The following feature is rated TG-13 for gratuitous violence, adult situations,
and improbable profanity.
Titanic Guidance is suggested for units of thirteen turns or younger.
Know, oh reader,
That between the years of the fall of the 99 Royals and their gleaming cities,
And the rise of the Tools, there was an Age undreamed,
When warring Sides spread across the world like a quilt beneath the stars.
Hither came Strongman, the Shimmerian,
Black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand,
A thief, a razer, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth,
To tread the jeweled thrones of Erfworld under his sandaled feet.
These are the Tales of Strongman the Barbarian, and his days of high adventure!
The White Lands lived up to their name as an inhospitable expanse of snow and ice covered plains. There were no cities or sides, just hex after hex of desolation, with fell creatures roaming the days, and the Leeching Cold effect devastating the nights. Any unprepared unit caught by the frost in the darkness would be frozen solid to be devoured by beasts the next day. Even prepared units ran the risk of being croaked by dawn from exposure to the elements, as two weary travelers huddled by a campfire were discovering.
The two barbarian warlords hunched close to the heat of their fire, desperately trying to gain more warmth through their layers of fur lined clothing. Their exposed faces were numbed long ago, and the cold winds chilled their bodies like a hungry predator hunting through their internals even as the scarlet hair of the warlady flared in that selfsame wind like a bonfire.
“Cursed cold,” cried the warlady named Red Robin by those wise enough to fear her. “What kind of rot brained lummox are you to choose to go straight through the heart of the White Lands, Shimmerian, when we could have just traveled around them?”
The sullen eyed barbarian named Strongman paused in the rubbing of his extremities to look up belligerently at his traveling companion as he replied. “To travel around the White Lands takes three times as long and perhaps four times the trouble. The path is known to all other barbarians in the region who would not hesitate to try their strength against two lonesome travelers, slowing our progress further. Now save your hot air for warming your hands, or you run the risk of not surviving the night.” Strongman did not specify if it would be the Leeching Cold air or his cold steel that ran the risk of croaking his travel companion, for the bickering of the two who were to form the core of Strongman’s new mercenary company had taken on a far more dangerous note that night.
“Ha! If you are such a coward that you haven’t the guts for a fight against whelps and fools, then spill them on the ground now, that I might add your furs to mine own. Titans blasted winds! It feels like I will never be warmed through and through ever again!”
“Coward?” repeated Strongman, incensed. “I merely find no profit in smashing the heads of scavengers and carrion when there are entire Sides waiting to be razed. And as for warmth, if your unit type was not more Sourmander than Man, I would warm your body in the most compendious manner there is. Unfortunately for us both, there is not a single grain of womanliness within you.”
Despite his words, however, Strongman strongly recalled the sight of Robin’s long legs as he beheld them in the Vainer prison and a warmth began to move within him, low in his abdomen.
“Ha, again, Shimmerian! I am more woman than you have ever known. nor will ever know! For upon my popping I made a pledge to the Titans to only mate with one who could best me in combat, and you most definitely fall short of the mark.” Robin held up a gloved hand with a meager space between her thumb and forefinger, combining it with a cruel smile.
“Your memory must be as rotten as your personality to have forgotten that I was the one who captured you in the first place,” replied Strongman with a snarl.
“Twas not you that defeated me, but Fate itself,” exclaimed Robin, returning the snarl with one of her own. “For if our combat had lasted a moment longer I would have spit you upon my blade like the swine you are!”
“And I would have cleaved your head in twain as I would do now,” cried Strongman as he stood and pulled his sword free, the steel blazing in the firelight. “Fight me, wench, and we shall see who is the superior Warlord. And after you are cowed, I will engrave the memory of a man’s body into your own forevermore.”
Red Robin stood as well, her bow at the ready in her left hand with her own sword gripped tightly in her right. “Very well, Shimmerian. And once I win I will claim freedom from my life debt to you as I gaze upon your broken body lying upon the ground!”
And thus, with mutual savageness, did the warlord companions unleash violence upon each other, with the ringing of blade against blade consumed by the howling winds of the night.
Contentedly exhausted, the pair were soaked in the sweat of their pleasurable labors as a satisfied warmth filled their beings. Languidly did Robin reach for the skillet placed over the fire, with two slabs of ground meat sizzling inside before placing the hot meals into small loaves of bread sliced through the middle. Slowly, Robin stretched out her whole length to pass the hand held meal to her partner of the night, for it was hard to move with her leg shattered just above the ankle. Strongman also reached out with his good hand, for the other was missing three fingers, and took his proffered breakfast. Chewing with the side of his mouth without shattered teeth, Strongman’s remaining eye opened wide as he exclaimed, “An unexpectedly good taste, considering the source. What would this meal be?”
