Okay, now for a special treat. I have written a continuing adventure for the Joshua of Egypt character. If you are a follower of this blog then you have read the introduction of the character in Curse of the Wicked Blue Djinn series from February.
If you haven't then read them first, here's Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
The continuing adventures of Joshua will take you on a journey that is a little different than most other stories I have written. These fictions, much like the Bark series, were written for a game. Unlike the Bark series, this game has little to no actual internal story, so I have created it myself. What this means for you is that the story is a little easier to follow as there is less established game info that you would already need to know. That said, please enjoy Joshua and the Sword of Vulcan.
Joshua and the Sword of Vulcan
Chapter 1: Meeting the Heroes
“Well done, Majus.” A soothing woman’s voice startled the master wizard.
He twisted around in the kneeling position he had been seated in. In the motion, he produced a small staff of artistically crafted wood with an orb attached in his right hand and generated a spell of lightening in his left. This room had been locked and sealed by magic before he entered. Not just to keep his work private, but to protect anyone from unwittingly being set on fire. Anyone who could get in through his enchantments was a potential danger. What he saw made him fall prostrate on the ground.
“Lady Circe!” He dropped his wand and disenchanted his hand, putting both palms on the ground astride his head as he bowed low to the goddess of magic. Before him stood a beautiful woman dressed in amazing fabrics that accentuated her perfect figure. Her silky soft hair and draped down her shoulders to frame the amazingly gentle face which smiled at the lowly mage on the ground.
“Rise my student and present yourself.”
Majus sat up but kept his eyes cast downward. “My lady. What do you wish of me that you would present yourself in person now?”
“Majus, the master mage of my temple, what do you know of the dark palace in nearby lands?”
“I know little of that awful place,” Majus admitted, “only that it is fearful and controlled by a wicked warlord of a bygone era.”
“There is much about that place that worries me. Especially an artifact in the possession of the warlord.”
Majus bowed lower, “Do you want me to go and retrieve it?”
“No,” Circe stated frankly, “I do not wish you to go. Gather the four and prepare to travel.”
Majus cleared his throat and tried to contain his dismay at her request. “The four? Uh, are you sure? The others are difficult to work with and have such differing opinions. I can do this task for you, I am sure of it.”
“Do you doubt my insight?”
Majus bowed low in fear of her question. “Of course not, my lady.”
“I ask you to gather them not for the task of retrieving the artifact from the warlord, but to go on another mission.”
Circe smiled as she looked away toward the sea. “Yes. I sense someone approaching these lands, someone with a great and powerful destiny. They have the ability to complete this mission. But, they do not know this yet. Their skills are weak and their knowledge limited. The four will go and test this person through examination and interaction. If they pass the tests then I will give them a unique blood blessing.”
Majus gulped, it was a known fact that few had been granted a gift of the blood, in these lands only the four have had such an honor, himself being one. It was an awesome thing, but somewhat terrifying. “How will I know this person?”
“Travel south into the trees. Minions of darkness lurk there. This person will be traveling with a
companion through there soon in search of a path. Help them, watch them, study them there and bring them back to the temple.”
“As you wish.” Majus bowed low enough to touch his forehead on the ground. “If I may, my lady, you have not told me this person's name or even if this person is a man or woman.”
“No, I haven't.” Circe seemed to take delight in that and then vanished back into the god realm.
Majus waited a moment to be certain she was gone then lifted himself up. Bowing low like this each time she appeared always hurt his back. But, he was one of the rare few who had contact with someone like Circe, so he would risk his comfort for the insurmountable honor. Though, he did hate the way that these gods enjoyed being cryptic. He knew they took fiendish delight in confounding people as often as possible. How could he possibly pick out this person from the various travelers in the land? What if there is a bad attack in the woods and this person gets killed? What will Circe say then? He had to trust that Circe knew what was best.
Standing all the way up Majus stretched his back and heard it pop in more than one place. He snarled at the notion of what came next. Gathering the other three was going to be annoying. They were honored heroes and great warriors, but they didn't have the same level of discipline as Majus.
He liked working with the pupils of the magic school here, they were predictable and had manners. “Let's get this over with,” he muttered to himself and waved his little staff at the door, unsealing the charm he placed on it earlier this morning.
Joshua and Julia were below deck resting while the ship made its way toward the port. The night was quickly turning to morning and Joshua hadn't slept at all. They were given one hammock and the floor in the corner. Being the gentleman, Joshua let her have the hammock while he sat next to her on the floor.
