Book 1 – The Staff of Xandra

You can by this ebook at:

Amazon US  Amazon UK  Smashwords  Kobo  Nook

The Staff of Xandra ebook Cover

  Trygor had been at peace for thousands of years.  The days of the Dark Children long past.  But times were changing.  An increase in Skegg raiding parties, hundreds of miles from their home lands, forced the Changelings to act.  Kaleb, a human who had mastered the madness, and Shen, a Changeling unusual among her race, had been defending villages and seeking the reason for these attacks for over a year.  This search was abruptly ended when Shen received news from her Settlement of something terrible that had happened.  The result of which starts Kaleb on a journey to not only stop the release of the Dark children once more, but to discover the power within him to become one of the Trygor Legends.

Chapter One

False Crystals

The warm glow brought a smile to Langard’s thin lips. Creases in the pale skin on his face widened as he saw the result of years of hard work finally coming to fruition.

He was mesmerised, paralysed with inaction from the beauty of the scene before him. Multiple colours danced around the cave, shadows playing on the craggy rock faces. The majesty of the six elemental crystals was all encompassing and held him there in a reverie that would have lasted for all eternity if Heron hadn’t entered the cave when he did.

Heron stopped in his tracks when he saw the scene. His mind enveloped by the glow.

Langard was brought round with a vicious bump by the interruption and spat out,

“What do you want?”

Heron jumped back as though someone had thrown something at him and shook his head.

“The council has requested an update on your work.” Looking back at the glowing, enticing crystals he said, “I see you have finally succeeded.”

Langard, with a furious anger leapt at Heron and with his claw like hands, pinned him to the wall by the throat.

“If you dare tell the council my news I will come round to your dwelling one dark night and cut out your intestines and hang you from the rafters with them. The news is mine to give and no one else’s. Understand!”

The terror in Heron’s eyes told Langard what he wanted to know, but Heron confirmed it.

“I…won’t…say a word.”

Heron dropped to the floor as Langard’s grip was released. Langard walked over to the crystals and began to cover them with the Raelon sheet.

“Tell the council I will be there in one hour.”

“Yes, my Lord.” Heron scrambled to his feet and ran as fast as his legs would take him.

 ***

 The hour slid by as Langard prepared himself for his audience with the council. His human servant bathed him and then dressed him in his finest attire. Bright red and yellow silk garments from the farthest reaches of the Trygor lands. They fitted his Ogre body like a second skin, a body that he was proud of.

He looked at himself in the mirror. His grey, wrinkled skin sparked with colour from his bright clothes. He noticed the grey strands that weaved their way through his short knot of hair.

“Human!” he bellowed. “Bring me the worm paste!”

The bag of bones that masqueraded as a human female, the latest in a long line of human servants Langard had owned, scampered to a shelf at the far end of the room. Picking up a large wooden casket she scampered back favouring her left leg since Langard threw her across the room when she recently spilt water over his foot.

With her head lowered she opened the casket and offered it up to Langard who scooped out a handful of dark brown paste and rubbed it in his hair. A few seconds later he checked in the mirror again. His brown razor-like teeth showed as he smiled his satisfaction at the image looking back at him.

“Hands!” he snorted.

The human hobbled over to a table that contained a bowl of water and returned to Langard. She began to wash his hands. Once finished and dried Langard pushed her away and took one more look in the mirror.

“Now for the council,” he said.

 ***

 The large wooden building stood on its own in the enclave. Decorated with jewels, offerings from the many raids the Ogre armies made in the one hundred years they had been there, it glistened in the midday sun.

The entrance towers overshadowed every wooden dwelling within the enclave walls and displayed the limits to the Ogres building skills. Atop the towers were lookouts that could see across the land outside. A land that consisted of arid desert to the south with a mountain range fifteen miles in the distance. The enclave had been constructed at the edge of the thin desert amongst a rocky terrain, beneath which was the elements that the crystals were created from.

Langard walked towards the bejewelled building and grunting at the guards as he walked through the open door. The Sharp blades of their tall Staff weapons half blinded him with the reflection from the sun as though they were aimed at him on purpose. The shadows of the entrance relieved him of the uncomfortable light.

Within the cover, stairwells ascended to the tops of the towers on either side of him and in front of him a solid wooden door, reaching to one and a half times his own height, stopped him from going any further. He raised his giant hand to pound on the obstruction, but it opened before he hit the wood.

Cowering behind the door was a runt. Not quite a slave like the humans, but a lower form of Ogre that performed the menial tasks that Ogres saw as beneath them. Runts were usually deformed in birth and not fit for war.

