Hey look a none Sci-Fi story. Who saw that coming? OK, jokes aside it’s funny this isn’t a Sci-Fi story considering that the main inspiration for this was the Sangheili from the Halo franchise. Then again the other inspiration, which if you’ve played it I’m sure you’ll be able to tell, is Ghost of Tsushima, which could not be further from Sci-Fi. If you don’t know GoT then it’s a story about the Mongols (Genghis Khan) trying to invade Japan by first claiming Tsushima Island. Hopefully that gives you some idea of what I’m going for in this story, except without an invading foreign nation. Not saying anymore than that. If you’re confused or intrigued then give the story a read. Hope you like it, really loved writing this one!
Having been woken by what sounded like screaming, Dyag Velsom is confused. Everything around him looks as it had done shortly before he turned in for the night. The straw packed bedding with its animal furs occupying much of the central mass of the tents vaguely circular floor space, illuminated by candles burnt low which send orange and yellow glows across the weapons and supplies which line the edge of the confined space. At first Dyag wonders if the screams were a part of some dream or nightmare. It’s possible, remarkably so for sleep has not been kind to him as of late. Still, what happens if it were not a dream? Does it mean fellow Tsuaru have captured bandits, thieves, a Ymbal scout. All are viable options he feels and with him being wide awake in what is clearly still the dead of night perhaps it is best he endeavours to discover which it is.
Quickly clambering to his feet in the flickering flames of the almost spent white scentless candles Dyag checks he is in a state befitting his position as a Tsuaru bowman. To no surprise he made no efforts, prior to seeking rest for the night, to disarm himself of the two weapons all Tsuaru tribesmen carry, their short and standard length swords. Both hang from the waist, one above the other but not held in rigid place. If that were a requirement it would make it almost impossible to manoeuvre on the battlefield. Not that Dyag, a man with a shaved head and orange eyes who stands at an average height of five foot eight would be expected to rush headlong into the enemy, another tribe by the name of Ymbal, if they were to come to blows. It seems doubtful that they will regardless of all the posturing and threats issued by one party or the other. Still, the Tsuaru have to be prepared to fight and defend Simarachi, the lands upon which the tribe reside.
At one time Simarachi had been shared between the Ymbal and Tsuaru. That was until more than a century ago a string of failed winter crops inclined the Ymbal to depart these lands for pastures new. They were convinced that the land was either cursed or soon to be and so not wishing to starve through the long, hard winters they established themselves in a sub-region now known as Yma. Peace prevailed in the decades that followed, until in the last few years Yma has started to show the same issues which once afflicted Simarachi, a string of failed crop harvests and the prospect of starvation. As a result the Ymbal have reminded that they once shared Simarachi with the Tsuaru and so believe they are owed a part of what was once theirs because it is ancestral land. The Tsuaru refused and continue to do so for the Ymbal forsook these lands believing them useless and offering only death. In doing that the Ymbal ceded their rights to the land passing them to the Tsuaru, which is why the tribes now exist in an unease balance between peace and war.
Anything is capable of sparking the powder keg, though Dyag has no reason to believe it will light as he tightens several of the knots keeping his principally clay armours pieces in place. Yes clay is what the Tsuaru warrior is clad in, not entirely but mainly and you might be asking as to why. Well, the answer is simple. The Tsuaru have not been able to dig free and forge enough armour sets for all their warriors. After all, the life of a warrior is a birthright in the Tsuaru tribe for they believe wholeheartedly in honour. And there is no greater honour than fighting and potentially dying for those you call your people. Yet, thankfully not all of Dyag’s armour is formed from clay; the braces on his arms are metal as are his greaves and helmet. He’s forgotten about the headdress in his frantic need to discover whether the noises which woke him were real or imagined. It’s why the helmet sits alongside his bow. Not a weapon he believes can and will be useful within the boundaries of the Herki camp as it stands in the east of Simarachi near the border with Yma.
Confident his armour isn’t about to slip embarrassing him, and having heard nothing from beyond the confines of the thick linen which forms the ‘walls’ of his tent, devoid of other Tsuaru warriors who he would have expected to have bedded down by this hour, he reaches out for the cloth. It’s rough to the touch, nothing like the linen he would be adorned in if he were back in Pensaftu Village, the principal home of his people, which would be soft, colourful and emblazoned with imagery either historical or mythical in nature. Regardless, of how the tent feels he continues to pull the thick linen back permitting and creating a wound in the otherwise unblemished skin until he catches a glimpse of flames. Nothing unusual he thinks for camp fires are a norm within locations such as this that are close to the Yma border. His opinion soon changes, much like his expression, when he gets a fuller view of the camp around him. It is ablaze. Dyag’s eyes are wide with a mixture of surprise and disbelief. It makes no sense that the camp would be on fire.
