Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Scenes 3 - Burdens

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, 15 March 2010

Scenes 2 - Fury

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David responded “Not really, no.”

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

“You will?” He asked.

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

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Scenes 1 - Horror

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

1 - Horror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 5 March 2010

Undeath and Glory

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

Undeath and Glory

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

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

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

The man replied “Just like chopping wood.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The young man replied “Zeis, sir.”

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

Zeis pleaded “But sir...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Will I Live Forever?

This story takes place in the small besieged town of Durender, where Nathaniel and Weissland forces try to hold off an undead horde. Chronologically this is among the first battles with the undead for Nathaniel, something important as the undead are the main enemy of Weissland, a country where necromancy is outlawed on pain of death. This is near the beginning of Nathaniel's career as a mage but after his training at the Mystic Tower so he is working without other mages alongside. This story is followed by the next one, called Undeath and Glory, which I will post soon.

Will I Live Forever?

Nathaniel slashed out at the flailing hands and weapons. As he stabbed at a zombie he shouted to the soldiers and militia around him “Push them back, get me some room.”

The soldiers roared and with shield and sword pushed the undead back a few paces. Quickly Nathaniel went into a two handed grip and flung an upwards swing at a zombie, knocking it back into the mass of undead. Reserve soldiers plugged the gap as Nathaniel threw his sword towards the second line of barricades, knelt down and put his arms under the Lord’s armpits. Nathaniel dragged the man back and up to his feet before carrying him to the second barricade. Several soldiers helped him heft the armoured Lord over the barricade so the healers could help him. Nathaniel was just turning back to the combat when a cheer went up. The undead were falling back for the time being. The black-clad mage picked up his sword and gave out some orders “Archers, hold your fire. Get the wounded back. Pile the dead... burn them. Collect what weapons you can, especially arrows; we cannot afford to run out of them. A day, that’s all we have to hold for... a day.”

He climbed over the second barricade and walked to the building where the healers were. There would be some time before the next assault. Entering the building, which was normally the town hall, Nathaniel moved through the rows of cots where the wounded lay. They were being tended to by the few healers present, and some people the healers had requisitioned to aid them. He moved passed them and walked into a small side room. Here the injured Lord Harluck lay, a former military officer who was now mayor and protector of the town. He had done a good job, Nathaniel could not fault him, and nobody could expect more from him in this situation. It was difficult to weather such darkness and Lord Harluck had stood strong. Nathaniel had nothing but respect for the old man. He was cut from the same cloth as Nathaniel’s grandfather Caine Drakkon, and many of his ancestors. These were men of noble birth who stood and fell in battle, when many others of nobility simply hoarded their wealth within the walls of their estates and did not fight for their homeland.

As the healer finished doing what she could to make Lord Harluck comfortable, he motioned with his hand and bade Nathaniel to enter “Nathaniel, come in. Come and sit beside an old man and let us speak for a time.”

Nathaniel walked over and sat on a stool near the bed as the healer left carrying bloody clothes, a bowl of water and other things. There was only one magical healer here, and he was hard taxed elsewhere in the building. Nathaniel said “The undead have fallen back, we can hold the town yet, until help arrives.”

Lord Harluck nodded, his eyes not focussing properly on Nathaniel. He said “Good, good. Although I don’t think I’ll see it, not now anyway.”

Nathaniel knew it was true but said anyway “Don’t speak like that, you could live through this still.”

The Lord, with his armour removed seemed smaller, more fragile. He coughed slightly and said “There’s no need for false hope Nathaniel, it’s never done me any good. I’m dying and there’s no two ways about it.” He took a few laboured breaths then continued “When I was young, I used to think I was impervious, unstoppable. I thought I would live forever.” Thinking for a moment he asked “Will I live forever?”

Nathaniel sighed “No... none of us live forever, everything dies eventually.”

Lord Harluck replied “But that certainty should never stop you striving for what you want in life, that’s how you live forever by being remembered as living every moment to the fullest.”

Nathaniel nodded “That reminds me of a poem... or more a children’s rhyme really, The Laughing Lord.”

Lord Harluck smiled “Then recite it lad, and cheer me up.”

Nathaniel said “Urgh, now how did it go again? Ah, yes, now I remember:

A Lord did sit in a hall of stone,
You find him here upon a mighty throne.
Troubled, he bade the jester to entertain.
For laughter would surely ease his pain.

The jester, he did begin to dance.
And the Lord watched the clown prance.
But then did the jester stumble and slip.
Enraged the Lord reached for his sword’s grip.

The Lord shouted for mirth or death.
Hushed was the court as jester spoke, no other sound or breath.
Years passed as the Lord laughed, his troubles washed away.
And never did he see the sword no longer held at bay.

The old man spoke “A nice little poem that.”

