Sun raised high into the sky the heat beat down relentlessly upon those who warred on the sands below. White sands stained red with blood as the humans below fought. Both sides scattered the other across the hot sands, cooking the flesh of those who fell. The guards from the nearby jail trudged through the sands with heavy foot falls as they struggled to keep up with the mystics that traverse and live in the sands. Their equipment custom made from the creatures of the desert, they find much more comfort than the leather wearing guards that were sweating well before their armour filled with their own blood. On the edge of the battle, one of the guards best casters knelt into the sand, his dark leathers contrasting against its purity. The only stains being the heavy droplets of sweat that fell, darkening everywhere it touched before evaporating into the air. He watched his sweat fall in slow motion as his head throbbed with pain. Running his hand through the sand he felt the delay between action and sensation. Suddenly his body jerked, a large hammer fell to the sand on his side as he was dragged up to his feet. The world spun and blurred, the pale sand bled into the blue sky and mixed until they gave birth to the face of a friend.
“Marcus?” He slurred through the sweat trickling off his upper lip.
Marcus turned his head, looking to others.
“Heas is capped, we have to move without him. I’ll take charge.” Marcus yelled.
Heas could feel his head throb, and the words echoing in his skull. Without warning he started to drop to the ground, the familiar blurs of blue and white were stained with red, and it wasn’t until he settled on the sands that he could watch Marcus lift his titan sized hammer, just to bring it down into the skull of a much smaller robed man. Arrows narrowly flew past Marcus’ head as a swords man joined him by his side, Heas raised a hand outward. Attempting to cast a spell he felt his throat stick to itself and he coughed till he could taste metal. A woman joined the others with an arrow nocked.
“Mesca, Marcus, you need to get him out of here. If he get injured we are dead, and I will sacrifice you to whatever god will take your shitty souls if he doesn’t take it first.” She screamed, her voice crackling nearly as bad as Heas’ felt.
Heas watched as his two comrades slashed and slammed anyone who drew close all while the girl struggled to drag him away from the conflict.
“Jester, leave me.” He strained through the desert in his throat.
She ignored him as she grunted with every pull on his limp body. His delirious head rolled around as he lost control of his muscles. The world became an abstract blend of colours that made no sense to him until a sensation pulled him from his stupor. Eyes focusing, he looked at his hands, they were covered in blood from the arrow that had just tore its way threw his leg. Sticking into the sand with the chunk of flesh that came with it Heas watched as his blood poured from his body.
Marcus turned to see him bleeding and ran over to Jester, ripping her from Heas he called out to Mesca.
“Run, Heas is hit. We have got to move.”
Mesca didn’t even bother finishing the conflict he was engaged with. Turning his back on his enemy he was slashed in the back but ran through the pain. All three of them sprinted as fast as they could from Heas, disappearing over a nearby sand dune. The mystics of the dunes approached Heas with their weapons drawn. Heas felt himself grow cold, and the world grew dark.
“I am bleeding? But I can’t be bleeding. I don’t understand, we don’t bleed.” He said as he watched the closest man draw an arrow and pull back his bow string with a smile. Letting it loose Heas felt an extreme throbbing in his head, everything around him shook for a moment, and when his vision returned the arrow exploded in mid air as if it had hit stone. The archer looked confused for a short moment before his expression transitioned to fear. He turned and ran as those in front of him slid in the sand as they halted their charge. Heas watched as the world turned black and white with a shade of green, looking up at the sun it was a vibrant white light that bathed the area with contrast as shadows cast themselves across the dunes. He could smell the fear in those that ran, their heart beats seemed to ring in his ears. His own breath got heavy as he noticed the large dark hooves where his feet used to be. He felt the warmth return to him as his heart started to beat like a war drum. It filled him with rage, he began to hate everyone around him. Just seeing their inferior form filled him with a rage that he could not quell. Standing he now loomed over those that ran, leaning forward he felt much more comfortable on all fours. His hands once as pale as the sand, now dark and covered with hair, strong hands tipped with claws that dug into the sand as his now hulking weight pushed him into the shifting dune. He tried to speak but no words came out, only a roar as he watched his nose grow outwards. Lurching forward he struggled through the sand that tried to drag him down, screaming out he felt his back crack as large black wings erupted from him. Black ickier and skin fell to the sand beside him, twisting around they turned into scorpions with green eyes and two tails that scurried off into the desert.