Robin propped herself up, carefully to avoid putting weight upon the fractured ribs, and replied in a nasal voice through a broken nose. “The Erasermen called it a ‘burger,’ which they tended to make from the tasteless meat popped in their larders. Mine I make from wild game, and thus I have named it the Red Robin Feralburger. You can now boast of having eaten one.”
Strongman laughed aloud, and Robin soon joined him, as the meal and the deadly fighting of the night had return their humors to the pair. Neither had expected such an even contest of skill and might. Strongman’s overwhelming strength was an excellent match for Robin’s agility and cunning. Many an hour did the two fight before a clear advantage was held when Robin slipped on a bit of slush by the fire. Strongman did not allow the opportunity to pass him by, as he struck Robin with a bodyblow to knock her to the ground before fiercely stomping upon her leg, breaking the bones. Strongman towered over the prostrate Robin, and with blazing eyes he was but a moment from claiming his victory when he took an arrow to the knee that Robin reflexively fired at her aggressor.
Thus it was that both combatants found themselves immobilized at the same time, their contest a draw with the wagers placed upon it long forgotten as the heat of their mutual ferocity carried them comfortably into the dawning light. With a grunt each as their wounds were healed by cleansing, the pair broke camp and made their way across the White Lands once more, their verbal barbs having lost the bloody edge of malice once again.
“Winter elves,” said Robin, conclusively.
Strongman peered sharply from his and Robin’s position, lying just behind the crest of a snow pile on the flat plains. Thanks to Strongman feeling the hackles of his neck raise and Robin’s sharp eyes, the two had noticed movement on the far side of the hex they entered and took what meager cover there was before they were spotted themselves. After a long wait the figures the two had been alerted to had become plainly visible to their eyes. They were elves, alright, but garbed in bright green and red clothing, carrying blunt pole weapons that curved inwards at the end with a twisting red stripe running the length of the weapon’s white body.
Strongman had no knowledge of such a brand of elves, and thus inquired as to their nature.
“Little wonder you do not know them, Shimmerian, for if the Erasermen’s tales are to be believed they have and only ever will serve a single side, nestled in the deepest heart of the White Lands, and ruled by an aged and powerful Overlord garbed entirely in red. In truth, I have little more knowledge than that, for this is the first time I have lain eyes upon them myself.”
“Aged and powerful,” murmured Strongman conspiratorially, rubbing his chin in thought. “That would mean this Overlord has accumulated many treasures and great wealth, mayhaps?”
Robin shook her head sadly, saying, “Nay. If the tales are accurate at all, the Overlord is mad, believing himself on a sacred mission from the Titans to gift his worldly goods to the honest and devout throughout Erfworld. Shall we still descend upon them and force the fools to tell us where their lord resides?”
“Little point in doing so if their lord is as poor as you claim. Nay, let them pass that we might continue our journey unhindered.”
And so the two waited for the band of elves to pass them by, the red and green garbed fools never knowing how close they came to meeting their end.
Several turns had passed inside the White Lands for the traveling duo, unhampered except for battles with beasts they could not avoid, the fight with a Bi-Polar Bear nearly spelling their doom twice over. But the trek had been easier than they had been led to believe, and the pair had grown confident in their own abilities when matched to the perilous wastes. And thus they fell into the trap.
In one breath, Strongman and Robin heard the crunch of snow all around them and saw what rose from the displaced landscape. Beings clad, nay, formed entirely from white, with hearts as cold as the ice from whence they came. Eyes as blank and emotionless as buttons they had, while the marauders gripped their weapons, seemingly born from the tundra’s surface with icicles forming from the cruel edges. The white man-things erupted from around the travelers, encircling them as one. And with their appearance, Strongman and Robin realized their folly, even as Strongman uttered the name of their Race.
“Frosties,” he exclaimed with a sneer as he pulled his sword free of it’s confining scabbard.
Her bow at the ready, aiming directly dead center of the carrot nosed face of one of the stack on her side, Robin spoke to her companion who had instantly pulled in, back to back, with her the instant the man-things appeared.
“Frosties? I know of these things not, Shimmerian. What kind of creatures are they, for from their bulbous limbs and curving joints, I cannot think they are units of Man?”
“Proude the Vainerhead once spoke of them,” recounted Strongman in a voice tinged with dreaded wonder and aggression. “He claimed they are hideous beings that were part snow golem, part living being that could rest dormant for a hundred turn until prey happens upon them. He claimed they felt no injury, and never stopped fighting until he’d destroyed their hearts, black like coal, when a final croaking would be visited upon them.”
