The Beast and the Monster

Author: I hope you all enjoy this story and, if you would, please a review. I would love to hear what you all out there think of this.

Chapter One: The Man Called Axe

If it wasn't for the large tradesman, things would be even worse for the young warrior that was laying on the side of the road. As a vulture flew slowly above him, the warrior lay in the hot soil, his lips cracked and his throat was dry as a bone. An old leather pack and a large lochaber axe lay on the ground nearby; the axe's long, curved blade carried many nicks beneath the fine layer of long dried blood and the tall shaft was weathered from many uses, as was the leather pack. Just inches from his head, a black, wide-brimmed hat lay. He had no provisions and was laying in the blazing sun when the tradesman and his beast of burden rolled down the road.

The trader was a giant of a fellow. He stood over six feet and wore simple clothes that matched his lifestyle. He had long, bright red hair and a thick bushy beard to match. Seeing the vulture circling its would be prey ahead of him, he pulled on the reins to his beast, signaling it to stop. He didn't even wait for it to stop before jumping off of his cart and dashing forward. "Shoo! Shoo!" the trader shouted, waving his arms as he shouted at the bird above his head. "You will not be feasting today, you feathered nuisance! Get away from him or I'll make you my dinner!" he warned, pulling a wicked looking knife from the sheath at his hip.

The vulture screeched and flew off to find some other carrion to dine on. The giant man approached the fallen warrior and rolled him over. The sudden presence of sunlight in his eyes made him wince and groan, but it gave his rescuer the signs of life he needed to see.

"It's okay, son; it's okay. Everything's fine."

"Where...?" the young man coughed as wind blew dust in his face. "Where am I?"

"Right now, you look like you're moments from crossing to the next world, my young friend. You were about to become dinner for a very large bird, but I scared it away." The tradesman pulled him to his feet and began to guide him to the massive cart he drove. "Come, come, come! I have water, you are more than welcome to have it."

"Thank you...uh...who are you?"

"My name is Taroh, I'm a merchant. Who are you?"

"Axe."

"Axe? Oh! Your weapon?" Taroh looked back at the almost forgotten equipment as he began to pour cold liquid from his water-skin into a tin cup. "Yes, I will collect your things. Don't worry, but I would like to know your name."

"Axe." He reached out, snatched the cup away and tilted his head back, letting the most welcomed drink into his body. He downed the entire cup in one go, then grabbed the water-skin itself. Before Taroh could stop him, he overturned it and let the contents of the skin fall out onto his head. The large merchant hadn't paid attention before when he first found the young man, but he got a real good look at him now.

The warrior had dark skin, well tanned from what he assumed was a long time in the open sun, and long hair that was the color of night itself. His eyes were dark, and as water flowed and dripped from his head onto the fur vest he wore over his tattered clothing, Taroh could see a lean, muscular form under the damp clothing as it began to cling to his flesh. He was also fairly young for a warrior; in his early-twenties at least. After giving himself a shower, he lowered the water-skin, but still held on to it as he turned to his rescuer.

"My name is Axe. Thank you for helping me."

"You're...welcome..." Taroh nodded slowly. "What the hell were you doing out here, anyway?"

"My friend told me to come out here."

"Your friend?"

He nodded. "His name is Steve."

Taroh looked around but could see no sign of any other person anywhere. He even kept the long strands of his red hair out of his eyes so they wouldn't hinder his sight.

"Oh, he's around, don't you worry about that." Axe chuckled, having noticed him looking. "He is always with me! He told me to travel this way and so I have! I just wish he let me buy some food and water, but he said no! That bastard, he almost made me vulture food!"

Taroh stared at him with an odd look. He had heard tales of people coming to madness after too much time under the sun. Clearly, this poor soul had been touched with a bit of madness as well.

"Where were you headed?"

Axe shrugged. "I don't know. Steve told me to come out to the Badlands! He said I had to get some fresh air and some sun, or else I'd turn lazy and sluggish."

"I see." Taroh chewed on his lip for a moment. "There is a settlement, not too far from here. It is an outpost, called Hystao. If you'd like, I can take you there."

Axe threw his arms up into the air and smiled. "Sure! Why not? I love going to new places, meeting new people! But, let me tell you something." He clamped a surprisingly strong hand on Taroh's shoulder and looked into the man's eyes. "If you see a rock, and that rock tells you that scorpions are your friends? It is a bad rock, because it is lying to you!"

Taroh had no choice but to nod and help the mad traveler into the front of his cart before going to collect his things. He placed them in the back of the cart and was soon on his way, down the road once again.

The huge cart lumbered down the road for a short time more, and then it finally reached a downward slope. Taroh expected to see the outpost, but what he and his new passenger actually saw was a disturbing sight. Even from the top of the slope, they could see a number of fires going inside and outside the protective wall, which was also smashed to pieces for the most part. Inside, there were but a few buildings left and a large patch of recently disturbed earth could be seen nearby.

"What the hell happened here?!" Taroh halted the cart to a complete stop and stared at the scene below.

"I don't know, but looks like it was something big."

Taroh turned to see Axe looking down at the settlement. He was looking better than before, he had to admit that, but there was something strange about him. While he was staring at the outpost in total awe and shock, Axe seemed eerily calm about it.

Axe nodded towards the outpost. "What do you think happened?"

The merchant looked away. "The Badlands of Knoss houses many foul things, child. We should hurry down there, see what happened as fast as we can!".

He grabbed the reins to his animal and was about to whip it, but Axe climbed out of the front and soon disappeared behind the cart.

"What are you doing?"

"I just need to do something real quick, don't worry about it. Be right back."

"Hey!"

"Just wait, it'll take a second! Just give me some time!"

While he waited impatiently, Axe squatted on the side of the road and quickly dug a shallow hole. He took a quick look around, then he untied a large sack from his belt and placed it into the hole, quickly shoving all the dirt on top of it.

"Only for a little while," he whispered, patting the top of the dirt pile.

"Come on, kid!"

"Okay, okay!" Axe rose to his feet and trotted back to the cart. "Let's get a move on, big man!"