Marissa, Trajan, and Etjar – Bereaver

This was the second pastiche written, to accompany the bereaver article published in & Magazine Issue 5, Ecology of the Bereaver. I’m still not sure why I ended it the way I did. Gree-Kin was the beginning of the trio, this was the end. Everything written after this fills in the details.

The writeup of the Bereavers is here.



Hal thumped the table to emphasize his point, “And THAT is how to kill an ogre!” Someone placed a fresh tankard in front of the old duffer which he quickly lifted with his left hand, nodded his thanks to his benefactor, and slurped half of the ale noisily down. He was well into his cups and it was early afternoon. An old adventurer missing his right eye and half of his right arm was well entitled to enjoy his cups as often as possible. Telling tales until he was too drunk to talk coherently helped to keep the cups replenished. The mixed crowd around his normal table boded well for more drinks.

A half-grown boy asked another duffer sitting at a nearby table, one not quite as old as Hal nor as weather beaten. “Trajan, did you ever fight an ogre?”

Hal glared first at the boy and then at Trajan, enflamed that his glory might be stolen. The boy was oblivious but Trajan smiled back at Hal’s one-eyed glare and spoke softly. “Yes, David, I fought ogres, but Hal already told you best. If you do what he said and manage to not get killed first, you’ll certainly win against an ogre.”

Several snorts of amusement from the audience meant a few people understood the ironic humor of the reply. Still oblivious the boy pressed the retired adventurer further, “What have you fought?”

Hal chugged the remainder of his ale and was of mind to dress the boy down for stealing his thunder, and more importantly, more free drinks! He belched thunderously, looked owlishly around the table, and decided to tear a stripe off the boy’s back. Right after a short nap. Hal nestled his head on his folded arms and started snoring softly.

Glancing amusedly at his suddenly sleeping compatriot then at the crowd that shifted to surround his table, the old man replied, “In my day I fought a lot of monsters. The most interesting was the magical construct called ‘bereaver’ by wizards and other spell casters.”


“That means scary.” The old man laughed.

David brightly piped up, “More scary than an ogre?”

Trajan realized, not for the first time, that the boy had no idea what scary was. “FAR more terrifying than an ogre!” He sipped his wine and continued, “There were six of us. My right hand partner Etjar, a better friend than any of you will ever have. Adelf, an elven scout.” He sipped again. “An exiled wizard, and a couple of young dwarves looking to make a reputation.”

“We were exploring the tunnels below the wizard Ar-Rul-Val’s ruined tower …”

Trajan shuddered. The hallway was wide and the ceiling was high, vaulted an easy 10 feet above his head. But the hallway was deep beneath the ruins of the ruined tower and the oppressive atmosphere made it feel narrow and restricted. The weight of being so far underground was palpable. He was generally fearless and certainly not claustrophobic, but something about this maze of tunnels awoke an ancient fear. They had been in narrower and deeper places that didn’t have this feel.

Ahead of him the elf Adelf tread slowly and carefully. An excellent scout, his tall, thin, and wiry frame remained generally relaxed no matter how bad the situation. Here? “This place must be getting to him, too”, thought Trajan. Adelf’s shoulders were tight and when he turned to glance at the walls his normally exceptionally good looks were marred by tension, making him oddly hideous. Instead of his usual sliding glance that covered a room all at once, his eyes darted around fearfully.

Looking forward, up, down, and left all at once, Trajan didn’t look to the right. His right-hand partner was there, covering his section. Etjar always did his duty. Etjar, who was even bigger than Trajan’s 6 foot plus, and possibly more fearless than Trajan who had a reputation for having ice water in his veins. The combined light of their magical swords illuminated up to the ceiling and 30 feet in front of them … leaving everything beyond in an oddly frightening gloom. Odd to Trajan anyway.

Senses stretched to their max Trajan could hear the nearly silent tread of Marissa behind him. As per her habit, she was out of sword range. Once a backswing had accidentally slashed her cheek. Never beautiful, the resulting scar had not done her any favors, nor had she forgotten who inflicted it. Funny that she didn’t remember whose fault the cut really was. “Bitch,” he thought. “One of these days her bitchiness is going to overrule her usefulness.”

Adelf stopped suddenly, causing Trajan and Etjar to close distance on him before they, too, stopped. The hallway ended with double doors sized for an ogre marring the center of the smooth stone wall. Once gilded, the door was defaced with odd scratches.

Adelf stood where he was, drinking in the details of the door before moving closer. “A cautious one, that one is,” Trajan considered. The elf drank in the wall and doors for a very long minute. Then another.

A high pitched, strangled scream came from behind. Spinning, Trajan saw that the two newest members of their group had failed their charge. The back line’s job was to keep anything from sneaking up on them. In this the dwarves failed, evidently their attention had wandered to the door instead of watching the gloom behind them.

The first would never learn that all important lesson. A bulky figure, a man-shaped thing whose rolls of fat were covered with pasty white skin clubbed the young dwarf with fists like battering rams. His torch arced up to the ceiling from the force of the first blow, while the second slammed him against a wall with a sickening “crunch”. He toppled to the stone floor leaving a patch of gore on the wall.

