the chronicles of Shorok, part the fourth

For the 2009 Geekspeak Christmas special, I decided I’d write up a special Shorokian treat for the long-suffering listeners. The idea of a Shorok take on The Night Before Christmas got its hooks in me and wouldn’t let go, so I came up with this:

But you came here for textual stimulation, didn’t ya? Here you go, another Shorok story. This one gives some insight as to the great barbarian’s origins. It’s the longest one yet and not particularly funny, but I liked it. Check it after the jump.

The mighty Shorok was not always the barbarian king spoken of in legends and hushed whispers among his enemies.

Many years ago – the exact number, none can say – he was a young boy, groomed to succeed his father as patriarch of his wandering clan. The boy was beloved by his people and seen as a prince, though regality had little place on the plains and mountain passes his clan called home.

The boy excelled in all of his pursuits, trailing no others in archery, horseback riding, swordplay, and the diplomatic arts. Though his bloodline carried within it the right to rule, it had little bearing on his outward appearances – the young Shorok was often seen coated in the evidence of his training, the dirt and scars proof of his ability.

His father Goran, a barrel-chested mountain of a man whose laugh was as mighty as his arm, was chieftain-king of the clan. It was said that when Goran spoke, the heavens themselves were silenced, as though even the gods were rapt with attention as to what he might say. And when Goran fought, it was with a skill and a fervor that none could possibly match. He treasured no possession, no status, no vice more than his people and – most importantly – his son.

For Shorok, though he was young in age, was every bit his father’s progeny, and quickly he was becoming a match for the old man himself. Every day, Shorok came closer and closer to defeating his father in their daily spars, and every day Goran fought harder to prevent him from doing so, knowing that the young prince would have to continually improve and strengthen his efforts if were ever to lead.

And on that day when Shorok was able to force his father to leave his feet and held the practice sword to his throat, Goran knew that his son was ready.

It was a day like any other when the messenger arrived, dangling from the side of his horse and slapping against its side. The appearance would have been comical, were it not for the multitude of arrows protruding from his chest and back. The camp watchmen rushed to his aid, yelling for Goran, who stormed out of his hut with purpose and fury.

“What happened?” the great man barked.

“Ser…the city to the north…” The messenger coughed up blood. He didn’t have long to live. “…They’ve broken the truce, ser. They’ve got…ma…mah…”

Goran slammed a fist into the dirt. “Ungrateful whoresons!” He spun around on his heels and began shouting orders. “Make his last moments as comfortable as possible! Marshal all able-bodied men! This indignity will not stand!”

Shorok was waiting outside the hut when Goran returned to it. “Father, what’s the matter?” he asked.

“The northern city has committed an act of open war against us.”

“Then I want to come along! I’m ready to fight!”

“Never mind, boy. Your place is here. I want you to help the watch protect this encampment. I will ride north and see that I cannot put this matter right.”

“Father -”

“Your place is here, son! Help protect the camp. We’ll discuss this matter tonight over a flagon.” Goran adjusted the chinstrap on his helmet, grabbed his fearsome axe, and ran towards the stables, leaving Shorok alone. The young man gripped the hilt of his sword and ran into the camp square.

As the riders headed north, becoming no more than a faint speck in the distance, Shorok’s attention was suddenly pulled to the south, where a storm of dust and clattering hooves was rapidly approaching the barbarian camp.

Those bastards, Shorok thought. They planned this.

The barbarian contingent rode into the northern city, only to find it unoccupied by defense forces. This was a situation that a full contingent of barbarian riders was unused to finding itself in. Dodging arrows and ducking out of the way of bubbling hot pitch was simply part of the job, and to not do so was disquieting.

Goran allowed himself a brief moment of concern. Where had the soldiers gone? In his treaty negotiations with the northern city, he couldn’t help but notice the battalions of honor guards that stood watch over the ceremony, and how the regent had said that they were but a fraction of the city’s forces. Surely, this must be a…

Goran’s thoughts were cut short as an arrow pierced his side. He winced, more from surprise than pain, and attempted to pull it out…only to find that the arrow’s shaft burned to the touch with a blue flame. His astonishment was short-lived, as another volley of arrows cut down the regiment of men that surrounded him.

“Rally!” he screamed. “Raise your shields!” What men were left did as ordered but the arrows passed harmlessly through the wood and steel and into the hearts of the soldiers. Goran dismounted and ran through the continuing hail of arrows, clambered up the wall of a nearby building, and immediately set upon one of the archers, separating his arm from the rest of his body with a mighty blow from his axe. The archer’s comrade drew a curved blade from his waist and swung it at the barbarian king, but he too was quickly emancipated from his limb and kicked over the side to the street below.

“Show yourself, charlatan!” Goran spat. “Face me and die as a man!”

As though Goran’s words were a cue in a particularly loathsome play, the regent appeared from a patch of darkness that had recently opened up on the otherwise bright day. He appeared to Goran’s eyes the picture of opulent nobility, save for the smoking craters where once his eyes had sat, and the gaunt, skull-like appearance of his face.

“I think you will find both parts of that command difficult, savage. For no longer am I merely a man.”

“I should say not, traitor. You have the stink of dark magic about you.”

The regent laughed, a reverberating and wet rasp. “A gift from my master, the sorcerer Azalak.”

“Azalak?!” Goran had heard the name before, but dismissed it as legend.

