Saturday, 27 February 2010

Out for a Walk

This is a more recently written story, but is set in the earlier part of Nathaniel Drakkon's career. It's a bit longer than the last couple of stories but still only a short story.

Out for a Walk

It was a dark day. The sky was overcast and everything seemed dull and lifeless. Nathaniel Drakkon waited a few moments before walking back from the rise to the small group that awaited him. Nathaniel had been a mage for several years now. He had had assignments and missions before, both alone and as part of a force, but this was something slightly different, more mundane. Drakkon had been tasked with escorting a noblewoman from Ordail to Nairio. After fighting orcs and werewolves and undead it was quite a change. Still it was not without its bad points. They were about two days from Nairio and the journey from Ordail had taken a week. Normally Nathaniel would travel much quicker when he was alone. Travelling with others made this journey something of a slog, one of several things which did not sit well with Nathaniel. The noblewoman was exactly that, stuck up, self-interested, and superior. She had only given him a modicum of respect because of his name. The Drakkon family were well regarded amongst both the nobility and common people, due to their long history of military service. Nathaniel thought wistfully, I suppose the money also helps the nobility take an interest in the family. The twenty Weissland soldiers making up the escort detail got only looks of scorn, contempt, and disdain from the woman. It put Nathaniel’s back up. These soldiers deserved respect. Of course it was apparently not his place to say such things, according to his superiors back in the mystic tower of Ataya.

The name of the noblewoman they had to escort was Asiel Vorll. Why she required a military escort was beyond Nathaniel and the mage lords had not felt it important enough to tell him. Or perhaps they thought it was too important to tell me, he thought as he reached the group. Nathaniel said “It all looks clear Sergeant Marix, let’s continue on.”

The sergeant replied “As you say sir.” Marix did not talk much, it seemed like he was all business. Nathaniel respected that. It was a professional attitude and had nothing to do with being discourteous. Marix ordered the soldiers “Form up ladies and gents, time to be moving.”

Nathaniel watched as the soldiers fell in from the perimeter they had formed, or from where they had been resting. It was disciplined. There were of course a few mutters and groans, it was to be expected. Nathaniel held back a smile as he listened to one soldier, a young man by the name of Miles Gufrai, remark that it was to be expected that they were moving just as he had gotten comfortable. The mage turned to look at the enclosed carriage in the centre of the small formation. It was drawn by two large and strong horses, with one of the soldiers controlling them. The Lady Vorll was riding within.

The escort started moving towards the rise, continuing on its journey. Nathaniel knew they still had another night out here before they would reach Nairio but he wished they were closer. This would be their final stop before tonight though, there were still a good many hours of travel ahead and Drakkon wanted to make as much progress as possible. He naturally fell into step and worked his way towards the carriage. Once the black-robed mage reached the door to the carriage he spoke politely “Milady, we will be carrying on until nightfall. How do you feel milady?” The question was irreverent in its sincerity, not that anyone would notice. Nathaniel sometimes wondered if the rest of the world had entirely missed the concept of sarcasm. Asiel had found the journey to be unsettling and illness inducing. Nathaniel, as commander of the escort, had taken it upon himself to ask about her well-being and listen to her whin... to what she said.

Asiel looked out of the small window in the carriage door and said “I am as well as can be expected travelling in such conditions. I will not feel properly myself until I am safely in Nairio.” She brushed her brunette hair out of her left eye with a soft un-worked hand before asking “Will you join me Nathaniel?”

Nathaniel replied cautiously “If it pleases the lady.”

“It does.” Asiel responded as she opened the door slightly.

Nathaniel opened the door and climbed aboard in a fluid motion. He closed the door as he settled into the seat facing Asiel Vorll. She was quite beautiful, Nathaniel thought, although most noblewomen who did not have any sort of duties such as being mages or the like spent most of their time simply being pretty. Oh gods, he thought, what would Tabitha think if she knew I was thinking like this? Tabitha Sergares was a powerful mage lord in Ataya and the two of them had been maintaining a secret relationship over the last few years, ever since a bloody battle against an orc raiding force. Still, Tabitha was confounding to Nathaniel. Her moods were volatile and the relationship was not what he would call secure. He could not count the number of times it had ended and begun again. Her nickname of the ‘ice queen’ was very apt, but Nathaniel had thought she was merely hiding her true self from the world. Then Tabitha would do something to show him that she really was that damned cold. And perhaps that was what he liked most about her. Tabitha Sergares was honest, brutally so.

Asiel seemed to regard the contemplative and consternate expressions washing over his face with curiosity. She said “I’ve been meaning to ask you Nathaniel, are you married?”

Drakkon was slightly taken aback and raised an eyebrow. Slowly he answered “No, I am not married, milady.”

“Do you want to be married?” Asiel prodded rather forwardly. Nathaniel accepted such frankness from women like Jessa Aeris and Tabitha Sergares, in fact it was part of why he liked them, but from a noblewoman like Asiel Vorll it seemed almost improper. It was very hypocritical of him, but everything Nathaniel had seen of Asiel so far painted her to be the stereotypical haughty, mannered, noble who expected very particular speech. Not the sort of person to ask such blunt and impolite questions in Nathaniel’s opinion.

The mage found his mouth to be dry and his mind to be uncharacteristically blank. He stammered “I-I-I don’t think I’ve given it much thought... milady.” Really Drakkon had not, although since he was the last of his line and his parents were reaching very old age, it probably should have rated higher on his priorities. Well, Nathaniel could always make the excuse that he was busy fighting orcs and fending off undead, not to mention demons, werewolves, pirates and the other assorted scum he had faced. Some might not consider that much of an excuse, he thought sarcastically.

Asiel said “I think about getting married quite a lot. I would have thought with your family’s history and wealth that you would be married by now.”

Nathaniel replied sulkily “Isn’t this becoming rather out of the ordinary for a conversation between strangers?”

Asiel teased “Stranger than a nobleman who becomes a mage, doesn’t want to get married, and runs around with common soldiers?”

Drakkon’s mood darkened “I became a mage because I am one and Weissland depends on its military. My personal life is none of your concern, and those soldiers are protecting your life so perhaps you should show them some respect, milady.”

“Perhaps I spoke out of turn. I only wished to have a real conversation with someone instead of formalities and trivialities.” Asiel spoke with a wounded tone.

Nathaniel softened his expression and voice, although there was still the hint of an edge to his words “That is perhaps true, but the simple fact is I do not know you well enough to discuss such matters with you. I am tasked with leading your escort to Nairio, that implies formality and I would rather keep it that way.”

Sadly Asiel nodded “As you wish.”

Before either of them said anything else Nathaniel heard some noise followed by a number of screams and shouts of pain. Nathaniel started for the window saying “What the hell was that?”

The call went up outside “Ambush, ambush!” Nathaniel was not sure who was raising the alarm.

He turned back to Asiel who seemed gripped by terror. Nathaniel pulled a dagger from his belt and pushed it into the woman’s hands. He said “Here, take this. If anyone who isn’t me or one of our soldiers tries to get in here, stab them.”

“I don’t know how to use this.” Asiel wailed.

Nathaniel did not stop to coddle her. He opened the door and leapt out. The mage drew his arming sword and slammed the carriage door shut. He could make out figures in the woods and they seemed to be on both sides of the road. Arrows whistled towards the Weissland soldiers. Drakkon rushed to Sergeant Marix’ side and said “Casualties?”

Marix held his shield up and nodded “Lost five from the initial strike, they came from out of nowhere.”

Nathaniel replied “We’ve got to form a closer group, pull them out so we can hit them properly.”

“Agreed.” Marix said. He yelled “Pull back to the carriage, defensive perimeter. And start firing back dammit!”

The soldiers rushed to do as they were commanded. The few archers took a knee besides the carriage and began to fire arrows. Most missed, but Nathaniel saw two figures buck and fall with an arrow in them. Even as the swordsmen pulled in closer, Nathaniel heard a shout and figures charged out of the trees towards them. They were human but did not wear a uniform. They were bandits, lawless men and women, scavengers by any other name. Nathaniel was glad to see the Weisslanders next shots were more accurate, slaying five of the on-rushing bandits. One dropped with an arrow through his eye, while others took projectiles in the chest and were knocked backwards. Still, the rest ran on and arrows rained down again. Nathaniel could do nothing as an arrow pierced the chest of Sergeant Marix. He fell even as Nathaniel grabbed hold of him. Kneeling, Drakkon heard Marix croak “Bloody stupid place to die...” Marix was gone; the life shrank from his eyes. And one of the other soldiers, an elf, was also killed.

Nathaniel stood and roared “Hold your ground, wait for the charge. For Weissland!”

The soldiers echoed “For Weissland.” The mage could hear their hearts were not in it. He had to hold them together. The final shots before the melee were fired by both sides. Six bandits fell, two of which were bowmen on the edge of the trees. But in return three more soldiers were killed, including Miles Gufrai.

Nathaniel had seen too much. Already he had lost half of the men entrusted to his command. He was failing them. The mage held his sword out and moved to meet the enemy. He spoke words to a spell and suddenly four of the attacking bandits were smashed down to the ground, their bodies pulverised by the magic. Moments later Drakkon was amongst the others. He hacked left, cutting a woman with dirty blond hair and a scimitar down. A bearded man with twin daggers lunged at Nathaniel, but the young mage lashed out, kicking the bandit in the gut. A downward swipe removed the bandit as a threat. Two more bandits rushed at him, and Nathaniel blocked quick slashes as he took a few steps back. One of the Weissland soldiers joined him, blocking with his shield and striking back. The distraction gave Drakkon an opening, slashing open the stomach of one bandit before stepping forward and turning to put his blade firmly through the second bandit’s back. Perhaps they could drive these bandits off. He turned to the men around him and said “Hold them off while I go to reinforce the other side.”

The three nearest soldiers nodded and moved to keep fighting the remaining bandits in close combat. Nathaniel meanwhile, rushed back towards the carriage to get around the other side and help the soldiers there, carving through two more bandits in the process. As Nathaniel reached the soldiers on the other side, the bandits sent another wave of arrows hurtling down at the beleaguered Weisslanders. Several of the arrows narrowly missed the mage, striking the ground or embedding themselves into the wood of the carriage. Another soldier was hit, an arrow piercing her arm making her drop her sword and cry out in agony. Nathaniel saw that it was Cerionen Nemaheh, the elven woman who had been driving the carriage. He moved towards her and said the words to a spell, casting a fireball with a flick of the wrist towards the woods where the attack was coming from. Nathaniel pulled Cerionen back from where she lay and sat her down beside the carriage. He said grimly “I’m sorry about this, it’s going to hurt!”

Through gritted teeth she replied “More than it hurts already?”

