Location: On the road to Arbola
Timeline: Sixth Age, 46th Year, Autumn
“Ouch!” yelped Emcorae, dropping the wooden sword he’d been holding as the pain of a false strike radiated up his arm.
Knowing the boy did not suffer anything of significance, El-Janus merely smiled, “That is why I said not to contact the oak tree, but to thrust, just short, as so.” And he took up the youngster’s weapon and slowly demonstrated the technique, before performing it full speed.
The elf’s maneuver was conducted so fast and carried out with such force that the boy cringed at the sight — for it appeared that the tip of the sword was driven into the tree – the very mistake Emcorae had made that had caused him so much pain.
Yet rather than cry out in pain, El-Janus instead remained fixed in place with his sword extended to the tree, as he asked, “You see, my son?”
“I don’t understand.” Emcorae was at a loss. “Why isn’t your arm screaming with pain?”
“Look. Deeper.” The master beckoned Emcorae closer.
It wasn’t until the boy placed his face right next to the tree that he realized that El-Janus’ sword had not contacted the tree, but instead the elf had been able to thrust the sword to within a mere hair’s width of the bark. “But? How did y–“
“RRRAAAWWW!” Menacing voices sounded from the woods and Emcorae melted into the ground in abject fear – certain that a pack of gargoyles had tracked them down.
What emerged from the trees wasn’t demons, but instead a crowd of men – yet this did little to quell the boy’s fear, for it was clear to all that the intruders weren’t friendly. The angry men wore an assortment of ill-fitting closes they’d surely robbed from prior victims, and they crashed into the camp brandishing scythes and clubs. Their words left no doubt about what they planned to do to Emcorae and his ‘father.’
“First we robs ya.” A wiry man smiled, sliding a rusty knife across his cheek.
“Then we skins ya.” His giat colleague laughed, the rags he wore doing little to cover his grotesque obesity.
“Then we have funs with ya.” The first villain made his way closer to Emcorae, while he motioned his colleagues to surround the elf.
Certain they’d found easy prey, the robbers were surprised by the swiftness with which El-Janus had not only drawn his rapiletti but had also placed himself between Emcorae and the murderers.
For his part, Emcorae stayed on the ground, searching for his practice sword – desperate to find anything to defend himself with. To his surprise, he saw the wooden stake was protruding from the throat of the wiry man who’d targeted Emcorae, the man now gurgling his last breaths whilst his eyes looked with horror at the elf.
Emcorae had no time to ponder when the lightning quick El-Janus had thrown the practice blade because, despite the loss of their leader, the other ten vagabonds now stormed forward as a group, intent on ripping the elf apart.
Onward they rushed — to their deaths.
What followed was a massacre – a kind of strange dance that saw the motions of El-Janus happening with such speed that Emcorae was unable to follow the elf’s twirling, even while the attackers seemed to be moving in molasses. Many were the screams of the murderous peasants – at first angry they couldn’t get a hold on the Azora, but soon crying out in agony as they fell.
The dance didn’t last long – with a brief spin, then a duck, and double thrust, El-Janus dispatched two more attackers – one stabbed in the heart, the other with an eye plucked out after his brain had been impaled. The flick of his wrists and the master’s rapilleti took down another three more.
After but a few breaths, Emcorae was shocked to see only a few of the men remained. Forced into a circle, with their backs to one another, they screamed in rage and swung wildly in all directions with their crude weapons.
The big man who’d joked about flaying Emcorae, brandished a beat-up brass short sword; seeing a ray of brown flit by to him, he grunted in desperation as he chopped down hard – to his great surprise, his blade struck home. “Haarrr! Got ya, little bastard!” But then, “Nooooo!” came his lamentation when he saw that he had only succeeded in felling another of his troupe – sending the man’s head flying off, to fall in near the feet of the cowering boy.
