Monday, May 3, 2021

Alexej: Lost in the Forest of Shadows

Aleksander Václav Dvořak Bohatýr-Popovič, you have made one of the five classic mistakes found in the great tragedies: you have run off into the haunted woods with no light.  

Even with that thought ringing clear in his head, Alexej could not stop himself. The howling of the shadow mastiffs had been terrifying, and that terror had overwhelmed everything he knew of strategy, tactics, and martial skill. He knew exactly what he needed to do -- stay in the light from Marshall Mercy's shield, and use his guisarme to trip the hounds as they drew near and so control the battlefield -- and yet he had been unable to stop himself from dropping the polearm and running off into the darkness. You are not a frightened child, Lord Řízek, he thought to himself; but to his disgust he was still running. 

It was worse now, of course: the underbrush blocked out the light, the steadily-falling rain swallowed all sounds, and he had caromed off enough trees to lose all sense of direction. It was a wonder he hadn't brained himself against one of them. At least the terror was finally fading; if he could get himself back under control he might still find a way back out of this. Even with the Гончие полуночи, the hounds of midnight, and those horrible, strength-stealing shadows all around...

Then he crashed into something new, and decided that he'd better keep running. Whatever it was, it had been large and solid enough to be some sort of boulder... but it had been warm and furry where his cheek had briefly pressed against it, and it had yowled as he put his foot down. On its tail, he thought. O my dear friend Alexej, now is the time to run like the desert birds do when they are chased by hungry cats.

A bolt of lightning traced its way across the sky, its light broken and diluted by the branches overhead but still enough to offer a glimpse of the stone statue of a snake. He twisted in mid-stride and managed to change direction just before he would have collided with it. Behind him, something coughed -- almost hesitantly, but there was an awful lot of lung-space behind that sound. Whatever he'd stepped on, it was big.

Then, abruptly, he crashed into a line of bushes that refused to give; he bounced backwards off them, uninjured but stymied. Something growled in the darkness, ominously close by, and he reached back and drew the great, two-handed flail from the side of his pack. This was no way to fight and he knew it, but he couldn't see any other choice. Swinging the flail back and forth, he began to feel his way along the stubborn line of underbrush. 

Something closed around his arm, but he jerked loose at the last moment, then fled along the edge of the brush. He could hear -- almost feel -- the movement in the darkness behind him. Whatever was hunting him was too big for one of the hounds, too solid for one of the shadows. It snapped at him again, ripping at his shoulder, but a chance flicker of lightning showed him a target and he cuffed it on the nose before it could bite down and grab him. 

If any gods or goddesses can hear me now, I humbly beg your help. I am Aleksander Václav Dvořak Bohatýr-Popovič, my friends call me Alexej, and I am being hunted by a giant tiger! Unfortunately -- but not surprisingly -- none of the gods appeared to offer him aid. In the stories of his people, they never did -- not for anyone who wasn't already one of their favorites, anyway. Behind him, the tiger let out a snarl that cut through the steady drumming of the rain; it sounded offended. 

The line of brush curved ahead of him, cutting off his escape, and Alexej turned. He could barely see, but he would have to fight. He swung his flail, and felt it crash against something solid. Then there was another snarl, and the tiger fell on him like a mountain. He felt himself battered between its paws, felt its mouth close around his left shoulder, and felt himself lifted into the air. His armor wasn't enough to save him from this; he knew of no armor that would have been. 

He sought for words in the only language that everyone else seemed to understand, and cried: "Is big mistake, tiger friend! I give you sausage if you let me go!" 

The tiger either didn't understand, or didn't care. He tried to pull himself free, but the tiger's fangs were sunk into his shoulder and he couldn't get an angle.

Then something else fastened onto his right foot and pulled. Alexej was suddenly stretched horizontal, four feet above the ground, and worried that his joints might give way. Crazily, he thought of the way that the people of this land would sometimes pull on opposite ends of the breastbone of a chicken, and felt a sudden burst of sympathy for the helpless bone. 

When the light came, he thought it was because he was dying. It was only when he hit the ground hard that he realized it was coming from Mercy's shield and that his friends had somehow found him. The tigers were snarling at each other, and he thought that the dragon-man paladin had slammed that tree-sized sword of his into one of them. Then Lord Mercy was bending over him, whispering, and suddenly his wounds were closing and his strength was restored. Even better, Mercy was holding his beloved guisarme and placing it in his hands. The man might be a crazy snake priest, but at this moment he was Alexej's best friend in this whole horrible dream-death world. 

Alexej tried to say so, but he was never entirely sure if his words came out right in the tongue of Sol Povos. 

Still, his friends had come to save him. That was a language all its own, and needed no translation at all.

Note: Alexej is not my character. This was written with permission from (and the approval of) his player, and I've tried to be true to the character.


  1. Dobrá práce! I particularly liked the use of chicken in his attempt to understand his predicament.

  2. When you're the Lord of pork, everything looks like a problem that can be solved with sausage


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