Category Archives for "Historical Fantasy"

The Last Hexereiter

The man in brown rode into the tiny village to the sound of cheers. But there was no one in sight. Where did the voices come from? And why weren’t the villagers tending their farms and livestock?

He found the answers in the middle of the settlement. A crowd of men, women and children in rough clothing filled the village square. He estimated maybe sixty souls in all. It seemed like everyone had taken the day off from their never-ending labors. Something in front of them had captured their attention; but for a few curious children and a couple of youths his approach had gone largely unnoticed. The rider craned his head, seeing a thicket of wooden staves raised before the people,

Not staves. Muskets.

A voice, clear and ringing, cut through the air.

“This I promise you: today the Haferdämonen meet their end!”

Wild applause and full-throated yells filled the world. Slowly, stiffly, the rider dismounted his chestnut mare. There was a time he could do that without his muscles threatening to lock up. Those days had gone with the last shades of black in his short gray hair. Standing on the animal’s left, he gently led it through the crowd, keeping his rifle and his messer far away from the horse’s questing muzzle.

“And who is this?”

The peasants turned to look at him. At his weathered buff coat made of the hides of monsters, the pair of huge pistols swinging from the horse’s saddle, the second pair of pistols peeking above his boot-tops, the rough sword and the time-worn rifle, and, as he drew closer, the amulet he wore around his neck.

“A Hexereiter!” a man whispered.

“It can’t be! Here, in this day and age?”

“Quick, hide the children! And your silver!”

This he heard, and more. The crowd parted before him, the women shielding their children, the menfolk shielding their women.

Through the gap he saw the soldiers. An entire company of foot infantry, resplendent in their immaculate green-white-yellow uniforms. They stared him down, their faces impassive. Their Kapitan, front and center, glared at the rider, and sniffed.

“Identify yourself,” the officer demanded.

“Johann Roger Werner,” the rider said. “And yourself?”

I am Kapitan Paul Heinrich Frank Welf Friedrich Eisenberg, Second Company, First Battalion, Twenty-Fifth Fusilier Regiment, in the service of Herzog Klein of Marenland.” He paused to breathe. “Are you a Hexereiter?”

Werner held out his amulet. It was a beast’s head impaled on a sword, beaten and rough and dull.

“Yes.”

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Shini-tai

Shintaro Oba rushed through the forest, his hand closed about the hilt of the heavy uchigatana he wore at his waist. Shouts, the crash of steel and the screams of stricken men had broken the tranquillity of the forest with such suddenness that the samurai found himself running towards the sounds of battle before he was even aware of what he was doing. A moment’s thought, however, spurred him to greater effort. Even in so civilized and settled a region of Mu-Thulan there were still gangs of bandits waiting to prey upon the unwary and renegade ashigaru willing to use murder to earn their gold.

As the samurai emerged from the trees, however, he found a very different scene than the one he had expected. Instead of the cart of some unlucky farmer or wandering merchant, he found a half-dozen shaven-headed monks surrounding a large sedan chair covered in yellow silk. Instead of bandits, Oba found that the attackers were something all together different. They had the rough appearance of men, but their skin was rough and leathery, faded into a dull crimson hue. Their faces were twisted, demonic visages with jutting fangs and scrunched, snout-like noses. Heavy straw cloaks drooped about their bodies and in their clawed hands they wielded a motley assortment of swords and axes.

Namahage! Oba recognized the beasts at once. As a warrior in service to the Sekigahara clan, he’d fought against such creatures in many campaigns. Long ages past, demons had sired offspring with human women. The namahage were the degenerate descendants of this profane lineage, mortal like men but possessed of the ruthlessness and evil drives of demons. Almost every mountain range throughout the empire was infested with tribes of namahage and it was rumoured that entire clans of the beasts lurked beyond the northern frontier. However fiercely the daimyo and hatamoto tried to exterminate them, the namahage would always manage to endure and return to raid villages and farms.

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Brotherly Envy

Vestanji thirsted for revenge. All he could see was Teb’s smirk, his unbroken stride when Vestanji fell and got the bloody gash on his knee. He ignored the pain in his knee and flew after Teb, chasing him through shady parks and across streets bustling with cart drivers and pedestrians. Vestanji’s nose had stopped bleeding, but not before staining his muslin tunic.

I’ll never forgive him, he thought. Why does he torment me?

Teb was a year younger, but almost as tall as Vestanji and slightly heavier. Vestanji narrowly avoided being trampled by a cantering horse as Teb veered onto the portico of a white marble structure.

Good! I’ll trap him inside that classroom!

Teb changed course in mid-stride and leapt onto the grassy lawn surrounding the white building. Vestanji saw the maneuver and forced one more burst of speed. Concentrating on closing the gap, arm extended to grab Teb from behind, Vestanji didn’t see the men, deep in conversation, coming out of the building until it was too late. The best he could do was slow down and lurch sideways.

Teb darted around the building and headed for a row of bushes full of red blossoms. Vestanji slammed into a tall man wearing colorful, expensive robes and a matching turban.

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A Ruby For Dyree

After weeks of walking, only a few stale crusts of bread remained. Rel yawned and crawled out from the rocky overhang. He slung the nearly empty sack over his shoulder and headed toward bushes near the river looking for anything edible. Dyree had stuffed as much food as she could into the sack, almost more than the village could spare. They both thought it would be enough for Rel until he found a caravan willing to take him on. But the terrain he crossed had been too barren for foraging, and his stomach complained day and night. His love for Dyree was the nourishment that pushed him on.

This morning he was lucky. He frightened away a few birds and hastily stripped berries from the bushes where they had feasted. For each greedy handful he stuffed into his mouth, he poured another handful into his sack. He licked his lips, savoring the sweet tangy juice that dribbled down his chin. His hunger sated, he turned toward the narrow river for a drink.

On his knees, Rel plunged his head under the cold water, relishing its crisp, refreshing taste. He sat up and was about to shake the wet hair out of his face when he heard voices. He was in the open, no hiding place near enough to disappear into. Rel reached into the pouch belted around his waist and brought out the short knife that was his only weapon. He backed slowly away from the river, listening.

Three children carrying small baskets meandered into view, sprinting forward when they spotted the berry bushes. The oldest, a girl, saw right away that the bushes had been picked over. Shading her eyes with one hand, she looked around, searching. She found Rel.

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