El-Janus had never told Emcorae that he had to stay out of the fight, yet the boy had never been in this situation before and, despite his brief training with the wooden sword these past few ways, he had no idea what to do. He was also terrified – fear fixed firmly in place and constricted him even from yelling out. With his eyes as his only means of interacting with the world, the boy looked for a place to run – somewhere! anywhere! – but the paralysis of his terror refused to let him move.
Meanwhile, the blubbery intruder was now making his way towards Emcorae. “Don’t move, boy, I gots ya nah.” His raggedy, mud-covered tunic had been sliced to shreds and the folds of his skin beneath countless lacerations – a testament to El-Janus’ work. Yet still the man pressed forward, lumbering towards the helpless boy – and failing to notice that he was now the last man standing from his pack.
Emcorae shrieked in fright, as the blood-thirsty giant bore down on him. Time slowed for boy as he watched his would-be murderer raise his sword for the killing blow – yet just as the blade reached its zenith, Emcorae was amazed to see the woodsman stop short. Although the boy couldn’t see El-Janus because of the giant’s girth, for the briefest of moments, Emcorae saw the Azora’s rapiletti poke through the man’s throat and back out, the surgical strike from behind now leaving a hole in the front of the man’s neck through which the villain’s blood came gushing forth, the sticky gore cascading over Emcorae, even as the boy tried to swipe it away.
Thus was the innocence of Emcorae’s sheltered existence in little Monthaven now shattered forever by the realities of the all too cruel “real world” that Alfranco Azop had never wanted his grandson to see. (1)
Emcorae dodged the falling body of the robber as it toppled down, the man’s head hitting the tree, his face to grating itself against the bark as the giant’s mass slid slowly down to the ground, leaving his blood to soak into the forest floor.
Looking up from the awful sight, the boy saw El-Janus calmly wiping his blades clean with one of the villager’s tunics. When the master saw the boy looking at him, the elf’s turned from opaqueness to compassion.
“But how? Why?” Emcorae cried, his own body now going limp as his adrenaline faded.
“It is the way of the world.” El-Janus explained. “Evil exists everywhere and you must prepare to meet it. Sometimes a warrior must use his training. Death was a welcome event for these unfortunates. But others are safer now that they are gone.”
“But, I thought…”stammered the lad. “You mean to say, you knew those men were… out there… stalking us?”
“When did you know?”
“They have been following us since we left Sylvania.”
“What!” Emcorae was shocked to hear that his teacher let this gruesome event occur rather than doing something to avoid the fight. “But, I thought you were a master tracker. Why didn’t you use your skills to escape?”
“Alone it would have been an easy task, but together it did not work out for us.”
“But why didn’t you tell me?”
“There was naught you could have done.”
“You could have given me a sword and—“ But the boy stopped.
“And?” queried El-Janus. “No, my son, you could not have helped. Nor would I have allowed you to. You are not ready.”
Emcorae slumped further into the leaves on the forest floor, knowing his master’s words were true. Even had he known about the woodsman, there was nothing the boy could have done, and he also realized that such fore-knowledge might even had caused him to panic which could have resulted in him doing something stupid and getting himself hurt. El-Janus clearly had not needed the boy’s assistance in dealing with the pack of wayfarers and the surprise of the situation had caused the lad to be so shocked that their was nothing he could do but watch – out of the way, his back to an oak tree, protected, exactly as the elf warrior had wanted.
El-Janus now reached down to pick Emcorae up. The boy arose without protest. After placing the boy in a dry spot, away from the battle site, the elf-lord then silently packed up their camp before calling for the horses – the animals emerging from the out of the way spot El-Janus had previously taken them to.
Within a candlemark, the warrior and the boy were on the move again.
There would be no more sleep this night for Emcorae – instead his thoughts were many and terrifying as he rode in shocked silence on his tethered pony guided by El-Janus’s horse.
Why did all those men have to die?
Is that what it means to be an Azora – to kill without compassion?
I can’t do it! I won’t!
Who is this person I am riding with? Where is he taking me? Will I be next to die?
