With each step through the mossy floor of a forsaken swamp matched the steady thump of a human heart. Around the swamp sat heavy thick linings of monstrously tall trees. Trees massive in size, ages old, and leaning onto each other for support in crude angles. Such angles where the long branches strangely wrapped around in a circular shape, creating a crown around the open area. That area, a bald spot, allowed the rain to funnel within in mass. The ricochet droplets sliced the leaves to bits forming a ground layer of muck and pointed sticks. And in the center of this area crawled brother to the King Marren, son of Thoric, on a bleeding belly which trailed affront a man holding a broad axe.
The large boot of the man behind crushed anything beneath it to rubble. The weight of him could be heard on any point of his body as the tight leather and chain-mail cringed together. Then came the wet noise of sweat underneath, excreting the pungent stench from months without bathing.
His large moving fingers were covered over with a tightened layer of tan leather, created a scrunching sound on the wood and metal which formed the axe’s neck. The man on the ground, still pushing forward, had been forced to face away. For the gods had cursed him by using the rain to splash his eyes and coat down his long brown hair. His vision impaired, he defied them as he always did, by pushing forward still.
The steps were slowing, only catching every third heartbeat of the man passing through the muck. The large Killer, scarred, battered, slashed, and fatigued was now savoring every moment of this kill. It would be his final for the evening. For up upon the hill from which both men had tumbled down, this man had single handedly turned the tide in his army’s favor.
He was a Champion from a far away, land. His ivory skin only aided the appearance of a God once closer. With his broad shoulders, heavy chest and straight and lengthy back, he was larger than the word larger. His thick arms covered in chain-mail led down to his gloved hands. Such hands built for fighting, were wide and meaty. His monstrous jaw a block of iron under a massive nose and piercing eyes of blue. Down to his legs were two giant curved logs. And even as they were hidden by a large skirt of silver and leather straps, the size of those legs still showed. Yet his appearance was less than half the intimidation this man truly caused. For with his massive axe, he had thrown grown men five to ten feet from their positions near him. Where he would rip their bodies in half and knock heads to the gods and back down. He had forced the front-line assault to break in the center. Now the weak-spot became the instant target for his brothers, and they had rushed immediately as thanks. As the slaughter changed focus to the men of King Marren, a decision was made.
Within seconds, the thick forest line had been littered with arrows and large balls of hay fueled in fire. Everyone in the fight, whether friend or foe, was targeted. Screaming and yelling cracked the skies as thudding and clanging coated the earth. The men had continued to fight, had continued to follow their King even knowing the betrayal in the air. But it was the Champion of Windhelm under his brother King Julias Marren who had chosen to disobey the obvious order to die. With his small frame, a muscular lean warrior, he shot through the brightening forest. Blocking sword and arrow as he ducked and spun through the flames. His armor consisting of lightweight steel and cotton, to keep him warm and agile through combat. It worked well, all until he crashed into the enemy grouping, huddled in the mass of bent trees.
The flames above licked away at the wood and brush, releasing droplets of liquid heat down onto their shields and helmets. So unaware of the invading man they were unprepared, their weapons too low to strike quick enough. As he fell into them, knocking four down and leaving two standing, his instincts took over. The slashing and stabbing, kicking and kneeing, biting and ripping, and deflecting to counter was an awestruck of technique done in glorious fashion. These men were children to him, they would drive forward with all their might, holding nothing back, and he would whip his blade underneath cutting deep into their chests. Their screams and cries halted within seconds and soon he was standing among the dead.
Then the branches began falling above his army all around him. Smashing down on men, the ones who weren’t dead were now pinned. They cried out to the gods for help. The small champion felt his heart twinge. He wanted to save them, wanted to bring them home then go to his brother and force that sack of dirt to choke for what he had done. He wanted his brother to see that being a King still has consequences.
That no amount of wine could drown out the truth he was not a true King.
But he had been hit by a contraption of weight the size of a boulder and was soon bouncing down the hillside away, from the battle. His head pounding into wooden stumps, his back racking off buried rocks. He would then hit the swamp floor with such velocity it would slide him to almost the very center of the space, just about fifteen feet away from the opening.
His ears would sing the sound of the devil’s symphony, a high ringing meant to drive men mad. And as he stood his body would question him. Stumbling right and left, his chest and back swaying, the left hand would come back from the side of his skull covered in royal crimson.
And the Royalty now sees his blood for the first time, he thinks the words his Swordsmith had spoken ten years prior. A short tale to teach him that he was still human, that he could still die.
The other Champion hit the swamp hard. His helmet, broken and bent, would come down after him, and after that would be his axe. The axe so beautiful, it would be an honor for some to die by it. The gods would agree, as they seemed to send it right to his very hand.
The Small Champion grasped for his dagger knowing his sword would be long gone by now. But the dagger wasn’t there. The gods had chosen their side of this fight as the large Champion stood. His soulless eyes a dark black in the lighting, his face covered in a hefty beard, and his forehead painted misshapen teeth under long thick black hair.
The two men would stand across from each other as the rain poured heavier and harder. The sounds of the fire above were drowned out completely. It was only them, and the gods above waiting for the show to begin.
The Large Champion roared.
The smaller Champion rushed.
