. Castrol’s expression filled yet further with rage as his face began to redden. “Cut the crap Azrael” he snarled angrily. “Don’t pretend for an instant that this has anything to do with the proper way. You and I both know your interest in this fool even if the rest of these lapdogs you call warriors don’t”. The crowd yelled aloud at this remark, some enraged at the insult, others merely voicing their own suspicions. Eleanor waved her arms around trying to calm them down while Castrol and the elder stood face to face, their eyes never straying from one another.
“Quiet!” Cade’s outburst stunned even the intimidating Castrol into silence. All eyes suddenly fixed on him and his previous rage seeped from him as if drained by their gaping mouths. He suddenly felt terribly nervous but knew he had gone too far already to not make his point now. “The last I heard” he gulped a little as he spoke making the words come out in fits and starts. “I was the one asked a question. Not you Eleanor, not any of you Elves gathered here and certainly not you Castrol”. His eyes fixed Castrol with a determined gaze as he spoke and it was met by a returning stare of pure hate. Castrol’s face began to twitch with irritation and without warning he clenched his fists and began to rush towards Cade with murderous intentions deep within his eyes. As he lurched in Cade’s direction the young Elf squinted his eyes and felt his heart skip a beat, anticipating his doom was at hand.
But it did not come. Cade opened his eyes again and saw Castrol had stopped short, his path blocked by the elder. Cade could see Castrol was still fuming but something prevented him from pushing the old Elf aside. It struck Cade that there was deep hatred there, far deeper then anything he had ever seen, but also a large measure of grudging respect. The elder turned towards Cade and raised his hands in an apologetic manner. “Of course you are right Cade. I apologize that our past indiscretions are being dug up here”. Castrol growled a little but merely folded his arms and turned his gaze away from them. “I take it by your outburst that you have something to say young one?” the elder said coolly. Cade took a deep breath deciding how best to get his words out. “I won’t do it” he said quietly. Growing frustrated at his nerves he repeated himself in a louder tone. “I won’t do it. I won’t eat another Elf’s heart for the sake of some ritual. There must be others. Those who entered your ranks when one of your own warriors had not died?”
The elder nodded sagely, his barely visible face a picture of concern. “Yes young Cade. There is another way. But few have ever survived it. You would have to take the Trials.” The assorted Elves gasped in unison at the mention of the Trials. Cade once again found himself feeling in terrible need of reassurance but he would not falter now. He was determined to achieve his goal and make himself something more and no threat or task would stand in his way. “What ever dangers lie ahead, I will face them.” Cade said, his tone mixed with zeal and fear in equal parts. “You little fool!” Castrol screamed enraged “A weakling like you take our Trials? Over my dead body!” Castrol pushed past the elder, knocking the old Elf to the ground, and grabbed Cade roughly around the throat. Cade squirmed from the warrior’s rough grip. His bloodstained breath filled Cade’s nostrils, causing him to gag. His grip loosened suddenly and Cade felt his breath comeback. Castrol was turned towards Eleanor who was screaming something at him in the woodland Dark Elves language while tugging at his arm.
Eleanor continued to shout in a pleading manner. Cade could not tell what she was saying but the fact it had got Castrol off him made him very grateful for it. Eleanor’s eyes took a desperate tone and she held Castrol’s face in here hands while speaking the same Elvish in a whisper. Castrol mouthed something back in the same tongue and then swung his right hand nailing Eleanor to the floor. Looking a little stunned at what he had done Castrol ran off into the undergrowth as Cade helped a shocked Eleanor to her feet. Looking a little dazed she pushed away from him and ran towards the woodland village. A cold feeling came over the remaining Elves and no one would dare utter a word. Cade began to feel strangely alien once again and wanted nothing more then to be away from here. Eventually the elder shook his masked head wearily and pointed towards the village. “Come. Let’s head home” he said before walking into the canopy of trees that led to the village.