“Point taken” Nathaniel conceded. As carefully as he could he pulled the arrow out. Dropping it Nathaniel placed his hand gently on her wound and spoke words to a healing spell. The wound closed and the pain etched on Cerionen’s face subsided. Drakkon looked back at the fighting and said “We’ve got to do something to turn the tide. Try to get back in the fight Cerionen.” Without stopping Nathaniel rushed off, charging at a couple of bandits. Nathaniel used his momentum to smash one man to the ground with a shoulder-barge. The second bandit tried to attack from the side, bringing his sword down in a high strike. Drakkon reacted with speed, putting a sharp elbow into the man’s face, staggering him. A quick one-handed slash sent the bandit spinning to the dirt, bleeding profusely. Nathaniel hammered the first bandit with a fist before stabbing him with the point of the sword. The bandits were trying to get into close combat again. Nathaniel roared magical words even as he stood over the two dead bandits. At his command five running bandits burst into flame, flailing and screaming as they burned. Once more arrows shot from the woods but this time Nathaniel held out a hand and chanted, deflecting the arrows and scattering them like kindling.

Still the bandits continued their attack, another group of about a dozen charging at the Weisslanders. Drakkon fell back, hoping to draw them on. There were three swordsmen on this side with him, including Cerionen who hefted her sword without effort again. Four against twelve were not great odds but he had faced worse. Nathaniel shifted his weight and raised his sword before launching a bolt of magic into the face of the closest bandit. It left a bloody lump of meat and not much else, and then the bandits were right there. Steel clashed on steel and Drakkon lost himself in the moment again, feeling the flow of combat run through him. A whirling motion caused the deaths of two more bandits; Nathaniel was responsible for its enacting. He barely noticed the drops of blood that hit him, lost in the moment, breathing the essence of battle. It became a brutal affair as Nathaniel head-butted a scruffy-looking boy before kicking him aside. The move took Nathaniel further from his comrades, as rivulets of blood streaked down his forehead. By the time the mage had dispatched the last of the bandit scum in sight the two other swordsmen were dead. With a howl of anger Drakkon kicked one of the dead bandits for good measure. Turning he grabbed Cerionen and said “Come on.”

The two of them ran back to the two archers by the carriage as the elf asked “What are we doing?”

Nathaniel answered bitterly “Retreating.” He opened the door to the carriage. Asiel lashed out with the dagger on reflex before she registered who he was. Nathaniel took the cut on the arm to stop it reaching his face.

“Oh Gods! I thought you were a--”

“There’s no time, get out!” Nathaniel yelled pulling the noblewoman out by the arm and relieving her of the weapon. Leading her away, keeping his body between Asiel and the woods, Nathaniel called out “On me, on me!”

The soldiers rushed after the mage, abandoning the carriage. The arrows resumed their deadly rain but luckily no more of the Weissland troops were hit. They formed up around Nathaniel as they broke into a run. He ordered them onwards along the road. With a bark he said “Take her, keep moving. I’ll bring up the rear.” The surviving soldiers bundled Asiel off and made good their escape. Drakkon stopped and turned. Magic words spilled from his lips and a barrier was raised, stopping arrows and bandits dead in their tracks. The bandits pounded against the invisible wall. Then Drakkon employed another spell, using black magic to drain the life out of several bandits. As they dropped lifelessly to the ground he said coldly “Flee now and I will spare the rest of you. Stay and I’ll kill you all.”

The mage’s words carried the weight of authority and honesty. He truly would kill them if they remained. So the bandits fled. Almost twenty of them ran from the other side of the barrier, heading for the woods. They could not run quick enough. Nathaniel spat the last words to the spell and all of them crumpled to the ground dead. He said darkly to himself “Looks like I lied.” Drakkon turned and raced after his troops.


When Nathaniel finally caught up with the troops they had put a good two miles between them and the ambush site. Drakkon had to wonder at the tenacity of the bandits. Such criminals were not usually so determined. They normally went for easy targets, and while weight of numbers might have prompted the attack, the casualties should have forced their retreat earlier. It just did not seem right. Of the escort seven soldiers had survived, and the group of nine people continued their march until nightfall. They camped just off the road. Of course, having to leave in such a rush meant they had precious few supplies beyond what they had carried about their person. Two of the archers went hunting and returned with a deer carried between them.

The meal was simple, cooked meat, some bread rations, and water, but to Nathaniel and the tired soldiers it was a feast. Asiel on the other hand wrinkled her nose and picked at the food. Nathaniel said wearily “What’s wrong?”

Asiel replied “This isn’t the sort of food I’m used to, or conditions for that matter. I’m suffering more than most in this situation, and I can scarcely see how you can stand it either.”

Nathaniel said sternly “Just eat your food.”

Asiel replied with a wounded tone “How can you speak to me like that? You took me out of harm’s way and now you turn on me.”

Nathaniel finally erupted in anger, standing up as all others fell silent at his rage “I removed you from the carriage because it is my mission to escort you to Nairio and look what I got for my trouble.” He indicated the cut on his forearm which was now covered in dried blood caked on the hair of his arm. The mage continued his rant “The only reason I retreated was to safeguard as many of these soldiers as was possible, they at least are important to me. You on the other hand seem to be completely useless. If I have my way today will not be remembered as the day Asiel Vorll, witless noble nothing, survived a bandit attack. It will be the day thirteen brave and honest soldiers laid down their lives fighting a numerically superior foe in defence of Weissland’s territory and ideals. Now kindly shut your mouth before I really say something harsh.” Nathaniel spoke the words to a spell and clenched his fist in Asiel’s direction. Almost instantly she slumped backwards into a deep sleep. The young and rather intense mage said “I hope nobody minds if she spends the rest of this journey unconscious?”

One of the men answered “No sir.” There were other nods of agreement.

Drakkon composed himself slightly before speaking again “We lost good people today and I will not forget them.” He raised his water-skin and said “To the memory of Daniel Marix, Aaron Farmaw, Owen Kellis, Tabrielor Anios, Cassandra Nesones, Albert Kane, Hielimael Yerais, Finley Aldain, Miles Gufrai, Athar Melathurt, Jacob Dimuko, Malachi Henieth, and Lawrence Rionostam.”

The others raise their water-skins and drank to the memories of their comrades. The group tried to get some rest, taking turns to stand watch in pairs. The animals in the wooded area made the usual sounds to which Nathaniel had become slightly accustomed to. He was still a city lad though, and was not fully used to sleeping in the wild, if sleeping twenty metres from a main road was really wild. He found it hard to filter out the harmless noises from anything which was cause for concern. Eventually he drifted off and got some rest. After his watch, morning arrived and the group set out again. Nathaniel carried Asiel unceremoniously over his shoulder without complaint. He would not ask the others to carry her; it was up to him, he felt. They would reach Nairio after a few hours and even now they were seeing many others on the road, travelling the same way or in passing.


The group was reaching the gates to the city. Nathaniel had cancelled the spell which kept Asiel asleep shortly before they came in sight of the city. They approached the soldiers on watch and Nathaniel addressed them “Nathaniel Drakkon, escorting noblewoman Asiel Vorll into the city, your superior will be expecting us.”

The guard nodded “Uh, yes, he is. But we were told to expect a carriage and twenty soldiers. What happened to you all?” He looked at the soldiers, many had cuts or bruises and their armour was stained with blood.

Nathaniel replied “We were attacked by bandits. You’ll find the site about a days ride back along the main road; someone should recover the bodies of our soldiers and investigate where such a large force of bandits came from.”

The guard said “We’ll send out a patrol. Welcome to Nairio, I suppose.”

Nathaniel nodded grimly and marched into the city. The sooner he spoke with the senior officer here, the sooner he could hand over Asiel and be done with this event. Then at least he could return to Ataya. The walk would do him good.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Something to Believe

Another of the shorter stories, this one is pretty much just a conversation which introduced some new mage characters and gave a little bit about their different personalities.

Something to Believe

Nathaniel sighed as he took a drink from the tankard, feeling the cool liquid touch his tongue and slide down his throat. He looked around the room, which was rather full of those mages training with him. They would often sit around and have intellectual discussions, although some discussions were less intellectual than others.

Hafasik said “So what do you believe in?”

Marcus, one of Nathaniel’s best friends, scratched the side of his head and asked “What in Weissland do you mean Haf?”

Hafasik shrugged his shoulders and replied “Well, what do each of you believe in? People, ideas, religions, share it with us.”

Tarmas, who was well known for being rather cynical, said “Oh and who’s going to start us off?”

Jessa Aeris flashed a stunning smile and chimed in “Was that sarcasm Tarmas? I thought you were just supposed to be the cynical one and Nathaniel was the sarcastic one?” She looked sidelong at Nathaniel who gave an expression of a fake smile which only seemed to delight Jessa even more.

Tarmas replied “I have my moments, although I’d rather be cynical than be all emotional like you and Nathaniel.”

Jessa’s mouth dropped open and she began “Hey, now that’s --”

Nathaniel cut in “I’m not emotional. In fact I’ve only got three emotional states, sarcastic, angry, and beer.” He raised his tankard as he spoke. This made several of the others chuckle and defused the potentially volatile direction the conversation had been heading in. For all Jessa’s talents the ability to back down was not one of them and Tarmas could argue the undead into an early grave. Plus Jessa had been drinking, which meant too many insults and she would lash out. It could only end badly.

Marcus caught on to this and proclaimed “I believe in myself.”

“Someone has to” was the best response to Marcus’ statement. There was another ripple of laughter through the room.

Hafasik spoke again “What about you Nerris?”

Nerris looked up from the book he was reading to say “History. It shows us where we have been, informs us in the here and now, and guides us as to what the future holds.”

“Fair enough Nerris. Jessa?” Hafasik kept the discussion rolling.

The noble young woman from Valoruin replied “I believe in justice, loyalty, hmmm... love I suppose.”

Hafasik prodded “And you Tarmas?”

Tarmas rolled his eyes and said “I don’t believe in anything.”

Hafasik responded with a groan “Oh come now, everybody has to have something to believe. What about you Nathaniel?”

Nathaniel Drakkon said “I believe in a lot of things, although sometimes it’s not easy. The world is a cold and unfriendly place at times, if you can’t believe in something bigger or better than yourself then it’s all the colder. I believe in loyalty, justice, honour, the truth, but the one thing I believe in the most, is Weissland.”

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Ancient Morning

The next few stories are short little scenes I wrote quite some time ago to build up some of the background of Nathaniel Drakkon's life. Not amongst my best work I'd say but I want to post everything, good and bad.

Ancient Morning

He had been riding hard all night. Nathaniel pulled the reins on the horse and slowed to a trot. With a quick movement he flipped the hood of his riding cloak down and looked around, left and right. The road was deserted which was to be expected at this time.

He thought back over the past few days. His journey had taken him from Crint, west to Ledek and then south towards Ataya. It would not be long and then he would begin his training as a mage of Weissland, although he did not know what to expect. Perhaps that is the right reaction, he thought. To expect the unexpected and be ready for anything was probably a good idea.

Ever since he had left Ledek he had felt strange. It was like the hairs on the back of his neck were always up. So much so he was wondering if cutting those hairs off would remove the feeling. He was constantly on edge. It had not helped that when he passed over the bridge south of Ledek two common criminals had tried to make him pay a ‘toll’.

As they had stood beside his horse, he had kicked one in the face, sending him crashing to the ground. Before the other could draw a weapon Nathaniel spurred his chestnut coloured horse onwards and grabbed the scrawny man by the neck. He lifted the man as the horse ran on, the man’s feet scrabbling and scuffing over the road. As Nathaniel skilfully manoeuvred the horse towards the side of the road at speed he hefted the man higher and then let go as he angled the horse away. The man had smashed into the fence and hedge, rolling and cart wheeling comically.