“Seems your Vainerhead’s tales are at least partially true, for they are horrific to the eyes,” quipped Robin with a shudder as one of the beings gnashed it’s cubed ice teeth on the stem of a corncob pipe. “Hopefully the rest is as well, and we need only strike their hearts to be delivered from our peril.”
“Aye,” growled the Shimmerian, his anxiety turning into sheer rage, leaving him burning with anticipation of striking down the slowly approaching abominations. And thus it was that Strongman was staring into the flat, lifeless eyes of the one he’d assumed to be the leader of the Frosties, for it was adorned in a weathered top hat as well as a crimson scarf, that the being’s face distorted into an expression that surprised Strongman enough to leave him baffled.
The Frostie’s face showed naked terror.
Strongman checked the pale faces of the other Frosties, which showed much the same expression and looked in the direction they were facing, as they began shifting their footing as Robin’s quavering “Strongman” reached his ears. All thoughts of combat left his mind as Strongman turned, and saw the great form approaching swiftly.
The beast was at least five times taller than himself, covered in fur that was as white as cotton. It’s long limbs covered an enormous span with every stride, with frostbite blue flesh decorating it’s hands, feet, and it’s grotesque face. It’s head was nearly a perfect sphere, with a great toothy maw occupying the lower half, and enormous oval eyes owning the other, with a small pointed nose mashed between them as though it were an unimportant afterthought.
Strongman felt an indescribable wonder for the excruciatingly long moment he first saw the towering being, as the name “Snowman” entered his mind. Then his primal instincts jumped in, and overpowered everything else, causing Strongman to drown in suffocating fear and dread. Strongman knew at a level to deep and unquestionable that there was no way he could fight such a being, that it would be suicide to try. And so he breathed one word, as quiet as a whisper though it took the effort of a warcry to utter it.
Strongman and Robin turned and fled. For perhaps the only time in their lives they unhesitatingly ran out of horror and a sense of self-preservation upon meeting an enemy they knew they could only be croaked and then consumed by. Neither one wished to become the rations of such a terrifying foe, and their legs carried them as swiftly as only primal dread could carry them. The two ran so fast, and without care of their direction, that they passed right by the fleeing Frosties and thoroughly outpaced them. Strongman perchance looked over his shoulder to see if the monster was following.
To Strongman’s horror, he saw the Snowman bend over to pick up the slowest of the Frosties and toss the being whole into it’s gaping mouth. With a few quick munches and a swallow, the Snowman’s great googling eyes crossed, and it exclaimed the words, “BWAIN FWEEZE” in a grating voice that carried across the breadth of the hex. The hulking monster then pursued and began snatching up the remaining Frosties, as though their attempts at escape were of no consequence at all and continued scooping the Frosties up into it’s mouth one after the other.
Strongman and Robin did not slow their pace, and hoped to reach the next hex and hide from the beast before it had finished off the two stacks of Frosties, but as they were strangers to the White Lands neither of them had realized the direction they had chosen led to a cliff until they nearly fell over the edge, skidding to a halt on the brink of slipping over and to their demise. And there, tantalizingly, mockingly, lay the border of the hex, shimmering just beyond in the air. The two directed a panicked look over their shoulders to see that the Snowman had indeed finished his consumption of the Frosties and had turned their way at last, the long limbs covering the distance at a frightful pace. Strongman immediate judged that he could, potentially, climb the cliff face in descent, but not swiftly enough to evade the long reach of the Snowman once it had caught up to them. And Strongman had no idea of Robin’s scaling abilities, as they likely were nonexistent as he had encountered no barbarian in Vain that could claim similar prowess to himself when he spoke of his climbing the base of Shim when he’d first popped. And so, Strongman judged himself and his companion swiftly, and came to a decision.
Strongman dug into his pack, pulled out a length of rope, and entwined the center around a large, long rock that stood near the cliff’s edge. Strongman then gripped one end of the rope himself before tossing the other to his companion and flatly stated, “We jump.”
Before Robin could question his sanity, Strongman shouted “GO” and started his own movement which Robin angrily matched, shouting an insult at the empty air even as she herself leapt. The two reached the end of their rope lengths nearly at the same time and their body weights matched near enough that the rope, which Strongman had not had the luxury or securing with a knot, did not slip, and the both of them swung inward to impact the cliff face. Wasting no time, the pair began gripping at the brittle, frozen stone and soil to find purchase for a hand hold, when the Snowman’s disgusting face showed itself from the top of the cliff, looking down upon them with an enormous toothy grin.
