The Last Road

Living every day like it's the last… because one day, it will be.

Running Hawk

Posted by Rystefn on July 16, 2009

So here’s a piece of short fiction I wrote recently. It’s still pretty rough, but I think it holds up fairly well. I’ll probably smooth out some of the more obvious D&D references sooner or later, but since I wrote for someone’s D&D game, the references went in when I wrote it, and they’ll stay for a while, at least.

Running Hawk was born deep in the thick forests of his homeland. They had a name, but he didn’t know it. He came from a simple people, hunting, gathering, and living off of what the generous forest gave them. He lived as his father had before him, and his grandfather, back as far as anyone could say. His life was blessed by the spirits of the forest, as anyone would tell you. He had a fine wife, strong sons, and beautiful daughters, and in time grew to be a respected elder. He didn’t lead, in truth, no one did, but he was a man of wisdom, and his people listened to him, for he had seen much in his many years, though his muscles grew weak and his eyes dim. When his time came, he went peacefully to the other side, secure in the knowledge that he had left a good family behind him, and would be at peace in the land of plenty…

He would not remember the Other World, however, when the magic ripped his spirit back into the world, forcing him to inhabit the long-forgotten bones of his ancient corpse. Foul sorcery of the blackest arts pushed him back into the body he had left so long ago, now only an aged skeleton in the high caves. Many of his people rose with him that day, when the monster’s ritual called them back – how many, he could not say.

The great lizard was fighting, and called to them to be its warriors, forcing them to inhabit bodies they had left so long before. Why they were fighting, they were never told, but no choice was given to them. Struggle as they might, they could not resist the magic which compelled them, and so they met the foes of their master, spear against spear. For many years they battled, fighting day and night against this foe they did not know.

Many were destroyed, and where their spirits went after, none could say. Perhaps back to rest, perhaps destroyed forever… For those that remained, there were the spoils of war to collect, vast treasures to carry back to the beast’s cave, where it lay in glittering piles to no purpose except the monster’s vanity. Over the years, they were sent from time to time on errands, and sometimes they would not return. He did not know how many years had passed, but eventually, only Running Hawk remained, standing alone and silent in a corner, never free of the foul magic the monster controlled. Perhaps the beast had forgotten him, perhaps it had found more useful tools… perhaps it simply did not care.

Time in the cave had no meaning. Days, weeks, years, he could not tell. There was no sun deep in the earth; no day, no night, no winter, no summer… only darkness and silence and the beast. The pile of treasures grew great and the beast grew old, mighty in strength and magic, and Running Hawk stood waiting, waiting for orders which never came.

At long last came heroes to slay the beast. Their clothes were strange, and their tongue unknown to Running Hawk. Some wore shining garments and carried knives as long as a man’s leg. Others shouted at the monster, and the fires of the heavens struck it. At long last, the evil of the beast was ended at the hands of these strange beings.

Some of the treasures they claimed, and some they left, not even heroes as great as they could carry it all out with them. Why they did not return, he could not know, but Running Hawk liked to think they had gone on to destroy other evils in the world. Such heroes could do no less while they yet lived.

When the beast died, the control was gone, but the magic remained. Running Hawk still lived in his old bones, and did not know what to do. He thought to look for his people, but the forest had changed much over the years, and he could not find them. Perhaps they had gone. He thought to look for the cave of the dead, but he could not find that either. He found villages of men, but they were afraid, and chased him away, shouting angry words in their unknown language. He could have defeated them, but he was no longer commanded to fight, and they were only frightened because he should have been lying still, his spirit gone, not walking around wearing only his bones.

He went back to the cave, and took some treasures, and tried to give them to the people so that they might tell him what he should do, but they could not understand his questions, and chased him away again. He went back in the night, and left some treasures at the homes of families with children, to ease their burdens. Running Hawk was a good man, still, and felt the need to redeem himself for the deaths he had caused while the monster ruled him.

Over time, sitting quietly in the forest and listening to the talk of the people, he grew to understand their tongue. One day, he found a small group talking quietly of the beast, and of the treasures they thought should still be in its lair. They spoke of their dreams, living in grand houses, eating fine foods, and being respected old men in their later years. These dreams, Running Hawk could understand, and he decided to help the men. At first, they were afraid, but as he spoke, they came to trust him – or at least to trust that he could lead them to the treasures.