It had not raised Nathaniel’s spirits, only served to dampen them and ever since he had felt as if someone was watching him, someone unseen and stealthy, yet there none the less. He wondered if it was somehow connected to Arthan. If it was... no, the idea is preposterous, he convinced himself. Had it only been two months since it happened, since Arthan had been taken from them?

Riding on, he could tell by the faint light that it was still dawn; the sun had not risen to the east, even though the tree line was thick. Eventually he came over a rise and the land dropped away gently into a wide plain and Nathaniel saw it in the distance. A vast city full of buildings, some squat, others tall. He could see the tower, so far above anything else the city had to offer. As he looked at the city, the light played across walls and Nathaniel saw the refractions of dawn arc from rooftop to spire. It was eternal, an ancient morning like every other yet still unique.

Nathaniel rode onwards, eventually entering the city. He had expected the streets to be all but empty, and was surprised to find many of them busy. Ataya was a huge city, much vaster than his home city of Crint, and it seemed that people were always busy here. Slowly the young man made his way through the streets, heading south towards the tower of Ataya. As he was riding through the streets, less than a mile from the tower, the sun began to rise to his left. Finally he was free of the city and he began to ride quicker towards the tower which sat some distance to the south-east of the city itself. He rode up to the tower and halted. Guards approached and Nathaniel got down from the horse to speak with them. The first guard held up a hand and said “What business brings you to the tower of Ataya?”

Nathaniel replied “I am to begin training as a mage of Weissland.” He produced a document from his clothes and said “Here is the document which proves it.”

The first guard took the pro-offered letter and began to look it over. The second guard remained alert, his spear at the ready as he cautiously watched Nathaniel for signs of hostility. After a few moments the first guard said “This document is in order, you may enter the tower. Carry on, there are stables over there.” The guard pointed to the stables.

Nathaniel nodded and said “Thank you.” He took his horse by the reins and led it to the stables. He was still numb from the sheer magnitude of the tower. He stabled his horse, and once the animal was settled, he walked back towards the doors of the tower. As he entered he looked around, almost in awe. He spoke with a man just inside the entrance “I have just arrived to begin my training as a mage. Could you tell me where new arrivals should go?”

The man replied “Ah, the new mages. There are quite a few of you this year. You are to gather in the audience hall on the second floor. You can’t miss it really, just the first door on your right when take those stairs over there. Good luck.”

Nathaniel nodded “Thank you.” He headed up the stairs, taking his time so he could admire the amazing stonework of the tower. Eventually he reached the second floor and turned right, entering the first door there. As he entered a few other people looked over, most with nervous or amazed expressions fixed upon their faces. They were clearly the new trainees, most were around Nathaniel’s age, either slightly younger or older. Around a dozen were already gathered here, and more still arrived after him. It seemed that there were at least fifty people in the room by the time an hour had passed. Nathaniel was glad he was not the last to arrive.

Shortly after the last few new hopefuls arrived a man in simple mages robes entered the room from another door and took up a place behind a lectern. The man had a short beard and short, straight brown hair. His eyes seemed to glint with a jovial energy. The man introduced himself “I am mage Jarroth Boralays. I am to be one of your instructors. Welcome to the tower of Ataya. Your journeys have led you here, and now you will embark upon the greatest journey yet.”

Nathaniel looked around the room, taking in the electric atmosphere. He saw a girl with stunning red hair and the most amazing smile. That smile reminded him of the refractions of dawn. Perhaps this is where I should be, where I need to be, he thought. And I want to know her name.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The End of the Troll

This story is similar to the previous one, Knights and Monsters.

The End of the Troll

His armour went clink, clink as he moved. His horse’s hooves went clop, clop as they trotted along. Pebbles skittered down from the cliffs above and the knight cast a wary eye upwards. He caught no sight of anything, no enemy grim or wild animal innocent. The pass wound on ahead of him, narrowing here and widening there. The knight of Weissland was not scared, he was bold and brave and true. But he was cautious, tense, alert, and ready for anything. The knight was alone and could be ambushed here. Unbidden thoughts seemed to tap him on the shoulder just to say what if? But the knight ignored them. Still he clutched both the reins and his lance tighter.

Did he really hear the footsteps? The young knight wondered. It was strange as the sounds seemed to reverberate and echo in the pass. He could not be sure where the sounds came from. The noble knight would ride on though, he was sure that he needed to get through the pass. He was so sure of that, but for what purpose the knight could not remember. He was dimly aware of a noblewoman who meant a great deal to him, but where she was, was cloudy and obscured. The knight resigned himself to find her and keep her safe. But this pass was beginning to worry him. He wished his older brother was with him. They could do anything together; even overthrow the vast forces of darkness. But now, Nathaniel got the impression that Arthan could not help him. That was a disconcerting feeling, and the rocks seemed to drain of their colour as he travelled on. The sky was faded, to a pale blue now, rather than the crystal clear, ocean blue it had been minutes ago.

Suddenly the bold heroic knight had a nagging doubt about the route he was taking. He took the map from his pouch and unfolded it. Even as he tried to read it, the place names swam on the paper. As Nathaniel watched the map crumbled to dust in his gauntleted hand. The proud knight felt the taste and said “Some fell, dark magic. What foe awaits me here? I will not turn aside; none can stand against a knight of Weissland ready for battle.” He saw visions of hundreds of knights charging into battle with Weissland’s enemies, armour gleaming, banners resplendent, and lances keen points of metal with the light of the sun shining upon them. There was a thunderous sound of horses galloping and the clear, practised note of the knights’ war-cry ‘For Weissland!’ Enemies were overturned, scattered, run through and brought low. Dark forces and monsters and wicked men could not hope to stand against the rightness, the truthful, and the courageousness of such knights. These men were noble, just, fair and wise. The past was in their hearts, the present in their minds, and the future in their eyes.

But that was then and this was now. Nathaniel Drakkon, knight of Weissland, was alone. Deciding to stay his course he urged his horse on, picking up speed. As he got further and further into the pass a shadow began to grow in his mind. It had a shape but it was constantly changing. It seemed to lash out and constrict. He tried to force it away, to concentrate on his mission. Nathaniel had to think for a minute to remember what his mission was. He had been charged with an important quest. As a knight of Weissland he had a duty to fight the land’s enemies, protect the people and do what was right. His mission was to reach the city of Kynair before travelling on with a column of supplies and merchants bound for Cerylia. They were vital for an important battle. But the passes were dangerous, and who knew what evil lurked there to overtake the unwary. About an hour went past before his cause for concern proved well founded.

As the bold knight, resplendent in his polished armour, upright and true, turned a corner in the winding pass, he heard it. A feral, beastly, disheartening cry. He recognised it at once, like something spawned from the very blackness of a troubled dream. It was a troll. It lumbered out of a cleft several hundred metres away from him, snorting and snuffling like a pig with a cold. The monster was ten feet in height but crouched and sagged, keeping its arms near the ground. The vile thing grunted with animalistic malice, its teeth jutted out from its mouth like the timbers of a crooked palisade. Jowly flaps of skin hung to either side of its head. There was a scaly aspect to the skin of the troll, but it was dry and hardened, not slimy or reptilian. The whole creature, claws, skin and all seemed to be a greenish-brown colour, like some evil god had sculpted swamp water into the form of a monster.

Without hesitation the knight settled his lance under arm and spurred his warhorse into a charge. The sleek metal weapon glinted with righteousness, aimed at the troll. The monster had little time to react, a throaty roar signalling its anger. The knight kept his lance steady and hit home. With a shattering, cracking impact the lance struck the trolls hide and there was a squealing, shrieking, horrible howl. At once Nathaniel let go of his splintered and shivered lance, seeing it embedded deep in the torso of the monster. Quickly out swept his sword, a slash of silver whistled through the air and brackish blood flashed and spattered the rocks. It was a grievous wound and yet the troll lashed out at him, scraping dirty claws into the sheen of armour. The knight gasped as sharp stinging pain reached his side. Once more he hacked out with the broad-bladed sword, opening a gaping score, in the gangrene flesh of the troll. An impact knocked Nathaniel from the saddle and as he regained his feet the knight saw the troll leap. Fast reflexes saved him. He braced himself and raised his mighty blade. The troll landed, the sword impaling the head from up under the chin. The tip of the knight’s trusty weapon had thrust its way through the top of the skull. The weight and crashing momentum dragged him down and sideways. The knight stood slowly and wrenched his weapon free. Cleaning it he stoically climbed back onto his horse and prepared to ride on. With his sword at the ready the knight was like a portrait of authority, part of a giant fresco showing the battle between good and evil, mighty figures locked in deadly combat.

Before he could leave there was a chilling, grumbling cry, then a second, and a third, answered seemingly by a dozen more. He had time to look up as the trolls leapt down from the cliffs at him. With a start the young ten year old Nathaniel Drakkon awoke and sat bolt upright in bed. He wiped his forehead, and blinked a few times, before lying back with a sigh. He tried to get back to sleep and hoped that was the end of the troll.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Knights and Monsters

A very short story now, the shortest one I ever wrote. Set way back in time. I'll probably post the sort-of sequel tomorrow.

Knights and Monsters

The knight drove into the horde of orcs, his powerful warhorse scattering many of the crooked-legged craven creatures. His lance, keen and true, smote one of them dead. As he continued his charge, he skewered another of the foul scum on it. Another knight, as bold as the first crashed into the orcs, taking more of their number to the ground.

The knights of Weissland were great warriors, and even though there were only two of them they were more than a match for the green-skinned orcs before them. They rode through the press, and when the lances were beyond use, they swept out their swords, bright shining metal blades. Each knight cut and cleaved and slashed orc after orc. Some howled in pain as they bled from chest, gut or limb. Others died instantly from slashed throats and severed heads.

The first knight galloped hard and finally he was through the orcs and beyond. His brother was with him, the orcs were routed. They checked their steeds and readied themselves, raising their swords and tightening their grips on their shields. Then the knights bellowed a war cry and thundered towards their new foe, a vile necromancer.

As they charged, the hooves of their horses clattering on the gravel, the evil necromancer began to chant his horrible dark arts. On the knights came, upright and sure, and the necromancer started to weave his black magic. The necromancer raised his arms, as baleful green and purple light played about him, then started throwing bolts of necromantic energy at the knights. The magic bounced off the shields and armour of the knights harmlessly, such was their courage and pureness the evil spells could not hurt them.

Too late the necromancer realised his nasty magics were in vain. The two proud warriors knocked him to his knees, circling the man with their horses. As he stood, the knights ran the vile necromancer through. But when their work was finished, they saw ahead of them the vast army approaching, full of orcs and demons and gargoyles. Amongst the hordes were vampires and ghouls and undead dragons flew above, hundreds of them, and all were led by the dark lord Drathmor himself. The first knight looked across the army. Beyond sat the castle where they would need to rescue the fair maidens, or so his older brother told him.

The first knight said “Are you ready brother?”

“Born ready, little brother, born ready.” The second knight replied with a cheeky laugh.