Strongman and Robin were outside of the beast’s reach, the rope had been long enough to accomplish that, so the monster immediately lost interest in them. Instead, it curiously gripped the stone Strongman had lashed the rope around and tore the rock from the ground. Being held aloft, the rope slid free of the stone’s surface. Immediately, Strongman and Robin’s bodies were taken captive by gravity, and began to fall. Swifter and swifter did their mortal plummet become, as rocky outcropping entered Strongman’s view. But as he was in a tumbling free fall, Strongman could not orient himself to evade or grab hold of them. Instead, Strongman felt a fierce blow to his head, and then darkness enveloped him entire.
The inky darkness that bound his senses slowly cleared. With infinite effort of will did Strongman begin coming back to himself. His head hurt, continuously and without end, so much that Strongman’s mind could not understand that he had suffered an incapacitating blow. He only knew he was weak with weariness, fatigue, and agony stemming from within his own head. Strongman moved slowly, trying to piece together what had happened to him, looking down to see the great mound of disrupted snow, and up to see a shattered canopy of tree branches. But his mind could form no connections.
And in that twisted maze of half formed thoughts and pain, a silvery laugh entered his ears and cut through it all. Strongman’s eyes refocused, and some hint of understanding befell his dazed mind, enough for him to see around himself with some meager understanding. The light sneaking through the trees left the world a sun dappled mystery, somehow seeming ethereal and unerfly. The sounds of the forest seemed muted and detached from reality. And standing before him, moving slowly, as though a dream detached from time, was the figure of a woman. No. Of a perfect woman. For the first moment, Strongman mistook her to be a disrobed Robin, since her hair was the color of scarlet, or of a fiery inferno that had draped itself lovingly about her form. But the flawless skin that showed healthily and completely bare but for a wisp of shimmering gossamer fabric that lay tantalizingly covering her most sought after portions, and barely nothing else, could never have belonged to a Warlady. The whiteness of her ample flesh was white, pure white, whiter than the snows her bare feet tread. She seemed a wisp, a wraith, a gorgeous phantasm made flesh as her laughter fell upon Strongman’s ears.
It was a slow, musical, cruel, beautiful laugh of enticing mockery. It held Strongman paralyzed as the woman writhed where she stood, moving her tantalizing form so that Strongman held no thought of removing his gaze. To this vision, this living icon of otherworldly beauty, Strongman finally spoke, his voice hoarse with pain and longing. “Who are you? How did you arrive here?”
“What matter,” she replied, a cruel barb in her gloriously musical voice.
“Your hair is of the Vainer people, I would seek aid from mine allies.”
“Did I say I was so?”
Strongman’s gaze turned back towards the woman’s untamed hair, and she spoke the truth, for her hair was the gold of sun drenched wheat, and shimmered like a gem. Nay, not gold, and not crimson neither. The woman’s hair was a shifting combination of both colors, writhing and swaying like the burning of a bonfire that had been imbued into her untamed locks. And likewise, her eyes were not a single color, but frozen blue shrouded in a foggy grey that moved like the clouds against an empty sky.
“I… cannot tell,” spoke Strongman, stunned into humility. “I cannot place your tribe, nor your background, nor even how you can come to be in such a place. But by the Titan’s your beaut-”
“Who are you to swear by the Gods, popped as you are of the empty wastes and barbarity, of the Titans who made all Erfworld and their children who fill it.”
The venomous words struck Strongman hard, and he responded in kind. “Then I swear by Shim, my Father and mine maker that my words are true. But woman, have you seen my comrade, garbed in leathers and fur with hair of burning red?”
“I have seen the frost, replenished with each dawn, and the cycles of nature and Man alike. I have made the winds whispering through the bare branches the melody of my soul.”
“Then can you lead me to your people? Lightly clothed as you are there, your home must be nearby.”
“My home is farther than you can travel, and lost to the drifts and time. Mine people one that you could never know, Strongman the Shimmerian” And the woman writhed like a ripple of pleasure flowed through her as her head rolled back in cruelly twinkling laughter. Her gaze fell upon Strongman again as he staggered weakly to his feet, piercing him through her long dark eyelashes. And from the crimson lips, twisted into a smile of longing and rebuke, she let fall words dripping of honey and malice, “But I am here. You claim by your maker that I am beautiful?”
Strongman swallowed hard, and pushed words through a curtain of desire. “As beautiful as the sun striking the Shimmering Mountains.”