“Welcome, my Lord,” came the feeble response to Langard’s presence. “The Council await your arrival. Please come in. I will tell them at once that you are here.”

Langard drew his meaty lips back in disgust. He despised runts. He saw no use for them and thought they should have all been killed at birth.

As he moved into the cool hallway and the door closed behind him he felt an ease, as though he’d come home. This will be his dwelling when the demons are his to command, he thought to himself.

The wait was prolonged, he felt. On purpose, no doubt. The Council exerting their authority which, he conceded, will be no less than he will do when he finally takes control. And the depictions of war on the murals on the walls will be replaced with his own family’s conquests. There is much to do when I take over, he mused.

Finally the call came from the Runt.

“The Council will see you now.”

Once again Langard displayed his disgust at the dis-formed figure in front of him. It was a mere glance as he couldn’t bring himself to look at it for too long.

The short walk to the doors of the Council chambers saw no-one except a few humans running their errands. The Runt dispersed to its menial chores keeping well away from him.

At the entrance two guards stood. They carried no weapons. These were members of the Psychic Assassins. A group of Ogres blessed with psychic abilities and steeped in mystique, they provided personal protection for the Council at all times. Every Ogre feared them. Langard’s fear of them had waned considerably over the last few days.

As it was with the time Langard had previously seen the council, the assassins stood motionless. Not giving him a second look. Their heads were covered with a large hood that hid their faces.

When Langard was young it was said the assassins had their eyes gouged out to prove they had the gift, for they had the ability to see with their mind. The hoods perpetuated that particular playground myth.

Langard pushed open the double doors and entered the chambers.

As on previous occasions the sight before him took his breath from his body for a second. The high vaulted ceiling displayed the history of ancient Ogre conquests. Depictions of Ogres impaling humans. Graphic details of torture scenes of Skeggs and Trolls in glorious colour. Army’s on their mounts marching through long lost kingdoms.

The scenes continued on down the walls where tapestry’s hung, woven by human slaves. Each tapestry was twice the height of Langard and the rich colours had a joy inducing quality that took hold of anyone who looked at them.

In the centre of the chamber was a large stone table set on a natural dais. It looked as though it grew up from the very rock it stood on. At its sides were eight high backed wooden chairs each with a council member sitting there. The head of the table was occupied by the leader of the council, Torendal, an Ogre who had lived through the great migration from the South nearly two hundred years ago.

He was dressed in the traditional council raiment, a long flowing gown of brown human skin with jewels woven into the leather. Each of the other council members had the more formal plain white human skin gowns.

Standing next to Torendal was Dango, the leader of the psychic assassins. Dango made his customary identification in Langard’s mind who bowed his head slightly in recognition of the greeting. Immediately ignoring him, Langard turned to Torendal and the rest of the council. He stopped three metres from the stone table before speaking.

“I bring the news we have all been waiting for. I have successfully created the elemental crystals required for the release of the dark children.”

An excited buzz reverberated around the table and Langard even noticed a slight movement from Dango. Was that excitement from the assassin, he thought?

“They are even more beautiful and mesmerising than I could have ever imagined. My years of work down in the dark damp cave have paid off immeasurably. They await to be seated in their rightful place. The Staff of Xandra.”

Torendal stood with the aid of a wooden staff. His gnarled figure made him almost half the size of the assassin next to him.

“Are you sure?” he said with a rasping voice. “Are you sure they have the qualities of the originals.”

Langard nodded.

“Without a doubt, my Lord. I’m sure Dango here will be able to verify my work.”

Torendal turned slowly to Dango and then back to Langard.

“He will, very soon. Now we must decide how we proceed. The Staff itself has been lost for centuries. The only place where it could possibly be is amongst the Changelings.”

An uneasy atmosphere replaced the excitement when the Changelings were mentioned.

“I understand your worries, members of the council, but we knew this time would come. The Changelings have held a sacred place among the races of Trygor. Any attempt at interfering with their lives will be met with force. However, to release the dark children requires acquiring what the Changelings have or forcing them to create a replacement. If our plan succeeds no one will be able to respond quick enough for there to be a problem.”

Torendal looked around at the council members. He made eye contact with each one of them.

“We have assurances from Dango here, that the Changelings will surrender the Staff or bend to his will and create a replica and we all know Dango’s strengths.”

The atmosphere eased and a wry smile pursed Torendal’s thin lips.

