Die by the Sword

“They say the pen is mightier than the sword. I say FUCK the pen, because you can DIE by the sword!” – Slayer, “Die by the Sword”

Chapter One

This never advanced beyond chapter one. Also, the second piece down below is what my buddy Alex produced based on a prompt I gave him. I think, because this was written a longggg time ago.

Benjamin Kerstak wasn’t afraid of the dark. 

It was silence that scared him. Silence surrounded him now, a hushed stillness that filled him with disquiet. Thornvale Forest in front now, the city of Freehaven behind him, miles behind. His pulse quickened, and his breathing was shallow. Accustomed to the bustle of Freehaven’s Trade District, the calm of the Forest spooked him. Enough, he told himself. You’re here for a purpose. Stop acting like a coward. You know full well better than that. He closed his eyes and concentrated. The face of his adopted father, Adam Bryno, materialized.

“I cannae send ye in there fully armed and armored, Ben. ‘Twould be an affront to the forest.” Even Bryno the blacksmith understood the mysterious, ancient power of Thornvale Forest. It had been here long before any of them, and would presumably survive long after them as well. Ben wondered if there was any Stormwood to be found here, if maybe the Druids cultivated it.

Trees swayed in the wind, keening a strange dirge as if to beckon him onward, inward. Strange, how there were no sound of bird or any other forest creature. Didn’t the Druids still live here? Where were all the animals? Ben clenched his fists. He wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he plunged into the shadows of the Forest only to find horrid monsters running amok, with only his meager armor, his steady hand, his wits, and his sword to protect him. 

Of course, his sword – it was really the only thing he needed. 

Out of all the swords he had forged under Adam’s tutelage, only Talon pleased him the most.  His natural strength and a vast amount of practice had made it easy for him to wield the sword in one hand. The straight blade was about forty-five inches long, and double-edged. It weighed only about three pounds, with a black hilt and grip. He could cut through most anything with Talon in his hands, from wood to stone to iron. No matter what he chose to cut through, the blade never bent, chipped, or cracked. Even he didn’t know how this was possible, unless some sort of minor enchantment had been placed on it. The pommelstone was a simple topaz. There were no obvious magical effects given by pommelstones, but they had always been a part of sword-lore. Ben personally favored topazes, Catelyn’s birthstone.

    He went deeper into the forest, always alert for any marauding beast that came across his path.  A flash of red leaves distracted him momentarily, bringing to his mind the color of Catelyn’s hair. No time to think about that now, Ben mentally reminded himself. Stay frosty. 

Perhaps I should step back a moment and describe Ben’s physical appearance, if it please you. Shaggy dark brown hair covered his head, falling over grey eyes that were like flecks of stone placed in milky marbles. Numerous scars riddled his face, mementos from too many bar fights. A warrior’s beard (though he was not a warrior) covered his strong jaw, one that was somewhat bent out of place – again, another reminder of a bar fight. 

Some brash, uppity fool had smashed him with a bottle. It might have broken Ben’s jaw, but at that moment it hadn’t mattered to him. With a forceful headbutt, he had stunned his opponent, hitting him with so much force he was concussed before he hit the ground. Ben had a splitting headache for the next four days, Catelyn scolding him the whole time while bringing him fresh ice packs for his jaw, strong-brewed tea, and aspirin pills the size of his battered knuckles.

    He wore a plain dark shirt, forest-green hooded cloak, and denim jeans. Over his shirt but under the cloak was reinforced leather armor. Adam’s parting words to him had meant that he couldn’t enter the Forest wearing metal armor, but bearing steel was acceptable – better to have his trusty Talon at his side for facing whatever foul monstrosities would confront him in the shadowy clearings. The logic behind bearing steel on his hip but not his chest made little sense to him. Then again, Ben supposed it was one of the traditions associated with Thornvale. 

Odd then, that he could find nothing to fight - his reputation couldn’t have been so fearsome already, could it? Ben doubted so.

“That’s as far as you go, outsider.” 

Ben stopped, his right foot instinctively arcing forward as he set himself in a ready stance. His hand dipped to Talon. Though it might have been more cumbersome to carry it at his hip, Ben found through long experience that he could draw steel quicker if closer to his hand. 

“And who are you? It’s considered good manners to introduce yourself on first meeting,” Brandon replied. “But I suppose you wouldn’t know that, since you live in a forest and all.”