Nathaniel replied “Aye. Most take it as a trifle, but there is meaning there for those that would see it. A bad Lord is long remembered for their mistakes and failures, even in death, but a good one is never forgotten for all they have done.”

“And which am I Nathaniel?” Harluck asked.

“You will not be forgotten my Lord, of that I am sure.” The young mage replied.

Lord Harluck seemed to be getting tired, he could barely keep his eyes open. Nathaniel was about to tell him to rest when there was some commotion outside. The mage rushed to the door and listened. A soldier outside was shouting “Another attack! To arms, it’s another attack!”

Nathaniel turned back to say he had to leave, to help in the fight, but the words caught in his throat. Lord Harluck was dead, he had passed away. It had only been a few seconds, Nathaniel had only turned away for a moment. But it had been the Lord’s time, Nathaniel thought. Silently, with a look of determination, Nathaniel gripped the hilt of his sword and ran out into the street and towards the fighting. There were two necromancers out there in the darkness and Nathaniel was going to find them. When I do, I’ll pose a question to them, he thought. Will you live forever?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Wayward Sun

Another shorter story, this one is set during Nathaniel Drakkon's exile and takes place in the desert land of Ahm-Shere.

Wayward Sun

The ship journey had been long. It had finally arrived on the coast of Ahm-Shere. Nathaniel had been told by Galthrain the captain of the Starry Night that they were coming in to the harbour of a port town which was called Ath-Amn. The Starry Night was a merchant ship which made trips between Ahm-Shere, the White Realm and Rifelindor, amongst other lands. Galthrain as well as most of the crew were Ahm-Sheran. It was more of a cargo ship than a passenger ship. On this last trip Nathaniel Drakkon was one of seven passengers. Thankfully none of the other passengers were overly curious about him. He had little desire to be asked his life story and even less desire to tell it.

The journey had been taxing on him. The spirit of Lilith Albrecht was railing against his will, as she always did when he was trapped in a single place. He had actually been glad when that pirate ship had attempted to board them; it gave Nathaniel the opportunity to vent.

As the pirates closed with the Starry Night, Nathaniel had launched a sheet of flame at them, setting fire to their sails. Then he lifted the pirate captain up, snapped his neck, and dropped him into the water. Nathaniel finished by scattering four of the pirates from port to starboard. Naturally, pirates being cowardly and craven at heart, acting like scavengers preying on the weak, they thought better of this and veered away.

Two days later and the Starry Night pulled into port. Nathaniel had disembarked with the rest of the passengers and headed into the town of Ath-Amn. He had spoken in detail with Captain Galthrain during the voyage. The captain had said that the pirates were encroaching on the shipping lanes more and more each year. They were getting bolder by the day and while the proper navies of lands like Weissland and the White Realm could handle the pirates, the seas were no longer safe for merchants. Galthrain was planning to join with several other merchants to form a flotilla for mutual defence, unfortunately that would mean any profits would be shared amongst the group, and Galthrain and his crew would have to tighten their belts to survive. It was worrying, but there was little Nathaniel could do. Galthrain had thanked him for driving off the pirates but Nathaniel replied “The passage and information was thanks enough.”

As Nathaniel Drakkon walked through the harbour area towards the interior of the town, he took in the atmosphere of the place. It was a port, but much different to Ordail, which he was familiar with. In Ordail there was a coolness, often even a chill. But here there was no cool air, in fact the air was warm, almost stifling. Yet there was still a breeze with the tang of salt water.

The town was positively bustling with people but from what Galthrain had told him Ath-Amn only had a population of around one thousand. Most of the people were traders, merchants, ship crews and passengers who did not live in Ath-Amn. Nathaniel was looking for an Inn to stay at for the night. His plan was simple, even if the execution of it would be difficult and tiring. He would travel northward, first to the city of Dorsgiliath, then to another called Remmus. Galthrain had shown him a map of Ahm-Shere and told him where he should go. Nathaniel would purchase his own map here, but its main purpose was to aid him in travelling out of Ahm-Shere to reach the Golden Empire. It seemed more likely Nathaniel would find a way to get rid of that damned spirit in the Golden Empire than here. Yes, that’s right, he thought, I’ll be free of you soon.

Inside his head, he could hear Lilith speak “Five years mage, five years and you’ve had your hopes dashed before. All those possibilities you’ve followed and none have worked. Some you’ve even given up because of your pride and morality. Face it I’m with you for the long haul.” Her laughter reverberated in his mind and Nathaniel knew she was right. Other plans had failed, but one would work eventually. It was all a matter of time and patience and a battle between her will and his. He was sure he would come out the stronger.

After about five minutes of walking he reached a suitable place to stay, the horse and rider Inn. When he stepped inside Nathaniel found it to be not unlike every other tavern, pub, Inn, bar or alehouse he had been to. Even during the day the Inn was fairly busy and he had to wait for a while to speak with someone who worked there. The barkeep asked “What can I get you?”

