Bringing back storytime the first Tuesday of every month
Story #1: The Conflicted Zeegrak
The first of my Tuesday Night Stories tales starts through the eyes of a Zeegrack name Pekosh Mildron. A powerful creature with a deep hatred of humans. The reason for the hatred is unknown and it seems built up over a long period of time. What past grips this man, what drives his anger and distrust of humans? This story consisted of seven parts.
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Pekosh stared quietly at the figure walking from the forest into the clearing. This deep in the Birgal Forest people did not just happen by. His eyes drifted to the walls of his home. Walls filled with treasures and trinkets gained over a lifetime of exploration. There was nobody in the world with a greater collection from the previous age. Most of the items contained here would be overlooked as trash by humans, but to Pekosh they were everything.
The Zeegrak dedicated his life to the collection of these treasures, and there was no way they would be stolen so easily. More than three hundred years of gathering and protecting his findings. He had become rather good at it. The first warnings had come well over an hour ago.
Over the centuries the forest had become his. The creatures within it were fine with that. He respected them; and they, in turn, gave him the privacy he sought. All across the lands the Birgal was known as haunted--a reputation he himself started. Not many had the nerve to enter anymore. None lived to take tales of it back out. Pekosh was almost impressed with the human who was now coming toward his cabin. The creatures of the forest didn't let many through it after all.
The dull red pupils of Pekosh's eyes followed the movement of the pest through the wooden walls. The faint outline of it was as easy to see as if the wall wasn't present at all. It was just another benefit of the Zeegrak race. He couldn't begin to fathom how his people had fallen so far; the hot-headed humans were inferior in almost every way, especially with their short lives.
As it approached the door he rose and vanished from sight. A trick he had discovered a century ago with great delight. The jeweled dagger slipped quietly from its sheath as the door opened. Pekosh moved behind the man that had walked into the room.
The human was rather strong, for a human. The hammer slung to its back would be difficult to lift by most of them, much less swung with the ease necessary to be an effective weapon. The human greed Pekosh had come to recognize so easily filled the man's eyes as it looked over the possessions in the room. So, the filthy creature had come here looking for something like this.
"Like the collection?" The zeegrak asked the question quietly into the creature's eyes. His dagger slipped into the intruders back even as the man was reaching for his hammer. In one fluid motion Pekosh spun in front of the human and thrust his foot hard against the man's chest. The thief rose off his feet and flew backwards out the door of the house. It raised its head as Pekosh let himself slip back into view. The shock in its eyes disappeared along with any other sign of life.
Pekosh grinned; not even a drop of blood spilt on his nice clean floor.
The shrill whistles from the trees marked the arrival of yet another human entering the forest. Two in one day hardly seemed possible, but the birds didn't make mistakes. Pekosh Mildron narrowed his eyes at the thought of the one thing he had always feared. There was only one way the human's could invade his home and he knew it. To this point they had ventured by themselves or in small groups. Large numbers was the only logical way they could overtake his home. Was that happening now?
In an instant he was off, scooping up the dead human outside his door and slinging it casually over his shoulder. The Sharlicks would eat well tonight. There was no part of the forest Pekosh did not have memorized. Every step landed with absolute confidence. Most of the animals never heard his footsteps, even when running as fast as he was now.
Within a few minutes he came upon the scene. This new threat was smaller than the last, perhaps only five feet tall. And it was a woman this time. Nervous eyes flicked back and forth at the spiders slowly approaching it.
"Kiarsi," He said simply. Its eyes focused on him standing atop a high branch, then focused on the dead body slung over his shoulder. "The poison from the elycior flower is interesting is it not? Almost complete paralysis in less than a minute."
Pekosh jumped from the branch and landed hard on a rock in front of the human. The approaching Sharlick stopped their advance wearily. He pulled the corpse from his back and held it out to the spider leading the others. That spider approached alone. It wasn t the first time he had brought a corpse for them to feed on.
When the creature was in reach he places the corpse lightly on its back. He watched in wonder as the cord-like extensions of the spider wrapped around the corpse and held it firmly in place. The Sharlick could carry a great amount of weight up to their large webs made high in the trees. The creature bowed awkwardly in thanks and turned away. As he did so the rest of them turned away as well. The spiders never ceased to amaze him.
"So, Kiarsi," He said, turning back toward the human. Her eyes tightened as he leaped toward her. He cleared easily to the woman s side though and traveled the short distance to the plant he was looking for. She hadn't moved an inch in the time it took. The poison from the plant would not let the girl move for many hours yet. Without the plant he brought back at least.
