For sake of my own motivation, I’m going to try to keep posting the converted form of Seryth’s Story as it might appear in a novel to this blog. For more information on the process and why I’m doing this, see Seryth’s Story, which starts in this post, and Part 1 of Chapter 1, which can be found here.
Living Story Excerpt
The piece I will be focusing on in this post is this one: “It was during one of these trips Seryth encountered gnoll bandits along the road. The gnolls wrecked his wagon and destroyed the goods.”
gnoll = rukh-sham
In World of Warcraft, gnolls don’t serve much purpose to the story other than being a semi-intelligent creature players can fight without concern they might actually be good guys. Seryth’s story turns this a little on its head, where he finds himself wondering if the gnolls have more intelligence than he first thought.
Talmenor does not have much in the way of monster races. Though the akor’mari, tokagi, and rukh-shami could all be considered monsters, they each have a reason for being aggressive or distrusted among other races. In the context of Sirith’s tale, I’m looking for a creature that is less intelligent or refined than humans and who have been either manipulated or else participate full-heartedly in being the agents of those demons seeking the Nathssysn. Though akor’mari would gladly be demonic minions, they’re obviously intelligent and refined, and their presence might strike too close to home for Sirith this early in the novel. Though tokagi appear brutish at first, they are actually highly intelligent and would not be interested in being demonic slaves. This leaves only the rukh-shami.
Duskwood = Bataklik
Though not mentioned by name in this Living Story excerpt, Duskwood plays a prime role early on in Seryth’s Story, and so will Bataklik.
To the south of the Tarithian plains lies the dark forest of Bataklik and the Hoary Spine mountains. These areas have a dark reputation in Talmenor lore, which means they sub in perfectly for Warcraft’s Duskwood.
The wagon wheels turned slowly, sucking at the mud left by yesterday’s storm. The black horse pulling the wagon walked with its ears back and eyes half-lidded, as if by drowsing deeply enough, it could ignore the increasingly thick layer of mud on its legs and belly. Sirith absently considered skipping grooming the animal once he stopped over for the night, seeing as how there was no Daelin around to bully him into it, but he supposed that wouldn’t be a very nice experience for the horse. The animal was beginning to look more like a gray-brown dun than a black with all the mud.
The reins lay slack on the horse’s back, for it knew where it was going, and the twin paths of the road, barren of flora crushed by many wagon wheels, continued straight on into the horizon.
At first Sirith had passed the many far-flung farmsteads of Hillet, but as the wagon trail ran west, eventually to meet up with the main thoroughfare linking Yeniden to Tarith, the grass grew shorter, the gray shrubs thicker, the land less suitable for grazing or farming, and so the people became scarcer. From some hilltops, on a bright day, one could just see the blue-green smudge of the trees of the dark Bataklik forest to the south. Daelin had always planned his trip so that they would pass such hills during the day when everything seemed bright and cheery; Sirith had grown up on stories from the other farmers of the evil creatures living in that wood. This was known to be the most dangerous of the journey from Hillet to Castellea, before the wagon wheel tracks met up with the road and turned north again.
Sirith didn’t much believe the stories. So as the sun crossed into the western hemisphere of the sky, he didn’t press the horse harder or look for a place to set camp, but simply continued on.
Crickets began chirping in the deepest parts of the grass, and swallows rose from the shrubs and weeds, performing pirouettes in the air as they caught bugs rising in the warm evening currents. Sirith was watching the birds absently when his horse came to a sudden stop.
He looked ahead between its ears and saw a figure standing on one side of the road. The perfect stillness of the person made the hairs on the back of his neck go up, and Sirith fished in the back of the wagon for his staff as a make-shift weapon. Just as he was about to jump down, the figure started to move towards him, and he saw two pinpricks of orange light, right where eyes should be, in the thing’s face.
Animal eyes reflected the light, Sirith knew. Even Daelin’s eyes did at times, though his tended to be yellow instead of the green or white of lions and plainsdeer. He brought his staff out in front of him, the tip a yard ahead; the figure would have to run into it to get to him.
