Wendy looked down into the valley, and began to weep. "It was the Theocracy," said Guido, her boyfriend. He put an arm about her shoulders and felt her shaking with rage and grief.
Below them, in what had been a scenic little valley, there used to be a tidy little village. Now, only smouldering ruins hugged the teal waters of the shallow bay. Fishing boats, which were moored in neat rows at the villages piers were just masts poking above the water, like banner poles, with tattered and burnt banners of creamy white, the remains of their sails.
Even from almost a mile away, the stench of cooked meat came to Wendy's nose, and nearly caused her to vomit. A handful of people seemed to have survived the raid, moving slowly through the wreckage that had been their homes and lives.
Wendy took a deep breath and nudged her horse to a walk, moving down the crushed gravel path to Verdello. She hoped there would be some assistance she could give to the terrorized villagers, but feared that there would be none.
Guido followed her upon his own horse. Neither of them were wealthy enough to own a horse, but they had recently earned a few guilders and were reputable enough, barely, to rent them from one of the many stablers on the edge of Vilders, with a substantial deposit, naturally.
Many of the dead had been, already, gathered in the town square, wrapped in sailcloth. Dozens of corpses lined in neat rows. The people of Verdello were tidy, even now. Wendy gave a small whimper of a laugh with the thought that their graves would likely be in neat rows as well, and they would not jostle in the line queuing up for entry to the Portal of Forever.
Between the dead, and the few living, there were not nearly enough people accounted for. "It was a slave raid," said Wendy in a very quiet tone. "Half the people are gone."
Guido nodded, watching the villagers with saddened eyes. Slave raids were the most common raiding the Theocracy performed. They constantly needed more slaves for their insatiable appetites.
The young couple had come here, on the occassion of Wendy's nineteenth birthday, to spend a few days in the beautiful, quiet little village, enjoying the much-celebrated hospitality of the people and their unparalleled seafood preparation techniques.
The thought of food nearly caused Wendy to vomit again, and the cloying stench of cooked pork hanging in the air, which was not pork, aided her resistance to that not one whit.
One of the villagers approached them. An elderly woman, too old to have offered either resistance to the Theocracy, or to be of use as a slave. "Sir and madam. Please, help me. I cannot lift my husband's body, please help me to get him to the square." She was bravely not crying, but Wendy could see that she had been and would be again, very soon.
Guido instantly nodded, and leaped down from his mount, not even waiting, as he normally did, to see what Wendy would wish of him. He already knew. He handed Wendy the reigns for his horse as she, herself dismounted. He took the elderly widow's arm and she guided him off among the still floating puffs of smoke that filled the village.
Wendy tied the horses to a chunk of fallen timber and walked to where several people were hovering around a table, sewing bodies into makeshift canvas cerements. The five people, men and women alike, turned to stare at her a moment as she walked up to the table. One of the women silently held out a large sailcloth needle with a trailing length of twine through its eye. Wendy took it and they all went to their business.
After four hours of that, Wendy stood back from the table, people had come and gone from the group preparing the bodies for burial. Guido had not returned yet, though she suspected he was making himself useful elsewhere. The old woman had stood to the side as they had sewn her husband into a cloth, crying while one of the young women of the village had comforted her.
Wendy walked a ways from the square, hoping to clear her nose of the stench of death. Guido was there, on the side of the main avenue through town, helping men, in a group, set some tables under the eaves of a large elm. The only 'roof' left in the village right now. Food was being salvaged as it was found and taken to those tables.
The sun was now low and mercifully, it looked to be a clear night coming to them. It might grow a bit chilly, but it would not rain. "How are you doing?" asked Guido, solicitously as she stood with a haunted expression on her heart-shaped face. He ran fingers over her smoke-greasy hair and she leaned into him for support.
"I'll be fine," she said unconvincingly. "Others have suffered more than I this day."