“Now who is the ill-mannered one? You say true, outsider. I’m the Huntsman. I range these woods in the name of His Wisdom, the Sage Weysan, and I‘m here to test your worthiness, Benjamin Kerstak.”

“How do you know my name?”

“I know many things. Now, I notice you’re armed.” The Huntsman drew steel first, a scimitar covered in vines and other forest finery, from a serpentine sheath at his worn-down leather belt. “Come, let us duel. Prove yourself by Evergreen!”

Ben needed no further urging. Talon spun into his hands as if of its own accord. The first echoing clash roused the scant birds nesting around them. They took wing, crying reproving cries at the rude humans who interrupted their rest. The Huntsman’s impossible speed caught Ben off guard. Adam had taught him well, sure enough, but all the swordplay training in the world can’t prepare you for actual combat. A blacksmith’s apprentice does not always an expert swordsman make.

Still, he managed to hold his own, after the initial shock wore off. Ben countered the Huntsman’s quickness with his sheer muscle. This didn’t prevent him from quickly tiring though, frustrated by being unable to retain the upper hand.

“Your stance is good, but your form is clumsy. Don’t just defend yourself passively, and if you attack, you leave yourself open too much. Keep your hands locked around the grip.”

“What are you, my sword trainer? I know how to fight!”

“Knowing how to fight does not make you a fighter.”

Vines and tree roots erupted from the ground, immobilizing both duelists and forcing them to drop their swords.

“How very true that is, Huntsman. I advise you both, stop. That is enough for now.”

Ben looked from the Huntsman, who had gone almost meditative, to the source of the voice. A man materialized out of the foliage. This man’s dirty white hair and beard were tangled with acorns, twigs, leaves, and blades of grass. His face paint was of intricate designs and patterns, and done in what Ben vaguely recognized as blue woad. Though he wore a grey cloak, he somehow still blended with the surrounding trees, chameleon-like. The druid released the vines and roots restraining Ben and the Huntsman. 

“I am Sage Weysan, called His Wisdom by some, yes, and not others. I welcome you to Thornvale, Benjamin Kerstak.”

“I see I have been expected.”

“But of course, ‘tis not often one of your stock enters the Forest.”

 “One of my stock?” Ben’s eyes narrowed. “And I suppose you mean to say something of my bastardy, do you?

“Of course not, but you must realize I am not here to insult you or the circumstances of your birth. Brendon Kerstak is a great man, surely, capable of a great many things, but he is just as human as we all are, and a man can only be so much before he bows to the natural urges of men.”

“I’m getting tired of everyone knowing more about my family and I than I do.” Ben said, kneeling to reach for Talon. Weysan summoned it away from it, straight into the old man’s hands.

“At least for a little while, thank whatever god you count as yours that this does not hold true forever, Benjamin.”

“Unless you can tell me who my mother was, I’ve no need for your prattle, Druid.”

“You dare speak to-” the Huntsman growled, but Weysan raised a hand to command silence. 

“In fact, I do know, as well I should. She was my daughter, Deidre. I can tell you more, if you would but join us for a meal.”

Ben had no idea what the forest-dwellers would consider a meal, let alone what a Druid could possibly eat, but he agreed anyway. His stomach rumbled at the word “meal.” 

The meal was an unexpectedly splendid one: stewed rabbit with potatoes and carrots, roasted onions, plus summer wine, crusty bread, and a fine yellow cheese, studded with almonds. 

“How do you have a rabbit?” Ben labored under the impression that as Druids, Weysan and the Huntsman would loathe to kill any forest animal, least of all for food. 

“I’m not called the Huntsman for nothing, outlander.” 

Ben nodded, still taken aback at the wondrous repast, given the Druid’s cabin deep in the woods. 

“And the wine, bread and cheese? Those aren’t grown on trees, last I checked.” Weysan laughed as he poured himself more wine. 

“I count as a good friend a merchant who is brave enough to pass near these woods. Few dare cross into it, but as I once healed his sick daughter, he is greatly indebted to me. He provides me with whatever food and drink I wish, at least those that are rather lacking here in our humble abode.”

