Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure

Human sacrifice puts a comely maid in peril, in this sword and sorcery short! But Narduk is a hero to give even the mighty Conan a run for his denarii when he once goes up ...

Against the Gods!
A Sword and Sorcery Sizzler

By R. D. Wheadon
About the author

NARDUK SCANNED THE THICK FOREST FOR SIGNS OF GAME. His arrow had flown true to the heart of an unsuspecting buck he had trailed for the best of the day. The great antlered beast had only taken two steps before falling to the forest floor, a barbed war arrow protruding from its chest.

Narduk knew the shaft had flown true. He looked for other predators and scavengers who might challenge him for this kill. Nothing stirred among the hulking trunks of ancient trees. Flecks of light filtered down to illuminate fern and cracklethorn bushes. The air was oppressive, heavy with stillness. The buck lay a few paces away. Narduk crept slowly out from behind the tree that had concealed him.

He was tall of height, broad of shoulder, his muscled form revealing a warrior seasoned in conflict. His black mane of hair fell to his shoulders. A hardened leather quiver hung on his back filled with iron-tipped war arrows. A broad hunting knife hung in its sheath at his left side. The great broadsword, Xala, hung straight down Narduk's back in its blackened leather scabbard. His coal-black eyes surveyed the area.

Narduk was traveling through the country of the S'bana, ebony-skinned people, rulers of this jungle. They were not known for their hospitality to trespassers. Narduk slipped to where the deer lay and quickly cut the choice portions he could pack with him.

Making quick work of it, he froze with the sound of the first drumbeat. It resonated, hung in the air suspended in the giant trees until it slowly faded. A heavy pause and then the drums of the S'bana exploded with sound, wild cadences whirled up amongst the trees. The sound came from the right. Narduk yanked the arrow clear from the carcass and turned in the direction of the rolling drumbeats.

Gliding from tree to tree, Narduk silently approached an ambuscade created by a line of brush. A large clearing lay beyond this place of concealment. Narduk crawled to the edge of the brush and peered onto a scene of pagan ritual. S'bana warriors filled the clearing. Their dark skins shone with a sheen of sweat from dancing, dancing to the wild cacophony of the drums.

Prominent in the center of the clearing rose a large stone outcropping. It knifed up from the ground two spans high. The final ten paces of the craggy rock leveled off to a flat tableau. Iron rings had long ago been pounded into the rock, perfect for holding bound the chained sacrifices the S'bana made to their thirsty god, Challo.

A girl lay there, locked in those unbreakable links. She had hair the color of spun honey and a robin-blue riding dress. She appeared to be Xanthian, from the north country. Probably came with a caravan carrying trade goods south that had decided to risk cutting a few days off of their journey by entering the lands of the S'bana. Now, the girl's companions were most likely laying in their gore to fill the bellies of carrion. Now, with hair disheveled, dress torn and eyes wide with terror she strained hopelessly against the stout fetters that bound her fast to the rock.

The headman of the S'bana stood by her on this rock. His skin hung slack on his aged bones. Eyes lit with zealous fires burned in his face. Ancient hands rose to the crystalline skies as he uttered a single, sharp cry, "Kam Valla um Challo!"

With this utterance the old priest clapped his hands together and threw his head back to the heavens, locked to the inimitable blue. The clearing full of S'bana warriors took up the chant. "Kam Valla um Challo!" An invitation to their god to the sacrifice. The warriors began to beat their chests in their rhythmic incantation. Some stomped their feet. All looked to the skies.

Narduk felt the very air change around him, could feel sorcery envelope the clearing with grasping fingers of demons unseen and unheard for now. The air crackled with ethereal potency. Black, angry clouds rolled in, piling up upon themselves over the clearing, crushing out the light and whipping up a wind that pulled at the headman's robe.

The chanting of the warriors increased, pounding out the ancient supplication. Narduk knew that dark forces were being gathered very swiftly to satiate themselves on the struggling victim on the altar.