Julia slept, but Joshua couldn't, he spent the night pondering his life. What if he couldn't find a way to break this curse? What if he was stuck this way for eternity? How could he return to the woman he loved looking like this? Suddenly he started beating his forehead with his fist. “She's probably married by now. Gah! Stupid djinn, why did you have to do this to me?”
“Who did what to you?” Julia was awoken by his outburst.
“Nothing, just go back to sleep.”
She stretched up her arms and yawned, “No, I'm awake now. What is bothering you so badly?”
“I couldn't sleep last night. I have been so worried about my problem that I...well I just couldn't rest my mind. I saw the way some of the ship workers and the other travelers looked at me, I know that scared look in their eyes is something I am going to have to get used to. Then I thought about that look in the eyes of the girl I am in love with. I couldn't stand to see that in her face. Then I realized that she will have long been married by the time I get back, which will make my interest in her completely invalid. All this because of that stupid evil djinn.”
Julia softly laughed, “My, you have been doing a lot of thinking.”
“Didn't have much else to do. Sitting alone all night sort of gives you time to think.”
Julia sat up, which was not an easy process in an old fish net turned into a hammock, “Night is a bad time to sit and think, for you will be alone with those thoughts. And, take it from somebody who has spent a lot of time alone with their thoughts, you always come to the worst conclusions and outcomes while you are pondering all of your iniquities.”
“You can't see it, Julia, but the looks in their eyes is fear, hatred, disgust. I can't help but be dismayed by what I am going to face from here on out.”
She reached over and held his shoulder, rubbing the fur with her thumb, “You are right, I can't see it, so I am left to judge you by your words and actions. How you treat me, how you speak to others, what you do about your problems, that is all I have to go on. That is how you should make them see you. Be a good man, don't respond to their knee-jerk prejudice about you. Prove your heart to them and they will forget what that wicked djinn put on your outside, they will understand that he didn't change your inside.”
With a smile, he reached up and held the hand petting his shoulder. "You're right, of course."
Just then the captain looked down through the ladder, “We will be at port in a little while. Get your stuff together, this is where you get off.”
“Thank you, captain.” Joshua answered, happy to know that outside of the first encounter the captain has at least not been as scared when he looked at the dog man.
Julia held tight to his shoulder while she got herself up from the hammock. “Alright. Lets make a list of items we will need to purchase at the port before heading toward the high road.”
“Do you know where we are going to head from the high road?” Joshua got up from the wooden deck and stretched out his legs.
“Not exactly. The first item we should get is a reliable map. Now help gather our stuff, it has moved since last night with the waves. I don't feel anything where I put it.” she was tapping the ground with her hands trying to locate her bag and staff.
“HA, HAVE YOU SEEN ANYONE EAT THIS MUCH FOR BREAKFAST!” A woman bellowed as she gnawed on a leg from the animal currently roasting over the cooking fire. The leg was in one hand and a pile of other various cooked parts were mounded on a plate before her.
Outside the Temple of Circe was a gathering grounds for all the students and priests that worked on the daily tasks. Two of the common guests of the temple were a pair of obviously non- native warriors. Brienne was a strong, well built woman with the courage of a lion, strength of a bear, and appetite to match both. Her attire wasn't common for warriors of her kind back home, but she enjoyed showing off her physique, it distracted many men on the battlefield. Most men would do just about anything to court such an attractive woman, but her blood stained giant ax tended to keep suitors at bay. Pointing a half eaten drumstick at the young kitchen assistant she bellowed, “Have you any ale this morning!?”
The young man gulped and almost answered when a gloomy voice interrupted. “Brienne, you know that they don't keep fermented drink around this temple, not since the change.” A dark, tattooed man wearing garb that helped conceal him in the branches of trees leaned up against a pole and flicked at his finger nails. On his shoulder sat a companion gifted to him by Circe herself, a large black bird that listened to one master.
Brienne slammed her fist on the table and yelled at the servant boy, “Find me some!”
“Yes...ma'am.” the poor young acolyte of the temple scurried off to ask his master once again about this request from the loud woman.
“HAHAHAHA! Don't you just love the way they run in fear!?”
The brooding man turned and sat at the table with his back to her, the bird turned and glared at her food as though it were about to feast. “They probably think you're going to eat them when you are done with that wild boar they cooked for you.”
Brienne slapped the table, which startled the bird. “BWAHAHA! Good one Crowe! I shall remember that one!”
