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Story Time - A Tale of Hero's Ascent


Noc.
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My father told me a story once. About his grandfather's uncle, who had lost his family to the will of the Gods. He had told me many stories, of love, hatred, war, peace, and the ends of the worlds. And everyone will tell you a different tale of the same story. But this, young ones, is an inspiring tale. A story to hold true to your hearts...

 

Malekai had taken a curiosity to Hero, ever since he had beaten away at his faith in the Gods. Testing him against impossible feats, overwhelming foes, and even against other Gods' desires. But Hero would not falter, would not give up.

 

"I have one final task for you Hero, then I will cease to plague your existence." Malekai had whispered through thought. It was an early fall evening, Hero was helping a farmer tend to the crops. They were doomed to a long and terrible winter, perhaps the last winter. The harvest must be bountiful to feed the kingdom, else many will die. Perhaps many will die anyway.

 

There were rumors of beasts being corrupted, growing more fierce and aggressive, mutated in appearance to that of something unworldly. Even more unsettling, the dead had awoken with a burning hatred of the living. Indeed, many will die. Hero had thought to himself. "My apologies Rictor, I have a summons that I must attend to. Should my business conclude soon enough, I shall return to finish the harvest." Hero had said to the farmhand accompanied by smile and nod of the head.

 

"Do the Gods summon you again? Haven't they done enough for you?" the farmhand held an expression of deep sorrow, knowing the tale of Hero. "I'll pray for your safe journey friend, but I'm afraid no amount of prayer will save you from your task. Good graces go with you."

 

Hero had gathered his gear and packed his steed. While donning his armor, his eyes began to tear. Memories of his children, and his wife, surged back to him. No task sent by the Gods would be so hard to endure than the loss of my family, he thought. Not one tear fell, he fought it back. The Gods would not revel from breaking him any longer, it was a promise Hero made to himself long ago.

 

"You will travel to the town of Crowhaven, there you will be met by the Cult of Stonetree. You will stand vigilant under their grey tree for 3 days and 2 nights. After the third day's light has passed you'll no longer be a curiosity to me." Malekai had spoken to him, this final task. This was yet another test of faith by the Gods, a test of faith and endurance. Hero had heard of this cult. Unpredictable, head-strong, and strange in their ways. This will truly be the final test, one way or another.

 

Hero had stopped at an inn along the way, preparing for his trial of endurance. He had purchased food and drink for the days to come. Crowhaven was not far away, he'd reach it by midnight. Eager to get back to the road, Hero had made his visit short, only enjoying a warm hearty meal to fill his belly, and a song to fill his spirits. 

 

"Home in the hills, home in the stone.

Home is wherever my boots may roam.

The Hunger will take me, and Yaga may keep me.

My home is home wherever I roam."

 

My home is home wherever I roam. Hero had thought about that final line in the song's verse. Words he had been living by for years since the wyvern had taken his family. His only hope was when Yaga took his final breath, she'd be kind enough to let him hear his wife's whisper. And that thought had raised his morale. One final task.

 

The final approach to Crowhaven had Hero's nerves on edge. Just a few hours ride north and the land had lost it's color, it's life. The blanket of white had already begun to fall. The air cold enough to freeze limbs solid if you weren't prepared. But light ahead fought away those fears that come with Winter. Healthy fires from braziers, ever inviting, drew in Winter refugees and travellers, like moths to a flame. And there it was, the Stonetree.

 

The tree was much larger than it should ever be. Stone grey in color, from trunk to leaves, it was a sight to behold. Some say anything that touched it was turned to stone. This story had shown credence with the many objects at the base of the tree that looked as if they were carved from rock. A boot, a shield, even a teddy bear all among the display of awe as a giant rock formation encircling the base of the tree.

 

Hero had moved a brazier closer to the Stonetree. The people of Crowhaven didn't seem to mind, in fact they didn't seem to even acknowledge his presence at all. It was the dead of night, and a few guards stood watch for any villianous intruders. Their attention was better served for the towns protection than for a stranger keeping warm. Light of the sun crept subtly over the distant mountains, marking the first day.

 

Remembering the words from Malekai "stand vigilant under their grey tree", Hero had made a note not to leave the cover of the tree. As the day rolled on, and the townsfolk went about their business preparing for Winter. No one paid heed to Hero, a stranger in the middle of their town standing under the Stonetree of which they revered. Until midday a group of bandits appeared. Hero had strapped his shield to his arm, and took hold of his mace, readying himself for an attack. 

