Brieghel and Karin
Dinner was a grand affair of bluster and bombast, replete with tall tankards of wine and ale, mounds of cheese and sour bread, platters heaped to overflowing with steaming-hot succulent slices of meat. The outrageous stories traded brought many a loud guffaw from even the stateliest conjurer, and in return they shared with the lowly warriors their own fantastical yarns of old. Brieghel never thought it would be like this; joyful and serene, without the need to fight and kill. As he and his seasoned battalion left the mansion of the Meji of Ghent -- one of the most powerful and skilled conjurers ever to live -- he paused to bow low before his distinguished host.
"Thank you, Meji Ralston," said Brieghel, with great deference, "you honor us with your accommodations."
"No, no," replied the Meji, as he laid a soft, wrinkled hand on Brieghel's shoulder. He was an old conjurer steeped in his art, and the power seethed within his thin mouth and grey eyes, manifest in a transparent whitish mist. "It is you who honor us. It is you and your breed that fought and won for our survival. Without you, the Orthodoxs would surely have overrun us, and extinguished our Core of Creation."
Brieghel blinked hard for a moment, suddenly overcome with fatigue. But he forced himself to maintain his pose, as he would not ruin this moment.
"So whatever we can do," continued the Meji, with a thin smile, "be it banquets such as this, joyous parades, ceremonies with awards, or even taking you and your kind into our homes for a short while to live our luxurious life, it pales to the sacrifice your kind has made and the gift you all have given us." The Meji squeezed his hand tightly on Brieghel's thick shoulder. "And you, Battlemaster Brieghel, deserve the greatest honor and praise! I hope your tour of victory calms your warrior's heart, so you and your kind may live among us for the ages, civilized and tamed of your fury."
Brieghel again bowed low, working hard to restrain a tear, so overcome was he with sentiment. Reluctantly he pulled on his heavy ermine cloak, and fastened its gold cord about his neck. "You do me still greater honor, Meji." He stood proudly, once again, as if it was in his youth, standing before his father; the first Battlemaster. "We stand ready to serve!"
Brieghel clicked his boots in salute and left, running fast to catch up with his battalion, while the Meji chuckled low and dark, and retreated to the comfort of his palatial home.
Dusk settled over Nůtterlung and with it a drop in temperature that was common in the climes of Ghent. It signaled an almost universal retreat; citizens returned home to change their light clothes for warmer fare, small furry beasts scurried for shelter as the sun shrank to half its size in the sky. A mist of snow drifted down in assault from the surrounding Haadril mountain range, turning the air into something crisp, sparking and pure as fur-lined hoods and quilted coats soon dotted the landscape. Brieghel sat with his mate Karin on a dimly-lit train platform, waiting for his and three other battalions to board a long, antiquated train to Cassion; the next stop on their victory tour.
Karin wrapped her short but chiseled arm around his, and leaned her head on his mighty shoulder. She was strong and buxom woman, with thick black hair that often roamed unmanaged over her scarred yet beautiful face. The slight uniform worn by warriors could barely contain her physique, and often her comrades jeered at how often she requisitioned new clothes. Karin was not only one of the strongest women in the battalion; she was the most intelligent of the warrior breed, often correcting even Brieghel's seemingly perfect strategies.
"Do you ever think on what will happen to us?"
"Of course not!" he cried with clenched fist. "A good warrior doesn't linger on thoughts of things far from the here and now, on battles that may never be fought. We live in the present, and battle for the victory of every minute!"
Karin sighed, as she had heard it thousands of times before over the course of the many campaigns she fought alongside him with. She heard it echoed in the mouths of her comrades; repeated from the youngest child who could speak to the oldest warrior who could still draw breath. But Karin was gifted with a more analytical mind, a fact she wisely hid from all but Brieghel.
She took a deep breath. "I worry. I think about your father's last battle."
Brieghel winced, as if struck by the edge of a knife.
