Artemis yawned and opened his eyes. He could feel the warmth of his horsy lover lying next to him. He sat up and scratched his head. The room they where in was nice and warm from the glowing embers of the brazier. a beam of light from the a hole in the ceiling lit the room. He looked over to where his clothes where and stood up, stretching. He still had remains of last nights "activities" on him so he looked for a place to wash. He found something that looked like a large basin; he filled it with handfuls of snow from the entrance of the cave and waited for it to melt. After several "eeps" he was clean and reaching for his clothes. Aeneas snorted, rolled over and opened his eyes.
"Up already?" Aeneas asked, looking around and scratching his light blue mane.
Artemis was pulling his leather britches on by the fire looked over
"Yeah...I felt sticky." Artemis replied with a grin
Aeneas looked down at his naked body and gave Artemis a shy smile. Artemis pointed to the basin filled with melted snow. Aeneas stood, stretched and walked over to the hollow.
"It's freezing!" he said as he splashed his face.
"It's melted snow." Artemis replied pulling on his shirt and long leather tunic.
Whilst Aeneas cleaned himself off Artemis buckled on his black armour. He noticed that it was exactly the same as Aeneas's. He wondered about this until his feet started to get cold. He sat down and tugged on his socks and boots.
Aeneas wiped his face and looked around for his loincloth.
"How can you not get cold?" asked Artemis
"With just a loincloth I mean. I know you have a fur coat and that greatcoat coat type thing but..." Artemis trailed off.
Aeneas laughed as he did up the loincloth, which Artemis noticed was considerably longer and thicker than he first thought.
"These loincloths are a bit special." Aeneas said
"Oh? how so?"
"Well, I'll show you."
Aeneas tied the loincloth round the top so it was secure. There was a hole at the bottom of the front flap which Aeneas poked his tail through and secured in place with a leather thong. Artemis couldn't believe how he had missed all that material the night before. Aeneas wasn't done however, the final bits were two long flaps running down his legs which he secured in place with padded buckles. All in all it looked like a pair of trousers.
"Standard amongst travelling horses. Waterproof, damn near fire proof and nice and warm." Aeneas finished
Artemis looked at him and giggled
"What?" he snorted when Aeneas glared at him.
The King of all nights dreaming sat back in his throne. The raven landed on the arm.
"They love each other you know." It said
"I am aware."
"You did this didn't you?"
"Might have done..."
The raven sighed
"You can't keep doing this you know."
"All I did was make a dream come true."
"What will happen to them now?"
"They will most likely head towards the nearest town and find a room to stay. Then they will probably hire out their services as mercenaries or something and..."
"Alright, alright I get the message." the raven interrupted huffily and flew off."
The King smiled and turned his attention back to the globe. He paused and then waved his hands over it. the surface rippled and returned to normal. The king smiled with satisfaction and turned his attention back to the two figures.
a soft white wall of snow was broken by a hand that was almost the same colour as it. the hand was followed by an arm, then a head. Artemis pushed snow away from his body and clambered out of the tunnel and gave Aeneas a hand out.
"Wow..." Aeneas breathed as he emerged.
from the large snow covered shelf they were standing on they could see most of the Tel'Nar mountain range. the bright sun sparkled of miles and miles of snow and ice.
"Beautiful..." Artemis whispered.
Aeneas pulled his coat tighter around him and started heading across the shelf and down
"Hey! Wait a minute!" Artemis called and ran to catch up.
There was a knock at the door. the occupant of the room raised its head.
"Enter." the voice had a sinister edge to it.
the door opened and a servant came in and bowed nervously.
"Well...?" the voice said
"Uhm...Milord...we h-have reports that...uh...the swords have been disturbed..."
A fist slammed on a table
"What!? I thought they were hidden for ever!"
