Sunday, 5 December 2010


This is the other story I've written about Graham Drakkon. I'll also note that it's very short as it was written as a teaser for the character who would be fleshed out in the New World RPG. It was the first story I'd written about one of the Drakkon family members which wasn't taking place in an alternate timeline (although the New World is a possible timeline it does follow on from what has happened in the main For Honour and Glory time period).


The man looked at the bottle which sat before him on the desk. He muttered his typical refrain “The bottle’s a curse, the drink’s a prison. Better off without it.” The words were spoken like a chant, like a religious phrase long memorised. They seemed hollow to him now. It was as if the words had been uttered so often they had lost their power and did not raise his mood like they once had. Maybe just the one drink, what could it hurt? A bad question he was sure, and a worse answer he was in no doubt.

Quietly, with a rough voice like granite, the man said “I don’t need it, even if I think I want it.” Tentatively his hand reached out for the bottle but found itself dragged down to drum aching fingers upon the smooth wooden desk. Mahogany was the wood used to make the desk. It was finely crafted; some sixty years ago it was built. Not for the man, he was not that old, even if he felt it. There was a scratchiness in his throat, and the drink might help that. It had not helped anything else and certainly not the man, but it might help that. Could he really delude himself like that? The answer was an obvious no, but he still felt the need to ask the question anyway, just to see. The man just had to see if one day he would give a different answer.

The hand reached out for the bottle again. The man did not stop it. He picked up the bottle by its neck, felt its weight, heard the contents sloshing about, and felt the cool glass surface of the bottle. Refreshing. And why not? Why should he not drink? Everything was gone, hollow, and empty. The man had lost that which had been most important to him, the one person he had put second to his career. After all they had had their entire lives once he had finished with his career. That was a mute point now. She understood. His wife was dead, but at least she knew his priorities. He hated that most of all, along with all the simple words the man had not taken the time to say. He was a good husband, a good father, but the man had not been as good as he could have been. He could have been better and that made him bad in his mind. That was the logic the man was coming out with.

The bottle moved closer towards the man in his smart uniform and polished boots, sitting in the creaking, wooden chair. There was a knock at the door and the man said “Come.” Even as he did so he opened a drawer, slid the bottle inside, and closed it. Perhaps the refrain still had a bit of power left.

The soldier who appeared saluted “Major, it’s time, sir.” The soldier was dressed in the typical uniform. His blue open-face coat was neat and unwrinkled, as were his white shirt and trousers. His boots, much like his commanding officer’s, were polished to a high shine. A cloth, a touch of boot polish, and some elbow-grease was all the soldier required to look presentable. Drilling the men until everything was second nature was what had elevated the Army to its status as one of the world’s pre-eminent military forces. The uniform was completed with a black shako placed firmly on the soldier’s head.

The man, the Major, stood up and straightened his jacket. He picked up his tricorn hat, black as well, and positioned it expertly on his head, smoothing his hair back as he did so. Calmly he said with his gravely voice, the scratchiness gone now “Good, let’s get this over with.”

Saturday, 4 December 2010

For King and Country

Been a while since I've posted anything here but now that I've finished this story I'll have two stories I can post. This story is the second story I have written about Graham Drakkon, who is a distant descendant of Nathaniel Drakkon. On TWC several of us started an RPG set 2000 years after what is known as the current period of For Honour and Glory history, although it is not a definate future, only a possible one. In this time period things have moved on, technology has advanced and instead of clear threats like evil monsters, people are dealing with other nations and the dreams of conquest they all hold. While my writing in the FHaG current period is rather grey in terms of morality at times, something I think brings it more in line with the excellent writing of Chadden and also Mordus rather than some of the White Realm originals (apart from maybe Andy and his rather grim Chronicle), this is a setting which is darker in tone, yet my writing in it so far is pointing back to more idealistic times as a balance. Kind of backwards. So on to the story, the first chronologically about Graham Drakkon, although the second written. The other story will follow shortly.

For King and Country

Graham Drakkon dived over the table and rolled on his back before coming up into a sitting position behind the table which was on its side. He had both felt and heard the musket shots roar overhead. With his back against the wood the Weissland officer assessed the situation. His musket lay across at the other side of the tavern and there were three armed rebels trying to kill him. Under other circumstances he would laugh with his troops about a fight in a tavern, not today though, the things these rebels were doing were not a laughing matter. Drakkon's pistol was loaded but one shot against three men was little better than none. Graham had heard the report of two muskets so one man had not fired. He could rise and shoot one rebel reloading before being shot in return. No, I don't think that's a good idea, Graham thought glibly. This uprising in the Weissland colonies, in what had recently been part of the Eastern Empire, was becoming more and more troublesome.

Here they were, men from the 22nd Regiment of Foot as well as the 4th, clearing a town street by street, building by building, of the rebels. This had been going on for a month. When news had reached Weissland of the rebels trying to overthrow the rightful leadership it was deemed necessary for a show of strength. If anything all that achieved was to provoke more people to side with the rebels. As always politics had created a mess which his men had to clean up.

Drakkon gripped his pistol in one hand and drew a throwing dagger from his belt. In a fluid motion he stood and swung around to attack. With a look of grim determination on his face Graham took in the scene. One rebel to the left near the stairs, one in front of the bar in the open, and the third by a table. The man by the table was reloading as was the one at the foot of the stairs. Drakkon did not hesitate, the time between rising and attacking almost instantaneous, shooting the rebel at the bar in the chest and hurling the dagger at the throat of the scum using the table for cover as he reloaded. The dagger slammed into flesh and the rebel pitched sideways over a chair. The first rebel was propped backwards against the bar like some obscene parody of a drunkard.

In a split second Graham was running forward. It was a race between him and the reloading time of a musket held by a man without proper military training. It was no contest. Drakkon grabbed the musket barrel and forced it aside, kicked the rebel in the groin and flipping his pistol, cracked the handle into the enemy's skull. The man barely reacted beyond collapsing to the ground and groaning in pain. In ten seconds Drakkon had killed two men and incapacitated a third. Quietly he was more impressed than disturbed by this information.

Graham drew his sword with a sigh and said "You know what really angers me about you rebels? You turn your back on King and Country because you want everything handed to you on a platter while trying to kill real soldiers who put their lives on the line to earn what you want for free. Has greed truly overtaken the world's honour?"

The rebel replied "You're just a tool of the aristocracy. Go to hell oppressor!"

"I'll see you there." Drakkon growled in his gravelly deep voice. He thrust with the sword, killing the rebel quickly. Graham sheathed the sword as he walked away. Unlike the curved swords used by most officers in this day and age Graham's sword was an ancient long-sword. It had a long heritage and was named the Forsaken Path. Once it had belonged to his ancestor Nathaniel Drakkon, and since then it had passed one Drakkon to another through the second great line of the family.

Reloading his musket and pistol Drakkon straightened his blue uniform and headed to search upstairs. He kept his musket at the ready as his boots clunked on the wooden stairs. Drakkon reached the top of the stairs and found himself in a corridor. There were many doors to the rooms of the tavern and at the end of the corridor it turned left into another. All the doors were open. Expecting attack from all directions Graham moved forward cautiously. At each door he saw no attackers, no rebels hiding or lying in wait. The furniture was overturned, and the rooms were a mess, as if the rebels had been looking for something. Looting no doubt, Graham thought. Turning the corner he passed more rooms and saw similar ransacking. Looting was not something Graham Drakkon condoned, it was simple thievery and not a practice soldiers should partake in. He stopped himself and corrected his thoughts. They were not fighting soldiers here; the Weissland Royal Army was putting down a civilian rebellion. This was quite different to other conflicts Drakkon had fought in, though no less bloody.

Graham believed in things that were rare in these days, honour, courage, loyalty, and justice. It was because of these things and his love of Weissland that Graham had joined the Weissland Royal Army at as young an age as was possible. Through some of the bloodiest battles of recent history Graham Drakkon had risen through the ranks to become Major of the 22nd regiment of Foot, leading the regiment's company of grenadiers to war in the name of the King and all that was righteous. His family had a long and proud military tradition, one Graham was sure would continue after he was gone. Graham had received honours and medals for his actions; he was a very well-known war hero in Weissland. But in such times as these, where honour and nobility were rare or twisted, being a war hero in one's homeland made you a villain in other lands opposed to yours. Graham had married young, to his beautiful wife Kari who was as beautiful as the sun rising over the capital. They had two children, Elizabeth and Sean. Graham was sure his son would be a great soldier one day, and his daughter would marry an officer, a good officer that Graham would be proud to call son-in-law. That was if things went well, which he truly hoped they would.

At the end of the corridor was a door only slightly ajar. The difference to the open doors made it stand out acutely to Graham. He raised his musket higher and edged forward cautiously. Drakkon knew that making a lot of noise would alert any foes within the room. Even the sounds of fighting in the rest of the town would not dull the sounds of his boots moving unstealthily on the wooden floor. Reaching the door he took a moment to listen. Hearing nothing but a dripping sound Drakkon levelled his musket and kicked the door open with a thud, ready to shoot.

Graham Drakkon found no enemy he could fight. Inside the room he witnessed the source of the dripping sound. Lying on a bed against the far wall was a body. Head back, hanging over the foot of the bed, face up, the dead eyes of the girl stared at him as blood slowly dripped from her slit throat into the pool on the floor. A wave of revulsion washed over Graham as his mind processed what his eyes saw. A man of weaker constitution might have been physically sick. Graham looked around and saw the other bodies in the room. The child's father was slumped against the wall in front of bloody smears, a hatchet clutched in a death grip. The girl's mother was lying face down as if she had been facing away from the door, stab wounds from a sword in her back. As Drakkon stepped into the room he made sense of the woman's positioning. She had been moving to shield another child, barely old enough to walk and talk from the looks of the boy, who had been shot. The tavern owner and his family slaughtered, and for what, a few coins, some trinkets? The whole situation insulted and offended Drakkon's sense of justice and morality.

He muttered through clenched teeth "In the name of Aracen this will not happen again. These rebels will be stopped!" Drakkon retreated from the room, a hollow look in his eyes, and made his way to one of the ransacked rooms on the right hand side of the corridor. He checked out of the window and saw the soldiers of his company beginning to gather in the streets. The fighting was over. Striding out of the tavern Drakkon approached his men and said gruffly "Sergeant Cribbins, report!"

The sergeant saluted and replied "Sir, we have scoured the town. There are no more rebels hiding here. We have secured a number of prisoners, the last group of rebels surrendered. We ah, we have found over a dozen dead civilians sir..." Cribbins was a good man and often had a twinkle in his blue eyes and a cheerful smile. Not today, not now, he was clearly disturbed deeply by this.

Graham cleared his throat and put a hand on the man's shoulder reassuringly before saying "I know Cribbins, I found four more. It's ok, we'll sort this out. We'll make it right."

Without thinking Cribbins answered back "How will we do that?" Some officers would not react well to backchat like that. Drakkon was of a different ilk, like his mentor Colonel Foley.