"I know it hurts you to think on it, to speak of it, but I must continue. Your father grew old, and lost some of his strength and much of his cunning. And to his shame, he lost the Battle of Duuronidurg. And after that, somehow he wins the invasion of Garrison I-9, and dies in the process? They lied, Brieghel, they lied so you would replace him!"
"And that would be their right!" hissed Brieghel in a loud whisper. "We are bred and born to fight -- it is all we know. When we cease to be good at it, then we should be replaced. I know my father would be proud of what I've accomplished, and satisfied to be remembered as such an illustrious warrior."
"What if they don't need us anymore, Brieghel?!" Finally she blurted out what had been festering in her mind for a long time. It took constant thought to piece together those words, those concepts, and even now it hurt her head to say them aloud. "What if they want to abandon us? Are you willing to let them kill all of us, discard us like dull, worthless weapons?"
Brieghel stood, as almost all had boarded the trains. Often Karin would forget how huge he was, but seeing him in the light of the setting sun, his massive arms cut with dark shadow, she remembered now how fierce and magnificent he was. The medals that dotted his chest did little justice to the deeds he accomplished, the fierce engagements he alone fought, and won. "I am Battlemaster, as my father was Battlemaster. We have served the conjurers faithfully from the day we could wield a weapon. We exist so they may survive." He pulled on his cloak and started to move off, but she rose quickly, and grabbed his hand.
"But don't you feel tired lately?"
Brieghel displayed a glimmer of introspection, before shrugging it off with a hearty laugh.
"Who wouldn't be tired after all this food, and relaxation?! What we need is battle to revive our spirits. Now come, Karin -- we have places to go!"
Karin leaned against the cold windowpane of the old, dilapidated train as it rumbled through the countryside of Ghent, following a long, winding road to Cassion. Suddenly, the terrible rush of air that signaled another train's passage startled her. She sat a little more up, and watched as the metal leviathan roared by. On it, several dozen flatbed cars could be seen, carrying a blur of war machinery she recognized to be the silver and gold vessels of the conjurers. She made out at least fifty massive amplifiers were being transported as well as a dozen heavy mitters -- all harbingers of the next phase of the war between the Conjurers and the Orthodoxs. After the train passed, she could see in the distance great blooms of orange plasma discharge that lit up the skies for miles around.
"Looks like it's begun."
"The conjurers are advancing. "
Brieghel glanced out the window, and shook his head. "It's a shame we can't fight alongside them." He sighed, and closed his eyes. "Wish I was born a conjurer."
He was rudely shoved by his lieutenant, Skal, seated across from him.
"Wish you was a conjurer? You're the damned Battlemaster, the man who single-handedly routed a double-platoon of Orthodoxs, who smashed in their archpriest, and you're complainin'?"
Brieghel laughed. "Yeah -- was that a battle! I remember when I finally got'm cornered, and he knelt down to pray to his 'God.' How good it felt to slam my sword clean through his skull!"
Skal roared with laughter, and others soon crowded together inside the small cabin, eager to share their own tales of glory long into the night. Karin tried to humor them, laughing and being raucous, but she couldn't help but notice how much more subdued they all were. In times past, she knew her comrades would have played and tussled so vigorously the train would have jumped the tracks, their boisterous boasts so loud none could ignore them. She almost wept, remembering how brilliant the fire was in their eyes, how deep and rich their voices resonated through space and time. And as the gathering ended far too soon, leaving ample time for a solid sleep, a decision formed in her mind, one that she knew could cost her life.
Later that night, Brieghel woke to find Karin gazing at him.
"What ... what is it?" he asked groggily.
"What does it mean when the conjurers press their lips together?"
Brieghel held Karin's hand tightly, squeezing it more than normal. "Why do you ask?"
She sat for a moment without responding, as the train roared through a tunnel. It shook back and forth, rumbling over tracks over eight hundred years old. As it pulled out into the moonslight, Karin turned to face him, her voice soft with a woman's charm. "Because I often wonder what it would be like to do that to you."