Cade sat alone pondering his future while staring into the flames of the large fire dominating the villages centre. Sounds of revel were ringing out from a large wooden building that passed for some sort of alehouse. An Elf known as Katich had explained to him on the way back to the village that a great party was always thrown on nights of initiation. It had been all the Elf could do to pass the tension filled march back and Cade too had been grateful for it. Katich now sat opposite him smoking from a strange pipe made of some sort of shoot. His roughly cut red hair had a daemonic glow in the light of the fire. His face was grizzled and scarred, the mark of a veteran of many battles. More shocking was the Elf’s mouth which was devoid of all front teeth apart from four fangs tipped with silver. A smooth silver ring curled through his bottom lip but apart from this he was dressed in the same manner as the rest of the village Elves. Despite their apparent feral nature, their sense of uniform was near flawless Cade mused. It was a fact that impressed him a lot.
“You coming in Cade?” Katich eyed him in a friendly manner awaiting a response. Cade looked up from the fire and shook his head. “Ah well” Katich chuckled heartily. “I’ll save you a drink then for later eh?” Cade nodded with a slight smile before once again staring into the crackling fire. Despite its heat and his proximity to it, he still felt cold. He wondered if this had something to do with the shock of the evening. It had grown dark quickly on the way back to the village and Cade wondered just how long they had spent in the arena area. His thoughts went back to the altar and the sight of the heart wrenched from his former owner. Would this be his own fate someday? To be passed on to the next generation in the form of his heart. To have his experiences, his battles, his lessons, shared to the first new member to choose to eat him? This didn’t really feel like the sort of name he wanted for himself. He wondered what had become of the heart once he had refused it. Perhaps it was still in the elder’s possession awaiting him to fail the trials and take the easy way out. Thinking back to that moment made him recall Castrol striking Eleanor and suddenly he was very angry. There was more going on here then perhaps he would ever know.
His thoughts were doing nothing but tie him up in riddles so he turned his gaze away from the fire in frustration, focusing on the sounds of the party. He noticed a figure striding towards him, lit only barely by the fire around him. He reached for one of the daggers at his side, preparing to defend himself should the visitor mean trouble. He relaxed immediately when he recognized the figure as Eleanor. Her face was partially covered by her long hair, now untied from its tiara. “Why do you not join them?” She asked gazing at him inquisitively. “It seems like quite the revel”. Cade shook his head and gazed at his feet. “I have nothing to revel about” he replied bluntly. She sat down beside him, holding her arms out to the fire for warmth. “Tonight I’ve managed to disrespect the elder and myself. To make an enemy of the greatest warrior in this village. And…” He took a deep breath before speaking again. “And I managed to cause harm to someone.”
Eleanor laughed lightly and turned towards him. “You caused me no harm. I’m the one who stood in Castrol’s way. Worry not it is not the first time we have clashed and I’m sure it won’t be the last.” Cade considered her, wondering what it was she meant by that. Eleanor smiled again and it soon turned into a giggle. “Why so serious Cade? You weren’t really that worried about me were you?” Cade frowned a little, feeling his cheeks turned red, but he quickly regained his composure. “Why do it? Why allow yourself to be treated like that?” She stared at him with a serious expression before turning towards the fire. Cade began to wonder if she would even bother to answer but soon she began to speak again. “Despite his brashness. his cold exterior and his violent nature. Despite all of that I’ll forgive it all because I’ll always love him. He is my brother Cade.” She rose to her feet and began to walk towards her dwelling. Before she left she turned towards him, brushing something from her eye. For the first time Cade could see her hair was covering a large bruise from where Castrol had struck her. “Try not to worry so much Cade”. She said before turning and leaving.
Cade pondered the bizarre meeting with Eleanor whilst once again staring into the flames. He had known the she-Elf a week at the most now and she had always appeared cold to him. Yet she had clearly just opened up in his presence. He had no more time to consider it as an Elf ran up to him in a hurry, panting from loss of breath. “The elder wishes to speak to you. Follow me”. The Elf began to run off into the undergrowth and Cade had to jump up and dash after him before he lost him completely. Soon they found themselves on the wooden bridge that led across the river. The elder stood there alone, lit by the moonlight above. The wooden bridge creaked as the messenger and Cade approached the Elder. He gazed into the water seemingly distracted, his hands gripping the rail of the bridge tight. When they were no more then a few steps away from him he spoke. “Leave us be”. He said coldly pointing towards the shore. The messenger bowed a little and then ran off back across the bridge, his feet thudding off the planks.
