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The Hero Factor (rewrite)
|The Hero Factor|
|This story is a work in progress.|
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|I first started writing "The Hero Factor" in 2006 on the original version of Shifti. I continued writing it for a long period afterwards, finally coming to a complete halt in late 2007/early 2008 thanks to a nasty case of writers block. When I started looking at it with an eye to breaking the writers block I realized that a major problem was that the story was a mass of ideas and not all of them actually worked well as a cohesive whole. That is why I started this rewrite—it is going to be, essentially, the same story but with everything not relating to the actual plot(s) completely stripped out.|
- The Unknown Past
High in the mist covered mountains a bird of preys keening cry echos off the granite cliffs and the stunted bansai-like trees clinging to life in the small crevices of weathered rock faces. Another call answers and the pattern repeats, the calls slowly echoing and being carried on the winds down into the wild, untamed forests that surround the lower levels of the mountains in a sheath of green.
In those trees wolf-like beasts run and stab at pounce on their prey, wild calls of success mixed with howls of pain from the ones that the bull moose has injured. But the moose falls and his death will help the pack survive for another stretch of time, though shorter than normal since the females had just whelped and the pups were voracious and growing fast. High above their cries are picked up by the wind and mixed with the sounds of the birds from the mountains and carried on into the great, seemingly endless grasslands that cover the heart of the continent.
In the grassland a small, russet-furred, rabbit-like creature is gathering wild wheat and berries with it's agile forepaws. The motion is silent and not even the grasses move to mark it's presence. The rabbit turns and slowly works its way back to its den where its mate waits with their newly born children. Thoughts of them do not pass through its mind as such, but its intelligence is unquestionably visible in its eyes. The trek is cut short as a lizard, looking like an oversized gecko with a crocodiles teeth lunges from hiding and it's jaws snap shut, barely missing the rabbits throat.
Paws flex and the collection of fruits and grains is scattered as once-hidden claws pop from their sheaths and the rabbit strikes, tearing into the lizard. Snarls of anger from the attacking rabbit are mixed with cries of pain from the lizard and carried into the air and swept out across the grassland, mixing with the sounds from the mountains and forests as the wind blows on.
The wind dips and passes over a small pond in the middle of the savannah where a large boar has its muzzle in the water, drinking. Behind him grasses move, not from the motion of the wind, but from the large feline moving into position to take its next meal. As the wind dips and blows across the pond the scent of the feline and his nearby compatriots is carried past the boar, who raises her head and bugles, the sound causing piglets hidden in the high grasses around the pond to bolt from their hiding places. But the warning is too late as the feline closest to the boar moves with almost preternatural speed and has the boars neck in its jaws with a silent growl before the creature can react.
The snarl and the bugled warning mix with the other sounds and are carried to the arid edges of the grassland where strange, almost centaur creatures are huddled and grooming each other. Creatures like malevolent badgers had recently chased them from the lightly wooded areas on the edge of the great grasslands and the mares needed the comfort of the grooming to calm down while the stallions gathered and competed amongst themselves for positions in their new, smaller herd.
The wind whipped around them and gathered their worried and anxious noises, their whinnies and snorts and stamps, and mixed it with the sounds of life it had already gathered in it's long trek across the continent. And it's trek across the continent and world continued, finding neither town nor city, plowed field or planned orchard. The world was wild and inhabited by only animals, though they might gain sentience one day. But this wind never ceased, driven on continuously by the strange currents caused by the triple moons and double suns. Already it had circled the world for hundreds of thousands of millenia and it would continue until the world was dead.
- Month of the Moonless Week, Second Week, Third Day, Kedrel 55
- (Midsummer Day, 4130 Common)
The twin suns glared in the sky, one azure and the other golden giving the light a slightly greenish hue that had long been associated with summers and war by the Felin who lived among the golden grasses of the Savannah in small cities built of mud brick coated with a lime-based plaster. Gleaming under the sun they were always spread out, consuming more land than cities of other races because of the Felin preference for open space.
As a whole the Felin are almost as individual as any race descended from predatory felines could be, with some even going as far as dying patterns into their fur to further personalize their appearance. But in the city in the middle of the savannah, supposedly where the first Felin hunter was visited by the Gods and taught how to build houses that are warm in the winters and cool in the summers, there is a Felin who has shunned all the customs of personalization. As the world-spanning, eternal wind sweeps across the savannah and through the city on this day he is deep in practice combat with a pair of swords against several opponents.
