(c) 2011 by Michael L. Utley
(Author’s note: This is an excerpt from an untitled, unfinished fan-fiction story I began in 2011 based on the PC game Titan Quest. I was a moderator at the leading Titan Quest forum at that time, and we had a thriving fan-fiction community filled with tales of valor and humor and destruction…and it was glorious! Anyway, I thought I’d share this as a change-of-pace to my usual poetry posts. Perhaps someday I’ll return to this piece and finish it.)
The blade slipped quietly from the man’s sweaty grasp, taking soundless ages to hit the earth with a thud so faint not even the carrion birds took notice. It lay in the dust, stained with crimson and gore, like some ancient and eldritch dragon’s tooth, testament to the day’s labors…to his life’s labors. The westering sun turned the blade to fire for a time and then took refuge behind a scud of clouds, dimming the world and all in it.
The small battlefield stretched out before him, an abattoir, an open grave that proffered no dignity to the dead or the living. The fact that the man was the only one standing gave him no solace; he was alive and all else was dead and that’s the way it had always been for as long as he could remember. He no longer consciously contemplated such things as this. Perhaps, long ago, he agonized over this fate, this blessing, this curse, but now his mind was dulled, emptied of thought and conscience, his only refuge in a world of death and more death.
Acrid smoke burned his lungs and sweat stung his eyes. He squinted to better take in the carnage but didn’t bother counting corpses. There was no point in body counts. The dead were dead and the animals would take care of them—the vultures were already busy and other scavengers would soon appear to complete the indignity of violent slaughter. He looked to the sky where the late evening sun hid prey-like among the clouds, as if it would be next to taste his blade.
He reached down to retrieve his long sword and his entire body screamed in pain. This delayed onset of sensation after battle had fascinated him in his early years, his system so loaded with adrenaline that aches were a mere whisper and pain wasn’t even in the conversation. Then, several minutes after a battle had ended, everything arrived at once and with vengeance. Arms and shoulders would burn as if his very bones were filled with fire, tremors would find his legs, sometimes forcing him to the ground as cramps seized his hamstrings and turned them into knots of agony. His head would swim and blood would pound in his ears like drums of war. It made him feel weak and shameful and his only consolation was that there was usually no one else alive to see it happen. He used to believe that this post-battle reaction reinforced his own humanity, but that notion was long since forgotten, abandoned. It had been ages since he had felt anything near to being human.
The sword was heavy as he held it before him, its blade fouled with the blood of the dozen or so men lying in pieces in the glade, their bodies steaming in the evening chill. The blade had been a gift from…he couldn’t remember. Had it been a gift? Had he picked it up along the way in some forgotten skirmish years ago? Had he stolen it? It didn’t matter. It belonged to him and he belonged to it. He wasn’t the type to name his weapons like warriors from his former life had been wont to do. He shuddered at any thought of imbuing human traits onto this entity of destruction. The truth was, he feared this blade, but it was all he knew, and there was an almost lunatic dread at the thought of parting with it. The blade itself was nondescript save for a few notches here and there, and for the dark stains he could never remove no matter how he tried. The only thing of note was a single emerald in the pommel of the grip. It wasn’t pure enough or of the proper cut to be worth anything, but it did set the weapon apart. He hefted it, his arms and shoulders still shuddering from fatigue, and tried vainly to wipe the gore from the blade. He decided to clean it later; exhaustion was setting in and he wanted to put some distance between him and this mess before full dark fell.
Yet he lingered still, feeling the sweat beginning to dry on his body and the pain in his muscles settling down into a low, steady hum. The setting sun slipped from its cover and lay bare what had once been a small human encampment in a meadow near a copse of trees and was now a tableau of the grotesque. A small, distant part of his mind told him he had done the right thing, these men were enemies, murderers, vile beings no better than the animals which even now feasted on their broken corpses, who deserved what he had visited upon them, but even that part of his mind sounded less vital and less truthful as battle after battle piled up over time. And a smaller, nearly faded part of his mind trembled in fear that perhaps he had been wrong all along.