With a heavy sigh and pain in is his heart, Akuyim rolled off the side of the hammock he had been sleeping in. Reggie glanced up at him from under the hammock as the book that had been on Akuyim’s chest hit the floor with a loud thud. He looked down at the black leather bound book with a bronze skull with a jagged cleft through the forehead affixed to the cover. He bent over picking it back up and dusting it off. The single candle in “his” room had long since burnt itself hours ago. “His” room was no bigger then a closet, with a hammock strung diagonally between two corners. The small door used to have a lock on the outside but the innkeeper had it removed years ago, to try and entice travelers in taking the room, but he had few takers. Only the desperate would want such a small room. In truth if they knew what happened behind the locked door no one would’ve wanted to take the room in the first place. This was “his” room, he grew up here and he could still use it for a hefty price.
He began to pack his things, Reggie casually stretched and yawned. They had changed their sleeping routine it was now dusk. He looked down at his belt pouch and removed several gold coins. Donning his armor, he opened the door and the two walked out into the hallway. After several paces he met the gaze of the old innkeeper. The look on the innkeeper’s face said it all, the innkeeper didn’t much care for Akuyim or his demon cat as he was so referred to around here.
Akuyim pulled up short of the innkeeper and held his hand out turned it downwards and opened it, gold coins rained down on the ledger the innkeeper always carried. With that done Akuyim turned around to head out and collect his weapons. The innkeeper began to clear his throat to say something. Akuyim without looking back simply said “ Use it how you see fit, you will more then likely get your wish and never see me again.”
“Hmmph well in that case boy, take em, maybe your clan will give you a proper burial.” the innkeeper said. While it was true he hated the man the boy had turned into, he had a deep respect for him as well.
“In a few hours, I won’t have a clan, nor anyone who would care to tread where I’m going to find me if I fail.” with that he headed out in to the center of Stonard, the muggy swamp air assailed his nostrils. The murmurs of hushed whispers could be heard as they walked out the front gate so Akuyim could collect his weapons. Stopping just shy of the first barracks house, he turned around and looked back at what was his home as a child. The horrible nightmares, the beatings, and the torture. Now all that was left was the cold empty feeling of loss. He made his way into the barracks to speak to the commander.
“I’m here to collect my weapons, so that I may leave” He said to the commander who barely looked up at him. The others in the barracks grew silent as he stood there. With a snap of his fingers, the commander pointed to one of the newer recruits to retrieve the hunter’s weapons. Diligently the warrior did so and when he presented them to Akuyim, he whispered “So did you murder anyone today?”
“If I did, you would be the first.” He angrily whispered back. Reggie had started to become uneasy. The mood in the room was changing. Akuyim hastily equipped his rifle, hunter’s spear, his two Hanzo swords, and his two daggers. He backed out of the room, quietly and carefully. The recruit never stopped staring at him, nor did Akuyim back down either. Back out on the road, he summoned forth his riding wolf and mounted him. They had one more stop, before their final destination.
Carefully avoiding the Stonard scouts, they traveled the road. With his pain ever growing as he stared at the torches that lined the roadway. They were his father’s idea many years ago, before his death. Time passed, Akuyim no longer cared to attempt to measure it, when looming up for the dusky, muggy night was splinterspear junction and the covered bridge. He pulled the wolf up short as he sighed heavily, they had arrived. He slowly dismounted staring out through the moon lit night at the covered bridge. It was an amazing site, especially in the dark, and drab swamp. He heard the snorting of a crocolisk not to far from the river bank, and the skittering of a spider to his left. Looking down at Reggie, he whispered “I want no distractions. Silence them.”
Reggie tore off into the swamp to silence anything or anyone that dared interupt his friend, from his task.
Akuyim looked back at the single torch that lay burning, across from the bridge and with misty eyes, knelt down in front of it. This is where they buried his mother when he was just a boy. His father and him and a couple of the orcs that escorted them to this forsaken place. He felt hollow, and empty. The pain in his heart began to gnaw at him, eating away at his will and his resolve. Bowing his head in reverance, he asked for guidance and answers. Minutes slipped into nearly an hour he just knelt there with bowed head as Reggie rampaged on anything brave or stupid enough to get to close to his friend. After what seemed like eternity, he stood up. They weren’t coming, on this night when his clan was to be dissolved, no one was coming. He couldn’t say he was surprised at this, while painful it was to be expected. No friends, no officers, no companions, nothing but the cold dark night in a lonely swamp. Sighing heavily he told himself it was just as well, they would only try and stop him from doing what had to be done next. He had told no one, not even Khandivya of his next course of action. The thought that he wouldn’t see her again and be able to tell her how he truly felt would yet be another burden he would take with him to his grave should he fail. He slowly took off his backpack and removed his Clan Skullsplitters tabard. It was just a ball of black fabric now. It had no more meaning. With that he flung it far into the swamp never to be seen again. As he bent down to put his backpack on, he could feel them, like tiny snakes burrowing into his head, crawling around his mind. It was around.
“Hunter, Oh Hunter...Im waiting” it scratched in his brain. “Leave me be, im coming.” He hissed back. Diabolic laughter echoed in his head, causing him pain and his left eye to began to spasm and twitch. The dark cold fingers remained etched in his brain for a few more moments, trying to glean whatever information it could before leaving the hunter alone.
