Art and story by Joshua Keyes
In the Line of Duty
Tyrl Stonevelt let the cool water flow freely from his canteen, washing away a bit of his weariness, along with his thirst. After taking his fill, the burly red haired man refastened his ample canteen in its proper place while reaching for his familiar helmet. The protective piece slid over his long locks smoothly, settling into place. Eager to continue his scouting assignment Stonevelt was quickly on his way moments after a check of his gear. The sturdy man was just beginning to feel the weight of his worn armor as the sun began to wane, its rays filtered through the canopy of foliage projecting shapes of light that danced across the dense forest floor. The stamina of the footman had been tested countless times before and this test would prove no different.
Tyrl’s ice blue eyes scanned high to low and side to side during his swift and surprisingly silent traverse of the woodland paths. The veteran’s tracking skills were second to no other in his unit, thus he was chosen for this particular mission. Though the task was one of simple reconnaissance, the armored, stout, Goldshirman’s warrior spirit would rather him back at camp aiding in its continued defense. Setting up a second encampment, before the first was as secure as it should, was always risky business. An able enemy could find many ways to capitalize on the alliance’s abnormally permeable defense. Tyrl could not discount the logistical gains of the move, though. The line of thought served to remind him of just how important his current duty truly was. To fail or tarry was to put his fellow men’s lives in an unsettling balance. The conscientious warrior redoubled his effort and resolve.
Moments later the man suddenly stiffened his step, becoming as still as a slumbering gargoyle in the blink of an eye. Something caught his keen attention, perhaps it was a faint sound or the absence of the ambient hum of the forest life. Tyrl forced his breathing to a shallow steady rhythm and brought his focus to his sharp senses. The summer breeze suddenly felt less soothing, bringing about a chill to his sweat laden spine. He was rewarded almost instantly for his discipline as the distinct sound of ringing metal faintly carried from the west.
Judging by the shouts that followed, Tyrl estimated a small skirmish was taking place not far from his own position. Quickly he moved toward the commotion minding to keep covered from any adversary’s cautious eye. Spotting a clearing just ahead at the base of a hill, the scout’s step hastened, driven by the surge of adrenaline rushing through his veins. A grove of vegetation provided an excellent perch to observe the large clearing ahead.
Careful to not skyline himself, Tyrl swiftly crawled on all fours to the edge. Any lesser warrior might have looked foolish, clumsily dragging the bulky armor and Lordaeron crested shield across the forest soil, but Corporal Stonevelt accomplished the task with the fluidity and grace of a prowling lion.
Below the shallow ridge Tyrl took note of an augmented squad of soldiers engaged in a small skirmish with a group of creatures. The handful of militia provisions was a meager addition, but leading the charge was a richly robed deceptively frail looking man and his distinguished white mare. The beautiful animal could easily be marked as one that accompanied only the highest order of the Magi. The well trained war-horse expertly positioned itself as the formidable caster conjured a ball of intense flame from his staff, shooting it with amazing accuracy into the brawling group of men and goblin kin. One ogre was felled already, as well as numerous trolls, but one stubborn brute of a beast fought on, blind to his impending doom.
The men below fought well, coordinating their movements expertly, reacting quickly to the mounted mage’s battle commands. As confident in his men’s and his own abilities, he was sure that Maeridawn King O’er the Mountain would not be pleased with these events. The trusted commander was busy enough overseeing dual camp construction and preparation for the arrival of a paladin, without having to contend with the bombardments of an enemy so skilled vying for control of this particular region.
A cold wash of fear flushed abruptly through his body as he turned his attention back to the scene, the Mage had somehow spotted him! Damn! Tyrl thought as the scout sprang from his cover and stumbled back from view. His mind began rushing through the possible implications as well as the proper recourse. By some incantation or spell of detection, his position must have been revealed. How was not as important, the fighter knew, it was when that worried him. Powerful the mage was indeed, and ever more intimidating it was as if the enemy had mind enough to sense his presence whilst engaging in battle.