Nathaniel leant over the bar and looked at the woman, who seemed to be in her early thirties with dark brown hair and tanned skin. He said “I need a room for the night. How much will it cost?”

The woman replied “We’ve still got some rooms spare but it’s the busy season, so it’ll cost you. Twenty gold for the night, that includes dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow. Drinks are separate.”

Nathaniel nodded, drinks were always separate. He said “I’ll take it, here’s the gold.” He handed the barkeep the gold coins.

Taking the money, she said “I don’t have time to show you the room just now, we’re kind of swamped. But if you’d like a drink I’ll get it for you.”

Nathaniel thought for a moment then said “Sure, I could use a drink, a beer, please.”

The barkeep returned quickly with the pint of beer and placing it down, she said with a smile “It’s on the house.”

Nathaniel raised the pint, returned the smile and said “My thanks.” He turned and headed over to a small empty table. It had only two chairs around it, so he would be left alone unless the Inn became even busier than it already was.


Nathaniel nursed the pint of beer, drinking it slowly. He had discovered over the years that if he drank too much, he could not control the spirit. He could not keep her concealed as easily. But Nathaniel Drakkon had spent many years drinking before the spirit had been bound to him. He could have a few drinks and still be fine. He knew his limits. As Nathaniel sat at his table, many sailors entered in small groups. He spotted Galthrain enter with his first mate and a couple of others from the crew of the Starry Night. Galthrain went to the bar and ordered a drink. After he handed over some coins and took his drink he turned around to look at the large room. Galthrain saw Nathaniel and waved “Nathaniel, nicely chosen Inn. Come and join us.”

Nathaniel smiled and nodded, standing up and walking over to the bar beside Galthrain. He said “Galthrain, good to see you. Crowded in here isn’t it?” He took a drink of his beer.

Galthrain leant against the bar and said “Yes. This is one of the more popular drinking establishments, especially for captains and senior crew. The rabbles stay closer to the ships, less distance to stumble back!” He laughed and slapped his first mate on the shoulder.

The first mate of the Starry Night was a lean but heavily muscled man with bronzed skin. His arms were covered in many tattoos, one of which was the silhouette of a ship surrounded by stars, the Starry Night. His name was Baris. He said “If you think its busy here now, wait ‘til tonight. It’ll be heaving.” Baris had been a sailor his entire life, born the son of a captain, raised a cabin boy and deck hand, Baris was the stereotypical sailor.

A few hours passed, evening setting in, and Nathaniel saw that Baris was right. The place was packed, and the three men were crushed into a line at the bar. Even as Nathaniel took a drink he heard her, that blasted spirit. She said “It won’t be long. You cannot keep me contained, not forever. I’ll break free, I’ll destroy, I’ll ruin, and I’ll kill you and all your magic-using kind. Every last one of them.”

Nathaniel thought back, I’ll never allow it. You have no true power; you are just a minor obstacle in my life. A short while later and the crowds had thinned out a little. Still a host of voices filled the Inn. Nathaniel had been talking with the two Ahm-Sherans for a while, telling them of some of the places he had travelled to. They in return told him of trading in Ahm-Shere and beyond, frantic chases with pirates, time spent in the ports of the White Realm and other places. Galthrain was just saying “The last time I was in Port Village--” When another man at the bar bashed into him.

The man split his drink and gave an angry look before saying “Watch where you’re going. Stupid bastard.”

The man was bigger and burlier than the merchant captain. Galthrain swallowed hard “Sorry friend.”

The other sailor was either too drunk or too belligerent to leave it at that “I’m not your friend! You better watch yourself. I don’t like the look of you, shifty little bastard.” What was worse was that Nathaniel could hear the Weissland accent in the man’s voice.

Galthrain tried to end the argument again “I apologise. I’ll buy you another drink.”

The Weissland sailor was having none of it though “I don’t want your stinking apology you smarmy git! Don’t want yer drink either. You sand-sifters are all the same, I’m sick of you.”

Things were getting out of hand. Galthrain tried to just turn back to his drink and ignore the man. Nathaniel debated whether he should say something. His keen eye caught a glint. Nathaniel pulled Galthrain away behind him and stood in front of the man. Nathaniel was six feet three inches tall and stood a clear head above even the Weissland sailor who had drawn a dagger. Nathaniel spoke, his voice a deep rumble with a clear Weissland accent “You better put that knife away boy, before I shove it up your arse!”

The sailor said nothing but growled and tried to bring the knife to bear. Nathaniel wasted no motion, grabbing the man’s wrist and slamming it down skilfully on the bar. The knife skidded free, landing in the floorboards behind the bar. The sailor grunted “Bastard!”