Crowe reached over and picked up a knife the cook left behind on the table and calmly examined it. “Why do you think Majus asked us to meet him this morning?”
Brienne took a big bite of the leg and then spoke around the chewing, “Dunno. I hope he wants to go after that dark palace near us. I am itching to cut down some skeletons.”
Crowe suddenly threw the knife at the carcass on the spit and lodged it neatly in the shoulder. He snapped his fingers and the bird flew the short distance and pulled the knife out for him, taking a large chunk of meat with it. It returned and dropped it in his hands. He pulled the meat off and slowly took a bit for himself and then handed up a morsel for his pet, repeating this process until the meat was gone. “I don't look for combat just to quench some thirst for excitement. Though, honing my skills is always welcome. I must always be ready to take down the god that took my homelands and killed my family.”
Brienne snorted while she tossed a cleaned bone to the begging dogs on the other side of the fence. “Must you always talk of your mission for revenge? Just enjoy a good fight now and then. ITS GOOD FOR THE BLOOD! HA!” She had a hard time keeping her voice to socially acceptable levels.
At that moment, Majus and another mage approached the table. The other mage was an older man with a craggy, battle marred face. His name was Haman. He wore an outfit not unlike Joshua's, but with a few accents of gold and other precious decorations. Haman was from Susa, capital of Persia. His skill was not quite as good as Majus, but he was still a fearful warrior.
“Ah, I see you two made it.” Majus approached, smiling at the two strange people at the table.
Crowe handed the last bit of meat to his bird and then gave Majus a half-cocked look, “What did you want us for? Is Circe sending us on another crusade against a god minion?”
“Circe did call us together for a special mission, but it is not to fight a war, not yet. We are to seek someone else who she may bestow a blood blessing on.”
This got everyone’s attention. Majus had not mentioned this to any of them, even his fellow mage. Haman asked what the others were thinking, “Is Circe going to add to our group?”
Brienne swallowed her last big bite and slammed her fist on the table, “WHAT DOES SHE WANT?! TO TURN US INTO A LEGION!? A SMALL GROUP IS BETTER FOR PRECISION!”
Majus cleared his throat and waited while the loud woman settled down, “Whatever her plans are, we must obey. Circe is a wise leader and we owe her a lot. Right now, we are simply asked to find this person and observe them while we bring them back to the temple.”
“OBSERVE! Sounds boring. I'll stay behind and sharpen my ax.” Brienne snarled at the notion of a tedious mission. Though she would never have to sharpen her ax, it was magical.
Crowe said it before Majus could, “If Circe has asked us, we have to go.”
“Ugh!” Brienne scoffed.
Majus knew how to get her attention, “We are to meet them in the South Forest.”
“South Forest?” Brienne's smile grew at the mention of that place.
“Yes, where all the dark creatures have been seen recently. We are to escort them here, which means dealing with any problems. Do you still want to stay behind and sharpen your ax?”
Brienne stood up with a shot, nearly knocking the table over, which threw Crowe out of his seat. “While there are wild beasts to be killed! NOT THIS BATTLE MAIDEN! HA! LEAD THE WAY, MAGE!”
Crowe got up from the ground. “That got her attention.”
“Come, we don't have a lot of time. I don't want the dark creatures to find them before we do.” Haman directed them out. Majus was technically the leader, but Haman had been an important man where he came from and often attempted to appear as the commander. Majus was wise enough to know when to tell him to stop and when to let him walk at the front of the line.
Joshua carried a full bag and his cloak over one shoulder. It was warmer than he anticipated and there were likely to be few traveling the area they would be walking today. So not wearing that heavy cloak was alright. He held Julia's hand to guide her through the forest toward the high road.
“Wow.” He whispered, again.
“You have been awestruck often today. What is so impressive?”
Joshua guided her around a large tree trunk and then continued up the gentle incline. “This forest is amazing.”
She reached out and felt a tree. “Feels like another forest to me. What do you see?”
“Trees, lots and lots of trees.”
The way he said that with such earnest amazement made her chuckle. “It is a forest, so trees are going to be present. What about them is so amazing?”
“Just the amount, the height, the green. Where I come from there aren't as many trees around, not like this.”
Julia was directed around another large tree and then asked, “Do you like it? Do you like the forest?”
“I don't know. Its pretty and different, but so closed in. I can't imagine living where you can't see wide open spaces. Here each step is just another thicket of trees. I am looking forward to the high road, it won't be as dense as this.”