Leaping into the air he soared above the battle field, everyone below him looking as tasty as the next. He descended upon his first target with a lust for his flesh. Crushing his body beneath him, his hooves sliced through flesh and bone as if they were the same. Leaning in he could taste his victim, not only his skin, sweat, and blood. But his fears and desires. He feasted on more than his flesh; he consumed his soul with a ravenous hunger that seemed to be awoken as he ate.
Others watched on as a shining light emitted from the chest of his victims, slowly moving upwards into the mouth of the monstrosity that Heas had become. He had the head of a lion, a demons torso and arms, his hind legs were cloven like a bull, his wings were large, black, and covered with a thin skinned membrane like a bat. He had two tails, both scorpion tails, both deadly. His eyes glowed green, and the energy around him was sinister. The desert sands seemed to shift around him as if the desert itself was afraid of his presence. His roar stuttered, and a light shone from within his mouth as if it originated down his throat, slowly fading as his body absorbed it. Turning his head to the retreating mystics his lion like mouth turned into an unnatural smile, his teeth showing, and hunger in his eyes. As he chased down the mystics his allies returned to their commander. Mesca taking charge, talking over his captain.
“We need to follow him, if we don’t things are going to get so much worse.”
“Worse? That monster just chased away the mystics, today couldn’t be better.”
“That monster, is Heas. We need to get him back.”
The commander looked out at Heas, then back to Mesca.
“You mean to tell me that Heas can turn into a hulking monster and did not care to mention it to us, why was he hiding this secret?”
Jester stepped forward holding her bow in hand.
“He never spoke of it because him being able to do it was an accident. The magic language he uses cursed him, but it is also the reason why he is so powerful as a caster. Trust me, we want him back.”
The commander looked at his other troops, most of them dying in the sand and struggling to get to their feet. A select few were still standing as strong as one could be expected to. The commander then looked back at Heas with anger, and inspiration. Without looking away from Heas he spoke back to the group.
“You can take anyone who can still stand, I am staying back here to get this sorry lot back to base.” He said as he slowly turned to look at the Deadmen. “But you three listen here, when you get back with him; him and I are having a private discussion.”
The Deadmen knew that wasn’t a demand that could be broken, they counted their blessings and started to run after Heas.
“All right you poor excuse for soldiers, all who can fit join the Deadmen. Everyone else, we are getting you back to the fort while the real fighters run off to do real work.” The command yelled as he picked up the closest downed man, making his way back to the carts.
The Deadmen noticed as five others joined them, running a little behind they struggled to keep up. Pushing through the pain all eight of them followed the trail of corpses and gore. By the time they caught up with Heas he was discarding his last meal and walking into a cave. Growling the light from within him illuminated the cave ahead. His image, and his light quickly fading from view.
“Oh by those who are holy, we are going to die.” Jester slipped out as she struggled for her breath.
Marcus hit her before turning back to the exhausted looking followers, it was clear they had heard her. All but two fell to the ground, the two standing stepped forward; both holding a spear and shield.
“We want in on the Deadmen. We have been training and we think that we can help you. I am Seria Harden, this is my sister Sercia harden. We have both been trained in short spear and shield as is tradition in our family.” She said clanking her shield with her spear.
The Deadmen looked to one another. Mesca speaking up.
“We are not a club, if you want to join us come into this cave and help us get Heas back.”
“That beast took Heas?” Seria asked.
“That, ‘beast’ is Heas. It is a long story, bottom line magic is dangerous.” Marcus replied.
Jester walked around to the others who rested on the ground.
“You lot are going to be useless in the cave. Wait up here and rest, we might need you to guard our escape.”
“Can do.” One agreed, as they all took the chance to take drinks and move to the shade of the cave.
“Assuming this lot don’t suck at resting we should have cover if we need a quick escape.” Jester laughed as she put her bow down and took a sword from one of the other resting guards. Tossing down her nearly empty quiver she moved into the mouth of the cave.
“Do we have any light.”