“Then why do you not approach me? Where is the man who could claim to brave the White Lands? I see not a warrior before me, Strongman of the black hair. Approach me, follow me to mine home, and fall halfway from weakness.”
Strongman spat an oath he could not hear through the pounding of his ardor, rage, desire, and incapacitating pain. He propelled himself at the woman who mocked him, who enraged him to violence. But his hatred was indelibly dyed in the color of passion and lust for the woman that set his whole body aflame in agony so fierce he could feel it with each step. Strongman lunged at the woman, his arms stretched and his fingers grabbing for her soft, enticing flesh, but the woman easily pulled back, a peal of laughter ringing from her bemusedly twisted lips. She moved as if dancing, her form gliding as if floating atop the snows instead of treading upon them.
Strongman growled, low and guttural, as he moved to pursue her, leaving the forest behind him and traveling out into snowscaped plains once more. Strongman pushed himself through the snow that ranged from ankle to knee and even waist depth as the woman continued to lead him onward, hex after hex, until the surroundings could no longer be recognized. But Strongman was incapable of noticing his location, his journey, or the strangeness of the woman’s movement which left only vague impressions of her feet upon the soft snows through which he traveled. His mind ached, his body burned even as the frosts and snow penetrated his furs and armor to leech the warmth from his body. His hatred for the woman and his longing for her touch swirled inside him like a tempest, forcing him onward as he shouted and howled.
“You cannot escape me woman! Lead me to your trap and I will pile your Tribe at your feet. Hide and I will sunder the mountains! Croak and I will raze the City of Heroes to find you!”
Strongman poured his words through frost cracked lips, as hot as magma and filled with the feelings of both lust for blood and lust for flesh. But the woman shrieked with laughter for her pursuer, pouring her taunts upon his struggling form.
“Come! Come sullen-eyed weakling, come Strongman the Shimmerian! Come and fail to take me with your feeble might!”
Thus Strongman continued struggling, ever reaching out for the cruel beauty that lay ever just beyond his reach. The world had long been dyed red to Strongman’s eyes in the brightness of midday as the path the woman led Strongman along began to incline, rising to the foot of a frost encased mountain with jagged, alien outcroppings of ice like a field of giant spears that caught the light like prisms. To Strongman’s overwhelmed mind the sight held no mystery, no strangeness, even when two forms rose up in his path, blocking his progress.
Two great pale muscular men they were, wielding axes covered in frost with snow dusting upon their clothes. The one to the right wore a leopard print sarong about the loins and chest, leaving the waist bare and exposed. His brown hair was tied in two tiny tails on either side of the top of his head with scrunchies of similar design to his sarong, and his face held the look of a jackass that had been overwhelmed by drink. The one to the left had long reddish hair, tied into a pile atop the head, and was garbed in a purple evening gown of black lace trimmings. His eyes, filled with strength and aggression stared at Strongman through thick mascara and eye shadow.
The ivory fleshed woman called out, “Now Vera, now Vida! Now my Sisters!”
No, these are guys, right?
“Now my fellow Queens!”
No, those are definitely men.
“Set upon this Man I have brought us, that we might feed upon him and offer his heart to our Fathers for their favor!”
Strongman did not hesitate to launch himself at his opponents, his sword pulled free to form a shining arc through the air. In between the two strangers Strongman flung himself, striking steel and dodging blows. Strongman threw himself into a deadlock of strength with the one named Vida, pressing the axe back into his body and then reaching out to grab the red hair to throw Vida to the ground by. But as soon as Strongman’s hand found purchase he was struck hard from the side with an immense kick from the one named Vera. Vera released a mocking laughter at the struck aside Strongman, as though it was the neighing of a horse, before following up to strike once again.
“My hair,” called Vida, reaching up to his crown now adorned in only his natural hair, for the red tower had been a mere wig. “Do you have any idea how long it took me to style that?”
As Vera occupied Strongman’s sword, Vida took a strange pose and spoke aloud, as if the words held meaning.
“Too! Wong! Foo!”
And a projectile of ice formed from the casting of a magic spell struck Strongman square in the chest, reeling him backwards into the face of an icy outcropping. Before Strongman could regather himself, Vera was upon him.
“Give him the Poison Pit, Vera,” called the gossamer clad woman from her position of safety, “The Poison Pit!”