“You are familiar with him, I trust? I would inquire as to how, but…I see no necessity to it now.” The demon who had once called himself the regent now waved a bony hand and cast Goran down into the street among the bodies of his men. Goran leapt to his feet in one swift motion.

“You think me a soft target, one who can be undone by such cheap trickery? It would take the fell hordes of the underworld a fortnight to even wear me down!”

“Then we had best get started.” The regent waved his arm again, and the dead soldiers and archers rose to their feet as though being manipulated by some grim puppeteer, slowly working their way toward the barbarian king. Goran, horrified by the soulless visages of those who had once been his loyal soldiers, gripped his axe hilt and screamed, swinging wildly at the reanimated corpses and connecting with one. Goran let out a yelp of pain as his axe glowed hot with blue flame and burned in his hands.

The regent’s twisted face betrayed no small amount of pleasure at these results. “I know not why my master wishes you dead, barbarian king. But it is his will. And I will see it done by the hands of your former allies. Farewell.”

Goran let out a guttural cry of vengeance and set into the horde, knowing that to do so was a fool’s errand. As the magic-risen undead ripped and teared at Goran’s flesh, only one thought poked its way through the mists of pain.

This is your time, my son. Be strong and brave always.

It is said that the plains barbarians shared a sort of subconscious bond, forged by the harsh training and reliance upon one another that was the bedrock of their success as a people. The bond was said to be strong enough to let one man know when a friend was in danger; between a father and son it was doubly so. Because of this, Shorok knew of his father’s death before the elder hit the ground.

Those who survived the battle spoke for years of the young man’s actions that day, how his body seemed to ignore all human frailties and became something that was neither animal nor entirely human, but rather an implement of war, a force of nature. Wave after wave of magic-aided soldier attacked the young prince, and wave after wave of magic-aided soldier slumped over, felled by Shorok’s vengeful blade.

Much of the camp had been evacuated by this point, but those who had stayed behind to fight for the camp allowed themselves a brief moment of joy as the tides began to turn. Suddenly, however, a smoking orb of nothingness formed in the middle of the battlefield and from it flowed a billowing black form of pure malevolence. The form took a robed humanoid shape, with armor forged from the bones of demons. It began to speak from a faceless head, with a voice that chilled all who heard it to the bone.

I am Azalak, sorcerer-king and destroyer of life. I am here to claim what is mine. Where is the boy named Shor-

Azalak’s request was cut short as Shorok leapt onto his back, bashing into Azalak’s head with the butt of his hand-axe. Azalak wheeled around, grabbing fruitlessly at his assailant and erupting into a blast of magical energy that sent the barbarian prince flying.

Shorok, ever his father’s son, landed and rolled immediately to his feet.

So you are the one they speak of in the prophecies. Your efforts are commendable but futile. My lieutenant has already killed your father. His ability was worthy of that task. It is not of this.

With that, Azalak produced an ethereal blade from within the billowing folds of his cloak and rushed at the young man with it. Shorok sidestepped the attack and again bashed the butt-end of his axe into the base of the sorcerer’s head. Incensed, Azalak spun around and blasted Shorok in the chest with a bolt of blue fire, sending him flying into a hut set ablaze by Azalak’s men. Azalak cautiously crept up on his prey to ensure that he had accomplished his task and was rewarded with a fistful of hot embers to his face. As he cast the embers aside quickly with a defensive spell, Shorok leapt from the flames and tackled the sorcerer to the ground. Reaching for a nearby rock to deliver the coup de grace to his fallen enemy, Shorok was again blasted from his position and fell several dozen feet away.

Azalak was there as soon as Shorok got to his feet to plunge the ethereal blade ino the young man’s chest.

The stories they told of your future were reverent ones. It is a pity that you did not live up to your own destiny.

Shorok slumped over as Azalak withdrew the blade, a smoking wound left where he had been stabbed. Satisfied, the sorcerer turned around to leave his fallen target.

It is difficult to say what happened next. Only one man could rightly claim to have seen what unfolded, and he was given to drink and had poor eyesight. He would claim that a bright light appeared over the fallen prince as a warm voice mentioned something about an unfinished task. It is commonly believed among scholars that this story is bunk, and that the prince was simply not as defeated as Azalak would have liked.

Regardless, what did happen is this: Azalak felt a hand grab his leg, and then felt little else from it save for the axe that cut it off at the knee. Smoke and fear poured from the liberated leg as Azalak let out a bloodcurdling cry and summoned the orb once more. Shorok, wound still smoking, kicked his foe in the chest, knocking Azalak back into the orb and back into the nothingness from whence he came. A brief crack of an explosion filled the air, and Azalak’s men disappeared with him.

Exhausted, Shorok surveyed the devastation the sorcerer had caused. The camp was razed. His people had fled in multiple directions, as had been the plan. His father’s men were mostly dead or in the process of dying, and his father had fallen in battle. It did not occur to him right away that he was now king of a broken people, nor did how quickly it had all happened sink in until much later.

Shorok made his way back into the ancestral hut, which had been ravaged by the fire. Sifting through the rubble, he found the massive ceremonial axe that had belonged to his grandfather. He had never felt worthy of holding it, and still didn’t. But he was all the blade had left now. And he would have to do.

The young barbarian king waited for the embers to die down and destroyed what had not been burned. Turning his eye towards the east, he began to travel.


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