Among the kind of the Rahto clans of the Skyneedle Mountains only men talented in arcane arts rise to be Rangers. The Rangers can become one with any environ, be they rocky mountains, dense forest, desert nightmares or even choked cities, to be hunted by a Ranger is to be hunted by a shadow. Over the last century three kings have tried to claim dominion over the clans of the mountains and three times the Rahto clans have repulsed the kingdom with an army of thirteen Rangers. The mountains themselves are rife with bottlenecks and killing grounds controlled by those uphill that a grandmother with a broom could defend against an army of hundreds. Starting with a charge at the base of the mountains the bulk of all three armies soon tired of climbing uphill and over their dead companions as their corpses rolled back down the mountain, creating an avalanche of human flesh. Each time twelve warriors held of thousands without sustaining a single loss whilst the thirteenth would slip past the defenses of the battered army and stalk into the command tent. Every military leader and noble of importance for three generations was slaughtered within the core of the kingdom armies, surrounded by men willing to die for them at a moment’s notice by a single man. These men cannot rain fire down from the heavens like the magicians of legends, but rather are able to cloak their slight movements and sounds from normal hearing. Honed from years in the mountains they can run for days, leap incredible distances and move with inhuman speed. To achieve the status of Ranger a boy of sixteen must journey on a pilgrimage to an ancient temple to their earth god. The boy is stripped naked and anointed in the blood of a fresh kill, be it mountain goat, bear or human, as long as the kill is heavier than the boy. He then must carry the carcass with him to the temple as an offering, hence the boy is denied to eat the meat regardless of his hunger or thirst. Many fall but the survivors are men of legends.
- The history of Ardania and its peoples,
By Welford Tallen, Wandering scholar
The shadow crouched poised on a branch, watching the unfolding battle. The outcome was obvious, the kingdom soldiers where hardened veterans, the mercenaries hired by the Empire were as green as saplings, but the man he had been following was like a demon with his short sword and dagger slicing arteries and punching through weak spots in the enemies chainmail with every stroke. If it could be helped, the shadow would not allow the demon to fall, he was special, had he been born in the mountains they would have been bladekin. Balfor watches as the demon slips in a puddle of blood and crashes down to the ground away from any immediate enemy. Human after all! Balfor laughs inwardly, there is always humor in the world, you just had to look in the right places after all. One of the green mercenaries who looks like he has only recently left his father’s potato farm trips over the rising form the demon as he tries to rise, his large boot crashes into the demons temple and he crumples like a sack of turnips. Balfor’s smile vanishes like smoke before a brisk wind, if the man were to die today then the last three weeks have been a waste of his time.
The battle lasts only a few minutes after the demon falls, the soldiers move about killing efficiently as the mercenaries look around like penned animals, for in fact, that is what they resembled to the Ranger, pigs to the slaughter. One of the mercenaries throws down his sword and drops to his knees, begging mercy and soon after the remaining mercenaries follow suit. A grizzled sergeant comes to the fore of his command, the man has a nasty looking scar deep down his left arm. He strides up to the first merc and plunges his sword into the man’s neck, sinking his sword all the way to the cross-guard, ignoring the blood that spurts over his already drenched body, he leaves his sword in the mercenaries’ neck and walks out of the circle the soldiers had made. The slaughter continues as the mercenaries are all dispatched quickly and expertly by a number of soldiers. Several of the mercenaries try for weapons or attack the soldiers bare handedly but are quickly cut down. The rest of the company sees to wounded comrades and dispatches those too badly wounded after a quick prayer to the god of war that their comrades may feast at the grand table for their years of service. The wounded mercenaries are not given the prayer but are sliced quickly and as painlessly as the soldiers can make their death. The Rangers nerves are taut as he watches for movement from his mysterious demon friend. After tailing him for weeks Balfor knows more about the man’s habits and routines than he might know himself, but he isn’t of the social sort and hence his name is still unknown to Balfor. An ill-timed cough brings a soldiers attention to the now semi-conscious man and Balfor swears at himself for not removing him from the battlefield when all eyes were following the sergeant, it would have been easy enough without being seen.
