Head on the Table

Sarcasm, satire and cartoons

Domtar Meets the Bone Sandwich

Written By: Sy - Jul• 30•11

Each swing of his battle hammer brought the smaller man closer to death, for the strong young warrior’s arm was beginning to tire while his savage, hulking adversary seemed possessed of limitless strength.

The two combatants squared off beyond the iron bars of a makeshift arena carved into the rock of a mountainside. Originally built as a holding pen for livestock, feeding troughs still stood along the rear wall, but that use had long ago, faded.

The warrior, a wiry desert dweller, knew from the beginning, however, that this was not a contest of skill, but a rather a slaughter that he had been cast into. He was armed only with a hammer  and dressed in cloth tunic and loin cloth, while the brute he faced carried shield and short broadsword and wore steel gauntlets, helmet and breastplate.

Outside of the bars of the pen, where the two fought, the animalistic hoots of about sixty other savages  filled the young warriors ears and rose in pitch as he began to falter, but while his physical reserves drained, his courage remained unyielding. He feared not death nor the foe he faced. Only loathing crowded into his heart as he sized up the finalness of his situation.

He paced himself, waiting for an opening through which to strike at his larger, clumsier opponent, but so far had had no luck in penetrating passed the sizable shield and short broad sword that the other bore.

Then, suddenly the savage attempted to rush in, sword held high. The young warrior dropped to the ground, and pivoting on his arm drove the flat of his boot into the brute’s kneecap. He then rolled out of the way as the huge savage came crashing to the floor, howling in pain. He aimed his hammer at his foe’s head, but managed only a glancing blow. It was enough, however to stun his adversary long enough for the young fighter to pull the sword from it’s hand

The warrior, then rose to his feet with his back braced against the dirt wall side of the pen. The crowd outside flung the iron gate open and rushed in in a fury. The victor cursed aloud and swung the sword to keep them at bay, and though he delivered some damage, eventually the weapon was wrenched from his grip and powerful hands threw him to the ground where his body was kicked and stomped until he lay naught but a lifeless form.

 

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High in the Trygon Mountains, Chief Sooyun of the Hungari clan was holding a feast for four honored guests from the far west.

All four were mercenary soldiers, skilled swordsmen and battle of veterans of varied degrees. Tas and Aric both descended from desert clans were dusky skinned Ushimites, wiry and quick. Kurstav was a towering, light skinned, red haired Norgurian, born of hearty mountain folk, a broad shouldered giant. Their leader, Domtar, dark haired and bronze skinned, not as imposing as Kurstav, but almost as tall and thickly muscled, came from the forests of Cobania.

News of these foreigners had circulated through the mountain tribes for weeks, ever since their exploits in the neighboring desert had become known, making them into local folk heroes.

Originally their group had numbered seven, but three lost their lives to violent encounters over the last several months. They others were now en route back to their homelands in the west when the Hungari chieftan insisted that they accept his hospitality and to rest at his village for a few days.

They sat around the evening bonfire alongside of the chieftan as the shadows of ceremonial dancers played at their feet. Their horses had been rested and in the morning they were to continue their journey home.

“Will you be taking the high ground, my friends?” the chief inquired of them.

“No.” Domtar answered, we have yet to see the valley and I grow tired of the chill of these mountains.

“Then I would warn you away.” the chieftan answered, “for no one can travel safely through the valley.”

“A savage tribe?” Domtar queried.

“No.” the chief answered, “There is an evil in the valley, a strange glow that can be seen for miles, perhaps the eyes of the demons who live there, we do not know, but we do know that there are no people in the valley and that no travelers who enter ever leave, but before you think me superstitious and a believer in children’s tales, let me tell you how I know this to be true.”

“It was this valley demon,” the chief went on, “who took the lives of twenty of our elite fighters and the sanity of my older brother who then had to be put to death by the hand of our father, who died a broken man because of this. It was my brother who would now sit upon this throne in place of me had he not encountered the horror of that valley.”

“Near thirty years have passed since then. It began when my brother did not want to marry the girl who had been chosen for him, as is our custom among the rulers, and instead fell in love with a common girl and then found that she was with his child.

Our father became furious and demanded that no one know of the situation and insisted that the child not be acknowledged and that my brother would marry who had been deemed for him to marry. My brother instead, in a fit of foolish youthful rage, fled with his lover into the valley to spite our father.

When this was discovered, our father sent twenty-five sturdy warriors  to bring him back, but after 8 days all that returned were five riderless mounts.

We stormed the valley with six-hundred men, me a lad of fifteen at my father’s side, and after three days ride we came to the site of their battle. Weapons were strewn about and grass and bushes trampled, but there were no bodies or survivors to be found.

Then we heard sobs coming from further up the side of the mountain. It was there that we found my brother. He had dug a trench with his bare hands, his fingers bloody and worn down to the bone. He was mad and babbling and had, apparently been trying to hide from whatever hideous presence he had encountered.

We brought him back to our village where the medicine men tried to restore his mind, but even their magic was not strong enough.

They prepared a special potion that would end his life and torment in this world, but it would have to be administered at the place where he had lost his mind, they told my father, or he would not be whole in the next world.

We returned to the valley, where my father administered the potion to him and laid his body to rest, after which we rode back in silence and the incident was never spoken of again.”

The chief thought, searchingly, for a moment then turned to Domtar, “What evil could take the lives of twenty-five men and the sanity of another? I have gone into the valley with many warriors to visit my brother’s grave from time to time, and have found nothing, but yet the strange glow can still be seen now and again.”

“I am sorry to hear of the fate of you brother, and the grief of your father.” Domtar replied with compassion, “but your story is indeed intriguing.” he said.

The following morn Domtar and his men resumed the trek back to their homelands. They discussed the chief’s warning but in the end decided that the lure of the valley’s mystery was too great for men such as they to ignore.

Domtar knew also how local legends and even personal memories could become exaggerated over time. Was it was it really twenty-five warriors or perhaps only five to ten. A smaller party could have indeed fallen prey to a larger group of hostiles who, them selves may have been passing through the valley.

He had no such convenient answers, though, for the mysterious light the chief had mentioned, nor could he conjure up any convincing reason for the older brother’s loss of sanity, unless having his lover captured and taken away from him had cast him into inconsolable grief. “Perhaps.” he thought.

In any case, they would keep their eyes and ears on the alert, as usual. Domtar, for one, felt very comfortable traveling through the forest of the valley. It was not unlike his homeland and in such an environment he trusted his instincts more than in any other.

The foursome planned a steady descent down the mountainside. The forest was rather dense, but the sounds were inviting. The twittering of birds and the trickling of water could be heard as they made their way amongst the trees.

The beginning of their third day of travel had brought them to the flat, grassy land at the bottom of the basin. They traveled alongside a shallow stream, still noticing no sign of any life other than birds, rabbits and boars.

