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Short Story

The Beast and The Barbarian

By Unknown Author

Lore

Why must the engines of man continue to push themselves into endless war? How is it that we beings are created in prisons, unable to ever truly break free to achieve our hopes and dreams?

As I rest in the chilled hut, in front of a quenched hearth, bathing in the empty blue-light of a Freljordan morning, I hearken to my mother's words.

Pengu cannot fly

Because they own two flippers

And rather than wings to fly

These have decided us as swimmers.

My eyes open once again, yet they feel permanently shut to what I was meant to be. For if these flippers of mine were for swimming, I have squandered them on the spent blood of enemies sprayed onto the still ice. And I have always, always felt as though I was drowning.

Regardless.

I roll up to my feet, waddling over to my war chest. This awful thing is where I stow my weapons and armor once exhaustion has completely overtaken me. As I lay a flipper on it, the maiden I spent the night with senses something amiss and rises from her own cot. Short and dressed in several layers of pajamas, she already has a frown on her face and several tangles in her morning-bed locks.

"Mother!" She calls upon seeing me remove my ornate armor. "Mom, it's trying to dress itself again!"

I chuckle and merely utter:

"Pengu." - You know what I am, who I am, lass. Let us not play stupid.

"Be careful touching it," the girl's mother calls back. "It comes back every time, anyway. Remember to thank that smith for forging it some protection."

Again, I bitterly laugh. "Pengu." - Your matronly hope warrants more caution than any blade I could proffer.

Sighing to myself, I remove my two hook blades as well, and lay them out for the girl. She gives me a histrionic, pleading look, hoping I will reconsider my decision to leave. I remain stalwart, staring at her, and bobbing slightly up and down as a way to show my excitement and how it would make me really happy if she just acquiesced and dressed Pingu up.

Bemoaning the process the entire time, she wraps my armor around me and ties a knot into its cord. She helps roll up the chains on my deadly weapons, then hands me their handles so I may grip them.

"Don't you at least want breakfast, little guy? We don't have much, here, but it is still delicious."

Breakfast. Ha, ha, ha! That sort of meal is how scavengers become late.

Shaking my head, I waddle over to the door and wait for her to turn the handle. This works far better than throwing myself through it, as I had done the previous four times. Just acknowledging this, however, makes me realize how I had grown overfond of this home--and as I stumbled towards the empty expanse of snow and ice ahead of this quaint village, a gloom settles in my stomach. As Pingu, or as a member of the pengu, I am not sure whether my sinful body should ever know a second place of continued rest.

The first place of rest, I assume, shall be a grave for me.

But before I can muse more, I do agree to have some breakfast. The girl's mother was cooking sausage again!

The village-folk spoke yesterday in hushed voices, of a battle between two warring barbarian tribes that left yet another section of this idyllic world battle-scarred and untenable. Neither side had claimed their bodies yet for their respective parting rituals.

This was my destination. I stumble onward, scanning the bleak horizon for any sign of this so-called battle.

And, just as the cloying stink of war entered my beak, I see two victims in the distance: scraggy barbarians, attempting to flee on a retreat order. These 'brave' warriors had been spurred on by their peers into aggression, and when those verily brave leaders of the tribe perished, these remnants were left to run as fast as they could--only to be chased down and felled.

One was put out flat, the other is caught in a funny hunched-over position and locked there by the frigid night temperatures. I let my guard down for a moment of sincerity. Even if they were cowardly knaves, their distances from the rest of the carnage spoke to an uncanny dexterity. I have always wondered what running must feel like.

"Pengu." - Thank you for your guidance.

I scan their bodies up and down for useful supplies. What am I looking for? I am unsure. But this is how I obtained my strange armor, and my blades--collected objects from battlefields spanning all of Freljord. It was my instinct. My one vestige in this meaningless existence. Actually, someone just gave it to me, but is it not a form of scavenging to receive unprompted gifts?

Before I can take away any of their belongings, however, I notice something odd about the second victim's last pose. Rather than seeming felled by bolts, my intuition tells me he had instead dropped to his own knees, and bent over. As if to protect something wrapped in his arms.

I breathe in deep. Ready my blades. As I waddle closer, there is a distinct whining coming from under this man. The dead do not speak--I know that well enough.

Letting out a battle cry, I charge forward into the hunched and frosty figure, knocking him over as if he were a statue! The recoil unfortunately causes me to stagger back and roll across the ice, dizzying me and making it difficult to assess my new foe.

Still, I grip my blades and point them at... at a horned beast... The creature had the telltale features of a true predator: its fur was white and fluffy, as to hide its weak areas, and its horns were as much for goring as those on my decorated helmet. Its wild, black and beady eyes kept lock onto me as it skittered with shocking speed, likely trying to find a way to tear me asunder and leave me for dead with the others.