Akuyim regained his composure, he called Reggie over to him. Grabbing his jowls, he shook Reggie vigorously, whispering. “Tonight we may not be coming back, you and I, we have to be even more awesome then the awesomest we have ever been.” Reggie just glanced up at his friend as if to say that is it, I can do that with one paw tied behind my back. Rechecking his things, making sure his weapons could be easily retrieved, except the rifle he tied that down to the side of the saddle of his wolf. The rifle would be useless in this upcoming fight. Patting Reggie on his head again, he climbed into the saddle. He turned the wolf around they way they came, but Stonard wasn’t their destination. They had a date with a demon in the Blasted Lands.
The midnight ride to the Blasted Lands was uneventful, crossing into the jagged orange mountains. The lightning strikes and the baleful moons glow was all that illuminated here. Casting shadows of demons and monsters stalking their every move. Which was not the case, at least not yet.
They rode on for about an hour, perhaps more, time no longer carried with it the importance it once did. Looming up from the shattered landscape was a huge mesa, it overlooked the Dark Portal. Dismounting his wolf, he again checked his belongings, patted Reggie on the head and stepped onto a glowing rune etched into the ground. The feeling of weightlessness overcame him, his stomach threatened to lose what few contents it had left. Then it was over he was on solid ground again. Without hesitation he whistled and Reggie was by his side, ever vigilant. The winds began to howl and the lightning strikes increased in intensity and frequency. “I am here Demon, show yourself” Akuyim had to bellow just to be heard over the whipping winds. On the far side of the mesa he saw it, at first it was but a shadow, dark and inky. It began to swirl collecting more shadows into itself. Congealing slowly into a black mass. At first it was but a blob, but soon as it summoned more shadows to itself it began to take form. Starting with its feet, it chose the familiar shape of troll feet, then legs, abdomen, chest and so on until it stood before him. The demon had chosen his favorite form to torment the hunter, that of a beautiful dark skinned, dark haired troll woman. Her eyes, the color of molten lava and carried with it the same burning desire to snuff out all life foolish enough to fall into them. The demon had chosen this form once he had found the growing affection for Khandivya, trying to tempt him. It failed, but he still enjoyed watching the hunter squirm.
Sighing heavily, and looking at the ground to avoid the eyes, Akuyim snarled “Still ashamed to wear your own skin I see, after all this time, you still want to play games. Fine, we can play games. I assure you, you won’t like my game demon.”
Growling under its breath, the demon began his transformation, the feet became huge cloven hooves much bigger then the mightiest and tallest tauren, the rest of the body exploded rippling with a new found muscle mass, ripping through the delicate skin on his back were wings of the darkest coal unfurling into the night choking out the moonlight behind him. He began to pulse and grow until he towered over the hunter. “I hope you find this much more to your liking hunter, you said no games, destroy the book and release me, so that you may eek out a miserable life and I can continue to my destiny” The demon snarled.
Akuyim knelt down and took his backpack off, and removed the book. Holding it up in front of him, he stood up. He could almost see the demon salivating at it. “You know demon, this book was a very intriguing read” Akuyim stated.
“You said no more games hunter.” The demon snarled back.
“No I simply said, you wouldn’t like my game, if you wanted to continue your games.” Akuyim shot back.
The demon glared back at him, with hollow fiery eyes. “Don’t tell me, you came all this way just to taunt me hunter. It would be against your better interest”
“Oh im not taunting you demon, you will get what you want once I get what I want. Seeing as once the book is destroyed you will be free to open the dark portal and summon forth the burning legion on the other side....and what do I get demon? I would get nothing. So in order for me to destroy this book, we deal, I want something in return.” Akuyim stated back.
“No more deals hunter” The demon practically bellowed. Its eyes glowing with pure hatred. It clenched a fist to state emphatically that he was not in the mood for negotiations.
“Tis a pity demon, for as long as I hold this book, the last of the Skullsplitters I shall be. I don’t think I need to remind you exactly what that means” Akuyim shot back.
The demon began to pace in agitation, he needed the book destroyed. He could then collect what he needed to open the portal and let the legion through. As long as the hunter held the book his fate was as sealed as the portal. Minutes inched by before he spoke again. “Fine hunter, here is the deal. You destroy the book and I shall grant you immunity from the legion when we come through the portal, so long as you don’t raise your weapons against us. We will hail you as a hero to our cause.”
Akuyim chuckled softly. “No demon. I have the book, you abide by my deal. While your deal is enticing I will have to refuse it. To be one sides hero is to be the other sides villain. Im done playing the villain and I don’t want to be anyone’s hero.” Akuyim stated back.
The demon began to glare angrily at the puny mortal that had been such a nuisance and now a defiance. If he could have, he would have killed the hunter and destroyed the book himself, but the demon had been bound by rules against such actions. He had to rely on mortals to do his dirty work against the clan. The mortals have all failed when dealing with this hunter and that led the demon to greater lengths of animosity towards the hunter. He felt like a caged animal pacing to and fro his eyes boring holes into the hunter. The demon was bound and he longed to have his shackles removed and his power restored. Akuyim was the first to break the uneasy silence on the mesa.
“ I can see you need more time to dwell on things. So be it. You will know where to find me should you want to deal demon. Until then the book stays with me.”