By that evening they come upon the pool from which the stream they were following, emanated, a large pond created by a natural spring.

The men decided to camp out in a clearing a short ways from the pond. Domtar rode ahead to survey the surrounding  forest while the others stopped to fill their canteens and allow their mounts to slake their thirst.

Domtar had just turned his steed around and was heading back to join the others, when he heard a slight movement in the bushes and instinctively drew his sword.

 

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Chief Sooyun had watched the valley forest every evening since Domtar and his men had left the village, and on this night his worst fears came to pass. In the center of the valley a blaze of white light appeared. It lingered briefly, then vanished as quickly as it had come.

He mouthed a silent prayer to his god then returned to his hut.

 

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Domtar, sluggishly and painfully opened his eyes.  His eyelids felt heavy and stubbornly clung to the skin beneath them. His body was stiff and ached in every joint.  Around him the chipper sounds of the morning forest rang in his ears.

Nearby his horse rested by a trickling stream.  He felt as if he had been unconcious for more than a single night. His gut was tight from hunger and his palate dry as parchment.

He struggled over to the stream to drink, then withdrew some dried meat and bread from his saddle bag.  He sat in the cool grass with his back against a tree and ate.

Scenes of the other night began to come back to him. He recalled hearing the movement in the bushes just before being blinded by a bright light. He laid low in the saddle, wrapping the reigns around his arm and swung his sword wildly. He remembered cutting flesh and bone and hearing screaming, but that was all. Apparently the others had succumbed to the attack or had made off in another direction. He needed to return to the scene to see what he could find out.

As that thought crossed his mind, he finally noticed a small dart in his thigh. He pulled the dart free and examined it, obviously there had been some sort of drug on the dart. The only races he knew of that employed such weapons were primitive tribes such as the Madaris of the southern forests or the D’rubus of the Jamora Peninsula.

He knew now that this was not a demon that they were dealing with but rather an  unsophisticated people, a clever and isolated one who had learned to make good use of their surroundings.

The other thing that Domtar was sure of was that their hiding place would not be that difficult to find. His trained eye could now easily follow their trail from the site of the attack. They attacked at night so they could employ the use their blinding light weapon. In the daytime he was quite certain that they would be within their stronghold and that their fresh tracks would unerringly lead him there.

If they had taken or killed his friends, then they had better hope that whatever god they groveled to would grant them mercy in the afterlife, because they would receive none from him. Most of the killing that was delivered by Domtar’s hand was quick and a result of his trade, but when it took on a personal aspect, he had been known to disable men in horrific ways, to watch them die slow and exceedingly painful deaths.

With that thought in mind Domtar watched his chest rise as he breathed in heavy breaths of air and felt new vigor curse through his re-hydrated body. He rose and pulled himself atop his steed. He looked at the sun to get his bearings and then slowly began making his way back through the forest, this time maintaining a path higher up the slope of the mountain.

Within a few hours he could see the pond by which they had stopped to camp. He made a low whistle and saw Kurstav’s stallion break through the brush across the pond and head in his direction. He took both horses to a point in the trees above the valley floor, and then descended on foot, knowing now that his friends were either certainly dead or being held captive nearby.

While making his way down the slope Domtar sidestepped what, at first, he thought to be a gopher or large rodent hole, but then he felt an unnatural rush of air issue from it.  Upon closer examination he saw that the hole was, in fact, a man-made tube set into the ground and overgrown with grass. There now seemed to be more to these savages than originally he had thought.

As Domtar scanned the mountainside, his eyes fell upon a recess that stood about six feet high and was overgrown with tree roots. Something about it did not seem natural.

He set about to cutting away the tree roots enough to enter the recess which extended a few feet inward. He began to jab at the dirt at the rear of the recess and hit what felt like wood. He scraped away around the edges with his dirk until he had uncovered what looked to be the outline of a doorway. He probed further looking for some sort of handle and was rewarded when he came across a heavy iron bar set into the wood itself.  Leery of a booby trap, he retrieved some rope from his horse and tied it about the bar, he then cast the rope around a tree and tied it to the saddle. He prompted his horse to pull. The handle pulled outward without incident and the door pivoted, haltingly, open on a center axis.

Questions now abounded in his mind. He released the rope, approached and peered through the doorway. A surprisingly large corridor, approx eight feet wide by eight feet high ran to the right and the left of the doorway and Domtar had to drop down about four feet to enter.

No sounds could be heard from either direction, but Domtar was certain that he had found these people’s lair and that this corridor would lead him to them, but which way to go, he wondered.

As he stood there, the door next to his head swung closed.

“A way in.” he thought, “but not out.”

The hallway, however was still dimly lit, as light filtered in through regularly placed air shafts.

Domtar picked a direction and proceeded, cautiously, ahead.

 

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Domtar was notching the wall as he went, to mark his path, so as not to get hopelessly lost, also perhaps he might be able to coax the door open through which he entered, if it came to that.

Within about a hundred feet the corridor began to ramp downward toward an intersecting tunnel, beyond which stood an arched doorway with a wooden door. Domtar proceeded ahead, hoping that the doorway would lead into the main part of their hideout.

He listened intently for sounds of people within, but heard nothing. He tested the door, applying even force with his shoulder while turning the knob. The door, though stiff, opened inward.

Before him lay a small room approx twelve by thirty feet with with another such door at the opposite end. To the left and right, benches were carved into the stone walls with garment and weapon hooks set above them, and tables stood before the benches. It was obvious that the room had not been used for quite some time.

Domtar proceeded across the room, but at the midway point a portion of stone floor beneath his feet sunk and an impenetrable iron gate fell from the ceiling blocking the doorway through which he had just come. Domtar sprung forward and raced toward the door at the other end, but as his foot left the sunken stone, another iron gate threatened to fall blocking his exit.

Fortunately the mechanism was old and the gate stuck momentarily before dropping, allowing Domtar’s headlong rush to carry him through with inches to spare.

“By the gods, what is this place?” Domtar swore. He continued along several feet ahead to a point where the corridor that he was in intersected with another. He decided to stay the course straight ahead instead of turning to the left or right. His choice brought him to an ascending stone staircase a dozen steps high, he gingerly made his way up.

When he reached the top, he found himself in a circular room with seven staircases, four leading up to other doors while the three between them, including the one that he had emerged from lead downward.

After examining and finding no discernable difference between them he made a random choice and proceeded up one. Just as he reached the fifth stair he felt it give way and the entire staircase begin to crumble, he turned and leaped back toward the floor, barely catching the edge with his fingertips. Moments later he heard the slabs of stone crash into the pit beneath him.

Domtar was able to pull himself up enough to get his elbow upon the floor of the room, and just as he brought his head up he saw a hooded figure in a dark robe cross the room and proceed up one of the other staircases.

Domtar pulled himself up upon the floor and raced up the staircase after the figure, he came through the door at the top and saw the figure turn a corner in the corridor about twenty feet ahead. Domtar raced to catch up to him.

