p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;" /p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"Koran, a haggard warrior stood with his back to the rocky outcrop. Beyond lay the ruins of the broken mountain. emNot long now/em he muses seeing his enemies swarm over the brow of the hill. He shifts his weight and winces at the pain from his knee./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"emThere is nowhere left to run, better I make an end of it here. /em/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"He looked heavenwards and called to the spirits of his ancestors./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span"Damn you for your ancient sin! Damn you for the enemies you left behind! Soon I will walk among you, Nurvasa the ferryman will come and take me to the endless lands and there I will hold you to account for the crimes and the cruel fate it brought me to. Damn but I am a warrior, the greatest of the clan there ever was, and there in the hallowed lands I will seek you out, you whose greed and betrayals made us the enemies of all. Hear me for I am the last of my kind and on this rock I will make my stand."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanOnly the carrion birds heard those words and they wheeled overhead. Koran knew they waited only to pick at his bones once his enemies were done. He espied the men as they came. Lean and hungry they looked and full of the rage they would need to murder. He counted thirty and that was too many. Most carried spars but he saw some with sword and light shields./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanHe heard his pursuers, heard barks of command and whoops, they had his trail, and they would soon be in sight so rushing towards him. No discipline, no tactics each racing for the honour of being the first to strike him down. The first onslaught would the younger men, eager for the kill. He prepared himself and stretched out arms and took deep slow breaths. Battle was random, he fought enough to know that. In the chaos anything could happen, people slipped and fell all the time and canny warriors knew to strike them at their weakest. Later no doubt they would boast of their fierce battle and none who knew the ways of war would deny them. For war was cruel and to survive, even if because of an opponent's misfortune, was a feat in itself. So then how would it be? how many would he strike down before he too was slain?/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanTwo dozen he counted, and he knew it too many. He was exhausted, running for days now without rest, he should have stopped, stopped while he could still fight, stop when the terrain was better suited to combat, stopped before his knee gave out. He thought they would give up, leave him to wander out in the wild lands of the steppe. Instead, their pursuit was relentless./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"These were no bandits he saw, the colours of their sashes, the deep vermillion of the Atanger, the descendants of the men his own clan betrayed. They will have their justice at last, but they will rue this bitter day. He could promise them that./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanTen or so would reach him at about the same time, the rest of the men hung back, older more seasoned warriors who knew to let him be worn down. They would only engage if the first wave should fail. He could hear the footfalls now, see the hate in those their eyes. He crouched low and raised his sword over his head./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanTwo warriors, spears raised high and possessed of a wild fury rushed at him. He waited until the last moment and stepping to the left be brought his sword down in powerful slash to the first's arm. It severed in a spray of blood and the scream pierced the air. Koran knew the man's life would soon end as the arterial blood stained the ground beneath him. The second came at Koran, his rage blinding him to his weakness. Koran's sharp thrust pierced his belly and he fell./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"Koran barely had time to resume his posture when the next three came. They learned the hard fast lesson of engaging a veteran swordsman and they slowed and covered Koran's flank, leaving the larger of the three to tackle him head on. It was an obvious trap; he would parry attacks and either the right or left would attack. The left was weakest, Koran saw his sudden fear in the face of death. He lunged towards the youth and with a quick jab he sliced the fingers gripping the spear. As he expected it was enough to make him drop the weapon. He did not deliver the killing blow, that would leave him open. Now the man in front thrust with his spear and Koran parried and saw his opening. He plunged his sword into the man's neck and he too hit the ground. Now enraged the last of the three rushed into to strike and here Koran tried to sidestep but his knee twisted. He dropped low just in time as the spear grazed his scalp. He hacked at the man's knee and the blow connected cutting to the bone. He rose to his feet and pushed him back, hoping it put him out of the battle. He did not waste the moments respite but turned to the man at his left still grasping with his left hand for his spear. Koran stabbed him in the gut./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanNow six more remained in this first wave, and Koran resigned himself to his death./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"They slowed down and one of them, a little older shouted out quick commands. Keeping their distance they fanned out around Koran, four of them with spears raised ready to throw while their leader and another closed in. Koran knew what they would do. The four flanking him would choose their moment and throw their spears, it would distract him long enough for his two assailants to close and strike. He should have kept moving, keep them disorganised and himself unpredictable. Not this time, his wounds made that impossible./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"The first threw his spear but it went wide and Koran barely had to shrug to avoid it. Another spear flew towards him, but he saw the throw and with a sweep of his sword knocked it from the air. It was enough to open himself to an attack. The leader came in low and with an upward blow stabbed at Koran./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"The spear cut across his abdomen ripping open a wide gash. He bared his teeth at the pain and grabbed the spear pulling his assailant towards him. The man was quick and