Drakkon looked at Cribbins hard, not harshly but seriously and honestly. He said "I don't know but we will. I should have gotten here to protect these people; I will not fail Weissland's people again." Graham Drakkon had a classical face, strong chin, square jaw, proud nose. His chiselled features were slightly marred by the grime of battle and a scar on his left cheek. The scar ran almost straight down his cheek apart from where it curved towards his ear like a hook. The scar was not deep but it was darker than the rest of his skin, so much so that when his face was slightly flushed from anger or exertion the scar was almost vermillion. With determination in his deep gravelly voice Drakkon said "I promise you that."

Cribbins nodded "Yes sir."

Drakkon asked "Have you done a headcount? Did we lose anyone?" Drakkon never asked his men for 'casualty reports', he felt it was important that they realised their lives were important to him.

Sergeant Cribbins answered "Eight men dead, five injured, one seriously, sir."

Drakkon sighed "Not good but with the rebels hiding in buildings it could have been much worse. The dead men will be missed, and I want to know exactly who we lost before we return to camp. I'll visit the injured men before we leave." Turning slightly Graham finished "Now, show me to these prisoners."

The sergeant led Major Drakkon over to the town square which included a well and some street lamps. The lamps were unlit even though it was early evening; the lamp lighters with their long poles with oil-soaked cloth were dead or fled. Graham knew the refugee camps were quite full, as were the cities. This campaign had been split between guarding such areas and hunting for the rebels. He had heard the rebel leader was like a damn ghost, always evading capture.

They reached the square and Cribbins said "This is them sir. Don't know how talkative they'll be."

Drakkon looked at them. Seven men were kneeling in a line with their hands tied behind their backs. Like all the rebels they wore typical colonial dress with an armband dyed red. Since the main colour used by Weissland for uniforms and the like was blue the armband was as much an insult as a way of identifying their affiliation. Drakkon knew it was mostly just so the untrained fools would not shoot each other. They did not seem to want to hide when they made attacks; none had infiltrated the refugee camps to sow confusion. Perhaps they believed in their cause so much they refused to hide who they were. Behind the rebels stood fourteen grenadiers with their trademark bearskin hats on, each one a battle-hardened elite soldier. They stood one to either side of each prisoner with their muskets ready. Two more of Drakkon's men stood several feet in front of them, more than enough to prevent the rebels attempting escape. Handing his musket to Cribbins Graham clasped his hands behind his back, legs slightly apart, and addressed the prisoners "My name is Major Graham Drakkon. You will answer my questions or suffer my wrath!" With Graham's deep and rumbling voice the prisoners looked intimidated. He continued "We have found the bodies of dead civilians. Why did you murder them?" Most of the prisoners avoided his stern gaze. When no response was forthcoming he roared "Answer me damnit or Aracen help me I will tear you apart!"

One of the prisoners, a blond-haired young man with the cockiness of youth said "Because they were just like you Weisslander. They'd rather live under your king's boot heel than be free like us."

Graham said with grim amusement "You're not free now boy."

The rebel snarled "All your kind will die and we'll have our homes back."

The anger was growing within Drakkon with each passing moment. He said "You killed children you filth, families. You have turned your back on the crown. You are all worthless scum."

Another prisoner smirked "So what, they were just pro-Weissland, little better than animals."

Drakkon stalked forward like one of the big cats in the deserts of Ahm-Shere. He punched the man hard across the face, knocking him down. The Weissland officer booted the man in the gut for good measure. Stepping back Graham said angrily "You rebel scum, none of you have an ounce of honour or decency. You are murderers and I will permit your existence no longer."

It was at this time that Lieutenant Clay arrived with a squad of men. He saluted and said "Major Drakkon. I led a group of the men out of town. I had a suspicion some rebels had retreated to the woods."

Drakkon turned to face the newly arrived man and asked his junior "And had they Lieutenant?"

"Yes sir," Clay explained "we caught up to them and took them by surprise. They died to the man, no losses on our side sir."

Graham nodded "Good, good. Well, you're just in time Lieutenant, I'm about to order the rest of this scum executed."

Clay blinked before looking at the prisoners and his superior officer. Clay, who was actually a few years older than Drakkon replied "But they are prisoners, sir."

Coldly Drakkon said "Your point, Clay?"

Clay was slightly taken aback. He replied "Sir, standing orders are to bring prisoners to camp to be transferred to the city prisons. You can't just--"

"--Can't I? Because I think the sort of scum who murder children should hang." Drakkon cut his friend off before looking at the men to say "String them up."

The men were nervous but seemed prepared to carry out the order. Clay protested "I don't think this is wise sir. Don't get into trouble over a few prisoners."

Drakkon was not going to back down. His anger was at boiling point. He flung his hands up "Wise Clay, wise? They killed the people in this town who were loyal to Weissland. They murdered civilians! I will not let this stand."

"They're still technically civilians themselves sir. That's why orders are to take prisoners. There are codes of conduct to consider, this is not what an officer should be doing."

"No Clay," Drakkon shook his head "they are rebels. They turned their backs on King and Country; they are traitors no matter what the current policies of the local authorities are. And even if they are civilians they are still murderers so as far as I am concerned I will be enforcing the laws of the crown!"

Clay swallowed hard. "Very well sir. Carry on men, you heard the Major."

Drakkon wondered if what he was doing was right. Still it seemed the just thing to do even if it was not fair or pleasant. Graham thought about what his old friend Hattori would make of all this. Was it avenging the deaths of innocents or the sort of ignoble act of barbarism he felt most governments and armies carried out in this day and age? It was strange being friends with an assassin who harked back to older ways that Drakkon believed the world had mostly lost but were sorely needed. Graham spoke to his soldiers even as they began the grisly work. He declared "Any consequences of my orders will fall on my head alone and no other, this I swear. If there's a hangman's noose waiting for me in hell so be it but these bastards first!"

It seemed most of the men were with him as there were shouts of agreement. The enemy here had done things which were wrong, reprehensible, and they had to be punished properly. If this acted as a warning to the rest of the rebels then perhaps it would hasten an end to this conflict, even if it meant the death of every rebel rather than taking prisoners. As he walked away to visit the injured men of his company Graham Drakkon thought, where is the honour in all of this? Then again, where is the honour anywhere in this world? Drakkon had to content his troubled conscience with the fact that what he did, he did for King and Country.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Thick Plottens...

as we say on TWC. Things have not been going as well as I had hoped for the stories I'm working on. Progress has been slow and I don't know when I'll actually get something finished to put on here. Part of my vision for this blog was that I would only post finished stories, not parts, so that anyone reading could read the complete story instead of waiting on new parts that might be months away from appearing.

Time has not been my ally and I find myself constantly tied up with dozens of other trivial things. Also motivation is a big factor, when you're sitting around unemployed it is difficult to care about doing anything. Still, I have finished another chapter of the story featuring Mordain, which will satiate Chadden for a while. I've started on the next one and we'll see how it goes. Still got a long road to travel on this story though, multiple chapters with nothing more than a title and a brief idea of their content.

Friday, 4 June 2010


It's been a while since I've put something up on the blog, quite a while in fact. So I felt a slight update is in order. I don't have any new stories to post at the moment but I'm on the last chapter of one so I might be able to put that up sometime in the foreseeable future.

Things have been a bit hectic lately although I have been able to do a reasonable amount of writing. Not all of it is writing connected to the For Honour and Glory setting or the Drakkon characters though. Certainly I've got the story featuring Mordain Thaendil still on the back burner and another story which is something very different. This different story delves into the brief ideas brought up by Sunny about the Nuclear Winter, so once that's finished and posted you'll see something which I'd currently describe as space fantasy.

Now I've got to get back to work on these stories.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Scenes 3 - Burdens

Well, I finally finished the last scenes story, called Burdens. Now I'll be going back to work on the story featuring Mordain Thaendil, the Mage of Shadows. As always comments and criticism are welcome and appreciated. It's not supposed to be a scary story but I'll finish off by saying... submitted for the approval of the midnight society, I call this tale Burdens.


Carry your burdens until you are carried home. I carry my burdens but I will never see home again unless I can remove one particular burden. Nathaniel Drakkon they call me, and often far worse for I am a man of duty not compassion. I have made mistakes and ruined lives, but perhaps the worst mistake was the day I claimed my victory. I avenged my brother’s murder but it seems the gods or fate decreed that I should be punished for that. The spirit of the murderer, the warrior Lilith Albrecht, was bound to me, and she torments me to this very day.

It is because of these events that I find myself here on this forsaken isle. There is a ritual, one which may save me from this damnation. Nothing is easy though, a quest is called for, to claim four magic relics used in the ritual. Finding them is difficult, taking them even more so. I learned all this from a scholar, who heard it from an old sea captain, and you get the idea of how many ears the tale has passed through... and how desperate I am.

Even in the mist I can see the ruins rising up ominously above me. A temple or castle, it is difficult to decide which it is. The howls do nothing to make me feel better about this situation. I draw my sword, the long sword covered in runes taken from the spirit after her defeat. I say dryly, tempting fate “What could possibly go wrong?” I say it on purpose, fate has pushed me too far and I am looking for a fight.

“Everything! Everything can go wrong.” Lilith hisses like a snake. As I mentioned, always there, always tormenting, torturing, grinding down my will bit by damn bit. She is in my head and hovering over me and behind my eyes when I close them, even just to blink. Her image floats in front of me and her shoulders shake as she throws her head back and laughs like some cackling fiend. The wolf pelt hung over one of her shoulders moves with the motion, giving a brief image of what the wolf was like in life, snapping jaws and glinting eyes, before returning to the dead fur it was when I fought Albrecht high in the mountains of Kuren. That is what it is like, brief flashes of things which should not be, anything to un-nerve me or put me on edge.

Still, my sarcasm is a handy reflex “Good, keeps life interesting.”

There is a wide set of steps leading up to a plaza, they are as wide as a farmer’s field and made of sandstone now wearing away from age. I can relate to that as I scratch my chin through the short and grey goatee beard. One of my worn and scuffed boots touches the first step and all hell breaks loose. I should have checked for magical traps, I am slipping. Men and women, all heavily muscled charge at me down the steps, and from out of the mist to either side as well. I do not panic, I do not waste time, and I show them what hell can do to a man. A torrent of water crashed down from the plaza behind them, directed by my will, my hand. Some turn, unsure of what is happening, but all are crushed beneath the tidal wave. I play the elements well, as the water washes harmlessly around my shins, its power used up. Bodies tumble past me, I pay them no heed, but for some reason maniacal laughter leaves my lips.

The survivors are coming, and I see the bronze helms they wear concealing their faces entirely with only tiny eye slits as a sign of what lies behind the metal. The warriors brandish swords and wear trousers and boots of brown leather. They have no armour and are topless, including the women. Sweat glistens off their chiselled physiques, muscles tense as they run with weapons raised. They seem unfazed by the destruction I unleashed on their fallen brethren. They are mindless slaves, mere fodder minions for the creature that guards the item I seek, death is meaningless to them. They might as well be undead and in a way I think they are. They have no control over their actions, used like puppets to stop any who come here, but I will not be distracted or dissuaded from going on.