For several minutes the chase continued through multiple turns with the cloaked figure staying just ahead.

Eventually the figure disappeared through a doorway.  Domtar followed and found himself in a room approx 40 ft square. Two more doors stood on the wall across the room, directly in front of him.  The cloaked figure did not go through either door, but rather pushed on the wall between the doors, revealing a secret panel, and went up a staircase behind it.

Domtar raced to catch up with him and bounded up the stairway behind the panel which turned to the right about ten stairs up and went up for another ten steps. At the top was another heavy wooden door, bolted from the side on which Domtar stood. The cloaked figure was nowhere to be seen.

Through the door, Domtar heard the sounds of a struggle and loud cursing. “Kurstav!” he swore.

He threw open the bolts on the door and pushed it inward. He now had entered a barracks style hallway, well lit with oil lamps set upon the walls and with rooms lining each side. Several feet to his right four hairless, but otherwise, apelike savages, clad only in leather loincloths had Kurstav bound and manacled with chains and were attempting to drag him, kicking and swearing down the hallway. None of them were armed, but Domtar could see that they all had sharpened teeth and fingernails.

Domtar’s rage rose to a fevered pitch. Now back in his element he charged the savages.

With bared teeth they turned to meet his advance.

As the first savage swung a clawed hand at him, Domtar severed the arm with a deft sword stroke and imbedded his dirk in the creature’s skull with one fluid movement, as the beast slunk to the ground he had already cut through the throat of the one behind.

Domtar then cast aside his sword and with focused ferocity, engaged the remaining two savages with his dirk. Ignoring the slashing of their pointy fingernails, he delivered fatal blows to each within moments, slashing through the jugular of one and  stabbing into the chest of the second.

He then turned his attention to his friend’s shackles. Kurstav’s hands were manacled and chained to a bar behind his back that was inserted lengthwise through loops attached to a leather belt encircling his waist. His feet were also cuffed together. The sight only served to heighten Domtar’s bloodlust.

Domtar removed the retaining pins that held the restraints in place. “Where are the others?” he asked.

“Taken.” Kurstav replied, “Marec was taken yesterday morning, and Arec last night, to where I can only guess.”

Domtar looked broodingly at the carnage he had just wrought. “Be it only their blood, or ours as well, before I leave this cursed place, we will wash every hallway the same as this one.”

Kurstav nodded in agreement.

Domtar handed Kurstav the dirk and retrieved his sword for himself. The pair moved cautiously down the hall, until they came to a large dining hall filled with benches and tables. The hall extended to a balcony and overlooked another dining hall where sixty to seventy more of the savages milled about in anticipation of a meal.

Across the balcony was a short hallway which Domtar was sure led to the kitchen for the smell of burning wood could be detected. The pair slunk across the balcony and through the short hallway, emerging on the other side, they surprised a worker stirring a large soup pot. Over a cutting table  hung human arms and legs. Domtar immediately recognized the tattoos.

Before the worker could call out, Kurstav silenced her with a mallet-like blow to the head. They  then spied a pile of discarded weapons, some perhaps centuries old, in a corner. Kurstav selected a sword and a spear tipped ax, the  fashion of which he had never seen before

They crossed the kitchen and entered a slaughter room located behind it. Large hooks hung  and crimson stained drainage troughs stood within the room and a livestock ramp intruded through a opening on the other wall.
To Domtar and Kurstav this meant that they had found a way out, for surely there must be a entrance through which livestock could be brought in. They decided to scout this exit and once they found it they could set themselves to the task of avenging their fallen brothers. If they survived they would then alert the mountain tribes to the hiding place of these savages, but not until these beasts had first felt their wrath.

As they approached the ramp, they heard footsteps coming through the doorway on the other end. They flanked the door and waited. A minute later a large savage, standing over six and a half feet, and clad in battle garb came through the opening. He wore a leather, mail covered, tunic and a weapon belt. In his hand he carried a freshly stained battle ax. Domtar had no doubt that this one was the executioner.

After the primitive took a few steps into the room, Domtar stabbed his sword through it’s thigh which caused the beast to howl in pain and sink to the ground, he then expertly carved off a portion of it’s scalp as it fell and hacked off it’s hand as it grabbed for a weapon from it’s belt

Kurstav crushed the beast’s skull with his ax to stop it’s howling, knowing that Domtar ‘s single minded lust for revenge had probably already alerted the other savages.

He was right, the mob below had heard the cries and was already getting loud. Domtar and Kurstav heard them coming, spilling into the upper dining area. Domtar went into the kitchen, grabbed a lit oil lamp and flung it at the doorway, the oil spilled out setting the floor afire. He then kicked over a large barrel of oil, engulfing the room in flames

They raced through the opening on the other side of the slaughter room, up the livestock ramp and found themselves in a holding pen at the other end. The pen took up about half of the next room. The gate at the other end of the pen stood open, but to their left other savages were already entering through another doorway. Across the room, directly before them,  stood an altar carved into the rock and flanked by two hallways, one on either side. One surely led to the outside.

Domtar and Kurstav raced through the pen and engaged the oncoming savages, and though they felled the foremost, the others kept crowding toward them. The on-rush forced Domtar up against the altar,  his back braced against it wile Kurstav was being backed up down one of the tunnels, swinging his ax, ferociously as he went.

As Domtar swung his sword and pushed his way along the altar toward Kurstav, he felt a section of stone behind him shift inward. A chute opened up that sent him tumbling down it along with three of the savages. A heavy stone then fell into place sealing the entrance and crushing another savage who was close behind.

“No.” Kurstav shouted out, swinging his ax wildly to keep the savages at bay, but they kept crowding in forcing him down the hallway directly behind him. He backed up, dealing death and pain as he went.

Facing death was nothing new to Kurstav, but he deemed it an insult by the gods to lose his life in these hell-like tunnels and to have his remains cast to near mindless primitives. He spat curses, condemning their unholy souls to hell. He backed further and further down the hallway

Then, something unexpected happened. Without warning, an iron gate fell before Kurstav, trapping two of the primitives on his side and the others on the other side. He drove the flat of his boot into the midsection of one, stunning and knocking it backward into the bars of the gate, while he impaled the other with the spearhead of his axe.

Kurstav took a step back as the savage he kicked into the bars struggled to rise, he then came down full force once again with the flat of his boot, this time driving it’s head into the gate with such ferocity that it’s skull was penetrated by the bar and the primitive’s cranial contents spilled onto it’s howling brethren on the other side.

Thankful for the turn of events, Kurstav rested with his back against the wall of the tunnel. He was then startled by a voice behind him and turned to see a tall, thin figure in a dark hooded robe.

 

 

 

When the chute opened under Domtar, he grabbed the closest beast in a choke hold and wrestled it under him as they fell, hoping to have it’s body absorb the impact of whatever they might land upon.