“I suppose a boy raised in Egypt might not understand living among so many trees. There are those here who would be startled and uncomfortable with a lot of wide open spaces, and few trees.”
Joshua was about to explain that it was impossible for anyone to not like wide open spaces when he heard something. Stopping he got close to her. “Did you hear that?”
She was startled by his abrupt stop and then by the way he was holding her close to him. “Hear what?”
Joshua's tall dog ears were pivoting slightly as he listened to the strange noise that caught his attention. “It sounds like...like growling. Maybe heavy breathing.”
Julia smiled and let the silence of the moment enhance her hearing. “I do hear something distant. It is odd, most of the time I am the one who hears things first, being blind...WHOAH!” Suddenly Joshua shoved her down.
Joshua pushed her out of the way just in time to miss the swipe of a large paw from a strange beast that lunged out of the shadows of the forest. It was a creature unlike anything he has seen in his life. It had the face of a large bat, with enormous fangs protruding from its mouth. Jutting out from either side of its head were a pair of short, sharp horns. On the hump of its back was a third horn, which was three times as long as the others. Its legs were like human arms with four large, clawed fingers on each. The size of a bull and the scream of a banshee, this thing was hungry and ready to feed. With one loud screech it lunged again at Joshua.
“What is that?!” Julia cried.
Joshua gripped the beast by its forearms and jerked side to side with his head to avoid the snapping fangs of the monster. “I have...no...idea!” He lost the battle and was shoved all the way to the ground. With a giant chomp the beast bit down on Joshua's side to get a hearty helping. It yelled and jumped back.
Joshua felt that bite and was sure that he was done for. Then he noticed the beast was stunned by something. Its mouth was obviously hurt by the way it was clawing at its face with its paw. He reached over to check his side for pouring blood and found nothing wrong, other than a little soreness. On the ground near him was four inches of that beasts left upper fang, broken in half and clean of any blood. For a moment he tried to figure out what happened, but he didn't get the chance to ponder for too long. The monster got up as angry as ever and went in for a second try at lunch. Quickly thinking, Joshua grabbed the half of the fang the beast lost and used it like a dagger in his hand. He jumped away from swipe after swipe of the beasts claws. He lashed out at it with its own tooth, but couldn't make contact. He had survived one attempt on his life, he wasn't going to give it a second opportunity.
The beast slapped him to the side with one well-placed blow of its paw and threw Joshua into a tree. It jumped at him with the same motion as before, only this time Joshua plunged the broken tooth into its neck. It lurched back, digging at its neck with its paws. Joshua planted both feet in its chest and shoved, toppling it over. The dark red blood streaming from its neck splashing onto his shins.
“Joshua! Joshua!” Julia was scared and holding a stone in her hand as though she could frighten an attacker away.
“I'm...okay. I think.” He breathed heavily and used the tree behind him to stand up. His head was spinning a little by the blow against the tree, but he was otherwise okay.
Unfortunately, the beast wouldn't stay down. It had clawed the tooth out and though bleeding profusely, it made one final attempt on him. Joshua leaped over to protect Julia from the assailant and grabbed a stone to smash this things skull.
He didn't get the opportunity. A glowing arrow split the air and pierced the beasts side. Then an ax flew through the trees and lodged in the monsters neck, splitting its head partly from its shoulders. It crashed into the ground and slid to a stop right in front of the two. Joshua watched the arrow vanish away and the ax fly backward out of the beast and into the trees again.
“Joshua!” Julia grabbed his arm, “Oh thank goodness, you're alive. What is happening, please tell me what is happening?”
“I don't know. Someone just saved us...I think.”
Crowe put his bow back over his shoulder and clicked his tongue at the bird. His pet flew down from where they had perched in the trees and began to feast on the dead monster. The master archer jumped down and stood next to Brienne, who was wiping the blood from her ax. “I had it.”
Brienne scoffed at him, “It would have feasted before your arrows could finish it.”
“And you came very close to killing that...man.”
Haman and Majus stood there, watching their companions work. Haman looked to his fellow mage, “Do you think that man is another monster? He is most certainly not human.”
Majus squinted and looked at the odd couple gathering themselves near a tree in the distance. “I don't believe he is evil, look at the way he is protecting her.”
Brienne ventured, “Could be her slave.”
“Or pet,” Haman added.
Crowe cracked his knuckles. “Whatever. Majus, do you think that either of them is the person Circe wanted us to find?”