"Get out!" the figure shouted
the servant squeaked and ran from the room.
the figure stood up and went to the window.
his room looked out over the large bustling city, the light revealed him to be a tall dolphin with pale skin. his eyes were black and pitiless and he wore two black longswords at his hips. he looked like he was from the eastern lands far across the seas, and wore a long red robe
"This is a problem..." he mused
the swords by his side hummed menacingly
"So what now?"
Aeneas stopped and looked at Artemis
"What do you mean 'what now?'"
"I mean what are we going to do now? we can't just wander around for ever."
"Well I don't know what to do. I never knew you until last night."
It was Artemis' turn to look at Aeneas
"Well I do have a suggestion as a matter of fact." he said
Aeneas exploded with laughter
"M-merc...Mercenaries!?" he spluttered, wiping tears from his eyes
"Why not? Mercenaries get paid a lot, and we need money. We've also got our own armour and weapons and..."
Aeneas put a finger on Artemis' lips.
"Who would hire us? We're both young and inexperienced in fighting."
Artemis kissed Aeneas' finger and looked at the stallion.
"We can start out small, like body guards or something. Then, when we have a bit of money, we can go on to bigger things."
"You've really thought this through haven't you?"
"Well alright...but small remember?"
The king smiled to himself. It was naughty but he had to do it.
"I thought you weren't allowed to meddle?"
"It was just some inspiration."
The raven rolled its eyes
"You always do this."
The king went rigid.
"Uh-oh..." the raven muttered and flew off as fast as it could
A puff of smoke announced the arrival of Shanthra, the goddess of life, and wife to The King.
"What have you been doing?!" she snapped
"Not much..." the king mumbled looking at his feet
"Oh really? It looks to me like your playing with the fates of mortals."
"I am not!" the king said indignantly
His wife glared at him before vanishing in another puff of smoke. The king slumped back in his throne with a relieved sigh.
Shanthra materialized back in her plane. A red snake looked up from where he was playing with a small rock.
"What did dad do this time?" he asked
"He's playing with the fate of mortals...again."
After three days travel and a stop to "acquire" long monk habits (Artemis said that they'd stand out like beacons in a crowd if they didn't)
Aeneas and Artemis finally reached the gates of a huge, walled, city. They walked past the guards on duty at the gates, and entered the city, with hoods pulled firmly over faces. The first thing that hit them was the smell. it was the smell of a large number of people living close together. Artemis was used to cities like this, his father had taken him to them to trade goods at a young age. Aeneas had been brought up in the country and literally gagged as the smell hit him.
"How can you stand this!?" he whispered as they walked up the cobbled street
"We're in the poor district near the walls; it's were all the beggars and thieves live. Once we get into the city proper it'll smell much better."
"I hope so..." Aeneas whispered
"I want the country side searched for these two! I want their villages burned to the ground and all the occupants slaughtered!!"
The dolphin pounded the table
"And I want it done with EXTREME impoliteness!"
there was the sound of footsteps and a door closing
"Yes what is it?" Fujiwara snapped
"Is destroying their entire villages a bit...well...harsh?"
"What would you have me do?" hissed Fujiwara
The other occupant of the room revealed herself. She was human. She had long straight brown hair and was very slender, with perfect legs and breasts. She had a slim face with bright green eyes and soft lips.
"I wouldn't destroy their villages." she said
"Do you even realise the power contained in those swords!" Fujiwara screamed. His voice squeeed at 'swords'
"You should calm down." the woman said
"I..." Fujiwara stopped and sighed "I have to seal away those swords otherwise they'll destroy me."
The woman walked forwards and sat on a chair around the table in Fujiwara's study.
"Then I suggest you broaden the search, if they have realised the power of those two swords they won't stay put."
Fujiwara smiled at the human
"Ah Jessica...I am only a lord not the king." the smile vanished and Fujiwara's voice became menacing again
"But I will not let them ruin my plans! Leave me now I have to think of what to do."
Jessica stood up to leave
"Oh and send up a prisoner...I wish to amuse myself while I think."
Jessica shuddered and left.
Fujiwara grinned an evil grin only dolphins are capable of and fingered a barbed, serrated knife on the table.