They fell several feet in total darkness before abruptly hitting the dirt floor at the bottom. Domtar had succeeded in cushioning his fall with the body of the primitive, who now lay lifeless beneath him. The other two came crashing down on top of him. Domtar grabbed at one, and finding it’s windpipe, brutally choked the life from it.

The remaining savage was in a panic, frantically moving about in the dark, probably looking for a way out. Domtar stayed still until he felt the beast brush by him, he encircled it body with his muscular arm and plunged his dagger into it until it went limp.

Domtar now began to feel about the dirt walls of the room, though he could not see, he could feel air coming in from somewhere. He moved along the wall until he came to an opening. It was a tunnel, a worm hole actually, and he had to crawl to get through it, but this was the source of the air flow and seemed to be the only way out, even though ahead of him he still could not discern a glint of light.

Then several feet into the hole he felt the sides fall away and knew that he had now entered another room.

He pulled himself  ree of  the wormhole and found that he had enough room overhead to stand. He felt along the wall to the first corner and then the second. When he reached the opposite wall from where he had started, he recoiled and swung his sword, for before him he had felt the presence of another figure standing against the wall. This one surely dressed in battle armor.

“Identify yourself.” Domtar commanded, but there was no response.

Domtar stepped closer reached out his hand and clutched the other man’s shoulder. The person stood stiff and rigid. Domtar gave the figure a push and it toppled over, landing with a clank of armor.

Domtar put his hand against the wall once again and this time, was greeted by the feel of metal. It felt to him like a sizable door hinge, and indeed it was.

He felt his way passed the hinge to the door itself until he found the handle, a giant ring. He pulled upon it to no avail, then he put the weight of his body into the door and pushed. It moved and a strange glow of reddish light began to seep into where he was standing.

Beyond the door stood an enormous room and the sight that greeted him was more macabre than any he had witnessed in all of his travels.

 

 

Kurstav curiously eyed the dark robed figure. “Is it you who dropped this iron gate from the ceiling?”

“Yes.” the man answered. “Welcome to my home.”

“I am indebted to you sir, but if you know the designs of this labyrinth then you must help me to find my friend, he disappeared into a hole before the altar that stands at the entrance to this tunnel.”

The man took a few seconds to answer, and then said “I know of no such passage, but still, that does not mean that I will not try to help you, so please, come with me and we will plan our actions.”

Kurstav followed the man down a side corridor to a dead end, where the man pushed on a section of wall, another hidden doorway opened into a room outfitted as living quarters with grand and ornate tables and chairs. Once inside the room the man bolted the door shut. “We are safe now he said, come with me, I will show you something.”

Suspicious, Kurstav kept his ax at the ready and followed close behind into another chamber, an expansive bedroom with an enormous golden canopy bed and fine and intricately carved rosewood furniture.

On the walls hung richly embroidered tapestries as well as a thick, colorful carpeting upon the floor.

The man crossed the room and went up another staircase which led to a observation room overlooking the tunnel where the savages still milled about. He began to turn a wheel set into the wall and the gate lifted letting the beasts pass through into the tunnels.

“They will look for you in the halls for while, before returning to the barracks. Hopefully some of them will wander into the lower levels where they’ll fall into death traps or get hopelessly lost.

From secret rooms such as this one, I have watched some of them go mad down there, but even I do not venture that far anymore. It is much too dangerous and the possibility of getting lost still exists, even for me.

“So are you trying to tell me that my friend may be dead as we speak?” Kurstav asked.

“I cannot say, but for the moment we can do nothing. I know not of any such trap by the altar and where it may lead. We can look below once the savages have gone back to their quarters.”

“So who are you, and how is it that you came to be here?” Kurstav asked.

“I suspect the same way that you did. Waylaid by those damned beasts with those blinding stones.”

“But how is it that primitives such as they should possess such a weapon?”

“By chance.” the man said, “When they happened upon this tomb many generations ago. How, it is hard to say, but one such as yourself, who also, years ago, escaped into these tunnels told me how they employ them. The stones are buried in leather covered boxes around the spring. The savages hid in the bushes and pull the lids of the boxes open with ropes that are attached to them. They shield their own eyes and then drop the lids closed.

Then, while their victims are unable to see, they attack them with drug dipped darts, weapons and bare hands, thus they don’t risk getting hurt themselves I suppose. He happened to be standing behind a box and saw it open before being blinded and attacked himself, but that man, like others before and after him, and you too I am sure, went off looking for a way out of this tomb never to return.”

“Tomb?” Kurstav said.

“Yes, there are pictures and words written in some ancient tongue that can be found etched into the walls throughout this monstrosity. I have spent years deciphering their meaning.

They tell of a long ago race whose king commanded that his burial place be carved into and beneath the rock of these mountains.

Thousands of workers were condemned to it’s insides never to see the light of day again. Children were born and families were raised down here only to toil their entire lives in these tunnels and then to be buried with their ruler when he expired, for no one, not guards nor architects nor worker, were ever allowed out once they had viewed even the smallest glimpse of inside or entrance.

Along with building the tomb and living quarters, their time was also spent making hidden death traps and inescapable mazes designed to protect the contents of the king’s chambers.

The pictures show how the king and his queen were laid to rest in a richly furnished bed chamber upon a golden bed and how beneath the bedroom lies a treasure room containing incalculable wealth.

The chamber in which we now sit is but a ruse. A phony room made to look like a royal bed chamber, but which beneath lies, not a room of treasure, but a room of death as two of my comrades found out when we first came upon this place.”

“And how long ago might that be?” Kurstav asked.

“I have no real idea, myself, how long I have been here.” the man said, pulling down his hood and revealing a deep lined, emaciated, ghostly skinned face. “All I know is that when I first came here I was a young man. A warrior full of youthful hope, pride and courage, but I have been in the bowels of this tomb for so long that the light of day and crisp smell of fresh air are but distant memories to me.”

“Then how is it that you have been able to survive?”

“Ah, because,” the man went on, “this place was built to sustain life as well as to preserve the dead. There are fresh springs down here as well as gardens that grow, edible, but malformed vegetables, probably because they have only indirect light brought down through mirrored shafts or provided by more of those strange glowing crystals.”

“And how is it that you came to travel through this valley?”  Kurstav asked.

“We were on a mission. There were twenty-five of us, all young Hungari warriors, and as I told you we were set upon at night. We woke sometime later, spread out through different barracks rooms above.”

Kurstav, now knew that this man was one of the twenty-five men who were sent to bring back the young Soochin. He listened intently to the rest of the tale.

“The barracks rooms, however are not built to be cells, the labyrinth itself is the cell. Some of us were able to remove the hinges on the doors and escape into the halls. By this time only eight of us remained.

We had no idea how we had come to be here, or how to get out. We found our weapons in a pile in one of the empty rooms and we engaged the beasts in combat. They were unskilled, but we were outnumbered, we fought as we retreated further and further into the mazes, eventually they turned back and left us.