They steadied themselves, and then began the charge. Just as they did so they heard a voice calling out to them happily “Arthan, Nathaniel! It is almost dinner time, come inside and wash up, boys.”

The first knight stopped. Nathaniel sighed, lifted the crude visor of his cobbled together helmet, lowered his wooden sword and looked over his shoulder. He called back disappointedly “Awww mother, we weren’t finished fighting the dark lord.” The two young brothers ran up to the estate doors and inside, the game would be finished another day.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Spirit Shine

Time for another story. This one is from what I call the exile era, the seven years where Nathaniel Drakkon traveled the world on a self-imposed exile while carrying out work for the Watchmen. It is set three years and two months before the White War in the Golden Empire.

Spirit Shine

Water. It is a major concern, Nathaniel Drakkon thought dryly. People take it for granted at times. How fickle the world is, that a man’s ego can claim great power, command armies, have nations chant his name, and yet water has as great a power over him as it does over any other living thing. Water can quench your thirst or crush your bones depending on the quantity. Nathaniel on the other hand was simply glad he had some. As he rode slowly towards his destination he took another small sip from his water-skin. His horse was ok for the time being; Nathaniel could feed and water him when they reached the next stop. It would not be long now. Water had occupied his mind as surely as the spirit of Lilith Albrecht had haunted his steps.

As if the thought awakened her, Lilith appeared in the air before him, startling the horse slightly. Animals were more sensitive to evil, even though the horse could not see her. Lilith looked at Nathaniel with scorn “I hope you run out of water damn you. I’d like to see you waste away and just leave behind some bleached old bones. Hah.”

Nathaniel, his voice rough and gravely from not speaking for almost a day, replied dryly “I buried your body in the mountains of Kuren. After all these years the worms and beetles will have finished picking your bones clean I imagine.”

The spirit screamed “I hate you mage! I’ll see you die just like I killed your brother.”

A flash of anger swept over Drakkon’s face, but he said no more. Arguing just played into the spirit’s hands. He had to remember that. Staying calm would also conserve his energy. Nathaniel would need it where he was going. Just like the water. The water had been vital; after all he had travelled across all of Ahm-Shere to reach the Golden Empire. The desert was harsh and unforgiving; nobody could survive it without water and food, but water most of all. The heat here was sweltering but Nathaniel was glad to be out of the desert. Before leaving Ahm-Shere people had warned him to be careful of warlike tribes called the Glacic as he headed northwards. They were not like the tribes of Ahm-Shere who might be wary of strangers, but some of whom had helped Nathaniel with directions and trade as he made his way north. The Glacic lived in territory between Ahm-Shere and the Golden Empire. There were a couple of areas where Ahm-Shere connected to the Golden Empire border. Nathaniel had headed for the western one, but he needed to go further north-west to reach his destination without running low on supplies. So the black-robed mage had ridden through the lands occupied by these tribes. And some warriors had tried to attack him, this strangely clothed man in a strange land. But when green lightning had shot from his eyes, fuelled by his anger, killing three of the nearest ambushers, the rest had fled in abject terror. And well they should have, for was Nathaniel Drakkon not cursed? Was he not a plague upon those who would assail him? Nathaniel gave these dark thoughts credence when he was at a low point. What good had Nathaniel actually done? So he had killed some monsters and some criminals. In the grand scheme of things, what was that? What was that at all? The spirit smirked, laughing at him. Her forked lizard tongue flicked and cut through him like steel. Nathaniel tore his mind away, forcing Lilith out of sight as best he could.

This was the Golden Empire. This was another chance to rid himself of the spirit. Nathaniel had learned of an old legend in this area. Now he rode with a purpose towards his destination. It was called the well of Khalabuz. The water of the well was said to have healing properties. It was Nathaniel’s hope that drinking the water, combined with the right spells, would banish the spirit. She did not like that. Lilith raged and boiled in the background of Drakkon’s head. The noise grated on the man’s nerves. Soon, maybe very soon, he thought calmly.

Nathaniel stopped just outside of the large outcropping of rock. There was a small building nearby, little more than a shack. Sunk into the ground were several stout posts of wood besides the building for tethering animals to. Drakkon tied his horse to one and let the horse eat. Nathaniel himself took some supplies and put them in his musette bag. Nobody else was here, Drakkon was glad of the privacy.

Quietly Nathaniel walked away from his horse and towards the cavernous entrance to the well. As he got closer he could see what a feat of architecture it was. There was a massive arch held up by square columns carved from the rock supporting the entrance. There was writing on the arch but Drakkon did not know the language. It was not an uncommon thing. During his travels he had encountered several written and spoken languages. Some times the people he met did not know the common tongue either, making communication very difficult. Inside Nathaniel found a large hall lined with unlit torches and held up by more columns. With a subtle hand movement Drakkon cast a spell. One at a time the torches erupted into flame down the line. At the end of the hall was a smaller doorway. Nathaniel continued on his way, seeing the thick layers of dust and grit on the stone floor which had blown in from outside. He could see the footprints of others who had come here, although even they were not fresh. His boots left behind their own marks. When Drakkon reached the doorway he stopped, listening. He thought he had heard something, but clearly the mage was mistaken. It had been a curious sound though, if it had been real. Taking a torch down from the wall, Nathaniel looked at where the doorway led. Stone steps spiralled down away from the black-clad mage. The wall on the inner side of the stairway prevented him from seeing how far down they went. He was about to descend the steps when the spirit taunted “What’s the matter? Second thoughts, doubts gnawing at you?”

Nathaniel’s jaw tightened and he said “No, I’m savouring the moment when you are obliterated.” His words echoed hauntingly in the hall.

As Nathaniel took the first step down Lilith laughed “It won’t work.” Drakkon tried to ignore her words, like he tried to drown out the constant noise the spirit filled his head with. It took a considerable effort of will to contain. Sometimes the barrage would be too much and the spirit would be able to appear to the world around him. Or she would do something to affect the physical plane. It rarely worked as she did not have the practise to do little more than move an inanimate object. Still Drakkon could hold her back most of the time. He walked down the steps, keeping his arm held out to let the torch light his way.

It took some time to reach the bottom and Nathaniel had counted over four hundred steps. If his bearings were correct, Drakkon was now facing west of the hall he had entered from. A wide corridor led away from the stairs. Nathaniel started walking but suddenly stopped. That was not his imagination, this time Nathaniel had definitely heard a noise. He could not pinpoint it or identify it; he was just sure it was a sound which he had not made. Once more the mage started walking, although cautiously now. As quietly and gently as he could Nathaniel drew his sword. It was a finely crafted longsword, with runes etched into the blade. Taken from the murderer Lilith Albrecht who had used it to hunt magic users, Nathaniel had put it to better use. Given his self-imposed exile Drakkon had named the sword for the journey. It was the Forsaken Path. But perhaps today that would end. Could he really dare to hope it was soon to be over? When you go through the inferno should you hope to emerge unscathed or just be glad the burns did not kill you?

Nathaniel had been away from Weissland for so long, he just wanted to go home. For Drakkon this was not the first chance to change his course. The others had failed, or would have made him give up his oaths to pursue them. Despite the torment he suffered Nathaniel would no sooner betray his loyalty to Weissland than he would stop breathing. The harmonics of the tunnels were strange, echoing and haunting. There were drips of water running off stalactites to hit off the tunnel floor with distorted sounds. It was like fingers of glass tapping and plinking on marble. It was the sort of sound that puts your teeth on edge and makes your back tingle. A phrase used in such a situation was the feeling that someone had just walked over your grave. It was not a phrase invoked lightly in Weissland given the nation’s history with the undead. Nathaniel Drakkon was not the sort of person who would succumb to paranoia and nerves without good reason, which was why he was cautious now. He would call it a gut feeling. There was no doubt in the mage’s mind that something was amiss. The sound of pebbles made him turn to his left. Nathaniel took a couple of calm steps towards the site of the noise, his sword raised to defend his person.

Suddenly something lunged out of the dark towards his head and Drakkon reacted with honed instincts. The sword sang through the air. The bat flying toward him was cloven in two and fell down. His pulse racing involuntarily, Nathaniel looked down at the two halves of the bat on the cave floor with spatters of blood around it. Nathaniel said sarcastically “Well, it wouldn’t be much of a memorable event for me if I didn’t kill something.

Didn’t kill something.” Echoed around the tunnel walls. Now that could get annoying. With a sigh Nathaniel continued along the tunnel. There were some side passages but Drakkon knew the well lay directly ahead at the end of the tunnel in a large chamber.

The spirit started to walk beside him with her hands clasped behind her back, she was almost skipping. Lilith said, pretending to be bashful “Don’t you think this is a bit silly? Can’t we just get along?”

“No on both counts. Now shut up!” Nathaniel growled as he kept walking.

“Awww, but why?” Albrecht smirked “I do so love our little chats.”

Nathaniel said darkly “Why couldn’t you have just stayed dead? You’ve got no bloody manners, you’re about as welcome as a wolf in a chicken coop.”

“Learn that growing up on the farm Nath?” The spirit asked snidely.

Nathaniel replied sharply “I grew up on the richest estate in Crint. Of course you, you undead whore, likely grew up in a den of thieves or in a cave like some savage.”

Lilith chirped “Wrong, wrong, wrong.”

Nathaniel waved a hand dismissively “So you grew up on the street then, whatever, I don’t really care. Not now.” He entered the chamber at the end of the tunnel and saw the well of Khalabuz. Word of it had led him a long way, ever since first hearing tell of it in a town in northern Ahm-Shere. At first he had thought it merely a story, a legend with no substance, but then he looked into it further. After checking some historical documents in a library in the Ahm-Sheran city of Umit he discovered just what the well was capable of. If it could heal terrible illnesses and conditions, strengthen the weak of body, then combined with magic, perhaps it could heal the mind and rid him of what he had been cursed with. For she was a curse, a curse upon mages, and Nathaniel had attempted to rid the world of that curse by slaying Lilith Albrecht. Now though, the curse had merely been confined to his person, to torment Nathaniel Drakkon until he could find a way to banish the spirit.

As far as Nathaniel dared to hope this was it, the beginning of the end and the beginning of a fresh start. All he had to do was try his luck and play his hand. If he could figure out what spells to use while drinking from the well, then Nathaniel might just be free of his brother’s murderer very shortly. Lilith interrupted “What if you screw it up? What if all you manage to do is free me, or allow me to take control?”

“To be free of you it’s a risk I’ll have to take.” Nathaniel said grimly. Even if such a thing did happen he would just have to fight her again, and a second fight would only lead to Lilith’s destruction. Nathaniel would not allow her to continue to exist if he could help it.

The well itself was made of ornate stone in an octagonal shape. The stones displayed symbols and pictures. There were figures with head-dresses and spears. Some of them had lines coming from their hands like a sun pattern or perhaps lightning. Maybe they were some form of mage. If it was telling a story Nathaniel could not decipher it. There were pieces missing or worn away by age. Turning his attention to the mechanism which worked the well Nathaniel saw a handle of ivory which connected to a strip of metal running up from it. This in turn connected to a cylindrical piece of metal that ran along the top of the well, supported by a metal framework. The chain was wound around the cylinder and disappeared into the gloom of the well, presumably attached to some form of bucket. Slowly Nathaniel began to turn the handle, watching as the chain began to be pulled up and wrap itself further around the cylinder. Turning the handle the other way, Nathaniel lowered it so the bucket would reach the water of the well.