“Good. It is settled. We march on the Changelings to claim the Staff and release a weapon that will see the Ogres finally claim their rightful place as leaders of all races of Trygor. Nothing and no-one will stand in our way and a new dawn will rise for this land.”

Chapter Two

Raid On The Changelings

The jagged edged sword skimmed off of the psychic shield enclosing Kaleb’s body and buried itself in the root system of the tree he was trapped in. Fortunately he was able to manoeuvre his body, otherwise the descending weapon would have pierced his mind shield and he would have been dead now.

Once again he tried to free his foot from the tangled roots. His sword was just out of his reach. The attacking Skegg was desperately pulling at its own sword to free it from the tree’s life force, but it was as though the very tree itself was holding on to both sword and Kaleb’s foot.

‘Release your footwear,’ came through to Kaleb’s mind.

Immediately he released the strapping around his ankle and pulled on his leg. He fell backwards onto the soft moss covered ground as his foot came free.

‘Thank you, my friend,’ he sent and then grabbed his sword and jumped to his feet.

The Skegg had noticed Kaleb was free and gave up trying to release its own sword. It turned and pulled out two long blade daggers from strappings on its muscular thighs. A gurgling roar streamed from its beak-like mouth and it charged at Kaleb, daggers held high.

Kaleb was ready and blocked the on-coming attack, deflecting the Skegg off to his left.

‘Behind you!’

Kaleb turned with his sword ready as a second Skegg came rushing in. The Skegg was surprised to see Kaleb turn before it dealt its fatal blow and was caught with its sword held high ready to split Kaleb’s head in two. Kaleb thrust forward piercing the Skegg’s dark, flimsy armour and into its belly. He thrust upwards and with surprising strength lifted the seven foot Skegg off of the ground for a second before dropping it to the floor.

The first Skegg was on the attack again and almost caught Kaleb on the arm with one of the long daggers. Once again his psychic shield prevented any damage and he immediately retaliated. Whipping his sword from the dead Skegg he swung it round and took the head off of the attacker in one clean cut.

It rolled off into a small bush as the body dropped to its knees and fell forward onto the soft ground cover.

Kaleb looked over at Shen. His Changeling companion was dealing expertly with another three Skeggs. Kaleb couldn’t help but admire the graceful fighting skills of his friend. The fluidity of Shen’s body movements and artistry of the final blows were a sight that any man should see at least once in his lifetime. The fact that the Changeling could change body shape at will just added to the spectacle.

A hammer shaped fist snapped the head backwards of the final Skegg standing and took it clean off its feet. It didn’t move once it hit the ground.

‘Any more close by, Shen?’

‘No, Kaleb. We have dealt with all that were in close proximity. Shall I communicate our position and time of arrival to the Deentar?’

‘Yes my friend. Give warning of the Skeggs we have dealt with. It’s unusual for them to be this far from their native land and their group to be split like this. There will be more. You’re Deentar’s village is vulnerable at the moment.’

 ***

 In the courtyard, outside the council chambers building, a line of Ogres, mounted on their steeds waited for the order to march. They were dressed in the dark battle outfits that befitted any raid. Breastplates hung over their shoulders and strapped around their waists. Arm and shoulder guards rested snugly over their thick set limbs and thigh guards were secured over their muscular legs.

Their steeds were getting restless, as rocksaurs were prone to do. They snapped and snarled at each other with snouts that were lined with sharp teeth.

They stood three metres tall on their hind legs, half a metre taller than an Ogre. Their scaly skins were moist from oils that oozed through pores that connected to the scales via tubes the width of a human hair. Powerful fore and hind quarters ended in clawed hooves that could rip prey apart in the blink of an eye.

For all of the ferocity of these creatures, the Ogres had managed to tame them.

Twenty four Ogres, four of which were psychic assassins, forcibly brought their mounts under control. The snarls were soon drowned out by the growls from the riders.

Twenty four, plus the leader, was the number for all Ogre raiding parties. They had found no village or small holding equipped enough to withstand the onslaught from this size of a party. There were also mystical qualities in the number for the Ogres that had been handed down over the centuries.

Baran, a particularly grumpy Ogre, as Ogres go, came out of the council building alongside Torendal. Dango walked the other side.

“If the Staff is with the Changelings, my Lord, we will find it.” The deep sound from Baran’s throat was loud enough to be heard by each of his raiding party. A statement of their goal that Baran liked for them to hear him reiterate in front of the council leader.

“Either way, bring me a number of Changelings and secure their village. If a challenge is mounted from someone before we have the chance to release the dark children, then we have something to buy us time.”