“NO! Name your price and you shall have it. I have waited too long as it is.” The demon begrudgingly growled.
Akuyim couldn’t help but to let loose a smirk. His plan was working, all he needed was to get over one more hurdle and then they could be rid of the demon once and for all. “It’s a familiar deal demon, you can’t harm my friends or family. Past, present or future.” Akuyim stated with grim satisfaction.
The demon glared at the hunter again. This was a barbed deal, the demon could sense it. There was something more to it, he just didn’t know what yet. He used some of his power to scan around the base of the mesa, had the hunter lied to him and brought friends that lie in waiting. There was no one. The hunter had come alone like he had promised. He began to reach out to the hunter’s mind, tendrils of hate, slipping easily into his head. If there was something here he would discover it for himself.
Akuyim felt the snakes wriggling in his skull again. Thinking as quickly as he could he began to dwell on his past, the beatings, the torture, the pain. He gave into himself, letting his past beat upon him once more.
The demon came crashing into a wall of pain and agony. Try as he might he couldn’t circumvent the wailing agony of the hunter’s past. That just told the demon he was right, the deal was barbed. But it didn’t tell him how. Releasing the hunter, he took up pacing again. Mulling over every angle he could think of. Trying to glean what the barb was and how he could avoid it. He was shackled for far too long to be shackled again especially to a hunter. In the end it was a simple deal the demon would be bound to the hunter for the deal to be in effect, however if the hunter were to be slain, the deal would be off. Once the book is destroyed he could harm the hunter. He would need to wait until he got all of his strength back to fight the hunter which would only take a few minutes. All he had to do was agree to the deal and then wait a few minutes and kill the hunter. This all seemed to easy. He knew something was wrong but it was just too easy.
Akuyim began to think to himself, that the demon knows. It wasn’t enough to keep him from knowing everything. He is taking too long. He had one shot left, if the demon didn’t buy it now, the game would be over and they would go back to stalking each other in dreams and shadows. As long as the book exists the demon is immortal, but his overall power is diminished. Also he cant harm the wielder of the book. With the book destroyed he could be killed, he would get his power back but Akuyim knew the demon could slay him. It was the only chance they had. He didn’t want the dark portal opened. “Well I see you are quite content the way things are then demon. I’ll let you be.” With that he knelt down and placed the book, back into his backpack.
“Stay your hand hunter. You have a deal. You have my word that I shall not harm any of your friends or family, past, present or future. So long as you draw breath.” The demon finally conceded.
Taking his spear off his back, he placed it on the ground next to him. He removed the book and some wood. Displaying the wood in front of him, he rummaged through his pack for his flint and tinder. A few moments later a fire erupted, dancing lazily in front of him. The demon was growing impatient but seeing as a fire would destroy the book he waited, salivating over the death of the hunter. Without much fanfare, Akuyim picked up the book, opened it and placed it in the fire pages down.
The demon felt the rush of ecstasy as power came sweeping through every fiber in his being. Its eyes rolled back into its head, he began to howl in delight, his wings arched skyward, taut. Towering over the puny mortal. His massive fists clenched he raised his arms to the heavens for at last he was free. Its revelry was smashed as stabbing pain lanced his abdomen.
As the demon began to channel his new found power, Akuyim picked up his spear and with the guidance of the cheetah spirits, sprinted across the mesa and leapt up driving the spear home thru the demon’s abdomen. Releasing the spear he ducked and tumbled between the demon’s legs. Catching the earth behind the demon to slow his roll, fingers clawing into the dirt, he channeled forth the spirits of the monkey to aid him in the oncoming combat.
The demon’s tail sliced the air behind him trying to whip at the hunter, who began dodging to and fro, all the while inflicting serious wounds upon the demon’s legs. The swords he used had been enchanted with power of cold to slow their target’s movements. The demon’s legs had already been encased with frost.
With speed belying its size, the demon spun around and slammed his massive fist into the ground where the puny hunter once stood. The hunter was very quick and agile...for an orc. The earth rippled like a wave lapping at the seashore as the demon’s fist impacted nothing but ground. The hunter’s blades were already striking his exposed arm, leaving huge frost encrusted gashes. He prepared to strike him with his other fist, when the hunter’s beast landed on his back. It’s teeth sinking deep into the demon’s neck and shoulder. His front claws gripping tight, he began to thrust and rake the demon’s back with his powerful rear claws. The demon shrieked, in agony. While distracted for those few moments it bought the hunter enough time to land three more blows across the demon’s chest and arm. Growing tired of this game he reached up and palmed Reggie’s head, with one squeeze the tiger would be gone and dealt with. As soon as he applied pressure, however he became wracked with more pain then he had ever felt, purple lightning crackled around him. With a screech he dropped to his knees. His arms went limp, this however did not stop Reggie or the hunter from their assault. It was at that moment the demon had realized his error. Reggie was to him nothing more then a bug, like an ant to a human, but to the hunter it was the best of friends. He knew the barb and now the hunter’s game plan. The hunter wasn’t intending on killing him, just keeping him occupied long enough for his beast to do it. All that hinged of course on the hunter staying alive, which the demon had already decided wouldn’t happen.