"...And I think you'll find this room perfect for weary travellers like yourselves."
A key clicked in the lock and light spilled into the room. The landlord of the inn ushered two tall, hooded monks into the room.
"Will there be anything else?" the badger asked
"That will be all, thank you." one of the monks said
The landlord turned and left, closing the door behind him. The two monks waited until he had disappeared back to the bustle of the inn downstairs before they removed their hoods.
"Good disguises these." Aeneas said pulling off the robe and tossing it onto the bed
Artemis looked around the room. it was the cheapest they could find and it was in a nice clean part of the city. it was called the travellers rest and had a reputation as being the best inn for travellers with little money. a loud sigh made him turn and he saw Aeneas stretching out on the bed.
"This feels so gooood..." he said rolling around a bit
"Calm down. It's only a bed."
Aeneas got off the bed and looked around the room, then out the window.
"Hey you can see almost the whole city from here!" he said excitedly
"Is this your first time in a city?" Artemis asked
"Yep!" Aeneas said proudly
"We should go downstairs to see what's going on. We can explore tomorrow, it's getting dark now."
Aeneas gave Artemis a disappointed look.
Lord Fujiwara looked at his handiwork with a hint of pride. The mouse that had been brought before him was still alive, even though he had sliced off her tail, right breast, gouged out her eye with his bare hands, major lacerations and removed her clitoris. His white belly was red with blood and the knife he held was so thick with gore he had to wear a leather glove to grip it.
"How are we doing?" he said leaning forwards with a small, almost caring smile.
The mouse, who was tied to the wall with her arms above her head and her legs spread apart, whimpered. Fujiwara giggled before slowly and carefully slicing off one of her large round ears. The mouse gave a shriek and shuddered as blood gouted from her head.
"Still alive? I am impressed. Now, unless I'm wrong (which I never am), the pain should have killed you long ago. You are a really remarkable specimen."
The mouse slowly raised her head and spat in his face
"Bastard...." she whispered. Her eyes widened as Fujiwara slid the knife into her pussy and drew it upwards, slicing through her belly. The mouse slumped.
"I never knew your name...I wonder if the rest of your kind are as resilient as you were..." Fujiwara mused
There was a knock at the door. The blood stained dolphin turned.
"Come." he said
The door opened and one of his servants came in on his knees.
"Well." Fujiwara said impatiently. He had been waiting for word on the progress his soldiers were making for almost five days now.
"The first village, the human village, we found and destroyed...there were no survivors."
"Yet the sword was not there...What of the other village?"
"Ah..." Fujiwara looked down at the servant. He was a small fox with a curious black tip to his tail.
"What do you mean 'Ah'?" Fujiwara asked, his voice containing a menace that made the fox shiver
"W-well we reached the anthro village and it was...it was..." the servant faltered
"Yes?" Fujiwara hissed, the shadows in the corners of the room seemed to lengthen.
"Deserted." the servant finished with a sense of dread
"What!" Fujiwara screamed. The shadows in the corners of the room grew and spread over the walls and closed around the lamps, making them flicker.
The fox cowered at his master's anger and shrieked with fear when Fujiwara unsheathed one of his terrible black swords. As the blade left the scabbard it gave a long mournful wail.
"My lord, please! Not that! Anything but that!" The fox pleaded
Fujiwara snarled and ran the long blade through the fox's throat. The vulpine's eyes slowly clouded over as his soul was sucked from his body into the sword. The shadows vanished and the lamps stopped flickering. Fujiwara withdrew the blade, which was humming with satisfaction, from the fox's neck and re-sheathed it. He ran a webbed hand over his smooth grey head and sighed. Belting the swords to his waist he tugged on a rope and a bell sounded far of in the castle. a human in a smart black uniform appeared almost instantly behind him.
"You culled m'lud?" he said
Fujiwara squeeed and span round.
"Something wrong m'lud?" the butler asked
"Don't do that!" Fujiwara exclaimed.