As the first few attack I lash out, left and right. The sword slashes through flesh so easily and I move quickly to avoid the next attacker. Two of them lie dead with blood mixing in the water, but there are dozens more clamouring to fight and die. I take the steps two at a time with the warriors chasing close behind. They don’t say anything; I just hear their breathing beneath their helmets. Reaching the top of the steps I turn suddenly and yell “Come on! I’ve got things to do so hurry up.”

The first man reaches me and I deflect a hasty thrust to my right with my blade turned down. Instantly I kick him in the left knee with my left foot, and he stumbles on the steps. One thrust is all it takes, the sword pierces his lung and he falls back down the stone steps. There is not a moment to rest; two more foes reach me, a man and a woman. I do not give them a chance, hacking neck and slashing gut. They die as I roar “Is this the best you have to offer? I’m Nathaniel bloody Drakkon! Kill me if you can scum!”

Another one lunges at me but I catch her coming in, grabbing her sword-arm at the wrist and flipping her over my hip as I turn. She lands with a solid thump on the plaza stone. Instinct warns me and I swing my sword around and end up decapitating the man behind me. A jet of blood squirts up into the air, coming down like rain on my hood. Like a man possessed I launch into a series of overhead downward strikes followed by cross slashes, killing the next three fools to get within distance of my blade. I shout obscenities while I kill them, letting my rage pour out as much as the blood flows. Eventually I am just making noise “Aaaaahhh! Ha, take that. Graaargh!” I lose myself in the anger and bloodletting, slaughtering them with no more effort than when a farmer harvests his crop. They die so easily, and while I break a sweat they seem incapable of wounding me. One of the last warriors swings high but I duck, hacking his leg before rising into a slash diagonally across his chest. The blood sprays hot against my face and I savour it, their blood is my war paint. Panting, I survey my gruesome handiwork; corpses litter the steps below me. I say after heavy breaths “Huff, huff, huff, can’t anyone bloody well kill me?”

I hear the sounds behind me and react, reversing my sword and stabbing backwards. The woman I had thrown down hits my back as a dead weight and I am forced to one knee before I can shrug her off. She falls sideways, sliding off my blade, and I notice she is still alive. Pulling the female warrior’s helmet away I look into her eyes, curiosity searching for some spark of comprehension, something to tell me these people fought of their own free will for a cause they believed in. Instead I see a blank look, her eyes are as dead and empty as any zombie or mindless undead. Worse even, these people are living like this, not simply raised and bound to the will of a necromancer. It was as I thought, nothing more than meat puppets for the guardian of this place. Perhaps they would even thank me for releasing them from their servitude? I wonder. No, absolution is not that easy for me, I do what must be done for the good of myself and Weissland. There is no other concern and thus no redemption for me, no way to clear my conscience for all that I must do. Weissland comes first, family and friends second, me third, and the rest of the world can burn for all that I care. The woman is clearly in pain, blood is running from her wounded stomach into the channels between each stone beneath her. Enemy or not, nobody deserves to die slowly, it had not been a deep wound as she had managed to turn away from it slightly, showing great agility even when committed to a charging attack like that. Taking a dagger from my belt I place the tip against where her heart is and push. Standing up with a sigh, I turn to look at where I am going, apart from hell obviously. It is only then that I notice the pain in my back. I lay the back of my hand against it momentarily and when I remove the hand it has blood on it. No wonder the warrior seemed to hit me with such impact; we were both wounded in the exchange. Unfortunately for my enemy, I have healing magic. Saying aloud the words to a spell, I stop the bleeding for now but do not bother trying to seal the wound completely.

The temple is impressive but I don’t worship the real gods let alone whatever ones this forgotten place is dedicated to. I keep faith in Weissland and those who serve her loyally, which is good enough for me. I doubt the gods are particularly bothered who is bowing and scraping for their adoration. The item will be in there, as will whatever protects it. “Let’s see if it puts up a better fight than its minions.”

Cruel-lipped as always the spirit appears beside me to say “I hope it squashes you like a bug mage, just like I should have done years ago.”

As I start walking I reply dryly “Shut up spirit.” Sometimes I still wonder if I am actually arguing with a spirit or whether I am insane and talking to a figment of my own twisted mind. It almost makes sense in a wrong way. I have become increasingly powerful in the use of illusionary magic, and my skill in that lore began long before I fought Lilith Albrecht. Is it not possible that in my grief and trauma over finally avenging my brother’s death, along with the other magic-users that Albrecht had killed over the years, that I created an illusion so real that even I could not see through it? A question for another time perhaps, I still have work to do here.

I walk past empty pools that had so recently contained crystal clear water; they flank me at either side. I feel like I should refill them, if only to replace the tranquillity here that I have shattered. It will have to wait until later; I must save my magic for the coming fight. It only takes a couple of minutes to reach the temple and enter. There is a large doorway but no door; everything seems to be open-plan. Inside I look at the walls and see embossed images carved from the stone. There are people and creatures dancing and cavorting, or in prayer and supplication depending on where I look. It is like the lives of all mortals summed up in a handful of pictures. After all, in the grand scheme of things, this is all we do, eat reproduce, and spend our time fighting or worshipping and fearing things we do not properly understand. Still the images give me a queasy feeling; there is something off about them. It is the creatures I think, they seem out of scale with the people, like they were carved by different artisans who were unconcerned by consistency. They have large, bulbous heads with orb-like eyes on the sides of their heads, and clawed three-fingered hands. The creatures might be reptilian, I cannot say for sure, perhaps partly amphibian. All I am sure of is that mortal eyes should not see them. That way madness lies... but I am already insane I think, or close enough. I continue onwards, gripping my sword as if it were a loved one not seen for far too long. Jessa and the others flash through my mind and I hope their memory will give me the strength necessary.

I continue on into the temple and notice two sets of stairs at either side of the hall, set against the walls with no railings, a health risk I am certain. They lead up to a balcony area which surrounds the floor below like the rim on a bowl. There are three steps down to this next part of the temple. I can see a huge metal dish on four triangular shaped legs. There is no way I could be lucky enough to find the relic just sitting around in a dish. I reach the dish but it is empty. I told you I was not that lucky. I am about to look around when I hear a voice call “Come to me supplicant. Enter the inner sanctum of the Snake Goddess.”

With no small amount of sarcasm I mutter “It’s never the bunny rabbit goddess or the friendly present-giving goddess is it? Nooooo, its snakes and bugs and lizards and debt-collectors isn’t it? I hate the world.

“It hates you too.” The spirit said angrily behind me.

I ignored her and searched for the way to this ‘inner sanctum’. Against the far wall I spy a rectangular section which looks slightly different. A hidden door perhaps? I wonder idly. I am sure hidden doors were very stylish when this place was built. Raising my free hand I speak words of power and with some effort I use a wave of magic energy to pull the door sideways, where it rumbles and grinds into the gap cut for it. No doubt there was a panel or stone to be pushed but I am too impatient right now to solve the puzzle when I can simply circumnavigate it. Who would not be impatient when they are so close to freeing themselves of a curse such as this obscenity? The spirit of your brother’s murderer bound to you unnaturally and against your will. It is not something I would wish on any mortal enemy.

I walk through the doorway and find myself in a very large yet square room with an enormously high ceiling. There are six round columns of stone spaced evenly around the room. In the centre is another of the large metal dishes, this one is filled with some sort of liquid. It is not water, and thankfully not blood, but I cannot readily identify it. Somehow I do not think I will taste it just to find out, I am not that curious. There is a throne at the other side of the room, seemingly unoccupied, and on a plinth before it is the magical relic I seek, a dagger resting on two pieces of metal shaped like the letter Y. I can see no guardian and that worries me. I call out to the silence “Surely deities don’t hide from the likes of me?”

I catch movement near the ceiling and a lithe shape drops slowly to the ground. I ready my sword in response. The creature lands on both feet and stands between me and the plinth. She, if such a word can accurately describe a being which is clearly not human, elf or mortal in any way, speaks calmly “There are no deities here mortal. I am the priestess of the Snake Goddess and you will kneel before the serpentine mistress.”

“My first inkling would be no.” I growl with little pretence of civility. I have said it so many times before but no true Weisslander will kneel to a tyrant. In my opinion that includes gods and their preachers.

The snake-skinned woman with the white loincloth and golden blouse and cloak threw her head back and laughed maniacally. She had a head like that of a cobra. She cackled “I could make you do this.”

I took a bold step forward and replied “I could make you a bloodstain. You’ll have to try harder. Now I’m taking the Salamander Dagger, you can step aside or die.”

The woman smiled, revealing fangs’ dripping with what I imagined was venom. She whispered “That will not be so easy; I am more than a match for you.”

I admit I did not take that threat seriously, which may have been a mistake on my part. After hearing the gloating and boasting of very powerful demons, necromancers, orc brutes, assassins and warlords, it seems a bit hollow to my ears. I reply with typical dryness “So many have claimed. They are dead and I’m still standing.”

“Tell me, why do you want the dagger, filthy little man-thing?” The priestess asks.

Jokingly I say “Hey, I might be filthy and little but I’m not... wait, never mind. I want the dagger because it’ll go with the snakeskin boots I’m thinking of making.” A slight twitch of my sword gives emphasis to my veiled threat.

The snake hisses back “You want it for the dark ritual. You want to banish a spirit.”

Snarling like a wolf I respond “What would you know about it monster? I’m rapidly changing my mind about letting you live, so hand it over now! Anyway, I’m bigger than you.” At my full height I tower over most humans, even some elves, and also this priestess.”

“Oh really?” She says faintly amused. And then she begins to grow in stature, limbs thickening with corded muscle.

Standing before me now is a true monster of a foe, close to nine feet in height and wide enough to change a skinny priestess into a behemoth of physical power. Looking up at her face which is now only a few inches away due to her moving around the metal dish my only reply is a sardonic “Well, bugger.”

She opens her mouth wide and screams, releasing a shockwave of magic which sends me crashing across the room into the wall with a whack. I stagger up in time to dive to the right, avoiding her claws as they dig into the stone where my head had been. She says “Stay still and it will all be over soon.”

I keep the nearest column between us as I remark “That doesn’t sound like something I’m going to do.” A few words of magic and I have raised defences around myself. With barriers and wards in place I prepare to fight on my terms instead of letting my enemy dictate the pace. I moved quickly out from the column and struck out with my sword held two-handed but it was deflected by the serpent-creature’s claws. It even created sparks which made me grimace in annoyance. I tried again but this strike went wide as the priestess twisted out of the way and hit me with the heel of a palm to the chest. The power hammered me down and across the floor as if I was a feather rather than a bulky and tall mage.

While I was lying on the ground I tried to regain my composure and wits. Looking up I saw a shadow and instinctively I rolled to my side as a foot slammed down where my head had been, making a slapping noise on the stone. Ignoring my sword and letting it go, I surged up to my feet and grabbed the snake priestess with my hands by the waist and her extended leg at her lower thigh. I lifted the much larger creature as high as I could, which was not high I admit as apparently shape changing snake girls weigh quite a lot, before smashing her down spine first to the temple floor. I was just picking up my sword when she kicked out, landing a hefty blow across my side and back. Once more I rattled to the ground and rolled, roaring in agony as my back wound was torn open again.