Righting himself to his full height, the demon leaned back on his right side and rolled his massive shoulder forward. Launching Reggie off his shoulder and back and into the air. Reggie landed on all of his feet, claws slicing through the earth as he turned and faced the demon. Reggie roared out at the demon, it was barely audible over the thunder that reverberated throughout all of the Blasted Lands. The demon coiled himself and began swinging wildly at the hunter. His massive fists pounding the ground, as the hunter jumped, twisted and dodged. After each impact the waves of earth would ripple around leaving miniature craters wherever the demon had missed.
Akuyim used all of his wits, to manage to keep on his feet and get out of the way of the demon’s massive fists. Using what little time he had in between the demon’s wild flailing, he took an opprotunity to slice at the demon. Akuyim didn’t really care where he his blades struck or invaded upon the demon’s body. All he cared about was that the demon’s ichor flowed like water in a rainstorm. The wild flailing’s of the demon had produced a secondary less expected effect. It had given him distance. Akuyim snarled at the amount of distance he would have to close to continue his own assault on the demon. He spun the blade around in his right hand, flicking off the demon’s ichor in the process.
Reggie leapt at the demon again, who had his back to him once again. The demon raised his left hand and in doing so erected a small telekinetic barrier. Reggie hit that instead and hit the ground dazed for just a moment, then he began to walk and swipe trying to get at the demon but to no avail.
“Oh hunter, you should not have done this. I will break every bone in your body for this defiance. I hope you like it here hunter, for this is where I shall bury you.” The demon growled.
“You’re just pissed that I got the first strike in. You and I both knew this was going to happen.” Akuyim retorted.
“You have always proven to be a great adversary hunter, but you end here” The demon continued.
Akuyim had already been playing scenarios in his head, the distance favored the demon. He had to break his concentration on the barrier that was preventing Reggie from attacking. Which meant Akuyim had to strike first again.
Taking a deep breath he rushed headlong at the demon, he made a beeline for the demon's left side. In hopes that reflexively the demon would attempt to swing at him with his left hand. The demon however, didn't bite at the feeble attempt and slammed his massive right fist down upon the hunter. Akuyim narrowly dodged out of the way of the massive fist and leapt forward, bringing both blades to create two huge gashes across the demon's left side. Akuyim skidded to a halt and spun around to catch his bearings against the demon. As he did so the demon's left hand caught him squarely in the chest and launched him high into the air. The demon wasting no time snatched onto one of the hunter's legs with his other hand and from the towering height slammed him into the unforgiving ground.
Something broke as he slammed into the ground, he had heard it, blood flew from his mouth and splattered across his cheek. The sword that was in his right hand now lay on the ground out of his grasp. He had to move, he began to roll as the demon balled his massive fist and slammed it down where he had landed. The rippling effect carried him a couple extra feet. He still had to get to his feet however, and as he tried to his legs didn't want to seem to respond. The demon took this moment to gloat over his fallen prey. "Oh poor hunter, did I break something?" the demon began his diabolic laughter echoing louder then any thunder that could be heard.
The demon looked down at the fallen glowing white sword, raised a mighty hoof and crushed the blade underneath. "This is what I think of your little toys hunter." With a resounding snap the blade lay shattered in pieces.
Again he tried to move, but his legs were failing him. The demon had closed the distance and raised his massive fist to squash the hunter. Reggie leapt onto the demon's forearm, biting into his wrist. His claws digging and clawing into his arm. Like a kitten stuck alone dangling on a branch Reggie fought to keep his precarious balance.
The demon not amused, swung his massive arm, launching Reggie from his scratching post. This had bought the hunter sometime to actually try and move and much to his surprise his legs beckoned to his orders. He stood shakily and headed for his backpack.
"Where do you think you are going hunter?...our business isn't finished yet" The demon cackled.
Akuyim had managed to get to his backpack, knelt beside it and dive a hand in looking for one of his healing potions. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled with the sensation he had to move now. So without the potion he dodged to his left as the demon's mighty fist flattened his backpack and all its precious contents. The rippling effect caught one of his feet and tripped him up. The demon picked up the hunter by one of his legs. The demon looked at the upside down orc. "Oh hunter you should have taken my deal when I gave it to you, but no matter I will enjoy crushing all the same" The demon spoke.
Akuyim coiled himself forward and with his remaining blade drove it through the demon's forearm. Reflexively the demon loosened his grasp dropping the hunter onto his head and shoulders.
The demon raised a mighty hoof to squash the hunter, when Reggie landed onto his back and began to bite and claw wherever he could on the demon. Since he was standing on one leg the extra weight made him temporarily lose his balance and the hoof landed near the hunter, but without the force that was intended. This time Reggie had landed between the demon's wings, so no matter how hard he tried to dislodge him by twisting and heaving. Reggie remained glued onto the demon's back. The demon had to resort to buffeting at him with his wings. With each wing stroke it inflicted slight pain on the demon. The demon’s wings began to rip and tear with every buffet. He could no longer deal with the hunter who lay at his feet.