 

Arrows were let loose on the townsfolk. Mostly missing their mark. One glanced the tree behind Hero and to his amazement turned to stone instantly before falling to the ground. A young child rans across the courtyard calling out to her father on the other side. Hero darted over to her, to shield her from an arrow. But the arrow whistled right through him and impaled the little girl in the chest. Stunned and confused Hero turned to look at the little girl, her eyes slowly closing, her light leaving. He crouched next to her, holding the dying child and begged for forgiveness. Her final gasp failed to hold on.

 

Still confused, Hero looked around to see that the bandits had retreated. The town guard had thwarted any further efforts. The girl's father ran to his child and took her from Hero. "What have you done?! Why didn't you save her? She was only a child!" the father, irate and pained at the loss screamed at Hero. Without wanting to hear any sort of reply, the man sauntered off with his girl in his arms.

 

"I'm sorry..." Hero said under his breath. Only then did he realize he was no longer standing under the Stonetree. Am I to endure more of this? Am I to stand idly as those around me are harmed? These sort of thoughts haunted him for the rest of the day. 

 

That first night was a cold one. Hero had taken care to bundle himself to fight the elements of Winter. With the fire nearby, he was able to stay warm and also heat up a meal. Still the vision of the dying girl tugged at his heart. There would be no sleep for him the next couple days

.

The next morning, people came to the Stonetree, led by the father who had lost his little girl the day before. None of them held any weapons. But instead offerings for the father. After accepting gifts, the father held up a straw doll, his daughters favorite toy. "Forever we will remember" he said, and the crowd repeated. Then the father touched the doll to the tree turning it to stone. Afterwards the people returned to their lives as if nothing had happened.

 

Later that evening, Hero had noticed that the townsfolk were packing wagons. Looked as though many of them sought to leave Crowhaven. The light of day was fading fast, they wouldn't dare travel at night. Not when Winter is bitting at their ankles.

 

The second night was much colder than the first. That warmth and light from the fire was nothing but embers now. Hero's resolve bent to the breaking point. One more day and Malekai will leave me in peace. That thought had given him a second wind, strengthed his will.

On the final day, the sun had barely been visible through the Winter white and dark grey clouds. The Hunger was just on the horizon at dawn, creeping steadily towards town, eager to take the lives of everyone in its path. Hero could do nothing more than shout a warning of the encroaching terror. But it was too late.

 

A blackened dust cloud fueled by some dark energy surrounded Crowhaven. The town's inhabitants unprepared for the doom ahead. And like lambs to the slaughter, Hero was forced to watch as one by one innocent people fell to the blades of undead soldiers. Knowing that his fate was tied to theirs made no difference to him. He needed to fulfil his duty, complete his final task. Witnessing the horrors of the Hunger decimate women, children, guards and farmers without prejudice, had finally broken Hero's will. 

 

His eyes welled, his lip quivered. There was nothing he could do to save them. A few of the townsfolk made it to the Stonetree in hopes of a fate far more kind. They were granted mercy as their flesh turned to stone. The town's massacre was slow, the Hunger had surrounded everything, cutting off any chance at retreat for the people. Hero was eventually left alone in the center of Crowhaven, under the great Stonetree, surrounded by the undead scourge of the Hunger. Shield in one hand, mace in the other, he counted down the minutes until that last dusk, when he'd finally be free. He closed his eyes and whispered a prayer to Arkon.

 

As the sun sat on that last day, Hero's eyes shot open ablaze with the fury of justice. His mace, Retribution, set aflame. His shield, Faith, aglow with divine protection. He lunged into the Hunger to fight it as a free man.

 

Now some claim that's how he became a God. And others will have a different tale for a different story. I'm just telling you what my father told me. Even to this day, people still say they see Hero raising the moral of soldiers on the battlements, or helping with harvests. I haven't seen him before, but I'd like to believe that there's good Gods out there, ones that care about us mortals.

 

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  • 9 months later...

Very nice! You can tell a story is written well when the author puts in something like the people running to the tree to be turned to stone. It's something that most people wouldn't think of, and it's not necessary to the plot, but it adds so much to humanise them and make the world more real. Well done!

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