It was pleasurable to see the fear in its eyes as he forced open the mouth and put the herb into it. It wasn t important that the woman swallow it. Pekosh leaped back atop the rock that would get him out of its reach. He watched and he waited.
After a few minutes the girl's fingers began to twitch as the poisons inside her were being eradicated. Then it could blink. Soon it would be able to speak again.
"So, Kiarsi " He said again, "I admit I never expected to see you again."
"I believe the exact words were 'if I see you again, I will kill you', yes?"
"Spare me your flattery, Zeegrak. I did not come to socialize. I have no doubt you could kill every one of the men waiting to come if I fail to return, but it is no more how you want to spend your day than how I want to."
Pekosh considered the words. The queen of this realm was never one to show fear, and it and she had always left him this land without asking for anything in return. "Very well, Lady Modros, I am listening."
"There is a new threat to both our lands. Yes, you heard me right. I consider this part of my kingdom yours just as you do. You have a unique set of skills and I have need of those skills."
The Zeegrak almost spit at the words, but stopped himself. After all, he could be civilized if she could. "I am no longer an assassin for your bloodline Kiarsi. Find someone else." He turned to leave.
"Not even to settle a debt, old friend?" He froze in place. Memories of her as a young child, teaching her to fight and to play, flooded into his mind and he pushed them away just as quickly. "So, you do remember centuries past. The threat comes from an old family; the Byron household is a curse on both our lands, as I said."
He knew she was treading carefully on this path, unwilling to say the truth of what happened so long ago. It was just as good for her. "Go on."
The queen nodded. "This year the only heir to the Byron bloodline has become a man. Hmm, so you do keep up with the happenings of the world outside your home. Good, so much the better. It has given Lord Victor Byron a boldness he has been waiting for a good long while. He is rousing an army to challenge the throne."
"And how do you know of this, the Lord was never one to gossip?"
"You think so little of me, Pekosh? It is my job to know these things."
"Very well, why should I care of the destruction of your people?"
"Because Victor would never give you what I have given you. I respect you, and I am sorry for the pain my family caused you all those years ago."
He looked at her doubtfully, but there was true sincerity in her eyes. "What is it you want?"
"Why, his death of course."
"And if I refuse?"
She looked reluctant, and then nodded as if to herself. "Lord Byron holds the Eye of Zigaru."
He hissed. "You lie, Kiarsi!" She did not flinch.
"Why would I? It means nothing to me. He wears it as an amulet. A victory of his descendants, he calls it th-."
"Amulet of Blood," he finished for her. And then he knew it was no lie. "Very well, do you wish the boy to die as well?"
She paused in consideration before shaking her head. "No, the boy has done nothing wrong. He does not need to pay for his family's mistakes."
"You are still a weak little girl, Kiarsi." He grinned viciously, but she didn't respond. The grin fell from his lips, the fun of the moment lost to her sadness.
"The innocent have died too many times," was all she said.
Pekosh knew she was thinking of her own murdered daughter. It was never proven, but he at least was sure of the family who had caused her that pain. The Byron s were a vicious household and a bane on all the realm, even to his standards. Perhaps he would end that bloodline despite her wishes. It could look like an accident after all. He concealed the grin budding inside him.
"Very well, my Queen, I shall do as you ask."
Queen Kiarsi Modros felt sick to her stomach as she approached the way out of the forest. With Pekosh no longer in sight, she spit out the herb he had given her. Not that it was the cause of the pain she felt. The source of that lay in what she had accomplished here today; and whether or not it was the right decision.
It had been difficult to maintain the frozen position of her feigned poisoning through everything that happened, but there had been no toxin in her blood forcing it. It was imperative that he believe he held the high ground from the start in their meeting, and the poison from the elycior flower seemed a good choice. She was not so ignorant as the Zeegrak seemed to think, another thing that was important to maintain. Her hands touched softly at the pack around her neck. Ironically, it contained some of that very poison. It did wonders for interrogation after all.
The Zeegrak was a dangerous and cold man, bitter in his dealings with humans. It had not always been that way, she remembered, but the man she knew as a child was long gone it seemed. Had there been another way that she could see, she would have taken it in an instant. As things were, there was no other way. Nobody had the deadly efficiency that Pekosh did. She forced a nod to help convince herself of that.
The grin he left with disturbed her. She knew what kind of man he was, and he wouldn t hesitate for a second to draw a dagger across the young heir s throat, especially an heir to that name. Yet she had done nothing to truly prevent it. She could have given the order and guaranteed his safety, but she did not. Why? Maybe she really was as weak as he accused.