“Yes. See the garb that woman wears. She is a student of the Oracles. She must be the person that Circe has sent us to observe and protect.”
Haman didn't buy it, “An oracle student? Really? To what purpose would we need with a seer?”
Brienne loudly bellowed, “Mayhap she brings us a vision of glorious battle!”
Majus let out a sigh as he watched the two in the distance look their direction and become aware of someone approaching. “Whatever she brings to us, they are now quite aware of our presence here. Come, let us greet them and see if we can offer any aid to their injuries.” He walked on with Crowe at his side.
Brienne and Haman followed behind. Haman stated rather harshly, “Watch that mouth, you would do well to learn the skill of silence.”
Brienne snarled at him, she didn't quite like this little man. His people put women below the livestock, he never appreciated fighting along side one. But, they were allies and she wouldn't kill him today.
“I hear people speaking, do you?” Julia gripped Joshua's arm tightly out of fear.
Joshua helped her up while keeping a keen eye on the approaching band. “Yes, and they are almost here. They do not have their weapons drawn, and one I think is smiling.”
“Be careful. Bandits can be almost as bad as a monster attack.” Julia took up her stick to help guide her and let go of Joshua's arm. She stopped and whispered, “I sense something, something odd about these people?” Joshua would have asked about this, but their guest were upon them.
The four warriors approached and then Majus spoke, directing his words at the blind woman. “Greetings from the temple of Circe.”
“Circe?” Joshua frowned not knowing that name, his speaking seemed to intrigue the band of warriors.
Julia took his arm again, “Oh, no, Circe is a goddess. They are warriors of the gods.”
Joshua stepped closer to Julia ready to defend her. “What do you want with us?”
Haman cocked his head at the dog man, “Fascinating. What sort of beast are you?”
Majus held up a hand, “We can ask those sorts of questions later.” He showed his open hands as a sign of peace, “We do not come to attack, Circe has sided with the humans against the evil gods in this war.”
Julia could hear that he was talking toward her so she spoke, “What does Circe want with us then?”
“She extends an invite to her temple. She wishes to speak with you and perhaps offer you help. We have not been given much information, but even the Promethean gods are cryptic and often vague.”
“Me? What does a goddess wish with a simple student?”
Haman rolled his eyes, “As master Majus has already stated, we don't know. But it would be wise to come. Circe is a most benevolent goddess.”
Julia was understandably nervous. “Can my friend Joshua come as well?”
Brienne loudly announced. “Of course! Many a student has a pet! Though I dare say none have such a pleasing body as yours!”
“Pet?” Joshua caught that word immediately.
Crowe calmly stated, “As diplomatic as ever, Brienne.”
Brienne was intrigued by Joshua's body. He had good muscles, lots of hair, and strong hands, all the features she liked in a man. Without asking permission, she walked over and started feeling him, turning him around a couple times with her firm grip. “Wow, he must have cost a fortune, but I bet he was worth the price! Is he trained in pleasing you as well as serving you?!”
“Hey, watch the hands. WHOAH! Don't grab that! Pleasing her...? HEY!” Joshua was trying to stop her, but she was stronger than she looked, and that is saying something. Now her hands were in his mouth checking out the fangs.
“Good strong teeth! Huzzah! He is a finely bred slave!”
Joshua stopped fighting her and merely protested by speaking around her fingers. “Would you please take your hands out of my mouth and off of my chest.”
Haman came to his rescue, pulling Brienne away. “You can play with her slave later,” he nodded to Julia, “With her permission, of course. For now we must get them back to the temple.”
With a reluctant huff, Brienne dropped her arms, “Alright.” She reached around and gave Joshua's rear a nice, firm squeeze, “Later I find out if you are worth the gold paid for you! HA!” At that, she finally left Joshua to collect himself.
“Come, these woods are dangerous. We must be heading back.” Majus signaled for them to follow him up the hill.
Joshua picked up their belongings and slung them over one shoulder. He then reached out and took Julia's hand to guide her with the quick pace the others had started on.
“What just happened?” Julia asked.
“I don't really know. They must think that I am a servant of yours. Some sort of slave you bought for your trip.”
Julia was snickering, which only held back the laughter that was attempting to burst out.
Joshua took umbrage with her laughing. “It's not funny. That big woman scares me.”
“She might scare you, but she likes you. Imagine if she didn't like you.”
The image of her ax hacking part of that monsters head of in front of him filled his mind. His intentions of resisting her advances became that much more dangerous.