Posted by Meg
A new entry from Joseph L. Selby. You can read more at: http://josephlselby.com
New Coreling: Half-Demon
The Warded Man waited in the clearing as the first mists of twilight seeped up through the ground. The demons would come soon. For three days, he and Twilight Dancer had done battle outside the ruin. He had come in search of ancient wards, following a map that had proved true in every way but for the treasure at the end. Any wards that might have existed on the tumbles of stone had long since been washed away by the passage of time.
Three days it took him to search the ruins before he was certain there was nothing worth the finding. Three nights he spent fighting wood demons. The ruins sat in the deepest parts of Fort Angiers’ forests. He made camp in a nearby clearing, setting up his Messenger’s circle for when the ichor grew too thick and obscured his combat wards. He would step inside, clean himself, and resume the battle. The journey would not be entirely wasted. He would take as many of them as possible before his time here was finished.
Twilight Dancer grew impatient, sniffing the air and stomping a hoof, as anxious as he for the night’s battle to begin. The sun slipped behind the treeline, the forest grew dark, and the mist danced on the breeze, but all was silent. No fire demons dared come this deep into the forest, but the first wind demons should have taken flight by now. He watched the trees. Woodies found easy camouflage among the mighty trunks and thick branches, but they only stirred with the wind. Nothing walked. Nothing hunted. Nothing came to fight as it had for the three nights before.
A branch snapped and the Warded Man turned to face it. His robe lay discarded in his circle. He stood only in his loin cloth, fists in front of him, ready to begin his nightly dance. He saw a shape pass between the trees, caught in the light of an early moon. It was short for a wood demon and lithe, more like a man than a demon. The Warded Man waited. There were no settlements nearby, no wood cutters or messengers to wander the forest at night. He was alone, or so he had thought.
The figure turned toward the clearing, clearly a man robed and with a turban.
“Jardir?” The Warded Man asked.
No, it was not the Shar’Dama Ka. This man stood taller, nearly seven feet if not more. The blue light of the moon turned his robe and turban black, but beneath the muck and the mud, the Warded Man could see how his clothing had one been entirely white.
The Krasian stepped into the clearing. He walked with a walking stick but he did not limp nor did his back curl with age. He leveled his stick and the metal point of a spear glinted in the moonlight. His robe was tattered, his turban frayed. What flesh was exposed looked much the same as Arlen’s, black ink tattooed upon brown Krasian skin. So many were there, it looked in this dim light as if he had black lines tattooed across him in whirls and crisscrosses, as if his skin were made of wicker.
“Do you seek succor?” the Warded Man asked. He did not lower his fists.
The stranger walked freely in the night. His eyes sat sunken in his face, deep bags beneath them of one who spends his night fighting rather than sleeping. His flesh drew taught against his bones, lined with white cracks like aged leather. His joints were knobby and his fingers skeletal.
The man smiled and Arlen took an instinctive step back. His teeth were narrow and gnarled. His gums bled black ichor. Tongues of fire ate at the gaps and licked at his lips.
The man slammed his spear butt on the ground and fire burst atop his turban. The flames formed a royal circlet above his head.
“Bow to me.” He moved his mouth, he worked his jaw, but the sound did not come from his throat like a normal man’s. It came a whisper in Arlen’s head. The Warded Man pawed at his ear, swatting away a mosquito that was not there. “You must give the proper respect. Bow.”
“I bow to no man, not duke, not Shar’Dama Ka. Nor do I bow to demons.” Which was this man?
The Warded Man placed each ward he could make out in the low light. Of those he recognized, their purpose matched his own. Wards on his fists for punching. Wards on his chest for protection and turning away fire spit, and so on. If he had been born Krasian, this man might be his reflection in the waters of the Oasis of Dawn.
The memory chased up his spine. Arlen felt the deep pull of the Core, that insubstantial haze just as he had when a wood demon tried to draw him down to the Core outside Cutter’s Hollow. His head snapped up and he understood.
The half-demon stood straighter, taller if that was possible. “You are almost ready, dal’Sharum. Together we will wage Sharak Ka. Together we will make war against the daylight.”
Thank you to Joseph for that intriguing story. I love the description of the half-demon as a reflection of Arlen if he had grown up in Krasia. Beautifully written!