Brieghel chuckled low. "You have been too long from battle to think on such things. It is enough you share my bed with me, nesting near me through the long nights. It is enough you share my counsel, and temper my words when I'm overwrought. Perhaps the conjurers need more than that, after all, their creations come from a different place than our need for battle."
She moved closer to him. "Won't you --"
"Enough!" he hissed. "This is unbecoming a Battlemaster! We have enough distractions already. Now be still, and silent, so I may sleep."
The train rumbled on, signaling its approach with brilliant red flashes and the howl of the high-pitched klaxon. Karin's heart pounded in her chest, as her head swam in a forbidden sea.
The next town was the same as the last; a large parade, followed by an extravagant meal at the main town hall. The conjurers couldn't seem to keep their hands off Brieghel and his men; they were a living sea of congratulatory pats, handshakes and long hugs. As the night wore on, Karin grew afraid and stayed in the shadows, out of sight of the conjurers. She watched as a spectator, and to her it seemed as if her comrades were being squeezed like so many lemons until all that was left was worn, dried pulp.
Brieghel came to her in the middle of it all.
"Why, I feel so giddy!" he exclaimed, resting a heavy hand on his shoulder. "I don't know what it is! I can fight dozens of men for hours on end, but this life of laughter and glee drains all strength and focus out of me."
She flashed her eyes behind him, and sure enough, two conjurers appeared and escorted him back into the party. "We can't very well celebrate without out guest of honor!" they cried. One of them extended a hand to her. "Won't you come with us?"
The pull was strong, but somehow, Karin resisted, leaning heavily against a pillar. "Thank you, no. I ... I feel as though I couldn't move from this spot."
The conjurer smirked, his mouth and eyes overflowing with the whitish mist of his power, and returned to the movable feast.
Later that night, Brieghel put on a show for the conjurers. Two Orthodoxs were brought in, given swords, and promised freedom should they win. In a small ring on a lower level, Brieghel fought them, with all his men and a large group of conjurers watching.
Brieghel wielded a short but thick blade that was deceptively heavy. Ofttimes Karin would pick it up to polish it, and every time would be surprised at how dense the metal was. Yet he danced with it now as if it was a feather. The blade sliced through the air, expertly guided with the slightest of his touch. The two Orthodoxs tried valiantly to fight him, working in concert to wear him down, but wearing the guise of those resigned to death. Brieghel laughed and divined their ruse, but rather than deprive his hosts of a good show, he drew out their demise. He knew it was less than honorable, but he justified it as giving his captives a few more minutes of life, a few more chances of victory.
As Brieghel played out his little drama, Karin scanned the crowd. Several times her eyes started at what she thought were flashes between the conjurers and her comrades, but she never could get a good look. The conjurers stood close by their warrior guests, the women holding men tightly in their arms, the men slinging their arms around the shoulders of their temporary brethren. Her mind worked feverishly to make the connection, to understand what was happening before her, but before she could, Brieghel dispatched his opponents with two quick slices of his blade. Her eyes turned to see him strain for a moment under the weight of his own sword, before he overcame his momentary weakness and hefted it high over his head to the cheers of all around.
As they all slept, Karin stole away from the warrior's encampment, and surreptitiously explored the small city of Cassion. It was a few hours before morning, and many conjurers still leisurely walked the cobblestone streets, laughing and singing. They spoke in a language foreign to her, and it seemed to be mean and harshly spoken.
In the depth of night, her body floated as an animal, as some predator on the hunt. Her gait was strong and proud, but her back was perpetually hunched, as if all her muscles were tensed and ready to propel her body against any foe. And yet, her gaze could match any Meji's, so proud and fierce it was. Her eyes were pearl within white, framed with locks of black and silver, set in a skin of deep umber. In her life she had met many a conjurer that were willing to disregard the edict forbidding carnal relations with their warrior class, once they set eyes on her exalted face, though in truth she always found the conjurers utterly repulsive.
As she came around a corner, she caught an Orthodox jumping over a fence from a small concentration camp. He tried to run, but she caught him by the ankle, and brought him down to the ground. She mounted him and brought the edge of her hand to just below his chin. He struggled, but she was much stronger, and kept him in place.