"Pengu!" - Prepare yourself, monster!

I give chase, yet the quadrupedal attacker is crafty enough to choose a circle pattern. My weakness, as every turn I do on the ice makes me feel as though I am about to slip again, and to slip now is certain death.

We engage in the dance of battle--the two of us running a deadly circle, me swinging my blades, the horned beast wailing and yapping at me. Then, it decides its cunning was not limited to circles, and it planted itself behind one of the corpses.

No! I know this strategy. If I go left, it will round right, always using this obstacle to keep me at distance. If I try to go over, I will trip and it will find a new object to hide behind. I have always imagined myself as the only warrior capable of this technique.

"Pengu." - You fight well. I am panting for breath.

The thing squeaks at me and skitters down, begging for... mercy? But why, when it had the advantage? Adrenaline keeps pumping through my body, demanding I continue the fight, but I know from our bout that I could very well throw my life away for nothing more than mere pride.

I lower my blades, rolling my eyes at the coward. "Pengu." - Something as cute and innocuous as you should have never found battle.

The creature seems to agree, nodding emphatically. Not only a warrior: also a scholar who understood my language. We conversed in pengu's and pantomimes.

"Was this slain human your friend?"

It nodded and nudged his old ally.

"He is gone. You must fend for yourself, now. Have you any training with bladed weapons?"

Instead of answering, my new acquaintance let out a long whine and rolled over on its side, indicating its lack of answer.

"Be quiet, boy!" Perhaps my previous assessment was a mistake. This thing quibbles and whines as if it did not just outsmart me moments ago. Such unawareness...

"Go, flee in any direction. You do not belong here, boy."

Not paying him any more heed, I forge on, towards the densest section of the battle. Where the loot would most certainly be, hung and tied to the warriors who were willing to participate most in the chaos.

"Squeak?"

I whip around, blades at the ready. Except I pirouette a tad too gracefully, and I spin myself around on the ice before falling flat on my face before the horned crybaby.

"O-Ow! What is it, boy?! Have I not told you to abscond from this chilling nightmare?"

I do no wait for its answer. I go to a behemoth human, felled by myriad blows and left sitting in the white snow. My beak grimaces as something I spotted forces me to come closer. A coin-purse. This will prove beneficial.

I reach out to grab it. Except... I have my blade in my flipper. If I drop my blade, I can grab the money. Yet I would then be unable to grab that weapon, due to my flipper being busied with the splendors of war.

This brings a sorrowful noise from my beak as I plop down in the ice, feeling absolutely defeated.

Every time.

This happens every time.

I call myself a scavenger, yet in truth, I have never scavenged anything. Because I can only hold two things at a time. This is a cold, unforgiving life inundated with mistery. Rewarded by a punchline. The other pengu all believed it was impossible for our creed to become reapers. Those who ostracized me are right. The fact hurt me more than anything in this damnable world.

"S-Squeak?!"

The noise breaks me free of my sorrow. I look, and...

The creature wants my attention as it plucks free the coin-purse and holds it in its mouth.

"Boy!" I exclaim. "Is this... true? You can hold one thing at a time?"

Nodding emphatically, the horned beast runs to another casualty and--lo and behold--is able to hold two purses swollen with currency!

"Boy," I say again, excited. "Together we--between the two of us, we could..." I have to remind myself to stay brooding and mysterious to my protege, else it might not consider me nifty enough to follow. "You might be useful after all, boy. From now on, I will be your guide through these war-torn lands. And you will pull the sled I create out of this large man's coat."

"Poorp!"

For the next hour we work as a seamless unit, scouring the loot for a one great object to steal away.

"Squeak?" The boy asks me, tugging an ornate battle-axe free for my perusal. Its simple nature belied the strength and value lurking within.

"Gorgeous indeed! This might... be... it..."

I watch as the boy and the axe start to lift into the air. Somehow, a towering man had come close to our ministrations. His footsteps should have pounded, shook the very earth as he came upon us, and yet somehow the giant had moved with such gracefulness, his footsteps hardly caused a creak in the ice.

"P-P-Porp!" My comrade struggles to wrench back the axe, which is being stolen by this armored newcomer. The shoulders of his set alone are the size of my body, and looked much more protective than my lightweight and mobile armor.

"Pengu!" I shout, swinging my weapons in warning. I have decided the axe is ours.

"This is mine," the man states. He jerks the axe handle and sends my fluffy ally bouncing across the ice.

