Chapter 8: Alight in the Darkness
Shadows leapt and danced from the low flickering light cast by candles of human marrow inside the immense tent as the ritual began. In the otherwise barren tent were two cloaked figures, sitting adjacent to one another, in the center of a massive macabre symbol. Between them were the bones and dried remnants of several beasts, kindred to the night. As they focused their arcane energies, a globe of force appeared above the pile. Within its dull glow was a lambent orb moving with a deliberate swiftness through the miasma which made up the globe’s center. One of the cloaked figures smiled wryly and spoke.
“I have found you my would-be-assassins. Travel as you may by what ever means you wish. It is your intent which brings me to you, nothing more; your intent to extinguish the spark which will ignite the flames that will purge this putrid land. You wish to bring down my lord Perez and that, my heroic friends, can not be permitted. No, let me provide you with sport, sport with which to entertain your selves, as my lord does not wish to be distracted from his aspiration at this time”. With this, the cloaked figure produced a medallion from under his mantle and spoke rhythmically as he scribed figures in the soil. The orb before him paused, grew brighter for the briefest of instants, then abruptly changed direction. Both men arose simultaneously, and, as if reflections in a mirror, performed the same cryptic gestures. The globe faded as quickly and completely as a pebble dropped in deepest ocean, without even a ripple to mark its passing.
No ripple? Strangely, a good description indeed, for no wind, no sound, and no motion of any kind had been detectable during the ritual. The whole affair had taken place within the time it would take one grain of sand to cascade from top to base of an otherwise empty hourglass. To the necromancers, several hours had faded, yet to the world of man, not a single heartbeat had passed. The spell had been designed so that the target had no inkling of what had transpired. It would take strong magicks to uncover any connection to spell, wizard, or the location from which it was cast and even if someone were skilled enough to do so, they would have more pressing matters at hand to deal with. This spell was designed to redirect the path of the travelers where ever the caster had seen fit. In this particular case, a Canisite ambush served quite well as what would be their final destination.
With a quick and subtle flip of his wrist, the necromancer obscured his medallion once more from sight. As he did so, he threw back his head, removed his hood, and laughed triumphantly at his accomplishment. Yes, he was pleased with himself. Was he not the grandest, most powerful sorcerer of his time? Was he not the chosen wizard of the most feared warlord of the land? Jasperdeman raised a hand as if waving to a crowd of bewildered and amazed onlookers praising his performance and then bowed deeply. The hooded man across from him did not moved but spoke but one cryptic phrase. “Fear the reckoning of borrowed power, true power comes from within”.
“Borrowed, stolen, or earned, power is power and I have that in abundance. This bauble merely augments my own natural skills and talents, nothing more. The true strength is mine. This…is merely a conduit.” Jasperdeman spoke the words as if trying to convince not only the other cloaked figure, but him self as well. The power was, after all, his to command and by no mean feat had it come to be his. He had faced down the Dark Ones themselves in their very own catacombs to secure the Medulanet Medallion and by right of conquest, the power was now his and his alone. This deed had left him with a great deal of pride bordering on arrogance and although his power had been increased tenfold, his caution and respect for the subtleness of certain spells and their repercussions had been cast aside. Where he once may have cast using time and patience, now there was only force and drive. Why not? He had power enough, near limitless power at his disposal. What need of he for caution. Let others be cautious, that was no longer his way. Jasperdeman turned from the other, lowered his hood, and hissed a warning to his shrouded cohort. “Have a care my friend, lest you bear witness first hand to a reckoning of ‘borrowed’ power. Your knowledge and skill have served me well thus far but do not test me or my patience. You are but a straw held aloft by a hurricane, a drop of water to a maelstrom. Do not overstep your place. Mind these words and obey.”
“By your command” was the only reply. The shrouded figure turned and seemed to more float than walk across the floor of loose dirt, stirring up small dust clouds with his flowing cloak as he went. Jasperdeman stared off into nothingness, unknowingly manipulating the medallion in his hands while lost in his thoughts.
A soft shimmer of light appeared on the open Silatian plain. It pulsated oddly as a frigid breeze began to blow, growing stronger as the light intensified. The light lengthened vertically, and then opened into a circular shaped portal in the morning air. From the portal, an odd looking party of five emerged, one figure towering over all the others. The immense brooding giant meandered forward and paused, feet set firmly, with one hand on the hilt of the massive sword that was as tall and nearly as wide as his impressive form and the other resting at his side. Next through were two men of equal stature, both tall, powerfully built, and alert to any movement around them. Neither had any discernable weaponry but it was easy to see by the movement and demeanor that both were veterans of many campaigns. Next through was a lithe and agile figure, smaller than her predecessors, but no less deadly. She bore two small poniards on each thigh, a thin double edge long sword on her back, and several smaller throwing knives were displayed in holders on various parts of her muscular but still enticingly feminine frame. Last through the shimmering pathway was a man cloaked in a white flowing mantle, hooded, and somber. As he stepped from the portal, he lifted his hands high above his shrouded visage and focused. The portal closed abruptly with a soft rush of wind.
