A barbarian warlord who has lost his army starts on new adventures with his companion, the Piper. This is just for fun, I have no idea where it's gonna go, and it doesn't really matter. Join in and have fun!

A hot wind blew the stench of death across the bloodsoaked rock of the plateau. It filled his nostrils, which twitched, not in revulsion, but with something like excitement. But the olfactory instinct to derive pleasure from this scent was dampened by reality.

His army lay slaughtered around him.

The barbarians of Fangtail had been slain to a man. That they had likewise destroyed their enemy was small comfort. He had lost men before, major losses, but never before had he lost them all. His policy was to give the women of the dead to the survivors. This, more than gold or bloodlust, was how he kept attracting new fighters.

But who would join the ranks of the empty?

Fangtail thumped his tail on the ground in disgust. Fine. He had started out on his own; he would start out once again on his own.

If he had a name, no one knew it. He was known only as Fangtail, the Scourge, the Rat King.

He had the bestial appearance of a cross between a man and a rat. Whiskers and a snout. Ugly brown fur. And a muscular tail. On this tail he usually fitted a barb tipped with deadly poison for his battles, whence his name. His tail barbs were the pride and joy of his worn equipment. The rest of his armor was gathered hodgepodge, for there was no suit of armor designed to be worn by a rat-man. He also wielded two deadly scimitars as large as claymores, each of which he hefted easily in one hand. They were among the finest weapons known to the races. Nameless, like Fangtail, himself, he had discovered them in a dwarven ruin submerged by sand and seaweed upon the ocean shore. They were the only things in the ancient structures not ruined by the saltwater, and they clove through iron like butter.

Fangtail sighed and moved to wipe the blades clean before he stopped himself. It was still a habit, even after all these years of wielding the scimitars. He had schooled himself well in the art of fighting and all the various maintenance skills that went with them. But the nameless scimitars never pitted or rusted or dulled, so he kept the dried blood upon them, the better to strike terror into his foes. They were popularly dubbed the Bloody Talons by the fanciful folk of those cities far away from his pillages.

A tendril of smoky light curled around his ankle. Looking down sharply, he moved away. More tendrils appeared, writhing and curling about him. Sorcery! Cursing, he waited defiantly, knowing there was no way to avoid this.

The wyrd light finally came together and coalesced into an imposing figure, seven and a half feet tall, more than a foot over Fangtail. He was lean and willowy, with feathers upon his scalp rather than hair. He wore silvery boots and a black tunic and trousers with a rust-colored vest. His oddest feature was his hands. His right hand was missing the pinky and forefinger, where his left hand was missing the thumb.

A fey. One of the eldritch creatures that lived in hidden places in the world, whimsical and capricious, often cruelly so. And vastly powerful. Legend had it they had once striven against the gods themselves.

"Speak, unwelcome visitor," Fangtail said sourly.

The fey man - if man he could be called - had no facial expression, as if he did not know how to make one. But there was a strange light in his charcoal eyes as he said, "Fangtail. I am Raven-Thistle, lord of the afternoon, duke of the Eighteen Bruighs, and master of the secret wizard-words of Ta'yan."

Fangtail was never intimidated by big titles, but these impressed him even less than usual. Every fey, even the lowliest among them, had grandiose titles. They told you nothing about how much authority or power the fey in question actually had.

"What do you want, Raven-Thistle?"

The fey spoke a word, one that grated on the inside of Fangtail's head, and the Bloody Talons still clutched in his hands dissolved into the same smoky light that had heralded Raven-Thistle's arrival. "What-? What did you do to my swords?" Fangtail demanded.

"They are at one of my bruighs, my hill-caves," Raven-Thistle replied smoothly. "Find them, recover them, and I will return them to you as well as grant you great power."

Fangtail stared at him for long moments. "No," he finally bit out. "I will never be beholden to anyone, be he god or man." He turned on his heel and stalked off, grabbing an unbroken spear and a battleaxe from a couple of still-fresh corpses.

He heard Raven-Thistle's words behind him, "This is not our last meeting, Rat King."

Fangtail shook his head. He was so called because people thought he could summon and command rats to his cause. A useful trick, but not much good in battle. And he couldn't do it anyway - it was his minstrel, the Piper, playing on his flutepipe that knew the magic.

Where was the Piper, anyway? Likely ran off at the first sign that the battle was not going their way.

Okay, first to find the Piper. Then he would search for suitable new weapons, build a new army, and make Raven-Thistle regret his temerity.

Not necessarily in that order.

The End

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