“Baran!” said Dango. “Make sure they are alive.”

This irritated Baran. The scars on his face seemed to glow with the anger he was holding back. He knew what was expected of him and he knew Dango was just saying this to display his authority. He bit his tongue before replying, drawing a little blood with his sharp teeth. “Of course, my Lord. My warriors know what is at stake. They are well trained Ogres.”

A hundred metres away, fifteen metres above the ground on a walkway, stood Langard. He heard the exchange between Baran and Dango and smiled.

“I think we have a mutual hatred of our friend Dango,” he said to himself. “I may have use of your services in the near future.”

Baran parted from the two and leapt up onto his waiting rocksaur. It reared up and he yanked down on the reins to impose his will. The rocksaur settled down with an acknowledging snarl.

He took one last look at Dango then kicked his steed into action and galloped towards the open gates out into the rocky plane. Twenty four rocksaurs responded to their riders and headed off after Baran.

 ***

 The unobtrusive settlement sank into the mountainside. Small caves provided shelter and the slow flowing river at the base provided food and re-hydration.

The Changelings life was a monastic way. A life dedicated to nature and the harmony of Trygor. They offered themselves as a beacon through the sometimes harshness existence, to anyone who required their guidance. Their numbers were few. They were immortal. Part of nature yet not bound by its life rules.

The homogeneous Changelings could morph into any shape they desired. Their form in this settlement was of human. The reason? Four humans lived in their settlement.

Tyron, an outsider in his own race, took to the Changeling way of life thirty years ago. He felt alone amongst his own. Didn’t quite fit. After speaking to the Changeling guide in his village it was arranged for him to move to this settlement.

Cannon and Sheena were the parents of Kaleb. They were hounded out of their own village and refused entry into any other village they tried because of the mind curse that befell Kaleb at a young age.

The mind curse, psychic abilities that frighten any human. The uncontrolled actions of a human that result in fires, destruction and eventual madness.

No human who was afflicted with the mind curse had ever reached the age of eighteen, whether through losing their sanity and killing themselves or, as happened in the old history of humans, they were put to death by the village elders.

Kaleb had fortune on his side. Tyron found him before the madness took hold. His time with the Changelings taught him everything about psychic abilities and he saw a way to control the affliction in humans. Kaleb was his first student.

Cannon and Sheena were tending the small crop that they had nurtured for their consumption. A field that provided, not just for them, but also the small village close by and gave access to the river where Cannon also fished.

“The onions are large this year, Sheena,” said Tyron from the top of a rock over looking the field.

Sheena turned and looked over at the old man. Cannon was over at the far end of the field.

“Ah! Tyron. I didn’t know you were there. How long have you been watching us toiling away while you sit there resting?” she said with a smile.

“Not long my dear. I’ve just finished a consultation with Deenon. I’ve not seen her like that before. For some reason she feels an uneasiness all around. As though a storm is about to hit, but something more. And it looks like the rest of the settlement can feel the same thing.”

Sheena wiped the trickle of sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. Her dark brown hair was tied back into a shoulder length pony tail that gave full exposure to her face. A face that had been through enough worry in her life to show that it had not been an easy ride for her. It glowed red from the warm sun up above.

She wiped the back of her hand on her cotton trousers to dry it.

“Any idea what it might be? Do we need to protect the crop?”

Tyron shook his head.

“She’s going to begin her Joining soon to see if she can find out some more. We’ll wait for her to finish.”

The Changelings were at one with Nature and to help maintain a healthy balance within the natural environment they performed the Joining, a kind of meditation that gave direct access to the inner workings of that environment.

Sheena nodded.

“Ok. Well, seeing as you’re stuck for something to do, why don’t you come over here and help with the crop.”

Tyron slid down from the rock and stood up leaning against his walking stick. He playfully rubbed on his back and said,

“My back seems to be a little sore today. Think I’ll go and lie down for a while.” He gave a wry smile and slowly made his way back to his cave.

Sheena chuckled and carried on gathering the potatoes.

The thunder of one hundred clawed hoofs was the only warning sign the small village had. Its inhabitants were defenceless. Ogres swung their weapons for fun as they passed through. They could just as easily have passed around the small village, but Ogres being Ogres cared nothing for anything in their way.

Men, women and children suffered at their hands. Heads rolled, limbs hacked away from bodies, blood soaking into the dry earth. A fun distraction for the Ogres before they reached their final goal which lay just a mile away.