On hands and knees I crawl away behind the metal dish, trying to put some distance between us. I can feel the blood seeping out of the wound and making my clothes stick to me. Soon it will soak through my shirt and the robe I wear over it and my opponent will see it. With her snake heritage I realise dejectedly that she can already smell it, so concealment means nothing in this case. I hear her hiss “Do not hide; it will do you no good.”

Dryly I remark “We’ll have to see about that.” Sometimes I just cannot keep my mouth shut. It is getting to be something of a dangerous habit and will likely hasten my death one day. But today I rather think not. I move into a crouching position behind the metal dish.

A blur of motion is what I see as the creature leaps face first over the dish at me, hands outstretched to tear me apart. Personally I do not like the sound of that. Using my hands to steady myself on the floor I kick up and back hard, catching her in the jaw with my boot. I roll sideways as she crashes down on the bowl, knocking it over and spilling its contents across the floor amidst screams of anger and pain. Probably embarrassment too, I have after all just shown her up in her goddess’ holy house.

A particularly wicked thought crosses my mind and I speak the words to an elemental spell as I rise to my feet. With hands out I launch lightning from my fingertips at the priestess covered in the liquid. She cries out in pain and writhes trying to escape as the conducted electricity courses through her body and over her wet skin. Finally clear of the water or whatever it is, the priestess grips a stone column and rapidly climbs it, escaping my magical attack. The lightning trails off like a forked tongue, an ironic little twist as I stop the spell. Often when using lightning emanating from my hands I have to resist the urge to laugh like a villain, it might hurt my image. Wasting no time I reclaim my fallen sword and wait for the next strike. I am losing blood fast now and I wonder how long I can keep this up. I knew this would be a challenge, but not this much of one.

I take cautious steps towards the scattered dish while keeping an eye above. The creature is hiding up there somewhere, possibly waiting me out due to my injury. I hear the hiss of escaping breath and twist with experienced movements. The priestess drops down at me from behind as my sword slashes around and cuts across her stomach. The move sends both of us to the floor, me from twisting and falling back to avoid her claws and her from the wound in mid-air to stop a safe landing. We lie there for a few moments across from each other, our breathing shallow, and I see fear in her eyes. It is a strange thing, something I did not expect. It seems that my sword the Forsaken Path has saved me again.

She gasps “I’m dying. I’ve lived so long, killed by a mortal. I’m scared of what is next. I never believed I would see what lies beyond the boundaries of the mortal plane.”

I whisper with an almost retrospective tone “For life to have meaning it has to end, that is why necromancy is unnatural and wrong as it is a perversion of life. Now you will join all who have gone before you, it is not something you need to fear. Even immortals are not invincible; they do die because that is the rightful order of things.”

Through clenched teeth she groans “Spare me... your cheap mortal philosophy... I do not... want it!” The serpentine priestess faded into silence and soon was dead.

I on the other hand was certainly alive. I could tell because of the immense pain. Dragging my body upright I staggered to a column, using it to lean against. With the words of a healing spell I stopped the blood abandoning my body, and healing the wound as best I could. The white lore, healing magic, had never been one of my strengths. For some reason I could just never properly get my head around it.

“Damn, I thought she was going to kill you!” The spirit of Lilith Albrecht suddenly said.

“No such luck” was my response as I walked over to my prize, the magical dagger resting on the plinth. Picking up the dagger I looked at the detailing. The entire hilt was fashioned like the body of a lizard, making it difficult to hold for proper combat, although as a ceremonial magic item that hardly matters. I say to no-one in particular “The Salamander Dagger, an ancient relic of people who revered lizards as divine, treating dragons as demi-gods I believe. But they had rivals in the servants of the Snake Goddess. There were many holy wars between them. In the end the evil and revolting snake worshippers defeated the slightly less evil yet equally revolting lizard worshippers and stole their little pig-sticker. Of course the wars cost them their civilisation and power as well, which is why only this guardian and her mind-bound human minions remained today.” Narrowing my eyes I sarcastically add “Oooh I could make a fortune telling religious stories to people that don’t know or care.”

I took the weapon and put it into a large pouch attached to my belt. Turning I walked back through the temple and out into the surrounding plaza once more. Finally I have claimed the Salamander Dagger; finally I have gathered the last of the four relics. I should be happier, but I am tired and I have never been a particularly happy person. Too many things have robbed me of such feelings I believe. Looking back I think about the other three relics and what it took to secure them.

First there was the Cube of Eirikon. I found it many miles south of this secluded isle. It was a metal cube the size of an apple perhaps, inscribed with runes, said to be powerful enough to contain souls, and had been created by a powerful sorcerer. The Cube was hidden within the centre of the Chaotic Labyrinth which was purported to drive mortals insane with its twisting paths. Not much of a threat to me, I am already insane.

“Yes you are.” The spirit cackled inside my mind, the sound reverberating like a hammer striking the anvil.

With contempt on my lips I growled “Damn you spirit, I’ll destroy you yet!” The centre of the labyrinth had been strange, and that was saying something of a place which seemed to defy the natural laws of gravity and scale. Distance did not work right there, and I found it easy to misjudge a step and trip or to move further than I thought possible with a single stride. But the centre was different, almost a calm surrounded by the storm of the maze. And that... well that made it more confusing and unnerving. There I found the Cube hovering in a beam of light which changed hues at the slightest whim. I thought it to be some sort of magical barrier, and in a way it probably was. Surrounding the room were four man-sized statues of marble, each one representing a different aspect of war it seemed. When the statues moved and attacked me I was shocked but managed to both survive and defeat them. When the last one was destroyed the beam of light flickered and faltered, before dispersing like mist. The Cube of Eirikon fell from where it hovered and tumbled down the steps of the raised dais in the centre of the room, stopping at my feet before I could prevent its’ fall. I thought it would be damaged, I thought the quest was over before it had even gotten half way. Luckily for me it was crafted well and bore not even a scratch.

As I walked down the steps covered in the corpses of the fallen minions I had faced and slew earlier I played over the second relic in my mind, the bone gauntlet of Phor-Lakai. As I understood the legend from the dusty tome given to me by the old elf who knows the ritual for removing the spirit, Phor-Lakai was a warlord and eventual king in some of these lands hereabouts. He was a great warrior, but something of a cruel man when it came to dealing with his enemies and even those who failed him. From the bodies of many foes he took their bones, fashioning them into the decoration and even furniture of his fastness near the lake of Forlen to the south-east of here. But for his worst enemies, he took a bone to add to his armour and weaponry, covering the chest plate in the ribs of dead men, parts of their spine added to his back plate, and femurs and scapulas and radii all mounted to the metal to create equipment as much for inspiring fear as for defence in battle. But the bone gauntlet of his left hand was slightly different, infused with magic by his court wizards to grant him the power to strike down those who fought against him with powerful energy, among other abilities. Interred with his body when he died the bone gauntlet was just the right reagent for the removing of spirits as it had blasted the spirits of men from their mortal bodies during Phor-Lakai’s reign. With a grim smile I said aloud “It was quite a welcome surprise to find his crypt swarming with undead for me to annihilate. It felt like coming home.” The undead had been easy enough to deal with; a few more would make no difference given my upbringing and career in Weissland. Undead being our most ancient and longstanding enemies I have had more than enough practice eliminating their foul kind. At the last though, I faced the guardian of the relic, a liche who provided a serious threat. Even in my long career as a mage of Weissland I had never actually faced a liche, and the evil scum almost ended my life. Unfortunately for the liche I am nothing if not remarkably difficult to kill.

Reaching the small boat which I had used to get to this accursed island I wondered about the third magical item. That had been something entirely different, a relic known as the last Romarian Crystal. It is to be the power source for the ritual. Who the Romarians were and how they crafted this magical crystal I cannot say but they protected it well. Not by armies and weapons, but by guile and wisdom. Entering a portal as instructed by the book I found myself in a cavernous space, standing upon a shard of rock which floated in the cavern by use of magic. Walking from one chunk of floating rock to the next I arrived at a vaster platform of rock. Amidst black chains which were bolted to the ground yet hung up taut into the air attached to nothing at all, I walked to the creature which sat there alone and waiting. What the creature was I do not know, very little of my adventure to capture the third relic was understandable even to me. In my foolishness I thought to kill it and claim my prize, drawing my sword. The creature rasped “I warn you mortal, that will not work here.”

I ignored it and struck, but found the blade slammed into some sort of magical barrier and flew way; landing embedded in the rock several metres away. I exclaimed “Your magic might protect you from my sword, but I have magic of my own creature!” Raising my hands I found nought but harmless sparks of magic and words which should have torn flesh asunder and yet echoed hollowly around the cavern.

The creature continued “The wards in this place are ancient and beyond the ability of any on this plane or any other to break. No harm can occur here, you will not be able to kill me, and no harm can come to you either. In this place all will know the tranquillity of immortality and peaceful co-existence. Come Nathaniel Drakkon of the Weissland, sit a while and I will present the puzzles and riddles to you. Pass the tests and the last Romarian Crystal is yours.”

Cautiously I asked as I sat down and crossed my legs “Has anyone ever completed these tests?”

“Yes,” the creature smiled “but whenever someone uses the four relics to perform the ritual and banish a spirit, the items are transported back to their rightful place. Unless of course a searcher was to use another ritual to destroy the relics and that has never happened in centuries beyond count.” Nodding I asked for the creature to begin the tests. Thankfully I completed them all or I would have had no way to get the item.

Pushing the boat out into the water and jumping in, I start rowing to make my way back to the mainland. With all four relics I must return to the home of the old elf so we may begin the ritual. The elf was strange as well. He was not a dark elf or high elf as I would understand the terms in Weissland. Admittedly there are elves in other parts of the world that do not share ancestry with the elves of Weissland but I have not encountered many, at least not on the scale of Ciruenalysai or Draleth back home. It makes me think about the wood elves, I do not know what they are like either, beyond mistrustful and secretive. To think, a whole society of elves in the heart of my homeland and I know next to nothing about them.

The old elf had introduced himself as “Erithon Inyon Edovahor, a purveyor of ancient and esoteric knowledge, a seeker of rare and exotic books, and quite a fine cook if I do say so myself.” Given the dusty broken down cottage he lives in I am slightly sceptical about Erithon’s cooking skills with such meagre cooking implements or even ingredients, everything was so basic. But that is hardly the point and there are more pressing matters to deal with now.

Once I gained the shore I clambered out of the boat and retrieved my belongings, my oak staff, musette bag, backpack, and most important of all, my long sword the Forsaken Path. Preparing my power I focussed on the old cottage on the edge of the river and the forest, sited on lay lines. Speaking the words magic covered me like a shroud and I vanished. The teleportation spell shunted my body to a spot twenty yards outside of the cottage along the dirt road which led to it. I walked calmly to the door of the cottage, noticing the flaking brown paint on it. Quietly and in a solemn mood I tapped on the door with my staff.

Erithon opened the door after a couple of minutes of calling “Hold on, hold on.” The old elf, with stringy grey hair and wrinkled skin smirked “Well, well, well, so you’ve returned have you boy? Didn’t think you would, but come in.” He shuffled back inside and I followed, closing the door behind me.