“The Trials will not be easy young Cade”. He said coldly without hint of concern, his eyes still fixated on the river below. “I know that”. Cade uttered back knowingly. The elder chuckled a little, as if amused by some personal joke. “What of Castrol elder?” He asked with concern. “I have dishonoured him.” The elder turned towards him with a gleam in his eyes. “Cade did you hear Castrol address me by my real name?” He cocked his masked head a little, awaiting a response. “Yes. Azrael” he replied, his voice filled with nerves. “Good then use it please. I invited you here after all.” Cade nodded still feeling uncomfortable with the idea. “Worry not about Castrol young Cade. He is angry and very stubborn. No doubt he will fulfill his grudge at some point. But you shall survive. He dare not question my rule.” Cade didn’t feel very reassure despite the elder’s intimidating presence. “How do you know?” He asked speaking without thinking. The elder laughed out loud. “Such an inquisitive one young Cade. I know because he is my son”.
“Then Eleanor?” Cade again spoke without thinking, trying desperately to get his head around things. “Yes Cade she is my daughter”. He replied frankly. Things were beginning to slip into place now. The rivalry between all three had seemed so intense and now he knew why. What he was still yet to understand was how this included him. “You will know one day soon Cade. But not for now”. The elder said reading his expression. “Why did you call me here?” Cade asked staring into the river below. “Because I could feel you had something to ask me. About your rescue.” Cade’s mind tracked back to the things Castrol had said at the altar. He particularly focused on how he had felt when he had learnt his betrayers were saved for his own pride. In spite of the fact that they had killed Castrol’s people before. “Why save my pride? These people had murdered your men had they not?” The elder remained silent before answering. “Because a true warrior must fight his own battles. And I knew that you would want to get your revenge. Do not anger for our fallen Cade. It is not your concern for now. You will be picked a trainer tomorrow and then preparation for the Trials will begin for you. Now you should get some rest.” Cade shook his head and stared intently at the elder. “No one more thing. I saw females today. Ones I had never set eyes on before since I’ve been there. And I haven’t seen them since either. Who are they?”
“The brides of the wood.” Azrael said coldly. “All species must have breeders. They are ours. Our future depends on them so they are kept safe. Free from the dredge of our daily lives in the best comfort we can provide. Now go. Rest.” Cade wanted to ask why Eleanor was spared but could see he would gain no more answers tonight. He bowed to the elder courtly and walked off back into the woods. His mind raced with what he had learned tonight but he was too tired to make head our tail of it. He didn’t even hear his followers approaching until a voice spoke out. “Time we settled the score cur!”
Sewad - January 29, 2006 10:56 PM (GMT)
Chapter 6 – Cade’s Trainer
Cade span around with a start and focused on the location of the sound. His eyes fell on the partially shadowed features of a grizzled Dark Elf. Four purple hooded silhouettes floated in behind covered by the deepening gloom. Despite the less then perfect viewing conditions Cade instantly recognized Castrol from his gruff voice and intimidating presence. He thought hard, his mind and pulse racing a mile a minute for a solution to the impending crisis but none came. He began to perspire profusely as his pulse rate rose ever further and the realization came that he was in serious trouble.
“I’m not sure what you mean Castrol”. He stuttered nervously as he spoke not wanting to cause any further insult. “You know what I mean alright you arrogant swine.” Castrol’s tone was harsh and filled with resentment. “And now its time you got what’s coming to you, right boys?” He looked over his shoulder nonchalantly for a response and was rewarded with the guffawed laughter of the hooded figures. He shot Cade a vicious smile, his well worn fangs protruding through his cracked lips. “I get starters. The rest of you get what’s left.” He growled wringing his fist in his palm, a creaking sound intensifying the situation as leather vanbrace’s rubbed together.