As the sun touched the western horizon, a column of soldiery of the city-state marched into the village with a few handcarts. They promptly began throwing their aid into the cleanup efforts, though that would soon be ended for the day, as the light failed. Mostly, they set up a few tents for the comfort of the elderly and infirm, and their healer tended to the wounded. The village's priests had been slain or taken.
Wendy and Guido sat at the edge of the firelight as the villagers and soldiers moved among the tables, taking a bit of food and speaking quietly. They were on the steps of one of the burned out houses. They both heard a scraping sound from behind them and turned. A shape rose from among the fallen timbers of the house. It was hard to make out in the low light at the edge of the fire's reach and more so as it was inside the home.
It moaned, then lurched toward the doorway at their backs. Both rose, thinking they were looking on another survivor of the raid, and prepared to be pleased. Then it screamed incoherently and charged at the two of them.
Wendy ducked aside as a massive sword came sweeping from the doorway, Guido was not as swift. The blade caught him under the ribs and lifted him from the ground and he flew back into the clearing. The man, if man he was, stood over six feet tall, and was armor clad from head to toe, black gleaming steel.
There were shrieks from the crowd and the soldiers, taken by surprise, began moving toward the disturbance. Wendy rolled and came up on her feet, her training from goblin-hunting coming back to her instantly. She wore only a small knife, though, and knew she could not face this opponent, even well armed, and hope to win.
The armored man howled in triumph as Guido's body thudded to the ground, and did not move. "No!" screamed Wendy, jerking her knife from its sheath as tears flowed down her cheeks.
The man turned to her now. "Heretic whore!" he screamed in an oddly-accented Ghantian. "You are comely, and will be saved for special favors."
She brandished the ridiculously short knife before her and he took one step toward her, threateningly. "A fiery one," he said, but then turned to face the first wave of soldiery as they rushed toward him with spears. "Fools!" he bellowed as he waded in among them. Their spear points skittered off his armor and he hacked them down, arms and legs flying free of their bodies, heads rolling on the ground, and blood everywhere. The villagers were gone now, disappeared among the ruins, seeking for shelter.
The remaining six soldiers pulled back, then fled, having watched equal their number fall to him in seconds. His sword was pulsing with a sickly yellow light and he panted within his full helm. "Run, dogs! God will show me where to find you when he is ready!" the armored man screamed.
Wendy stood, blinking, then, finally, thought of her own flight. She got half way through a turn when the armored man said a word, a dark word, she could feel its malice even as he spoke it. Her arms and legs failed her and she collapsed to the ground like a marionette with its tethers cut. "No, no, my little firebrand," said the armored man, "we have much to do before you go."
She felt herself lifted and thrown over the back of her own horse. All she could see, hanging over the steed's back was the ground moving past in the moonlight as they left the village. Wendy could not even raise her head. She jounced along as the horses trotted over the intermittent rock and grasses of the coastline.
After an hour, they stopped. She was hauled over the horse's back and propped against a tree. A few minutes later, a small campfire burned and she saw the man moving about the little clearing in a copse of small trees. He had removed his helm, and she watched until he turned to look upon her. His face was alarmingly handsome and fair. Short-cropped blond hair crowned his head and watery blue eyes peered at her.
He once again spoke a dark word and she felt her arms and legs again, and could move her head. "Do not try to flee," he said calmly as she looked about them.
Wendy turned a withering glare onto him. "Why did you take me?" she demanded.
"I have yet to take you," he said, "and I will not. You will give yourself to me, mark that."
Wendy's lips curled up in a cruel smile. "That won't happen," she said. "I do not lie with heretics nor murderers."
"Lest you be a virgin, you've done both, whore!" he screamed, balling one massive fist and raising it over her. The young woman gritted her teeth and refused to flinch. Slowly, the red faded from his fair skin and he lowered the fist. "I can smell your lack of virginity, so I know this is so."