Answers to these questions were not forthcoming. Instead, waking nightmares were Emcorae’s only companion. Never had he felt more alone in the world than now.
And then, without thinking, Emcorae blurted sarcastically, “Well, at least it wasn’t a gargoyle that chased me this time!”
Of a sudden, El-Janus brought their mounts to a forceful stop. “Emcorae Azop, of what ancient evil did you just speak?”
Caught off guard by the harshness of his teacher’s inquiry, Emcorae tried to backtrack, “Um. What did I say?”
Deadly serious, the Azora mysstro forced Emcorae to look directly at him whilst he asked again, “You spoke of a vile creature, using a Pecora term for daemons that few of your kind know about. Where did you hear of this? Was it from El-Corragio?”
Stunned by the flood of questions, Emcorae stuttered incoherently, before his emotions got the better of him and he began blubbering in tears.
El-Janus let Emcorae cry himself out, but he did not stop his inquiry. After the had calmed down, the Azora tried again, this time with more compassion. “It was not my intention to cause you upset, student. Know that, as your soon-to-be mysstro, I have only your best intentions at heart and I place your safety and psyche above even my own. When you made mention of the Illusian beast, I was caught unawares – something that has not happened to me in hundreds of years.” Then, after a pause, “Emcorae, I am not angry with you. I only seek to know of the knowledge you have of this creature so that I might better protect you. Therefore, I will ask again, will you tell me what you know about the baals, these beasts you named gargoyle?”
Emcorae looked long at his new teacher before he spoke. He really did want to tell El-Janus all he knew, but now that the opportunity was finally given to him, he didn’t know where to begin – it seemed like such an overwhelming task, and given his frazzled nerves it was too much for him.
Seeing him struggle, El-Janus gently coaxed him, “Student, just start where YOU think is best; don’t worry about telling me what you think I want to hear.”
“It all started one night when I was walking home with my grandfather after he told a tale about the Morati at our local pub,” Emcorae explained with a shudder. “That’s when I had my first nightmare of the Beast and the Black Bane…”
The moon moved through the skies while Emcorae related to his master all that he knew of gargoyles and evil mists and how those two horrors had haunted him in his dreams. In addition, he told about the very real encounter he had had with one of the demons and how this had caused Monthaven to “turn against him,” – something which gave the boy the desire to move to Arbola when the opportunity arose.
Whilst the boy talked, El-Janus did not interrupt. Only when the boy had finished did he say, “It seems some light has been shed as to why our goddess chose you for this unprecedented opportunity to train along The Way, for clearly you are unlike any other.”
“What do you mean by that?” Emcorae asked.
El-Janus smiled, “Even I do not know the answer to that riddle. Yet, let us not ponder over that mystery, for we have before us another that is more pressing.” After a pause, his manner turned serious, “As for the relationship of your grandfather talking about the Morati having something to do with your nightmares, I cannot say if this was just a coincidence or was in fact a connection – we can ask The Council for their opinion when we get to Arbola – yet I have seen many a walking wraith in my lifetime and yet I must admit to you, student, that I myself have never seen a baal – a gargoyle – in the flesh. Nor has anyone I know.” After letting this sink in, the mysstro added, “Just because I have never seen a baal, doesn’t mean I don’t believe they exist. We Amorosi have always accepted them to be real, for our History of the Ages tells us so.”
“Where do gargoyles come from?”
“That too is a mystery. None of our tomes have provided a definitive answer on the subject. Nor do the books agree on the origin of their species. Some say that Baal-Zebub himself created these daemons in Illusia and that he sends them here to tempt us — mankind in particular. Yet, other legends contradict this and point to a different creator.”
“Surely not Yahway!” Emcorae gasped. “Our Lord would never create such an evil beast. Nor would Mannah or Meree. Thus, who is left?”
“Didn’t your grandsire not tell you of the gods of Terra?”