Cade raised his palms slowly and began to back off. Castrol’s laughter echoed through the dark forest as he licked his lips in some sick gesture of pleasure. “What you going to do Cade? Run from me! Where will you go?” His laughter boomed out again and was repeated by his hooded followers. Deep in Cade’s heart he knew, no matter how mocking those words were, there was a deep proof in them. He had given up any life he’d ever had to agree to join these people’s ranks. There was no going back now to his nice sheltered life in Bacchanalia. He only had once choice and that was to embrace his new life and defend it to the end. Roaring his defiance he stopped backing off and instead shifted his weight, running forwards and barreling into a shocked Castrol with a surprising amount of force. Castrol fell under Cades charge, the impact knocking the wind from the younger warrior as they rolled away from the collision.
Castrol was up onto his feet first, Cade feeling his way to his feet slowly as he struggled to regain his breath. Castrol didn’t give him the chance, placing a hard boot in the young Elf’s ribs. Cade collapsed to the floor, letting out a call of anguish as he did. Dust sprayed into his nose and mouth, and he coughed a little causing more dust to spew up around his face. Another kick buried itself in Cade’s side, and this time more then released air left the youngsters mouth. The blood and spittle rubbed back into his face as he slumped to the dusty floor once again. Wasting no time Castrol mounted Cade, and began to pound away with his fists striking Cade in the face, chest and abdomen. Cade’s body contorted with painful impact and it seemed like an eternity before finally Castrol stopped punching. He sniffed and got up, licking his bloody hands with his tongue with a face filled with ecstasy.
“Honour is fulfilled. Finish it off.” He said coldly, bearing Cade no more attention then of a diseased animal. The hooded figures pulled clubs cut from tree bark from their robes, and began to stride towards Cades prone form. Cade strained to get up but his body ached all over from the beating and it took all his energy even to just sit up and stare his attackers eye to eye. He knew in this moment he was doomed so he secretly swore if somehow he survived this that one day he would make Castrol pay. Pay for this utter humiliation inflicted on this night. A battle cry sang out from the trees and the hooded figures span to meet it. Cade saw Katich charge into them with the force of a raging hurricane, cutting one down with his vicious claws before he even had a chance to strike. Hissing their disapproval the rest of the hooded figures scattered in all directions disappearing into the dense undergrowth. The last thing Cades now hazy eyes saw was the friendly face of Katich before he collapsed into a deep sleep.
Cades eyes opened and he tried to focus on the ceiling above. Despite the haze he recognized his own dwellings almost instantly, many nights staring at it having etched the image in his mind. He rose slowly from his bed not feeling the slightest twinge from the attack. This left him to wonder whether he’d been laying there for a very long time, or whether the Elves healing rituals had really been that powerful. He was happy to note he was dressed already and that his clothes hadn’t been too battered from conflict. The air felt warm, and sunlight creeped in through the gaps in the door drapes. He stepped outside and felt the warm touch of the sun on his face, the freshness of the pure forest air filling his lungs with vigorous energy. The light chirping of birds in the trees echoed from the tree tops as a light breeze from the south gently tickled at the leaves. The scene would have been idealic were it not for a flashing warning in his heart that something was deadly wrong. It was quiet, far too quiet for such a bustling forest community. There was no training rituals or gruff banter going around. Indeed where was everyone else?
His heart racing he shook off the warm feeling and began to run to the bridge in which the elder had stood with him and his eyes bore on a shocking scene. An Elf from the woodland village, well built and scarred from battle, was stood talking to a second figure that was altogether more sinister. He was dressed fully in a long black cloak that seemed to morph his very shape. His hands were covered with clawed, metal gauntlets and his pale, shadowed face was hidden from view by a large black hood. Only his eyes were truly standout from the shade, piercing and cold as if they gazed into a mans very soul. Cade shuddered gazing upon those eyes. Those murderous eyes that appeared somehow to glow with an energy only a man who had watched so many others die could have. Cade saw the Elf spit with disgust before shaking the gauntleted hand. Some deal had been made and Cade had to work out what it was. He began to head towards the bridge but his foot caught a twig as it did. A loud snapping sound caused the hooded figure to raise his head and turn that evil gaze onto Cade. It was too much to bear and Cade began to scream and scream.