As my eyes adjusted to the dim light in the cottage I said “Yes I have returned. I said I would did I not? It is very unwise to doubt Nathaniel Drakkon when he tells you he will do something.”

“Hrumph,” Erithon scoffed “oh big hero can do everything, blah! Did you get the four relics at least? Certainly you were capable of that human if you made it back here.”

Not liking his insolent tone I barked in response “Of course I did elf! Can we get on with it?”

“Yes, place the items on the altar there.” The elf said while pottering about looking for potions and powders and the other tools of his trade.

I did as instructed while Erithon sat down on a chair to read from the large book set out there. I should probably mention something I have learned about all of this. It did not really fall into place until I got the third artefact, but I had my suspicions. The bone gauntlet was protected by undead. Clearly that is not something which should exist or be within the reach of anyone. The unsettling runes on the Cube of Eirikon as well, they draw the eye as if they have a hold over you and not in a nice way. It is a feeling I have not personally had since reading the journals of the cursed Vanel Rathalie, that traitorous necromancer. What should I have expected of something capable of containing souls but I was desperate and determined a bad combination at the best of times. The spirit is dragging me down. The creature though, confirmed everything, a dark ritual which would damn my soul in exchange for removing the burden of that blasted spirit. I never finished these thoughts until now, and with considerable will kept the threads of knowledge from the spirit. I spoke harshly “You never told me the extent of the ritual elf, the cost involved. I’m not sure I would have gone to this trouble knowing what I know now. I even learned about a ritual to destroy the relics. It leaves me rather conflicted.” I need to distract him; he knows evil magic and should not be taken lightly despite his decrepit appearance.

Erithon replied without looking up from the book “What will you do then? Perform the ritual or not? Or will you destroy the relics and waste your chance for freedom, as well as doom anyone else who ever finds themselves in your fairly unique situation?”

I had already put my bags and staff down at the door. Carefully I drew my sword, noticing the red shimmer across the steel before it disappeared, the effect of the many runes covering its surface, some designed to seek out magic. I said contemplatively “Well I could complete the ritual but then I can never return home. I could simply leave it, continue on my way.” I added with a dark tone “Really though I’m planning on killing you and using the other ritual to destroy them.”

The old elf tried to turn and put one hand on the back of the chair, attempting to move it out of the way while yelling “You bastard!” Before he could move further I stabbed him in the chest and pulled the sword out. He was spun back to land both back in his seat by virtue of his legs giving out, and slumped over the desk and book he had been reading. Erithon was still alive; I had made sure he would bleed a while before dying as I wanted him to hear me talk.

My deadpan response filled the cottage “Yes, that’s what they usually say.” Turning away I picked up a cloth to clean my blade while saying mockingly “I don’t know why I expect you vile purveyors of evil magic and dark rituals to be more original. I suppose if I have a failing it’s that I expect too much from people.” I looked back but Erithon was already dead, his tongue hanging out of his mouth and his eyes glassy. Dryly I added “You died in the middle of my monologue, how very inconsiderate of you. I had a whole section prepared on telling right from wrong.”


Dumping the old elf’s corpse unceremoniously aside I flicked through the pages of the book to find the correct ritual, the right ritual, the one which would destroy the items forever and prevent anyone from ever using the ritual for its original purpose, stealing the souls of others. When I had finished the ritual I calmly picked up my possessions, as well as replenishing them with some of the more neutral potions Erithon had owned. Leaving the cottage I stood outside and cast a spell, watching as the cottage burst into flames. Even now I can hear the spirit of Lilith Albrecht, who murdered my own brother and other magic-users, laughing at me. I have given up another chance to banish her and free myself of torment and madness. You can have your little victory today murderer, I think grimly, but tomorrow is another day and there will be more opportunities for me to destroy you. Mark my words this is not over.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Scenes 2 - Fury

Here is the second of the first person perspective stories I've been writing recently. The third one is close to being finished but probably not this week. This one is longer than the first one and is set more in the middle of Nathaniel Drakkon's career as a mage of Weissland, while the first was nearer to the beginning of his career. Enjoy and comments are very welcome if anyone is reading.


I have been kneeling here for half an hour. The woods, trees, bushes, around me, you know it just like I do. It is no different here to the rest of Weissland. They are waiting for me to give the signal. The camp I am watching is full of bandits. The bandits are wearing Weissland Army uniforms and it makes me sick to my stomach. Scum using stolen livery to prey on the unsuspecting. And me, a mage called Drakkon, waiting to prey on these bastards. I told the soldiers under my command, no survivors, none at all. I wonder if that is too harsh. But at least this way I am doing my bit to ease the burden on the prisons. Quite the pragmatist I have become. It is time to rain down righteous fury on the lawless. I move my hand, a simple thing which is replicated by officers in the gloom around me. One hand movement and I have beckoned death to descend on the woods. I can already feel the icy grip reaching out to choose amongst those assembled, them and us, it matters not a jot to impartial and implacable death. Bows are raised, strings pulled taut and released.

There are screams as metal and wood pierces flesh. I savour the seconds, as I draw my arming sword, plain and unadorned, and heft my obsidian staff. I am running, picking up speed, and I see terrified and confused faces rushing to meet my fury. I wear the black robes I usually do; my men wear armour covered by black tabards and heavy brown cloaks. We move to slaughter men in Weissland blue, and it feels wrong and right in equal measure. My men swarm into the camp from their cover, and the sounds of battle swim in my ears. I can hear the bellows, the shouts, steel clashing, cracking against wooden shields, and the sick meaty thumps as flesh shreds and bone grinds. My only words are “The fury of Weissland falls upon you! No respite and no quarter.”

I pull my sword up to block the first strike of an enemy, a flash of anger in the man’s eyes. Blocking once more I bring my staff around as my body twists and I feel it connect with his face. He staggers but even as he attacks again I am going into a crouch as I turn, my leg sweeps around at shin height, and gravity takes its toll on the bandit. With a grunt of satisfaction I rise facing him once again, before impaling his chest momentarily to the soft soil of the ground with my arming sword. I mutter “True Weissland steel indeed.” Moving on, only seconds have gone by, and the battle still hangs in the balance.

I can see one of my men, Kevin Darvas by his mighty stature and mane of pitch black hair, punching bandits so hard they react like they have burst like ripe fruit under a hammer. If Darvas had fought in the Crint brawls of my brother and my youths I would have a hell of a lot more scars than I do. His sword finishes them mercifully, he realises there is no time for sport. I must keep my hand in and do my fair share. Summoning a measure of my power I voice words of an ancient and revered kind. A dark nimbus of blue and red energy coruscates around the tip of my staff, the dragon wings and sword headpiece mirror the sheen from the magic. Death leaps out violently as I make three bandits melt into slops of skin and fluids. If I am judged too cruel and sadistic by those who come later, I would ask for calm, reserved objectiveness. For me the mage is a confusing duality, the contemplative mind fused with the raw ferocity of emotion and imagination without confinement. A fireball is just a source of light and heat until it is directed with will and purpose, at which point it becomes a deadly weapon with potentially horrendous effects. The same can be said of any weapon, for I deem a sword just shaped metal until lifted in hands willing to stab and thrust and slash and carve. I am the weapon, I am the mage, both instrument and wielder combined, and my conscience all that allows me to be balanced in such an equation.

We are the authority. They are the criminal. Their punishment is decreed by higher men than I; we must carry it out and not shirk from our grisly duty. Does the butcher weep for the animals that feed the people? Do the gods weep for the people crushed by rockslide or drowned by flood? Most likely not is my glib response. Then do not judge Nathaniel Drakkon harshly for wearing the executioner’s hood.

Two more bandits leap at me like they are desperate to die. It only takes one to get lucky but my gut tells me these simpletons will not be the ones to kill me. One is a woman who seems too young to be a murderous bandit, and she wields a double-headed axe in both hands. At one time the thought of her age would give me pause, but eleven years of fighting Weissland’s enemies has left me at times, remarkably indifferent when someone is swinging a weapon at my head. Sidestep, back-hand slash, return swipe at the neck, and it is all over but for the body falling down. I turn my gaze to the man, long dreadlocks frame a lean face with sullen eyes, and he bears the years of experience that mark my own countenance. The old but well-kept sword and round shield give me an inkling that he is not to be underestimated. I rarely make that mistake, and despite the levity I might display in dire circumstance, I always take a fight seriously. The witty banter, insults, and one-liners simply help my foes along the path of underestimation themselves, taking me for an arrogant, brash, and unconcerned combatant. I provide the challenger with an example by saying with mock regret “Sorry, she wasn’t your sister was she?”

The seasoned bandit takes it in stride, a pleasant surprise. He rumbles with a deep yet smooth voice that has a hint of menace like a shard of glass wrapped in silk “Just another sword-arm, another hand waiting for a cut of the loot. Nobody to bother about, just like you when I end you.”

“Not the most loyal bunch are you? Although I suppose it helps cut down on the number of friends coming begging for help. I never have a moment’s peace.” I play it just a little irreverent, snidely putting him down. Come on, take the bait, and make a rash move. I almost will him to attack but he is having none of it.

The bandit circles right, and in response I move left. He says “Oh, my heart bleeds for you. It’s really annoying when friends only keep you around for what you can do for them. But I suppose they wouldn’t keep you around for your personality.”

The cheek, I actually feel slighted, I sarcastically think. I’m bloody good company. I almost feel like keeping him alive for the sharp badinage, but I said no survivors and it is not fair on the troops if I do not follow my own orders. With a wry smile I take the initiative, swinging from the shoulder in a powerful attack. I keep my staff back to act like a shield and force the bandit back with a series of slashes. He is quick on his feet, dodging and fending off the strokes which get too close for comfort. We are just getting into the flow of the duel when I am taken by surprise. The bandit is suspended with equal shock on his face, and then slumps down dead. The woman who pulls her spear from his back gives me a brief nod before searching for more bandits to skewer. I remember her name is Silvia Baker. I must talk to her about the concept of fighting fair... and congratulate her for ignoring it completely.

I move on, noticing that the ranks of the bandits are thinning rapidly. If I want to make a good showing of myself I better get a move on. I jog forward towards the interior of the camp; the bandit leaders will be here I am sure. Some of their guards charge at me, weapons brandished. One of the bandits shouts at me “Die!”

I reply casually “I think not worm,” before stabbing him rather brutally in the gut. As I withdraw my sword he spills forward to the ground, in rather more ways than one. “I’ll not be undone by the likes of you.” I begin to muse that if you are going to threaten to kill someone you should put a bit of bloody effort into it, have some flair. Do not just say die, it is so mundane. I favour something like ‘prepare to die!’ or some sort of witty putdown. Obviously if you are short of time you do not need to say anything, the grim silent approach works for some people. I just think if you do say something you should not waste the opportunity to be memorable. You never hear minstrels and maidens singing of the great hero who boldly declared “die!” with a grimace on his face that just makes him look constipated, that would just be ridiculous.

