[WARNING: story contains violence and gore]
author's note: I've borrowed heavily from Greek mythology, Several of Stephen King's works (the smithy's prentice is based partly on Sheemy from Wizard and Glass, and partly on Blaze from the novel of the same title, and some sayings were downright plagiarized from The Dark Tower series [mother, may your days be long upon the earth] so, before you go thinking thinking that's an original concept, it ain't!) without further adiou:
EDIT: this is only the prologue, there's more to come.
EDIT: if you're inclined to comment on this work, please do so here: http://www.animeforum.com/entry.php?...r-One-finished
The battle's rush of adrenaline had passed, along with the joys he'd always felt during intense warfare. Of all the city-state's infantry, he was perhaps the most battle-experienced, certainly the most feared, even amongst his own garrison. That was alright. He had Karlya. She was his only reason to immerse himself in the hellscape of war after negating it for so long, and she was the only one he needed. Since her birth and her mother's death, he'd softened, slowed down to walk at his daughter's pace. She was all that was left to him in this world, and he'd die protecting her.
He didn't know it then, but it was a charge he'd soon fulfill.
His horse trotted down the main roadway between Typhor, where the battle had taken place, and Ophem, where he resided with his daughter when the battles had ceased. He'd been forced to leave the battlefield after receiving a deep wound in his abdomen. His armor was in a thick leather casing lain across his horse's back, and his weapon - a wide greatsword - was in a sheath hanging on the left side of his saddle.
He was on the outskirts Ophem now. To either side of him, stone houses lined the road in no particular pattern. Women were around some of the structures, stamping in fullos with their dresses pulled up or tending goats enclosed in flimsy wooden fences. An elderly woman - ancient would be a more apt word - rocked in a wooden chair to his right.
As he passed, she called in a weak, fragmented voice "May the Gods bless you, soldier!".
He smiled his wide smile to her. "May your days be long upon the earth, mother".
She of course was not his mother - it was just a pleasantry in these parts.
The Eastern barbarians were making a push to Ophem, the capitol. Their numbers were worrying - it seemed the mryiad clans had set aside their squabbles to persue bigger and better things. They had overtaken several small encampments, and only Tyfor stood between the hordes and Ophem. It was in Tyfor that today's skirmish had taken place.
It seemed that no matter how many of the horrific effegies of fur and skulls were put down, there were 3 more to take their place. The barbarians were not accustomed to fighting the armored centurions of the coalition, however, and only their numbers had allowed them to hold the section of Tyfor they had attacked. Reinforcements from Drenden, another of the cities in the coalition, were en route, and evacuations were taking place, but it was only a matter of time before the hordes became restless again.
This day, the hordes had marked him. It was known that they were crafty, dangerously so. His prowess and apparent invulnerability on the battlefied had been closely scrutinized by those higher up in the barbarian hierarchy. After a particularly heavy wave, a hunched man - another of the ancient variety - adorned in small skulls, perhaps children's skulls, appeared suddenly out of a heavy dust cloud. Out of his entirely black eyes shown malicious intent. One hand grasped a wooden stave topped with another of those small skulls, while the other slowly rose, crooked finger pointed, until it was aimed directly at the man. The shaman grinned toothlessly, then was gone in another gust of dust.
Now he was entering Ophem proper. The smithy's 'prentice, a young, broad man man with a dented forhead, looked up at the man with a confused, dumb look. Then he showed a bright, winning smile - the smile of a delighted child.
"Adre!", he called in a voice that could only belong to a natural fool. "Back from the fight? Did we win?"
"Of course we won. Did you think we'd let some hairy barbarians take our fair city?"
They had, of course, not won. The sheer numbers of the horde had forced them to fall back to a defended position - the aristocratic district that was separated from Tyfor general by a steep rock cliff.
"That's great, Adre! Goin' ta see your daughter, are yeh?"
"That's right, Adam, she's waiting for me. May your days be long upon the earth".
"You too, Adre, my good friend!"
Adre nodded to the 'prentice and resumed his horse's trot down the city's main road. Soon he'd arrive at the penultimate moment of his life.
He'd left his daughter in the care of the neighbors' teen daughter, who was a tough and responsible girl. She was to check in on Karlya, a girl of 7, about 5 times a day to make sure she was getting along. Karlya was a tender thing, timid even, but enjoyed the company of her in-and-out babysitter.