"Khentin! Do not watch the swords or the eyes! Watch everything and nothing - this way you will never be caught by surprise." An aging Felin in a Royal Instructors garb shouts to his sole student. The wind picks up the name and carries it on, but nothing else.
On the practice field behind the royal palace the young prince Khentin Leng stops moving and seems to become solidly rooted to the ground at his instructors words. He has done this numerous times - so often it should be almost instinctual, but the rush of the fight always pulls him from his center. As suddenly as he stopped his opponents move in, the fluid grace of their movements revealing what the practice garb has hidden; these are no students or even common warriors, but masters with the blade, members of the princes personal guard.
His arms moving almost invisibly fast the blows from his opponents were turned aside and his own blades flickered out in response. Each counter was parried and a reply came in, the exchanges happening faster and faster until the people look like they are standing still, unmoving. But the way their breath quickens and sweat beads on the inside of their ears shows the effort they are putting forth, their minds racing and reading the slightest tensing of a muscle so that they can respond. Then the first of the opponents falls back, his hands flashing up to his throat as if to confirm that it wasn't torn open.
Turning slowly Khentin downed another of his opponents with a smile. Another five minutes of noisy but invisible exchanges and a third dropped, his left leg breaking noisily. Half of his opponents were gone and the instructor called out a halt, worried more about the guards than his student; in the past week he had learned that his student had more stamina than any Felin he had ever trained.
With a grimace the old weapons master called out to his student. "Khentin, come here!"
With several easy strides the young Felin covered the five meters and frowned. "Have some more wisdom to share, old man? Perhaps you think I should embarass my guard?"
"You may be blessed by the gods, Khentin, but unless Khailea the Wind has blessed you with the gift of true speed you'd have to have the tricksters own luck to embarass those men... This isn't a game, dammit! Don't limit yourself to make things a challenge."
"Okay, okay, okay. But if I'm going to do that then get more men out here. You don't, seriously, think that I want to hurt the men who were my first friends, do you?" Khentin's laughing, mocking tone went dead serious and Joleas, the trainer, was left speechless as Khentin strode back to the center of the training field.
"De'marri help me, but he is his father son. And maybe he has been blessed." Joleas muttered to himself as he watched Khentin flow through the forms of the hardest kata the Felin martial arts contained. "Boy... go call in twenty members of the kings guard. The prince says he wants a real challenge."
From the shadows a small figure appears and then disappears, running off to get the men that he'd been ordered to find. But he was worried, as well - being able to face twenty people in combat was a myth. The prince was good in combat, but as good as he was there was no way he'd be able to escape injury.
Ten minutes later the boy returned to the practice field, entering behind every member of the Kings Guard, the Queens guard and the House Guard that had not been sleeping or on duty. When they had heard that the Prince had demanded a challenge there had nearly been a riot and all of them had insisted on taking part.
"Master... they would not listen to me when I said only twenty were needed. I fear for the Prince..." The messenger began.
"Hush, boy! You have so little faith in your Prince?" The trainer rebuked before turning to face the gathered masses. "Get practice weapons and get down there. The Prince demanded a challenge, go give him one!"
The crowd murmured and fell silent as wooden practice weapons were gathered from the racks and spread among the crowd. Slowly the practice field filled with the guards, spread in a battle formation around Khentin, who was sitting liesurely, blades across his knees and deep in meditation. His tails twitching betrayed the fact that it was an act and he was fighting to contain the nervous energy that his anticipation of the incipient fight had brought.
"Khentin! Do not fear the enemies blade, embrace it as if it were your own!" Joleas' cry seemed to trigger a flurry of motion, starting with Khentin seeming to exist in two places at once as he stood and brought his swords to the ready. Then the first of his opponents attacked.
Once more it looked like the Prince didn't move, but the swords of his opponent went flying into the air and the opponent was laying on the ground, curled into a fetal ball, hands holding his stomach. That started the guards moving in and falling like dominos, with Khentin smiling and spinning around, moving so fast that it appeared as though he had four faces at once.
Ten minutes later there were only five guards left. "That wasn't a challenge, old man." Khentin shouted and took the offensive. Sprining into motion his rapid movements went unseen, even by the man charged with his combat training. But the results of his attacks were clearly announced by the wet thud of practice sword contacting flesh and bodies thudding on the packed earth of the practice court.