let go the spear and sent Koran back, nearly losing his footing. The man drew a knife and pressed on with his attack. Somehow, he got under Korans guard. Thinking fast Koran struck at the man with the pommel of his sword, it worked and he heard the crunch of the man's broken nose. It gave him enough time draw a dagger with his left hand and he swiped across the man's throat releasing a spray of blood./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanIt left Koran open on the right and the bandit there stabbed. Despite his twisted knee Koran dodged the blow, but just barely. He righted his stance and with no other options he threw his dagger to the man's face. He got lucky and the knife bit down into the man's eye and he screamed./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"This took the fight out of the first wave, the wounded scrambled to retreat but Koran saw more were coming. They would wear him down, wait for him to reveal his weakness and then cut him to style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanIt was only a matter of time./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanHe would not wait, if death must come then let it be on his terms. He abandoned the cliff and walked out to meet the next wave./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanThese last words he offered to the heavens./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span"So then my end is nigh, come ancestors, attend to me as I breathe my last."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanThen he saw it, the white crow of legend. On a sapling tree it waited, and it stared into Koran's damned soul./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanThe crow of legend, some saw it once in their lives and thought themselves fortunate that the ancestors looked down on them. Some twice and always then it was the harbinger of doom. His hands shook and he looked heaven and said a silent prayer. For this was the third time he saw the white crow and he remembered as a child he had sat at the knee of the village priest and hard the legend of the first Koran, his namesake./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;""Attend to me young one, and here I will recount the deeds of Koran the mighty." The young Koran craned his neck forward, eager to hear more./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;""Will I be mighty too?" he had asked because he was the son of the chieftain and even young as he was, he was the strongest of the children and quick with he sticks they used as weapons./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"The priest chuckled in a low voice./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;""Eager for glory already eh! The great Koran lived at a time when the gods themselves walked the earth and were free and generous with their bounty. Not so now, not since the fall of the mountain."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"At even the mention of the fallen mountain young Koran gasped./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;""Will I see it? Is it far?"/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;""Not so far no, a journey of some weeks far to the west. And yes, I think you will see it before you die. You will be a warrior of the Gohan clan and you will see it once at least when you enter the rites of ascension."/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanAs the priest foretold, he stood amidst the broken slabs and crags of the mountain that fell. He never passed the rites of ascension and now he saw why, for the this was the appointed hour of his death and this the third time the white crow came./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanA peace should as his restless mind had ever known swept over him for now he knew, as he had doubted before that the ancestors, the souls of his lost clansmen were waiting for him and the ferryman would surely come. He knew too that these vicious men, the ones who broke the spirit of his clan would pay dear and witness how a great warrior should face his death./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span"Is it you? are you eye of the Nurvasa, come to witness my death?" He said to the waiting crow./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanThe bird remained still and regarded Koran with its beady inscrutable stare. Koran heard a noise from above. He looked up to see the murder of crows wheel about the sky. More than he had ever witnessed before, so many that the ground turned dark beneath their shadow./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span"You honour me with such a welcome." he said, for he knew that the spirit of the ferryman heard all things mortals uttered./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanHis attackers too saw the birds and he saw them stop dead in their tracks and cry out in anguish. Those closest to him ran and the crows harassed them as they fled. Koran laughed, seeing now that he won this last reprieve. He watched as the men on the hill, overcome with fear turned and fled. No doubt the tale of this divine intervention would spread./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span"Yet again I have cheated death. Why crow, what purpose does it serve? I deserved this death for all that I have done. I should have died here. Why spare me now?"/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"The crow sat still and remained impassive. Koran overcome with rage swung his sword at it and it flew and joined the black cloud crows overhead. Koran saw the white raven leading the rest of the crows on a crazed murmuration./p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /span"A curse on me," Koran said, "am I to wander this earth, undeserving even of death?"/p
p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"All at once the crows screamed in their broken song and waited. Koran knew then he must follow them for they were not done with him yet. He followed them north along the cliff edge and broken stones of the fallen mountain they flew into a gorge narrow and steep on the side and Koran followed them. span style="mso-spacerun: yes;" /spanHe limped and clutched at his injured side and for hours he followed. He followed the paths of the gorges and rifts of shattered stones. The crows flew to a path to the north and there Koran saw a makeshift shrine built of twisted branches and vines. Atop it sat the skull of a horse, a horse that would have towered above him in life. He peered into the darkness into the great cave. So at last he found the heart of broken mountain as it was foretold./p