The next few bandits fare no better against my fury. I crack the ribs of one bandit with my staff while exchanging sword blows with a second. They rush me again but I am more than ready. Speaking words of power I blind them momentarily with a flash of light. I take my time as they lurch about with arms outstretched groping for some sense of location. I thrust my blade into the chest of one bandit before slicing the other’s throat. It seems that a few others have been caught by my spell so I move on and leave them to the troops. I want the leaders; I want to execute them personally. There are three leaders that our intelligence has revealed, two men and one woman. They are a brother and sister, and a cousin, one happy criminal family. Sometimes I despise people for having a happy family when mine was shattered. That is wrong but I just cannot help it. At the very least I do not harbour such resentments for people unless they do not deserve happiness. Criminals, traitors, and necromancers, why should those bastards have family when I have lost mine?

I see the large tent ahead of me. Two bandit guards move to intercept me but a few words and a wave of my staff pounds them into the ground like so much ooze. I am not in the mood to be delayed by fodder. I leave my staff outside. I enter the tent and one of them lunges at me. I grab her arm and twist, putting her arm behind her back and pulling it up until she yelps in pain. Casually with just that one-handed grip I push her to the ground some distance away. As an afterthought I say “Do not try my patience bandit, it is not infinite. I’m going to offer the three of you a chance to talk. Rest assured if I wanted you dead I would have burnt you to ash already.”

One of the men, the oldest, the cousin, said “Talk about what?”

I sat down in a seat, very unconcerned about any threat they represented, and rested my sword against my leg. With a wry smile I replied “Good to see one of you has some brains.”

The brother pulled a throwing dagger and sneered “You don’t mage!” Because I really did not see that coming. I can see his muscles tensing, the flick of the wrist, and the dagger flying with deadly accuracy.

I say a few things they do not understand and the dagger stops in mid-air about an inch from my face. I display no sign of worry to them. Internally I know that was a risk, but a calculated one. A moment later and that spell would not have saved me in time. My card-playing face is firmly fixed. They show their shock as I pick the dagger out of the air and place it on a table. They might as well have shown me all of their cards at this point of the game. I say calmly “Perhaps you should use your brains young man; you knew I was a mage. Now sit and we will talk.”

“Ok” he relents, sitting down as his sister pulls herself up into another seat. He adds “What do you want then?”

I want lots of things. Specifically I want answers and they better provide them. After all, torture can be so messy. Like a lion circling its’ prey I say “I want to talk about names... and rewards.”

The woman wrinkles her nose in annoyance. It would almost be charming if she was not a thief and a killer of innocents. She barks at me “Speak plainly! I don’t have time for games.”

Slyly I speak again “Do not ask a mage for a straight answer, you will not like it. We deal in things which would shatter your mind.” A little drama never hurt and they will never know if I am exaggerating. I will let you decide for yourselves if I am or not. Still there is no time to prolong this further. I continue “You are guilty of many crimes against Weissland and her people. I am giving you a chance to atone, a rare gift which will not last forever. Do you want it?”

The cousin asked cautiously “What do we have to do and what do we really get out of it?”

“The uniforms you have come from the black market. I want to know who sold them to you. Give me the name and you walk free. No arrest, no prison. Your men are dead but you three could live to see another day.”

The brother bandit scoffs “What assurances do we have?”

I reply “My word is worth a great deal. What I have said is what will happen. Give me the name.”

They look at each other, silently conversing on what to do. Finally the cousin says “We bought them from a man called Garren Folge. I don’t know how he got them but that’s who we paid for them.”

Standing I said “Thank you. Come with me so my men won’t attack you.” I walk outside without giving them a chance to attack me. Outside my soldiers are waiting, checking the dead and other after battle tasks.

One of the sergeants, Tevis, asks “Do you want them arrested sir?” His accent is thick like mine, and I find it refreshing to be serving with another Crint native.

I raise a hand and say “No sergeant, we will not be taking these three into custody.”

The sister adds “Yes, back off, we’ve made a deal.”

Looking up I smile slightly. Turning to face her I speak with a hint of fake civility “Oh look, the sun’s coming up. You’ve lived to see another day.” Before they respond my hand is in the air and words of magic are pouring from my lips. Lightning strikes down from the clear sky to hit the bandits.

The brother snarls as he is electrocuted “You lied you bastard. You said we could go!”

I prolong their deaths long enough to explain with wicked irony “Actually I did exactly what I said. I said you would walk free, but not how far. I said no arrest, no prison, but I never mentioned no execution. I told you the three of you would live to see another day; now you have I can execute you for your crimes without any guilt on my conscience. Well maybe a little guilt for the deception.” They died shortly after I finished speaking. That should provide ample lesson to enemies of Weissland who cross my path, there is no escaping my retribution. After sheathing my sword I help the troops clear up the mess as well as do what I can to heal our wounded. For now they will be moving on and out of my command. Once more I go back to my solitary wanderings but there is still a mission for me with these bandits.


It takes me a week to find my way to this small cottage, a week of broken bones, bloody knuckles, and brutal interrogations. Silently I slip inside and sit down in a chair by the fire place. I start the fire up and listen to it crackle and hiss while I wait. In the dark I think about what I am about to do, quietly questioning my actions. The answers satisfy me so I will not leave. Using my magic to reach out I know three people are sleeping upstairs. I am waiting for the fourth to return. It takes a while but eventually the door opens and a man in plain clothes with a shaven head enters, closing it behind him. My chair is facing away from him and the high back conceals me. I do not care about hiding though. Ominously I say “Welcome home David.”

He starts like a frightened animal “W-who’s there? What’re you doin’ in my home?”

I stand slowly and face him. Calmly I say “My name is Nathaniel Drakkon, a mage of Weissland. And you know why I am here, be thankful I did not pass this on to the Seekers.” I love seeing the reaction the mention of their name provokes in the guilty. David does not disappoint, he is visibly afraid. I continue “David Harrington, you are a traitor to Weissland for the crime of selling uniforms and armour illegally to the black market.”

David growled “What the hell are you talking about? I’m no traitor!”

I can see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice, he does not believe that any more than I do. The evidence is clear. I reply “Don’t be so loud, it’s far too late for such noise. I have the evidence, the documents that show the equipment went missing in your possession. You were a fool to think I would not find it.”

David was indignant “You can’t prove anything. And if I deal with you now nobody else will find out.”

I smiled humourlessly “First, you’re an idiot to think you can kill me. Secondly, I did tell people what I was doing and where you live. Thirdly, kill me and you won’t find out what happened to your lovely wife and children...” It is a cruel thing to say but I want him to suffer mentally if only for a moment.

“You bastard what have you done?” He starts forward but my sword pointed at him soon makes him stop.

I let him off the hook as I say “Nothing, except give you a taste of the fear you have put people through. The armour and livery you sold found its way into the possession of bandits. Those bandits used it to attack innocent people unawares, stealing their belongings, killing some of them even. People have lost their families because of your greed and treachery.”

David seemed shocked “I, I never thought. I just needed money for my family, times were tough. And, and then these thugs tried to get several men at the armoury to lose a few shipments. Nobody told anyone about it for fear of the city watch or the Seekers coming down on us all. I suppose I was the only one desperate to give in though.” He gave up any thoughts of conflict and said “What happens now?”

I give him the truth “The penalty for these crimes is death. I cannot let you go, nor can you go to prison, they would simply execute you anyway. If it makes you more comfortable I’ll make it as quick and painless as possible.”

David responded “Not really, no.”

I repeated “Not really, no. Still I’ll make sure nothing happens to your family.”

“You will?” He asked.

Honestly I answered “Yes I will.” He nodded slowly but firmly. Quietly I raised the sword again and gripped his shoulder. One sharp push and I impaled his heart. It was over quickly. I left the parchment on the table. It was his death warrant, which was signed by myself and bore the seal of the mages and of Weissland. All official, all taken care of, and now that I am done I feel no more fury. All I feel now is disillusionment, not in my duties, just in a world which creates these situations.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Scenes 1 - Horror

Well, previously I mentioned that I was working on new stories to post and this is one of them. It is not the story I hoped I would finish which involves the character of Mordain who was created on The White Counsil by Chadden, I still have a lot of work to do on that one. But I had finished this some time ago and was planning to post it when I finished the third 'scene'. This story, while very short, marks my first attempt at using 1st Person perspective rather than 3rd Person omniscient. It was actually quite a challenge to not write things which Nathaniel did not or could not know or feel. Anyway, enough rambling by me, here is the story and I'll post Scene 2 - Fury in a day or two.

1 - Horror

I smell blood. It is faint but there is a lot of it somewhere. After years of fighting in battles, cutting my way through skirmishes, I can recognise blood. It is something I cannot forget, the smell grows until there is no denying it. The fact that I recognise blood so readily fills me with a feeling of vague disillusionment, like I am tainted by having such experience. I wonder at times why it is always me. Why do I always have to find the bodies? Why do I always have to stop whatever is behind the slaughter? Obviously I do not really feel obliged to stop doing what I do; the questions are more to take my mind off what is happening. I suppose it is like if I complain about it I will not have to deal with the idea that I am not afraid of dying, that I do not really care enough about myself to worry about when my enemies get in that lucky shot.

I turn the corner into another empty corridor, the dank stone of the basement surrounding me. My name is Nathaniel Drakkon, I am a mage of Weissland, a weapon against my people’s enemies, and I smell blood. It gets stronger as I get closer, this is the right way. Or the wrong way depending on your perspective I imagine. Up ahead I can see light coming from a doorway at the end of the hall. One deep breath and I start walking towards the source.

The basement of the manse, it is more expansive than I thought, and now I feel foolish for not looking at the floor plans closer. The battle is winding down outside or I would not be down here. A leader not leading his troops is not my idea of doing a good job. They begged us to help them, they pleaded with us so we would defend them. Foolish bastards, meddling with things they did not understand and I have had to put the lives of my men on the line to save them. You do not stir up evil and expect it not to come calling. And even worse than that they had conveniently forgot about the tunnels that led into the basement of the manse. I saw it immediately when I found out. Nathaniel Drakkon, too smart for my own good. I seized on the idea and ran with it. Patrol the tunnels I said, make sure the enemy has not found them. A more cautious and careful man would have sealed the way up from the basement, headstrong as ever I sent men down into this. I sent them down into this warren of tunnels? Idiot or madman, I cannot decide what I am. There is that saying, fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Now I am down here. One of the patrols did not return. Thankfully things died down, the enemy were scattered and troops went after them. That is where I want to be, leading from the front. Instead, I am cleaning up my mess. I told McKay to barricade the stairs down to the basement behind me. If things go wrong I know nothing is getting into the house, I leave by the tunnels or not at all. McKay and his men are good at their jobs, well-trained. They know what they are doing unlike me. “Oh that’s right Nathaniel, just keep pitying yourself, I’m sure that will solve everything.” I say sarcastically to myself. It is only after I speak that I think silence would be a better choice.