Sern was the first of the Changelings to see the oncoming Ogres and immediately informed the rest of the Changelings psychically. Tyron picked this up too. He knew instantly this was no friendly visit and was out of his cave and heading towards Deenon.

“Deenon! Deenon!” he shouted. He pulled up as Deenon came through to his mind.

Tyron. They seek the Staff. Elements have been removed from the ground and new crystals have been formed. Their goal is clear. They cannot succeed.’

Understood. You must get everyone to safety. Further up into the mountain. I will get Sheena and Cannon away.’

We cannot leave, my friend. This is the way it has to be.’

As Tyron hurried to the field he didn’t fully take in what Deenon had said.

The Ogres had now split and were almost in the settlement. Two were heading for the field and catching up with Tyron.

Sheena looked up, feeling a slight rumble under foot. She turned and caught sight of the giant Ogres chasing down Tyron. Immediately she turned back and screamed, “Cannon! Cannon!”

When she looked back Tyron was knocked down by the rocksaur and clattered into a rock, dropping to the ground instantly.

Sheena began to run towards Cannon. She felt the pounding of the heavy monsters closing in. The ground beneath her feet shuddered with each gallop.

“Cannon!” she screamed again.

Cannon looked up from his digging finally hearing the screams. His face turned to terror as he saw the Ogres hunting his precious wife.

“Sheena!” he cried in anguish as the nearest Ogre caught up with her and swung its great sword. The cut was clean and instant and Sheena’s head rolled across the earth to its final resting place alongside a row of onions drying in the sun.

“Nooooo!” sobbed Cannon at the sight of his slaughtered wife. He froze in sorrow and did nothing as the Ogre came rushing towards him, sword pointed to Cannon’s chest. It pierced him through the heart and the Ogre lifted him into the air, raising him high in triumph. The following Ogre roared with a blood thirsty lust.

The Changelings watched on as the Ogres surrounded them, screaming their battle cries. The noise was deafening, but the sound didn’t stop the communication with the Changelings.

‘I am Hagin, speaker for the psychic assassins. We are here to claim the Staff of Xandra.’

Deenon replied.

‘By what authority do you make this claim?’

‘By the authority of the sword.’

‘Your claim carries no weight over any other on Trygor.’

Just then the two Ogres from the field came thundering over, Cannon still held high in the air, sorrow etched on his face to stay there until the ravages of time were to dissolve it from his bones.

If the others could have seen under Hagin’s hood they would have witnessed a smile broaden his lips.

‘It does now. Where is the Staff.’

No reply came back to Hagin’s mind.

“Search the caves,” he cried out to the Ogres. “Leave no stone unturned.”

The blood curdling roars from the Ogres were easily matched by the roars from their rides. Something that struck fear into their enemies on the battlefield. The Changelings just stood passively as the Ogres began their ransacking.

Chapter Three

The Skeggs

Half a mile from the village, Kaleb could see the smoke rising from the chimneys. It was his first visit to this particular village. He’d travelled the entire region, but had no need to come this way before. The increased frequency of raids by the Skeggs was a telling sign of something, but he and Shen hadn’t figured out what yet.

As the two of them turned a corner onto a track that led directly into the village Kaleb felt something from Shen’s mind.

‘What is it, Shen?’

Shen stopped. Kaleb could feel his friend probing the environment around him. There was no outward signs of a problem from Shen, but her whole being was feeling something that she was trying to decipher.

‘Something has happened! I must see my Deentar!’

She took off leaving Kaleb confused and concerned about her actions. He set off after her.

Fear hung heavy in the air within the village. Kaleb saw the looks on every villagers face when he entered the stone laid streets. They had been through a lot over the last month or so and it had embedded itself on their features.

When they saw Shen a smile did shine through, but it didn’t disguise what was in their eyes.

The two of them ran past damaged wooden huts that were gradually being cleared, turned over wagons that had spilt their contents over the ground and, lying on the ground next to a well were seven bodies. The human price of the last raid.

Shen pulled up at a hut just as another Changeling opened the door. It was her Deentar, Anumer. They both touched heads for a few seconds. The Changelings way of greeting.

Shen turned to Kaleb.

‘We must perform a Joining. I will call you when we are finished.’

With that they disappeared into the hut.

Kaleb stood there and shrugged his shoulders.

“Ok then. I’ll go and introduce myself to the villagers.” And with that he turned and walked off.

 ***

 The Changeling village shook with the sound of the Ogres searching for the Staff. Furnishings were scarce in the Changeling’s dwellings. Personal possessions were of no use to them. They had everything in Nature. What little there was, lasted only seconds at the claws of the marauding monsters.

