Chapter three: The Shadow, the Ice, & the Dream
Shadows danced as the thicket moved with the morning breeze. Taison found no relief in the simple things that would normally send his mind drifting in wonder. His mind fixed on one thought as fiercely and as strongly as the falcon fixed on it's prey. How, how would they overcome a force so powerful that not even the mighty Renzukan, the strongest clan of the western kingdom of Iaibear, could stand against? In times past, many had had aspirations to best the Renzukan, only to have their skulls shattered as quickly as those self same aspirations, sending all a clear and resounding message. A message that until now, had been heeded and feared. Who was this monster, this devil of a man, if indeed he was a man and not some demon creature spawned from the flaming mire pits of Razzwell, who would defy even the mightiest of foes and leave not only with his head intact but victorious as well? Time for idle thought was past, now was a time of action. Taison gathered his meager belongings and followed quickly after Fisherman, down the southern path which wound from their campsite, a tiny rocky crag that had been their roost for the night, to the valley floor below.
Up ahead, Fisherman moved down the narrow shifting precipice as easily as if he were navigating the imperial hall of House Harlan, each of his steps as surefooted and deliberate as a calligrapher’s stroke. But the man’s gaze betrayed his mood and his thoughts. Although he moved untroubled, his furrowed brow said otherwise, for it had been days since summoning Zombie Zero and sending him on his quest but no word had yet returned. This in itself was troubling. Zombie Zero had the ability to move unseen among enemies, retrieve information, and report back within the briefest of moments. No contact spoke only of misfortune, not only for Zombie Zero, but for the entire alliance. If some force was perceptive enough to detect and possibly detain Zero, then all may be lost before a counter offensive could even be devised.
Alliance was a strange word indeed for a force of less than ten men. Skillful though they were, their forces were dwarfed in size by even the smallest company of Raul Perez’s retainers. It would have to be enough. It would have to be.
Days before in Raul’s camp.
Moving through the camp disturbing no more than would the gentle afternoon breeze, Zombie Zero had remained undetected. The incantations of his summoning were such that he remained outside the perceptions of normal men. It would take a sorcerer or cleric of great merit to even notice his passing let alone detect his actual location and purpose. Zero had spent the better part of the day surveying the forces at Raul’s command. His legions were vast and it took no small effort to gain an accurate accounting of their true scope. This was his skill and his curse. When called upon, Zero had no choice but to follow to the letter, the commands of his summoner. Not a puppet or wind up doll with no will of his own, but once the command was issued, he was compelled to complete it. He could call upon his skills, resources, and guile to perform the task but as to the task itself, there could be no question, no hesitation, and no refusal. Zero floated effortlessly above a gathering near a central tent. The men were typical mercenaries, drinking and tossing dice to pass the time. The only thing of import to be gleaned from them would be how many wenches could be bed before wine sapped the fuel from their fire. With a dismissive smirk Zero turned to move on, and as he did, felt a slight tightening about his wrists and ankles. He attempted to push forward only to feel as if caught in molasses with straps pulling at his throat and limbs. With great effort he turned to meet the stare of a lone man, gesturing towards him, eyes burning with an amber glow. How was this possible? These men were mercenaries, soldiers of fortune, and cut throats. Not one was a necromancer or purveyor of mystical power that he had seen or sensed, yet still was he trapped. Eyes wide in both amazement and anger, Zero managed to speak. “If you can wield power great enough to see and trap Zero, then surely you can comprehend my thought speak”
“Yes, I can hear you perfectly my ghoulish companion, perfectly indeed.” The reply was disdainfully spoken with no effort at all. Clearly what ever magics this wizard was employing caused him no stress or strain while Zero fought with his all to simply maintain the distance between the two.
From beneath his cloak, the necromancer produced a small medallion. “Systema Kalende Nguni Lua”. Tendrils of white hot fire and electricity shot through every fiber of Zombie Zero’s being. First a brilliant light and then blissful oblivion were all Zero knew. Naught remained save a slowly fading waft of purple smoke where he had been, noticeable to none save the necromancer. With a wry smile on his lips, he turned, casually brushed off his hands on his obsidian robe and returned to the interior of the tent he had surfaced from.
“I take it our spy has been dealt with, Jasperdaman?” a voice queried from the shadows.
“Yes, our phantom has been cast back into shadow, no worse for his efforts but with no knowledge of any thing which has transpired since his summoning. If called upon again, he will be as a blank slate with nothing but questions to answers questions.” The two began to laugh.
As Raul Perez’s army devoured the countryside, word had spread as far north as the icy kingdom of Aesir, to the ears of Victor Smith, wizard, warlord, and sovereign ruler of the Aesirian hordes. Victor had risen to power through the sheer force of his sword alone but had fast realized that seizing power and holding it were two different matters indeed. Over the years, he had opened his mind to the ways of diplomacy and magic, believing that which he could not sway with his words, he would defend against with the power of sword and sorcery combined. Thus it had been and his new people had grown to respect and admire their new king for his strength and his protection. A rock had he been, standing firm against all who threatened. Most would be invaders lasted only the briefest of moments in battle, whether due to his superior tactics or the crushing cold of the Aesirian ice deserts which only his people had learned the techniques to master. Why then was he troubled? Why then had his sleep been an exercise in turmoil and restlessness? Every night for weeks on end, the same dream had come to him. Every night he found himself living the same scenario over and over without relief and without escape. What were the images telling him and why could not his magics nor those of his scholars discern the true meaning behind the recurring dance of images that played out before him like some waking memory, yet none that he had ever lived. What could it mean?
"The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be."