Narduk quickly unslung his bow, fitted a black war arrow to the bowstring and bent the bow to send the missive of death. The arrow flew straight and found its destination. It pierced the neck of the S'bana priest, severing his spine before it halted its flight. The priest's head flopped over to the side. Gore and crimson blood splattered the girl as she lay bound to the rock. Her scream rent the air in horror, cresting over the chant of the warriors and but adding to their fervor. "Kam Valla um Challo!" rose from a hundred mouths and reverberated through the surrounding trees.

And yet, the sorcerous priest continued to stand with arms outstretched to his demon-god, Challo. Eyes now not seeing but with lips still crazily moving; no sound emanating from the spitted throat. Deadly magic kept the headman standing in supplication to this primordial devil.

Spears of lightning began to appear in the mountain of clouds and wind and growing murk that filled the clearing. The wind began to howl adding to the crazed, chanting warriors. Narduk cleared his broadsword from its scabbard and threw back his head. Filled now with the anticipation of battle, he roared to his god, "By Soth to the death!" He charged from his ambuscade up the path of the bewitched altar. So swift was his advance and unexpected his charge that the S'bana warriors did not have time to react.

The lightning fell closer and thunder rolled like taut ripples of muscle. Narduk reached the altar's summit. With a tremendous blow he clove the pagan priest from clavicle to navel. The priest's body collapsed to the ground, dead eyes open, unseeing but with lips still moving, silently calling out to Challo.

Narduk hacked through the restraints that bound the girl and dragged her to his side. She cringed and tried to pull away, unsure of this barbarian's intent.

"Stand easy, girl," growled Narduk. "We are getting out of here, but we are not free yet."

With the toppling of the priest the warriors of the S'bana now saw the barbarian on top the altar. Narduk stood on that rocky shelf, wind now howling around him, teeth bared in a primal snarl of challenge to the horde surrounding the altar. He raised his ancient broadsword high, its sheen clouded by the black sky.

"By Soth and Crog, if you want the girl for your hoary god, then come get her!" Narduk roared.

In response, the S'bana screamed, "Um Challo!" and began chanting even more fiercely. Narduk understood the S'bana did not attack him because they now counted him as part of the sacrifice, soon to be consumed by Challo.

The wind now threatened to blow Narduk and the girl off the shelf and she clung to him desperately. Blasts of lightning began to strike the earth around the altar throwing burnt, shapeless lumps of S'bana into the air to mingle with their screams. A tremendous bolt of lightning hit the altar squarely where moments before the hapless girl had lain as a sacrifice. The brilliance of the flash blinded Narduk, yet he raised his great broadsword to the boiling heavens in defiance.

"Your aim is lacking, mighty Challo! How will your hunger be appeased now?" roared Narduk. An avalanche of thunder rolled through the clearing. It could have been the laughter of an insane god. Narduk threw back his head, shaggy black hair streaming in the wind and laughed in the face of the ancient god of the S'bana.

With a crash of celestial fire, a great ragged spear of lightning tore the air and struck the upraised sword of Narduk. The blade, older than many ages, forged in the belly of the earth with fire and sweat and sorcery, took the fiery burst of savage fire and splayed it out over the clearing like so many slashes of burning death. The muttering remains of the S'bana headman were consumed. The bands of fire swept through the clearing, obliterating the remaining S'bana warriors in a flash of balefire. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air and then was swept clean by the scouring winds.

Then all was gone. The wind calmed, the clouds rolled into wisps of scant vapor, and the now westering sun cast a fading light on the now vacant jungle clearing.

Narduk swept his hand before his eyes to clear them. His eyes met the site of the blackened altar, a trembling girl at his feet, and a path leading west. All was silent, quiet, still. Narduk sheathed his broadsword, lifted the girl up in his massive arms, and strode off into the trees.

The End.

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Against the Gods is copyright R.D. Wheadon. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)