There were only ten caves and the Ogres made short work of them, but the Staff wasn’t found. Baran lumbered over to Hagin to deliver the news.

“There is no Staff here,” he said. “Use your mind tricks to make them tell you where it is.”

The hood shook from side to side.

“No. That will not work. There is nothing I can do to their minds that will help. We must take them back to the mines and work them to form another Staff. Select ten from the group.”

The settlement held only twenty five Changelings. The rest were scattered throughout Trygor in villages and settlements.

Baran turned and began rounding up the Changelings. He was a foot taller and two feet wider than them and threw them around like rag dolls.

Hagin addressed them through their minds.

‘We will be taking ten of you to mine the caves of Lorthorn. We know you fear no-one and nothing so to persuade you to work for us we have raiding parties awaiting the word to attack villages and slaughter any living thing they see. Your natural instinct for protection of all will help you to decide your plan of action.’

Deenon stepped forward. She knew no such thing as emotions and delivered her monotone response.

‘Your actions will not go unpunished. Nature will take her revenge in whatever form she sees fit. If you do not step down from your plans I fear for your future.’

‘My future should not be your concern, Changeling! That should be directed to the many villages that my kinsmen will relish trampling on if you do not abide by our demands.’

“Tie them to your mounts and let us go. The weakness around here is turning my stomach,” bellowed Hagin to the rest of the Ogres.

The rocksaurs snapped at the Changelings as they were tied to the saddles on their backs and a quick slap on the snout from the back of an Ogre’s claw soon stopped them from tearing the Changelings apart.

The Ogres mounted up and Hagin paused before riding away. He guided his rocksaur over to Deenon.

‘Remember, Changeling. The fate of the villagers rest in you hands. Give us no trouble and they will be safe.’

Hagin gave a hellish roar and galloped off. Twenty four Ogres followed.

Deenon felt something. A spark of life she thought was extinguished. She headed for the field and found Tyron moving.

‘Tyron, you are alive! Let me get you to somewhere comfortable. The time of darkness is beginning. The Ogres have begun their part. It is only a matter of time. We must hope Kaleb is ready.’

The gash on the side of Tyron’s head revealed part of his skull and the blood was struggling to clot.

I fear the darkness may be coming too soon.’

 ***

 Kaleb spent his time paying respects to the victims of the Skeggs raid. The line of bodies was a stark reminder of the dangers to, what he called, the ordinary humans.

Ever since he could control his gift from his parents he classed everybody else as ordinary. Except for the Changelings, of course.

He never had the experience of being ordinary. He only ever knew the psychic powers he was born with. Even when his parents tried to make him hide his gift to fit in with the people they lived with, tried to make him act ordinary, he never really knew what it was to be that way.

“You are the one who came in with the Changeling?” came a voice from behind him.

Kaleb turned to face the owner of the female voice. What stood before him was a tired and scared husk of a woman, carrying a small child who was asleep in her arms.

The woman was dressed in dirty grey clothing that stopped at her knees and exposed her dirty and bruised legs. Her dark hair had been pushed back by hand and looked as though it hadn’t seen water in weeks.

“I am Kaleb. We have come to rid you of the Skegg raiders. I am sorry we could not get here sooner.”

The woman walked closer to the bodies. A tear trickled down her cheek.

“That’s my husband. The second from the left. He fought bravely to try to protect us, but we are mere farmers. We have no fighting skills. This settlement has been here centuries and it’s never needed to defend itself before. Why have they come so far to destroy something that is of no threat to them?”

Kaleb shook his head.

“I can not say. The Changelings are trying hard to work out why this is happening. The Skeggs have been moving further and further in amongst the human settlements over the last few years. Even the Zoneons are suffering and they are accomplished warriors.

In the meantime I am trying hard to protect as many villages as I can.”

The woman turned to look up at the imposing figure next to her.

“You are the one who has tamed the madness?” she asked.

The term used by the woman was something Kaleb had heard all his life. That term was something he had associated with all of the bad experiences he had in his own village when he was younger. It left a bitter taste in his mouth every time he heard it. He took a deep breath before answering.

“My gift is in my control, yes! Something I was unable to do in my youth. To say it is a madness belittles the extraordinary things that it provides.”

The woman saw the effect her words had on Kaleb.

“Forgive me. I did not mean to offend. These are the phrases passed on by the travellers who stop here from the Kingdom. They are all we know of such things.”