He watched her closely as she rose to her feet unsteadily. Feeling was still coming back to them and they tingled, as if asleep. "I will not try to run, yet," she said. "I know you'll just use your magic upon me again, if I do."
He nodded slowly. "What is your name?" he asked.
"Wendy, if it matters," she replied.
"Of course it matters," said the man. "I would know the woman who will next give herself to me."
Wendy shook her head, causing her oily mane to fly about. "You're a fool if you think your somewhat attractive face will warrant such change of heart."
He chuckled at her. "My name is Chendan," he said.
"I don't care what your name is," she bit out. "If you are going to ravish me, do so and be done with it. Or kill me, or whatever." Wendy's small fists were clenched now and her face flushed red with anger.
Again, he chuckled. "I am not going to ravish you," he said. "As I pointed out, you will give yourself to me, then you may be cleansed enough to die and have a hope of joining the One's side in the Forever."
"Bedding you will cleanse me?" she scoffed, then laughed. "That is, quite possibly, the worst story any man has tried to use to convince me to bed them."
Chendan began removing his armor, plate by plate. It was made up of dozens of small metal plates, cunningly interlocking and overlapping to provide an amazing degree of protection. Wendy watched him carefully. "Even nude, woman, I can kill you with a word," he said, by way of warning.
He was now only wearing a pair of loose cotton pants. Wendy had to admit he had an amazing physique. His arms were as thick and powerful as her legs and his chest literally rippled with tight, compact muscles. He noted her gaze and said, "You may have me whenever you wish."
Wendy turned away and stomped a few steps beyond the campfire's light, staring into the darkness. His cruel chuckles followed her.
"Come, eat," he said. She turned about and he was sitting near the fire, with a small sack dumped onto a piece of cloth. Several pieces of fruit and some dried meat were there, along with two large bottles of wine. "No need for you to go hungry, it will prove nothing."
Slowly, she walked back and sat opposite him. "You stink," he said. "You should bathe in the surf, use the sand to scrub the scent of cooked flesh from your hair and clothes."
"And make myself more appealing to you?" she asked. "I think not."
He laughed. "Woman, I have bedded women coated in other men's blood, and I have tumbled in passion in the dying entrails of still others." He gave her a level, icy stare. "You could cover yourself in your waste, and still I would bed you, for I am far above the mean things of the world, and can see beyond them. I simply thought you might wish to remove the smell from yourself for your own peace of mind."
"Will you let me bathe alone?" she asked.
"No," he replied, looking at her levelly. "I will not let you out of my sight for that long."
Wendy rose and turned toward the sound of the surf. "Well, then come and get your fill of watching me bathe, pervert," she said and then set off at a brisk walk.
He followed her at a distance until she had reached the edge of the water. The moonlight glinted off the waves and the white foam of the incoming surf splashed near her feet. With impassive eyes, he watched her disrobe and set her clothes farther up the beach, out of the reach of the waves. She then gave him a long look, one filled with resentment and hostility.
Finally, though, she walked into the water and felt its warm embrace around first her ankles, then up her long, slim legs, then over the curving form of her body. A taller than normal wave submerged her and as the sea retreated, she reached up and twisted her long brown hair to remove most of the salty water.
Wendy moved back to shallower water, occassionally looking toward Chendan and glaring at his calm stare. She scrubbed herself with the abrasive sand, and even washed her hair in like fashion, intentionally taking a very long time to do so. After rinsing the last of the gritty sand from her hair, she looked over toward her captor to find him out in the water, rather near her.
He stood in water to his thighs, his pants were now lying on the sand up the beach, next to her own clothes. Her eyes were drawn to him again, almost as if by magic. From his massive, muscular chest, they moved inexorably downward, over his rippled stomach, then to his hairless groin, and the long, hanging tumescence there. It hung obscenely into the water as he stood, concealing the end. However, she had to estimate it to be larger than any she had seen before.
He smiled at her as he caught her staring at him. "Whenever you are ready, woman," he said.