"Then kill me dammit -- finish the job!"
The urge to kill him was almost overpowering. Her hand pressed up into his trachea, and his breathing grew labored. Yet she fought against her training, struggled to hold her hand at bay so she might interrogate him.
"Why ... why do I want to kill you so?!"
"You are an abomination, you disgusting vrulg," said the young Orthodox, with as much venom as he could muster. A thin man with a webwork of flat, hard muscle about his frame, he wore only a canvas tunic, under which could be seen long scars from many whips. He tried to spit on her face, only to have the spittle fly back into his eye. "You have no mind -- you have no soul!"
She chuckled at his pathetic display of bravado. "No soul? No mind? If that were true, then you would be dead by now."
She dismounted him, and he scurried against the fence, coughing, trying to regain his breath. She sat in front of him. "Now, I need information." She was unsure where to begin, as this seemed tantamount to treason. "Why ... why do we fight each other?"
He wiped his face and sneered at her.
"Have you done something to the conjurers?" she pressed. "Why do they wish us harm?"
He thought for a moment. "Why are you asking me questions, instead of killing me?"
"I've always been ... different. I've kept it to myself all my life, but now, I feel as though something evil is happening to my friends."
"And I should help you? You, and your kind, who all but annihilated us, killing our wives and children, burning our homes? I have been whipped for weeks on end by your kind, as your masters seek to convert us, to break our faith. And I should help you?"
Karin shrugged. "It is true. I can offer you no reason to help me." She steeled her gaze on his eyes. "But sometimes, if I understand your religion correctly, your God offers you an opportunity, and only those of immaculate faith can recognize it, and understand to take advantage of it."
The young Orthodox wrapped his hands around himself, in a futile effort to keep warm. He scanned Karin's face, wondering if she was sincere. He decided to take a chance, nodding his head with approval. "You're smart for a vrulg. I have ... heard things, spoken by your masters as they gloated over our pain. The essence is that you and your friends are being eaten alive."
His words sent a shudder through her soul, because they weren't meant to be heard, and because she knew they were true.
"How? What do you mean?"
"You are all bred to be warriors, bred by conjurers for the past two hundred years. In the past they recycled your dead, turning them into the next generation. But as we have been losing, and been forced to change tactics, the conjurers decided not to allow your kind to exist further. They are extracting the magical energy used to create you, taking it back within them, until all that is left is a fleshy husk." His demeanor softened, and an expression of pity settled on his face. "Your group is one of the last. They kept Brieghel out as long as they could, because he is such a great warrior. But his time has come at last. There is only one more city on your 'victory tour,' before all your friends collapse and die. You are among the last group of warriors still living, and in truth, we Orthodox rejoice in your deaths, as you have caused us much misery and pain."
Karin clenched her fist, and walked a little off. "It ... it was never meant for me to hate the conjurers! Even putting those two words together causes me pain!"
"There shouldn't even be conjurers!" he screamed, throwing his hands in the air. "The word of God has touched this world, but somehow, it is losing to the pagan rituals and mystic traditions. Do you know a thousand years ago that your conjurers were nothing but charlatans; pretenders to power? They were laughed at; their ceremonies regarded as some quaint reminder of heathen days. Then the stars changed, the sun changed, and suddenly, those buffoons started to have power. They started to make things with their minds. All our scientific inquiry, our deductive reasoning, was abandoned in favor of the mystic plasma. The plasma that runs your trains, that powers your reactors, what is called the 'Core of Creation.' When the conjurers are done, there will be no science on this world."
"Why is that bad?"
"All their alchemy depends on the existence of the Core. If that should disappear, then all magic would fail, and we would slip in to a dark ages from which we never would recover. Only science gives us a foundation from which to build, a basis to find cures for diseases, a reason to explore the stars. We need not faith in ourselves, but faith in a God to survive."
Something about his words, his logic, seemed flawed to her, but she wasn't at a point in her understanding to challenge it effectively. "But why, why would they abandon us now?"