“Fair enough…”

“Fear not, friend Ben. I’m not here to poison you or put you under some spell. The Huntsman chased away the monsters…really, there never were, not in long years. Just a convenient tale to keep treasure-seeking intruders out; even loggers dare not tread here. Eat, and be merry. It is a long way back to your vaunted civilization from here.”  

  “I wouldn’t exactly call Freehaven civilized...” Ben muttered, as he broke off another chunk of bread and dipped it into the stew. Weysan knew how to make a hearty broth. He sat back, frowning.

“What’s the matter, never tasted rabbit stew before, outlander?”

“No, nothing like that, it’s excellent. Weysan, you said you would tell me of my mother.”

“Ah, but of course, how could I forget?”

“You are getting regrettably old, my friend,” the Huntsman said, washing down a wedge of cheese with some wine. Weysan took no notice of the remark.

Piece #7: “Death by Sword”

The Dark Sorcerer slithers ominously through the gaping hallways of his keep, chastising the very presence of disobedience with a leathery whip of vehement rage. The sadistic Lord reprimands incompetence with omnipotent fury. He is relentless – a wiry, piercing voice that numbs his victim’s mind like a vice grip tightening slowly, clamping harder as each wretched word of his mesmerizing articulation crossed the ear drums of the unfortunate pawn that made even the slightest error. Perfection was the very core of the Dark Sorcerer’s unforgiving veil; his yearn for pristine execution, flawless recognition and a fuming intolerance for fuck-ups makes him a bellicose, savagely merciless adversary to the rest of New Earth. 

His paralyzing grasp reaches across the rigid, icy peaks of the Vergidus mountain range and down to the Black Shores where in the jungle of Teswan, he has gathered an endlessly massive army of miscreants from all regions of this unstable planet, loyal slaves in his eyes, groveled toward his every command. It was like waving temptation right in their face, an irresistible calling that had less promise than the Dark One had morality. A beckoning that could not conceivably be met by any other leader – a mythical guarantee of freedom, fairness and prosperity – a salivating muse, meaningless yet ever so intriguing. 

Kingdoms were at war, people were starving, and politics were crumbling like a dried sandcastle. The world has little structure anymore and the Dark One’s intentions were to see that he eliminate what’s left of it, hurling New Earth into a cataclysmic clusterfuck of slavery, poverty and tyranny. He had no virtues, no beliefs just a burning hatred and a dire need to watch the world burn. And he will see fit to carry out this travesty as he pleases…

2 Kudos


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Rachel's profile picture

This was a fun read!

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Thanks! I more or less rolled this into the Quest for the Relics setting.

by Byronic Hero; ; Report

Nein MC

Nein MC's profile picture

Sorry to just jump on that Slayer bit, but I guess there's a reason they're known for their music, not their interesting lyrics. I mean, one can also die of choking on boogers, or of just waiting around, and facilitating death is the least interesting or impressive property something can have.

The Bardic tradition of magic would place a bard as being much higher and more fearsome than a magician. A magician might curse you. That might make your hands lay funny or you might have a child born with a club foot. If a Bard were to place not a curse upon you, but a satire, then that could destroy you. If it was a clever satire, it might not just destroy you in the eyes of your associates; it would destroy you in the eyes of your family. It would destroy you in your own eyes. And if it was a finely worded and clever satire that might survive and be remembered for decades, even centuries. Then years after you were dead people still might be reading it and laughing at you and your wretchedness and your absurdity. Writers and people who had command of words were respected and feared as people who manipulated magic. In latter times I think that artists and writers have allowed themselves to be sold down the river. They have accepted the prevailing belief that art and writing are merely forms of entertainment. They’re not seen as transformative forces that can change a human being; that can change a society.
-- Alan Moore

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by Byronic Hero; ; Report

Well, I write rap lyrics, I *have* to believe that xD

All big changes of the world come from words.
-- Marjane Satrapi

Admittedly, not necessarily song lyrics, I think those come after the fact, and only really get heard when people already agree with what the lyrics are about. But there is still a kind of magic in it, for me.

by Nein MC; ; Report

How do you find these quotes by writers I admire?

by Byronic Hero; ; Report

Randomly, I guess. When I come across something I like, I stick it in my collection so I can find it again easily, and whenever something reminds me of a quote, I look for it and post it. That and impeccable taste is all there is to it xD

by Nein MC; ; Report

Well played.

by Byronic Hero; ; Report