Before Kaleb could reply a rumbling noise made him turn his head towards the road leading out of the village. Suddenly there appeared a group of raiding Skeggs on desert rutting beasts. Six feet tall with short snouts and large, bony skulls, the beasts knocked over carts as they came stomping through.

The lead beast managed to trap a villager under its powerful front hooves and crushed him to death before he could scream out in terror.

The Skeggs on top of these fearsome creatures carried with them six foot long double edged swords that they swung around with ease as though they were made of cloth.

The woman was in the line of attack of the group and Kaleb quickly jumped in front of her and raised his psychic shield. Before he had the chance to get his sword out a Skegg swung his own weapon down towards them and looked on in surprise as the invisible shield deflected the attack away. Kaleb had braced himself, but was still pushed back by the force and almost knocked the woman over.

‘Shen, I hope you will be finished soon. We have trouble out here and I could use your help.’

There was no reply from the Changeling.

“Find shelter, quickly,” he told the woman.

Kaleb counted ten Skeggs. Five short of the usual fifteen that made up the Skeggs traditional raiding party. He briefly wondered why the five they had previously dealt with had been away from their clan. He had no time to think about it as the next Skegg came at him hard, trying to knock him down with the desert rutting beast.

Kaleb rolled out of harms way and caught sight of two Skeggs about to slaughter a small group of children who were huddled together, paralysed with fear. He had to buy some time. Spotting a pole holding up a canopy of a stall he grabbed it and threw it, spear like, towards the lead Skegg. The pole landed between the front legs of the desert rutting beast and brought it and the Skegg crashing to the ground.

The following beast couldn’t stop in time and collided with the fallen animal and ended up in the same position.

Kaleb bounded after the children and got there before the Skeggs could recover. A man came rushing out of a hut after seeing the incident to help Kaleb.

“Take them to safety! Then try to get everyone away from the fighting.”

The man nodded and ushered the children away quickly. Kaleb turned towards the floored Skeggs who were getting to their feet as quickly as a seven foot, four hundred pound animal could.

They were a terrifying sight. Jet black as though forged in the foundry of the dark children of the legends. A killing machine bred to fight its way through life just to survive and now to destroy this village.

The first Skegg recovered its jagged sword and began making its way towards Kaleb. The second Skegg was close behind. Kaleb was not a small man, but these creatures made him look like a child.

The blood curdling squeaking roar reverberated from their beaks as they moved forward. Kaleb wasted no time in drawing his sword and charged forward.

This took the Skeggs by surprise and they were immediately on the back foot. Kaleb’s sword came crashing down on the first Skeggs sword, knocking it back slightly. The Skeggs surprise at Kaleb’s strength showed in its beady eyes and this was the last surprise it was to see.

Kaleb pulled back his sword to feint an attack down low. The Skegg reacted by dropping its sword to block, but Kaleb instantly and with the agility of a fly altering direction, spun round with his sword held high to take the Skeggs head off in a single swipe. The beak dug in the soft soil under foot, stopping it rolling away.

The second Skegg hesitated before it attacked which proved fatal. Kaleb ducked low and moved off to the side drawing his sword along the belly of the Skegg. The armour was no match for the finest steel ever forged on Trygor. It separated immediately along with the darkened flesh and the contents of the Skeggs inners spilled out onto the ground. The dying Skegg dropped to its knees, desperately trying to hold itself together, and then fell face down.

Kaleb’s eyes were already on the remaining Skeggs. They had begun destroying huts and stalls and three men and one woman had succumbed to the murderous invaders swinging swords.

A group of four Skeggs had witnessed the felling of their two comrades and advanced on Kaleb. He dodged their attacks easily while they were up high, but at the same time he couldn’t deliver a killing blow. He needed them at his level. They must have had the same idea as three of them jumped down from their rides and tried to surround Kaleb.

Before they were in position he launched at the Skegg to his left. The first strike was blocked and then the second and then he had to block a strike from behind. He fell back to make it look as though he was retreating and then leapt forward with a thrusting attack. The ploy had worked and the Skegg was caught off guard. The sword pierced through armour, flesh and muscle and sliced through the spinal chord.

The Skegg spasmed before falling to the floor.

Before he knew it the still mounted Skegg was pounding towards him which he saw just before the collision. He raised his psychic shield and got knocked across the floor, dazed a little, but unharmed.

The two Skeggs on foot were on him almost immediately.

The swords came pounding down on his shield with an almost unbearable force. It was all he could do to hold his shield together. The attack was relentless and Kaleb knew he had to do something soon before his shield gave way.