Akuyim reached down and removed a dagger from his boot. As soon as the blade hit the air, it erupted into an orange hellish flame. The flame carrying with it a bane to all demons. This one was no exception. He struggled to stand, he stood up for a moment before he fell to his knees, coughing up blood. Finally with one last huge wing buffet and a tremendous shaking fit the beast was dislodged from the demon's back. The demon grabbed the hunter around the chest and picked him high into the air and slammed him into the ground. they both heard more bones break, more blood escaped from the hunter's mouth. "You know hunter when you die, im going to rip the skin of that accursed animal" The demon taunted. "Perhaps I will take my favorite concubine upon it's skin as well." He continued. The demon grinned evilly, and the snakes returned to akuyim's brain. He could no longer stop them, his will had been bested and his body lay in ruins. "Well now what do we have here...you haven't told her yet." The demon cackled. The demon began to laugh, a boisterous diabolic laugh, but part way through, the laugh changed the hunter was hearing his own laughter. "You know hunter perhaps, I'll be nice to you. I will gladly keep her company in your absence, perhaps she will become my favorite concubine" As the demon spoke it was in the hunter's voice and his face changed to mimic the hunter's all except for the eyes.
Rage overcame the twisted wreckage that had now became his body, and he managed to get his arm free with the dagger in it. He plunged it deep into the demon's hand, right between his thumb and index finger. The demon wailed in agony and staggered backwards. Akuyim's legs were next to useless at best so he dragged himself backwards away from the demon as fast as his arms would allow. Reggie charged forward and placed himself in between the demon and his friend.
"Oh little nuisance you can't save him now." The demon gloated. In truth the demon hoped to end the hunter quickly the wounds inflicted by the infernal beast weren't closing and he was losing a lot of his ichor. Akuyim had scurried himself against a large rock on the mesa. Bracing his back squarely against it for support, he hauled himself to feet.
The demon looked at the hunter and then at the insect between them. With his massive right hand he wrenched the spear from his stomach. And in one fluid motion flung at the hunter with all his might. Akuyim let go of the rock and collapsed to the ground. As his spear buried itself halfway up the shaft into the rock. Akuyim grasped the spear and hauled himself back to his feet, but it was buried to deep for what remained of his feeble strength to pull it free from where it had become entrenched.
Akuyim and the demon's gaze became locked upon one another. Not one of his finer moments, frozen in place, all he could do was watch as the demon balled a massive fist and drove it towards him. As the demon's fist passed over Reggie, he became enraged. Bones popping, joints bending, claws distending, fangs growing, muscles unfurling. With his new found size, he reared up and slashed the demon's chest, his huge fangs actually biting into the demon's throat. It however was a split second too late as the massive fist buried itself into the hunter's chest. Gobs of blood exploded outward from the hunter's mouth onto the demon's fist, more bones broke, and the boulder splintered showering down onto the orc as he slumped to the ground.
Reggie however, was not stopping. He raked the demon's face and chest. He began thrashing his head from side to side. The demon's own ichor sprouting in the air like a geyser. The demon began backpedaling, he grasped Reggie to wrench him off his chest, but his fingers twinged with pain, the hunter still drew breath however faint. So grabbing the insect he flung him off his chest, the beasts fangs ripping some of his throat with it. The demon covered his grievous wound with his left hand and backpedaled from the massive beast. Reggie roared at the demon, a ferocious roar, more fierce then the demon had ever heard it drowned out the thunder. The demon's face became twinged with concern and so he turned and on tattered wings took flight.
Reggie roared out again, and swatted at the air as the demon took off. Akuyim coughed up more blood, as he sat broken in rubble. Reggie came and sat beside him as his own rage wore off. Akuyim couldn't see all that well, he knew Reggie was close and that was it. His body spasmed and he belched forth more blood. With his backpack crushed he couldn't get anything to heal him, besides some wet bandages but his wounds, weren't the kind that could be healed by mere bandages. With his body battered and broken, all he could do was wait for death's slow hand to claim him, or for the miniscule possibility of a rescue. His vision began to become darker, Reggie was more of an outline then anything thing else. His breathing had become shallow and ragged. As his eyes closed, flashes of people, places and events flashed through his mind. Fast and fractured they came, with no rhyme or reason. He could no longer identify any of these images. They fell through the gaps in his mind like grains of sand in an hour glass, always making a whole but never identifying a single grain for any length of time. What remained of his heartbeat began to pound in his ears. <THUMP>.
The images continued, his eyes closed completely but he could see things, friends maybe. <THUMp>. Perhaps family, he couldn't be sure now. The places he couldn't identify either, he tried. Buildings, rooms, open fields, swamps, bridges, a single torch. Apparently they all had a purpose but it was lost to him. <THUmp> Reggie nudged his friend in the face, prodding his forehead to his cheek. Akuyim barely felt it, even though it was hard enough to flop his head to the side. He saw a woman's face now, green skinned, she looked beautiful. A tusky smile, vibrant amber eyes. He felt like he should know this woman, but while his mind trickled away. <THump> He didn't. This image managed to stay longer in his head. Almost begging him to remember. Reggie knew his friend was slipping from him. He layed down and placed his head into his broken lap. Akuyim didn't feel that either. All he could tell was the green skinned woman was peering at him, pleading for rememberance. He coughed and spasmed again, blood slowly belched forth. The spasm had made him lose the picture in his mind. She was gone. Now he would never <Thump> know or remember who she might be, or why she was so important to him. His breathing slowed once more, they were nothing more then barely audible sighs. He could no longer feel most of his body. The darkness was slowly enveloping him, his limbs began to feel cold. The images continued to play, mostly of people and places he couldn't remember. These were things that meant something to him once and in his dire moments people take solace in what they have achieved, but what solace was there if you don't remember. Then the face came back, again beckoning him to remember. He tried <thump> focusing on the face again. It was in a brief moment of clarity, he had a name for this face. He spoke on ragged breath "Khan...." <th...>...................................