Lilith goaded “Take your time, I’m not going anywhere.”

Nathaniel snapped back “You will be soon!” Once Nathaniel had drawn the bucket up with the water inside he filled two water skins with it. He believed that some experimentation would be required as it was unlikely the first spell he tried would give the desired result. Nathaniel had noticed that there was an altar off to one side of the chamber the well was in. Walking over to it he put one of the water skins down on it and held the other one, ready to drink from it. He had thought about this for quite some time, since hearing of this place, and he knew exactly how he would go about the spells. Nathaniel would begin with white magic, healing spells, which hopefully in combination with the healing properties of the water, would banish the spirit. Unfortunately for him healing magic was not one of his strong points; in fact it was possibly his weakest magic. Nathaniel began to chant the words to a healing spell “Astel novalla uncarro delilis gatto teroch!” The white magic surged around his body and before the spell ended Drakkon drank from the water skin, just a small amount to fulfil its purpose.

As the aura around the black-clad mage faded he realised the spell had not been successful in banishing the spirit. Lilith laughed hauntingly, and the laughter echoed around the chamber to the point that it was all that Nathaniel could hear. He just wished so much that he could drown the sound out. The spirit said “Nice work mage. That did absolutely nothing!”

Nathaniel held back a retort. Now was not the time for being distracted by the spirit, he had to remain focussed on the task ahead of him. Nathaniel realised that there had been some effect. An old injury in his right knee which had never healed properly, it was now completely gone. His healing magic alone could not have done this; Nathaniel knew it was not strong enough. The water did have healing properties, it was certain now. Nathaniel had not truly expected the healing magic to rid him of the spirit, but there was one more healing spell that he would try before moving on to other lores. This time he held the water skin in one hand and began to make a circular pattern in the air with his other hand. Nathaniel spoke the words quietly “Daviel jastion agallarus cotinashiel ter ma-oon seranat.” Once more he drank from the water skin and felt his body fuelled by the white magic, before the spell ended. There was silence.

“Daviel blah-blah, that didn’t do a damn thing! Ha-ha-ha.” Lilith mocked as she floated up through the altar to appear as a head staring at Nathaniel.

Nathaniel bellowed “Will the gods not grant me peace? What have I done to deserve such torment?”

The spirit crowed “The first answer is no and the second is everything!”

Nathaniel tried to ignore the spirit’s taunts. He tried to continue what he was doing, what he should be doing. Banishing the spirit was something he could not give up on so easily, or else all his struggling, all his torment, everything he had been through over the past few years would all be for naught. Over the intervening hours Nathaniel tried dozens of different spells. Each was met with failure and the disrespect directed at him by the spirit. At his lowest ebb Nathaniel attempted one last black magic spell. Summoning his power Nathaniel spoke the words “Medrenoth draakanai tovalis ter ami ter gannis cthulak!” A coruscating black flame engulfed his form, radiating out a strange heat into the surrounding chamber. Nathaniel seemed to watch from elsewhere, outside of his body, as he picked up the water skin and placed it to his lips. Drinking the cool liquid, he felt a surge of energy, hoping that it was working. Alas, it was not meant to be. The magic stopped abruptly and Nathaniel staggered, gripping the corners of the altar to steady himself.

That was when the spirit spoke softly into his ear “Are you quite finished yet? This place is boring me.”

In a fit of rage Nathaniel held onto the altar and spoke words to a spell, suddenly he violently tore the altar from the very stone of the chamber and hurled it across its length to smash into thousands of shards of rock against the far wall. He breathed heavily, head down and fists held so tight his fingers drew blood from his palms. The mage would never know how close he had been. If he had tried the last spell first, if he had drank more of the water, if his powers had been as great as one the Thaendils, or if the stars had been aligned correctly, if some of these things had been true he would have separated himself from the spirit. He would not have been able to banish it completely from him, but once separated the spirit could have been destroyed like other undead of its kind. While Nathaniel did not know it, could not know it, it would take the combined might of individuals like the Thaendil cousins to perform a binding spell before banishing the spirit completely and freeing Nathaniel of his curse.

For now this had been a failure, with only a few lessons learned. Nathaniel recovered the water skins as well as his composure. It was time to leave this place; he would travel further into the Golden Empire. The Orians were people he had not really encountered before, much like most of the people he had met along the way. But this was different, for the Golden Empire, much like Ahm-Shere and the White Realm was a powerful nation, one of the world leaders. During his life in Weissland, Nathaniel had met several people from the White Realm and a couple of merchants from Ahm-Shere. While the Golden Empire’s mercantile prowess was almost legendary and they had outposts in many lands where they traded, Nathaniel was yet to meet any of them. After reaching the well of Khalabuz Nathaniel Drakkon had realised just how thin his supplies were. It had also become apparent that his money was on the verge of non-existence. The wealth of his family was tied up at home, Nathaniel had not dared to take a great deal with him on his exile, just enough to get by. Quests and adventures could only replenish so much of that gold. In a way he was thankful that he was now in the Golden Empire, as this was a land well known for its use of mercenaries. It was here, or to be more precise in one of the Orian cities that Nathaniel hoped to find employment as a mercenary. It would have to be for the right people, Drakkon would not do anything which could be harmful to Weissland or to innocent people, but he was certain opportunities would present themselves to one who searched hard enough for them.

Taking what belongings he had with him, Nathaniel began the trek back out of the cavernous shrine to his horse. He fastened the water skins to his belt, after filling the one he had used already. His sword had been sheathed for the time being but he had used a spell to teleport his staff from where it had been packed amongst his belongings outside to his hand. He did not want to be without some form of weapon in his hand, as these lands were unfamiliar to him. It took about twenty minutes for Nathaniel to reach the outside again, and the sun was still shining brightly. Glancing up at it for a moment it reminded him of a smile, one smile in particular. That stunning, radiant smile that Jessa Aeris would flash which could dazzle you and enchant you, Nathaniel had likened it to the sun several times before. Everything reminded him of home, and that was not a good sign. Nathaniel could not return, not yet, he had to keep trying on his own. As he was nearing the shack where his horse was tethered the black-clad mage noticed riders approaching from the east. The noise of their thundering hooves was growing louder and the dust they flung up in their passing obscured them from proper view just now. Nathaniel continued preparing to leave, unconcerned for the time being. He put the water skins amongst his supplies and stroked the muscled neck of his horse, putting it at ease that he had returned and they were about to depart.

When the riders reached Nathaniel they fanned out, with two trotting over to the left of him, another three moving to his right, and with one coming around behind him. The other four riders remained in front of him or at least on the side of his horse where he was standing. Nathaniel finished putting his possessions in order and turned to face the four riders, taking a couple of steps away from his horse. His expression was calm, even, no hint of a smile or a scowl. It was as if he did not care that ten men on horseback had just surrounded him at a distance. One of the four riders facing him was slightly closer, and Nathaniel judged him to be the leader by his body language, posture, the way he was acting. The mage slyly waited for him to make the first move, as Nathaniel was more than capable of seeing off a few mounted attackers.

The leader of the group said gruffly “Hello traveller. We live in these parts and noticed someone had come to visit. What is your business here?”

Nathaniel said simply “I heard the stories about this place, and as I was travelling through the area I thought I’d see if it was true.”

The man on horseback nodded “I see, I see.” He had short black hair, with one longer section of hair put into a braid, which hung down the right side of his head to end at his shoulder in a tuft. In his left ear was a small silver hoop, and attached to the hoop was a little charm, it looked like it had been fashioned into a skull. The man wore simple clothes, sturdy and well-worn, with a leather jerkin over the top of his sandy-coloured shirt. He reached down behind him with a big gloved hand and produced a small but bulky crossbow, aiming it at Nathaniel. He spoke again “Well you see people who come here have to pay a toll. And I’m afraid we can’t be too careful around these parts of Sertomortala so you’ll have to forgive the weapons.”

Nathaniel could tell this man and his cronies were not on official business. He replied “What authority do you represent? Do you have any documents confirming your right to enforce a toll here?”

“I represent my own authority.” The bandit said.

Nathaniel rolled his eyes “So in other words you’re trying to rob me. This won’t end well for you.”

The lead bandit said “Give us all your gold and items and we let you leave with your life.” Two other bandits had levelled crossbows at Nathaniel, and a third had a compact bow with an arrow notched. The rest held short swords, long swords, and scimitars part way from their scabbards, ready to attack.

Nathaniel replied darkly “No, I have a better idea. You give me all your gold, water and food, and I’ll let you leave with just a few broken bones. Your only other option is for me to spend the rest of the afternoon burying your corpses in a pit.”

The bandit leader growled “Have it your way. Kill ‘im boys!” The leader and his companions fired their crossbows at Nathaniel.

The mage calmly spoke the words to a spell, raising a magical shield around him like a bubble. The crossbow bolts and arrow hit the shield, making strange noises as they were repelled and fell harmlessly to the ground. Before the startled bandits could understand what had happened, Nathaniel was on the move. He ran forward and launched himself at the bandit leader, raising his staff to smash the man across the chest and knock him from the saddle. As the bandit leader’s horse fled in shock, Nathaniel yelled more spell words. Even as some of the men charged at him with their swords, two of them were cast down by orbs of black magic energy. Their lifeless bodies made meaty thumps as they hit the dirt. One of the riders got close to Nathaniel and hacked out with his sword. The Weissland mage did not block with his staff, but moved it as he dodged to bash the sword arm of his foe, before cracking the butt of the staff into his face. Drakkon walked calmly about, as the bandits tried to flee or fight, destroying them in his own good time. Lightning struck down from the heavens, on a day with clear blue sky and the sun shining, to obliterate man and horse where they galloped. Nathaniel held his hand out towards the fallen projectiles that had been launched at him earlier and used his magic to hurl them at his would-be attackers. Four of them died as the bolts hit them in the back or the throat. Nathaniel tried not to injure the horses if it was at all possible. In short order the bandits all lay dead about him, or were slumped in the saddle of the horses.

Nathaniel looked around at the destruction he had created, ten dead men in the space of a few minutes. The power of a mage could be both wondrous and terrible to behold. He pulled the dead men from their saddles and let the horses go their own way. At least that way they might find better masters than the criminals who had ridden up on them. He had taken what gold and supplies he could scrounge from the bandits, which was very little indeed. Nathaniel was about to start digging up the ground when he looked to the sky. Up high in the distance, large birds wheeled and circled. With some whimsy he said “Ahh, sod burying the bastards. Let the vultures have their fill.”

Mounting the horse he had bought in Ahm-Shere, Nathaniel rode slowly away from the well of Khalabuz. He was heading north now, further into the region of the Golden Empire the bandit had called Sertomortala.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Illuminate the Blade

Time for another story. This one is from very early in Nathaniel Drakkon's career as a mage of Weissland, roughly twenty-three years and ten months before the White War. As always comments more than welcome and I hope you enjoy it.