Cade shot up with a start, screaming aloud. He coughed as he did so causing blood and mucus to spill onto the floor. He felt a pang of pain shoot through his sides as he coughed and so slumped back into his bed. The drapes parted and he heard the familiar light footsteps of Eleanor entering his dwelling. “What’s wrong Cade? You nearly shouted the house down.” He laughed a little feeling more pain seep through his ribs. “Nothing. Just a dream.” He replied coolly, sitting up in bed. “That must have been some dream”. She said with a light smile before taking a look of concern. “What happened last night Cade? Were it not for Katich you’d be dead about now.” He shook his head dismissively and got to his feet slowly. “That’s none of your concern. Where is the elder? I wish to begin training.” Eleanor gave a slight sad look at Cade’s apparent insistence on privacy before nodding to him reservedly. “This way. He’s waiting in the assembly area for you.” She said sighing softly to herself.
Cade followed her into the mid-morning sun, shielding his eyes with his tattered vanbrace as he did so. The elder stood at the head of all the male village inhabitants, dressed and ready to battle. Cade ascertained they were going on another raid and his eyes fell hatefully on Castrol, in his place as team leader. Castrol’s stare met his, surprise entering his eyes. Obviously he had thought the hooded men had finished him off. Cade grinned at Castrol trying to get under his skin. A firm hand touched his shoulder, forcing him to spin around startled. Katich’s friendly but stern face was staring back at him with a look of some surprise. “So you’re up and about then youngster”. He said grinning slightly and showing the gap where his front teeth should have been. The ring in his lip floated up as some obscene substitute for incisors as he played his tongue across it. “Yes thank you.” Cade said nervously shifting on the spot under the pressure of Katich’s stare. His face suddenly turned serious causing Katich to frown at him. “How did I wind up back here Katich?” He asked filled with curiosity. Katich withdrew a little considering his response carefully. “Well after I chased off the guys in purple I carried you back.” He said eventually being careful not to be too specific. “And where was Castrol? Did you find him out there?”
Katich’s face took a serious expression and he shook his head slightly causing his lip ring to flop around. “No. Why would I have seen him?” He asked fixing Cade with a quizzical stare. “Those men were Castrol’s…friends.” Cade said a little nervously as if not wanting to believe it himself. Katich shook his head furiously and began to shake his finger at Cade in an angry manner. “Preposterous. Those men were no friends of any of us.” He looked as though the very suggestion of such a thing was a personal insult. “I know what I saw.” Cade re-illiterated, gritting his teeth in anger. Katich took Cade roughly by the arm and marched away from the assembled group of Elves. “Now listen here young Cade. Those things you saw last night. No member of this village would ever associate with such scum. They are black hearted Elves. Murderers in training of the most famous assassin of them all. A name so synonymous with treachery and cold hearted killing that I will not utter it here.” Katich’s voice was filled with zeal and a long kept anger, and despite what Cade knew to be the truth, he couldn’t help but be held in sway by such deep words. “Perhaps you are right. But what if you’re not?” Katich nodded a little, his face grim. “Then we’re all in trouble my little friend.”
Cade followed Katich back to the assembly area as the elder finished his orders. “Ah Katich glad you could join us at last.” The elder said with an ironic grin. Katich smiled apologetically and took his place at the head of his squad. “You’ll have to receive your orders from the second in command of your team. Now squads move out!” He turned towards Cade as the squads began to jog out of the village in different directions. Castrol gave Cade one last hate filled stare before he too disappeared into the undergrowth and Cade was sure to meet his eyes all the way. “Cade how are you feeling today?” The elder asked patting Cade roughly on the shoulder, causing him to buckle a little under the pain. “I’m fine thank you.” He said grimacing a slight grin. The elder chuckled a little before giving a serious look that was akin to guilt. “I’m sorry my boy. I should have watched you back to the village last night.” Cade shook his head and raised his hand deferently. “You weren’t to know. But I’m done resting now. I wish to begin training for the Trials.”