Akuyim’s eyes flared open. He was greeted by a silver-white light. The mesa was colored white, grey, silver and silver-grey. No longer the earthen hue he had just spilled blood all over. That was his first surprise. The second surprise was that he was above the ground. Hovering a couple of feet above the actual mesa itself. He slowly turned around, and witnessed the gruesome sight of his own demise and his stubborn friend who now wouldn’t leave his side. He just stared at what would become his failure. In the end all he had worked for and achieved came crashing to the ground. He knew the demon wouldn’t just be content with his death, his friends would be next, he would gladly drag his name through the mud and vilify him before all of Azeroth. His greatest failure would be held up for all the world to see, but not as a failure but as a deliberate act against everyone in the world. His attention turned to Reggie who had for some unknown reason resigned himself to a similar fate as his friend. He deserved better, he should use common sense and leave. Sadly Reggie had chosen to remain behind. In a few days he would be dead as well. Akuyim could not watch his friend willingly die. So he turned his back and peered out over the silvery landscape of the Blasted Lands.
Amongst the broken grey landscape he could see them. Scores upon scores of lost souls wandering aimlessly to and fro. Perhaps one of them was his father, that was slain so many years ago. Deciding it would be best for him to leave this place behind and strike out for one of the lost souls. He was being selfish of course. He couldn’t willingly stay so close while he knew his friend was intentionally killing himself. To his own astonishment and anger, he found he couldn’t leave the mesa. He had been fettered to his body. The top of the mesa was now to be his haunting grounds. Wandering the top of the mesa like a caged animal he found the closest lost soul that he could, and promptly sat facing that direction in hopes of gleaning even at this vast distance something he could recognize. But it was no use. He couldn’t make out one iota of detail on the wandering soul. Sighing heavily he resigned himself to sit and stare out over the vast nothingness that he would have to endure as his new home. Figuring in a few days he would take up aimless wandering like his new found brethren strewn across the abysmal silver-grey sea of anonymity.
The demon cursed under his breath as his hot ichor spilled forth like rain as he flew through the air. “What the hell do I have to do to kill you hunter.” With growing impatience, and on fading breath he ripped open a portal in the sky with a brilliant flash and loud explosion.
Moments later he erupted into the tranquil rolling hills of Mulgore. This is where his prize had been nestled away for safe keeping. His vision began to get fuzzy. He started to feel faint. He had indeed lost too much ichor, and he was still bound to that accursed hunter. He would need energy to close the wounds inflicted upon him by the accursed insect. He had been weakened to the point of simply accessing his own power reserves would likely kill him. He would need to steal the energy from mortals. He had enough energy for one or two minor tricks..if he was lucky perhaps he could even wrangle a shapeshift out of it as well. He flew on ragged wings towards the mountains surrounding Mulgore. He could grab the presence once he was back at his full strength. It was then he saw them, a small tribe of tauren. Crashing himself into the ground far enough away. He tried for his last ditch shapeshift. He succeeded in transforming himself into a large black skinned, black horned tauren male. Wrenching the sword and dagger from there resting places, he carried them as he approached the village. Collapsing from fatigue and blood loss just outside the gates, he felt them carry him into the village. Oh what wretched fools these were, pathetically predictable. The ones that had carried him into a tent laid him down on a mattress of straw, while a younger tauren woman began to bandage his various wounds. She spoke softly while tending to him. A voice outside commented that the young warrior that lay incapacitated must have run across the fabled cat known as The Rake that prowled Mulgore. The second voice outside trailed off and the demon could hear its speaker’s hooves walk away. He lay there bleeding while the young woman tended to him bandaging him. After a moment he knew it was clear, she turned away to gather more bandages. He slowly snaked an arm up from its resting position. She turned back around and was greeted by a vice like grip clamping down on her throat preventing her from screaming. Her windpipe broke within a few seconds and the demon began to leech the life out of her. After a minute the grievous wound around his throat had closed and he dropped the dissected husk to the ground. He would only need a few more. He shook his head and whispered “These lives are on your conscious now hunter, you wish to defy me. Then their souls shall never find peace”
Righting himself, he stumbled out into the village proper. Most of what was left inside the village were women, children and the elderly. The men had gone out to hunt, fish and gather for the tribe. The demon smiled. They would have no tribe left to come home to. The demon grabbed the first closest mortal it happened to be a young boy. His life was drained and the husk tossed aside. He proceeded to claim three more lives in this fashion before the warning bells had been rung. The obvious need for subtlety had passed and he was nearly well enough to face the hunter again, so facing these puny mortals wasn’t a challenge so he let them see what they were truly facing. By the time the first of the warriors had made it home to battle the demon, the village lay lifeless and barren. The demon had regained all of his power, and was more then willing to show this mortals what he was truly capable of. The warriors came swinging their mighty hammers. Hammers had no effect on the demon so he laughed derisively at them as he claimed their souls. The shamans had tried their magic, but most were ineffectual in stopping or even slowing the onslaught of the demon. Soon their souls belonged to him. He only showed any type of concern when the hunters and druids returned home. The sting of lesser animal’s tooth and claw were one of the few things that would actually hurt the demon. Luckily the druids weren’t experienced enough to assume the shapes of such creatures, and their souls joined their brothers and sisters in oblivion. The hunters sent in their wolves and shot the demon with arrows. The arrows broke off his massively scaled hide. The demon took great pride in breaking the wolves. Leaving them alive but unable to aid in the defense of their friends while he claimed their souls. When there were no more souls left to take, he went back to the broken animals and tortured them until they died. Only hoping he would be able to recreate such an event on the hunter’s tiger one day.