Before he can leave, I waddle forward at high speeds and block his path. Forget the axe. I promised myself once to never let a challenge like this go wasted. And he injured the boy I promised to teach.

The great, hulking warrior looks down at me.

"Are you supposed to be funny?" He asks me. "Who dressed and armed you?"

"Pengu!" - Your barbs won't waylay my warrior spirit.

Frowning at me, the warrior nodded at the carnage to his back. "This was me. I felled them all with this axe... unlike true predators, they refused to leave when I showed no fear. They thought they could inspire it in me... like you are attempting now."

I can do more than inspire fear with these blades. I show off a flurry of attacks, my flippers going crazy with speed and deadly precision.

"Porp!" Says the boy, cheering me on.

"My name is Darius," the man says, "and if you insist on impeding me, I will kill you."

"Pengu." - You're welcome to try.

Sighing, Darius readies his tree-sized axe, staring me dead in the eye. I also get ready, planting my feet on the ice so I won't trip. My beak is nearly clacking with morbid excitement.

We stay at the ready, icy winds howling, neither of us moving a muscle. To move early will spell certain death for the victim.

"Um..." Darius squints at me--still at the ready, except now he's retreated a foot. "Look, how about you just go back wherever you came from."

Never! I show off another flurry.

"Fine," he mutters. "I'll just kick the thing... too damned cute..."

He stops readying his axe and starts a brisk walk towards me. For whatever reason, he seems not intent on using his deadliest weapon, a foolish mistake by so veteran a killer. Taking my opportunity, I do my ultimate move: leaping forwarding while swinging my blades!

"S-Squeak?!" The boy shrieks, thinking me defeated.

Darius attempts to cleave me in half. Foolish man--I easily block this blow with my head, creating a metallic ring that nearly cracks the ice we walk on. My body flattens strategically, into a soft disc of pure rage and battle, before popping up again. I take a swing at the surprised warrior, but he deftly counters my blade by stepping back.

"What... I..."

He tries again to cleave me, only to receive an unsatisfying CLANG.

CLANG.

CLASH.

CRASH.

Still I hold my weapons tight, trying to do every move in my repertoire to land a blow. After seeing this bold man's strategy of cleaving me over and over while shouting to himself, I understand how he was capable of taking out an entire tribe of barbarians.

"What--just--just--agh!"

CRASH.

CLONG.

"Squ-ee-ak!"

Boy?! To stop our battle, he had dashed in front of me. I trip over him and go flying beak-first into the ground just as Darius comes to carry out his next attack--

Shnnk.

My flipper jolts as my blade finds purchase, punching through his thick armor. I wiggle off the daze of falling and examine the handiwork of my attack (which I, of course, planned from the start).

Darius looks at me.

We both look at my blade sunk deep into his foot.

"Excuse me," he says.

With one hand, he frees my weapon and puts it back into my flippers. He walks a good distance away. Once there, he falls to the ground, clutching his foot and screaming in agony. I have converted some words to my own language to avoid... problems in the recounting of my tale.

"PENGU IT ALL, YOU PENGU LOOKING PENGU PENGU!* I'M GOING TO TAKE YOUR PENGUIN PENGU AND PENGU IT INTO YOUR PENGU PENGU PENGU, PENGU! AGH, GODS, IT PENGU HURTS SO MUCH..."

I watch as this lesser warrior cradles his injury. What a pathetic creature.

"Squeak?" The boy asks.

"Pengu." - You see, this man hesitated. That was his fatal flaw.

"Porp?" He takes the axe's handle in his mouth again, blinking at me questioningly.

"Yes, we should take the axe and run. That is our way."

As we start to flee from battle, however... I look back at all the things we found.

I sigh.

"Mom, oh my--mom, look, he brought back a poro this time!" The girl cries, running out of her hut. I wave a flipper at her as she runs up to Poro, the apparent name of my companion. Perhaps it too carries a reputation in these unforgiving lands.

The girl looks me over for injury, before moving on to pet the poro. She notices what we have scavenged from the battle.

"Is this..." she takes the bag and peeks inside, gasping at the contents. "M-Money?" She cries out for mother again, swinging the bag back and forth gleefully.

I turn to Poro. "Pengu." - This is the greatest thing you can scavenge in this world. The smile on a young girl's face as she knows she will be able to eat again tomorrow."

"Porp..." tears well up in the boy's eyes, and he takes a step towards the happy scene.

I hold out a flipper, stopping him.

"Pengu..." - Surrounded by warriors, you either go to war, or you perish. But there is another way. Our place is back out there, scavenging, seeking out the joyful remnants the conquerors leave behind.

We turn ourselves around and waddle back out into the expanse, our journey likely only beginning.

References

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