"Do what M'lud?"
"Never mind, have someone clean this mess up will you?" Fujiwara said indicating to the corpses "I shall be in my chambers."
"Very good m'lud."
As Fujiwara was leaving he stopped and said over his shoulder
"Oh and Gladstone? Send a messenger to Jessica, I have need of her mercenaries."
Artemis opened his eyes and sat up. He was sitting a green field that looked very familiar. Looking around he saw his village, he wondered what he was doing back here, and where was Aeneas? He got to his feet and started walking towards his village. He could instantly tell something was wrong and started to run, he reached the village and an appalling stench filled his nostrils. He skidded to a halt and saw all the people of his village being killed by men in armour! He screamed as the village burned around him, he could do nothing, he was rooted to the spot, he could only watch as his friends and family where butchered in front of him. He stared wildly around, his red eyes filled with tears. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a figure in a dark robe; the figure turned towards him and raised a scaly green finger to its hooded face.
Artemis sat up with a gasp, cold sweat pouring down his back and face, he had to get back to his village! Something terrible had happened, he just knew it.
Aeneas groaned and sat up, rubbing his eyes. He looked next to him and saw Artemis' half of the bed they were sharing was empty. He looked around running his fingers through his mane. He saw Artemis, dressed in his black armour with his sword buckled to his belt.
"Your awake, good, get up, we're going." He said. Aeneas didn't need a magical sword to tell him that his lover was very, very worried.
"Are you alright? What happened?" he asked
"Just get up!" Artemis said, his voice strained
They had stopped off to buy horses which they had managed to get for practically nothing in their monks disguises. The owner of the stables had seemed slightly afraid of them (Aeneas wouldn't find out until later why this was) and where now galloping as fast as the horses would allow towards Artemis's village.
"Whats the hurry?! I wanted to finish exploring the city!" Aeneas called over the drumming of their horses hooves "And we didn't even find jobs!"
"I have the feeling something very bad has happened to my village!" Artemis called back. He was lying flat against the horse's neck to reduce air resistance.
Aeneas had picked out the horses because, well, he was one. He had the best eye for horses and had picked two mares, one was white with a gold coloured hoof and one was black with a curious white mane. he rode the white whilst Artemis rode the black., they were fit and healthy with a very good turn of speed.
"At this speed we should be in my village in about two days!" Artemis called
"Is your village really that close to the city and the mountains?!" Aeneas called
"Yeah, it's on a major trade route!" Artemis shouted back, "At least I hope it still is." he added to himself
After two days of none stop riding they soon arrived in the woods near Artemis' village.
"Artemis! We must stop and rest the horses!" Aeneas called, reining his horse
"No! I can't stop! Hyah!" Artemis shouted, a feverish light in his eyes, spurring his horse on through the woods.
Aeneas whickered something to Artemis' horse and it stopped dead. Artemis turned in his saddle and glared at Aeneas
"The horses need to rest." Aeneas said forcefully
Artemis didn't reply, he leapt off his horse and ran on through the woods, drawing his sword as he did so. The white blade sang like a nightingale as it was drawn. Aeneas shook his head and got off his horse (Who he had mentally named Goldhoof) and took her by the reigns, leading her and Artemis' horse through the woods, following the trail the manic human had carved. They emerged from the woods onto a hill which over looked...
"Oh gods..." Aeneas breathed, raising his hand to his mouth.
The village was nothing but a blackened remain. The place was covered by a thick pall of smoke and the smell of carrion was heavy in the air. Aeneas could see a pale figure running frantically about the ruins. He made his way down the slope slowly, leading the horses by the reigns and down into the village. The ground was thick with ash and broken bodies. Aeneas wretched at the sight and smell but continued on. He found Artemis sitting in the village square, his back and shoulders slumped, his sword stuck in the ground in front of him. It sang a long mournful tune that Aeneas was loath to interrupt.