Vera grabbed Strongman hard, and moved as though to place him into a headlock. Strongman instantly pushed back, but his opponent had used his first movement as a feint, lifting his left arm and allowing Strongman to dive underneath and into a patch of foulness the likes of which Strongman had never known. His mind was paralyzed by the horrific stench. His toes curled from its pungent nature. If Strongman were to smell the undergarments of an uncroaked crap golem in the last stages of decomposition, it felt like it would have been like flowers compared to the contents of Vera’s Poison Pit. And thus Strongman staggered, and was trapped in Vera’s grasp. Groggy, Strongman felt the grip of his sword slip from his hands, the blade falling point first into the snow at his feet.
Vida slowly swaggered towards the grapple locked Strongman, as though he were partaking in some kind of show, grabbed Strongman’s face by the jaw, and said, “Pucker up, handsome.”
Strongman’s groggy sight caught the look of hunger in Vida’s eyes, hunger about to be sated, and realized that whatever these beings were, they had the Drain Life special. They were intending to suck him to death. The idea of being set upon by these things and having his life force sucked from him was revoltingly horrifying. A fear Strongman had never known surged throughout his entire frame, and instantly became an inferno of anger. Strongman’s cloudy head cleared for a moment and he put all his strength into his left arm, twisting his body and stretching his sinews to the breaking point to grab at the head of Vera who held him. Strongman felt something in his fingers, grabbed it, and pulled. Strongman felt and heard something tear behind him, Vera cried out in pain, and the grasp upon his body loosened enough for Strongman to break free and roll away.
Strongman’s right hand snatched the hilt of his sword from the snow, and swung it upward, through the purple clad body of Vida, cutting most of his torso in half. Vida fell, croaked before impacting the snow. And thus Strongman set upon Vera, who was clutching the side of his head still, and brought the steel of his sword down upon his ambusher’s neck. With an audible thwack, Vera’s head flew clean from it’s body, tumbling in the air.
Breathing ferociously, Strongman wheeled upon the woman who’d led him into the trap. She stared at Strongman in wide-eyed horror, all mockery and spite having vanished from her fair features. Strongman lifted his sword to point at her throat, trembling from the intensity of his raging emotions, and spoke. “Call your other ‘Sisters,’ woman, that I might pile them at your feet as promised before I set myself upon you!”
With a cry of terror, the woman turned and fled up the side of the mountain, the only path that led away from the Shimmerian that destroyed her clever trap with overpowering might. She ran, with all her effort, and Strongman followed. Strongman pushed his body so hard and with such frenzy that it felt like his muscles would burst at any moment. His blood churned in his body as though it was a storm breaking itself against a dam. His bones strained with every push against the hard ice-rock of the inclining mountainside. And soon, Strongman knew from somewhere in his blood frenzied haze that he was gaining altitude steadily with every step. The woman he pursued was trying to climb the side of the mountain to outpace him, to reach a place of safety where he could not reach her.
Strongman clenched his jaw in exertion so tightly that one of his teeth cracked and popped into fragments as he climbed the snow and rock slope, his left hand grabbing jagged shards and his sword encumbered right hooking around sharp stone to propel himself forward. It was agony that drove Strongman further and further out of his mind with the darkest shades of grim determination, hatred, and longing. All concept of identity, self-preservation, of even thought, was lost to him as he closed the distance on the desperately panting woman, who’s face now held none of the cruel beauty she had shown before. Now, when she turned to take a fleeting look over her shoulder, her face held nothing but fear and desperate weariness.
Strongman found himself reaching out for the thousandth time, and finally grabbed hold of the woman that had driven him to the depths of insanity. Her gold and fire speckled locks were gripped in Strongman’s left hand, and he pulled her screaming into his arms. She smelled like a flower that had been forever frozen in full bloom. Her breath hissed through her perfect teeth the color of pearls between her ruby lips. Her hair flashed with more subtle colors than a Mathamancer could count and he drew her into him. He crushed her to him, and felt the softness of her near naked body that was as cold as the fields of snow he had crossed to reach her. The thought that she was not Man, but something so deliciously close to it, did not register in his mind that the woman had driven to breaking. Instead he hoarsely whispered into her ear with his dry, cracked lips.
“You are cold. I will warm you, and engrave upon you the memory of the weakling you failed to trap, forevermore.”
The woman shrieked in terror, and clawed at Strongman’s face while flailing her entire body, breaking free of his grasp to start running again, crying aloud with every breath. Before she had taken ten steps she called out to the sky with a voice to penetrate the clouds, her pleading arms raised above her head.
“Oh, Titans! My blessed Fathers! Take pity upon your Daughter and deliver me from this savage!”
The invoking of the Titan’s name halted Strongman for a brief moment as the echo from the mountain side reached him once more, and then another sound, deeper and more jarring struck him. It was the sound of a crack that felt like it began from the very center of Erfworld, so deep and menacing it was.
