Chapter 12: The Balance
Rain fell heavily and steadily across the Nthnian valley the Warlord Perez now called camp. His forces had pressed hard to conquer the land and were preparing for their journey across the Serpent Straights and into Sil Lum, the southern country of the Great Continent. The Great Continent was home to seven of the Nine Kingdoms. Having already conquered Wansum and Nthnia, the Warlord Perez planned to establish a foothold in Sil Lum from which he would fan out and subjugate the neighboring lands. His forces gathered on the northern coast of Nthnia as he planned his strategy for the initial strike. Sil Lum was a peaceful nation, full of prosperity and opportunity for all who landed on her shores. It was ruled by the wise & powerful king, Dandjurdjevic.
Dandjurdjevic had come to rule as a boy king having lost his mother, the queen, at birth and with the passing of his father, the king, from injuries incurred during a campaign on the border of the Escrima wild lands many years ago. He had been raised by wise men, scholars, and monks from the time he could take his first step. The wise men taught him the ways of logic and reason, the scholars taught him strategy, science, magick, & the skills of observation, and the monks taught him fighting arts, both empty handed and with weapons common only to their land, to defend his life and country. These arts involved meditation, focus, and pushing the body to its physical limits.
He had seen the evidence of the brutality and destruction the dread warlord was capable of first hand and at times had wondered if even his skill would be enough. Under the protection of the Shikataganai, his royal guard consisting of many of the monks that had trained him as a child, Dandjurdjevic had ventured forth into the wasteland that had once been the territory of Wansum. He had seen with his own eyes the death and pestilence left in the wake of the terrible onslaught from Raul Perez’s armies.
The hermit Schanne had warned him of the approach of doom from the south early enough for the king to research and prepare a defense but only if he acted quickly, so act he did. Outposts were established along the border cities with great barriers erected to halt or at least slow the advance of any large force on the march. His scholars prepared hundreds of otherworldly pitfalls to decimate any beings possessed of dark magicks. He would take every precaution, every step he could to defend his people, his country, and his heritage. One question remained in his mind. Would it be enough?
At his request, one of his allies and a student under his ally’s tutelage would venture forth, seeking others to help defend Sil Lum and more importantly, the entire Nine Kingdoms, or what remained, from the threat of annihilation at the hands of the death merchant, the bringer of chaos, and the butcher of Razwell, Raul Perez. Fisherman and Taison had done just that. With the help of Schanne, they had enlisted the aid of King Victor & the Blood Guard of the Aesir, Butterfly and the Three, and MattJ, commander of the remnants of the Nthnian armies. Each ready to mobilize their full forces and stand in defiance of Raul Perez, his Neko 456, and any other horror which might be called forth from those hellish fire pits.
Schanne had used Zero to extend his perceptions even beyond those far reaching lengths he normally possessed. Schanne was the mortar which held the resistance together. It was through his efforts and intelligence work alone that the Nine Kingdoms had not yet fallen. He had not done this for selfish reasons or for the sake of a single country or its people. Schanne had a much broader scope in mind. Schanne battled for the fate of all mankind.
A millennia ago, demons and dark creatures ruled the land and used the fledgling race of man as their playthings. Man was new to this sphere and weak to a fault against the sorcery and might of the vile creatures which held a deathly grip on the fate of this realm. The forces of light were waning under the onslaught of darkness. For all things to be as they should, a balance must be maintained. For this purpose, Schanne had come. Schanne had walked alone and forgotten through the centuries with few knowing of him or fewer still knowing his true purpose. In man’s darkest hour, Schanne had been the torch to guide the way back from the brink.
His powers had been great prior to his studies with the Supremor but had increased tenfold with the knowledge the necromancer of light had imparted. Schanne had the power to topple the globe if he wished it. He had attained a power so monumental that none could challenge his might. Truth be told, he could destroy the threat of the Warlord Raul Perez alone, but that was not his purpose or his responsibility. He was there to aid and guide mankind to its true destiny, nothing more, nothing less. He was bound by powers even greater than his not to interfere unless the complete and utter destruction of all human life was at stake. If this tenant was violated, it could bring down destruction upon himself and all those in his charge.