We searched for ways out, and as we did we came upon death traps that claimed us, man after man, until three remained. We then came to find this room via a passageway from a lower level. The hidden door through which I brought you, we discovered after we had come here through the lower entrance. Further exploration of this chamber, however, was responsible for the deaths of my other two comrades. Since then, I have been the lone survivor.

Some others who escaped down these tunnels I was not able to help, for I was not aware of their presence until they were well passed the gate, or they went down the other tunnel where there is no gate.  I have seen men torn limb from limb when the creatures caught up to them as I stood by in secret, powerless to help.

Some others went off in search of the king’s treasure even though I  warned them of the guardians, but they would not be dissuaded.”

“The guardians?” Kurstav asked.

“Yes, along with the king are buried his guard and subjects in a mummified state, but also the writings talk of three otherworldly guardians, each one more powerful than the one before it, who would take and commit a man’s soul to hell, were he even to attempt to enter the king’s final resting place. So, I warn you now, as I have warned them.”

“I am interested only in finding my friend,” Kurstav said, “I would ask of you one more question, however.  If I am correct, then you must be one of the twenty-five Hungari who disappeared almost thirty years ago when you were dispatched to bring back the young Soochin. Your tale is legend throughout the mountain villages.

His brother, Sooyun, is now Grand Chieftan and, personally told us the tale. What still haunts him even now is how Soochin was discovered in this valley deprived of his sanity.”

Kurstav then went on to relate the entire story, as told to him by the chief. “and though this place is hellish in it’s own regard, I have seen nothing that could have accounted for such an occurance. What is it, then, that could have driven him passed the point of rational thought?”

“You are correct.” the man answered. “I am one of the twenty-five who were dispatched to bring back the young prince. Until now I did not know that he had escaped from this prison. The last I saw of him, he was being dragged down the hall by four of the beasts, same as the others before him.”

“So, then, even you do not know what befell him.” Kurstav asserted.

“Oh yes, I do know,” the Hungari replied grimly, “for I was witness to it.”

 

 

Domtar stood in wonder as he took in the scene before him, for a more macabre sight he had never encountered.

Hundreds of soldiers, mummified in the natural state filled a cavern before him. Hundreds in full battle garb sat atop their mummified steeds as if going off to war, while hundreds more stood on foot, or in chariots, poised in different poses, weapons at the ready.

Green foliage dotted the cavern floor and far to the back was a line of trees and bushes, making it look as if the army had emerged from the forest.

In the corners of the cavern enormous red crystals stood beneath shafts that Domtar imagined went to the surface allowing air and sunlight to come in. The crystals held and magnified this light and gave the room an eerie glow.

Domtar stared close at the face of one of the soldiers, his skin still looked lifelike and supple to the feel, but was hard and brittle to the touch. Out of curiousity Domtar rapped the face of a soldier with the hilt of his sword, the skin cracked and fell away, revealing the muscle and bone beneath.

Domtar walked slowly between the motionless figures, expecting at any moment for one of them to spring to life. None did.

Beyond the rows of soldiers, Domtar encountered the tents of the officers. Inside, decorated military leaders and statesmen were being catered to by lovely young women and soft featured boys, displaying for eternity a particular act of pleasure or subservience.

The far end of the cavern curved downward as if you were walking over a hill, grass and dirt at your feet and a row of trees before you.

Domtar made his way through the trees and emerged in front of a brick and mortar wall, resembling that of a castle. He followed along the wall until he came to a set of grand wooden doors flanked by four guardsmen armed with spears, two on each side. The doors were adorned with studs of precious metals and jewels. He had already suspected that he was in the bowels of an ancient tomb. He had seen this practice before but never on a scale of this enormity, and now he was sure that he had stumbled upon it’s prized occupant.

Domtar eyed the guards suspiciously. The presence of the mummies still made his hairs stand on end and he also knew that if this was the royal resting place that it was sure to abound with hidden dangers. He cautiously removed one of the spears from a guard’s hand and tested it. It was hefty and solid.

Leery of a booby trap, Domtar stood back and placed the butt of the spear against one of the doors. He pushed slowly, applying steady force, the door, smoothly glided open.

Inside he heard a voice call out. “Do we have a visitor? Yes, I believe we do, and who might you be, my good man?”

 

 

The old Hungari sat on the edge of the bed and began to tell his tale to Kurstav.

“How long I lay unresponsive after the initial attack by the poisoned darts I do not know. Faintly, through the fog in my brain, I heard the screaming of a woman and of some of the other men. Stiffly and through much pain, I rose and peered through the small window on the door of my room and into the hallway.

There the beasts had pulled the young princes’ pregnant lover into the hallway and were toying with her, pushing her back and forth between them, embracing her and sniffing at her skin. She screamed in terror as the prince screamed at them from inside of his locked room.

I joined in, banging at the inside of my door, shouting and trying in vain to open it.

Knowing the woman was his, the beasts stopped in front of his room taunting him with their mannerisms, and then they did the unthinkable, using their rakish hands they laid open the belly of the woman and tore the infant from her womb. They then tore it limb from limb and devoured it before his eyes.

At that time, one who must have been their leader came down the hall with some others. He began to vigorously beat upon the first four in a fury with his fists, perhaps because they had deprived him of the delicacy of newborn flesh, then he stopped.

He stopped because he heard the crying of a second infant. She was carrying twins. He bent down and wrenched the second child from the womb. Holding the newborn in his unholy hand he waved the others away from the woman, who lay slowly bleeding to death at their feet and instructed them to bring another of the men, and though the other soldier fought valiantly when they opened the door to his room, they were upon him as animals would be. Tearing at his flesh and pounding him with their fists they brought him down and dragged him down the hallway.

For many more hours the cries of the infant could be heard down the hallway. Perhaps they were saving it for some special ceremony.

During this time, the princes woman lay groaning in pain, until she eventually laid still. All the while the prince was howling, screaming and beating at the inside of his door. When they came to take the woman, they paid him no mind, but later, they came back for the prince, dragging him away and that was last that was seen of him.”

“I now understand.” Kurstav said. “To this day your people believe that the young prince dug that pit with his bare hands out of terror, in an effort to escape some horrific demon or beast, but that was not the case, he was not trying to escape, instead he was desperately trying to get back in, hoping to somehow, in his madness, save the life of his other child. The savages may have had some primal belief that prevents them from eating the flesh of a person gone mad, but whatever the reason, they felt compelled to discard him.”

“I have not the stomach to sit here any longer.”  Kurstav said, rising, “Come we will find my friend and along the way, will spill the blood of as many of these savages as we encounter.”

“Wait, what’s that?” the Hungari said, A clamor could be heard outside in the hallway and wisps of smoke were dancing down the stairway leading from the observation room.