Twas the sound of the ice pack covering the mountain top breaking. And then a following rumble as the dislodged snow began to rush towards him as an avalanche.
The woman who had so tortured Strongman whimpered once, and fell to her knees before the onrush of white death in resignation of her Fate. Strongman stared it down, took a deep breath, and shouted the name of his uncaring father and maker as the snow cloud struck and consumed him. For a few seconds, Strongman held onto his senses. Picked up, dropped, thrown, carried, tossed, buried, drowned, uplifted, and crushed in so many ways he lost count. He was consumed by cold, and the crushing of the snow against and past his body produced a new sickening sensation of warmth before it was pulled away from him by new freezing blasts. For a brief moment, Strongman felt he was in the air, fresh and crisp about him, and he unconsciously breathed some of it, before being engulfed once again. And finally, as the pressure of the avalanche became too much for even he himself, Strongman’s world went from pure white to pure darkness, and his mind slipped away from him.
There was a sound.
And then another.
Strongman could make no sense of it. But it was there, repeatedly and unpredictably. There was a sound. He could not place it. And then there was a great crack, which brought the collapsing mountain vividly to Strongman’s mind, driving his eyes open and his mind into clarity with a surge of aggression. If Strongman had been able to move, he might have lashed out at everything around him, but instead he looked sharply at his surroundings.
Strongman found himself under a large fur covering by a campfire that loudly crackled away beside him. There was the scent of cooking soup and meat. And sitting on top of a mound of snow covered by another fur was Robin, tending the fire. At the sound of a faint grunt from Strongman, she turned to look at him, saying, “So you awoke after all. I wouldn’t have been surprised if you’d been mortally incapacitated and croaked at dawn.”
“Where,” Strongman managed to push out of his mouth.
“Near the foot of the mountain, and it’s collapsed crown of snow. You were trapped up to your neck when I found you, only Titan’s know how you weren’t buried whole. You were frozen so solid that you kept your death grip on your sword even after I’d dragged you half a hex away to a slightly safer location.”
Strongman focused his attention to his right hand and found Robin had not stretched the truth. He still maintained a fierce hold on his blade’s hilt even then. With effort, Strongman pulled it out from under the fur to view it directly. The blade had been broken off about a finger’s length from the hilt. Well, it would be cleansed at dawn. More importantly though.
“I find you? I landed on one of the ledges before my falling dice reached a mortal roll, and still had the rope in hand. It took a while, but I was able to climb down the cliff using it. I was expecting to find your body and collect your purse to pay my upkeep, but all I found was this.” Robin placed Strongman’s helmet before him, so that he might see the deep dent in it, right above the spot that had so debilitated Strongman with pain beforehand. “And a set of your tracks leading through an unusually large number of hexes for a man that should have been concerned with finding his partner.”
Strongman considered for a moment, and saw a purse resting on Robin’s belt. Robin had no purse, Strongman had seen to that before forcing her to become the first member of his mercenary company. Strongman moved his left hand under his fur blanket, and felt the weight of his own purse. Still there on his belt, but distinctly lighter than he’d last left it.
“Is that… a new purse?”
“I didn’t know if you’d ever wake, Strongman, and I’d rather not have all our funds disappear with your body. You are lucky this hex does not have the Leeching Cold within it, or you would not have lasted an hour. Besides, now that I’ve saved your life, I dare say we are now even for you getting me out of that Vainer prison.”
Strongman lifted his lips in a half smile and half mocking sneer, and good-naturedly said, “If you truly feel that my life is equally important to yours, then yes, by all means, we are even.”
Robin thought for a moment, and quietly cursed, “Damn it. I guess you’re still the boss. But I carry my own funds from now on.”
Strongman’s countenance darkened from that comment, but he decided not to follow up on it after Robin had had the honesty to pull him from his certain demise. Instead, Strongman set his broken sword down next to him and picked up the helmet, musing upon the dent, and how that was the second time the plain helm had saved his life. Then a thought struck him.
“Only my trail?”
“Yes, as I said, Shimmerian.”
“You saw no trace of the woman? She walked fleetly, but she definitely walked upon the snows as well.”
“What are you talking about, Strongman?”
And so, the Shimmerian recounted his tale. The unerfly beauty and cruelty of the woman. The trek across the snow blasted hexes, his falling into madness from her acts and the ambush. Then his cornering the woman and the avalanche. Strongman’s strength recovered slowly through the tale, until he was sitting up with his back straight with the fur coiled around his body by the time he finished recounting.
“You claim to have met Ice Queens, Strongman?”
