This is the second in a series of promotional short stories written by Bruce Heard for the World of Calidar. Click here for Episode One: “Into the Vortex”
Episode Two: The Cleansing
Lázaro pulled himself from the invisible barrier separating him from his loyal servant. He followed the seemingly interminable succession of alcoves imprisoning the people of his village. Weary of the inexplicable catastrophe, he soldiered on, resisting a strange lethargy taking hold in his mind.
“I am Lázaro of the Santa Hermandad,” he repeated to keep himself awake. “And I will not be denied my revenge.” He spun his sword with a whoosh, slicing through the lingering mist. The author of his predicament was out there, and he wanted to find him.
More alcoves and stairs followed as the young man struggled with his fatigue. “Lázaro. . . Santa Hermandad!” he cried again.
His last few steps led to an empty recess. His eyes focused on his name engraved inside. A number of other symbols followed, somewhat similar to others he’d once seen in old ruins.
In a flash he found himself standing within, looking out. He hammered against the invisible barrier with the pommel of his sword. The sound belied the sturdiness of his prison. Almost passing out for reasons he could not fathom, he hollered again.
“. . .azaro. . . erman. . .”
His limbs felt as stone, and soon he sank into a dreaming state, reliving his existence in reverse: finding the garrison’s commander, flying though the storm, remembering the village the day he disembarked, his journey across the ocean, his escape, his judgement. It all became a confused jumble of thoughts, his and those of others creeping in.
“. . .Azar. . .” he whispered one last time.
An eternity later, the sound of approaching voices stirred his mind. Indistinct at first, two voices came through: one a female’s, dark and razor-sharp, the other deep and drawn out like a rumbling volcano.
“This one is of interest,” said the latter in a long, heaving breath. “Strong, brave, and devout. He was the last to arrive.”
“He seems young. He’ll have to be taught.”
“He could be tested, O Dark One.”
“Proceed. If he survives, keep his essence and erase the rest. What of the others?”
“Souls of no consequence. They will be sold as one.”
The voices faded away as the young man’s thoughts drifted into a maze of confused sensations. Feeling slowly returned to his fingers. He concentrated his willpower on his hands. Lázaro could still sense the sword’s hilt still locked in his grasp. He focused on it like on a light at the end of a tunnel. He keenly understood the weapon’s uses, but didn’t know why.
A word kept surfacing in his mind. It sounded oddly familiar. Azar. . . His name? Yes, it must have been. He could not remember anything else, but he perceived there was more, buried somewhere in his head, just past the edge of consciousness. There had to be more. He felt naked and lost, as if his very soul had been scoured of its identity.
When his limbs regained the softness of life, the young man collapsed. The invisible barrier had vanished, and he fell forward. As he lay on the cold, stone floor, he focused on what seemed real: his flesh and bones, the heart beating in his chest, the sword in his hand, his burning desire to rip through the shrouds of mystery suppressing his memories. A purpose. He needed a purpose to give a sense to this maddening void.
“Azar. . .” he whispered again, as if it were a steady rock in the middle of a sea.
A low growl responded in the fog, not far from him. Something lurked out there, just out of sight, and the young man knew it was coming for him. He staggered to his feet and inched forward, his senses exacerbated by fear. There it was, his purpose, the simplest of things: one’s survival instinct. Kill or be killed.
Amid swirls of mist, a beast not unlike a huge six-legged leopard in shades of white and gray, stared back at him with white eyes. Mottles clouding her fur shifted, and the beast vanished into the mist. Snarls told the young man the predator was moving, but he couldn’t tell where exactly.
The beast reappeared behind him, her enormous snout and fangs inches behind the young man’s head, her breath chilling him to his bones. As he spun round, his sword swished through emptiness. She had vanished once more. She was playing a deadly game. He’d have to remember this.
He took a few more steps. A soft growl rose from his left. In a leap of faith, he lunged to his right instead, into the fog. The beast reappeared there, a hair away from his blade, roared, and faded away. Just missed. He was beginning to understand his foe’s tactic. He knew she would also be more cautious now.
Another snarl. Another lunge. But her paw struck him in the back, tearing through his rags and his skin. He rolled out of the way, got back to his feet, ready to fight, but she’d faded back into the mist. He felt blood drenching his back and legs. Frustrated and in pain, he tried another trick.
Out of despair and defiance, he bellowed his name as he remembered it. He ran screaming in a straight line, spinning his sword and expecting the beast to react as predators do when a wounded pray bolts.
Suddenly, he stopped, turned around, and lunged. The steel bit into thick hide and flesh as the beast reappeared. His blade sank through her paw as she pounced on him. Her powerful jaws locked on his left forearm, slicing through muscle and crushing his bones. Her wounded paw snapped the blade in half, like a twig. But she was hurting now and off-balance. Seizing the instant, nearly blind with pain, he rolled under his mangled arm, bringing the beast’s head closer, and stabbed her eye with the remains of his sword. It sank in to its guard.
The beast jumped back, but too late. It twitched, hissed, and fell.
The young man remained prone, pain from his lacerated back and torn left arm overwhelming him. Life was escaping his body once more, blood pooling beneath him on the floor. A last thought crossed his mind to pray for help and salvation, but he felt at a loss to remember whom he once honored. With his last breath he simply cried out, “Azar!”
To be continued. . .
This short story was written in connection with the upcoming Kickstarter campaign for the new World of Calidar. Others will follow on different forums and blogs during the coming weeks.
Click here to track down these all these episodes and, one layer at a time, unveil different aspects of this new fantasy setting. Click here for the original announcement about Calidar. Be sure to read it if you haven’t already.
Thanks, and have fun!
Huge thanks to Bruce Heard for including the Tavern in the roll out of Calidar. Looks to be a fun ride for all - Erik Tenkar