"Those two are like sisters", the mother of the teen had commented one day as the girls sat and talked in the courtyard of Adre's house. "They even look alike".
"It is well that she has a sister, as she has only a father to keep her company", Adre replied.
The mother looked sympathetically at Adre. "The father does well enough".
Adre looked at her and smiled his wide smile. "The father tries".
He trotted his horse onto the rough dirt path in front of his house and dismounted. He thought he'd see Karlya waiting for him on the stoop, as she always did upon his return, but the stoop was empty. Playing in the courtyard with the neighbor girl, then. Time always got away from those two.
He mounted the stoop and opened the door. The fading light was trying to illuminate the entry room and failing. Through the windows shown only a dim vestige of the day.
"Karlya! I'm home!" he called. Silence answered him. Could she be sleeping over at the neighbors tonight?
He walked down the hall toward the living room. In the failing light he saw a trail of dark droplets on the floor of the living room. He stiffened.
"Karlya?" he called again. He strode into the room and stopped dead.
On the floor to his right were two dark shapes, one smaller than the other. Both lay in a pool of deep red liquid.
He recognized the neighbor girl first. Her arms were crossed over her face as if she were trying to fend off a blow. He noticed then that her arms were severed halfway down the forearm, and her skull and been deeply cleaved.
He miserably allowed his gaze to fall on the smaller figure. Her eyes were open. So was her throat.
He dashed to her, falling onto his knees beside her as his mind swirled with terror and revulsion. He swept her into his arms, cradling her at the small of the back. The image of the shaman pointing his finger flashed into his mind, then was gone.
He looked into her lifeless eyes, the last tears of his life falling into them. His face strained with the input of emotion - revelation, horror, anger. He let out a long, agonized cry, closing his eyes and laying his forehead against hers. He wept.
He gently lay his daughter down. His cheeks were wet with tears, but his face was stony. He looked into his dead daughter's face. His mind was made up.
"Hades", he said in a strong, resolute voice, still looking into his daughter's lifeless eyes. "I offer you this proud soldier's soul to be forever bound to you enthralldom, into time known only to the Gods. In return, grant me respite from this pain, and the strength to slaughter those who stole my ray of moonlight".
He sat on his knees, gazing into his daughter's cold eyes. He waited.
After a time, a voice rose from the bottom of his mind. It was a silky voice of false comfort.
"Soldier, your offer is indeed worthy. You seek to avenge your daughter, noble, noble. I know of your prowess on the battlefield, soldier, and I know you shall serve me well once your enemies have been silenced. But a live servant is of no use to me, you see, they are brittle things. You know what must be done, soldier. Undeath awaits".
Adre closed his eyes. Yes, he knew. It was of no concern. His life was at an end, one way or the other.
He brought his hand to his chest, fingers pointed toward his heart. He pressed. His fingers dug into his flesh, deeper, deeper. The pain was like nothing he'd ever felt, worse than any open wound ever inflicted on him. When he reached bone, he grasped and tugged downward, snapping a rib like a dry twig. He pressed deeper, reaching his heart.
His final thought before death was: For her.
He encircled his fingers around his heart, grabbed and tore. There were ripping sounds and great surges of blood coming from his chest, and then he held his heart out in front of him.
All pain had ceased, both physical and emotional. He looked coldly at his heart with a quizzical look on his face. What is this thing? he thought.
He had never particularly cared for blood in life. Now the scent of it was intriguing to him. He raised his heart to his mouth and took a bite, ripping muscle that still beat. The taste of the blood was intoxicating. Metallic, almost copperish, and entirely pleasing. He chewed with a look of surprised delight on his face.
At last he swallowed, and he could feel fresh energy coursing into him from the belly outward. It was like cold water running through his veins. He looked at his heart with pity, then squeezed it until it was a mash of blood and arteries.
The voice returned. "Yes, yes, soldier, that's good, that's mighty fine. Now you are fit and proper to join my ranks, so you are. When your task is complete, you shall serve me as an agent of death on earth. But first. Go and do what needs doing, soldier... I'll be watching".
With blood drying on it's jaw, the soldier grinned his wide grin.