Satisfied with his handiwork, he flew on full wings in search of the resting place for the arcane presence. It was the quickest and most powerful way to open the Dark Portal. Since he broke the hunter but somehow he still drew breath, he couldn’t have gotten very far. With the portal open the legion would slice down everyone and everything in their wake until they found the broken hunter. Then the demon would have his fun..oh yes he could taste his victory. The demon’s revelry was shattered. The mesa that held the arcane presence was empty. He stood atop it now. He should be feeling unimaginable power, but he felt nothing. It was gone...but how? Then words echoed in his brain. “Believe me demon you wont like my game.” His eyes grew wildly, anger overcame him. The hunter had somehow managed to figure out the location of the presence from that accursed book, and managed to relocate it, and hide it. The demon stomped the ground and unleashed waves of hellfire until the mesa burned in unholy anger with the demon. His arms outstretched over his head, fists curled up tightly, he bellowed the one word that caused him his anger “HUNTER!”
The harsh dark grey background of the Blasted Lands became a silvery-white as dawn broke over the mountains. He could hear the sounds of a struggle behind him, however faint. The buzzards had found him. Reggie’s death would be inevitable at this point. He hated feeling helpless. The buzzards would soon start harassing Reggie while the others feasted on his own corpse, soon they would take turns in doing so. Wounds would be inflicted on both sides but overall they favored the buzzards. When Reggie had nothing more to give, he would end up being food for the buzzards as well. He so deserved a much better fate. Akuyim felt sorrow and pity, enough so that if he were still alive perhaps he would’ve shed a tear. A new day had dawned in limbo and all he could do was wait. He continued peering out over the vastness of nothing. Nothing had changed in the numerous hours of his staring except the erratic patterns the lost souls walked and the fact that buzzards had found his corpse. He resigned himself to just sit and stare, drowning out all the distractions behind him.
Then he was blinded by a golden light as a feathery-winged woman materialized before him. She was naked save for bits of gossamer cloth that wrapped around her, and she had no face. Her white feathery wings outstretched blocking off what little he could already care to see. He had heard stories of these spirits. The spirits of the Earthmother, he had never figured he would see one, partially because he never figured he would be killed. The winds whispered words from the spirit to him, not so much words as just vibrations in the wind that his mind managed to comprehend as words. “You do not belong here. Things are now out of balance. You can not stay here. You must restore balance. There are now others that are in need of you”
Akuyim looked at her in shock and disbelief. He just stared at her for a few moments. “What do you mean? I’m dead. There are no others that are in need of me.” he stammered back. In truth he had thought about that very thing. His friends and guildmates all had made their own plans when the Skullsplitters were to be dissolved. Khandivya was nearly at the end of her journey to become a paragon of a warrioress, she wouldn’t be needing him now.
The spirit simply restated its message. Akuyim looked up at it’s face or at least where its face should’ve been to try and figure out what the spirit was driving at but without eyes to peer into or the subtle nuances of the facial expressions it was just a blank slate. Nothing could be gleaned from it that way. Try as he might he couldn’t figure out what the spirit was fully getting at.
“The Earthmother gives you her blessing and gives you a chance to redeem yourself and set things right” came the spirits second message. This message was much more clear, in its intent and meaning. “If you accept this gift, you may be called to the Earthmother without warning.” the spirit continued.
Akuyim needed but only one moment to think on his answer, “ I accept your gift” was all he said. A moment later she was gone and the silvery-grey background dwindled to dark.
His eyes flared open, Reggie startled bolted up. In the darkened sky a brilliant light could be seen accompanied by a rather loud explosion He gasped for air, nearly choking on his first lung full of breath. It then became heavy panting, his body ached, he felt like he had been trampled by several herd of Kodos, at least twice. He stood up, his knees buckled and he was catapulted forward he placed his hands out in front of himself and landed on all fours. Breathing heavy and ragged. His head was cloudy. He couldn’t remember much of anything. All he knew is that he had a second chance, and he wasn’t going to fail again.
The ride back to Stonard was solemn and sore. His mind wandered, he had indeed failed but there was no sign of the demon either. The last thing he remembered about the fight was the demon flying off in a deluge of his own ichor. Things had to be set right that he knew. That meant the demon was still alive or else he wouldn’t have been given a second chance. He also began to think what else needed to be done with his second chance. Friends needed to be spoken to, there were things that he had decided needed to be said but didn’t have the right time or courage. That was no longer the issue, he had a second chance and he had no idea if and when he may be called back to the Earthmother. So much to do now and he was living on borrowed time. All his dark past, the villianous things he had ever done, he needed to atone for. The time for his redemption was at hand.