The young Orthodox slowly and painfully got to his feet. "Come with me -- the frontline isn't too far. There you will see the situation that has developed."
They ran briskly, stopping for short moments to avoid detection by conjurers. Karin learned his name was Xong, and that he was captured several weeks ago in one of the final raids carried out by the warriors. The conjurers believed he was a member of a secret Orthodox research group investigating ways to disable the Core of Creation. They abducted his family, and executed them one by one in front of him when he couldn't answer their questions.
"The irony is, that I would have given them all they wanted, as soon as they gave me food," said Xong, as they forced open a fence. "I never had much stomach for pain. The shame is that I knew nothing of what they asked. They captured the wrong man, killed the wrong man's family." He angrily punched a wall as they waited in an alley for some conjurers to pass. "Such it is with pagan filth."
As they ran, Karin couldn't help but notice the life the conjurers led. In the windows of their homes, she could catch glimpses of mothers kissing children, of gatherings of friends drinking and laughing. Never in her life, before this victory tour, was there ever any respite for her or her comrades. Every day was filled with blood and battle. She began to realize that she and her kind were merely tools to the conjurers, and she was treated as well as she would treat a dagger.
Eventually, the buildings grew dark and broken, as a fierce battle raged nearby. Orthodox settlements dotted the landscape, settlements Karin remembered fighting over only a few years ago. A thick smoke hung low, made from hundreds of wood-burning furnaces and internal combustion engines. The young Orthodox smiled as they crouched behind a bombed-out overturned trailer.
"You tried to make us move, even burned our homes and slaughtered our children, but we prevailed. The conjurers even now seek to break our will, but our faith is too strong."
"Why are you content to live in such squalor?" asked Karin, voicing a question that had hung over her thoughts from when she first campaigned against the Orthodoxs. "The conjurers all live in such opulence, yet even in your largest cities, all seems grey and old."
"It is progress, my child, progress! Yes, this generation may suffer while our scientists toil, but their inventions will bring better medicine, faster vehicles, more efficient and cleaner reactors. We work for the golden age yet to be."
Karin shook her head. "It is a lot to give up for your faith."
"If you believed," angrily retorted the young Orthodox, "you'd never spew such blasphemy. Come!"
They moved closer to some fighting, and the vessels of the conjurers could be seen in detail, firing bolts of plasma up and over several mountains nearby. Shouts could be heard close, and he led her through some trees until a clearing could be seen. In it, a small party of Orthodoxs advanced, holding squat black guns.
"What ... what are those?"
Xong beamed with pride. "Watch and see."
Three conjurers appeared in front, and the Orthodoxs opened fire. Their weapons shot a hail of bullets, but the conjurers opened their palms and a sphere of energy enveloped their forms. The bullets were deflected or incinerated.
Karin whistled low in approval. "It's no wonder we were pulled off the battlefield! Our swords would be no match for such weapons, and our armor would afford little protection."
"That is the price for no technological advancement. For a time your warriors had us on the run, and scored many defeats. But our scientists finally developed better weapons, and when the conjurers got wind, they pulled all of you off the field, knowing your usefulness to be at an end."
"Then how will they fight?"
"Watch, and learn."
The conjurers advanced slowly, almost casually. When they were closer, and the Orthodoxs paused in their fire, the conjurers raised their hands. An arc of plasma energy ripped through the air, incinerating one of the Orthodoxs. The others stood and bowed their heads, their moths silently intoning some chant. The conjurers launched another bolt, but this time the bolt dissipated before it reached any targets.
"What are your people doing?"
"Praying," answered Xong. "As the conjurers channel their power through their minds, so we can dispel it though our minds."
The two camps stood facing each other, unsure of what to do. Karin nodded to herself. "Stalemate."
"Yes, but only for a short time. We are learning to use our minds to augment our technology."
"Isn't that just another form of magic?"