Illuminate the Blade

Nathaniel walked quietly and calmly along the corridor in the mystic tower of Ataya. It was night and he was alone. The perfect time for what had to be done when there would be no witnesses amongst the smooth stone, dimly-lit torches, tapestries and bookshelves of the tower. Limit exposure, maximise chance of success, he remembered the lesson well. He came to a door and knocked on its wooden surface quietly. Drakkon moved to one side of the door and sank into the shadows. Another young man opened the door cautiously and peered out into the gloom. Nathaniel moved with startling reflexes, grabbing the man’s shoulder and firmly putting the dagger into the mage’s heart. The Crint native led the body backwards into the room and laid the dead mage down on the floor. Checking that he had not been discovered Nathaniel closed the door and moved on. Hafasik was dead and now only four targets remained for Nathaniel Drakkon to eliminate.

He padded softly along the corridor and turned left. Just as he left the corridor Nathaniel had the feeling he was being followed. It was that odd sensation which made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and made you self-conscious and edgy. Carefully he peeked back around the corner and... nothing. No spy, no witness, no guard or follower, no monsters in the shadows, just a pristine corridor in the mystic tower. Nathaniel continued on his way. He swept up a flight of stairs holding the knife downward across his body. Normally Drakkon wore black, short-sleeved robes with a runic pattern along the hem, or light blue inner robes with a heavy dark blue robe over the top. Instead, he was wearing a close-fitting shirt of black cloth with matching trousers. Over the top Nathaniel was wearing a dark brown leather hauberk. The outfit was designed to be stealthier and provide greater ease of movement than his mage robes. Nathaniel had thought it prudent. Silently Drakkon ran through the list of his remaining targets. Nerris Petharenn, Vanieloth Khaar, John Marr, and Sarish Tilden. Vanieloth, she was an elf. The other three were human. Nathaniel was certain Nerris would be in one of the many libraries in the tower. The trick was finding which one without running into anyone else.

He entered a corridor from the stairway and headed right. Suddenly Nathaniel heard two voices up ahead, getting closer. With some agility he bounced his foot off one wall and used the momentum to do the same with the other. Drakkon found himself finally near the ceiling of the corridor with his legs spread, each foot propped against the wall to keep him held up in the shadows. It was a great strain and Nathaniel did not think his knees would hold out for long enough, although he was glad that this particular corridor was narrow enough to do this at all. He slowed his breathing, trying not to make a sound. The two people walked along the corridor talking to each other, just two other mages on their way somewhere. They passed underneath him without looking up at all, fixated on their conversation about the finer points of white magic. Nathaniel did not know the mages; they were not guards and were not on the lookout for any assailant. Once they had safely passed out of the corridor, Nathaniel pulled his legs in and let himself fall towards the ground, bringing his knees up to land lightly in a crouched position before standing up slowly and moving away again. Nathaniel checked the first library he came to but found it almost empty apart from two mages studying from one of the tower’s basic texts. He silently watched them for a moment but stalked away into the shadows when one of them looked up briefly. The studying mage had not seen Nathaniel, merely had the feeling that he was being watched. A winding trail through the corridors of the mystic tower led Drakkon to the library he had been looking for.

Nathaniel ducked into an alcove inside the library. Mostly he wanted to acclimatise his senses to the room after the darker, quieter corridors. It might seem odd to describe the corridors as quieter than the library but it was the ambient sounds that made the difference, whether it was the faint rumble of the many torch fires or the sounds created by the mere presence of living beings intent on being quiet rather than actually being silent. Nathaniel could not claim to be silent either and he was certain that stealth experts such as the Seekers would characterise his current movements as loud. For the time being Drakkon had not been noticed by the few people in the library. Keeping to the edges and shadows Nathaniel walked past long and tall bookshelves, full of books, scrolls, tablets and other written forms. Reading was furthest from his mind at this point, he had a job to do and that involved neutralising his targets. It caused him consternation to think of comrades as targets but Nathaniel carried on regardless, this was ordered of him. Everyone had to respect the chain of command even if the links of that chain were not all well liked by Nathaniel. It was his belief that you did not need to like your superiors to follow their orders, or at least bring them the result required via your own means. Nathaniel did not consider himself particularly innovative but he could turn an opportunity to his advantage if he spotted it.

Nathaniel crept through the library with the blade at the ready. He watched from behind a bookcase as Nerris sat in a chair reading a book by a table. The chair was sideways to the table, Nerris was facing the direction Nathaniel would have to attack from. This made things more difficult, riskier. But much must be risked in war to be successful. Drakkon waited for his moment, watched for his opportunity, the perfect chance to strike. When Nerris stood up and started walking along the shelves towards him, not paying attention, Nathaniel made his move. The young mage swept out of his hiding place and thrust with the dagger, aiming directly for his friend’s heart. Nerris barely had a chance to react, before he slumped back into the chair dead. Nathaniel carefully looked about him before moving the body out of sight to an alcove. And then there were three, he thought.

Nathaniel left the library casually; the blade was concealed for the time being. Next he would travel up three levels to pay his respects to Vanieloth and John. Their quarters were on that floor, one near the stairs, the other further around on the outer corridor. The mage stealthily rushed up another set of stairs, sweeping around at the turn to ascend another flight, and then another. The stairs had open passage ways which led out into the corridors of most floors. Obviously defence was a factor in the construction of the tower, but architecture and the expedience of leaving the stairs without having to open and close a door played a part as well. Some floors were heavily defended, for vital reasons, reasons that a lowly mage was not exactly privy to. There were rumours of course, but Nathaniel only paid them the briefest attention. Nathaniel checked out into the corridor, looking right then left, before feeling secure that the corridor was empty. He stepped out, and headed right, towards the quarters of Vanieloth Khaar. Nathaniel knew her door was fourth from the stairs after turning right, and on the left wall of the corridor. He kept to the left side of the corridor as he walked along quietly. When Vanieloth’s door opened, Nathaniel almost panicked. He flung himself flat against the wall as the young elven woman walked out of the room and headed further right along the corridor. Nathaniel noticed a bundle of clothes under her arm.

Drakkon took the risk and crept over to Vanieloth’s door. She had closed it behind her, but he gently reached for the handle and turned it, opening the door as quietly as he could and slipping inside. The would-be assassin pushed the door just as gently closed and looked around the small room. It was very cluttered, the desk literally overflowing with parchments and books, while the floor was scattered with other items. Nathaniel noticed some lacy items of clothing and thought dryly, well that won’t deflect a fireball. There was not exactly anywhere to hide in the room, unless he climbed onto the desk to pretend to be a paper weight. With some reluctance he went with the cliché and hid behind the door. Nathaniel just hoped that Vanieloth would not fling the door open upon her return and smash his face in. He spent tense minutes, barely moving as he waited, until finally he heard the soft footsteps of someone approaching. Nathaniel pulled the dagger from his belt under his shirt, where he had concealed the weapon when leaving the library. Holding it carefully against his chest in a downward grip, Drakkon slowed his breathing and waited. After a few more seconds, the door opened slowly. Idly, Vanieloth walked into the room, pushing the door with her hand but not turning towards it. She was curling her hair around her index finger and lost in thought. Nathaniel took a single step towards the elven woman and grabbed hold of her tightly. She struggled, once attempting to elbow him in the chest to free herself. He drew the dagger across her throat and felt her squirm in his grip before going limp. He had held his hand firmly over her mouth so nobody would have heard any noise she made. Drakkon laid her face down on the bed so the body would not make noise hitting the ground. Nathaniel picked up one of the items of clothing he had seen on the floor before, and tossed it onto the bed beside Vanieloth. Quietly Nathaniel said with a smirk “Very nice.” Nathaniel left the room and closed the door, once more hiding the dagger away. He continued along this corridor and then turned right into the adjoining corridor. This would lead him out to the outer corridor which circled around the wall of the tower.

The next target on the list was John Marr. Calm and methodical John Marr. John was a few years older than Nathaniel, twenty-five to be precise. John had come to be a mage later in his life than most of the others in the class taught by mage lord Boralays, who had come here in their early twenties or late teens. John had had a different situation to most of the others as well. John had taken over his father’s farm up near Adae at the age of eighteen. He had a wife and a child; he had mostly given up on the idea of training his magic talent. That was at least until orc raiders had attacked the farm, killing several workers and John’s young son, taking his wife captive and leaving John for dead. A tragic story, but such stories were not unheard of in many lands. Nathaniel knew a bit about that. The difference was that while such stories were heard in Weissland they were followed by stories where the survivors carried on, took revenge, or in some way turned things around. For John he had gathered what farmers, hunters and fighters he could, tracked the orcs down, killed them with a wrathful fury, rescued his wife, and travelled with her to Ataya to become a mage. For John Marr his motivation to be a mage was clear, two words ‘never again.’ Nathaniel admired him quite a lot, as Nathaniel had not had his moment of the second story. That was still to come. But sometimes you get an order which forces you to do things you do not want to do. Conscience could get in the way, but duty had to come first, especially for Nathaniel. It was his second name. If he had not been a Drakkon he might have been conflicted, wracked with guilt, or unable to carry out this vital mission. That was how he had been raised, to follow the example of every Drakkon before him that had served in the military of Weissland.

Nathaniel found his way to John Marr’s door. He knocked on the door twice, trying to not make it sound urgent. Nathaniel was glad that John’s wife was not here, that would have stopped Nathaniel dead in his tracks. There were limits to his ability to carry out his orders. John spent two nights a week in the tower and the rest in the city with his wife. That was why Nathaniel had chosen this night to move against his targets, they were all here in the tower, all unaware that he was paying them a visit. Nathaniel could still swear he was being watched. Nathaniel made a quick check in both directions, nothing and no one, the corridor was empty.

John answered the door and said “Oh, Nathaniel is there something I can do for you?”

Nathaniel shook his head “No.” Suddenly the knife was in his hand and he was lunging for the other mage. Nathaniel raised his weapon and tried to stab John with the blade held downward.

John reacted quickly, grabbing Nathaniel’s wrist and struggling to hold the dagger away. He said in confusion “What the? What are you--?”

“Just make it easy on yourself John.” Nathaniel cut him off verbally, if he could not do it literally just yet. The two men grappled with each other, and Nathaniel pushed John back into the room and out of the corridor. Finally breaking his grip free, Nathaniel took a step back and changed tactics, flipping the knife around to hold it upwards and then thrust the weapon towards the gut of his opponent.

John once more tried to stop it, but he could not get the right leverage to do anything other than slow the dagger down. Finally Nathaniel punched the dagger into John’s side, then again, this time much easier as the dying man could not properly resist. Nathaniel stabbed John twice more just to make sure, then let the other mage fall sideways to the floor. Without waiting any longer, Nathaniel left the room and closed the door behind him. Now he had to find Sarish Tilden. Nathaniel knew that she would be in one of the many halls in the mystic tower. Sarish was having to clean one of them as a punishment, Nathaniel had heard about this while he had been reconnoitring for his mission. Nathaniel knew that his goal was within sight, he had only to eliminate one more target and then make good his escape from the tower.