As fate would have it, there was always light to challenge darkness as there had always been darkness attempting to swallow the light. If either were vanquished completely, the balance would be upset and man’s future would be in question. Schanne had once thought of a world without evil, without the dark and saw no harm in this. He once sought to put the pieces in motion to bring about that end. During that time of peace, an there to fore unheard time of prosperity did flourish for a time, but then, man became weak for lack of conflict, of challenge. Man became complacent, soft, and when the first threat for over three centuries rose to test man’s claim upon this realm, humankind was nearly wiped from existence. Man’s spirit is like a sword. It must ever be kept honed, polished, and ready for combat. Even in times of peace, its edge must be kept and its strength true lest it fail when needed most. This Schanne had learned from time, from experience, and from “The Ancient Ones” themselves. It was a lesson learned through carnage, carrion, and loss. Though Schanne had achieved a state greater than a mortal existence, he had not forgotten the sensations of pain, suffering, and loss and how deeply they penetrated the heart. He would not see his “children” perish before they could achieve all the great things they were capable of.
Leagues to the north, a lone figure stood defiantly with leg braced, sword in hand, and eyes searching the shadows for any sign of attack. Victor had realized too late the danger that was upon him. So engrossed had he been in his studies that he had failed to notice the subtle signs that would have warned him of the coming of doom. He cursed and spat, uttering the name of long lost war gods as if to draw their strength into his steel. Victor was well aware of his situation and that his position was less than optimal but he had been here before and lived to tell the tale. In his mind, this would be no different. With that, Victor replied to the voice of the mist.
“No my friend, I do not wish to flee. You have come all this way to meet with me. The least I can do is hear you out. If an audience with the king of the north is all you seek, then let us have an exchange and be done with it. If there is more to your visit, I suggest you bid farewell to your gods and prepare yourself before I send you on your way to greet the ferryman. Which is it you seek?”
“Ah good king, even in a time assss grave asss thisss, you find humor in dessspair. Truly you are asss magnificccent asss legend hasss told. I ssserve but one purpossse here, good king, and that isss your demissse. Would that you would sssave usss the trouble and fall upon your own blade?”
“I think not my friend. If you have a means, check my heart. You will find no fear in it for you. Should you wish to stand as a man and test my mettle, feel free to do so, but with that being said, I suggest you make peace with your gods for no quarter shall be asked or given.” There was naught but silence as a reply. Victor’s eyes scanned the room. The mist had settled leaving no trace it had ever been yet Victor’s senses told him danger still lurked in those all too lively shadows.
Only one lit lantern remained and it crackled and sparked in no unusual fashion. The smoke rising from it was the same as it had always been yet something still was not right. Long moments went by with not a sound or any other indication that a threat was still present but still, Victor waited. The northern king turned slowly to his flank as if anticipating an attack but as he did, unnoticed, his shadow did not follow. The mist had settled, during the exchange of words, into the patch of pitch behind the good king that was his shadow.
Victor was moving, sword pointed directly out in front, slowly towards the entrance to the great library, warily turning from side to side to protect his flanks as he made his retreat. With each step, the light from the lantern grew brighter and his shadow grew. As he neared the door, senses honed from countless campaigns told him to drop. As he tucked and rolled to side, an ebon blade, twice the size of his own but shape in a very similar fashion, pierced the large wooden door. Victor stood with eyes wide in disbelief as he now saw the form of his enemy.
Standing before him, outlined in a purple-silver glow, was an ebon effigy of himself holding a dark blade which could be his blades twin save for it being grossly disproportional in size and length. The sword shared the same stretched and distorted image of a shadow in waning sunlight as did his effigy. Now, instead of being a flattened reflection confined to the horizontal plane of the floor, the image was standing vertically. With each passing moment, it was transforming from a two dimensional wraith to a dark doppelganger of the king himself. Victor, thinking to strike before it could take its full form, thrust his sword to the hilt into the apparition. The weapon passed through with no resistance nearly toppling the king from the sheer force of the thrust.
Victor recovered instantly, shifting his weight and preparing to receive the return strike but nothing came. Instead, the doppelganger simply shook its ebon head from side to side as if mocking the king as one would a small child who had just done something silly. Victor tightened his grip and bit down slightly on his lower lip as he braced for the creatures attack. How would he counter something he could not touch? How could he defend against a creature of shadow? The image dropped deep into the same stance the king had already assumed and began to move with the same slow gate towards the king that he had used to traverse the room earlier when moving toward the door. As the creature closed the distance, it raised the huge ebon blade high above its featureless face in a manner all too familiar to the good king. Victor poised to parry the strike if such was possible, all the while looking about the room for an answer to his plight. The stroke descended with all the force the dark image could summon. The king brought his sword up at the same moment, shifting his position slightly to avoid a direct strike. As the blades met…
Edited by RazorFoot (07/10/08 02:54 PM)
"The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be."