Story Excerpt: "Return to Stynar Vort" by Joe Minichino

The following is an excerpt from “Return to Stynar Vort” by Joe Minichino. The full story appears in the Swords of Steel Omnibus.

Painting by Joe Minichino

Painting by Joe Minichino

The decorations on the altar’s side represented scenes of stories untold, with demonic looking figures, serpents, chains and daggers, mountains and people marching. Bedar looked back to Gaetys and Huethys, and gestured them to wait at the entrance of the chamber at the bottom of the stairs. He climbed the dais to the altar. Placing his left hand over the funnel, he reached with his right hand to his belt, extracted a carefully hidden long-bladed althame, and ran its blade on the palm of his left hand. He clenched his hand into a fist to squeeze blood down the funnel, then pronounced the prayer: “Take my blood, O Styne, made pure by Seyden’s Tooth, the sacred althame.”

A low hum, almost imperceptible to ears, suddenly rang through the air, but while it was hard to hear, its vibration could be felt in the eardrums and teeth in the most uncomfortable way. The glassy hemisphere on the wall instantly lit up like the eye of a colossal cat, staring directly at Bedar. The old man tried to hide his incredulity and addressed the eye on the wall, looking at the floor and his voice breaking with fear. “Almighty Styne, protector of the Mountain, it is your servant Bedar, High Priest of Stynar Vort, who asks for your help in this desperate hour of need.”

“Humans,” answered a deep cavernous voice that had not spoken in a thousand years. “Ungrateful, forgetful, unfaithful creatures. That is what humans are!

“I gave you an unvanquishable home, and eternal protection, in return for blood. But you have forgotten me, for a thousand years… and you forgot the blood you promised… and now you want protection. You have sinned for generations. You owe me all that blood… a thousand years of it.”

“I will restore your cult as the rightful protector of Stynar Vort,” answered Bedar, “and I can give you the blood you want, all of it, today. But we are moments away from extermination, and if we are defeated, then you will be forever forgotten and no blood will ever run from the altars of Styne again…”

“I see intruders in their thousands in my fortress… So much blood… Proceed, priest, with the ritual of Eternal Life,” Styne ordered eagerly. “Take Gaetys’ life on the altar to represent Death, and Huethys to represent Rebirth. I will take their blood and their souls and turn them into Kruhd’asra, the Undead Blood Fury, who shall bring you victory.”

Bedar turned to King Gaetys. “Your Majesty, this is the price. I will ensure that everyone in Stynar Vort knows that the king and his commander sacrificed their lives and souls for their salvation.”

Gaetys and Huethys looked at each other in horror, then the king spoke with hesitation in his voice: “Bedar, this is… much to ask. Our souls?” He looked at the old priest, hoping he offered some kind of alternative.

 “My King, you wished to kill the enemy on your own, and you said you would offer your soul for that opportunity…”

“Are you ready to die, Huethys? Ready to die with me, for our people?” asked Gaetys, trying to find consolation in sharing the same fate with his commander.

Painting by Joe Minichino

Painting by Joe Minichino

“I am,” answered Huethys, as devout and impassible as ever.

The King of Stynar Vort stepped up to the altar and lay upon it, his head on the lower end. He turned to Huethys and with a strangely serene tone of voice said, “You were a good friend and I am glad to die for our people.” Huethys nodded.

Bedar murmured words not known to common men, then paused. With his eyes closed, he violently stabbed Gaetys in his heart. With his left hand he hammered Seyden’s Tooth deeper into Gaetys’ chest until the tip of the blade stuck out of the king’s back. Then, with an almost sadistic expression, the priest turned the blade in Gaetys’ chest. Blood started dripping from the king’s body into the funnel.

Styne’s voice boomed suddenly: “Rise again, as the Slayer King, and kill every enemy of Stynar Vort within her walls and on this mountain. I will drink the blood of the slain, and the people of Stynar Vort will hail their saviour who gave up his life and came back from the dead to deliver them.”

Gaetys lay immobile for a brief moment, then a strong smell of burned flesh began permeating the room. His garments turned increasingly black as if burnt by invisible flames, then crumbled to ashes on the floor to reveal the corpse’s blistering skin suffering the same inexplicable fate. What once was Gaetys stood slowly up from the altar, shedding the last of his skin. He faced the eye of Styne, who welcomed his demoniacal creation with a cry: “Another Son of Styne is born. Join the eternal fight, my child!” The bare muscles of Gaetys’ body became covered by a black and silver armour. In one hand appeared a silver hilted black blade, in the other a black shield with the silver emblem of a serpent. He jumped off the dais and ran to the dark wall near Styne’s eye, to disappear in the darkness.

Bedar turned to Huethys, knowing what was expected of the king’s commander. Huethys slowly walked up the altar, and lay on it. As Bedar approached him with the althame, he blocked the old man’s arm and punched him under his chin, causing the priest to fall senseless on the floor. Styne’s eye glowed crimson and yellow. With maniacal eagerness he shouted, “What are you doing? You owe me your blood!”

“I do not owe you anything,” answered Huethys. “If it is blood you want, I will give it to you—Bedar’s blood!”

“So be it then,” answered Styne. “You are now the High Priest, Huethys. Now give me Bedar’s blood! Your god commands it!”

Joe “Deathmaster” Minichino is a vocalist/guitarist, and the founder of Italian epic Heavy Metal band DoomSword. Born in Lombardy, Italy, he has a life-long passion for medieval history, fantasy and Heavy Metal. Joe is greatly influenced by Moorcock, Howard, Poul Anderson, Cirith Ungol, Manilla Road, Bathory, Frazetta, and Whelan. Read the full story “Return to Stynar Vort” in the Swords of Steel Omnibus.