A Tale of FA’s, Chapter 13: A Victim of Circumstance

Black, motionless, and with depth unimaginable, the pool of the Dark Ones sat in the center of the dank, moss enshrouded catacombs in the ruins of Zyranyth, at the base of Mount Steelwater. For eons, this foul basin had been the birth place of terrible magicks procreated from the blood, bone, and marrow of innocents. In hundreds of years, only few had beheld its caliginous glory but none without first paying a tall toll. A portion of a mortal soul was the price for power… malevolent, all encompassing, soul devouring power. The first to remunerate and be consumed were the Dark Ones. These beings, floating between wraith-like translucence and corporeal form could, with a mere gesture or thought, make dream reality or reality a horrid nightmare. Long had they bided their time, planning patiently over the centuries and at long last the time had come, a time of chaos and death.

From death he had been spawned. From turmoil, he had forged a black army beyond measure to erase every iota of human kindness, mercy, or compassion. In its stead, he would create only pain & suffering. Although he was too powerful to be controlled at this juncture, the seeds had been sown for the dread warlord’s eventual acquiescence.

What had appeared to be a feat of greatness, an act of great bravery or fool hardiness given one’s perspective, had actually been a well planned manipulation. Jasperdeman had been a commanding mystic walking a fine line between light and darkness, always pondering what his true calling would be. He had, by no random chance, gleaned upon an ancient scroll upon whose time worn face was etched the story and location of the Medulanet Medallion. It was a relic of extraordinary power with which he could advance his skills perhaps one hundredfold. He would have it, of this he was certain, but to achieve this end, he would have to face an enemy so hideous, so terrible that none who had gazed upon them had ever lived to tell the tale. Only missives of their origins still existed to this day and those were read or spoken of in hushed whispers and only among the most powerful of mystics who believed their spells of protection vigorous enough to ward off the evil it invoked.

Silently, unobtrusively they weaved their plan for control and ultimately the destruction of all things beneficent. Where Jasperdeman might have faltered or strayed, a dark hand righted his path. Where he might have fallen or stumbled, a black heart lifted him to his feet again, all the while allowing Jasperdeman to believe it was his own strength of will and determination pushing him forward. The carrot was dangled and the beast continued on without any suspicion of what truly was transpiring. This drama would play itself out over months and into years. He would have to truly believe it was through his own inner strength and determination that he achieved his success or the plan in its entirety would fall apart. After several years of wandering, Jasperdeman found himself at the entrance to the ruins of Zyranyth.

“So then my good sorcerer, you have made you way through dense forest, over frigid mountain, and across barren wastelands only to find yourself shivering like a new born cub. All that you have worked for lay before you near the center of these fabled ruins. Will you now cower at the doorstep of greatness or will you summon up enough courage to face your fears and what ever ungodly creatures await you?” This thought and a thousand others raced through Jasperdeman’s mind. He had imagined what he would do when this moment came hundreds of times during his journey but in his mind, he never actually expected to reach his destination. Now, here it was…here he was. With that thought, the world swam for a brief instant then went black.
Six hooded figures more glided towards him than walked, hands hidden beneath sleeves of ebon fabric. The somber shadows surrounded him and in unison, turned back toward the path along which they had come. As they turned, the flaccid body rose from the ground to nearly waist height and floated. The hooded men walked back toward the black pool as if presenting a corpse for the funeral pyre and the sorcerer’s body listed spiritlessly along as they proceeded, oblivious to all that transpired. Once the procession had reached their destination, tendrils of dark liquid reached out hungrily from the surface of the pool, coiling around the limp figure as would a serpent attempted to constrict its prey.

As the liquid flowed over his body, the enshrouded figures began to chant. Jasperdeman’s mind filled with memories of events which had never transpired but were as real and vivid as any other the man had lived. Memories of a journey through the ruins into catacombs black and vile, of a battle fought with spells and steel, and of a victory won through exhausting effort and sacrifice. A seed planted in his mind to find the warlord Perez and ally himself to the dark lord’s cause.

Once the enchantment was sealed, the Medulanet medallion was placed upon his neck and Jasperdeman was set outside the ruins, clothing tattered and covered in filth. When he resumed consciousness, Jasperdeman made his way back to civilization with his newly acquired power and an unquestionable desire to prove his greatness to the warlord for fame and glory. An unknowing soulless pawn of the black pool and the Dark Ones.

Having feared he may have been absent too long, Ronin made his way back to the encampment under the veil of darkness, hoping to slip quietly past any eyes that might find the hour of his appearance strange or suspicious. With the appearance of the Bloodguard, he had lost MattJ to fate and chance. He had hoped to use the commander as a bridging tool to gain entry into the lands of Dereck the Red and perhaps even win the king’s trust, allowing him the proximity needed to exact his vengeance. Now, his chance, his pawn, and his path had all been taken from him in but an instant of happenstance.

Ronin made his way through the undergrowth, belly down in the rain-soaked earth to the rear of his tent. He had deliberately chosen an ancillary location backed to woods and shrubs for just this purpose. He entered unnoticed and began to discard his saturated leather jerkin. Once he had removed any tell tale sign of his absence, he began to pace thoughtfully back & forth.

“I can not falter. I will not be denied. As one door closes, another opens. I have known this from the beginning. Though chance has not favored me thus far, my course is set and I will not stray from it. From the moment my family was taken from me oh good king Dereck, your fate was sealed. If I can not find my way to you through guile & cunning, then by way of sword, blood, and axe shall I prevail. Nigh is the time for the warlord Raul Perez to storm these northern lands and though it means shedding innocent blood, I would carve a path through the fire pits of Razzwell, past the Neko themselves to exact my vengeance upon you. I shall not be denied!”

As if summoned by the mention of his name, Raul pushed aside the heavy canvas blind which served as an entrance to Ronin’s tent. Raul paused for a moment, surveying the tent’s bedraggled appearance, then proceeded inside. As he closed the distance between them, Ronin noticed that the warlord carried with him a bound scroll.

“I have a task for you my general. I have sent emissaries, if you will, to each of the leaders of the nine kingdoms. Their mission is to assess each leader’s ability and report back to me. If the leader of that nation happens to fall while under that scrutiny, so be it. That will make the taking of that land that much easier. A body can not long survive if you rob it of its head. The same can be stated of a kingdom without a king. You will journey across the Serpent Straights and into Sil Lum. Once there, you will make your way to the castle of Dandjurdjevic and test his abilities. Go, make whatever preparations you must but take your leave by first light come the morrow. Should you find the king’s hospitality wanting, use this scroll to facilitate a more unobtrusive pathway into his company.”
What to do now? Ronin knew this legation could take him a great deal of time to perform and may well expose him as an agent of the dark lord before he could use guile or stealth to work his way into Dereck’s lands but refusal meant making an enemy of the dark lord and all the forces at his disposal. There was indeed no choice to be made.

“Yes my lord”, Ronin spoke deftly while somberly bowing his head to avoid Raul’s icy gaze. “I will leave with the first light. I will not fail you”.

“See that you do not”. The reply was short and forceful with the conviction of a promise more than that of a threat. Ronin bent knee as Raul turned and exited the tent. Ronin reached down and tightly clutched a handful of the loose, sandy dirt making up the floor of his tent. Again the fickle fates barred his path. Time was not an ally. The more that was spent on these side pursuits to cover his guise as a loyal retainer to the dark lord, the more Dereck the Red would fortify his defenses and his personal guard. Ronin rose and began once again to pace the floor of his tent, desperately searching for an answer to the dilemma before him.
"The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be."