So he lead them to the cave, and they took the treasures, in many trips, back to their village, called a “city” in their language. The hide of the beast, even, they carried up from the cave, to be crafted into fine clothes of strongest leather. When the grand house was built, the men invited Running Hawk to live with them, though he could not eat the fine foods, and the people of the city feared him. For many years, he shared in their good fortune, and they became friends. Hawk, Amras, Cern, Raelann, and Bryn spoke often, telling tales of their lives and their peoples, speaking often of their dreams for the future.

One day, men in shining clothes came to the grand house – armor, it was called. They waved weapons and shouted for the men to come out – that they were accused of being evil wizards and must answer for their crimes. As they came out to talk to the men, one of them closed his eyes and pointed to Hawk. “Evil,” he pronounced, and with that word, all of Running Hawk’s friends were killed on the spot. Hawk tried to help, but one of the men put magic on him and forced him to run away, into the forest.

When he returned, in the night, his friends were hanging from the gates of the city. Taking them down, he carried them to the cave, where they had found the treasures that would buy them a grand house, and fine food, but not respect. He did not know their customs in death, so he performed the rites of his own long-gone people, and commended their spirits to whatever land they went to.

Much of the treasures had been taken from the house that day, but some remained, and hawk took these with him: The armor of dragonhide, the burning lash, and the magic hat Raelann had used to appear as others for jokes. Coins as well, he took, and whatever tools he believed would be useful for the one thing needed before his friends could truly rest – that their killers be brought to justice.

For long years, he stalked them, unskilled, but untiring, walking day and night without pause, following any rumor of them. He grew skilled in appearing to be whom he wanted, and in fooling others into believing his tales – and in frightening them with the truth. One by one, he tracked down the men and ended their lives, carefully explaining to each the names and dreams of the men they had killed, and for whom they were dying.

When he found the last, the man was far away, across the sea (Who knew that so much water was in all the world?), and old. He had a family and was a respected man, living in a grand house and eating fine food. His men would not turn away an old man on a rainy night, and so they allowed him to enter. When he told them a tale of woe, that his friend had been killed by evil men, they said that their master was a great fighter of evil in his younger days, and would help to bring the killers to justice. He told them that there was only one left. One last killer before his friends could rest.

They brought him before their master, and again he told his tale, and the old man rose in outrage, drawing his sword and waving it about. “Tell who this man was. Give me the name of the sorcerer so wicked, and I swear by all that is holy and right in this world, I will end his life myself!”

“Be careful what you promise, for you may not wish to kill this man when you learn who it is…” Running Hawk said.

“If he has done what you said, then he must answer for his crimes!”

“But I have followed him here, to this very house…”

“I would not give shelter to evil men!”

“He is you. The tale is yours. You pronounced doom upon them and had them all killed. You placed the foul magic upon me to make me flee. You wear even now the ring Amras gave to his wife the day they were married, so many years ago, she who died so young, and whose memory was his only joy.” So saying, Hawk put on his true form.

“Lies! Foul lies!” The old paladin shouted. “Get you from my house! You cannot stand before the holy light!”

But hawk had grown wise in the ways of the world, and strong of will over the years. He slowly wound the old crossbow. Men tried to strike him, but fell back as the magic of the beast which still clung to his bones burned them with poison.

“I shall smite you in the name of good! Back to your grave, demon!” The old man strode from his chair towards Hawk, but he was too slow. The quarrel hit him in the gut, and he fell. He mumbled a prayer and closed the wound. Running Hawk turned the winch again. The paladin stood and tried to rush across the distance, but the second bolt thudded into his chest, knocking him again to the floor. He prayed again, but the wound did not close, still, he struggled to his feet. Running Hawk wound the crossbow a third time. With a shout, the paladin charged, his sword held high. The third bolt struck his forehead, and this time, the paladin could not rise.

His friends avenged, and far from the lands he had once called home, Running Hawk was done, but still his spirit clung to old bones… Surely there were more of these evil men pretending to be heroes… The spirits of his old friends would rest more easily knowing their treasures would be used to stop the deaths of more innocent people. Hawk had found his mission. So long as his spirit remained, he would hunt down and destroy other evils in the world. He could do no less while he yet lived.


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