"It sings for them." Artemis said, his voice distant. "It sings for their souls." he turned a soot covered, tear streaked face to Aeneas
"They're all dead. I was too late to stop them." he said in a choked voice, new tears welling up in his eyes and pouring down his face. "All dead." he sobbed.
Aeneas let go of the reigns and knelt down next to the shuddering human. Pulling him close he neighed softly into his ear. Artemis pressed his face into Aeneas' chest and screamed.
Jessica strode down the corridors of Fujiwara's castle. The lavishly decorated walls held no interest for her, she had seen them many times anyway. She came to a halt outside the door to Fujiwara's study and knocked.
"Come." came the slightly high-pitched voice of Fujiwara.
Jessica opened the door and stepped inside. The first thing she noticed was a servant scrubbing something off the floor, she ignored it and approached the desk. Fujiwara looked up at her and smiled, Jessica shuddered inwardly but remained composed on the outside.
"You wanted something?" she said curtly
"Always one to get down to business aren't we?" Fujiwara replied. "Very well...I am having some trouble with a village up in the Land of Valleys."
"What sort of trouble?"
"The villagers are causing trouble for my trade caravans, but when I sent an expeditionary force up to sort them out, the villagers were no where to be found."
"So you want me and my mercs to go up there, find them and kill them?"
"In short, yes."
Jessica thought for a moment
"Standard fee plus a bonus once you've 'done the deed' as it were." Fujiwara said with a sly smile
"Alright, I'll do it."
"Jolly good. You have two weeks."
Jessica left, and Fujiwara leaned back in his chair with a wicked smile. It was amazing what people would do for money, he thought.
Aeneas and Artemis rode along a track in single file, Aeneas in the lead. The were heading to Aeneas' village but Aeneas was worried. Artemis hadn't spoken for three days since they had left the remains of his village. He wouldn't' sleep and wouldn't eat, his face was almost grey and his usually brilliant crimson eyes were dark and empty. His face had taken on an almost skull like appearance and he looked thin and worn. Aeneas looked back at his companion in time to see him slide off his horse and onto the track. Aeneas was already halfway out of his saddle before Artemis hit the ground with a sickening crack. Aeneas ran to his lover's side and rolled him onto his back. Artemis groaned with pain.
"Oh gods...your ribs are broken!" Aeneas said with horrified eyes, Artemis merely gurgled
"I can't move you..." Aeneas whimpered, tears beginning to run down his face.
Artemis slowly raised a hand and wiped a tear from Aeneas' cheek
"G-get to y-our village..." he gasped "R-ride as fast as you...you can..."
Aeneas shook his head
"I won't leave you." he whispered
"You have to...Otherwise..."
Aeneas didn't need him to continue
"I can be in my village in less than two hours if I go on foot. I can go along short-cuts these horses can't."
"Just do it." Artemis gasped before fainting from the pain.
Aeneas sniffed and took his limp body under the armpits and dragged him off the road into a tall thick bush. He drew his sword and cut a large space inside the bush, creating an enclosed space with thick leafy walls around the outside and an area inside big enough to fit a human and two horses. He laid out their blankets in the middle and laid Artemis out on them. He then called the horses and told them to keep watch over Artemis until he got back. The horses whickered at him and laid down either side of Artemis. Aeneas covered up the entrance with leaves and set off at a run up the side of a steep hill.
Jessica rode at the head of a column of armoured mercenaries as they left the city. on her right hand side was a female skunk called Suzanne and on her left was a male black elf called Vorn Shadowseeker (All black elves had a title after their first name). Jessica's company of mercenaries was over twenty strong and each man, woman, fur and scale were seasoned soldiers and very loyal. They had never once lost a fight and were in high spirits as they approached the woods to the north of the city. They would be using well travelled paths until they reached the mountains, and from there it would be dangerous mountain roads up the Land of Valleys and to this supposedly troublesome village.
"So what's on the agenda for this week?" Suzanne said, leaning forwards in her saddle
"Bandits." Jessica replied
"Bandits? At this time of year?" Vorn said, the sun making his pitch lack skin shine.