The elder’s face dropped a little and he suddenly looked very concerned. “Are you sure Cade? You took an awful beating last night.” Cade looked back at the elder with pure, serious concentration. “I’m sure. I want to start right away.” He said resolutely. The elder nodded still looking concerned. “Very well then. I can see there’s no convincing you otherwise.” Cade smiled and felt a pang of pain from his ribs but it did not matter. He was finally getting what he wanted. “Can I ask you something elder?” He said seriously fixing Azrael straight in the eyes. “Why of course. Fire away.” The elder replied awaiting a response. Cade took a deep breath considering how exactly to ask but in the end decided on the direct approach. “Would anyone here ever ask those men to come?” he began to tremble a little hoping he wasn’t about to incur the elders wrath, but it never came. Instead he merely grinned a little and beckoned for Cade to follow. “Come it is time for you to meet your trainer young Cade”. A little annoyed at being fobbed off, Cade reluctantly began to follow the elder towards a large, hall shaped building. His eyes nearly popped out of his head as he fixed his gaze onto the Elf chosen to be his trainer. “You!” He cried with astonishment. “That’s right. You got a problem with that?” Eleanor winked at him a little leaving Cade to wonder just what it was he getting himself in for.
Sewad - November 20, 2006 09:22 AM (GMT)
Chapter 7 – Preparations Begin
Eleanor gave Cade a teasing smile and all of a sudden he felt mightily uncomfortable with the whole situation. He turned to the elder hoping to see an answer in his expression but none came. Underneath that cobra mask he was as unreadable as the sands of time or mountain faces. He returned his gaze to Eleanor and still that taunting stance goaded him into accepting her as his trainer. Finally stuttering hard Cade managed to speak. “I cannot. It wouldn’t be fair. She’s just…” Cades words were cut off sharp by an outraged stare from Eleanor. “Just a girl were you going to say Cade?” The way she said it was with a mixture of anger, and yet also routine, as if she had said the words many times before to other males disrespectful of her abilities. Cade began to feel very small and somewhat guilty under that furious, oppressed expression.
“I’m sorry. I meant no disrespect.” He said raising his hands apologetically. If Eleanor felt a change of heart at his about-face, her face certainly didn’t show it. Taking a deep breath Cade chose his next words very carefully. “It’s just that from my rather narrow minded upbringing and all, I’d find it rather difficult to fight a female of the species.” He smiled inwardly at his stunning show of diplomacy. However his mirth soon turned to fury as Eleanor’s mocking laughter cut the air like a sharpened knife blade. “Oh I get it now.” She said placing a hand on her hip defiantly. She giggled again and gave him a piercing stare filled with mockery. “You’re just scared I’m going to beat on you!”
Cade’s fists clenched, anger coursing through his veins. He felt his cheeks flush with heat, though whether it was from anger or embarrassment he could not be sure. His teeth gritted and he tried desperately not to rise to her goads. Inwardly voices spoke their fury, his male pride briefly taking over his senses. That infuriating women was asking for it. All this time he was worried about harming such a beautiful she-elf and yet she dared to claim that it was he who would be beat. It was not fear of her that strained his hand, it was fear of harming her. He groaned inwardly with the realization that he had thought of Eleanor as beautiful. So caught up was he in his inner turmoil that he neither heard Eleanor’s shout, nor saw the rapidly approaching wooden sword heading towards his face. Eleanor gasped as the weapon she had thrown to be Cade’s caught him square between the eyes, knocking the dazed Elf to the floor.