The thing rounded on the second dwarf. This youngster may have wandered from his duty but his reflexes were up to the task. Dropping his torch he yanked a glowing dagger from its sheath while slashing with his sword. Dwarven muscles powered a telling blow that slashed open what would have been a human’s ribs. Following up with the dagger he slashed at the arm.

The glow of the magical dagger snuffed out like a match in water, gone in an instant.

The slash would have opened a human’s arm to the bone but barely scratched the pasty flesh. In return the thing punched him with enough force to bounce him off the wall, sprawling him bonelessly to the floor. He too, left a patch of gore on the opposite wall where the back of his head struck. Still alive he struggled to his feet.

Marissa cast a short spell and sent three spikes of bright green radiant energy lancing into the thing. She gasped – expecting three charred-edged holes in the white flesh, instead it absorbed the bolts, and a moment later the ugly slash opened by the dwarven sword closed almost completely.

“Magic heals it?” the wizard thought in horror.

The thing clubbed the dwarf as he reached his knees, slamming him back to the stone floor. A CRUNCH of bones breaking said that the dwarf would not get up again soon. Probably never.

Rounding on the wizard the pasty thing clubbed at her, striking with both fists. Thankfully the blows were glancing ones or she would have died as instantly as the dwarves. The raw scream wrenched from her throat shook Trajan from his shock. She crumbled to the stone floor in a ball, another scream peeling from her tortured throat.

Etjar reacted first, throwing himself across the intervening space to skewer the pasty attacker before it could strike the downed woman. Like the dagger before it the magical light of the sword snuffed instantly upon touch and instead of puncturing the thing it merely drove it back a step from the force of the lunge. Its return swing missed Etjar, instead hitting the sword as he withdrew, hitting with enough force to spin him in a circle, thankfully out of its range.

Trajan flicked a heavy dagger across the space, burying it to the hilt in the thing. His brains scattered from being flung around, Etjar still managed to lunge again. This time instead of skittering off the thing’s skin it plunged in true to the hilt!

“It eats magic!” Trajan cried out. Sheathing his sword he yanked two more daggers and launched them, one after another. Each struck true although both passed closer to Etjar than his right side partner would have appreciated.

Unfortunately for the human, Etjar’s lunge had been off balance and he collapsed against the pasty creature. Ignoring the daggers in its side it wrapped its arms around him in a grotesque hug. Etjar’s snapping ribs echoed through the hallway.

Time froze. The vision of Etjar in the grasp of that grotesque thing burned into his memory. The shocked look on his best friend’s face as his chest was crushed and the bright light of those eyes dimming.

Trajan froze, unable to move. An eternity passed as he watched Etjar crushed.

Marissa groaned in agony. That sound was enough to break the trance that locked Trajan’s mind and muscles.

As if waking up from a trance, Trajan realized for the first time that Adelf had fled in the first moment of combat, somehow making it around the fight without being noticed or impeded. “Just like that elf to run out on us!” he thought.

Etjar groaned. “Run,” he said feebly. “Marissa …”

Time froze again for Trajan. His best friend told the soldier to run, to take the woman and leave him to die. The thing flung Etjar aside, his groan of agony as he hit the wall burned into Trajan’s memory.

Marissa groaned again, waking Trajan from another eternity that lasted about three seconds. Looking at the woman he made a decision he knew he would regret for eternity, yet the only decision he could make. The soldier reacted like a soldier, his body doing what the situation required without the interference of thought. Flinging his last two daggers at the thing as it charged him, Trajan evaded it, scooped up the sobbing woman and bolted, leaving his best friend to die.

Eyes shining, the boy was on the edge of his seat. “What did you do next?”

“When she recovered Marissa told me that thing pulled two spells right out of her mind, slurping them up like you or I would eat soup. Her master had told her of things like this – bereavers, magical constructs made to eat magic.”

“How can you kill something like that? Can you kill it?”

The old man looked down at the wooden floor. The story brought back memories that he would rather not revisit. Children had no concept of what it was like to leave behind your best friend. “Yah, things like that can be killed. Maybe destroyed is the right word, since they’re not really alive.” Sipping his wine he continued, “Marissa and I used ourselves as bait. Her spells and my sword.”

An older man interjected, “Bait?? You went back in there?” The faces of the audience were mostly incredulous.

Trajan looked down at the table, his shoulders slumped. Taking a larger sip of wine he said, “Etjar’s body was there. I owed it to my best friend to give him a good burial and to even the score with his killer.”

He looked up from his cup, his steely gaze pushing his audience back. “We went back in … with a dozen bowmen.” A glint filled his eyes, one that made some of the more knowledgeable wonder about this old man. “Marissa and I lured it into range and they filled it with arrows like it was a pincushion. Took thirty arrows to kill it. In the end it puffed up and then deflated, dissolving into a cloud that burned the eyes and made us choke.”

“Yah, we destroyed it and gave Etjar the burial he deserved.”

“What kind of treasure did you find?” the boy nearly shouted, all bright eyed and bushy tailed thinking about brave deeds and great treasure. “Did you ever find the elf?”

“Those are stories for another day, David.”

“But, but, but,” he gulped “I want to know!!!”

“Tomorrow I’ll tell you more tales after Hal takes his nap.”

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