“It must be the fire we started earlier in the kitchen .” Kurstav remarked. He raced up the stairway and peered into the hall which was slowly filling with dark smoke and fleeing savages. “The barracks must be engulfed and their exit cut off.” he continued as he came back down the stairs.

“Hurry.” Kurstav said to the old man, “Show me the other entrance you spoke of, before this room becomes clouded with smoke also, and we too suffocate.”

‘It will do no good.” the Hungari answered, “for either way we are doomed, and I for one welcome death. I am tired of living thusly.”

“There will be time for such talk later.” Kurstav said, “show me to the exit.”

“I will show you, but I will not join you.” The old man rose from the bed and pulled on one of the bed posts revealing a stairway of about twenty stone steps. “There are two protruding bricks, one on either side of the door at the bottom. Push first the right one and then the left one and the door will open for you.”

“And that is all I need to know?” Kurstav asked hurriedly as the smoke in the room began to thicken.

“Yes.” the man answered.

  “Kurstav gave the man a quick rap on the back of his head, knocking him out, then hefted him upon his shoulder and started down the flight of steps. He pushed on the bricks and the door opened in front of him just as the old man had said, then carrying the old Hungari upon his shoulder, he stepped out into the deadly lower corridors.

————————————————————————————————————-

Domtar gazed into the room before him and found that he was being address by a court jester wearing a red and yellow striped jester’s hat, jacket and shoes. From the waist down the jester was naked, but painted a dark blue.

In his hand, the jester held an animated jester puppet head on a stick that mimicked all of the jester’s facial expressions. The face of both the jester  and puppet head were painted red. They were thin and devilish in appearance and as Domtar moved the eyes of the little puppet head followed him around, alternately sneering and laughing at him.

The room itself was a large dining hall and about twenty feet beyond the doorway where Domtar stood and behind the jester, a young soldier in a red tunic  lay upon a chaise lounge making love to a naked, ivory skinned, buxom girl of about twenty yrs old. On the floor at his side lay his gold, red plumed helmet, breastplate, shield and sword.

To the left and about another twenty feet, from where the soldier lay, stood the most prominent feature in the room, an enormous dining table, filled to capacity and overflowing with platters of food, meats, vegetables, breads and fruits and vessels of wine.

Behind this table sat a grotesquely obese woman in a white tunic with flowing, unkempt, golden brown hair. With one hand the woman stuffed food and drink into her face, while with the other hand she held onto the leather handle of a chain leash.

The other end of the leash was secured to a metal collar that went around the neck of a small child in a dirty diaper, perhaps two years old.

The child was crying incessantly and trying to crawl upon a chair that let him get close to the food, but each time he got within reach, the woman would yank on the chain sending him falling back onto the marble floor beneath the table.

The puppet once again addressed Domtar. “Sir I ask you again, who might you be? The king is expecting no visitors, as far I know anyway. If you posses a proper invitation, I would suggest that you show it without delay.”

Without waiting for a response, the jester then turned to the fat woman at the table and asked, “Loah, do you know of any visitors that the king is expecting.”

The woman did not answer, but instead tore a bite of  beef from a haunch then spat it in the direction of the child who dove for it, only to be pulled away once again. Then the woman took a second bite and began choking on it.

“Dear, dear.” remarked the jester, “Not again.” The jester flipped backward a few times, lastly bounding over the huge table and standing directly behind the fat, choking woman. He then slapped her on the back, causing the food to eject from her throat. This time the child grabbed it and began chewing it on the floor, as would a puppy.

“You are not welcome here.” the fat woman said to Domtar.

“Nor, do I wish to remain,” Domtar responded, “so if you will kindly show me the way out I will gladly leave you to your business.”

“Liar.” the fat woman thundered, banging her fist upon the table, “you have come to steal the king’s treasure.”

“Yes.” the jester agreed, laughing and leaping like a fool, “you are a liar, a liar, liar, liar, liar. Oh what shall we do with this liar?”

Domtar’s ire began to rise, because though he knew them to be some sort of demons he had encountered, still they looked solid enough to him, and as carvable as any other foe. “I have no interest in your king or his treasure,” Domtar asserted, “ it is only by chance that I have come to be in your repulsive presence and I wish nothing more than to be free of it. Know you further that I do not take kindly to your words and would advise you to challenge me no further.”

The fat woman grinned, “Very well, I suppose we were being inhospitable, so if all you to desire is to leave, then you shall have that opportunity.”

The fat woman pointed across the room to a hallway. “In yon bedroom at the end of that hallway you will find the eternally resting body of our king. On the table next to him are three gold cylinders, one of which contains a map showing the safest, shortest exit from this palace, while the other two will lead only to certain death, but it is beyond me why anyone would want to leave.” she said, exchanging smirks with the jester.

“But tell him the best part.” the jester interjected.

“Ah, yes.” The fat woman said, “Also, beneath his bed chamber are gold and jewels beyond your wildest imagination, and all you need to do to obtain these items and be on your way, is to best the three of us. Now normally the maestro of mirth, as I call him,”  the fat woman said nodding toward the jester, “would go first, but since he always gets the first chance and succeeds in dispatching intruders such as you, I think this time I prefer that Daron do something to earn his keep.’

“Daron,” the fat woman called out to the young soldier, “Come, there is one who wishes to challenge you.”

“Leave me be. Let your idiot jester take care of him. I am busy.” the soldier replied.

“I am not an idiot, but a fool. Watch your mouth.” the jester spat at the soldier.

“Come, fulfill your duty.” the fat woman ordered.

Swift as the wind, the soldier rose, donned his gear and crossed the room as if in one movement, and stood facing Domtar. “Do not worry, I will not let you suffer long.” he said threateningly, but forgive me if I do toy with you a bit.

On the lounge, the young woman who the soldier had been with turned to a grey corpse.

“Wait.” the jester called out, “Since you call me an idiot, Daron, I am going to help this intruder to best you. “Listen close to this rhyme, and I will tell you Daron’s weakness.

I am as time/you’ll not escape/my movement not my wrath/salvation lies not with you now/least now you can turn back. Ha, ha” the jester laughed.

Domtar struck out with his sword at the soldier’s neck, attempting to cleave his head from his body, but the soldier countered the move with scant effort.

Domtar stepped back and swung at the soldier’s midsection, but again his move was effortlessly countered. He remained the aggressor as the soldier took only halting steps towards him and blocking every parry, thrust or powerful swing of his sword.

The soldier’s movements plainly betrayed the meaning of the jester’s rhyme, for he moved only forward, one slow, stiff step at a time. Domtar reasoned that the secret to besting this demon layed in forcing him to take even one step back, but how, his defense was impenetrable and nothing Domtar had thrown at him would slow his forward movement..

A moment later, however, an unexpected presence entered into the drama and the jester called out to Domtar, “You should have told us that you were not alone, we would have waited.” he said mockingly, “”How very rude of you.”