He rode into Stonard and walked into the barracks house. His whole body hurt. The body had been repaired but he still carried the pain of those wounds all he wanted was a nice place to sleep. Ironically the closest place was the one place he didn’t really care to go to but he had little choice. He simply cleared his throat and presented the barracks commander his spear, rifle and his one remaining dagger. His weapons were bound by a simple leather cord and laid in a corner. Reggie bounded beside him as they walked into Stonard proper. Someone commented that he had less weapons then he did before, but he paid them no mind. They were simply trying to get under his skin, he was above that now. As he walked into Stonard there was a large group of individuals choking the entrance to the inn. He simply shook his head. Hopefully he could get by and inside without too much chiding, as he was in no mood and just wanted sleep.
“Hey there. You sir. May I have a moment?” An orc called out to him as he almost made it into the inn. This orc had a large wolf that walked beside him.
“A moment? Sure you may have a moment. What is it that you need?” He shot back.
“We are headed into the Sunken Temple and we could really use another hand and you look like you can handle yourself well.” The orc continued. He was soon joined by a rather large blue skinned troll with a huge flaming red mohawk.
He just looked at the pair. Soaking it all in. Then he remembered the first message the spirit said to him. “There are now others that are in need of you” surely the spirit didn’t mean the first group of people he would find....did it. He had been given a short list of things that should be done by the Earthmother, he didn’t want to refuse her since he had his second chance. “Yeah sure I’ll go I just need to collect a couple things” he said back.
“Great my name is Wargiss, and this in my travelling companion Loqie. We are from the White Kodo Clan.” Wargiss said.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” Akuyim said back as he began to walk back out to collect his weapons. Reggie still bounded with exuberance beside him.
Walking back into the barracks, he just pointed at his weapon bundle. This raised the eyebrow of the commander but he handed them back to the hunter anyway.
He walked back to where the group had been gathered, it looked like there were now more of them. Wargiss went through the role call of those that had been assembled. Wargiss and Loqie he already knew, there was also Marijan, Ocham but after that Akuyim became distracted. The foreboding feeling came back the demon was around, he could sense it. The rest of the names were lost to him, but he met their waves, bows and salutes with the same dignity and respect if he had heard their names all the same. “Akuyim may I have a word with you in private?” Wargiss asked.
“Uh sure.” Akuyim was becoming more distracted, the demon was indeed around.
“Listen, its great you decided to come with us but well another of the clan would like to go. Is it ok if he goes in your stead?” Wargiss asked.
“Oh yeah that would be fine. It appears I have some more unfinished business anyway. Good luck in there you may need it.” Akuyim said
“Great listen if you ever need a home come look us up in Thunder Bluff” Wargiss said and waved and headed back to the gathering.
“Yeah I’ll do that” Akuyim said back as he began to track down where the demon had managed to crawl into.
Akuyim set off to find the demon. He wasn’t that far out in the swamp from Stonard. He wore his own skin. The skin had become scarred wherever Reggie had landed a bite or a claw. Reggie set himself low to the ground and growled at the sight of the demon. The demon recoiled like a human woman might if she had seen a mouse. Taking a few steps back the demon knelt before the hunter and in his massive hands he held the hunter’s other two weapons his sword and companion dagger. “ You were right hunter, I don’t like your game. I come before you on bended knee so we can resolve our unpleasantries” the demon said. His voice was a grating hiss presumably from the wound to his throat. As he spoke the words the demon’s body twitched and convulsed as if it caused him pain to say those very words. “I have stuff of yours and you have something I want. I propose a simple trade. You get what you want and I get what I want.” he continued these words didn’t seem to cause him harm.
“Oh? What is it that I have?” Akuyim asked back. Quite in shock, that the demon hadn’t tried to kill him.
“The presence what did you do with it?” The demon countered.
Akuyim grew silent a moment. He thought to himself, “what a stroke of luck. He couldn’t find the arcane presence and now thinks I hid it from him. Oh this is great. There is still hope.” “I’m not telling you demon. You will have to kill me before I tell you.” He answered.
That thought had already crossed the demon’s brain but he was not in the mood for a grand search all over Azeroth he just wanted answers. “Hunter you know I have ways of making you answer.”
“Go ahead and try, I’m not telling you a thing.” Akuyim countered.
The demon’s snakes of hate tried burrowing into akuyim’s skull to find the answer the demon was looking for, but they couldn’t get in. Not because the hunter had managed to dwell on his past. It was the fact that the telepathic intrusion only worked on Clan Skullsplitters, of which there were no more. The demon had tried anyway since it had become second nature. Resigning himself to his failure the demon conceded to think on new tactics. This would not be the last time he would see the hunter.
“Fine hunter, today was the only time I will come to you civilly. After today you will rue the day you refused my offer. Innocents will suffer, for your defiance. I will see you broken one day.” and with that the demon clasped its massive hands together and ground the weapons and discarded the broken shards at his feet.
“When the day comes demon. Should the portal be opened you will find me directly on the other side in the front lines, until my quiver has been bled dry, when my arms can no longer swing my swords, and my legs no longer have the strength to stand. I will oppose you and the legion.” Akuyim growled back.
The demon just laughed as he flew off into the night. The laugh echoing in Akuyim’s ears as he turned back and began his trek to Stonard, wondering how long he could keep the demon under the belief he knew where the presence was. Knowing one day, it would all come to an end.