The line of men in formation outside the forest line visibly relaxed when they saw her. Or some did anyway. It was her duty to separate those that did not; and to remember them. Sir Jorda rode out to meet her. The captain of her guard had done so hundreds of times, but he made it seem important even after all these years.
"How did it go, my Lady?"
"Precisely as planned, but whether it was for better or worse Well, we shall see."
The knight nodded solemnly. "Now we wait, and see if prophecy and reality are one in the same."
"Do you think it will change him?"
The knight thought hard before answering, "I think so, yes. By all accounts he carries all other requirements for the ritual, it is probably true. But does he know of the ritual, and would it even work if he does? That is another matter. There is another way of looking at it, I suppose..."
She thought of Pekosh's reaction to hearing Lord Byron had the amulet. She knew that he was fully in the know of that at least. "No, Jorda. We have discussed that path. I will not invade his home while he performs my own tasks. This forest," she gestured with her hands, "will not rest while he is gone either. It is not a safe place."
He nodded again. "Well it has served its purpose for us today. Come, my Lady. Let us return to Tatigin." He moved his horse forward to take the lead. The men in her personal guard moved in perfect formation to prepare and follow them.
The queen s guard surrounded her as they approached the gates of Tatigen. It was customary, but something felt wrong today. Kiarsi Modros was used to looking for things that were out of the ordinary. Micharo and Benjim exchanged a nervous glance as the men changed positions.
She knew it was too late to do anything about it when she heard a blade slip quickly from a sheathe behind her. All at once the scene erupted in violence. From beside her she Sir Jorda cried out, "TO ARMS, MEN, TO ARMS!" and his horse lurch forward. She turned in time to see the knight s weapon was only half drawn as Micharo s blade cut deep into his neck.
Without thinking Kiarsi gave a cry of her own and let a dagger from her sleeve fly forward. Her aim never missed at this range and blood filled his neck where the dagger slipped in. She knew the man was dead before he even fell from his horse. She turned to see Benjim fully surrounded, two of her men had lost their saddle and one s hand pressed against his side that was turning red quickly. Pure hatred filled the eyes of Benjim Taragor, he was looking directly at her.
"Let him live!" She commanded as more than one of her guards pulled at their reins to stop. Another second and the man would have been dead. "He is worth more to me alive for now."
"He killed Sir Jorda! You cannot mean to let him live?" One demanded.
"I must know who sent the orders. Give him this," she took some of the herb she picked earlier from her pack and handed it to Zacharias Petrall. The chance of something like this happening today was why she got it after all. "It will take away his ability to move."
Zacharias took the herb obediently. He was her last guardian now. The last one now alive anyway, she thought. She turned to the man that had protected her since she was in a cradle. The fallen old knight had been the father she never known. She dismounted and inspected the garish wound, the gash in his neck was deep enough to give him a quick death at least. She said a prayer for him silently.
She knew who was responsible for this. She didn t need Benjim's tales to see the work of Lord Byron. Even still, she would learn something before having the man executed. Maybe it wouldn t be such a bad thing to rid the world of that bloodline once and for all. She was lost between feelings of anger and sadness.
The path up to the bailey was a continuous winding up and down of hills. She could see only the top of it above the gates of the inner city. The entire city had been founded two centuries ago for its strategic location high on a tall hill that rested against an even taller cliff. The additional hills had been cut into the earth to give invading armies even more ground to cover while arrows assaulted them.
Atop that hill were the wooden poles of the inner city gates rising high off the ground. The top of those gates alone could hold hundreds of archers. She gave orders even as they approached to have Lady Jorda brought to her. She chose the personal meeting chamber to tell the woman. A place she rarely visited. That her husband died to betrayal would make the news much harder. He had chosen the personal guard after all.
Kiarsi looked over her shoulder at the long line of men and women following behind her. The widow Lady Jordah walked at her side in all black as they lead the funeral procession down to the ocean s edge. Behind her, Zacharias led the rank of knights carrying the wooden boat containing their fallen brother s corpse inside.
A large white flag depicting the Modros sigil of two howling wolves was wrapped tightly around her guardian s body. The sword that had taken his life had cut deep into the neck, making an open send off impossible. It only added insult to injury.
Kiarsi felt empty inside. Three men were assigned as her guardian s when she was born. It was their duty to die for her, but she never wanted that to happen. Now it had happened twice. Would she bring the same fate upon Zacharias? How many people did she have to lose in her life? Everyone she loved was taken from her eventually.