“What is that,” inquired the Shimmerian.
“A tale the barbarians of Eras spoke of. Of a Tribe of Natural Allies that were popped in the Beta Age of Erfworld, when the Titans were remeasuring all their creations to find the Balance of All Things. The Titans judged the Ice Queens and other such Tribes of their Creation to be too powerful, and removed their ability to pop more of their kind, sentencing them to slow demise in the dark parts of Erfworld.”
“Then I fought beings spawned by the Titans themselves?”
It’s no wonder the Ice Queen called the Titans her Fathers. The revelation caused Strongman to shudder from something other than cold.
“Nay, Strongman,” said Robin sternly. “Look again at the dent in your helm. You took a blow that left you partially incapacitated and delirious, causing you to manifest an object of lust which you followed like the fool you are. I’m mildly disturbed that you imagined her to be red haired…”
“Red and gold.”
“Even so, Strongman.”
“But surely, a unit could not imagine something like that? The madness I felt, the danger of the battle. Traces of my foes; if I survived they should have been brought down the mountain with me.”
“Nay, Strongman. Your wounds are from the avalanche, and your battle is but a fever dream. What else could it have been? The Titans would never leave loose ends or partial successes in this world for the likes of us to stumble upon.”
Strongman was silent for a long time, his hands grasped hard under the fur, as he went over the events in his mind. So real they had been, such agony to remember even now. Such alien strangeness he could not explain.
“Dwell upon it not, Strongman,” said Robin, not unkindly, and passed a tin mug of soup, still warm from the fire. “Eat for your strength. The less that must be cleansed at dawn the better.”
Strongman grunted, and reached out for the soup. Then he and Robin both froze, gasping with mouths agape. For there, caught on the finger of Strongman’s extended left hand, was a leopard print scrunchie.
Afterword by the writer:
This is a very important chapter in the Strongman Adventures, as it sets the tone for all that is to come. One of the most important parts of the Conan universe is the presence of dark forces beyond human understanding. Erfworld doesn’t have that, so creating a setting where it exists had to be handled carefully. Over the course of weeks I pondered, wondering if I had to stick to more well known dangers, like artifacts and greedy Casters. Then I realized that like any board game or video game, there was probably a formative phase for the Titans, as they experimented with rules and prototype units to get their world physics balanced enough to found the first sides and the 99 Royals. Which means there could have been a Beta Age of Erfworld, or even an Alpha Age for the darkest and most dangerous of creatures to have been spawned from. Meaning this tale about the first of these abominations we encounter was very important.
As such, I am very glad to have finished this part of the story that is Strongman, especially in time for the Holidays, since there are some recognizably Jolly portions of the White Lands. But moreover, I’m glad I was able to recreate the entire first half of this story without burning myself out. My HDD failed, and with it, all my creative writing was lost. So I had to rewrite the entire tale up to where Strongman and Robin fell from the cliff. While I am aware that Dynamic Duos are suppose to have an easier time with walking up sheer faces with nothing but a rope and trick photography, the plot demanded they fall.
Thankfully, the forced rewrite ended up improving the final product overall. I hope everyone takes these events as an example of the kind of insane love your typical writer has for pure imagination. And if not, the next part should probably do it.
I am a student of the Adlerian philosophy of acting. The contents of which are, “Don’t pretend to be another person. Become that person.” Instead of imagining yourself as an animal, or use your own memories to make yourself happy or sad, you think the thoughts your character would think, feelings they feel, and perform the actions they would take. It’s this background that made The Frost Giants Daughter my absolute favorite Conan tale of all, because it is a tale of a man being driven mad, and then having that madness fall upon his persecutor in delicious poetic justice. While reading the Frost Giant’s Daughter, my mental frame becomes frantic, obsessed, wrathful, and I want nothing more than to push just one step ahead, one step ahead! I channel some of the emotions that Conan goes through, and feel the demented wonders he struggles against.
And so, when I got to that part of the story, I took a small break from writing and reread the original tale by Robert E. Howard to get into the right frame of mind. And then I set upon the task, crippling myself in wonder and enticement. Obsessing over the images I was passing through my mind, pouring over the original Conan text to get it right, by just one more word, just one more word! Until I finished, in one fell swoop, six hours later, exhausted, aching, and hungry. And content. I’m writing this before I take the time to go back for final proofreading, in the full afterglow of my labors before the effect wears off. And I hope that you too experience just a touch of that crippling madness yourself in your reading of this tribute to the man who invented Sword and Sorcery.
Thank you for reading, and please look forward to Strongman’s next adventure.