Nathaniel pushed him back a step and said “Do you know who I am? Nathaniel Drakkon, mage of Weissland. I’d think very carefully about your next move. Why don’t you just stop embarrassing our country and leave before I boil you from the inside out?”

Even as the sailor was beginning to comprehend what he had gotten involved in Nathaniel could hear Lilith. Her venomous voice was filled with excitement as she said “Kill... kill, kill... kill, kill, kill, kill! Do it, do it now! Teach him a lesson mage, teach them all a lesson they’ll never forget. Burn this town to the ground; you know you can do it!”

As the sailor said “I don’t want no trouble mage. I didn’t know who you were.” Nathaniel could only think, that’s not an excuse. You don’t get to do this. I’m sick of bullies who back off and want to get a free pass when someone stands up to them. I’m damn sick and tired of seeing people like you strutting around when I struggle to live my life to show how good we are supposed to be. How can I be an example when men like you are cutting us down all the time? Maybe you do need to be taught a damned lesson! Maybe she’s right for once. In the background the spirit was urging him on.

Nathaniel’s emerald green eyes seemed to take on a hard edge. A grimace spread across his face and he grabbed the sailor by the shirt, balling up a fist and drawing back. The fist came within inches of connecting before the mage stopped himself. He boomed “You don’t get a second chance. Get out now!”

The sailor nodded slackly and rushed out of the Inn. Nathaniel turned back to the bar, keeping his head low as he breathed deeply. You don’t get to win, not that easily, he thought. I won’t throw it all away for that, you don’t get to beat me spirit. The other people in the room turned back to their own business after a few moments. Galthrain said “Thank you Nathaniel, I was a bit out of my depth there.”

Nathaniel replied without looking at him “That’s ok Galthrain. People shouldn’t be like that, you shouldn’t have to go through things like that. Some people need to learn some manners. I’m just sorry that he was a Weisslander.”

Baris said “You can’t be held accountable for other people’s attitudes.”

Nathaniel nodded “I suppose you’re right, but I still don’t like it.” He drained his beer and said “It’s getting late; I’m going to get some sleep. I’ve still got a long journey ahead of me tomorrow.”

Galthrain raised his glass “Well, goodbye and good luck Nathaniel, unless we don’t see you again before you leave. And thank you once more. I do hope our paths cross again.”

As Nathaniel walked away towards doors at the back of the room which led to the stairs he said “You’re welcome Galthrain, and you never do know who you’ll meet along the way.” When he had safely entered his room and closed the door, he leant back heavily against it. Nathaniel cast his staff aside and drew his sword. The runes flared briefly before fading to the colour of the steel. Clasping the hilt in both hands, he held it before his face, before finally laying the flat of the blade against his head. The mage growled with barely contained fury, eyes forced shut, and teeth grinding. The moment passed, and he put the sword away. There were times when the spirit came close to getting the better of him, when situations infuriated him and he struggled with her, and with his own darker side. He had come close this time, too close, and now it seemed clear that he needed a cure. Nathaniel had to find a way to get rid of the spirit, before he really did lose control. More than that he needed to be away from people, to truly be alone to deal with his problems.

Lying down on the bed, still feeling the intense uncomfortable heat of Ahm-Shere, he tried to sleep. Slipping fitfully into dreams, he found faces surrounding him. Everywhere Nathaniel looked he saw dead men and women, those he had failed to save, and those he had put in the ground himself. None of them seemed happy to see him, and all of his reasons seemed vague, petty, and meaningless. He felt hollow, empty and weak. Drifting through the dream Nathaniel found himself in a cavern and something was chasing him. The mage ran with ragged breaths until he reached a chamber and stopped dead in his tracks. There he saw the sword, suspended in a stream of light above a well. Looking into the blackness of the well, it seemed to go on forever. Waking with a gasp, Nathaniel found it was morning once more. His staff lay where he had left it, and the sword sat neatly against the wall, despite Nathaniel remembering putting it in the scabbard on the chair beside the bed. Still, he shook off the dream and prepared to leave Ath-Amn. With only a few hours gone since the mage had awoken, he took the freshly bought horse, a detailed map of Ahm-Shere, and provisions for the road and rode away.

Looking back at the small port town behind him from the dunes, Nathaniel Drakkon pulled the black hood of his robe up to cover much of his face, and fitted another piece of dark cloth around his mouth and nose. Now all that could be seen were his green eyes. There was a long journey ahead of him, through the cities of Ahm-Shere, the deserts and whatever else was in this country, so that eventually he would reach the southern border of the Golden Empire. A long way to go, and Nathaniel had no idea what might happen as he went. The sun was rising into the sky as he moved out of sight of Ath-Amn. Even now he attempted to shut out the torment of the spirit.