The White Rune Wizard quickly assessed the situation, turned to his companions, and opened his mouth as if to speak. At that same instant, the tip of a crossbow bolt exploded through his cloak and out from his chest. A red stain began to fill the area surrounding the shaft, then stopped, and began to shrink. Oldman reached down and plucked the shaft from his chest, opened his hand while with the other, drawing the word “return” in the air. The shaft leapt to life and flew back along the same path that it had taken to reach him, piercing the heart of its Canisite archer. As quickly as the arrow had struck, the Blood Guard bounded into action. As they moved, so too did Oldman. Reaching under his cloak, he produced two pieces of parchment. He placed them both in the air in front of him where they remained motionless while simultaneously with both hands he drew the symbols for the words “transform” and “protect”. His cloak began to flow and shift as the parchment disappeared, changing from a flowing garb to a suit of mythril plate body armor, light, pliable, yet stronger than steel. At the same instant, a wafer thin coating of what appeared to be wind blown snow covered each of the Blood Guard and Oldman as well.
No sooner had the spells been completed than a storm of arrows rained down upon their location. In the middle of that vast and barren plain, against such an onslaught, there should have been no escape. The arrows fell down upon the five warriors who braced them selves for the impact. The arrows fell hard but the Blood Guard did not. Each time an arrow made contact with the shimmering coating, it slid to the side like rock skimmed across the surface of a frozen pond.
“This magick is strong but not without weakness. It will protect you from all save a direct close quarter strike. Take as few direct blows as you can manage and it will serve you well.” Oldman’s warning registered in the mind of the Blood Guard, who had already become a blurring flow of motion. Bossman had produced two long, thin, needle like daggers as if from thin air. At the base of each was a short section of thin mythril linked chain which attached to his wrists. As he waded into the fray, daggers flew in opposite directions, one piercing a Canisite archer through the patch which covered one eye as another went through the cavity under the arm of a wolfen faced warrior about to throw an axe toward Wristtwister’s back. As quickly as they struck, they were on their way back to their master’s grasp with one quick tug of a chain and flick of an exhaustingly trained wrist. Instantly, as they had struck, their victims began to convulse, change color, and fall. Each blade had been coated with a deadly poison with arcane properties to strike down man, demon, or beast alike although the blades master was all but immune to any such threat.
Wristtwister had launched himself into the closest group of enemies. Although severely outnumbered, he laughed heartily as if having the time of his life. As an enemy moved, so did he. A subtle shift here, a quick snap there, a small hip movement to add torque, and bodies lay before him in broken, misshapen heaps; nearly unrecognizable from their previous state mere moments ago. As a sword was thrust toward him, his body rolled away so only the flat of the sword would meet his light mail armor. As the blade danced and changed directions, so too did he dip, roll, and flow out of harms way still laughing all the while. He reached out and snatched a Canisite wrist, applying pressure to points any other would over look or miss completely in the heat of battle. The beast let out a cry of pain but it would not be his last. A palm shot skyward under the outstretched reptilian limb with bone & muscle exploding through the surface of the beast’s skin. The howling man-thing was then sent flying into the now hesitating group of assailants.
Having seen the fate that had befallen their allies, several Canisite concentrated their efforts on what they felt to be easier prey. Still Wadowoman remained motionless in a deep crouch, arms folded across her body as if huddled in fear. Sensing an easy kill, the group moved closer with reckless abandon. Still she remained motionless; still she appeared helpless and hopeless. As the first was just about to reach her, she leapt upward into the air above the group, while dumb-struck, they could only follow her lithe, subtle frame with their eyes.
By the time any thought to strike, dozens of small throwing blades were raining down on them like a cloudburst of deadly hail. Screaming and panicking, they became easy prey for her true attack. As she drew the nearly translucent blade from its sheathe; it hissed nearly as loud as a startled serpent, the air around it seeming to fog and mist as it touched upon the blade. Still, she moved between them, slicing, slashing, dissecting her victims yet not one drop of blood fell. This was the Zach-Zinn or as many in the northern realms called it, Brimir’s blade.
Razor thin, stronger than steel, and said to suck the life from its victims as it cleaved them to pieces without leaving one trace of blood, the Zach-Zinn’s touch was colder than a frost giant’s soul. It froze the wound as it removed the limb or pierced the flesh, sending the body into cold shock while sliding easily and silently from the wound. Heads rolled to the ground with eyes wide, frozen in disbelief, soon to be followed by lifeless stumps of half breed demon.
Through all of this, one figure stood silent, nearly motionless, a huge, lumbering beast of a man with a stoic, emotionless expression. As the remnants fell back and regrouped for one final unified push, the giant began to stir.