"It isn't magic, heathen woman, it is faith!" He stressed the last word with a fanatic zeal. He spread wide his arms opened his palms so they faced the sky, and gazed upward to the mystery that gave him strength. "Our strength comes not from belief in the spirits of wood or plant or animal, it comes not from some imaginary gods, or from the conjurers' pathetic 'Core of Creation'! Our strength comes from our faith in the true God, the one who will banish all this pagan belief from the surface of Koor!"
Karin allowed Xong to live and moved slowly back to the main road, her mind working over all she had learned.
Who am I to follow -- what am I to believe? The conjurers made us, but think of us as tools to be discarded. The Orthodoxs regard us as abominations. We are alone now -- perhaps we should just accept death.
She crossed her arms and gazed into the silver moons that circled high above. One appeared smaller and more distant, but always neither appeared without the other. A noise caught her attention, and she drifted back into some tall bushes. A taxi pulled up, and a man and woman conjurer emerged. Karin watched as the man ran his hand down the woman's face, smiled as she smiled, and drew her in for a kiss. They were distant, but Karin saw his lips form the words; 'I love you.' They walked off, and Karin smiled with joy.
How could I let them kill my Brieghel? I have saved his life more times than I can recall -- how is this any different? We are bound by a force stronger than their faith, stronger than the conjurers' alchemy. They may have created us, but we are self-sufficient, and have a right to live. Suddenly a realization filled her mind, and it made her very soul shudder from its strength. I love him, and would defend him until I die.
Karin raced back to the main road, away from the battle, and summoned a taxi. She waved one down, but before she approached the driver, she calmed herself, and feigned weakness and fatigue. After all, there was no disguising that she was a warrior.
"I ... I'm sorry, but my battalion moved on without me! Oh, I am so tired . . ."
The driver grinned greedily, and patted her on her knee. "There, there. You're going to Ulfensaff?"
"Yes," she said, as she could feel a small amount of her strength being sapped by the driver. His mouth foamed over with the mist of power, like a glutton who had forgotten to wipe his mouth. "But the celebration starts soon ..."
"Don't worry, I'll get you there. Ride up front with me!"
The proud golden city of Ulfensaff soon filled the window of the cab. It gleamed with a mystic light, as if a dome of ethereal energy constantly surrounded the city, making it as a literal jewel in the wilderness. The cold that dominated Nůtterlung was absent from Ulfensaff. Instead it was a temperate place, filled with all manner of outdoor festivities. A great ring of brass circled the town, exiting into enormous brass cones at the entrance of the main road. The taxi passed between those massive bells, and Karin was momentarily distracted.
"It's called the 'Horn of Ulfensaff,' and it was built over a thousand years ago, before the stars changed," said the driver, as he noticed Karin gazing at the brass monstrosity. "Ulfensaff once was the seat of power for the three continents; in it sat not only the lords and vassals for the neighboring provinces, but also the largest army known to man at the time. Once every year they are sounded, and it is said the note can be heard a hundred miles away."
"A clarion call to war?" she asked.
He shook his head in a haughty arrogance. "You warriors -- how we love your simple minds! Perhaps once it was a call to war. Now, it is a symbol of the reign of the conjurers."
Karin paid him, and ran headlong to the gathering hall. It was thick with the elite of Ulfensaff, and many of the conjurers came dressed in their most elaborate finery to proclaim their strength. Karin wade through the throngs, feeling the greedy hands of the conjurers grasp at her with every step. When she finally caught sight of Brieghel, she felt as though she had traveled a thousand leagues.
"Karin!" The great Battlemaster lumbered over to her, his eyes heavy with fatigue. "Oh, it is good to see you again. Where did you run off to?"
"That's not important now. Come here." She drew him aside. "Do you love me?"
"What talk is this?" Brieghel tried to move away, but Karin was by now much stronger than he, and she held him in place.
"Do you love me? I know you do. We aren't bound to stay with one mate through the course of our lives. But you have never strayed from me, never held another woman in your arms, and I have never strayed from you."
Brieghel struggled, but eventually gave up. "Why do you ask this now?"
"What would you do if I was in mortal peril, my love? What if a hundred Orthodoxs captured me, and promised to kill me?"