And as the two came into contact the axe was swung downwards… and missed its target completely.
He slammed a rock, sharply edged and bulky, into the side of the big man’s skull, then jammed an angular and short stick between his ribs. Jabbing and dodging, he forced himself in close. His skull ramming into the large man’s jaw. The Giant Champion off balance tried to regain control. That short stick jabbed harder and deeper with every landing now. His left eye punched in, the next was again his rib cage. The large elbows came around and connected, yet the smaller man was practically unphased. The gods raged above as their champion was battered and beaten. They cursed the other man, wishing for him to make a mistake and be caught. But he was smarter than this man, he was faster, and he was more skilled.
He let the blood flow out of the thick chest affront him for a few seconds before jamming the stick back in. The man was throwing knees but just not able to generate the power he needed. By doing this more damage was caused, for it provided more openings. And as the stick spat out of the body with blood, vomiting the liquid onto the hand, it was still eager for more and grateful when more was tasted.
And as the Large Champion’s brain rattled and his eyes spun, the small man looked to prove the gods wrong.
Then they cheated.
His right ankle caught a rock and he fell harshly to the ground. And as he stood, panicked he was going to lose his chance, the axe whipped around. Its large blade seemed clean as it slammed through half his abdomen. And he had fallen back with his eyes to the stars, swearing he could see the gods laughing.
As he defied them still, crawling away from their chosen one, they mocked him.
For a sense of pride was bestowed upon their winner.
And the Killer began to sing.
“Oh, yee mighty, yee mighty. How thy sword be blessed, how thy sword be keen, how thy sword be sharp! No man be better than thee!” He stepped in larger strides. Gaining on his wounded prey, enjoying the final kill of the day.
“For thy brave for thy strong for thy wanting a drink of rum! Thy life will surely go on!” His feet come round to the crawling champion. Then one boot rests down heavy onto the loser’s lower back. And said loser watched the muck grow taller as the weight added upon him. His strength pours into the pool that is his belly.
“Go on I say! Go on I say! Live life the fullest go on!” The Monster screamed out.
As the rain pours the small Champion let out his last breath, ready for the blade at his neck to take his life. But as he stares through the cracks between his dark hairs, he sees a red glimmer in the trees. And as the ending thoughts pinpoint to a single one, he wishes he had time to see what it was.
“Go on my son, for the evil wicked… be gone.” The Large Champion lifts up his axe with both arms high above his head. The weight shifting on the spine. And for that split second the man beneath thinks of escape. He gives it up, allowing the last wishes of deceiving the gods… to fade away.
A blinding light shatters the ground and the weight instantly disappeared.
KRAAK KRAAK KRAAK
The sky erupted in lightning and his hands came up to his face. He screamed out frantic terror with curses to the gods. He yelled at them! Told them to get it over with, to end his life and let him rest! He taunted them and barked at them, demanded them to obey!
Then it stopped.
There was no sound.
There was no rain.
There was nothing.
He waited for the Reaper to call him.
But there was nothing.
So, he waited.
There was nothing.
So, he opened his eyes.
Out to the right center of the tree line sat the large champion against a rock. Still holding his axe with melted hands as it glows a dim color of orange. His chest is a pot, inside the organs cook like coals. And his face illuminated from the light coming through his neck. He stares up at the gods… dead.
The smaller man, the winner, stands slowly. The red liquid, still warm, washes down his legs. He walks forward like the dead, stumbling at first but then with each step he grows better. He walks taller and walks easier. Soon he is standing straight and proud, his injury nonexistent. He thinks about this, feeling it happen and doesn’t understand. Looking down at his wound, it is somehow cauterized and continues to head over, sealing more as a scab. He moves with grace and pride, a perfect specimen to the throne. He walks like a king.
Then he looks down…
And he is standing over a stump.
The stump sits in a small space littered with trees. Completely dry, covered in dust and dirt, without any signs of life it seems to study his soul. No insects reside in this place, and it seems nothing has ever come here before. Inside the stump he reaches and pulls out something even the gods didn’t know of.
Its dark red metallic exterior so dark it would appear black from afar. Its shape and forming of metal so smooth and so beautifully crafted, with an interior of comfortable wool he’d never felt before. He lifted it to his face slowly and looked at the red helmet designed like a perfect human skull, with two horns at the forehead, and a place for a crown. Underneath those two short horns were engravings of spells in a written language he could not understand.
His head suddenly feels cold.
The helm is then faced away, and pulled over. As it sets there is the smallest bit of struggle to seal it perfectly on. And as if in response he feels warmth reside through his body. His muscles thank him, his bones praise him, his skin flourishes.
He feels like a King.
And as his eyes open from within this new face he sees the world before him in a new form. A form in which he will control, where he has no choice but to control. He feels the words of the elders speak inside the inner carvings so close he cannot tell the difference between the wool and his own flesh in the walls of the helmet. They speak of his power, his intelligence, his greatness, and his love. The helmet is proof to him, that he is meant for something greater, that he is meant to rule. And as the idea which had been held in the darkness for so long by the love he once felt for his older brother came into the light. He recognized it, and chose to follow.
And for the first time in his life he looked to the gods in the sky.
And thanked them.
But the response did not come from the stars.
It came from below.
It came from the darkness…