His vision blurred and his head throbbing like he had been kicked by a horse Adrian coughs up a glob of blood, he checks his lips and cheeks with his tongue and finds a gash on his left cheek where his head had hit the ground. Good, coughing blood doesn’t necessarily mean internal bleeding then. A shadow looms over Adrian and he recognizes the stance all too well, he had assumed that stance many times himself hadn’t he? The unfocused image before Adrian is all red angles and planes, but the bloody dagger in his hand was all too clear. “So we lost then eh?” Adrian asks the bringer of his death. “Aye, that you did friend,” The slightly clearer visage stonily replies. Adrian sighs and leans his head back with his eyes closed as the blood spurts all over his prone body. Funny, I always thought having my throat sliced would hurt. Adrian opens his eyes for a last glimpse of his world when the corpse lands on top of him , feeling his throat with leaden hands and realizing that it’s still attached to his head Adrian stumbles to his feet only to fall to his hands and knees in a daze, he looks up at his rescuer.
Balfor leaped from the tree as the soldier drew back his knife for the merciful killing blow, gliding through the air like an acrobat he lands behind the soldier without trying to mask his sound and the soldier turns as Balfor rises from a crouch while drawing a wicked curved knife from behind his back, the soldiers throat is spurting blood even as the Ranger spins from the momentum of his swing and throws a long knife with his other hand in one fluid movement. The hunting knife catches another soldier in the eye. Balfor draws his second curved blade from his back, the sun glinting off the clean forearm length blade as he stands still as a statue and waits for the impending attack.
Like a god among men Adrian’s rescuer stands tall and lean with two swords drawn, one gleaming in the light, one dripping blood. Coming to his senses Adrian rises to his feet and rocks unsteadily as the soldiers finally react to this new threat, the fear written on their faces obvious and palatable. But veterans know how to follow orders better than the most obedient dog and at a shout from the sergeant they surround the raven haired figure and Adrian stumbles away from them, steadily gaining momentum until he reaches the tree line.
Balfor hears the man stumble away from the impending fight behind him. Good, he’s either got sense or he’s a coward, and I think the latter in unlikely. Surrounded by fourteen seasoned veterans Balfor stands still, not moving a muscle, not even his chest was rising, giving the impression that he was not breathing. Men of the mountains could hold their breath for minutes and Rangers even longer, even only a moderately good one such as he. The sergeant was standing at the back of his command fuming, holding his injured arm, Balfor was surprised he still had enough blood left in him to make his face as red as it was. “Kill him you worthless sons of poxy cows!” The sergeant bellowed and his mean leapt to obey, three men coming in from different sides, enough men so that two could keep his blades busy while the third could stab him from behind without tripping over each other. Balfor smiled.
Adrian made his way through the trees as quickly as he could, stealth was useless at this point, if his rescuer could remain alive long enough for Adrian to circle behind the soldiers than he would have a chance of repaying his debt, if not at least Adrian could probably loot the sergeants tent and make off with as much as he can carry before they remember that he has escaped. As he emerged from the tree line he locked eyes with his rescuer, the tall man smiled just as three soldiers rushed him and Adrian could see the man’s death in the form of the third soldier that the lean man would not be able to see. Adrian had reached the sergeants tent by now and ducked inside, looking for any decent weapon he could find in the vague hope that the man outside did not get skewered by the third swordsman.
Balfor jumped at the first man, startling him beyond belief as he kicked of his chest and broke his ribs, sending at least one into his heart as the man crumpled to the ground almost immediately. The two other soldiers had already committed to their swings however and couldn’t have stopped Balfor even if they hadn’t, now facing the soldier that was behind him Balfor flipped over the man and buried his curved blade into the base of the man’s neck, flipping the corpse over his back and into his comrades still forming a circle. The third soldier had opted for an overhead blow and his sword was just striking the ground as Balfor turned on him, now behind the hunched over man Balfor leapt upon his back and pushed off with both feet, causing the soldier to land of the hilt of his own sword with such force that all the air was forced from the man and he fell, unconscious, to the ground. The remaining ten men were in a complete state of shock and stood there for a few moments like lambs watching a boulder fall down a hill towards them. Balfor planted both curved blades into the heart of the closest man, and ripping outwards, effectively separated the man into four pieces as he caught both arms in the vicious attack as well. The move wasn’t very effective in a fight with men who did not care if they died, but against normal soldiers it inspired fear the likes of which they hadn’t known since childhood. Balfor had hoped that such a vicious attack would make the soldiers flee so that he did not have to kill them, but they