The first thought which hits the Tsuaru warrior is that flames have been neglected, left to spread unchecked, and as a result Herki has burst into flames. Linen, dry foods and furs create marvellous fuel for the ever persistent will of flames to spread and grow. Yet, how is it that the entire camp looks to be ablaze. Not consistently but in a way which suggests intentionality not misfortune or neglect. He cannot say much like he cannot will himself into motion. Rather, he stands staring at the flames as they dance, stretch and lick skyward. They must be reaching at least fifteen feet up into the air and show no signs of ebbing. It’s miraculous and terrifying but enthrals and fascinates Dyag who is left watching as the thick acrid smoke climbs and coils together into a great black funnel somehow visible in the dead of the night sky with its dark clouds and partially obscured bright glowing moon.
A fresh set of screams reach his ears. He hears them immediately. No delay or hesitation created by his loss in thought. If he suffered such afflictions he would not have become a warrior, a bowman. Absentmindedly he checks for his blades. They remain, as they were previously, at his waist. Well within reach, perfectly angled for a quick draw of one if needs demanded it.
Why would they? I don’t know. I just get the feeling that… Where are the screams? They are gone. Screams don’t just go. There has to be a reason as to why… I need to find whoever it was who screamed. They might be in danger, trapped, cornered… What about the flames? Damn the flames, they cannot kill without foolishness and hubris to aid them. I will not succumb; I will watch and take care…
Dyag’s mind is made up so he sees little point in finishing his thought; it’s why he tapers off in favour of assessing what is around him. Fire. Fire is what is around him. Copious amounts of fire, roaring, spitting, reaching. The wind blows softly carrying the flames away from the warrior. Fortune is favouring him. A smile carves its way across his face. It disappears in an instant when he hears, “Tsuaru scum!” screamed at the top of someone’s lungs. The accent is close to his but not identical. Yet, what that would mean makes little sense for it would suggest…
A Ymbal appears from out of the flames, weapon drawn. He is followed soon after by a couple more also with their wide bladed swords drawn.
“Ymbal, what are you doing here? Is this your doing?”
A smile scratches across the faces of the Ymbal warriors stood dressed in their burnt orange metal armour. They are spoiling for a fight. All the Ymbal here tonight are which is why they were sent. They are under the command of Eorin, one of the fiercest warriors their tribe has.
He is a man who has fought the Tsuaru many a time, in small border skirmishes and as part of raids. This time it will be different. The Ymbal will rout the Tsuaru; drive them back west to Pensaftu Village and finally Hiromani Castle. It is the ancestral home of the protector of these Tsuaru lands, Ito. He is the latest in a long line of Lords who refuse to return what is rightfully to be shared with the Ymbal and they will stand for it no longer. If the Tsuaru will not give the lands owed to the Ymbal freely then they will be taken, totally. Tsuaru warriors will be slaughtered to a man, their women and children pushed into the sea. That will teach them for their hundred and ten year theft.
“Quick, aren’t you Tsuaru? Most of your kin could not comprehend what was transpiring until it was too late. But how have you survived? We scoured this stretch of your burning camp finding none left alive. So how is it you stand before us?”
“How is not important, Ymbal. What is important is that I stand and that you will get no further in your dishonourable deeds, mark my words.” Dyag is sure and confident as he speaks. He truly believes the words that have come out of his mouth. And he is correct, for the Tsuaru see surprise night attacks as dishonourable. To the Tsuaru you either enter battle head on or not at all. There is no stealth or subterfuge. Such things are meant for cowards, those without conviction in their hearts. To Dyag it sounds like a perfect description of the Ymbal. They are entirely without honour and yet he never considered they would sink to these depths. He is ashamed for their ancestors. For those who would not have condoned such actions. He’s heard tell that once the Ymbal had held honour. It’s why they lived alongside the Tsuaru, but clearly those days are gone, which is why they attack a warrior with odds in their favour and weapons already drawn.