Eleanor regarded him with a look of concern, before laughing wildly as she saw he was ok. Growling with pain and irritance, mixed with his own embarrassment, Cade leapt to his feet and pointed an accusing finger at Eleanor. “You did that on purpose damn it!” He yelled heatedly, spitting with anger. “I did not!” Eleanor replied defensively. She took her defiant pose again and waved her finger at him as she spoke. “If you can’t avoid a simple tossed training implement like that then what hope do you have hoping to hang with my regimes hmm?” Cade stifled himself, managing through incredible force of will to keep his temper in check. He again turned to the elder and shook his head. “I’m sorry elder but I can’t possibly train with that infuriating woman.” Eleanor laughed and strode up, pushing Cade away from the elder with a hard shove in the chest. “It seems he’s below my training methods anyway father. Go find me a fawn in the forest. I’m sure it would make a far finer warrior then Cade here”.
“Enough!” The elders bellowing voice caused both Elves to stagger a little, caught by surprise. They both took simultaneous gulps of air and faced the elder’s stern gaze, filled with trepidation. “Sorry father.” Eleanor said bowing respectively. “It’s just…” Her sentence never got finished as the elder raised one finger to his lips, gesturing for silence. Eleanor’s jaw snapped shut almost immediately. “Whether you two like it or not is of no concern to me. Cade you shall be trained and Eleanor shall be your trainer. Now I suggest you get started unless either of you seeks to feel my wrath?” The elder’s cold, calculated tone left no doubt in their hearts that his threat was anywhere near empty. They both nodded somberly, giving each other a defiant stare as they did. “Good then I suggest you get started.” He turned and began to head for the exit but stopped at the last minute. “Oh Cade I suggest you train quickly.” He said coolly, never turning his head. “Next week you shall join your first active combat patrol.” On this bombshell he left with a slight grin on his face.
Cade shook his head despairingly, staring at the wooden sword in his hand. “Seven days? How am I going to be ready in seven days?” He whined bowing his head. Eleanor laughed at him and jumped forward, spinning through the air as she did. “With me seven days is an insult. I can get you ready in three.” Cade laughed spitefully and looked up at her with contempt. “Quit your foolish boasting. I’m but a youth, barely versed in anything but basic combat. How shall I be ready to hide, sneak and fight with the guile in which the others do in seven mere days?” Eleanor’s face turned stern and she placed a hand on his shoulder. “By getting up off your ass and quitting your pointless moaning. Self-pity has no place in this realm.” She slapped him hard across the cheek and then somersaulted backwards, tossing him a second wooden sword. He rose to his feet once more and rubbed the sore area where she had struck him. Plucking the second sword from the floor he regarded her with both frustration and respect.
The swords he held were wooden copies of those he had been given on his arrival here. They were mirror images, from the short blades, to the carved handles. Cade couldn’t help but be impressed by the craftsmanship that had went into making these training weapons. “We like to train with our chosen weapons of war. Hence we made the copies for initiates.” Eleanor said gently, noticing his interest in them. “They’re quite incredible. Even for copies.” Cade replied filled with awe. “They are needed for protection for now. A real set of blades would be too dangerous at this stage.” Eleanor said in a matter of fact manner that quite irritated Cade. “You mean you’re saving me from harm since you’re so much better then me?” He snapped turning away with distain. “No Cade. I mean that I could get injured too by an opponent less experienced then I. Skill is imperative to survival yes but it does not guarantee it just because a warrior has an advantage.” Cade nodded with understanding, feeling a little guilty at his rash comment. He felt like an admonished child, caught out for his immaturity.
If Eleanor noticed his demeanour, again she showed no sign of recognizing his apologetic attitude. Cade quite admired how well she kept her true feelings locked away. At this moment she was as unreadable as anyone he had ever met, as cold and harsh as winter itself. She suddenly drew her two wooden blades, and got into combat stance. “Are you going to stand there all day or shall we get started? For someone with only seven days you sure do like to waste your time away.” She said with a giggle before beckoning with him to come attack her with her blade tip. He took a deep breath and steadied himself before strolling within a few feet of Eleanor.