Did he see the Skeggs falter a little with tiredness. They were certainly not holding back with the power they used so there had to be a time when their muscles would start to seize.

Suddenly they stopped. Looking at each other they communicated their frustration and Kaleb knew this was the time to act. He too was weakened by the attack, but drew from an inner strength and thrust forward with his sword.

He caught one on the inside of its thigh and a high pitched scream whistled across the courtyard as the ligaments were sliced through. The Skegg collapsed and writhed on the floor in agony.

The second Skegg was quicker and jumped to the side. It pushed back from its rear leg and raised its sword to bring it down towards Kaleb. Kaleb drew back his own sword to parry the blade aside.

He scrambled to his feet and out of the way. The Skegg turned to face off with him.

The murderous green eyes glared at him. What horrors they must have seen. But to what end? There has to be a reason to all this butchery. No animal kills without a reason.

For now, he had no time to work it out as the Skegg came at him again. Kaleb raised his sword to block the strike. The clang of swords rang through the small village, piercing the noise from the destruction being caused by the rampaging Skeggs.

Kaleb briefly caught sight of this destruction in the moment before the second downward arc of the attacking sword reached him. Another almighty metallic clang as he pushed it to his left.

‘Shen, things are getting desperate. The village will be in ruins and more people dead if I can’t get to the rest of the Skeggs. I need your help!’

Kaleb side stepped the next attack and thrust his sword into the side of the Skegg. It stopped an inch in as it hit the hip bone. Blood spilled onto the ground when he removed it.

The Skegg didn’t cry out in pain, but its movements were clearly affected as it limped into its next attack. Again he avoided the assault and this time he sliced across the back of the legs. The effect was significantly different. The Skegg did cry out in pain and dropped to the ground holding the backs of its legs.

Kaleb looked up to the next invader and saw his friend running out of the door she had retreated through when they had first arrived. One arm was already in the form of a club and she brought it down hard on the first desert rutting beast she came across. The creature dropped immediately throwing its rider to the ground.

No hate, aggression or anger showed on her featureless face. She just got the job done without the inconvenience of emotions getting in the way.

She jumped over to the fallen Skegg in a single leap and brought the club arm down on it to render it dead from a crushed skull. Then she was up and after the next Skegg that was chasing down two women running for their lives. Another fantastic leap that could never have been matched by any living thing on Trygor and the Skegg was knocked off of its ride with a crunching blow to the side of the head.

Kaleb smiled with a sense of awe as he watched the display then reassessed the situation. Three Skeggs left. The closest one to him, probably the one who had knocked him down and was now joining in the action, was down from its ride and breaking down a wooden dwelling. Kaleb could now hear the screams from inside and saw children through the window cowering against who were surely their parents.

He charged towards them and just as the Skegg broke through he reached it with an upward strike from his sword. It drove into the Skeggs back and pierced the heart on the way through to the front of the chest. The Skegg looked down at the protruding piece of metal before falling to the ground, dead.

Two left, he thought. As he turned he felt an instant sense of danger. Something that he had developed with his psychic abilities. Something he couldn’t and never bothered trying to explain.

The sword passed by his shoulder as he turned out of the way. Then the Skegg dropped down hard to the floor as Shen dispensed another thunderous blow with her rock hard club arm.

‘Sorry I wasn’t here sooner,’ she sent to Kaleb. ‘Something has happened. Something terrible. We must return to the Den immediately.’

The remaining Skegg, witnessing the demise of its final comrade, quickly mounted its beast and headed out of the village as fast as it could go. Shen followed to ensure the Skegg wouldn’t return with re-enforcements.

When she returned Kaleb was helping with the clearing up. He had helped rescue one family from a fallen building. Thankfully they were unharmed. The roof had collapsed down one side and protected the occupants from any other debris.

When Kaleb saw Shen he moved towards her.

‘What has happened, Shen?’

‘We cannot be sure, but the Joining gave a sense of grave doings. Specific to the Den.’

‘What could possibly have happened? They are no threat to anyone.’

We have no more detail, but there is an urgency for us to be there.’

Kaleb was running through the possibilities of what could have happened. The Skeggs would never attack the Changelings. But they hadn’t been seen in that area yet, anyway. The Ogres had kept themselves to themselves. He had only heard story’s of them. Never seen them in the flesh, but nothing he had heard would lead him to believe they would be a danger to the Changelings.

‘Very well. We will rest for a few hours and replenish our supplies before we leave.’

Return to Top