- Tir'kyrrin Plains
- Month of the Hunter, Third Week, Fifth Day, Khentin 3
- (First Week of the Fall, 4148 Common)
Khentin sighed and watched men locked in the kill or be killed battle of war not 300 strides from his position. With luck the plan his father had started work on and never seen implemented would cease the endless series of war between his people and the neighboring Percinas.
"The Left Front has collapsed as you planned, my liege."
Sure, the plan had called for the left side of the front to collapse in a seemingly random manner, but this was not the plan. The Percinas troops had found the open holes he'd left in the line and exploited them ruthlessly. So much so that even the priests on that side of the battle were not able to hold them at bay with all their magics. Shaking his head to clear doubts from his mind he finally spoke. "Archers, provide the cover! Unleash the Immortals!"
When his father had first fought the Percinas in the seventh year of his rule he'd found that there were many more soldiers that had been blessed by the gods with strange abilities for combat. But it wasn't until after the third battle with the Percinas in the twentieth year of his reign that he noticed the number of warriors that were blessed by the god of war had increased significantly. For more than fourty years after that battle the Felin nation had sought out warriors so blessed and gave them special training above and beyond that of the rest of the army, inducting them into a core of unbeatable "Immortals". Now, in the first battle of his reign Khentin was unleashing them on the enemy in hopes of breaking the Percinas for all time.
Arrows darkened the sky and the three thousand man force of Immortals poured into a gap in the front-lines that had been prepared. "Send message to the right to begin to wheel. Do not let the generals or the Percinas king escape!" Khentins command was almost silent as he drew his blades and a deathly rictus grin spread across his muzzle. He, too, had been blessed by the gods, and would join the Immortals in their forward thrust.
"Kurr'arr Tir'rrerry Felin-a! Kurr'arr Tir'rro-ari Leng!" The ancient battle cry of the Leng family rolled across the field and Khentin seemed to disappear, a thin trail of dust marking his high speed run to join the battle. As he sped for the front the world around him slowed, part of the gift given him by Tyr'el, the Eternal Wind and his greatest assett. To his left a Percinas axe slashed down in slow motion and he reacted, a blade flickering out to sever the arms guiding the axe followed by the same blade stabbing into the side of the Percinas' unarmored throat.
The feeling of the ancient blade, one that legend said was forged by the same master smith that had made Tengo'ka and Tanis'ka, the lost blades of the Hero, was light. Though they cut through muscle, sinew, bone and the armor-like skin of the Percinas it was as if he was cutting through the lightest of paper screens. Reacting on instinct alone he came to a complete stop as a Percinas spell exploded the ground where he would have been. A roar of rage tore from his muzzle and he spun into action, his brief period of visibility causing a roaring battle-cry from the immortals he was fighting alongside.
"Press on! Push back the invaders!" Sergeant Ta'olin roared at his platoon. The warriors of his flank of the battle were key to the plan. Where the left flank had been planned to collapse and draw the Percinas into a trap, the right flank was going to act like a hammer, forcing the enemy to smash themselves on the anvil of the immortals.
The feeling of his blade slicing through the tough, armored skin of the Percinas was unique. Although he'd trained as hard as the rest of their army, the training to prepare for the shock of a blade or axe making contact had failed to account for the abnormally thick, almost armored skin of their foes. It had almost made him miss the roaring battle cry that signaled the next phase of the plan.
"Ta'olin, now!" His commander roared at him when he didn't start into motion signaling the move to sweep into the collapsing flank of the Percinas line.
An axe flashed down and was caught on his shield, but with a practiced thrust Ta'olins sword pierced through an eye. "Now! Push Now! Start the sweep!"
On the left flank of the field the Percinas swept through and into the trap that Khentin had planned. Seeing Felin warriors flee before them was enough to break any semblance of order or control in their lines. The low valleys and streambeds that marked the left flank were sided by high grass that was filled with Felin waiting for a signal.
"Hold back, you flea-bitten idiots! Weren't you..." The Percinas sergeant fell with a javelin-like spear in his throat. At the same moment Khentins battlecry flowed across the field. From the high grass Felin warriors poured arrows and spears into the low valleys and streams filled with Percinas warriors. As the Percinas started to fall the Felin roared and leapt from where they had been, swords and axes cutting rising and falling like parts of some infernal machine.