The Harden twins rested their hands on their shields and muttered under their breath. Soon after the shields started to glow as if they were made of light.
“I will take the lead, Sercia will follow up behind.” Seria said as she stepped in front of Jester.
As one unit they moved down into the cave, the walls were barren of life, no spiders, or plant life grew on the heated stone. The sand beneath their feet eventually gave way to a brittle sandstone. Marcus finding that his weight was enough to make it crack. Carefully moving through the cave they reached a point where the path diverted into three. Mesca took only one moment before pointing down one tunnel.
“We go down this one.”
“How do you know?” Seria asked.
“Because the cracks in the ground go that way, the others are still smooth. Something very heavy has passed this way.” Spying a shimmer of green he focused. “And if you need any more proof, we are about to encounter one of Heas’ new friends.”
An enormous scorpion lumbered out of the darkness, its green eyes giving the cave a warm feel against the white light of the shields. It chittered as its hard carapace scratched into the soft sand stone. Every time it placed down a leg it punctured a new hole into the ground.
“We got this.” Sercia yelled as she moved to the front. “let us prove our worth.”
The two sisters moved separately, but functioned as one unit. Where one distracted, the other would strike. Slowly wearing down the beast they eventually skewered it deep enough to stop it moving. Their shields now a little warped from the heavy collisions from claw and tail.
“I told you we are capable.”
“Your shield, and weapon are capable. You need to survive without them. Use them like that and you wont have any armour or weapon left by the end of the day.” Jester said gesturing to their already worn equipment. “Now come on, we don’t have time to waste, lead away lights.” She added, rushing them along before they had time to think about what had been said. Seria took the lead again, muttering under her breath.
“Why does it even matter if my equipment gets damaged, that is the whole point of it. To be worn so I don’t. This slag needs to keep her mouth shut, everyone knows she is the weakest link in the group.”
“Quiet.” Jester said in hushed tones. “We need to be able to hear when the next thing comes our way.”
Seria rolled her eyes and pushed forward with her head leaning forward, focusing down the tunnel she kept her ears and her eyes open for the next surprise.
“Another scorpion ahead. This one is slightly larger.” Seria called back in a hushed voice.
Jester grabbed Seria by the shoulder and pulled her back.
“Let Marcus and Mesca take this one. Can’t have you breaking your shields.”
Seria stepped to the side. “I guess I will hold the light then.” She said, letting her aggravation come through. Jester picked up on it, but stayed quiet, her mind focusing on Heas.
Marcus and Mesca stepped forward. With swift efficiency they disposed of the scorpion, their eyes being caught by a light ahead. They waved the others to move up slowly.
“Kill the lights.” Mesca called out quietly.
The twins snuffed their magic. They were surrounded in darkness, but there was a light emanating from the end of the tunnel ahead. Mesca took the lead with his shield raised, Marcus grabbed the twins and held them back.
“Follow up our tail, be ready to turn and block if something comes from behind.” He whispered into their ears. They nodded and followed the group, stepping sideward they remained vigilant to the space behind them, ready to set shields and raise spears if the need should arise. Mesca slowed and his jaw dropped. The group watched as Heas’ demonic hands finished a rune that he inscribed in the air. A small portal opened and others like Heas walked out. Sniffing into the air and spreading out through the cave. Heas turned around and stared directly at the Deadmen. They froze on the spot. It wasn’t until Mesca noticed that the other were all looking at them did his body regain control.
“RUN!” He screamed, shocking everyone into a full sprint, Heas and the other demons following behind. While the Deadmen and the twins could move through with ease, the demons struggled to fit, the ground cracking beneath their hooves and claws.
The Deadmen and the twins erupted from the cave with speed, screaming at the others to run. While most of them stood in time one struggled to juggle Jesters quiver until he got stomped into the sand. The Demons roaring from the cave mouth they growled and cried out. Marcus looked back over his shoulder to see the Demons pacing by the mouth of the cave. He stopped in motion, slowly stopping. The others turned and steadily slowed. All of them watching the Demons as they demonstrated their territory claim. Marcus turned back to the other Deadmen with defeat in his eyes.
“Can any of you tell Heas apart from the others?”