The smell of blood is strong as I walk to the doorway. Other smells make me gag, but I fight the urge and avoid making any more noise. I can hear sounds now. No hesitation, I move into the room beyond. The room is large with tunnels branching off of it. Here it is that I find the patrol... or what is left of them. Blood is smeared across the floor and walls, and I see bloody handprints where desperate men scrabbled for escape. There are body parts, dimly recognisable for what they are, strewn around like a child might discard its toys. And sitting amongst this charnel scene, corpulent mounds of flesh stained with grease and blood, is the ghoul. With beady black eyes of obsidian it regards me as its’ next meal, while gnawing at a femur. Lank and matted hair hangs from the foul monster’s scalp haphazardly, and the thing is covered head to toe in substances I would rather not imagine let alone see with my own eyes. I hear it utter mangled words “More food... for me is it? Sooo... hungggrry!”

As if I cannot stop myself I growl “You won’t like the taste of me!” It sounded more intimidating in my head.

The fat creature scoffs “Hur-hur, all food is good taste for meeee! Chewy meat, succulent blood and juices I squeeze from the bodies... and the brittle bones I do love to gnaw!”

I snarl, the movement of my body adding to the anger I convey, the hood of my robes flapping down to reveal my contorted face. With a shout I declare “This is your last meal monster, prepare to die!” This is it, blood, death, and justice. It is do or die. I die or my enemy does, nothing else exists. I do not care, with absolute certainty and clarity, I know that is true. I draw my sword in a movement so fast but I feel like I am agonisingly slow. And then I lunge forward to strike. There is nothing else, just the moment, just the scene.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Undeath and Glory

This story continues on from where the previous one, Will I Live Forever?, leaves off. It is also the last completed story I have to post, but I'm still bashing away at further stories and will hopefully have something brand new to post in the not too distant future. I also want to mention that the fight scenes in this story were probably amongst my favourite to write.

Undeath and Glory

The shouts and cries rang through the streets of the town of Durender, mixed with the clang of steel and the twang of bowstrings. Nathaniel Drakkon ran from the healer’s building towards the barricades. Seeing a gap in the second barricade he hopped over it nimbly and moved towards the front line.

Several zombies were trying to clamber over the barricade to create a beachhead. Nathaniel raised his arming sword and deftly lopped off the head of the nearest zombie as it leant over the top of the waist-height barricade. Nathaniel said to the men nearby “Hold them, don’t give them an inch.” Another zombie loomed up at him, arm grasping at him instinctively, and a hollow look in its milky eyes. Nathaniel reared back and slashed at the thing which had once been a man. The sword cut the zombie’s chest and shoulder, making it stumble backwards, but failing to kill. Zombies, like most undead were not skilled opponents but were resilient to damage, feeling no pain and thus they were difficult to destroy. Cut off an arm, and they would shamble on regardless. The real targets were the head, the neck, and the heart. That was how many undead needed to be destroyed.

The zombie attacked again, emitting a low mournful groan. Nathaniel had wondered once or twice if zombies and skeletons and other lowly forms of undead remembered their past life. He had wondered if on some instinctive level they realised what they were doing was wrong, even if they could not resist their necromantic masters’ will. Suffice it to say when he faced his first zombie years ago he had quickly put such notions aside and hacked the foul-smelling thing to pieces. As the mage raised his weapon to ward off the zombie one of the militia brought a wood axe down on the creature’s head, splitting it like a melon. Nathaniel said sidelong to the militiaman “Thanks. That was a solid hit.”

The man replied “Just like chopping wood.”

Nathaniel laughed “Ha-ha, that’s the spirit.” He thrust with his sword, plunging the steel weapon through the eye socket of the next zombie to come within reach. Destroying the brain was the best way to stop zombies; it left the necromantic energy with no way to control the body so the magic dissipated. He pulled his sword free and surveyed the scene. The first barricade was holding, although the undead had caused some damage. The barricade was sagging in several places and they had taken losses. The undead force consisted mostly of zombies with a small number of skeletons. Or at least that’s what they’ve sent at us so far, he thought. I bloody hope they don’t have anything better.

Broken from his thoughts, Nathaniel saw a part of the line on the far left which was weakening. At least two soldiers lay dead there and the militia were struggling. Hefting his sword the Weissland mage rushed to help stem the tide. As soon as he reached the faltering position he clashed blades with a skeleton, parrying before slicing the thing off at the torso. One of the militia was dragged over the barricade by several zombies. There was nothing anyone could do before the man was bit and gouged, screaming as he died. Nathaniel split the forehead of one zombie, drew back his sword and then stabbed it into another while a soldier hacked through much of its neck with his blade. The fighting was bloody and fierce as the undead tried to overwhelm the tired defenders.

The archers on the rooftops at the edge of town were doing good work. There were six soldiers armed with crossbows, and several militiamen had been given a crash course in the use of the crossbows to allow more of the more experienced soldiers to man the barricades. There were also over a score of militia armed with sturdy hunting bows. They fired into the mass of undead before the barricade, their shots finding their mark. It was not difficult to hit something in a tightly packed knot of undead, but more difficult to hit something vital. The archers did an admirable job, accounting for at least two dozen zombies and five skeletons. The undead attack had been blunted, but not broken, at least not yet.

Nathaniel stabbed his sword into a zombie’s neck, grimacing in the torchlight as he realised the zombie wore the tattered remains of armour and the livery of Weissland. He did not have the time for remorse or guilt, or even the time to check on the rest of the barricade. Nathaniel Drakkon hacked at another zombie, but it raised its arm and instead of taking its head off, his sword bit deep into the zombie’s shoulder. He slid his sword free quickly and brought it down in a heavy stroke, cleaving through the front right of its head, spilling blood, gore and brains through the wound in its skull as it slumped to the ground. Almost as one, the undead abandoned the assault, shambling and shuffling away. The troops gave a few parting wounds, felling a few of the slower zombies before turning back to wait for the next attack.

Nathaniel took a step back, produced a thick cloth from his robes and tried his best to clear the worst of the gore off of his arming sword. He called out “You know this by now people. Wounded moved to the back, burn the dead, check for weapons and ammunition, reserve, swap with the front line.”

He put the cloth on the pyre, it was too filthy to use again. The defenders moved about, doing what was required of them. A soldier caught his arm and said “Sir, we lost eleven men in that assault. I don’t think we can last until morning for the reinforcements to arrive. Should we abandon the town?”

Nathaniel was slightly taken aback. He said “What’s your name soldier?”

The young man replied “Zeis, sir.”

Nathaniel said “Zeis, you are right. We can’t hold until the morning, not if the assaults keep up this frequency. But I’ll be dead and cold before I leave this town when the battle is not over. To try and flee now with the women and children would be pointless; we’d never get far enough.”

Zeis pleaded “But sir...”

Nathaniel raised his voice, hoping to rally their flagging spirits “But nothing, we are not going to run away. This is not a last stand. The sun has not yet risen on the day that a Drakkon gives up on a fight, especially one he can win. I’m going out there.” He turned and pointed his sword in the direction of the retreating undead. Nathaniel continued “I’m going out there and I’m going to kill those two necromancers. I am going to end this for good. I want four volunteers to take a walk with me, the rest of you stay here and wait. When they are dead I’ll send a signal into the sky, one you’ll all see. Now I’m going to go pick a fight, who’s with me?” There was a cheer from many dry throats, strained by battle. But the cheer was resounding enough.

Nathaniel sheathed his sword and picked up his staff. He climbed over the barricade, took a torch from where it stood near the barricade and began to pick his way through the piles of undead. They had only been able to burn their own dead and some of the undead from each attack, there just was not enough time to clear and burn the majority of the undead. He looked back and saw his four volunteers following him, making their way from the barricade towards him. There was the militiaman with the axe, Zeis and another soldier armed with spear and shield, and another militiaman wielding a sword.

The five men gradually made their way across the mound of bodies until they reached clear ground. Nathaniel was thankful that the south edge of Durender was a flat area of hard ground; it would have been much more difficult to traverse in uneven or muddy ground. As they walked over the clear ground, using Nathaniel’s torch to light the way, he said “What are your names?”

The militiaman with the axe replied “Geoff, Geoff Carver.”

The second militiaman said “I’m Gil Tarune, a bowyer by trade.”

The second soldier spoke “Olesat Krelir, sir. Most call me Ollie.”

Nathaniel nodded “Very well gentlemen, let’s see if we can finish this.” Quietly Nathaniel spoke a few words, raising his magical defences and building a magical barrier around the others. Regardless of what happened these necromancers would struggle to kill the volunteers with magic.

Ahead, he could hear the sounds of the retreating undead. They would have to follow their enemies to find their masters. Of course it was dangerous, the necromancers would be using magic to control their horde, and if they sensed the Weisslanders approaching they would lose the element of surprise and face the full force of the undead. The thought of being clawed and ripped apart to death kept Nathaniel alert. It had also ranked amongst his worst nightmares of recent years. In his relatively short career he had fought virtually every foe imaginable, from assassins to orcs and from undead to werewolves. Well, there was only one werewolf, he thought, but one’s enough of those buggers.

The group moved on, silence clinging to them like a shroud. None dared to make any noise which could bring the undead down upon their heads, the fighting would start soon enough. Nathaniel held the torch in his left hand, and gripped his staff tightly in his right.

The undead began to head down to the lower ground, loose pebbles tumbling down the incline in their wake. Nathaniel motioned for the others to slow down. Nathaniel passed the torch to Carver before placing a finger to his lips to signal quiet to the four other men. Nathaniel crept towards the edge of the ridge. Slowly the mage knelt down to one knee and looked out over the terrain. The undead were shambling across the gravel and rubble towards an area locally known as the “three lords”. There were three standing stones in a triangular formation, ten or eleven metres apart. In the centre of the area there was a roughly slab-shaped stone buried in the ground. It rose about half a foot in height. The undead were moving towards the standing stones and Nathaniel could see why. Standing on the slab were the two necromancers, arms stretching to the heavens, a sickly green corona of energy played about the figures. It was like a miasma, a cloud of death, calling the zombies and skeletons back to their masters’ sides. It was difficult to tell in this light, but Nathaniel guessed that there were perhaps one or two hundred undead. Still, a dozen could stop his strike force if things went ill. There had to be a way to thin the undead’s numbers. There is, he thought dryly, just kill the necromancers, he intoned. But we can’t kill the necromancers because of the undead. I should have brought a catapult, but we can’t have everything. After all this isn’t some sort of over the top heroic fiction where everything conveniently falls into place.

Nathaniel turned to the others who waited nervously further back. He motioned them forward. As they reached him, Nathaniel took the torch from Carver and scrubbed it out on the stony ground. The flame would let the enemy see them more than its light would benefit their approach. The light of the late night sky was providing enough to guide them now. Nathaniel said quietly “This is it. We go down the slope and move as quickly as we can. I’ll try to clear us a path, be ready to move through. I’ll engage the necromancers; you keep the undead off my back, understood?”

Zeis said “Yes sir.” The others nodded in agreement.

Nathaniel turned and stood slowly, his sword unsheathed and held in his right hand, his staff in his left. He said “Let’s move.” The mage, clad in a black robe with a hood, strode confidently down the slope. As he reached the foot of the slope Nathaniel broke into a jog, hearing his footfalls crunch on the stony ground. When the group was about thirty feet from the standing stones and the milling undead, Nathaniel raised his obsidian staff and spoke in a hushed tone. Completing the spell a huge sheet of flame leapt up from the ground ahead of him and travelled in a line towards the undead. Dozens of zombies were incinerated instantly, becoming no more than ash. Others caught on the edge were set ablaze, swaying and flailing slowly as the foul creatures moaned and growled pitifully.