The young mage rushed along the corridor and found a stairway, running up to another level of the massive tower. Out across a landing and through several small rooms he ran, his weapon concealed but close at hand. Nathaniel stopped just short of the hall he had been looking for. He took a deep breath and calmed himself, before walking through the open door and into the hall as quietly as he could. Sarish was on her knees facing away from him, with a bucket of water nearby and scrubbing furiously on the stone floor with a cloth. Without hesitation Nathaniel walked up behind her and grabbed Sarish under the chin, pulling her head back. For a brief moment their eyes met at an odd angle as Nathaniel looked down and Sarish looked up startled, before the dagger was slashed across her throat and she fell forward to the stone floor.

Nathaniel was about to turn and leave when a shadow crossed his path. Instinctively he raised the dagger just in time to fend off a duplicate of the weapon, stabbed towards his head. Nathaniel spun to face his attacker and saw the smile. Wearing tight fitting clothes which accentuated her curves, with leather bracers and a hauberk, as well as leather gloves which covered her wrists, stood Jessa Aeris. Her red hair was tied back into a long braided ponytail, keeping it out of her face. That smile could blind a man if he looked at it for too long.

Both mages moved to attack, there could be no hesitation or remorse; there was only the combat and the mission. Nathaniel knew how Jessa fought; he thought he had the advantage. The daggers clashed, lightning flashes of movement as the mages exchanged blows, each ducking and weaving to keep the fight fluid. Nathaniel made a series of quick light slashes, trying to force Jessa backwards and find a way through her defence. Jessa blocked the first few slashes, and then weaved left and right, before ducking. Nathaniel’s last three slashes missed completely, one to either side and then one over his opponent’s head. Jessa thrust forward, but Nathaniel was just able to veer out of the way by turning and using the momentum of Jessa’s arm to spin around behind her. Drakkon made for a killing stroke, but Jessa was too quick. On one knee she leant back and crossed both forearms to block his arm and push it away.

Jessa went into a forward roll away from the combat and came up to her feet, which put them at the corners of the table across from each other on the same side. Both mages moved along the length of the table, keeping it between them for the time being. Suddenly Jessa sprang forward, and gracefully planted one foot on the edge of the table and leapt over it towards Nathaniel. He dodged aside and turned but even as Jessa landed, she launched into an offensive of startling speed that Nathaniel could barely hold off the onslaught. It was only instinct and luck that saw him through, allowing Nathaniel to make a few attacks. Still, the duel was in Jessa’s favour. Nathaniel attempted a quick thrust for the throat, but Jessa turned slightly and pulled his arm, sending him off-balance as the blade went harmlessly over her right shoulder. In a moment Jessa stabbed Nathaniel in the gut once, twisted and spun around behind him, stabbed him twice in the lower back and as he dropped to his knees rammed the dagger point-first into the back of his neck. Nathaniel twisted as his body landed, lying sprawled on his back.

Breathing heavily Jessa sent a spell sphere out of the hall with the simple message “It’s over.”

A few minutes later and the recently promoted mage lord Jarroth Boralays arrived. “That concludes the exercise.” Mage lord Boralays said, walking into the room “You can get up now Nathaniel.”

Nathaniel sat up from where he lay, before placing one hand on the stone floor and another on his knee, and standing up. Boralays continued “Well done Nathaniel, you disposed of all your targets, did not let the alarm be raised until they were eliminated, and almost escaped undetected. Jessa, you also did very well. You waited for your opportunity, did not play your hand too soon, and when the time came you struck without hesitation, defeating the assassin without giving him the opportunity of escape. I’m very impressed by both of you.”

Nathaniel picked up his fallen weapon and placed the wooden practice dagger on the nearby table.

Monday, 15 February 2010

The Ones we are supposed to Bow to

This story is one of the more recently completed ones. It deals with Nathaniel Drakkon attempting to save a town from the forces of a necromancer. This would be somewhere in the middle of his career as a mage of Weissland, although I don't think I worked out an exact time for it to be taking place. The title was a line from a Biffy Clyro song which gave me the idea for a piece of dialogue and developed into the story. Hope people will enjoy it.

The Ones we are supposed to Bow to

The undead closed in about the lone, black-clad figure. Nathaniel saw the futility of direct combat and spoke the words to a spell. Holding his obsidian staff in both hands Nathaniel paused before slamming it into the ground. A rushing, roaring sound and a vortex of air swirled and rotated around the mage. The undead were undaunted, moving to attack the mortal. Dead flesh was stripped from dead bone; limbs were torn from sockets no longer deeply rooted in muscle. Nathaniel braced himself and lashed out with the staff, cracking skulls and pulping cadaverous bodies. Magic was clear upon the staff, a crackling nimbus of red light darting across its obsidian surface.

As the final zombie collapsed and gave a last spasm before going still, Nathaniel stopped the spell. The wind died down to little more than a murmur. The undead in the immediate area were destroyed, but more of them were spread out in the town. The handful of living people the mage had seen were being set upon when he reached them, when he reached the edge of the town. Nathaniel had been able to save a couple but had simply told them to run as fast and as far as they could. The only reason Drakkon was still here was to find out who was controlling the undead and stop them. A carefully targeted strike was needed here. Remove the head and the body dies. An old saying, but Nathaniel knew the wisdom in it. Nathaniel looked around for signs that he had been spotted, but seeing none he made haste into the town.

Nathaniel moved carefully through the town. Ahead was the square, but the street the mage was in ran at an angle to it. By heading to the left he could stay out of sight of the square. Drakkon wanted to get a look at the centre of the town without anyone seeing him, to assess the situation. A blind leap into action could be worse than doing nothing. Such practicality could be considered cold, but Nathaniel knew he was already too late to save all but a handful of people. And, he thought, if I get myself killed I can’t help anyone. It was abhorrent to Nathaniel Drakkon that an entire town could be massacred so easily, and he only knew its name from reading his map. Micero it was called and Nathaniel wondered what its history was, what was it known for, and how many had lived here, in peace? Until now of course, now it was just the site of another tragedy caused by necromancers and the undead.

The Weissland mage chose a building, a two-story house of stone. He tried not to think of who owned it, or what fate had befallen them. With his staff leading the way like a spear, Nathaniel pushed the door open gently and stepped into the darkness beyond the threshold. Only pale light entered behind him, a narrow strip of moonlight illuminating the first few inches of the stone floor. It was made of slabs of stone, roughly cut but flat, similar to the cobblestones of some city streets. Larger stones were used though, and Nathaniel looked at them in great detail as he noticed the smear of blood running across them between the doorway and the kitchen table. It was like a body had been dragged across the kitchen then probably lifted when it neared the door. That was why the smear stopped.

Nathaniel sighed and closed the door. He steeped over the blood and into the room. Pots and cutlery, dishes and food, it was all strewn about. There had been a struggle here. Whoever had lived here had fought back. That thought made Nathaniel feel a little better, but not much. As Drakkon moved towards an interior door a shadow loomed at him, an arm grasping from the doorway. Nathaniel thrust with the staff, hitting the zombie in the chest and knocking it down with a mindless groan. He stepped forward to kill it but became entangled in its floundering legs, almost falling as well. Finally, and before the zombie could get hold of him, Nathaniel brought his staff down, crushing its skull face first. It was a bloody business, and Nathaniel could no longer count the times he had emerged from a fight, a battle, covered in blood from a variety of sources, not least of all his own.

Taking a moment, the mage went into the other room, holding the staff in both hands to ward off any other undead. Even in the dark he could tell the room was now empty. It was little more than a pantry, so Drakkon left it and returned to the kitchen. It was when he headed further in that he caught the thicker scent of blood in his nostrils, blinking and forcing his gag reflex back on instinct. At the other corner of the kitchen was a large pool of blood, clearly where the body had been for a time before being dragged outside. Finding a door at the far end, at the corner where he stood, away from the blood thankfully, Nathaniel quietly spoke the words to a spell and the door opened. Gripping his staff tightly and clenching his jaw, he walked towards it. No sounds, no shadows, and no attacks came from the new room. Slowly and cautiously Nathaniel headed into the room. This room was empty too but Nathaniel did not lower his guard. What he did find was a set of stairs leading to the first floor of the small house. With foreboding Nathaniel climbed the stairs, each creak of wood adding to his sense of unease. The staff was in his hands, but Nathaniel knew the weapon was little use on the close confines of the stairs. Luckily he was not attacked and found himself on a small landing with two doors leading off to either side. Drakkon selected a door, and began to open it. The door was suddenly pulled inwards and the mage staggered as a sword struck down at him. The tip of the blade sliced through black cloth and Nathaniel grunted as he felt it carve down the front of his chest. Luck was all that made it a shallow cut, and mind-boggling luck which stopped the skeleton which held the sword from thrusting and running Nathaniel through. He slammed his staff sideways, trapping the sword against the doorframe. Then with a quick gasp Nathaniel invoked magic, a tendril of blue energy whipping out of the air between man and undead, snapping the skeleton in half at the spine. The skeleton collapsed in a heap of bones and Nathaniel fell to one knee, holding his free arm tightly over his wound and wincing. That was a foolish mistake, the mage thought.

Standing up, Nathaniel checked the room and walked inside. It was a bedroom, and contained a window which looked out on the square, as he had hoped it would. Taking a deep breath he stepped up to the window and looked out. In the square was a statue of the Archmage, broken down on its side, the legs shattered into rubble. Undead milled about, zombies, skeletons and ghouls from what Nathaniel could see. Nathaniel could make out cages made from wood and rope. Inside huddled people, the town survivors perhaps, Nathaniel could not tell. A crude altar had been placed near the fallen statue and beside it Nathaniel saw a figure who must have been the necromancer, wearing brown robes. Drakkon took everything in and came up with a rough plan. This would be difficult but he hoped he could get the cages open and distract the undead long enough for the townsfolk to escape. Then he would either face the necromancer or make a run for it himself. Nathaniel turned and head back to the landing.

Nathaniel came down the stairs and into the kitchen once more. He noticed the door to the outside was ajar. Nathaniel had closed that, had he not? He turned quickly, his robes swirling, but too slow as Nathaniel felt the cracking impact in the back of his head. He was pitched forward and slammed into the wooden table before slipping sideways to the cool stone. Just before Drakkon passed out he distinctly heard a voice say “Bring him.”


Nathaniel began to stir. He groaned as sensation came back to his body. His head pounded and throbbed as he groaned “Unuugh...”

Nathaniel dimly heard a voice say “Ahh, back in the land of the living are we? Not for long I’d imagine.”

Other sounds came to him, people crying, sobbing, the crackle of fire, the shuffle of feet on the ground. Nathaniel tried to sit up but his body rebelled. He forced his eyes open, catching a glimpse of the sky before his eyelids felt as heavy as iron and closed again. Drakkon tried to speak but all he could muster was a half-croaked “What?” He unsteadily put his hand to his head.

The voice replied with a mild chuckle “My, my, this one’s not so strong. A little knock on the head and he loses it. I must admit I’m disappointed, I expected better.”

A second voice, gruffer, raspier, and angrier than the first said “He killed over a dozen of our hunters on the east side of town.”

“Well there is that I suppose.” The first voice said in a tired, bored tone. It continued “Kraark, help him wake up.”

All of a sudden Nathaniel was kicked in the gut. He hunched up and spluttered. Finally he sat up, alert, and wheezed “Bastard.”