Remembering some of Alfranco’s tales about the Amorosi deities, Emcorae tried to show off his knowledge, “Oh yes, that’s right. I know all about Pan and Alyssa.” But then he stopped short. “Yet, I don’t understand, master. Why would the gods of your people create gargoyles?”
“The Amorosi patrons did not. Nor did any of the other good-hearted gods of this Middle Plane. But, student, you must understand that, in Nature, there is always a Balance. Just as Illusia counters Illyria, so too does Terra itself sit in balance.”
“Are you saying that there are then more EVIL gods here on our world as well?” a frightened Emcorae eeked out.
“This is not the time for a lesson of this caliber, just know that what you have guessed is true.” El-Janus affirmed. “At the risk of stretching your mind too much for this already exhausting evening, I will add this – some versions of The History, the ones I in fact believe in, purport that it was not Zebub, but instead his godling Nektar who fostered the baals – the latter god mixing the essences of a Pyrhalli and a Pecora to create a flying, blood-sucking beast of Illusia!” (2)
“Pyrhalli? Pecora?” Emcorae was confused, “I know not these elvish words.”
“The Pyrhalli are known by your kind as Ghorbles – the giant bats who sometimes menace the western wolds.”
“Oh yes, my grandfather has mentioned them before. They are fearful indeed!” Emcorae agreed – half-glad to take some of the mystery out of his master’s explanation now that he knew a little about the topic. And then he asked, “And a ‘Pecora’ – I heard you use that word earlier, what’s that mean?
“That is the Amorosi term for ‘mankind.’”
Emcorae started to piece things together, “But, that means that a gargoyle is part bat demon and part man!” This only caused the boy to become even more terrified — for if others of his species had been turned into these evil beasts, and if these dread creatures were now chasing him, Emcorae jumped to the conclusion that perhaps he would soon be turned into a gargoyle himself!
Reading what was written on Emcorae’s face, El-Janus cautioned, “It is not what you think. Nothing in the knowledge of my peoples points to you being in danger of getting turned into a gargoyle. Do they mean you harm? Clearly. Yet, do not fear, for you are under my protection and none have ever come to harm during my watch!”
Emcorae was only a little reassured – for despite the awesome display of combat skills that he had seen El-Janus exhibit earlier this evening against the bandits, the boy well knew that defeating a group of men was a far cry from fighting off a pack of demons! Thus, sitting on his horse, Emcorae struggled with whether or not he could even go on.
Frozen in place at this crossroads of his life and he knew not what to do.
Sensing his student’s mental flux, the mysstro advised, “Emcorae, our world is full of evil. It wasn’t always this way, but that is how things are today. Whether you go back to Monthaven, with me to Arbola, or wherever else you might travel, Evil will be there. Like a weed, Evil takes root wherever the gardener lets it grow. If unchecked, that Evil will take over your life. Therefore, you must be a constant gardener and seek to live a good life every day.” And, as Emcorae looked at him for reassurance, El-Janus added, “Student, I can clearly see there is something about you which is special. If you focus on following The Way you will have nothing to fear.”
- Yes, it’s rue that Emcorae had previously witnessed his master kill all the other robbers as they attacked their campsite, yet none of the other villains had looked the boy in the eye, nor died so close. It was Emcorae’s brief connection with the fat giant that robbed the boy of his innocence. For although the troll-like intruder had wanted nothing more than to hack the boy to pieces, upon feeling his lifeforce surprisingly taken from him by the elf’s blade, the man’s visage changed from one of rage to that of a simpleton – and Emcorae saw in those eyes the life of a man whose every attempt at success had fallen short, whose lost hope had caused to fall into a life of stealing from others, who had joined this gang as way to forget about his own failures and instead make others feel his pain. It was the sad sight of a lost soul dying before Emcorae’s own eyes that, and whose blood was now covering him completely, that would create a memory young Azop would never escape. Ah, if only’d I’d known about this – I could have used that to pull Emcorae towards me! Alas.
- Guilty, as charged.