The stretching line of candles ablaze would be the only lights in the city tonight. As the people gathered around the shore the knights let the boat down softly onto the water. They filed in quickly and quietly out of tradition as much as respect to the fallen knight.
She stood as the Queen atop a raised platform and the crowd fell silent. "We have lost a great man this day. For fifty-two years Sir Stephen Jordah lived as one of us, for thirty-nine years he has given his life to protect our kingdom." How long could she fight back the tears inside her? "This man was a father when I had none, a brother to his fellow knights, and a husband to my closest friend."
The widow Jordah smiled up at her, her eyes were bright red from a night of crying. The two had been married when the woman was fourteen. It was customary for a knight to find a bride after his service to the army. He had chosen to be her guardian only after their marriage. Despite the difference in their ages, Kiarsi had never seen such love in a marriage.
"We give up this great man back to the earth that gave him life. His spirit and energy we offer to Gods above." The knights cast off boat and the crowd watched as it floated away. When it was far enough she called out.
"Archers to the ready!" As one, four men pulled back on their bows and four more lifted their candles to the tips of the arrows. "Archers, loose!"
The Gods were watching tonight, she knew. All four arrows flew true and the small boat erupted in flame. With the ceremony complete, many of the people turned to return home. Kiarsi knew she wouldn t leave for many hours though. She whispered a prayer to her fallen guardian, and promised to avenge him.
Pekosh rode low on his stallion. Wind held his cloak tight to his body with the speed in which he traveled. Moments before, the guards of Keep Byron should have seen him just through the trees. With any luck, a number of them would be on his trail now. He was sure the keep hadn t forgotten the Zeegrak. The last time he cared to check, there was still a rich bounty on his head.
That had bothered Pekosh long ago, but it worked to his advantage now he hoped. Men blind for gold did things differently than other men. It wasn t likely they would inform the master of the keep yet in the hopes of keeping the gold for themselves.
With a lunge he shot off the horse and rolled smoothly on the ground. The horse continued on into the darkness as asked. With concentration the Zeegrak hid himself to his surroundings. The horses coming toward him would not seem him hidden as he was. To his delight, five of the men rode past at close to full speed.
He was off the second they passed back toward his victim. The gates of the keep were, as expected, manned by only two guards now. He didn t have much time before the others would give up the chase. He wrapped up in a bundle of rags and pulled out the cane he had stashed earlier. In seconds he had become a beggar calling on protection for the night.
Within range of the guards, two daggers flew true and the men were choking for air where his daggers had sunk into their throats. The men went down quietly. A guard on the tower above the gate cried out and Pekosh dashed inside before they could close him out. Being closed in would be something to worry over later.
In the keep proper five guards died before the Zeegrak was forced to run. It would have been easy enough to kill dozens more, but it wouldn t get him any closer to accomplishing his mission tonight. He ran not for the Lord s tower, but for an underground cellar used to store wine and liquor for the royalty. Again he concentrated and vanished from sight, then he waited while considering taking a few bottles of wine when he left. Some were very old he could tell. If the Byron household was good for anything, it was in those bottles.
Eventually the door above him opened and men rushed inside. The guards wandered in and out of the aisles between racks looking for anyone hiding. They wouldn t see him though, perched above them atop one of the racks, invisible to their inferior eyes.
Finally satisfied, all but three of the guards went to stand outside the cellar or search for the invader. Again hoping for luck, the guards inside the keep didn t expect it was him yet. He waited another minute for those in the room to calm a bit before he crept up toward them. When he was moving they could see him if they looked, but none were looking at the back of the room. Only at the door.
Two more daggers sprang from his fingers as he jumped from the rack. A third was in his hands almost instantly after releasing the others. This one he didn't throw though. He landed softly behind the guard and the man turned to find a dagger slice cleanly across his throat. He never made a sound.
Pekosh grabbed the man s sword from his hand and kicked him hard in the chest. Even as the dying man flew backwards he turned and held the tip of the blade against the Lord s neck.
"You can have whatever you want, if you spare my life."
"And what if what I want is your blood, Narscael?" Pekosh pulled back his hood. Lord Byron didn t even blink.
"I haven't been called that in some time, Zeegrak." The man had the audacity to spit the words at him.
With a clean slash Pekosh took his head off. There were few he would tolerate such a thing from. That man was not among them. He took the amulet from around the dead man s neck then remembered the boy. He was cowering, white as a ghost. Pekosh considered him and dropped the sword.