“Who are you?” Sirith demanded. “What do you want?”
The figure stopped and seemed to be examining him, though those pinpricks of light didn’t blink.
“I’m armed,” Sirith warned it, even though he wasn’t, aside from the staff. “Don’t come any closer.”
In response, the figure drew a blade, a curved sword of beaten iron, and brought it down on the traces between the horse and the wagon shafts with a roar. The sword couldn’t have been very sharp: the first slash only bounced off the leather, and the horse shied sideways. The figure made a growl that sounded like rocks trickling down a dry canyon, and it twisted its blade for the horse—
“Oh no you don’t!”
Sirith leapt at the figure. It was a stupid thing to do, all things considered, but the figure seemed too surprised to bring up the blade to parry or stab him. Sirith landed on the wagon shaft, his staff connecting with the thing’s head with all the momentum of his fall. The thing dropped to a knee, stunned. Then Sirith slipped, and only from luck and a little grace did he manage to not clothesline himself on the wooden pole, falling sideways ontop the horse.
The horse snorted and stepped back and forth, bobbing its head and trying to rear in the harness. The figure stumbled back to its feet, and, in the dim light, Sirith could see now it wasn’t a human or even a ‘mar. Its skin was rough and pitted like sandstone, its eyes like twin embers in a face that had a too-thick jaw and no nose to speak of. It opened that mouth, and he saw black teeth, and then the thing was roaring again, more like wind rushing through a cave than a human cry.
Other figures rose up from the grass around him. It was an ambush.
The creature got back to its feet and made a swipe at Sirith with its blade. He managed to bat the blade aside with his staff and even get in a firm counter, slamming the tip into the creature’s face. It felt more like hitting a boulder than hitting a skull, and the creature only took a single step back to catch its balance before it was back to swinging at him.
Sirith rolled over the horse, slipping down on the other side of the wagon shaft. His first thought was of escape. Surely the horse could outpace these creatures, but not while it was in the harness. Could he instead roll into the thickest part of the grass and hide? Not while so many eyes were trained on him. Their attention would have to be—
Their attention seemed to be on the wagon, not him. With a shake of its head and another rocky-sounding growl, the lead creature stepped up to the horse and began cutting away the harness. The others crowded around the back of the wagon, pulling out the meats and hides meant for Castellea.
Bandits, then. Common roadway bandits. But no, not common. Sirith had never seen their kind before, after all–
One advanced on him from behind. He pivoted and slung his staff out in a wide circle, trying to keep the air clear between him and them with frantic swipes. The creatures seemed more than content to let him tire himself out. The lead figure even let out a rat-tatting noise that sounded like a chuckle as it cut the last of the traces and pulled the horse out from between the wagon shafts.
It was a chance, if a slim one. Sirith swung a semi-circle one last time with the staff, then stuck it in the mud like a pole vaulter, touching one foot onto the wagon shaft to vault himself onto the horse. The mud sucked the staff from his hands, and Sirith stumbled, but there was plenty of harness to grab to pull himself up onto the horse’s back. The animal spooked, throwing up its head and tearing the reins from the lead creature. Sirith felt the telltale hops of a potential rear, and he kicked his heels into the horse’s sides to encourage it forward itstead. The horse needed little urging, and it took off, slipping twice in the mud before it could reach the grass and better footing.
Eerie cries filled the air behind them, but Sirith didn’t look back. Bereft the weight of the wagon, the horse churned away, rapidly putting distance between them. The cries died out, and no sounds of footsteps followed them.
Sirith kept the horse running for a span anyways, before turning it back to the wagon track and slowing it a careful canter. The horse was blowing hard by now, and after a few half-hearted plunges, it slowed into a nervous trot. Sirith looked over his shoulder. He could only see the creatures surrounding the wagon like so many hulking figures in the gloom of twilight. Only the lead was looking his way, its eyes having deepened to a red like the inner depths of a forge fire. Sirith shuddered.
The stories of Bataklik were apparently true after all.