The Tsuaru is yet to draw his own weapon. When he does it will, for him, signify the beginning of the fight and he will not sheath his standard blade until these adversaries are dead or he is. That is how a Tsuaru fights, with honour, determination and lacking fear. He feels not an ounce of it. His confidence is high. Not in victory but in his capabilities. For he has trained since the first day he could walk to fight and like all Tsuaru sees the honour of fighting for ones people as the highest which can be bestowed upon him.
The trio of Ymbal warriors exchange wide grinning looks amongst themselves before one speaks.
“Tsuaru are always so arrogant. You are as yet to draw your blade. What makes you think you can best us?” There is a snarl across the Ymbal speakers face. His grip tightens on the hilt in his hands. Dyag takes note of it. No further words will be exchanged, of that much the Tsuaru warrior can be sure and is proven correct when a few short moments later one of the Ymbal throws themselves at the man with orange eyes.
In response the bowman pulls his standard sword with a single clean motion revealing the weapon’s thin, by comparison to those wielded by his enemies, blade to meet his attackers’ first swipe. Their blades connect, a musical metal ring echoes outward from the point of origin. Dyag has missed battle. He’s not a novice when it comes to fighting. He has partaken in smaller conflicts. He cannot say as to where this one, overall, sits in the hierarchy of size for he is unaware of the true scope of what is happening here. His assumption is that Herki is likely mostly ablaze. If that is indeed the case then this battle yet to be concluded will be the largest and perhaps most important he has taken part in.
Then I must prove my honour and show I have right to be here with this blade in hand.
Another swipe comes in; Dyag again blocks it with ease. If only ease is something that could be said of how the Ymbal is conducting himself. Clearly he is a brute, relying on strength and lacking finesse. The Tsuaru will teach him the error of his ways as soon as an opening… With that thought the Ymbal exposes himself down his left flank. Dyag, suppressing a smile, exploits the opportunity and delivers a quick slash. The Ymbal screams and staggers away. Words are exchanged in a tongue most foreign to Dyag.
From their intonation and expressions he believes he can conclude what they are likely to be and is soon proven correct when the two other Ymbal attack in tandem. Dishonourable, the Tsuaru decides, without showing signs of retreat. In fact, he steps forward making clear his intent to meet his enemies head on. As could be predicted they are surprised but lack understanding and so recklessly throw themselves toward the Tsuaru warrior. A block, a dodge, another block, a counter, block number three, then four and a breaking of one’s guard follow. Sadly at no point is Dyag afforded a chance to strike. For all their uncoordinated aggression they are adept at keeping him on the back foot and in constant need to protect himself from the next incoming strike. The only consolation the warrior with the orange eyes has is that the third Ymbal has not returned to the fray. Rather, he has slumped on the floor. It’s much as Dyag expected for the wound he inflicted may not have looked like much but it was delivered with expert precision and sliced an artery. If not yet the wounded Ymbal will soon be dead. Dyag holds no remorse or feeling for the life he has taken for this is battle. If the death had been senseless murder things would be quite different but they are not. The Ymbal have declared war by attacking Herki and war is what Dyag intends to give them.
Again the Tsuaru is forced to block. Though, on this occasion he unleashes a sudden swift kick. It sends one of the Ymbal staggering back heavily off-balance because of the weight of the thick metal and leather armour he is clad in.
This reduction in number will not sustain and so the warrior knows it is either now or never that he unleashes a brazen series of strikes against his currently singular foe. So that is exactly what Dyag does as he explodes into a flurry. The Ymbal is shocked, taken aback by the severity and ferocity with which this, what appeared to him to be an ambling, warrior is capable of. It’s why instantly the Ymbal is forced into a retreat. Yet Dyag will not allow for his adversary to withdraw. Rather, he sidesteps to better angle and corner the Ymbal who quickly runs out of room to backpedal across. Unless he wishes to risk dancing in the fire of a viciously burning tent engulfed in oranges, yellows and reds that is.
The heat from those flames in particular are skin boiling. The Tsuaru would hazard a guess that is one of the tents within which powder was stored for use in bombs. It has always held an incredible ability to burn much hotter than anything else he has ever come across.