Throwing the thoughts aside, the found scout turned and sprinted back the way he came. The enemy surely could not catch the spry warrior in the forest, so long as the Mage had sensed the spy until after his bout with the Ogres. Tyrl’s confidence quickly diminished when the temperature dropped significantly and the whole of the forest seem to darken around him.
Or over him! A giant fist pounded in from behind, and only the honed instincts of the veteran saved him then. Diving straight forward, springing up from a roll, and fluidly reaching for his battle armaments, the corporal quickly found his footing and squared off against the brutal assailant.
The summoned elemental loomed over him, tons of water, through some art of arcane power, was suspended in a humanoid form glowered at Tyrl. The monstrosity, at least three times his size, came after Stonevield with the urgency of a cascading river relentlessly sweeping down a mountainside in its quest to return to the vast ocean.
Bringing to bear his lion crested shield and setting firm, the warrior braced himself. The shear weight of the creature’s aquatic missile could crush the man if it came at him with enough velocity and force. Without proper positioning and shielding, it would be a quick but painful end.
Though he had helped take down many of these elemental summons in his time, he had never done it alone. The fact that he was quite outmatched hit him just as hard as the spray that violently slammed into his shield. The water rushed pass him with such force that it tore at any exposed skin, stinging staunchly as it blasted past. Though he weathered the lethal gush, thanks largely to his expertly forged shield, the blast numbed the man, bring him to his knees.
The magical beast’s victorious roar sounded as mighty as the ocean itself. Taking the small opening afforded to him, Tyrl sprang with all the force his taunt muscles could muster. The kneeling position offered maximum recoil for the bold attack, and he brought all he had to bear smashing into the elemental. The shield bash, as futile as the footman thought it would be, caused the contained aquatic abomination to falter. Tyrl concluded that its magic was weak before it even began this bout. Perhaps most of its power was exhausted in another skirmish, either way it was the only glimmer of hope in the bleak situation.
That hope, as well as a good deal of the man’s ribs shattered when a tremendous arm crashed into the corporal’s side. The force launched the dedicated soldier several yards before crashing into the trunk of an unyielding redwood. Tyrl collapsed at the tree’s base with the wind knocked from him. Blood flowed freely from numerous wounds that persistently burned painfully all about his wrecked body.
The battered man could only manage to pull his knees under him. Deciding that he would die with honor Tyrl Stonevelt forced away what he knew would be the last few moments of pain in this world, so that he might find the strength to face the thing that would be his end.
Eagerly willing to oblige the cold arcane creation, who had apparently closed the distance in the time it took Tyrl to raise himself to his knees, reached back its animated arms behind its head for a lethal haymaker. The arms fell and…
…Crack! Came a sound that took Tyrl a moment to realize wasn’t his own bones, but that of a dwarvish rifle! The elemental arched and roared in apparent pain. Crack! Crack! Came successive shots, the last of which broke straight through the arcane barrier that had somehow allowed the titan to retain its form. The thing’s bracers which had flared with power deteriorated almost instantly, as if thousands of years of decay came about the bindings in merely a fraction of a second, turning them to dust. The tons of water that made up the summon sloshed to the ground, washing away the vegetation carpeting the forest and coming to rest as a large muddy puddle before the bloody Tyrl.
Though the nemesis was vanquished, Tyrl knew he would soon fade. But before he could lose himself to the dark abyss that closed in all around him, he heard the clear resounding voice of a man that sounded so very familiar, yet Tyrl was sure he could not have ever heard before. Just as the voice’s commanding song came to a crescendo, a blast of light washed over Tyrl’s body, vanquishing the threatening darkness and warming his cold body. The wounds that had before burned now tingled with soothing warmth and were gone.
Lost in amazement and still kneeling, though now thigh deep in muddy water, Tyrl felt a hearty slap on his shoulder. The firm hand quickly pulled him up with a gentle strength to his feet. A smiling man with a chiseled, rough bearded face, and soft comforting blue eyes stared back through him.
With a spirited wink, and a slight chuckle, the paladin informed the corporal, “So long as you choose the light, no darkness will have ya!”
-God bless, Raihn aka Joshua Keyes
© 2007 Joshua Keyes