“Let me see what you’ve got.” She said winking coyly. Clearly she was enjoying herself despite the previous disputes. “I promise only to defend your blows. The training exercise ends as soon as you can strike my body once.” Cade laughed confidently, shaking his head at her front. “I did join many a slave raid you know. I’m not so combat naïve that I could not catch you if I tried. But if that’s the challenge then take it I must.” He bowed mockingly and launched himself forward striking at Eleanor’s chest with the sword in his left hand. Quicker then his eyes could follow Eleanor parried, the force of the defensive blow coming close to knocking his sword clear of his grip. His eyes went wide with surprise but he regained his composure and prepared to strike again. Eleanor gave him a steely gaze and raised her blades in guard position once again. Grinning widely Cade feigned with the same sword arm, cutting off the stroke at the last moment and striking true with the sword in his right hand towards Eleanor’s shoulder.
To his surprise and despair the she-elf swatted the blow as if it came from a mere child. Again his blade nearly flew out of his hand from the block and Cade had to admit he admired her strength. He was starting to get annoyed at this game. Eleanor was clearly making fun of him and he wasn’t going to take it. Gripping the hilts of his wooden swords tightly, he began to launch simultaneous strokes of his weapons at Eleanor. The strokes were not well aimed, driven by frustration and lacking concentration. And yet the fury of the assault had Eleanor parrying to the best of her ability, blocking every blow and yet slowly being pushed back under the force of the prolonged attack. Cade was breathing hard now, pushing every sinew of his battered body in order to try and find a gap in his trainer’s defenses and yet none came. Eleanor’s face looked strained, the effort of blocking his strikes was evidently taking its toll even on a warrior as skilled as her. Cold wood bumped into her back as the kickback from the assault had finally driven her as far back as she could go. Gasping a little she ducked as Cade swung his right sword furiously at her head. The sword clattered against the wall noisily as Eleanor rammed her shoulder into Cades midriff instinctively, knocking him to the floor coughing and spluttering.
Cade smiled defiantly as Eleanor helped him to his feet. “I thought you were only going to block.” He said with a hint of triumph in his voice. “I’m sorry for that. I got carried away.” She said with concern in her voice. Suddenly Cade felt great pain from his wounds the night before and he collapsed back to the floor, coughing heavily. Slight droplets of blood hit the wooden paneled floor as he tried to regain his breath. Eleanor’s face went pail with concern and she laid an arm on his shoulder reassuringly. “Cade! Are you ok?” She said full of worry. He looked up at her with great strain, blood tricking from his lips. Reaching down he raised his wooden sword and tapped her on the leg. Giggling with pain he winked at her. “I guess that means I win.” He gasped, his breath rasping. She frowned furiously before burying her head into his shoulder in a desperate hug. “Don’t ever do that to me again you fool! I thought I’d killed you!” He chuckled a little and stroked her hair with his hand. “Sorry I guess I overstrained.”
She backed away from him looking a little embarrassed at what she had done and he felt his face flush as well. He tried desperately to regain his composure and it was obvious that secretly she was trying to do the same thing. Coughing regally she fingered her pouch nervously and produced a small piece of mushroom. “Here take this. It’ll help with the pain.” She tossed it towards him gently and he caught it with ease. He regarded it warily for a few seconds, but trusting in Eleanor he ate it. It tasted bitter and he had to fight not to spit it back out, but as he chewed it down he felt the pain die down almost instantly. Whatever magic that fungus contained it sure had a powerful effect, of that Cade had no doubt.
He looked up and noticed Eleanor was still staring at him intently, concerned for his well being. “Perhaps we should call it a day. You are clearly not well enough rested yet to continue our training.” She said attempting to sound cold and yet somehow failing. “No. I shall not waste time.” He said determinedly, raising his wooden swords once again. “I have but seven days to become the very best I can be. I shall not linger.” They both smiled with mutual respect before again engaging in a flurry of assaults and defensive parries.