A clear path was made and as Nathaniel continued his sprint he cast another spell knocking as many of the flaming zombies into their comrades to spread the fire and chaos as much as possible. He ran through the five foot gap towards the slab and the two shocked necromancers. He could hear the four men following him. Raising his sword he slashed down a zombie in his path and leapt towards the centre. Taking up a high stance with the arming sword he charged shouting “For Weissland!”

They had managed to take the undead and their masters by complete surprise, perhaps because of the utter insanity of a small number assaulting a tireless foe superior in numbers. But it would not last; even now the zombies were beginning to shamble towards the men menacingly. One of the necromancers lashed out at Nathaniel with dark tendrils of necromantic energy. The black tendrils were tinged with a purplish glow like the colour of bruised flesh. Nathaniel’s magical shielding flashed blue with each impact, but it held firm.

Nathaniel crossed blades with the first necromancer, the arming sword, straight Weissland steel, while the necromancer held an ancient-looking sword of iron. The sounds of battle were at his back, but the mage blocked it out and focussed on his foe. Moment followed nerve-wracking moment as the two men sized each other up and prepared to fight to the death.

The necromancer spoke, his voice thick with venom “This is futile, you can’t win. The undead will succeed eventually; it is as inevitable as the rising tide or the changing of the seasons.”

Nathaniel tapped his sword lightly either side of his enemy’s weapon playfully to signal his readiness and said “Oh yes, I’m just a short-lived mayfly futilely fighting against the dying of the light. The ugly faces change but the rhetoric never differs, it’s always variations on the same theme.”

The necromancer smiled, showing stained teeth “So blasé and jaded. I was once like you. But you’ll learn.”

Nathaniel Drakkon’s face hardened, his jaw set and his eyes harsh. He said through gritted teeth “You were never like me, or you wouldn’t have become a despicable curse on all life. And your kind will never learn.” He lunged forward quickly but the necromancer was just barely able to block and the fight began in earnest.

The necromancer had the slab at his back and Nathaniel hoped to trap him there, giving the mage the upper hand. They exchanged blows, a quick flurry of slashes and blocks and parries. The necromancer had some skill with a sword, although Nathaniel hated to admit it. When the necromancer tried to make a low stab for his gut, Nathaniel turned the blade aside and down, pinning it into the dirt for a few seconds. Sharply the mage kicked the vile man in the side of the knee, which made the necromancer buckle to the gravel. Nathaniel took a step back and raised his arming sword for the killing blow. Just as he was about to strike, he saw it out of the corner of his eye. The second necromancer had hurled a ball of green flame at him, green necrotic fire. The ball of flame hit him and he staggered. A second flame ball rocked him, his defences weakening. Nathaniel thought quickly and raised his staff as the third ball of sickly green flame hurtled towards him. He spoke the words, heard them spill from his lips. The flame slowed, gradually moving less and less until it hovered inches from the tip of the staff. It hovered for only a split second and then shot back towards the second necromancer at twice the speed and growing in size. But while his counter spell was powerful, he could not control the flame’s direction. The second necromancer threw himself bodily to the ground as the green flame scorched overhead, singeing his cloak, and obliterating three zombies behind him.

Nathaniel tried to turn back to the first necromancer, the man with the purple robes and matted brown hair, but a hand gripped his shoulder. Nathaniel turned and saw the zombie grabbing hold of his shoulder and pulling him closer. In a moment of shock the mage shouted “Back!” He hacked down with his sword, cleaving the forearm from the zombie. Still the undead clambered at him. Nathaniel slashed his sword at the thing’s throat, spilling black and brackish blood from the wound. Again the zombie refused to die, so Nathaniel kicked it in the chest, dropped his staff and taking a two handed stance cut the zombie’s head from its shoulders. Taking a brief second to breathe he stepped over the fallen zombie towards where the four men where supposed to be holding them back. But then it struck him like an arrow to the heart, only Carver stood, wielding his axe. The others were dead nearby, and the militiaman swung left and right, holding as many of the zombies as he could. Nathaniel could only stand and watch as one, then another, and a third zombie got inside the man’s guard and bit into his flesh. Carver shouted out in pain “Weissland!” And then he was gone, buried beneath the mass of bodies as the zombies piled in. Nathaniel heard the man’s dying word and mentally slapped himself into action. He spoke the words of a barrier spell, and a strong wind began to whip up around him, his hood and robes rippling. Then the wind formed a huge barrier in front of the undead, surrounding the standing stones and rising twenty feet in the air. The zombies were buffeted and knocked back, prevented from reaching the last living meal they craved.

Now that he had bought himself some time, Nathaniel turned back towards the first necromancer. When he turned around, the necromancer was standing there waiting. He made a clumsy attack, but it was too high, the strike leaving him exposed. Nathaniel reacted with haste, slashing his sword across the man’s stomach, spilling his guts. As the necromancer staggered passed, his sword arm beginning to droop, Nathaniel turned his sword and stabbed backwards. The steel sword went through the necromancer’s back and pierced the man’s heart. If such men truly have hearts, Nathaniel thought as he withdrew his weapon. But then he thought about what he had done, what he had seen. The time it had taken him to turn the necromancer’s spell, fend off the zombie and raise the barrier, it was too long. Why had the first necromancer not attacked him from behind? Was he waiting for me to turn and face him again? Did he wait for me out of some sort of honour? The questions raced in the mage’s mind but he dismissed them. No, he was a necromancer; there is no honour here, only vanity. A chance to kill me clean in combat himself, so he could claim the victory himself and deny his comrade the chance to do it. That is all and nothing more.

Nathaniel Drakkon turned to face the second necromancer who was getting up. Nathaniel rubbed idly at his jaw-line, scratching his beard as he waited for his enemy. He might not believe his enemy capable of honour but he would be damned if he did not show it himself. He twirled his sword in his hand once, feeling it whistle as it cut the air. He was ready. The necromancer wore a cloak and a simple tunic, both in an off-white colour. The man was shorter than Nathaniel, with a slighter build and the mage was confident he could win the fight. What was less certain was if he could finish the necromancer before the zombies started feasting on his flesh. At least a good portion of the undead were destroyed with the loss of the first necromancer. The second necromancer charged at him brandishing a mace. Nathaniel blocked the running strike with the side of his blade and knocked the man aside, casting him to the ground. Nathaniel climbed up onto the slab and said with a smirk “Looks like I have the high ground.”

The necromancer rushed forward passed the body of his fallen comrade saying “Then I’ll take it from you.” He swung two-handed at Nathaniel’s feet but Nathaniel jumped the swipe and moved further back. The necromancer climbed up onto the slab and once more the mage waited.

As they faced off Nathaniel said “Only one of us can walk away.” The barrier was still holding. The necromancer attacked with a snarl and both men moved, each fending off blows and strikes from the other. The necromancer smashed aside Nathaniel’s sword and almost took off his head. Nathaniel was quicker though dodging backwards. He made an attack of his own but it was blocked. The necromancer gripped his sword arm at the wrist and twisted one way then the other, managing to throw the sword away to the gravel far out of reach. As he raised the mace Nathaniel grabbed the mace handle and punched the necromancer in the face. Nathaniel tossed the mace away behind him, hearing it clang as it hit the edge of the slab. Without weapons this would be settled with fists, which suited Nathaniel fine.

He raised his guard and moved forward. The necromancer did the same. A punch was aimed at him but Nathaniel blocked it with his right arm and followed through with a left jab which connected squarely. As they circled Nathaniel could feel the barrier slowly beginning to weaken. The distraction allowed the necromancer to sweep the mage’s legs out from under him and Nathaniel crashed down onto the stone painfully, jarring his back. The necromancer quickly set about him, kicking and stamping on his legs. Nathaniel shouted angrily and kicked the man in the groin. As the necromancer wheezed and spluttered Nathaniel stood up and said “One way or another you’ve killed a lot of good men and women today, time to meet a bad one.” He punched the man in the throat and stood there menacingly.

The necromancer gasped for breath and then said with some trouble “I’m not finished yet pawn. Nobody is going to survive in Durender.” He grappled with Nathaniel and got in a few lucky hits, even trying to choke the mage but Nathaniel shrugged off the worst of it. Nathaniel took a few paces away then ran at his enemy as fast as he could. He hit the man with such an impact that both fell off the slab. Unfortunately Nathaniel crashed over the necromancer and took the worst of the landing. As both men groggily got to their feet Nathaniel had the undead to his back and behind the necromancer was the slab. The man swung, but Nathaniel was ready. He grabbed the outstretched arm, twisted under it and held it taut, close to popping the man’s shoulder out of its socket. He punched the shoulder several times before letting the necromancer go. It was clear the fight was almost over so Nathaniel grabbed the man and head-butted him violently, and as the necromancer began to buckle Nathaniel pulled him back up by the tunic. With his back to the undead horde, Nathaniel knew time was running out.

Nathaniel firmly gripped the tunic of the man and punched him twice in the face before lifting his knee into his opponent’s gut, turning and throwing the necromancer to the ground behind him. Nathaniel watched the necromancer roll from the power of the throw then try to get up on hands and knees. Nathaniel took a step into it and viciously kicked the man in the side and gut, seeing him roll away and double over into a huddle of pain. The necromancer cried out in pain, between pitiful gasps of air. Yet the black-clad mage was pitiless. He walked over to his fallen sword with laboured effort. His legs and back were stiff and sore, but he bent over and picked up the sword, dragging it up from the ground and hearing the metal scrape on stone.

Nathaniel turned and headed back to the necromancer. The man was too weak to get up, too weak to die on his feet. Nathaniel could feel the wind barrier weakening, could see the zombies pressing and forcing themselves against it. Limbs were forcing their way into the barrier, rags of cloth fluttering and whipping in the gale. Nathaniel reached the necromancer, kicked him over to his back and held him with a boot firmly planted on his shoulder. As the zombies pushed further into the barrier Nathaniel held his sword downward with both hands and raised his arms high. The necromancer vainly held his hands open-palmed in defence and his eyes went wide with terror. As the first hands broke free from the barrier Nathaniel plunged the sword into the necromancer’s chest. He leant heavily on the hilt, fumbled then found the grip, and twisted the sword, making sure the job was done. The mage staggered back and watched as the zombies came through the fallen barrier and as one collapsed to the ground dead and lifeless, the power of necromancy no longer sustaining them. Taking his sword Nathaniel Drakkon walked slowly over to the slab and slumped against it. Using the last of his magical energy he raised his arm and sent a bright starburst of magic into the night sky for all nearby to see. The town of Durender was safe, but there would always be more danger, more enemies, and more mysteries to solve. Safe, he thought grimly, such hollow sentiments. Glorious battles defending the weak and innocent. He looked around him, seeing the bodies everywhere, his eyes seeming to stick to the dead forms of the four men he had led out here. There is no glory here, only death, sacrifice, loss, and vengeance, he concluded.