would not betray an order after all these years. The remaining nine men charged him recklessly, hoping to get lucky, Balfor jumped over the first two men and as they followed his progress through the air with complete awe, their heads leaning back as if looking at the stars, he rammed his blades through their eyes, landing in a crouch at the heads of both men. Spinning from his crouch he parried one attacker while slicing the neck of another, he rolled over the man he had parried, back to back and rammed his blades through the chests of two more soldiers. Hearing the metallic sing of a sword he dived forward and rolled to his feet as the man he rolled over swung his sword in a blind arc to try and catch him from behind. The remaining four glanced aside looking for their sergeant but upon not finding him they took up defensive positions in a line. His blades still lodged deep in the chests of his last two victims halfway between Balfor and the soldiers, Balfor stood up straight and looked at the men, individually, until he felt their resolve soften, then he was behind them. The soldiers started to turn and upon seeing Balfor behind them swung weapons to meet him, but they were too slow and Balfor too fast. The man on the far left swung his sword straight into the comrade on his left in panic, doubling the man over as the blade crashed into his leather armor, the soldier did not get cut but the momentary distraction afforded Balfor all the opening he needed, he focused his attention on the two other soldiers as they swung around and plunged his hand into the first man’s neck as he was side on and ripped his wind pipe clean out. The other soldier took a swing at Balfor that he leaned left to avoid and plunged his index and middle fingers into the man’s eyes and into his brain. He turned to face the last two and he watched as they looked at his fingers, small claws on the end of every one of them, dripping blood in a steady stream. Together they turned and ran, the man who had been struck by his comrade tripped over a corpse and Balfor jumped on his back, and sprung off him towards the running soldier as the bloodlust completely took over him, he landed on the man’s back and bore him to the ground, plunging his hand into the base of the man’s neck he snapped the spine and pulled out bone. The man screamed, he could do nothing else but scream as he had lost all control of his body, he died painfully. The last man was on his arse scrambling backwards as Balfor approached him, defenseless and crying as if the devil himself had come for him, his tunic soaked in the blood of his comrades, his trousers soaked in his own piss and shit. Balfor picked up his hunting knife that was still lodged in the eye of the second soldier he had killed when he saved the demon and threw it with all his force at the man, pinning his shoulder to the chainmail for a corpse he was scrambling over, Balfor kicked the man in the head, the man’s jaw and all his teeth shattered in a spray of gore and bone, his neck, broken in many places flopped over and the pummeled remains of the soldier’s head leaned back onto the corpse of his comrade at a disturbing angle. Balfor withdrew his knife from his shoulder and started to clean it when movement from his left caused him to roll and come to his feet. The sergeant, wearing all his armor, his bastard sword leveled at Balfor and a shield strapped to his still bleeding left arm. The sound was deafening as the sergeants head exploded from the right to left, the only sound was the ringing in his ears and the sergeants near headless body crumpling to the sodden earth, even the birds stopped singing, not a horse neighed, there was only the ringing in his ears as he looked to the source of the annoying sergeants spectacular, jaw jarring death.
Adrian stood holding a monstrous pistol one-handed that most would struggle to hold with both hands, the evil looking device had two barrels, one over the other, the top one was smoking. The god in human form was looking at him with a strange look on his face, his features unreadable, Then his plain features broke into a grin, that smile worried Adrian, and not only because it was smeared with the blood from twelve deaths all dealt by his hands in a matter of moments, some literally by his hands. It was the same smile he has seen when he had spotted the god from across the battlefield, only now he could see the little claws on the man’s hands as well, it was too eerie in the total silence of the cleared spot of woodland. The man bowed to him. “If there was ever a spectacular ending to a battle, that was it!” The man was laughing “my name is Balfor, Ranger of clan Gajkem, which means ‘rock-cat’ in your language, of the Rahto Clans of the Skyneedle Mountains, I am honored to make your acquaintance demon.” Adrian actually laughed “I have been called many things in my time Ranger but never have I been called a demon by a myth,” surveying the carnage before him he looked Balfor in the eyes, “and u call me a demon? After what you just did?” He leveled his steely gaze at the man and Balfor’s eyes narrowed “I just saved your life demon, it would be kind of you to tell me your name and lower that cannon that you are pointing at me.” Adrian walked over to Balfor, the smoking monstrosity still in his hand, he raises the gun to knee cap level and fires of the second shot and the man Balfor had previously rendered unconscious died in the act of drawing his dagger. Both barrels smoking Adrian holsters his new weapon and extends his meaty hand. “The name’s Adrian.”