But with the Ymbal cornered and beginning to burn due to his proximity to the flames, an affliction not suffered by Dyag, the Tsuaru warrior presses his advantage, harder. The Ymbal attempts to block but is torn between fear and a desperate urge to survive. He will not survive as is proven when Dyag begins an overhead swing which the Ymbal moves to block only for the Tsuaru warrior to drop his sword into his other hand and deliver a quick plunging stab into a weakly armoured section around the gut. The Ymbal freezes instantly as if cast in rock, their jaw drops, a gurgle rolls off their tongue, a cough follows, wet and sickening. The coughing continues, intensifies and worsens, until blood is being spewed into sight. The Tsuaru warrior withdraws his blade, flicks it clean of blood and then turns.
The dying Ymbal thinks himself saved, spared, offered mercy. That is until the Tsuaru spins, lashing out with his sword scoring a deep, wide wound across their throat. From the wound boils blood. The Ymbal’s eyes go wide in disbelief and desperate pleading. The soon to be dead man bleeding profusely from his throat drops to his knees, a drowning gurgle escapes and then he slumps to the floor sideways where he will remain.
The Tsuaru is disinterested in the death, hence why he has turned toward the last of his attackers. Beyond a doubt the first to who was hit is dead. He could not have survived this long and were he battle capable would have returned to the fray. He has not. He continues to sit, slumped, still.
The sole remaining Ymbal clearly wishes to say something, a sneer painted on his face, but he does not. Whether that is because he cannot find the words or not Dyag cannot say. It is possible just as much as it is not why he remains silent, top lip twitching angrily. The Tsuaru beckons him with a wave of his hand. The Ymbal obliges and with a blood thickening roar bellows into the fire popping night, sword held high over his head.
The bowman swiftly concludes this man is too enraged and lost within his anger to adequately consider his actions, which is why once he is within reach the Tsuaru warrior steps forward with a driving jab to accompany the movement. The Ymbal understands far too late to prevent the tip of the thin Tsuaru blade driving between plates in his armour to disappear deep into his chest. The blade slides effortlessly between a pair of ribs before skewering his heart.
The Ymbal stops, he like his comrade is frozen as if enveloped in rock. The Tsuaru offers no words, no mockery, nothing. That is not the Tsuaru way. They are not warriors who taunt. Taunting is dishonourable. They face aggressors head on but offer respect at all times, regardless of whether that respect is repaid unto them in situations where roles are reversed or not. The old adage of two wrongs don’t make a right seems suitable.
A strained gasp of an exhaled breath leaks from the heart impaled Ymbal’s mouth. He blinks slowly and manages a single large gulp prior to Dyag withdrawing his blade. The mortally wounded warrior drops having had his weight forward on the blade as the only thing keeping him aloft. No further sounds escape him. Rather, he rests in a pile, blood spilling across the hard compacted ground of the camp as it continues to burn.
A sigh escapes, followed by a dropping of shoulders, from Dyag. He flicks his blade casting the blood staining his weapon from it. In doing this he condemns the blood to the ground where it will remain, to be soaked into the compacted dirt, returned to the earth. It is from the earth all life comes and so it is only right that it is to earth that it is returned. It’s why the Tsuaru perform funeral rites for all those who have fallen. The same cannot be said of the Ymbal. Their warriors who fall in battle meet the same fate as their enemies, to be carrion picked by animals and left to rot as a reminder of the failures suffered. Dyag thinks it cruel and is about to sheath his sword when a rhythmic thudding of metal plates colliding repeatedly reaches his ears above the roar of the fires which surround him. Instantly he drops into a ready stance and watches as a dozen or more Ymbal jog through a section where the flames are lowest.
Unlike the original trio these warriors wear no snarls or sneers across their faces. Rather, their expressions are furrowed, determined, concentrated. From that alone Dyag concludes they are more competent. Far more than the armed thugs he’s just dealt with likely forced to a cause. That is how he would describe the trio who lie dead around him in this wide oval shape clawed at by the fires as they billow in the breeze.
“Tsuaru, you are outnumbered. You cannot defeat us. Your camp has fallen. Your people are dead. Surrender and you will be spared. Commander Eorin will offer you to your people in exchange for what is rightly ours. This is the offer presented to you, what do you say in the face of such generosity?”
Dyag Velsom says nothing; he remains in his ready position anticipating the battle which will soon erupt. He is well aware of the odds and the likelihood of his demise. Yet, he is not afraid. He does not see reason to surrender. That is what the Ymbal want. They want him to bow, to break but he will not. He will stand firm in the face of their aggression, their barbarity, their treachery, their dishonour. Not because surrender is dishonourable but because surrender is not how the Tsuaru operate. Surrender is for the wounded and civilian population, not a warrior. A warriors role is to stand, to fight and, if needs be, to die. That is what Dyag will do, alone if he has to for there are no other Tsuaru to stand alongside him and embrace this moment.