The undead creature moved to attack him again but the figure in the brown robes held up a hand and shouted “No!” The creature backed off, but glared with hatred. The necromancer, the first voice, said “Kraark is rather angry, you see, you killed his men. Or at least what I turned his men into.” He smiled as if laughing at some private joke. The necromancer wore rich brown robes clasped with a gilded belt. In his ears were large gold hoops, and his fingers were covered in jewelled rings of silver and gold. His head was shaven and painted or tattooed red and black. It looked like a square within another square on top of his head, but at an angle so the point of one corner came down between his eyebrows. They were black, while his eyes were dark brown. The man looked rich, not ragged, dirty or disgusting like most necromancers. He would perhaps be regarded as strange if one were to pass him on the street, but no more than that.

Nathaniel replied “Well he’ll join them soon enough.” This time the undead creature, which looked like something akin to a zombie but obviously with a mind of his own, could not be contained. Kraark kicked Nathaniel square in the jaw, and as the mage turned punched him twice in the back, hammering his kidneys.

Nathaniel gingerly pushed himself back to a sitting position as the necromancer laughed wickedly “Oh bravo! You’ve got balls mage. I might cut them off, but for now you have them.” Turning slightly he said “Kraark, don’t be so sensitive. Go and check the perimeter, make sure he was alone.”

Kraark grumbled but did as he was told, leaving the square with some undead. Nathaniel could still make out at least fifty assorted undead in the square, and his sword and staff were lying on the altar. The necromancer stood between him and them though. He said “Tell me necromancer, why does your kind bother when Weissland always wins in the end?”

A deep, throaty laugh echoed through the square, making the caged people wail even more. The necromancer said “Poor ignorant boy. You think you can win against the awesome power of necromancy? Deluded, blind, weak-willed, your kind will never understand. We are your rightful lords and masters; we are superior in every way. In the end you will die and become merely another one of our flesh-puppets.” He swept his arms to encompass the townsfolk “You will all do our bidding, my bidding!”

Nathaniel laughed back darkly “Now who’s the deluded one, necromancer?”

A contemptuous look crept across the necromancers face and he said “I see why Kraark enjoyed hitting you. I don’t like the way you say necromancer, mage.” He raised his head, up-turning his nose slightly and declared haughtily “My name is Lucius Strusuran! I who led armies before you were even born!”

“Who cares?” Was Nathaniel’s only response.

The necromancer glowered but did not resort to violence. He said “And what is your name? Or do they just refer to you as ‘hey you’?”

Locking eyes with the necromancer he answered “Nathaniel Drakkon, the last name you’ll ever hear.”

Now an arrogant smirk appeared on Strusuran’s face. He nodded “Yes and how do you think you’ll achieve that? No weapons, surrounded by my troops, not to mention that I could kill you in seconds. You mortals never seem to learn. We are the ones you are supposed to bow to. I am beyond you, above you, simply put you are nothing more than something I scrape from my boot.”

Nathaniel looked up at the necromancer and scowled “I’m going to make sure every necromancer dies, you are unnatural, a disease which must be eradicated. We might not live forever, but you are the ones fighting the losing battle.”

Lucius sighed “I grow bored of this.” He looked sideways and said “Kauror, Gothand, deal with him... kill him!”

Two armoured men walked slowly forward from the other side of the square, where Drakkon had been unable to see them. Both of them wore ancient, ornate armour. It was plate and covered them from head to toe; even the joints seemed to be covered by some sort of interlocking plate. As they got closer Nathaniel could see the visors of their armour. No man was within the armour, they were spirits, just two glowing orange orbs where eyes should have been. One of them said slowly “It has been a while since we killed a mage Kauror.”

The other replied “Over a decade Gothand.”

Nathaniel stood up, prepared to fight. How to beat two spirits encased in armour was still something he did not know. Time to find out, he thought sarcastically. The necromancer, Strusuran said “I might as well be sporting.” He picked up Nathaniel’s sword and tossed it onto the ground in front of the mage.

Nathaniel picked up his arming sword and said dryly “Gee, thanks. I’ll be sure to tell my friends you were the nicest necromancer I’ve killed.” Drakkon swept his sword left and right a couple of times, flexing his muscles for the coming fight.

The necromancer said in a shrill tone “Kill him now!”

The two spirits rushed forward, armour clanking and creaking. Nathaniel braced himself and waited to see what they would do, how they would fight. One of the spirits drew a sword from an ornate scabbard. The weapon was inscribed with runes on the surface and the hilt was bound in a rich redwood. The other spirit pulled a short-handled axe from a sheath across its back. The axe-haft was long enough to be held in two hands by use of a small handhold at the back of the single axe-head. Once again, Nathaniel could see runes and the expert craftsmanship which had gone into making the axe.

The spirit with the sword swept its blade up at him and Nathaniel blocked instinctively. Almost before he could react the axe swung round at his head. The mage raised his sword, deflecting the attack inches from his face. Once again, he struggled to block a low strike aimed at his leg, arming sword clashing with ancient blade. Nathaniel moved back step by step, defending against attack after attack. The spirits were relentless, they did not tire, and Nathaniel did.

When the sword-armed spirit broke into a series of quick slashes one after the others, Nathaniel barely held them off. He was finally able to parry and bring a couple of attacks to bear against his foe. It was then that the axe-wielder spun on its heel and slammed the haft of its weapon into Nathaniel’s side, launching him sideways to the ground. Drakkon rolled, dazed, but competent enough to keep rolling and scrabble to his feet. Now with some room Nathaniel called on his magic. He shouted the words to a spell and lightning forked from his hand. It struck the sword-armed spirit, and poured into the armour. The spirit seemed to grunt, and then as more lightning coursed through what counted for its body, it went down to one knee. The second spirit surged forward and Drakkon was forced to abandon the spell to fend off heavy axe blows that would have felled trees.

Nathaniel dodged away from another swipe by the spirit with the axe. He found himself close to the zombies and ghouls that stood around the square. The spirit lashed out again, and Drakkon moved quickly out of the way. One of the ghouls paid the price, being carved in half by the axe. The mage took the opening, slashing with his sword before the spirit could readdress to face him. The sword bit into the pauldron of the armour. It seemed to have no effect, no matter how deeply he had cut into the shoulder. Nathaniel ran behind the spirit, back towards the centre of the square, and the spirit swung, missed, and gave chase. Nathaniel turned to face the spirit once more. Quietly he said “This is going well.” With concentration furrowing his brow, Nathaniel spoke the words to a spell. As the axe-wielding spirit ran forward it was bombarded by a fireball, then a second and a third. The fireballs struck the chest plate one after the other. The spirit in the armour staggered, the armour was badly dented and scorched.

Drakkon saw his chance. As he backed away he cast the spell again, sending four more fireballs at the spirit. It was rocked by the impacts and the fourth one knocked the spirit down to the ground, and punched through the chest plate. The spirit roared in pain, it was an other-worldly howl. Still it was only wounded, not destroyed. Nathaniel ran forward, his sword aimed down to plunge into the undead’s heart. Even as the spirit tried to get up, Drakkon impaled it on his sword, which pierced the armoured back of the spirit. But it had little effect. The spirit still tried to rise up, gauntlets reaching out for the mage. Metal scraped on metal with a spine-tingling sound. With one more chance, Nathaniel called out the words to another spell. Flame shot along the length of the blade of his sword, burning deep inside the armour. The glowing orbs behind the visor flared once, and then they were extinguished in a rush of energy. It almost knocked Nathaniel from his feet, but despite his tiredness, he held onto the sword.

Pulling his arming sword free, Nathaniel was just in time to defend himself from the rapidly approaching spirit carrying its ancient blade. With one spirit defeated, Drakkon felt confident he could prevail again. The spirit thrust, slashed, swept around and made a side-kick. Nathaniel blocked as best he could, but the kick floored him. His ribs ached, and Nathaniel could do little to fend off the spirit from this position. He whispered a spell as he crawled backwards, looking up at the advancing spirit. A jet of cold water like a wave sent the spirit tumbling and sliding away. As the water receded into the ground the spirit got to its hands and knees. The black-clad mage stood and used his mind before his sword. He spoke words of power and the spirit was engulfed in a sheet of fire. Nathaniel could hear the hissing as the cold water evaporated in the flames. The heat was intense, but the spirit stood. Just as the fire died, Nathaniel cast his last spell. Even as the spirit turned it was encased in ice. The armour strained, it moved, and the ice shattered. The armour was broken as well, fragmenting into a pile of cracked and steaming metal. Nathaniel said dryly “Looks like when the situation got heated, the spirit just fell to pieces.” He turned slowly, wearily, to face the necromancer before adding “Let’s finish this.”

The necromancer crowed “Oh I think that’s an excellent idea.” Green bolts of energy shot from his hands towards the mage.

Nathaniel was too tired to move, to react. Nathaniel was struck so hard that he almost did a back flip, landing with a thud belly-down on the ground. He groaned, he felt pain jarring throughout his body, and Nathaniel heard the approaching footsteps. It was hard to look up, but he did so. His sword was just out of reach. It would not be much use anyway. It was even harder to get up, but at least he made it to his knees.

The necromancer walked steadily forward, chanting foul words which made the very air recoil in disgust. The words made Drakkon’s head tingle and he tried to shut them out. Great orbs of sickly green, necromantic magic hovered at his outstretched palms. Lucius said “Now, you will die! I will strip the very flesh from your bones. Your body will disintegrate and you will feel every exquisite moment of agony.” The necromancer stood over Nathaniel, looking up at the sky as he ranted “You have angered me greatly, destroying two of my favourite minions. But it was an impressive display, I must respect that. You made an impressive but ultimately futile attempt. That should be remembered, but unfortunately for you, nobody will survive to tell your superiors what you did.” He was so confident of his victory, it was so assured, that Lucius turned in a slow circle, looking at the people in their cages, as if he was playing to an audience. He continued talking, but by this point Nathaniel was not listening, just trying to stay conscious. All he heard was the sound, a blur of words.

While Lucius talked, Nathaniel used his time. He whispered the words to a spell. If Lucius noticed, he did nothing to stop it. Slowly, and gently, Nathaniel levitated his sword closer until it finally rested in his hand. Then he waited, biding his time and resting for his final exertion.

Lucius looked at the fallen mage with arrogant eyes and declared “The end has come!”

As Lucius moved to unleash his attack, Nathaniel surged up. With a last effort he pushed one of the necromancer’s arms outwards away from him and thrust viciously with his sword. He rammed the blade into his enemy’s gut right up to the hilt, hearing the squelch of blood spurting and organs bursting. As Lucius fell in towards him, the necromantic magic was unleashed, scorching the ground to either side of Nathaniel. Drakkon said darkly “This is the end for you.” He pulled the blade back and thrust once more, as blood spat from Strusuran’s mouth and landed on Nathaniel’s chest in a gooey mess. Twisting the sword, Drakkon pulled it clear and turned, letting the body slump to the ground. The undead wavered for a moment before they crumbled and disintegrated from existence. A howling wind rushed away from the town, and Nathaniel thought he caught a voice mixed in with it. The mage breathed deeply and said to the dead body “The ones we are supposed to bow to? Not while there is a drop of blood flowing in my veins.”