In the doorway stood one of the primitives that had fallen down the chute with Domtar, it must have only been stunned upon hitting cavern floor.

Immediately, Domtar saw his opportunity. He turned his attention to the beast, who stood only a few feet away.  Within seconds he crossed the distance between them and cleaved its head from it’s body, now, with his back braced against the wall, Domtar threw the headless corpse on the floor at his own feet.

Daron paused before Domtar and laughed at the corpse that lay between them, as he did blood spewed about his feet from the open neck of the savage and slickened the floor beneath him.

 

Without hesitation, Domtar, using the wall for leverage, threw the weight of his body at the head of the demon soldier. It’s feet slipped and it slid backward on the blood drenched floor and instantly, the soldier vanished.

“Bravo, you succeeded in turning Daron back, which was his weakness. To tell you the truth.” the jester joked, “I never did like him much, he was such a bore and he never laughed at my jokes anyway, so I am quite glad that he is gone, aren’t you also?” he said directing the question to the jester head atop the wand he carried.

“You would be wise to stand aside.” Domtar threatened, least I send you back to hell as I have your brethren.”

“Oh yes, if I was not such a fool and an obvious one at that, I suppose I would heed your warning, but such is not my nature.” the jester said sitting upon a chair and placing his head into his hands.

“But before you slay me,” he went on, popping his head up cheerily, “would it be alright if I entertained you with a trick?”

With that the jester stood up and began to grow, his blue skin became leathery and his face took on a demonic countenance. His fingers grew rakishly long as did his toes and a long tail with a clawed end sprouted from his behind. “I too, have a weakness, but I will not help you to uncover it, as I did with Daron.” the jester stated.

The jester bounded toward Domtar, his clawed tail whipping around at his head. With one deft movement, Domtar parried and sliced the claw from the tail. The jester mockingly howled in pain, then laughed as another claw grew in place of the first.

The jester strode forward, swinging with hand and tail as the jester head upon the stick laughed and mocked.

Domtar backed up, hewing at the demon as he went. Cutting through clawed tail and fingers, only to have them grow, immediately, back.

Before long, Domtar noticed that it was the jester head on the wand that seemed to tracking his movements, while the jester’s facial movements followed  just behind it, he thought if he could separate the head from the wand, perhaps the jester would be rendered blind.

Viciously slicing with his sword, Domtar rushed in, he cleared a path to the demonic jester head and cleaved it from it’s wooden perch. The jester paused, befuddled for a moment, then another jester head sprouted upon the wand and the jester, once again came at Domtar. “As you can see,” the jester said, “I cannot be defeated in thus manner, as my parts merely grow back. Soon you will tire of hacking and cleaving at me, and at that time I will proceed to tear apart your sinew, flesh and bone, whilst your own screams fill your ears.”

The jester was right, Domtar’s plan of attack was not working, then it struck him. It was not the jester who was the demon, but rather the jester head it’s self. The jester was it’s creation. If he could possibly wrench the head, shaft and all from the jester’s head, then he could easily squash the head.

“I can see that you are tiring.” the jester chided. “Come, attack me again. Why delay your fate.”

Domtar rushed in swinging, but this time he aimed for the wrist holding the wand and unerringly found his mark. The hand holding the wand with the jester head fell to the floor and Domtar fell upon it, smashing it with the hilt of his sword, the little head screamed and spat, while the jester staggered backwards spewing hundreds of little jester heads from the end of  it’s amputated limb while at the same time it’s body was deflating.

The little jester heads lay about the floor, some screaming shrilly while other’s laughed demonically, the sound near deafening, until Domtar succeeded in reducing the head upon the wand to a bloody mash of bone and brain. Then all noise stopped.

The fat woman at the table began to clap. “You must be famished.” she said. “Come, sit down and rest for a spell. Join me in some food and drink.”

“No.” the boy protested, leaping upon the table. “My food.” He gave the woman a hard stare and she let go of the chain and shrunk away, sinking down into her chair.

The urchin, then stood up on the table and removed his collar. “Now,” he said in a child’s voice, “you must fight me and if you defeat me then you will have your treasure, but I also must inform you that I, unlike the other two, have no weakness and that victory against me is not possible.”

“Begone.” Domtar responded, “I have no more time for your twisted games.”

“I do not intend to play games,” the child demon replied, jumping down from the table he struck Domtar in the midsection with his fist. “I only intend to send your soul to hell.”

Domtar felt a tremor run through his body. He grabbed the child demon by the arm and threw him aside, but the act took him more effort than he anticipated.

“You cannot beat me.” the boy said, looking, now, somewhat older than he did a moment earlier for all of the force you employ against me becomes your loss and my gain. Whether I attack you or you attack me, I will grow older and stronger with each blow and you will grow older and weaker.

Domtar attempted to split the boy demon’s head with his blade, but with one outstretched arm the boy absorbed the force of that blow while continuing to beat upon Domtar’s midsection. With every blow the demon continued to grow older and heartier while Domtar grew increasingly frail until he was naught but a wrinkled and withered old man.

 

  Kurstav tread cautiously, wary of booby traps. As he went the halls became more and more confusing. One turn looked the same as the previous one.

After several minutes of wandering, Kurstav found himself only more and more lost. He heard, eventually frantic footsteps ahead of him and saw dancing wisps of smoke in the corridor. Kurstav put down the old man, who was beginning to awaken and a moment later several savages came charging at him down the corridor, he laid open the first with his spear from stomach to breast bone. The others crowded passed him in flight mode, not interested in engaging in battle.

Behind the beasts another figure appeared in the corridor. “Domtar.” Kurstav called out. Domtar came up the corridor, a large leather sack slung upon his back. He stopped and nodded toward the old man .

“I’ll explain later, if there is one” Kurstav said, pulling the old man to his feet. “Old man, if you know of a way out I suggest that you show it to us now.”

“No need.” Domtar interjected, holding up a piece of parchment and pointing to the map drawn upon it. “There are markers within these halls. I have followed the previous ones thus far and the next should lay within several meters,” he said,” pointing down a corridor, “and to our left directly down the hallway beyond that, a hidden doorway leading to the outside.”

The three found the marker and turned left into the next hallway. Domtar rapped upon the wall with his sword hilt right after the turn, until he hit wood beneath the dirt. He put his shoulder to the wood and pushed. A four foot wide section of the wall slid, on a track, inward. Stepping inside they encountered a short hallway that ran to their right. They could see set of stairs going up at the other end.

Domtar bade them to wait. He looked at the map which showed six separate handles set into the walls of the short tunnel, three on either side at the bottom of the staircase. Five were marked with exes on the map, one was circled. “This one should open the door at the top.” Domtar said, point to the handle with the circle. “The other five would spring a trap of some sort.”

The handles were all plainly visible, made of cast iron and protruding from the wall. Domtar pulled on the one he had indicated, and at the top of the stairs the door opened slightly. Domtar bounded up the stairway and pulled the door the rest of the way open and moments later all three stepped out into the mid-morning air.