Hundreds of miles away, a hooded figure began a hellish ritual. Not being one prone to overconfidence or arrogance, this cloaked necromancer, partner to Jasperdeman and servant to the demon lord of Razwell, had begun to take extra measures to increase the likelihood of victory for the Canisite forces. Formidable as they were, the alliance being forged by the guardians of the 9 kingdoms was beginning to grow in strength, size, and power. Once before, a Canisite troop thought more than enough to handle a task had failed. The hooded mage would do all in his power to ensure it would not happen again, despite his partner’s apparent lack of concern. He had assembled all he needed; potions, relics, rune stones, and the blood of an innocent all cast together. All he need do now is invoke the name of the demon god of destruction, death bringer, and bane of humanity, Yen Lo. As the ritual concluded, a small wisp of smoke rose from the concoction in the urn before him and shot through the core of his being and off into space. A piece of his ever shrinking dark soul had once again been torn from him. Such was the price for spells such as these and he had no stolen power to assist him. He had seen such baubles betray their “masters” in the past and chose only his own power to rely on.
Dullblade 42 hefted the massive sword upon his shoulder with little or no apparent effort. He eyed the enemy coldly with his deep set black eyes, took one deep breath, and raised his weapon high over his head, bringing it down in a smooth controlled arc, thrust out before him, pointed directly toward his enemies. One word, only one word escaped his mouth, spoken with a strength and power that chilled all save the Blood Guardian’s companions, “MINE”! The Blood Guard gathered defensively behind their comrade and allowed him to take point knowing well that once the behemoth had decided on a course of action, it was not wise to trifle with him.
The remaining enemy numbered no more than 100 which should have been sufficient to dispatch only five warriors, but already 30 some would-be assassins lay dead across the plain causing their brethren to pull back and regroup. Regroup, an appropriate term for what was about to take place. As Dullblade readied himself for the assault, unnoticed by all, a soft, pale waft of smoke was making its way toward the gathered enemy. As it struck the first of the Canisite warriors, it darkened and increased in size, pulling its victim toward another warrior. As the two warriors struck, they merged together, gaining mass and transforming into one larger creature. It started slowly at first, then, the spell caught like wildfire, until within seconds, the entire Canisite force had merged into one enormous chimera, six times the size of the sword wielding opponent before it. Dullblade remained motionless, weapon at the ready, eyes fixed on the Razwell spawned creature before him.
The creature no longer resembled a Canisite save for one of its four heads still bearing a wolf-like resemblance. Another was that of some type of bird of prey, while another resembled a lion. The last bore a likeness to a dragon or serpent which jutted out on a long appendage from the center of the other three. Its two section tail was reptilian with scorpion style barbs at each end. Its body was covered in heavy cobalt scales except for the arms and legs. The legs were something akin to a satyr’s, back jointed and covered with goat like fur or hair while its arms were heavily muscled, covered with deep brown hair, and hung well below its feet like some jungle creature.
The abomination paused for a moment to review its own transformation; then looked up, threw out is chest, and each of its vile heads roared in unison. Slowly, as if stalking prey, it moved from side to side, closing the distance, cutting off escape. Dullblade, muscles tensed, eyes locked, had no intention of escaping. Once again he spoke, “COME”! With that, the beast charged head long, then, at the last moment, changed direction to attack from Dullblade’s flank. The giant, with speed that belayed his massive form, rolled forward, tucking his blade, spinning mid roll to rise to one knee, blade flashing out in a large, deadly arc. The chimera leapt upward & back, allowing the stroke to pass harmlessly beneath it, keeping half an eye on the giant’s comrades but none had moved. It appeared he would fight this battle alone but at all times, one of the freakish heads followed the Blood Guard’s movement. The creature maintained its distance for a moment, gauging the prey’s speed & strength, and searching for weak points. Dullblade rose, weapon poised, hilt near his hip aimed in the direction of the enemy with the length of blade held slightly off the ground, pointing somewhat downward behind him.
Once again the beast charged, once again side stepping at what one would believe the point of attack. One of the ape like arms swept in from Dullblades left as the scorpion barbs flashed upward to strike from his right simultaneously. Trapped in this pincer attack, there was no room to escape. As if in a dream, the moment slowed. The Blood Guard looked on, realizing that their friend and ally had nowhere to escape. Each moved to spring to his aid but were too far away to close the gap in time. Oldman reached for parchment, trying to perform another spell in time. He hoped his previous protective spell would lessen some small part of the blow, knowing full well it had not been created to deal with a strike of this magnitude. As the strikes came to bear, Dullblade remained poised yet motionless, as if having accepted his fate. The blows struck with such resounding force, the plain became one enormuos cloud of dust. For what seemed an eternity, the dust blinded all from view. Then, as the dust settled...
"The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be."