The Ymbal who made the offer is bored of waiting. He has been afforded no answer. Clearly the Tsuaru wishes to fight. It is what he expected from the warrior stood before him in dark red armour and yet the Ymbal Captain is disappointed. He had hoped the Tsuaru would accept surrender, give himself over; not waste his life in what is inevitable defeat. But the Tsuaru will get what he wishes for and with that the Ymbal Captain, headdress affixed with large wide horns, nods. The gesture is all his warriors need and they descend upon the Tsuaru in an instant.
To his credit the Tsuaru does not disappoint. He slashes, slices, blocks, parries, dodges and counters at every available opportunity. However, it is not enough and soon it becomes apparent that, aside from a series of small victories, the Tsuaru warrior lacking his headdress and mask is flagging. He needs rest but it will not be afforded to him. He had his opportunity and did not take it and so the Ymbal Captain will watch this example of his old enemy suffer and die.
The Tsuaru warrior manages a stab. It’s reckless but succeeds in felling one of the Ymbal who have him trapped and cornered with flames gently licking at his back. Thankfully these flames are quite unlike those which afflicted the Ymbal he ended with a slash to the throat. Were they not Dyag would be burning in his armour, skin turning to blisters in response to searing heat. Yet, to say this is markedly better would be fallacy for the heat is making his eyes water, blurring his vision and sapping his energy levels. He needs out of the corner but it is doubtful the Ymbal closing in cautiously will afford him such a boon. They want him cornered, suffering and out of sorts so they might deliver killing blows. Likely they will all take part; to be sure he is dead. He cannot blame them for that but continues to loathe them for their dishonour.
One Ymbal comes in a tad quicker than the others. Dyag blocks, parries and counters. The enemy’s life is ended in a flash. The Tsuaru is forced to suppress a smile when the remaining Ymbal pause. A shouted order again in that tongue Dyag does not understand follows from what he assumes is their commanding officer. He, thus far, does not take part in this ‘fight.’ Rather, he keeps to the periphery. Perhaps he does not see reason to engage with the odds so sorely stacked in his warriors favour. It is a rare glimpse at honour the Tsuaru had not been expecting and yet this same commander is the one who ordered all these Ymbal against him, quite the dishonourable deed.
These thoughts are enough of a distraction for the orange eyed man with the shaved head, as is common for Tsuaru warriors, to react too late to a slash unleashed at head level. Nevertheless the Tsuaru makes attempts to evade the strike. He nearly succeeds, save for the tip of the wide Ymbal blade which nicks and cuts his left cheek. The sting is instantaneous. If he were not in the heat of battle Dyag would react but he is and so does not. To do so, after already having being lured to wounding as a result of his thoughts, would likely be the end of him. And so he redoubles his efforts. Ymbal come at him. He batters them back to make them understand they are fighting no novice but a full warrior of the Tsuaru tribe. They quickly learn and adapt, though not before losing another couple of their number.
To replace the losses suffered the Captain finally steps forward and enters the fray. Sword drawn he is a hulking beast in his armour and fights like one too. Leading the charge he serves as the brunt of the attack while his remaining warriors add swift follow-ups meant to keep Dyag off-balance and on the defensive. It works surprisingly well the Tsuaru has to admit. Then one Ymbal leaves themselves open. Dyag goes on the offensive seeing the opportunity. Sadly the Captain saw the chance too and closes the opening, delivering an elbow to his enemy’s unshielded face. Dyag regrets, in that moment, being devoid of his helmet and face mask but is forced to respond to a swift follow up stab aimed at his side. Regrettably, the Tsuaru finds the Ymbal too close to block and suffers a gaping wound which he cannot help but react to with the issuing of a pain filled cry from his previously pursed lips.
The Ymbal Captain smiles, his men descend with fists and feet. They pummel Dyag to the floor but somehow he manages to keep a hold of his sword as they drag him away from the flames and to somewhere devoid of fire. He was not aware there was a part of the ‘arena’ that lacked roaring flames and is confused but expects a sword through the chest will be his fate before long. It is not. Rather, the Captain mutters some words the Tsuaru does not understand in this barely functional state and then is shoved, by foot, off an edge.
Air rushes past Dyag; he takes a breath and accepts impending death.