Around the valley, dark smoke and flames could be seen billowing from different spots. Domtar and Kurstav pulled the door closed behind them, least some of the savages find the exit and try to escape. They then whistled for their horses and not only theirs, but the steeds of Arec and Malec came prancing up the hill as well.

Domtar tied the leather satchel he was carrying to one of the horses, while Kurstav helped the old man to mount another. They then started off toward the villages of the Mansu.

The trio rode in silence for the next several hours, watchful for signs of any savages that may have escaped the tunnels of the tomb.

Eventually, satisfied that they were far enough away, they looked for a place to camp for the night. Upon finding a suitable spot, the old Hungari slid from his horse and stared back down the mountain. “I never thought I would ever see the light of day again. If I live to see only one more sunrise I will be satisfied.”

“You will live to see many more sunrises.” Domtar assured him. “But first you will need to put some muscle on that frame. You look to be no more than bones rolled in flatbread,” Domtar said jokingly, observing the man’s ashen skin and pathetically thin frame.

The Hungari turned his attention toward Domtar and Kurstav. “I have witnessed many men lose their lives in those unholy tunnels. Until now I thought escape to be impossible, even I had never found a way out. You surely must be blessed by the gods, for what you have accomplished is beyond belief.”

Domtar brushed the old man’s comment aside. “So, tell me how you came to live in the tunnels.” he asked.

For the next several minutes the old Hungari recounted his story, just as he had for Kurstav. Domtar listened intently, then told the man that he would be performing an invaluable service to his people. Thanks to him, they would finally know the truth about the valley and the fate of  the former young cheiftan to be.

Kurstav then questioned Domtar as to what had happened to him after he fell down the shaft.

Domtar told them first of the fleet footed, robed figure that led him through the tunnels and into the barracks just in time to save Kurstav from the savages. He then told them of the bizarre army of the dead and the encounter with the three demons.

As Domtar told of the battle with the child demon, he just shook his head. “I thought myself to surely be finished, as I had no defense against his powers, but then the same robed figure that I had encountered earlier appeared in a ghostly countenance and stood between myself and the demon.  The demon recoiled in fear and my strength and youth returned. The figure then led me into the kings chamber and pointed to one of the three map cylinders on the table next to his bed.

“Many valuables also lay about the bed chamber and he waved his hand towards them as if beckoning me to take what I desired.” Domtar said, nodding towards the leather sack tied to the horses saddle.

“It was the ghost of Soochin.” the old Hungari said. I had not wanted to speak of him, but often I had seen his mournful ghost roaming the hallways of the tomb. His grief, I believe, would not allow his spirit to leave this world. Had you not mentioned it, I no doubt would have kept this part a secret least people think me to be insane, but it was his presence that helped me to endure the solitude of the tomb, for I felt compelled to give his spirit company, perhaps trying to somehow make up for failing to save him in the beginning.

I believe the fire you started in the kitchen that engulfed the tomb and trapped and killed the savages, finally gave him the revenge he has been waiting for all of these years, and he saved your life from the demon out of gratitude.”

“But why,” Kurstav wondered, “would his ghost have such power over so powerful of a demon?”

“It is not ours to question,” Domtar interjected, “we can only hope that perhaps good will always hold sway over evil, whether it be in this world or in the next, and I hope now that he has finally found the peace he has been hoping for.”

“I believe he has,” the Hungari said.  “Yes, I am certain that he has, and I am also certain that he has, at last, been reunited with his lover and their children in eternal bliss.

As for myself, as I have said, I look forward once again to witnessing the majesty of  the sun rising and setting over the mountains, a sight I have not seen for almost thirty years and thought never to see again.”

“And that you shall.” Domtar said, rising, for the sunset is near. Domtar and Kurstav gathered their canteens and what stale flatbread and dried meat that was still in their ration bags.

Kurstav poured water into a cup and handed it to the old Hungari and Domtar gave him some bread and meat.

The old man sat by a tree and bid the two of them to sleep through the night. “I, myself will not sleep, too long have I waited for this.

 

                                                                           FINAL

 

In the morning, Domtar and Kurstav woke to the sound of many horse hoofs, though still some distance away. Domtar scaled a tree and could see an army of Hungari’s and Mansoo, descending the mountain. He dropped down from the tree, then mounted his horse and rode off to intercept them.

Upon meeting with them he found that they were going to investigate the fires in the valley for it was for certain that something catastrophic must has happened.

Domtar told them of the tomb and the savages, some of whom may still be loose in the valley and then he told them of the old Hungari, who was still back at their camp site with Kurstav.

“It will be our pleasure to finally cleanse this valley.” Chief Sooyun said. “Those who escaped the fire in the tomb will wish that they had not, once they have felt the pain of our wrath, he said directing his second in command to take his men into the valley. The Mansoo followed behind.

“I, myself am eager to meet and talk with this Hungari.” Chief Sooyun told Domtar, and he and his twenty royal guard followed Domtar back to the campsite where Kurstav was waiting.

The old Hungari still sat with his back against the tree and his eyes wide open. The food and water he had been given the night before had not been touched.

Kurstav looked at Domtar. “He is dead. Perhaps the mountain air was too much for him after all of these years, but it looks as if he died directly after we went to sleep. I doubt he ever even saw the sunset.”

Domtar actually had to suppress a smirk. He looked sideways at Kurstav and shook his head as if to say. “What do the gods have against this poor guy, anyway?”

Chief Sooyun knelt down next to the old man’s body. “We will never know the stories he had to tell, for I am sure that there is more then he has already told to you, men do not reveal their secrets that easily.”

“No matter, we will return him to his home village and give him a hero’s funeral.” He then turned his attention to Domtar and Kurstav. “I am deeply sorry for the loss of your other two brothers-in-arms, for they as well as you have performed a service that the people of these mountains will be forever grateful.

I am sure you will need more provisions for your journey back home.” the chief said, and directed his men to load food and drink upon the two spare horses.

“Also eight of my personal guard will accompany you out of the mountains, least you run into more of these savages, you will need not expend your own strength and you will see how we deal with such as them.” The chief then directed his men to return with one live savage, if they encountered any, and the heads of others.

Some time later, once Domtar and Kurstav parted ways with the Hungari guard they stopped to set up camp for the night, Domtar retrieved the bag of gold he had taken from the tomb and began to pull items out to show to Kurstav.

“I must admit.” Kurstav told Domtar. “I do not know if I would have had the courage to take those items, whether the ghost had directed me to or not. I would still fear that some sort of curse may be upon them.”

“Perhaps it is courage.” Domtar mused, “Perhaps it is foolishness, but whatever it is I say we ponder those questions later, once we have arrived back in more civilized surroundings and have immersed ourselves in ale and the company of beautiful, young women.” He said with a smile.

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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