Brieghel clenched his mighty fist. "I would slay them all!"
She ran a hand along his face. "Brieghel, dear love, and I would do the same for you. We are to die shortly, dear one. The conjurers have decided we are no longer of use to them --"
"What lunacy is this? We gave our lives for them, and they have always repaid us!"
"I know this s difficult to hear, because our genetic training runs deep. But know this; they mean to kill me. How is it I am stronger than you now? Can you even lift your sword? Try and move my arm."
Brieghel struggled against her, trying to push or pull her arm, all to no avail.
"You, Battlemaster, unable to move little Karin's arm? You who could throw Orthodox men hundreds of meters, who could lift their foul engines high over his head, now cannot move his woman's arm? You know this is the work of conjurers."
"Yes ... but ..."
"All you need to think of is that I am in peril. That this is the last stop on our victory tour, and there will be no other. They mean to kill me, Brieghel, and only you can stop them."
"But ... how? If they have siphoned out all my strength, how can I even wield my sword?"
She pulled him close, whispering in his ear, as some of the conjurers began to grow suspicious. "The conjurers use the power of the Core of Creation by means of their minds. The Orthodoxs are using their minds to stop that power, by having faith in their God. You must have faith, Brieghel."
"Faith in what? I am neither conjurer nor Orthodox."
"No, you are neither. You are mine, and I am yours. You must have faith in our love."
Brieghel lumbered over to the main table, on which his sword lay in a prominent place. Six warriors had to lay it there, and even they struggled against its weight. Brieghel ran his hand along the leather-clad hilt, and scanned the room.
For the first time, his eyes were truly opened. He saw what was being done to his warriors, how the conjurers sidled up to them, slew their wills with saccharin words, all while siphoning off their strength. Brieghel glanced back at Karin, who now seemed older than he had remembered. She smiled gently, and clasped her hands around the back of his neck.
"Let me show you how much I love thee ..."
She pulled his head down, and kissed him. The entire room grew silent, as all turned to watch on the display. Never before had any of the warrior class shown such affection, in the manner of the conjurers. When she released him, Brieghel roared with joy, and Karin with him. In a blindingly quick motion he swiped his sword off the table and raised it high in the air. Karin grabbed a sword as well, and they stood, back to back, as the conjurers around them grew more and more anxious. Meji Dullmord came angrily before Brieghel and Karin, his hands crackling with plasma energy.
"I demand to know what you are doing!"
"I have learned a new word today," boomed Brieghel, "and this word is 'love!' Let me show you all its power!"
Brieghel brought his massive blade down quicker than the eye could blink, splitting the Meji's head in two. The warriors screamed in terror and confusion, but remained motionless, unable to either join Brieghel and Karin, or stand against them. But it was of little concern, as Brieghel and Karin's blades rose and fell many times that night, splitting open the heads of the conjurers, drowning them in their own blood. The conjurers tried to fight them, hurling bolt after bolt of brilliant death from their withered hands, but nothing could sever the bond between Karin and Brieghel, nothing could cool their passionate fire. And when they had claimed victory and their fellow warriors looked on them in astonishment, Brieghel gathered them around and said;
"The conjurers have abandoned us, and the Orthodoxs hate us. Perhaps neither has the right to rule this world. Tonight, we shall rest, for tomorrow the balance of power shall be shifted!"
Karin grabbed Brieghel's hand, and together they ran to the cathedral in which the Horn of Ulfensaff began. She leaned down, and placed her mouth in the mouthpiece, and motioned Brieghel to do the same. They each took a mighty breath, and together sounded a note that shook the foundations of the world of Koor.
Kevin Gordon has always been enamored with science fiction, technology and art. He graduated from Grinnell College with a Fine Art/English double major, and has successfully shown and sold his artwork in the years since. He began writing songs and poems in his twenties, progressing eventually to writing five novels and numerous short stories. Kevin has been published in various print and online periodicals, from Escape Velocity to Kalkion.
Kevin's website is http://www.orionblues.com
Published by permission of the author.