The Ranger of SolemnwoodMature

Written in third person, a band of unlikely warriors travel through a fierce and magical world, searching for answers that only seem to bring up more questions.

            It was an ancient place of rest for the dead. The necropolis of a doomed and heirless kingdom housed the bones and dust, the shrouds and ghosts. They roamed the halls with vigilance, for any that dared to plunder their forgotten wealth.

            Moonlight fluttered down the dusty stairs, and a bat flew by.

            In the entranceway, a cloaked man stood with an arrow notched to his bow. It was a gleaming, glossy wood that bent elegantly around the taut string. The arrows in his quiver and the one on his bow were feathered with white. His hooded cloak, however, was a rich blend of greens that surely must offer some camouflage outside.

            Down a dark hallway, came the clanging of iron blades.

            Cautiously, the archer approached. The darkness was a challenge even for his night vision. However, he knew the passage well enough.

            Rounding a corner, walking silently, he heard the voice of another man and saw the flicker of a distant torch.

            "You broke me!" the man was yelling, over the sound of swinging blades and clashing metal. "Curse you to the boiling vats of hell's guts!"

            Recognizing the voice, though not the anger in it, the bowman approached with caution. Pillars between them cast shadows upon him from the torchlight.

            A rat squeaked, and ran.

            "You double-crossing, unloving strumpet!"

            The insult was followed by a screech of something far gone from speech.

            The swordsman was meeting blades with a skeletal revenant. The bones were grafted together with unnatural magic, and weakly held up a sword, shield and studded brigandine upon its frame. It lunged at him with undead might.

            The swordsman, who wore no helmet, had a messy mane of black hair and a sculpted face marked by a single scar upon his cheek. A goatee bristled upon his chin.

            "Anathema will be your grave!" the swordsman cried, as he ducked. In one hand, he swung a scimitar. And in the other, he carried his torch.

            And with that swing, the skull cracked and fell to the floor of the tomb. However, the skeleton kept fighting even as the skull's magic dissipated. It crumbled into dust, as its jaw let out a shrill and final screech.

            An arrow was shot in the dark, and shattered one of the skeletal warrior's shin bones. Hopping on one leg, it struggled to fight back as the sword cut a gouge in its rotted shield.

            For a moment, the swordsman turned his head towards the darkness from whence the arrow flew, "Back off, she's mine!"

            And at that moment, the skeleton managed to fling the scimitar out of his hand in an overpowering parry.

            The archer spoke sternly, "Violence does not mend a broken heart. You won't get her, or any answers, from exhausting yourself 'til death, 'til you stand among their ranks."

            The swordsman struggled to his feet and grabbed his blade, as the skeleton hobbled forward. He grinned, "Oh, it's you, Molaan."

            In the torchlight, Molaan light brown hair and shaved beard could barely be seen. But the fire was reflected against the green in his eyes. They were soft pools of green, each like a quiet pond in the forest.

            The curved blade met an arm bone, and the limb shattered into dust, dropping the shield to the floor of the tomb. However, both men knew that it would not be more than a day before the dust gathered and reformed, the tomb's guardians rising from disrepair.

            The bow shook once more, and an arrow cracked the femur of the leg that kept the skeleton up. Its chest fell to the ground. And then the swordsman slammed his weight against the brigandine, one hand trailing behind him with the torch. Inside the cloth armour, the ribcage smashed into dust which puffed out the ends and sleeves of it.

            And then, over the dusty armour and the interior gambeson, the man wept.

            Molaan approached, and put a hand on his shoulder, "It's not her, Dackson. It's not her."

            "I know, brother," he sobbed. "I know."

            "I am not to be your brother anymore. You cannot deny that she will likely never be yours again. You've lost her."

            Dackson lay his sword on the ground, squashing the final hand of the skeleton that struggled with fingers to scurry into the shadows. Then, the swordsman put his hand upon the one on his shoulder in a tender gesture.

            The archer was unsure of things. He looked at the other fallen loot of the tomb's guardians. A linen robe and a mace were not far from them, in a dusty disarray. "You've killed many. That's a service to the forest. But come, we must leave this dreary place."

            Dackson sighed.

            Molaan took the torch from him, and slid it into a holder on the wall. He noted that his comrade had not noticed it, or hadn't cared to make use of it despite the shield strapped to his back. He spoke calmly, "We need to talk. You need help."

            Dackson moved his hand up Molaan's, to his elbow. He stood up, drawing himself close to the archer. He whispered, "No, we don't need to talk." And then he smiled, "You have your sister's eyes."

            Molaan wedged the edge of his strung bow into the dirt and tried to push the other man away, "Dack, you misread me. I am no such man as to be another's."

            However, Dackson was nestling his head against the other man's neck. His mouth was sucking strongly upon the skin. And as the archer gasped, he drew himself away to look upon his face. The grin returned to his face, "A firmness betrays your reluctance."

            Despite this, Molaan was quick to draw his knife. And where the other man had kissed his neck, he drew blood from the other man's neck - as a warning. He said nothing, but the contempt in his narrowing eyes was there to be seen.

            Mistaken, Dackson smiled at the shining knife and drew a hand to the other man's face. He ran a smooth touch down Molaan's cheekbone.

            The knife slapped bluntly across his face, leaving no mark. And the archer seethed at him, wanting none of it, with a raw silence.

            "Fine," Dackson said, with an edge in his voice. He had backed away, then, into the corner. "But I'm not leaving. I can't be near the tavern, I'd drink too much in this state, and I'm ashamed to be in town."

            "You're confused," Molaan judged. "To force yourself upon me with your broken heart. We both know that you seek love, not lust. And I am but a passing resemblance. Your mind, if it is indeed breaking, needs mending. You need to see the Wise One."

            He frowned, "The Wise One!? No, I'm not going to that creepy place."

            Molaan sipped at a flask of water, and then laughed, "Creepy? Heh heh, you say that while standing in a crypt."

            "You know what I mean," Dackson accused.

            Bending over, Molaan picked up his arrows. He gave the skeleton's crude blade no attention, yet walked over to pick up the spiked iron mace. He picked it up and carefully put it into his pack that hung beside his quiver.

            And then, from the black distance, came a screaming howl.

            Both men cursed under their breaths, and braced themselves as a shadowy shroud floated towards them with haunted eyes and a gaping mouth.

The End

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