"Yo- You aren t going to kill me, sir?" Finally, a Byron that showed him respect. He almost laughed before thinking about the boy again. He wasn t really the Lord's heir after all, why should he be cruel? He was sure that the Queen did not know that the son she lost nine years ago wasn t really dead.
"Kill you? Why, no, I'm not. I have other plans for you little Lordy." He grinned down at the child. With a glance over his shoulder he saw Narscael in his true form. He decided not to let the child see that his father was actually a Zeegrak.
Pekosh watched as tears filled the eyes of the Queen. It wasn t every day that you learn your son, dead almost a decade, was actually alive and well. She handled it well. What type of thought is that, who cares how she handled it?
"Is he really my little Jordan?" She ran to the scared boy and wrapped her arms around him, or tried to anyway. The boy moved to hide behind him of all people. The tears came faster to her eyes.
"Give him time, Kiarsi," What is this, compassion? Slit the boy's throat to make up for it, and why does the queen need to live? No, that was not going to happen!
She nodded, if reluctantly. The emotions inside him twisted like a dagger in his side. It had begun as soon as the amulet rested around his chest. He could feel the battle it initialized raging inside him.
"Zacharias, come and take the child. Make sure he is well fed and bathed. See if any of the serving maids have a son his age. We'll have to have clothes made for him."
The man moved quickly to the task without a word. It was admirable that he be so dedicated to her. You don t need admirable people; you need to flee to your home, away from the Humans. Pekosh gritted his teeth once again.
"What will you do?" Her eyes darted to what she knew must lie beneath his shirt. Her tears were gone, and the face of a queen was all that could be seen once more. He was so proud of her. Proud, PROUD, what is happening to me? He fought down the Zeegrak emotions as best he could.
What was he going to do? The ritual was in his grasp now, but did he want it? Pekosh was who he had become. Pekosh was who he was. Or was it? Without a good answer, he said nothing.
"You are always welcome here. I cannot thank you enough for bringing him back to me. I thought I had lost everyone." He just barely caught the glance at him as she said the words. She didn t lose you, you can't lose something you never had, the Zeegrak inside him pleaded.
It wasn't fair, it wasn't right. There was a time when he would have never done something that wasn t right. What had happened to him after so many centuries in this body? This is your body now, your only body. No, that wasn t true. He knew what he had to do.
"Your kingdom is safe, Kiarsi. Now leave me to my peace, Human!" Those weren t the words he meant to say, but he didn t realize it until he was back in his forest, back in his home. Then the words sunk in for what they were. It was the last desperation of a part of him that was losing control.
With the amulet around his neck he pulled out the other parts he needed. The memorabilia his losing form had collected for so long. Pekosh had been so proud of them. The life of a Human is short and pointless, Pekosh knows better than to give up this superior form. It was superior in truth: a longer life, better eyes, and superior stealth and combat strengths, but it had its draw-backs as well. He didn t need to live in the shadows anymore, and a man his age didn t need to raise a sword. Pekosh is but a child in his prime.
He slipped the ring on his finger and felt compassion. Next came the ornate leather gloves and he felt sadness for centuries of lost family. A polished silver crown fit perfectly to his head and he felt fear for losing the strengths of his Zeegrak form. He paused, holding the bracelet in shaking hands. The emotions were taking over his mind, tearing him in too many directions.
With a deep breath he slipped the last part of his old self on his wrist. Tears welled in his eyes as he felt an emotion he never thought to experience again. He cried for loves lost, and for the loves he would gain in the near future. After some time he took hold of the emotions overwhelming him.
He got to his feet and walked slowly to the mirror, half afraid of a face he hadn t seen in more than three hundred years. His tan hands touched uncomfortably at his human skin. There was no hair on his body: no eyebrows, eyelashes, hair, nothing. He didn t care, he gave a wide smile.
"Why, hello there Pariaso," he laughed and took off the crown on his head. After all, it didn t really belong to him anymore. His eyes grew wide as he took in the room he was in. Fragments of his time trapped in that creature s body came to him, but a great deal of it was a blur. He always loved trinkets and collecting things. Did part of his human self bide its time until this opportunity presented itself? You'll never know I guess, he thought.
With a smile he ran out the door of his hom-. No, this wasn t his home. This was Pekosh's home. His home wasn t far though, and he jumped on his stallion. It moved uncomfortably at the strange form on its back, but picked up his scent and calmed quickly. He dug in his heels and shot toward home.
He had a great-great-granddaughter to meet, and her recently returned son. All the queen ever really wanted was a family. Now she was going to get one.