"Apparently so. Lord Fujiwara said they have a village up in the valleys."
"Uh-huh. So you just took the assignment without even considering the possibility it could be a trap." Suzanne said sceptically
"Lord Fujiwara needs us." Vorn said simply, his hand resting on the pommel of his huge scimitar.
"We'll see." Jessica said.
Artemis lay on his side in-between the two horses. It wasn't bad, he thought, he was warm and he quite liked the smell of horses and he probably couldn't be seen from the road...or track or whatever it was.
"I think I'm delirious." he said matter-of-factly to his horse, which nuzzled him in the face.
"You could very well be." a voice said
"Hey...I didn't know you could speak my language." Artemis said with a small giggle
"Why not?" the voice replied
"Well...you're a horse."
The voice laughed
"I'm no horse, far from it in fact."
Artemis tried to sit up to look around but a blinding pain shot through his side and he slumped down again.
"Who are you then?"
"Just a friend. A friend who wants to help you in your quest."
"And what quest is that?" Artemis asked sarcastically. He knew he was delirious from pain, but he had nothing else to do until Aeneas got back.
"You'll see in due time, until then...Sweet dreams..." the voice faded
"Yup...I've gone mad." Artemis said to himself before falling asleep.
Aeneas sprinted over rocky ground and crashed through heather and gorse until he finally reached the gentle grassy valley that his village nestled in. the valley was surrounded, by gently sloping hills that changed into vertical mountains, on all sides. Aeneas didn't even stop, as he exploded into view over a small rise. He pelted towards his village, causing several of the villagers to look up in surprise as he pounded past them. He ran towards his parent's house.
"Aeneas! What are you doing back?" A voice called out
Aeneas spun on his hoof and saw his father smiling at him.
"Father! Quick...My friend is injured on the Narrow Pass....we have to help him!" Aeneas gasped
His father dropped the tools he was carrying and called to a group of horses talking.
"You males! Get a stretcher and meet me here, we've got a rescue to perform." He stopped a passing foal "You run to my house and tell my wife to have the healer standing by at my house, and tell her I've gone to help someone injured on the Narrow Pass."
The foal nodded and scuttled off. Aeneas couldn't help but smile at his father's lightning fast thinking in an emergency.
"What species is your friend?" his father asked.
"Human...But..." Aeneas panted
"But what?" his father asked suspiciously
"Dad...he's like me! He has skin as white as mine! Eyes as red as mine! He..." Aeneas' father held up a hand
"Save the explanation son, we have to get him back here as soon as possible. What are his injuries?"
"Broken ribs I think."
The stallions with the stretcher came trotting up.
"What's going on Dorian?" one said looking at Aeneas
"A Human is injured up on Narrow Pass, he's my son's friend and has broken ribs, we have to hurry."
The other stallion's faces became serious.
"Lead on Aeneas." One said
They found Artemis lying in the large bush and lifted him carefully onto a stretcher. One of the males took the horses by the reigns and lead them the long way round, the Narrow track. The others slowly lifted Artemis and carried him, unspeaking, back to the village. It took them almost four hours to navigate the rough terrain but soon they were trotting back through the village to Dorian's house. His wife was standing by the door with the village healer.
"What happened? Who is he?" she asked with a worried expression
"He's my friend...he fell off his horse and broke his ribs." Aeneas explained
"Get him inside, quick!" the doctor ordered
"You can put him in my room." Aeneas said as he shut the front door
After almost three hours the healer came out looking tired.
"How his he?" Aeneas asked
"It seems that he has broken his ribs before and they did not heal completely. So but the damage is not serious, it was a nice clean break so it should heal just fine."
Aeneas sighed with relief.
"Who is he anyway?" his mother asked
"Ah....uhmmmm....It's kind of a long story..." Aeneas said rubbing the back of his head
"We've got all evening." His father said
"Well okay, but you might want to sit down..."
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Enter Lord Fujiwara
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17 years ago